Saturday, November 9, 2019

This Is A Hard Teaching

by Candace Cortez

Over the past 8 weeks, our church has been reading through the entire New Testament, and we are almost finished! I am so proud of how our church family has remained steadfast and kept reading even after falling behind or losing that initial enthusiasm with a long project like this. This past week, our reading sent us to the Gospel of John, which happens to be my favorite of the four gospels. One of the things I love about Jesus, which I feel is highlighted in this book, is how Jesus is not afraid of the hard truth or the difficult teachings.

Jesus feeds 5,000 men and their families in a miraculous way. Doing so automatically increases His popularity and people are flocking in to stay close to Him. There is a curiosity about who Jesus is and what He will do next. This seems like the best-case scenario! We pray for revival and a powerful change in our community. From an outsiders’ perspective, it could be said that Jesus was experiencing a version of that, whole families following Him and hanging on every word He said. But Jesus responded in a way that is so counter-intuitive. Instead of setting up a consistent food program, or a class for all the new people to the group, or making it an easy 1-2-3 step to being a member of His group, He ran away. Then when He was found, He began to teach a message that was confusing and seemingly barbaric to the listeners. He let them know that they are looking for bread, but He is the bread, and they must eat of His body and drink His blood to have eternal life (John 6:53). It makes sense to me that people were offended, confused, and left unwilling to submit themselves to cannibalism! Jesus was not going for the easy-to-please crowd-focused message. He was working for something greater. People who loved Him, not just what He could do.

This is incredibly challenging both as a follower of Jesus and as a person dedicating a huge portion of my life to sharing the Good News so others would follow Him as well. When I read scriptures like this, I need to ask myself, which part of the crowd would I fall into? Would I be in the crowd excited about a chance to see a miracle, and annoyed when Jesus said something I don’t understand? Or would I be a person who appreciated the miracles, but stayed, even when Jesus steps into toe-crunching and confusing territory with His teaching? Are we dedicated to the power or the Person?

Here are a couple of questions to ask ourselves to check our hearts. When you are praying for the Lord to do something in your life, are you still in love with Him and just as devoted if the situation does not “work out” the way you hoped? When you are praying, do your conversations exist primarily to ask for things, rather than to praise or give thanks?  Do you find yourself growing more in love with loving people as commanded by Jesus? This is the result of a life dedicated to Him: turning to bless others.

Not all of Jesus’ teachings were easy. He was ok with that. He knew not everyone would follow Him because it seems offensive to presume He is the only way. We desire to make it easy for ourselves and others, and Jesus didn’t do that. He wanted to make sure people knew the truth, not an easier-to-swallow version of it. Lord, help us love the same!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Community That Worships Together

by Sylvia Gaston

Two weeks ago, our church was part of an amazing community-wide worship experience held in the heart of the city at Hanford’s Civic Park. Several individuals from throughout Kings County, representing different churches or no church at all, came together for the 2nd Annual Kings Worship Night.

I was personally blessed to witness over 2,000 people attend this free event and worship God together. A few reasons for my blessedness was because I saw:

1. Several worship teams and choirs from different churches used their talents and different styles to worship the one and only God.

It took hours of meetings, rehearsals, promotion, and prayer to make this event happen. I was blessed to know that, despite our different church denominations, styles, and size, we really are ONE church…a church that loves and worships the one God that restores all.

“…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” – Philippians 2:2 (NIV)

2. Hundreds of families, young and old alike, came together for an evening of praise, worship, and food on a beautiful night under the stars.

The evening was full of peace, joy, smiles and singing in a safe and secure atmosphere. I witnessed no judgment of the various expressions of freedom - from sitting to standing, from clapping to shouting, from observing to dancing. All types of different people were celebrating God and paying attention to one another.

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ –Matthew 22:37-39 (ERV)

3. I was captured by what our entire community could look like – neighborhoods of people that worship and pray together despite our vast differences in age, color, gender, and status. All of us the same in our daily challenges, love for our families and desires for a healthy and prosperous life.

I urge you, my brothers and sisters, for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree to live in unity with one another and put to rest any division that attempts to tear you apart. Be restored as one united body living in perfect harmony. Form a consistent choreography among yourselves, having a common perspective with shared values.” -1 Corinthians 1:10 (TPT)

There in the heart of our town, with strangers and family, I experienced closeness, comradery, friendship, and agreement. That is the hometown I desire, contend for and pray for. With our differences and similarities, coming together as a community that worships together. I saw a glimpse of it that night. It was a beautiful thing.

Thank you, every one of you, who were there and who made this happen. It blessed me with a stirring insight of what our neighborhoods can be. More importantly, TYJ! (thank you, Jesus)!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Know Your Enemy

by Tim Howard

Since the inception of our country, many wars have been fought and this truth alone should remind everyone of this one very important fact. We have an enemy! This enemy is often elusive, controlling and very deceptive.
                                  
The Bible makes this clear: We have a spiritual enemy and this adversary seeks to influence us for the bad, control us in order to thwart freedom and deceive us into thinking that good is bad and bad is good.

One person said to me: “ If you believe in God you must also believe in Satan.” I couldn’t agree more! That’s one of the many names given to our spiritual enemy. Other names are: The devil, liar, deceiver, accuser, and the list goes on. Each name represents something of our enemy’s nature, character, and strategy.

Being born into freedom is different than living a life of freedom. To ‘get free’ from the tyranny of another is one thing but to ‘remain free’ requires a warrior mentality. There is no victory without a fight and freedom is worth a fight.

Knowing your enemy is a key to victory. Whether it’s in a country like Afghanistan, Iran or some spiritual battle, we must have certain Intel to be successful. The enemy doesn’t want you to walk in freedom. Here are 5 ways Satan seeks to keep you imprisoned. 

1.  Ignorance. I didn’t know the speed limit was 35 mph officer! I’m sorry about that, here is your ticket. 

2.  Isaiah 5:13 … “My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge...” Paul the Apostle said: “ We are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes.” Ignorance is not bliss! What you don’t know can hurt you.

3.  Negligence. Luke 6:49 …the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed…” Many marriages and relationships unravel, not because of what one does but because of what one doesn’t do. 

4.  Disobedience. Proverbs. 21:3 “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” God’s laws are not meant to restrict us but to keep us from bondage. Our Father is not so interested in slapping you on the wrist for failure to follow His directives, as He is desirous to keep you free from the snares of the enemy. 

5.  Arrogance. Proverbs16: 18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Your enemy loves to see you filled with pride. It hinders God’s work from happening in you because God draws near to the humble but opposes the proud.  

6.  Un-forgiveness. This will be manifested in multiple ways - resentment, vindictiveness, bitterness, anger, passive unresponsiveness and a host of other unproductive things. When you walk in unforgiveness you are playing into the strategic plan of the enemy.

If you are to win over the attempts of your enemy to imprison you, the door to these 5 points of entry must be closed. Then you must open the door to wisdom, participation, obedience, humility, and forgiveness. When you do, you will experience Victory. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Committed to More

by Candace Cortez

This past week, I was a part of a team of 12 incredible individuals who went on a journey to Mozambique, Africa for a short term mission trip. My husband and I have personal friends who are missionaries there, and we also have a heart for the continent of Africa. We were thrilled to be able to go on this trip along with our two children. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned.
                
Unity is key. When you are in a place where you do not know the language, it is easy to feel ill-equipped. In this situation, multiple languages were being used and I didn’t know any of them. There were several moments of partnership that made sure to keep me humble. I wasn’t able to go and change much of anything. But I was able to go and encourage the unity between people who are different than each other. This mission was not intended to radically change the culture in another area. It was more about embracing that culture and highlighting what God was doing there before we got there. When two churches come together and serve others side by side, I believe it pleases God. Now back home, I want to make sure I am not a part of creating more disunity in my context. There are apologies to be made, and invitations to be sent. Unity takes more work than independence. But I believe it’s one of the ways the Lord’s heart is revealed. I am committed to staying unified with my fellow believers.
                
The majority of the world is different. It was brought to my attention that I live in a minority culture. In our context, even the most poverty-stricken have opportunity. Spending a week in a developing country, which is similar in many ways to the majority of the world, is an incredible reminder of who God is speaking about when He refers to the least of these. I have created a lifestyle that could keep me separate and blind to this majority world. I am committed to seeing it.

People are people. There is the habit I have caught myself falling into. Sometimes when passing a crowd, people are a crowd. This seems like a duh statement, but what I mean by this is that crowds often strip people of their individuality, story, and sometimes as a result, their perceived value at that moment. We had the opportunity to visit families with children who have special needs while in Mozambique. This experience will leave a mark on my heart for my lifetime. But what I didn’t expect was the realization that people are people. Each parent, grandparent, or child had personality, hopes, fears, and a story. They were not a part of the crowd anymore. This is how Jesus sees us. We are not a horde of His creation. We are individually, wonderfully made. I am committed to seeing people as people.
                
Miracles are happening. Recently at a Bible study, a friend mentioned some frustrations that miracles don’t happen today like they used to. Everyone shared the sentiment. You may feel the same. But I have good news! Miracles ARE happening. We did a mini-conference for youth in the neighborhood we visited. We were expecting 50-60 kids to show up. We were thrilled and surprised when the room was filled with over 100 people. This left us nervous about the amount of food prepared. In faith, we began to pray that God would multiply our shredded beef like the loaves and fishes. Our team gave generous portions and as the last person was served, we celebrated having an entire crockpot of beef remaining. It did not seem possible. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but in that moment, we knew God had made a way. I am committed to seeing how God is shifting the circumstances to give Himself glory. 

It’s possible to give more. This is the last thing I’ll share, I promise. I met a lady, who had 4 children, one with a disability. She was not wealthy. She lives in a one-room house. A member of her family had a child with a disability and wanted to abandon that child, which is relatively socially acceptable in that context. This lady brought that child into her home and has been raising her as her own. She has a heart for adoption as at one point she was caring for 8 children total. I am humbled and inspired by this woman, who has given so much to love others. It is often felt, that one can give after they have reached a level of success or comfort that gives them excess. It is not often taught to give even when you are lacking yourself. I am committed to being generous, even when it costs me.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Take Up the Slack

by Andrew Cromwell

I came across a verse the other day while preparing for a talk. As I read it, I found my mind making connections I didn’t expect. I had read the verse before, many times in fact. But this time it came alive in a whole new way.

The Apostle Peter, in the letter we call 2 Peter, says, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise…” The implication is that God isn’t slow in carrying out His promise, even though it can feel like that sometimes from our perspective. He’s actually very patient. He patiently waits for us human beings to finally realize that our way of doing things doesn’t get us anywhere. And when we come to that realization, He is there waiting for us.

The fact that God is so very patient should make us all incredibly thankful. I have given God plenty of reasons to be impatient with me. And I bet you have too. I’m hard-headed, always thinking about myself, and always seeing things through my narrow point-of-view. I put my needs first, I forget the needs of my wife and my kids, I ignore the fact that there are people all around me, and I act like I’m the only one that matters. What a jerk!

And yet God is patient.

But there’s another side to the verse that I hadn’t seen before. Because the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, there are many different translations of the Bible as men and women have done their best to get the full meaning of the original language into the English language.

Because of this, it is often helpful to read more than one translation to capture the full meaning of a particular verse. On this day, I was reading in an old translation and instead of using the word “slow”, the translators had used the word “slack”.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…”

As I read that, I began to think about the implications of the word slack. By definition, slack means to be not taut or held loosely. Picture two soup cans connected by a string. You know, like in the kid's science experiment where they create a kind of telephone. When the string is loose, nothing travels between the two cans. But when you pull it tight and speak into one can, the vibrations carry across the line and into the other can where the message can be received.

What does this have to do with the verse?

Well, imagine God holding one end of the line. He’s got the soup can in hand, He’s whispering into it. He’s sending His love, His goodness, His blessing, His favor, His strength, and His wisdom through, but as long as the other end of the line remains slack, nothing can pass through. He is patiently waiting for us to pick up the other end of the line, pull it tightly to our ear, and receive the good things He wants to give us.

For me, the slack represents all the things that I put in between me and God. You know, all the excuses I make not to talk to Him and all the other things I do instead of spending time with Him. For some reason, I let life get in the way of me picking up the line.

What’s keeping you from picking up your end of the line? What’s getting in the way of connecting with Father God?

I believe there is no better time than right now to drop whatever else you’re carrying and answer the phone.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Frazzled or Frustrated? Drained and Discouraged?

by Sylvia Gaston

So many of us are. The hurried, overloaded, multi-tasking culture we live in can be a lifelong trap. We’ve become used to working harder, doing more, having it all. Some wear busyness as a badge of honor, complaining of exhaustion and accomplishments all in the same breath.

There are some who are busy by necessity. The single working mom, the dad working two jobs to make ends meet, the student who must work in order to go to school…are all worthy of support and encouragement.

However, how many of us are overworked, stressed out, and grouchy by choice? If you’re jumping from one thing to another each and every day with no time to rest and recharge, you’re doing it wrong.

God did not create you to do everything nor to live a frenetic life. In fact, His Word, the Bible, places high value on rest and peaceful living.

He gives an example of two completely different sisters. While Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to the ultimate Teacher and Rabbi, Martha scurries around, making dinner, cleaning up, and complaining. She asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her. Jesus says, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:38-42 NIV).

Could it be that our list of “have to’s” needs closer scrutiny? What falls into that category for you? Most of us have to work at a job to pay our bills. Most of us have to take care of our family and clean our house. Beyond that, what else is on your to-do list?

It may be time to ask God what kind of life He has in mind for you to live. It may be time to lay it all down and start from scratch – prioritizing what really matters. We must be intentional about our life and what we allow it to become or we can be sucked into a swift stream of busyness that has no rest, no rewards, no purpose.

God also tells us, “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11 – MSG)

Come on, Martha, sit a spell, and see what His plans are for you.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Failure Can Be A Good Thing

by Tim Howard

I know everyone fails at some time but it doesn’t make any of us feel better when it happens. No one wants to mess up because it’s painful, evokes feelings of disappointment, may have negative effects, doesn’t seem to be positive and recovery takes a lot of effort.  No one sets out to fail but it happens.

One major example is recorded in Joshua chapter 7 in the Old Testament. Joshua was a great leader of Israel and if you read his story, you will discover a massive failure that affected a whole lot of people in an adverse way. The Israelites were attempting to besiege a city called ‘Ai’ with the purpose of expanding their kingdom because they miscalculated some important details and didn’t have a clear understanding of the big picture.

His example should warn us all. Whether it is an individual, a corporate business or the leadership of a nation; failure a-waits those who do not thoroughly investigate all the facts and get to the cause.

There are two responses to failure that can help greatly. Joshua did both and was able to move beyond his failure. Some people move on in life after a defeat but they often don’t move beyond the collapse to recover totally.

1. Resilient people seek to discover the root problem and refuse to deal only with the fruit. They are committed to cutting down the tree and not just trim the branches. Too often we deal only with the symptoms of the failure and not the source.

A life of secrecy and sin surely lead the list but other things contribute to failure as well. When you put in minimum effort and expect maximum results failure is nearby. If you act upon bad advice, the results can be devastating. The ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ syndrome is responsible for many failures and defeat happens frequently if we don’t make a commitment and demonstrate perseverance. Whatever the root reason is, it’s worth finding. It may be obscure, hazy or concealed but you can’t fix something unless you know why something is broken?

2.  Don’t react to failure but respond.

Emotions are wonderful but if you allow them to lead your decision making process in the midst of failure you will react improperly rather than respond correctly.

Here’s a few ‘Do’s and Don’t’ when you fail.

Don’t be quick to look outside before you have taken a long look inside. This will lead to shifting the responsibility onto someone else. Others may have contributed to your debacle but that doesn’t make them responsible for what you do. Do accept full responsibility for your own life and the decisions you make.

Don’t ignore the facts and fail to recognize the ‘Pink Elephant’ in the room. Do focus fully on the problem and seek an honest evaluation.

Don’t quit – take another swing. Someone said: “Failure doesn’t have to be final.”

Don’t blame God but pray to Him. The first thing Joshua did when failure happened was to call out to the One who could help. Some people will look down on you when failure happens and possibly reject you but Jesus will ALWAYS work with you if you come to Him. There’s something good that can come out of failure if we call on God.