Saturday, November 30, 2019

Prayer: The Ultimate Gift

by Tim Howard

In a conversation some time ago the topic of prayer came up and the person I was speaking with said emphatically: “ I don’t believe in prayer, I believe in luck!” I jokingly said in response: “I too believe in luck but it seems the more I pray, the luckier I get!”

In it’s broadest definition, prayer is talking with God. This can be done audibly as God hears our words or silently, since God knows our thoughts. And because communication is a two-way connection, prayer includes both speaking to God and listening to Him speak to us.

Prayer is like having an internal cell phone that allows you to call God at any time and from any place.

Speaking of cell phones: According to a national survey from CTIA and Harris Interactive, nearly half (47%) of US teens say their social life would end without his or her cell phone and 80% say their Cell phone provides a sense of security while on the go.

In comparison, prayer is the ultimate cell-phone and many are taking advantage of this amazing gift. According to surveys by Barna Research Ltd. over a 10-year period, 82% of adults and 89% of teenagers pray in a normal week. 88% of women and 75% of men pray. 96% of professing Christians pray weekly, while 72% of people not describing themselves as Christians pray as well.

One reason I pray is because Jesus prayed. He carried on an ongoing dialogue with the Father and prayed daily. He prayed over meals, He prayed early in the morning and sometimes all night long.  He prayed short prayers and long prayers. He prayed for His enemies, His friends and His followers. He prayed in private and in public. Even with a cursory study of the Bible, we discover that it is imperative to maintain constant communication with the Father each and every day.

Prayer, however, does not negate God’s divine prerogative nor does it override His purposes. We have the privilege of asking and He retains the right to answer on the basis of His vantage point. We may not understand why He chooses to do what He does and His answers may defy logic and analysis from our perspective but His response is always filled with wisdom, foresight and love. He has our best interest in mind and knows what is correct. What we think we need isn’t always what we really need!

My prayer in this season is for us to continually give thanks throughout the year and not merely one day out of 365. The Thanksgiving season comes every November and is awesome, but Romans 1:21-24 gives us the rationale behind giving thanks each and every day. It’s worth reading to discover the logic for making this prayer. 

A cell phone will set you back a few bucks especially when you include the extensive package. It may provide teens and others with a sense of security but the ultimate cell phone is free! No upfront fee, no monthly service charge and no hidden cost. It truly does provide real security because the emergency line to God is always open. B.T.W. Everyone has been given an internal cell phone and if you pray, God will listen and if you listen, He will speak!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Current Events Are Killing Me

by Sylvia Gaston

I remember taking a Current Events class in high school. That one class and its instructor changed my life forever. I’m sure I took the class to fill an English requirement but it forced me to read the newspaper, watch the news and expose myself to what was happening beyond Hanford High School and my small town home life. This was something that I had never considered important before.

It opened my eyes to a much larger world and gave me a framework for processing my thoughts and beliefs and probably, in part, helped create the controvert I’ve become. I’m assuming this interest in current events eventually propelled me into city politics later in life.

At the time, and for years after, I followed the news and developed my own opinions about the world. I became fascinated with current events, politics, sports, opinions, entertainment and human interest stories.

In my 20s and early 30s, it was easy to take in what was happening in the world and develop my strong opinions about all that was right and wrong with it.

And then God got my attention. My decision to follow Him and His ways radically changed the course of my life and also my view of the world around me.

No longer was I simply ingesting current events and opining upon them, I became disturbed and frustrated about what was happening around me, unable to reconcile a good God with a bad world. I became so disturbed that I withdrew from the pursuit of current event knowledge because it was killing me inside.

Eventually, I matured (a little) and realized that, despite our human impact upon our world, it was not the Eden that God had originally designed and created. He is not responsible for crime, disease and environmental destruction. It is the result of sin – man’s personal choices in the things that surround us.

Instead of anguishing over current events and the plight of man, I realize I can advocate for something better. I can do my small part to be the type of human God would be proud of. I can change my small world and maybe even influence the world of those I’m in contact with. I can pray for God to intervene in situations that desperately need His loving touch – or harsh judgment. Mostly, I can have and share hope – to believe, desire and trust for something better.

I am confident of my future in Heaven. I am confident that whatever I am challenged with on Earth will be shared with our powerful and capable God. In the meantime, my role is not to bury my head in the sand but to participate and advocate.

I know that my prayers have power. I know I can impact certain situations. I know that I can model what it looks like to disagree with others on issues in a respectful and civil way. I know that I love people and can share hope with them, even in the midst of crises. That’s what I can do. 

Jesus’ follower, Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV).

We shouldn’t worry about things that are out of our control. Instead, as we hear about what is going on in our community, nation, and the world, we use this information to prepare for now and for the future. We discuss these things with others, using the opportunity to share the hope that can only come from faith and confidence in a powerful God.

Current events are no longer killing me. I don’t avoid the news or shy away from tough topics. I take it all in, pray hard and do what I can do. How about you?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Opportunity Knocks

by Tim Howard

When the Apostle Paul instructed people to make the most of every opportunity he was not talking about becoming an opportunist!

An opportunist is someone who takes advantage of any opportunity to advance his or her own interest, placing expediency above principle.

Paul does, however advocate for people to use opportunities as a means of helping others. In Gal.5:13 he says it’s absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. A life of decisions! Just make sure that you don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do for your own benefit. Rather, use the opportunities afforded you to serve one another in love.

God wants to give opportunities and open doors for people whose motives are pure. He’s willing and able to give you favor with others and open doors for the benefit of all.

In Revelation chapter 3 –we are told that God speaks to a specific group of people and tells them this: “These are the words of him who is holy and true…What God opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds…. I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut… “

When faced with a decision. I personally pray the same prayer that I’ve prayed – hundreds of times – over the past 68 years. “Oh God if this opportunity is right and will benefit others please ‘Open the Door’ but if it’s not the correct choice – please ‘Close the Door.”

If God opens a door of opportunity for you and your motives are pure and accompanied with a desire to help others, you can walk thru that door with confidence.

If God chooses to close a door, you can be assured that He has your best interest in mind. You may be disappointed with His ‘No’ answer to your desire but what we want is not always what we need.

On a personal note: In 2001 I experienced the closing of a door on a 28-year vocation that was based in Fresno, Ca. Little did I know at that time, God was planning to open another door in 2004 that would provide an opportunity to help and serve people on a greater level by becoming the Lead Pastor at Koinonia Church.

A lesson to learn is this: When God closes one door He always opens another. That’s good news for all of us!

Therefore, Don’t be discouraged when doors are closed or even slammed in your face. God has plans for opening a door that you can’t imagine. He says to you: 1 Cor. 2:9 “… No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” He has plans for you and they are all good.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

This Is A Hard Teaching

by Candace Cortez

Over the past 8 weeks, our church has been reading through the entire New Testament, and we are almost finished! I am so proud of how our church family has remained steadfast and kept reading even after falling behind or losing that initial enthusiasm with a long project like this. This past week, our reading sent us to the Gospel of John, which happens to be my favorite of the four gospels. One of the things I love about Jesus, which I feel is highlighted in this book, is how Jesus is not afraid of the hard truth or the difficult teachings.

Jesus feeds 5,000 men and their families in a miraculous way. Doing so automatically increases His popularity and people are flocking in to stay close to Him. There is a curiosity about who Jesus is and what He will do next. This seems like the best-case scenario! We pray for revival and a powerful change in our community. From an outsiders’ perspective, it could be said that Jesus was experiencing a version of that, whole families following Him and hanging on every word He said. But Jesus responded in a way that is so counter-intuitive. Instead of setting up a consistent food program, or a class for all the new people to the group, or making it an easy 1-2-3 step to being a member of His group, He ran away. Then when He was found, He began to teach a message that was confusing and seemingly barbaric to the listeners. He let them know that they are looking for bread, but He is the bread, and they must eat of His body and drink His blood to have eternal life (John 6:53). It makes sense to me that people were offended, confused, and left unwilling to submit themselves to cannibalism! Jesus was not going for the easy-to-please crowd-focused message. He was working for something greater. People who loved Him, not just what He could do.

This is incredibly challenging both as a follower of Jesus and as a person dedicating a huge portion of my life to sharing the Good News so others would follow Him as well. When I read scriptures like this, I need to ask myself, which part of the crowd would I fall into? Would I be in the crowd excited about a chance to see a miracle, and annoyed when Jesus said something I don’t understand? Or would I be a person who appreciated the miracles, but stayed, even when Jesus steps into toe-crunching and confusing territory with His teaching? Are we dedicated to the power or the Person?

Here are a couple of questions to ask ourselves to check our hearts. When you are praying for the Lord to do something in your life, are you still in love with Him and just as devoted if the situation does not “work out” the way you hoped? When you are praying, do your conversations exist primarily to ask for things, rather than to praise or give thanks?  Do you find yourself growing more in love with loving people as commanded by Jesus? This is the result of a life dedicated to Him: turning to bless others.

Not all of Jesus’ teachings were easy. He was ok with that. He knew not everyone would follow Him because it seems offensive to presume He is the only way. We desire to make it easy for ourselves and others, and Jesus didn’t do that. He wanted to make sure people knew the truth, not an easier-to-swallow version of it. Lord, help us love the same!