Saturday, October 29, 2016

Trick or Treat

by Tim Howard

We’re coming upon two very important days of the year. Halloween–when we scare people for fun, and Election Day–when we scare people for real. Let’s not talk about the elections! Let’s focus on Halloween.

Retailers love Halloween. Maybe it’s because their cash registers are receiving an average of $75 to $80 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. I’ve read that Halloween will bring in approximately $8 billion this year.

Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday and many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. The roots of this holiday are connected to the remembrance of those who were martyred for their faith in Christ and the confrontation with indigenous pagan rituals found in Europe years and years ago.

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major focus was on the dark side of life. Their imagery of death–symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black–remains prominent in today's Halloween celebrations and is a personification of an evil presence.

Many of the costumes chosen to wear on Oct. 31–Unknowingly are connected to a long history. You will see children dressed as villains, gangsters, hoodlums, zombies and many other outfits that represent the dark and evil side of life. On the other hand, many kids will dress as Superman, Spiderman and a plethora of other characters to represent those who stand for good! You may even see some Princes and Princesses!

I was brought up in a family that viewed life through Christian lenses and understood that every holiday is significant in some way. Many who hold to this same view of life refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery and still others are concerned for the safety of their children.

My parents didn’t forbid us to join in on the celebration but they did use Halloween to teach us about the battle between good and evil because they understood the origins. They told us that evil is real and is made up of witches, demons and the Devil. They also said there is a very real world in which good triumphs over evil–made up of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and those who follow Him.

They went on to say: “We are a family that stands for good and as we enjoy Halloween we will be dressing in such a way that good is exalted over evil.”

Years later I realized they had made a decision like Joshua in the Old Testament, when he said: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

The Apostles Paul said: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In other words–You don’t need to fear evil or run from darkness–you overcome it by doing good.

Jesus has conquered death, hell and the grave! Therefore, while talking about ghosts and goblins, witches and warlocks is anything but fantasy–there is no need to fear or retreat–because Jesus is the victor.

Jesus said to his followers–you are a light in the world that shines in the midst of darkness and can actually diffuse that darkness if you shine. Simply put: The darker the night–the brighter the light! 

I will enjoy Halloween with my grandson and will probably eat too much of ‘his’ candy–but not without encouraging him to be a light in darkness and giving him some history on this holiday.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What’s Your Question?

by Tim Howard

When it comes to God – I have more questions than I do answers! Maybe you can identify with that as well.

According to some studies revolving around Jesus – we are told that He asked people over 300 questions, which are recorded in the New Testament. By contrast we are told that people only asked Him approximately 180 questions – also noted in the Bible.

Two published studies state that Jesus directly answered fewer than 10 of the 180 asked – which is interesting!

Could it be that many answers defy logic and wouldn’t be received if an answer were given? Possibly the difficulty is in trying to convey spiritual truth with human terminology, which depends to a greater degree upon revelation than education! Someone said: “God’s truth is better ‘caught’ than ‘taught!”

Or – Maybe there are many truth’s that need to be embraced by faith! Without faith you can’t please God and without faith you will not be able to find resolution to the myriad of questions you may ask.

The ‘why’ questions seem to be the most difficult to answer! Recently while dealing with a tragedy that happened to a personal friend – The question of WHY was voiced. Why did this happen? Why now? Why me? Why didn’t God stop this from taking place? Those are tough questions and I often find myself at a loss – looking for a good answer.

In my relationship with Jesus I too have asked – Why do You love me? Why are You so patient with me when I am so rebellious? Why do You remain faithful when I have been faithless? Why do You allow me the privilege of working with You to help people when I need so much help myself? You talk about being fair… that’s unfair… Jesus gives so much and I give so little!

The ‘what’ questions are difficult as well but at least there seems to be more resources to draw from and answers to be discovered. What do I do now since this has happened? What is the next step I must take? What books can I read to help me find direction? What people should I contact? What Church can I visit or attend? With some thought – some investigation – some time spent in study and seeking Jesus – God will reveal the path you should take – He will tell you what can be done.

The Word of God is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path according to Psalms. If you have a ‘what’ question – don’t forget to consult the Bible.

The ‘how’ questions are the practical ones! How do we approach this? How often should we do that? How in the world will this happen?

When God told Abraham that his wife would give birth to a son – He responded by asking – How shall this take place since I am 100 years old and Sarah, my wife is 90 years of age? Well it did happen and that’s history…

Bottom line:  WE ALL HAVE QUESTIONS! Why, What, Who, When, Where, How…  Some can be answered if we do our due diligence.

Others – if they are to be answered will need to be caught rather than taught and many answers will require faith. Some people put their faith in God and those who do – don’t need all the answers to their questions. 

Why? Because God knows all things – He cares for us – He wants us to succeed – He’s on our side and He will reveal whatever we need to know – when we need to know it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fight or Flight

by Tim Howard

Is fear good or bad? My answer to that question would be both!

There are definitely times and things that should trigger a healthy fear, which in turn should cause a person to flee the scene.  If bullets are flying around – it’s wisdom to run for cover and if you ever encounter a vicious bear on the loose – A retreat may be the best option.

The Fight-or-Flight response that resides within all of us needs to be trained because fear might be based upon a ‘perceived threat’ rather than a ‘real threat.’ When this happens we may run when we should stand our ground or vice-versa, we may stand firm and remain steadfast when we should hightail it for a safe place.

Discernment is the key!

Knowing what to do in any given situation is not always as easy as it sounds!

I recently had our staff take an ‘Active Shooter’ class presented by our wonderful Sheriff’s Department in Kings County, which gave us wisdom and insight on knowing when to run and when to fight. One key point we gleaned was: ‘To have this discernment, one must be governed by something higher than fear.’

When the army of Israel was running and hiding from Goliath because of fear – David, the first King of Israel stood firm against insurmountable odds because of his faith in God.

Faith in God is the antidote to fear. Jesus drew the connection between fear and faith when He said: “ Why are you afraid – oh you of little faith.” In other words: If you are governed by great fear, you will have little faith but if you are governed by great faith you will have little fear.

Fear has to be broken – It must not be allowed to rule because it is shortsighted. Like our emotions – fears are valid but they don’t provide a good foundation for good decisions

David said: “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” Ps 34:4 David refused to allow his fears to trump his faith. If a person follows his example – he or she will not act upon what they want to do when fear comes but what God wants them to do.

Fear Not – is a phrase used upwards to 150 times in the Bible and it admonishes all of us to break the power of fear. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus came to break fear’s hold on us so we could rise up in faith.

I wonder if any of you, who are reading this article are living a life founded upon fear – running from things when you should be standing firm. Are there any ‘Pink Elephants’ in your life that you aren’t focusing on because you fear what might happen if you actually expose it for what it really is? Is it fear that causes you to procrastinate, ignore or even deny the reality of some aspect in your life? If so:

Don’t allow fear to be your guide throughout life – Fear will too often cause you to run when you should stand and if you are running you’re probably looking for a place to hide.

I encourage you to make the decision I made years ago. 

I will rise up in faith today and in all my days and in all my ways I will seek the Lord. If you make that decision: Faith will supersede fear and you will have the discernment needed when fear knocks on your door.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

In Marriage, Communication is Key

by Andrew Cromwell 

As a pastor, I do my fair share of counseling, both with couples that are preparing to get married and with those who have already crossed that golden threshold into nuptial bliss. Without fail, every couple I meet with says they need to improve their communication skills. To you, dear reader, I have no doubt this is not a novel piece of information. For all of us, when it comes to those we spend the most time with, those we have committed our lives and hearts to, these are the ones with whom we often are the most challenged in the area of our communication.

The sad thing is that instead of getting better at communicating over the years of marriage, what we often do is simply reinforce our bad communication habits. We fight about the same old things in the same old unsuccessful ways. Our positions become so entrenched and so immovable that we no longer fight about the issue. Instead, whenever we begin to get close to the landmine that is the issue, we are distracted by all the barbed wire, camouflage netting and machine guns that are our past arguments, bitterness and judgments. 

We've all seen the couples on TV who are asked to practice assertive communication and active listening. The memorable ones go horribly wrong. The wife says, "When you don't come home from work until after 9pm every night, I feel like you don't love me." The husband replies, "I heard you say that you hate my work and you think I don't love you." We all cringe slightly because we know that is not what the wife said, but at the same time we all wonder how much our own arguments are just the same.

Building new communication skills and breaking through old communication patterns is not easy, but then again nothing worth anything in life is easy. You and your spouse may have come to a place where you have forged an uneasy peace and in order to move forward in your relationship, things are actually going to have to get uglier before they get better. You are going to have to face issues that are uncomfortable and even explosive, but if you are committed to walk through it together then you can come out on the other side with greater intimacy and a stronger relationship.

If you want to see your relationship grow, I would suggest you do the following: First, talk with your spouse and agree together that you are going to seek a stronger, deeper relationship. Second, get some help! Take a marriage class, go to a marriage retreat or seek some counseling. For example, at Koinonia, we have a marriage class called Building a Successful Marriage. There are so many good resources available around us, but we often starve our relationship while surrounded by a wealth of resources. Third, work, work, work! Your marriage is worth it!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Show Me The Way!

 by Tim Howard

This weekend we are hosting an Emerging Leadership Seminar to discuss the importance of Leadership.

Good leaders tell lost people where to go.
Great leaders show lost people where to go.

Have you ever been en route to a specific destination only to discover you were lost?  Not only lost but late as well?

You can almost feel your blood pressure rising as your emotions begin to fluctuate and your intellect reminds you this is an extremely important appointment so being late is not a positive option.

One time a Pastor friend of mine 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 with plenty of time to spare but ended up lost anyway. Even though it was humbling for him to admit he needed some help, he decided to stop at the first country store – to ask directions.

A man named Karl; the proprietor of Karl’s Feed & Fuel gave him these directions: “First you take Rural Route 18 -- that’s this road here -- go south to the big red barn with black trim. Black trim and not white! The white-trimmed house is the old Wilkerson place and you don’t want to go that way, trust me”. Ron nodded to acknowledge he was listening. “Anyway” Karl went on, “after you get to the barn, head due east on Brier road until you hit Clear Creek, which you follow North -- maybe two, three miles till you get to the big aluminum grain silo. That’s Earl Simmons’ place. Turn north – follow that a mile or so -- winds around a good bit -- and then turn left where you see the big herd of Guernsey cows”…

To Ron’s surprise after being totally confused by the litany of directions, a man interrupted the conversation and said: “Pardon me, my name is Lyle. Didn’t mean to listen in, but I happen to be going that way and if you want to get into your car and follow me – I will show you the way.

When you lose your way in life – and we all do at times – It’s wonderful to have someone show you the way!

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus told those who were lost and needed direction for their lives to follow Him. He didn’t just tell them where to go and what to do, He actually led them and showed them the way.

That type of leadership simplifies everything. All we need to do is follow:

I’ve been following Jesus for over 5 decades and I’ve discovered over and over again that I will arrive at the appropriate destination and at the appropriate time if I simply walk in His shadow. Why? Because He knows the way!

Believe it or not, God has already been in your and my future. Psalms 139 makes it clear that He “goes before us.” He charts a path for us – He knows where we should stop, when we need to rest and the best route for the journey.

Don’t settle for only acquiring knowledge and information about God when you have the privilege of really getting to know Him personally.

If you are ever lost and need directions He will show you the way!