Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Keep Swinging

 
Did you watch the Poirier / McGregor fight a couple of Saturdays ago? Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to order the fight because I work on a pastor's wage but I heard it was exciting! ;) 
 
All joking aside, I would have ordered the fights if I didn’t have a prior engagement. Luckily, we live in an era where anything exciting gets caught on video and will eventually end up in our faces.
 
I’ll give you a summary: trash-talking, big personalities, and even bigger head Conner McGregor. McGregor suffered a catastrophic injury in the first round which eventually led to a doctor calling the fight and declaring Dustin Poirier the champion. 
 
I’m a fan of mixed martial arts. I’m drawn to the spirit of fighters. Even though some fighters, like McGregor, can have a big ego and exude arrogance, you have to respect his willingness to lay his physical safety on the line to achieve greatness.  
 
What I specifically noticed about this fight was Conner McGregor's unwillingness to accept defeat as he lay there broken. Literally, minutes after breaking his leg in half, the man begins promoting a rematch! As I’m watching it, I’m thinking to myself, “What an idiot! Just take the “L” and accept your future in this sport.”
 
But on the other hand, I’m once again brought to a place of respect for McGregor’s unwillingness to yield in the middle of a defeat. 
 
The fighter spirit says don’t give up even if you are outnumbered, broken, and losing; fight until you can’t fight anymore. I admire the tenacity and grit. 
 
This should be a reflection of our faith - not the big-headed arrogance part, but the standing strong in the face of all odds. I’m tired of seeing Christians get hit with devastating life blows and not hit back. 
 
Romans 8 calls Christians “more than conquerors”. God has built us and equipped us to face hard things. Even more than that, hard things is the avenue where we build stronger faith. Just as a weightlifter needs resistance to build strength, Christians need resistance to build faith.
 
The book of James puts it this way, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:2-4
 
Our perseverance through challenges creates maturity. Do you feel the burn in your faith muscles? 
 
It’s natural to run away from pain, but pain is one of the best teachers we have. Let's be clear, because sometimes God gets blamed for the pain He doesn’t create. The book of James actually addresses this by saying don’t blame God when you are being tempted because God doesn’t tempt us. All good and perfect things come from the Father.  
 
Let’s be honest, most of the pain we face is self-inflicted pain from bad habits or choices we have made. And God shouldn’t get blamed for that. He is actually leading us away from those things and calling us to obedience. 
 
The beautiful part is that no matter where the pain comes from - self-infliction, other people's choices, sudden tragedy, or even the pain of being obedient - He uses it all. God doesn’t create all pain but He knows how to use all of it. That’s why James says “trials of MANY kinds”. Whatever it is, God has your answer. 
 
Let’s go back to the Romans 8 statement of “more than conquerors”. God has built us to overcome and the way we do that is being spirit led. If you are being beaten up, I’d encourage you to take some time and pray to God and ask Him for the strategy to face it. And KEEP ASKING until you get it. 
 
Don’t shrink back and become a victim. Wrestle in prayer and the promises of God. Allow it to build maturity inside of you, even while it seems like you are losing. God is working even if you don’t see it. God is working even if you don’t feel it.  
 
Romans 8:31-32 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things (trials)? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
 
Keep swinging, hold on, and endure to the very end. You will see the fulfillment of God’s promises. 
 
-Pastor Chad 
 
 
Chad Fagundes is Men and Outreach Pastor at Koinonia Church.
 
 


Friday, July 16, 2021

Change

What a crazy thing change is. You either love it or you hate it, but it is inevitable. A simple look on recent history shows how times marches on and change occurs. From generation to generation, the differences are physically evident and personally felt. Think back to your parents’ generation and the things that occurred during their lifetimes. Think back to your grandparents’ generation and how drastic their lifestyles were compared to ours. 

Someone once said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” All of us have certainly experienced our fair share of change recently. How did you fare? Did you adapt well or fight it, kicking and screaming? Did you grow? I think it’s extremely important to regularly look back and gauge how we withstood our circumstances. 

When I reflect on my earlier years of life, I’m embarrassed at how immaturely I behaved. When I see these same behaviors exhibited in others around me, am I sensitive and considerate of their phase of life or critical and judgmental? As a more mature woman, I would rather forget the stupid things I did back then. Yet, how can I not consider them as I view others? 

There is a transformation that takes place when you are trying to please God. It is a matter of the heart but the result is externally obvious. The Bible calls it the fruit of the Spirit. “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” -Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) 

Yikes! Despite my efforts, I am immediately humbled reading this verse, evaluating where I still fall short. I have to remind myself that I am in process and that the work is not something I can do on my own. It is the work of Jesus in me. 

You see, He has plans for my life - plans for change.

We can take our confidence in the fact that “the Lord’s plan stands forever; what He intends to do lasts from one generation to the next.” -Psalms 33:11 CEB

God can use us to bring about His plan, if we are willing to exchange our personal desires and ways for His. It’s not because we are worthy to do great things; it is because HE can use the lowliest of things, and people, to bring about great things. He used David, a young shepherd boy, to slay a giant and win the battle. He used a small boy with two fish and five small loaves to feed 5,000. He used a carpenter’s son, born in a barn, to save the world!

What an honor to be a ‘change agent’ for God. A change agent is a person who helps transform things by inspiring and influencing others. To do so for God’s Kingdom is humbling and exciting! 

God doesn’t need us but He can use those who are willing. He uses lowly people, like me, to work through our weakness. It is never too late to discover your purpose. Moses was 80 when he began; Noah was much, much older. 

If you hear God’s Holy Spirit prompting you to change or to be a part of what He is doing on this earth, don’t miss it or shy from it. He can find someone else; it will only be your loss. But if you are willing to change, to grow through our mistakes, and to respond to His loving call, that’s where the excitement begins! All of us have something God can use to bring about His change.


Sylvia Gaston
Family Ministry Pastor


Friday, July 2, 2021

Philemon

Yesterday, I led a Bible study and we decided to go through the letter of Philemon. The letter is only one page and one of the shortest letters in scripture. I encourage you to read it. 

 

This letter is written by the Apostle Paul to a man named Philemon. Paul writes this letter from prison on behalf of a man, Onesimus, who he converted to Christianity while in prison. 

 

The letter tells us that Onesimus was Philemon's runaway slave. Before I get to the heart of the letter, I want to be clear about the context. Our twenty-first century concept of slavery is that slavery is oppressive and should be condemned by all. I agree. This letter isn’t condoning slavery. Slavery was a big part of the Roman economy and this letter isn’t to promote slavery but to use the relationship to exemplify reconciliation.  

 

Back to the letter. From the text, we understand that Onesimus not only ran away from Philemon, but may have stolen from him as well. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon so that a wrong might be righted. 

 

I think it’s important, as the reader, to put ourselves in the shoes of each character so we can understand how difficult the situation was. Today, I want to put on Philemon’s shoes. From the text, we see Philemon as a good man. Verses 4 and 5 says this about him, “I am always thankful to my God as I remember you in my prayers because I’m hearing reports about your faith in the Lord Jesus and how much love you have for all his holy followers.”

 

So here we have a good man being asked to forgive. Not only to forgive him but to receive Onesimus back as more than a slave, as a brother in Christ. Paul makes this request in verse 16, “So welcome him (Onesimus) no longer as a slave, but more than that, as a dearly loved brother.” 

 

What?!?!? Onesimus betrayed Philemon and stole from him, which I’m sure humiliated Philemon in front of the entire church since the church actually took place in Philemon's home. What a tall order! 

 

Culturally speaking, Philemon had every right to turn over Onesimous to the Roman justice system that would have righted the wrong by putting Onesimous in prison or even to death. But Paul appeals to him on the structure of a higher Kingdom. This is a big lesson in Christianity.

 

Have you ever had someone wrong you? Humiliate you? Wrong you in a way that was completely their fault and the worldly standard encourages you to cut them off? Now, imagine that your Father asks you to forgive that person and not only to forgive them, but to treat them better than they deserve. To not just tolerate them, but to honor them. I may not have been a Christian long enough to swallow this situation easily because my first reaction is, ‘you’re trippin’!’

 

This was Philemon's situation. History shows evidence surrounding this circumstance that points to Philemon and Oneismus reconciling. Not only is this reconciliation powerful for the relationship between these two men but this actually became a powerful illustration to the body of believers they were connected to. As in any broken relationship, there are typically many people affected by the outcome. 

 

When Paul was teaching at the church of Colossians about living a new life in Christ (which was the church that met at Philemon’s house), Paul says, “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

 

Talk about a push against the teaching of the culture! I believe Paul uses this relationship as a powerful illustration - that our standard isn’t what the world says, but what Christ says. In Christ, we are all children; no one better than the other. The passage goes on to say how we should live and treat others. The beautiful thing about this passage is that it wasn’t just some nice words; the church saw this go down in real time. These two men displayed how powerful it can be to choose to live in Christ to help us overcome the most dysfunctional situations. 

 

Is there a situation that you have every right to dismiss or hold anger against? Maybe you have someone like Philemon who has wronged you, humiliated you. Maybe you're stuck in bitterness. Maybe someone is treating you unfairly right now. 

 

I believe you can be free from that but, to be free you have to submit to the heavenly kingdom and not a worldly one. The reason you can forgive and be free is because Christ has forgiven us and freed us. Turn your life to Christ and He has the answer for every relationship. 

 

Blessings, 

Pastor Chad 

Mens’ and Outreach Pastor

 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Every Testimony Is Different

Some of you reading this article may remember when it used to be a common event in church services for someone to stand up and give their testimony. They’d share from the heart about how God pursued them even on their darkest day. When they came to the end of their rope, they surrendered their life to Jesus. What a joyous day that was! Everyone’s testimony is different, fascinating, and unique to each person. The Holy Spirit pursued them, touched them, and met them in a glorious connection between Father and child (see The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32).

One of my favorite testimonies comes from a man who visited our youth group when I was a teenager. He had lived a crazy life and had been into everything immoral that he could sample from this evil world. One day, when he was driving drunk on a rainy night through his hometown, his car started to spin out into an intersection. Even in his drunken state, he had a split second to think that he would die and that his car would wrap itself around a light pole. Everything seemed to slow down and, as he looked around inside his car, he saw an angel in his passenger seat! The angel had its hands over its face. He perceived in his heart that it was praying for him! His car continued spinning and finally ended up on the sidewalk. There was some damage to it and to the corner, but he was alive and unharmed. When the police showed up, he was arrested for drunk driving and thrown in jail. Despite being in jail, he couldn't get the vision of the angel out of his head! For the first time in years, he began reading a Bible as he awaited his court date. He wanted to know more about angels, but that study caused him to be hungry to learn more and more about God. Later, with the help of a prison chaplain, he gave his life to Jesus. He never looked back, except to share his testimony with young people like those of us in that youth group. As we listened to him, there was not a sound in the room. His story, his testimony, was touching others.

Another testimony I remember is one that I read in Guideposts Magazine. A man told the story of his rebellious teen years. He would sneak out of the house, come home late, and get into lots of trouble. At the time, his grandmother was living with the family. Every morning and evening, she would sit in a living room chair near a lamp and read her bible and pray. One time he asked her what she was praying for. “I’m praying for you and your brothers and sisters, your cousins, your mom and dad…” she answered. For some reason, it impressed him that she spent so much time talking to God. Several decades later, his grandmother sat in the front row at church when he was baptized. He was now in his 30s, had been married, had kids, gotten addicted to drugs, divorced…He’d endured lots of pain. God had met him every step of the way. One of the main reasons he finally gave his life to Jesus was because his grandmother was a living, breathing testimony to faith.

My testimony isn’t as colorful, but I have had my fair share of struggles. I had many emotional hurts and fears from my childhood that were unbearable. I was raised in a very strict household and, because I was a sensitive kid, I took the punishments and scoldings very hard. By the time I was in my early 20s, anxiety and fear crippled me. At about that same time, a friend introduced me to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). I had never heard Amy Grant or Sandi Patty or any of the other CCM artists from the mid-80s. Their music opened up a whole new world of worship to me and, one day, on my way home from work, I got saved listening to an Amy Grant song on my car stereo. In a single moment, I realized God’s love for me and that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice for me! (John 3:16) Right there, waiting at a red light at the intersection of 190th and Crenshaw in Torrance, California, I gave my life to Jesus.

As you can see, everyone’s testimony is different. It is unique to that person and their circumstance. God pursued them and patiently waited for them to stop, turn around and see Him for who He is: Deliverer, Comforter, Savior, Healer, Restorer…our God and Father. Amen! (Isaiah 9:6, 1 John 1:5, 2 Peter 3:9, Psalm 116:5, Psalm 68:19-20)

What is your testimony?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 6:23 NIV

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


Friday, June 18, 2021

Call ‘em like you see ‘em.

In baseball circles, there is a phrase that has been around since the early 1900s that states, “I call ‘em as I sees ‘em!” There are various accounts of who coined this phrase – whether it was Baseball Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem, or an umpire in a 1960 Yankees game, or even well before that. Whoever said it first, the meaning indicates: I’m only telling you what I saw in my vision, not changing or imposing his interpretations on it. The umpire is making a decision based on what he saw. This phrase came to mind as I recently re-read the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8.


Gideon was an Israelite prophet, warrior and judge from the Old Testament. Israel had been invaded by Midian from the east. Every time the Israelites planted crops, their enemies would come and invade them and destroy their crops, leaving nothing for them to live on – no livestock or grain. The Israelites were crying out to God. To keep from starving, Gideon hid and threshed wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites.


Suddenly, an angel of the Lord, appears before him and says, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” Gideon was certainly surprised by the angel, but probably even more so by the fact that he called him ‘mighty hero’. Hiding and threshing wheat in a winepress rather than on an open threshing floor certainly did not seem ‘mighty’ nor ‘heroic’. But the angel called it like he saw it. The angel knew that Gideon was going to do mighty and heroic things to rescue his people with the help of the Lord.


Sure, Gideon couldn’t see it and he protested, arguing that he was the least in his family from the weakest clan. He even asked if God would show him not just one sign, but two, to prove that He was actually speaking to him.  


There are things within each of us that are apparent to God and even to others; things that we don’t see or imagine exists within ourselves. God can reveal to people around us the potential in us for great and mighty things. You, yourself, may see things in others that God has revealed to you. This is when you can plant seeds of encouragement within that person and ‘call ‘em like you see ‘em’. People need to hear from God, or from those that God can use, to build up His people to do amazing things for His Kingdom. 


Do you know someone who is patient and interested in little ones? Maybe they are positioned to become a teacher. Do you see glimpses of creativity in someone? Speak that to them. Do you see a budding talent that God could certainly use for His glory? Point that out. The way we build up one another can be a turning point in a life. Your words can be the catalyst that causes a person to see themselves in a different light; to see themselves as God sees them.


In this current age, we need more and more encouragers. We need people, like you, to care enough about others to speak life into them, to fan the flames of the possible, to inspire a desire to do great things that please God. 


Our friend, Gideon, went on save his people, defeating thousands and thousands of Midianites with the help of 300 men and God. He was, indeed, a mighty hero just as the angel had seen and stated.


Take a look around at your family, friends, acquaintances. What do you see in them? What may be obvious to you, may be surprising to them. Make it a point to encourage someone each day and ‘call ‘em as you see em’! 


“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…encouraging one another.” -Hebrews 102:4-25



Sylvia Gaston

Family Ministry Pastor


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Healthiness, Holiness, Happiness

Have you ever used something other than a hammer to do something where a hammer is normally needed? I may or may not have used my hand, a water bottle, a block of wood, and to my shame, a shoe. We tend to grab what’s quick and easy, just to find out it was neither.

In our lives we often hear things like, “just do what makes you happy” or “happiness is the goal”. This cultural belief can often be the quick and easy thing we grab for but, in the end, we are left wanting. We have to find out that shallow happiness, while a quick and easy fix, doesn’t really get the job done.

When we use a tool for its true purpose, we find contentment in the job it does. Happiness was never meant to be the thing that fills, it was meant to be a product of fulfillment.

When we make healthy choices, our body, mind and spirit work as they were designed. When God created the earth and said “it is good”, He said this because it was as it was designed to be. It was healthy, it was Holy and in response, He was happy because it was good.

We can all think of how to be happy for a while. We can watch something, eat something, drink something, but if those things are not helping our purpose, they will be short lived.

Momentary pleasures have become a staple of our world. This is not news to us; we get things quickly because we don’t want to wait. Interesting fact though, waiting for things is the practice of becoming patient. In a fast-paced world, maybe waiting is a path to happiness, because being patient is sometimes the healthy choice.

In this life we will all find times of sadness and depression, fear and anxiety, shame and isolation. Those are sometimes very complicated issues and grabbing for the closest thing is not going to equal lasting happiness. You are not alone; God has a path for you to walk. You have a great calling.

We were created to love. Have you ever given your gifts, talents, abilities or resources for the good of someone else? When you did, maybe you were exhausted and depleted. At the same time, happy. That happiness is something you remember and fills you. That is purpose fulfilled. It’s not always easy but it was the healthy choice; it was holy purpose.

When you are in a hard spot and you need to fix some things, make sure you grab for the correct tools. When you find the right tools, learn to use them as designed. As I have experienced, try not to spend your time hammering out the issues of your life with a shoe.

Choose what makes you healthy; choose what makes you holy. True happiness will be the
by-product, not the goal.

Rene Solis 
Director of Koinonia School of Ministry

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Prune For Growth

There are two trees in my backyard that needed a lot of work, so a couple of days ago I decided to prune them. This type of tree is very green and lively on the outside, where the sun hits, but on the inside, those branches were dead and dry. Not to mention that I’m a very tall man, and I would constantly hit my head on these low hanging branches. Instead of wearing my bike helmet around these trees, I decided enough was enough, it’s time to prune these branches.

As I began to cut off the dead limbs, ensuring that future growth would happen, I began to think of life. God speaks to me in the simplest ways, I’m glad I was wise enough to be listening this time. I think there are several things in life that can call for our attention. Family, friends, church, volunteer activities, sports, music; these are just a few things that can take our time. Keep in mind that these are good things, they are not necessarily bad. I couldn’t help but think that - just as this tree – there are some things that we need to let go of. Even though jobs, activities, or volunteer opportunities are not bad or evil, they are not necessarily good for our growth; for our spiritual, emotional, or physical development. I’m guilty of attempting to juggle too many things, and – at the end of the day – I am mediocre at a lot of things. As much as it pains me, I need to say ‘no’ to something that I might enjoy in order for me to focus on another area that I really want to excel in, or that I really want to learn.


For example, years ago I used to love playing on the worship team at my church. Even though singing and playing with a band brought me a lot of joy, it began to be very tiring. Years went on and I began to speak at youth group. There are only so many hours in the day and I had to choose: do I want to focus on my teaching abilities at youth group or do I want to spend time playing with the worship team? Both were good things, but I decided that it was time for me to hone my teaching abilities rather than to play with the band.


I believe God has a plan and tasks for us to do. He has crafted us to be able to do such works, giving us the skills and abilities that we need. So, I ask you, is there anything that you need to stop doing? Is there an area that you feel you need to let go, in order to grow somewhere else?


Just like those trees in my backyard, they are now able to grow better and healthier. If we do the same, I believe pruning some activities in our lives will only be better for us as individuals, be better for our families, and be better for our spiritual walk with Christ.


Mauricio Paredes
Youth Pastor