Saturday, March 24, 2012


by Tim Howard

Recently a person asked me a few simple questions:  Why do you pray?  Why do you attend church services on Sundays? Why do you give 10% of your income to God’s work? Why do you read the Bible? WHY questions and others like these get to the root of our rationale and reveal the motivations behind our actions.

There are a plethora of motivations and it’s not always easy to pin-point the driving force behind any given act. It’s simple to ask the question but more difficult to discover the accurate answer.

We do things out of guilt, pleasure, fear, need or a sense of responsibility, to mention a few.  For many in our culture, money is a powerful motivation, which causes them to do things they wouldn’t do if there were no monetary incentives. Some motivations are wrong and others are right but all of them are significant.

When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded in Matt chapters 5-7, He talked about the motivations behind giving, praying and other religious activity. The major nerve Jesus is touching, the general theme, the overall intent of this passage is to focus on the motivations that drive people to do what they do. The religious leaders of that day were doing the right things for the wrong reasons and that matters to God!

Jesus starts by saying this: Matt. 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” He addresses one of the core motivating forces behind much of what we do. Applause and approval from people! We too often want to impress people rather than please God.

I have received applause from people at times but I never want to seek their applause. People see my good deeds occasionally but I never want to do good deeds to be seen by them. I pray in public settings on occasion when invited to do an invocation but I always want to pray ‘to’ God rather than ‘for’ people. If not, I am among those Jesus addresses in this great sermon.

Since that encounter with the person who asked those questions, I’ve noticed some wrong motives in me. One of them surfaced a few weeks ago when I went to a local coffee shop and noticed a ‘tip’ jar located next to the cash register. I started to leave a tip but consciously chose to wait until the Barista was looking. I didn’t want to leave something unless she saw what I was doing. I mean; if she doesn’t see me giving her a tip, how will she know I’m a nice guy? How sick is that? Lol!

The desire to impress people is difficult to see but it resides in all of us. It starts early in life when we become conscious of what others think about how we dress or how we talk. Even my 6-year-old grandson tells me he doesn’t want to wear certain clothes because others will think he doesn’t look cool. He wants to impress people!

Motives are extremely important to God. From His view, your acts will never rise above the motives that inspire them. Even our court system judges differently when the act is pre-meditated or if it were an accident.

Why do you do whatever you do?  Finding the answers to the ‘why questions’ of life will help you greatly. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Open Hands Not Closed Fists

by Andrew Cromwell

One of the more famous statements made by Jesus is “turn the other cheek.” He made this statement during his most well known sermon called the Sermon on the Mount. During that speech, Jesus redefined what it means to be a true follower of God. The strategy He used was to contrast the standard understanding of God’s laws against their true meaning.

As He does this, we begin to see that there is more to God’s law than a set of rules and regulations. We learn that God is much more interested in transforming our heart than He is in controlling our behavior. It is not that He doesn’t care about behavior, but rather that He knows a change in heart results in a change in behavior. In contrast, if you change behavior only, you may not ever get to the heart.

Many have misunderstood this statement because they have made the fundamental error of thinking Jesus was dictating a particular behavior when He was talking about a heart attitude. Because of this you have people believing Jesus is telling us to be absolutely non-violent and passive. But clearly this is not what Jesus is saying.

We know this because He gives us four pictures illustrating what He means. The first is of an individual who has been insulted with the traditional “slap of insult”, well known in eastern cultures. This is equivalent to being insulted with words either to our face or behind our back. The second is of someone sued in court, has lost the case and must hand over some property. The third is of someone forced to do something against his or her will by an authority figure. And the last is of someone who is asked for a handout.

All of these are situations we are familiar with! In each case, our natural reaction is to respond with anger, bitterness and a desire to “stick it to them”. But Jesus tells us the correct response is one of the open hand—that is, a generous spirit.

Instead of slapping back, we are to absorb the insult and if necessary receive more. Instead of haggling down to the penny what we lost in our legal battle, we are to be generous and give more than what the judge ruled. Instead of obeying those in authority over us through gritted teeth, we are to “go the extra mile with a smile.” And instead of ignoring that request for a handout, we are to give more then the minimum.

Each of these examples demonstrate a heart attitude of generosity that gives not because it is required, but because there is a recognition that God is a God of generosity! Why do we go the extra mile? Because God did for us? Why do we not worry about penny pinching? Because God owns everything and we believe that He is going to care for us! Why do we give more than is asked? Because God did first!

Jesus is calling us to live life with an attitude that refuses to hold on to anger and bitterness. Those things slowly eat away at our insides and make us small people. When we instead keep our hands open and let go of those destructive tendencies, we are actually being like God and we open a channel for him to fill us with more of Himself.

So the question I have for you is, are you living with tightly closed fists? Are you harboring bitterness, anger and resentment for insults and abuses you have received in the past? Or are you living with open hands? Remember, bitterness is the poison you drink hoping the other person will die.

This weekend the pastors in Kings County would love the opportunity to help you understand Jesus’ teachings and become a person who lives with open hands. Why don’t you gather your family together and make a Sunday of it?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


by Tim Howard

Maybe I’m just too sensitive, but I always feel a little sheepish when I walk into a store, knowing I won’t be buying anything.  I’ll just be browsing along and some salesperson will spot me and start moving in my direction.  Maybe what makes me feel bad is his or her look of hope and expectancy. You can almost hear them say to themselves, finally a customer so I can receive some commission! So the salesperson pleasantly asks, “May I help you?”  To which I answer with the two most hated words in the life of a salesperson--“Just looking”.  I am such a disappointment.

In the Old Testament, we come across the term: “Seer.” It referred to a person who could look into the future and look into the heavens to discern what God was about to do or what He was currently doing. These people were later called prophets and in our culture we might call them visionaries.
These gifted people, however, were anything but Looky-Loo’s. They acted upon what they saw by declaring truth to people or by demonstrating in practical form, what God was declaring in the spiritual realm. These men and women practiced what they preached.
Before you act, however, you do need to see something. You need a vision! You need to look before you act. If you don’t have a vision, you will amble around being active and busy but not making any real progress.
May I suggest five good things to look at!
First: Look to God’s Word for wisdom and pray the prayer David prayed in Psalms 119.  “Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your word.”  An amazing thing happens when you read the Bible on a regular basis.  Your insight begins to develop and you begin to see life from God’s perspective.  God’s Word is like an airplane, it lifts you up to an altitude where the view of life is radically changed.
Second: Look to God for your ultimate help.  People may disappoint, governments may fail, banks may not provide financial assistance, but the words of Psalms 121 are still true: “My help comes from the Lord”. 
Third: Look for opportunities to help people.
Fourth: Look at what a person can be, rather than what they are.  This will enhance your relationships. 
Last of all: Look for the good and not just the bad.  There is plenty of both. 
Once you have seen these things, however, decide to act. Act on God’s Word. Don’t be content to read and grow intellectually. Grow experientially too! When you look at someone in need, lend a helping hand.
Too often, people have no intention of buying into what Jesus is doing.  They’re just looking!  Actually, everywhere Jesus did miracles there seemed to be two groups – the ‘expectors’ – who were looking to be involved in what Jesus was doing and the ‘inspectors’ – who were just looking at what Jesus was doing. 

What bothers me is that the inspectors were the religious folks, the spiritual veterans.  They were always so busy analyzing what Jesus was doing that they missed what Jesus was really wanting to do through them. 

It’s not just sales people who are bothered by folks who are “just looking”. People trouble Jesus – often people like you and me – who aren’t interested in being true spiritually. The Apostle James calls them ‘people who claim to have faith yet have no works to back them up’.

If you are going to look to Jesus for provision and directives, please buy into what He gives. Don’t be a Looky-loo, it’s not healthy.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What To Do During Lent

by Andrew Cromwell

Last week, on Feb. 2nd, the official Lent season began. It has become more and more popular to “give something up” for Lent, but many people are still unfamiliar with what exactly it is.

The Christian church began to recognize a special time of preparation leading up to Easter Sunday not long after Jesus was resurrected. Because Easter is the day we celebrate the greatest miracle in history — Christ raising from the dead — people began setting aside a few days to prepare themselves for worship on that day. By around 300 AD, that few days had turned into a 40-day season of fasting and prayer.

The period of 40 days is a very significant one in the Bible. A few examples include when Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, when the rains fell during Noah’s flood for 40 days and when the disciples waited for 40 days for the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, but there are many, many more. The number 40 in the Bible is always used to designate a time of preparation or cleansing followed by a new season.  

So Lent is supposed to be a period of 40 days that is set aside for preparation for a renewed season of God’s visitation. It really is a shame that for many, the Lent season is merely the excuse for Mardi Gras. The whole idea with Mardi Gras is that you are sinning as much as you can before you clean up and get right with God during Lent. But this misses the whole point.

Lent is an opportunity to consciously set aside a period of time in dedication to God. While it certainly is possible — and advisable — to do this at any time during the year, there really is something powerful about knowing that many millions of people are doing the same thing all across the world during Lent.

What should you do? Many are fasting regularly and taking the time that they would have normally taken to eat, to instead seek God in prayer. This is a wonderful practice because we are exercising self-control over our body while reminding ourselves that God is our true source of sustenance. Others are restricting their intake of media and entertainment, because these things have frequently become such a distraction that we neglect our relationship with God and even with our families. The point is to restrict yourself in an area for the purpose of training yourself to be more like Christ (see 1 Timothy 4:7).  

There are many wonderful daily prayer guides available during this season, but one recommendation is the excellent “Seek God for the City.” We have copies available through our office or you can visit or even download their app for your smartphone.

So what are you doing for Lent? Maybe nothing yet, but I would encourage you to start today. Remember, the whole point is to get closer to God, so don’t make the mistake of just starving yourself and not seeking him.