Saturday, November 24, 2018

Take Your Thanksgiving To The Next Level

by Sylvia Gaston

By now, you’re probably having that leftover turkey sandwich or thinking about your workout plan for next week to counteract all those extra Thanksgiving calories you consumed this past week.

I’ve said it before. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As with most holidays, it brings out the best in most people – kindness, generosity, brotherly love. But unlike other holidays, it’s not overly complicated. No gifts; no costumes; no fireworks; just two things I really love: FAMILY and FOOD!

 After all the cooking is done, it’s time to slooooow down, eat, relax, and enjoy each other - with some football thrown in for good measure. And immediately after begins the frenzy and furor of Christmas. (definition of furor: ‘an outbreak of public anger or excitement’) J

But the absolute best thing about Thanksgiving is . . . well, thanksgiving. The giving of thanks that we, actually and intentionally, make time for.  You see it all over social media beginning November 1st. People decide to share what they are thankful for throughout the month.

For years, psychologists have been studying what happens when people are grateful. Researchers from Psychology Today have found that:
·      Gratitude improves physical and psychological health
·      Gratitude reduces aggression and enhances empathy
·      Grateful people sleep better
·      Gratitude improves self-esteem
·      Gratitude increases mental strength
·      Gratitude opens the door to more relationships

In a nutshell, being thankful makes us happier and healthier humans! I’m in!!

As a staff at Koinonia Church, my co-workers and I participated in the daily exercise of writing down 2 things we are truly thankful for. In fact, our lead pastor, Tim, challenged us to avoid the easy task of just writing down whatever pops into our mind. We were encouraged to really spend the time to contemplate all that God has done for us and to reflect on our blessings. (Do I have a great job or what?)

In Luke 17:11 of the Bible, we read an account of Jesus healing 10 lepers. These 10 ostracized men shout to Him because they are forbidden to interact with healthy people – even their own families. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, who had the final say on whether they were actually healed and could re-enter society again. In complete faith, or maybe desperation, they begin walking to the priests before they even see the cleansing of their bodies. Along the way, their healing is completed. One of the 10 turns back to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him. Jesus replies, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Rise and go, your faith has made you well.”

Here’s what I’ve realized. I need to appreciate more fully from Whom my blessings come. I can’t take credit for a job I love because God opened that door for me. I can’t take credit for even my skills or talents because those are also God-given. My family? My health? I see how God Himself has taken care of those as well. I see how He cared for me through recent struggles with health, family, and death. As I evaluate the small, but sweet details of my life, is there really anything that I hold dear that doesn’t come directly from Him?

The other thing I realize is how easy it is to be thankful for the obvious: health, family, home, job, and good friends. But, to dig deeper for the little things that we take for granted really ups the gratitude quotient, as well as the great benefits that come along for the ride.

If you think I’m saying that my life is without fault or defect, I’m not. God has not promised that if I follow Him, my life will be perfect. He only promises that He will see me through it until my time here is over and my time with Him begins. Can I ask for anything more or be any more grateful for that alone?

I’m happy to confirm that what God says in the Bible is true, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” – Psalm 92:1

Let’s continue the thanksgiving habit throughout Christmas and into the new year. It’s good for our soul and for our world.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Your Story Is GOOD

by Candace Cortez

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me, that I am a competitive person. This fire inside me, encouraging me to win, dominate, overcome, and potentially leave my competitors in the dust, is all fun and games when it comes to Scattegories, The Settlers of Catan, or Pictionary. This is not so great in other areas of life. Comparison is a competitive spirit’s ugly brother.

Whenever the topic of testimony comes up, there is a sneaking desire to compare my story to others and deem it better or worse than others. Have you ever done this? Somehow I create categories that determine if a story is good or not. For example, if a person has been delivered from some sort of addiction, man that story is so good! If a person’s marriage was on the rocks, and then the Lord spoke to them and healed that relationship, man that story is good. If the Lord uses the wisdom of your parents and keeps you from addiction and other bad choices…that story…is…nice? As a person who has spent most of my life as a follower of Christ, I have found myself comparing my story to others and found myself wanting.

God has been challenging me in this recently, and I want to encourage you, that God does not compare your story with the story of others around you. He doesn’t consider it in terms of better or worse, boring or exciting. God’s concern for your story is that it leads to relationship with Him.

Have you ever walked into a room with a person watching a movie, and then you got pulled into the story? Well, eventually, you’re going to have some questions because you missed the beginning when the foundation was being laid or you missed the character development. There have been other times when time didn’t permit us to complete the movie, so I didn’t get to find out if the conflict was resolved, or if the guy got the girl! When we get to share our story or are blessed with hearing someone else’s story, we must keep in mind, the story is not finished yet! We may never know all of the characters, incidents, miracles, and hidden ways the Lord has moved in their life to get them where they are today. 

I was speaking with a young person a couple weeks ago who was feeling insecure about sharing her story, because she currently wasn’t doing as well as she was when she first began following Christ. Maybe this is you. You feel like, at one point, you were so excited about following Jesus, and somehow you have lost your passion and are struggling to regain the momentum in your growth. Or maybe you are young in your faith and haven’t experienced freedom in certain areas of your life. Or maybe right now, you are hearing from the Lord on a regular basis and are passionately sharing with others. No matter what season you are in, keep moving toward Jesus. If you are for whatever reason, “two steps back” from where you’d like to be, or used to be, do not look down on your story. God wants you! He doesn’t expect a straight line, sometimes our story takes some twists, turns, and backtracks. Your story is a good one, when God it in it.  

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Why Is Always Better Than The What

by Sylvia Gaston

I’m in the business of teaching kids. I teach my own big kids, my grandkids, as well as the kids who attend our church.  Well, actually, our wonderful Children’s Ministry volunteers teach them. My co-workers and I provide them with the resources to do the teaching.

I have had many opportunities to speak to lots of adults as well. And in all that teaching, here’s one important thing I’ve learned…

The WHY is always better than the WHAT.

When I tell my kids something, they often view it as another thing in a long line of things I am constantly telling them. But, if I take the time to explain why they should do this or that, they have a greater motivation to do the what, - or, at least, a greater understanding of it. They may not always agree with it, but at least they know why I am asking it. And our goal, as their parents, is that someday they will learn, mature, and eventually pass on all of our great wisdom to their own children.  That’s the dream, at least ☺

If I take my lead from God, I see that He and His son, Jesus, spend a great deal of time explaining the why. He spends time letting us know that the reason why He teaches or even commands us at times, is for our own good.

Here are some examples of how He taught the WHY:

In Deuteronomy 12:28  of the Bible, God says, “Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right”.

In Ephesians 6:7 we are told to: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do”.

Jesus even tells us WHY we should follow Him. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. "For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

You see it isn’t God’s heart to command us simply to rule us. That is made obvious by the fact that we don’t have to obey Him. When He created us, He gave us free will. However, He did create us – and in His own image. Therefore, He knows us intimately well. And because He loves us so very much, He always wants what is best for us. That is the motive behind His teaching and His guidance – if we choose to heed it.

People are listening to you – at work, at home, on social media. Are you barking out orders and commands left and right without giving any reasons WHY? That’s not caring about people and relationships; that’s merely a focus on outcomes.

The bottom line is that God commands because He truly loves. So if we are to be effective in our teaching of others, we need to be motivated by that same kind of love for them.

That’s fairly easy to do with our children because we naturally love them so much. But, how does that look if you are teaching and leading others – other children or adults, co-workers, family or friends?

If we are motivated by love, we should want to explain WHY our teaching is important to them. They should know and feel our motive. They may listen more to the WHAT because they know the all-important WHY. 

This is especially true, and especially important if you are a parent, a boss, or a person of influence in your circles. 

Don’t just tell people what to do, explain the WHY.