I Made a Promise: Confronting the Shame and Bondage of Sexual Abuse

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By Martin Schlomer

It was early February 2016 when I made a promise to the Elim family. We had to confront the ugly reality of sexual abuse. A young man was accused of sexual abuse. When confronted, he confessed that the accusation was true. The individual was turned over to the proper authorities and arrested.

While nothing happened at any Elim ministry event, we were asked the question, “What’s next?” Many others came with their own stories of being victims of sexual abuse. This was my introduction to the ugly reality that so many people must endure. One in three women and one in five men have endured sexual abuse. Most suffer in silent agony, enslaved in deep and toxic shame. I promised the Elim family that we would develop a strategy to shepherd and disciple those adults among us who have been victimized by sexual predators.

After eight months of thinking, praying, and looking for someone to help guide us through this process, I met with Shonna Porter to brainstorm options. She connected me with Mary Jane Apple, who works alongside Dr. Dan Allender, a renowned Christian psychologist in the realm of sexual abuse. I have assembled a team of eager individuals who will work with Shonna and Mary Jane to be trained and to develop a strategy to move us forward. At this point, Elim will host two seminars this fall. In September/October, we will host a two-hour seminar for Elim and the South Hill community, with the topic of defining the scope of sexual abuse: What is it, and how does it happen? Then, before the end of the year, we hope to offer a two-day intensive seminar called “Healing the Wounded Heart.” Coming out of these seminars, it is my hope that we will be equipped to pursue an ongoing ministry outreach based upon our understanding.

Why is this important? The gospel has the power not just to save us for eternity, but also to lead us on the way of freedom here and now! “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This fullness is for ALL men and women who bow their knee before Jesus, experiencing His heart and following His ways!

This journey will be no picnic in the park. In my first conversation with Mary Jane, she asked me, “Why do you want to pursue this path?” After I explained my reasons, she gave me this assurance: “You are stepping into some strongholds, some very dark places. Satan will not step aside and walk quietly into the night. You need to build a prayer team as you begin this journey.” This is now my first priority! If you are willing to pray weekly, please email me (martin@elimefc.org), and I will put you on prayer list and will keep you updated monthly on ways you can pray. Please put “Allies in Prayer” in the subject line.

May our Father lead us as we bring the light of the Kingdom of God to very dark places!

Martin

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Not yet in a small group at Elim? Here’s how to get connected!

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By Larry Short

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about small groups at Elim. I’ve been thinking about how incredibly blessed I have been, in my life thus far, because of my connection to those small communities we call “groups.”

This week I am turning the big six-zero. (Which really means, and I realize this is anticlimactic, that I have been breathing air for a total of 61 years now! But, we must have some excuse to party, right?)

And recently I realized that now I am twice as old as I was when I led my first small group. I know this because I have a very distinct (pleasant) memory, as a small group leader, of the members of my first group all wearing black as I led a Bible study on my 30th birthday. (I’m guessing 60 is the new black, right?)

So, more than half of my life so far has been spent connected to small groups. It was in one of those first small groups that a leader thrust a guitar into my hands and said, “You are now our group’s worship leader!” (I wanted to kabong him with it.) It was in groups that I learned how God answered prayer and how I needed to depend on Him when my heart ached for another person. He revealed Himself in small groups, and I have grown time and again over the years, thanks to the exhortation, encouragement, and even the occasional rebuke by small-group members. As we’ve studied God’s Word together, prayed together, worshipped together, served together, ate together, and just hung out together, God has helped me find and walk in His plan for my life . . . through small groups.

I sometimes hear people say, “I don’t really feel connected.” My wife Darlene and I feel connected—and we have small groups to thank for that!

Recently I submitted to Elim staff and elders a document that I titled “Community Ministry at Elim: Seven Guiding Principles.” I’d like to share these with you on this Last Word blog. We’ll start with Principle 1 and tackle a new one each time I get a chance to write. (If you are eager to read all seven principles at one time, I’ve posted the document here on Elim’s website.)

Principle 1: Groups are an incredibly important part of life at a local church such as Elim. They should be one of the key places where people truly connect to God and one another. A lot of life change (for the better!) happens in the context of small groups.

Because groups are so important, we will seek to:

  • Encourage as many friends and members at Elim as possible to be a part.
  • Recruit and raise up as many leaders as needed to lead as many groups as needed to accommodate all who should be in a group.
  • Pray for, support, and help equip group leaders in whatever ways we can to be effective in using their gifts in group leadership.

I’ve already mentioned the crucial role groups have played in my own life and in Darlene’s.  Our experience in groups hasn’t always been comfortable or pain free, but they have always resulted in growth as well as an opportunity to serve others. (Which, by the way, I really need to do in order to grow!)

Many of you know already that Darlene and I have been leading Elim’s young adults group, now called Pulse, for 15 years now. Like all groups, this group has had its ebbs and its flows. Right now we’re in a bit of an ebb; we’ve had a lot of people get married and some of those move away. For years we met on Friday nights (and before that, other weeknights), but because our members have been “aging” together (some now approaching that magic age at which I led my first group!) and are now more like young professionals and less like college students, Friday nights have become more challenging for everyone to gather on. So, we have gone to Sunday mornings (before worship service) instead, but we still have the occasional Friday- or Saturday-night fellowship event. (We also often hang out on Sunday evenings. We have a lot of group “togetherness” time! More about this in another post.)

Our original goal in hosting Pulse was to keep the young people who were being turned out by Elim’s wonderful Student Ministries engaged in the life of the church after they graduated from high school. God has provided a lot of blessings as we’ve seen this goal realized. Young adults are staying at Elim, bringing others in, serving in ministry, and even becoming leaders. And as I mentioned previously, they are also getting married and, in many cases, raising children here (you’re welcome, Children’s Ministry!). This reality, and the blessing of the friendships we have built with so many precious young adults, has been ample reward for the time, the prayers, and the many boxes of pizza we have invested along the way.

I sometimes wonder how people who are NOT involved in small groups at Elim (and probably about half of our congregation are not yet involved) stay connected. Honestly, Sundays aren’t enough! And while our Sunday services here are fantastic, small groups offer so much more opportunity for positive life change to occur. They are a key place God really does His work: through accountability, through prayer, through sharing your story, through encouragement and all the other “one anothers” of Scripture, through Bible study, and through just plain experiencing life together.

So, if you are a member or friend of Elim and are not yet in a small group, for both your benefit and the benefit of others, please consider how you can get connected to one! If you’d like to find a group to plug into, please call or drop me a note, and I promise I will try to help you get connected (call 253-906-9676 [mobile] or email larryshort@gmail.com). Thank you!

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Rearview Mirror

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By Brian Sharpe

Transition is always tough. Most times we aren’t able to see what God is doing or how He is using a transition in our life, until that transition is in the rearview mirror.

When I was in high school, my parents decided to move from a place where all my siblings grew up and went to school together – to a place where I knew no one – leaving a place where most of my extended family lived – to go to a place where I had no family.

I moved from Buffalo, New York, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. It was a tough transition. It was a transition I didn’t want. But as I look back in the rearview mirror of life, it was a transition that God used in my life.

I believe God used that transition to humble me. He also used that transition to protect me from myself. I was going down a path that would have led me to unhealthy places. God also gave me a lot of gifts along the way. He used this move to introduce me to sailing. He used this transition to lead me to Bible school, to meeting my wife, and ultimately to moving into pastoral ministry, working with students.

God used this transition to give me a story to tell and a way to relate to a lot of people whom I have encountered. Transitions are never easy, but when we surrender to God and seek Him in life, He uses it for His glory and our benefit.

After last Sunday, we as a church as well as Nate and Becky as a family found ourselves headed into transition. Do we know what God has in store for us in the future? No. But we do know that we have a God who is with us and who loves us. We have a God who is at work.

I am excited that we will someday be able to look in the rear-view mirror to see how God has been working throughout this transition. I liken this situation to a movie in which you didn’t know the ending, and you just look at the screen as it ends and say, “No way! Did that just happen?” It ended in a perfect, yet unexpected way.

That’s how I view transition. I view it as a way to see God’s handiwork in our lives.

Please pray for Elim. Pray for Nate and Becky. Pray for the staff and the elders. Pray that we will listen for the will of God, that we will lead with wisdom and godly insight. Pray that we keep the main things the main things.

Transition usually leads to us getting a bigger glimpse into God’s handiwork – which ultimately helps us develop into passionate followers of Jesus Christ!

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It’s Not Fair!

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Elim is a very blessed community with many gifted, wise, and insightful people. Hannah (and her husband Jason) Comerford is one of those people. I have invited her to share her humorous and insightful experience from a few weeks ago, I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.   Martin

By Hannah Comerford

Well, this is my life now. Cold forever. That’s what I get for complaining about the heat last summer.

My husband Jason and I had arrived at Puyallup’s new Chick-fil-A at 5:45 AM. Everyone who stayed until 6:00 AM the next day would get a t-shirt and, most importantly, a gift card preloaded with 52 chicken sandwich meals.

When we first arrived, we happily—though a bit sleepily—put up our borrowed tent, set up a couple cots, and brought in our supplies: snacks we would never eat, games that we would never have enough dry room to play, sleeping bags that wouldn’t be warm enough, flashlights we wouldn’t need because of the streetlights’ glare. Once we finished setting up, we weren’t allowed off the premises. No trips to the car, no quick ride home to get more socks, only short bathroom breaks in the building.

The rain never let up for more than a half hour or so. It eventually soaked through my wool hat, my ski jacket, my double layer of pants, and my gloves. After several hours of damp chill, the only thing keeping me from complaining or giving up was the reminder that this was only one night, and some people have to endure much worse than this every night of their lives.

It wasn’t all terrible, though. We had activities to take our minds off the cold: Simon Says, lip-sync battles, Name that Tune, etc., all with fun prizes. It kept my spirits up for several hours. We made friends with the other crazy people camping out with us. Four times during the day Chick-fil-A employees lined up for roll call, then sent us past the drive-through window to pick up hot food. Once we even went inside to assemble food packs for local food banks—a fun activity with the benefit of giving us coveted shelter!

A couple hours into our stay, I made small talk with one of the employees.

“So, how many spots are left?” I asked.

“There are still spots left,” she said cryptically.

“So, if it doesn’t fill up until tomorrow . . . can someone just come in at 5:00 AM and claim the prize?”

“Yes, they can do that.”

A couple nearby participants said some choice words. After we had endured the rain and the cold for hours and hours, they could just waltz in and claim the same prize?

It didn’t seem fair.

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a story about a man who hires laborers to work in his vineyard all day. After a couple hours, the man finds some other people hanging out around the marketplace. He tells them to come over to his place, promising to pay them what he thinks is fair. Three more times he does this. Then, when the work day is over, the man pays his workers.

This is where the story gets frustrating. The workers who started in the morning receive the same pay as those who came in at the end of the day.

I’ve always wanted to chime in with the all-day workers: “These people only worked one hour, yet you’ve made us equal after we’ve worked all day in the hot weather.”

But the master says, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15).

It isn’t fair, is it?

When Jason and I arrived at Chick-fil-A, we filled out the same contract as everyone else. We agreed to the same terms: once we brought our belongings to the property, we would stay until 6:00 AM.

Chick-fil-A didn’t need to give us the contract. They had every right to say, “We appreciate your zeal, but we decided we didn’t want to lose money on this grand opening.” We didn’t inherently deserve free food. Moreover, I would venture to say that none of us needed free food. We didn’t really work for that gift card (unless you count shivering as work). And, like I said earlier, what we went through wasn’t any worse than what thousands do every night—except we could go home the next day.

Chick-fil-A had the right to do whatever they wanted with their gift cards, and they chose to give the same prize to us as they did to the hundredth guest who arrived at 10:45 PM.

The master of Jesus’s story had the right to give his workers whatever he wanted. It was his money.

God has the right to give His people whatever reward He deems appropriate. He has the right to offer forgiveness and grace to the ninety-year-old who accepted Christ at three years old as well as to the death-row inmate hours before his execution. It is not our inherent right to receive anything from God, because we did nothing to deserve it. Christ was the one who paid for it. He is the one who decides what’s fair. (Ephesian 2:8-9)

While we did “suffer” longer than the hundredth guest, we were able to benefit from the fun activities provided, the prizes we won, and the free hot meals Chick-fil-A provided. The hundredth guest didn’t.

Likewise, the workers in the parable enjoyed the benefits of working. The late workers said they didn’t join earlier because no one had asked them to—they wanted to work, just like most of us want the opportunity to do something with our days.

The lifelong Christian has the blessing of spending a lifetime receiving mercy from the Lord. The last-minute convert has not lived with the mercy, grace, and goodness that comes with a personal relationship with God.

If you’re still waiting to accept God’s offer, don’t wait any longer. Enjoy a relationship with God now.

If you’ve been working for God your whole life, celebrate with Him when he receives new workers. Thank Him for being the one to decide what is fair.

 

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On Giving

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By Dan Amos

Shame gets in the way of being a disciple, because it drives us to hide things in our lives that we do not want to give over to God. In terms of the front stage-back stage metaphor, shame is the stuff we keep behind the curtain in a locked, unmarked room. In many ways, “giving” shares that room where we keep shame. We don’t talk about it . . . much. We don’t get really personal when we do talk about it. We certainly don’t tell people how much we make or how much of that we give back.

I checked Dave Ramsey’s website, because many of us are familiar with him and have taken the course to get our finances in order. He’s very simple in his methods and definitions—save, spend, and give. Giving is every bit as important as saving and spending. Our basic giving is called tithing.

Tithing is a scriptural mandate and is 10% of our income that we give back to God. Practically and simply, we give a tenth of what we earn to our home church. Elim’s ministry leaders, staff, and elders put together a budget each year for spending what is given to financially support the mission and vision of our church. Believers are led by God in Scripture to tithe. It is part of being a disciple.

Dave Ramsey writes, “Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees, and employers.”

We believe many within Elim are faithful givers, but we also know that many don’t understand the principles of giving. I was in a community group with one couple who were new believers. We should have discipled them in all aspects of being a disciple, including giving, but because we were afraid to tread in this sensitive area, we did not. When they learned of what the Bible tells us, they were happy to know it. They told us of the joy they had in giving and knowing the truth. I regretted not being the one to share that with them.

The Stewardship Team and the Elder Board want to partner on making our finances a vibrant part of our growth as disciples. Giving isn’t a dues we pay to keep the Elim club going; it is our opportunity to be part of building the kingdom on South Hill and beyond.

Make giving part of the conversation with those closest to you. Tell your Paul, ask your Timothy, or discuss it with your Barnabas. We would love to hear your story about how giving has impacted your life. You can comment on Facebook or the website or tell one of the Stewardship Team members or Elders. The Stewardship Team is led by Mark McCullough and includes Phil Pavey, Gregg Zimmerman, Bethany Gapsch, and Dan Amos.

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SNOW

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By Brian Waple

Snow, snow, beautiful snow . . . we got close to a foot of snow at the house Sunday night . . . makes up for the past couple of years. As I was looking at the snow Monday morning, it made me think of Martin’s message this past Sunday regarding shame. Everyone deals with it—believer and unbeliever alike. It’s one of the unfortunate by-products of our fallen nature. Early on in Genesis, we first hear about shame: “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves” (Gen. 3:7, NLT). Can you imagine what that must have felt like? Everything is going so perfectly well, and suddenly you think, “I am bad.”

So, what does this talk about shame have to do with the snow? Well, think about it: the beautiful white stuff covers the frozen ground beneath. Just like the fig leaves covered the shame of Adam and Eve. Just like we do when we present our “front stage” selves to others, hiding what’s going on in the back stage. But the back stage is still there, and in the midst of the back stage, among other things, lies our shame.

As Martin said, it’s not easy dealing with shame. It takes a brave person to face the fact that they are living with shame in one form or another. Shame permeates pretty much everything we do. It can even affect the good things we do. But it is when we are brave that we allow people into our backstage . . . into our shame (and make no mistake, it’s probably one of the bravest things we’ll ever do). It doesn’t make it any less messy, however. But, when we become vulnerable and allow people in, it’s kind of like melting snow through which we start to see the slushy, dirty ground underneath. The ugliness is still there, but if we are willing to confront the ugliness, surrender it to God, and seek encouraging and loving community to help us deal with the ugliness, through God’s grace, mercy, and love, the ugliness will be replaced with what lies at our core—God’s beautifully created image bearer.

But, taking that first step, being brave enough to admit your shame and ask someone to walk with you as you address your shame—that is how we face and overcome our shame, being willing to accept that we are not perfect people, but in our imperfection we are accepted by God and we are worthy of love and belonging. It is only then that our shame, like the snow, begins to melt away, revealing God’s beautiful creation underneath.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” (2 Cor. 5:17, NLT)

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