Saturday, December 31, 2016

This Year Tune In

by Andrew Cromwell

The new year is the time to make resolutions, set goals and revisit life plans. It's the time to shed those extra pounds, get your finances back in shape and generally get your house in order. But in the midst of the normal fitness, financial and family goals we all set as the calendar flips to 2017, let me suggest a spiritual goal that has the potential to kick your new year up to a whole new level.

This year, purpose to listen and respond to the still small Voice of Father God. It is amazing how often God speaks to us and we don't recognize it. God wants to take your life and elevate it to a whole new level filled with joy and divine purpose. The key is listening and obeying.

We have all had the experience of someone who we normally don't see everyday coming to our mind out of the blue and then within a matter of days we run into them or hear news about them. Often we chalk this up to a coincidence, but more often than not, God was speaking to us. Most often, He wants to use us to communicate His love and care to the person, other times He wants us to pray or even share a message from heaven with them.

These "impressions" generally come to us when we are thinking about something else entirely. One of the clues that God might be talking to us is that our mind is actually going in another direction and His Voice communicates something that is not in line with those thoughts. When we pause and say to ourselves, "that's weird", we should then ask the question, "Am I inspired to do something loving, caring or considerate?" If the answer is "yes", then you should very quickly pick up the phone, write a card, get on your knees in prayer or jump in the car to go visit.

The great thing about this is that you can't go wrong. You see, loving on people is always a "God-thing". Even if you make a mistake and that particular impression was not actually God's Voice, but the bad pizza from the night before, what's the worst that can happen? You have simply fulfilled God's commandment to love your neighbor. Not too bad.

And when you get it right, when it actually is a "God-thing," then look out! You will be amazed at the impact that a simple word of love and kindness can have when it is delivered on God's timing. Never underestimate how powerful of a tool you can be for heaven if you will only be willing to follow God's Spirit.

So this year, purpose to listen and obey. It will change everything.  

Now, if you're not sure God speaks to you, my advice is this. First, make sure you have invited Him to! Tell God you want to follow Him and you want to hear Him speak to you. Ask Him to fill you with His Spirit so that His still small Voice can interrupt your agenda whenever He wants. Second, trust that He will speak! God promises you and I that when we are His children we will hear His voice (John 10:4). Finally, have fun seeing what God will do through you!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

by Tim Howard

Don’t get mad at me but I plan to open my presents tonight – on Christmas Eve – Not because I couldn’t wait until tomorrow but because that has been my family tradition since childhood. As a parent, I didn’t find it too difficult to convince my children to do the same…

The Bible says it’s better to give than receive but many children seem to like receiving gifts a smidgen more than giving. I’m sure that’s true for some adults as well!

Regardless… Gifts are a part of the celebration we call Christmas and it’s possibly rooted in the fact that the Bible records some wise men bringing gifts to Jesus after His birth – to worship Him!

In our family, we do purchase gifts for each other – and will sacrifice time, energy and finances even though we don’t spend an extravagant amount of money. No one in the family, however, runs to the mall – picks up the first thing they see and buys it without some considerations.

We all ask a few questions before making a purchase. Will my brother like this? Does my sister want this? Is this something my mother will appreciate and use? Does my dad need this – is it something he would buy for himself? Why these questions? Because we want to give gifts that have meaning! We want the person to know we were thinking of them and chose this specific gift with them in mind.

God has purchased a gift and it has your name on it. It’s not generic but is specifically and especially designed for you. The sticker on the present has a ‘TO’ and ‘FROM.” Your name is listed where it says ‘to’ and where the ‘from’ is found – the name of Jesus is there.

God knows exactly what you need because according to Psalms 139 – He thinks about you all the time. He knows you inside and out. He knows everything about you and cares for you deeply. His gift is very expensive but He didn’t count the cost because of His great love for you. You can’t pay for it or work for it because His gift is free.

As you open your presents tonight or tomorrow – I can say with certainty, the gifts you will receive cannot compare to the gift God has given you through His Son – Jesus. It is the gift you need the most!  You need it more than a new house – more than physical healing or emotional healing – more than a job or a raise.  These gifts are temporal but God’s gift is eternal.

"The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23b

 Eternal life - that's what God wants to give you.

His gift is a quality of life that affects your present condition and causes your destiny to be bright. He gives you – this day – entrance into His family if you believe, receive and put your trust in Him.

“To us a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.”

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 17, 2016


by Andrew Cromwell

During the Christmas season there is always a flurry of activity—Christmas parties, gift giving, carols, and awkward family time. As much as the holiday has become a secular tradition, it has survived the many attempts to cleanse it of its spiritual origins, “Christ” remains squarely in Christmas. He is the reason we give gifts during this season.

And He is the reason we hear the phrase “peace on earth” in songs, written on Christmas cards, and spoken in prayers. “Peace on earth” is not some clever marketing phrase invented by mad men in a smoky, New York corner office in the fifties. Neither is it an empty powerless colloquialism uttered when we don’t know what else to say.

“Peace on Earth” is a declaration. It is an announcement. It is a blessing. It was spoken by the angels who appeared to those lonely shepherds on that Nazareth hillside to announce the birth of Jesus. And it was spoken by Jesus to the wind and the waves.

It is in fact the will of our Father in heaven. He desires that peace would not only visit but inhabit the earth. Isaiah 2:4 envisions a day in the future when God’s perfect will is fully expressed. In that day, “the LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.”

Can you imagine? No more refugees fleeing from their war-torn homeland. No more bombs and guns pointed to intimidate and destroy. No more threats, curses and violence. Peace will reign.

And so when we pray for “peace on earth”, we are in agreement with the will of the Father. And we anticipate a future day when our prayers will become a reality.

But God not only wants peace in our world, He also wants peace in our homes. He wants peace between you and your spouse and you and your children. He wants to see the weapons worn smooth by frequent use to be laid down and for a ceasefire to be declared. He desires brothers and sisters to once again live in harmony and unity.

Is your home a place of peace or is it torn by war? Is it destroyed by words aimed at wounding deeply and scarring permanently or is it a place where people can find refuge, comfort, and healing?

If you find that the level of peace in your home is less than what you desire this season, then I want to encourage you. You have influence where you live.  You can influence the people as well as the very environment that surrounds you.

The first key to finding peace is to put your mind in the right place. Isaiah 26 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you.” Perhaps this is the day when you need to make peace with our good Father.

The second key is to invite His peace into your home. Have you asked God for His peace to come and live in your house? Now is a good time to do so.

And third, fight for peace. Instead of fighting with others or allowing others to fight in your home, choose to create a space for peace to live. Don’t let other people determine the environment that is created -- you create it!

May His peace dwell richly with you this season.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Make Room

by Tim Howard

The Christmas narrative begins like this – according to Doctor Luke – who wrote two books in the Bible.

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire… Everyone returned to his or her own ancestral towns to register for this census and because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”

Think of it! Pregnant and in the 9th month! It’s cold – the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was long and difficult. Joseph and Mary didn’t choose to travel 69 miles – they were required to because the authorities demanded it. Why else would they make this trip – at this time – on a donkey?

When my wife was in her 9th month of pregnancy she didn’t want to drive across town in a nice car, let alone – make a 69-mile trip on foot, with a donkey.

Not only were they tired – they were exhausted when they arrived. I’m sure Mary expressed emphatically to Joseph that she couldn’t go on! We must find a place to stay because this baby won’t wait any longer!

All she wanted was a room – a small place for a night or possibly two – a place to give birth – was that too much to ask?

Back in 1946 – Before my birth I might add - Don Gardner wrote a humorous Christmas song titled: “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”. It’s about a little girl who wanted to whistle a tune and wish people a Merry Christmas but had great difficulty because she didn’t have her two front teeth.

She wasn’t asking for a lot in comparison to kids in our culture today because if you ask a child what they want for Christmas (with or without teeth) you will definitely get a lengthy list of desires. There is no shortage of ‘wants.’

All God wants is a little room – a little bit of time set aside to honor His Son’s birth. Is that too much to ask?

In this Christmas season – If a person desires only temporal gifts and has no interest in eternal gifts – I suggest he or she make requests to Santa Claus and make room for him. But if a person wants something that will last forever and never wear out – something that will change them for the good and something with substance – then make room for Jesus.

Jesus is the greatest gift anyone can receive. I’ve also discovered – to those who make room for Him – He will throw in some of the temporal stuff, as well – just to bless our lives.

Jesus came to bring light and life to all mankind. He came to the helpless and downtrodden – the needy and forgotten – those disenchanted and those looking for truth. He came for you and for me.

Don’t relegate Jesus to the outside but let Him come inside. Invite Him to not only visit you but to stay with you. You won’t be sorry! Make Room for Him this season and every season.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Today’s Choices, Tomorrow’s Future

by Andrew Cromwell

H.P. Liddon once said, “What we do on some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are: and what we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline.”

I have often marveled at how people suddenly come into the public eye. Perhaps it is an actor that bursts onto the scene and suddenly is the hottest commodity in town. Maybe it’s an author that suddenly everyone is reading. Or a comedian that everyone just can’t get enough of. These people seem to rocket straight to the top from nowhere.

But nine times out of ten, they didn’t come from nowhere. What appears from the outside to be an overnight success, was no overnight success at all. It was the result of a lot of hard work, effort, and discipline. I have no doubt, that they probably also benefited from a favorable word from a well-placed individual or an “accidental” connection made that resulted in an open door. But even these happened mostly because the person was ready!

I don’t believe in overnight successes. It’s not that they are completely impossible, but they’re more like winning the lottery than anything else. The problem with winning the lottery is that rarely are people prepared to deal with the money they win. As a result, the lottery becomes more of a curse than a blessing. According to the New York Daily News, 70 percent of lottery winners lose all of their money or go bankrupt within seven years of winning. Most people are just not prepared to be overnight millionaires.

What’s true of money, is true of success in other ways as well. When success comes too quickly, then it is usually lost just as fast. The Bible says in Proverbs that money quickly gained is quickly lost, but hard-earned money continues to grow (Proverbs 13:11).

We have all seen people rocket to the top and then plunge right back out of view just as quickly. There have to be ten “one hit wonders” to every one true success. Fame and fortune are as fleeting as the morning dew, particularly when they are based on a lotto ticket, one performance, or temporary beauty. Honestly, we all should pray that God not make us successful or rich until and if we are ready! It just might destroy us.

But true, lasting success is possible. Lasting success happens when people have put in the time and done the work. Like Colonel Sanders going door to door, when the moment came for him to finally burst onto the scene, he was ready. He had honed both his recipe and his communication skills over many years, and many closed doors.

Are you preparing for success or are you hoping to win the lottery of life? Many of us keep throwing our money away, hoping that this week’s hail mary will fix things in our life. Whether it’s our work life or our home life, our relationships, or our finances, far too often we would rather buy a scratcher and hope for the best then do the hard work of preparing for success. But if we want great marriages, solid jobs, and the respect of our family and friends, it is going to take more than a wish and a prayer. It’s gonna take some hard work.

The great news is, Father God is always willing to work with those who want to work with Him! And that is one formula for success that will always work.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Give Thanks

by Tim Howard

This week many families and friends gathered for a Thanksgiving Day celebration. Our country has set aside one day on the calendar each year to remind us of the importance of giving thanks.  One day to press the pause button and say: THANK YOU GOD for all you have done.

Among many statements found it the Bible about thanks and praise, David said in Psalms. 92:1 “It is good to give thanks to the LORD.”

 It’s good because it opens the door for a heart of gratitude to grow within each of us. Giving thanks is something you say and do but gratefulness is a condition of the heart. An Attitude of Gratitude flourishes when life is lived with thankfulness.

Not only this but it also replaces the ugly sounds of criticism, sarcasm and complaining with the reverberation of joy, hope and appreciation. Granted, there’s much to complain about but when you realize over half the world earns less than $2.00 a day; no more than 5% of the world population owns a home and the majority don’t have a car to drive, maybe we have more to be thankful for than we realize.

 People who complain and criticize on a regular basis are not fun to be around. Thankful people, however, bring a fresh perspective because they focus on what they have and don’t worry about the things they have yet to obtain. They bring joy because they choose to fill their mouths with positive things rather than the negative.

Jesus asked a very important question worth answering when He was on His way to Jerusalem. The narrative is found in Luke chapter 17. Jesus spoke a word of healing to ten people stricken with leprosy and here’s what happened: “And as they went on their way, the leprosy disappeared. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God, I’m healed!” He fell face down on the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done… Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where is the other nine?

Good question? Why don’t more people give thanks? Maybe the nine didn’t return because they chalked it up to being lucky or a coincidence? Failing to realize God’s involvement stifles thanksgiving.

Then again, maybe they were so caught up in the present moment and their new-found health they simply forget the goodness of God.

It’s easy to lose a spirit of thanksgiving at any time – but be warned - the consequences are not very positive. Romans 1:21 declares: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, so they became futile in their views of life, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Thanksgiving will blow the clouds of darkness away and keeps the lights on. Only then - will a person see life through positive lenses.

As I celebrated Thanksgiving a couple of days ago – my family and friends took time to express thanks to God. I personally don’t thank God for everything because some things are evil but I have committed myself to giving thanks in the midst of everything.

This is something I endeavor to do 365 days a year – including Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you do as well.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Charismatic People

by Tim Howard

Two verses in the New Testament  always amaze me whenever I read them. The verses are found in the book of Luke chapter 15 verses 1 and 2. It says: “A lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently to his teachings. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!”

The amazing fact is that Jesus attracted so many different types of people to Himself.

They came from every walk of life and enjoyed hanging out with Him. They didn’t necessarily agree with Him on the issues, believe in His teaching or follow His instructions but for some strange reason they liked HIM!

What was it about Jesus that attracted so many people? Was it His persona? His personality? His style? Some have suggested He was ruggedly handsome but Isaiah the prophet tells us there was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance – nothing that would necessarily make Him stand out and attract us to Him.

If I was to give an answer to this question – it would revolve around the word ‘Charisma’ but not as our culture defines the word.

In the Bible, charisma is more than a person’s outward persona. It is not only about his or her charm, presence, appeal or external attractiveness.

Maybe an acronym for the CHARISMA will help clarify the true meaning.

Jesus has compassion, care and concern. People were drawn to Jesus because He really cared about them. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That cliché may be old but it’s true! Charismatic people, in our cultural way of thinking – might be charming but all to often they only care about themselves.
A lot of charismatic people give us tons of hype, but the message of Christ was based on truth and brought people a genuine hope for tomorrow.

Jesus came not to judge but to rescue people. They saw the difference between Him and the religious leaders – who were characterized by an extreme judgmental bias. Maybe that’s one reason many of those outside the faith today choose to run from religion.

Jesus didn’t speak with religious rhetoric or verbiage but acted in real power to dealt with real problems.

He understood and dealt with the root problems of mankind and focused on the heart. He changed people from the inside out.

He speaks in terms people can understand.

Humility is His trademark and that is attractive and appealing.

There is no dichotomy between what He said and what He did.

No, Jesus didn’t influence people because He was charming, knew how to work the crowd, made promises that sounded good or displayed uncanny ability to con people. He influenced people because He was full of grace and truth. This is Godly Charisma. 

That’s what I want – I want to be like Jesus.  I hope you do as well.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Facing Your Goliaths

by Andrew Cromwell

One of the most famous stories in the Bible is David and Goliath. Everyone loves the story about the little shepherd boy who bested the nine-and-a-half-foot giant with nothing more than a smooth stone, a sling, and great faith in God. This lopsided victory has become the way we describe any uneven matchup between two people, companies or sports teams.

But there is so much more to the story and more than you can apply to your life.

One of the reasons the story resonates with us so much is we can easily put ourselves in David’s shoes. We probably have never stood before a literal giant threatening to run us through with his spear, but we all have faced obstacles or people that seem impossible to overcome. There is a vision in our hearts of the good things that God has in our future, and there are always giants standing between us and that God-given picture.

David, was the youngest in his family and was given jobs no one else wanted. He was sent to watch the sheep and run errands for his dad, Jesse. Have you ever felt like you have been forgotten and that the job that you have been given is insignificant? David knew the feeling too. And yet, David decided that he was going to do his job well, even if it did involve watching those stinky sheep. He did his job with all of his heart and trusted that God knew what He was doing. He didn’t moan and complain. He didn’t gripe. He did his job and kept his eyes open for what God was doing.

David wasn’t a formally trained soldier. When he told his brothers that he was going to face Goliath, they laughed because he had never even been in a battle. He didn’t know how to use a spear or a sword. But David didn’t let that stop him because he knew that even though he hadn’t been trained in the way everyone expected, he had in fact been trained. You see, when David was watching the sheep, he had to protect them from attacking mountain lions and hungry bears who saw them as an easy meal. He had faced enemies that were ferocious in the past and this preparation had made him ready to face the giant.

Have you ever felt unqualified? Maybe you don’t have the formal degree or the experience that others are looking for. Perhaps you don’t have the big title on your desk or the letters after your name. Some might have even looked at you and laughed. But don’t let that stop you. Because God is not limited by “formal training.” You may not be as unqualified as you feel. You have faced your own lions and bears and they have been training for your current challenge.

Finally, David used unconventional weapons. When everyone else had swords and spears, he used a sling and a stone. One well placed stone smashed right between Goliath’s eyes and the giant crumpled to the ground. No one expected it because it wasn’t the approved method. But the sling and stone worked for David because they were the weapons David knew. They were the weapons that he had been trained with.

How often do we devalue the very tools that we have in our hands because they aren’t the ones that have been “approved” by others? The truth is God has given you tools to do battle with the giants in your life. Don’t assume you need to use someone else’s strategies or methods. He has taken you through your unique experience and prepared you to face your Goliath.

At the end of the day, David had confidence he could face the giant because he knew God. He had spent time with God in the wilderness while he tended the sheep. He had trusted God when he faced the lion and the bear. He had been faithful in his work, believing that God was in charge of the bigger picture. And so when he confronted Goliath, he simply did what he had always done: trust that God was big enough to bring him through every obstacle in his path. 

Maybe you are more like David then you realize. If we all borrowed from David’s example, we would do well.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Trick or Treat

by Tim Howard

We’re coming upon two very important days of the year. Halloween–when we scare people for fun, and Election Day–when we scare people for real. Let’s not talk about the elections! Let’s focus on Halloween.

Retailers love Halloween. Maybe it’s because their cash registers are receiving an average of $75 to $80 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. I’ve read that Halloween will bring in approximately $8 billion this year.

Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday and many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. The roots of this holiday are connected to the remembrance of those who were martyred for their faith in Christ and the confrontation with indigenous pagan rituals found in Europe years and years ago.

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major focus was on the dark side of life. Their imagery of death–symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black–remains prominent in today's Halloween celebrations and is a personification of an evil presence.

Many of the costumes chosen to wear on Oct. 31–Unknowingly are connected to a long history. You will see children dressed as villains, gangsters, hoodlums, zombies and many other outfits that represent the dark and evil side of life. On the other hand, many kids will dress as Superman, Spiderman and a plethora of other characters to represent those who stand for good! You may even see some Princes and Princesses!

I was brought up in a family that viewed life through Christian lenses and understood that every holiday is significant in some way. Many who hold to this same view of life refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery and still others are concerned for the safety of their children.

My parents didn’t forbid us to join in on the celebration but they did use Halloween to teach us about the battle between good and evil because they understood the origins. They told us that evil is real and is made up of witches, demons and the Devil. They also said there is a very real world in which good triumphs over evil–made up of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and those who follow Him.

They went on to say: “We are a family that stands for good and as we enjoy Halloween we will be dressing in such a way that good is exalted over evil.”

Years later I realized they had made a decision like Joshua in the Old Testament, when he said: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

The Apostles Paul said: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In other words–You don’t need to fear evil or run from darkness–you overcome it by doing good.

Jesus has conquered death, hell and the grave! Therefore, while talking about ghosts and goblins, witches and warlocks is anything but fantasy–there is no need to fear or retreat–because Jesus is the victor.

Jesus said to his followers–you are a light in the world that shines in the midst of darkness and can actually diffuse that darkness if you shine. Simply put: The darker the night–the brighter the light! 

I will enjoy Halloween with my grandson and will probably eat too much of ‘his’ candy–but not without encouraging him to be a light in darkness and giving him some history on this holiday.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What’s Your Question?

by Tim Howard

When it comes to God – I have more questions than I do answers! Maybe you can identify with that as well.

According to some studies revolving around Jesus – we are told that He asked people over 300 questions, which are recorded in the New Testament. By contrast we are told that people only asked Him approximately 180 questions – also noted in the Bible.

Two published studies state that Jesus directly answered fewer than 10 of the 180 asked – which is interesting!

Could it be that many answers defy logic and wouldn’t be received if an answer were given? Possibly the difficulty is in trying to convey spiritual truth with human terminology, which depends to a greater degree upon revelation than education! Someone said: “God’s truth is better ‘caught’ than ‘taught!”

Or – Maybe there are many truth’s that need to be embraced by faith! Without faith you can’t please God and without faith you will not be able to find resolution to the myriad of questions you may ask.

The ‘why’ questions seem to be the most difficult to answer! Recently while dealing with a tragedy that happened to a personal friend – The question of WHY was voiced. Why did this happen? Why now? Why me? Why didn’t God stop this from taking place? Those are tough questions and I often find myself at a loss – looking for a good answer.

In my relationship with Jesus I too have asked – Why do You love me? Why are You so patient with me when I am so rebellious? Why do You remain faithful when I have been faithless? Why do You allow me the privilege of working with You to help people when I need so much help myself? You talk about being fair… that’s unfair… Jesus gives so much and I give so little!

The ‘what’ questions are difficult as well but at least there seems to be more resources to draw from and answers to be discovered. What do I do now since this has happened? What is the next step I must take? What books can I read to help me find direction? What people should I contact? What Church can I visit or attend? With some thought – some investigation – some time spent in study and seeking Jesus – God will reveal the path you should take – He will tell you what can be done.

The Word of God is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path according to Psalms. If you have a ‘what’ question – don’t forget to consult the Bible.

The ‘how’ questions are the practical ones! How do we approach this? How often should we do that? How in the world will this happen?

When God told Abraham that his wife would give birth to a son – He responded by asking – How shall this take place since I am 100 years old and Sarah, my wife is 90 years of age? Well it did happen and that’s history…

Bottom line:  WE ALL HAVE QUESTIONS! Why, What, Who, When, Where, How…  Some can be answered if we do our due diligence.

Others – if they are to be answered will need to be caught rather than taught and many answers will require faith. Some people put their faith in God and those who do – don’t need all the answers to their questions. 

Why? Because God knows all things – He cares for us – He wants us to succeed – He’s on our side and He will reveal whatever we need to know – when we need to know it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fight or Flight

by Tim Howard

Is fear good or bad? My answer to that question would be both!

There are definitely times and things that should trigger a healthy fear, which in turn should cause a person to flee the scene.  If bullets are flying around – it’s wisdom to run for cover and if you ever encounter a vicious bear on the loose – A retreat may be the best option.

The Fight-or-Flight response that resides within all of us needs to be trained because fear might be based upon a ‘perceived threat’ rather than a ‘real threat.’ When this happens we may run when we should stand our ground or vice-versa, we may stand firm and remain steadfast when we should hightail it for a safe place.

Discernment is the key!

Knowing what to do in any given situation is not always as easy as it sounds!

I recently had our staff take an ‘Active Shooter’ class presented by our wonderful Sheriff’s Department in Kings County, which gave us wisdom and insight on knowing when to run and when to fight. One key point we gleaned was: ‘To have this discernment, one must be governed by something higher than fear.’

When the army of Israel was running and hiding from Goliath because of fear – David, the first King of Israel stood firm against insurmountable odds because of his faith in God.

Faith in God is the antidote to fear. Jesus drew the connection between fear and faith when He said: “ Why are you afraid – oh you of little faith.” In other words: If you are governed by great fear, you will have little faith but if you are governed by great faith you will have little fear.

Fear has to be broken – It must not be allowed to rule because it is shortsighted. Like our emotions – fears are valid but they don’t provide a good foundation for good decisions

David said: “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” Ps 34:4 David refused to allow his fears to trump his faith. If a person follows his example – he or she will not act upon what they want to do when fear comes but what God wants them to do.

Fear Not – is a phrase used upwards to 150 times in the Bible and it admonishes all of us to break the power of fear. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus came to break fear’s hold on us so we could rise up in faith.

I wonder if any of you, who are reading this article are living a life founded upon fear – running from things when you should be standing firm. Are there any ‘Pink Elephants’ in your life that you aren’t focusing on because you fear what might happen if you actually expose it for what it really is? Is it fear that causes you to procrastinate, ignore or even deny the reality of some aspect in your life? If so:

Don’t allow fear to be your guide throughout life – Fear will too often cause you to run when you should stand and if you are running you’re probably looking for a place to hide.

I encourage you to make the decision I made years ago. 

I will rise up in faith today and in all my days and in all my ways I will seek the Lord. If you make that decision: Faith will supersede fear and you will have the discernment needed when fear knocks on your door.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

In Marriage, Communication is Key

by Andrew Cromwell 

As a pastor, I do my fair share of counseling, both with couples that are preparing to get married and with those who have already crossed that golden threshold into nuptial bliss. Without fail, every couple I meet with says they need to improve their communication skills. To you, dear reader, I have no doubt this is not a novel piece of information. For all of us, when it comes to those we spend the most time with, those we have committed our lives and hearts to, these are the ones with whom we often are the most challenged in the area of our communication.

The sad thing is that instead of getting better at communicating over the years of marriage, what we often do is simply reinforce our bad communication habits. We fight about the same old things in the same old unsuccessful ways. Our positions become so entrenched and so immovable that we no longer fight about the issue. Instead, whenever we begin to get close to the landmine that is the issue, we are distracted by all the barbed wire, camouflage netting and machine guns that are our past arguments, bitterness and judgments. 

We've all seen the couples on TV who are asked to practice assertive communication and active listening. The memorable ones go horribly wrong. The wife says, "When you don't come home from work until after 9pm every night, I feel like you don't love me." The husband replies, "I heard you say that you hate my work and you think I don't love you." We all cringe slightly because we know that is not what the wife said, but at the same time we all wonder how much our own arguments are just the same.

Building new communication skills and breaking through old communication patterns is not easy, but then again nothing worth anything in life is easy. You and your spouse may have come to a place where you have forged an uneasy peace and in order to move forward in your relationship, things are actually going to have to get uglier before they get better. You are going to have to face issues that are uncomfortable and even explosive, but if you are committed to walk through it together then you can come out on the other side with greater intimacy and a stronger relationship.

If you want to see your relationship grow, I would suggest you do the following: First, talk with your spouse and agree together that you are going to seek a stronger, deeper relationship. Second, get some help! Take a marriage class, go to a marriage retreat or seek some counseling. For example, at Koinonia, we have a marriage class called Building a Successful Marriage. There are so many good resources available around us, but we often starve our relationship while surrounded by a wealth of resources. Third, work, work, work! Your marriage is worth it!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Show Me The Way!

 by Tim Howard

This weekend we are hosting an Emerging Leadership Seminar to discuss the importance of Leadership.

Good leaders tell lost people where to go.
Great leaders show lost people where to go.

Have you ever been en route to a specific destination only to discover you were lost?  Not only lost but late as well?

You can almost feel your blood pressure rising as your emotions begin to fluctuate and your intellect reminds you this is an extremely important appointment so being late is not a positive option.

One time a Pastor friend of mine named Ron lost his way as he was trying to find a small country church where he had been invited to speak.

He left the hotel room with plenty of time to spare but ended up lost anyway. Even though it was humbling for him to admit he needed some help, he decided to stop at the first country store – to ask directions.

A man named Karl; the proprietor of Karl’s Feed & Fuel gave him these directions: “First you take Rural Route 18 -- that’s this road here -- go south to the big red barn with black trim. Black trim and not white! The white-trimmed house is the old Wilkerson place and you don’t want to go that way, trust me”. Ron nodded to acknowledge he was listening. “Anyway” Karl went on, “after you get to the barn, head due east on Brier road until you hit Clear Creek, which you follow North -- maybe two, three miles till you get to the big aluminum grain silo. That’s Earl Simmons’ place. Turn north – follow that a mile or so -- winds around a good bit -- and then turn left where you see the big herd of Guernsey cows”…

To Ron’s surprise after being totally confused by the litany of directions, a man interrupted the conversation and said: “Pardon me, my name is Lyle. Didn’t mean to listen in, but I happen to be going that way and if you want to get into your car and follow me – I will show you the way.

When you lose your way in life – and we all do at times – It’s wonderful to have someone show you the way!

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus told those who were lost and needed direction for their lives to follow Him. He didn’t just tell them where to go and what to do, He actually led them and showed them the way.

That type of leadership simplifies everything. All we need to do is follow:

I’ve been following Jesus for over 5 decades and I’ve discovered over and over again that I will arrive at the appropriate destination and at the appropriate time if I simply walk in His shadow. Why? Because He knows the way!

Believe it or not, God has already been in your and my future. Psalms 139 makes it clear that He “goes before us.” He charts a path for us – He knows where we should stop, when we need to rest and the best route for the journey.

Don’t settle for only acquiring knowledge and information about God when you have the privilege of really getting to know Him personally.

If you are ever lost and need directions He will show you the way!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Life in Balance

by Andrew Cromwell

These days is seems the new most popular phrase in the business and government sector is that things need to be “sustainable.” Well, that and “resilient” but we’ll save resilience for another article. The dictionary definition of sustainable is simply, “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.”

It’s a simple concept and applies in almost every area of life. If you are a runner, you know that you have to run at a pace that is sustainable if you are going to finish the race. If you set a pace that is too fast for the length of run, then you will exhaust your energy before you get to the finish line. If you are a lumberjack (or a lumber company), you know that if you cut down more trees than you have land and time to regrow trees, then you will be out of business. And if you are a farmer, you know that you can’t plant more land than you have water to irrigate—it’s not sustainable.

We talk about sustainable business practices. Sustainable water usage. Sustainable environmental policies. Sustainable government spending.

And it’s a good thing! If you pump more water out of the ground than the rain can replenish, then the water table drops and your crops (or you) die. If you overfish the ocean, then you or your children won’t enjoy the incredible variety of seafood we enjoy today. And if you chop down all the forests and jungles, then we’ll burn up sooner than later.

All of these examples are based on the assumption that the world is made up of interconnected systems that are directly affected by how much is pumped, fished, or harvested. For the system to remain healthy, it has to stay balanced. But that doesn’t mean that the system shouldn’t be stressed or challenged. It is very possible to harm the system by not taking enough out of the system, just as much as it is by taking too much out of the system.

For example, the US Forestry service has recognized that some of their policies for forest management have been based on a faulty model that assumes that the way to keep the forest system balanced is to minimize the amount of forest fires. The result has been that in many places the forest has actually become less healthy as a result. Fires that would normally have thinned out the forest and allowed for healthy new growth, have been prevented so forests have become overcrowded and increasingly susceptible to disease and insect attack. As the rangers have recognized this mistake, they are now either starting controlled burns or allowing fires to naturally burn out.

So what’s the point you may ask?

Well here it is. You are also caught in this interconnected web of systems. You as an individual are an organism that must live in balance. You must live life at a pace and in a way that is sustainable. If you don’t, you will become overworked, underproductive, and unhealthy.

This means that you can’t take out more than you put in. This is not only true of things like food—if you don’t eat enough calories to offset the amount of energy expended (which might be a good idea for a while), you will eventually become sick and die of starvation. It is also true of emotional and spiritual food. If you don’t spend enough time caring for your soul and always give out to your spouse, your children, your family and your friends, then you will eventually become sick.

On the flipside, if you don’t ever stress yourself and give of yourself to others, work hard to achieve goals, and generally stretch yourself, then you’ll get sick too. You’ll end up fat and lazy. You’ll run out of energy and you’ll stop enjoying life.

The key is a healthy balance.

So what are you doing to care for your spirit, your soul, and your body? Are you feeding yourself in these three areas? Your spirit needs to connect with Father God. Your soul needs healthy doses of truth, silence and forgiveness. And your body needs some exercise and healthy food. If you don’t put enough in then you’re going to be sick.

Maybe that’s part of your problem!