Saturday, October 13, 2018

There May Be Fire

by Candace Cortez

I’ve been a Christian for a lot of years, and there are some stories and verses in the Bible that I have heard too many times to count: Daniel and the lion’s den, David and Goliath, Esther saving her people, the story of Jesus’ birth, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Paul and Silas singing while in prison, and many others. Fortunately, as you read and re-read, the things you can learn do not stop as your familiarity with the story grows. Here’s a quick lesson within a lesson: NEVER STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! We do not know it all, especially about God, and we can always discover more. 

Recently, I re-read the story of the three young men; Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, and the time they were thrown into the fiery furnace. If you haven’t read this story, it’s found in Daniel 3, and you should read it today! If you have time, stop reading this, and go read Daniel 3 right now! It’s so good! Here is a question that has not left me since I’ve read this passage: What fires am I approaching because of my walk with Jesus? 

These three young men were living according to the standard set by God. This standard was in direct opposition to the expectation of their current culture. Because of this, they were punished by being thrown into a fire, with the intention of murdering them for their beliefs. This is intense! I believe we also live in a world that is counter-cultural to God’s design for the perfect relationship with Him and with others. I also believe this may cause some conflict, or heat when we decide to make choices in light of the One we are trying to serve. For example, what if your supervisor makes a mistake and asks you to lie to the boss to help cover for them? On one hand, it’s literally a sin to lie (one of the basic ten commandment ones!). On the other, we want to salvage the relationship or potential ease of working environment with this person, who may be a good person, and you do not want to see them get in trouble. If the answer is easy and you would choose to lie, ask yourself why it was an easy option when that’s an “obvious” sin? If the answer is difficult, but you would choose to lie, you’ve faced the fire and surrendered to an “easier” option. If the answer is honesty, and you tell the boss the truth when asked, then you faced the fire and decided it’s worth it to be obedient. The thing about this third option is although it leaves you vulnerable for feeling the heat from your choice, you also are set up for a potential miracle. 

When we choose to live the way God guides us, even in the little things, we set ourselves up to see Him do some crazy awesome stuff. The challenge is, not every fiery furnace story leads to a happy ending with a miracle. Some of them just end in fire. That’s why it’s so scary. There’s not a guarantee that we will receive compensation for our obedience while we are alive. The promises extend beyond this lifetime. This is why faith is hard. If we knew we would never feel the heat of those flames, then the choice would be easy. 

I don’t know what fires you may be facing today, but trust that as the three young men in this story, God is with you. Choosing Jesus’ way is not always easy, but it is the life that leads to miracles. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Good Friend is Hard to Find

by Andrew Cromwell

It has been said that a good friend is someone who walks in when everyone is walking out. They are someone who not only sees through you, but is determined to see you through the tough spots in life.

Don’t we all want friends like that?

Shallow friendship is easy. It just doesn’t take much effort. Every time I walk into an elevator and say “hi”, I’ve made another shallow friend. We remark pleasantly about the weather, say things like “how long are you in town” or even, “where are you from?”. Shallow friends like your social media posts and might even make a comment or two, but that’s as far as things go.

No one needs instructions on how to make shallow friends. As a matter of fact, I have a few shallow friends that I’ll happily hand off to you if you’re interested!

Deep, meaningful friendships, on the other hand, are hard to come by. That’s because real friendships take time, energy, and effort. Most of us can think of a friendship that used to be close but is now cold and distant.

Why? Usually it is because the cost of maintaining the friendship was more than we were willing to pay.

That friend moved out of the area and we didn’t make the effort to call or keep calling. Or perhaps, one or both of us stopped doing the activity that gave us an excuse to spend time together, and we never took the time to find another reason to connect. There are so very many reasons why we drifted apart, but at the end of the day, we weren’t willing to pay the price to keep growing closer. And so we drifted apart.

Real friendship takes effort. It requires investment. You have to be willing to rearrange your schedule, go out of your way, push through inconvenience, and make relationship building a priority.

If you want powerful relationships, then you have to be willing to pay the price. King Solomon said if you want to have friends, you have to be friendly. That means you have to make time. You have to be willing to engage in a person’s life, care about what they care about, and show up when it matters. You have to decide to love people even when you see them at their worst instead of making your friendship conditional on their behavior or performance.

Do you want people to tell the the truth at your funeral, or do you want them to lie and tell a nice story? The way you invest in your relationships today, will decide the answer to that question.

Above all, we must remember that there is one person — Jesus Christ — who chose to love us unconditionally even though He knew everything about us. It is His love and acceptance that serves as the model for how we all do our friendships.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Transform

by Sylvia Gaston

Our church is in the middle of a study called ‘Transformed’.  We are exploring the ways God can transform our lives to become all that He planned for us to be.

On Sundays, we are hearing Biblical messages on how we can seek God’s help to transform 7 different areas of our lives. Additionally, many of us are in weekly small groups where we dig even deeper into transforming these 7 areas of our lives:
  1.    Spiritual Health
  2.    Physical Health
  3.    Mental Health
  4.    Emotional Health
  5.    Relational Health
  6.    Financial Health
  7.    Vocational Health
Interestingly enough, the Bible has much to say about all of these areas of our lives.

Physical Health:
This week, my group focused on physical health. As expected, our discussions centered on the need to eat better and exercise more. But, there were other things we looked at that inhibit our physical health such as: lack of sleep, stress, water consumption - all good areas to consider as it relates to our overall health.

What really grabbed my attention, however, was the ‘why’ behind staying physically healthy. You see, according to author and pastor Rick Warren, our lives – that includes the care of our bodies – are:

·      a test
·      a trust
·      a temporary assignment.

The 75-100 years we are on this earth are as a blink of an eye compared to the time we will spend on the other side of the grave. One way the Bible describes this is, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” –James 4:14

And for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus, there is more said about how we regard our physical bodies . . .
“Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is in you, and you have received the Spirit from God. You do not belong to yourselves. Christ has paid the price for you. So use your bodies in a way that honors God.” -1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Therefore, the time we have on Earth is a temporary assignment in preparation for eternity. Our time here is a test for how well we manage what God has given us. He has entrusted us with many things: skills, gifts, finances, time, love, generosity, character, hospitality, empathy, relationships, and our bodies.

Assuming, as I do, that God created each of us on purpose and for a purpose, we are to use these gifts for His plan and His will. All of these become ways that we can worship God. If our bodies are falling apart or not strong enough to accomplish these plans for our lives, we cannot become all that He intended.

Also remember, that these bodies of ours have to sustain us for the long haul.  Sometimes, in our early decades, we abuse our bodies or don’t take the care we should.  We’re young, we’re strong, and feel pretty invincible.  But, talk to people in their 50s, 60s, 70s . . . if they haven’t taken good care of their human structure, they’re struggling to be healthy and productive later on in life.

So, healthy bodies have a much deeper implication than just how we look and feel. Our bodies are a means to completely fulfill our purpose on earth.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” -Colossians 3:1-2

Take a good look, friends. What do you need to pay attention to in order to keep the flesh and blood container of yours in great shape for the long haul? You can’t accomplish all that is planned for you if you aren’t healthy. 

It’s never too late to begin a physical transformation. Start today; start small, but START! You need that body to last so that you can do the great things God has planned for you to do in this lifetime!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Show Me the Money

by Tim Howard
“Show Me The Money” is a phrase made popular in 1996 when an American comedy-drama “Jerry Maguire” aired on television. The movie starred Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr. was the one who made this statement.
The phrase “Show Me The Money” reveals the influential power money can have in the lives of people who are motivated by greed.
Money, Sex and Power have been referred to as the “Trinity of Evil” when they are misused and abused. Throughout history, and in my own experience, these three issues seem inseparably intertwined. Money manifests itself as power. Sex is used to acquire both money and power. And power is often called “the best aphrodisiac.”
The truth about money is not difficult to discover in the Bible. It is clear straightforward and mentioned many, many times.
1Tim. 6:10 informs us “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with much grief.” Notice that Paul the Apostle didn’t say money is evil. This passage should awaken us to the fact that money is more than a mere medium of exchange. It can become an idol when it is loved and worshiped.
Jesus told us: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The power behind our present world currency seeks to dominate our lives and is intent on driving us away from worshiping the true God. When you develop an unhealthy love and longing for money, which is fueled by greed, devastating results happen.
The Bible also reveals a ‘light side’ when talking about money.  I am referring to the way in which money can be used to enhance our relationship with God and bless humanity. Think of the Good Samaritan who used money generously to help a person in need. Then there was Zacchaeus who became a follower of Christ and was so grateful to Jesus that he decided to focus on giving rather than getting. And let’s not forget Abraham who used his wealth to bless other nations. Money, when used correctly, can be a blessing and not a curse.
Money is an entrustment from God and a test for mankind. David in Psalm 24 reminds us that everything in all the earth belongs to God. All of HIS ‘stuff’ is on loan to us and God watches to see how we will use it. Will we use it to bless ourselves only or others as well?  Will we allow greed to rule or gratefulness to triumph?
Giving is the antidote to materialism. Giving assures us that we stay on the ‘lighter side’ of money. Giving will make you more like God because He is a giver. Giving will strengthen your faith and the faith of others. Giving will be an investment for eternity.
Luke 6:38 declares: “Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, Gratitude, not greed is the way to live.  Generosity begets generosity."
Rather than “Show Me The Money”, God is inviting you to “Share the Money!” There are many in need and you can make a difference.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Leaning In

by Candace Cortez

It is with much trepidation that I write this post. I feel the need to give a list of qualifications or disclaimers explaining how I’m “allowed” to write this. Some of my credentials include that fact that I’m a Navy Brat and love my country or have been a fan of football for years (go Niners!), my husband is in law enforcement, and I’m bi-racial: half African American and half Caucasian. But none of those things matter or qualify this article as much as I love and believe in Jesus and I am trying my best to love people. 

Here’s the setup. A recent ad campaign has re-sparked the controversy surrounding kneeling or not kneeling during the national anthem at the beginning of football games. You may have seen some responses to this on some media platform. I have a pretty eclectic group in my social media and therefore whenever there is a polarized issue, I almost always read both ends of the spectrum. Some people are mad. This anger is leading to calls for boycotts.

There are many things I choose not to purchase, because I do not agree with certain aspects of that company or organization.  I know that I am probably unknowingly supporting one company that participates in the same or similar practices as another I am refraining from, but I believe that my acquired knowledge informs a level of my responsibility. I am not off the hook just because I didn’t know, and once I know certain things, I have to choose how to respond. Above all, I try my best to not puff up my understanding of my own morality because of the products or organizations I choose to endorse or not. I have felt the automatic categorization that happens in my heart when I have chosen to boycott, and others have decided to partake. It is an easy jump to assume that they are either ignorant, or not as just, or loving, or whatever as I am. This, my friends, is dangerous ground.

It is a powerful thing to belong to a group. To experience the feeling of identity and comradery from a community that shares something in common. This is one of the beautiful blessings of the church. We are one Bride, one Body because we serve and love one God. It is an easy thing to love, trust, and forgive the people in our group. We can more easily understand or guess their motives (or so we think) and therefore even their wrong choices are not as wrong as say, a person who we would place in a different group. They are not as familiar because we don’t share an obvious reason to unite, therefore it is easier to withhold love, trust, or forgiveness of wrongs. For example, being a working mom puts me in a group of women whom I can more easily understand than say, working dads, or even stay at home moms. The challenge is this: just because it’s not as easy to understand someone, doesn’t mean I don’t have to try.

Before we respond or identify ourselves with new polarized sides, I would ask that we wait, and respond like we think Jesus would. When we look at how Jesus handled controversy or a problem, and He did a lot, we do not often see Him becoming outraged unless He was addressing the religious elite (this alone should cause us to pause!) One of Jesus most common methods of processing a controversial moment was to ask a good question. When asked how one is to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded with the question “What is written in the law?” Luke 10:26. In other words, He’s asking, what does scripture say about this topic? When Jesus was with the disciples in the boat in the middle of a storm, He asked them “why are you so afraid?” Matt. 8:26. When Jesus was going to approach a woman who by all current social norms would suggest He should ignore, He asked: “will you give me a drink?”  John 4:7.

As Christians, we should choose wisely the way we steward our influence and ask better questions. Not every cause deserves an immediate gut reaction. Sometimes, our gut is wrong. Sometimes our heart can be misled by media, popularity, past experiences, family or cultural allegiances, etc. I believe there are some questions that Jesus asked that we could ask today. Maybe we need to ask ourselves, what does scripture say about these issues? Maybe we need to ask ourselves in our moment of outrage, why am I so afraid, angry or emotionally affected? Maybe we need to ask someone else, especially someone who is not in our group, if they would like to eat over, or if we could go into their comfort zone, and keep asking questions. Boycotting means to withdraw from something. I am not against boycotting, but I am against boycotting keeping us from moving toward people. Let’s give more grace. Let’s increase connection. Let’s lean in.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ambidextrous Faith

by Andrew Cromwell

In the 4th century, there was a Christian Bishop known as Basil of Caesarea who was described as a man who had “ambidextrous faith.”

Someone who is ambidextrous can use both hands equally well rather than preferring one over the other. While some people tend to use only their right (or left) hand to write, shoot a basketball, swing a bat, or pick their nose (try doing it with your other hand for a change just to see if you can), an ambidextrous person uses both hands equally.

Basil of Caesarea was said to have ambidextrous faith because he held the blessings of God in one hand and the struggles and pains of life in the other. He did not prefer one over the other but believed that both were equally required for him to fully experience the goodness of God.

Like preferring to use our right hand vs our left (or vice versa), most of us prefer to focus either on the blessings of God OR on the struggles of life but not both equally. Some of us like to live on the mountaintop and feel all the warm and fuzzies and talk about all the great things God is doing in our lives and we act as if the struggles of life are all from the Satan himself. Others enjoy living in the struggle—talking about how difficult life is, how much pain exists in the world, and how we are just barely making it because of God’s grace.

Rare is the person who can both celebrate God’s goodness and “rejoice in the Lord always” and at the same time acknowledge the brokenness of life and enter into the “fellowship of His suffering”. But this is the kind of faith we should have!

Real faith acknowledges that God is always good and that “His mercies are new every morning” even while it lives in the brokenness that says “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Real faith doesn’t act like everything is ok when it isn’t. And it also doesn’t get mad at God because things aren’t going great.

Real faith, ambidextrous faith, holds both hands up and says, “Today I celebrate another opportunity for God to display His greatness in the midst of my brokenness.”

Ambidextrous faith sees the problems of life as an opportunity for God to show up, rather than as a reason to blame God for letting things happen. 

Do you have ambidextrous faith or do you tend to operate with only one hand? Maybe it’s time to get both hands into the air! Maybe your situation is not all roses, but you’d better believe it’s not all thorns either. God wants to work in your life in EVERY circumstance, but we have to remember to cooperate with Him.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Oh, But I’m Not a Leader

by Sylvia Gaston

I’ve heard those words quite a few times and every time I do, I wonder what it is about the word ‘leader’ that makes people intimidated. Do they feel unqualified? Is it too much responsibility to lead someone besides one’s self?

According to the dictionary, someone who follows is said to “act according to the lead or example of someone”. That’s not so intimidating.

Do you have a spouse, kids, a dog? Do you have friends? Co-workers? Then you are leading. Whenever those around follow your example, you are leading.

Now, how we lead is a completely different matter. We can lead well or we can lead badly. Either way, others are watching and will choose to follow us or not.

God has created each of us uniquely. He gave you particular talents, personality, character, and intellect. These vary greatly from person to person. Think about the specific things that make you….you. These are the things that you can share with the world - things that could make it a better place if you passed them on. These are the areas where you can, and should, lead.

Jesus ministered to, and led, many during His time here on earth. He saw the best in everyone, even if they weren’t at their best at the time. Although He didn’t come to be our leadership mentor (He came to sacrifice Himself for our sins), we can learn a lot about the way He led others. Here are just a few:

1.    Jesus led by serving others. He did nothing to gain personal attention or prestige. He took every opportunity to lead by example, serving the lowly in status, the outcast and the wretched.  As He did so, He taught His disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-37)
2.    Jesus led with humility. He never threw his weight around nor demanded that others follow. As He taught, loved, and performed miracles, He gave all the glory to God. He said, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me.”  (John 8:54)
3.    Jesus equipped and released others to lead. He invited 12 simple, uneducated men to accompany Him. They saw how He humbly served. They learned by watching His example. Then Jesus released them to heal and minister to others. He said to them, Give as freely as you have received.”  (Matthew 10:8). In other words, pass it on. Lead others in what you have learned.

We all leave some type of legacy behind. How wonderful to know that you had passed on to others some of the great things you were given by God Himself! How beneficial it would be to certain individuals, and even the world, if you left behind the best of yourself.

We are all leading. Accept it, be intentional about it, and follow Jesus’ example, and say, "Hmmm, I AM a leader."