Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Story of the Bible

by Andrew Cromwell

Most people know some Bible stories, but many don’t know the story of the Bible. Even if you grew up going to Sunday school, chances are you might have missed it. And if you didn’t grow up in church, then the few stories you do know often don’t make sense.

There are the stories we like to tell—like David and Goliath—and then there are some that don’t get mentioned very often—like Elisha calling down bears to maul belligerent teenagers. And without an understanding of how things fit, we can run into stories that don’t fit into our experience of reality. They seem so strange and outlandish that we can start to question the whole thing.

Some of us know people or have kids that have walked away from the faith because of something along these lines. You yourself might even be in that situation. The good news is that when you start to understand the larger story of the Bible and how the pieces fit together, then you just might discover that you don’t have to question everything just because one thing is strange.

What makes this more complicated is that the way we got our Bible is different from how we got THE Bible. Today when you buy a Bible, it is beautifully wrapped, has pretty maps in the back, is chaptered and versed, and it may even have red letters just so we don’t miss Jesus’ words. We can easily make the mistake and think that the Bible is a book where you start at the beginning and just read on through.

But the Bible is so much more than just a book. And it doesn’t actually start with Genesis. While Genesis may be at the beginning of the Bible, the truth is the story of the Bible actually begins closer to the middle with four accounts of the life of Jesus.

You see, the Bible would not even exist if it were not for something extraordinary that HAPPENED. This event was so shocking that it transformed a group of men and women who were cowering in fear, into men and women who couldn’t be shut up. It sparked a movement that produced the church and eventually the Bible. As a side note: the church didn’t have a Bible for the first three hundred plus years!

This incredible event is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had Jesus not come back to life after being dead for three days, His followers would have probably stayed in hiding with their hearts broken. But when Jesus appeared to not just a few but to many (the Apostle Paul pegs the number at 500) over the next forty days, they were profoundly convinced that everything Jesus said was true. Because after all, you should listen to the person that predicts their own death and resurrection and then pulls it off!

And so Jesus’ followers began to write down what He had said and done while He was on the earth. Because they knew it was important. So important, that not just one person wrote it down but many. 

There’s so much more to the story! For now, it is enough to say that the real question for us all is not, “Do I have a problem with a story in the Bible?” Rather, the question we must all seriously wrestle with is, “Did Jesus really come back to life and prove everything He said was true?” That’s the REAL question!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

What Is A Savior And Why Do I Need One? (A Testimony With Lots Of Definitions)

by Sylvia Gaston

I am a “prove it to me” person. I will listen to anything you have to say but, most of the time, before I actually believe it, I will need proof.

In my young adult life, I had the same attitude about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. I believed in God because I couldn’t fathom our existence just ‘evolved’ from nothingness. Yet, faith held no real meaning for me. I had no use for a savior to worship, and I questioned my need for religion.

By definition, a savior is a person who saves someone or something from danger. In Christianity, God or Jesus Christ is the redeemer of sin and saver of souls. I felt no danger and therefore, didn’t need to be saved from it.

Did I need a savior to redeem me from sin to save my soul? Since I didn’t have a clear definition of sin and how sin endangered my soul, I didn’t need a savior.

So, just what is sin and what is my soul?

Sin is an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law; a wrongdoing, act of evil/wickedness, crime, offense, or misdeed.

I knew that I sinned but did that really make me evil? That depends on your definition of goodness. We imagine ourselves to be relatively good but with no clear understanding of what true goodness is, we simply use our own gauge and definition. People all over the world and from all walks of life have their own self-defined scale of acceptable goodness. That’s frightening.

What is this divine law we are to live up to? Divine law is law that is from a transcendent source, such as the will of God or gods, in contrast to man-made lawDivine laws are typically regarded as superior to man-made laws, sometimes due to an understanding that their source is beyond human knowledge and human reason.

I was quite sure that I couldn’t live up to the goodness as defined by God.

And what about my soul? The dictionary defines that as: 1) the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as an entity separate from the body; 2) the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come.

Following this train of thought, it seems that I DID need a savior to save me from myself. Who knew? 

You see, we were created on purpose and for a purpose. We ALL were created to worship the Creator - to worship Him here on Earth until we worship Him face to face in Heaven. Humans will always worship something.

Sin separates us from God, Who is the essence of goodness. God sent His son Jesus to us. In a plan that I don’t fully understand, Jesus sacrificed His life to make amends for my sins (and yours).

Here’s where faith, and God’s Spirit, finally got my attention. Faith, belief not based on proof, is contradictory to my personality. Yet, God continued to attract and amaze me with a series of ‘coincidences’ that piqued my curiosity about this Creator and what He wanted for me and from me.

I eventually took a step of faith and said, “OK, God, I’ll follow You and see if all of this ‘savior Jesus’ stuff is real.” (I know…my arrogance knows no bounds).

I have never looked back. Not all of my questions have been answered – there are some things that still don’t make sense to me or that my puny brain cannot yet comprehend. However, I choose to follow the God/Man who created everything, including me.

Over the years, He has proven to me in amazing, supernatural ways that He exists and is very much with me and for me. He has revealed to me that He knows me and knows my circumstances. He has guided me through good times and bad. He has called me to become something and to do some things that I did not plan for myself. He’s always there. And, oh, how He loves me!

Ironically, I still keep a mental list of questions to ask God when I see Him after my time here on earth is over. Some things never change – including my ridiculous personality.

Do you need a savior to redeem your soul? Yes – and I pray that your journey in pursuit of your savior, Jesus, begins and never ends! 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Stand Your Ground

by Tim Howard

There is a flight-or-fight response that resides within all of us but it needs to be trained because fear might be based upon a ‘perceived threat’ rather than a ‘real threat.’ Yes, there is wisdom in running at appropriate times but at other times wisdom says we should stand our ground, and remain steadfast.

Discernment is a major key but knowing what to do in any given situation is not always as easy as it sounds!

Our staff took an ‘Active Shooter’ class presented by the 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 soon to be King of Israel stood firm against insurmountable odds because of his faith in God. It was a time to stand firm and not run!

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.” Simply put: 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.

Here are a few questions I periodically ask myself to make sure fear doesn’t rule in my life.

Are there any ‘Pink Elephants’ in my life that I don’t focus on because I fear what might happen if I actually expose them for what they really are? Is it fear that causes me to procrastinate, ignore or even deny the reality of some aspect in my life? After reflecting on my past decisions, I frequently ask: What motivated that decision? If fear was not present, what would I do?

Don’t allow fear to be your guide throughout life – Unhealthy fear will too often cause you to run when you should stand your ground.

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, May 11, 2019

Honoring Influence

by Candace Cortez

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day! I am always grateful for the fact that we set aside days of the year to specifically honor and celebrate valuable parts of our life, faith, and community. As I sit and prepare myself to honor my own mother and mother-in-law this weekend, I try to gather the words to describe my feelings for how they have influenced my life.

Influence is a powerful thing. I believe the desire and capacity to have influence is a part of our heritage as humans. There is something universal in recognizing the desire to help, do something worthwhile, or make a change for the better. The slippery slope is when we begin to equate the amount of influence we have as the amount of value we have: if we have more influence we are more valuable. I believe the Lord thinks differently. He values us as His children. After creating Adam and Eve, God said it is “very good.” We people are the only portion of creation to receive this additional emphasis. Everything else, light, water, sky, animals, the sun and stars, we all called “good.” The crazy thing is, God called us “very good” without Adam or Eve actually stepping into their calling to influence this world. He loved them and approved of them because He made them, not because they had a massive influence on the cultivation of the plants or the naming of the animals.

None of what you just read is the point of this writing effort, but I genuinely believe we cannot hear that enough. So there it is.

Influence is a powerful thing. It’s powerful because there are people whose actions and words have had a great influence on the way I think and behave and I can guarantee that they have no clue of that influence on me. The ability to have an effect on another person can be negative or positive, known or unknown. Proverbs 13:20 reads “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” I have done some pretty dumb things at the prompting of other immature people. Gratefully I’ve lived to tell about it! I hope to become one of the wise and not the fool in this proverb. The way to become one of the wise is to recognize, honor, and gather your influence from the right people.

Recognizing positive influencers, or wise influencers is a matter of fruit and character. You will know a person’s character by watching their reactions over time in different situations. You will see a person’s fruit as the results of their effort. Sometimes, we are fooled by shiny, temporary results that are actually unhealthy fruit that takes time to reveal itself as shallow or fabricated. Be careful to not be impressed primarily by things like wealth, physical appearances, or physical talents.

Honoring influence simply means dedicating importance to that person’s behavior or words. The examples set by those you recognize as your influence is worthy of study or replication. Another step could even be giving recognition and gratitude for that person being a wise or loving example in your life. (ie: mother’s day, recognizing mom’s; some of the greatest influencers out there!)

Gathering influence sounds a bit creepy. Like storing all these amazing wise examples of humanity in my backyard or something. But really it is a phrase of proximity. If I want to be positively influenced by people I’ve recognized within my world, I need to get in places where I can hear them, witness their example, and learn from them. This could be as simple as following a podcast, to as intimate as asking for a conversation over coffee.

Ask yourself: are you influenced by the wise or the fools? And then, those who hear and see you, are they being influenced by the wise? Or a fool? Say thank you to a mom, any mom this weekend. Honor an influencer you see loving well today.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

What Is A Relationship With Jesus?

by Sylvia Gaston

As an adult Christian, for many, many years I didn’t understand what people meant when they spoke about a relationship with Jesus. What does that even mean? How can you have a relationship with someone you cannot see, touch, and talk to?

We all know that we can talk to Jesus through prayer. Is it a one-way conversation, though? I’d been talking to Jesus for YEARS before I understood that I needed to listen to Him, too. That was the start of my two-way relationship with Jesus! Have I heard His voice audibly in my ears? No, although some say they have. Over time, I slowly began to hear Him speak to my brain, my heart, and my spirit. (By the way, God wasn’t slow to speak to me; I was slow in learning how to listen.)

How could I know that it wasn’t simply my thoughts and feelings I was hearing? It took me a long time to stop asking Him, “Is that you, Lord?” because, initially, I wasn’t that familiar with His voice. So I would wait. Guess what? Then I would receive verification from Him in other ways. It might be in a Bible verse that I came across or from another trusted person or even from a song, television program, or book I was reading.

For me, this began a process that I am now very familiar with – a process of God connecting the dots for me, confirming what He is trying to teach me or what He is guiding me towards…actually speaking to me!

Let me stop right here and say that this may not be the way God speaks to everyone. His relationship with everyone is unique. There are a number of ways to hear from God.

Over time, I have learned what His voice sounds like. Now I rarely ask, “Is that you, Lord?” What helped me develop my relationship with Jesus has been time spent talking to him (prayer), learning about His truths and desires for our lives (Bible) and listening for Him to speak to me in whatever way He chooses.

Eventually, I began to hear from Him through dreams, words or phrases that come to me before I am fully awake, or pictures in my mind while I am praying. It’s so exciting! It’s humbling to hear from God Almighty and learn how much He cares about my puny problems and life. It is even more humbling to hear Him ask me to care for, or minister to others whom He also cares so much about.

You see, we are ALL His sons and daughters. He wants only the best for us. He wants life for us as He originally intended before sin came into our world and lives. He desires to have a relationship with me and with you. Believe me, you want this, too! He is everywhere and He is for you.

John, a close friend and follower of Jesus, puts it this way – “This is love; it is not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.” 
(1 John 4:10 CEB)

What is your next, or maybe first step to embarking upon your own relationship with the living God?  Perhaps you need to take the first step of admitting you have sinned, believing that Jesus died and rose again for those sins, and choosing to follow Him. Simply pray that to Him and your new life begins! Maybe you need to up the amount of time you spend learning His voice through prayer or learning more about Him by reading His word, the Bible.

Paul, a man who had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, explains it this way:
“God wanted people to look for Him, and perhaps in searching all around for Him, they would find Him. But He is not far from any of us. It is through Him that we are able to live, to do what we do, and to be who we are. As your own poets have said, ‘We all come from Him.’ (Acts 17:27 ERV) 

A relationship is a two-way process. It takes initiating and committing to one another. It takes investing time and bonding with one another. It may look a little different with Jesus than it does with your friends. Just know that He is waiting to hear from you, to move closer to you, to guide you and show you His love. He wants a relationship with you today and every day until you stand face-to-face with Him into eternity.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Jesus Came

by Tim Howard

Have you ever met someone who changed your life for the good? Someone, you can point to who made you a better person? Every individual I’ve had the privilege of knowing has impacted me on some level but there’s a handful of people who have influenced me greatly and are a part of my foundation. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met them.  My wife is one of them… Because of her I have changed for the good and am a better man. Jesus, however, has altered the course of my life and profoundly changed me in ways I find extremely difficult to convey. I would be nothing if He had not come!

Jesus came to change people and it’s not because He doesn’t like who we are! He’s not mad, uptight or dissatisfied with us. It’s not because He finds us unappealing or distasteful but because He loves us. After all, we are created in His image. He loves us enough to accept us on the basis of who we have become, but loves us too much to leave us in our current condition.

When God created the world, everything was good. You can read about in Genesis chapter 1 and 2. We were designed in His image with the objective of having open communion with Him on a personal basis. Mankind, however, decided to rebel. From the beginning of time to present, people have wanted what they want, when they want it and how they want it. They have tried to make God into their image rather than accepting the truth. We are created in His image.

That rebellious streak has played havoc in relationships and created a breach in our communion with God. You cannot be self-centered, self-willed and selfish without causing damage. Relationship of all sorts will suffer. We were designed for good but damaged by evil.

We are all broken! We are all damaged! There is not one of us who has it all together. That’s why Jesus came! He came to help and to return us to our original status. Under all the damage and debris, there is an original you, who Jesus wants to restore.

This weekend Christians all over the world are remembering the crucifixion and celebrating His resurrection.

 As we celebrate this Easter season, God wants to give all of us a divine perspective and help us see from His vantage point.  Those who are receptive will see more than a man dying on a cross and hear stories about His resurrection. They will see a Savior who lived among us, died for us and walks with us to help us live life to it’s fullest. 

The Apostle John puts it this way: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. That’s Good News!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Adjusting The Prescription

by Candace Cortez

Around 6 years ago, I finally dragged myself into my optometrist's office because I knew I needed glasses. My friends knew I needed glasses because of how often they would catch me squinting to read the score at the bottom of the television screen during a game, or to identify a person sitting across the room. I knew it when I started being nervous about driving my kids around after dark because I knew I couldn’t read street signs.  I still remember the drive home with my new pair of glasses and tearing up because I could see individual tree leaves as well as the texture of the tree bark! Who knew how beautiful these details and nuances of creation could be to one who had lived with blurred sight!

Recently I have transitioned into primarily wearing contact lenses instead of glasses. This is mostly because snuggling with my kids often meant smudges to my vision and active play that bumped my glasses into the bridge of my nose pressed me into anger territory. The challenge to contacts has been the cost. To save money on my disposable lenses, I purchased them in bulk. My new problem is, sitting here on my couch right now, I can no longer read the blue digital time on my oven clock. This is usually the first sign of needing an upgraded prescription. I know, because I don’t want to “waste money” I will most likely use the rest of my current batch of contacts before returning to my doctor for an updated batch. It’s not so bad that I’m unsafe or can’t enjoy life.

The goal is still the same: to clearly and effortlessly see the world around me. The method and prescription required to do that, is changing before my eyes. I am getting this same sense about the church and how we achieve our goals.
First off, what is the goal? We all have mini goals and gifts as church families. Some churches are talented at advocacy for social justice issues, while others are great at feeding the hungry. Some still are excellent at resourcing and training other churches and others are known to be creative arts specialists. These are specific goals, and I am glad for the freedom to be a different part of the Body of Christ. However, I believe the main goal is simple: to worship God and reach those who don’t serve Him yet. I also believe the way we go about doing this is shifting. Some individuals and some groups will not adjust and maybe losing clarity of vision. I have been and continue to find myself being one such individual.
Here’s an example. Recently I heard my tone (have you ever had that moment of perfect echo, hearing yourself potentially through the ears of the Holy Spirit?) turn negative towards primarily choosing to participate in church services online. It was just a passing comment, but it set up one behavior as less than another. I have loads of reasons why. And that load of reasons has kept me from encouraging people who may refuse to step foot in a Christian auditorium or sanctuary to tune in from their couch. This has kept me from potentially encouraging someone who doesn’t love Jesus, to hear His message of redemption and love through a device they are using already. All of a sudden, I realized, that my reasons for refusing to update my list of approved methods were limiting my ability to be used to build God’s Kingdom. 

This is a tiny thing, but I believe we make choices and judgments about the methods of spreading God’s love without actually asking why. I don’t want to update my contact prescription because I don’t want to waste what I currently own. This means I live a blurry life. When we refuse to adjust, we compromise clarity for the goal Christ has set before us: to make disciples. What are the things you may need to be adjusting today? The message is the same. The prescription for getting there will continue to need adjustments. Let us be humble, flexible, and good stewards of the call.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Praying Like Jesus

by Andrew Cromwell

Jesus knew how to pray. He did it all the time. He was always leaving the crowd to spend time with His Father in prayer. And it wasn’t only the amount of time that He spent in prayer that was is startling, but there was something fundamentally different about Jesus’ prayer life. He REALLY talked with Father God.

One day the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. You get the sense that they wanted to be let in on this powerful relationship that Jesus had with the Father. Jesus’ well-known answer is what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. It is a powerful prayer that is repeated today by millions upon millions of Jesus followers.

But it is more than a prayer to repeat. We know this because He tells the disciples to be careful to not pray like the pagans, who babble and repeat prayers in the hopes that their gods will hear them. The power in the Lord’s prayer is not found in repetition.

Rather, it is a pathway and a pattern.

When we see the Lord’s Prayer as the entrance to prayer, rather than the end of it, we will watch our prayer life explode into something rich and beautiful. We will discover that there is so much more to what Jesus was teaching the disciples than just a few short phrases.

If you look at the prayer, you will see that it naturally falls into five petitions or requests. Each of these represents countless other prayers that can be offered:

“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” — this opening petition is the foundation upon which all there rest of the prayer is built. To hallow something, is to make something holy. In other words, here we are taking time to recognize how great and awesome and holy God is. Unless we begin here, the rest of our prayer will be out of balance. For once you put God in His place, then everything else falls into its place. We dare not move too quickly through this section of the prayer, for the One who made all things is surely worthy of praise.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” — now we move from declaring who He is, to inviting His kingdom into the place where we live. A kingdom is where the king rules. What the king says is done. He is the source of law and ultimately of justice. We know that in heaven, whatever God says is done. In heaven there are no tears and no sorrow because complete and total justice and goodness dwells.

We also know this is not the case in the world today for wherever we look we see injustice, brokenness, and destruction. We also see this same brokenness and evil in our own hearts. So here, as we pray, we are giving the King of Kings the invitation to come into our hearts, our homes, our cities, and our world and to bring His righteous rule and reign to bear. We are laying our agendas down and picking His agenda up. This means that we are not saying to the Father, wherever my list of wants comes into contradiction with what You want, You win!

“Give us this day our daily bread” — Now the prayer shifts gears to focus on our practical need. It is so wonderful that God is concerned with our need. He desires for us to have provision for our body (food and shelter), soul (relationships, imagination, and education), and spirit (affirmation and direction). He wants us to recognize Him as the source of all provision. He is the one who cares for our needs and while things like our paycheck may come through our human employer, ultimately He is the one that signs our check!

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” — here we are reminded we are desperately dependent on the Father’s forgiveness. If we are not acutely aware of our own internal brokenness, then we have not approached the Father very closely, for His light will surely expose us for who we are. But this realization is not cause for condemnation, but rather for celebration, for even in the moment of failure, we are provided what we need. Forgiveness. Here too, we cannot miss that the gift that we have been given can only be enjoyed to the extent that we are willing to give it to others. This lesson, we would prefer to skip, but we cannot. For to say that we are unwilling to forgive is to say that we are somehow better than them.

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” — This final petition is about winning in life. We are not concerned that the Lord will tempt us, for we know He cannot and does not. We are concerned that as He leads us, we will fall into the ever-present temptation found all around us all the time. So we are praying that as we walk in this life, the Lord will preserve us, He will help us to see the enemy’s traps, and He will give us the strength to run away rather than run to temptation.

No wonder the Lord’s Prayer is so well known! It covers everything.

Have you ever prayed it in this way? Perhaps you have never prayed it at all. Whatever your experience of the Lord’s Prayer, it is an invitation to start talking to the Father. Will you answer?

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Winner Takes All

by Tim Howard                                                                                            
In every sporting event where two opposing teams face off there is a loser and a winner. Someone fails and someone succeeds. The feelings are quite different and the contrasting emotions can be seen in the demeanor of each player.

For those following March Madness, some teams have experienced euphoria while others have a humungous letdown. U.C.F. could have won the game against Duke but a one-point lead kept them from elation. Wofford College in South Carolina might have celebrated with gusto if they had been able to keep Kentucky from scoring in the last few seconds. Regardless of the score, a win by 1 point or a win by 30 points is a WIN and Winner takes all!

Vin Scully said: “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”
 After fifty-five years, I can still remember the pain I felt when I received my first ‘F’ on my report card in Junior High School.  Up until then – I had been a straight ‘A’ student but when I saw that ‘F’ on my report card – It was like branding a very large ‘L’ for loser on my forehead.

Since that time, my view of winning and losing has changed and I’ve grown in my ability to distinguish between what’s true and false. When I hear people speak about winning, I try to discern if what they say is true or false?

Here are some statements from famous people about winning that I believe to be false. I’m convinced they will not help you grow a healthy understanding of winning and losing.
Tiger Woods:  “Winning solves everything.”
Vince Lombardi:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Knute Rockne:  “Show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you a failure.”
George Steinbrenner:  “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”
Here’s some quotes that I believe to be true and helpful to building a healthy understanding of winning and losing.
Roger Staubach:  “Winning isn’t getting ahead of others. It’s getting ahead of yourself.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:  “You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.”
Yogi Berra:  “I tell the kids, somebody’s gotta win, somebody’s gotta lose. Just don’t fight about it. Just try to get better.”
Tim Tebow:  “We play a sport. It’s a game. At the end of the day, that’s all it is, is a game. It doesn’t make you any better or any worse than anybody else. So by winning a game, you’re no better. By losing a game, you’re no worse. I think by keeping that mentality, it really keeps things in perspective for me to treat everybody the same.”
In life we need to embrace winning and losing because they are inseparable. We will all experience both in our lifetime. Truth is: It’s possible to learn as much from losing as you can from winning. If you are really going to win in life, you must learn the secret of how to lose.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to win. Paul the Apostle said:  “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!”  Winning isn’t everything but wanting to win is.

Win or Lose God is on your side! If you fall (and we all will) get back up and God will strengthen you to run with renewed focus and energy. (Proverbs 24:6)
At the end of life, those who have put their confidence in Jesus will be on the winning team, regardless of your wins or losses. Faith in Him brings victory!

And remember: Winners take all!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

I Don't Like To Be Told What To Do

by Sylvia Gaston

Therefore, when I first considered following Jesus, I was surprisingly concerned about what I would have to give up. I assumed that I would have to radically and immediately change my life. I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to do that. But, it soon became clear that God had my attention. Eventually, on December 10th many, many years ago, I took a step of faith and said, “OK, God, I’ll follow You even though I don’t have all the answers to all of my questions about You.”

I soon realized that although my life would change, it did not happen the way I had imagined it would.

This loving God took it easy with me. He slowly drew my attention to one thing that I knew I needed to change and I did that one thing. Then, my attention was drawn to another area where I was not living right and I decided to change that thing. On and on it went, slowly but steadily. God never criticized or coerced me into changing. His Holy Spirit made me aware of areas where I needed work and I changed little by little, always with His help - and always with His love.

I now realize that His love was, and is, mine and would have been mine whether I changed or not. I’m his little girl. He only wants what is best for me but never at the expense of relationship. I am accepted as is, change or no change. That’s unconditional love! The Bible says it this way, “See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for He allows us to be called His children—think of it—and we really are!” (1 John 3:1 TLB)

The process became a lifelong one. I’m far from the person I used to be. My personality is the same, for better or worse, but my behaviors are different. My thoughts are different. My words are different. My lifestyle is different.

Guess what? He isn’t finished with me yet. I realize now that there are always going to be ways that I can grow and become more loving, more giving, and well . . . better. I will never be perfect but that’s OK. I am loved nevertheless.

Looking back on that day in December, had I known how many ways I needed to change – how long the improvement list was - I probably would have run for the hills. God knows not to overwhelm us with all of it at once. Yet, I see how much happier I am. I see the self-destruction that was a definite possibility for me. In hindsight, I see how slowly He brought things to my attention. He still does. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. It’s a process of love.

The Bible tells us how God feels about our process, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV)

What’s your process? Perhaps you’re following Jesus but at a distance. Have you held back out of fear of what you might have to change or give up? He loves you! Don’t be afraid to get closer. If you, like me, don’t like to be told what to do, He knows that. He’s a kind, caring God and won’t push you faster or further than you are willing and able to go. You’ll like where you land.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Oh Delete Button

by Candace Cortez

I love social media! Instagram is my favorite. I do admit, there are seasons that I fall prey to the time-killing scrolling habit. I often joke about how I need to literally move my apps around because when I attempt to return a text or check something on my calendar, my thumb auto clicks Insta and I’m done for at least 7 minutes until I realize I was led astray and sheepishly make my way back to my calendar app. But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the blessed delete button.

Just this evening, as I was reading a post by a friend who had some not so nice things to say about another friend, I began my helpful, biblical, and probably truthfully loving response. Then I realized where I was. I was not sitting at a table with this person sharing life thoughts and ideas. I was not on a couch with a cup of coffee where she could read my facial expressions and receive an opportunity to reply to my reply in a timely conversational manner. There wasn’t the confidentiality of actual voiced or privately texted reply. I was on a social media platform about to pass judgment on a friend in a public way. Thank you Lord, for the delete button!

I am not anti-confrontation. Actually, I love a good heated discussion when done with healthy ground rules. I love being challenged by ideas and to be heard well when my own ideas challenge others. I don’t always love being the bearer of bad news when it’s one directional, but I do enjoy growth or learning oriented dialogue. But, I am not convinced every thought, agreeable or otherwise, belongs online. And here’s why.

    Proverbs10:19 NLT
     Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

    Proverbs 13:3 NASB
     The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips 
     comes to ruin.

    Proverbs 18:21 NIV
     The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

    Matthew 12:36 NASB
     But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting
     for it in the day of judgment.

    Ephesians 4:29 NIV
     Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for 
     building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

    James 1:26 NLT
     If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and 
     your religion is worthless.

These are just slim pickings of biblical references to how important and powerful our words are. The ability to speak life and control the ramblings of the mouth is actually attached to spiritual maturity. This is all referring to the spoken word. The written word is often even more dangerous. Its copy and paste-ability can allow a damaging thought to continue to burn people much longer than audible communication. Fortunately, we have the blessing of a delete button to partner with the responsibility of the written word. We do not have to press send to every thought we conjure up! We have the blessing of editing! This is not true in conversation when once a thought is said it cannot be sucked back into our dark and unhallowed minds. 

Here is my encouragement to us all: think before you hit send. Edit if you need to. It’s ok to allow someone to post something ignorant, or mean, or just silly without our public opinion. There is a time and place for speaking up for what is more correct or challenging a posted thought. Sometimes that time and place are in the public social media forum. Sometimes, especially if it is a personal issue, it is not.  I often send texts, private messages, or requests for face to face conversations in lieu of a potential hurtful correction or response to someone else’s post. Pray and ask God for the best way. I pray for guidance towards the best way to engage in social media. All things can be for His glory. This includes my Instagram. This includes my posted thoughts. This, praise Jesus, includes the delete button.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Riding The Line

by Candace Cortez

I have declared myself to be a crazy mom. Not because I get angry or lash out, but because my husband and I have decided to raise our kids how we choose, even if it puts us in a place where we are different than everyone else. Some of these crazy mom things include no screens during the school week unless they have spare time before school after getting themselves totally ready. We also do not use our phones or screens during meals. I don’t let them watch YouTube when I’m not in the room. Headphones are a hard no. And they can’t go to friends houses until I meet their friend’s parents. My son has never played Fortnight, and my daughter isn’t watching certain doll-oriented shows on Netflix. I force them to clean their own rooms and bathroom, as well as help me in the kitchen with both cooking and cleaning. They put away their own laundry, and are solely responsible for all cat duties.

This is just a snapshot of the long list of ways I have become a crazy mom. Sometimes, my kids love it. They experience the uniqueness of a family dynamics as a novelty and special. Sometimes, they can get trapped in comparisons and would prefer more freedoms that look like the rest of their peers.

These standards help our household run smoothly and help fight against the pull of potential obsessions. I want the important things to be given more time and space than things that don’t matter. There are reasons behind most standards, even if the kids don’t understand all of them. However, because everyone else is doing it, and they are getting older, they will often ask the question, how come I have to do is this way? After hearing our hearts as parents who passionately love them and care about not only their current situation but their future, they understand. Sometimes. Sometimes, they would prefer to negotiate with a more lenient line. For those particular issues, they tend to go as far as they can without breaking the line, and after riding the line for so long, they feel confident enough with my love and grace, that crossing the line is not a big deal. Big mistake.

I often feel this same tension in my own spirit. I see everyone doing a thing. Like speeding for example. I know speeding is against the law. But when every person on the 198 is doing 75mph, it absolutely feels natural to also drive 75mph. Does this make it ok? Does the quantity of offenders make the standard lower? Nope. But it gives me the feeling of justification.

As Christians, we have justified lying, ignoring the lost and hurting, and allowing our words (verbal or in print) to tear down other people or groups. We can easily justify this when everyone else is doing it. It just becomes a part of the noise. I have recently been convicted of how closely I have decided to ride the line to appear more like other people, instead of staying close to the standard set by my Jesus. This is partially out of convenience. Following Jesus’ way is expensive both in time and money. It’s inconvenient because it will not require my lazy attitude. And it is self-sacrificing because it will mean the needs of others are just as valuable as my own needs. 

Do you sometimes feel like we serve a crazy God? As if His way and standard are too high? Me too! And it’s true! We cannot live according to His will and way alone. We have to have His help. I am grateful for the covenant relationship, which means there is a mutual partnership in the process. He both sets a standard, and helps us reach it, and loves us when we fail. As a Father, I am looking for His heart in the standard not just His rule. As I understand why and where He is leading, I am more inclined to get off the line, and further into obedience.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Believing is Not Enough

by Andrew Cromwell

There is a whole class of products on the market that we buy because we know they work, but we don’t actually use them. These products end up in the corner of the room with clothes hanging on them or in the garage covered in boxes. There’s always a few at every garage sale. For the most part they are “lightly used” or “like new” but they are priced to sell!

You know what I’m talking about: exercise equipment.

We love exercise equipment! Treadmills, weight benches, pull up bars, thigh masters, shake weights, rowing machines, and bikes—almost every one of us has bought either a piece of equipment, a DVD, a program, or an app to help us lose weight and get healthy.

And we know that if we used them regularly, they would work. Sure, we may never look quite like the chiseled models that star in the commercial that originally sold us, but with regular use we would lose weight and get stronger.

The problem is not with our beliefs about exercise equipment. The problem is we don’t use it.

Even more frustrating is that it doesn’t even matter how bad our attitude is about the whole thing. As a matter of fact, even if we don’t believe that working out does any good, it doesn’t matter—because it just works.

Doing trumps believing.

Don’t get me wrong, believing is important. Having the right beliefs is critical in life. But we can have all of our beliefs right and still be out of shape, overweight, and weak. Some have even studied the science of eating right and working out, but they are no healthier than the rest. Because head knowledge doesn’t make the difference. Doing does.

This isn’t only true about working out. It’s true about spiritual things too.

We know it is better to forgive than to hold onto bitterness and resentment. We know unforgiveness poisons our soul and limits our ability to enjoy life to its fullest. But we don’t forgive. We know speaking the truth is better, and lies, even the white ones, create a false reality that results in us living a facade. But we keep on lying. And we know we need to get serious about our spiritual life (because in our hearts we know there is life after death), but we just keep ignoring it.

James, Jesus’ brother, writes that if we know what we should be doing but we don’t do it, we are just deceiving ourselves. In other words, we are living a lie.

The solution is simple. It may not be easy, but it is simple. We must start doing, not just believing. We have to start making changes, even small ones if we want to live honestly and wholeheartedly. 

So where in your life do you need to start doing rather than just believing? What is one thing you can do today, to start living fully?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

If You Could Change The World

by Sylvia Gaston

If you could do one thing to change the world for the better, what would it be?

It’s very easy to get frustrated with the way things are today. There are many things that need to be fixed. Here are some of the things that I consider…

Political division
Substance abuse
Environmental problems
Hunger / Lack of clean water
Absence of parental guidance

There is a tendency to look at a problem, see the magnitude of it, and simply back away and do nothing because it seems overwhelming or futile. Yet, many amazing, world-changing things occur because a single person takes that first small step.

The world seems too large to influence yet some of you are destined to influence communities, states, nations. But most of us will live our entire lives on a much smaller scale. So what one thing could you change on a smaller scale to make the world a better place? Many have turned the tide because they stepped out, did or said something, and influenced others toward change.

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during World War 2, is best remembered for his inspiring speeches and for his refusal to give in, even when things were going badly. He successfully led Britain through World War 2. He changed his world.

Rosa Parks was not the first African-American to boycott racial segregation but she was the first one to see her act of “civil disobedience” through the lengthy court process. She, and the year-long bus boycott that followed, became important symbols for others to rally against racial segregation. She changed her world.

One man…one woman…making a significant change to their world by taking that first small step.

You are one man, one woman. What first small step could you take to influence your world – on a large or small scale?

For me, it comes down to looking for opportunities to come alongside a person who is struggling or in a personal crisis. It might be a pending divorce, a health issue, errant children, or depression. Sometimes their crisis seems much too large for me to influence. But I can pray with them and for them, I can tell them what God says about their situation, I can point them to a Creator who will never abandon them  - even in the darkest days. A first small step.

There’s a huge difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is defined as “confidence about the future or a successful outcome of something”.

Hope is the expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation”.

We can be optimistic about our circumstances or we can have the expectation that our outcome will be positive.

My hopes and expectations originate with Jesus. Once I chose to put my trust in Him, I no longer had to worry about my future. Despite what life throws at me, I have an expectation that God will see me through it. He will stay by my side, His Holy Spirit will guide me through it, and eventually, I will live forever worry- and pain-free with Jesus in Heaven. My hope! My expectation!

The first thing you can do to change your world is to choose to follow Jesus. You can begin to lead a life that is not perfect, but a life that is hopeful. 

If you already are a Jesus-follower, take that first small step – whatever it may be – to change the world around you. That step will look different for each of us. Don’t be afraid. You have nothing to lose. Be hopeful! Be expectant! Change your world.