Saturday, August 12, 2017

How Do You Smell?

by Candace Cortez

A couple of years ago, I was doing laundry (the chore that never ends) when I noticed a smell coming from the washer. I thought to myself, maybe I left the clothes in too long? Sometimes I feel like you have like 2.4 minutes to switch clothes in the summer heat before they start having that old stinky smell…you know the one right? So I added more detergent and ran the same clothes through again in an attempt to get rid of the odor. This time, hearing the buzzer, I quickly pulled the clothes out, only to still smell that smell. It was faint, but it was there. I realized that it was coming from the washer itself. EW! Troubleshooting now, I ran a load of just bleach water in hopes of eradicating the stink, unfortunately to no avail. The next day the smell was even worse! Come to find out, behind the wall of the washer, where I couldn’t see in my search for the source, there was a dead mouse! O. M. G. Thankfully my husband came to the rescue and rid our laundry room of the culprit and saved me from frustration and water wasting!

Recently this story returned to my mind during a conversation on how to have healthy relationships. I learned how, when an unmet expectation is answered in our heart with doubts about the character of another person instead of trust, resentment and even worse can begin to develop. The truth is, this resentment can go unchecked for years without being identified for what it is, but not without being noticed. Those places of hurt, when they are not surrendered or addressed, result in a rot that can be detected by the people around us. We can try to hide the resulting odor with perfumes of kindness or try to get rid of it by washing it away by holding your tongue. But the stench will remain as long as the hurt remains.

Here’s the thing. Once I knew the mouse was there, it was not easy to get rid of it. Yes, it was easy for my husband, (he’s a champion of a man) but I have zero desire to touch rodents, dead or alive. When we realize we have a hurt that can be connected to a certain person or event, it is not typically going to be an easy thing. Dealing will most likely lead to some sort of conflict. Not a fight per se, but at least a confession of a disagreement or disapproval, or at least tough questions. God’s desire for us is healthy connections with others. Love is His main game. He cares about the quality of the relationships we have and will always push us towards reconciliation versus avoidance.

Proverbs 13:5 reads “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.” That “false” thing that the righteous hate, may very well be avoiding the issue in our lives with our co-worker, family member, or friend, pretending things are fine when there is a dead mouse in our spirits with their name on it. I know I need to regularly take stock of what sort of smell is revealed through my words, actions, and attitudes. If you feel yourself consistently struggling with someone, most likely, you have a stench to deal with. God can for sure get rid of it, but a lot of the time, you are a part of the removal process.

Ask yourself, how do you smell today? Or better yet, ask someone you love and trust to help you answer that question.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trim Your Sails

by Andrew Cromwell

I’m not a sailor but I did take a course in college that involved learning boat terms (I don’t know why you can’t just call it the “right” side of the boat). The only thing I remember about the course is that at the end of it, we went sailing in the bay off of San Pedro. And I got seasick. And for all you judgmental characters out there, consider this, at least it wasn’t a course on underwater basket-weaving.

So if you are an accomplished yachtsmen (or yachtswoman), please do not be offended as I offer up this small lesson about sailing and life, for it is sure to be riddled with nautical negligence and maritime mistakes.

In sailing, the basic principle is that you catch the wind in a piece of fabric so that it pulls you through the water. This is fairly uncomplicated if the wind is blowing steadily in the direction you want to go and if you’re not going that far. Even I could do that! Jump in the boat, put out a sail, tie it so that it catches the wind, and steer the rudder until we reach the other side.

But of course, it is rarely that simple unless you are sailing in a bathtub.

The wind generally does not blow in the exact direction you want to travel. And it rarely blows consistently for very long. The wind has a tendency to change direction and force. Sometimes it gusts, sometimes it dies down, and sometimes it blows with hurricane force. From one day to the next it might blow in one direction and then change completely. It is changing constantly.

Jesus, when speaking about the wind, said “it blows wherever it cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

And this is why sailing is both a science and an art. A good sailor learns how to read the wind and react to it. When there is little wind, the wise sailor puts out many sails. When there is much wind, she puts out few. When the wind is gusty, she keeps her sails trimmed tightly so that the sails do not rip and tear.

If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, and you can’t simply steer towards your destination, she will tack the boat back and forth in a zig zag pattern. Moving off course for a time, but then turning back in the opposite direction, all the while moving towards the destination, even if not in a straight line.

Sailing well takes great skill.

The Bible compares God’s Spirit to the wind. Like the wind, God is unseen by human eyes. You can sense the Spirit of God just as you can detect the wind, but you cannot contain it or control it. You do not tell the wind where to blow, but you respond to it.

Jesus went on to say that the people who are following the Spirit of God are like the wind, “you don’t know where they will be from one day to the next.” This is because they are putting up their spiritual sails and responding to where God’s Spirit is blowing!

Following God’s Spirit is a skill that we learn, just like sailing. It starts with paying attention to Him, studying how He operates, spending time with Him, and responding to Him. We learn when to trim our sails and when to put more sails out. We learn when to zig-zag and when to run in a straight line.

So how are your spiritual sails? Are they catching the wind of God’s Spirit? Maybe the whole idea is foreign to you, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We all can learn more about who God is, how He works, and how to cooperate with Him. Do you need to get in the wind? Do you need to put some more sails out?

Whether you like sailing on the ocean or not, I guarantee that this kind of sailing you will love!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Family Ties

by Tim Howard

When I was born in 1951 the ‘Traditional Family” consisted of a married couple with one or more children living under the same roof and in the same household. The father was the provider who went to work while the mother stayed at home. Due to the major socio-cultural changes of the past several decades, however, a great diversity has emerged and now the traditional family accounts for less than 15% of American households.

In real life, in big cities and in smaller towns, a family unit consists of single moms, single dads, stepfamilies, boyfriends and girlfriends raising children, foster parents and grandparents giving guidance to their grandchildren etc. In real life, in 2017, families come in many different forms.

With the changing times and shifting foundations, it’s difficult for parents to know how to raise children. That’s why the Word of God is so helpful to those looking for priceless, ageless and changeless truth. His words about family development and instruction for children have not changed since their inception and still provide solid and sound directives.

In Proverbs 22:6, parents are instructed to train up their children in the way they should go.

Training involves three specific components:

The first area has to do with INSTRUCTION. Our children need to know the truth about God and their own personal identity.  Parents will help their little ones if they talk to them about God’s plan and purpose He has in-store for them. A parent will prepare a child if they honestly talk to them about life and death – The agony of defeat and the joy of success – the up’s and down’s of life and principles that will position them for success down the road. Talking to and with our kids will help them know they don’t stand alone.

The second significant area is EXAMPLE. Children develop in a healthy way when parents resist the philosophy that says: “Do as I say and not as I do”. Our children need role models who are willing to live out what they say; ones who show it first and then say second. We all make mistakes and fall short of perfection but living a hypocritical life with a dual standard will not produce the results we all desire for our children.

DISCIPLINE is the third component. Proper discipline will teach children the concept of boundaries and respect. When a child is guided and guarded by the parent, he or she feels a sense of security and safety, which in turn produces lasting results. Maybe you remember the term ‘Latchkey Kid.’ It referred to the children who were left alone to discipline and fend for themselves while both parents were out doing what they deemed necessary. It wasn’t a positive thing.

Throughout human history, the family has been the foundation of society. Strong family ties provide us with the love, security and safety we need for a fruitful life. Children grow into well-adjusted adults through instruction, example and discipline.

The days of the traditional family are long gone but it’s not too late to develop strong family ties. Whether you are a single mom, a single parent, a blended family or a grandparent raising your grandchildren – You can have strong family ties.

This proverb shows the way. It is not a promise, principle or precept but it has long lasting ramifications to those who practice it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Life Worth Living

by Sylvia Gaston

Last week, I experienced 2 events – one was routine (my birthday) and the other was extra special (my daughter, Justus, had her first child!).

As I walked through these two events, it caused me to reflect on my life. You can pause right here and hum the song, “Circle of Life” in your head, if you’d like J These normal occurrences caused me to reflect…What are the things that make a life really worth living?

Some psychologists say that what a person really needs to thrive in life are:
·      to love and be loved
·      to have a purpose

So back to the birthday - at this stage of the game I’d rather they just pass right by unnoticed. However, I must admit that it was sweetly humbling to see the number of friends and family who took time to honor me with their gifts of words, time and things. There were the usual social media “Happy Birthday, Sylvia”. But, those who took more time to reflect upon their relationship with me or to express their feelings were really special and important.

I had two great dinners with my people and some completely awesome gifts!! As I looked around the table at the ones I love and the ones who love me, I realized again how blessed I am.

Then, 3 days later, Scarlette was born! Now that’s something to live for! To see your children having children gives you a sense of mortality and perspective. And, once again, I wondered about the purpose of my life and the ripple effect it has upon others.

I definitely love and am loved. I work at a purposeful job that I believe I am called to do. But I ask myself (and God), “Am I doing all that I was created to do?”

The Bible tells us that each of us was designed in God’s image, that He planned our lives before we were even born, and we were made for His pleasure and glory.

Revelation 4:11 says, “Our Lord and God! You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power. You made all things. Everything existed and was made because you wanted it.” (ERV)

You and I are special and were created with a purpose. Most of us will never make it into history books, be widely known, or have statues or monuments in remembrance of our lives. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that the life we are living is unimportant.

The lives you touch with your words and actions are extremely important. I don’t think we fully grasp the extent of how powerfully we can impact those around us – from strangers to acquaintances to those most dear to us.

A kind word, a favor, or wisdom and compassion given in love can change the very environment you operate within. You have the power to alter the course of a person’s day, or life.

Jesus taught us how to do this by how He loved people. He loved thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors, diseased people, poor people, children and His followers and friends. He loved people who were devoted to Him and those who were different from Him. He even loved difficult and dangerous people.

And His love is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago when He walked the earth. Because we are loved by Him, we are called to love like Him.

The New Testament of the Bible contains 59 "one another" verses that teach us how to love. Some of these include “forgive one another”, “serve one another”, “honor one another” and “bear one another’s burdens”.

In this way, with those close to us and those we encounter each day, we begin to live a life with purpose that God created us for. Then, we can see and feel that we are living a life worth living. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Ultimate Cell Phone

by Tim Howard

In a conversation some time ago the topic of prayer came up and the person I was speaking with said emphatically: “ I don’t believe in prayer, I believe in luck!” I jokingly said in response: “I too believe in luck but it seems the more I pray, the luckier I get!”

In it’s broadest definition, prayer is simply talking to God. This can be done audibly as God hears our words or silently as God knows our thoughts. And because communication is a two-way connection, prayer includes both speaking to God and listening to God as He speaks to us.

Prayer is like having a built-in cell phone that allows you to connect at any time and from any place. At times the reception may be less than desirable and you might not hear God as clearly as you might anticipate but just having the privilege of talking to God and Him talking to you is an awesome gift.

Prayer is the ultimate cell-phone and many are taking advantage of this amazing gift. According to surveys by Barna Research Ltd. over a 10-year period, 82% of adults and 89% of teenagers pray to some ‘Higher Power’ in a normal week. 88% of women and 75% men pray. 96% of professing Christians pray weekly, while 72% of people not describing themselves as Christians pray as well.

I pray because Jesus prayed. He kept an open line to the Father and stayed in constant contact. He prayed daily, He prayed over meals, He prayed early in the morning and sometimes all night long.  He prayed short prayers and long prayers. He prayed for His enemies, His friends and His followers. He prayed in private and in public. Just like an airline pilot who never takes his headset off while in flight due to the extreme importance of maintaining constant contact with the tower; so too Jesus shows us how significant it is to maintain constant communication with the Father as we go on our journey throughout life.

When I pray – I talk to God our Father in ‘Jesus Name’ because Jesus made relationship with the Father possible. Because of His love for us – His willingness to live and die for our sin – We have access to God.  Plus, God the Father gave Jesus all authority so when I am in need – I go to the one who has the final answer.

According to the Bible the future has not yet been written and prayer is our way to become God’s pen that He uses to write our tomorrows. When people pray, God moves! Prayer, however, does not negate God’s divine prerogative nor does it override His purposes. We have the privilege of asking and He retains the right to answer on the basis of His wisdom, foresight and love. His answers sometimes defy logic or analysis but when we pray, He hears and always responds.

A cell phone will set you back $$$$$ but the ultimate cell phone is free! No upfront fee, no monthly service charge and no hidden cost. It truly does provide real security because when you fall, make a call to Him – saying I’ve fallen and I can’t get up – God hears and helps you get back on your feet! 

B.T.W. Everyone has been given the ‘Ultimate Cell Phone.’ It’s not just for emergencies and It has unlimited talk time. It’s your free gift to use daily!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

I Heart Hanford

by Candace Cortez

I moved to Hanford in 2002, which seems like forever ago. My father is in the military and when we got our orders to move here we were living near the coast of Virginia Beach. It was beautiful there! But I thought to myself, California has beaches and Hollywood, so it’s probably gonna be the same if not better. When I arrived here, I was disappointed by more than a few things.

Remember the title of this article is I heart Hanford, which is absolutely true! But if I could be totally honest, especially as a young teenage girl, I was totally annoyed with living here. It was small, frankly a bit stinky, and way too far from the beach in my opinion.

As I grew up, and opportunities began to present themselves for me to leave, escape, run away, get a fresh start somewhere “cooler,” I was so ready. Yes I had found an incredible group of people to call mine I was still not in love. Literally weeks before I was to move to Santa Barbara, a series of events forced me to stay. Key word: forced. During that next season of my life I felt stuck and therefore began to resent my town more than ever.

During this stuck season, I did some really dumb things. I made shallow friendships just to have a good time and eventually burned those bridges when those individuals got too needy. I spent a ton of money on nothing at all. I stopped trying to push myself to grow, learn, and help others.

Have you ever felt stuck in your situation? Celebrating our nation’s independence day reminded me of Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” We are free. Freedom is such a powerful thing. About a year into being “stuck” here, I made a choice to stay, at least until I finished my first two years of college. Making the decision to stay made me feel so different than being forced to stay. I began to love my town.

This is one of the powers of choice. God has given us choice in loving Him or not. We are not forced, or stuck in situations and therefore coerced into relationship with Him. When we get to chose to love, even though it’s not easy, or perfect, or the obvious choice, it can deepen our devotion.

I did end up leaving Hanford for a short time. But I chose to come back. I don’t think this area is perfect, and I head to the beach and the mountains as often as I can. But choosing to live here, grow here, and invest here has changed my heart. I now see the good more than the bad. I now want to help the things that need some attention. Apathy is diminished because choice has given me freedom to love this community.

Take a moment today and sit in your freedoms. Some of you may be stuck in your situation. Your job, marriage, home, or finances may feel like areas of force or confinement. But some of being stuck is more of a mentality than an actuality. We still have choice in so many ways. Make a choice to love someone today. To love your neighbor, the person in line in front of you, even if they are not choosing the same for you. 

I am so thankful to be free. I am free to choose love.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Am So Self-Centered

by Sylvia Gaston

I admit it. I’m not proud of it but I know it to be true. Let’s face it, we all are.

As far as I can tell, selfishness is the source of absolutely every single problem on Earth. Think about it – war, divorce, fights, theft, resentments, jail, pollution, abandonment – all can be traced back to our self-centered nature.

We want things our way. Our primary objective is our own self-satisfaction. We see everything through the lens of “I”.

Our culture certainly encourages us to be this way. “You deserve a break today.” “Just do it.” “Because I’m worth it.” “YOLO (you only live once)!” “Life’s too short to (fill in the blank)”.

Why is it so difficult to think of others more than ourselves? Why did God create us like this? Is it another product of original sin? Is it related to the wonderful gift of personal choice that He gave us?

I’m sure the answer lies in there somewhere.

I don’t want to be a self-centered person. I want to be better than that. I would love to be selfless enough to always be thinking of others before myself.

So, I try. I really do. I try to remain calm when my teenage/young adult kids are being tupi. We don’t say stupid, so this is my new substitute word.

I know that if I remain calm when I counsel my children, the focus is on them and training them to be better men and women. But when I lose my temper, I shift the focus to the fact that they haven’t pleased ME or met MY needs. I don’t want it to be about me. But, boy, if I’m not thinking about this before I open my mouth – WHAM! Now, I’m the one being tupi!

And, as I live life with my husband – well, same as above – enough said ;)

I find myself examining my disappointment in the words or actions of others. Confession time…it’s not just a temporary disappointment. I can stew over certain things for longer than I care to admit. The offending person probably hasn’t given it a second thought and here I am, grinding on it for minutes, hours, or even days. Who’s the real loser here? Don’t answer that.

The Bible tells us “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

So, I keep trying. But it is a daily battle. I remind myself each morning and throughout the day to find peace in the day despite its highs or lows. I remind myself that I am a new creation because of God’s Spirit who lives inside me. I remind myself that I want to change the world and that others are watching – my husband and kids, my friends and family, co-workers and acquaintances, and even strangers. But, most of all, my Creator is watching and I desperately want to please Him.

I cannot say it better than Jesus did.

The Bible tells us in Mark 12:28-31 that some religious leaders were questioning Jesus. They asked Him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’

It’s so simple. Why do we make life (and spirituality) so much more complicated than that?

So I will keep on trying. Let’s all keep trying each day to live outside of ourselves.

As Mother Teresa said, “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway.... Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.... What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.... Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth….Give the world the best you've got anyway.”