Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Community That Worships Together

by Sylvia Gaston

Two weeks ago, our church was part of an amazing community-wide worship experience held in the heart of the city at Hanford’s Civic Park. Several individuals from throughout Kings County, representing different churches or no church at all, came together for the 2nd Annual Kings Worship Night.

I was personally blessed to witness over 2,000 people attend this free event and worship God together. A few reasons for my blessedness was because I saw:

1. Several worship teams and choirs from different churches used their talents and different styles to worship the one and only God.

It took hours of meetings, rehearsals, promotion, and prayer to make this event happen. I was blessed to know that, despite our different church denominations, styles, and size, we really are ONE church…a church that loves and worships the one God that restores all.

“…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” – Philippians 2:2 (NIV)

2. Hundreds of families, young and old alike, came together for an evening of praise, worship, and food on a beautiful night under the stars.

The evening was full of peace, joy, smiles and singing in a safe and secure atmosphere. I witnessed no judgment of the various expressions of freedom - from sitting to standing, from clapping to shouting, from observing to dancing. All types of different people were celebrating God and paying attention to one another.

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ –Matthew 22:37-39 (ERV)

3. I was captured by what our entire community could look like – neighborhoods of people that worship and pray together despite our vast differences in age, color, gender, and status. All of us the same in our daily challenges, love for our families and desires for a healthy and prosperous life.

I urge you, my brothers and sisters, for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree to live in unity with one another and put to rest any division that attempts to tear you apart. Be restored as one united body living in perfect harmony. Form a consistent choreography among yourselves, having a common perspective with shared values.” -1 Corinthians 1:10 (TPT)

There in the heart of our town, with strangers and family, I experienced closeness, comradery, friendship, and agreement. That is the hometown I desire, contend for and pray for. With our differences and similarities, coming together as a community that worships together. I saw a glimpse of it that night. It was a beautiful thing.

Thank you, every one of you, who were there and who made this happen. It blessed me with a stirring insight of what our neighborhoods can be. More importantly, TYJ! (thank you, Jesus)!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Know Your Enemy

by Tim Howard

Since the inception of our country, many wars have been fought and this truth alone should remind everyone of this one very important fact. We have an enemy! This enemy is often elusive, controlling and very deceptive.
The Bible makes this clear: We have a spiritual enemy and this adversary seeks to influence us for the bad, control us in order to thwart freedom and deceive us into thinking that good is bad and bad is good.

One person said to me: “ If you believe in God you must also believe in Satan.” I couldn’t agree more! That’s one of the many names given to our spiritual enemy. Other names are: The devil, liar, deceiver, accuser, and the list goes on. Each name represents something of our enemy’s nature, character, and strategy.

Being born into freedom is different than living a life of freedom. To ‘get free’ from the tyranny of another is one thing but to ‘remain free’ requires a warrior mentality. There is no victory without a fight and freedom is worth a fight.

Knowing your enemy is a key to victory. Whether it’s in a country like Afghanistan, Iran or some spiritual battle, we must have certain Intel to be successful. The enemy doesn’t want you to walk in freedom. Here are 5 ways Satan seeks to keep you imprisoned. 

1.  Ignorance. I didn’t know the speed limit was 35 mph officer! I’m sorry about that, here is your ticket. 

2.  Isaiah 5:13 … “My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge...” Paul the Apostle said: “ We are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes.” Ignorance is not bliss! What you don’t know can hurt you.

3.  Negligence. Luke 6:49 …the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed…” Many marriages and relationships unravel, not because of what one does but because of what one doesn’t do. 

4.  Disobedience. Proverbs. 21:3 “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” God’s laws are not meant to restrict us but to keep us from bondage. Our Father is not so interested in slapping you on the wrist for failure to follow His directives, as He is desirous to keep you free from the snares of the enemy. 

5.  Arrogance. Proverbs16: 18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Your enemy loves to see you filled with pride. It hinders God’s work from happening in you because God draws near to the humble but opposes the proud.  

6.  Un-forgiveness. This will be manifested in multiple ways - resentment, vindictiveness, bitterness, anger, passive unresponsiveness and a host of other unproductive things. When you walk in unforgiveness you are playing into the strategic plan of the enemy.

If you are to win over the attempts of your enemy to imprison you, the door to these 5 points of entry must be closed. Then you must open the door to wisdom, participation, obedience, humility, and forgiveness. When you do, you will experience Victory. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Committed to More

by Candace Cortez

This past week, I was a part of a team of 12 incredible individuals who went on a journey to Mozambique, Africa for a short term mission trip. My husband and I have personal friends who are missionaries there, and we also have a heart for the continent of Africa. We were thrilled to be able to go on this trip along with our two children. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned.
Unity is key. When you are in a place where you do not know the language, it is easy to feel ill-equipped. In this situation, multiple languages were being used and I didn’t know any of them. There were several moments of partnership that made sure to keep me humble. I wasn’t able to go and change much of anything. But I was able to go and encourage the unity between people who are different than each other. This mission was not intended to radically change the culture in another area. It was more about embracing that culture and highlighting what God was doing there before we got there. When two churches come together and serve others side by side, I believe it pleases God. Now back home, I want to make sure I am not a part of creating more disunity in my context. There are apologies to be made, and invitations to be sent. Unity takes more work than independence. But I believe it’s one of the ways the Lord’s heart is revealed. I am committed to staying unified with my fellow believers.
The majority of the world is different. It was brought to my attention that I live in a minority culture. In our context, even the most poverty-stricken have opportunity. Spending a week in a developing country, which is similar in many ways to the majority of the world, is an incredible reminder of who God is speaking about when He refers to the least of these. I have created a lifestyle that could keep me separate and blind to this majority world. I am committed to seeing it.

People are people. There is the habit I have caught myself falling into. Sometimes when passing a crowd, people are a crowd. This seems like a duh statement, but what I mean by this is that crowds often strip people of their individuality, story, and sometimes as a result, their perceived value at that moment. We had the opportunity to visit families with children who have special needs while in Mozambique. This experience will leave a mark on my heart for my lifetime. But what I didn’t expect was the realization that people are people. Each parent, grandparent, or child had personality, hopes, fears, and a story. They were not a part of the crowd anymore. This is how Jesus sees us. We are not a horde of His creation. We are individually, wonderfully made. I am committed to seeing people as people.
Miracles are happening. Recently at a Bible study, a friend mentioned some frustrations that miracles don’t happen today like they used to. Everyone shared the sentiment. You may feel the same. But I have good news! Miracles ARE happening. We did a mini-conference for youth in the neighborhood we visited. We were expecting 50-60 kids to show up. We were thrilled and surprised when the room was filled with over 100 people. This left us nervous about the amount of food prepared. In faith, we began to pray that God would multiply our shredded beef like the loaves and fishes. Our team gave generous portions and as the last person was served, we celebrated having an entire crockpot of beef remaining. It did not seem possible. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but in that moment, we knew God had made a way. I am committed to seeing how God is shifting the circumstances to give Himself glory. 

It’s possible to give more. This is the last thing I’ll share, I promise. I met a lady, who had 4 children, one with a disability. She was not wealthy. She lives in a one-room house. A member of her family had a child with a disability and wanted to abandon that child, which is relatively socially acceptable in that context. This lady brought that child into her home and has been raising her as her own. She has a heart for adoption as at one point she was caring for 8 children total. I am humbled and inspired by this woman, who has given so much to love others. It is often felt, that one can give after they have reached a level of success or comfort that gives them excess. It is not often taught to give even when you are lacking yourself. I am committed to being generous, even when it costs me.

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.