Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fill Up

by Tim Howard

You may have noticed the gas prices are on the rise again with summer approaching. I remember when gas was .23 cents a gallon and I could fill up my car for 3 to 4 dollars. Those days are long gone!      
Regardless of the price, if you are going to drive, you must fill the tank. If you have ever run out of gas in your automobile you know the feeling.  It’s not fun to have this experience and it surely isn’t a time of rejoicing when it happens in your personal life. 

Yes, your car needs to be filled but so do you! Trying to juggle vocation, family and marriage, community service, a social life and some ‘self’ time can be daunting and exhausting. You can get low on energy – become stressed – exasperated – troubled – depressed and then shut down because the tank is empty.

God created you and me to function best on a full tank. He makes it clear – everyone needs to be filled with His life in order to experience a quality existence.  I’ve learned that being filled is not a one-time experience relegated to the past but an ongoing need that requires regular attention. If you drive a vehicle, you have to fill up regularly and the same is true for people.

I’ve also learned – If you fill a vehicle designed for gas with diesel fuel it won’t work. It will destroy the engine. If a person wants to thrive and not just survive, he or she should fill up on things that are designed to help them. Maybe you have heard the phrase: “You’re full of it”?  I won’t attempt to define the term “it” but when you encounter a person who is full of hatred, bitterness, anger, lust, resentment, envy, jealousy etc…  you can be assured they have been filling up on the wrong things. What’s in your tank?

Jesus was full of grace and truth and He desires to fill you with his life. How is that possible? 

Time is one important key! I would stop to get gas but I’m in a hurry and will be late for work! I would stop to get gas but I can’t afford to! There are a myriad of reasons as to why we don’t take time to fill up but when you don’t – you pay the consequences!

David gives us a clue regarding the filling process. He writes these words in Psalms 16:11 “…In your presence is fullness of joy”.  That takes some time! It’s like setting a few moments aside in you busy schedule to meet with a friend and have coffee together. Good relationships can replenish a depleted tank.

Some may assume they are in God’s presence if he or she attends a church service. Closeness to God, however, is not based on geographical location but closeness of heart. Scripture tells us it is possible to draw near to God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him.  It’s like looking through binoculars.  When you are in a church service you have the allusion of closeness but in reality there is a gap. 

When most of your responsibilities are entered into with this attitude: ‘I have to do this… I need to – I ought to – I had better do this, it is time to fill up.’ 

When most of your responsibilities are entered into with this attitude: ‘I get to – I want to – I look forward to – I’m privileged to…’ You are on the full side.

Take time to fill up!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Priority One

by Andrew Cromwell

It has been said that you can look at a person’s checkbook to see where their priorities are. For many of us this means our top priorities are Citibank, Capital One, Starbucks and Target. Your list might be a little different based on your interests. If you’re into tools then Sears or Home Depot might be on the list. If you’re into shopping online then it might be Amazon. If music is your thing, then it might be iTunes.

Where and how you spend your money does say something about your priorities. Some people value driving newer cars. Others value living in a large home. Some are into lavish globe-trekking vacations. If a friend were to open up your checkbook (or online bank statement), what would it say about what’s important to you?

Money is not the only way to gain insight into what someone loves, time is probably just as important. Time is the great equalizer. Some have more money than others, but everyone has the same amount of time in a day. The way that you choose to spend your 24 hours gives an important insight into your life.

You can tell what someone is into by how much time they spend at it. The people who are into sports spend their time on the couch on game day, watching the game. They probably also spend a significant amount of time reading about the sport and of course managing their fantasy football league. They might spend time shopping for and buying the right jersey and of course the appropriate team flags to fly out their car windows.

If you’re not into sports, you might scoff at this ridiculous display of mis-managed time. But that’s just because sports is just not your thing. Maybe your thing is computers, sewing, gaming, cars, WCW or working out. There’s a million things that people are into and they spend a lot of time doing the thing, thinking about the thing and planning to do the thing. What’s your “thing”? How do you spend your time?

Money and time are two huge indicators of what is truly important to you. People can say that their marriage and their family are their top priorities, but money (and time) talks. Often people say that they are willing to lay their life on the line for their kids, but they aren’t willing to lay their time or money on the line. It’s funny how easy it is to promise that you’re willing to “lay your life down”, but you won’t lay the TV remote down and go out and play ball with the kids outside.

What’s important to you? It is said that you can become an expert on any subject if you were to spend 30 minutes a day for six months studying it. Some of us have become experts on things that are entertaining but that don’t really mean much in the long run. Maybe it’s time to become an expert on the subject of your spouse?

Jesus told a story about a man who found a pearl worth so much that he went out and sold everything to buy it. Far too often we are spending the resources of our lives buying things that are worthless and the pearls are right in front of us all along.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Up Close and Personal

by Tim Howard

Big news hit Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified about 2000 years ago. The whole city was in an uproar. But that was nothing – compared to the bewilderment of the resurrection. People were astounded and astonished. If a ‘Jerusalem Times’ existed it would have been front-page news. If CNN had been there – all programmed news surely would have given way to ‘Live Breaking News.’

A doctor named Luke in his book: ‘Acts’ tells us that Jesus began to reveal Himself to hundreds of people at one time plus many individuals and small groups on separate occasions. These revelations restored joy and faith in those who were followers of Christ and hope for future would-be followers.

Steven Spielberg wrote a fictional movie called “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” but the resurrection, which was celebrated last weekend, records a non-fictional Encounter of a ‘Divine Kind.’

The Bible is full or historical records in which common, everyday people, like you and me had more than ‘close encounters’ but ‘divine encounters’ with God.

Beginning in Genesis we see Adam and Eve talking directly to God. Abraham encountered an angel who assured him that his 90-year-old wife would give birth to a child, Moses encountered God as he viewed a burning bush and David saw God’s power when he fought Goliath.  Other similar encounters are recorded in many non-biblical writings.

Is a ‘Divine Encounter’ possible? Could that really happen to someone like you or me? Is God up close and personal?

I believe so! Sometimes it happens indirectly but at other times directly.

When considering the possibility of Jesus actually being alive and revealing Himself today as He did for 40 days after the resurrection – it may help to ask a few thought-provoking questions. Especially for those who are curious but not convinced.

1.   Could Divine Encounters happen but we simply don’t recognize them? When the supernatural is conveyed in natural means, it’s difficult to identify. Many people had face-to-face encounters with Jesus but didn’t realize they were talking with God.

2.   Are we missing some encounters because of our busyness? To identify a divine encounter you must STOP! Moses stopped to look and listen. When he did – God spoke to him. In a fast paced world it’s easy to fly by significant events and not see the depth of what is taking place. At the end of each day, it’s good to pause and ask God if you missed something.

3.   Does an encounter with God require a person to stretch beyond their comfort zone of knowledge? We all tend to find comfort in our own experiential knowledge but growing up means we must consider things beyond our limited vantage point. This is the realm of faith. All facts of history are passed on to us and require this ingredient. Faith is not only used for spiritual things but needed for everyday life. The question isn’t – Do we have faith? But what do we put our faith in?

Divine encounters can’t always be explained and many don’t believe they happen today. I tend to disagree and that’s O.K. We must learn to agree to disagree.

If they do happen as I believe – I don’t want to miss them! You can’t make one happen but you can be prepared. Jesus is the Light of the World and wants to meet with you! Are you ready for Him to be Up Close and Personal?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Pass The Chocolate

by Andrew Cromwell

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. A quick check of the Sunday ads or a run through your local department store will remind you of the fact. Virtually any calendar pronounces that April 5, 2015 is Easter.

But what is Easter, exactly? If you were a visitor from another planet who was unfamiliar with our traditions and was charged with studying the major holidays of the people of planet Earth, what would you conclude?

A study of the ads and stores might lead you to believe that the people of this planet believe in a mythical creature called the Easter bunny. This gigantic rabbit apparently loves pastel colors and promotes the purchase of new sets of clothing in said colors. He is further honored by the curious practice of painting white eggs in shades of pink, green, blue and yellow.  But it doesn’t stop there. People also buy massive amounts of chocolate and other sugary sweet objects and pack these candies into hollow plastic eggs. They then take these little balls of sugar and spread them around their yards. Next, they dress their children up in their new clothes, shove a plastic basket in their hand and engage their children in a kind of contest where the children collect as many of these colorful orbs as possible. The adults then watch as the children gorge themselves with the candy until their eyes roll back in their heads and their brains go into a overload involving many tears and stomach aches.

Perhaps that description of Easter is not too far off from the way many people celebrate the holiday (excepting of course that the adults are sneaking at least as much candy as they actually load into the eggs). There is little doubt that insofar as retail is concerned, Easter is simply another holiday that presents an opportunity to market and sell something to a willing general public.

But this version of Easter misses the mark. While there is nothing wrong with new clothes and coloring eggs, and certainly nothing wrong with consuming mass amounts of chocolate covered peanut butter, we are remiss if we fail to look deeper at the reason for this holiday.

Easter is marked on our calendar because it is the holiday that celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such it is a uniquely Christian holiday. As a matter of fact, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then not only would there not be a reason for Easter, there would not be a reason for Christianity altogether.

In all of human history, there is only one person who predicted their own death and resurrection and then actually followed through. This is the central claim of the Christian faith. Whatever other objections you might have to Christianity—Christians are jerks, church is boring, the Bible doesn’t make sense, etc.—you have to first and foremost wrestle with Jesus coming back to life after being dead for three days. The fact is there is a lot of evidence for this historical event.

Have you really wrestled with Easter? Have you investigated the claims that Christ made about Himself? Or is Easter to you still just a day of cute white bunnies and peeps?