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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Settled in Your Soul

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By Donna McKenzie

You may or may not realize it, but we have some very wise, insightful, and gifted people at Elim. Donna McKenzie is one of those individuals. I read her recent blog post, “Settled in Your Soul,” and my immediate thought was, This needs to be shared with the rest of us! With her permission, we are sharing it with you this week.

God bless,

Martin

 

My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God, my salvation, and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is refuge for us. Selah.

Psalm 62:5–8 (NASB)

I glanced up at my friend as she sat down beside me at church. We are both moms and caregivers for our adult children with physical disabilities. I recognized the look of fatigue in her eyes. She leaned over and whispered to me that it had been a long morning. She was, however, excited to make it to church, even if she was a little late. I gave her a knowing look and a big hug.

Near the end of church service, we stood with the rest of the congregation to sing the final song, a unique version of “It Is Well” (“You Make Me Brave,” by Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music).

As we sang, my thoughts went to my friend standing next to me. I thought about how much she has gone through in the past few years and additional challenges in the last few months. Yet despite it all, I heard her quietly singing, Through it all, through it all . . . it is well. I knew it could not be easy.

I have been there, where you strain to sing the words. Wanting to believe it, holding onto the hope that it promises, and yet still the internal struggle. Near the end of the song she leaned over to me and said, “You know, ‘it is well’ doesn’t mean what people might think.” I gave her a little hug; I knew exactly what she meant!

How do you explain to someone who may not comprehend how, in the midst of heartache and pain, you REALLY can sing with passion, that it is in fact, well with my soul?

It is not a happiness or pretense that everything is great. It’s more like you’re at peace in your spirit. That it is SETTLED IN YOUR SOUL!

Settled in your soul. Knowing who God is. Trusting him for strength for each day. Understanding HE IS SOVEREIGN, which gives us hope. Hope not dependent on circumstances. An eternal hope, where one day there will an end to all heartbreak, pain, illness, struggles, and death!

When we know these things to be true in the very depth of our soul, THEN we can say, yes even sing, “It is well . . . with my soul.”

Some days may be more difficult than others, but we can get to that place where it is settled in our soul no matter what!

Well then, how do we, during extraordinarily difficult situations, freely sing those words with a deep sense of peace that it will be well with our souls? By surrendering constantly to God’s will. Believing he is God. Knowing he is in total control. Trusting in his faithfulness to keep his promises.

The real heart of the matter is that being well in our spirit and soul is not about us or our circumstances. It is experiencing His peace that passes all understanding even in the midst of overwhelming odds. It is resting in His love for us knowing that He cares for us.

Take a moment and listen to the words of this song we sang, “It Is Well,” Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNqo4Un2uZI

Donna McKenzie

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I Am Not . . . the Hero!

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By Martin Schlomer

Over the years some people have given me certain gifts and various “titles.” One couple gave me a Superman cape because they said I projected the image of a caped crusader on a mission to rescue people and save the world! Another individual calls me Father Martin. She says, “I am like a father to Elim.” These tell a story, a perception that I can fix things, make things happen. I can see why.

In January 1994, when I was 33 years old, I flew to Elim to interview for this position of Senior Pastor. I was full of hope and personal expectations that I would do great things for Elim. I was eager to make necessary changes, see the church grow, and reach the lost. The church wanted the same. I believed I could make it happen. (Looking back, there was a lot of personal ego tied to achieving these outcomes!) On February 13, this small congregation cast their votes, and on April 1, 1994, we arrived in Puyallup. Such were the aspirations of a young man who wanted to be the hero.

Over the past 22 years—especially 2015 and 2016—my Father has shown me that I’m NOT the hero in this story! My limitations have been exposed. My Father has confronted my sinful ego. I am learning to accept that I do not have the power to change a person’s heart with persuasive arguments, to heal a person’s wounds with empathy and prayers, to persuade a person to do what they do not want to do, to raise money, to build new buildings, or even to fix a broken toilet. That’s right: I’m no hero!

The important news is, I’m okay with this now. For me, 2016 was all about trying to let go of ropes that tied me to my dysfunctional expectations.

Seven Priorities for 2017

In 2017, what can you expect from me as your Senior Pastor? What do I hope for in 2017? First, I will work to do my part to shepherd and equip people (through personal growth, prayer, preaching, leading and discipling) to be passionate disciples of Jesus who make passionate disciples of Jesus. Every person has a role to play. Every person is called by Jesus to invest in this one mission: be a disciple who makes disciples. No exceptions! No excuses! We are like rivers of gospel-motivated grace, changing the landscape, not reservoirs where we gather to simply enjoy the company of others to meet our own needs.

Secondly, I will continue to develop those who are discipling others at Elim. We call them our “Pauls.” We will meet on a quarterly basis to strategize and problem solve issues and challenges they experience as they take on this important role of making disciples.

Third, I will get involved in reaching out to those who are lost in our community. I will do this by becoming a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), working with the Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS). It is my strong desire to bring the heart and hope of our Father to those who are in very dark and desperate circumstances. It is my desire that this will be the heart of Elim as well. For this to happen, I must lead by example.

Fourth, I will work with a team of people who will facilitate a process to help victims of sexual abuse. One in five men and one in three women suffer from the trauma and shame of sexual abuse. It is our desire to help them begin their redemptive journey toward personal health and wholeness.

Fifth, I will continue to partner with Brian Sharpe and our staff, with the Elders and the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), to develop a leadership development pipeline. This development process will apply to all ministries across the board. It will implement the steps a person needs to follow to be developed and coached as a leader. To accomplish this, Elim is a part of a cohort of churches being trained and held accountable to implement this process. It is an exciting, yet challenging, yearlong development process.

Sixth, I will step back from working with the Stewardship Team and empower them to take a more proactive approach not just to monitor Elim’s finances, but also to communicate with the congregation our financial position and strategize how to meet Elim’s future financial needs, especially regarding our campus needs. At some point, soon, Elim must replace the building known as the Youth House, which is also used for MOPs and Oasis Kids. It gets a lot of use, even though it is well past its original intended end-of-life date.

And finally, I will step back from overseeing property and build a team of people to oversee and care for our facilities and landscaping. We need people to prune, weed, trim bushes, clean gutters, mow grass, etc. There is no shortage of opportunities for people to serve, even just a couple of hours every month. How we care for our property is an indication of how much we value what we do on this strategic corner for the 50,000+ people who drive by daily.

Four Things I Hope for from You

In 2017, what do I expect from those who consider Elim to be their church home?

First, join in this journey of growing as a passionate follower of Jesus who nurtures passionate followers of Jesus. (Be a disciple who makes disciples!) Jesus has a fierce commitment to our joining Him on this transformational journey.

Second, ask our Father to develop your heart to reach out to those who are lost. I hope that we will hear you tell your stories of how our Father is using you to influence the landscape of another person’s life.

Third, use the talents our Father has given you to serve the needs of His Church, both within these walls and beyond. The heart of Jesus is not that we will be served, but that we will serve others.

Fourth, give generously to meet the needs and commitments of this Body so that we might fulfill our purpose to nurture passionate followers of Jesus who nurture passionate followers of Jesus in South Hill and beyond.

I close with what I shared on Sunday morning, January 15, 2017. Jesus didn’t come to live the life of a servant, die the death of a savior, rise from the dead as a victor, and indwell us with the power of His Holy Spirit, all so that we might just GO TO CHURCH! He lived the life of a servant, died the death of a savior, rose from the dead as a victor, and indwells us with the power of His Holy Spirit SO THAT we might BE THE CHURCH! Amen?

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Salt, Light, and Uber Mushrooms

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My son Nathan (far left) and I training up a generation of future mushroom hunters.

By Larry Short

In worship last weekend, we heard Pastor Martin share from John 2 of Christ’s consuming passion for both the symbolic and manifest presence of God in our midst.

For the Jews of His day, that symbolic presence was the Temple. Christ’s passion for this powerful symbol of God’s presence in the midst of His people was so consuming that this most meek, humble, and lowly of men stunned religious leaders, bystanders, and even His own disciples by making a whip of cords and forcefully driving exploiters out of His Father’s House of Prayer! (That would have been something to see!)

Passion for the Presence

One of the most fascinating things about this passage, to me, is the few verses that follow it. They reveal that while the Temple was the symbolic presence of God, the real presence of God there in Jerusalem, the real “Temple,” was the Body of Jesus Himself:

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

Martin then went on to connect this passage with 1 Corinthians 3:16:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The implications are profound. We are to be consumed with zeal for the presence of God in His Church, the Body of Christ—both corporately and locally, and, more specifically, as He dwells in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ! Loving each other well is how the world will know we are His disciples. We are to burn with passion for His Church, His presence in the midst of a dark and decaying world.

Being Salt and Light

We are also to honor God’s presence in our own hearts by seeking His holiness and by being salt and light as He calls us to be.

Recently, on my personal blog, I shared how God used Cindy, one of our sisters in Christ here at Elim, to help me understand how He wanted me to recognize that part of the purpose for this particular season in my life, having been laid off from my career job with World Vision, was to “clear out the rubble” so I could move forward to see and embrace what He next had for me.

I had an epiphany of sorts about this while Martin was sharing on Sunday. He spoke about how he had struggled to understand how he could be salt and light while working completely within the “Christian bubble” that is Elim and how, as a result in 2017, he was planning to move “out of the bubble” and become a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in order to start sprinkling salt into some of the places in our world that really needed it!

This made me think about what God was doing in my own heart and life. At World Vision, I too frequently felt frustrated that I never really had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the unsaved. (World Vision is another “Christian bubble.”)

Then, guess what? My “bubble” got burst! I was laid off. Since then, God has been building four new things into my life, and it wasn’t until Sunday that I realized each of them is an opportunity for me to become better salt and light. Here are the four things:

  • Writing a science fiction novel
  • Tutoring for the Puyallup School District
  • Developing a mushroom business, training young ‘shroom hunters, and writing about what fungus teaches us about the presence and heart of God
  • Driving for Uber, which has created many opportunities to share Jesus’s love with more than a few (because they asked)

For more about how each of these four activities creates opportunities for me to be salt and light (and how fungus declares the glory of God), see this blog post.


Salt and Light Is Humble and Simple, Right?

Working for nearly minimum wage as a tutor or a wannabe taxi driver is not something I anticipated as God’s best for me when I was laid off from World Vision. (Although I could see myself gushing about mushrooms or writing sci-fi! I’m weird, I know.) Compared to what I achieved and experienced at that wonderful organization, what I am doing now is humbling in the truest sense of that word. But as I realized as Pastor Martin was teaching, it’s not something I chose; it’s something God chose for me, even as I prayed for His best for my life and for how He might use me in His Kingdom.

So, that’s my challenge to each of us as we consider how God wants to use US to be salt and light. You may not be the next American Idol, or the Great American Novelist. But, maybe, does God want you to serve others in the humblest ways possible? Perhaps He wants you to help a bedridden invalid, or care for a foster child, or ride the bus and talk to a hurting stranger, or build and hand out homeless survival kits. Or maybe He wants you to spend your time and energy praying (in obscurity, like countless prayer warriors before you) for anyone and everyone. Who knows?

Being salt and light is not just an individual responsibility for the believer; it’s a Body responsibility. So we are also to encourage and hold each other accountable as we seek to “march off the map” and influence a world that desperately needs Jesus.

Pray for His best (both for you, for Elim, and for the Kingdom), and then let Him lead you where He wishes to!

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