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

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By Brian Sharpe, Senior Associate Pastor

“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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How did this become the norm?

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By Brian Sharpe, Senior Associate Pastor

My wife and I have norms in our marriage, parenting, and extended-family lives. We all have norms. These norms sometimes collide when we first get married or we take on roommates or even when dating someone.

Tomina and I started one norm early in our marriage because it was needed, but it hinders us now—our sleeping habits. When Tomina and I were first married, I was still in school. She worked full-time; I was a full-time student and worked part-time at a church. Tomina was as a waitress at Applebee’s. She would work from 3 p.m. until closing many nights of the week. I generally had classes in the morning and then worked at the church as needed.

When Tomina and I were first home from our honeymoon, she made the statement, “We will go to bed at the same time!” I didn’t question this statement. In her family, her parents went to bed at different times, and she wanted to change that norm. So, we agreed to go to bed at the same time. This was a great idea. The problem was, she would get home at midnight to 2:00 a.m. every night she worked. This meant that I was staying up until then to wait for her to come home. Then we would catch up on the day and go to bed. I would then get up a couple hours later and go to school. I would take naps, but it started a norm in our marriage. We were both naturally night people, but that was further solidified by our schedule. This is a norm that I have had a hard time breaking, even now that I am 40.

We all have norms. Every relationship has them. Unfortunately, they can be seen as ruts. Over the years, Tomina and I have had hard conversations about the norms in our marriage. We have talked a lot about how to love each other well. It is easy to settle into patterns and then coast on autopilot. The problem with this is that it can turn into complacency, and it can ultimately lead to a lack of intentionality. Now, this isn’t the intention of norms, but it is often the outcome.

This idea of norms affects even our relationship with God. A norm may be that when I am scared or in trouble, I run to God. That isn’t a bad norm, unless that’s the only time you run to God.

A norm could be that I go to church every week. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we understand why we go to church. We go to church to connect with God and other believers for mutual encouragement and growth. The book of Hebrews says we go to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

A norm may be that we read our Bible when we think about it or when we schedule it. This is a good norm, as long as it makes it on the schedule. A norm that we don’t want to talk about is the norm of not spending time with God in the studying his Word. That’s the downside of norms: we may create a norm in which God is only part of our lives when we are at church or when we are around people of faith, but not in our everyday life. This is a huge problem, because if we love God and are followers of God, we will spend time with God in some fashion or another in our everyday lives. We need to make sure that being with God and cultivating our relationship with Him is a norm in our life.

The other part of this is, if we have kids or are speaking into kids’ lives, we need to help them know the “why” of what we are doing to cultivate our relationship with God. First-generation Christians are excited to get to know God. Second-generation Christians get to hear the stories of what God has done with the first-generation Christian. But for third-generation Christians, being a Christian is normal to them, so they lose sight of why we do things, and in forgetting the reason, the practices become less important.

We need to stop and take inventory of the norms in our life. Our character qualities sometimes become the norm; for example, I am an angry or stubborn person. We need to evaluate these norms and make sure that we are reflecting Jesus in our marriages, parenting, friendships, and work. We need to make sure we are passing down reasoning for our norms for future generations to understand them.

What are the norms in your life? Are they what you want them to be? Are they a reflection of who Christ is calling us to be?

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The Power of Proximity

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By Brian Sharpe, Senior Associate Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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Emotional Quotient

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By Brian Sharpe, Senior Associate Pastor

Growing up, I remember watching the Bills in the Super Bowl. I know “Bills” stands for “Boy, I Love Losing Super Bowls.” I remember during one of the Super Bowls that I left the party I was at and just walked outside. At that point in my life, I wasn’t sure why I was leaving the party to go outside. I felt something. In my head, I wanted to see if anyone would notice that I left. I wanted to be noticed. Looking back, it was rooted in selfishness. I am sure I had a real low emotional quotient.

An emotional quotient has to do with emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence” is defined as “intelligence regarding the emotions, especially in the ability to monitor one’s own or others’ emotions.” I was not aware of my emotions or the emotions of others around me. I feel like I am getting better at this, but dealing with emotions is still tough.

I was introduced to the idea of the emotional quotient (EQ) in a book called The Emotionally Healthy Church, by Peter Scazzero. In that book, we had to take a test to see how we scored in EQ. I was in my late twenties at the time, but the test revealed I had the EQ of a teenager. We took this test as a staff, so it was fun to see how unaware we all were when it came to EQ.

Fast-forward to the present. I see a huge need for all of us to understand our EQ. If we can understand our EQ, it will help us with the teams that we are on at Elim as well as at work. It will help us as we submit to the leaders we are under. It will help us understand how to deal with our kids. EQ is in every part of life, yet it is something that I went most of my life not knowing about.

As I have grown older, I have seen just how I have changed. One of the main ways I have changed is understanding my emotions. I understand that my first emotion for some reason is frustration. I understand that I often say no, without even considering yes. Again, I am not sure why, but I believe it is tied to my EQ.

How well are you at understanding what is going on emotionally inside of you? Do you understand those internal motivations? I think it is important as we move forward as a community of faith that we consider what is going on in the backstage of our life, where the emotions live. As we seek to gain health in our understanding of ourselves, it will lead to health in our relationships and in our church. You may see more coming in the future about EQ. Embrace and lean into it, because it is all about understanding the backstage.  After all, don’t we all want to be known and noticed? I know I do.

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Reflection

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By Brian Sharpe, Senior Associate Pastor

Reflection is an interesting thing. Think about it: You can stand in front of a mirror and see an exact replica of yourself. Over the years, mirrors have gotten clearer and clearer. In fact, most of us have never faced a time when we couldn’t see our reflection clearly in a mirror. In Jesus’s time, however, a mirror was not so clear. I read once that mirrors in that day gave you the basic outline of yourself, and it wasn’t very clear.

A mirror is used in many ways. When we wake up, we look in the mirror in order to see how bad our bedhead is (if we have hair). We use a mirror to check to make sure what we are wearing matches. A mirror is used to help guide putting on makeup and make sure nothing is in our teeth. It is extremely helpful.

James 1:22-24 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” None of us have a time that we can think of when we didn’t know what we looked like. The thought of that is absurd, but we do have times when we know what the Word of God tells us to do, but we choose to not listen. We go from being an effectual doer of the Word to being passive listeners who are not reflecting the things God wants us to reflect.

I know this is cliché, but we may be the only picture of Christ that people see. The way we live, act, and move reflects something. It can be reflecting selfishness and pride. It could be reflecting Christ. I guess the question I am asking myself is, “Who or what am I reflecting to my wife, my kids, my friends, my family, and my neighbors?” I am reflecting something. Is it what I want to reflect? Is what you are reflecting what you want to reflect?

There was a time when I remembered what I looked like when I was younger and I would forget that it was not what I looked like anymore. It wasn’t until I was willing to really look in the mirror to see what I was like that I could start making the changes in my life that could help me change what I looked like. This can happen to us in a spiritual walk. We all need to understand what we really look like so that we can seek to reflect Christ to those in our life. We all reflect something. Do we like what we are reflecting? Are we honest with what we are reflecting?

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Rearview Mirror

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By Brian Sharpe

Transition is always tough. Most times we aren’t able to see what God is doing or how He is using a transition in our life, until that transition is in the rearview mirror.

When I was in high school, my parents decided to move from a place where all my siblings grew up and went to school together — to a place where I knew no one — leaving a place where most of my extended family lived — to go to a place where I had no family.

I moved from Buffalo, New York, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. It was a tough transition. It was a transition I didn’t want. But as I look back in the rearview mirror of life, it was a transition that God used in my life.

I believe God used that transition to humble me. He also used that transition to protect me from myself. I was going down a path that would have led me to unhealthy places. God also gave me a lot of gifts along the way. He used this move to introduce me to sailing. He used this transition to lead me to Bible school, to meeting my wife, and ultimately to moving into pastoral ministry, working with students.

God used this transition to give me a story to tell and a way to relate to a lot of people whom I have encountered. Transitions are never easy, but when we surrender to God and seek Him in life, He uses it for His glory and our benefit.

After last Sunday, we as a church as well as Nate and Becky as a family found ourselves headed into transition. Do we know what God has in store for us in the future? No. But we do know that we have a God who is with us and who loves us. We have a God who is at work.

I am excited that we will someday be able to look in the rear-view mirror to see how God has been working throughout this transition. I liken this situation to a movie in which you didn’t know the ending, and you just look at the screen as it ends and say, “No way! Did that just happen?” It ended in a perfect, yet unexpected way.

That’s how I view transition. I view it as a way to see God’s handiwork in our lives.

Please pray for Elim. Pray for Nate and Becky. Pray for the staff and the elders. Pray that we will listen for the will of God, that we will lead with wisdom and godly insight. Pray that we keep the main things the main things.

Transition usually leads to us getting a bigger glimpse into God’s handiwork — which ultimately helps us develop into passionate followers of Jesus Christ!

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