The Carpet Conundrum

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by Martin Schlomer

Over my past 16 years at Elim, I have been privileged to be in the homes of many people. One thing I have noticed is everyone has their own sense of decorating style and taste. If you want a modern utilitarian style, check out the Wibowos’ home. It’s so incredible an article titled “Magic Mountain” was published about it in the architectural Dwell Magazine.

If you prefer a more exquisitely classical style, check out the McCulloughs’ home. Or if you want a down-to-earth home where you can kick back on the couch with your shoes on, check out the Wellers’ home.

We all have unique tastes. However, when you’re in another person’s home, what matters most is not their sense of style, but the relationship you have with them, the life you share in Christ.

Last September, we started on a journey to raise money to pay for some mundane but much-needed capital improvements at Elim. Our goal was to raise $30,000 by June. I am here to celebrate that as of last Sunday, May 23, the Lord has provided $27,866 toward this goal – through you! We are within $2,200 of our goal. Thank you for your sacrifice!

Two weeks ago we asked two individuals who have demonstrated a proficiency in interior decor to help us choose the color and pattern of our new carpet. With great fear and trepidation they took on the task and made their choice. Last Friday, I ordered the carpet. (At the same time I suggested that these two unnamed individuals should go into witness protection!)

In approximately 6 weeks, I predict you will walk into our meeting place and you will notice that something looks very different. As you gaze upon this new carpet, I know there will be those who will say, “I love it! These mystery people made a great choice!” Others may think, “Who chose this carpet? Why did they select these colors and this pattern?”

Many considerations went into selecting the quality of the carpet, along with the colors and pattern. Two big considerations were durability and the ability to hide stains. Other considerations included matching other assets, such as the chairs.

The bottom line: Some people will like it. Others may not. After all, we all have our own unique decorating styles and taste. As we travel this path together, I just wanted to remind everyone to please be gracious in their speech, as well as thankful in their heart for God’s provision through everyone’s sacrifice.

In addition to laying new carpet, in a few weeks we will also begin rebuilding the stage as well as the back wall. We will need your patience as we go into this dusty remodeling process. We will also need your help! Bob Hedge, the project manager, will make pleas for help on specific days as we tear out the stage and build a new, larger, single-level platform.

Under the leadership of Christ, you have been exceedingly generous! I look forward to celebrating with you this great accomplishment to the glory of our Lord.

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by Steve Kearns

Most people who were born before May 18th 1980 know what major event happened that day. Yes the “Eruption of Mount Saint Helens.”

Not very many people know what happened on that date ten years earlier. Two kids running from dysfunctional families exchanged wedding vows in a Catholic church in south Tacoma.

Not knowing Jesus as their personal savior, those vows were only words between the two of them. Four years later after months of heartache by the selfish immature husband they came to know Christ as their savior. As they grew in knowledge of God and learned the importance of vows or covenants those words spoken four years earlier began to take on new meaning.

God’s word is full of His promises to us. Hebrews 6:13-20 speaks of His promise to Abraham and how He fulfilled it. If you read vs. 13 & 14 you will see God did this in the form of an oath, “He swore it by Himself.” Vs. 18 says “It is impossible for God to lie.”

What a blessing for us as believers to search God’s word for all of His vows or promises to us and know that He will not renege on even one of them. Needless to say the deceiver tries to convince us otherwise, but I for one am not buying into his lies.

Take time to look at God’s promises for you, there are many of them! I held Him to his promises in Proverbs 22:6 and He fulfilled that promise to me. That is just one of many examples of how He has cared for me over the years.

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How to finish well, Part 2

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By Larry Short

In last week’s Last Word I introduced a very interesting exchange I had on my Facebook wall and blog with two “deconverted” (formerly Christian, supposedly, and now nontheist) friends. This week, I will present conclusions I drew from this experience.

So, other than my own edification, what was the result of my extensive Facebook and blog conversations with my two “non-theist” friends? (Which involved, for me and I’m sure for others, a significant investment of time, effort and emotional energy.)

I don’t know the complete answer to that question (yet), though there are some things I am encouraged about. I have re-established the original relationship with Friend A, the friend from high school, and he has agreed to meet me for coffee next time I am in his home town (probably in July). His position seems fairly intractable, but I am hopeful that at least by showing him the love and respect of Christ I can be the appeal of God to him to return to the fold, before it is too late.

And I still pray for Friend B, the woman in Chicago, although her case seems very hopeless indeed. She has apparently experienced a great deal of hurt and has gone to a very dangerous place as a result. When I realized that she mainly was in it for the sake of argument and apparently enjoyed the satisfaction of striking out against God and others, I mostly stopped responding to her mean-spirited, moralistic and critical comments in order to focus my hopes on Friend A.

I am also encouraged that others who read my responses, especially responses to mean-spirited comments, seem to have been edified by observing that they remained gentle and respectful, which was my goal (but easier said than done!). I realize that intellectual debate rarely changes anyone’s mind, and that Christ is best seen reflected by our character.

Pastor Martin speaks often about the imperative to “finish well” as believers, and how few of us really do so. One huge lesson I’ve learned is how critical it is for us remain connected to Christ, our Vine. There is nothing wrong with having doubts and seeking honest intellectual satisfaction of the basis for faith. I love how Christ patiently put up with Thomas’ doubts, and how after “proving” himself to Thomas he said: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

You and I are in that group, blessed in ways I’m sure we cannot yet imagine, because we have staked a claim of faith on Christ, even though we have not (yet) had the opportunity to see His resurrected body. In order to remain alive and healthy, it is imperative that our faith continue to blossom and grow within us. And in order to do this, we MUST keep connected to Christ. If we wander from the fold (and we all do, in many small and sometimes larger ways), according to 1 John 1:9 we MUST repent, which means turning back to where we went wrong, seeking and accepting Christ’s forgiveness, and starting again.

In both of my friend’s cases, it is very clear to me that their journey of “deconversion” began not with an intellectual reassessment, but with a failure to stay connected to Christ. When they strayed off the straight and narrow path, rather than repent, they just kept going in an effort to justify themselves. Ultimately they began to believe the lie that their quest really was an intellectual one, and de-invested themselves of their faith.

Every day I see greater wisdom in a key truth expressed by Jesus in Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The thing that we invest in is what will end up taking over our hearts and lives. If we stay connected to the Vine, investing in our faith, we will finish well.

But if we invest heavily in our doubts (or in any one or more of a myriad of other things in which Satan, the world and the flesh continually tempt us to invest, whether that be money, or leisure, or other people, or sex, or addictions, or whatever), we endanger ourselves by straying too far off the path and not being able to find our way back.

The good news for straying sheep is two-fold: 1) God promises in Romans 8 that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus,” that “all things work together for good for those who love him,” and that “he who began a good work in you shall see it through to the end.” And 2) We have a Good Shepherd who is willing to leave the 99 in the safety of the fold and go after the lost sheep who strays into dangerous places!

Praise God for his grace and mercy, shown daily to each one of us.

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How to finish well, Part 1

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By Larry Short

Pastor Martin asked me to share about a recent experience I had interacting with two “non-theist” (which I guess is kind of like atheist) friends, and others, on my Facebook wall and then on my blog. I’m still processing what I learned through this experience, but I’m hoping it can be an encouragement to others.

The Young Adults Ministry is currently studying Romans, and when we were in Romans 4 I posted to my Facebook wall a quote I liked from a Bible teacher, Jon Courson, on the nature of faith:

You go to a doctor whose name you can’t pronounce. He has degrees on his wall that you have never yourself verified. He gives you a prescription that you can’t read, and you take it to a pharmacist that you have never met. He gives you a chemical, a drug that you …don’t understand. And he puts it in a bottle you can’t open!

It’s faith, man! People practice faith continually, every day.

The question is, if you can have faith in the doctor whose name you can’t pronounce, and take without hardly thinking about it the medicine he prescribes, then why can’t you exercise faith in the God who created the universe (and you in it), the One who loves you so much that He came to this earth and died in your place … who simply asks you to accept that historical, verifiable, undeniable fact and its implications?

A great quote, right? Well, I have two Facebook friends, both avowed “non-theists,” who began responding immediately. Both say they were once Christian. Friend A is a 40-something friend from Darlene’s and my high school days, who attended our church youth group. He later had a falling away after marrying a Mormon (even though he knew it was wrong to do so), then experiencing a divorce. He says he had doubts all along, but the experience led him to re-examine the Bible. He said that in doing so he determined that it was inconsistent, and he drew conclusions about the character of God that made him decide to reject Him.

Friend B is a 30-something woman who used to be a Christian radio talk show personality in the Chicago area. Her falling away coincided with a pretty significant personal trauma and moral crisis in her life (well documented by Chicago newspapers and bloggers), but she now claims as well that her “deconversion” was the result of research and intellectual re-examination.

Basically, the debate started when Friend A responded to my “faith” posting, saying that God was not trustworthy and that if he was really there and really cared for us, he would prove himself to us beyond a shadow of a doubt. Friend B then responded to that and challenged his reasoning (basically saying there were better reasons than he was giving to be a non-theist). Their back-and-forth went on for some time and grew quite uncivil at points, I thought.

Other friends (including some Elimites) jumped in at various points and asked questions or raised objections. Pretty much anyone who contributed was subjected to harangue by the woman in Chicago.

At first I kept out of it, but after the wall posting grew to an unwieldy size, and in an effort to change the venue, I promised I would respond to the various objections raised, but would do so in a more thoughtful way on my blog. Then for a week or so after that, I posted a 7-part series on my blog seeking to respond to the various supposedly intellectual objections to faith raised on my Facebook wall, as well as to address what I saw as some of the real issues buried beneath the objections.

By the way, much thanks is due to my “real” friends (as opposed to Facebook friends), Mike Hellum and Larry Nelson, for helping me frame my response!

The debate intensified even further on my blog. Those seven postings generated a total of 62 responses, mostly from my two friends. (Friend B was responsible for a majority of those. Darlene asked me, “Doesn’t she have a job or anything better to do?” I still don’t understand why people who repudiate a belief in God seem so invested in getting others to do the same.)

You can read the original Facebook wall post (and its 49 comments), if you dare (you may need to be my Facebook friend to do so, but I think most of you already are) … and anyone can read the equally scintillating subsequent conversation on my blog.

The exchange was a healthy one for me, challenging me to be better equipped in order to meet the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Our faith, while it is faith, must be rationally-based and supported by a foundation of trustworthy evidence. Too many Christians simply believe because they’re expected to, because they were told to (perhaps at a young age), or because everyone else they know does. But there are compelling empirical, philosophical and rational bases for Christian faith, and each of us who interacts with non-Christian friends and neighbors should understand what those are. Not only will it be encouraging to us in our own faith journey, it will help equip us to respond to the challenges of the world in which we serve as ambassadors.

(I can recommend a few great authors, for those of you who are interested in more: C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, Lee Strobel, John Piper and Josh McDowell are a great place to start.)

Continued next week: Conclusions I have drawn from this experience.

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Help! I’ve Fallen and I’ve Got No Margin!

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by Dan Amos

I know the clichéd commercial’s line ends “…I can’t get up” but if you don’t have any margin the effect is the same. Margins are the available space on the page of life where we can add the extra sentence when we’ve already filled the page. It’s that space where we experience the unexpected. My margins have been on my mind constantly.

Martin presented a sermon last year on creating space for others and margin in our finances so we build financial space to act when someone needs help. I am finding the concept applies to pretty much every part of my life.

For instance, when I was receiving career transition assistance (in 1996) the counselors would tell everyone to make sure we exercised, ate nutritious meals and got plenty of sleep because the process was going to be stressful. This concept applies to all of my life now that I’m older and less resilient.

It applies to relationships too. I can’t buy relationships; they only prosper and grow with the time I put into them. My family and friends give me the grace when I have to move into the margins for a short while. But this only works if I’ve established healthy margins during the rest of the time.

Where I really need to follow Jesus’ example is in creating my spiritual margin. Jesus was surrounded by sick and hurting people and he was uniquely able to help them. Though living as a man, he lived in the power of the Holy Spirit and he knew the scriptures like no one else. But we see him get away from the crowds, rest, and spend time with the Father. He actively worked on his margin.

When his time came and there was no more margin left, he was prepared because he lived his life with margins, within the will of the Father. This is where I need to be too. The financial, physical, and emotional margins take intentional effort to create and maintain. I need to put the same effort into extending my spiritual margin

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