Thursday, December 26, 2013

Keep Yourself


by Andrew Cromwell

Life is full of ups and downs. No one is immune to challenges and problems. Even the people who we consider to be the most fortunate have to face the reality of a broken and sin-filled world. But how do we deal with this contradiction of the good and the bad in all of our lives? 

Some people become jaded and bitter. Some do their best to ignore and minimize the problems and live in a kind of denial. Some spend their lives and resources trying to organize their world in a way that minimizes the possibility of being hurt. 


But none of these options is the right one. All of them fall short of the way that God intended us to respond to the challenges we face in life. 

There is a tiny book — a letter really — towards the end of the Bible called Jude. It’s no more than a single page, but it is rich with content. Found tucked towards the end of its twenty-five verses are a few lines about enduring in a difficult world.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

There is much to glean from these two short verses, but the centerpiece is the phrase “keep yourselves in God’s love”. 

At first glance, it might seem that this is a contradiction to the main teaching of Scripture. For Jesus made it clear that God’s love for us was full and complete and that there was nothing we could do to change the way He felt about us. Christ came and gave His life for all human beings, even those who have not accepted Him! That’s the kind of love that Father God has for us.

So why would we need to “keep ourselves in His love”? Well, it is certainly not about earning God’s love (for we could never do that). Instead it is about experiencing God’s love. And that is a challenge sometimes!

There is something about this world that is corrosive to our very souls. When we are banged up by life, we often tend to lash out against God or withdraw from Him. Before we know it we have lost our way. Jude knew that. And that is why he encouraged his readers to keep themselves in God’s love. 

Keeping yourself in God’s love is a constant activity. It is something we are engaged in. Far too often, when the bad stuff in life happens, we throw a pity party when we should be throwing our arms out to God. The very moment when we are deciding that God has forgotten us and we start walking in the other direction, is the exact moment when we need to be walking towards Him! 

Imagine yourself like a ship in the ocean. The ocean is God’s love. You are always in it. But there is a section of the ocean where the sun is shining through the clouds and there in that place you actually experience — you feel — God’s love. When you are sailing in the sunshine, you sense His nearness and you feel connected to God. But when the storms of life blow you out of the sunshine, you start to feel disconnected and distant from the Father. He still loves you, He still has you surrounded in love, but you don’t feel it.


And this is where the “keeping” comes in. When you are blown off course, you have to pull out the sails and work the tackle and sometimes even stick the oars in the water and fight to get back into the sunshine. This is work. When the wind is blowing it takes ten times the effort to stay in the sunshine. Where a small course correction would have kept you on course when the weather was fair, now it seems nearly impossible.

How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Well, Jude says that too. We “build ourselves up in our faith” and we “pray in the Holy Spirit.”  More on that next time!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Broken


by Tim Howard

If you’ve ever opened a present at Christmas and discovered it was broken, you know what disappointment feels like.  As my wife opened a beautifully wrapped box this past Christmas, she loved what she saw until it was removed from the box. The gift I purchased had inadvertently been broken in transit.

In the Christmas season we can get so caught up in the ‘tinsel’ that we forget the ‘tension’ and brokenness that is experienced in many homes throughout the holiday season. For many, Christmas is not a family or fun time. Pain, loneliness and sorrow abound. You and I live in a world of brokenness. Marriages are breaking up at an unprecedented pace. Broken families are everywhere and our society is experiencing long lasting ramifications as a result – much like the aftershocks that continue long after the earthquake.

Brokenness is a fact of life for all of us and the question is simple. Can anything be done? My reaction to the broken gift was quite different than my wife’s.  I immediately decided to throw it away and purchase a new one.  From my point of view the decision seemed rational and logical. I knew where we could buy another gift just like that one broken and we had the financial resources to do so.  We might even have found it on sale the day after Christmas! My wife’s response, however, was not quite so rash.  She carefully surveyed my gift to her from every angle for several moments. She studied it as though she were a scientist in search of a cure for a rare disease.  Finally, she announced to me with great conviction, “I can fix it.”  And she did. 

That’s what Jesus came to do and one major reason we celebrate Christmas. In Matthew 1 the Angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son and His name would be called Immanuel – meaning God with us! He came bearing gifts. Just like the Magi brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to Jesus as a statement of worship – God sent His Son with three gifts for us as a statement of His love. He brought the gifts of 1. Salvation. 2. Consolation and 3. Restoration.

He didn’t want to discard or dispose of us but rescue us. John 3:17 reveals He came to save not condemn. That’s what salvation means – One who rescues another who is in need. He loves us, He is with us and He is for us.

It doesn’t stop there, however. He not only rescues us but He brings the gift of consolation. Is 66:13 tells us that He will comfort those are broken, those who have fractured families and those who have crushed spirits.

But wait… there’s a third gift. He offers the gift of restoration. He is able to repair what is broken.

Do you remember the little nursery rhyme? “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
 All the King's horses, And all the King's men couldn’t put Humpty together again!” Well… the King of all Kings can restore anything and that’s why Christmas is “Merry” Christmas.

As you open gifts this season remember God gave us the greatest gift of all. JESUS! And Jesus brought us the gifts of Salvation, Consolation and Restoration.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Gift Do You Bring?

by Andrew Cromwell

During the Christmas season we are always concerned about gifts. We make our lists and check them twice. We try to make sure no one is forgotten and everyone gets something. We study the ads like bloodhounds on a scent and then head out with our little plastic cards to make our purchases.

But the older we get, the less concerned we become about what gifts will be received and focus instead on the gifts that are given. We want to give gifts that are meaningful. It is not just about how much we spend, but rather on the value that we communicate. Meaningful gifts are aimed at the heart, not just at the head or the pocketbook.

Generally, when we think about Christmas and gifts and Scripture, it is the story of the wise men that is retold. These wise guys were smart enough to track Jesus down as a young child and they brought Him gifts of great value.

But there is another story that is, I think, even more poignant. This tale of gift-giving occurred not at the beginning of Jesus’ time here on earth, but at its end. Three of the gospels tell us how just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Jesus was at Simon the Leper’s house.

Jesus was sitting by the table and, as always, there was a crowd of people around Him. The disciples were there as well as others who were sitting at His feet and listening to Him teach. A woman was there who was known to have a questionable background. This was not in any way out of the ordinary because Jesus was always surrounded by people who were down and out. He had a way of making people who had taken the worst of turns in their lives feel loved and accepted. This woman was no different.

But then something happened that was out of the ordinary and because of it, Matthew, Mark and Luke all made a special note about it in their account of Jesus’ life. This woman began to cry. And as she cried her tears fell on Jesus’ feet. So abundant were her tears that she then used her hair to wipe away her tears and thus wash Jesus’ feet. But then she went further and pulled out an expensive bottle of perfume (worth a year’s wages) and poured it over His feet and then over His head.

The disciples were mortified. First of all, this woman who had a sordid past had touched Jesus. Second, the woman had taken the perfume (which she most likely obtained from a sugar daddy as a gift) and had wasted it by dumping it out, when it could have been sold and the proceeds used to feed the poor.

But Jesus saw this gift differently. He could see the woman’s heart. He perceived her sorrow for her sin and her desire for forgiveness. And He honored her for it because by her act she had prepared Him for His own burial in just a few days.

The woman brought that which was of greatest value to her and poured it out on Jesus’ feet. This gift moved the very heart of God. And I believe, the gift of greatest value was not the perfume, but her tears that were an expression of heart seeking the forgiveness of the Master.

What gift are you planning on bringing to Jesus this season? There is no greater gift than to bring your heart -- even if it’s ugly, bruised and broken. Psalms 51:17 says, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”

Jesus never rejects a repentant heart for it is the gift He finds of greatest value. He is not looking for perfect hearts, for perfect hearts have no need of Him. He is not looking for proud hearts, for proud hearts laugh at what He offers. He is looking for broken hearts. Hearts that have been beat up by life, that have chosen the wrong path, that have tried the other way and come up short. These are the hearts He does His best work with.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'Tis The Season

by Tim Howard

I’ve already started to ask the question so many of us ask our family and friends in the month of December. What would you like for Christmas?

Back in 1946 – Before my birth I might add - Don Gardner wrote a humorous Christmas song titled: “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.” It’s about a little girl who wanted to whistle a tune and wish people a Merry Christmas but had great difficulty because she didn’t have her two front teeth.

If you ask a child what they want for Christmas (with or without teeth) you will definitely get a lengthy answer and even adults don’t need long to think up a response. There is no shortage of ‘wants.’

Some of the things we desire are needed while others are not. A child who doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from wants something to eat but this is more than a mere desire – it is a need. A little one who wants another toy race car to add to his or her overflowing collection does not really need it – It’s a desire.

The Bible tells us that God gives gifts to all mankind. He not only wants to meet needs but to fulfill desires of people as well. I’m thankful for this truth because all my practical and physical needs have been provided for by God’s grace and goodness.

When a person reaches a place where his or her needs are met, the joy begins to shift from ‘receiving’ to ‘giving’. People begin to learn the truth of what the Apostle Paul said in Acts 20:35. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

A new dimension of joy comes when you “GIVE.” Don’t get me wrong, I like to receive as much as anyone but giving opens up a bigger door to fulfillment. Not just for you but others too. You can enrich the lives of people this season if you give them gifts rooted in love not duty. Gifts that are given without expectation and strings attached. Gifts that meet needs as well as desires.

The most memorable and precious gifts this season may not necessarily be material in nature. Think about giving your family, friends and even strangers the gift of compassion. It will be appreciated. Give people the gift of patience and understanding. You will be amazed at the results.

Consider giving people some space? Stop trying to micro manage their lives. They will receive this gift of kindness with open arms. Giving people forgiveness is always a welcomed gift.

Many gifts are within your power to give! If you choose to accept the words of the Apostle Paul and act upon – this season will be better than usual.

The Bible tells us that three wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  They were honoring God who gave to us the greatest gift of all, A Savior!  God’s gift came to us wrapped snugly in strips of cloth and lying in a manger because there was not room for them in the inn.

May every gift you give this season, be in honor of Jesus.  After all, it is HIS BIRTHDAY we are celebrating. ‘Tis the Season!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Expect Opposition

by Andrew Cromwell

There is a principle of life that we all would rather ignore. It is similar to the “no pain, no gain” principle. But where the “no pain, no gain” principle is generally about engaging in personal effort in order to achieve a desired goal, this principle is a little different.

I call it the “Opposition Principle.” The concept is simple. Anything worthwhile in life will be opposed, and the things that are the MOST important are opposed the MOST. No one gets exempted from this principle. No one gets a pass because they are rich or famous or well educated or intelligent. It doesn’t matter where you were born, who you are related to or who you know, any positive movement forward is going to experience resistance.

Isaac Newton put it his way, “to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” But we are not just talking about hitting a baseball or pushing a rock up a hill. I’m not suggesting that this principle is merely a natural force like gravity.

This is a spiritual principle because we live in a spiritual world. We forget that because all we can see with our eyes is the natural world. We forget it because our culture refuses to acknowledge the validity of any truth other than those demonstrated by science and science by its very nature deals ONLY with the natural world.

But the spiritual world that we cannot see with our eyes is as important and influential as the one we can touch and feel with our physical being. The spiritual world is the world of love, kindness, courage, goodness, and hope (about which science tells us absolutely nothing at all). It is also the world of angels and demons and God and Satan.

Now I think this is where it gets the most interesting. Jesus Christ, we are told in the Bible, came into this world and was born as a human man even though He was God. He was literally God in the flesh. He moved from the spiritual world into the natural world. And He did this so that we might have a way to reconnect with God the Father and bridge the gap between the two worlds.

Jesus was the only perfect human being there ever has been and ever will be. And yet He experienced everything we experience -- all emotion, all temptation, and even limitation -- the same way we do. This is why He is our perfect model and this is why He is the One we should all follow.

Now back to the opposition principle. It says in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan and received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in that moment (you might remember the story of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending from heaven and the voice of Father God saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”). And immediately after that, Scripture says that the Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the Satan.

There it is. The opposition principle. This is the moment in Jesus’ life when He was beginning His ministry. He was about to go and heal the blind, the lame and the deaf. He was about to raise the dead. He was about to multiply food and feed 10,000 people in one setting. He was about to talk to the storm and tell it to be still.

But the first thing that happened was that He was opposed by the Satan. Before He did great and wonderful things, He first experienced some hard things. Before God did everything that He wanted to do through Jesus, Jesus first had to walk through opposition.

And you and I do too. God wants to do good things in you and through you. He may even want you to pray for the sick and see them healed. He may want to transform the way you tend to get angry and stab people with your words. He may want to help you heal the breach in your family. I can guarantee you that He wants to do more than you can ask or imagine, because that’s what His word says.

But first, you are going to be opposed. The moment you start to grab a hold of those things that God wants to do in you -- the moment you decide you’re going to get closer to Him, or go to church, or start speaking with kindness, or start forgiving -- that’s the moment you’re going to face opposition. It’s not going to be easy. The Enemy is going to tell you that you’re never going to make it to victory. He’s going to do everything he can to make it difficult for you to get to where God wants you to be.

Just remember, when you are opposed, it might be a sign you’re on the right track!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Someone is Watching You

by Tim Howard

I drove by an office complex last week and noticed a camera attached to the outside wall of a local business and underneath the camera – a sign stated: “You Are Being Watched.” I’m not convinced the cameras were actually real but I do know the reality of that statement.

One of the current television programs, “Person of Interest” has brought this truth to light and if one is not careful, a certain level of paranoia can set in. Just knowing you are being watched when you don’t know you are being watched can cause a growing level of discomfort.

The truth be told, however, knowing someone is watching you can often keep you on the right track and deter you from doing destructive things. In the past I’ve caught myself being tempted by something not productive, positive or profitable and would have yielded to the impulse, had it not been for my awareness that other’s were watching.

When people seek to do wrong, they generally choose darkness over light. John 3:20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be seen by others” For those who don’t want to live right, being seen by others is not a pleasant thought.

On the other hand, there is a very positive side to this truth. Knowing you are being watched can bring much joy and fulfillment. When I was a little boy, I recall how frequently I would shout to my parents vying for their attention as I was doing something spectacular… at least from my view.     

Dad! Mom! Look, Look, Look at me, me, me... I wanted to be at the center of their view. For some reason their glance meant a lot. This is not unique to me because I’ve witnessed it many times with my own children, my grandchildren and other’s as well.

Then there is God! Knowing He is watching you can cause fear or joy. For me, all my fears have turned to joy. Knowing His eyes are focused on me causes me to understand the value He attributes to me. Knowing His eyes are on me helps me to stop hiding my sin because it’s impossible to conceal. Knowing He’s watching me conveys a lot of comfort because I realize nothing takes Him by surprise.

Listen to David.

Psalms. 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” He’s like a coach who is watching every play in order to help the player improve.

Psalms 33:18 “But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him. On those who look to him for his unfailing love.” He loves to look you in the eye. When you seek to see Him, you will discover He is looking at you. You may lose sight of Him but He never loses sight of you.

Psalms 34:15 “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.” God does more than look. He gets involved when there is a request for help.

Someone is watching you! Your acquaintances your friends, your family, your children if you are a parent and your co-workers… Yes, even God.

Character is seen in what you do and how you live when you think no one is watching. Problem is: ‘Somebody is always watching you.’

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Close Your Mouth

by Andrew Cromwell

Don’t you love it when you put your foot in your mouth? If you have ever asked a woman how far along she was in her pregnancy only to discover that she wasn’t pregnant to begin with, then you know what that feels like! Or maybe your problem is you just say too much. What starts out as a run-of-the-mill conversation about the weather with the stranger standing in the elevator next to you, turns into a detailed description of your last medical procedure. Of course, some of us find ourselves saying WAY too much whenever we get angry. The moment we feel that our rights have been violated in some way, we launch into a tirade and rip the offender to shreds.

My mom has a wonderful way to describe this tendency that people have. She calls is "diarrhea of the mouth". Just like the real thing, this condition stinks and makes a mess. Without getting too graphic, when someone has this condition they leave a lingering odor that tends to permeate everything. When it is all said and done, someone has to clean up the mess.

But there is a simple solution. Stop running your mouth. Think before you speak. Say half of what you want (especially when your words are motivated by frustration or anger). The Bible has a lot to say about the power of words. Proverbs says that even a foolish person seems wise when he keeps his mouth shut!

Proverbs 10:19 says that when there are a lot of words, we can’t help but get ourselves into trouble! Proverbs 18:21 says that words can either kill or give life, it’s up to us what kind we serve up. James says that the tongue is the most powerful muscle in the body, even though it is one of the smallest. It has the power to steer your whole life! Through the power of the tongue we can either invite heaven or hell into our life and home.

What’s the state of your mouth? Do you find yourself spewing out too many words and leaving wounded people behind you wherever you go? Take a moment and review the impact you have on those around you, maybe it’s time to make some adjustments.

Those who study public relations tell us that it takes seven positive stories to counteract one negative one. I think it is the same with words. One damaging word is not erased by one positive word. The destructive force of words that burn, bite and tear down often seem to have greater impact than those that build, encourage and bless. That is why it is so important for us to speak words of life ALWAYS!

We need to speak encouragement into our kids and into our spouse. That person checking us out at the store? They need encouragement too. What about that tech person we try to understand when we call customer service? They’re a person too and our words can bless them (how often do we do that?).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Noise

by Tim Howard

Neil Diamond sings a song called ‘Beautiful Noise’ and it’s my grandson’s favorite. I like it too because it’s upbeat, fun and exudes a whole lot of joy.

Some of the lyrics to this song are: “What a beautiful noise – Coming up from the street – It's got a beautiful sound – It's got a beautiful beat – It's a beautiful noise – Going on everywhere – Like the clickety-clack of a train on a track – It's got rhythm to spare – It's a beautiful noise – and it's a sound that I love…”

I remember my first time sitting in an outdoor cafĂ© in Manhattan. I was having my first LattĂ© ever, while watching all the activity and hearing the sounds of people, cars, horns, chatter and a myriad of other noises. In it’s own way, it was beautiful.

I’ve always enjoyed being in places where there’s laughter, lots of people, lots of life and lots of activity but there’s some drawbacks. Sometimes noise, no matter how beautiful, can become a distraction.

It’s possible to get so obsessed with noise that a person doesn’t know how to deal with silence. When we are in our cars we tend to turn the radio on or put in our favorite CD. When talking to strangers, we feel awkward if there is silence so we fill the space with empty verbiage. I know people who very seldom turn their televisions off at home because the sounds fill the air.

Noise can be like a drug. It can be used to mask loneliness. It can block out unwanted thoughts or used as an escape from the pressures of the day. More importantly, it can hinder you from hearing God’s voice – speaking to you!

A verse found in Psalms 46:10 states:  “Be still, and know that I am God.” If a person wants to know the Creator, there will need to be times of stillness, silence and solitude.

According to Mark 1:35 we are told that Jesus got up very early in the morning, while it was still dark, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he talked to His Father. This happened many times throughout His life.

What if our culture put into law a mandatory daily ‘Siesta’? What if we turned off the radios and televisions and stopped all the noise at specific times? What if we followed the example of Jesus, who set aside times for solitude and withdrew from the noise?  Maybe, just maybe we would hear the beautiful sound of God speaking to us. Now that’s a beautiful noise.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How’s Your Water?

by Andrew Cromwell

Jesus said in John chapter 7, “whoever believes in me shall have rivers of living water flowing from within.” 

This begs the question: What kind of water do you have flowing from you? I believe that every interaction we have with others can be compared to a water exchange. You know how it is, there are some people in your life that when you talk with them, you leave feeling refreshed. It is as if you have received a cold, clean drink of water. These are the kind of people that you want to spend time with because they add value to you life, they encourage you when you are down and they inspire you to keep going.

On the other hand, there are some interactions with people where instead of offering you a nice, cool drink, they instead spew filth all over you. These conversations leave you feeling like you need to go and take a shower. People like this, you tend to avoid because instead of adding value to you, they actually hurt you. 

What kind of water are you offering to people? Are you refreshing or are you poisonous?

Water is life-giving by its very nature. Where water flows you will find trees, grass, crops and animals of all kinds. Wherever you have a river that provides a consistent source of water you will find all kinds of life next to the river.

That is, unless the water is polluted. 

James says “can bitter and fresh flow from the same fountain?” The answer, regrettably, is, “yes, it can and yes it does.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you find that the water you are offering to others is polluted and unfit to drink, then maybe it is time to get back to the source of the living water. The good news is that if we are connected to Jesus Christ then He will pour into us a river of fresh, clean water and it will wash out all the nasty muck and make us suitable for life-giving interactions with others once again.

Maybe you have never taken a drink from that fountain of living water. Or maybe it has just been a long time since you have been connected to the source and you are dry. Wherever you have been and however you are, Jesus today offers His living water. It will fill you and transform you from the inside out, if you allow it to.

Sometimes a simple prayer is the most effective. I encourage you to simply ask Jesus to fill you with His living water and to wash away the muck of the past. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seasons of Life

by Tim Howard

I’m preparing to travel out of the country in a few months and have begun to think about what I need to pack. When packing for an excursion to another country, one of the first questions a person should ask involves the season. If it’s summer, you will pack one set of clothing but if winter a totally different set.

The Bible makes it clear that God established 4 distinct seasons. "As long as the earth remains, there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night."  Genesis 2:22 (LB) This is also true for our human existence. There are different seasons of life and when one yields to the next, you will find it needful to repack your bags.

One writing from Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst mentions the morning, afternoon and evening of our lives. He says “we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”

All of us carry some baggage from the morning of our lives into the afternoon and evening. If you don’t unpack and repack your bags along the way, you will discover the truth Mr. Jung mentioned. What worked in one season may not be appropriate or helpful in the next.

Unpacking simply means taking a long, hard look at what we’re carrying and why. Seeing if our possessions, perspectives, attitudes, responsibilities and relationships are still helping us move forward or if they are dragging us down.

Repacking then is the ongoing activity of reevaluation and reinvention. Leaving behind what is not needed and choosing to carry only those things that will help you discover a renewed sense of life.

What do you need to release in this season of time? What have you been carrying around that is no longer beneficial? What do you need to hold on to? What things do you need to add to your life in this upcoming season that will help you get to the next level?

Are you in a season of grief? Loss? Waiting? Celebration? Anticipation? Maybe it’s a season of self-doubt? Confidence? Dryness or Rest. No matter what season you are in, remember this:

God has a purpose for every season. Some can be brutal but God can even use those to develop character. It’s not enough to merely ‘grow up.’ One must also ‘grow down.’ Without roots, you won’t be able to weather the storms of life and roots only grow deeper in difficult seasons. I personally like the fun, joyful and easy seasons but the hard ones produce substance and every season should be embraced.

There’s even a promise in the difficult seasons for those who put their trust in Jesus. Rom. 8:28 “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

I’m not a gardener by any means but I do know that in order for plants to flourish, they have to have changing seasons. The same is true for our lives to be healthy.

Eccl. 3:1 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” Don’t hold onto what’s old and unproductive. Make sure to repack your bags for the next season. It is a season of great possibilities if you hang with Jesus.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A New Partner Won't Fix You

by Andrew Cromwell


We love the idea of a “match made in heaven” and “soul-mates”. Our movie industry makes millions rehashing this idea over and over. The romantic comedy movie genre churns out movies eagerly gobbled up by a public who is fascinated with the notion that people are made for each other and must be together. These movies are full of cheesy lines like “you complete me” and “death cannot stop true love, it can only delay it for a little while.”

The problem with this notion, that there is one other person in the world that perfectly matches you, is that it is bogus. Honestly, the reason we like this idea so much, is because we are so incredibly selfish! We want a relationship that is exciting, romantic, sweet, and passionate — and who wouldn’t — but we want it to be easy. We tell ourselves that if we were married to the right person, love, care and concern would just flow out of us. Our partner would make us want to be a better person because they would meet all of our needs and we would make them a better person as we meet all of theirs. And this beautiful love cycle would just self-reinforce as we live on in bliss until the end of time.

Have you noticed that these movies are all about finding the right person and overcoming all the obstacles until they finally get together? Once they are together, the movie ends. It is as if the greatest challenge in the world is to just find the person whose soul fits perfectly with yours and once you have done that, the rest is easy!

Just remember, movies are made to entertain, not reflect reality. But this idea is so powerful, that we adopt it, sometimes without even realizing it. And when we hit difficulty in our marriage, we cannot help but begin to question whether or not we found the right person to begin with! After all, had we found the right person, we wouldn’t be having this kind of challenge.  And before long we have decided that the answer is to get unhitched from this partner so that we can find the one that completes us.

And the cycle goes on and on.

The sad reality is that we are selfish and lazy and we give up too easily. We blame our partner, we blame the circumstances, we blame the stars, but rarely do we stop blaming and buckle down and do the hard work of love. We talk about love, but we forget that it means that we have to forgive, think the best of our partner, and keep loving even when we don’t want to.

I’ve heard lots of definitions of love, but none is better than the source. As you read it, ask God to help you actually live this out with your spouse and to stop looking for a way out:

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything, trusts God always,
Always looks for the best, never looks back,
But keeps going to the end (1 Corinthians 13:3-7).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lost

by Tim Howard

I am fascinated with advanced technology, how about you? The other day my wife and son went for a 5-mile walk and they were able to track their route, speed and distance by simply connecting to a satellite system.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth. The system provides critical capabilities to many but practically it is very useful in mapping out a destination and giving clear directions  – With this system you don’t need to be lost. You can find your way! 

One name given to Jesus in the Bible is ‘Immanuel.” The name means: ‘God with us.’ God does not stand aloof from His creation nor watch things unwind from a distance. He never has and never will. He is with us! He guides, helps, comforts, corrects, encourages and shows us the way to live. We may lose sight of Him because of darkness but He never loses sight of us. Jesus is our G.P.S. He is God’s Presence surrounding us.

Before G.P.S. was invented a friend named Ron lost his way as he was trying to find a small country church where he had been invited to speak. He left the hotel room early to assure a timely arrival but not being familiar with the country roads and landmarks he ended up totally and completely lost. Even though it was humbling for him to admit he needed some help, he decided to stop at the first country store he found. 

After asking directions the owner said: “First you take Rural Route 18 -- that’s this road here -- go south to the big red bran with black trim. Black trim and not white! The white-trimmed one is the old Wilkerson place and the Timmitville Bridge is out, so you don’t want to go that way, trust me”.  Ron nodded to acknowledge he was listening. “Anyway” he went on, “after you get to the barn, head due east on Berrybriar road until you come to a creek. Turn north on the unmarked road and go -- maybe two, three miles till you get to the big aluminum grain silo. Turn south there till you see the big herd of Guernsey cows”…

To Ron’s surprise a man interrupted the conversation and said: “Pardon me, my name is Lyle. Didn’t mean to listen in, but are you the visiting pastor speaking at the church on Petersburg Road?” “Well yes, I am” Ron said. “Well, pastor, why don’t you just follow me to the church. I know the way.”

Sometimes you can lose your way in life and it’s a lot easier to follow someone than to figure things out with your own intellect. You don’t have to keep track of barns or silos or Guernsey cows. All you need to do is follow Jesus. He won’t just tell you where to go and what to do, He will actually lead you and show you the way.

Psalms 139 makes it clear that He “goes before us.” He charts a path for us and knows where we should stop, when we need to rest and the best route for the journey. You don’t need to be lost!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Stop Taking Yourself Out Of The Game

by Andrew Cromwell

You see it all the time in professional sports. A player who has all the talent, all the ability and all the coaching, but they just can't get out of their own way. Sometimes it is because their life off the playing field spills over into their ability to function athletically. Other times, there is a mental game going on in their head and they are losing.

We see it happen in sports, and we see it happen in life in general. Because of the script running inside people's heads, they take themselves out of healthy relationships, keep themselves isolated from healthy human contact, stay silent when they should speak up and generally sabotage their own ability to move forward in life.  Until we learn to tame the inner critic and change the recording that constantly feeds us negativity and self-destructive thought patterns, we will withdraw instead of moving forward in life.

This happens spiritually too. Most all of us have done it at one time or another. We start thinking about getting closer to God or getting back into church (or going for the first time), and immediately we think of all the reasons we are not good enough and why we don't have a chance. We remind our self about how messed up we are and all the reasons why God wouldn't want to have anything to do with us. And before we've even moved one step in that healthy direction, we have taken ourselves out of the game.

It is part of our human nature. When we feel less than worthy, we hide. Whenever we feel tension, we tend to withdraw from a relationship, rather then pushing forward and dealing with the cause of the friction. We play this same unfruitful game with our Father God. The moment we fail Him, we decide we have no right to be close to Him, and we take two steps back. Even worse, sometimes we figure if we've already messed up, we might as well just go all the way, and we end up running in the other direction altogether.

We do it because we have a false belief that God is waiting to smack us down when we fail. We might believe this because of the way our own dad acted with us or because some authority figure in our life walked away from us when we failed. But this is just the opposite of what we should do. Jesus gave us a perfect picture of Father God when He walked here on earth, and what He showed us was that He is not afraid of our failure. Jesus told Peter (who would shortly betray Him), "I have prayed for you, that when you have failed you will be strengthened and then strengthen others" (Luke 22:32).

This is what God wants to do when we mess up. He wants to strengthen us. Remember, He knew we were going to mess up in the first place! So even though we are surprised when we mess up, He isn't! He doesn't step away from us because we mess up, we step away from Him. His desire is ALWAYS to fix us!

And this is the sad irony of it all. The very moment we should be drawing closer to Him and asking Him for help, forgiveness and restoration, we instead are moving farther from Him. We are taking ourselves out of the very relationship that is the most healthy and healing for us.

So the next time, that inner voice inside your head starts to tell you that you're not good enough to step closer to God, you tell it to shut up and take a bold step forward into the arms of a Father who is waiting to heal and restore. Don't wait to be good enough for Him (we never will be on our own), instead ask Him to help you and fix you. He always answers "yes" to that question.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Back Roads of Life

by Tim Howard

I’m a freeway type of person, how about you? If I’m going somewhere, I like to get there quickly. I don’t want to get behind someone going slower than the speed limit, someone who is out to see the sights or someone who isn’t in a hurry – unlike me. Imagine how happy I would be if it were legal to purchase and install some blinking red and blue lights on the top of my car. I would promise to never use them unless I was in a hurry! Then again, I always seem to be in a hurry.

Back roads are slower but God usually chooses this type of road to shape us and make us into what we are designed to be. He’s not interested in speed as much as substance and moving at a slower pace allows God to do more than a superficial work in us. 

Back roads are narrow. If you have ever driven in the mountains you know what I mean. Jesus said: “… wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt 7:13-14. When you narrow your focus, you increase the force of what Jesus can do and open the door to life.

Back roads are dimly lit, if lit at all and Jesus uses our darkness to reveal his light. He is at work when darkness surrounds you – He works the night shift! King David said: “even the darkness will not be dark to you – the night will shine like the day for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm. 139:12

Back roads are bumpy, littered with potholes and often not paved. If you are looking for convenience, comfort and trying to avoid pain, then freeway living is a logical choice. If you want to make an impact and grow some deep roots, however, back roads are the best. Jesus intentionally uses our hurts, pains and the troubles of life to develop us rather than destroy us.  The Apostle Paul confirmed this by saying, I’ve been knocked down but not destroyed.

Back roads are where you will meet Jesus.  Back in the 60’s the Hippie Movement was in full swing and it was common to see people hitch-hiking along the road. You never saw them on the freeway, however – only roads less traveled. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus can be found on the freeways of life too but you miss Him because you don’t take time to notice.

If you are caught up in the ‘rat race’ of our culture, moving at great speeds but making little progress – If you have forgotten that the process is as important as the goal – If your busyness had blurred the significance of life then you may want to look for a back road.

I promise you this. You won’t get to your destination as quickly but you will smell some roses along the way, see some life-changing things and encounter Jesus along the way.

Pastor Tim Howard is the Lead Pastor at Koinonia Christian Fellowship. Any comments can be sent to: tim@kcfchurch.org

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Fresh Perspective

by Andrew Cromwell

I tend to see things one way. My way. Knowing this, I do my best to see things from another perspective. If I’m dealing with someone and we just don’t see “eye-to-eye”, I do my best to give them the benefit of the doubt and see things from their point of view. 

This is all well and good until my emotions get involved. Because when my feelings get hurt or when I get angry—I stop playing the part of the cool, detached “bigger perspective” person who can see the value in everyone’s opinion. Suddenly, the other person’s view not only doesn’t make much sense, it’s just downright dumb.

Even in the best of moments, I am severely limited. As much as I try to see the bigger picture, I find that my own selfish perspective keeps slipping in and clouding my view. And I get stuck there until I remember that there is another, better way. 

When I remember what God said to Isaiah—” my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways”—it wakes me from my selfish slumber. I must admit, it is a little embarrassing when I discover that I once again have fallen into the old pattern of thinking that I could figure things out on my own. But after I get over myself and face up to the reality that if I try to get a new perspective without first inviting God into the situation, then I have done nothing but just “try”. 

Trying is nice. Doing is better. Have you ever “tried” to be a better person? It rarely works. Before you know it, you’re right back where you started, stuck back in the old thinking and habit patterns. That is because “trying” is a lousy strategy. 

Dying is much better. Yes, dying. As in, put a fork in it, it’s done. Dying means that we give up our old perspective because we realize that it is just plain lousy. We give up on “trying” to see from the other person’s point of view. Instead, we replace our old perspective with a new one. We replace our old eyes with new eyes.

God said to Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart.” That’s what you and I need. We need God’s perspective. Enough with “trying” to figure things out and “trying” to hyper analyze the situation. It’s time to realize that we are selfish, limited, broken people that can do little without God’s help. 

If we really want to see into another person’s world and to walk a mile in their shoes, we need to ask God to replace our perspective with His perspective. You see, if anyone is able to fully understand a larger view, it is Father God. 

So the next time you don’t understand your boss, your spouse, your kids, your co-workers or that crazy driver who just blew by and flipped you off, don’t “try.” Die. Die to your natural reaction of anger, bitterness or frustration. Instead, ask God to give you His perspective, His heart. Ask Him to give you His love for that person. 

And you know what? He will.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Good Thing About Failing

by Tim Howard

Everyone fails at some time! I know this to be true but it doesn’t make me feel any better when it happens. No one wants to mess up and there are a myriad of reasons. It’s painful, evokes feelings of disappointment, may have negative effects, is very difficult to see anything 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. In his attempt to besiege a city called ‘Ai’, in order to capture more territory he failed in the attempt. He miscalculated some important details and didn’t have a clear understanding of the big picture.
His example should warn all of us. Whether it be an individual, a corporate business or the leadership of a nation, failure waits around the corner for those do not thoroughly investigate all the facts and clearly see the ‘big picture’ before making major decision of the magnitude that Joshua made.
When failure happens, however, I’ve learned two responses 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 you must move beyond the collapse to recover totally.
1. Seek to discover the root problem so you can correct it. There’s always a reason behind any failure. What are some of the reasons we fail?
A life of secrecy and sin surely lead the list but other things contribute 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. Make sure you know to whom you are listening. 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 where it’s 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’ts’ 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 ‘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.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Your Fiscal Cliff


by Andrew Cromwell

There has been a lot of talk of late about our economy and whether or not we are in recovery or still in recession. The federal government has been pumping money into our financial system for the last five years in order to buoy our economy and prevent further financial meltdown. Meanwhile, all of this spending has been getting expensive and our government’s attempts to put our financial house in order came to a head at the beginning of this year. This “crisis” was averted by the same congress that had created it at the 11th hour by passing other legislation (which I will not begin to go into here).

It seems that our government lacks the will to make the real changes necessary for a long-term solution to the financial woes of our country. This is not surprising since our government is made up of people we elect and who represent our desires. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 30% of Americans actually budget their money and have long-term financial goals. The other 70% live without much of a plan except to survive the month.

So it should not surprise us that our political leaders don’t stand up and try to sell America on “tightening its collective financial belt”. If they did, 70% of us would scratch our heads and then go out and buy another Starbucks.

But we should not lose hope. Small changes in personal finances can equal big changes in your world. As Dave Ramsey says, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have some month at the end of your money?” When we do, we discover a new kind of confidence about the future. Even if the car breaks down or the dryer gives out, we know it is going to be okay because we have told our money where to go rather than watching it walk out the door.

The consumer mentality is pervasive in our culture. Earlier this week, I realized I was trolling the ads online just to see what was on sale in case I “needed” something. It is amazing how quickly I can discover something we don’t have that we “need.” And before I know it, I have pulled out my credit card and made the purchase. I make the same mistake when I go to Target just to walk the aisles.

Whenever I find myself a little out of control financially, I realize it’s time to get back to the basics. First, you and I must know where our money is going.  Far too often, the money slips through our fingers because we have not made a plan (a budget) and live by accident. That budget is the second thing that is NECESSARY if we are going to get our money in line. We complain all the time that our government doesn’t have a budget, and yet most of us don’t either. Something is wrong with that picture!

Third, we must plan for the future because we are going to need some money when we get there. You are going to need money for retirement. You are going to need money to help your kids during their college years. You are going to need money because life is going to happen. If you don’t have a plan, then you will always be surprised by everything.

Fourth, you must decide to be happy. Contentment is key if we are going to get a hold of our finances. If we are always unhappy with what we have, we will always be looking for ways to spend our way into happiness. The problem is, more stuff does not equal happiness, it just equals more stuff.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Self Talk

by Tim Howard

Do you talk to yourself? You don’t have to fib, be embarrassed or hide the fact because all of us do a fair amount of self-talk. People might think we are crazy when they see us moving our lips as if speaking to someone nearby but I don’t think we’re unhinged. At least not all of us!
Truth be told: I even argue with myself and have been guilty of berating myself to some degree when there’s a failure to live up to my standards. I’ve learned, self-talk can be very helpful but it can also cause a lot of unnecessary pain if it’s not monitored.
King David talked to himself when he experienced a season of depression. In his discouragement and despondency, his conversation went something like this:
Psa. 42:5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.
When you talk to yourself it’s wise to speak truth!
Secular psychology says the key to health is to get in touch with your feelings. If you are angry, sad, hurt, discouraged etc. then vent your feelings.  Get them out.  Unleash them. But that's not enough because feelings are not always true.  The Bible doesn’t encourage us to ignore our feelings but challenges us to get in touch with the truth.  Getting in touch with your feelings is one thing but it's the truth that sets you free. 
When feelings become our focus and are allowed to drown out the facts, our self-talk will move us in the wrong direction.
The truest thing that will ever be spoken about you is what God says. For David, his feelings said: Everything is terrible. There’s no way out, I might as well give up. Elijah had a similar experience to David and it’s recorded in 1 Kings 19. The only difference is he expressed his emotions while David spoke the truth.
Elijah said: Life is terrible, I’ve had enough, I want to die. I’m the only one left. That self-talk ensconced and catapulted him into a deeper depression.
David, however, spoke the truth to himself. I may be feeling down, it may be difficult, the darkness may seem impenetrable but if I call on God, he will help. This season will pass. I will see the sun in the near future and my face will once again exhibit a smile. Why? Because God is on my side.
The results? He built a staircase out of the cellar while Elijah dug a deeper hole. David wasn’t doing an exercise in positive thought and talk. He was speaking the truth – about God and about himself. 
Be encouraged to monitor your self-talk. Check out what is being said and see if it is fact or feeling.  Ask God to help you stop the damning, degrading and damaging talk that goes on in your mind. Ask him to help you change the way you think and talk to yourself. It will make for a path that gets brighter and brighter. Proverbs 4:18

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Time to Re-Engage

by Andrew Cromwell

The kids are starting back to school for another year. Summer is coming to an end (even if the heat isn’t done yet) and everyone is beginning to settle back into the routine of the fall. Football fans are gearing up to see who will dominate this year. Kids are heading back into their after-school sports programs. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Halloween candy is in stores already. 

Often during summer, we disconnect (and rightly so). We go on trips, we spend time around the pool and we generally have an opportunity to step out of the everyday grind. And now, as we settle back into real life again, let me encourage you not to forget that this is a great time to re-engage in the things that matter.

Don’t let the scramble for the last trip to the coast or the pressure to get to Back to School night distract you from the opportunity you have to put some life-giving routines back into your schedule. As the kids get back into the routine of homework, it may just be that mom and dad need to do the same.

This is a great time to sit down with your spouse and talk about how the summer went and what you want the fall to look like. Maybe it’s time to ask forgiveness for some mistakes made and get a fresh start in your communication. Take the time to plan to make time for the two of you to get away -- even just for a night before the year is out. If you don’t do it now, next thing you’ll know the year will be over.

It’s a great time to sit down with your kids and talk about the school year. Tell them how much you love them and how you want to see them succeed. Tell them you’re sorry for not always being the greatest parent, but that you want to be there for them. Set some healthy boundaries on their time -- how much will be given to cell phones/video games/computers, how much will be given to TV, how much will be given to schoolwork.  Do it right now when they are in programming mode for the school year.

And most importantly, sit down with your Heavenly Father. It’s a great time to re-engage with Him. Start picking up your Bible as a regular part of your routine. Start taking your cares and concerns to Him. And maybe even start going to church. Maybe you haven’t been in a while, what a great time to get back in. Maybe you’ve never been, what a great time to start.

Don’t miss the opportunity that every new season presents. Now, it’s time to re-engage.