One Dark Day in Texas

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short
You may not recognize this wonderful couple, but they are your brother and sister in Christ, Bryan and Karla Holcombe. They and seven other members of their immediate family lost their lives Sunday in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

 

Joe and Claryce Holcombe are retired schoolteachers, now in their 80s, and are living in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sunday they hosted a prayer meeting of nearby pastors and churchgoers at their home as they awaited details about the tragic shooting at the First Baptist Church nearby.

The news wasn’t good. The Holcombes’ only son, Bryan, was Associate Pastor there and was filling in for the church’s pastor that fateful day. As he walked up onto the stage to lead worship, a deranged gunman named Devin Kelley burst into the church sanctuary and began spraying automatic-weapon fire.

Bryan was killed, along with 26 other members of the small congregation. One of them was Bryan’s wife, the Holcombes’ daughter-in-law, Karla. The couple had been married nearly 40 years.

And the bad news didn’t end there. Bryan and Karla had two children (the Holcombes’ grandchildren), Marc Daniel and John. Marc Daniel was also killed. John, who was recording the service from the back, took shrapnel to the leg but survived.

But John’s wife, Crystal—who was pregnant with their sixth child—also died in the hail of bullets, along with her unborn child.

John and Crystal’s other five children were also in the service. Three of them—Emily, Megan, and Greg—were killed in the spree.

Marc Daniel and his wife had one child, Joe and Claryce’s sixth great-grandchild, one-year-old Noah. She, too, was killed in the gunfire, alongside her dad.

Joe and Claryce, a couple who love and trust the Lord, lost nine members of their immediate family in Sunday’s massacre: their only child and his wife; a grandson and the wife of another grandson; and five great-grandchildren, including one yet to be born.

The “family tree” below dramatically illustrates what I have just shared.

The enormity of Joe and Claryce’s loss is truly difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. I was therefore very interested to read what this couple—living a nightmare reminiscent of the heartbreaking tragedy that befell Job’s family thousands of years ago—had to share about their personal loss and tragedy.

“It’s of course going to be difficult,” Joe Holcombe said about the days ahead, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

But he said, “we are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.

“They’re in heaven,” he added. “And they’re a lot better off than we are.”

It Could Happen Here

As I reflected on this tragedy, I was confronted with the stark reality that something like this could easily happen in our own church. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was really no different than we are, and only slightly smaller. They are a church where people learned about Jesus together, worshipped the Lord together, and simply lived life together, much as we do. None of them could have ever foreseen or anticipated the seemingly random violence that would tear through their congregation on this particular Sunday in November.

So, what should our response to all this be? Should we stay home, cower in fear?

Absolutely not! Like the Holcombes, we are Christian. We have read the book. We know how the story ends!

And we also know the Author of the book. He is the one who has told us, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” And, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

We are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, shining God’s glory for all the world to see. And the world is seeing that glory, today, shining through the lives of people such as Joe and Claryce Holcombe and their surviving family members, who have suffered such unspeakable loss but still choose to trust God regardless.

They are truly our brothers and sisters, and we must pray for them—and for one another—during these dark days. For, as the author of Hebrews says, another Day is drawing near!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

More Things in Heaven and Earth: When Materialistic Explanations Fail

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

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?

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Investing in Community

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

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.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

THE CONGRUENCE OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

Pastor Martin recently posted an article from Relevant Magazine titled, “What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?” The article is a conversation with Eugene Peterson, the renowned author of The Message.

At the article’s core, Peterson addresses the issue of incongruence in the Christian life. “Incongruence” is the gap between what we say we believe and what we act like we believe. A pastor for a number of years before he became a theologian and author, Peterson was shaken by the incongruence he saw in himself (as a preacher) and those who sat under his sermons each Sunday, so much so that he considered himself a failure as a preacher.

I would encourage you to read the article for yourself, and I won’t lengthen this blog by summarizing it. But I did want to present a couple of ideas that really jumped out at me, that resonated with my heart.

One is that the solutions to most of our problems really are quite simple. They aren’t necessarily easy, but they are simple. Peterson talks a lot about the importance of faithfulness, about which he coined the phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” in a book by the same name he wrote over 20 years ago. We have problems that may seem intractable, but the solutions are usually quite simple: disciplined financial management, thinking and praying before we speak or act, seeking to focus on the needs of others before our own, etc. Simple . . . but not easy.

A second thing that he said that really jumped out at me was that authentic Christian friendships are our best weapon against incongruence. I know many of us struggle with a sense that we don’t have many, or possibly even any, authentic, honest Christian friendships. In our culture, in particular, this feeling of loneliness, a lack of true friends, seems epidemic. We don’t stay planted in one place for very long. (I’ve read that the average American moves every three years.) And when we do have a place to call home, we usually hunker down inside it and hardly spend any time out-of-doors, getting to know our neighbors. (Darlene and I walk around our neighborhood daily, and we always marvel how rarely we actually see any of our neighbors out-of-doors.)

When EFCA missions director Nubako Selenga was visiting the United States for the first time, I asked him (while driving him to our church) what struck him as the strangest thing about America. “It’s so empty,” he replied without hesitation. “There are all these beautiful homes, but I don’t see people around them. When you drive down a road in Africa, everyone is outside their home, visiting with their neighbors.”

That was convicting. How well do I know my neighbors? How many do I consider friends?

And it seems, to me, to be getting worse in the younger generations. I’m always astonished when I see at a restaurant a table full of young people, and everyone is engaged deeply . . . in their smartphones or personal devices. A whole table full of silent people who are doing God-alone-knows-what on social media, but are barely even talking to one other.

Does it surprise us to learn that friendship is an extremely high value to our Lord? “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus said, “. . . but I have called you friends.” Exodus 33 tells us that the Lord would speak with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Job said he was “in [his] prime, when the friendship of God was upon [his] tent.” Jonathan and David had “sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord,” and the power and poignancy of that particular relationship rings down to us through the ages.

Solomon told us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” but “profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Herein, perhaps, lies the secret to the power of Christian friendship to create spiritual congruence (people who live like who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God): people willing to tell each other hard truth, even if it hurts, because their love and friendship makes such truth both necessary and beneficial.

Sounds great, right? But how? What if you are reading this and frustrated and tired of feeling alone? You wish you had intimate and authentic Christian friendships, but they just don’t seem to be happening?

I can’t think of how to say this without sounding trite, but this, once again, is something that I think is both simple and hard. It’s a “long obedience in the same direction.”

First of all, Scripture advises us to choose our friends carefully. “Be not unequally yoked,” we are admonished. I can’t tell you, however, how many times I see young people willing to enter into dating relationships and even become engaged and married to someone who does not share their faith. I understand that loneliness can drive us to make poor choices. But that’s one poor choice that has little chance of doing anything other than later enhancing and ensuring continuing loneliness.

One of God’s richest blessings on my life I am celebrating today, on the 38th anniversary of my marriage to my best friend. Actually, Darlene and I probably became the best of friends some six years before we were married, so that makes it 44 years and counting. She models to me what it truly means to be a Christian friend: she is unafraid to tell me hard truth, when I need to hear it, and I know that she is 100% committed to me and my best, no matter what lies ahead. A friend like that is worth more than all the money in the world.

Young people: please, please, please, hold out for God’s best for you! Don’t give in to the temptation to date people who do not share your faith. Could they become a believer? Sure, we pray so. But don’t take the chance that their interest in you lies in places that will eclipse their interest in Jesus.

Dating and marriage aside, my other “simple but hard” point is that any friendship requires risky investment: time, effort, love, whatever. Time is probably the big one we struggle with. But you can’t really expect to develop meaningful friendships if you aren’t willing to invest the time.

And I say “risky” because I know it doesn’t always work out. I’ve had people I invested in that I hoped I would be lifelong friends with, who for whatever reason didn’t reciprocate, and we drifted apart.

But true friendship is worth the risk! So get started today. Enroll in a community group at Elim and get to know others who love Jesus. If you make the investment but don’t find any solid friends there, move on to another group. Sooner or later, you’ll hit pay dirt!

And then, allow those friends to speak truth into your life! Each of us has a congruence problem—and part of the answer is finding good Christian friends.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

COMMUNITY GROUPS: A “Church Within a Church Within a Church”

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

If you’ve ever seen the movie Inception, this concept may sound familiar. In the movie, there are sleuths (Leonardo DiCaprio plays the lead sleuth here) who are experts at entering people’s dream states to try to extract important information from them. It gets more than a little twisted when they have to take it down two or more levels, creating a dream state within a dream state, within a dream state. Which gives rise to all kinds of adventuresome challenges for returning to the “real world” . . . if there is such a thing!

(How’s that for a one-paragraph movie review? I dare you to try sleeping through this movie.)

At any rate, to some extent community groups and the way they function within the Body of Christ remind me of the premise of this movie. First, we all know that a Body of Believers such as the one you find here at Elim is merely a “church within a Church.” Ultimately, everyone who calls Christ Lord is a member of the same Body, the Body of Christ. Elim is only one local manifestation, a church within a Church.

I’ve found that the most effective community groups function as little “churches” within a church (such as Elim), within the Church (the Body of Christ). That is, many of the things that we are blessed by and bless others with, as a result of being members of the Body of Christ, happen well within the context of community groups.

I was reflecting on this last night while sitting around the fire pit in Bob Walsh’s backyard with a group of Elim men at one of our Men’s Conversations. We ate great food together. We worshipped together. We prayed together. Then Isaac McKenzie led us in a discussion that quickly got down to the nitty-gritty of how we live lives as men devoted to Christ together, in the context of relationships with other men (Pauls, Timothies, Barnabases—more on that here). There was honest discussion, and we encouraged one another onward in our journeys as fathers, husbands, men, and followers of Jesus.

I was encouraged to hear how the lives of so many men were being impacted by what was happening in small groups they were a part of at Elim, formal or informal!

During this weekend’s sermon, we will be looking at James 1:22-27, which begins with the simple and very direct admonition: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” God is implanting His Word in us. Often, we will receive it and say “Amen,” but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of daily life, we then “forget” to implement what we have learned and proclaimed. James tells us that professed faith is not authentic faith unless it is lived out in lives of God-directed action.

And community groups are an ideal place where we can safely “stir up one another to love and good works,” as Hebrews 10:24 exhorts us.

In this seventh and final principle in this series for life in community groups, I see the following three ways community groups help fulfill this “church within a church within the Church” mandate:

  • Small groups are often the place where a believer’s spiritual giftsfirst float to the surface. In the community ministry, we will work with group leaders to hone a process for helping their group members discover and use their spiritual gifts effectively to minister to others. Use your small group to exercise the “one anothers” of Scripture with your brothers and sisters in Christ!
  • Groups play an incredibly important part of the prayer life of the Church.This ministry will exhort, support, and encourage a vital prayer life within small groups.
  • Small groups are the place where the best care and shepherding In a traditional church model, the “professional” pastors are responsible to visit the sick and bereaved. But when tragedy strikes someone who is involved in a small group, many times the best care comes directly from other group members who are in community with that person. We will work with group leaders to help them develop as wise and caring shepherds of the little flocks God has entrusted to them.

Our prayer for you as we close out this series is that if you are not yet involved in a community group here at Elim, you won’t hesitate to jump in! Many new groups traditionally get rolling in September as school begins, so watch for an announcement of groups that are meeting, and don’t hesitate to contact a group leader to ask questions and express interest. (If you need help getting started, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line at LarryShort@gmail.com!)

Also, if you are already involved in a community group at Elim as a leader, an apprentice leader, or as a member in any other leadership role, know that we are praying for you and desire to come alongside you in this challenging task. You are a “little pastor” to whom God has given responsibility to shepherd and care for a portion of His flock. We exhort you to spend daily time on your knees before Him, seeking a godly vision for your group and asking for His help in making a real difference in the lives of the people He has entrusted to you.

Thank you for reading this series, and I pray you all will have a blessed and renewing summer as you grow in your walk with Jesus!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Community Groups at ELIM: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

This is part six in a seven-part series on principles guiding community life at Elim. To read all seven principles in one document, click here.

Fr. Nicolae Tanase of Valea Popului, Romania

Fr. Nicolae Tanase of Valea Popului, Romania.

I experienced something of an epiphany 20 years ago, when I traveled to Romania with a group of nine other World Vision staff on what was essentially a staff vision trip. There, high in the mountains above Bucharest, we spent the day in a community called Valea Plopului. This was no ordinary community. It was centered around the life and work of an Orthodox priest named Father Nicolae Tanase.

Fr. Tanase became a priest at a time when it was very difficult and unpopular to do so. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, Communists, under the iron fist of a brutal dictator named Nicolae Ceauşescu, were in charge. They believed there was no God in Heaven and human children were nothing other than a commodity to be exploited for the purposes of the State. They encouraged people to have lots of children and made any kind of birth control illegal, and when parents could not afford to raise their children, the kids became wards of the state, where they were to be indoctrinated in Communist ways.

That was the vision, at any rate. The reality was that children were half-starved, and many were diseased and disabled. They were treated like cattle and often left to die, caged like animals in “cribs” with steel bars.

Because of this reality, abortion was rampant. This young, brave priest named Father Tanase, convinced that God was alive and wanted him to show compassion to suffering children, announced that unwanted children could instead be brought to his village in the mountains, where they would be adopted by loving parents and raised with the dignity of human beings created in the image of God.

This announcement didn’t sit kindly with the Communists. They attempted secretly to kill Fr. Tanase, but only succeeded in maiming him. (His huge, black beard covers most of the grisly scars of this event some 30 years ago.)

After Ceauşescu was deposed in 1990 and the Communists fell from power, Fr. Tanase accelerated his efforts. When we visited in 1997, dozens of children had been adopted by community members. They tended sheep and gardens, running hither and yon with joy through the hills. They were well-fed, healthy, and happy. And they knew Jesus loved them! The image that remained with me from that day is best characterized by the somewhat odd title: “Peter Pan goes to Sunday School.”

What does this have to do with community groups? As I reflected on what Father Tanase had done in Valea Plopului, it occurred to me that he hadn’t done it alone. He had a group of vibrant believers around him who were willing to sacrifice enormously to show the compassion of Christ to a hurting world. What an incredible testimony!

Elim has gotten small toeholds on this principle, through amazing efforts such as Freezing Nights, feeding the hungry at the Puyallup Armory, and more recently, our wonderful involvement in foster care ministry. But I believe God has far more in store for us.

And if compassionate outreach to the community and world around us is going to be effective and sustainable, I believe it will find itself envisioned and resourced from within the center of our community groups. Hence, principle six of our seven principles:

  1. The Community Ministry will seek to strategically equip and encourage groups not simply to be places of community and fellowship, but also to be the point of the spear for our church reaching out into the community and world around us. This will look very different for different groups at different times, but we will challenge each group leader to be interacting with his or her members with outward-reaching ministry in mind. We will ask them, “What is God placing upon your heart(s) to do to impact the world around us for Jesus?” We will encourage them to listen to God and work toward whatever vision He plants in their hearts. Perhaps not every group will be reaching out, but it should be an important value to do so and to support those groups that do.

I would like to encourage everyone in a Community Group to pray about a vision that God would implant for becoming His hands and feet to the community and world around us. This won’t look the same for every group. Some may focus on supporting foreign missionaries, and others may focus on feeding the hungry right here in our community. Some will have a heart for strategic evangelism initiatives, and others may have heart for supporting efforts to help children in our community and beyond. Who knows what God will do?

But I do know He wants us to do something. I look at Father Tanase and praise God for the way James 1:27 is being worked out in his small corner of the world:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

What will God accomplish through you and your group? Start praying NOW, and only time will tell!

P.S.: Where is Father Tanase’s ministry, 20 years later? The video below will blow your mind. I mentioned that when we were there, dozens of children were being cared for. Now that number is in the hundreds!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.