Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ready or Not

by Tim Howard

Are you prepared for 2015? Ready or not, it will be here in a few days! Listen to a paraphrase of what the Apostle Paul said as he prepared himself for his future.

I want to know Christ in a very real way. I’m on the right path but haven’t arrived yet – far from it!  There is a goal that I am pressing on to obtain and that goal is to live a lifestyle honoring God. I am focusing on what is ahead and letting go of that which is behind. I encourage all of you to do the same. Philippians 3.

The first thing to consider as you prepare for 2015 is the importance of declaring and verbalizing your desires! If you aim at nothing you will hit it! That’s right: You will hit nothing! Sometimes my wife and I will sit in the car and say: “Where do you want to go? – I don’t know where do you want to go?” “Where do you want to eat? – I don’t know, where do you want to eat”? This goes on until someone breaks the cycle by declaring his or her desire. What do you really want to accomplish in 2015? Speak it out. Write it down. Share it with someone.
Second: Let go of the past. All of us accumulate baggage over the years as we travel on life’s journey. It may come from disappointments and hurts. Maybe we failed miserably and carry memories that bring on depression. Before you know it the pain piles up and we carry a suitcase full of anger, resentment and bitterness. Baggage that needs to be released! Paul recommends that we leave behind those things that will detract us from a bright future. Here are three things you should leave behind as you exit 2014 and enter 2015.   
1. Guilt
There’s always someone around who loves to point out your mistakes, failures inadequacies and sins. They make you feel guilty. When you have received the gift of forgiveness from Jesus through confession of your sins, however, your guilt gives way to God’s goodness and your past gives way to freedom!
2. Grudges
We’ve all been hurt by others but you don’t have to ‘hold a grudge.’ You can let it go. Turn it over to God. They aren’t getting off the hook for what they have done to you – they are simply being turned over to the One who can judge properly. It’s amazing how lighter and brighter you feel when you let a grudge go.
3. Grief
Jesus came to help us with our grief. In this world you will have trouble, the Bible says but Jesus said: “take heart! I have overcome the world.” According to Isaiah the prophet, Jesus came to help us find the gold in the midst of the dirt we find ourselves mired in at times. He can help us praise instead of grieve.
Last of all, to be ready for 2015 you must change your focus. Paul said: I press on – I focus on what is ahead and commit myself to reaching the goal. What is your goal? What do you need to do in order to become a better mom or a better dad in 2015? What do you need to do in order to be a better friend – a better employee? Focus on that and go full steam ahead.
The New Year is full of opportunities and challenges. Ready or not, here it comes!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Unexpected Gift

by Andrew Cromwell

By the time you have experienced 15 or 20 Christmases, you tend to get the hang of things. You know that right after Thanksgiving, all eyes turn towards the Christmas season. The lights go up on the houses, the trees go up inside, the Christmas music invades every available auditory space and the shopping begins. If you are under 12 (or 18 or 65), then you start working on your Christmas list. Christmas is in the air.

Many families have Christmas traditions that lend a special tone to this time of the year. Some make the annual trek to find the perfect tree, others make an evening of trimming the tree or visiting the snow. Some families look forward to attending midnight mass or singing Christmas carols together. These annual events become a treasured part of the season.

There is a certain rhythm to it all, and soon enough we get the hang of it. We know what comes next. And even if Christmas is not our favorite time of the year, it is something that we understand. Something consistent. And something expected.

And that’s a problem.

You see, Christmas is so much a part of our culture and life that we often forget that once upon a time there was no Christmas. And what’s more, the very fact that Christmas happened to begin with was pretty much a shock to everyone. Even our attempts at retelling the story of the angels appearing in the sky at night and the two teenagers trekking to that city in the middle of nowhere looking for a place to have a baby, even these attempts, easily lose that vibrant spark that should always accompany the tale.

That God would send His Son—the Savior of the world, the Messiah and King—to a backwater town in the middle of the night wrapped in rags, bloody and crying, that was a bit of a surprise. That God’s plan for salvation was entrusted to 12 men of questionable character—fishermen (who are known for their tall tales), political zealots (who we all roll our eyes at), and a thief (who Jesus entrusted with the money!)—that was quite a surprise too. And then, just when Jesus was becoming famous, the plan was to have Him executed in the most demeaning way possible—a death reserved for the lowest of criminals.

Not exactly the type of plan we would expect. And that is exactly it. Christmas was unexpected. It was surprising. And it should continue to surprise us today.

That God would love us -- when we didn’t love Him. That God would offer total forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it. That He would give His Son to make a way for us. That should surprise us each and every day.

So, this Christmas, in the midst of all the wonderful tradition, don’t forget the incredible surprise that the Great Mastermind has given to all of us. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wise Men Still Seek Him

by Tim Howard

Several years ago I heard a person say: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”  That idiom is familiar to many, around Christmas time because it refers to the narrative recorded in Matthew chapter 2. The author documents the time when some wise men were seeking Jesus, shortly after His birth.

These wise men had an encounter with King Herod regarding the birth of a new king and the conversation didn’t go well. It caused fear in the king’ heart and through deception he pretended to rejoice, while in reality – he was threatened. His intent was to kill this new king – so he sent these wise men off to find Jesus and instructed them to notify him once the task had been accomplished. 

Matt. 2:9-11 “Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.”

King Herod wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He was intimidated – full of fear and we all know – what we fear – we tend to kill. This is not just history – there are those, currently in our society who have the same heart and desire as this king. The wise men, however, were filled with joy, worshipped Him and brought gifts. Two polar responses!

Wise people follow in the footsteps of the wise men. They choose to worship God! It’s the beginning of wisdom and understanding according to Solomon.

Wise people worship God and reveal their love through actions and gifts. Who loves someone and doesn’t shower him or her with gifts? It’s not possible to love without giving! You may give and not love but you can’t love and not give. Love is synonyms with giving. 

God’s love is revealed in His giving and our love for Him is revealed in our worship. Two verses of Scripture come to mind as I think about Christmas and the coming of Christ.

 John 3:16 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. 

John 3:17 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” MSG

Jesus didn’t come to take something from you. He came to give you a gift! A gift of grace! He wants you to know you have found favor with Him. That is grace! And with grace comes forgiveness and with forgiveness comes acceptance and with acceptance comes restoration and with restoration comes times of refreshing…

I don’t know about you but I love receiving gifts and these are worth the price. Especially since they are free and at no expense to you. 
Jesus paid for them! He was born; He lived, died and rose again. Why? To give you the gift of Eternal life! I understand why wise people seek Him.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Do Christmas Different

by Andrew Cromwell

‘Tis the season! If you haven’t noticed, we are in the throes of the most anticipated time of the year. It also can lead to the most dreaded time of the year. No, I’m not talking about the Christmas season; I’m talking about the spending season.

The spending season is anticipated by all of our friendly retailers who have made it a point to offer us “the best discounts of the year” so that we can buy, buy, buy. It is also anticipated by those of us who love to shop, particularly those who love to spave (that’s short for spend to save). 

Right now all of the stores are full of people busy purchasing gifts for friends and family. And, let’s face it, gifts for ourselves — because who can resist the best sales of the year and who knows better what you need, than you?

So many of us drink the kool-aid and with eyes glazed over (from the shopping, not from the spiked eggnog), we frantically swipe our little pieces of plastic (or press our little thumbs to our spiffy new iphones) as we sip our Starbucks (five-bucks) until we collapse in exhaustion. 

The problem is that all this joyful spending leads to the most dreaded time of the year. The dread comes when that little envelope arrives in the mail in January listing all of our purchases. We are reminded that all good things must come to an end, and that everyone pays the tax man, or in this case, the credit card man (or woman). And as we read through the thickest bill of the year, we wonder if it was all worth it.

This Christmas, I want to challenge you to be different. Trade in that dreaded January ritual for a change. Choose not to get caught up in the shopping frenzy, because very few of us really need more stuff after all.

Here are a few ideas that might help you during this season:

First, don’t look at the ads. I mean it. Just don’t look at them. If they come in the paper, throw them away (or burn them if you’re a pyro like me). If they arrive in the mail, put them in the round bin. If they pop-up on your computer, smash it. Ok, don’t smash it, but have you ever considered getting a pop-up blocker? Don’t watch the commercials on TV. This step is based on the simple truth, out of sight, out of mind. You can help curb your appetite for spending by trimming your advertising intake.

Second, shorten your lists. I’m serious. Cut your gift list in half. So what if you don’t get little Jimmy 10 gifts and instead only get him 5? And really, what is going to happen if you drop Great Uncle Nate from your list altogether? This by itself will cut down on your spending and your stress. And if you feel really badly about it, just write them a note that says, “I’m spending less this Christmas so my gift this year is to simply say you matter to me and I love you. Merry Christmas!” 

Third, set a budget for your spending. I know this is unheard of, because most of us consider the budget to be the credit limit on our card. We just keep spending until the card stops working. But here’s a novel idea. Choose how much money you can actually afford to spend on Christmas gifts and ONLY spend that much. 

This Christmas, do things differently! Instead of shopping, spend time with your family playing board games or driving up to the snow for the day. You just might discover that this season really is special. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude

by Tim Howard

Thanksgiving Day celebration may be over but giving thanks should never end. Every day is an opportunity to express thanks and grow an attitude of gratitude. 

If you are going to give thanks every day, you will need to focus on what is good. Paul the apostle says it this way:  “… friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Phil. 4:8.  When you do this, you are able to give thanks.

You see what you look for! If you look for the good, you will find it. If you look for the bad you will find that. There are a lot of good things happening all around us but with all the negativity in the press and the preoccupation with the dark side of life, it’s difficult to stay focused on the things Paul mentions.

The challenge is great but remembering to give thanks is imperative. When you stop giving thanks you open the door for a downward spiral to occur. This happened to some people and it’s recorded in Romans chapter one. They knew there was a God but they didn’t respect Him, they didn’t give Him any of their time and they stopped giving thanks – thinking they didn’t need Him. The result was devastating. You can read about it in Romans 1:24-32. Their unwillingness to give thanks to God opened the door for a critical spirit and judgment.  When people forget the blessings they have received, the temptation to complain and criticize increases.

I remember reading an article by Jay Leno. He wrote:  “Are the American people complaining because they have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter?  Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year?  Or perhaps you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who own a home.  You may be upset with knowing that in the unfortunate case of a fire, a group of trained firefighters will appear in moments and use top notch equipment to extinguish the flames thus saving you, your family and your belongings.”  Maybe we have forgotten how blessed we are!

Giving thanks and offering praise is a discipline - a deliberate focusing of our thoughts on that which is good. King David made this commitment: Every day I’m going to find something to praise God for. I will never stop looking for good because God is good. It is always the season to give praise. I too have made that commitment. I don’t thank God for everything that happens because everything isn’t good but in the midst of everything I do commit myself to giving thanks. Why? Because God uses everything to grow us up. He even uses the bad things to accomplish His purposes.

You and I would be wise to end our day with thanks to God and begin our day with praise. Remember this as you walk through the Christmas season at a frantic pace. It will help you stay on track and develop an Attitude of Gratitude. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Give Thanks

by Andrew Cromwell

During this season it is traditional to give thanks. A popular activity on Facebook this month is to post “what I am thankful for” each day. The holiday serves as a wonderful reminder to us that we need to live with an outward focus rather than an inward focus.

In order to give thanks, we must first recognize that there is someone apart from us that has given us something. This recognition is actually bigger than it may sound at first because far too often we live our lives as if we are the only one in the universe. I suppose in a sick, twisted kind of way, just the reverse is also true for some people — they see themselves at the center of the universe and so they are unsurprised (and not particularly grateful) when things come their way. 

Perhaps more importantly, in order to be truly thankful we must recognize that we have a need — that we are missing something. It is not that you can’t be grateful for something you don’t need (like that special Christmas sweater from grandma), but there is a whole other level of thankfulness when we receive a gift that truly meets a need (like the gift of help when we just won’t be able to finish that project all on our own).

Scripture says that every good gift comes down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). In other words, God is the origin and cause of every good thing in the universe. Without him, we could not have good things to begin with. He was the One who gave the first gift and made it possible to give every other gift. So when we give thanks this season, we should remember who is the true source of every good gift.

When we give thanks to our Father in heaven, our thanksgiving is deeper and more meaningful. Psalms 136 says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever.” As we move away from Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season, let’s decide not to leave the spirit of thanks behind. Instead, live with a spirit of thanksgiving each and every day, recognizing the One and true source of all good things in our life.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back to the Future

by Tim Howard

Back in 1996 a television program aired called – ‘Early Edition.’ The main character would somehow receive a Newspaper – delivered to his house that would give him tomorrow’s news.

What would you do if you had an inside track on tomorrow’s news?

If you were a gambler you might be tempted to bet on a few football games and make a killing or possibly you would use the information to help someone in trouble. Whether it is for selfish gain or selfless benevolence, that knowledge would be used!

Everyone has a desire to know some things about the future.

Will my newborn be a girl or a boy? I want to plan ahead. Back in my day, you didn’t have that ability. You had to wait till delivery day. Would you want to know the specific day you will die, whom you will marry or whether or not a business opportunity will succeed? The list of things could be endless.

Everyone has a reaction to the future. In Luke 2, Mary became afraid when she was told about her future. In John 21, Peter didn’t’ like what Jesus revealed and wanted to change it. Gideon had a lot of questions and doubts and I’m sure the future causes you to experience a variety of responses and reactions.

Many in our culture seem obsessed with the future. They peer into crystal balls, read tea leaves, research horoscopes or go to someone who claims to be gifted with the ability to see the future.

Solomon, however, says: “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?" Ecclesiastes 8:7, The only correct answer is God! If you want to know about the future, you have to go back to God’s Word.

Here are 3 things God says you should not do in regards to your future:

1.  "Don’t presume about tomorrow!
James 4:13-14 “Now listen, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen.”

2.  "Don’t panic about tomorrow!
" Jesus says: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" (Matt 6:34). Even though things are beyond your control, they are not out of His control.

3 "Don’t procrastinate until tomorrow."
Solomon said: "If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done." You haven’t been guaranteed tomorrow – only today. I read this poem last week: "Procrastination is my sin. It only brings me sorrow. I know I ought to change my life. And I will – tomorrow”.

Here are 3 things God says you should do in regards to your future:

1.  Stay close to God. He’s the only one who knows the future and the only one who can lead you to victory.

2. Get ready for the future by obeying God. He will use your obedience as His pen to write your future – Your future hasn’t been written yet.

3. Trust God and step out in faith. Prov. 3:5-7  “Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’S voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.

Run to GOD! Run from evil! This will give you a bright future…

Do I need to be afraid of what’s ahead? Not if I know God and go back to His Word and discover His future for me!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Failing Forward

by Andrew Cromwell

Proverbs says, “The godly may trip 7 times, but they will get up again.” When it comes to failure, the difference between the godly and the wicked are that the godly keep getting back up and pressing on.
Have you ever failed? Failed to keep a promise? Failed to follow through? Maybe you had a business venture fail. Or you had a marriage fail. We have all experienced failure at some level. Some failures threaten to be life shattering and we wonder if we will ever be able to recover.

When we fail, our tendency is generally either to look for someone to blame or to run and hide. We like to play the blame game because it makes us feel better about ourselves. If we can blame someone or something else, then we don’t have to take an honest look at the role we played in the failure. If we run and hide, it is because we don’t want to be hurt again and so we stop taking chances.

Both responses are just wrong. When we choose to blame or run, we simply steal our opportunity to grow through the failure. The attitude we want is the one Thomas Edison had, when at the age of 67 nearly his entire workshop was destroyed in a fire. He said, "There is value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew."

The next time you face failure, let me suggest three strategies that will help you fall forward rather than stumble backward.

First, ask yourself, “What do I know?” You need to know that failure is not final. You need to know that God wants to work in your failure, if you will only invite Him into it. He is not surprised by our failure even when we are. And He always offers us grace and help in the midst of our brokenness. You need to know that Jesus is in your corner -- are you in His?

Second, ask yourself, “How can I grow?” There is always an opportunity for growth in every difficult experience. C.S. Lewis said, “Failures are sign posts on the road to achievement.” No great man or woman accomplished anything without also experiencing great failure. The key is to learn and grow through it. What must change in our character, our behavior, our beliefs and our motives?

Third, ask yourself, “What do I show?” There are people that whine and cry and throw a fit when the going gets tough. And then there are those who have decided that they are going to see their difficulty as an opportunity to demonstrate grace, humility and strength. I am not talking about putting on a false face and acting as if everything is ok. Rather, I am talking about choosing to lean on God’s power in such a way that He shines through, even when we are broken, battered, and bruised. What shows in you when you fail?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Time Out

by Tim Howard

The passengers could hear the airline pilot over the intercom system as he interrupted the flight to say he had some good news and some bad news. He then went on to say: “The good news is that we are making very good time. The airstreams are on our side, the skies are clear and we are ahead of schedule. The bad news is – we have lost track of our destination.”

I want this item yesterday! Hurry we are late! Go faster, I will miss my appointment! It seems we are always in a rush – How can we speed things up? What lane on the freeway do I choose so I can get to my destination faster?  What line in the grocery store seems to be moving at the quickest pace? I’m always looking for the fastest way because I am the King of hurry! 

Is speed the only factor in our decision making process, however? What would happen is we took a few ‘time outs’ along the way. If it’s possible to accomplish more by doing less – maybe it’s possible to make better time by taking a few time outs!

Time outs happen when you STOP! They are not only designed for children as a means of discipline but prove to be effective in the lives of any adult who finds himself or herself running in circles and are extremely busy yet making little headway toward a designated goal.

I’ve read that the average number of times people check their cell phone is nine times in an hour. I believe that number would increase if we were talking about his or her watch. One of the most frequent questions asked in our culture is: What time is it? I suggest, however, a better question is this: How are we using our time? 

You can always get more money but you can’t get more time. We have all been allotted a certain amount of hours, days, years and you don’t have the privilege of ‘re-do’s.’ You only live life once. How are you using your time?

Moses prayed this prayer:  Psa. 90:12 “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” God answered this prayer by giving him a 7 day ‘Time Management’ plan that’s recorded in Exodus 20:8-10. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.”

He says two specific things:  

1. Remember – don’t forget to make room for Time – Outs in your life. Don’t go longer than 6 days without it.  

2. Make sure that day is different than the others. Set it apart for fulfilling God’s desires. If this happens you will be using your time wisely.

The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means “to cease, to desist, to stop, to pause. The Sabbath is a weekly ‘Time Out.’
The religious leaders of that day made three mistakes, which caused them to miss the significance of Jesus’ words when He said: “Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man.” They tried to reduce this time of rest to a specific day. They made many rules and regulations to govern that day and they turned this day into a requirement rather than a privilege.

God wants you to take a Sabbath – a Time Out because it’s good for you. It’s the rhythm of life. It’s a privilege afforded to all of us.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Six Promises for You

by Andrew Cromwell

Going through a tough time? Life is full of challenges and life is more about how we respond to them, than what we are faced with.

In difficult times, one of the few places we can turn to find comfort is in the pages of Scripture.  Many times we fail to recognize the great gifts the Bible holds within its pages.  In it, Father God has given us a roadmap for life, a primer on relationships, and a handbook on dealing with downturns and disasters. 

So before you give up, blow up or run away, let me encourage you with six promises from the King who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, knows no lack and wrote the end of the book.   

Promise #1 — to never leave... 
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'   Hebrews 13:5 NIV 

Promise #2 — to care for you... 
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"  Matthew 6:28-30 NLT 

Promise #3 — to provide for you... 
"Don't worry and ask yourselves, 'Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?' Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well."  Matthew 6:31-33 CEV 

Promise #4 — to give you rest... 
"Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest."  Matthew 11:28 NCV 

Promise #5 — to free you from fear... 
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall in to the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging."  Psalm 46:1-3 NIV 

Promise #6 — to build your faith... 
"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."  James 1:2-4 NLT 

These are a just a few of the many promises that God has for His children.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Power of Words

by Tim Howard

Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death and those who love it will eat its fruit. NIV

Shut Up! You're no good! You're lazy! You're stupid! YEAH I’M TALKING TO YOU! You will never make it! What is wrong with you? You’re too old! No one wants you! You're ugly! Get away from me! I am sorry you were ever born! I should have never married you! You're crazy! You’re a loser!

Before you stop reading this article and think I’m a jerk – Please know, there are a lot of people whose relationship with God and relationship with others is highly affected for the worst because they have listened to and believed the wrong words.

Your life right now is the composite of words spoken to you or by you. The words you have listened to and believed – and the words you have spoken to others with conviction have set the direction of your life.

The nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me” may sound cute but it’s simply not true. Words affect the mind, the emotions the attitude and alter a person’s behavior.

Psalms 33:6 "By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made and all the host of them by the breadth of His mouth."

He spoke light, darkness, the moon, the sun, the trees and all we see into being by a spoken word. God demonstrates the power of words through His creation and the same power is revealed through the words you choose to declare to others.

The way you speak and the words you use, creates an atmosphere that brings life or death to those who hear. If you change the words you listen to – change the words you speak to others – you can change the world you live in.

Words carry an unseen power that brings about seen results! You can literally see a person’s behavior and countenance brighten up when you speak edifying and complimentary words to them. The opposite can be seen when negative and derogatory words are spoken.

Your words set the course of your life towards destiny or destruction.
Listen to James 3:5-10 “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it. It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. MSG

The Israelites grumbled, complained, murmured, blamed and accused others for their problems, which led to their destruction. Their words caused them to be stuck in the wilderness for 40 years. They couldn’t hear the words coming from their own mouths.  It was their negative words, fueled by a hardened heart that restricted them from experiencing life to its fullness.
David had good reason to give this command: Psa. 34:13 “…Guard your tongue.”

Saturday, October 4, 2014

You're Still Learning Too

You’re Still Learning Too

If you have kids, you know they are wonderful. When they’re still small, there’s nothing quite like their smiles and giggles, their hugs and their handmade little drawings. And as they grow older it is such a joy to watch their unique personality and humor develop and see them grow into adulthood. 

If you have kids, you know they are wonderful. You know they are also incredibly frustrating. They challenge you. They test you. They push your buttons. They can be ungrateful. And on top of that, they eat all your food and spend all your money!

Parenting is a joy, but it is also one of the greatest challenges that we experience in life. Far too often, we get stuck in a parenting style that many learned from their parents—the old ‘stand there and listen to me lecture’ (and maybe even yell a little) ‘and tell you about the realities of life.’ And if the child doesn’t seem like they are paying attention, we just lecture a little longer so as to drive our point home. 

Apart from the fact that this style of parenting is mostly ineffective (remember how well it worked with you?), it does little more than to put us in a position of superiority where we end up portraying to our children that we learned this very lesson long ago and “why can’t they hurry up and learn it too?” 

The other day I was, yet again, frustrated with one of my kids because they gave up too soon (like they tried once and quit when they ran into a little difficulty) on a task I had assigned to them. Now, there is no doubt that one of the things that all of our children need to learn is how to solve problems. Resourcefulness and problem solving is an incredibly important skill in life. 

But I had a moment of revelation as I was telling them how they needed to problem solve before they quit next time. And as I droned on and on, I realized (perhaps God speaks to me too) that I was still dealing with that exact same tendency to give up too soon in my own life. Sure, I was a little further along then my kid, but, wasn’t it just last week that I gave up when that challenge took me longer than I thought it should? Didn’t I get frustrated and walk away? And here I am lecturing as if I’ve got this one down pat.

This changed my whole perspective. Maybe the very things I was teaching my kids, were the same things I was still learning? Maybe the way I needed to talk with them was not like a general commanding, but rather a friend encouraging? Of course, I will still hold them accountable and all that, but I am seeking to change the tone I use from resident expert, to friendly guide.

Romans 12:10 says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” I believe this applies to our kids as much as it does to anyone else. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Knock-Knock - Who’s There?

by Tim Howard

Have you ever heard a knock at the front door of your home and wondered who it was? Is it someone selling magazines; is it someone wanting to steam clean you carpets for a really great deal or maybe a young child trying to sell candy bars for a school project? To solve the mystery you only need to go to the door, open it up and then you will see who is there.

In the Bible, John the apostle wrote the book of Revelation and in Chapter 3, verse 20, he uses figurative language to tell us what God says.  “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

I can understand why a person would not want to answer the door when someone comes knocking late at night or early in the morning.  More often than not, those who are doing the knocking aren’t there for your benefit but seeking to solicit something from you.  They want to take and not give.  But what if the person who is knocking has your best interest in mind?  Maybe he or she is knocking to say the windows in your car are down and it’s raining.  Possibly it’s a neighbor who wants to tell you he gave away his dog that constantly barks.  What if it was those from Reader’s Digest to notify you that you are the grand prizewinner of the sweepstakes?  Wouldn’t you run to the door and open it?

God doesn’t come to take anything from you because He already has everything. Col. 1:16 tells us this truth, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”  He doesn’t need what you have!  He knocks on your door because you need what He has!  He knocks because He wants to develop a relationship and share His wealth with you. When you open the door to Jesus, you begin a two-way relationship.  It’s not a monologue but a dialogue.  He eats with you and you get to eat with Him.

In 1973, a song called Knockin' on Heaven's Door, was written and performed by Bob Dylan for the soundtrack of the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.  It was about a sheriff who had been fatally shot and as darkness set in he began to knock on heaven’s door. The good news from the Bible is that you don’t need to have a near death experience in order to have a relationship with God. He’s reaching out to you right now. You do, however, have to open the door and invite Him in.

Not too long ago I heard a knock at my front door. It was after 8 pm but I opened the door regardless of the time and found my neighbor on my steps. They had a delicious Apple Pie for us in case we wanted something sweet to eat before we retired for the night. Great Neighbors!  I would have missed a delicious dessert if I hadn’t opened the door?  

Don’t miss what God has in store for you. Open the door to Jesus and invite Him in.  You won’t be disappointed!

Pastor Tim Howard is the Lead Pastor at Koinonia Church. Any comments can be sent to:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Shake It Up

Shake It Up

Recently an unexpected 6.0 earthquake shook Napa, CA and shocked residents of the idyllic winemaking valley. The damage from the quake resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to historic buildings, several fires, and about 200 injuries. Within hours the governor declared a state of emergency and mobilized the necessary resources to assist the county.

But there was a silver-lining to the chaos caused by the earthquake. Within a few days, news stories began to emerge marveling at the sudden increase in water in the rivers and streams surrounding Napa. Geologists soon confirmed that the four to ten time increase in flows in streams and rivers were the result of the earthquake shaking loose groundwater supplies. For a drought stricken area, this presented an unexpected gift in the middle of an otherwise challenging and difficult time.

No one in Napa would have asked for that earthquake. Earthquakes are destructive and undesired. But sometimes earthquakes bring unexpected goods along with them. They expose weakness and demand that we rebuild more wisely. They force us to work together and to care for our fellow man. And, yes, sometimes they even open the ground and release springs of water.

These things are true, not only of physical earthquakes that affect the ground, but also the earthquakes that affect our relationships, health and finances. You may never have experienced a violent, building destroying earthquake, but almost certainly you have walked through a death or sickness in your family, the loss of a job or even a fissured marriage or friendship.

These quakes are no less destructive than the ones that shake the ground and they can result in severe and long-term damage. But they can also reveal inside of us, wells of strength and untapped resources that we did not know existed. 

I have experienced a number of violent quakes in my life. Some of them were so severe that I wasn’t sure I would make it out. But I have discovered that when I look up to heaven and ask for help instead of looking down and cursing the situation, I discover God’s grace and help in ways I didn’t even know existed. 

Jesus said, “whoever believes in me will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.” I have found this to be true, especially when circumstances are at their shakiest around me. When we reach out to our Heavenly Father in earthquake moments, we discover that He has hidden resources reserved for the moments in life when we need them most.

The pastors in Kings County would love the opportunity to encourage you to tap into the river of God this weekend. Why don’t you grab your family and get into church this Sunday? You will discover new resources in the midst of the earthquakes of life.

Andrew Cromwell is the executive pastor at Koinonia Church in Hanford. E-mail him at or call 582-1528.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


by Tim Howard

As a child, my parents had us kids bow our heads before every meal and say grace. I didn’t know what that meant until my parents told me it was a blessing or a statement of thanksgiving for the meal we were about to receive. That was difficult for me since I was a very picky eater and didn’t usually like what I was being asked to devour. I would rather have prayed for a miracle and ask God to change the spinach into French fries and the broccoli into ice cream! 

Since that time I’ve discovered the word ‘grace’ to mean so much more than a prayer you offer before a meal. It has helped me to lead people in a more compassionate way. It causes me to release people from my ‘hard line’ ways and encourages them to experience a dimension of freedom from my opinions. Grace helps me love people more completely because it doesn’t make performance the basis of relationship. It is an activity that is cloaked around generosity, kindness and goodwill. When grace is present a person will find favor, acceptance and respect. 

Paul the Apostle used these words to describe our relationship with Christ. Eph. 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Grace makes relationship possible! Without it, none of us could connect with God or others for a long-term kinship.

Some people believe in Karma. The literal meaning of the word means action, work or deed. It basically refers to the principle of causality where intent and actions of an individual – influence and dictate the future of that individual. Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and future suffering. In other words, ‘What goes around comes around.’ 

I do believe your actions carry repercussions and ramifications. Isaiah Is. 3:10-11 indicate that to be true. “Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with them for what their hands have dealt out shall be done to them.” Paul the Apostle said: “whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

There is much to be said for this principle but God’s Word tells us that your good or bad actions do not dictate and decide your ultimate fate. God’s Grace does! According to the Bible… No one’s future is bright if it is determined by his or her own personal thoughts, actions and attitudes. We have all sinned, disobeyed, strayed, resisted, rebelled and lived in autonomy. No amount of good works can earn you a medal – deserving of a pardon. 

Believe me, you don’t want to get what you deserve. You and I need GRACE from God and people need for us to extend grace to them.

Maybe you should set some time aside to visit one of the many church families this weekend. It’s a place where grace is extended to all those who come.

 Pastor Tim Howard is the Lead Pastor at Koinonia Church. Any comments can be sent to:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Stop Going Around

by Andrew Cromwell

Most of us have a built-in dislike for anything that makes us uncomfortable and is difficult. And that is normal. There are times when this self-protection mechanism is beneficial to us. Running straight into a buzzing hornet’s nest is just not very smart and will most certainly result in great pain and suffering.

But when it comes to relationships, this natural inclination toward self-protection often results in behavior that actually causes more pain in the long run. You know how it goes, your spouse, friend, boss, or co-worker has a pattern of doing or saying something that is hurtful to you. Your choice is to either ignore it or talk about it with them. The “talking about it” option sounds difficult to most of us. We immediately envision that conversation going very badly and we generally choose to avoid it at all costs.

We choose to work around the issue rather than confronting it. Often, we go to ridiculous lengths to avoid having that talk. Sometimes we avoid the person for as long as possible, coming up with any and every excuse in the book to keep from being with them. When avoidance is not an option, we will often end up acting like nothing is wrong at all.

For many relationships, this strategy is the equivalent of watching the dog go to the bathroom in the middle of the floor and then, instead of cleaning it up, we just throw a rug over it and try to avoid stepping on that spot again. Everyone knows what happened, but no one will actually clean up the mess.

And generally, if the dog has done his business once, he is going to do it again. And again. And unless we change our strategy, we end up with land mines all over the living room as we delicately seek to step in just the right places so as to avoid exposing the mess.

Eventually, the smell becomes so bad that it would seem the only option would be to actually clean up the messes. What is so sad is that more often than not, what people do is one of two things: either they just continue to act like nothing is wrong (no matter how ridiculous this might seem) or they just move into another room.

Everyone knows that a dog mess does not clean itself up. So if you are not going to throw a rug over it, you have to get out the cleaning supplies, put on some gloves and just get to it. Usually, the smell gets a little worse and sometimes you even get a little bit of it on your hands, but soon all evidence of the mess is gone.

In relationships, the only real way to clean up messes is that you have to choose to go toward them rather than go around them. You have to roll up your sleeves and get into it. Of course, you need the right supplies and strategy if you are going to have a good result—if you use cleaners that are too harsh you’ll do more damage than good.

The best, most intimate relationships are those that have worked through tough stuff and come out on the other side. The most superficial relationships are those that avoid the tough stuff altogether. You might have been married to or known someone for fifty years, but if you’ve never dealt with the dog doodoo then you haven’t really gotten very far.

What messes have you been avoiding in your relationships? Where have you fallen into the habit of going around things rather than simply talking about them? Maybe the next time you run into a relationship mess, you should move towards it rather than running away from it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Winning the Lottery

by Tim Howard

A man named Joe became a Christian and was told that God would provide for him financially if he prayed. In response to that understanding the young man began to persevere in daily prayer and asked God to help him win the Lottery, which was over 10 million dollars. This went on for a month but nothing happened. Finally in frustration he told God how upset he was and he heard God speak in an audible voice.  He said: “Joe, you have to meet me half way – please buy a lottery ticket!”

Sometimes we expect God to do a supernatural act when we aren’t willing to do our part and do what is naturally possible. I’m not an advocate of purchasing lottery tickets but if you should win 10 million dollars, what would you do?

We might have different answers to that question but I think all of us would use it for some similar things. First, I think all of us would pay off our past debt. The very first thing I would do is to wipe my slate clean, get free from my indebtedness that was incurred from my past and start over with a fresh start.

The second thing I think all of us would do is to buy something new and secure a future that is financially bright. Possibly a new home, a new car or visit a plastic surgeon and get a new you. Money in the bank does not guarantee a bright tomorrow in all areas but it can help ease some of the uncertainty in the practical dimension.

Looking at these things from a spiritual perspective I believe we would want the same things. All of us have a past that we would like to change – in part. If only we could go back and change some of the decisions we made, some of the experiences we had or some of the relationships we developed.

The Bible says our past is littered with sin. Sexual sin abounds. Many have chosen to live as they choose and resist following God’s path for sexual relationship. Addictions of all sorts have been troublesome because we try to medicate ourselves in a way that doesn’t produce positive results. Our past is filled with the sin of bitterness and resentment releasing a spirit of revenge. If you are reading this and exclude yourself from some of these sins or others – maybe you are dealing with the sin of Pride.

The Bible records a tremendous verse that addresses our past and our future. 2Cor. 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Notice the word ‘anyone.’ Paul is saying that no matter who you are, what sin has littered your past – sexual, addictions, bitterness, pride etc… You can be forgiven by Christ and have a new beginning for a renewed future.

In Christ your history doesn't determine your identity nor set your boundaries for the future. Anyone who walks with Christ will win the Spiritual lottery. You don’t need ‘luck’ to win. You simply need to put your faith in Christ.  He will then wipe out your past sins – even though there may be some present day consequences and gives you something new – a bright future. The old has past and the new has come! I don’t know about you but that’s good news.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Owner or Hireling

by Andrew Cromwell

In John chapter 10, Jesus tells a story about sheep and shepherds. In it He describes two different kinds if shepherds. One is a hireling. The hireling doesn’t really care about the sheep. He is there for the paycheck. He has no intentions of staying on the job long term. If a wild animal attacks the sheep, the hireling runs the other way to protect himself.

But there is another kind of shepherd. This second shepherd is an owner shepherd. He is there not just for the money but for the long term. He loves and cares about the sheep. If there is something that threatens the sheep he is willing to actually put his life on the line to protect them.

When it comes to our lives, we all have to make a choice whether we are going to play the role of the hired hand or of the owner. We can see the bigger picture and live focused on the betterment of others, or we can live selfishly and seek purely after personal ambition. We can seek to leave a legacy that will endure into the future but that will cost us, or we can simply be in it for ourselves.

There are many roles we play in life; you might be an employee, a husband or a wife, a father or a mother. All of us have played the role of a son or a daughter, a friend and a community member. And most of us have had times when in those roles we failed to see the bigger picture. We were in the relationship for personal gain or personal pleasure. As soon as the going got tough, we got going.

And then there have been times when we have played the more difficult role. We have made the choice to be invested deeply in the relationship. We have cared enough to see beyond our personal wants and desires and have chosen to stick in and stick it out. We have committed to work through problems and not just work around them (or walk away from them). We had skin in the game, we were owners.

Owners leave a legacy. They build for the future. They impact future generations. They are world changers because they have decided to leave their world better than how they found it.

Legacy builders don’t happen by accident. No one drifts into leaving a legacy because a legacy takes time, determination, and commitment. But building a legacy is worth it every time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inside Out

by Tim Howard

OK, I admit it, I like playing with my grandson’s Transformers. Who wouldn’t? Alien robots who can disguise themselves by transforming into everyday machinery – a truck that changes into an airplane or a car that becomes a mighty battleship with the ability to launch missiles is exciting.  I like things that change! Full disclosure:  I also liked the movie ‘Transformers’ and it’s sequels… Now you have the full confession!

Change is one of those things in life you can count on. It happens – whether you want it to or not! One day you are young and see yourself in a certain way – then years later, the mirror of life reveals some changes in your looks, your status, your motivations for living and the goals which you pursue. Sometimes these changes seem to be for good and other times not so good.
Unfortunately many of us struggle with change when the force of it encroaches upon our comfort zone. Our desire for comfort and convenience can often lead to a resistance to change and catapult us into a life of maintenance rather than adventure. Change is important because it’s the first step to transformation.

Change initially modifies behavior but the goal of transformation is to alter your value and desires. The Bible isn’t primarily focused on ‘change’ but upon ‘transformation.’ There’s a big difference.

When you are transformed you ‘become’ someone who is different. You can change the channel on the television; change the way you dress or change your direction but stopping there doesn’t address the real issues – only the external ones. God is ultimately interested in a change that leads to transformation – a change that happens from the Inside – Out.
Allow me to give you a personal illustration of what I mean. Recently I was on vacation and allowed myself to eat anything I wanted. That resulted in a few added pounds to carry around. Seven days prior to the end of my time away I was looking at myself in the mirror and decided to make a change in my diet. I wanted to lower my calorie and fat intake! That decision led to other behavioral changes.
For breakfast I had to stop myself from eating that egg, bacon and cheese sandwich, which had 460 calories and 20 fat. For lunch I had to say no to that tempting Southern Smokehouse Bacon Big Mouth Burger that offered 1610 calories and 107 fats.  (The very name of that burger ought to say something to you.) So I did! I had oatmeal for breakfast and a tuna sandwich for lunch. I made a change for 7 days but I wasn’t transformed.

How do I know? Because one of the signs that you haven’t been transformed is – you want to go back. Transformation happens when you no longer want that burger. In fact, you now desire something that doesn’t make you lethargic. Something that doesn’t makes you sleepy. Something that isn’t unhealthy.
Transformation is experienced when your values have shifted and your desires have shifted to such a point that you want to go ahead and not back. It happens when you want to change the inside as well as the outside.
Jesus made a scathing statement to the religious leaders who only focused on external change. Matt. 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

Jesus calls for a change that leads to transformation – Inside and Out!