Saturday, September 30, 2017

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Tim Howard
I was sitting on an airplane getting ready for a 5-hour trip. My seat is in the economy section and is located between two other passengers. As I’m sitting there I recall a song titled: ‘Stuck in the Middle with You”
If you’ve ever been confined to a very small place for a very long time you might be able to empathize – I was feeling a bit claustrophobic! When you’re confined, restricted, locked up or simply stuck between a rock and a hard place – freedom becomes a desired commodity.
It’s easy to get stuck in life and feel like there’s no way out and no where to go. Some people get stuck in an abusive relationship or a dead end job or stuck on themselves because of pride. But one thing is certain, freedom is preferable!

In John 8, Jesus made an incredibly profound statement.  He said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  What was He talking about?  Here’s a couple of answers from the Bible.
Jesus came to free us from YESTERDAY’S PAIN. All of us have a history.
Our past is cluttered with baggage that isn’t pleasant to recall, remember or rehearse with others. Like mud that engulfs a vehicle and prohibits it from moving ahead, so our guilt, shame and condemnation can keep us from progress. You can also get stuck in your past sin and forfeit a bright tomorrow.
“The Lord says, ‘Forget about what has happened before.  Do not think about the past. Instead, look at the new thing I am going to do.’”  Isaiah 43:18-19 (NCV)
"… if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.  Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. Job 11:13-17 (NIV)
Jesus came to free us from TODAY’S PRESSURES. Stress is all around us and there seems to be no escape! God, however, gives us these words.
“God never grows faint or weary…  He gives power to those who are tired and worn out.”  Isaiah 40:28-29 (NLT)
 Jesus:  “Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to Me for real rest… and you’ll recover your life... and you’ll learn to live… freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-29 (MSG.)
Jesus came to free us from TOMORROW’S UNCERTAINTY.
“I know what I am planning for you,” says the Lord, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you.  I will give you hope and a good future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NCV)
We all have ‘In-between’ times! Those moments when we leave one place for another but because we are in process, we haven’t arrived at the destination. You might be ‘between’ appointments or between jobs or possibly you are between a rock and a hard place.

Here’s the truth about Jesus. He came to free you and me from yesterday’s pain, today’s pressures and tomorrow’s uncertainty. 

If a person wants to experience this freedom, all he or she needs to do is put their faith IN God; their focus ON God and start walking WITH God. He will help you when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I Declare

by Sylvia Gaston

To declare is to say something in a solemn and emphatic manner. In order words, say it forcibly and clearly.

When I think about the things that I typically say forcibly and clearly, it generally comes down to this…

·      stuff I declare to my kids

·      stuff I declare at work

·      stuff I am passionate about

Last year, I came across the concept of starting each day with a verbal declaration of what you know to be true and declare over your life. This caught my attention and I haven’t been able to let go of the concept.

I am a firm believer that our thoughts shape our words, and our words shape our actions. If I’m honest, I must admit that I tend to fall into the camp of pessimism – you know, the glass is half empty kind of person. I always pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.

I’ve always been jealous of the people who just ooze joy. They seem to have the brightest outlook on life and they seem genuinely happy. Hey, I want that! I know that God wants that for me, too! The Bible says it this way…”I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” –John 10:10

Many years ago, I read a book that summed it up nicely. “Battlefield of the Mind”, written by Joyce Meyer, is an excellent read and a powerful resource in winning the battle that takes place within our own brains. Joyce is a great speaker and author. She also loves Christ. But this book stands on its own merit – for Christians and non-Christians alike.

The book assumes that positive minds produce positive lives. Well, who doesn’t want that?  There are steps we can take, and obstacles we may have to overcome, to win these mental battles that take place daily.

In a nutshell, a couple of the steps include: realizing that change happens a little at a time so we can’t give up, and we need to regularly think about what we’re thinking.

Some of the obstacles to becoming a more positive person may be: a wandering mind, a confused mind, a doubtful mind, an anxious or worried mind.

Having admitted to myself that I can be a little negative by nature (or a lot), I’ve learned that my thoughts have a tremendous impact on how I walk through life. I can think myself into a funk that sets the tone for my day and my interaction with others. Not good. I also believe that the mind is where evil imaginations begin.

If that’s the case, it stands to reason that I should be able to do the opposite as well. If I think positive thoughts and declare things I know to be true, I should be able to set myself up for positive days and positive interactions with others, right?

So, for the last several months, I have been mentally honing my Personal Declaration. I am committed to finishing it this month and I’m very close.

At first, I didn’t know where to start. So I prayed about it and God revealed to me that I needed to begin with what I know to be true. I began to list the following:

1.     things I know to be true about God

2.     things I know to be true about myself

3.     things I know to be true about others (because I do life with “others”)

The list is long. I’m in the process now of making it manageable to state each day and I’m sure I’ll eventually memorize it. I also know that it will change and evolve as I change and evolve.

My vision is that I will declare truths on a daily basis and set the tone for a more positive and productive day -- a day that I enjoy and that positively impacts those around me. I think that’s a pretty awesome and worthwhile vision.

I challenge you to begin crafting a Personal Declaration for you and your life. I can already see the beginnings of change happening in me.

I want to have a positive life and that begins with positive thoughts. I remember what the apostle Paul says about the importance and responsibility of guarding our mind.

“We capture every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wake Up!

by Candace Cortez

It amazes me how God has made so many people unique and different and the same all at the same time. I am also surprised that for many people, He has given them the gift of morning love. I do not have this gift. I loathe all mornings. I am productive in the morning because I have to be. I am awake in the morning literally only because I have children and a job. If I had total freedom to choose, my day would start at 10am (which is like the cool uncle version of mornings). For me, waking up is daily battle number one.

As I was struggling to claim my joy and my victory over this morning, I remembered Ephesians 5:14 which reads “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you."

There are many verses of scripture that liken being asleep to being dead. This is not a physical situation, it’s definitely a spiritual situation.

Pop culture has gotten hold of this concept and there is a word buzzing around which is used to identify someone who is socially aware and sensitive to what’s going on in the community. This word is “woke.” Like, “that person is woke, they volunteer in the neighborhood every week.” (Consider this the first edition of your friendly youth pastor slang training!)

Although it is not a word I use personally, I do believe some of us struggle to wake up more than others. Here are a few of the struggles. And they are real.

Waking up is hard because we are comfy where we are sleeping. Sometimes the idea of getting out of our cozy blankets and stepping into the cold seems so uninviting. The same can be said spiritually and socially. We are comfy where we are. We are not being challenged and we like that. Yes, we know there is more out there, but we don’t really care, because here right in front of us is so good. Do not let complacency be the death of you!

Waking up is hard because once I wake up, I have to do so much! Staying in my bed means I don’t have to worry about making lunches, going to work, or even picking out the outfit of the day! For some of us, we have this glimpse of what’s going on in the world: racism, poverty, corruption, injustice, natural disasters, and we think to ourselves, that’s just too much to try to figure out. There is too much to do. This is actually true. There is too much to do for one person. Luckily, you are not alone. We all need to wake up and work together to help each other get to a better place socially. And spiritually, sometimes we lose the joy of spiritual disciplines. Sometimes we are not carrying the natural desire to pray, and study, and share our faith, because the work is never done. But God is calling us to not put our faith to sleep! Be active in growing and sharing. The fruit of being alive in Christ is SO WORTH IT!

Waking up is hard because I didn’t set my alarm. Sometimes I am blessed with a morning to not need to set my alarm. I still wake up earlier than I would like, but I very rarely wake up as early as I would if I were to set my alarm. We need social and spiritual alarms in place in our life to wake us up when we fall asleep. I find the best alarms in honest friendships. People in my life who can let me know when I have grown too comfortable or too afraid to progress. We can also find alarms in exposure to new experiences. If we push ourselves out of our routines to see the world and to see God from a new perspective, we may have a greater chance of responding to the needs of our community and the call of God on our hearts. 

So, WAKE UP! Do not be dead to the one who made you and the planet He put you on! In the process, God will shine on you! Don’t miss out on the blessing of living your life totally awake.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dealing with Doubt

by Andrew Cromwell

Almost everyone has doubts. Doubts are a part of life. We even have sayings about doubt. We say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, and “Don’t believe everything you hear”, and “Trust, but verify.”  

And without a doubt, there is plenty of reason to doubt! Our world has disappointed us so many times we find it difficult to trust anything anymore. We have been disappointed by products we purchased that didn’t live up to their claims. We have been crushed by people who promised and didn’t follow through. And we have been devastated by friends who told us to trust them, when they never planned to be trustworthy at all.

There is very little in the world that is reliable and trustworthy, or so it seems.

And then we begin to think about God—an all-knowing, all-loving Creator—and we can’t seem to keep our negative experiences from bleeding over into our trust in Him. And this is natural. Everything we have seen and experienced in this world has led us to doubt. But God says that we are to have faith in Him.

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Faith requires us to believe and trust even when we can’t see the entire picture in this moment. Where doubt demands to see the hard evidence, faith is ok with waiting because it is confident the evidence will follow.

Doubt is a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you doubt someone and are convinced they are going to let you down, they always do. You can always find a reason to doubt! You can find plenty of reasons to doubt God too. Many people sabotage their faith in God by choosing to believe things about Him that are simply not true (for example, believe that if God is real and He loves me, then He won’t allow bad things to happen to me). When these false beliefs are verified (aka, bad things happen), then they become angry at God.

So what do we do with doubt?

The first thing we do is to choose the opposite of doubt. We choose faith. We choose to trust God even when we don’t understand. But choosing faith is only the first step.

Second, we feed our faith and starve our doubts. This is a decision to actively feed yourself the right “faith-food” and avoid feasting on doubt-filled thoughts. Instead of rehearsing all the things we are unsure about, we instead focus on the things we are sure about. We know God is good, we know He love us, and we know that He is with us even in the midst of difficult times (including times filled with doubt).

Finally, we push into the only One who is really trustworthy! We do whatever we must to get closer to God. We desperately pursue Him. We get around people that are excited about God. We read the Bible. We talk to God. We grow ourselves spiritually.

As you do this, you will find that your faith will grow stronger.

The next time you are filled with doubt, talk to someone about it. But don’t just talk to anyone, talk to someone who you know is filled with faith and can encourage you. Don’t talk to someone who is filled with doubt! You’ll always leave that conversation filled with even more doubt too.