Resourcing Community Groups and Group Leaders at Elim

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By Larry Short

This is the third in a series of seven posts on guiding principles for community groups at Elim. To read all seven principles together, please click here.

It probably sounds way “obvious” to make the following observation: those programs that a church (like ours) places a high value upon are those things that church spends its greatest time and energy focusing its resources on.

If you think about it, this becomes quite clear. At Elim, we rightly place a very high priority on what happens in our Sunday morning service—worship, preaching, fellowship, etc.

Can you imagine us saying, “Hey, it’s pretty darned expensive and time-consuming to have professional pastors spend all that time preparing and delivering sermons. So let’s just go without, okay?”

And how about children’s and youth ministry? Elim (obviously) places a high value on the next generation, and rightly so. As a result, we focus a lot of resources and efforts raising up leaders who will help train and care for our children and youth.

Missions? We have a long tradition of faithful support of various critical missions programs. We send out short-term missionaries and have even raised up and helped resource professional missionaries from within our own congregation.

As I’ve thought about community groups here at Elim in light of this reality, I have experienced some conviction that I believe is from the Holy Spirit. In the first part of this seven-part series, I spoke of the value that community groups have in discipling people in this church. In the second post, we discussed how it is God Himself who raises up group leaders and who works in the midst of these small groups of believers.

If all this is true, then we should therefore be placing great emphasis on how we resource group leaders and their groups—how we recruit leaders, equip them, and encourage them in the task. This reality forms the commitment behind our third principle for community groups at Elim:

We will prayerfully consider what recruiting, equipping, and encouraging group leaders should look like. But here are some early principles we will seek to live by:

  • “Three Hands” and leadership pathway principles must play a key role in raising up and training new leaders. Group leaders are encouraged to pray about and seek to identify a potential leader or leaders they could mentor. If you would like to become a leader, your first step should be to get connected to an existing group and mentor under its leader.
  • All group leaders should also themselves have identified mentors who can encourage and help equip them. The Community Ministry intends to help connect leaders to mentors.
  • Group leaders also need Barnabases in their lives—other leaders they meet with for encouragement and prayer. This can’t be accomplished without spending time together, which the Community Ministry intends to facilitate. Part of that process will be group leaders sharing their stories, successes, challenges, best practices, and dreams with one another.

If you are unfamiliar with the “Three Hands” model, it basically says that all serious disciples of Jesus need a hand up (to someone who is mentoring them), a hand down (to someone they are mentoring), and a hand across (to co-laborers who can encourage them in the task). You may have also heard this stated as the “Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas” model. The Apostle Paul was a mentor to Timothy and a co-laborer with Barnabas in the task for which God commissioned him.

(Pastor Brian Sharpe has developed a cool “Three Hands” booklet which explains this well, so touch base with him if you’d like to know more.)

Please be praying for our first Community Group leaders’ meeting of 2017, taking place Sunday afternoon, May 7 at our home after worship. If you are a group leader or trainee, a leader mentor, coleader (or other “Barnabas”), you are invited! Hopefully you have already received details by email. (Leaders of men’s and women’s groups here at Elim are also encouraged to attend.)

If you have any questions, please drop me an email. Thank you!

Next in this series: In the most effective community groups, people “live life in proximity.”

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Community Groups at Elim: God Is in Charge

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By Larry Short

This is the second in a series of seven posts on guiding principles for Community Groups at Elim. To read all seven principles together, please click here.

In 2002, our son had already graduated from high school, and our daughter was drawing near to her graduation date. Both had been quite involved in Elim’s youth ministry, but as they graduated they drifted away from Elim. We realized that there really wasn’t anything designed to keep them, and other young adults like them, engaged in the life and ministry of this church.

One day Darlene said to me, “I think God wants us to do something about this.” But I really couldn’t imagine how we could help. We didn’t have any training in college-/career-aged ministry, and college/career groups in local churches were notoriously difficult to sustain.

“What could we possibly do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she responded, “but we should pray.”

I was skeptical . . . but, pray we did. And, as we prayed, we began to get a sense that God was indeed calling us to step out and take a risk and try to start something that could create community for this very important life/stage group in our church. I’m thankful that the staff at Elim supported us as we sought to respond to God’s leading.

We called that first effort “YAM,” which was a truly terrible acronym for “Young Adults Ministry.” A number of years later, as the group began to grow and flourish, its members took matters into their own hands and renamed their group “Pulse.” (Which I think was a definite improvement!)

Those first five years of ministry, there were many times we asked: “Is God really in this? If so, why is this so hard? Why aren’t we seeing more young adults join this group?” We often had just a small handful of faithful young adults at our gatherings. Darlene and I remember a Bible study where just one young man, Kennith, showed up, despite being exhausted after work. We decided to press ahead with just the three of us. Then, during the Bible study, Kennith fell asleep! After that meeting, we once again looked at one another and asked ourselves, “Is God really in this?”

And we continued to pray. Despite the seeming lack of success, we still had a conviction that God wanted us to continue. So, after about five years of this, and after a lot of experimentation, the group began to take off and soon hit some sort of “critical mass.” Young people brought their friends, and close bonds were formed. Many of them got married (we’ve counted about 18 Pulse weddings thus far!) and began serving in ministry at Elim.

Over the years the group has waxed and waned, and changed a lot in many ways; but we are grateful to discover this one very important principle, which we believe directly relates to all sorts of community groups at Elim:

God is the One who raises up groups, and He does so by speaking into the lives of leaders and laying a vision on their heart for the group. Every group is different, and the group leader(s) are responsible to manage the group in accordance with God’s leading. Hence, it is unlikely any two groups will be the same, and our goal (as leaders at Elim) should be to encourage, exhort, and grant a great deal of freedom to group leaders to lead in a manner in which they feel called. We will therefore resist any cookie-cutter approach to creating groups at Elim.

In my last post (part one of seven), we discussed how vitally important groups are to the life of the church, because small groups are one of the most effective places people can grow in their relationship with Christ and one another. But the truth is, we are all different, and this doesn’t happen the same way for every person.

Some of us find it easier to grow when we meet with people who are a lot like us, in terms of life stage or circumstance. Others like to hear from a wide variety of people at different places in life. Some of us do well in larger groups, and some of us get our batteries recharged when we are talking life with just a few close friends. Some of us have better emotional energy and more time in the evenings or weekends, and some of us prefer meeting together first thing in the morning, when we are fresh. Some of us really want to dig into verse-by-verse Bible study, and others need fellowship and just sharing life together. Some of us love dark chocolate, and others prefer vanilla. We are all different!

The truth is, God knows us and what we need. After all, He created us! He cares more about us than anyone else ever could. Thus we need to trust Him as we seek to find a group of people to walk in community with.

As staff and elders at Elim, our goal is to encourage and give freedom so that God can work in our midst and raise up the kinds of groups we may not yet know we need in order to meet the needs of the people He wants to bring us. If you are aching for community, let’s talk! If there’s a special kind of group you wish existed, let us know, and we will pray with you and ask God to raise up a group that would fit the vision He is giving you.

We all need community in order to grow in Christ. So let’s throw off every encumbrance and go for it!

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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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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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What’s Your Exploitation Quotient?

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By Larry Short

In recent days I’ve felt particularly vulnerable to the possibility of exploitation. This wasn’t something I considered when I got laid off in early August from my 22-year job with World Vision. But being jobless, and the prospect of approaching a time (in the near future) when our income may be considerably smaller than it is today, leaves one with certain feelings of vulnerability.

And the thing that has been a shock to me, which I didn’t expect at all, is all the people and organizations “out there” who seek to exploit that vulnerability for their own ends.

My first real taste of this came about two months ago. I was looking for a new job, hard and fast, and, using a legitimate employment site, I was contacted by a company in San Francisco that was supposedly looking for a social media director. The job seemed a good fit. After an hour-long interview (which I felt went well), the hiring manager offered me a job. The bad news is, it turned out to be a total scam. The good news is, I got suspicious before I actually lost anything. (Read more about this story on my blog.)

I reported the scam to the FBI, but never even got a call back. Someone told me these type of scams were so common they don’t even, apparently, get investigated.

This was just the first of many attempts to exploit my current vulnerability. I receive multiple emails daily from insurance companies, employment sites, and others offering me work-at-home “jobs” that are too good to be true. I now realize the vast majority of these are attempts to exploit people who are in a vulnerable position because they have been laid off.

I’ve had lots of time to think about why this happens. People seek to exploit us daily. Sometimes it’s obvious; other times it’s very subtle. Sometimes strangers are the culprits; other times it’s people we know, trust, and love.

Yes, it’s true — we often seek to exploit each other. Even in the Church, sometimes I think we fall victim to this. It might come in the form of trying to “guilt” someone into serving or fulfilling a particular ministry need. Or perhaps it might come in the form of pressuring someone to give to a specific financial need, for reasons other than their best interest.

Or sometimes we might attend worship services or other church events, or participate in small groups or ministries for what WE will get out of it, how it will benefit us, rather than engaging from the core motivation that others might be blessed by our presence, service, and participation.

Upon reflection, I also realize that, inter-personally, we often seek to exploit the people we love, even perhaps without really thinking about it. We might manipulate a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend into doing something we want them to do for us, that isn’t necessarily in their best interest. But because WE want it, we attempt to manipulate the relationship, sometimes without even thinking about it, to exploit their vulnerability in order to make what WE want happen. Or we might treat them in such a way as to make them feel “smaller,” so that we can magnify ourselves by comparison and “feel better about our self.”

In 2 Peter 2:3, the Apostle had strong words for those who would exploit others:

And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

You’ve heard the saying: “Don’t use people and love stuff — love people and use stuff!” One of the remarkable things about Jesus’ life is that there was no trace of exploitation in it. While others frequently sought to use Him for their own personal ends, His every thought, word, and deed was for the ultimate good of the people whom He loved and was sent to serve. 1 John 4:10 says:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This verse acknowledges the stark reality that we are lousy at loving. And God is very, very good at it! So much so, that it is said of Him, “God is love.” (Sadly, I am not aware that anyone has ever said, “Larry is love!”)

So my question and my conviction is, “How can we get better at loving others?”

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Christ urged His disciples: “… love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Not a word about exploiting one another in any of that, is there?

So, I guess I will leave you (and me) with this challenge: What’s your exploitation quotient? Are you (perhaps unintentionally) acting in such a way that exploits those around you, even those you love, rather than loving them unconditionally and seeking to build them up?

If you need help loving others the way Jesus loves us, you’re not alone. I think it’s a challenge that confronts all of us. Let’s seek to prayerfully and honestly “stir up one another to love and good works,” as Scripture commands.

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How Do We Look at Faithfulness?

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By Larry Short

Cheryl Weller is very faithful to remind us elders when she needs a Last Word from us. Last week, she told me, “You are on schedule to write the Last Word for next week. Can you have something to me by Tuesday?”

“Sure!” I said, then promptly forgot about it. (I almost said, “of course,” but we’ll talk about that in a moment!)

Last night (Tuesday at 10:20 p.m.) she emailed me and (very graciously!) said: “Hey Larry, do you have a Last Word? I needed it today, as I’m publishing tomorrow. Any chance of getting that by noon ready to publish? Thanks! Cheryl :)”

The bad news is, I didn’t receive her email until this morning. I would hit myself in the head with my shoe, but that’s happened too many times before and my head is already sore from yesterday’s abuse. So here I am, pounding it out guiltily! (Referring to the Last Word . . . not my head.)

The good news is, I have been thinking about “faithfulness,” and this whole situation gives me great ammunition. I in so many ways fall short of God’s standard of faithfulness, and this is just another example. As I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve been listing in my head reasons for my unfaithfulness. They start out as excuses, but end up migrating toward real-life examples of my own sinfulness.

  • My memory is terrible! That’s a big excuse I use a lot for blowing people off when I promise them something (like a Last Word done by Tuesday) and then fail to deliver. I’m a busy person! I have too much going on! Blah, blah, blah. The truth is, I don’t sufficiently value my word, so that when I promise something, I don’t make it a high enough priority to deliver.
  • I de-prioritized delivering on that commitment because I had higher priorities come along. Cheryl has given me grace before, and I knew she would give me grace again. See #1 above!
  • I didn’t really mean what I said when I said it. Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” I interpret this to mean, “God’s faithfulness is known by His Word. Your word should be golden. Tell the truth, mean what you say, and do what you say.” Seems simple, no?
  • Selfishness and other sinful priorities. Here’s where it gets really uncomfortable. What was I doing yesterday that was more important than writing the Last Word? I made three Facebook posts. I did some training for a new job. I made a few bucks driving for Uber. I was tired and took a nap. For goodness’ sake, I apparently (without even thinking about it) prioritized my nap above my commitment to Cheryl to finish this Last Word yesterday!

When I look at the topic of God’s faithfulness, I frequently think it’s a no-brainer. Of course God is faithful, I reason. He has a perfect memory. He has all the time in the world. He has the wisdom to prioritize properly. We may simply take it for granted (I may take it for granted) that God will do what He says!

Obviously, this speaks far better of God than it does of me, but here’s the truth: We should never take God’s faithfulness for granted. It’s a matter of life and death for us! Let’s take a look at some of the promises Scripture gives, related to God’s faithfulness:

Psalm 26:3 – For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.

There are 170 references to the words “faithful” and “faithfulness” throughout Scripture, and many of them tie God’s faithfulness to His steadfast love for us. His faithfulness is proof of His love, as it were. And it’s His faithfulness that creates a path for us to navigate the challenges of daily life.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Without God’s faithfulness to forgive us, we would be condemned to pay the penalty (of death) for our own sins!

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Because God is faithful, we can resist temptation, knowing there is ALWAYS a way of escape.

Psalm 86:14; 119:75 – But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. . . . I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

God’s faithfulness establishes His mercy and grace as constants in our lives; even when we are “afflicted” (sometimes because of God’s discipline), we can bank on God’s faithfulness to us!

Psalm 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

God’s faithfulness, once again acting in concert with His steadfast love, is based upon the foundation of His righteousness and absolute commitment to true justice.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 – But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

Like Job, we may be assaulted by the onslaughts of the evil one. But God has promised to establish and guard us in the midst of those assaults. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!

Psalm 31:5 – Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

These were Christ’s very last words as he died on the cross and gave up His spirit into the hands of the Father He loved, whose faithfulness He trusted so deeply. At every moment, and at the very end of our lives, each of us will be confronted with a choice to do the same. Do we trust our souls to the One who created us and promises to redeem us for all eternity?

When I think about it, neglecting to deliver a Last Word at a promised time may be among the least of my acts of faithlessness. Every time I cheat somebody something I owe them or am faithless to my wife with my eyes (by fancying a passing pretty girl a little too longingly, etc.), or “stretch the truth” in my conversation, I am demonstrating my own faithlessness.

Thank God He is faithful and just to forgive, and that His faithfulness is a sign of His steadfast love for me! Let’s pray together that faithfulness, one of the fruits of the Spirit presented in Galatians 5:22, would ever more clearly mark us out as those who are called children of the Father.

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