The Gospel Message

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By Tom Chase

As I sit to write this week’s Last Word, I am struggling to put into words what I believe He would have me write. In part, because I believe the message is still being formed in me. God is stirring in me a newer and greater concern for the lost. He is doing it in the following ways:

First, the Men’s Bible study group has just completed its study of the Book of John. He’s a guy that was with Jesus. He witnessed His life, His person, His death, and His resurrection, and he was and is totally convinced that Jesus is the Savior of the World, the Son of God! John writes:

We have seen his glory,
the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14b)

Reading through John, it is hard to miss his intent to communicate the truth about Jesus and to give evidence about the One whom he has heard and seen and touch and examined. All these things he didn’t keep to himself, but shared so others (me and you) might be convinced too. He proclaims his purpose in writing:

But these are written that you may believe
that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that by believing
you may have life in his name.

(John 20:31)

Wow! I want to be that kind of guy, too, because I have heard and seen and touch (maybe in different ways) and examined (historically and evidentially) and am convinced that Jesus is the Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world!

Second, Brian Shape shared with the elders a video clip from Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, a group that professionally perform illusions and sleight-of-hand magic. Penn is also an atheist and an advocate for atheism. In the video a “Gift of a Bible,” Penn shares a story of a man who gives him a Bible. Penn appears to be genuinely moved by a person, a rational someone, willing to go out of his way to communicate what he really believes for the benefit of another. His point—and I believe he is right—is that if we really believe Jesus is the Savior of the world and that if it is missed and not accepted, one dies and goes to Hell, it becomes paramount to tell others about that reality. Penn’s says, “how much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell someone.”


Penn’s message is incredibly sobering. It makes me stop and think, What is it that has stopped me in the past? Is it because of social awkwardness or how it would make me look or feel? Is it that I don’t want to be pushy? I will not keep sharing if someone does not want to hear, but that presupposes that I have started the conversation!

I should be talking about the most important thing in my life. I should be consistent to proclaim what is real and true, in a respectful and genuine way. Penn says that one nice guy won’t change his belief that there is no God, which makes me wonder, How many would it take? Then I wonder why the church, as a whole, has been so defensive and less communicative. I cannot tell everyone, but I should be telling (talking about my God) to those in my sphere of influence. The guy Penn describes in the video takes this a step farther and includes a performer from a show he (the believer guy) was incidentally involved in. Lord, make me bolder. Lord, make this true in me, that I would start conversations about You! That all that I have heard and seen and touched and examined and am convinced about You in my life would naturally flow out of me! Lord please make it so!

Third, a close-up view inside the foster care system in our state and our community has revealed a system filled with great hurt and dysfunction. Our system is overloaded and overwhelmed. The truth is that our system is overloaded and overwhelmed because our society is broken, reeling in hurt and dysfunction, and in desperate need of a Savior. We know Someone who can change the heart of man—His name is Jesus. We do have the answer! But to give that answer will require boldness, conviction, and willingness to get involved in the messiness of life with others. Have we been called to do that?

Then Jesus came to them [passionate followers of Him] and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples [passionate followers of Him] of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20)

So, the answer for me is yes! He has called me to do that.

What about you? If while reading this, you, too, have been challenged with a renewed desire to reach those around you, then allow the Lord to develop within you habits to reach those around you!

I know the words of the following song, “Forgiveness” by Michael West reference forgiveness, that is, forgiveness we extend to others.


The Gospel message (sharing Jesus), though, is all about forgiveness, too—restoring one’s relationship with God the Creator. Our call is to love someone enough to share this life-changing reality and forgiveness that could be theirs if heard and accepted. My prayer is something like this:

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]
I finally want to set it free
Show me how to see what your mercy sees
Help me now to give what you gave to me
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]

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More Things in Heaven and Earth: When Materialistic Explanations Fail

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by Larry Short

“It just makes no sense. It’s like an asteroid.”

Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric, stood in front of the media and groped for words as they asked him to explain why his brother had just unloaded a hail of thousands of bullets into a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 and injuring more than 500, in the United States’ worst mass shooting.

But asteroids are (more or less) random. People who kill dozens of people with guns and injure hundreds more are not. Reasons exist. Everyone knows this, so law enforcement and media are currently in something of a frenzy seeking to explain why a quiet, unassuming person such as Paddock would go off the deep end and do the unthinkably horrible thing that he did before taking his own life.

He was suicidal; that part’s clear. But it still doesn’t explain why a suicidal person would seek to take so many innocent people with him.

Like all of us, I think my first emotion upon hearing the news reports was a sickening sense of grief. How could such a thing happen? And my own emotions are compounded by knowing one of the victims, an LA County Sheriff deputy who worked with me at World Vision a number of years ago. (A bullet lodged very near his spine, and doctors are currently evaluating whether or not they can remove it safely. Please pray for Andrew and his family!)

The last time I remember feeling this way was in March 2015, when Germanwings Flight 9525 copilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed his jetliner full of 149 innocent people and himself into a remote mountainside in France.

A Time for Reflection

I’ve learned to try to put the emotions associated with such events in a certain compartment in order to examine the facts as best I am able, interpreted by the media, of course, and from my rather inconvenient spot in my comfy chair here in front of my computer. But the importance of careful reflection on such events cannot be underestimated. I’m not talking about figuring out how to prevent such tragedies, which is not necessarily up to people like me, but rather, deeper questions. Questions such as: Why do seemingly “normal” people commit such horrific, senseless atrocities? If you eliminate the obvious possible motivations (such as terrorism, greed, anger, revenge, etc.), what are you left with?

One popular materialistic explanation is mental illness. He must have been insane. But in this case, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent history of mental illness. His friends and relatives all thought of Paddock as a “normal, regular guy. Just a guy.” And the methodical way he planned and executed his attack also is causing experts to question the mental illness hypothesis.

What then? The materialistic explanations are running out.

More Things in Heaven and Earth

And this is what should bother thinking people about the materialistic society in which we live. As Shakespeare famously penned, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We don’t like to consider the possibility that there are dark spiritual forces at work among us. For many people, watching movies such as The Exorcist falls into the category of “entertainment.” I was fascinated by this introduction on the site Ranker, on their page listing “the best demonic possession movies”:

There’s nothing more horrifying than watching a movie about a person who’s possessed by a demon. What is it about the thought of demons, supernatural visitations, darkness, and evil that fascinates human beings so much? We must love it, as there are tons of wildly successful films where characters are possessed by demons.

I would suggest another explanation behind our fascination: it rings true. At Biola, I knew a professor of missions who had spent many years in South American countries. He had a reputation there (which surprisingly followed him to Southern California) as a (somewhat reluctant) exorcist. He was even called to one of the girls’ dorms at our college late one night, where he cast a demon or demons out of a student who was very troubled, changing the course of her life dramatically for the better. Darlene was a witness to this event, and as the campus newspaper editor, I did an extensive interview with Dr. Murphy in which he shared the details of many of his fascinating experiences with demonic forces both in South America and in the United States.

The challenge in this country, he acknowledged, was that in our materialistic society we oftentimes don’t believe that Satan or his demonic forces are real. Even in our churches, we frequently shy away from things such as this, things that transgress the boundaries of the “ordinary” into areas we can’t materialistically explain.

However, the Bible observes no such boundaries. Christ’s interactions with demonic forces were numerous and dramatic, as were those of the apostles who followed Him. The Bible certainly agrees with Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth . . .”


But Light Overcomes Darkness

And while we might find this truth frightening, if we reflect further and more deeply it should also be of great encouragement to us. For, if there are Evil Forces at work, there must also be forces at work for Good! And what do we apprehend (in faith) about those Forces for Good?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

There are a couple important things to note about the truths revealed in these verses. First, even though I have been speaking (as if I were Luke Skywalker) about “Evil Forces” and “Good Forces,” the truth is that there is a person (or persons) behind all such forces. Force is wielded by personality. And these persons (in this case, the “spirits” of whom John speaks) have goals.

The first goal John speaks of is to convince us to believe their narrative of truth. Our community group is currently studying C. S. Lewis’s brilliant work of fiction, The Screwtape Letters, which postulates what it would be like to be privy to a conversation between a senior tempter and his demonic trainee. Lewis offers this fascinating insight that highlights the demonic strategy:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

So, the demons themselves wish for us to either not believe in them at all (the materialistic viewpoint) or to believe in them wholeheartedly and fear them and structure our lives around that fear.

And, if you take the words of these verses (“for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”) out of the equation, it makes sense that so many nonmaterialistic societies have feared and worshiped demonic forces, for the primary goal of those forces is stated by Christ Himself, and it is bad news indeed:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

In Christ’s parable, “the thief,” of course, is the prince of demons himself, Satan. Satan exults in taking what is not his, in robbing God of His glory and creation, in killing, in destruction. Fearful power.

But juxtaposed against this fearful power is an even more awesome power wielded by Christ, the “greater is He that is in you,” the One who came that we might have life, and abundantly. While we mustn’t make the mistake of not believing in the existence of demonic forces, we must simultaneously hold a realistic view of their relative impotence. They can only go “thus far, and no further,” as God permitted Satan to afflict Job. They can only act in accordance with God’s permissive purposes, which are greater than we can possibly understand.

The Cross: The Ultimate Test of Power

And the foremost example of this is the Cross of Christ, the greatest tragedy of human history, sinful human beings unjustly condemning the sinless Son of God to an untimely, gruesome death. But then the pinnacle achievement of Satan, killing the very Son of God, was turned on its head by the power of God (manifested in the resurrection of Christ) into the pinnacle achievement of He who is greater than! This is the power of God. And it is a power we can be confident will overcome the very worst attacks of the evil one and his minions, be they Islamic terrorism or mass murder of innocents or the opioid epidemic or even the brutal slaughter of millions of innocent unborn.

None of us know, ultimately, how the actions of a person such as Stephen Paddock will be explained. But what we CAN know is this: while Satan is real, and powerful, and we are not unaware of his schemes, we have a God who is also real, and far more powerful, and has purposes that we will someday comprehend and that will cause us to drop down and worship Him!

So, I know it sounds trite to say, “Keep the faith!” at times like this … but I believe it is exactly what God would want us to do. In the face of immense tragedy and suffering, we must reflect on His greater purposes and keep the faith. Amen?

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The Flavors of Community

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By Bill Naron

Peer through this looking glass with me and take a look at the world. Do you see the hurt and confusion? People are searching for answers in the things this world has to offer, searching for happiness in earthly treasures. They are looking for fulfillment through any means possible. Life is hard in this world that is fallen and scarred by sin. It is easy to be discouraged, to give up hope, to just go with the flow, to give in to my selfish desires, and to seek my own will. After all, we are only human, right? I am only flesh and bone; how could I deny myself? I may go to church, but I am not dead.

This is the dilemma that we face as Christians, this is what we fight against. I have seen this happen to people I know, for example, when they forsake community and church altogether. They read their Bibles and they continue to try to live for Jesus, but it becomes very difficult. I believe that sometimes we tend to think that once we accept Jesus, things will be easy, and when they are not, it is easier to run away. We think, “Well, if this is going to be hard, that is not what I am signing up for! I do not want it to be difficult.” But is that what Jesus promised us? Nope. In fact, He says that in this life we will experience trouble, but He offers us hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I believe that this is why community is so important for Christians.

In community, we can grow much more than on our own. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17). I believe God uses the community to help grow us. See, as much as salvation and relationship with Christ happen on an individual level, I would argue that the vast majority of the process is community-driven. Be in fellowship, put yourself in proximity to others, as Martin and Brian both talked about a couple weeks ago. As a group, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a community of believers that possesses an amazing hope, refuge, and strength. This is something we should be sharing with the world, something that we should be living out.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and that if salt loses it saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). We are the church and we have a mission. It is not an individual mission that just one person is called to—this is a mission that we are called to as a community. We are called to be tangible examples of lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. Like a savory seasoning, we are a group of people who give the world something to grasp with their senses. This community that we create gives us a tool with which we can draw those from the outside in, to come alongside new believers and nonbelievers. We can create space to practice the gospel in a relational way.

I was not raised with a pressing emphasis on the Idea of community, but I have grown to love the implications of it. You can find reasons to not try or to get out of joining in with a group. But when I joined a men’s group about two years ago, it was the best thing that I ever did. I finally realized that I was not the only one struggling, that I was not alone. I finally experienced people carrying burdens together, and that is what we are called to do—to bear one another’s burdens. I would encourage you, if you have not found a community group, women’s group, or men’s group, to find one and get involved. If you cannot find one, then start one and bring your friends with you. Through community, we can be a catalyst for change; we can show the world what it means to walk through messy, hard times. We can live out the example of Jesus Christ. So, get involved and don’t walk life alone—that is not what we were meant to do.

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Investing in Community

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by Larry Short

I’ve enjoyed reading what Pastors Martin and Brian had to say in the last two Last Words, regarding proximity. Brian shared the week before last that investing in getting to know people and spending time with them has the power to help us defeat loneliness and disconnectedness, and also puts us in a better position to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of those around us.

Then last week, Pastor Martin offered some very practical ways that we can develop stronger relational proximity to the people we are investing in.

Over the past few months I’ve been confronted with this truth, over and over again. It falls under the Galatians 6:7 principle:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

The truth is, relational connectedness requires investment investment of time, energy, and even risk. You may have to take a risk, put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. You will have to invest time with people! This all requires thoughtful energy and even prayer. Investing in people doesn’t guarantee connectedness; but you can’t connect with people without investing in them.

And here are two other closely-related investment principles we find in Scripture: First, reward follows investment. It’s not necessarily immediate; it usually requires patience.

And second, astute investment typically results in greater yield than the value of what you invested.

We see this second principle working both for good and for evil, don’t we? If you invest your time and energy in gossip, you will probably find yourself alienated and in conflict. You will reap dysfunction and unrest. If you invest in swindling others, you will reap these things and more, including possibly being in trouble with the law. Et cetera! When you invest in evil things, you reap the whirlwind.

But if you invest in good things (what the Bible calls “treasure in heaven”), we see the potential (biblically speaking) for reaping a whirlwind of good! If you invest in the lives of people – serving them, caring for them, telling them the truth, and developing connectedness which requires the investment of time, energy and risk – then there is the potential to reap a great blessing in both their lives and yours. (And even better, Christ’s bride, the Church, will be strengthened, and God will be glorified!)

I feel that one of the most significant things we as leaders at Elim can do for the people God has entrusted to us is to create the opportunity for the investment of time and relational energy that leads to proximity and connectedness to occur. One of the ways we do this is by investing in community group leaders: recruiting them, coaching and training them, praying for and supporting them as they seek to create groups where proximity and discipleship can work its magic.

This weekend during and after the worship service we are celebrating the Fall Kickoff of an entire slate of community groups. Some of these are ongoing, and others are new. We have a half dozen community groups of various flavors (mostly intergenerational but some targeted to specific groups such as young people or married couples), and also four men’s groups and three women’s groups.

As far as I am aware, all but two of these groups currently have space for, and are eager to enfold, newcomers! (And even those two which are currently “full,” groups led by the Paveys and the Waples, are inviting people to join a waiting list that should enable them in the near future to launch new groups.)

With 13 or more such groups in place, we should have more than enough space for every adult at Elim who desires to be a part of a group to find one she or he can feel good about joining. There should be no excuse for not investing in being meaningfully connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ here at Elim! (If you can think of one … please call me, and let’s talk!)

Be sure to tune in this weekend when our group leaders share more from the pulpit about the groups they are leading. Also, there will be a “Community Groups Fair” in the fellowship area, directly after the worship service, where you can learn more about groups and visit with group leaders and members.

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Power of Proximity x 2

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By Martin Schlomer

Last week, Brian Sharpe wrote a Last Word on the power of proximity. If we are going to know others and be known by others, we need to be in proximity to them. We need to be with them. Most people are hungry to be with others, not just through physical proximity, but also through what I call “relational proximity.” While we might know how to have physical proximity, the relational side feels elusive. Throw into the mix busy schedules and different ages and stages in life, and relational proximity can feel beyond our reach.

What is the answer? Honestly, there isn’t just one answer. However, I know that part of the answer to the dilemma of relational connections is being willing to be with and relate to the other person. How does relating happen? Last week, Lee Severson posted an article from Psychology Today titled “Why You Need to Start Having Deeper Conversations.” It suggested that when it comes to relating to another person, instead of asking the questions, “How are you?” “How was your weekend?” “Where did you grow up?” or “What do you do for a living?” you should consider saying, “What’s your story?” “What was your favorite part of the weekend?” “Tell me something interesting about where you grew up,” or “What drew you to your line of work?” The goal is to get to know the person and to hear his or her story.

Entering another person’s story is a sacred pursuit modeled by Jesus. Because He entered the story of humanity, not just through listening but through becoming, He empathizes and understands our lives, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities. He knows our stories. When we choose relational proximity, to enter another person’s story through listening and engaging, we can give this person a taste of what it is to be known by his or her Father. As we lean into this as a Jesus-formed community, we give the fragrance of our Father to all who enter.

Whose story can you pursue this week? Next week? Let’s make the choice. Choose to listen … and enjoy the journey!

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The Power of Proximity

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By Brian Sharpe

I have a couple of friends who, when we get together, it is as if no time has gone by. We can pick up after years of separation, and the connection hasn’t faded. This isn’t the norm — it is unique. I cherish those relationships. Most relationships take time, energy, and, ultimately, proximity.

Proximity is a weird word for me. I was first introduced to it in a video game. In this game, you were given proximity mines that you would place throughout the playing field. When someone’s character walked near it, it exploded. That was the main way I used that word. Then as I got older, I started to think about what helps our relationships with God and one another, and it is proximity.

Proximity — the closer you are to someone or something, the greater the influence that person or thing has over you. I know the word doesn’t make sense at first, but let me explain. When I spend several hours a night with a cast of characters, the way I think and talk starts to look like what we are seeing on the screen. Tomina and I have watched the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice a lot in our marriage. There are so many times when a quote from that movie or a circumstance comes up in conversation. It has become part of my thinking process, and some of the language comes out in me. What we are closest to comes out in us. This is the same with people. That is why it is important to think about whom and what you give influence to in your life by being around.

Now, there a lot of people who feel lonely. They feel uninvited. They may be an introvert or extrovert, but they still feel lonely, because they are not in proximity to anyone. This is hard. The question asked is usually, How do I get close to people? There are many reasons why it is hard to get close to people, but one of the main reasons is that our culture values business over relationships. We don’t have the time to move toward or be in proximity of people. I would argue that, though most of us want to be known, we fear what people may think. I think we need to cross that bridge when we get there. I think most of us need to decide whom we want to be in proximity of or whom we are already moving toward and ask a couple diagnostic questions. Does this person point me to Jesus? If not, am I giving them too much influence in my life? The answers to these questions will tell you if you should move closer to them and not farther away.

The bottom line is this: we all need people. We need Pauls, Timothies, and Barnabases in our lives. We need those relationships. It starts with us taking a conscious step toward others. Quantity time will lead to quality time, and you will be in proximity with others, which will help you be known and know others. It will also help you realize that most of our struggles aren’t too different and most of us have the same fears. Whom will you move toward to point you to Jesus? Whom will you allow to point you to Jesus?

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