Friday, February 19, 2021

God Can Use Whatever And Whomever He Wants

As a young Christian, I remember learning that God has things for each of us to accomplish for His kingdom and for His glory. What if we accidentally miss it? Or worse, what if we know what He wants us to do and we simply refuse to do it? God will find someone else to do the things that accomplish His good purposes. 

 

The free will that God gives us is the gift of a loving Father who desires that His children love and follow after Him willingly, not by force or coercion. God knew that man would use free will to listen to Satan. God, therefore, gave us the additional gift of Jesus Christ to restore ourselves by way of His sacrifice. It is our choice because we have free will but free will is a slippery fish. We can do whatever we want, however we cannot control the consequences of those choices. We can follow God, not do what He asks us to do, and not get the joy of being part of His beautiful, perfect plan. However, it bears repeating: God will find someone else to do the things that accomplish His good purposes.  

 

In the Bible, Queen Esther is afraid to appear before her husband, the king, to try to save her people who are about to be slaughtered. Her uncle Mordecai tells her, “. . . Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14 NIV) Mordecai knows enough about God to confidently tell his niece that God will save His people – even if she refuses to be the person who helps make that happen.

 God has a plan for everything! Because He is all-knowing, all powerful, and everywhere, He can work out His plan for humanity in any number of ways. Knowing the past, present and future gives Him the distinct advantage of allowing us, His children, to be a part of His wonderfully perfect plan OR He can, and will, use another means or another person, if we don’t step up. That other means can come from anywhere and anyone. It can be a miraculous occurrence within nature (parting of the Red Sea) or an evil person who does not know or follow Him. He can use whatever and whomever He wants.

When God’s people were slaughtered by Kings Nebuchadnezzar’s armies, their temples burned and destroyed, and their treasures taken, a remnant of them were taken captive to Babylon. However, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing . . .” (Ezra 1:1 NIV) God turns the heart of a pagan king to release His people from captivity and to restore His house of worship.

God is unshakably sovereign. He can and will use whatever He wants to accomplish His will for His people and for His glory. Proverbs puts it this way, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; he directs it wherever he wants.” (Proverbs 21:1 CEB)

 THAT’S the mighty God we serve! I don’t want to miss a thing He has for me to do.

Sylvia Gaston

Pastor of Connection and Development

Friday, February 12, 2021

Maybe That's About Me

Just yesterday, I was at church and the son of one of my friends waved at me. He’s only 8 or 9 years old, and I’ve been saying hello to him with little more than polite ‘hellos’ in return. But today, by some tiny miracle, as I walked up, his hand was fully extended in the air and waving at me. This was so unexpected, and not in line with literally any other encounter we’ve ever had, that I looked behind me to see who he was really waving at. When realizing there was nobody behind me, I laughed with embarrassment and gave him a big high five!

Usually this scenario is reversed. We see someone waving at us, and then sheepishly realize it was actually intended for the person behind us. I’m not sure which is worse. But I have realized that many moments of studying scripture, listening to teachings, or experiencing correction from trusted friends, I tend to assume those more challenging words are not for me, it’s probably for someone else.

In the gospel of Matthew in chapter 21, Jesus shares two parables. We read in Matthew 21:45-46 “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew He was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” When they finally recognized that the hard teaching was being directed towards them, they wanted to respond with aggression.

This is often the pattern. First, there’s denial that I might be wrong. I do not often experience the sense of needing transformation quickly. When I read scripture, I’m always David, never the other soldiers who were afraid of Goliath. I am always the good Samaritan, never those who walked around the hurting man. I am always one of the disciples and never the ones who shouted “crucify Him.” But when I humble myself, and sometimes, listen again, I can recognize parts of myself that are being identified as less than holy.

There are times when I am too afraid of the giants in my life to honor the Lord publicly, too busy to tend to those in need, and too swept up by the shouts of everyone else around me to recognize what God is actually doing in that moment. When I am most honest with myself, I realize that the teachings warning the Pharisees are often the lessons this church girl needs to hear the most. When I allow the Holy Spirit to work out that passage, I have to say to myself that maybe that’s about me.

The second portion of the pattern tends to be aggression. This is not always true when it’s the Holy Spirit revealing my shortcomings in the quiet of my prayer time. But, it is for sure the preferred response when I am corrected by other people! When God uses leaders, pastors and friends to personally give me a word of correction, I want to first deny and then defend. I always think, ‘I don’t struggle there’ or ‘when did I ever do that?’

I am witnessing this happening a lot lately. Many people are refusing to accept any sort of question about their behavior, their posted words, or their spoken words. There is an idea of freedom and general correctness about our opinions that, for some reason, is giving us liberties to do or say what we please and how we please, and never accept responsibility or correction for those words or actions. I am burdened by this, church family. I believe a season of humility is needed. When we can honestly look at ourselves and ask, ‘can I grow here?’; ‘is that correction for me?’

I want to let the Lord work in my heart. I know that the assumption of correctness or the presence of pride might get in the way of His guidance. Lord, help us hear the words of our brothers and sisters, the teachings in your Holy Scriptures, and see ourselves accurately. Help us to know when You are truly waving us down to change, and not assume that’s for the person behind us. Help us to never assume position, or length of time being a Christian, will keep us out of the hot seat of growth. Help us to humbly say, ‘maybe that word is about me.’ Amen!

Candace Cortez 

Executive Pastor

Friday, February 5, 2021

New Year, No Idols

Here's a pretty graphic set of verses from the Bible: "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’. Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, ‘Away with you!’” - Isaiah 30:21-22 (NIV)

We could probably have done without the reference to feminine products in this translation, but I think you get the idea. Here's my paraphrase of these verses: "You will follow God's leading and see your idols (or addictions) for what they are: piles of dried clay and dirt covered in silver and gold. They are nothing! You'll throw them away as though they are the most disgusting, unclean thing possible, which they are, and say, "Go on! Get out of here! I never want to see you again!"

Why am I writing about this subject? Because how many of us have promised ourselves that we're going to have a fresh start this year? I'm not one for making a new year's resolution. But the turning of the new year does make me think about the things that I didn't get done last year and, of course, that makes me sad and frustrated. This year, I have resolved to turn away from some things in my life that have been holding me back. And I'll go ahead and call them idols in my life. In particular, and this is hard for me to admit, I have used food as an idol. It qualifies as an idol because I would turn to it instead of to God when I needed comfort, peace, love, happiness, etc.

In the verse at the beginning of this article, there is a clear description of getting rid of idols and seeing them as unclean and disgusting. In other words, once you realize their true nature, full of deception and a counterfeit of God, it's clear what needs to be done: you need to destroy the idols in your life and make sure they can never be worshipped again! You must leave Sodom and Gomorrah and not look back!

How do you turn away from the idols in your life? First of all, ask God for forgiveness. Go to Him in prayer and supplication (that means, in humility and submission) and hand over your idols. Lay them at his feet and ask Him to take them away, out of your sight! Then, take time to read the Word of God and let yourself be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). Finally, when you are tempted to return to your idols, do what Jesus did: combat temptation with Scripture. When Satan tempted him in the desert to turn stones into bread when He was hungry, He immediately came back with, “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3b

One more note about temptation: when Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan, He didn’t argue with him, He didn’t have a conversation…He used his strongest weapon: the Word of God. Read through Matthew chapter 4, verses 1 through 11 and meditate on it. You will learn much about the strength you can receive when you combat temptation (the devil) with God’s Word.

That's why I titled this article, "New Year, No Idols". That's my resolution for 2021 and God will honor my decision and my actions (and yours) with progress and a deep sense of contentment because we’re on the right track. Praise God!

For as I have often told you before, and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies before the cross of Christ. Their destiny is their destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies, so that they will be like His glorious body. - Philippians 3:18-21 (NIV)

Paula Aiton
member of Koinonia Church worship team in Hanford, CA and a freelance writer, musician and artist. Her blog, ‘God’s Glory Girl’, can be found at godsglorygirl.com.

You Already Know

We’ve all been there. A rock. A hard place. And there in between...you. Faced with a decision that seemingly has no good outcome. You’re standing at a crossroads, afraid to move forward because neither path looks safe or pleasant. So instead you create a third, equally painful option: you stand still, laboring and stressing over the decision, fixating on what you stand to lose, and subjecting yourself to endless anxiety with a stream of what-ifs and worst-case scenarios. In your bid to avoid a temporary hardship, you take on an indefinite one.

Maybe it’s a career choice. Could be a relationship. Even something as simple as committing to plans or other obligations can be the source of your turmoil. Whatever it is that you can’t seem to decide on, I would just remind you of the Rush song, “Freewill”. Geddy Lee sings “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” And I get it. I really do. I’ve been indecisive my whole life. I can remember 10-year-old Bryan reading “Goosebumps” choose-your-own adventure books. With so many fingers stuck in the pages to hold my place, you’d think I was trying to knead it instead of read it. See, I just wanted to make sure, if a choice didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I could retrace my steps and do it over. But, I’m sad to say, we don’t have that luxury in real life. We can’t go back; we can only go forward...or we can stay stuck where we are.

Allow me to alleviate the existential dread with two very significant truths for those who have God in their lives. The first is that where no clear choice exists, rather than considering both options equally wrong, we can consider them equally right. Because God promises us that, “In their hearts people plan their paths, but the Lord directs their steps.” -Proverbs 16:9. You see, when you decide to walk with the Lord, He doesn’t just put you on a moving sidewalk that takes you exactly where you need to go. He walks beside you. There’s no guarantee the road will always be easy. He may even let you take a detour. But He won’t let it go to waste, and He will always guide you back when you’re seeking His will. Just read about the apostle Paul, who thought he was serving God until Jesus literally stopped him in his tracks to tell him how his choices were hurting the Lord, and set him on an entirely different course.

And the second truth is, that in cases where there actually is a right or wrong choice, you likely already know which is which. You’re just avoiding it because you don’t like the answer. We all remember the story of Jonah and the whale. God asked Jonah to do something, Jonah didn’t like it so he avoided it and took a different path. How did that work out for him? Yes, the path God wanted Jonah to take was a hard one. But the path Jonah decided to take was hard, too. The difference is, on one difficult path he was walking away from God and further into hardship, and on the other he would have been walking with God through the hardship. Walking with God always brings peace and hope even in the hardest stuff.

We need to realize that God still speaks to us, because those who have put their faith in Jesus have the Spirit of the Lord alive in them. Read your Bible so you’ll know His voice. And when the Spirit speaks...listen. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the poem, “The Gate of the Year”, by Minnie Louise Haskins:


And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night...

Bryan Vickers
Worship Pastor

Friday, January 15, 2021

How Do I Process This?

Feeling confused, frustrated, mad, anxious, sad, afraid? Regardless of how much or how little
you know about what is happening around us, you are certainly aware of what is happening in
your own life. It’s crazy town! Navigating all of the emotions you may be experiencing can make
you feel tossed back and forth like a boat without a motor – or even oars.
I have found myself so saddened at the division that is happening in our nation. That sadness
has turned into anger at those who I perceive to have created the horrible circumstances in our
country.

How am I supposed to process and behave during uncertain times? What do I do about all of
the unsure, unknown, and unwanted things around me?

To start, I need to not to let my emotions call all the shots.

It’s important to know that we are made up of 3 parts. They are all very different; all very
important:
1. Our body
2. Our soul (mind, will, emotions)
3. Our spirit

Our body will process physical danger: fight or flight. If we’re not being physically attacked, we
can move on to the role of our soul. The soul is where we take information into our mind and
begin processing. Sometimes this process is intellectual; but often, it is emotional. Lastly, we
access our will to determine what we will do next.

But wait, what about our spirit? If we are Christ followers, we have God’s Holy Spirit living
alongside ours. We have direct access to the smartest, calmest, bravest, most compassionate
person ever! God is all knowing, all powerful, and everywhere. Perhaps we should begin there –
within our spirit.

When life seems out of control, we can respond better by asking God’s Holy Spirit to replace
our emotions with faith. Reliance on the higher power and authority of God is where we need
to be. It is actually where God wants us – completely and utterly dependent on Him.
He also promises us wisdom. In James 1:5-8, we are promised, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he
should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault”.

In recent days, as I navigate and process, I have asked God for wisdom. He has reminded me to
be still, breathe deeply and remember what I know to be true. He has reminded me how much
He loves the people on this earth, even the ones who are behaving badly. He reminded me that
I am not their judge. He reminded me that I need to realize the real enemy here is Satan. The

king of lies and hater of mankind is at work stirring up havoc, confusion, division and hatred
amongst us all.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. It hurts to even write these words because I see and feel so little
peace right now. I can do nothing better than to model the example of my Savior and invite His
peace into my body, soul and spirit. Then, I can spread that peace, by my thoughts, words and
actions, to others who are as undeserving as I am.

So, how do I process this current turmoil? With a great deal of prayer, perspective and peace –
never forgetting who I am and to Whom I am utterly dependent.

I encourage you to join a community of Christ followers to pray and process together and to
encourage and comfort one another. If you need help finding such a community, email me.

Sylvia Gaston
Connection and Development Pastor

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Shape Of Your Gut


Whenever I take a moment and evaluate my style of leadership, or try to determine how I make decisions, I quickly realize that I am a gut-led leader. Some people make decisions with their head. They are rational and more thorough in thought. Some people make decisions with their heart, following the leaning of their compassion or emotion. Some of us are more gut oriented, meaning we allow our gut instincts to help direct that decision rather than our head or heart.

When I first learned this, I was freaked out, because these decisions are not housed in rationale or compassion, but in instincts. It made me wonder, what’s the quality of my gut?

Walking around a flowing river, I always notice the smooth shapes of the rocks. River rocks are unique because of their proximity to the river. The river has determined their shape. This is my hope for my gut. My hope for my gut is that it would be shaped by proximity to my Jesus. This shaping of where our choices are made can be had of your heart and mind as well, and we should be shaping all three.

Here are a few ways to stay in the river of God’s influence and presence. This way, we are easily identified as believers, we are filtering our world view from a heavenly perspective, and we are consistently developing the qualities that help bring other hearts, minds and guts into the Kingdom.
 

  • Consistent time. I thought about just writing the singular word ‘time’, but we all know that we can start something in January and be done with that new idea by February. Time is needed, yes, but consistent time is actually more likely to smooth away the parts of us that are most opposed to God’s guidance. Do you spend consistent time with Jesus? Five minutes, every day? If you start, with a consistent 5 minutes every day, in the river, you will begin to feel a shift of focus.
  • Guard your plate! As a kid, my sisters and I used to try to steal each other's fries when they were not looking, so we would guard our plates! I feel this same way when it comes to what information I allow to sit in my spirit. I am watchful of what I consume in media and how much I dwell in areas that are contrary to how God would have me think about myself or others. This simple act of consecration is not always an easy one. A lot of things that are incredibly popular, and even fun or entertaining, are not actually beneficial for having the right-shaped gut, heart or mind.
  • Solid biblical foundations. This idea is actually connected to consistent time. We build a solid biblical foundation by reading, studying and memorizing scripture on a regular basis. This helps us know the character and nature of God. We get the best image of Jesus, whom we are trying to look and sound like. We begin to know His promises, and the way the Holy Spirit operates within us today.

When we’re in a place of needing to make a big decision, is our ability to make that choice marked by our relationship with Jesus? Or do we take our cues, parenting styles, understanding of justice, dating relationships, and how to do our jobs, from the people and media around us?

Let the shape of our guts, our hearts and our minds be easily identified as ones that are shaped by time with God!

Candace Cortez
Executive Pastor

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Real Me

Every morning, I have a tradition of opening up the book of Psalms and reading a chapter. I love this book because it’s a book of prayers and songs to God. It’s filled with emotion and raw descriptions of the challenges people face. This morning, I opened the book to Psalms 32 and as I read it, I began to get a little emotional.

The writer, David, begins to describe how blessed it is for a man to confess his sins before God. In one part, David describes his turmoil of keeping his sin a secret. He writes, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” As I read that, I remembered all the times I’ve kept secrets and all the times I put on different faces and tried to keep up certain pseudos to co-workers, family members and friends.

I thought of all the times I was filled with anxiety because of the lies I was juggling, about the times I couldn’t look my friend in the face because I wasn’t living how I knew I should, and all the times I felt insecure because no one knew the real me. Just like David I know the agony of not being an open book. I know how it feels to pretend, be a liar, and to hate myself.

It’s heavy to keep up pseudos and I was emotional this morning because I was thankful- thankful that I don’t live like that anymore. Just like David, I realized that to be fully awake and to be fully loved, I must open up and show people the real me, warts and all.

Jesus thought this was important, too. In Luke chapter 18, Jesus tells a story about two men. One is a tax collector and the other is a religious leader. Jesus says both of these men approached the temple to pray. The religious leader went first and said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” Even if that wasn’t a lie, how arrogant.

Here is this “holy man”, filled with religious pride, thanking God for something that was not true. This man was blinded by the appearances he was trying to keep up. And this isn’t just speculation. Jesus often rebuked the religious leaders in His day and for doing the very thing this guy prayed he didn’t do.

This religious leader was not open before God. He was not truthful about who he was and the sins he committed. Isn’t that what happens to us? We keep up appearances so much that we actually don’t know how to have a healthy relationship? We can’t even have a conversation without lying or exaggerating the truth. We don’t know how to put our walls down, even before God?

Next up was the tax collector. These guys were known for swindling and lying to people to get what they wanted. They were known for ripping people off and getting away with it. But this man’s prayer was much different than the religious man. Jesus goes on to say this about the tax collector, “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Jesus finishes His teaching by saying, “which man do you think was accepted by God?”

He was teaching people about being open before God. Jesus continues to teach that God does not look at the outside of man, but at the heart of man. If a man would humble himself before God and confess, God would accept him.

Isn’t this true with people, too? Aren’t people more inclined to accept someone who is open and truthful rather than someone who is fake? Without this quality, it’s impossible to experience true love.

Doesn’t true love see the good, the bad and the ugly and still say, ‘I accept you’? I’m glad I have relationships like this. That I’m not hiding who I am, but I’m loved, quirks and all. I’m fully me and I’m glad I’m fully known.

I often ask myself why I used to live life like this. Why did I pretend that I had money when I didn’t? Why didn’t I tell the truth when I was hurting? Why did I lie about my shirt size? Or about how much I weighed? So many things I’ve lied about or hidden from people that was unnecessary.

I realized that this tactic wasn’t protecting me the way I thought it would. I was fooled by my insecurities that if I opened up and shared with people how I truly felt, what I truly thought, or how I truly lived, no one would love me. But all it did was bury my sense of worth.

In the book of James, it says, confess to your brothers so that you may be healed. Today, stop hiding behind the fear of what people think. Stop hiding behind the idea that God doesn't want anything to do with you. Let people see who you really are.

Chad Fagundes
Outreach and Men’s Pastor