Saturday, December 8, 2018

Making Room

by Candace Cortez

Nobody would ever confuse me for a domestic goddess. I have been known to fold laundry on my dining room table and pick articles of clothes from that very pile for a few days until the pile magically disappears. It’s ok, you have permission to judge me. I try to keep my kitchen and living room “ready for company” but I would warn any random pop in visitors to not visit some of the rooms on the edges of my house! I’m a clutter bug. I blame my overly creative brain.

However, out of the basic laws of house management, there is one area that gets cleaned out more than most: my refrigerator. Around once a week, I find myself pulling out leftovers, checking labels on bottles, and generally making sure there isn’t anything hidden in there that may scare me the following week. I pretty much can’t handle mossy foods and feel responsible to make sure my family is safe from whatever can happen after vegetables start getting slimy. Now before you start believing there is some hope for my domestic lifestyle, I must confess the primary reason I keep things clean-ish is to make sure that when I bring in fresh groceries, there is room for it all! Gathering groceries is a big enough chore, I don’t want to have to clean the fridge every time I purchase a new bundle of produce, milk, and eggs.

As we are in full swing in the holiday season, my question for you, myself, and for my family, is this: is there room for Jesus in our lives? In our hearts? I talk very regularly to my young children about how Jesus really is the main reason we have Christmas. He’s the main reason we get to have fresh beginnings, hope, and peace in this life. He’s the source of all things good, and the redeemer of all things rotten. I do not have a problem understanding these things to be true in my thought process. But is this evident by how I make space I my life to point to Him? When the Holy Spirit gently asks for me to move, is there room in my schedule to make that happen? When the Spirit of the Lord gives me something new to take care of, do I just add it to the pile of old things not taken care of in a timely manner?

One of my hopes for this season is that our community would make space in their hearts, schedules, and spirits for the Lord to do something incredibly special in their lives. There have been times when I know the Lord has asked me to wait, or give, or do something just out of the ordinary, but I didn’t make space in my schedule or my level of faith. I do believe that I may have missed out on miracles because I didn’t make space for Him to work in me and through me.
Here are some of the things I regularly need to evaluate and potentially get rid of in order to make room in my heart and life for the Hope of Jesus.
1.     Old habits. Some habits are great for life. Some habits are great for a season. Some habits are never great. Looking at the repetitive routines in your life as unfixed is important. Not everything you do has to be done. Not everything that is important right now will be important forever. For example, when my husband worked nights, I developed a habit of staying up way later than my mornings should have allowed.  This habit cut out morning devotions, morning peace, and my patience with my kids as we got ready for the day. Recently, the Lord has asked me to go to bed earlier, to make room for His presence in the mornings. Do you have a habit or choice you’re making regular that keeps you from saying yes to Jesus?

2.     Unhealthy relationships. I am very rarely pro getting rid of relationships in your life. I am, however, pro shifting what shelf of importance or influence those relationships carry in your life, and time=influence. If I am not strong enough in my walk with the Lord to overcome the negativity or yucky habits a person brings with them, then I have to decrease the influence that person has until I am more full of the Spirit.
3.     Lingering doubts or misunderstandings about who/how God is. Life can teach you a lot of things incorrectly. Sometimes if a child prays a prayer to the Lord, and does not receive what they ask for, they doubt the goodness or power of our Heavenly Father, and potentially stop asking for big things. It is good to keep discovering who God is, how He is and moving out the old doubts about His character. 

Make room for the Lord this holiday season. Don’t let the mold creep in. Never get too busy or full of old ways for God to hand you another blessing, another call, another bit of who He is.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Divorce Day

by Andrew Cromwell

This week I learned the first business day in January is known in some circles as “divorce day" because of the number of divorce filings that happen on that day. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why. The holidays are some of the most stressful times of the year. Beginning with Thanksgiving and running through Christmas and New Year’s, the last two months of the year are ripe with opportunities for relationship hurts, family drama, and offense. Whether we are hosting events in our own home or visiting relatives, the stress tends to lead to short tempers and sharp tongues. We are often not at our best even as we are trying to look like we are.  

It doesn’t take long and we find ourselves frustrated with our spouse: wounded by their looks or words and adding up the offenses. Throw in our tendency to avoid real conversation until a “better time“ and you have people holding on just so they get through the holidays (because no one wants to have that difficult conversation in the middle of what is supposed to be a happy season). By that time, many couples are so frustrated and so fatigued they begin to believe the only way out is divorce.

Don’t let it happen to you!

As we roll into this holiday season, I’d like to encourage you to not become a statistic. I believe by intentionally doing three simple (but not necessarily easy things), your marriage can become stronger in spite of the stress.

First, expect that things are going to be stressful and that you and your spouse are going to react in less than perfect ways. Stop idealizing and romanticizing the season. While the holidays present us with amazing opportunities to enjoy family and friends, they are also riddled with land mines waiting for one small misstep. So don’t be caught off-guard this season. Prepare for things to go less than perfectly. Anticipate that your spouse is going to run out of patience at some point and they are going to look at you cross-eyed and maybe even say something hurtful. OK, now that you’re prepared, decide right now to extend extra grace and forgive. Instead of getting your feelings hurt just forgive and move on. That one little decision can save your marriage.

Second, keep the air clear between you and your spouse. This will require you to make an effort! Check in with your spouse in the morning or in the evening (or even both). Ask them how they’re feeling, let them know how important they are to you, and even ask for forgiveness for being a jerk that day (because you probably were). Talk about the calendar and the stress and the kids and the gifts and the expectations. Remind yourself that you are on a team together. This proactive move will keep you connected to each other and help you to come through the season united and ready for the new year.

Third, ask God to help you! Don’t ever underestimate God’s power and desire to help your marriage. He is ready and willing to help. Ask Him to change your heart, help you to forgive, help you to serve, and help you to love better! Ask Him to bless your spouse and your marriage. Invite Him in and then go and walk in His strength.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Take Your Thanksgiving To The Next Level

by Sylvia Gaston

By now, you’re probably having that leftover turkey sandwich or thinking about your workout plan for next week to counteract all those extra Thanksgiving calories you consumed this past week.

I’ve said it before. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As with most holidays, it brings out the best in most people – kindness, generosity, brotherly love. But unlike other holidays, it’s not overly complicated. No gifts; no costumes; no fireworks; just two things I really love: FAMILY and FOOD!

 After all the cooking is done, it’s time to slooooow down, eat, relax, and enjoy each other - with some football thrown in for good measure. And immediately after begins the frenzy and furor of Christmas. (definition of furor: ‘an outbreak of public anger or excitement’) J

But the absolute best thing about Thanksgiving is . . . well, thanksgiving. The giving of thanks that we, actually and intentionally, make time for.  You see it all over social media beginning November 1st. People decide to share what they are thankful for throughout the month.

For years, psychologists have been studying what happens when people are grateful. Researchers from Psychology Today have found that:
·      Gratitude improves physical and psychological health
·      Gratitude reduces aggression and enhances empathy
·      Grateful people sleep better
·      Gratitude improves self-esteem
·      Gratitude increases mental strength
·      Gratitude opens the door to more relationships

In a nutshell, being thankful makes us happier and healthier humans! I’m in!!

As a staff at Koinonia Church, my co-workers and I participated in the daily exercise of writing down 2 things we are truly thankful for. In fact, our lead pastor, Tim, challenged us to avoid the easy task of just writing down whatever pops into our mind. We were encouraged to really spend the time to contemplate all that God has done for us and to reflect on our blessings. (Do I have a great job or what?)

In Luke 17:11 of the Bible, we read an account of Jesus healing 10 lepers. These 10 ostracized men shout to Him because they are forbidden to interact with healthy people – even their own families. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, who had the final say on whether they were actually healed and could re-enter society again. In complete faith, or maybe desperation, they begin walking to the priests before they even see the cleansing of their bodies. Along the way, their healing is completed. One of the 10 turns back to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him. Jesus replies, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Rise and go, your faith has made you well.”

Here’s what I’ve realized. I need to appreciate more fully from Whom my blessings come. I can’t take credit for a job I love because God opened that door for me. I can’t take credit for even my skills or talents because those are also God-given. My family? My health? I see how God Himself has taken care of those as well. I see how He cared for me through recent struggles with health, family, and death. As I evaluate the small, but sweet details of my life, is there really anything that I hold dear that doesn’t come directly from Him?

The other thing I realize is how easy it is to be thankful for the obvious: health, family, home, job, and good friends. But, to dig deeper for the little things that we take for granted really ups the gratitude quotient, as well as the great benefits that come along for the ride.

If you think I’m saying that my life is without fault or defect, I’m not. God has not promised that if I follow Him, my life will be perfect. He only promises that He will see me through it until my time here is over and my time with Him begins. Can I ask for anything more or be any more grateful for that alone?

I’m happy to confirm that what God says in the Bible is true, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” – Psalm 92:1

Let’s continue the thanksgiving habit throughout Christmas and into the new year. It’s good for our soul and for our world.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Your Story Is GOOD

by Candace Cortez

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me, that I am a competitive person. This fire inside me, encouraging me to win, dominate, overcome, and potentially leave my competitors in the dust, is all fun and games when it comes to Scattegories, The Settlers of Catan, or Pictionary. This is not so great in other areas of life. Comparison is a competitive spirit’s ugly brother.

Whenever the topic of testimony comes up, there is a sneaking desire to compare my story to others and deem it better or worse than others. Have you ever done this? Somehow I create categories that determine if a story is good or not. For example, if a person has been delivered from some sort of addiction, man that story is so good! If a person’s marriage was on the rocks, and then the Lord spoke to them and healed that relationship, man that story is good. If the Lord uses the wisdom of your parents and keeps you from addiction and other bad choices…that story…is…nice? As a person who has spent most of my life as a follower of Christ, I have found myself comparing my story to others and found myself wanting.

God has been challenging me in this recently, and I want to encourage you, that God does not compare your story with the story of others around you. He doesn’t consider it in terms of better or worse, boring or exciting. God’s concern for your story is that it leads to relationship with Him.

Have you ever walked into a room with a person watching a movie, and then you got pulled into the story? Well, eventually, you’re going to have some questions because you missed the beginning when the foundation was being laid or you missed the character development. There have been other times when time didn’t permit us to complete the movie, so I didn’t get to find out if the conflict was resolved, or if the guy got the girl! When we get to share our story or are blessed with hearing someone else’s story, we must keep in mind, the story is not finished yet! We may never know all of the characters, incidents, miracles, and hidden ways the Lord has moved in their life to get them where they are today. 

I was speaking with a young person a couple weeks ago who was feeling insecure about sharing her story, because she currently wasn’t doing as well as she was when she first began following Christ. Maybe this is you. You feel like, at one point, you were so excited about following Jesus, and somehow you have lost your passion and are struggling to regain the momentum in your growth. Or maybe you are young in your faith and haven’t experienced freedom in certain areas of your life. Or maybe right now, you are hearing from the Lord on a regular basis and are passionately sharing with others. No matter what season you are in, keep moving toward Jesus. If you are for whatever reason, “two steps back” from where you’d like to be, or used to be, do not look down on your story. God wants you! He doesn’t expect a straight line, sometimes our story takes some twists, turns, and backtracks. Your story is a good one, when God it in it.  

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Why Is Always Better Than The What

by Sylvia Gaston

I’m in the business of teaching kids. I teach my own big kids, my grandkids, as well as the kids who attend our church.  Well, actually, our wonderful Children’s Ministry volunteers teach them. My co-workers and I provide them with the resources to do the teaching.

I have had many opportunities to speak to lots of adults as well. And in all that teaching, here’s one important thing I’ve learned…

The WHY is always better than the WHAT.

When I tell my kids something, they often view it as another thing in a long line of things I am constantly telling them. But, if I take the time to explain why they should do this or that, they have a greater motivation to do the what, - or, at least, a greater understanding of it. They may not always agree with it, but at least they know why I am asking it. And our goal, as their parents, is that someday they will learn, mature, and eventually pass on all of our great wisdom to their own children.  That’s the dream, at least ☺

If I take my lead from God, I see that He and His son, Jesus, spend a great deal of time explaining the why. He spends time letting us know that the reason why He teaches or even commands us at times, is for our own good.

Here are some examples of how He taught the WHY:

In Deuteronomy 12:28  of the Bible, God says, “Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right”.

In Ephesians 6:7 we are told to: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do”.

Jesus even tells us WHY we should follow Him. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. "For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

You see it isn’t God’s heart to command us simply to rule us. That is made obvious by the fact that we don’t have to obey Him. When He created us, He gave us free will. However, He did create us – and in His own image. Therefore, He knows us intimately well. And because He loves us so very much, He always wants what is best for us. That is the motive behind His teaching and His guidance – if we choose to heed it.

People are listening to you – at work, at home, on social media. Are you barking out orders and commands left and right without giving any reasons WHY? That’s not caring about people and relationships; that’s merely a focus on outcomes.

The bottom line is that God commands because He truly loves. So if we are to be effective in our teaching of others, we need to be motivated by that same kind of love for them.

That’s fairly easy to do with our children because we naturally love them so much. But, how does that look if you are teaching and leading others – other children or adults, co-workers, family or friends?

If we are motivated by love, we should want to explain WHY our teaching is important to them. They should know and feel our motive. They may listen more to the WHAT because they know the all-important WHY. 

This is especially true, and especially important if you are a parent, a boss, or a person of influence in your circles. 

Don’t just tell people what to do, explain the WHY.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

There May Be Fire

by Candace Cortez

I’ve been a Christian for a lot of years, and there are some stories and verses in the Bible that I have heard too many times to count: Daniel and the lion’s den, David and Goliath, Esther saving her people, the story of Jesus’ birth, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Paul and Silas singing while in prison, and many others. Fortunately, as you read and re-read, the things you can learn do not stop as your familiarity with the story grows. Here’s a quick lesson within a lesson: NEVER STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! We do not know it all, especially about God, and we can always discover more. 

Recently, I re-read the story of the three young men; Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, and the time they were thrown into the fiery furnace. If you haven’t read this story, it’s found in Daniel 3, and you should read it today! If you have time, stop reading this, and go read Daniel 3 right now! It’s so good! Here is a question that has not left me since I’ve read this passage: What fires am I approaching because of my walk with Jesus? 

These three young men were living according to the standard set by God. This standard was in direct opposition to the expectation of their current culture. Because of this, they were punished by being thrown into a fire, with the intention of murdering them for their beliefs. This is intense! I believe we also live in a world that is counter-cultural to God’s design for the perfect relationship with Him and with others. I also believe this may cause some conflict, or heat when we decide to make choices in light of the One we are trying to serve. For example, what if your supervisor makes a mistake and asks you to lie to the boss to help cover for them? On one hand, it’s literally a sin to lie (one of the basic ten commandment ones!). On the other, we want to salvage the relationship or potential ease of working environment with this person, who may be a good person, and you do not want to see them get in trouble. If the answer is easy and you would choose to lie, ask yourself why it was an easy option when that’s an “obvious” sin? If the answer is difficult, but you would choose to lie, you’ve faced the fire and surrendered to an “easier” option. If the answer is honesty, and you tell the boss the truth when asked, then you faced the fire and decided it’s worth it to be obedient. The thing about this third option is although it leaves you vulnerable for feeling the heat from your choice, you also are set up for a potential miracle. 

When we choose to live the way God guides us, even in the little things, we set ourselves up to see Him do some crazy awesome stuff. The challenge is, not every fiery furnace story leads to a happy ending with a miracle. Some of them just end in fire. That’s why it’s so scary. There’s not a guarantee that we will receive compensation for our obedience while we are alive. The promises extend beyond this lifetime. This is why faith is hard. If we knew we would never feel the heat of those flames, then the choice would be easy. 

I don’t know what fires you may be facing today, but trust that as the three young men in this story, God is with you. Choosing Jesus’ way is not always easy, but it is the life that leads to miracles. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Good Friend is Hard to Find

by Andrew Cromwell

It has been said that a good friend is someone who walks in when everyone is walking out. They are someone who not only sees through you, but is determined to see you through the tough spots in life.

Don’t we all want friends like that?

Shallow friendship is easy. It just doesn’t take much effort. Every time I walk into an elevator and say “hi”, I’ve made another shallow friend. We remark pleasantly about the weather, say things like “how long are you in town” or even, “where are you from?”. Shallow friends like your social media posts and might even make a comment or two, but that’s as far as things go.

No one needs instructions on how to make shallow friends. As a matter of fact, I have a few shallow friends that I’ll happily hand off to you if you’re interested!

Deep, meaningful friendships, on the other hand, are hard to come by. That’s because real friendships take time, energy, and effort. Most of us can think of a friendship that used to be close but is now cold and distant.

Why? Usually it is because the cost of maintaining the friendship was more than we were willing to pay.

That friend moved out of the area and we didn’t make the effort to call or keep calling. Or perhaps, one or both of us stopped doing the activity that gave us an excuse to spend time together, and we never took the time to find another reason to connect. There are so very many reasons why we drifted apart, but at the end of the day, we weren’t willing to pay the price to keep growing closer. And so we drifted apart.

Real friendship takes effort. It requires investment. You have to be willing to rearrange your schedule, go out of your way, push through inconvenience, and make relationship building a priority.

If you want powerful relationships, then you have to be willing to pay the price. King Solomon said if you want to have friends, you have to be friendly. That means you have to make time. You have to be willing to engage in a person’s life, care about what they care about, and show up when it matters. You have to decide to love people even when you see them at their worst instead of making your friendship conditional on their behavior or performance.

Do you want people to tell the the truth at your funeral, or do you want them to lie and tell a nice story? The way you invest in your relationships today, will decide the answer to that question.

Above all, we must remember that there is one person — Jesus Christ — who chose to love us unconditionally even though He knew everything about us. It is His love and acceptance that serves as the model for how we all do our friendships.