Saturday, December 29, 2012

Enter and Exit

by Tim Howard

In many stores you see a sign on one door saying ‘enter’ and on another door a sign saying ‘exit’. Someone said: “The way you exit is the way you enter.” I don’t think they were suggesting you enter through the exit door or leave through the entry door. This quote didn’t make sense to me at first but as I enter 2013, I’m giving some thought to the way I’m exiting 2012. Do I want to exit this past year carrying a lot of baggage into this new season or do I want to enter the New Year with a lighter load.
All of us accumulate baggage over the years as we travel on life’s journey. It may come from disappointments and we carry around hurts. That’s baggage! Maybe we failed miserably and we tote memories that bring on depression. More baggage! Before you know it the pain piles up and we carry the suitcases of anger, resentment and bitterness. Life becomes a constant task of moving baggage from one place to another.

If you unpack some of the heavy burdens as you exit 2012, you don’t have to enter 2013 the same way! You can enter with a lighter load and a different attitude. Here’s what Jesus said:

Matt 11:28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
There are three pieces of baggage you need to leave behind as you exit 2012 and enter 2013.   If you don’t, they will rob you of joy.

1. Guilt
There’s always someone around who loves to point out your mistakes, failures inadequacies and sins. They are quick to scrutinize and remind you of your imperfections. When you have received the gift of forgiveness from Jesus through confession of your sins, however, your guilt gives way to God’s goodness. You don’t have to be guilty because of your past; you can be freed if you focus on what’s ahead rather than what’s behind

2. Grudges
We’ve all been hurt by others but you don’t have to ‘hold a grudge.’ You can let it go. Turn it over to God by forgiving those who have hurt you. They aren’t getting off the hook for what they have done to you – they are simply being turned over to the one who can judge properly.  It’s amazing how lighter and brighter you feel when you let a grudge go.

3. Grief
Jesus came to help us with our grief. In this world you will have trouble, the Bible says but Jesus said: “take heart! I have overcome the world.” According to Isaiah the prophet, Jesus came to help us find the gold in dirt we find ourselves mired in at times. He can help us praise instead of grieve.

The author of Hebrews, a book in the Bible says: “let us throw off  everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

If you follow his advice, you will exit 2012 differently and therefore enter 2013 better prepared to meet every Challenge.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


by Andrew Cromwell

A lot of life involves waiting. We wait in the check-out line at the grocery store, on the phone in the hopes of reaching a live person, in rush-hour traffic, at the post office and at the doctor’s office. We wait in the morning to start work and then we wait for the work day to end so we can go home. When we first get pregnant, we wait for that little baby to be delivered into our hands for what seems like forever, and then we wait for them to move out of the house for what seems like an eternity. Many of us are still waiting for our ship to come in. So much waiting.

During this season, we wait for Christmas to arrive. For our children, this waiting is laden with great anticipation of the great gifts that they hope to receive. For many adults, this waiting is full of dread lest the gifts do not live up to the expectation.

When it comes to Christmas, we often forget that there was a day when Christmas did not exist. And I’m not just referring to the holiday celebration, but the event that gave us the reason to celebrate in the first place — the birth of Jesus Christ. For all of human history, there was no Christmas celebration for that baby born in a manger had not yet arrived.

For those of us on this side of history, the event now is taken as fact. Even if you don’t believe Jesus is God in the flesh come to make it possible for man to reconnect with the Father, only a very few have the audacity to disbelieve His existence.

But those on the other side of history, did not have the luxury of choosing whether they believed Jesus as God or a mythic man-figure. And without Christ, there was no easy way to connect with our Father in Heaven. And so they waited. The Scripture says that all creation groaned in eager expectation of the arrival of One who would make a way.

Colossians 1:26-27 says that in Christ, the great mystery of the ages has been revealed to us! And this mystery is not only the person of Jesus Christ, but the possibility of Christ’s life living inside of us and making us into people who know the Father and want to do His will.

For some, this remains a mystery even to this day and they continue to wait, for they do not yet know His reality inside of them. But for all those who invite Jesus to change their heart and lead their life, there is a new day that dawns and the waiting is over.

Waiting for Christmas takes on a whole new meaning when we remember that the reasons the angels sang loudly in the sky over Bethlehem is now present among us and Christmas is more than just a holiday, but a reality every day.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Money Talks

by Tim Howard

I started the Christmas season like many others by visiting some of the local stores in hopes of purchasing a few gifts for those I love and care about.  I’m glad to say I’ve finished my Christmas shopping. As I made my way through various places, I was reminded of that familiar phrase “Money talks!”

I heard its voice: It shouted, “Spend me!” and whispered, “Save me!”
Someone said, “Money talks: mine is always saying, ‘Good-bye!’”
That phrase means money has power and influence. Money talks…and one of the things it says is: “love me.” This is the most dangerous!

1 Timothy 6:6-10 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. …We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and created for themselves many problems.” Money is intrinsically neutral but loving money opens the proverbial Pandora’s box.

I recently saw a presentation of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which is an 1843 novella by English author Charles Dickens. Many have seen or read this great fictional and prose narrative and if you haven’t you should. The story tells of a sour and stingy man named Ebenezer Scrooge and his ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation resulting from supernatural visits from Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

Before the radical change, Mr. Scrooge LOVED money and USED people when he should have loved people and used money. When anyone confuses these two priorities, life is altered for the worse.

Jesus summed up the two greatest commands this way:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ When a passion for God and a compassion for people become your top two priorities, you experience what Scrooge missed. Life and True Love!

Money talks, but God also talks and says: Don’t love money but rather love people and use money!  It’s a tool for helping others. In this season of giving, remember the greatest gifts can’t be purchased. You don’t need to go into debt to prove you love someone. Don’t spend more than you earn and you will be a lot happier. Loving people doesn’t require a great deal of money.

Money’s important if you want to eat but God says one thing very clearly in his Word: Money is not the most important thing!

Churches talk about giving money and businesses talk about making money. Frugal people talk about saving money while extravagant people talk about spending money. Penny Pinchers talk about wasting money, Financial Consultants talk about investing money but God talks about Stewarding His money. The Bible has over 2000 verses that specifically address these issues and we would do well to check out some of them as we walk through this season and hear the voice that shouts:  Spend, spend, spend!

Money talks but God talks as well. What voice are you going to listen to?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fa-la-la-la Focus

by Andrew Cromwell

December is here and that means the Christmas season and all that accompanies it. Love or hate the incessant and ever-present Christmas music, the cheery sweaters and the bright decorations, you certainly cannot avoid them. Some of us come kicking and screaming into the season, but come we must. Even the Grinch couldn’t avoid it in the end.

Whether you have more in common with the Grinch or Cindy Lou Who, let me encourage you to keep your focus on those things that matter the most during this season. Retailers will tell you what is important is to show the ones you love (including yourself) that you love them by buying them gifts. The key word here is “buying.” Every type of ad imaginable will tickle and taunt your senses seeking to entice, cajole or bully you into trading your dollars for their devices, your pittance for their paraphernalia and your cash for their crap. Before you know it, you will be right back where you were last year—deep in debt just because you want to make others happy with manufactured miscellany that they probably didn’t even need in the first place.

And if it is not the mad rush to shop till you drop, then you can easily be drawn into the pressure to do everything and be everywhere. There are so many family parties, gatherings with friends, holiday spectaculars, tree lightings, school plays and seasonal celebrations, that if you try and do them all, you will make yourself and your family sick or miserable (or both). In an attempt to try and do everything and make everyone happy, you will only end up hating what is supposed to be a joy-filled season.

This Christmas, why don’t you do things differently?

First, buy less. So much of what we give on Christmas is out of a sense of obligation we put on ourselves. We give things people don’t really want with money that we don’t have. And even if they really do want it, we are spending money we don’t have (hint: if you are paying with your credit card, you don’t have the money), then we are just dumb.

Second, plan more. Make a game plan with your family now. Decide which events and activities you want to do together. Make a quality decision to focus on each other. Preserve your energies so you can best enjoy the things you should do together.

Finally, focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas to begin with.  The true gift of Christmas was found not at Sears, Best Buy or Apple, but in a dusty half-forgotten village.  It was there in Bethlehem that the world received it’s greatest gift in the form of Jesus.

The pastors in Kings County would love to encourage your family to see the real reason for the Christmas season.  You may even plan to make a family trip together to church! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Greatest Gift

by Tim Howard

Today is December 1 and it doesn’t merely suggest a new month has begun, it reminds us of a great celebration, which is only 25 days away.
Christmas is all about giving! When I consider that statement and contemplate the greatest gifts I’ve personally received over the years, FORGIVENESS ranks highest without a doubt. 
At the heart of Christianity you will find the message of forgiveness and it’s more than simply saying: “I forgive you.” It may be conveyed in words but it must come from the heart. Matt. 18:5 confirms this understanding. Forgiveness is something Jesus ‘does for’ us and not something he merely ‘says to’ us.
A former inmate of a Nazi concentration camp was visiting a friend who had shared the suffering with him. “Have you forgiven the Nazis?" he asked his friend. "Yes," the friend replied. “Well, I haven't” stated the first man. “I'm still consumed with hatred for them.” “In that case,” said his friend gently, “they still have you in prison.” 

This story affirms that those who choose not to forgive, by default, choose to live in a self-imposed prison where anger, bitterness, and despair control their lives. The price you pay for not forgiving is exorbitant. In a parable recorded in Matt 18:21-35 we find 3 reasons we need to learn forgiveness.

1. You must learn to forgive others because God has forgiven you! The parable talks about a servant who was so far in debt, he could never get free. The king, however, showed mercy and offered forgiveness with no strings attached. It was free gift. What a king!

There is a parallel in this parable.  The Bible says I owe a debt to God and you do too.  "All have sinned."  The Bible says the debt is so big I can never repay it on my own and neither can you.  But God has chosen, in His love, to forgive us, wipe the slate clean, cancel the debts and say, "Let's start over."  That's the good news!

God expects me to do to others what He has done for me. He has forgiven my sins and I am to forgive other people.  

2. You must learn to forgive because resentment makes you miserable! Like the former inmate of that Nazi concentration camp who wouldn’t forgive, his life remained dismal. When you fail to forgive, God doesn't have to lock you up in jail.  We do it to ourselves.  We lock ourselves in a jail of torment and pain.  We rehearse the hurt over and over and it gets bigger and bigger and continues to hurt us long after it's happened.  There are millions of people who are imprisoned and enslaved by anger and anxiety and they are tormented by resentment, year after year.  The forgiveness of Christ is the key to unlock the jail.  It can set you free.  

3. You must learn to forgive because you will need it in the future!
If you're going to live the rest of your life in perfection you don't need to forgive anybody else. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, however,  "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" - it means: God, will forgive you as much as you forgive the people around you.  Is that something you really want to pray?

Is there someone you need to forgive? As you move through the Christmas season and consider the gifts you want to give, why not give some the gift of forgiveness? And while you are at it, why not forgive yourself!