Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pause. Reset. Live Well.

by Candace Cortez

Thank the Lord we have finally hit sweater season. At least in the mornings. By afternoon I typically regret my clothing choice, but it’s worth it! I’m team autumn for life! I know this season is short and soon it will be a weird fight to keep my nose from being red everywhere I go. But this is life. God has created the very planet we live on to operate in seasons and phases. When I step into the waters at one of our beaches along the California coast, there is a roar as the wave crashes to shore, and then a rustle as it heads towards my feet, and a sizzle as it pulls back out to the sea only to start all over again.

I’ve experienced moments when I was caught in that period of retreat. This can come after a huge transition or a tragedy in your life. Getting back into the rhythm of crashing and moving and THEN resting is very difficult when your life is saying go, but your mind or heart is feeling stuck. How do we move on? How do we take steps forward when our feet feel like they are made of the very floor we stand on?

Recently, I have found myself in a very busy season. The start of school for my kids, along with music and sports practices and performances took our life into high gear. I found myself running around getting it all done every single day. This high pace is like the crash. You don’t stay there forever, but it always happens in certain seasons or situations.

Most of what makes people look the most successful however, looks like the moment of crash, and so we are tempted to stay there. This may come from a place of insecurity, needing to validate our existence, or prove our worth through doing things. This may come from a place of comparison: everyone else seems really busy, so I must be doing it wrong if I’m not living at maxed out levels as well. Or maybe it comes from fear: if I stop doing one of these things, my world will fall apart, I’ll let someone down, or not be as happy. This push towards the everyday crash can come from many places, but it for sure doesn’t come from Jesus.

From the beginning of time, God revealed His plan for a season of rest to always be coupled with a season of work.

Watching a DVD with my kids the other night, there was a moment when the DVD got stuck and then paused on the poor character’s face, leaving him looking more than silly, and causing lots of laughter from my kids. For a second you just wait and hope it starts right back up and keeps playing the way it was designed to perform. But this time it didn’t. I had to press pause, back it up a bit, and then press play again. For whatever reason, this time, it just played through. Sometimes you have to skip ahead a scene or take the DVD out to clean it and begin again. 

Sometimes we need a pause. Sometimes we need a restart. It’s ok to need some help in the process, but if you’re feeling stuck at one specific rhythm, whether stuck on retreat or on crash, you may need to pause, reset, and get back into a better flow of life. This may mean taking a day to rest and allowing some things on your list to go undone. This may mean saying, today I will go out and accomplish this one thing, facing the world for all it’s worth. This may mean taking serious stock of everything on your plate and reprioritizing and potentially eliminating. This may mean asking God for what to put back on your plate. Life is a challenge because our world is broken. But do not allow your choice of rhythm to steal your joy. God wants us to not just live, but to live well.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Does It Hurt Much?

by Andrew Cromwell

Over the years I have both given and received lots of "junk gifts". These are the ones often given out of obligation. We feel we must give something because of a birthday or because it is Christmas and the giving of gifts, no matter how lame, is the rule. And although the best intentions are used in the giving of these "wonderful" gifts (after all, who doesn't need another Christmas mug, flamboyant tie or novelty gag gift), most often these gifts are given out of obligation, and not from the heart.

A gift that is given from the heart is always more meaningful, both to the giver and the recipient. There is a certain cost that is exacted from the giver, not necessarily a cost in terms of dollars (although sometimes many dollars are required), but in time, attention and thought. Something is expended by the giver that actually adds value to the gift itself. The most meaningful gifts are those that have taken the most time or are given with the most love.

When the giver does not expend these things, then something important is missing from the gift. We all know what it is like to receive gifts that have little or no monetary value and yet are incredibly meaningful. On the other hand, we know (if not by experience then certainly by imagination) that it is possible to receive a very expensive gift that really has little value to the receiver because it was given with so little thought.

I was reminded of the importance of the "cost" of our gifts while reading the story of David in 1 Chronicles recently. David is at a place in his life when he wants to make an offering to the Lord and he says the following:

"I will not...sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing."

David understood that to give the Lord a "token" or "junk" gift was unacceptable. You don't give the Lord something that doesn't cost you anything—it's an insult. God is the King of the universe, the Maker of everything and the Giver of the very life we enjoy. To give God a gift that cost David no sweat, no effort, no thought—in short, no heart—was unthinkable.

Which begs the question, how often do I give God "worthless" gifts? It is so easy to accept God's love, His grace, His forgiveness and His great plan for my life and repay Him with what is easy. It is easy to tell Him "thank you" with my lips. It is easy to drop a few dollars into the plate now and then. It is easy to act like a nice guy to the right people because I know I should "act like a Christian".

But that costs me nothing. And it's worthless. I've decided it really is. So much of what we do for God and others is just window dressing. We do it to make us feel better. We do it to make us look good. We do it because its easy.

But I think God wants something more. I know He deserves something more. He deserves my whole life. My most valued possessions, my deepest secrets, my greatest fears, my faithfulness and my obedience—He deserves all of them because they cost me to give them to Him. But I find that I don't like giving things that hurt to give. I will do almost anything to wiggle out of doing what I know I should. I excuse myself and my lack of commitment. But then I remember, it cost Him everything, how can I give something that costs me nothing?

The question for all of us is just that—are we willing to give what hurts the most? Because what hurts the most is what is most valuable. I've decided I'm only giving God gifts that cost me something—that hurt me a little to give, have you?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Tim Howard
I was sitting on an airplane getting ready for a 5-hour trip. My seat is in the economy section and is located between two other passengers. As I’m sitting there I recall a song titled: ‘Stuck in the Middle with You”
If you’ve ever been confined to a very small place for a very long time you might be able to empathize – I was feeling a bit claustrophobic! When you’re confined, restricted, locked up or simply stuck between a rock and a hard place – freedom becomes a desired commodity.
It’s easy to get stuck in life and feel like there’s no way out and no where to go. Some people get stuck in an abusive relationship or a dead end job or stuck on themselves because of pride. But one thing is certain, freedom is preferable!

In John 8, Jesus made an incredibly profound statement.  He said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  What was He talking about?  Here’s a couple of answers from the Bible.
Jesus came to free us from YESTERDAY’S PAIN. All of us have a history.
Our past is cluttered with baggage that isn’t pleasant to recall, remember or rehearse with others. Like mud that engulfs a vehicle and prohibits it from moving ahead, so our guilt, shame and condemnation can keep us from progress. You can also get stuck in your past sin and forfeit a bright tomorrow.
“The Lord says, ‘Forget about what has happened before.  Do not think about the past. Instead, look at the new thing I am going to do.’”  Isaiah 43:18-19 (NCV)
"… if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.  Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. Job 11:13-17 (NIV)
Jesus came to free us from TODAY’S PRESSURES. Stress is all around us and there seems to be no escape! God, however, gives us these words.
“God never grows faint or weary…  He gives power to those who are tired and worn out.”  Isaiah 40:28-29 (NLT)
 Jesus:  “Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to Me for real rest… and you’ll recover your life... and you’ll learn to live… freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-29 (MSG.)
Jesus came to free us from TOMORROW’S UNCERTAINTY.
“I know what I am planning for you,” says the Lord, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you.  I will give you hope and a good future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NCV)
We all have ‘In-between’ times! Those moments when we leave one place for another but because we are in process, we haven’t arrived at the destination. You might be ‘between’ appointments or between jobs or possibly you are between a rock and a hard place.

Here’s the truth about Jesus. He came to free you and me from yesterday’s pain, today’s pressures and tomorrow’s uncertainty. 

If a person wants to experience this freedom, all he or she needs to do is put their faith IN God; their focus ON God and start walking WITH God. He will help you when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I Declare

by Sylvia Gaston

To declare is to say something in a solemn and emphatic manner. In order words, say it forcibly and clearly.

When I think about the things that I typically say forcibly and clearly, it generally comes down to this…

·      stuff I declare to my kids

·      stuff I declare at work

·      stuff I am passionate about

Last year, I came across the concept of starting each day with a verbal declaration of what you know to be true and declare over your life. This caught my attention and I haven’t been able to let go of the concept.

I am a firm believer that our thoughts shape our words, and our words shape our actions. If I’m honest, I must admit that I tend to fall into the camp of pessimism – you know, the glass is half empty kind of person. I always pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.

I’ve always been jealous of the people who just ooze joy. They seem to have the brightest outlook on life and they seem genuinely happy. Hey, I want that! I know that God wants that for me, too! The Bible says it this way…”I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” –John 10:10

Many years ago, I read a book that summed it up nicely. “Battlefield of the Mind”, written by Joyce Meyer, is an excellent read and a powerful resource in winning the battle that takes place within our own brains. Joyce is a great speaker and author. She also loves Christ. But this book stands on its own merit – for Christians and non-Christians alike.

The book assumes that positive minds produce positive lives. Well, who doesn’t want that?  There are steps we can take, and obstacles we may have to overcome, to win these mental battles that take place daily.

In a nutshell, a couple of the steps include: realizing that change happens a little at a time so we can’t give up, and we need to regularly think about what we’re thinking.

Some of the obstacles to becoming a more positive person may be: a wandering mind, a confused mind, a doubtful mind, an anxious or worried mind.

Having admitted to myself that I can be a little negative by nature (or a lot), I’ve learned that my thoughts have a tremendous impact on how I walk through life. I can think myself into a funk that sets the tone for my day and my interaction with others. Not good. I also believe that the mind is where evil imaginations begin.

If that’s the case, it stands to reason that I should be able to do the opposite as well. If I think positive thoughts and declare things I know to be true, I should be able to set myself up for positive days and positive interactions with others, right?

So, for the last several months, I have been mentally honing my Personal Declaration. I am committed to finishing it this month and I’m very close.

At first, I didn’t know where to start. So I prayed about it and God revealed to me that I needed to begin with what I know to be true. I began to list the following:

1.     things I know to be true about God

2.     things I know to be true about myself

3.     things I know to be true about others (because I do life with “others”)

The list is long. I’m in the process now of making it manageable to state each day and I’m sure I’ll eventually memorize it. I also know that it will change and evolve as I change and evolve.

My vision is that I will declare truths on a daily basis and set the tone for a more positive and productive day -- a day that I enjoy and that positively impacts those around me. I think that’s a pretty awesome and worthwhile vision.

I challenge you to begin crafting a Personal Declaration for you and your life. I can already see the beginnings of change happening in me.

I want to have a positive life and that begins with positive thoughts. I remember what the apostle Paul says about the importance and responsibility of guarding our mind.

“We capture every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wake Up!

by Candace Cortez

It amazes me how God has made so many people unique and different and the same all at the same time. I am also surprised that for many people, He has given them the gift of morning love. I do not have this gift. I loathe all mornings. I am productive in the morning because I have to be. I am awake in the morning literally only because I have children and a job. If I had total freedom to choose, my day would start at 10am (which is like the cool uncle version of mornings). For me, waking up is daily battle number one.

As I was struggling to claim my joy and my victory over this morning, I remembered Ephesians 5:14 which reads “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you."

There are many verses of scripture that liken being asleep to being dead. This is not a physical situation, it’s definitely a spiritual situation.

Pop culture has gotten hold of this concept and there is a word buzzing around which is used to identify someone who is socially aware and sensitive to what’s going on in the community. This word is “woke.” Like, “that person is woke, they volunteer in the neighborhood every week.” (Consider this the first edition of your friendly youth pastor slang training!)

Although it is not a word I use personally, I do believe some of us struggle to wake up more than others. Here are a few of the struggles. And they are real.

Waking up is hard because we are comfy where we are sleeping. Sometimes the idea of getting out of our cozy blankets and stepping into the cold seems so uninviting. The same can be said spiritually and socially. We are comfy where we are. We are not being challenged and we like that. Yes, we know there is more out there, but we don’t really care, because here right in front of us is so good. Do not let complacency be the death of you!

Waking up is hard because once I wake up, I have to do so much! Staying in my bed means I don’t have to worry about making lunches, going to work, or even picking out the outfit of the day! For some of us, we have this glimpse of what’s going on in the world: racism, poverty, corruption, injustice, natural disasters, and we think to ourselves, that’s just too much to try to figure out. There is too much to do. This is actually true. There is too much to do for one person. Luckily, you are not alone. We all need to wake up and work together to help each other get to a better place socially. And spiritually, sometimes we lose the joy of spiritual disciplines. Sometimes we are not carrying the natural desire to pray, and study, and share our faith, because the work is never done. But God is calling us to not put our faith to sleep! Be active in growing and sharing. The fruit of being alive in Christ is SO WORTH IT!

Waking up is hard because I didn’t set my alarm. Sometimes I am blessed with a morning to not need to set my alarm. I still wake up earlier than I would like, but I very rarely wake up as early as I would if I were to set my alarm. We need social and spiritual alarms in place in our life to wake us up when we fall asleep. I find the best alarms in honest friendships. People in my life who can let me know when I have grown too comfortable or too afraid to progress. We can also find alarms in exposure to new experiences. If we push ourselves out of our routines to see the world and to see God from a new perspective, we may have a greater chance of responding to the needs of our community and the call of God on our hearts. 

So, WAKE UP! Do not be dead to the one who made you and the planet He put you on! In the process, God will shine on you! Don’t miss out on the blessing of living your life totally awake.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dealing with Doubt

by Andrew Cromwell

Almost everyone has doubts. Doubts are a part of life. We even have sayings about doubt. We say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, and “Don’t believe everything you hear”, and “Trust, but verify.”  

And without a doubt, there is plenty of reason to doubt! Our world has disappointed us so many times we find it difficult to trust anything anymore. We have been disappointed by products we purchased that didn’t live up to their claims. We have been crushed by people who promised and didn’t follow through. And we have been devastated by friends who told us to trust them, when they never planned to be trustworthy at all.

There is very little in the world that is reliable and trustworthy, or so it seems.

And then we begin to think about God—an all-knowing, all-loving Creator—and we can’t seem to keep our negative experiences from bleeding over into our trust in Him. And this is natural. Everything we have seen and experienced in this world has led us to doubt. But God says that we are to have faith in Him.

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Faith requires us to believe and trust even when we can’t see the entire picture in this moment. Where doubt demands to see the hard evidence, faith is ok with waiting because it is confident the evidence will follow.

Doubt is a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you doubt someone and are convinced they are going to let you down, they always do. You can always find a reason to doubt! You can find plenty of reasons to doubt God too. Many people sabotage their faith in God by choosing to believe things about Him that are simply not true (for example, believe that if God is real and He loves me, then He won’t allow bad things to happen to me). When these false beliefs are verified (aka, bad things happen), then they become angry at God.

So what do we do with doubt?

The first thing we do is to choose the opposite of doubt. We choose faith. We choose to trust God even when we don’t understand. But choosing faith is only the first step.

Second, we feed our faith and starve our doubts. This is a decision to actively feed yourself the right “faith-food” and avoid feasting on doubt-filled thoughts. Instead of rehearsing all the things we are unsure about, we instead focus on the things we are sure about. We know God is good, we know He love us, and we know that He is with us even in the midst of difficult times (including times filled with doubt).

Finally, we push into the only One who is really trustworthy! We do whatever we must to get closer to God. We desperately pursue Him. We get around people that are excited about God. We read the Bible. We talk to God. We grow ourselves spiritually.

As you do this, you will find that your faith will grow stronger.

The next time you are filled with doubt, talk to someone about it. But don’t just talk to anyone, talk to someone who you know is filled with faith and can encourage you. Don’t talk to someone who is filled with doubt! You’ll always leave that conversation filled with even more doubt too.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Just Say 'Hi'

by Sylvia Gaston

Two years ago, I became the proud owner of a shiny, new, white Jeep Wrangler. I’ve always wanted a Jeep. Now that I had entered a phase of family life where I no longer transported mass quantities of children and because my well-worn and dearly loved SUV was in its last days, I was finally able to buy one.

As I drove home, excited about our new purchase, I became aware that I had also unknowingly become the member of a “club” I never asked to join – a Jeep-owners club.

This club doesn’t hold meetings. We don’t even know each other. We just wave to each other on the road whenever we pass one another.

I’m sure there must be other similar “clubs”. When my husband owned his Harley, I noticed motorcycle riders would acknowledge each other on the road. Are there others? I don’t know. Do Corvette-, PT Cruiser-, VW-, or Prius-owners have such a “club”? I wonder.

The realization of this “club” sunk in as I drove home and saw one after another fellow Jeep owner wave to me. My internal reaction was “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”. I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to HAVE to wave to people every time I drive my Jeep somewhere. So, I thought, “Well, I just won’t do it” then. So, for a very short time, I didn’t. But, as others waved and passed me by, I felt guilty about acting like such a snot by not simply waving.  Now I’m a waver and I am astounded by why some Jeep-owners can’t be bothered to simply wave. We’re just saying ‘hi’!

Another example of ‘just saying hi’ happened last year as I walked with my kids at their high school Back to School Night. We passed another student that my daughter had played softball with for years beginning at 8 years old. As I greeted her, I noticed that they passed one another in the hallway without any acknowledgment.

I asked my daughter about this later and she told me that they’re not really friends now.  I argued that they still knew each other and had a history with one another.  I was informed that, in high school, things like that didn’t matter. I was shocked that they would just ignore one another and, deep down, I wanted to chastise them both to ‘just say hi”!

 As I reflected on this, I remembered years ago when my family and I first began attending our church. We didn’t know many people there. We walked in, said hi to the “official” greeters and took our seats. When we left, we did just that – we left.

Flash forward six years and I find myself on that same church’s staff, wearing a nametag on Sundays. I’m now saying ‘hi’ to everyone I pass in the lobby, the hallway, the parking lot. Why didn’t I do that before? Did that insignificant little nametag give me permission to ‘just say hi’?

What gives you permission to speak to others? Do you ‘just say hi’ to strangers as you pass someone on the sidewalk, in the store aisle, at the gas station? Why not? Saying hi is simply acknowledging “I’m a human. You’re a human. Hi there, fellow human.” Do you need an insignificant little nametag to do so?

We live in a small-ish town where our culture lends itself to friendliness and familiarity. What’s the worst that could happen if you said hi to a stranger in town? Insult? Injury? Death? No! The absolute worst thing that could happen is the other person just doesn’t respond. That would be their loss, not yours.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul tells us to “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1

Come on people. Let’s make our corner of the world a little friendlier. Let’s change the culture around us just as Jesus did. Just say hi. It’s a small thing that can change the very environment around you. 

While you’re at it, if you don’t currently belong to a church, why not pop into one of the many great churches we have in Kings County and ‘just say hi’ to others there and to God Himself?