Saturday, March 30, 2019

Winner Takes All

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

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

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

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

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

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

And remember: Winners take all!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

I Don't Like To Be Told What To Do

by Sylvia Gaston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Oh Delete Button

by Candace Cortez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Riding The Line

by Candace Cortez

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Believing is Not Enough

by Andrew Cromwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing trumps believing.

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

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

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

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

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

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