Thursday, February 27, 2014

Holding Pattern

by Tim Howard

Once on an airplane flight from Los Angeles to New York I was reading a book when suddenly the pilot put on the brakes. I knew we were preparing to land but since we were still some distance from the destination, I wondered if something was wrong.  The plane felt as though it was turning because one wing began to dip lower than the other and very quickly I started to see landmarks I had seen before. I said to myself: I have seen that house before – that pasture before and those trees before. I saw them again, and again.  Then it dawned on me. We are in a holding pattern. We weren’t standing still, we were moving but we weren’t making any progress.

We are told in Numbers chapter 13 that the Israelites were in a holding pattern for forty years. They were constantly on the move but made no headway. They were going in circles – surviving but not thriving – nor moving toward the goal God had set for them.
God has a goal, a purpose, a plan and a destination for you. Paul understood this and committed himself to intentionally pursue the destiny God had ordained for him. He wasn’t intent on reaching his own potential but God’s potential designed specifically for him.

Here’s what Philippians 3 says: “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

When you lose sight of the vision God has for you, you enter the ‘holding pattern’ syndrome. When you shift into neutral and begin to coast rather than stay in pursuit of your call – you enter the ‘holding pattern syndrome’. When you are satisfied with past accomplishments rather than intentionally move toward unreached goals, you enter the ‘holding pattern’ syndrome.

Paul refused to yield to this syndrome. He was in high gear. He said: “I am pressing on. I don’t have it all together but I want all Jesus has for me.”

He had great memories but unlike many, he wasn’t content to live in ‘The Good Old Days.’

Maybe you are in a holding pattern spiritually. You started on life’s journey and have made some progress, but somewhere along the way you slowed down or got stuck. You’re busy doing many things but making no headway.

Healthy people are not content with past accomplishments. They are aggressively pursuing God’s purpose for them. They seek to make more of a difference than ever before. They want more life and that life can be found in Jesus. John 10:10 makes this clear to those who seek the same thing.

Does that sound like you? Is that the group you are in or are you partnering with those in a holding pattern?

If you are stuck in a holding pattern, I encourage you to start breaking free and get moving again. It starts to happen when you say: “Jesus, I’m tired of this plateau – help me shake free from the past and move into the future.”

God has a lot more in store for you and your latter days can be better than your former days.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Persona Non Grata

by Andrew Cromwell

There is a term we use when people have done something unforgivable and we no longer find their company acceptable. We have borrowed the phrase from the Latin and it was originally used primarily by governments who were expressing their disenchantment with foreign diplomats.

A diplomat is declared Persona Non Grata when they are considered to have overstepped their welcome by doing or saying something that deeply offends the country where they are stationed. Generally, once someone has been given persona non grata status, their home country recalls them because they are no longer welcome.

The phrase literally translates as “person without grace.” Grace in this context means “approval” or “favor”. When a diplomat is in a state of grace, then they are granted the rights and privileges afforded to visiting state representatives. Generally this means that they are given diplomatic immunity and are allowed an even higher degree of freedom then some citizens.

Similarly, when we, as non-diplomat types, label people with the term, it is generally because of some offense that is so vile that they have become repulsive to us and we no longer consider them welcome. If we do have the misfortune of being visited by such a person, we tend to either freeze them out (by giving them the cold shoulder) or burn them out (by giving them a piece of our mind). These people might once have been our friends, but now they are the enemy.

Because we operate like this, we tend to believe that God must do the same thing. We imagine that God has a massive list with everyone in the world on it and next to those who have somehow failed, He writes “persona non grata”. Some of us are convinced we have those three little words next to our name because we have done bad things and we can’t see a way back into His good graces.

But God isn’t like that at all. Yes, He is a perfect God who is the ultimate dispenser of justice in the universe. He does see all of our failures and finds us to be woefully inadequate. But He is also a loving Father who desires to embrace us when we have failed. In a beautiful description of how these two characteristics come together, Psalms 85:10 says, “Gracious love and truth meet; righteousness and peace kiss.”

The place where the hard truth of our failure meets with the abundant love of God is in the person of Jesus Christ. The Son of God, Jesus, is grace embodied and God’s gift to us who fall woefully short of where we need to be. But for Jesus, we would all have persona non grata written next to our name; instead, because of Him we have been brought back into the good graces of the Father. Because of Him we have diplomatic immunity from the eternal consequences of our ugly actions.

This is why the author of Hebrews wrote, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

So the next time we feel like we are persona non grata with God, remember that Jesus is on a throne of grace today and all we need to do to receive mercy and help is to come close to Him. He surely will not reject us!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Power of Love

by Tim Howard

I love ice cream. I love my new puppy. I love the new car I just purchased. I love my wife or I love my husband – We hear the word ‘LOVE’ used in many ways and it seems to refer to a myriad of different things.

Sometimes I wonder if we really know what this word means. Is love merely an emotion? Is it a decision we make? Is it just words we express or does it require an action on the part of the one saying it?  If there is true love – shouldn’t it be seen in some way?

On Valentine Day the words ‘I Love You’ will be echoed by millions of people as they share some personal moments with someone they care about. Will those words carry substance or will they sound hollow?      
Many have written on the subject of love and the various applications but Paul the Apostle gives a concise and clear definition of this word in1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It helps us understand what God means when he declares His love for us and teaches us what true love for others really is.

“Love is patient – Love is kind and 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 when truth wins over lies, puts up with anything, always trusts in God, always looks for the best in everything, never looks back and love never gives up.” 

41 years ago during the Valentine Day celebration I spoke these words to my fiancĂ©e: ‘I love you’ – I followed that up two days later by saying: “I, Tim Howard take you Donna to be my wife. To have and to hold – from this day forward – for better or for worse.  I promise to love you the same way Jesus loves me.  I promise to support you, cherish you, respect you, and to be faithful to only you for as long as we both shall live.”

At the age of 22, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of that phrase ‘for better or for worse’.  After 41 years of marriage to the same woman, however, I am beginning to understand that this is the true meaning of LOVE.  We have had our share of bad times!  We have both thought about quitting.  The word divorce has crossed our minds.  When we thought it couldn’t get much worse, it did. It’s laughable now but it was painful then. 

God’s love for us and our love for Him helped us grow in our love for each other. True love doesn’t run when things are difficult. It embraces both the good and the not so good and alters the outcome. What is meant to destroy will be used to develop.

It is God’s love, working in you that will help you grow stronger in the difficult times. It all starts with God’s love for you. As you respond to His kindness and His love, you will grow in your ability to truly love each other.

Your love for others in this Valentine season can be more than mere words. Your love can be powerful if you shape it around 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. God loves the world and his love is powerful! John 3:16. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Three Nights in Paris

by Andrew Cromwell

Last summer, my family had the incredible opportunity to spend a month in Europe.  We traveled through Belgium and France and dipped into the Netherlands, Germany and even Switzerland. Since it was a family trip, we visited cathedrals and castles as well as water parks and zoos. The trip ranks at the top of our family experiences, except, that is, for our time in Paris.

Since we were staying with family, my wife and I had planned to leave the kids and travel alone to Paris for three nights. When the time came, we hopped on a bullet train and traveled at upwards of 200 miles an hour to the most romantic city in the world. We checked into a four star hotel (for $70 a night!) and prepared for a memorable mini-vacation.

And it was memorable, but not in the way we had hoped. Yes, we saw the sights—we visited the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, walked across the Seine on Pont Neuf, blissfully watched the world go by on a canal cruise, and ate escargot and rabbit in the 6th Arrondissement. We held hands and we walked and walked and walked (which is not optional in Paris). 

But most of the time, even while surrounded by the beauty, my wife and I were just not clicking. At first the disconnect was below the surface, but as the hours wore on (and as I continued to drag her from sight to sight), the tension rose until finally on the third day it all came to a head on a rainy Paris morning.

Right in the middle of the best vacation, we had the worst vacation of our marriage.  And while we have long since reconciled and can now laugh about it, Paris stands as a paragon of dark irony—the most romantic city turned nightmare (at least for the two of us). 

Have you ever had a vacation like that? Or maybe it wasn’t a vacation, but it was a time when you and your spouse were just not clicking and you were caught in a downward spiral that you couldn’t escape. Chances are, if it hasn’t, it will. There are times when even the best of friends get out of sync, communication breaks down, and feelings get hurt. 

Jesus said in Luke chapter 17, “offenses will come!” We should expect it. If we don’t, then we are setting ourselves up for some big surprises. The real challenge is not avoiding offense and conflict, it is being able to walk through it and come out better friends on the other side. 

How do you keep conflict from driving a wedge between you and your spouse? Here are a few things I’ve learned that may be helpful the next time you find yourself in a Paris situation.

First, be careful what you say. Watch your mouth! Proverbs 10:19 says, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” When we are hurt we tend to lash out in anger and cause more hurt. Don’t do it.

Second, choose kindness rather than coldness. You have a choice to make when things are going well, you can move towards your spouse or move away. Most of us tend to move away. We start to freeze our spouse out. Next time, instead of the cold shoulder treatment, actually choose to be MORE kind and considerate and not less. Caution: this must be genuine—don’t do it sarcastically or be passive aggressive, it will only make things worse.

Third, deal with the offense quickly. The longer you wait to ask forgiveness for your part (you know you played a part in it so go ahead and take responsibility), the more difficult it becomes to actually heal the breach. Many couples pursue the strategy of never actually dealing with the offense and instead simply ignore it and hope that it doesn’t come up again. But this failed strategy will only set the stage for a future, and probably worse, conflict.

Fourth, remember who the enemy is. The enemy is not your spouse; stop treating them like they are. Link hands even when you’re hurting because you want to come out of this lovers not fighters.

So the next time Paris comes a knocking, have a strategy!