Saturday, June 16, 2018

Falling Forward

by Tim Howard                               

While reading the Bible this past week I came across a familiar Proverb from King Solomon that caught my attention. It simply says: “Don’t interfere with good people’s lives; don’t try to get the best of them. No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces.” Msg. That scripture reminded me of a Japanese Proverb that says: Fall seven times and stand up eight."

The wise King and the Japanese Proverb are talking about failure and success. The road to success will always take you on a path that leads through failure. How you deal with failure will determine the level of your success. While it may be difficult to wrestle with failure, I’m convinced success is even more grueling.

For every 10 people who successfully handle failure, there seems to be only one person who can handle success. Maybe that is why we hear so many horror stories from professional sports! Young men and women in their 20’s making millions of dollars before they have developed enough character for their success to stand upon.

In every sporting event where two opposing teams face off, there is a loser and a winner. Someone fails and someone succeeds.  Imagine how the Golden State Warriors felt in comparison to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week when they swept the series. Success feels great and failure – Not so great!

Our view of failure and success must be based on truth. These five quotes might help.

1. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill.

2. “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” Confucius

3.  “A man may fail many times but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” John Burroughs

4.  “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein

5. “Success builds character, failure reveals it.” Dave Checkett

Here’s a bit of wisdom taken from a giant named Goliath. You may remember – He’s the guy everyone thought would surely win the battle with his opponent – David.

When reading the story of David and Goliath it seems impossible that a more powerful, more experienced and much larger man in stature would fail to win this battle?  But he did! Why? The answer is found in three decisions Goliath made as he entered the battle.

1. He chose to depend upon his own strength, his own wisdom and his own abilities rather than God. When human insight trumps heavenly wisdom and you act upon your intuition rather than God’s instruction, you are in trouble.

2. He distanced himself from people and stood alone. No one reaches success apart from the help of others. Learn to love and listen to people. Even if you don’t agree with them.

3. Lastly, Goliath despised small things but it was a small smooth stone, shot from a slingshot that brought about his demise. It’s the little things in life that matter most. Take care of the little things and failure will be minimized in the big things.

If you want your failures to lead to success – Make God a part of the equation – Let people have input and take care of the small things.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What Do You Put On?

by Candace Cortez

I’m growing up! Do you want to know how I know? For Mother’s Day last month, I asked for a new pair of work pants. Like, office casual, basic professional attire. Not a new pair of headphones, or a day at the spa, but work pants! While shopping for said work pants, I came across a gorgeous pair of white wide legged trousers. YES! I would love to own these, but I wisely hung them back on the rack, knowing that I am not there yet. I do not yet live the life or maintain enough self-awareness to not totally destroy such a beautiful and vulnerable garment.  

While being a youth pastor typically places me in t-shirts and jeans, I also have a small portion of my wardrobe dedicated to more messy projects, like painting and building. Today, while working on a project for our church family, I knew I would be using black paint. This morning I decided to wear my “painting pants.” These pants have been worn while painting many times, and you can count the projects by the different color finger swipes and accidental splatters which adorn the light colored denim. I do not wear these pants to the church office not only because it’s not office attire, but because they put me in a project mood. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.

When I’m at home, and I’m cleaning my house, I wear my cleaning rubber gloves and tennis shoes. I feel like I can tackle any grime on any surface, indoors and out. What I wear, can determine the length and efforts I will afford a given opportunity. If I was wearing my new, super cute work pants, and someone handed me a paint brush and asked me to paint, I would have to politely decline, or ask for a few minutes to run home and change. If I knew I was about to have a meeting with a family in our church, and I was wearing my work pants, I would take the time to put on the clothes that are more appropriate to eliminate distractions.

Every day you have a choice of what you will put on as you go about your day, and what you choose will often dictate the type of encounters you will be willing to have. Do you wear patience? Do you wear kindness? Do you wear a “whatever it takes” work ethic when it comes to loving other people? If we just wear a “whatever it takes to be comfortable and safe” mentality, we may be missing the opportunities God places before us because we were not spiritually dressed. I think of the story of the good Samaritan, who was the 4th person recorded to come aware of a man who desperately needed help. We do not know the exact reasons why the 3 people who passed by on the other side did so, but we can speculate. Maybe they were in a hurry. Maybe they were afraid of being unclean. Maybe they were afraid of the robber coming back. Impatience, self-centeredness, judgement, and fear are not the garments that Jesus wore. 

If I had chosen those white pants, I would most likely be overly self-aware all day, and immediately change into something more comfortable when I got home. Those fruits of the spirit and a heart of love, truth and worship are not supposed to be taken off. But it is sometimes helpful, to create an awareness that these are the garments you are choosing to wear. Because sometimes, without that pre-awareness, we may leave our house without the intention to serve God and love others, and we may miss a chance to do just that. So what are you putting on today? 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Building to Code

by Andrew Cromwell

If you have ever built or remodeled a house or been a part of some other construction project, you have had the experience of having to submit your plans to the building department. You then waited (and waited and waited) while the drawings were inspected to determine whether they met code. If there were areas where inadequate engineering was done or mistakes were made, the building department made a list of corrections.

The process can sometimes be frustrating for those of us who don’t understand why so much time is taken to ensure that every detail of the code is followed. It can seem to create unnecessary delay and expense when all we want to do is to add a simple room on to our house or cover our back patio. But the building code is designed to create safer, more stable structures that are stronger, more energy efficient, and less likely to burn down in a fire or collapse in an earthquake.

By following the code, the final product is better. The code is like a recipe for a good cake. If you use the right ingredients and follow the instructions, you will soon be enjoying a delicious dessert. But if you get things out of order or swap the salt for the sugar, your experience will not be so pleasant.

Building strong families and relationships work in the same way. If our families are built to code, then they will weather the storms of life, but if they are not, they are likely to implode. We often wonder why our marriages aren’t working or our relationships with our kids are so difficult. Frequently we will blame the difficult experiences of life. We think, if so-and-so wouldn’t have done that or if we wouldn’t have had that financial crisis, then we wouldn’t have split up because of the stress.

But the problem is not the problem. The problem is the construction.

The good news about families and relationships is that you can start making positive changes at any time. Families are living structures and while you may not be able to fix everything in a day, you can make an incredible improvement in a short time.

What is in the building code of healthy families? Among many other things, I believe you will find: soft hearts willing to admit wrong and ask forgiveness, open arms ready to extend compassion and grace, clear boundaries communicating right from wrong, kind communication seeking to understand and not just be understood, and forward vision believing tomorrow can be better.

Families built on these principles can weather the storms of life. That is because the building code didn’t come from us but from our Creator. He really does know best and He always kindly offers us corrections that will help us get back on track. 

How are your family relationships? Perhaps there are some cracks that are warning signs of coming expensive repairs. It might be time to go back to the code.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Family Reunion

by Sylvia Gaston

As you read this, my family is in the midst of a family reunion that takes place about every two years. Cousins, aunts, uncles and parents converge on a local park and go about the business of reuniting, playing and eating. There will be laughter and tears and a bunch of little ones running underfoot. We will exclaim how our children have grown (especially mine) and ask for the latest details of each other’s lives.

For some, reunions are events to be dreaded, akin to the even-more-dreadful class reunions. Stereotypes of relatives are sometimes not so stereotypical – the drunk uncle, the gossipy cousin, the grumpy old man or woman, and so on. They are sometimes the actual reality of the crazy quilt that is your family.

 It seems that those of us who are involved in the planning of that year’s reunion often find ourselves in the business of inviting, cajoling and sometimes begging family members to attend. Yes, it can be an inconvenience of time, travel and finances. Not to mention the concerns of what awaits. Will everyone get along? Will I be uncomfortable around some of the people in attendance? Do I want people to see how I’ve aged or how much weight I’ve gained? So why do we put ourselves through this?

Family is important. No matter the crazy make up of your tribe, they are the fabric of who you are – for all of it’s good and even, all of it’s bad. The people you were raised with and grew up around all contributed to who you are. Hopefully, you adopted their best traits and traditions and rejected the things that were not so lovely. Either way, this process made you who you are. That is worth celebrating.

God places great importance on the family. He devoted much space in the Bible to talk about how to live in relationship with others. He specifically talks about husbands and wives (Ephesians 5, Proverbs 31), how parents and children’s roles should look in order to be successful (Deuteronomy 4, Ephesians 6), and how to love others in general (Proverbs 10, John 13, and basically, the rest of the Bible).

Make no mistake, reunions (big or small) with the assortment of personalities we’re related to are not always easy. It’s important to pray up and ramp up all levels of patience, grace, and tact. It’s important to minimize interaction with the relative that knows just what to say to rile you and to maximize your time with the people that feed your soul.

Taken to a greater level of selflessness, reunions and get-togethers can be an opportunity for you to pour generously into those who need it most. Words of encouragement, compliments and kindness can be your contribution. In addition to a great side dish, of course! Everybody wants to feel better about themselves and to feel they are valued.
Relationships are difficult, to state the obvious. However, we were created to live in relationship with our Father in heaven and with one another. Are you doing that the best you can? I know I can always do better.

I recently heard Pope Francis say, “Families quarrel. In the family there are difficulties but those difficulties are overcome with love.”

Coincidentally, our church is in a teaching series about family relationships but any church is a great place to learn what God has to say about living in healthy and loving relationship with others. 

Pray for me! I’m at my family reunion (just kidding).  J I’ll be busy encouraging and loving on the crazies who made me, me!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The 6:1 Ratio

by Tim Howard

My parents instilled in me a healthy work ethic that still lingers in my mind and affects the way I carry out my responsibilities. If you are like me, you may recall hearing similar statements: “No you can’t go out and play until you clean your room! After you pick up your clothes you may have dessert! When you finish your chores you can spend time with your friends!

Those directives were intended to teach me the value and priority of work. Work first – play second! The goal was good and right but something happened in translation. It actually created a faulty view of work in my own mind. I began to see work as a necessary evil – an undesirable obligation to perform and an obstacle to overcome before I could enjoy life. In short: It was something to be avoided rather than embraced.

I fear that attitude may be more prevalent in our society than we care to admit. Maybe the “T.G.I.F.” slogan reveals a philosophical shift of our priorities from valuing work to making play a more desirable focus.

The Bible tells us that God worked 6 days and rested one. That pattern is presented as a healthy way to live and promises more fulfillment if implemented. We were created to work and not merely relax. We were created to be producers and not just consumers. Granted, there can be an imbalance, which is captured in that little proverb, which says: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

God involves us in His work because He wants us to live with a sense of purpose and worth. Everyone needs something to do, someone to love and something to hope for. When you seek pleasure more than purpose, you alter the way you were created to function and do yourself a disservice.

I recently re-read an interesting verse in Philippians 2:12-13 that caught my attention. It instructs those who follow Jesus Christ to “work out” their salvation. The author instructs people to do more than get informed. He told them to get involved! Don’t wait for God to do everything for you but respond to His leading by obedience and let him do things through you! When you are willing to partner with Him, participate in His plan and share in the work – God’s blessings are unleashed exponentially!

Many people I meet seem to demonstrate an attitude that demands others to do something for them without any participation from them. That’s called entitlement! It’s an aroma that’s very distinctive in today’s culture. It’s seen in our expectations of parents, government agencies, organizations and even God. If we aren’t careful we can fall into the trap of thinking God isn’t at work while failing to realize the problem is our un-willingness to work.

It’s straight forward, not softened or watered down and some would even say it’s harsh, but the Apostle Paul gives this directive in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “…we gave you this rule: Whoever does not work should not eat.”

Whether it’s picking up your clothes, cleaning your room, laboring on the job, working on your marriage or earning a living – the 6:1 ration will provide great dividends if done with the right attitude. 

There is no unemployment in God’s Kingdom. There is plenty of work for everyone. Work is not a necessary evil but the pathway to fulfillment.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Hey Moms, We’re Praying For You!

by Candace Cortez

There is a reference in the Bible, when Paul is writing to one of his favorites, Timothy, and he refers to Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) as being women of sincere faith, who passed that same passion on to their children. As a mother, I know this is the goal. Yes, my daily goal is simply keeping them alive (some days this is harder than others). My secondary goal is not emotionally damaging them by my own journey of growing up! But ultimately, my goal with parenting is to pass on my love of Jesus in a way that actually grows in the context of their own lives.

This is not easy. Mostly because I feel like the sand is quickly pouring through the hourglass, my kids are growing up, and we are losing the place in their lives as their primary influence. In the meantime, meals must be made, homework must be checked, and we have full-time jobs. We also have family to visit, social lives to maintain and holidays to celebrate.

I will be the first to admit, that I probably have enough time to do all the things I need to do, but I waste time doing things that I want to do or feel obligated to do. There are social pressures put on parents, on moms in particular, as our lives are on display. For generations, a mother’s success has been placed on the fruits of her children’s lives. Did your kid pass the test? Score the goal? Get into the good school? Somehow the pride we feel in our kid's accomplishments, manifests itself into pride in ourselves. Now that it’s possible to display every little win, not just the life-changers, the rush to win at things that aren’t actually winning is absurd. I should not feel like a failure as a mom because I spent 12 hours at work today while my Instagram feed is full of Saturday picnics. I should not feel like a failure as a mom because my kid came home with a not so 100% grade on a test, while my Facebook friend’s kid just got into an Ivy League school. Not every moment is a win. But every moment adds up. Sometimes we cannot appreciate the full picture when we are focused on this very minute.

So this is why we are praying for you moms. We are praying that you can honestly celebrate the wins in someone else’s family and life. We are praying that you can identify more wins, but do self-identify with either the wins or the loses. We are praying for regular and productive rest moments for you. We are praying that you would find confidence that God is involved in raising your kids as well…you’re not alone! We are praying for your marriages so that they will maintain a priority level in your lives. We are praying for those of you whose kids are far away, or not living well, that your relationship would be restored. We are praying for those of you who are a mom at heart but have never been able to have a child. We are praying for you to be able to pass on your love of Jesus to your children. We are praying for you because you probably are not praying for you enough. God sees you! And He loves you even more than you love your own kids. Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Crisis Is Here…What Do You Do?

by Sylvia Gaston

Many people find themselves suddenly in the midst of some messy things, ranging from annoying inconveniences to full-blown crises. It’s not a question of ‘if’ you will find yourself there, but ‘when’.

What does a crisis look like? Here are a few examples:
  •         Your car breaks down or is stolen
  •         You lose your job or your financial situation is dire
  •         You receive bad health news
  •        Your child gets in trouble
  •         A loved one dies or is very ill
  •         Your spouse behaves badly . . . or worse
  •        You find yourself a victim of a crime or interpersonal attack

The list can go on and on. What do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?  How do you think you will respond when a crisis rears it’s ugly head?

There is a saying, “When a person is squeezed, you see what they’re really made of by what comes out”. This means that who you really are is revealed in the toughest of times when you are put to the test, or squeezed.

If you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice. If you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, we know what will come out. What comes out of you when you are really squeezed?

People respond to crisis in a variety of ways: anger, withdrawal, fear, blame, questioning of their faith, self-medication, depression, to name a few. I narrow it down to two ways: you either crumble or you battle.

Crumbling is certainly the easiest. It takes no effort whatsoever. You merely succumb to the effects of the emergency, allowing the consequences to sweep you away in its path. However, that relinquishes all control and leaves you a victim. It doesn’t do anything in the way of developing your character, wisdom, or maturity. It sure doesn’t help you set an example or teach those around you, such as children or grandchildren, about how to respond appropriately in their own lives.

If you have a relationship with God, you already have a solid foundation upon which to do battle. God inspired an entire book of instructions and promises upon which to stand. It’s called the Bible. If you have chosen to follow Jesus, you have His Holy Spirit authority to take command and become victorious over your circumstances! Yet, many of us, either don’t know that or under-utilize that authority and wisdom.

When I meet with people in crisis, I pray with them and try to point them to God, who has all power and authority. I try to put resources in their hands to use as tools in their current battle.
I happen to have a Bible that has a great concordance in the back of it. A concordance is an alphabetical listing of words or topics in the Book. It lists a part of the sentence the word is used in to guide you to the right Scripture. You then look up those verses and, if they fit, begin to use them to guide you.

Many of us need to broaden our knowledge of what God says about the challenges of life and do battle in a spiritual way, rather than an emotional one. We need to take charge of our crisis and begin DECLARING what God says about us, Himself, and what is true!!

I challenge you to try this approach next time. It won’t make the crisis go away and sometimes it’s a daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute challenge. But, relying on God’s promises and declaring them over your life will carry you through your next big challenge in a more victorious and empowering way. It will also deepen your relationship with the most important Influencer of your life!

If you don’t know or follow Jesus, then that’s your first step. You don’t even have to go to a church to begin a relationship with Him. A simple prayer begins the most significant journey of your human life.

A – Ask God to forgive you of your sins. (The Bible states that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. –Romans 3:23)

B – Believe that Jesus died for all of our sins. (This is an unearned gift, giving us forgiveness and direct access to God through prayer and His Holy Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:18)

C – Choose to follow Jesus. (Matthew 11:29 tells us to accept Jesus’ teaching and learn from Him. He is gentle and humble in heart. And we will find rest for ourselves.)

A crisis WILL come. Will you crumble or do battle, relying on our Creator and Father in heaven?