The Church as the Center of the Community

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By Bill Naron

To the believers amongst the body of Elim,

I have been meditating lately on the hope we have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How sure is our hope because He gave his body for us and rose victorious over death and sin. He paid the debt that we were enslaved to from our birth. Jesus is our hope and the catalyst that began a revolution, the original counter to culture, and we are called to follow suit.

Comparing today’s American Christian churches with that of the first-century church, I see vast differences in the way they operate. One of the more apparent changes is that the overwhelming number of programs offered by today’s churches tend to be more self-help, fellowship, or inward-focused. I cannot help but be bewildered by the stark contrast to that of the first-century church, where the body of believers were more network-minded, fostered community, and seemed to be more outreach-oriented.

Realizing these important distinctions only reinforced my excitement for the direction our leadership is taking us in 2018! Because while fellowship, self-help, and community all help believers grow in communion with Christ, these things cannot be the only mission of a Christ-minded church. The apostles and community of believers mentored the unsaved and walked through life with them. The church had a major impact on society and culture, and the Gospel spread like wildfire.

What will this more evangelistic, Gospel-spreading mentorship look like? I cannot say for sure. This is different than anything I have seen implemented in my years as a follower of Jesus Christ. I know that in the 1800s it was not uncommon for a church building to be the center of the community in many ways, including hosting schools and courthouses. While I am not suggesting we go back there, I am curious what it would look like for Elim to become such a prominent place of community again, a place where we the believers physically invite others to join in the life-altering power of the Gospel! And that we as believers could somehow regain that Christ-focused impact for good even on public institutions such as schools and courthouses. Let us not only be hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word.

Being an oasis of renewal in our community can only begin with the gathering of the community. We must break down our walls of insecurity and fear and truly be intentional fishers of men.

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Sometimes Plans Change …

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By Bill Naron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Called To Be Sheep!

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By Bill Naron

Image courtesy University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The other night, my wife and I began talking, and not just small talk. We were talking about the topic of service. I know, so typical, let’s talk about service the week going into Thanksgiving. Well, give me just a few moments to be super cliché. So, back to my wife (Sam) and my discussion, which went super late into the night. We talked about what it may look like to begin to try to infuse attitudes of service into the fabric of our family. So, wouldn’t you know that after this conversation my biblical character calendar would be talking about hospitality/service, and I would stumble upon a story in one of my favorite blogs about a family who began serving together. I just have not been able to stop thinking about this topic!

Mark 10:45 (KJV) says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” It says that Jesus Himself came to this earth to minister, or serve. He did not need to be served, but was sent to us to serve us people who were not worthy, people who were undeserving. He came to meet us in the place that we were in, no matter where that was. This makes me think of how every morning I drive down Portland Avenue, and it comes to a point where the road goes under an overpass of I-5. At this point, at any given point in time, there are numerous homeless people, and it just seems that more and more are filling the area day after day.

As a passionate follower of Jesus who desires to grow and change to be more and more like my Father and less like the world, I believe we must pull back the curtains and examine our hearts. I get the hindrances; there is just not enough time—we have soccer, piano, violin, and the list go on. Maybe we just do not feel called to do so, it is not in our ability, or maybe we feel it poses a lot of risk and danger. But Jesus Himself says that even He did not come to be served but to serve. And 1 Peter 4:10 says that with the gifts we received we should serve others.

If I am a passionate follower of Jesus, serving those around me is my calling, serving those in need is in my abilities, meeting people where they are at and serving and giving is something that is commanded of me! For Sam and me, the discussion has been, What would be a practical application of serving and a way that we can speak this core piece of the gospel to those around us? I believe that this is what needs to be done, especially if you have a family with small children. Find simple, practical things that can be done, such as making up care bags to keep in your car to give to those in need as you cross paths with them.

The next thing that was a huge epiphany for me was that I need to be willing to help and give to anyone who expresses a need, not expecting anything in return. It means that homeless guy on the side of the road. It does not matter what he does with what I give him; what matters is my heart in giving it to him. We are called to give and to serve and to not worry about receiving thanks or about whether they are really in need of it or not. Jesus served us, and we did not do anything to deserve it, and by that He set the example for how we are to serve.

In Matthew it talks about the Father separating the sheep from the goats in the end; He says to the sheep that when He was hungry, they fed Him, and when He was naked, they clothed Him, and when He was a stranger, they took Him in. To the goats He says to depart away from Him, for they did not do these things. And when the righteous asked when they had seen Him in these states, He said that what was done to the least of his brothers was done also to Him.

The challenge I see before us is this: if we view people through the eyes of a loving and caring Savior, then whatever service we do unto them, we are also doing unto Him, out of obedience to Him, and out of an abundance of love for our Father. So, the question is, Are we going to be sheep or are we going to be goats?

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The Flavors of Community

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By Bill Naron

Peer through this looking glass with me and take a look at the world. Do you see the hurt and confusion? People are searching for answers in the things this world has to offer, searching for happiness in earthly treasures. They are looking for fulfillment through any means possible. Life is hard in this world that is fallen and scarred by sin. It is easy to be discouraged, to give up hope, to just go with the flow, to give in to my selfish desires, and to seek my own will. After all, we are only human, right? I am only flesh and bone; how could I deny myself? I may go to church, but I am not dead.

This is the dilemma that we face as Christians, this is what we fight against. I have seen this happen to people I know, for example, when they forsake community and church altogether. They read their Bibles and they continue to try to live for Jesus, but it becomes very difficult. I believe that sometimes we tend to think that once we accept Jesus, things will be easy, and when they are not, it is easier to run away. We think, “Well, if this is going to be hard, that is not what I am signing up for! I do not want it to be difficult.” But is that what Jesus promised us? Nope. In fact, He says that in this life we will experience trouble, but He offers us hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I believe that this is why community is so important for Christians.

In community, we can grow much more than on our own. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17). I believe God uses the community to help grow us. See, as much as salvation and relationship with Christ happen on an individual level, I would argue that the vast majority of the process is community-driven. Be in fellowship, put yourself in proximity to others, as Martin and Brian both talked about a couple weeks ago. As a group, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a community of believers that possesses an amazing hope, refuge, and strength. This is something we should be sharing with the world, something that we should be living out.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and that if salt loses it saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). We are the church and we have a mission. It is not an individual mission that just one person is called to—this is a mission that we are called to as a community. We are called to be tangible examples of lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. Like a savory seasoning, we are a group of people who give the world something to grasp with their senses. This community that we create gives us a tool with which we can draw those from the outside in, to come alongside new believers and nonbelievers. We can create space to practice the gospel in a relational way.

I was not raised with a pressing emphasis on the Idea of community, but I have grown to love the implications of it. You can find reasons to not try or to get out of joining in with a group. But when I joined a men’s group about two years ago, it was the best thing that I ever did. I finally realized that I was not the only one struggling, that I was not alone. I finally experienced people carrying burdens together, and that is what we are called to do—to bear one another’s burdens. I would encourage you, if you have not found a community group, women’s group, or men’s group, to find one and get involved. If you cannot find one, then start one and bring your friends with you. Through community, we can be a catalyst for change; we can show the world what it means to walk through messy, hard times. We can live out the example of Jesus Christ. So, get involved and don’t walk life alone—that is not what we were meant to do.

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There’s gotta be more to life…

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By Bill Naron

No doubt life is a balancing act, learning to juggle — work, home, relationships with spouses, children, and friends. We spend our days racing from one place to another and from one activity to another. We must balance the checkbook, do the dishes, get gas and groceries … on and on it goes. We rush and rush and we try to hold on tightly to as much as we can. This is life in America, right? This is the American dream, isn’t it? We work 40 hours, sometimes more a week to get as much money as possible to line our pockets so that we can afford nice cars, houses, a yard that looks better than our neighbors’. But, is there something more?

Jesus has showered blessing upon us, in ways we cannot even fathom. A couple of years ago we lived in a house that was 990 square feet. It had three bedrooms and we felt we were bursting at the seams. Our little family of six at the time was outgrowing the house so fast, and we had no clue what we would do. We began to consider our options and as we did it started to feel overwhelming. The thought of moving and trying to purchase a home all seemed so impossible because we wanted more kids, which naturally meant we needed a larger house than we could afford in our price range.

So, amid our running around frantically trying to figure out what we were going to do, we realized something: We had not sought out what God would do for us in this situation we were in. The Bible says that God cares for his children, and that He knows the plans He has for us. So, in our newfound clarity we decided to stop pursuing options and simply wait on the Lord to see what He would do.

Less than a month later we were offered the opportunity to move into the house we currently occupy. God brought us a larger house, in the exact perfect way that we needed it at the time, and in His perfect timing — because six months after moving into this house, our family of six would be prompted to enter a fostering situation where we would find ourselves growing in size, from six to eight.

I share this as a hopefully encouraging testimony of God’s goodness and provision that we have had the chance to experience, as a family. I have been reading on the topic of “reverence.” As we see God work in our lives, through the events and people we encounter, we grow deeper in our awe and respect for our Father. We learn that we can trust Him and gain an awareness of the way He is working within our lives.

I believe that this is the “something more” that is there beyond the facade of the so-called “American dream,” beyond the glamour we are encouraged to seek, beyond the glory of the kingdoms of this earth. There is a life lived in reverence to our Creator, Father, and Redeemer. There is a life lived in dependence on Him for our sustenance. There is a life lived as a disciple of Christ, where the desires of our hearts become the same as His. Where we desire to share the experiences that have made the power of God a tangible thing to us. Because our desire becomes like the heart-cry of the Father, that we who act orphaned would come home.

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Identity Theft!

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By Bill Naron

We have been talking a lot about identity lately, and it has gotten me to thinking about my own identity and where I am finding it. I think about when you have conversations with people and they will ask, “What do you do for a living?” Now normally one would just say, I am a mechanic, or a salesman, etc. I find it interesting because what we do for a living oftentimes can shape our own picture of who we are, and it can become our identity. But what allows us to move to a more stable identity, not centered in doing, but centered on being? I think that it is coming into a deeper understanding of who God is and His character, as stated in Matthew 6:26-33 below:

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (KJV)

We as a society love to associate titles to so many things and to people. People will say that they identify as this or that, but they are never full — they are always looking for the next thing to make them feel valued or important. What if our identity were rooted in the God of the universe, in the God who reigns over the whole earth? The Bible says, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). This means that He created everything, and since He created everything, He is not constrained in the same ways we are. This is what Jesus was talking about in the verse above not worrying but seeking the kingdom of God, finding your identity in relationship with the One who made you — not finding it in some societal title you are given or in the work you are doing, because our work is first and foremost the living out of the gospel and shining the light of Christ and bringing glory to God.

I would have been a person whose identity and value was rooted in position at work. But the reality is that in Matthew, Jesus says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. All the things that will be added are the things that our Heavenly Father knows that we need. You may be wondering what all this has to do with identity. God’s Word says that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I would argue that amongst the things that the enemy wants to steal is our identity. The ways in which it gets stolen is when we buy into how the world says we should acquire identity by pursuing whatever fad or trend the world says should define us. Or maybe we dive into what we do for a career and place our careers above all other things and soon our identity is derived out of who we are at work and how successful we are.

When our identity is rooted in the things that we do and the things we can accomplish, we are not leaving any room for our lives to be pictures of God’s glory and of His grace and mercy. We begin to shape our lives through the gospel, we begin to look at things differently. For myself for example, I now see differently my role at work. My role is not to work hard so that I can make more money and gather more successes; my role is to do my best work and to perform the tasks I am asked to with joy and a cheerful heart because that is what God expects of me as a passionate follower of Him. I perform my tasks diligently so that glory is brought to the name of Jesus, because He is the reason that I am able to do my work in the first place. We are in this place and in our jobs for a reason, and it is not so that we can be more successful and serve ourselves — it is so that we can help accomplish the work that God is doing in that place.

Even though I have grown up in the church, even though I have heard these things before, it spoke to me, and as I reflect upon it, I think it is because I myself struggled with my identity being wrapped up in my job and in the things I was doing. It was tied to the successes I was having and that was driving me to want to devote more and more of myself to my job. Everything would filter through how it would affect my job. Then, as I read and reflected on the verses in Matthew 6, it became clearer to me that if I am to be a disciple and my identity is to flow out of that, then the physical places that God has me are my mission field, and they are the places that God has put me to fulfill His purpose and to be a light and a voice that draws in and calls back the lost sons and daughters that He wants to redeem. And I do not need to worry about anything, because God will provide, just as He does for the grass and the lilies and the birds of the air. He will provide the things I need, and I do not need to worry about where they will come from.

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