Sunday, October 18, 2020

Are You A Good Friend?

Do you consider yourself to be a good friend? A good friend is often considered someone loyal, accepting, and one who invests time in others. In my life, I have had friends that were good friends for only a season and I also have friendships that have survived years and difficult seasons. Looking back, I realize that many of the friendships that didn’t last were simply superficial.

 

I desire to be a good friend to those in my life, so I looked to scripture to help me ground my friendships in Biblical principles. Jesus spent most of His 33 years on earth living among the people and He had friends. You know that verse in the Bible that simply says, “Jesus wept.”? He wept because his dear friend, Lazarus, had died. Jesus lived and loved people on earth and I want to learn how to be a good and loving friend from His example, not the world’s.

 

Put Your Friends Before Yourself

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” -Philippians 2:4-7

 

Jesus came to earth and spent His time here humbly serving others. We need to humble ourselves in our friendships and have hearts to serve our friends. Often, many look at friendships as a transaction. What can I get out of this? How can this friendship make me happier? This approach is the opposite of what Jesus embodied. Pray for your friends and serve them with no expectation of return. 

 

Love Unconditionally and Fully

“When Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.…[He] rose from supper… poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.” -John 13:1, 4-5

 

What could be a greater act of unconditional love than to humble yourself before others as Jesus did at this moment? He deserved to be exalted and yet He washed His disciples’ feet. Not only that, He washed the feet of those present who He knew would betray Him and deny Him. Can you say that you serve and love others this fully? Especially those who do not benefit you?

 

Correct Lovingly

“…she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'” -Luke 10:40-42

 

Martha felt justified in her complaint to Jesus about her sister. She was doing all of the work and she was frustrated! Jesus sweetly corrects her and points out the flaw in her motivations. Martha worried about the things of this world but Mary knew the time spent with Him was more important. Jesus could have shamed her or admonished her sharply but He chose to lovingly correct. We are also called to lovingly (keyword) correct our friends. This does not involve running to others to complain about how they’ve got it wrong. It involves doing the hard work of taking the time to build a relationship and a safe place for correction. This also involves being secure enough to take correction from friends who do it lovingly with Him in mind.

 

The world shows us a superficial view of what friendships should look like. The Word shows us that friendships should be selfless, loving, and a place to build each other up. Friendships grounded with these traits will not be superficial and will be pleasing to Him.

 

Justine Medeiros  

Children’s Ministry Director

Content In All Circumstances

Several years ago, I wrote an article about contentment. Recently, the issue came to mind again. This may be God prompting me to check myself.

 

I honestly don’t mind conversations with others about how coronavirus is impacting their lives. I am truly interested. Sometimes it even includes things that we can laugh and joke about. I just hope that I’m not complaining more at a time when I should be contemplating more.

 

Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and appreciation. The antidote to discontent is thankfulness.

 

Discontented is a horrible way to go through life. It brings depression, stress, and ugly attitudes.

 

Contentment, on the other hand, brings about health and happiness. We have to want it! We have to fight for it!

 

The book of Philippians in the Bible contains only 4 chapters, but is powerful and chock full of wisdom for us today. Written by the apostle Paul as a letter to the church in Philippi, he writes this letter from prison because he has been arrested for preaching about Jesus. Paul was one of the biggest persecutors of Christians before he encountered Jesus. From that point on, he couldn’t stop telling people about Him – even to the point of imprisonment and ultimately, death.

 

Paul thanks them for their concern and their support of him. He states, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (4:11-13)

 

Did you catch that? “…in whatever circumstances I am.”

 

When I wrote about contentment in 2017, our circumstances were much different than in 2020. So, how do I find contentment TODAY in the midst of all this?!? The Word of God is clear. It never changes. It is alive and beneficial for yesterday, today and whatever tomorrow holds. Here’s what God says is the key to contentment . . .

 Always be filled with joy in the Lord. I will say it again. Be filled with joy.” (4:4 ERV)

Let everyone see that you are gentle and kind . . . Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have. And because you belong to Christ Jesus, God’s peace will stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings. His peace can do this far better than our human minds.” (4:5-7 ERV)

This is good stuff! He tells us to be filled with joy. He says it again, “Be filled with joy.” Great advice but easier said than done, right? He then goes on to tell us how to be filled with joy . . . even in 2020.

Brothers and sisters, continue to think about what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected. And do what you learned and received from me—what I told you and what you saw me do. And the God who gives peace will be with you.” (4:8-9 ERV)

It bears repeating: Contentment is a state of happiness and appreciation. The antidote to discontent is thankfulness.

 

Two things you can do today:

1.     Every time you find yourself grumbling or complaining – in your head or out loud – immediately begin thinking about what you have to be thankful for and appreciate.

2.     Read Philippians 4 often as a reminder of the secrets to contentment. (If you don’t have a Bible, Google it in an easy to read version.)

 

Peace!

 

 

Sylvia Gaston 

Pastor of Connection and Development

Friday, October 9, 2020

Residue Free

God’s word is alive and active, breathing new life and meaning every time I read it! I am grateful for this as I read through scriptures during a season that is unlike any other that I have experienced. As I read stories that I first learned in elementary school, they come alive with a freshness from our Savior. One such story is the telling of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).

 

I have personally experienced the enemy doing the work of division in our community. The lines of division are all over the place: how you feel about school closures, church closures, COVID in general, how you stand politically, how you feel about the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’, who you feel is to blame for the wildfires, and how we are to process and understand end time events or signs. All of these scenarios, and others, breed opportunities for offense.

 

As I read the story of these three servants of the Lord, my threshold of offense gets smaller. Here are some thoughts to encourage us during this season of interesting trials and to help eliminate the residue of offense from our hearts.

 

When reading this story, the first point that connects to today is found in Daniel 3:16, when the three men respond to the angry king: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.”

 

There have been many moments when accusations, or confrontations, lead me to feel defensive. I want to be clearly understood, and if I’m even more honest, I want to be clearly vindicated of any wrongdoing. I want to be seen as just in my actions, thoughts, and feelings. This can lead to people holding on to statements far too long as we seek an opportunity to defend ourselves, rather than to move forward in relationship with that person.

 

The reason these men did not need to defend themselves is because they were confident with Whom they stood: God, the ultimate defender. As we keep ourselves in check, we will not need to check other people. Holding on to the scorecard of who has been more just, therefore needing a proper defense, will only separate families, friends, marriages, and churches.

 

As these young men walked out of the fire, totally unscathed, God’s work was the final word. When we seek Jesus, and serve His people in the way He’s asked us to love people, His power of healing and transformation will be the thing that changes minds. It will not often be our social media posts or eloquently worded arguments.

 

I am praying daily for the Lord to give me the right words to say in areas of conflict. The day I stop praying for the Lord to work, and assume I actually have all the right answers, is when I have decided to take justice and righteousness into my own hands. Let’s be a humble people who daily showcase how God’s hand works. Sometimes this means being brave to share your own story. Sometimes it means being brave and forgiving those who haven’t apologized. Sometimes it means allowing someone to have the final word, even if you still think they are wrong.

 

The final element of this story is how the young men emerged from those flames: without even the smell of fire on them. I am praying that this season not only doesn’t break relationships, but that there isn’t even the smell of division or brokenness on God’s people. My prayer is that we come through this season unscathed and without even the residue of what we went through, other than the miraculous testimony of what we went through.

 

In order to do this, and to keep ourselves from the stench of bitterness, resentment, division, or animosity, we must hold on to a few things. We are to forgive quickly. We are to be slow to speak and quick to listen. We are to assume the God knows best and not that we know best. We are to speak kindly (to a fault!) of those who have hurt us. We are to pray for those who have hurt us to not only do well, but do more abundantly well than we can ask or imagine. And we must eliminate the space where laments can become slander.

 

You may be going through the fire right now, but you can come out without even the smell of that experience on you! You can praise in EVERY season. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and our hearts residue-free in order to love both His Church and His entire creation well!

 

Candace Cortez

Executive

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Changing Church During COVID-19

“Get out of bed and come watch church!”, I yell down the hall to our 18-year-old daughter who has never been a morning person. She eventually comes down the hall, half asleep, and slumps into an easy chair in the living room. Meanwhile, my husband is getting a second cup of coffee as I hook up the TV to a device so that we can watch church service online on a Sunday.

 

Does any of this sound familiar to you? I’m pretty sure it does because church online is how most of us have been doing church since March 2020. There were a couple of fleeting moments when the church reopened and we could attend services in the building but, even then, the attendance was limited, and we had to wear masks.

 

Just a few weeks later, the COVID-19 infection rates spiked in California and the guidelines from the health department changed. Once again, the building became empty and we found ourselves back in our living rooms on Sunday mornings.

 

Like everything else, our church life has been disrupted. Not interrupted but disrupted. There’s a big difference. We haven’t stopped church. In fact, in almost every way, church has continued. We continue to receive a weekly message given by our pastors that guides us through the week. Our church (Koinonia Church in Hanford, California) meets, via Zoom, on Sunday mornings before services begin to pray together.  More recently, our small groups have begun meeting for the fall session online or in homes (following state safety guidelines). And beginning this Sunday, our church will start having live 9am services outside on the church lawn – socially distanced, of course.

 

Services to our community have also continued. For example, the Kings Pantry food program has been meeting the increased need for families who are struggling financially as a direct result of COVID-19.

 

The church experience may be different right now, but church continues. Not because it’s an institution or a building, but because church is people.

 

Isn’t that the way of the gospel? When you look back through church history, you can see that whenever the church has been disrupted, the people would find ways to continue. The early church secretly met in the catacombs beneath Rome. The symbol of a fish became a message to others that a home or building was a place where Christians could meet during times of persecution. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the churches closed for a time, yet found ways to reach their congregations. Many newspapers across the country printed the sermons and announcements from local churches so that people could worship at home.

 

We are blessed to live in a time when technology provides many ways to worship away from the church building. We look forward to the day when we can come together again in community and worship side by side. For now, we praise God in the midst of the storm and keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

 

“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20 (NLT)

 

“And so the LORD’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,

His praises in Jerusalem,

When multitudes gather together

And kingdoms come to worship the LORD.”

Psalms 102:21-22 (NLT)

 

Paula Aiton is a worship leader at Koinonia Church and a freelance writer, musician and artist. Her blog, God’s Glory Girl can be found at godsglorygirl.com.


Actual Rest

These past few months have been tiring. Well, to be honest, very tiring. It seems that so many things are changing at once: having to adapt our lives, families, jobs, church, and leisure activities. Some of us can’t blow off steam like we used to or relieve stress in the methods that we were relying so much on. I can’t wait for the day to have my family and friends over for a barbecue. I keep telling them that ribs are amazing when they’re cooked in a smoker, but until I’m able to share some with them, I’ll just have to eat the whole rack by myself.

Being tired, however, is not anything new. Life has always been a roller coaster that has its ups and downs, and seasons of busyness and rest seem to always come as intended. But lately, it’s been a little different. I’ve been asking God, when will we be able to rest? But I don’t necessarily mean physical rest; we need to rest our minds, rest our souls, and be at rest with our families.

Lately, I’ve been reminding myself of Matthew 11:28; "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (NIV).

I’m going to be honest with you, when I read this passage, the first Word that comes to my mind is: How?

I don’t doubt God, I believe and trust in what He says, but the human side of me just has to ask that question: how? I’m a practical guy and clear direction works well with me. So I ask Jesus, how can I obtain this rest that you promise?

I believe the answer to that is in the following two verses; “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:29-30).

The Message translation puts it this way:

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

God knows the pressures of life. He knows when that next bill is coming up. He knows the results of that physical. He knows just how complicated relationships can be. But even in the middle of all this, He says to follow Him and He will give us rest. I’m a firm believer that if we put God first, He would take care of - not only us - but those around us (read Matthew 6:33).

So I encourage you now to put God first. In spite of everything that has happened, God is still in full control as He always has been. Yesterday, today, and forever, God is still on His throne. He is not shaken. He is not stirred.

In the words of an old hymn:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
look full in His wonderful face”
(...and I love this part...)
“and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace”.

 

Mauricio Paredes is the Junior High Pastor