Let’s Learn How to Encourage Each Other—TODAY!

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By Brian Sharpe

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:13

Why didn’t I have to take a class before becoming a parent—or even a husband? I took classes to be a leader in the Church, but not as many I probably should have. Obviously, I didn’t take a class on being a son or friend—I could probably use schooling on how to be a better friend. As I sit in on trainings, I keep walking away with the thought, “Why didn’t I know this already?”

A lot of times as a leader, parent, friend, and husband, we do what was modeled to us. The problem is that our models all have flaws. My kids have a flawed model whose growth is stunted by my own insecurity, naivety, and pride. At this point, I am okay with the fact that I am a flawed leader, parent, husband, son, and friend. But I do have a desire to be better.

This week I was in Austin, Texas, for a Leadership Pipeline cohort. This was the second of three cohort classes on creating a leadership pipeline within a church. I love this idea. I love the thought of having trained leaders who are accomplishing the ministry God has given us as a church. Yet the thing that stood out to me the most from this class was not the system and tools we were taught, but something the facilitator said.

Let me set the stage. One of the tools we were working on creating was a one-hour training that we could bring back to our churches. The facilitator created a training and had us work on it days before the class. He then modeled what the training looked like, using a couple of our classmates. The training was on “encouraging the soul of a person.”

During the training, the facilitator made a comment that we as parents need to not encourage our kids to perform, but to encourage them in who they are. I am not sure I heard much else after that. It really made me consider how I encourage my kids as a parent. This also can be as a leader, husband, son, and friend. Encouragement needs to be sincere, specific, and strengths-focused. Here are some excerpts from our homework, written by our facilitator, Mac Lake.

Sincerity: Before speaking words of encouragement, check your motives and make sure you’re doing it to lift up the other individual, not to gain something for yourself. In Proverbs 26:28, Solomon warns us, “a flattering mouth works ruin.” The Hebrew word for ruin comes from a root word meaning, “to push, drive away, or cast down.” Encouragement is always best served with a spirit of sincerity.

Specificity: If you want your words of praise to have more punch, then be specific with your encouragement. Notice the specifics of what people do well and consider how what they did impacted you personally. If you look closely enough, you can find little nuances that made something special. We must look for and praise the specific detail of an individual’s work. That kind of specificity takes encouragement to a very deep and meaningful level. So instead of saying, “Hey, you did a good job,” you can say, “When you led the small-group discussion tonight, you really asked insightful questions that challenged my thinking in new ways. You have a real gift for making people think. I appreciate you using that gift to add value to my spiritual walk.” Specific encouragement is meaningful encouragement.

Strengths-focused: God has gifted each of us in very specific ways. Each day, we use and develop those strengths. Over time, as those strengths develop and mature, they become obvious to others. The Apostle Paul had been around young Timothy so much that he became very familiar with his apprentice’s strengths. And then, in a very crucial time in Timothy’s ministry, Paul told him, “Fan into flame the gifts God has given you.” By centering our encouragement on someone’s strengths, we are, in essence, helping them to fan the flame of their strengths. Giving someone sincere, specific encouragement that’s focused on their unique strengths helps them learn something new about themselves and deepens their wisdom and insights for using that particular strength.

Elim’s community group leaders should be shining stars when it comes to encouraging others. This Saturday evening, therefore, we are going to huddle together and go through the same training module that Mac took us through at the Leadership Pipeline meetings in Texas this week. We encourage every community group leader to attend, 7 p.m. at Larry and Darlene Short’s home. You won’t want to miss it!

Let’s all become expert encouragers, learning how to truly exhort one another “while it is still called ‘today.’”

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Performance Feedback

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by Dan Amos

There are few things in life I dislike more than watermelon, chalkboard screeching, and performance feedback. I can decline the watermelon, and whiteboards have pretty much replaced chalkboards, but they keep making new ways to do feedback. At work, it’s a semiannual recurrence, whether I want it or not.

But, there’s a reason for it. Without feedback, we tend to not improve. While I’m pretty sure I have a good grasp on my world, I’m continually shown that there are other perspectives on things and lots of stuff to which I am just totally oblivious.

As a body, we at Elim are committed to making disciples—passionate followers of Jesus who seek to know God, grow together in Christ, and go and serve South Hill and beyond. We have a staff, a building, a budget, and people—so how are we doing? We can ask ourselves or a few and see part of the picture. But to really know, we need to get feedback from as many as possible.

Feedback isn’t just a general question about how you are doing personally, or how we are doing as a body. It’s more specific, and a team has put together some questions designed to make each of us think and give useful feedback. The answers to these questions will help assess our progress in the following:

  • Worshipping our Father
  • Maturing in our faith
  • Connecting as disciples in community
  • Reaching out to our unsaved neighbors and friends

Community groups and Bible studies are being asked to work through questions on these four areas. Regular attenders who are not currently in one of these groups will be asked to meet with a small group of others to give feedback. Someone will take notes, and all the notes will be collected and reviewed and studied for themes and things to work on. The idea is to keep moving forward as disciples. Complacency is not an option.

On another note, Tom Chase just finished six years as an elder and is taking his constitutionally-required break from that service. For the last few years he has been the vice-chairman of the board, and last year he led us as the chairman. He served sacrificially and with passion. He did not seek the position, but he humbly accepted it, to our great benefit. Thank you, Tom; and thank you, Corrie, for enabling him to serve so well!

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Sometimes Plans Change …

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By Bill Naron

Building bigger barnsI was scrolling through my Facebook feed today and I saw a post from one of my favorite blogs. It was an article about things to consider before making New Year’s resolutions. It was an awesome article and the main point was that before making resolutions, we should be asking ourselves where our motivation is coming from. The question was, “Are you being motivated out of selfishness, or out of a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel?” I thought this presentation was very thought-provoking, and it reminded me of when Pastor Martin was preaching out of the book of James.

“Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what [shall be] on the morrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye [ought] to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” James 4:13-17, KJV

So, it got me to pondering: What is the correct posture for us as Christians and as passionate followers of Jesus Christ? What should our response be when it comes to New Year’s resolutions? I would argue that all plans we make long-term or short-term are subject to be changed.

The week of Christmas, I took an extended vacation from work. This vacation was much needed, as the last couple months in the Naron household have just been all kinds of crazy. I had some grand plans about how things were going to go. I had a list that seemed to be a mile long of all the different things I was going to get accomplished: change the oil on the cars, finish building the shed, finish all the laundry, fix some minor things on the cars—and the list went on and on. See, I was looking forward to this vacation, but my plan was to use this time to just get the things that it seems I never have the time for done. I figured I may not get to relax much, but my family will be so happy to have some things done around the house. Recently my in-laws moved in with us, and while it is a great situation for different reasons, it still requires the merging of two households and different schedules. It also means less storage in the house but more items to be stored. So, now the items one would normally store in a shed or in a garage were—and are currently—resting on my back porch. So, when I took vacation, I was determined that all this list was going to get accomplished and that would just be the way it was going to be.

This was all changed as my vacation continued. I spent most of my time hanging out with my wife and investing in my marriage, spending some much-needed time having fun with my children. I was even fortunate enough to get a makeover from my daughters, complete with a manicure and pedicure. It was great! Some things got done—the kids swapped rooms and the shed got finished. It was far less than I had set out to accomplish. So, as I read through the article, I began reflecting on the Scripture above and on my own example of changed plans for my vacation. I had an amazing epiphany: our plans are not set in concrete. See, I think this Scripture is not saying that we cannot make plans at all; I think the idea that James is presenting is that we should always be aware that we are called to serve our Creator, and our plans may not always be His.

What I mean by this is that everything we have been given is a gift from our Father, including our possessions and our time. The Bible says to rejoice, for this is the day that the Lord hath made. So, if all we have is a gift from the Father, it is only sensible that when we are setting goals and making plans, we should be holding to them loosely. They are subject to the “Lord-willing” clause. If the Lord wills, we will be going forward and doing this. This is a posture that is from a heart that has been transformed by the gospel, that understands life is a gift from God, and that recognizes that sometimes, for whatever reasons, God has different plans for us than we have for ourselves. In Jeremiah, it says that He knows the plans He has for us and they are plans to prosper, not to harm.

When I set out to my vacation, my plans were to simply accomplish things that would be for my own benefit. They were not bad things, but they were also things that, though I may not like it to, could wait. There were more important things to be accomplished that week I was off. It had been a crazy and busy two months, it seemed like my wife and I were not connecting, and the kids were feeling out of sorts, trying to adjust to the new way things were around the house. So, instead of organizing the physical items in the house, God’s plan for my vacation was that I would connect with my family.

While I think that it is in our nature to make plans and to work toward executing them, I think the real problem when it comes to things like New Year’s resolutions, or planning in general, is that we have to be striving toward the mindset that Jesus had in His ministry, the same mindset that was shown by the apostles. That is, we should seek what the Lord would have us do, and while things may get planned, we should not hold on to them so tightly that we are not able to be flexible if God decides to change them.

 

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Does God Give Second Chances?

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By Larry Short

Several weeks ago Pastor Martin shared from Luke 1 the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who desired a child but were childless into old age. God ultimately met their deepest desires and went way beyond them when Zechariah learned, while serving in the Temple, that his elderly wife would become the mother of the Prophet John the Baptist.

This made me think of Abraham and Sarah. You know the story, from the pages of Genesis: God promises Abraham a son from whom the nation of Israel would derive. But Abraham and his wife grow old, with no son in sight and the possibility seeming dimmer with each passing day. They want to wait and trust God, but it seems impossible.

So, they take matters into their own hands. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham takes her handmaiden, Hagar, who conceives Ishmael.

But Abraham and Sarah’s folly, patience and disobedience do not defeat God’s plan. Ultimately, Isaac is born.

Even when we mess up, God is still in control. His will be done.

Is a Second Chance Simply a Free Pass to “Try Again?”

So, did God give Abraham a “second chance?” The answer to that question depends entirely on what you mean by “second chance.”

If you mean that God gave Abraham a mulligan, a free pass, a chance to “try again” to get it right, then the answer is “no.” God is not a God of second chances.

But if you mean that God worked His will in Abraham’s life despite his failures, that God’s mercy and grace was new every morning (including that wonderful morning when Sarah discovered she was pregnant with Isaac); if you mean that God always gives us a second chance to believe and obey and trust Him and see Him work His will in our lives, then the answer is: “Yes! God is a God of second chances!”

Also, it’s important to note that even though God didn’t give up on Abraham and Sarah, there were still serious consequences to be paid for their disbelief and disobedience. (Due to the enmity between Isaac and Ishmael, the world is still paying those consequences, even to this day.)

Second Chances and “New Year’s Resolutions”

It’s about that time of year when many of us make “New Year’s Resolutions.” We say to ourselves: “I want to be better. I will try harder to be the kind of person God wants me to be. To be healthier, to be happier, to be whatever it is I am hoping to be.” The problem with this kind of thinking about the New Year is that it is me-centered; it assumes that my transformation will occur if I simply “try hard enough,” if I make good goals and lift myself up by my bootstraps to achieve them.

Such thinking leaves no room for God’s grace, mercy, and power. Remember, it’s not our strength and willpower that are new every morning; it is His mercies that are new every morning! He who has begun a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it. That verse doesn’t say a lot about the contribution that your own effort might make. No, it’s not up to you, is it? He will complete it.

Do We Give “Second Chances?”

But what about us? When someone hurts us, or disappoints us, or fails to live up to our expectations, do we give grace? Are our mercies to that person “new every morning?”

After washing His disciples’ feet (to their shock and dismay), Jesus says to them (in John 13): “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” We often think of these verses strictly in terms of acts of (potentially unpleasant) service, but I think the implications go far deeper. Whatever service, love, grace, and mercy Jesus showed us, we would do well to also to show one another. (Unless we consider ourselves “above our Master!”)

Speaking of Second Chances …

… and of God’s grace and mercy! You all know that last Sunday (December 24) was Elim’s “Giving Sunday” event. We committed to “give away” all undesignated funding that came in through the offering that day (providing our income to spending actuals remained “in the black” as they currently appear to be) to three worthy causes, all above and beyond our approved 2017 church budget.

Some of us were a bit concerned when we looked around the sanctuary, the morning before Christmas, and attendance seemed a bit sparse. Would Giving Sunday be a bust?

So you can imagine our excitement when we were told that the total offering last Sunday was $28,161 … nearly five times Elim’s average weekly offering, and one of our largest ever! God is so good, and we are so thankful for faithful givers who responded to His leading.

Some have asked whether there would be another opportunity (a second chance!) to contribute to the Giving Sunday project (benefiting the Future Expansion Fund, the Benevolence Fund, and the Tabitha Center ministries in the Congo). The answer is yes! If you missed out on Giving Sunday due to vacation schedules and would still like to contribute, simply designate any gift made before the end of 2017 to “Giving Sunday” and it will be included in the total.

And, as you begin the new year and consider what goals you might set or resolutions you might make, be sure to seek God and thank Him — that “His mercies are new every morning,” that He will complete the good work He has begun in you, and that His grace is enough!

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Candlelight

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by Hannah Comerford

You take a candle at the door of the dim church. You stick the candle through the paper circle and hold it underneath, the wax malleable if you grip tightly enough. You clasp it gently, just enough to feel the thinnest residue on your skin.

How hard it is to wait until the last song of the Christmas Eve service to light the wick.

You find a seat in the fourth row of the right section. You leave space on the other side of you for friends who may or may not come.

You don’t need the lyrics to the carols, but you look up at the projected words anyway as you sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” A cello adds an especially mournful note tonight. You sing quietly, your voice lost in the crowd of fifty or so voices.

 O come, O come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear

Your mind doesn’t think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Instead, you think of Elizabeth, her cousin. The one who spent decades of marriage childless, the pity of her village.

Suddenly the words aren’t about the Messiah anymore. In your heart, they’re about Elizabeth’s missing child who never was. The cries of the strings become her cries of mourning as she reaches middle age without conception.

They become the cries of Anna, the prophetess whose husband died in their first short years of happy marriage.

It becomes the cries of the shepherds, living outside with animals, never invited to celebrations, lonely and poor.

It becomes the cries of the Magi, the wise men who longed for a King who would not disappoint them like every person in whom they had trusted.

The song becomes the pain suffered by so many in this well-known story.

And the song becomes every heartbreak and loneliness you’ve known this last long year. 

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel
shall come to thee O Israel
Emmanuel shall come to thee.

And in this you remember that their cries were not just for the missing child, the dead husband, the loneliness of being outcast, the disappointment of failed heroes. Whether or not they realized it, their cries were for a Savior, one who would make “everything sad come untrue.” A Savior who would come.

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

Shall come.

The music ends not on the completion, but on the hope of completion. The last note feels dark and unsettled, begging for the lighter sounds of the refrain, like a fairy tale missing the “happily ever after.”

The song does not recall the end of the story. It does not meet you in the happiness of Christmas morning, but it meets you in the long waiting of Christmas Eve. Like Isaiah, it looks forward to the hope that is yet to be.

You grip your candle tightly as you wait for the chance to light it. You know the time will come. 

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

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Preparing Well

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By Brian Waple

Well, it’s almost Christmas. It’s about now that I start to think of all the things we are normally doing as a family (planning get-togethers in Oregon and/or Washington, developing ideas about gifts, making a list of calls we need to make to connect with long-distance family members, dropping off presents at the UPS store for shipping) as well as things we normally do with our church community (coordinating the Christmas Eve service, wrapping things up for the year in our small-group communities, planning activities that will begin with the new year), and it starts to get a little overwhelming. Not in a bad way . . . it’s just that my calendar starts to fill up with all the things I need to “do.”

This season of Advent reminds us that this is a time of preparation. By that, I don’t mean activities that we necessarily do, although it can look like that. It’s more a state of the heart, a state of being. After 400 years, the silence that the Jews had experienced from God was about to be broken. What He was about to do would be the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy concerning a Messiah. But it wouldn’t come as they had expected. Rather than a mighty king overcoming the occupation forces and reestablishing Israel as a powerful empire, the Messiah would come in the form of a little baby, born to a poor couple staying in a nondescript little town south of Jerusalem. The fulfillment of the prophecy would be born out in the life and ministry of an itinerant preacher—not extraordinary, but simple. But this simple life would become the hope for us all.

So, as we prepare for Christmas this year, remember that in all the doing, take time to just remember. Remember the birth of a little baby in a plain stable on a lonely night in southern Israel. Remember a heavenly proclamation sung to those who were called to be present at the scene. And remember God’s promise to those who accept and preserve the hope brought by the birth of Jesus. Following all the events of that night, it says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Let us do the same.

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