Saturday, December 15, 2018


by Tim Howard

Opening presents at Christmas is fun for children and adults but there’s one thing that remains a joy killer! It’s opening a present that needs batteries and none are included. Even worse is opening a present, only to find that it’s broken.

A few years ago at Christmas, my wife opened a beautifully wrapped box only to find a gorgeous colorful glass vase broken. Even though she was careful to unwrap the gift, the pedestal was severed in three distinct places.  The end result was — Broken!

Hopefully everyone has a Christmas present under their tree this year but we tend to forget that people are gifts as well. Especially our family and friends! What we may not realize, however, is that every person surrounding and supporting us is broken as well.

You and I live in a world of brokenness. Marriages are breaking up at an unprecedented rate. Broken families are everywhere and our society is experiencing long-lasting ramifications as a result – much like the aftershocks of an earthquake.

That’s why Jesus came to heal the sick, free those who are bound, forgive all who have sinned and restore that which is broken.  I like what the old prophet Isaiah said in chapter 42 of his book. “God won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant.”

Jesus came to restore – not to discard and dispose of the broken!

My reaction to the broken vase was quite different than my wife’s.  I immediately decided to throw it away and purchase a new one.  From my point of view the decision seemed rational and logical. After all, it was broken – not valuable – and should be thrown away.

My wife’s response, however, was not quite so rash.  She carefully studied the vase from every angle for several moments.  She studied it as though she were a scientist in search of a cure for a rare disease.  Finally, she announced to me with great conviction, “I can fix it.”  And she did. 

If you find your life broken at some point, don’t believe the lies that tell you – you’re beyond repair! You’re not worth restoring or nothing can be done.

You may remember the Nursery Rhyme that says:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Here’s some good news that will bring great joy to all who believe! Jesus is the King of Kings and He is willing and able to put you back together again. All you need to do is ask!

Luke 2:10-11 “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” NIV 

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Making Room

by Candace Cortez

Nobody would ever confuse me for a domestic goddess. I have been known to fold laundry on my dining room table and pick articles of clothes from that very pile for a few days until the pile magically disappears. It’s ok, you have permission to judge me. I try to keep my kitchen and living room “ready for company” but I would warn any random pop in visitors to not visit some of the rooms on the edges of my house! I’m a clutter bug. I blame my overly creative brain.

However, out of the basic laws of house management, there is one area that gets cleaned out more than most: my refrigerator. Around once a week, I find myself pulling out leftovers, checking labels on bottles, and generally making sure there isn’t anything hidden in there that may scare me the following week. I pretty much can’t handle mossy foods and feel responsible to make sure my family is safe from whatever can happen after vegetables start getting slimy. Now before you start believing there is some hope for my domestic lifestyle, I must confess the primary reason I keep things clean-ish is to make sure that when I bring in fresh groceries, there is room for it all! Gathering groceries is a big enough chore, I don’t want to have to clean the fridge every time I purchase a new bundle of produce, milk, and eggs.

As we are in full swing in the holiday season, my question for you, myself, and for my family, is this: is there room for Jesus in our lives? In our hearts? I talk very regularly to my young children about how Jesus really is the main reason we have Christmas. He’s the main reason we get to have fresh beginnings, hope, and peace in this life. He’s the source of all things good, and the redeemer of all things rotten. I do not have a problem understanding these things to be true in my thought process. But is this evident by how I make space I my life to point to Him? When the Holy Spirit gently asks for me to move, is there room in my schedule to make that happen? When the Spirit of the Lord gives me something new to take care of, do I just add it to the pile of old things not taken care of in a timely manner?

One of my hopes for this season is that our community would make space in their hearts, schedules, and spirits for the Lord to do something incredibly special in their lives. There have been times when I know the Lord has asked me to wait, or give, or do something just out of the ordinary, but I didn’t make space in my schedule or my level of faith. I do believe that I may have missed out on miracles because I didn’t make space for Him to work in me and through me.
Here are some of the things I regularly need to evaluate and potentially get rid of in order to make room in my heart and life for the Hope of Jesus.
1.     Old habits. Some habits are great for life. Some habits are great for a season. Some habits are never great. Looking at the repetitive routines in your life as unfixed is important. Not everything you do has to be done. Not everything that is important right now will be important forever. For example, when my husband worked nights, I developed a habit of staying up way later than my mornings should have allowed.  This habit cut out morning devotions, morning peace, and my patience with my kids as we got ready for the day. Recently, the Lord has asked me to go to bed earlier, to make room for His presence in the mornings. Do you have a habit or choice you’re making regular that keeps you from saying yes to Jesus?

2.     Unhealthy relationships. I am very rarely pro getting rid of relationships in your life. I am, however, pro shifting what shelf of importance or influence those relationships carry in your life, and time=influence. If I am not strong enough in my walk with the Lord to overcome the negativity or yucky habits a person brings with them, then I have to decrease the influence that person has until I am more full of the Spirit.
3.     Lingering doubts or misunderstandings about who/how God is. Life can teach you a lot of things incorrectly. Sometimes if a child prays a prayer to the Lord, and does not receive what they ask for, they doubt the goodness or power of our Heavenly Father, and potentially stop asking for big things. It is good to keep discovering who God is, how He is and moving out the old doubts about His character. 

Make room for the Lord this holiday season. Don’t let the mold creep in. Never get too busy or full of old ways for God to hand you another blessing, another call, another bit of who He is.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Divorce Day

by Andrew Cromwell

This week I learned the first business day in January is known in some circles as “divorce day" because of the number of divorce filings that happen on that day. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why. The holidays are some of the most stressful times of the year. Beginning with Thanksgiving and running through Christmas and New Year’s, the last two months of the year are ripe with opportunities for relationship hurts, family drama, and offense. Whether we are hosting events in our own home or visiting relatives, the stress tends to lead to short tempers and sharp tongues. We are often not at our best even as we are trying to look like we are.  

It doesn’t take long and we find ourselves frustrated with our spouse: wounded by their looks or words and adding up the offenses. Throw in our tendency to avoid real conversation until a “better time“ and you have people holding on just so they get through the holidays (because no one wants to have that difficult conversation in the middle of what is supposed to be a happy season). By that time, many couples are so frustrated and so fatigued they begin to believe the only way out is divorce.

Don’t let it happen to you!

As we roll into this holiday season, I’d like to encourage you to not become a statistic. I believe by intentionally doing three simple (but not necessarily easy things), your marriage can become stronger in spite of the stress.

First, expect that things are going to be stressful and that you and your spouse are going to react in less than perfect ways. Stop idealizing and romanticizing the season. While the holidays present us with amazing opportunities to enjoy family and friends, they are also riddled with land mines waiting for one small misstep. So don’t be caught off-guard this season. Prepare for things to go less than perfectly. Anticipate that your spouse is going to run out of patience at some point and they are going to look at you cross-eyed and maybe even say something hurtful. OK, now that you’re prepared, decide right now to extend extra grace and forgive. Instead of getting your feelings hurt just forgive and move on. That one little decision can save your marriage.

Second, keep the air clear between you and your spouse. This will require you to make an effort! Check in with your spouse in the morning or in the evening (or even both). Ask them how they’re feeling, let them know how important they are to you, and even ask for forgiveness for being a jerk that day (because you probably were). Talk about the calendar and the stress and the kids and the gifts and the expectations. Remind yourself that you are on a team together. This proactive move will keep you connected to each other and help you to come through the season united and ready for the new year.

Third, ask God to help you! Don’t ever underestimate God’s power and desire to help your marriage. He is ready and willing to help. Ask Him to change your heart, help you to forgive, help you to serve, and help you to love better! Ask Him to bless your spouse and your marriage. Invite Him in and then go and walk in His strength.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Take Your Thanksgiving To The Next Level

by Sylvia Gaston

By now, you’re probably having that leftover turkey sandwich or thinking about your workout plan for next week to counteract all those extra Thanksgiving calories you consumed this past week.

I’ve said it before. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As with most holidays, it brings out the best in most people – kindness, generosity, brotherly love. But unlike other holidays, it’s not overly complicated. No gifts; no costumes; no fireworks; just two things I really love: FAMILY and FOOD!

 After all the cooking is done, it’s time to slooooow down, eat, relax, and enjoy each other - with some football thrown in for good measure. And immediately after begins the frenzy and furor of Christmas. (definition of furor: ‘an outbreak of public anger or excitement’) J

But the absolute best thing about Thanksgiving is . . . well, thanksgiving. The giving of thanks that we, actually and intentionally, make time for.  You see it all over social media beginning November 1st. People decide to share what they are thankful for throughout the month.

For years, psychologists have been studying what happens when people are grateful. Researchers from Psychology Today have found that:
·      Gratitude improves physical and psychological health
·      Gratitude reduces aggression and enhances empathy
·      Grateful people sleep better
·      Gratitude improves self-esteem
·      Gratitude increases mental strength
·      Gratitude opens the door to more relationships

In a nutshell, being thankful makes us happier and healthier humans! I’m in!!

As a staff at Koinonia Church, my co-workers and I participated in the daily exercise of writing down 2 things we are truly thankful for. In fact, our lead pastor, Tim, challenged us to avoid the easy task of just writing down whatever pops into our mind. We were encouraged to really spend the time to contemplate all that God has done for us and to reflect on our blessings. (Do I have a great job or what?)

In Luke 17:11 of the Bible, we read an account of Jesus healing 10 lepers. These 10 ostracized men shout to Him because they are forbidden to interact with healthy people – even their own families. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, who had the final say on whether they were actually healed and could re-enter society again. In complete faith, or maybe desperation, they begin walking to the priests before they even see the cleansing of their bodies. Along the way, their healing is completed. One of the 10 turns back to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him. Jesus replies, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Rise and go, your faith has made you well.”

Here’s what I’ve realized. I need to appreciate more fully from Whom my blessings come. I can’t take credit for a job I love because God opened that door for me. I can’t take credit for even my skills or talents because those are also God-given. My family? My health? I see how God Himself has taken care of those as well. I see how He cared for me through recent struggles with health, family, and death. As I evaluate the small, but sweet details of my life, is there really anything that I hold dear that doesn’t come directly from Him?

The other thing I realize is how easy it is to be thankful for the obvious: health, family, home, job, and good friends. But, to dig deeper for the little things that we take for granted really ups the gratitude quotient, as well as the great benefits that come along for the ride.

If you think I’m saying that my life is without fault or defect, I’m not. God has not promised that if I follow Him, my life will be perfect. He only promises that He will see me through it until my time here is over and my time with Him begins. Can I ask for anything more or be any more grateful for that alone?

I’m happy to confirm that what God says in the Bible is true, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” – Psalm 92:1

Let’s continue the thanksgiving habit throughout Christmas and into the new year. It’s good for our soul and for our world.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Your Story Is GOOD

by Candace Cortez

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me, that I am a competitive person. This fire inside me, encouraging me to win, dominate, overcome, and potentially leave my competitors in the dust, is all fun and games when it comes to Scattegories, The Settlers of Catan, or Pictionary. This is not so great in other areas of life. Comparison is a competitive spirit’s ugly brother.

Whenever the topic of testimony comes up, there is a sneaking desire to compare my story to others and deem it better or worse than others. Have you ever done this? Somehow I create categories that determine if a story is good or not. For example, if a person has been delivered from some sort of addiction, man that story is so good! If a person’s marriage was on the rocks, and then the Lord spoke to them and healed that relationship, man that story is good. If the Lord uses the wisdom of your parents and keeps you from addiction and other bad choices…that story…is…nice? As a person who has spent most of my life as a follower of Christ, I have found myself comparing my story to others and found myself wanting.

God has been challenging me in this recently, and I want to encourage you, that God does not compare your story with the story of others around you. He doesn’t consider it in terms of better or worse, boring or exciting. God’s concern for your story is that it leads to relationship with Him.

Have you ever walked into a room with a person watching a movie, and then you got pulled into the story? Well, eventually, you’re going to have some questions because you missed the beginning when the foundation was being laid or you missed the character development. There have been other times when time didn’t permit us to complete the movie, so I didn’t get to find out if the conflict was resolved, or if the guy got the girl! When we get to share our story or are blessed with hearing someone else’s story, we must keep in mind, the story is not finished yet! We may never know all of the characters, incidents, miracles, and hidden ways the Lord has moved in their life to get them where they are today. 

I was speaking with a young person a couple weeks ago who was feeling insecure about sharing her story, because she currently wasn’t doing as well as she was when she first began following Christ. Maybe this is you. You feel like, at one point, you were so excited about following Jesus, and somehow you have lost your passion and are struggling to regain the momentum in your growth. Or maybe you are young in your faith and haven’t experienced freedom in certain areas of your life. Or maybe right now, you are hearing from the Lord on a regular basis and are passionately sharing with others. No matter what season you are in, keep moving toward Jesus. If you are for whatever reason, “two steps back” from where you’d like to be, or used to be, do not look down on your story. God wants you! He doesn’t expect a straight line, sometimes our story takes some twists, turns, and backtracks. Your story is a good one, when God it in it.  

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Why Is Always Better Than The What

by Sylvia Gaston

I’m in the business of teaching kids. I teach my own big kids, my grandkids, as well as the kids who attend our church.  Well, actually, our wonderful Children’s Ministry volunteers teach them. My co-workers and I provide them with the resources to do the teaching.

I have had many opportunities to speak to lots of adults as well. And in all that teaching, here’s one important thing I’ve learned…

The WHY is always better than the WHAT.

When I tell my kids something, they often view it as another thing in a long line of things I am constantly telling them. But, if I take the time to explain why they should do this or that, they have a greater motivation to do the what, - or, at least, a greater understanding of it. They may not always agree with it, but at least they know why I am asking it. And our goal, as their parents, is that someday they will learn, mature, and eventually pass on all of our great wisdom to their own children.  That’s the dream, at least ☺

If I take my lead from God, I see that He and His son, Jesus, spend a great deal of time explaining the why. He spends time letting us know that the reason why He teaches or even commands us at times, is for our own good.

Here are some examples of how He taught the WHY:

In Deuteronomy 12:28  of the Bible, God says, “Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right”.

In Ephesians 6:7 we are told to: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do”.

Jesus even tells us WHY we should follow Him. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. "For my yoke is easy, and my load is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

You see it isn’t God’s heart to command us simply to rule us. That is made obvious by the fact that we don’t have to obey Him. When He created us, He gave us free will. However, He did create us – and in His own image. Therefore, He knows us intimately well. And because He loves us so very much, He always wants what is best for us. That is the motive behind His teaching and His guidance – if we choose to heed it.

People are listening to you – at work, at home, on social media. Are you barking out orders and commands left and right without giving any reasons WHY? That’s not caring about people and relationships; that’s merely a focus on outcomes.

The bottom line is that God commands because He truly loves. So if we are to be effective in our teaching of others, we need to be motivated by that same kind of love for them.

That’s fairly easy to do with our children because we naturally love them so much. But, how does that look if you are teaching and leading others – other children or adults, co-workers, family or friends?

If we are motivated by love, we should want to explain WHY our teaching is important to them. They should know and feel our motive. They may listen more to the WHAT because they know the all-important WHY. 

This is especially true, and especially important if you are a parent, a boss, or a person of influence in your circles. 

Don’t just tell people what to do, explain the WHY.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

There May Be Fire

by Candace Cortez

I’ve been a Christian for a lot of years, and there are some stories and verses in the Bible that I have heard too many times to count: Daniel and the lion’s den, David and Goliath, Esther saving her people, the story of Jesus’ birth, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Paul and Silas singing while in prison, and many others. Fortunately, as you read and re-read, the things you can learn do not stop as your familiarity with the story grows. Here’s a quick lesson within a lesson: NEVER STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! We do not know it all, especially about God, and we can always discover more. 

Recently, I re-read the story of the three young men; Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, and the time they were thrown into the fiery furnace. If you haven’t read this story, it’s found in Daniel 3, and you should read it today! If you have time, stop reading this, and go read Daniel 3 right now! It’s so good! Here is a question that has not left me since I’ve read this passage: What fires am I approaching because of my walk with Jesus? 

These three young men were living according to the standard set by God. This standard was in direct opposition to the expectation of their current culture. Because of this, they were punished by being thrown into a fire, with the intention of murdering them for their beliefs. This is intense! I believe we also live in a world that is counter-cultural to God’s design for the perfect relationship with Him and with others. I also believe this may cause some conflict, or heat when we decide to make choices in light of the One we are trying to serve. For example, what if your supervisor makes a mistake and asks you to lie to the boss to help cover for them? On one hand, it’s literally a sin to lie (one of the basic ten commandment ones!). On the other, we want to salvage the relationship or potential ease of working environment with this person, who may be a good person, and you do not want to see them get in trouble. If the answer is easy and you would choose to lie, ask yourself why it was an easy option when that’s an “obvious” sin? If the answer is difficult, but you would choose to lie, you’ve faced the fire and surrendered to an “easier” option. If the answer is honesty, and you tell the boss the truth when asked, then you faced the fire and decided it’s worth it to be obedient. The thing about this third option is although it leaves you vulnerable for feeling the heat from your choice, you also are set up for a potential miracle. 

When we choose to live the way God guides us, even in the little things, we set ourselves up to see Him do some crazy awesome stuff. The challenge is, not every fiery furnace story leads to a happy ending with a miracle. Some of them just end in fire. That’s why it’s so scary. There’s not a guarantee that we will receive compensation for our obedience while we are alive. The promises extend beyond this lifetime. This is why faith is hard. If we knew we would never feel the heat of those flames, then the choice would be easy. 

I don’t know what fires you may be facing today, but trust that as the three young men in this story, God is with you. Choosing Jesus’ way is not always easy, but it is the life that leads to miracles. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Good Friend is Hard to Find

by Andrew Cromwell

It has been said that a good friend is someone who walks in when everyone is walking out. They are someone who not only sees through you, but is determined to see you through the tough spots in life.

Don’t we all want friends like that?

Shallow friendship is easy. It just doesn’t take much effort. Every time I walk into an elevator and say “hi”, I’ve made another shallow friend. We remark pleasantly about the weather, say things like “how long are you in town” or even, “where are you from?”. Shallow friends like your social media posts and might even make a comment or two, but that’s as far as things go.

No one needs instructions on how to make shallow friends. As a matter of fact, I have a few shallow friends that I’ll happily hand off to you if you’re interested!

Deep, meaningful friendships, on the other hand, are hard to come by. That’s because real friendships take time, energy, and effort. Most of us can think of a friendship that used to be close but is now cold and distant.

Why? Usually it is because the cost of maintaining the friendship was more than we were willing to pay.

That friend moved out of the area and we didn’t make the effort to call or keep calling. Or perhaps, one or both of us stopped doing the activity that gave us an excuse to spend time together, and we never took the time to find another reason to connect. There are so very many reasons why we drifted apart, but at the end of the day, we weren’t willing to pay the price to keep growing closer. And so we drifted apart.

Real friendship takes effort. It requires investment. You have to be willing to rearrange your schedule, go out of your way, push through inconvenience, and make relationship building a priority.

If you want powerful relationships, then you have to be willing to pay the price. King Solomon said if you want to have friends, you have to be friendly. That means you have to make time. You have to be willing to engage in a person’s life, care about what they care about, and show up when it matters. You have to decide to love people even when you see them at their worst instead of making your friendship conditional on their behavior or performance.

Do you want people to tell the the truth at your funeral, or do you want them to lie and tell a nice story? The way you invest in your relationships today, will decide the answer to that question.

Above all, we must remember that there is one person — Jesus Christ — who chose to love us unconditionally even though He knew everything about us. It is His love and acceptance that serves as the model for how we all do our friendships.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


by Sylvia Gaston

Our church is in the middle of a study called ‘Transformed’.  We are exploring the ways God can transform our lives to become all that He planned for us to be.

On Sundays, we are hearing Biblical messages on how we can seek God’s help to transform 7 different areas of our lives. Additionally, many of us are in weekly small groups where we dig even deeper into transforming these 7 areas of our lives:
  1.    Spiritual Health
  2.    Physical Health
  3.    Mental Health
  4.    Emotional Health
  5.    Relational Health
  6.    Financial Health
  7.    Vocational Health
Interestingly enough, the Bible has much to say about all of these areas of our lives.

Physical Health:
This week, my group focused on physical health. As expected, our discussions centered on the need to eat better and exercise more. But, there were other things we looked at that inhibit our physical health such as: lack of sleep, stress, water consumption - all good areas to consider as it relates to our overall health.

What really grabbed my attention, however, was the ‘why’ behind staying physically healthy. You see, according to author and pastor Rick Warren, our lives – that includes the care of our bodies – are:

·      a test
·      a trust
·      a temporary assignment.

The 75-100 years we are on this earth are as a blink of an eye compared to the time we will spend on the other side of the grave. One way the Bible describes this is, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” –James 4:14

And for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus, there is more said about how we regard our physical bodies . . .
“Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is in you, and you have received the Spirit from God. You do not belong to yourselves. Christ has paid the price for you. So use your bodies in a way that honors God.” -1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Therefore, the time we have on Earth is a temporary assignment in preparation for eternity. Our time here is a test for how well we manage what God has given us. He has entrusted us with many things: skills, gifts, finances, time, love, generosity, character, hospitality, empathy, relationships, and our bodies.

Assuming, as I do, that God created each of us on purpose and for a purpose, we are to use these gifts for His plan and His will. All of these become ways that we can worship God. If our bodies are falling apart or not strong enough to accomplish these plans for our lives, we cannot become all that He intended.

Also remember, that these bodies of ours have to sustain us for the long haul.  Sometimes, in our early decades, we abuse our bodies or don’t take the care we should.  We’re young, we’re strong, and feel pretty invincible.  But, talk to people in their 50s, 60s, 70s . . . if they haven’t taken good care of their human structure, they’re struggling to be healthy and productive later on in life.

So, healthy bodies have a much deeper implication than just how we look and feel. Our bodies are a means to completely fulfill our purpose on earth.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” -Colossians 3:1-2

Take a good look, friends. What do you need to pay attention to in order to keep the flesh and blood container of yours in great shape for the long haul? You can’t accomplish all that is planned for you if you aren’t healthy. 

It’s never too late to begin a physical transformation. Start today; start small, but START! You need that body to last so that you can do the great things God has planned for you to do in this lifetime!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Show Me the Money

by Tim Howard
“Show Me The Money” is a phrase made popular in 1996 when an American comedy-drama “Jerry Maguire” aired on television. The movie starred Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr. was the one who made this statement.
The phrase “Show Me The Money” reveals the influential power money can have in the lives of people who are motivated by greed.
Money, Sex and Power have been referred to as the “Trinity of Evil” when they are misused and abused. Throughout history, and in my own experience, these three issues seem inseparably intertwined. Money manifests itself as power. Sex is used to acquire both money and power. And power is often called “the best aphrodisiac.”
The truth about money is not difficult to discover in the Bible. It is clear straightforward and mentioned many, many times.
1Tim. 6:10 informs us “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with much grief.” Notice that Paul the Apostle didn’t say money is evil. This passage should awaken us to the fact that money is more than a mere medium of exchange. It can become an idol when it is loved and worshiped.
Jesus told us: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The power behind our present world currency seeks to dominate our lives and is intent on driving us away from worshiping the true God. When you develop an unhealthy love and longing for money, which is fueled by greed, devastating results happen.
The Bible also reveals a ‘light side’ when talking about money.  I am referring to the way in which money can be used to enhance our relationship with God and bless humanity. Think of the Good Samaritan who used money generously to help a person in need. Then there was Zacchaeus who became a follower of Christ and was so grateful to Jesus that he decided to focus on giving rather than getting. And let’s not forget Abraham who used his wealth to bless other nations. Money, when used correctly, can be a blessing and not a curse.
Money is an entrustment from God and a test for mankind. David in Psalm 24 reminds us that everything in all the earth belongs to God. All of HIS ‘stuff’ is on loan to us and God watches to see how we will use it. Will we use it to bless ourselves only or others as well?  Will we allow greed to rule or gratefulness to triumph?
Giving is the antidote to materialism. Giving assures us that we stay on the ‘lighter side’ of money. Giving will make you more like God because He is a giver. Giving will strengthen your faith and the faith of others. Giving will be an investment for eternity.
Luke 6:38 declares: “Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, Gratitude, not greed is the way to live.  Generosity begets generosity."
Rather than “Show Me The Money”, God is inviting you to “Share the Money!” There are many in need and you can make a difference.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Leaning In

by Candace Cortez

It is with much trepidation that I write this post. I feel the need to give a list of qualifications or disclaimers explaining how I’m “allowed” to write this. Some of my credentials include that fact that I’m a Navy Brat and love my country or have been a fan of football for years (go Niners!), my husband is in law enforcement, and I’m bi-racial: half African American and half Caucasian. But none of those things matter or qualify this article as much as I love and believe in Jesus and I am trying my best to love people. 

Here’s the setup. A recent ad campaign has re-sparked the controversy surrounding kneeling or not kneeling during the national anthem at the beginning of football games. You may have seen some responses to this on some media platform. I have a pretty eclectic group in my social media and therefore whenever there is a polarized issue, I almost always read both ends of the spectrum. Some people are mad. This anger is leading to calls for boycotts.

There are many things I choose not to purchase, because I do not agree with certain aspects of that company or organization.  I know that I am probably unknowingly supporting one company that participates in the same or similar practices as another I am refraining from, but I believe that my acquired knowledge informs a level of my responsibility. I am not off the hook just because I didn’t know, and once I know certain things, I have to choose how to respond. Above all, I try my best to not puff up my understanding of my own morality because of the products or organizations I choose to endorse or not. I have felt the automatic categorization that happens in my heart when I have chosen to boycott, and others have decided to partake. It is an easy jump to assume that they are either ignorant, or not as just, or loving, or whatever as I am. This, my friends, is dangerous ground.

It is a powerful thing to belong to a group. To experience the feeling of identity and comradery from a community that shares something in common. This is one of the beautiful blessings of the church. We are one Bride, one Body because we serve and love one God. It is an easy thing to love, trust, and forgive the people in our group. We can more easily understand or guess their motives (or so we think) and therefore even their wrong choices are not as wrong as say, a person who we would place in a different group. They are not as familiar because we don’t share an obvious reason to unite, therefore it is easier to withhold love, trust, or forgiveness of wrongs. For example, being a working mom puts me in a group of women whom I can more easily understand than say, working dads, or even stay at home moms. The challenge is this: just because it’s not as easy to understand someone, doesn’t mean I don’t have to try.

Before we respond or identify ourselves with new polarized sides, I would ask that we wait, and respond like we think Jesus would. When we look at how Jesus handled controversy or a problem, and He did a lot, we do not often see Him becoming outraged unless He was addressing the religious elite (this alone should cause us to pause!) One of Jesus most common methods of processing a controversial moment was to ask a good question. When asked how one is to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded with the question “What is written in the law?” Luke 10:26. In other words, He’s asking, what does scripture say about this topic? When Jesus was with the disciples in the boat in the middle of a storm, He asked them “why are you so afraid?” Matt. 8:26. When Jesus was going to approach a woman who by all current social norms would suggest He should ignore, He asked: “will you give me a drink?”  John 4:7.

As Christians, we should choose wisely the way we steward our influence and ask better questions. Not every cause deserves an immediate gut reaction. Sometimes, our gut is wrong. Sometimes our heart can be misled by media, popularity, past experiences, family or cultural allegiances, etc. I believe there are some questions that Jesus asked that we could ask today. Maybe we need to ask ourselves, what does scripture say about these issues? Maybe we need to ask ourselves in our moment of outrage, why am I so afraid, angry or emotionally affected? Maybe we need to ask someone else, especially someone who is not in our group, if they would like to eat over, or if we could go into their comfort zone, and keep asking questions. Boycotting means to withdraw from something. I am not against boycotting, but I am against boycotting keeping us from moving toward people. Let’s give more grace. Let’s increase connection. Let’s lean in.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ambidextrous Faith

by Andrew Cromwell

In the 4th century, there was a Christian Bishop known as Basil of Caesarea who was described as a man who had “ambidextrous faith.”

Someone who is ambidextrous can use both hands equally well rather than preferring one over the other. While some people tend to use only their right (or left) hand to write, shoot a basketball, swing a bat, or pick their nose (try doing it with your other hand for a change just to see if you can), an ambidextrous person uses both hands equally.

Basil of Caesarea was said to have ambidextrous faith because he held the blessings of God in one hand and the struggles and pains of life in the other. He did not prefer one over the other but believed that both were equally required for him to fully experience the goodness of God.

Like preferring to use our right hand vs our left (or vice versa), most of us prefer to focus either on the blessings of God OR on the struggles of life but not both equally. Some of us like to live on the mountaintop and feel all the warm and fuzzies and talk about all the great things God is doing in our lives and we act as if the struggles of life are all from the Satan himself. Others enjoy living in the struggle—talking about how difficult life is, how much pain exists in the world, and how we are just barely making it because of God’s grace.

Rare is the person who can both celebrate God’s goodness and “rejoice in the Lord always” and at the same time acknowledge the brokenness of life and enter into the “fellowship of His suffering”. But this is the kind of faith we should have!

Real faith acknowledges that God is always good and that “His mercies are new every morning” even while it lives in the brokenness that says “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Real faith doesn’t act like everything is ok when it isn’t. And it also doesn’t get mad at God because things aren’t going great.

Real faith, ambidextrous faith, holds both hands up and says, “Today I celebrate another opportunity for God to display His greatness in the midst of my brokenness.”

Ambidextrous faith sees the problems of life as an opportunity for God to show up, rather than as a reason to blame God for letting things happen. 

Do you have ambidextrous faith or do you tend to operate with only one hand? Maybe it’s time to get both hands into the air! Maybe your situation is not all roses, but you’d better believe it’s not all thorns either. God wants to work in your life in EVERY circumstance, but we have to remember to cooperate with Him.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Oh, But I’m Not a Leader

by Sylvia Gaston

I’ve heard those words quite a few times and every time I do, I wonder what it is about the word ‘leader’ that makes people intimidated. Do they feel unqualified? Is it too much responsibility to lead someone besides one’s self?

According to the dictionary, someone who follows is said to “act according to the lead or example of someone”. That’s not so intimidating.

Do you have a spouse, kids, a dog? Do you have friends? Co-workers? Then you are leading. Whenever those around follow your example, you are leading.

Now, how we lead is a completely different matter. We can lead well or we can lead badly. Either way, others are watching and will choose to follow us or not.

God has created each of us uniquely. He gave you particular talents, personality, character, and intellect. These vary greatly from person to person. Think about the specific things that make you….you. These are the things that you can share with the world - things that could make it a better place if you passed them on. These are the areas where you can, and should, lead.

Jesus ministered to, and led, many during His time here on earth. He saw the best in everyone, even if they weren’t at their best at the time. Although He didn’t come to be our leadership mentor (He came to sacrifice Himself for our sins), we can learn a lot about the way He led others. Here are just a few:

1.    Jesus led by serving others. He did nothing to gain personal attention or prestige. He took every opportunity to lead by example, serving the lowly in status, the outcast and the wretched.  As He did so, He taught His disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-37)
2.    Jesus led with humility. He never threw his weight around nor demanded that others follow. As He taught, loved, and performed miracles, He gave all the glory to God. He said, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me.”  (John 8:54)
3.    Jesus equipped and released others to lead. He invited 12 simple, uneducated men to accompany Him. They saw how He humbly served. They learned by watching His example. Then Jesus released them to heal and minister to others. He said to them, Give as freely as you have received.”  (Matthew 10:8). In other words, pass it on. Lead others in what you have learned.

We all leave some type of legacy behind. How wonderful to know that you had passed on to others some of the great things you were given by God Himself! How beneficial it would be to certain individuals, and even the world, if you left behind the best of yourself.

We are all leading. Accept it, be intentional about it, and follow Jesus’ example, and say, "Hmmm, I AM a leader." 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

2018 Are You Making The Right Changes?

by Tim Howard 

Records reveal when I was born on February 13, 1951 I weighed 8 lbs. 2 oz. My hands were only an inch or so long, my hair didn’t exist and my skin was all shriveled up.  Even though my parents used the term ‘cute’ to describe me, I’m not sure that was absolutely true.

Years later, however, some major changes have taken place. I’ve grown to 5’8” tall, my hands are much larger, I’ve managed to put on 160 lbs, and I don’t want to talk about the hair thing because it seems like I’m regressing back to my infancy in that area.

Growth produces physical change but external change is not the only thing we humans need.

Speaking directly and bluntly, Jesus confronted the religious leaders about their emphasis on external change without any focus on what was happening internally. Matt chapter 23 puts it this way.

"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something… People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.” MSG

From this very insightful scripture, it’s clear that God desires more than mere behavioral modification!

I’ve had times in my own life when I looked like I had it together outwardly but was a mess internally. My life was incongruent and the inside didn’t meld with the outside. I’ve learned you really can’t always judge a book by its cover because looks can be deceiving!

God wants to change us from the inside out. Yes, He is concerned with your behavior, but He is ultimately concerned with your heart and attitudes because all your actions flow from your heart. King Solomon said: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Changing from the inside out will require God’s involvement.  Christianity is not about human effort and conforming to certain spiritual laws but being transformed into God’s likeness by the power of Jesus Christ.

Just like a skilled doctor who is able to do heart transplants for those in physical need, Jesus is able create a new spiritual heart within each and everyone who asks.

You can live without an arm, a leg, one kidney or one eye but you can’t live a life pleasing to God without A heart transplant. He will do it if a person asks!

Here’s God’s promise to those who do ask: 

Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Out of Control

by Candace Cortez

Most mornings, my routine includes sitting and reading scripture, praying, listening to worship music, and making lists to organize my thoughts for the day. Literally, the simple act of writing my thoughts and tasks down allows me to relax about some of the things in my head. After I write this list, I often read the news and try to get updated on what’s happening in the world. This next habit, if I let it, will literally try to snatch away the peace gained by mediation and organization. It is often a highlighted reminder that I am not in control.

We are packing for a vacation, trying to soak up the last days of summer. In the process, I do everything I can to prepare for what could happen, and what I would need to still enjoy my time and provide for my family. I pack extra socks, in case for whatever reason we lose, or damage the ones that are appropriate for the number of days we will be gone. I bring snacks, things to entertain on the ride, and as many phone chargers as I can get my hands on. I screenshot the directions to our location in case my plethora of chargers bail out on me. We even have a basic first aid kit. But it never fails that when we arrive at the destination, something unexpected arises, and we need something we don’t have! It’s kind of frustrating. This is a reminder that I am not in control!

We have two incredible children, who are doing pretty well in school. We are doing what we can to raise them with care and help them love others through their words and actions. We have taught them about hard work and how to wash their hands. We are teaching them the importance of connection with God and how to hear His voice. We are forcing them to eat a certain ratio of vegetables each meal and are working to help them understand why. But then, I still get phone calls from family or from their school, letting me know that something unexpected happened. No matter how much parenting I put in, I am not in control.

I could go on with examples for days about the moments and ways I am not in control of all of the things that happen in our lives. I have experienced this position of being out of control result in a few different responses: anxiety, working excessively to regain control or peace. One of the ways that I can respond in peace to the unexpected things that happen in life is to remember that I may not be in control, but God is always in control.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Just because something is unexpected to me, does not mean it’s out of God’s hands! Just because it’s out of my hands, doesn’t mean it’s out of control. Sometimes the peace we need in our hearts begins BEFORE the crisis. You do not lock the doors and set an alarm while thieves are in your house. You guard your house before the invasion happens. Before you begin to lose your peace to the whirlwind of impossible or out of control, begin to protect your heart with God-given peace. This peace is beyond understanding. It can literally be confusing to others around you how calm you can be in times of chaos or emergency or the unexpected. It may even be confusing to you! 

Today, I admit, that I am out of control. But I stand firm on the fact that God has all power, and has my life in His hands. I have the ability to prepare, but my preparations do not guarantee an easy future. We all have some work to do in preparing the quality of our hearts. We can acquire peace that lasts through the trials. We do know that trials will come. Do you know how your heart will be when those trials arrive? I pray for peace, not for control, because He is already taking care of that.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hold Your Head Up

by Andrew Cromwell

Our world has a devious way of beating you down. If it’s not the ‘through the roof’ utility bill this month, it’s the unexpected medical bill next month or a lost job or a cancer diagnosis. At least it can feel that way.

The old adage, “when it rains it pours”, generally holds true. Rarely does it seem like one crisis happens at a time. No, they all happen one right after the other. Like a perfectly timed one-two punch with a wicked uppercut to finish you off.

We all have seasons in our life when it feels like the hits just keep coming. If you’re in doubt, just turn on the radio and listen to the experts on the country music station. They’ll set you straight.

The Bible refers to seasons like this as an “evil day”. Evil days are days when the roof caves in and the bottom falls out. When the car breaks down, the money runs out, and the dog won’t look at you, you probably are experiencing an evil day.

The question is not whether you will have an evil day. We all will. And if you’re fortunate to live a while, you’ll probably live through more than one. The real question is, how do you respond in the evil day?

If you’ve ever watched a movie about war, you’ve seen a good example of what most people do when the bullets start flying. They duck and run for cover.

My personal experience of war is limited to the paintball field. A very poor parallel, I know. Nonetheless, when the adrenaline starts pumping and the paint starts flying, you become acutely aware of the pain you are about to experience. You remember all the past times you’ve been shot—in the head (which hurts REALLY bad, in the nose (which tends to bleed), and in the butt (which hurts, but mostly I just wanted to say “butt”). Almost without thinking, you find yourself crouched in a little ball, making the smallest possible target. You stop moving and you hide, hoping that the enemy forces will somehow forget you are there.

They never do.

More experienced players will tell you to resist the urge to freeze and hide under fire. They remind you to keep your head up and use your eyes to see what is going on. Once you drop your eyes, you lose sight of the enemy and put yourself at a major disadvantage. They tell you to keep moving because no one ever won by just sitting behind the bunker (except for that one time the other team kept shooting each other).

I believe the same advice applies to the evil days we encounter in life. Rather than dropping our eyes, rolling into a little ball, and getting stuck, we should stand up straight, look around and see, and keep moving. 

One of my favorite things to do when things go bad is to remind myself that I am a child of God, that He loves me, and that if I stay close to Him, everything is going to be just fine. Psalms 16 says, “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” 

So when the hits keep coming, I lift my head, put my shoulders back, and smile.