Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ready or Not

by Tim Howard
Are you prepared for 2020? Ready or not, it will be here in a few days! For me, the New Year will give birth to a new season of life as I officially retire on December 31, 2019.
As my career concludes after 46 years of ministry as a Pastor, I now have the privilege of serving God and people in a different capacity.
Preparing for the future can be overwhelming unless you have set goals and know what you are reaching for.
Listen to a paraphrase of what the Apostle Paul said as he spoke to the Philippian people and prepared himself for his future.
I want to know Christ in a very real way. I’m on the right path but haven’t arrived yet – far from it!  There is a goal that I am pressing on to obtain and that goal is to live a lifestyle honoring God. I am focusing on what is ahead and letting go of that which is behind. I encourage all of you to do the same. 
Please notice the three specific things Paul did: He declared his goals, shared his goals and documented them for us! If you aim at nothing you will hit it! That’s right: You will hit nothing! What do you really want to accomplish in 2020? Speak it out. Write it down. Share it with someone. Paul did and it’s important for us as well.

It’s also imperative to let go of the past! You won’t be able to embrace tomorrow if you are still holding onto yesterday.

Here are three things you should leave behind as you exit 2019 and enter 2020.

1. Guilt

Remorse, regret and guilt grow when we focus on our mistakes, failures, inadequacies and sins. When you have received the gift of forgiveness from Jesus through confession of your sins, however, your guilt gives way to God’s goodness and your past gives way to freedom!

2. Grudges

We’ve all been hurt: It may have come from disappointments or failing miserably. Maybe someone abused us in some way or we made some terrible decisions on our own. Even though we’ve experienced pain, we don’t have to ‘hold a grudge.’ You can turn it over to God. It’s a better solution than blaming yourself or others for your current status. It’s amazing how much lighter and brighter you feel when you let a grudge go.

3. Grief

Jesus came to help us with our grief. In this world you will have trouble, the Bible says but Jesus said: “take heart! I have overcome the world.” According to Isaiah the prophet, Jesus came to help us find the gold in the midst of the dirt we find ourselves mired in at times. He can help us praise instead of grieve.

Last of all, to be ready for 2020 you must change your focus. Paul said: I press on – I focus on what is ahead and commit myself to reaching the goal. What is your goal? What do you need to do in order to become a better mom or a better dad in 2020? What do you need to do in order to be a better friend – a better employee? Focus on that and go full steam ahead.

The New Year is full of opportunities and challenges. Ready or not, here it comes!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What If?

by Tim Howard 

Since Christmas is only four days away, I’m sure you’ve heard those two well-known words within the past few weeks: Merry Christmas! Some folks like to use the phrase Happy Holidays, which suggests it’s a time to celebrate for a variety of reasons. 

I like the phrase Merry Christmas because it keeps the name of Christ prominent and helps me remember that He is the central reason for all our festivities and frivolity. After all, it is His birthday we are celebrating. 

A Doctor by the name of Luke reminds us of the reason behind our celebration in his book, recorded in the Bible. He explains: The angel of the Lord said to some Shepherds…Listen closely, I bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard and it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ 

That’s not only good news, that’s great news! The very fact that God decided to live among us reveals His great love and gives us a reason to celebrate. He came to help us be victorious and not victims, to defeat evil rather than be defeated by evil, to empower us to love rather than hate and treat others the way we want to be treated… His love for us is incomprehensible and beyond comparison.

Why do we celebrate Christmas? Because God is with us! His presence among us brings hope and joy and is good news to the ears of those who will believe. By the way, did you notice that Luke said: “Jesus came for everyone and not just a few?”

Unfortunately, many have lost sight of the real purpose behind the Christmas celebration. Too often it becomes a burden to endure rather than a blessing to be experienced. 

Here are a few ‘WHAT IF’ questions I‘ve been asking myself as I walk through this Christmas season. 

What would happen if people returned to the real meaning of Christmas?
What if we put more emphasis on His presence in our midst rather than presents under the tree?
What if God and others became our highest priority rather than ourselves?
What if we loved people the way God loves us?
What if we gave more of ourselves and invested our time in others rather than spending more money and going into debt?   
Maybe we would make a greater difference in the lives of those we touch.
Maybe we would have more money in our pockets and more life in our hearts at the end of the season. Maybe, just maybe we would see more peace on earth and goodwill toward mankind.
At the very least we would genuinely have a ‘Merry Christmas”.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Can You Just Wait?

by Candace Cortez

 Guess what everyone? Today is my birthday! By the time anyone will be reading this, the day will have passed. But the day that I am writing this article, I am also celebrating the day God decided would be the best time for me to be born. I have discovered that I am basically a child because I could not fall asleep last night in anticipation of today. I know that my husband and I will be doing a list of fun birthday things today and in response, I saw every hour on the clock until my alarm went off.

The blessing to my unexpected fatigue is a reminder of a crucial element of being people of faith: anticipation. While watching the clock tick by, I was reminded of a couple of different waiting seasons for all people in our faith history.

The first waiting season was the night before the People of Israel were to be freed from Egypt. They had been held captive as slaves, forced to labor for a ruler who did not care for them. God worked it out through Moses for them to be freed, but at a great cost for the Egyptians. That evening, God gave them specific instructions before they were to leave. He commanded them to eat a feast with unleavened bread and with their clothes and shoes on, ready to go. The process for making leavened bread was time-consuming, and during this evening of anticipation, what they wore and even what they ate was poured into the process of waiting. In this situation, God’s people waited for their lives and freedom. How they waited could have cost them both.

The 2nd waiting season was the time leading up to the birth of Jesus. People knew a Savior was coming, but they did not have all of the details of His arrival. A specific group of people, Matthew calls them wise men, arrived after they noticed a change in the heavens. They followed a star that was foretold in prophecies from generations earlier. Scholars believe that these men were connected to the men who served the king alongside Daniel (Daniel and the lions Den-Daniel!) and had been watching the heavens for generations.  As soon as they witnessed the sign, they brought gifts of worship. They had a message of how to anticipate the coming Savior, and with patience and dedication, they waited.

The waiting season of the wise men reminds me of the last waiting season: you and me today. We have been given directions from Jesus that He will return again. He lets us know that the hour is unknown, and there is work to be done in the meantime. If we give up waiting for Him and refuse to wait according to His instructions, we may miss it. Jesus’ return is not the only place of anticipation. We can also expect the promises of a full life when we live it with Jesus. 

I do this thing with my children when if the event is too big or awesome, I do not tell them about it because they get so excited. Handling excitement over long periods is not their strength, and so I let certain things be last-minute surprises. Even with this workaround, I find myself saying the phrase, “can you just wait” regularly. Today, I ask myself this same question. Can I just wait for Jesus? Will I be wearing righteousness like the Israelites were wearing sandals? Will I be watching, or will I be distracted by life? Can I just wait? Or will I give up the honor of anticipating His promises for an easier quick fix? I pray we would wait well today, tomorrow, and however long it takes.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Prayer: The Ultimate Gift

by Tim Howard

In a conversation some time ago the topic of prayer came up and the person I was speaking with said emphatically: “ I don’t believe in prayer, I believe in luck!” I jokingly said in response: “I too believe in luck but it seems the more I pray, the luckier I get!”

In it’s broadest definition, prayer is talking with God. This can be done audibly as God hears our words or silently, since God knows our thoughts. And because communication is a two-way connection, prayer includes both speaking to God and listening to Him speak to us.

Prayer is like having an internal cell phone that allows you to call God at any time and from any place.

Speaking of cell phones: According to a national survey from CTIA and Harris Interactive, nearly half (47%) of US teens say their social life would end without his or her cell phone and 80% say their Cell phone provides a sense of security while on the go.

In comparison, prayer is the ultimate cell-phone and many are taking advantage of this amazing gift. According to surveys by Barna Research Ltd. over a 10-year period, 82% of adults and 89% of teenagers pray in a normal week. 88% of women and 75% of men pray. 96% of professing Christians pray weekly, while 72% of people not describing themselves as Christians pray as well.

One reason I pray is because Jesus prayed. He carried on an ongoing dialogue with the Father and prayed daily. He prayed over meals, He prayed early in the morning and sometimes all night long.  He prayed short prayers and long prayers. He prayed for His enemies, His friends and His followers. He prayed in private and in public. Even with a cursory study of the Bible, we discover that it is imperative to maintain constant communication with the Father each and every day.

Prayer, however, does not negate God’s divine prerogative nor does it override His purposes. We have the privilege of asking and He retains the right to answer on the basis of His vantage point. We may not understand why He chooses to do what He does and His answers may defy logic and analysis from our perspective but His response is always filled with wisdom, foresight and love. He has our best interest in mind and knows what is correct. What we think we need isn’t always what we really need!

My prayer in this season is for us to continually give thanks throughout the year and not merely one day out of 365. The Thanksgiving season comes every November and is awesome, but Romans 1:21-24 gives us the rationale behind giving thanks each and every day. It’s worth reading to discover the logic for making this prayer. 

A cell phone will set you back a few bucks especially when you include the extensive package. It may provide teens and others with a sense of security but the ultimate cell phone is free! No upfront fee, no monthly service charge and no hidden cost. It truly does provide real security because the emergency line to God is always open. B.T.W. Everyone has been given an internal cell phone and if you pray, God will listen and if you listen, He will speak!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Current Events Are Killing Me

by Sylvia Gaston

I remember taking a Current Events class in high school. That one class and its instructor changed my life forever. I’m sure I took the class to fill an English requirement but it forced me to read the newspaper, watch the news and expose myself to what was happening beyond Hanford High School and my small town home life. This was something that I had never considered important before.

It opened my eyes to a much larger world and gave me a framework for processing my thoughts and beliefs and probably, in part, helped create the controvert I’ve become. I’m assuming this interest in current events eventually propelled me into city politics later in life.

At the time, and for years after, I followed the news and developed my own opinions about the world. I became fascinated with current events, politics, sports, opinions, entertainment and human interest stories.

In my 20s and early 30s, it was easy to take in what was happening in the world and develop my strong opinions about all that was right and wrong with it.

And then God got my attention. My decision to follow Him and His ways radically changed the course of my life and also my view of the world around me.

No longer was I simply ingesting current events and opining upon them, I became disturbed and frustrated about what was happening around me, unable to reconcile a good God with a bad world. I became so disturbed that I withdrew from the pursuit of current event knowledge because it was killing me inside.

Eventually, I matured (a little) and realized that, despite our human impact upon our world, it was not the Eden that God had originally designed and created. He is not responsible for crime, disease and environmental destruction. It is the result of sin – man’s personal choices in the things that surround us.

Instead of anguishing over current events and the plight of man, I realize I can advocate for something better. I can do my small part to be the type of human God would be proud of. I can change my small world and maybe even influence the world of those I’m in contact with. I can pray for God to intervene in situations that desperately need His loving touch – or harsh judgment. Mostly, I can have and share hope – to believe, desire and trust for something better.

I am confident of my future in Heaven. I am confident that whatever I am challenged with on Earth will be shared with our powerful and capable God. In the meantime, my role is not to bury my head in the sand but to participate and advocate.

I know that my prayers have power. I know I can impact certain situations. I know that I can model what it looks like to disagree with others on issues in a respectful and civil way. I know that I love people and can share hope with them, even in the midst of crises. That’s what I can do. 

Jesus’ follower, Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV).

We shouldn’t worry about things that are out of our control. Instead, as we hear about what is going on in our community, nation, and the world, we use this information to prepare for now and for the future. We discuss these things with others, using the opportunity to share the hope that can only come from faith and confidence in a powerful God.

Current events are no longer killing me. I don’t avoid the news or shy away from tough topics. I take it all in, pray hard and do what I can do. How about you?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Opportunity Knocks

by Tim Howard

When the Apostle Paul instructed people to make the most of every opportunity he was not talking about becoming an opportunist!

An opportunist is someone who takes advantage of any opportunity to advance his or her own interest, placing expediency above principle.

Paul does, however advocate for people to use opportunities as a means of helping others. In Gal.5:13 he says it’s absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. A life of decisions! Just make sure that you don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do for your own benefit. Rather, use the opportunities afforded you to serve one another in love.

God wants to give opportunities and open doors for people whose motives are pure. He’s willing and able to give you favor with others and open doors for the benefit of all.

In Revelation chapter 3 –we are told that God speaks to a specific group of people and tells them this: “These are the words of him who is holy and true…What God opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds…. I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut… “

When faced with a decision. I personally pray the same prayer that I’ve prayed – hundreds of times – over the past 68 years. “Oh God if this opportunity is right and will benefit others please ‘Open the Door’ but if it’s not the correct choice – please ‘Close the Door.”

If God opens a door of opportunity for you and your motives are pure and accompanied with a desire to help others, you can walk thru that door with confidence.

If God chooses to close a door, you can be assured that He has your best interest in mind. You may be disappointed with His ‘No’ answer to your desire but what we want is not always what we need.

On a personal note: In 2001 I experienced the closing of a door on a 28-year vocation that was based in Fresno, Ca. Little did I know at that time, God was planning to open another door in 2004 that would provide an opportunity to help and serve people on a greater level by becoming the Lead Pastor at Koinonia Church.

A lesson to learn is this: When God closes one door He always opens another. That’s good news for all of us!

Therefore, Don’t be discouraged when doors are closed or even slammed in your face. God has plans for opening a door that you can’t imagine. He says to you: 1 Cor. 2:9 “… No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” He has plans for you and they are all good.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

This Is A Hard Teaching

by Candace Cortez

Over the past 8 weeks, our church has been reading through the entire New Testament, and we are almost finished! I am so proud of how our church family has remained steadfast and kept reading even after falling behind or losing that initial enthusiasm with a long project like this. This past week, our reading sent us to the Gospel of John, which happens to be my favorite of the four gospels. One of the things I love about Jesus, which I feel is highlighted in this book, is how Jesus is not afraid of the hard truth or the difficult teachings.

Jesus feeds 5,000 men and their families in a miraculous way. Doing so automatically increases His popularity and people are flocking in to stay close to Him. There is a curiosity about who Jesus is and what He will do next. This seems like the best-case scenario! We pray for revival and a powerful change in our community. From an outsiders’ perspective, it could be said that Jesus was experiencing a version of that, whole families following Him and hanging on every word He said. But Jesus responded in a way that is so counter-intuitive. Instead of setting up a consistent food program, or a class for all the new people to the group, or making it an easy 1-2-3 step to being a member of His group, He ran away. Then when He was found, He began to teach a message that was confusing and seemingly barbaric to the listeners. He let them know that they are looking for bread, but He is the bread, and they must eat of His body and drink His blood to have eternal life (John 6:53). It makes sense to me that people were offended, confused, and left unwilling to submit themselves to cannibalism! Jesus was not going for the easy-to-please crowd-focused message. He was working for something greater. People who loved Him, not just what He could do.

This is incredibly challenging both as a follower of Jesus and as a person dedicating a huge portion of my life to sharing the Good News so others would follow Him as well. When I read scriptures like this, I need to ask myself, which part of the crowd would I fall into? Would I be in the crowd excited about a chance to see a miracle, and annoyed when Jesus said something I don’t understand? Or would I be a person who appreciated the miracles, but stayed, even when Jesus steps into toe-crunching and confusing territory with His teaching? Are we dedicated to the power or the Person?

Here are a couple of questions to ask ourselves to check our hearts. When you are praying for the Lord to do something in your life, are you still in love with Him and just as devoted if the situation does not “work out” the way you hoped? When you are praying, do your conversations exist primarily to ask for things, rather than to praise or give thanks?  Do you find yourself growing more in love with loving people as commanded by Jesus? This is the result of a life dedicated to Him: turning to bless others.

Not all of Jesus’ teachings were easy. He was ok with that. He knew not everyone would follow Him because it seems offensive to presume He is the only way. We desire to make it easy for ourselves and others, and Jesus didn’t do that. He wanted to make sure people knew the truth, not an easier-to-swallow version of it. Lord, help us love the same!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Community That Worships Together

by Sylvia Gaston

Two weeks ago, our church was part of an amazing community-wide worship experience held in the heart of the city at Hanford’s Civic Park. Several individuals from throughout Kings County, representing different churches or no church at all, came together for the 2nd Annual Kings Worship Night.

I was personally blessed to witness over 2,000 people attend this free event and worship God together. A few reasons for my blessedness was because I saw:

1. Several worship teams and choirs from different churches used their talents and different styles to worship the one and only God.

It took hours of meetings, rehearsals, promotion, and prayer to make this event happen. I was blessed to know that, despite our different church denominations, styles, and size, we really are ONE church…a church that loves and worships the one God that restores all.

“…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” – Philippians 2:2 (NIV)

2. Hundreds of families, young and old alike, came together for an evening of praise, worship, and food on a beautiful night under the stars.

The evening was full of peace, joy, smiles and singing in a safe and secure atmosphere. I witnessed no judgment of the various expressions of freedom - from sitting to standing, from clapping to shouting, from observing to dancing. All types of different people were celebrating God and paying attention to one another.

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ –Matthew 22:37-39 (ERV)

3. I was captured by what our entire community could look like – neighborhoods of people that worship and pray together despite our vast differences in age, color, gender, and status. All of us the same in our daily challenges, love for our families and desires for a healthy and prosperous life.

I urge you, my brothers and sisters, for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree to live in unity with one another and put to rest any division that attempts to tear you apart. Be restored as one united body living in perfect harmony. Form a consistent choreography among yourselves, having a common perspective with shared values.” -1 Corinthians 1:10 (TPT)

There in the heart of our town, with strangers and family, I experienced closeness, comradery, friendship, and agreement. That is the hometown I desire, contend for and pray for. With our differences and similarities, coming together as a community that worships together. I saw a glimpse of it that night. It was a beautiful thing.

Thank you, every one of you, who were there and who made this happen. It blessed me with a stirring insight of what our neighborhoods can be. More importantly, TYJ! (thank you, Jesus)!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Know Your Enemy

by Tim Howard

Since the inception of our country, many wars have been fought and this truth alone should remind everyone of this one very important fact. We have an enemy! This enemy is often elusive, controlling and very deceptive.
The Bible makes this clear: We have a spiritual enemy and this adversary seeks to influence us for the bad, control us in order to thwart freedom and deceive us into thinking that good is bad and bad is good.

One person said to me: “ If you believe in God you must also believe in Satan.” I couldn’t agree more! That’s one of the many names given to our spiritual enemy. Other names are: The devil, liar, deceiver, accuser, and the list goes on. Each name represents something of our enemy’s nature, character, and strategy.

Being born into freedom is different than living a life of freedom. To ‘get free’ from the tyranny of another is one thing but to ‘remain free’ requires a warrior mentality. There is no victory without a fight and freedom is worth a fight.

Knowing your enemy is a key to victory. Whether it’s in a country like Afghanistan, Iran or some spiritual battle, we must have certain Intel to be successful. The enemy doesn’t want you to walk in freedom. Here are 5 ways Satan seeks to keep you imprisoned. 

1.  Ignorance. I didn’t know the speed limit was 35 mph officer! I’m sorry about that, here is your ticket. 

2.  Isaiah 5:13 … “My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge...” Paul the Apostle said: “ We are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes.” Ignorance is not bliss! What you don’t know can hurt you.

3.  Negligence. Luke 6:49 …the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed…” Many marriages and relationships unravel, not because of what one does but because of what one doesn’t do. 

4.  Disobedience. Proverbs. 21:3 “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” God’s laws are not meant to restrict us but to keep us from bondage. Our Father is not so interested in slapping you on the wrist for failure to follow His directives, as He is desirous to keep you free from the snares of the enemy. 

5.  Arrogance. Proverbs16: 18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Your enemy loves to see you filled with pride. It hinders God’s work from happening in you because God draws near to the humble but opposes the proud.  

6.  Un-forgiveness. This will be manifested in multiple ways - resentment, vindictiveness, bitterness, anger, passive unresponsiveness and a host of other unproductive things. When you walk in unforgiveness you are playing into the strategic plan of the enemy.

If you are to win over the attempts of your enemy to imprison you, the door to these 5 points of entry must be closed. Then you must open the door to wisdom, participation, obedience, humility, and forgiveness. When you do, you will experience Victory. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Committed to More

by Candace Cortez

This past week, I was a part of a team of 12 incredible individuals who went on a journey to Mozambique, Africa for a short term mission trip. My husband and I have personal friends who are missionaries there, and we also have a heart for the continent of Africa. We were thrilled to be able to go on this trip along with our two children. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned.
Unity is key. When you are in a place where you do not know the language, it is easy to feel ill-equipped. In this situation, multiple languages were being used and I didn’t know any of them. There were several moments of partnership that made sure to keep me humble. I wasn’t able to go and change much of anything. But I was able to go and encourage the unity between people who are different than each other. This mission was not intended to radically change the culture in another area. It was more about embracing that culture and highlighting what God was doing there before we got there. When two churches come together and serve others side by side, I believe it pleases God. Now back home, I want to make sure I am not a part of creating more disunity in my context. There are apologies to be made, and invitations to be sent. Unity takes more work than independence. But I believe it’s one of the ways the Lord’s heart is revealed. I am committed to staying unified with my fellow believers.
The majority of the world is different. It was brought to my attention that I live in a minority culture. In our context, even the most poverty-stricken have opportunity. Spending a week in a developing country, which is similar in many ways to the majority of the world, is an incredible reminder of who God is speaking about when He refers to the least of these. I have created a lifestyle that could keep me separate and blind to this majority world. I am committed to seeing it.

People are people. There is the habit I have caught myself falling into. Sometimes when passing a crowd, people are a crowd. This seems like a duh statement, but what I mean by this is that crowds often strip people of their individuality, story, and sometimes as a result, their perceived value at that moment. We had the opportunity to visit families with children who have special needs while in Mozambique. This experience will leave a mark on my heart for my lifetime. But what I didn’t expect was the realization that people are people. Each parent, grandparent, or child had personality, hopes, fears, and a story. They were not a part of the crowd anymore. This is how Jesus sees us. We are not a horde of His creation. We are individually, wonderfully made. I am committed to seeing people as people.
Miracles are happening. Recently at a Bible study, a friend mentioned some frustrations that miracles don’t happen today like they used to. Everyone shared the sentiment. You may feel the same. But I have good news! Miracles ARE happening. We did a mini-conference for youth in the neighborhood we visited. We were expecting 50-60 kids to show up. We were thrilled and surprised when the room was filled with over 100 people. This left us nervous about the amount of food prepared. In faith, we began to pray that God would multiply our shredded beef like the loaves and fishes. Our team gave generous portions and as the last person was served, we celebrated having an entire crockpot of beef remaining. It did not seem possible. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but in that moment, we knew God had made a way. I am committed to seeing how God is shifting the circumstances to give Himself glory. 

It’s possible to give more. This is the last thing I’ll share, I promise. I met a lady, who had 4 children, one with a disability. She was not wealthy. She lives in a one-room house. A member of her family had a child with a disability and wanted to abandon that child, which is relatively socially acceptable in that context. This lady brought that child into her home and has been raising her as her own. She has a heart for adoption as at one point she was caring for 8 children total. I am humbled and inspired by this woman, who has given so much to love others. It is often felt, that one can give after they have reached a level of success or comfort that gives them excess. It is not often taught to give even when you are lacking yourself. I am committed to being generous, even when it costs me.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Take Up the Slack

by Andrew Cromwell

I came across a verse the other day while preparing for a talk. As I read it, I found my mind making connections I didn’t expect. I had read the verse before, many times in fact. But this time it came alive in a whole new way.

The Apostle Peter, in the letter we call 2 Peter, says, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise…” The implication is that God isn’t slow in carrying out His promise, even though it can feel like that sometimes from our perspective. He’s actually very patient. He patiently waits for us human beings to finally realize that our way of doing things doesn’t get us anywhere. And when we come to that realization, He is there waiting for us.

The fact that God is so very patient should make us all incredibly thankful. I have given God plenty of reasons to be impatient with me. And I bet you have too. I’m hard-headed, always thinking about myself, and always seeing things through my narrow point-of-view. I put my needs first, I forget the needs of my wife and my kids, I ignore the fact that there are people all around me, and I act like I’m the only one that matters. What a jerk!

And yet God is patient.

But there’s another side to the verse that I hadn’t seen before. Because the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, there are many different translations of the Bible as men and women have done their best to get the full meaning of the original language into the English language.

Because of this, it is often helpful to read more than one translation to capture the full meaning of a particular verse. On this day, I was reading in an old translation and instead of using the word “slow”, the translators had used the word “slack”.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…”

As I read that, I began to think about the implications of the word slack. By definition, slack means to be not taut or held loosely. Picture two soup cans connected by a string. You know, like in the kid's science experiment where they create a kind of telephone. When the string is loose, nothing travels between the two cans. But when you pull it tight and speak into one can, the vibrations carry across the line and into the other can where the message can be received.

What does this have to do with the verse?

Well, imagine God holding one end of the line. He’s got the soup can in hand, He’s whispering into it. He’s sending His love, His goodness, His blessing, His favor, His strength, and His wisdom through, but as long as the other end of the line remains slack, nothing can pass through. He is patiently waiting for us to pick up the other end of the line, pull it tightly to our ear, and receive the good things He wants to give us.

For me, the slack represents all the things that I put in between me and God. You know, all the excuses I make not to talk to Him and all the other things I do instead of spending time with Him. For some reason, I let life get in the way of me picking up the line.

What’s keeping you from picking up your end of the line? What’s getting in the way of connecting with Father God?

I believe there is no better time than right now to drop whatever else you’re carrying and answer the phone.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Frazzled or Frustrated? Drained and Discouraged?

by Sylvia Gaston

So many of us are. The hurried, overloaded, multi-tasking culture we live in can be a lifelong trap. We’ve become used to working harder, doing more, having it all. Some wear busyness as a badge of honor, complaining of exhaustion and accomplishments all in the same breath.

There are some who are busy by necessity. The single working mom, the dad working two jobs to make ends meet, the student who must work in order to go to school…are all worthy of support and encouragement.

However, how many of us are overworked, stressed out, and grouchy by choice? If you’re jumping from one thing to another each and every day with no time to rest and recharge, you’re doing it wrong.

God did not create you to do everything nor to live a frenetic life. In fact, His Word, the Bible, places high value on rest and peaceful living.

He gives an example of two completely different sisters. While Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to the ultimate Teacher and Rabbi, Martha scurries around, making dinner, cleaning up, and complaining. She asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her. Jesus says, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:38-42 NIV).

Could it be that our list of “have to’s” needs closer scrutiny? What falls into that category for you? Most of us have to work at a job to pay our bills. Most of us have to take care of our family and clean our house. Beyond that, what else is on your to-do list?

It may be time to ask God what kind of life He has in mind for you to live. It may be time to lay it all down and start from scratch – prioritizing what really matters. We must be intentional about our life and what we allow it to become or we can be sucked into a swift stream of busyness that has no rest, no rewards, no purpose.

God also tells us, “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11 – MSG)

Come on, Martha, sit a spell, and see what His plans are for you.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Failure Can Be A Good Thing

by Tim Howard

I know everyone fails at some time but it doesn’t make any of us feel better when it happens. No one wants to mess up because it’s painful, evokes feelings of disappointment, may have negative effects, doesn’t seem to be positive and recovery takes a lot of effort.  No one sets out to fail but it happens.

One major example is recorded in Joshua chapter 7 in the Old Testament. Joshua was a great leader of Israel and if you read his story, you will discover a massive failure that affected a whole lot of people in an adverse way. The Israelites were attempting to besiege a city called ‘Ai’ with the purpose of expanding their kingdom because they miscalculated some important details and didn’t have a clear understanding of the big picture.

His example should warn us all. Whether it is an individual, a corporate business or the leadership of a nation; failure a-waits those who do not thoroughly investigate all the facts and get to the cause.

There are two responses to failure that can help greatly. Joshua did both and was able to move beyond his failure. Some people move on in life after a defeat but they often don’t move beyond the collapse to recover totally.

1. Resilient people seek to discover the root problem and refuse to deal only with the fruit. They are committed to cutting down the tree and not just trim the branches. Too often we deal only with the symptoms of the failure and not the source.

A life of secrecy and sin surely lead the list but other things contribute to failure as well. When you put in minimum effort and expect maximum results failure is nearby. If you act upon bad advice, the results can be devastating. The ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ syndrome is responsible for many failures and defeat happens frequently if we don’t make a commitment and demonstrate perseverance. Whatever the root reason is, it’s worth finding. It may be obscure, hazy or concealed but you can’t fix something unless you know why something is broken?

2.  Don’t react to failure but respond.

Emotions are wonderful but if you allow them to lead your decision making process in the midst of failure you will react improperly rather than respond correctly.

Here’s a few ‘Do’s and Don’t’ when you fail.

Don’t be quick to look outside before you have taken a long look inside. This will lead to shifting the responsibility onto someone else. Others may have contributed to your debacle but that doesn’t make them responsible for what you do. Do accept full responsibility for your own life and the decisions you make.

Don’t ignore the facts and fail to recognize the ‘Pink Elephant’ in the room. Do focus fully on the problem and seek an honest evaluation.

Don’t quit – take another swing. Someone said: “Failure doesn’t have to be final.”

Don’t blame God but pray to Him. The first thing Joshua did when failure happened was to call out to the One who could help. Some people will look down on you when failure happens and possibly reject you but Jesus will ALWAYS work with you if you come to Him. There’s something good that can come out of failure if we call on God.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Who’s Listening?

by Candace Cortez

There is one part of parenting that is revealing parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. That is youth sports. I have never been chill, and I know this. But I did not expect passion to escape from my being as it does when my son’s team has the ball. I try to play it cool with some of the other cute moms and relaxed fathers on the side lines. I enjoy chatting with the other fans of children’s team sporting events. But more often than not, I am interrupting a nice conversation about what our kids will or won’t eat for dinner with a shout of “GOOOOO GOOOO GOOOO!” because all of a sudden my son or one of his friends is running the ball. I can’t help it. I am a loud, but encouraging team mom.

I have been comparing these same compulsory responses to those that erupt when you stub your toe on the corner of the couch. You don’t always get to plan those next few syllables that sneak (or stampede) out of your mouth. You don’t get to practice your response to sharp pain and usually that response is wrapped in anger, which could lead to not so shiny statements.  But just because you’re not in a place to edit your comments with your full range of self-control, does not mean you’re off the hook for what comes out of your mouth. I learned this lesson recently.

I was sitting next to a mom I didn’t recognize. She was kind and didn’t complain with her face when I decided to share her shady spot instead of choosing a space outside of her bubble. I was being loud encouraging the team as always. I typically try to celebrate both sides of the field if the situation arises. There was a particular play when one of the players on the opposing team got a little aggressive when he didn’t go as far as he wanted. I kind of laughed at the situation with her, made a passing comment about his frustration, and then quickly followed it up with a complement about his cuteness.  Insert generic mom comments here. After the game, that same little boy from the opposing team came running up to his mom sitting right next to me. My mind immediately raced back to my comments. Were they rude? Did I mock or ridicule him? Was she even paying attention? Luckily after my rapid-fire recall moment, I felt I was in the clear. I told him good game and left so glad I didn’t have my foot in my mouth.

Lesson learned: you have no idea who is listening! There are very few things that can break the potential for relationship than insulting someone’s child. I know I would have a hard time trusting someone who was rude to my little ones. Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

This doesn’t mean when you’re in a good mood, or at church, or when you’re totally aware of your surroundings. This isn’t because God wants to control us, or dictate what we say. I truly believe God gives us these warnings because it’s wisdom. If I were to shout out negative things about a little one who is having a negative moment during a child’s sporting event, I may have used words that don’t matter to end a friendship before it even began. 

God desires for us to love one another. One of the ways to do that is with your words. It’s really difficult to say I love you after a situation when your words or actions say quite the opposite. We must weed out the negative stuff so when we are in an auto-response mode, it’s not hurtful to those who are forced to hear us. We don’t always get to pick who hears us, but we do get to pick our words.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Convictions and Attitudes

by Tim Howard

Someone once said: “Your attitude will determine your altitude.” I totally agree! Some people find opportunity in every difficulty; others find difficulty in every opportunity. Your attitude has the power to create a positive outlook on life as well as a negative one. 

In Phil 2:4-5 the Apostle Paul tells us not to be selfish, which is an action, motivated by a wrong attitude. He goes on to say: “Don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had”. NLT

A person can choose the attitude that will best serve God’s purposes. To do this, however, you must establish true convictions because attitudes and actions are founded upon the convictions you hold. 

Convictions grow over time. They are learned through instruction, thought, decisions and experiences. They provide the foundation of your life perspective. Your future looks bright when your attitude is built upon convictions that are right. When this happens, you become a sweet fragrance to enjoy rather than an odor to be avoided.

People who have great impact on the world, for good or bad, are those with deep-seated convictions. They weren’t necessarily the smartest, brightest, the most educated, the wealthiest or even the most famous but they hold strong beliefs.

I’ve established many convictions that have helped me stay the course. Here are a few of them.

1.  Life Is All About God!
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about profit, politics, or anything else. It’s all about God. Until you understand that, life will never make sense fully. 

2.  People Matter Most! 
Rick Warren said: Projects and programs are great but we are to be driven by purpose and that purpose puts people first. 
3.  You Can’t Do Life Alone!
It’s not enough just to love God. You must love His people and connect - despite all of our differences. Jesus is our example and He connected with all people.

4.  Everything Is Possible With God!
Don’t quit believing in God because Miracles still happen! God is pleased when we trust Him to do those things beyond our abilities. He’s willing to empower us!

5.  God Expects Everyone To Love Everyone.      
Matt. 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. NIV When something bad happens, you have three choices: You can either let it define you, destroy you, or strengthen you. Don’t let anything stop you from loving everyone.

Turning a problem into an opportunity, being victorious rather than a victim or seeing the possibilities rather than the impossibilities is determined by convictions and attitudes. What are you some of your convictions and do you need an attitude adjustment?

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Good Luck!

by Sylvia Gaston
How many times have you said that to someone? I say it all the time to kids who are playing sports or taking a test or to someone making a presentation. Technically speaking, is it really luck that determines these outcomes?
Luck is defined as success or failure brought by chance rather than through one's actions. Our successes and failures are usually brought on by choices we’ve made or by whether or not we have adequately prepared for that game, test or presentation.
How does luck relate to fate? Fate is defined as the development of events beyond a person's control, as determined by a supernatural power. What supernatural power? Are we talking about God here?
Lastly, I’ve heard my teenagers and their friends say “Karma!” to someone who has an unfortunate thing happen. By saying this, they mean, “That’s what you get (or deserve)”. In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma refers to the sum of a person's actions in this and previous lives that determine their fate in their future lives.
What does luck, fate or karma have to do with my life? Absolutely nothing!
There are two important fundamental beliefs that I wish each man, woman, and child would believe and live out. (There are more but let’s focus on these two for now)….
1.    God created you on purpose.
2.    God created you for a purpose.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, God speaks directly to Jeremiah, His prophet. Jeremiah, in turn, shares God’s words with the people. In Jeremiah 1:4-5, he says, “The Lord’s message came to me: “Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I chose you for a special work.” (ERV)
David, of David and Goliath fame, puts it this way . . .
“O Lord, you have examined my heart
     and know everything about me.
 You know when I sit down or stand up.
     You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
 You see me when I travel
     and when I rest at home.
     You know everything I do.
 You know what I am going to say
     even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
     You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
     too great for me to understand!” (Psalm 139:1-6)(NLT)
 It wasn’t luck, fate or karma that created you. It was God. You are precious to Him. He loves you with an unconditional love that we humans cannot fully comprehend or replicate.
AND He created you for a reason, a purpose. When we live out our life doing what our Creator created us to do, then and only then, are we truly living our best life. 

So, what is my purpose, you may ask? I have only begun to grasp some of the things that I’m certain God created me to do. It is a lifelong conversation with God, listening and watching for His promptings and confirmations. Each of us must seek Him to find answers to that paramount question. To that, I say good luck (just kidding)!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

When Temptation Comes Knocking

by Tim Howard
Oscar Wilde said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” I can relate! How about you? You’ve got to remember, when it comes knocking on your door you don’t have to open it!
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Closing the door to temptation can be daunting. If you always say ‘yes’ when it knocks then you have yet to realize the level of difficulty. Only those who try to resist know how strong it is.
Temptation is like food – we’re enticed to eat the wrong things and those things that are healthy are not attractive to us. Too often we think of temptation as being enticed to do big things like stealing, murdering or committing adultery. But most often we're tempted to be impatient, stingy, jealous, greedy or just plain lazy and apathetic.
A survey I read listed ten powerful temptations people face in this culture. Here’s five or them:
1. The desire to buy more than they can afford.
2. The temptation to put themselves first and live a self-centered life.
3.  The inclination to laziness rather than productivity – to do nothing rather than something.
4. The enticement to procrastinate.
5. The temptation to make pleasure more important than purpose.
According to the dictionary, temptation is the act of enticement with the purpose of causing you to do something wrong or unprofitable by promising something positive. Temptation motivates you to do ‘bad’ by promising something good. The Bible totally agrees with this and affirms the need to say NO when it comes.
Temptation shows up early in the Biblical narrative. Only 3 chapters into the Bible we are told of a couple named Adam and Eve who were tempted to disobey God for the purpose of setting up their own autonomy. Guess what! They yielded to the voice of temptation and others were impacted negatively.
When you yield to the temptation of surfing the Internet while you’re being paid to work, the productivity or your company decreases. When you sit on the couch watching sports knowing you should be helping your mate, your relationship suffers. When you’re tempted to lie rather than tell the truth, you sacrifice your integrity if you yield.
Here are four things I’ve learned that may help in this ongoing battle with temptation and it is ongoing!
1. You have a better chance of standing strong in the midst of temptation if you have an exit strategy before you experience it. Schools and companies have an escape plan set in place in case of fire. People living in hurricane areas have a calculated strategy for when the winds come. And coaches never go into a contest without a game plan. Ask yourself: How am I going to escape when it happens to me? Get a plan!
2. It’s critical to identify your weaknesses prior to a moment of enticement since temptation looks for your weak moments. In Luke 4 when Jesus was tempted, we are told that the devil left Him for another ‘opportune’ time. You can strengthen your resolve if you’re aware of your vulnerable points and set up a guard.
3. People who lose the battle to temptation have often lost sight of the big picture. He or she becomes myopic, only seeing what benefits them. 

4. Be willing to fight. (James 4:7) There will always be a battle but if you’re willing to close the door on temptation it will bear great dividends.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Still Hostile

by Candace Cortez

One of my favorite things about the Bible, the incredible, God breathed and powerful text handed down and preserved for generations is that if I read it right, I always find something new. I have been reading the Bible for more than 2 decades and this is still so true. Is this true for you? The key here is reading it “right.” There have been seasons when I read because I knew I was supposed to, so it was essentially just a verse count relay. I needed to get a certain amount of verses in me to justify calling myself a Christian. Fortunately, I have grown, and continue to grow in my love for scripture. If you are where I was, take heart! It gets better. I now read because I know I will find something. I now read because I love God more than I love being a Christian. I now read for growth, not verse count. Here is one of the beautiful things that recently stuck out to me.

From the beginning, God had a plan for all eternity. This alone, kind of blows my mind. In Genesis 3, we have the account of the fall of all mankind. The process is sad, and the reaction from the Father reveals so much about His love, compassion, handle on justice, and desire to keep us in the loop. One statement in particular recently stuck out about our relationship with the serpent, the central bad guy in this story. Genesis 3:15 is the middle of God’s account of His plan, both in retribution and in restoration. It is written,

“And I will put enmity
     between you and the woman,
     and between your offspring, and hers;
 he will crush your head,
     and you will strike his heel.”

The first word highlighted in my heart (and now in my Bible) is the word enmity. I knew that Satan was my enemy, but I never realized that the status of enemy was established by God Himself. The status of enemy may have primarily existed between God and the devil, but God placed that same hostility between His created children and Satan. The meaning of enmity is the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something. This feeling of despising the work of the enemy is a result of the Father’s will. As I prayed on this, I began to realize, that if I am not in active opposition to the evil in this world, to the ways in which the enemy is trying to deceive and corrupt, then I am outside of the will of my Father. Each moment of passive acceptance of what the enemy is doing in this planet, actually puts me in HIS camp, instead of the side of the creator of the universe. Here’s my prayer: Lord, help me to keep that feeling of hostility against the enemy, and LOVE for people and this planet, alive in tandem, propelling me towards the active building of Your Kingdom. Amen.

The last part I’ll write about is God’s plan for Eve’s offspring. Many scholars suggest that the specific offspring mentioned here is actually Jesus. He will crush the head, meaning actually destroying Satan in the end, while Jesus will be struck a blow to the heel. Honestly, I am still studying to figure out the significance of the heel as the specified place of the strike, but I am certain of this: the enemy is destroyed, while Jesus, Eve’s offspring, is only wounded. This leads me to remember the crucifixion, as terrible as it was, led to the resurrection. Jesus conquered it all to defeat the enemy.

Now here we are. Still enemies of Satan, but on the side of a King who has already begun the process of victory. We live in victory and will be victorious even more. I don’t know what part of your life the enemy has tried to win over, or what you have become comfortable with, but remember that we are victorious in so many ways already. God uses all things, even the strikes of the enemy to create something good. He will use your trials to build strength, perseverance, and leverage these over the plans of the one who has already lost. Keep studying God’s word. Keep hostility for evil alive. Keep in mind, you serve a God who is crushing it!