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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dealing with Doubt

Almost everyone has doubts. Doubts are a part of life. We even have sayings about doubt. We say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, and “Don’t believe everything you hear”, and “Trust, but verify.”

And without a doubt, there is plenty of reason to doubt! Our world has disappointed us so many times we find it difficult to trust anything anymore. We have been disappointed by products we purchased that didn’t live up to their claims. We have been crushed by people who promised and didn’t follow through. And we have been devastated by friends who told us to trust them, when they never planned to be trustworthy at all.

There is very little in the world that is reliable and trustworthy, or so it seems.

And then we begin to think about God—an all-knowing, all-loving Creator—and we can’t seem to help keep our negative experiences from bleeding over into our trust in Him. And this is natural. Everything we have seen and experienced in this world has lead us to doubt. But God says that we are to have faith in Him.

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Faith requires us to believe and trust even when we can’t see the entire picture in this moment. Where doubt demands to see the hard evidence, faith is ok with waiting because it is confident the evidence will follow.

Doubt is a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you doubt someone and are convinced they are going to let you down, they always do. You can always find a reason to doubt! You can find plenty of reasons to doubt God too. Many people sabotage their faith in God by choosing to believe things about Him that are simply not true (for example, believe that if God is real and He loves me, then He won’t allow bad things to happen to me). When these false beliefs are verified (aka, bad things happen), then they become angry at God.

So what do we do with doubt?

The first thing we do is to choose the opposite of doubt. We choose faith. We choose to trust God even when we don’t understand. But choosing faith is only the first step.

Second, we feed our faith and starve our doubts. This is a decision to actively feed yourself the right “faith-food” and avoid feasting on doubt-filled thoughts. Instead of rehearsing all the things we are unsure about, we instead focus on the things we are sure about. We know God is good, we know He love us, and we know that He is with us even in the midst of difficult times (including times filled with doubt).

Finally, we push into the only One who is really trustworthy! We do whatever we must to get closer to God. We desperately pursue Him. We get around people that are excited about God. We read the Bible. We talk to God. We grow ourselves spiritually.

As you do this, you will find that your faith will grow stronger.

The next time you are filled with doubt, talk to someone about it. But don’t just talk to anyone, talk to someone who you know is filled with faith and can encourage you. Don’t talk to someone who is filled with doubt! You’ll always leave that conversation filled with even more doubt too.

Andrew Cromwell is the executive pastor at Koinonia Church in Hanford. E-mail him and let him know what you think at andrew@kchanford.com or call 582-1528.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Don’t give up, Hand over

You hear people say it all the time. “Give it up to God!” they say, and you think to yourself how you’d like to but what does that even mean? How am I supposed to give it to God? Physically hand it to Him? But He is invisible. And what if the thing being given up is non-physical to begin with like a worry or fear or question? How do I give that to God? And what if the problem is my teenager? Just tell me how to give them up and I’m there!

And what’s more giving up sounds awfully like throwing in the towel and quitting. So does “giving up” mean that when things get difficult you quit on your marriage or your kids and just trust God to do the rest? And what about debt? Can that just be “quit” on?

We all know that “giving it up” can’t mean just quitting outright, so what are we giving up exactly and how do we do it?

First, you can give it up through prayer.

Sometimes “giving it up to God” simply means praying about it. Prayer is the process of talking with God. The Apostle Peter tells us to “cast all of our cares upon Him because He cares for us.” Imagine all of the worries of your heart like things that are heavy. These heavy weights drag you down so all your energy is sapped just by going through life.

It is helpful to think of this process as one of “handing over”. We hand over those heavy weights to someone who can carry them for us. That doesn’t mean the core issues simply disappear, but rather that God in His great strength now carries them. We give up on the belief that we can carry and handle everything by ourselves.

Second, you can give it up through silence.

Far too often, we just can’t seem to close our mouth for long enough to get clear of the things that we are carrying. Sometimes these are words we say out loud to others and sometimes they are words we say to ourselves. Either way, we usually end up stirring up more trouble, worry, fear, anger, bitterness, or hurt.

Is it any wonder that the Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God?” To be still is to relinquish the power to control the situation through our words. There comes a point when more words don’t help. This is when a “holy” silence is needed. A “holy silence” is the kind when you shut your mouth because God is at work!

Finally, you can give up through forgiveness.

Many of the things we deal with are because we have not dealt with our heart first. Our heart is polluted with bitterness and unforgiveness. We have been hurt by others and so we have a bitter expectation that people are going to keep hurting us. Often, we fulfill our own expectation by lashing out and hurting them first.

The only way to break that cycle is to forgive. Forgiveness is Jesus’ greatest gift for us and His greatest challenge to us.

So, what are you carrying that is weighing you down? Maybe it’s time to give it up to God!

The pastors of Kings County would love to see you this weekend to encourage you that you are not alone and that God is ready to carry your heavy load. Hope to see you and your family in church this Sunday!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Peace on Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May His peace dwell richly with you this season.

Friday, July 1, 2016

On Time

I like things to be on time, don’t you? When I order something and I am told that it will be delivered to my doorstep in two days, it feels right when the smiling man in the brown truck shows up two days later to hand me my package. When I show up at the doctor’s office for my appointment, it makes my heart happy when they call my name at the appointed time. And when I tell my wife to be ready at 6pm so we can make it to the restaurant “on time”, I do so having set the reservation for 30 minutes later than she realizes so we won’t be late (this is purely hypothetical and I would never do such a thing and she’s never been late in her life).

Having spent some time in other countries, I have learned that not every culture is as obsessed with time as we are in the United States. Undoubtedly, we inherited some of that fixation from the British Empire which was known for the ridiculously accurate train schedules that you could set your watch by. Here if a business person tells you they have you in their appointment book for tomorrow, you expect them to show up tomorrow (and probably confirm with a text and a phone call when they’re on their way so you can be ready too and not waste a minute). But in other places in the world, time is a much less intense thing. People are not so specific about hours and minutes and they don’t anticipate that everything will happen quickly either.

In these more time generous places, if you are invited to visit at a friend’s house in the afternoon, you are welcome to drop by pretty much anytime after two in the afternoon and probably all the way until dark. In our time crunched society, the only person we give that much of a window to is the cable man (because internet and TV are more important than just about anything else to us). For the time generous, being “on time” is a very loose term that welcomes both those who are chronically early and those who are unceasingly late.

If you are anything like me, you have frequently fallen into the trap of starting to believe that just about everything in life should happen “on time.” And when it doesn’t, you get angry, frustrated, and disappointed. The problem with this is that you set yourself up to be ticked off pretty much all of the time. But when you think abou it, I think you’ll realize that many of the things that we get angry about because they are late, are not necessarily late at all. It is just that we had decided we wanted things to happen more quickly than they actually did. And when our expectations were not met...we whined, complained, yelled, or whatever we did.

We carry this silly notion of time with us into every aspect of our lives. Parents become obsessed with their toddler’s development, haranguing the doctor as to whether Little Johnny is hitting all the metrics and marks. Shoppers throw fits in the grocery store when the line gets long and nobody gets on the intercom to open a new lane. And God forbid we don’t finish school, get the job, and fall in love when we should.

Truth be told, that really is a lot of it. At the end of the day, when God doesn’t do what we want Him to do “on time”, that’s when we really get mad. Or depressed. Or drunk. We throw our little fit because life didn’t happen the way we thought it should have. God didn’t heal the person we wanted Him to. He didn’t get me the job I wanted. And He won’t get my boss fired, no matter how much I pray about it. You get the idea.

The point is, maybe your and my perspective of what is on time and what is late is not all that great. Maybe it’s time we all take a chill pill and stop trying to control everything around us all the time. Because there really is Somebody that has it under control already (and He doesn’t need us to tell Him what time it is).

In the Bible, in Galatians 4 it says, “in the fulness of time, God sent His Son.” God doesn’t make mistakes and He’s always on time — it’s just not your time and it’s certainly not my time!

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tertium Quid

I’ve been spending some time recently thinking about the unique nature of Jesus Christ. For Christians, it is all about Jesus Christ. He is at the center of everything. The historical fact of His coming back to life after three days dead in the tomb, is the central and most important miracle of all Christianity. Without the Resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christian faith.

This makes Jesus truly unique. Buddhists have Buddha, Muslims have Mohammed, and Jews have Moses. But none of these men claimed to be God and rose from the dead. All of these men were prophets or messengers who were pointing the way to God, but none ever said that they were God.

Jesus bucked the trend in a way that generally only people that are unhinged do. Think about it, only crazy people or ego-maniacs claim to be God. There are plenty of people in institutions who make the claim, but everyone knows they either dropped too much acid or have an imbalance in their brain. There have also been plenty of “God-rulers” — Roman caesars, Egyptian Pharaohs, and Chinese emperors — all declared themselves to be deities, but we all know better.

So either Jesus was really “cray” or he knew what he was talking about. My belief is that our responsibility as human beings is to follow a belief system that is consistent with reality. It is possible to have any number of religious beliefs, but they are only superstitions unless they align with the way the universe really is. This is what makes Jesus different.

The way Jesus talked about the human condition was incredibly accurate. He spoke clearly about the wicked and self-centered nature of all of our hearts. He didn’t sugar coat evil, he called it for what it was. We spend a lot of time rationalizing our actions and behaviors and explaining away our wickedness — but we all know it’s just our own way of hiding from the truth. We are messed up as a race and we need help.

But he didn’t stop there. Plenty of others have pointed out that we have a problem. Where Jesus went further, is that he offered a solution to the problem. He gave a clear path to rescue. If wickedness is rooted deep in the heart of every woman and man, Jesus offers healing for our hearts. He offers forgiveness. We all need forgiveness, and anyone that tells you different is full of it.

You can look at His miracles, you can look at his teachings, and you can even look at his claims. If left by themself, all of these things would make Jesus an amazing man, but they wouldn’t make him a God-Man. What makes Jesus different, what proves that He is the “tertium-quid” as early Christian came to know him (literally the third-thing — as in there is nothing else like Him in the entire universe), is that He proved those claims true by coming back to life.

This is what we all have to wrestle with. If He didn’t resurrect, then we shouldn’t worship Him. But if He did, then we had better listen because He probably knows what He’s talking about!

What do you believe about Him?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Cursing the Darkness

Recently I was reminded at how frequently I default into “cursing” mode. No, not the hammer your thumb, four-letter kind of cursing mode, but rather the kind where you look around at the state of the world and can see only what is bad and broken and start complaining. If you’re at all like me, it doesn’t take much to put you there. Fifteen minutes of TV news will do it. So will virtually any conversation about politics and the state of our political system. Of course, there is the tried and true conversation about the same old things at work that still don’t work the way they should.

Whenever we are confronted with the brokenness of the world, it is so easy to just start to moan and groan. We complain that it should be different. We lament how things just seem to be getting worse and worse. We repeat the same old phrases about how it used to be better in the good old days. We blame society. We blame kids. We blame the teachers. We blame the system.

They call this cursing the darkness. The last time I checked, cursing the darkness doesn’t do much good. If everytime I walk into my garage I stub my toe, and then spend all the time I’m in the garage (and out of the garage), talking about how it should be different, what good will that do? I need to turn on a light (or move the toe-stubbing object somewhere else!).

If you’re unhappy with your marriage, don’t complain about it, do something. If you’re unhappy with your political leaders, don’t complain about it, do something! And if you’re unhappy with the school system, the kids today, or the situation in the city or county, do something! And contrary to popular opinion, complaining is not doing something.

Turn on a light! And if there’s not a light to turn on, install one! Carry one with you. Determine to be the kind of person that adds light to every situation, instead of just cursing the darkness.

Jesus said, “let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” Light-people are lifters – they lift situations out of the muck and mire and make them beautiful.

What kind of person are you? Are you a complainer or are you a light-giver? Are you shining light or are you cursing the darkness? We need some more light-people up in here!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dr. Spouse

According to the statistics, most people will marry at some point in their life and the vast majority of people prefer being paired up with someone else versus living single. Of course, what is often ironic about that fact is that one of the more frequent questions we ask ourselves once we do get married is, “what was I thinking?” The old adage, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them” seems to apply all too frequently.

We are wired for relationships -- God built it into our DNA. We can’t get around it. And there is something deeply satisfying when we find that sweet spot in a marriage relationship where we are able to love and be loved and do life together. Almost all of us look at those marriages that have stood the test of time -- people married for 40, 50, and even 60 years -- and want to know, “How did they do it?”

And while there are exceptions, most of these long term marriages seem to have figured out a secret and all of us who would desire that kind of success, desperately want to know what that secret is. How do we make it through the ups and downs of life and still find the other person fascinating?

The answer, or at least one of the answers, to this question, as is often the case, is incredibly simple to understand but will take a lifetime to master. If you want to make it work with your spouse in a way that is magical, then you have to be willing to be a lifetime learner. You have to become a student of your spouse. You have to be willing to study them so well, that you become a Ph.D. in the subject of that singular person that you are married to.

More often than not, marriages fail, not because two people are incompatible, but because they are unwilling. They are unwilling to do the difficult work of figuring each other out. And what is worse, they assume that once they have “figured out their spouse”, they can rest easy. This is a problem because people keep changing throughout the course of their life -- they are not fixed subjects that can be put under glass and studied with a microscope. Rather, they are living, breathing entities that are constantly changing and adjusting. Becoming an expert in this kind of subject takes a lot of time, energy, and effort.

I enjoy watching nature documentaries about exotic animals that are difficult to find. Creatures that only come out at night or live in the remotest of places. Animals that are so rare that sometimes they are thought to be extinct. To capture footage of such creatures is an incredible feat. The camera crew, often just a single individual, must be willing to put in hours of patient study, frequently in extremely difficult conditions, just to get a few seconds of material. And yet they are pleased to wait because they consider the animal worth it.

If only we would be so patient with our spouses! All too often, we are unwilling to wait, unwilling to put in the time, unwilling to go through the difficult conditions to capture the opportunity to truly “see” them. People don’t reveal their inner secrets easily. Real intimacy comes at a price, but often we are unwilling to pay. But for those that pay the price, they get understanding. And with understanding comes great benefits.

So the next time you are frustrated with your spouse and are contemplating throwing in the towel, maybe first you need to ask yourself, “have I really put in the time and effort?” Do I really have a Ph.D. in this subject or have I settled for something less? Am I still a student and a lifetime learner or have I become bored and complacent?

It might be time to pick up the books again! Your spouse is one of the most fascinating people on the planet -- or have you forgotten?