Saturday, February 10, 2018

Maturity Looks Different

By Candace Cortez

It’s February. In our community, it looks, feels, and smells like springtime is here. Recently, I have been focused on making all the plants that turned brown, or yellow, or frail in the winter months green again. I must confess, I am not really good at keeping plants alive. But the prospect of trying to bring things back to a place of strength that doesn’t actually hurt my world if I fail is a nice place to go on my rest days! I don’t know all the tricks. But I do remember, that water and sun are important, right?

Then I remember hearing something about fertilizer? Or was it making sure there was enough soil space? Or did I read something about rotating plants in reference to the light source? Living in the Valley, with so many agriculturally savvy minds, I must be causing a lot of eye rolls. My apologies for disappointing. I’m in the beginning stages of learning. Last week I aerated the soil in my potted plants. I learned about this process by googling some of my sick plant’s symptoms. This week, literally only 6-10 days later, some of my plant babies have stronger leaves, and even fresh baby leaves sprouting up. It worked for a couple of my plants! For some of my other plants, I simply repotted them in a larger pot. This also worked! For some of my younger plants, I’m learning that they require more water than some of my “established” plants.

As I spend my Saturdays in the dirt, the Lord keeps quickening in my spirit about the soil of our hearts. At first, when we are young in our faith, there is a certain regiment or level of discipline needed as the Lord is revealing Himself to us. At first, just attending church services regularly felt like my spirit was on fire for God! I was in it! I was growing and hearing fresh revelation through the pastors and teachers! It was incredible. And then eventually, it didn’t feel like enough. Simply going to church, was no longer an adequate source of strength. I began to read the Bible on my own. (They told me to do this before, but I didn’t believe I needed to considering how alive church services made me feel!) This began a new level of fire for me and my relationship with God.

As years progressed, in my faith, I learned to give financially, serve practically, and submit myself to mentors and leaders, and become a leader and mentor myself. These are all progressive steps in spiritual maturity. They did not all happen at once. I know my spirit looks different than it did 5 years ago. I require different habits to maintain my spiritual health. I cannot expect to continue growing fruit by just listening to others talk about God.

I am enjoying working out the soil of my heart. Finding God when working through concepts like racism, or systemic poverty, or how to best care for those who are marginalized is requiring me to keep digging deeper, and seeking health in my relationships and perspective and calls to action. I am consistently seeking to know the next step of how to keep growing. I know that at certain times of my life, God is asking me to add something to my life, and others, He is requiring that I remove something. Growing in maturity requires something different today than it will tomorrow. Like my plants, I need to keep working to figure out the next steps to grow.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

God’s Word Isn’t Magic

by Andrew Cromwell

Many people seem to treat God’s Word like a magic potion or spell. Sometimes it is prayers that are written and printed in the classifieds or buried in a certain place. It may be a certain phrase repeated half a dozen times. Some like to take Bibles with them when they travel thinking they will be protected or even print verses on bumper stickers or paint them on the walls of their house.

The problem is God’s Word doesn’t work that way. The Bible is not a book of spells. It is not an amulet to ward off evil spirits. And it doesn’t magically protect someone who has verses tattooed on their body.

But it is powerful. It is life-changing. It gives us access to the thoughts of God and gives us insight into the principles that He put into place that govern the universe in which we live. It shows us how to live and what to do when we mess up.

So, what makes God’s Word so powerful and how do we access it in a way that it can result in change and blessing in our lives? Let me give you a few thoughts on the subject.

Jesus said that the Scriptures were about Him. He also said that if we want to have life, then we need to come to Him. So if we want to know Jesus and have the quality of life that He talked about, then we probably need to study God’s Word.

Coincidentally, one of the greatest arguments for the idea that we should listen to what the Bible says is that Jesus said we should. I don’t know about you, but I tend to go with the guy that came back to life after being dead for three days. What He says carries much more weight than what the media, the “smart” people, and my friends say.

God’s Word is revelation to us and for us. Life is challenging and complicated and we need God’s guidance! I don’t know about you, but there are times when I don’t know what the right decision is or what the next step needs to be. I need God to reveal His thoughts on the matter. When I get into God’s Word then my mind and spirit are filled with words that are eternal and life giving. As I take these Words in, God’s Holy Spirit is able to shine light on the thoughts of God that are relevant to my situation. But if I don’t have His Word “hidden in my heart” then the revelation I need isn’t there.

God’s Word is truth. In a world that is full of opinion, and where everyone does what they think is right, the Word of God gives us access to a solid place to stand. Rather than living our lives based on subjective opinion, we can live our lives based on what is actually true. That makes all the difference.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but the point is — God’s Word is powerful if we get it inside of us. Because, if it is inside of us (which requires us to read it, to think about it, to memorize it, and to meditate on it) then we will have our thoughts corrected, our actions inspired and our lives transformed. This doesn’t happen when we use the Scripture like a magic potion, it happens as we see it as God’s revelation given to us for the purpose of the transformation of who we are.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

480 Minutes

by Sylvia Gaston

Four hundred eighty minutes. That’s it! That’s all we have to operate with each day.

In any given 24-hour day, we are given 1440 minutes. Sleeping takes up about 480 minutes and work takes up about 480 minutes. That leaves us with a measly 480 minutes a day to live within!! Are you kidding me?

At the beginning of each year, I typically reflect on how I have spent the past year and how I plan to spend the next one. It’s a great time to think about whether or not I’m happy about the way I spent my time.  If I’m not, it’s a time to make some changes.

My friend, Gracie, recently posted this…
“So I've been thinking a lot about time. We're given only so much of it and it passes so quickly...Frankly, I'm wasting it. I spend so much time doing meaningless things. I need to step away from things that distract my attention and really, really focus on what I have and appreciate…God, my husband, my children, relationships - and just pour into them. With that being said, I've decided it’s time (lol) that social media and I break up -  maybe temporarily, maybe permanently. Not sure yet. This girl is about to go make some time count in her life.”

My best resource for wisdom in my life is God’s Word. The Bible has a lot to say about time.

Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “So, then, be careful how you live. Do not be unwise but wise, making the best use of your time because the times are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 37:5 tells us, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says, “There is a season for everything, and a time for every event under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted.”

So here I sit with 480 minutes at my disposal each day. Some of that time is used up for necessary (yet evil) things like laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning and driving. And, if I’m being honest, some of my minutes are squandered away on television and the Internet.

In what ways are you squandering your time? Are you held hostage by social media or television or something else?

Here are some shifts in my life that I am implementing to make the best use of my 480 minutes:
  • Less TV, more gym time (3-4 days a week – this is a 2-fer because I also get   to spend time with my friend and workout partner, Lee)
  • Read non-fiction books in addition to the fiction that I love
  • Take an online course to keep my mind sharp and my knowledge expanding
  • If I add a new TV program to my DVR, I must remove one (I also do this with my closet – 1 new item in = 1 item must go)
  • Once a week, work on 1 home improvement item so that they don’t stack up
But, more importantly, I am looking at everything I do – every minute I spend – verrry carefully to see if it is worth doing. Is it a waste? Is it meaningful?

Before I do any of these things, however, I am FIRST going to ask God how He wants me to spend my time. He certainly knows what’s best for me…and for you.

What are you doing with your 480 minutes? How about adding a visit to the church of your choice in there somewhere? Or set aside some daily time to pray and hear from God about how He thinks you should be spending your time?

It’s 2018, neighbors!! Go make some time count in your life!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Love Your Neighbor

by Tim Howard

When asked about various commandments – Jesus responded by saying: “The most important commandment is this: ‘… The Lord your God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 

A person’s passion for God will be revealed through his or her compassion for people. I’ve discovered that I’m better prepared to love people when I have first given myself to loving God in the way He deserves and desires.

In the Bible, the New Testament records 50 plus scriptures that include the phrase “One Another!” Here’s a sampling: “Be devoted to one another” ”Honor one another above yourselves.”  “Accept one another” “Care for each other.” “Serve one another.”  “Don’t judge one another.”  “Be patient with one another.”   “Forgive each other.”  “Encourage one another.” “Confess your sins to one another.”  “Pray for one anther.” And the list goes on… When we combine these statements; love takes on a deeper meaning.

There’s a twist, however. Jesus said:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you…”

This statement wasn’t new in the sense that it had never been spoken before but it was new because it was founded upon and motivated by something totally different. In the Old Testament this commandment was based upon the Law. It was something required and mandated. Something you had to do – ought to do and should do. As good as that may be, the new commandment Jesus gave was based upon gratitude and thankfulness not duty. People could extend mercy, grace and kindness not because it was mandated but because they were recipients of Gods mercy, grace and kindness.  In other words: We love people because we have been loved – Not merely because it is the right thing to do.

Loving people God’s way will always be challenging.

Jesus said it’s easy to love people who are lovable. Anyone can do that! But what about the people, who complain, criticize, whine, talk too much and don’t listen? What about the sarcastic, cynical, crude and intolerant? Here’s where you need an extra dose of grace. It’s not as easy as you may think!

Jesus even said:
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!

You might be saying to yourself the same thing I’ve said to myself many times – I can’t do that! That’s the truth! That’s why we need Jesus! You first need to love God and then you can be empowered to love people His way. 

What might happen in 2018 if we all take this commandment to heart? What if our love becomes more than a feeling that is rooted in the emotions? What will happen if we really accept one another - serve one another - stop judging one another and forgive each other? Let’s give it a try in 2018!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Just Wait

by Candace Cortez

I have two kids. They are marvelous little humans who consistently show me new things about myself, about life, and about God. They are growing up, which I am daily appreciative of. But I do feel like my mommy heart is missing phases we have just graduated from even though I am always looking forward to the next stage. It’s a weird place to be but I think a lot of parents can understand that tension with me…right?

They have reached the days when they are relatively tech independent and can control our tablets, phones, and gaming consoles without assistance from me or my husband. This is both a relief and a fresh worry. (Yay parent controls!) The other day, while my son was enjoying his last day of winter break binging, I noticed he was keeping the Xbox controller turned on even after he began his episode. Frustrated at this frivolity, and realizing why I am constantly being berated for batteries, I told him to turn it off. He obeyed, but then I noticed the same controller back on around 8 minutes later. Que mom rage. Yes, I get there quickly sometimes. I decided to wait with the verbal reprimands and observe further to see why he was determined to send me shopping for AAs. That’s when I noticed it. When an episode of a program ends, Netflix gives you a certain amount of time to decide if you want to switch programs. At the end of that time, it just begins the next episode for you. Pretty convenient if you ask me. However, not convenient enough for my nine-year-old. He was keeping the controller on to press “begin next episode” instead of waiting for the 14 seconds that Netflix allotted. He could not wait the 14 seconds! What?! This kid.

I see this inability or unwillingness to wait in so many areas of life. It seems that we are creating systems that help us be more efficientwhile surrendering some of the very tools that create patience. In trying to teach my own family the power of patience, of waiting without complaining, I find myself purposely denying them the easy and immediate in order for them to build up those patience muscles.

Right now, I am currently in prayer for several big things happening in my life. I feel that same desire to just skip to the answer, the resolution, the healing, the growth moment now. I too, need to grow my patience muscles. I need to learn to just wait. Wait on the Lord, wait on my growth process, wait on people to learn how instead of just doing it myself. Patience is hard. But if we can just wait, sometimes that’s where we find the Lord’s voice.

Waiting creates anticipation, an awareness, a focus that we may not experience in the moment of possession. Once we have what we want, we are onto the next.

My heart for myself this year is to know God more than ever before. Yes, I want to get healthier, spend wiser, and read more books. But the beat of my heart is to know God for real, not just of Him or a second-hand account of Him. For me, I know this means I need to wait. Take it slow. Knowing God takes time. A lifetime actually. We can spend our entire lifetime pursuing God and still discover more of who He is. If we lose the ability to exercise patience, we may miss this. We may give up after we know a few Bible stories, or have a few mountain top experiences during worship and turn to something that doesn’t take as much effort. 

Just wait. Keep searching for who and how He is. There’s more to discover.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Again

by Andrew Cromwell

We’re obsessed with the new. We love new cars, new HDTVs, new phones, and new opportunities. And here we are at the beginning of the new year, and we will collectively reflect on the new changes we need in order to make our life better. We will resolve to start new habits, build new relationships (and revitalize old ones), and get new bodies (or at least try and work on the ones we are stuck in). 

Why are we so in love with the new? 

I think it is because we all know deep down inside that something is wrong about the way things get old. And I’m not talking just about old bodies, but old everything. Everything in this world over time, becomes scratched, stained, and scarred. 

Shiny new cars become oxidized, high-miled heaps. 
Bright new TVs become faded and fuzzy.
Wicked fast and beautiful cell phones become slow and cracked.

And lest we forget, young, thin bodies become old and fat. 
New love becomes tired and predictable.
Inspired dreams become broken and forgotten.

This makes us sad! And it should.

Because we were made for the new. That’s why our heart cries out for it.

At the end of time as we know it, the Apostle John tells us that Jesus will declare that He will make all things new again. It is at this moment that everything that is wrong with the world will be made right, once and for all. Jesus will bring things back into the order for which everything was originally designed.

But until that day, your and my heart still cries out for the new. We have an unshakeable knowing that things in our life can and should be better. We believe they should be new again.

At the beginning of this new year, let me encourage you not to listen to the talking heads that will make a big deal out of all the new year’s resolutions that will be broken before we get to February. Don’t listen to your family and friends that remind you of your past attempts to change. And especially don’t pay attention to your own failed history (we’ve all got one). 

Instead, reach out for the new! Hold on to hope. Start a new habit, learn a new skill, and build a new future.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gifts Gifts Gifts!

by Sylvia Gaston

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? My favorite gifts always involve photos of my loved ones.

When our children were young, and we didn’t have a lot of money, my husband would secretly gather our children to make me a gift – a poster with photographs of each one with words of love written on it. These were often decorated with markers, sequins and chenille stems. I have 4 of them, given to me for Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. If our house was on fire, I would grab them first as I ran out the door. They are precious to me.

As they got older, my oldest son Bryan and his wife, Megan, would gather the other three and go out for a photo shoot. These pictures were then framed and wrapped and given to me for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Also, something I would grab as I ran out the door of our burning house.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Some of my favorite memories are of a time when I have given a gift that I knew hit the target perfectly. It was thoughtful, personal and precious to the recipient. I remember anxiously waiting and watching for them to open it up.

One, in particular, comes to mind - a crinkle-edged pastel drawing that my husband drew when he was 8 years old. I sent that poinsettia drawing off to be printed onto a canvas that would last for years to come. He loved it and it hangs prominently in our home.

Other gifts that brought squeals of delight come to mind – toys, bikes, phones.

Now, in the midst of Christmas shopping for a lot of people, I know that some of the gifts I’m buying will hit the target and some of them are just practical things that I know will be appreciated but not necessarily make the recipient ‘freak out’.

And, in the midst of all of these holiday traditions, we are reminded to remember why we celebrate Christmas. And, I do.

I remember that God gives me great gifts. He has given me life, a body that works miraculously every day, a family, dear friends, a fantastic career. He has given me a beautiful planet to live on – with water, air, and indescribable beauty to behold.

God has given me free will. To take whatever path I choose – right or wrong, good or bad, smart or foolish. I’ve probably been a little of each over the years.

But, most importantly, the Bible says God sent Jesus to us as a gift. In Luke 1:32, it says, “He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High.” In Romans 6:23, we are told, “…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”.
Jesus is our way of living forever with God. And, until that day, we have His Holy Spirit speaking to us, guiding us, comforting us, and showing us the perfect path for our lives.

WHAT?!! I get a gift of eternal life! In a heavenly place beyond my imagining?!

Put a bow on it. I’ll take that! I pray the same for you. That you, too, are the recipient of this, the best gift ever.

Merry Christmas to you and to those you hold dear! May God’s presence be felt and evident in your life and in your home.