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?