Thursday, February 28, 2013


by Andrew Cromwell

We all struggle with temptation. We are tempted to lie to get out of a pressure-filled situation, to gossip about that juicy rumor we heard about our co-worker, to flirt with a person we have no business flirting with, or to eat/drink/smoke to self-medicate. There are as many different kinds of temptation as there are people in the world, because every person is different.

Most of us like to minimize this temptation -- especially when we give in to it -- we say “we made a bad decision” or that “we just couldn’t help it.” These two ordinary responses set us up for failure the next go-round.  Saying, “I made a bad decision” makes it sound like you were part of a business transaction where you bought the wrong kind of shampoo.  Your hair is not as clean as it should be and it doesn’t smell the way you’d like it to, but ultimately it’s not that big of a deal.

When we say “I couldn’t help it”, we have effectively removed our own responsibility from the equation. Don’t you love it when someone apologizes for something they did to hurt you and then say they couldn’t help doing it? We all understand when it was something truly unintentional, but when that same behavior has continued time after time...

The Bible says some interesting things about temptation in James chapter one. First, it says that God doesn’t tempt anyone. So we can’t blame God. Second, it says that temptation comes from our own desires and that it all starts with a thought and ends with a sin. No one likes the word “sin” anymore, it sounds so spiritual. But sin is basically anything that reduces the flow of God’s life in and through you.  

But it is not enough just to take responsibility for your own sin. We also have to deal with it! I have found that I am really lousy at fixing my own sin problem, and I believe most people are the same way. We generally need help if we are going to find our way out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of temptation and sin.

The solution is found in another very interesting Bible verse later on in the book of James (4:7) that says: “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” The first step to overcoming our sin problem is to put ourselves under God’s direction. This is THE question of life -- who will we follow? When we go His way, we will still struggle with temptation, but we will not be alone.

The second step is to resist. We give in too quickly. Instead of resisting, running away or putting strategies into place that can help us resist -- we just choose the easy way. But if we stand strong, ask God for His help and say “no”, then we can win!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Who Are You Following?

by Tim Howard

How many of you have ever played “Follow the Leader” as kids?  The rules are simple. You pick a leader; everyone gets in a line behind Him or her and tries to imitate whatever he or she does. I’ve always thought that’s a pretty cool picture of what it means to be a Christian. You simply follow Jesus! Go where He tells you go, say what He tells you to say and do what He tells you to do.  The W.W.J.D. is a good thing to ask when you are making decisions of any nature. What Would Jesus Do?

Following Jesus is a recurring theme in the New Testament. The apostle Paul wrote: Follow me as I follow Christ.  When Jesus called His first disciples he said: “Come, follow me,” and as they followed Him their purpose and perspective changed. As Jesus walked along, He saw Levi sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed Him. He ultimately became the one who wrote the first Gospel in the New Testament. Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself or herself and take up their cross and follow me.

Following Christ will change you for the good – People follow many leaders but not all leaders are worth following. If you are looking for a mentor or someone to follow make sure you’re looking for the right thing.
Character is more important than charisma. Someone may look impressive and their rhetoric may sound persuasive but without character, they will lead you in a direction you should not go. When I read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and use the word, character rather than love, I understand what Paul is trying to communicate in this passage. Here’s what it says:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t have character, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all His mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t have character, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t have character, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without character. True love will reveal true character.

The same Apostle sets forth a standard for leaders who are worth following: A leader must be well thought of in the community. Cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He or she must know what they are talking about and not be overly fond of wine to the point of drunkenness. They must not be pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned nor money-hungry.  He or she must handle his or her own affairs well, because if they can’t oversee their own lives well, how can they lead others?

Do you notice the Apostle Paul doesn’t talk too much about skill, abilities or talents? Not because they are unimportant but because without the essential quality of Character a leader worth following will never develop.

Jesus fits all the criteria above and more. That’s why I follow Him. He is worth following! Who are you following?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Break Out Of The Rut

by Andrew Cromwell

It has been said that a rut is nothing more than a grave with the ends knocked out.  The truth is, we all get stuck in the routine and if we’re not careful, we become blinded to the new thing that God wants to do in our lives.

Routine can be a wonderful thing.  It lends consistency to our lives and helps us accomplish many tasks.  The problem is that personal and spiritual growth is stifled by routine.  Humans are wonderful at taking the “God” stuff in life and reducing it to a formula.  Whenever God does something new we try and figure out how to make it happen again.  So we end up repeating the same old prayers, singing the same old songs, and expecting God to move in the same old way He did yesterday.

But God is a God of the new!  In Isaiah chapter 43, God says “See, I am doing a new thing!”  God doesn’t want you to stay in the same old rut, believing the same old stuff.  Aren’t you tired of dealing with the same old sin patterns and repeating with the same old anger, pride and selfishness?  It’s time for something new!

So how do you break out of the rut and break into the new thing that God has for you?  

First, build an altar of worship.  In the Old Testament, we see the fathers of faith building altars wherever they went.  They took ordinary stones and fashioned them into places of worship.  These piles of stones then served as reminders of God’s reality and of the call to worship.  Today we don’t build altars out of stone, but we can build them out of the ordinary stuff of life.  We can place markers in our life that are reminders: a photograph, a prayer journal, a drawing — these things that are ordinary but can point us back to His goodness and grace and call us to worship.

Second, change your perspective. In the routine, we stop seeing things the right way. Like Elijah in the wilderness, we believe God has abandoned us.  Mark Batterson developed a good formula — change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.  Have you ever noticed, when we slow down and change our routine, suddenly God speaks?  It’s not that He wasn’t speaking before, it’s just that when we put our head down and push through life, we become dead to the sound of His voice.  So do something different!  Worship different, pray different, listen different — mix it up!  

Third, throw down your staff.  When God called Moses, He told him to throw down his staff.  Moses threw down this ordinary, everyday tool that was a symbol of his identity and his security, and it turned into a snake!  Boy, was he surprised.  God wants you to throw down those things in your life that you are holding onto — maybe it’s fear of being embarrassed, a favorite sin or the past that you keep replaying over and over.  Throw those things down and watch what God will do.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Real Deal

by Tim Howard

If you have ever been asked the question: “Who do you think you are,” you may have noticed some sarcasm in the tone. My mother would ask me this question when she was frustrated with my defiance, noncompliance and disobedience. She would often add: “Did someone die and make you God?” 

If you’ve heard the idiom: “You’re too big for your britches,” then you know what my mom was trying to convey. It reminds me of Romans 12:3  “… Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with proper judgment.” In other words, have a fair appraisal of yourself.

Maybe that’s why King David asked God to search him, test him and reveal truth to him. He knew people have blind spots and without some outside help to keep an accurate picture, they can become deceived. 
God wants to help you discover the ‘real you.’ His opinion out-weighs all other opinions, because He’s the one who created you. The real you may never be discovered apart from Him. Without His help, we are prone to think too highly of ourselves or too lowly. Pride or inferiority will warp your true self-image.

Maybe that’s why we spend so much of our time pretending to be like someone else. Possibly we don’t know who we are or perchance we know but don’t like who we are.
The Bible makes a few things very clear.

1. The real you will remain a mystery if you live a life as though God revolves around you. When you think life is all about you, you become ‘too big for your britches’. As the Earth was created to revolve around the Sun, we function best when He is the center of our lives and we rotate around Him. 

2. The real you is who you are on the inside. Jesus; in a hot debate with the religious leaders of His day revealed their blindness. They focused almost exclusively on the outside rather than the inside. The real you isn’t what you do in public but what you do in private. While people look at the external, God looks at the internal because your heart reveals who you really are. In 1 Samuel 16:7 the Lord says to Samuel: “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature...For the Lord does not see as man sees; For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

3. The real you will be revealed on the outside.  Eventually the real you will stand up. You may hide who you are for a while but you can’t do it forever. When this happens, life will be altered. When your secret life is found out, the ramifications aren’t always pleasant. 

God’s looking for those who are willing to be risk it all and be real. Phonies, fakes, hypocrites and those who pretend to be something they are not, do not help find solutions. They in fact are a part of the problem. 

You may not be the best or win first place but if you are real, you will make a positive impact. Are you the Real Deal?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Investments That Pay

by Andrew Cromwell

When you own shares in a company that pays dividends, you receive a dividend payment four times a year. This payment is in direct proportion to the size of your initial investment. It usually is not a very large payment, but long-term investors know that the dividend is an important piece of the investment equation.

Shortsighted investors will often take that dividend payment and go and spend it. But smart, long term investors will usually plow that dividend right back into the market. In this way, they turn these small investments into big returns. After 10, 20, or 30 years, they build themselves a significant portfolio that can help them in the years when they most need it.

Relationships are the same way. Your relationship with your spouse, your kids, or your valued friends and family are like investments that pay dividends. There is always a cost to “buy in” to the relationship. When you marry someone, there is a significant investment of capital that changes hands, and I’m not just talking about the cash for the rings and the wedding. You choose to invest your emotional energy, your time and your life into the relationship. It is the same, in varying degrees, with all relationship investments.

And there are generally dividends that are paid (at least in most healthy relationships). These are the small positive exchanges that we receive as a result of our investment. In a marriage, these dividends for guys usually involve physical intimacy, for gals usually emotional support and physical presence. In parent-child relationships, the dividends generally come in the form of those special moments when your child acknowledges that you are important in their life.

These little exchanges are wonderful little reminders of the investment we have made. And far too often, we leave it at that. Or worse yet, we simply expect that these little dividends will just keep coming our way because we paid that initial investment way back when.

But the smart ones among us — the long-term value investors — they leverage those dividends into continued investments that result in incredible relationships. Where many take those positive interactions for granted, they keep plowing more into the relationship. They keep writing notes, they keep going on dates, and they keep seeking out the other person in small ways and big. They know that they are in it for the long haul because they want to have a great relationship with their spouse and their kids and their friends in 10, 20 and 30 years.

The truly good relationships, the ones we look at and wish they were ours. They don’t happen overnight. They happen small investment by small investment. But the payout at the end of the day is incredible.