Saturday, October 5, 2019

Take Up the Slack

by Andrew Cromwell

I came across a verse the other day while preparing for a talk. As I read it, I found my mind making connections I didn’t expect. I had read the verse before, many times in fact. But this time it came alive in a whole new way.

The Apostle Peter, in the letter we call 2 Peter, says, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise…” The implication is that God isn’t slow in carrying out His promise, even though it can feel like that sometimes from our perspective. He’s actually very patient. He patiently waits for us human beings to finally realize that our way of doing things doesn’t get us anywhere. And when we come to that realization, He is there waiting for us.

The fact that God is so very patient should make us all incredibly thankful. I have given God plenty of reasons to be impatient with me. And I bet you have too. I’m hard-headed, always thinking about myself, and always seeing things through my narrow point-of-view. I put my needs first, I forget the needs of my wife and my kids, I ignore the fact that there are people all around me, and I act like I’m the only one that matters. What a jerk!

And yet God is patient.

But there’s another side to the verse that I hadn’t seen before. Because the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, there are many different translations of the Bible as men and women have done their best to get the full meaning of the original language into the English language.

Because of this, it is often helpful to read more than one translation to capture the full meaning of a particular verse. On this day, I was reading in an old translation and instead of using the word “slow”, the translators had used the word “slack”.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…”

As I read that, I began to think about the implications of the word slack. By definition, slack means to be not taut or held loosely. Picture two soup cans connected by a string. You know, like in the kid's science experiment where they create a kind of telephone. When the string is loose, nothing travels between the two cans. But when you pull it tight and speak into one can, the vibrations carry across the line and into the other can where the message can be received.

What does this have to do with the verse?

Well, imagine God holding one end of the line. He’s got the soup can in hand, He’s whispering into it. He’s sending His love, His goodness, His blessing, His favor, His strength, and His wisdom through, but as long as the other end of the line remains slack, nothing can pass through. He is patiently waiting for us to pick up the other end of the line, pull it tightly to our ear, and receive the good things He wants to give us.

For me, the slack represents all the things that I put in between me and God. You know, all the excuses I make not to talk to Him and all the other things I do instead of spending time with Him. For some reason, I let life get in the way of me picking up the line.

What’s keeping you from picking up your end of the line? What’s getting in the way of connecting with Father God?

I believe there is no better time than right now to drop whatever else you’re carrying and answer the phone.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Frazzled or Frustrated? Drained and Discouraged?

by Sylvia Gaston

So many of us are. The hurried, overloaded, multi-tasking culture we live in can be a lifelong trap. We’ve become used to working harder, doing more, having it all. Some wear busyness as a badge of honor, complaining of exhaustion and accomplishments all in the same breath.

There are some who are busy by necessity. The single working mom, the dad working two jobs to make ends meet, the student who must work in order to go to school…are all worthy of support and encouragement.

However, how many of us are overworked, stressed out, and grouchy by choice? If you’re jumping from one thing to another each and every day with no time to rest and recharge, you’re doing it wrong.

God did not create you to do everything nor to live a frenetic life. In fact, His Word, the Bible, places high value on rest and peaceful living.

He gives an example of two completely different sisters. While Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to the ultimate Teacher and Rabbi, Martha scurries around, making dinner, cleaning up, and complaining. She asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her. Jesus says, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:38-42 NIV).

Could it be that our list of “have to’s” needs closer scrutiny? What falls into that category for you? Most of us have to work at a job to pay our bills. Most of us have to take care of our family and clean our house. Beyond that, what else is on your to-do list?

It may be time to ask God what kind of life He has in mind for you to live. It may be time to lay it all down and start from scratch – prioritizing what really matters. We must be intentional about our life and what we allow it to become or we can be sucked into a swift stream of busyness that has no rest, no rewards, no purpose.

God also tells us, “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11 – MSG)

Come on, Martha, sit a spell, and see what His plans are for you.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Failure Can Be A Good Thing

by Tim Howard

I know everyone fails at some time but it doesn’t make any of us feel better when it happens. No one wants to mess up because it’s painful, evokes feelings of disappointment, may have negative effects, doesn’t seem to be positive and recovery takes a lot of effort.  No one sets out to fail but it happens.

One major example is recorded in Joshua chapter 7 in the Old Testament. Joshua was a great leader of Israel and if you read his story, you will discover a massive failure that affected a whole lot of people in an adverse way. The Israelites were attempting to besiege a city called ‘Ai’ with the purpose of expanding their kingdom because they miscalculated some important details and didn’t have a clear understanding of the big picture.

His example should warn us all. Whether it is an individual, a corporate business or the leadership of a nation; failure a-waits those who do not thoroughly investigate all the facts and get to the cause.

There are two responses to failure that can help greatly. Joshua did both and was able to move beyond his failure. Some people move on in life after a defeat but they often don’t move beyond the collapse to recover totally.

1. Resilient people seek to discover the root problem and refuse to deal only with the fruit. They are committed to cutting down the tree and not just trim the branches. Too often we deal only with the symptoms of the failure and not the source.

A life of secrecy and sin surely lead the list but other things contribute to failure as well. When you put in minimum effort and expect maximum results failure is nearby. If you act upon bad advice, the results can be devastating. The ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ syndrome is responsible for many failures and defeat happens frequently if we don’t make a commitment and demonstrate perseverance. Whatever the root reason is, it’s worth finding. It may be obscure, hazy or concealed but you can’t fix something unless you know why something is broken?

2.  Don’t react to failure but respond.

Emotions are wonderful but if you allow them to lead your decision making process in the midst of failure you will react improperly rather than respond correctly.

Here’s a few ‘Do’s and Don’t’ when you fail.

Don’t be quick to look outside before you have taken a long look inside. This will lead to shifting the responsibility onto someone else. Others may have contributed to your debacle but that doesn’t make them responsible for what you do. Do accept full responsibility for your own life and the decisions you make.

Don’t ignore the facts and fail to recognize the ‘Pink Elephant’ in the room. Do focus fully on the problem and seek an honest evaluation.

Don’t quit – take another swing. Someone said: “Failure doesn’t have to be final.”

Don’t blame God but pray to Him. The first thing Joshua did when failure happened was to call out to the One who could help. Some people will look down on you when failure happens and possibly reject you but Jesus will ALWAYS work with you if you come to Him. There’s something good that can come out of failure if we call on God.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Who’s Listening?

by Candace Cortez

There is one part of parenting that is revealing parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. That is youth sports. I have never been chill, and I know this. But I did not expect passion to escape from my being as it does when my son’s team has the ball. I try to play it cool with some of the other cute moms and relaxed fathers on the side lines. I enjoy chatting with the other fans of children’s team sporting events. But more often than not, I am interrupting a nice conversation about what our kids will or won’t eat for dinner with a shout of “GOOOOO GOOOO GOOOO!” because all of a sudden my son or one of his friends is running the ball. I can’t help it. I am a loud, but encouraging team mom.

I have been comparing these same compulsory responses to those that erupt when you stub your toe on the corner of the couch. You don’t always get to plan those next few syllables that sneak (or stampede) out of your mouth. You don’t get to practice your response to sharp pain and usually that response is wrapped in anger, which could lead to not so shiny statements.  But just because you’re not in a place to edit your comments with your full range of self-control, does not mean you’re off the hook for what comes out of your mouth. I learned this lesson recently.

I was sitting next to a mom I didn’t recognize. She was kind and didn’t complain with her face when I decided to share her shady spot instead of choosing a space outside of her bubble. I was being loud encouraging the team as always. I typically try to celebrate both sides of the field if the situation arises. There was a particular play when one of the players on the opposing team got a little aggressive when he didn’t go as far as he wanted. I kind of laughed at the situation with her, made a passing comment about his frustration, and then quickly followed it up with a complement about his cuteness.  Insert generic mom comments here. After the game, that same little boy from the opposing team came running up to his mom sitting right next to me. My mind immediately raced back to my comments. Were they rude? Did I mock or ridicule him? Was she even paying attention? Luckily after my rapid-fire recall moment, I felt I was in the clear. I told him good game and left so glad I didn’t have my foot in my mouth.

Lesson learned: you have no idea who is listening! There are very few things that can break the potential for relationship than insulting someone’s child. I know I would have a hard time trusting someone who was rude to my little ones. Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:29 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.

This doesn’t mean when you’re in a good mood, or at church, or when you’re totally aware of your surroundings. This isn’t because God wants to control us, or dictate what we say. I truly believe God gives us these warnings because it’s wisdom. If I were to shout out negative things about a little one who is having a negative moment during a child’s sporting event, I may have used words that don’t matter to end a friendship before it even began. 

God desires for us to love one another. One of the ways to do that is with your words. It’s really difficult to say I love you after a situation when your words or actions say quite the opposite. We must weed out the negative stuff so when we are in an auto-response mode, it’s not hurtful to those who are forced to hear us. We don’t always get to pick who hears us, but we do get to pick our words.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Convictions and Attitudes

by Tim Howard

Someone once said: “Your attitude will determine your altitude.” I totally agree! Some people find opportunity in every difficulty; others find difficulty in every opportunity. Your attitude has the power to create a positive outlook on life as well as a negative one. 

In Phil 2:4-5 the Apostle Paul tells us not to be selfish, which is an action, motivated by a wrong attitude. He goes on to say: “Don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had”. NLT

A person can choose the attitude that will best serve God’s purposes. To do this, however, you must establish true convictions because attitudes and actions are founded upon the convictions you hold. 

Convictions grow over time. They are learned through instruction, thought, decisions and experiences. They provide the foundation of your life perspective. Your future looks bright when your attitude is built upon convictions that are right. When this happens, you become a sweet fragrance to enjoy rather than an odor to be avoided.

People who have great impact on the world, for good or bad, are those with deep-seated convictions. They weren’t necessarily the smartest, brightest, the most educated, the wealthiest or even the most famous but they hold strong beliefs.

I’ve established many convictions that have helped me stay the course. Here are a few of them.

1.  Life Is All About God!
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about profit, politics, or anything else. It’s all about God. Until you understand that, life will never make sense fully. 

2.  People Matter Most! 
Rick Warren said: Projects and programs are great but we are to be driven by purpose and that purpose puts people first. 
3.  You Can’t Do Life Alone!
It’s not enough just to love God. You must love His people and connect - despite all of our differences. Jesus is our example and He connected with all people.

4.  Everything Is Possible With God!
Don’t quit believing in God because Miracles still happen! God is pleased when we trust Him to do those things beyond our abilities. He’s willing to empower us!

5.  God Expects Everyone To Love Everyone.      
Matt. 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. NIV When something bad happens, you have three choices: You can either let it define you, destroy you, or strengthen you. Don’t let anything stop you from loving everyone.

Turning a problem into an opportunity, being victorious rather than a victim or seeing the possibilities rather than the impossibilities is determined by convictions and attitudes. What are you some of your convictions and do you need an attitude adjustment?

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Good Luck!

by Sylvia Gaston
How many times have you said that to someone? I say it all the time to kids who are playing sports or taking a test or to someone making a presentation. Technically speaking, is it really luck that determines these outcomes?
Luck is defined as success or failure brought by chance rather than through one's actions. Our successes and failures are usually brought on by choices we’ve made or by whether or not we have adequately prepared for that game, test or presentation.
How does luck relate to fate? Fate is defined as the development of events beyond a person's control, as determined by a supernatural power. What supernatural power? Are we talking about God here?
Lastly, I’ve heard my teenagers and their friends say “Karma!” to someone who has an unfortunate thing happen. By saying this, they mean, “That’s what you get (or deserve)”. In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma refers to the sum of a person's actions in this and previous lives that determine their fate in their future lives.
What does luck, fate or karma have to do with my life? Absolutely nothing!
There are two important fundamental beliefs that I wish each man, woman, and child would believe and live out. (There are more but let’s focus on these two for now)….
1.    God created you on purpose.
2.    God created you for a purpose.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, God speaks directly to Jeremiah, His prophet. Jeremiah, in turn, shares God’s words with the people. In Jeremiah 1:4-5, he says, “The Lord’s message came to me: “Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I chose you for a special work.” (ERV)
David, of David and Goliath fame, puts it this way . . .
“O Lord, you have examined my heart
     and know everything about me.
 You know when I sit down or stand up.
     You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
 You see me when I travel
     and when I rest at home.
     You know everything I do.
 You know what I am going to say
     even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
     You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
     too great for me to understand!” (Psalm 139:1-6)(NLT)
 It wasn’t luck, fate or karma that created you. It was God. You are precious to Him. He loves you with an unconditional love that we humans cannot fully comprehend or replicate.
AND He created you for a reason, a purpose. When we live out our life doing what our Creator created us to do, then and only then, are we truly living our best life. 

So, what is my purpose, you may ask? I have only begun to grasp some of the things that I’m certain God created me to do. It is a lifelong conversation with God, listening and watching for His promptings and confirmations. Each of us must seek Him to find answers to that paramount question. To that, I say good luck (just kidding)!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

When Temptation Comes Knocking

by Tim Howard
Oscar Wilde said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” I can relate! How about you? You’ve got to remember, when it comes knocking on your door you don’t have to open it!
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Closing the door to temptation can be daunting. If you always say ‘yes’ when it knocks then you have yet to realize the level of difficulty. Only those who try to resist know how strong it is.
Temptation is like food – we’re enticed to eat the wrong things and those things that are healthy are not attractive to us. Too often we think of temptation as being enticed to do big things like stealing, murdering or committing adultery. But most often we're tempted to be impatient, stingy, jealous, greedy or just plain lazy and apathetic.
A survey I read listed ten powerful temptations people face in this culture. Here’s five or them:
1. The desire to buy more than they can afford.
2. The temptation to put themselves first and live a self-centered life.
3.  The inclination to laziness rather than productivity – to do nothing rather than something.
4. The enticement to procrastinate.
5. The temptation to make pleasure more important than purpose.
According to the dictionary, temptation is the act of enticement with the purpose of causing you to do something wrong or unprofitable by promising something positive. Temptation motivates you to do ‘bad’ by promising something good. The Bible totally agrees with this and affirms the need to say NO when it comes.
Temptation shows up early in the Biblical narrative. Only 3 chapters into the Bible we are told of a couple named Adam and Eve who were tempted to disobey God for the purpose of setting up their own autonomy. Guess what! They yielded to the voice of temptation and others were impacted negatively.
When you yield to the temptation of surfing the Internet while you’re being paid to work, the productivity or your company decreases. When you sit on the couch watching sports knowing you should be helping your mate, your relationship suffers. When you’re tempted to lie rather than tell the truth, you sacrifice your integrity if you yield.
Here are four things I’ve learned that may help in this ongoing battle with temptation and it is ongoing!
1. You have a better chance of standing strong in the midst of temptation if you have an exit strategy before you experience it. Schools and companies have an escape plan set in place in case of fire. People living in hurricane areas have a calculated strategy for when the winds come. And coaches never go into a contest without a game plan. Ask yourself: How am I going to escape when it happens to me? Get a plan!
2. It’s critical to identify your weaknesses prior to a moment of enticement since temptation looks for your weak moments. In Luke 4 when Jesus was tempted, we are told that the devil left Him for another ‘opportune’ time. You can strengthen your resolve if you’re aware of your vulnerable points and set up a guard.
3. People who lose the battle to temptation have often lost sight of the big picture. He or she becomes myopic, only seeing what benefits them. 

4. Be willing to fight. (James 4:7) There will always be a battle but if you’re willing to close the door on temptation it will bear great dividends.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Still Hostile

by Candace Cortez

One of my favorite things about the Bible, the incredible, God breathed and powerful text handed down and preserved for generations is that if I read it right, I always find something new. I have been reading the Bible for more than 2 decades and this is still so true. Is this true for you? The key here is reading it “right.” There have been seasons when I read because I knew I was supposed to, so it was essentially just a verse count relay. I needed to get a certain amount of verses in me to justify calling myself a Christian. Fortunately, I have grown, and continue to grow in my love for scripture. If you are where I was, take heart! It gets better. I now read because I know I will find something. I now read because I love God more than I love being a Christian. I now read for growth, not verse count. Here is one of the beautiful things that recently stuck out to me.

From the beginning, God had a plan for all eternity. This alone, kind of blows my mind. In Genesis 3, we have the account of the fall of all mankind. The process is sad, and the reaction from the Father reveals so much about His love, compassion, handle on justice, and desire to keep us in the loop. One statement in particular recently stuck out about our relationship with the serpent, the central bad guy in this story. Genesis 3:15 is the middle of God’s account of His plan, both in retribution and in restoration. It is written,

“And I will put enmity
     between you and the woman,
     and between your offspring, and hers;
 he will crush your head,
     and you will strike his heel.”

The first word highlighted in my heart (and now in my Bible) is the word enmity. I knew that Satan was my enemy, but I never realized that the status of enemy was established by God Himself. The status of enemy may have primarily existed between God and the devil, but God placed that same hostility between His created children and Satan. The meaning of enmity is the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something. This feeling of despising the work of the enemy is a result of the Father’s will. As I prayed on this, I began to realize, that if I am not in active opposition to the evil in this world, to the ways in which the enemy is trying to deceive and corrupt, then I am outside of the will of my Father. Each moment of passive acceptance of what the enemy is doing in this planet, actually puts me in HIS camp, instead of the side of the creator of the universe. Here’s my prayer: Lord, help me to keep that feeling of hostility against the enemy, and LOVE for people and this planet, alive in tandem, propelling me towards the active building of Your Kingdom. Amen.

The last part I’ll write about is God’s plan for Eve’s offspring. Many scholars suggest that the specific offspring mentioned here is actually Jesus. He will crush the head, meaning actually destroying Satan in the end, while Jesus will be struck a blow to the heel. Honestly, I am still studying to figure out the significance of the heel as the specified place of the strike, but I am certain of this: the enemy is destroyed, while Jesus, Eve’s offspring, is only wounded. This leads me to remember the crucifixion, as terrible as it was, led to the resurrection. Jesus conquered it all to defeat the enemy.

Now here we are. Still enemies of Satan, but on the side of a King who has already begun the process of victory. We live in victory and will be victorious even more. I don’t know what part of your life the enemy has tried to win over, or what you have become comfortable with, but remember that we are victorious in so many ways already. God uses all things, even the strikes of the enemy to create something good. He will use your trials to build strength, perseverance, and leverage these over the plans of the one who has already lost. Keep studying God’s word. Keep hostility for evil alive. Keep in mind, you serve a God who is crushing it!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

We All Need Somebody

by Andrew Cromwell

So much in life is outside of our control. We are reminded of this constantly. No matter how much we try to fool ourselves into believing we can manage, fix, patch around, or prevent the bad parts of life, we just can’t.

People get sick unexpectedly. Financial markets turn upside without warning. Cars crash and bridges fail. And festivals, like the one in Gilroy just the other day, become funerals.

When life is good, everything is easy. Things fall into place without much effort — relationships are sweet, there’s enough money to go around, and the kids put a smile on your face. But when things go wrong, suddenly what was easy becomes difficult.

It is in these moments—when your child gets sick, when your spouse tells you they’re not sure anymore, when you lose your job—that you need true friends. True friends are friends when things are good and when things are bad. Proverbs says, “a true friend is born for adversity.” In other words, when things get ugly, the people that stick around to encourage you are the ones that are your real friends.

And we all need real friends. We need real relationships. Not just casual friendships or acquaintances. We can know the name of 100 people but not be friends with any. Real friends know who we really are and love us anyway. They stick around when we have a bad day and get grumpy and they tell us the truth when we need to hear it.

Real friends also don’t happen by accident. Developing significant relationships requires time, energy, and effort. It is a two-way street that requires us to do our part too.

As a pastor, I hear a story repeated far too often. The story has many variations but the formula is always the same: ‘life was good and I got lazy and stopped doing the important things then life got bad and I don’t know where to turn.’

What I find most revealing about these stories is that rarely do people not know what to do. Nine times out of ten, they know exactly what to do. But they stopped doing it and now they wish they could turn the clock back.

And most often these regrets have to do with relationships. They stopped investing in their marriage. They stopped regularly meeting with good, healthy friends. They stopped building their relationship with God.

Relationships matter. They are hard, but they are so worth it.

What are you doing to maintain the critical relationships in your life? 

As a pastor, I have seen how churches can be a place where deep relationships can happen. But only if people make the effort and stick with it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Squeeze Principle

by Tim Howard

When I was a small boy I hated naps with a passion. My mother’s love for naps, however, greatly exceeded my hatred and I was doomed to take one each and every day.  I think her love for them was rooted in the fact that she got a break from me.  If the truth were known, it may have been her favorite time of the day!   I recall one afternoon waking up from one of those naps and within a few minutes, my mom told me to go back to bed.  Curious as to why, I asked for a reason (in a demanding tone) and she said, “Because you got up on the wrong side of the bed.”  That didn’t make sense to me but I soon learned she was talking about my attitude. 

A person’s attitude is connected to his or her focus and perception of life. In my specific case, I hated naps and a bad attitude manifested itself.  One man calls it the ‘Squeeze’ principle. It’s when the pressures of life try to squeeze your hope, joy, and peace out of you. The pressures do not create the attitude - only reveal it! 

In Acts 16:22 –25, Paul and Silas were having a challenging day.  They were being squeezed!  They had been preaching the Gospel in Philippi and the crowd was attacking them.  They were ultimately beaten and thrown into prison.  About midnight, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”  As I read this narrative, I asked myself: “Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?”  They have been stripped, imprisoned, put in stocks, and now they’re singing. Not to mention they had done no crime.

I would have expected this verse to read that Paul and Silas were having a pity party and complaining at midnight or blaming God and others for their current dilemma.  The truth, however, is that these two men simply focused on God and not their current situation. Their focus and perception created a positive attitude while others listened intently.

A positive attitude in the midst of dark times will influence people greatly.  Don’t forget the greatest impact of your life will often come at the time of greatest pain.  Maybe you’re being squeezed right now.  How are you handling it?  Are you reacting, blaming and criticizing? Or are you responding, focusing on the future and trusting God?

When life squeezes you – God wants to build your character!

To build character you don’t need to get up on the other side of the bed! You need to:

1. Have the right values.
One educator said: "Teaching kids to count is wonderful, but teaching them what counts is best."

2. Do the right thing.
People of character know there is no right way to do the wrong thing. If you start something wrong, you'll end wrong. You've got to do the right thing.

3. Be the right kind of person.
When you walk humbly, live a lifestyle of giving, do acts of kindness and consider others before yourself. You are the right kind of person.

4. Have the right attitude.
Someone said that your attitude will determine your altitude! 

By the way… I have learned to love naps.  I wish I could take one each and every day.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Living Under The Sun

by Tim Howard

Ever go into a store or visit a coffee shop and upon entering you’re asked by one of the employees – ‘How are You Doing?’ We all have! Who hasn’t been told by a sales clerk, a personal attendant or some other representative to ‘Have a nice day’ upon leaving – Even if it’s 6 pm and the day is behind us!

Phrases like this are commonplace and are usually asked or spoken with no genuine desire to ascertain the truth. They are just mind-less statements full of niceties and pleasantries.

As a disclaimer: I too, find myself asking rhetorical questions that don’t require an answer and make statements that aren’t rooted in genuine concern.

When I do, however, broach the subject of ‘wellbeing’ with a person and ask the question –
'How are you doing?' with sincerity, I’m amazed to hear this phrase more often than ever before. “I’m Tired!”

We live in a decade of tiredness! Speaking with a friend recently – she was describing the challenges of raising a grandchild. I chimed in by saying: “ I can relate!” Having my grandson living with us and being a part of the ongoing process of development can be exhausting. I found myself saying to this person: “ People tell me that children keep you young but mine just keeps me tired’

Weariness is epidemic! People are worn out, exhausted, fatigued, dog-tired, frazzled and too often live on the edge of burnout. In view of this, it may be helpful to know that weariness is not a product of Hard Work. Working too hard does not create weariness – Working too hard on the things that don’t really matter – causes this condition.

Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes said: When you give yourself to things ‘Under the Sun’ – things that are temporal and fleeting without any real connection to those things ‘Above the Sun’ – things that are eternal, You will experience weariness!

That may be the rationale that prompted The Apostle Paul to gives this admonition: Col. 3:2 “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Jesus even said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… “ 

The real answer to weariness is found when you connect the temporal to the eternal – The things that are ‘Above!’ produce lasting ramifications and are eternal because they are connected to Jesus – who is eternal.

When this happens – our life ‘Under the Sun’ is redefined by those things ‘Above the Sun.’ Meaning, purpose, hope, joy, and strength begin to dispel and replace weariness and fatigue. Our lives receive a resurrection of sorts!

So… How are you doing? Seriously! Are you focused on things under the sun? Is life all about ‘now’ and just trying to survive. Are the earthly things and challenges capturing your full attention? Have you lost sight of the ‘Big Picture? 

Maybe a glance upward will restore a better perspective. When you focus on things ‘Above the Sun’ you open the door for God to do a long-lasting positive change in your life. My family has experienced this first hand. Yes, we still get tired from work but have discovered we can go from strength to strength when we build a life on things above the Sun. Ps 84:5-7

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Be Careful What You Ask For!

by Tim Howard

It was a joke and I laughed when I heard it! A couple in their mid-fifties was trying to rekindle a spark in their marriage when they were approached by a “Genie.” This strange character stated that he would give each of them one wish beginning with the woman. She, without hesitation, recalled their honeymoon on the tropical island of Maui and said, please put us on that beautiful beach so we can walk together and renew our love. Instantly the beauty of a tropical paradise surrounded them. The man, after looking around and seeing other women 20 years younger than himself, asked the Genie to make his wife 20 years younger than himself. In an instant, he was 75 years old! You may be laughing like me but don’t miss the moral. It is this: Be careful what you ask for! Sometimes your request produces something quite unexpected.

The Bible makes it very clear that we can ask God for anything. If, however, you are bold enough to make a request, you better be prepared for one of four answers.

1.    If the request is wrong, God will say “No.” The apostle James in Chapter 4 tells us that it is possible to ask for things that might be detrimental to our development. Along with that fact, he also reveals that it is possible to ask for something with wrong motives. When this happens, be prepared for God to say “No.” With hindsight, I have discovered this to be a blessing rather than a curse. God has spared me from many disasters by not fulfilling my desires because what I want isn’t always what’s best for me.

2.    If the timing is wrong, God will say, “Slow.” Little children want everything “Now” and my children were no exception. They didn’t understand the phrase, delayed gratification. They have learned, however, that timing is extremely important in the journey called life. Many people miss out on a lot of things and get buried in a lot of problems because they will not choose to exercise patience and self-control. 

3.    If you are not yet ready to receive the request, God will say “Grow.” Sometimes, God wants to throw us the ball but we don’t have our heads in the game. We are distracted by many pleasures at the expense of pursuing our purpose. God graciously waits for us and speaks the truth in love so we will grow up in all aspects.

4.    Last of all, when the timing is right, you are right and the request is right, God says, “Yes, Let’s Go” I personally believe this is God’s favorite answer. He wants to say YES!

God ALWAYS answers prayer! It may not be the answer you want but it’s an answer you can accept if you know this truth: God doesn’t always give you what you want but he always gives you what you need. God loves you enough to say no, slow or grow even though it may produce some pain. Jesus wants to help you! He says: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell Him what you need, and thank God for all he has done.  If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. If God approached you and said He would answer one prayer, what would your request be?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

What Every Kid Needs

by Sylvia Gaston

Hot off the heels of Vacation Bible School and Father’s Day brings a flood of observations and thoughts about what a kid really needs.

Surrounded by hundreds of kids this past two weeks makes me realize how we underestimate the importance of a solid adult in a kid’s life.

Before you even learn their story, it’s easy to identify a kid in foster care or a kid with parents who are not really present or a kid who wishes he had a dad in his life. They are missing something. They desperately desire that thing they don’t have. This often leads them to find a way to get the attention they crave in negative or destructive ways.

In my profession, you get to know kids in this order:
  • The troublesome kid
  • The helpful, smart kid
  • The quiet or shy kid
Early in my Children’s Ministry career, I ran across a poster that read, “The most unlovable child is the one who needs it the most.” Over the years, I have found that to be true.

All kids need a few simple things. These things cannot be bought. It isn’t elaborate trips, the latest gadgets, or the finest clothes. What kids need isn’t “things” at all but relationship.

According to Harley Rotbart, MD, parenting expert and Vice Chair Emeritus of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Colorado, the eight things kids need to thrive are:

  1. Security: Kids must feel safe and sound: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm.
  2. Stability: Stability comes from family and community. Ideally, a family remains together in a stable household, but when that's not possible, it's important to disrupt the child's life as little as possible. Kids and families should be a part of a larger community for a sense of belonging, tradition and cultural identity.
  3. Consistency: Parents should synchronize their parenting and make sure important values stay consistent.
  4. Emotional support: Parents' words and actions should encourage trust, respect, self-esteem and, ultimately, independence.
  5. Love: Saying and showing you love your kids can overcome almost any parenting "mistakes" you might make.
  6. Education: Make sure your kids get the best possible education for their future. This includes school, of course, but it also includes the invaluable life lessons you provide.
  7. Positive role models: You are your kids' first and most important role model. Instill your values and teach children empathy by being the kind of person you want them to become.
  8. Structure: Rules, boundaries, and limits: Without them, kids are forced to be adults before they are ready, and they lose respect for you and other adults.

I agree with Dr. Rotbart but would add two more very important things:

Time: Kids often gauge their worth by how much time they are given. It can be time spent doing the simplest of things. Time shows that you value them, love them, and like being in their company. It goes a long way in developing a strong sense of worth, sense of self, and self-esteem.

Faith: Kids need to know about God. They need to know Who created them - on purpose and for a purpose. They need to know that God loves them unconditionally and that He is their lifelong Helper through good times and bad.

You are your child’s spiritual leader. God tells us how important that is in His Word, the Bible. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Always remember these commands that I give you today. Be sure to teach them to your children. Talk about these commands when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road. Talk about them when you lie down and when you get up.”             Deuteronomy 6:5-7

Life is harder and more confusing for kids today than ever. We must equip them as best we can so they can thrive as children and thrive as adults. That includes equipping them to have a life with God – here on earth and after they leave this earth.

Will you always get it right? No. I’ve made more parenting mistakes than I can count. But, despite the mistakes made, I know with certainty that my kids know how much they are loved and that my husband and I will be there to support them, guide them, and pray with them through all that life throws at them.

When they make mistakes or disappoint us (and they will), we will put relationship before being right. That keeps the door open, and the conversations going, so that we have the opportunity to give the love and influence they need. 

Love is simple and it’s what every kid needs.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Advice for Father

by Tim Howard

Happy Fathers day to all the dads! 

Fathers have a tremendous influence in the lives of their children and God designed it that way. A dad’s actions speak loudly and his words carry tremendous weight when they are guarded and guided by time-tested truth. A father, however, who chooses to be an absentee dad, for whatever reason weakens the very fabric that stabilizes the family unit.

A word of wisdom comes from a man named Moses. He was adopted by a wealthy family but after being reunited with his family of origin and becoming a father himself, he said these words to all future dads: Deut. 4:9 “… be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children.” 

Great fathers can’t afford to live by this motto: “Do as I say and not as I do.” If you are going to teach something that’s worth accepting and following then be careful to follow your own advice. When someone isn’t practicing what he or she preaches – It’s noticeable.

Make sure to watch over your own lifestyle and choices in order to impact your family because teaching children is more than conveying information. You teach what you know but you reproduce who you are.

A second word of advice is a proverb and even though there is no guarantee, there is a promise. King Solomon said: Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will remember it. Kids are not always going to follow good advice but if they choose to stray, the training received from childhood can greatly help them get back on track.

When kids find themselves lost or stuck in the difficulties of life, they won’t know what to do or where to go if a moral compass hasn’t been planted within them. Parents and fathers especially have a great opportunity to plant this moral compass by training their children in the ways of the Lord. Don’t merely tell your kids what to do, coach them and show them. It takes more time to train than tell but it is worth it in the long run.

A third and final word of advice to fathers comes from the New Testament. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…”

As a father myself, I unknowingly provoked my kids at times but learned some things along the way that’s helped me change. A dad can provoke his children to the point of frustration and anger if he chooses to dictate everything and discuss nothing! Making his view the right and only view will also infuriate kids. Trying to fix your children without really listening to them or making ‘Dad’s’ rules more important than relationships doesn’t help very much either.

Dads! As we celebrate Fathers this weekend, remember the advice God gives in His Word. It will make a good father into a great father.

May you have a Happy Fathers Day this Weekend!

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