Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tolerate Me

by Sylvia Gaston

I am a Christian.

I haven’t always been a Christian and was not raised in a Christian home so I came to this lifestyle in a rather different way than most.

When I was about 10 years old, I asked my mom if she would take us to a small nearby church. I cannot recall what piqued my interest about that church or if it was God Himself beckoning me (He does that, you know). She agreed and came with us for a while but then after a time, I remember we often went by ourselves.

It was there in that very small church in that very small town that I first learned about God, about praying, about the Bible. I remember laying in my twin bed one night, particularly upset over the fighting that took place in our home, and asking Jesus to help me with this thing called ‘life’. And, for a while, I was very aware of something bigger than myself watching and guiding and comforting me.

Fast forward to junior high, high school and college. I’m now not so aware of God’s presence probably because we had moved and my church attendance came to an end, as did my interest in Him. But, His pursuit of me did not.

After walking on my own, with better than average success in my life, I felt that familiar beckoning once again; coincidences that I could not explain and people in my path in the most astounding places and ways. It was then, in my 30s, that I made an adult decision to follow Jesus again.

My life after that adult decision is forever changed. My priorities of career, power, and money were replaced with concern for healthy relationships, purpose, and God’s will over my own.

I wish I could tell you that all my problems went away from that point on but they didn’t. That’s not the way it works – ask any Christian. Life’s challenges are still there. Relationships are still hard sometimes. I also seem to have the lifelong job of overcoming some personality traits I’ve developed over a lifetime of coping with difficult situations from my past.

Yet, through it all, I wouldn’t change that adult decision I made long ago. Because, despite the fact that life on this earth will never be perfect, or even easy, I have amazing hope. Hope in a Savior that guides and comforts me. Hope in wisdom from a God who knows all. Hope in what lies beyond my years in this body and on this earth.

I don’t struggle with fear about the future or with what I’m supposed to do next. I have a Counselor and a Protector to decide those things for me.

Living in this current culture of tolerance, I often wonder why there is so little tolerance for Christians. I recognize that not all Christians have represented God well. But, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

When I think of the incredible gifts offered by God the Father, His Son Jesus, and His Holy Spirit, I don’t understand why more aren’t intrigued. His gifts are forgiveness, acceptance, and guidance. He places great value on joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His overwhelming trait and message to our world is love for all. ALL.

He loves you. He’s beckoning you. 

Hit your knees in prayer or jump into a church to connect with Him. If it’s not a good fit for you, try another and another, if you have to. He has a place for you – a place where you and He will connect and where you will receive the benefit of His unconditional love and purpose for your life.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Maturity Looks Different

By Candace Cortez

It’s February. In our community, it looks, feels, and smells like springtime is here. Recently, I have been focused on making all the plants that turned brown, or yellow, or frail in the winter months green again. I must confess, I am not really good at keeping plants alive. But the prospect of trying to bring things back to a place of strength that doesn’t actually hurt my world if I fail is a nice place to go on my rest days! I don’t know all the tricks. But I do remember, that water and sun are important, right?

Then I remember hearing something about fertilizer? Or was it making sure there was enough soil space? Or did I read something about rotating plants in reference to the light source? Living in the Valley, with so many agriculturally savvy minds, I must be causing a lot of eye rolls. My apologies for disappointing. I’m in the beginning stages of learning. Last week I aerated the soil in my potted plants. I learned about this process by googling some of my sick plant’s symptoms. This week, literally only 6-10 days later, some of my plant babies have stronger leaves, and even fresh baby leaves sprouting up. It worked for a couple of my plants! For some of my other plants, I simply repotted them in a larger pot. This also worked! For some of my younger plants, I’m learning that they require more water than some of my “established” plants.

As I spend my Saturdays in the dirt, the Lord keeps quickening in my spirit about the soil of our hearts. At first, when we are young in our faith, there is a certain regiment or level of discipline needed as the Lord is revealing Himself to us. At first, just attending church services regularly felt like my spirit was on fire for God! I was in it! I was growing and hearing fresh revelation through the pastors and teachers! It was incredible. And then eventually, it didn’t feel like enough. Simply going to church, was no longer an adequate source of strength. I began to read the Bible on my own. (They told me to do this before, but I didn’t believe I needed to considering how alive church services made me feel!) This began a new level of fire for me and my relationship with God.

As years progressed, in my faith, I learned to give financially, serve practically, and submit myself to mentors and leaders, and become a leader and mentor myself. These are all progressive steps in spiritual maturity. They did not all happen at once. I know my spirit looks different than it did 5 years ago. I require different habits to maintain my spiritual health. I cannot expect to continue growing fruit by just listening to others talk about God.

I am enjoying working out the soil of my heart. Finding God when working through concepts like racism, or systemic poverty, or how to best care for those who are marginalized is requiring me to keep digging deeper, and seeking health in my relationships and perspective and calls to action. I am consistently seeking to know the next step of how to keep growing. I know that at certain times of my life, God is asking me to add something to my life, and others, He is requiring that I remove something. Growing in maturity requires something different today than it will tomorrow. Like my plants, I need to keep working to figure out the next steps to grow.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

God’s Word Isn’t Magic

by Andrew Cromwell

Many people seem to treat God’s Word like a magic potion or spell. Sometimes it is prayers that are written and printed in the classifieds or buried in a certain place. It may be a certain phrase repeated half a dozen times. Some like to take Bibles with them when they travel thinking they will be protected or even print verses on bumper stickers or paint them on the walls of their house.

The problem is God’s Word doesn’t work that way. The Bible is not a book of spells. It is not an amulet to ward off evil spirits. And it doesn’t magically protect someone who has verses tattooed on their body.

But it is powerful. It is life-changing. It gives us access to the thoughts of God and gives us insight into the principles that He put into place that govern the universe in which we live. It shows us how to live and what to do when we mess up.

So, what makes God’s Word so powerful and how do we access it in a way that it can result in change and blessing in our lives? Let me give you a few thoughts on the subject.

Jesus said that the Scriptures were about Him. He also said that if we want to have life, then we need to come to Him. So if we want to know Jesus and have the quality of life that He talked about, then we probably need to study God’s Word.

Coincidentally, one of the greatest arguments for the idea that we should listen to what the Bible says is that Jesus said we should. I don’t know about you, but I tend to go with the guy that came back to life after being dead for three days. What He says carries much more weight than what the media, the “smart” people, and my friends say.

God’s Word is revelation to us and for us. Life is challenging and complicated and we need God’s guidance! I don’t know about you, but there are times when I don’t know what the right decision is or what the next step needs to be. I need God to reveal His thoughts on the matter. When I get into God’s Word then my mind and spirit are filled with words that are eternal and life giving. As I take these Words in, God’s Holy Spirit is able to shine light on the thoughts of God that are relevant to my situation. But if I don’t have His Word “hidden in my heart” then the revelation I need isn’t there.

God’s Word is truth. In a world that is full of opinion, and where everyone does what they think is right, the Word of God gives us access to a solid place to stand. Rather than living our lives based on subjective opinion, we can live our lives based on what is actually true. That makes all the difference.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but the point is — God’s Word is powerful if we get it inside of us. Because, if it is inside of us (which requires us to read it, to think about it, to memorize it, and to meditate on it) then we will have our thoughts corrected, our actions inspired and our lives transformed. This doesn’t happen when we use the Scripture like a magic potion, it happens as we see it as God’s revelation given to us for the purpose of the transformation of who we are.