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

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?