Tuesday, June 30, 2020

I Talk Too Much

What can I say? I love to share my ideas and be understood, just as I love to have discussions that give me a better understanding of others. Some might say it’s a healthy exercise in the philosophical quest for truth. 

...some might say I’m a loud-mouthed jerk.

I was faced with this harsh reality last week when a very close friend of mine, practically family, blocked me on social media. He had been sharing articles and thoughts on a variety of things related to the recent civil unrest and racial tension in our country. And I had been sharing my own thoughts and asking questions in the comments of...well, too many of them.

When I realized he had blocked me, I quickly experienced a range of emotions from anger to betrayal. “What a coward!” I thought. “He’s unwilling to support his ideas and try to help me understand his position, and instead just cuts me out?”

I started furiously typing a number of different text messages to him before God tapped on my heart and asked me a simple question:

“Is your rhetoric more important than this relationship?”

You see, it’s easier than ever to share our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with the world. And harder than ever to share authentic love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control [Galatians 5:22-23]. Because the former only requires a platform or a megaphone, and social media is maybe the tallest platform and loudest megaphone ever conceived. But the latter requires something much less immediate; something that costs us more than just a few disposable words.

I decided to text my friend just three words that in the moment were hard for me to say. I texted him “I love you, bro.” Ok, so it’s four words. But you know what? He texted four words back. He said “I love you, too.”

And I realized, the years of life and real friendship we’ve shared together were not suddenly over. He was just tired of hearing me talk. And I can’t say I blame him.

There’s an idea being presented in our culture today that “silence is violence”. I understand this seeks to mirror a great Edmund Burke quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And I agree that we must be willing to speak up for things we believe in, and speak out against evil.

But I’m also reminded of a great Winston Churchill quote: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” And I can’t help but feel many of us are doing too much speaking and not enough listening. I know I’m guilty of it. 

If we want to talk about what really brings about hurt and does damage, it is more often the use of words than the absence of them. You’ll find dozens of verses in the Bible that confirm what a powerful and destructive thing our tongue can be. Here are just a few if you want to look them up: Proverbs 10:19; Matthew 15:11; Proverbs 17:27-28; James 1:19; Proverbs 12:18

So my encouragement for myself and whoever may be reading this is simply to remember this: I can have my opinions and ideas. But it’s not my job to convince people, it’s my job to love them. And when my words get in the way of that, it’s my job to shut up.

So with that I’m going to take my own advice and leave you with this excerpt from James chapter three, verses 3 - 18:

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Bryan Vickers, Worship Pastor
Koinonia Church

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hard feelings and Big things.

My family and I recently purchased a home and, as we excitedly await the end of escrow, we are also diligently prepping our home to sell. We decided that before we pack a single box, we would need to put in some serious time purging our current home. We’ve been in our current home for six years and it is amazing what you can accumulate in such a short amount of time! Today, we began and spent hours in dusty forgotten cupboards clearing out spaces and deciding to keep, donate, or trash items. After hours of purging and hauling off items, we returned to satisfyingly clutter-free spaces. "Wow," I said to my husband. "Why didn’t we do this years ago?" Why did we let the excess accumulate until it was absolutely necessary to take care of it? We could have been enjoying all of this beauty all along!
As I considered this more I began to think about how the same can happen with our hearts; in the dusty forgotten corners of our thoughts. So often we shove a feeling away and tell ourselves we will deal with it later. Instead of facing it head-on and confronting the mess, we shove it in a drawer or behind a closet door. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Our lives were not meant to be trouble-free but we can make peace with our troubles because of He who overcame the world!
Lately, we have been faced with big things – big feelings, big obstacles, big opinions, big issues. It would be so much easier to ignore that it is all happening and neatly tuck the feelings away to deal with later but at some point, we will need to dust off that box and deal with it. Why not make that time now? Let’s live in the fruit of the hard work it will take to work through the hard things and find peace through the big things.

Justine Medeiros, Children's Ministry Director

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Keep Jumping!

A few years ago, my husband and I spent a week on vacation together in the beautiful
Dominican Republic. We were able to go on an adventure-themed excursion where we climbed
a mountain (it was a long trail; I am not a mountain woman!) and then jumped off various rock
points into the flowing river. It was thrilling, gorgeous, and terrifying. One by one, we would
line up in the group and when ready we would jump into the water. The guides made it look
easy. They had been jumping into those waters for years! As I approached the edge of the first
rockface, I realized, I was not ready! Everyone was encouraging, both behind me and those who
had already jumped into the crystal-clear water below. I kept asking for more time. “Can I get a
second? Ok, let me count... No, I’m not ready! Is there another way down?” The self-talk, while
looking back, is actually pretty funny. In order to jump off that cliff, I needed both my own
encouragement, and the backing of these near strangers to tip me from fear to bravery. If I was
alone, I can promise that I would never have jumped.

During this season, the nation, and even other parts of the world, has reawakened to
the need for more work in the area of racial restoration. There are many areas in our nation
that need to be addressed to treat people with justice and love. I am so encouraged by the
work of many to identify and rectify their own implicit biases. I, too, am looking at my own
language and source of certain fears to make sure they are appropriately placed. Jumping into
this work takes a lot of bravery and emotional effort.

In the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:7 guides how we take care of each other. It teaches
us that “[love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” There are
several other verses to look at during this season when asking HOW do we grow and process
together, but for the sake of brevity, we will just look at this verse. As people, who live with
faith in Jesus and love for people, we are instructed to protect, trust, hope and persevere. As
we champion continued restoration, we love each other enough to protect them, trust them,
hope for them, and persevere for them.
  • Protect- Do we engage in conversations that ultimately grow division between groups of people? Or do we decide to elevate our speech and actions?
  • Trust- Do we trust that people who have not spoken up might deserve a conversation before negative thoughts are assumed about them? Do we trust that people who look or sound different than ourselves are children of God, deserving of utmost dignity?
  • Hope- Do we have a vision of what restoration would look like in our own lives? In our schools? In our justice system?
  • Perseverance- Can we keep running the race towards Jesus’ kingdom here on Earth?
Can we keep having loving and challenging conversations? Can we keep advocating for
change for the next generation?

While on that rock jumping adventure, once I jumped the first rock, and swam to the next
enclave, that same fear returned. But because of my survival of the first jump and the
continued support of the people around me, I was able to make it down the mountain. Jumping into the area of racial restoration will require your bravery, your work, and the love of people
around you.

I am praying that we keep loving each other through it all. If we lose the tone of love, we
may not have the courage to make a second jump.

Candace Cortez • Executive Pastor

What Do We Do?

The world has been turned upside down by COVID-19. Stock markets are swinging wildly. The economy is reeling. And the yeast that I need to bake sourdough bread is sold out until who knows when!

Many people are fearful, anxious, and worried. Others are angry and letting everyone know about it. Some people are just plain bored and have watched everything there is to watch on Netiflix, Hulu and Disney+. 

So, what do we do?

Everyone has something they are suggesting for you to do in this season. From workouts to movies to crafts to gourmet meals—there are more than enough activities to go around.

But I’m not interested in telling you how to fill your time. I think we need to do something with our time. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians that we are to make use of our time for we live in evil days.

So here are some things I suggest we need to do in this season:

First, become prophetically aware. This pandemic is not just about the pandemic, it is part of the larger story of a broken world that is on a crash course with destiny. God is using this moment to move history forward. We should never forget that He is drawing the arc of history to a completion point. This is a moment of shaking and there will be many more to come. Don’t get caught up in the noise and miss the message of God calling people to draw near to Him.

Second, become spiritually responsive. This is a time to get close to God. It is an invitation to create space and listen to His still quiet voice. Are you making space? Are you reaching out? This is a season when He is visiting all those who are willing to turn off the noise and tune in to Him.

Third, stay emotionally engaged. Too many are tuning out to what is going on inside of them and is what is going on in their family. When things are out of our control, we will often try to escape by numbing out. Some numb out on media, some on painkillers or drugs, and some on mindless games. Don’t go down that route. Fell the feels, talk to your kids about what they are feeling, and then encourage one another rather then leaving each other in silence.

Finally, do get ready for a marathon. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone is yelling for it to be over. We need to be ready for it to take a while. Don’t put dates on things. Instead, put your expectation and hope that God is going to take us through one day at a time.

If we do these things, we will see that God is actually at work and doing some pretty good things!

Andrew Cromwell • Lead Pastor

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hi! Are you ok?

By Sylvia Gaston

That’s what I’m going to say to my neighbors – first in a note, then . . . who knows?

You see, this is a great time to get to know my neighbors.

No, I didn’t just move in. I’ve lived in the same house for 28 years and I’ve had the same neighbors on each side of me for that entire time. Recently, one neighbor moved and I’ve barely gotten to know the family that bought their house. We know 3 of the families who live a little further down the road but not really well.

As Christians, we are to be the heart, hands, and feet of Jesus. He went out of his way to care for the poor, sick, and outcast. Jesus was all about relationships. In fact, He told His followers that the only thing more important than loving our neighbors is loving God. He also said that people would know we were Christ-followers by our love.

I’m more than a little embarrassed that I know so little about the people who live on my street so I am committing to take advantage of this dumb pandemic and do things that either A) I haven’t done in a long while, or B) I’ve never done.

In the “A” category, I have done 4 jigsaw puzzles with my family, ridden my bike for the first time in YEARS, and am painting my kitchen cupboards (yikes!).

In the “B” category, I hope to finally learn at least one song on the piano and to get to know about 10-15 of my neighbors.

My plan is to tape a note to their doors (while wearing gloves) and introduce myself and my crazy family. I will probably include a practical gift of some sort to bless them. The note will begin with “Hi! Are you OK?” and then I’m not so sure what comes after that. What I want to say, though, is . . . isn’t this is a great time to get to know each other and be there for each other? You know, be neighborly.

I have so many ideas rolling around in my head about where this might lead:
-       Encouraging notes to one another?
-       A community mailbox for prayers and prayer requests?
-       A social media group or newsletter?
-       Meet each other’s practical needs (groceries or grocery runs, errands, financial help, yard work)?
-       Share surplus goods (i.e. we will have waaaay too many tomatoes in a few weeks)?
-       Invite each other to our houses to watch church online together, once we’re able (of course, 10 or fewer people with health precautions)?

But, of course, this all depends on how, or if, my neighbors respond. I pray it leads to some great relationships and a good old-fashioned support system.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Love Yourself

by Bryan Vickers

No, this is not a Justin Bieber song. It's a reminder. 

I think we all tend to go through seasons of dissatisfaction; with where we are, and who we are. Maybe we aren't living up to our potential. Maybe we've made some bad choices and are living with regret. Maybe we just never liked much about ourselves and have spent a lifetime wishing we weren't this person. I tend to swing back and forth between being confident in who I am and what I'm capable of...and feeling completely inadequate, accusing myself of just faking it. I think they call it imposter syndrome.

Whatever the case, you don't always love yourself. But you should. For a million reasons. Just for starters, there's the fact that God created you. He wanted you, He dreamed you up, and He made you exactly the way He intended. Then there's the fact that the only good and perfect person to ever walk the earth decided you were worth dying for. And Jesus went through with this plan because God wanted a way to be close with you in spite of the ways you've fallen short. If He loves you that much, why don't you?

Well, I'm willing to bet it's because your head is full of thoughts about the way you are and the way you should be. Every day you listen to things like "you're not a good person," "you really messed up," "they probably don't like you," and "why can't you be better?". My friend, you are being lied to. Some of it is the enemy, Satan, throwing out lies and accusations to keep you stuck believing you don't deserve love. But some of it is you...lying to yourself.

In Acts chapter 10, the apostle Peter has a vision in which the Lord tells him "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean". In this vision God is speaking about which food is suitable for Peter to eat; but we learn later in the chapter that God is communicating a deeper truth: that the promise of new life in Christ is not just for those who have been born into the right circumstances and done all the right things. God's love is for everyone, even though we all were impure. He went to a lot of trouble to make us clean. So when I read this verse, it's a reminder to check the way I'm thinking about myself.

"Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
Do not call yourself ugly when God has made you beautiful.
Do not call yourself hopeless when God has made you with a purpose.
Do not call yourself unworthy when God stepped down from Heaven to die for you.

There is so much power in our thoughts and our words. The way we treat and talk to ourselves has a direct impact on our wellbeing. Stop believing the lies. Stop playing the comparison game. Stop living under condemnation. Jesus already traded His righteousness for your sin. Start treating yourself the way you would treat a chosen and righteous child of the Almighty God. 

Because that is who you are.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Wise Much?

by Sylvia Gaston

How many decisions do you make each day? Thousands! The average human makes 35,000 decisions a day. Granted, many of these are too small to be of much significance in the grand scheme of life. Things like what time to wake up, what to eat, what to wear, how fast to drive to work or school, etc. are not all that important. Other decisions carry a little more weight and importance such as where to live, what relationships to have, and what larger purchases to make (think cars and houses). And then there are the really big decisions! Decisions like who to marry, how many kids to have (if any), and what to do with your life. This is the stuff that has lifelong consequences.

So how do you make these large and small decisions well? Flip a coin, ask a Magic 8-Ball, phone a friend, or just do what “feels right”? You need wisdom. By definition, wisdom is gained by learning as much as you can, analyzing your experiences and putting your knowledge to the test so you can become a wiser person. In my experience, this is a lengthy and flawed process.

Do you sometimes wish there was a source of wisdom to tap into that could help you always make the right decisions? There is! What?! Oh yeah . . . God. Why wouldn’t you seek the wisdom of the One who created everything, knows everything, and sees past, present and future? Why not ask the Creator who created you with a plan and a purpose?

To do that requires that you know Him. This is the single most important decision that you will make in your life - or not make! To know God gives you access to the Author and Finisher of all things and all people. 

OK, so let’s say you've already chosen to follow God. There was no instant download of all the wisdom needed when you made that choice. So how do you access the wisdom of God?

We read about a man in the Bible, Solomon, who became king of Israel after his father, David, died. Solomon showed his great love for God. God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom. This pleased God and He promised him great wisdom because he didn’t ask for self-serving rewards like long life or personal wealth. God said to him, “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for - both riches and honor - so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” (1 Kings 3)

According to King Solomon, the wisest king ever, wisdom is from God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding." (Proverbs 2:6)

So how do you get it? Fast forward to Jesus’ day - His brother, James, states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

Wisdom problem solved! Follow Jesus, love God, and ask Him for wisdom! Then . . . bring on the decisions - large and small - and see how your life is transformed! 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Uncommon Habits for the New Year

by Andrew Cromwell

This year, just as in year’s past, most will make some new year’s resolutions. We will determine to lose weight, get back in shape, spend more quality time with family, save money, and read more. We resolve to do differently because we want to be different! 

Inherently we know that if we are going to become better people we have to change our habits. Habits have the power to transform our lives for better or worse. We can be filled with peace and patience or anxiety and angst, all depending on how we order our lives. According to Justin Whitmel Early, “habits form [not just] our schedules, they form our hearts.”

Let me suggest three habits—three new year’s resolutions—that could have the power to change your year because they have the power to influence your heart. Let me warn you, these habits are countercultural. They are uncommon. But uncommon habits lead to uncommon lives. And uncommon lives have the power to change our world.

The first uncommon habit is Scripture before Screen. It is as simple as it sounds. And yet, for many of us, we have become so trained by our technology that we no longer are in control. For many of us, our phones are both our alarm clocks and our mindless entertainment (not to mention the way we communicate with the world). So the phone tends to be the first thing we grab as we wake up in the morning. If the phone is not your screen of choice then it might be the television or something else. This simple habit involves a decision to first stare at the mirror of God’s Word before anything else. It may be the single best strategy for having daily devotions that we have available to us today! 

The second uncommon habit is One Meal with Others. For some, this habit may not be a challenge. But increasingly we live in a world where we are disconnected from others. Our lives are filled with activity and yet we find ourselves eating alone. Sometimes we might eat next to others but we aren’t really with them because we are so preoccupied with our technology. This habit is all about connecting relationally with the people around us. We all have to eat, why not turn it into a meaningful time for conversation and connection? Imagine if you planned your life and work around connecting with others rather than the other way around?

The third uncommon habit is One Hour with Phone Off. It sounds easy, but for many of us, the very thought of being without your device brings on a panic attack. Perhaps that’s why this one is important. Pick a time and turn your phone off completely. It’s not good enough just to put it on silent or to turn it over. Turn it completely off. Oh, and don’t cheat with other devices -- turn off the Apple Watch, the iPad, and any other device that stands between you and the physical world. The world will go on. You will be free. And you might notice some things you’ve been missing. 

You might have noticed that two out of three of these habits have to do with technology. The simple fact is that our lives, our hearts, and our relationships are being shaped by tech in ways that we often don’t realize. Perhaps 2020 will be the year when we begin to take back control of what shapes our hearts!