Saturday, October 31, 2015

Change Challenge

by Andrew Cromwell

A wise person once said, “If you want to change the world, you would do best to first change yourself.” This formula for change is simple, but it is anything but easy. To change, really change oneself may be the most difficult thing of all.

We know two things about the world. First, everything changes. Second, good changes take work. Think about it. The world and everything that is in it is breaking down. That new car that was your pride and joy, will soon lose its new car smell, be pock-marked with dings, and burn oil in a few short years. Your brand new iPhone will soon be cracked and slow. Your tight, beautiful skin will wrinkle and sag (if it hasn’t already). Even the sun will eventually burn out. 

Everything changes, and everything breaks down. That is why the good changes, the growth changes, take work. The farmer who wants the ground he owns to produce a crop, knows that it will not happen without work. He must clear the ground of rocks and trees, turn over the soil, add fertilizer, turn it over again, plant seed, and add water. Then he waits for the crop. But his work is not done. He must fight the weeds, fight the pests and fight the elements to preserve his crop. He has to measure how much and when to water so that the crop grows at an optimal rate. He will watch carefully to see if herbicides or pesticides are needed. He will pray that it doesn’t get too cold or too hot and that the rain falls at the right time. And, then when the time is right, he will harvest. 

This, of course, is an over-simplification of the work required to grow things, but it is clear that it takes a lot of work. Because a good crop doesn’t happen by accident. Weeds on the other hand, they’ll grow all by themselves. 

In the same way, if you want to make positive change in your life, it is going to take an investment of time and energy. You are going to have to clear the ground, plow and water. You will need to pay close attention to the kind of seed that you are planting in your heart. And you are going to need to studiously keep removing the weeds and pests that will continue to pop up. It will take sustained effort, but in due time you will reap a harvest.

Change is challenging and you will not change without experiencing challenge. If you want to grow intellectually you are going to have to exercise your mind. If you want to build your physical muscles, you are going to have to visit the gym. And if you want to stop being the self-centered, selfish oaf that we all tend to be, you are going to have to do the tough work of exercising your heart—forgiving, giving, loving, and serving.

Wanting to change is different than actually changing. We all want to change. We all want to be better people. But only the few who are willing to invest the time are going to reap the reward. Jesus said, “Guard your heart diligently, for from it flows life.” If you want to change, start with your heart. Pull up the weeds of bitterness, unforgiveness, and anger. Kill the pests of hurry, worry, and empty pursuits. Water regularly with conversations with Father God and encouragement from His Word. And in due time, you too will change.

What do you need to do in order to change from the way you are today, to the way you need to be? Stop putting it off and get started. Remember, if you don’t the weeds will just keep on growing.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Line of Demarcation

by Tim Howard

Being brought up in a city of 6,000 people is much different than a city of 3,000,000. The differences are numerous – to say the least!

There’s a saying in small towns that goes like this: “When you don’t know what you’re doing it’s okay – because somebody else does!”

In a small city everybody seems to know everybody and every little thing that’s happening. In a big city you hardly see your neighbors, let alone know them personally.

In a small town you may be a hero at something specific but in a larger setting you’re simply a small fish in a big pond.

You can imagine my shock when I was uprooted from a city in Maine with a population of 5 thousand people to the large metropolis of Los Angeles.

My first inclination was to return! I didn’t feel the comfortableness of the past or the closeness of my friends. I felt like a fish out of water and wondered if I could make it.

I had reached that invisible line of demarcation and now I had to decide. Would I return to the comfort of the past and things familiar to my youth or embrace the new environment and learn to adapt?  

Returning to the familiar is very tempting when you feel like a fish out of water, but it inevitably retards the growth process and adventures that lie ahead.  

In a description of Paul’s life, the Apostle tells us that he made a decision to forge forward and not go backward. Regardless of the difficulties that were in his future he refused to focus or be obsessed with the past.

In order to embrace the new and move into the future he had to be willing to stretch and so do we. You must not allow your feeling to direct your steps. If you never move further than your frame of reference – If you never stretch beyond your comfort zone you will not give birth to anything new.

Paul found himself in some unpleasant situations and locations that were very unappealing.  He was imprisoned on several occasions – not for doing wrong but for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t allow his location or circumstances, however, to determine his attitude or outlook on life.  

In fact: Paul wrote some of the most encouraging books in the Bible from prison. Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, to name a few.

In Philippians 4:11, we read these words: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength."  With God’s help Paul was able to bloom wherever he was planted – and so can you!

When you are uprooted from a job; a house you have lived in for many years; a city you loved or a select group of friends – and find yourself transplanted into a new environment. Make these decisions:

1.   Don’t yield to the temptation to return. Decide to move ahead.

2.   Decide to stretch and grow. It will be good for you.

3.   Decide to bloom where you are planted. Yes, yesterday was good but tomorrow can be great.

4.   Decide to include God. He will direct your steps.

When you reach your invisible line of demarcation – Keep moving on…

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Be With

by Andrew Cromwell

Have you noticed that everyone “knows better” until they’ve actually been in the situation? Whether it is the decisions facing the government, the choices of the local school board, or the brother-in-law’s latest relationship, people somehow find it incredibly easy to stand back and declare the solution to the problem. 

I feel the same way. If people would only listen to me, this world would be a better place. People wouldn’t get themselves into the ridiculous situations they get themselves into. Our country wouldn’t be in debt up to its eyeballs and that local building project that the city officials can’t seem to get figured out would already be done, a long time ago. Because I “know better”.

The funny thing is sometimes, and I emphasize sometimes, we are even right. Sometimes we do “know better.” But just “knowing better” doesn’t really do much. Sure it makes you feel like you are somehow better than those people, but that’s nothing more than empty pride. Being right by itself doesn’t help or change anything. 

Believe it or not, just being right, can make things worse. The Apostle Paul talks about this reality in his letter to the Romans. He describes it in legal terms. The more laws you have on the books, the easier it is to break them. Before you know it everyone’s a criminal! And those who look around at what other people are doing and “know better” and quote the law, do nothing more than make other people even more guilty. They judge and condemn.

I believe that is why God sent His son Jesus into the world. A perfect God always “knows better.” Imagine Him looking down at all of us bumping around here on earth, making a mess of everything. He could have just shook His head and pulled out His stick and judged us all as failures. Just like most of us do to other people.

But that’s not what He did.

Father God wasn’t content simply to dispense judgment and condemnation from afar. He was convinced that there was a better way. A way that required more of Him, certainly. It required Him to get down into the muck with us so that He could lead us out of it. So He sent His Son Jesus to do just that.

That’s the difference between condemnation and incarnation. Condemnation declares the truth and hammers the gavel and says “Guilty.” Incarnation moves into the world of the person who is broken, identifies with them and with the reality of their situation, and says “Let’s fix this.” John says it this way, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.”

What kind of person are you? Are you one who stands backs and shoots judgment like a gun? Or are you willing to take a step closer and risks getting your hands dirty so that you actually help? 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Kid's Games

by Tim Howard

Back in the day, we didn’t have Nintendo, Wii, PlayStation, Xbox 360 or any other high tech games. Even if they were available, most of us wouldn’t have been able to afford them.  We had games like tag, king of the mountain, ring-around-the-rosy, jump rope, dodge ball, red-rover and tic-tac-toe.  For those who were older and didn’t want to participate, they could always watch the television game shows like Let’s Make a Deal; The Price is Right, I’ve Got a Secret, or Hollywood Squares.  You get the picture!

Everyone has a favorite and mine was Hide and Seek! One player was chosen with the assigned responsibility of being “it”. This person would close their eyes, establish a predetermined number and start counting. After reaching that number the player who was "it" said: "Ready or not, here I come!" and then they tried to locate all players who had hidden themselves from view. Simple but fun!

Adam and Eve played the game of Hide and Seek with God but it wasn’t rooted in a spirit of fun or joy but a spirit of fear and brokenness.

You may remember the historical record that is recorded in Genesis chapter 3. God had given this couple everything they could possibly need. They were in a beautiful garden with full access to everything except one tree. That seems more than fair but for some reason Adam followed Eve’s lead and went contrary to God’s advice. After deciding to set up self-rule and function with a spirit of autonomy, they became aware of their disobedience, sin and self-centeredness. This realization was bad enough but they complicated things even further when they tried to hide their sin.

When God came seeking them He said: “Where are you?” Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” From that time onward, mankind has played the game of hide and seek – in positive ways and in unhealthy ways.

Before you criticize this biblical couple for their usurping of authority, disobedience and stupidity, check out 2 Peter 1:3! We are told that Jesus has given you and me everything we need for living a godly and fruitful life. Even though this is true, we also have decided to do our own thing and live independently of the living God. In other words: we all have sinned just like Adam and Eve.

The real question is not: ‘Have we sinned’ but  ‘what do we do with our sin?’  Do we conceal or reveal? Do we hide or confess?

1 John 1: 9 declares: if we admit our sins—make a clean break from them—God won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.

The next time you make a decision that hurts or violates another person; the next time you find yourself doing things that aren’t proper or right – come clean! Choose to reveal rather than conceal.  Rather than live a hide and seek lifestyle – live a life of ‘Show and Tell.’

Hide and Seek is a fun game to play and I’ve Got a Secret may have been a fun show to watch but hiding the truth and living a secretive life can destroy you, your family and hurt those around you. 

When you TELL the truth, God will SHOW you His love and as a bonus, He throws in forgiveness.  Show and Tell is more than a game – It’s a biblical principle.  Play hide and seek with your kids and grandkids but don’t play it with God.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why Don’t You Share?

by Andrew Cromwell

The best things in life should be shared. Think of the best meal you have ever enjoyed. Whether it was at a fine restaurant or at home, it certainly involved other people. Great food is made greater when you are in the company of friends. Or what about that road trip that was so memorable? More than the scenery or the destination, the people in the car with you made it so.

Sharing our life with others makes it better and richer. Even the greatest actors when they accept their Academy Award are quick to thank not only their family but the many people that made the award possible to begin with. The most magnanimous say that they are “sharing the award” with the team.

For most people this desire to share is a byproduct of caring for others. The husband who comes across an article he knows his wife would be interested in and sets it aside to share it with her as soon as he gets home. The friend who learns of a school with the exact program she knows her friend is looking for and excitedly calls to share the information. The mom who saves half of her dessert to share with her kids when she gets home because it is just SO GOOD (believe it or not this is possible).

We just can’t help but want to share the good things in life with those we love. Why then, is it that we are often so hesitant to share about our spiritual beliefs with our friends and family?

One can understand not sharing if your personal faith is nothing more than a tradition that you keep because you feel responsible to make your parents happy or simply because your ancestors believed that way. That kind of faith is just a religious form that more than likely doesn’t have much effect on your life.

But if your relationship with Jesus Christ has changed your life—if you look back and you can see that you are better, kinder, more generous, and more loving today than you were before—why wouldn’t you want to share that? If today you have peace when you used to be full of fear, worry and anxiety, wouldn’t you want to share that peace with others so they can experience it too?

This kind of sharing is not about beating someone else over the head with a belief system, it is about generously offering a gift to others because you have found this gift to be fantastic. We will excitedly tell our friends about the new mascara, app, diet, exercise, restaurant or whatever that changed our life, just hoping that they would experience the same joy we did when we first tried it. But why is it we hesitate to share our faith? The last time I checked, your mascara won’t affect where you spend your forever after death and it won’t really bring you peace (and it won’t make you look like Kylie Jenner either). But giving someone the incredible news about how Jesus Christ taught us the secret of the way to real life—both here and in the future? That’s something to share.

If someone doesn’t want to try that new mascara, that’s up to them. But it’s not going to keep me from telling them about it!