The Power of Proximity

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By Brian Sharpe

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

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

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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The Right Question at the Right Time

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question-markBy Brian Sharpe

Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, boss, coworker, or friend where you didn’t know what to say or do when giving advice? You knew what the person should do, but you were sure they weren’t going to do what you thought they should. As a parent, as a friend, as a leader, and as a mentor, I have been in that situation so many times. My modus operandi is to just tell people what to do. The problem is, that usually ends up not going the way I think it should go.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I often think that if the world just did things the way I think they should be done, it would be a better, more functional place. I know that is arrogant, and most likely not true, but it is a thought I have.

I was recently in a situation where I was in conflict with someone that I respect. We both had different ideas of how something should be done. During this meeting, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Martin was at this meeting, and he brought me and this man together to talk through and figure out what was going on. Before this meeting, I wanted to spend some time alone in prayer, seeking God and asking for understanding on why this other leader and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. As I prayed, I wasn’t getting any clarity to what was going on in this relationship. I could understand where I was coming from, and I thought I understood where the other man was coming from … but boy, was I wrong!!!

While praying, I called a mentor of mine, Jim. We usually meet once a month, but I needed his advice and his outside perspective. While on the phone with Jim, I explained the situation. I explained the reason for the meeting. Jim’s first response wasn’t to tell me what he thought I should do. His first response was to empathize, then to asking questions. He has a framework that he works though in situations like this, and the first thing is seeking to understand by asking questions. As he asked questions, he better understood the situation.

At this point, if I were Jim, I would have moved into telling me what to do. Instead, he started asking more questions about why I was responding the way I was. By the end of our conversation, it was clear to me all the ways I needed to own my improper leadership. I thought I knew what was going on, but I was blinded by my own biases. Jim was not; he was able to help me understand the blind spots in my life. He did this by asking questions, not by making statements.

I really am learning that this is the best way to help people. We need to become master question-askers. As a pastor, I see this. As a parent, I see this. As a husband, I see this. How often could an argument (I mean if Tomina and I argued . . . which of course we never do! JK) have been stopped if I would had asked a good question instead of making a statement? Asking good questions means you are seeking to understand, not make a point. This takes humility and intentionality. But in the end, I think it leads us down the path we want to go down, and that is to help others.

I have seen where someone asking good questions has helped me. I have seen where good questions have helped others. Leading through questions is hard, but worth the time it takes. In the future, when people are seeking your help or you are trying to help a family member or a friend, stop, think, and ask yourself what question needs to be asked, instead of what statement needs to be made.

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From One Traveler to Another

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By Brian Sharpe

Have you ever had an “a-ha” moment while at a class or at a conference? I get them, more often than I think I should. I’d like to think it is because I am teachable and not because I need things spelled out for me by someone who gets it more than I do. Martin and I went to Minneapolis to the national office of the Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) a few weeks ago. It was a great time for he and I to meet with other pastors who are trying to lead their churches on a disciple-making journey. It is nice to know that we are involved with other churches that are trying to figure out how to lead this.

It is crazy to think that this journey is a 2,000-year journey and we are still trying to figure it out. You would think by now that we would know better how to make disciples more effectively and efficiently. I guess, in a perfect world, it would be. The reason we are still trying to figure this out is because it is a bunch of fallen human beings leading other fallen human beings on a journey toward the infinite God. The thing that gets in the way is not just how sinful we are, but also the lack of tenacity we have to take this journey with others.

This journey is not an easy one. It is one that is full of twists and turns. The journey is full of unexpected ups and downs. I think one of the main “ups” is success in life. Success is what we search for in life, but I am not sure we understand what success is. Success in our culture means that we make a living wage. We have a nice house. We have kids who will obey. Success is when we are comfortable and potentially happy. I am not sure this is the success that God talks about in the Bible.

Success in the Bible is fully trusting in God for contentment and joy. It is resting in God for your identity. Too often, we find our identity in what we have or what people think of us instead of on what our heavenly Father has said about us. We lose sight of this because of our success or what we feel is success.

For me, how I define success is that I have been faithful to God on this journey toward Him. Success would be that I can point others to Jesus and everyone that I am around would be marked by God through the presence He has in my life. That, to me, is success, and ultimately what I want to pass on to those I invest my life in. Nothing else matters.

Whether in abundance or in want, I want to find my contentment and strength in Christ. I believe that what is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4. From one disciple to another on the same journey toward our Father in Heaven, let’s focus on God’s definition of success — to find our contentment and identity in Him, and not in what the world defines as success.

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