God Still Speaks … Through Laminate Flooring

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By Nate Champneys

“Dad, I want to bring in the flooring,” my 5-year-old son Kaelen asked me for the tenth time today. My wife and I are living in a fixer-upper duplex we bought a few months ago. I bought some flooring a couple days ago for my kitchen, and it’s still sitting in my minivan. I have not had the time or the drive to move it inside. My son, it seems, has both of these. This time I finally give in and we head outside and begin unloading the 20+ boxes in the van. I open the door and grab three boxes. The boxes are about four feet long and weigh about fifteen pounds each. My son walks up and grabs a single box and muscles it out of the van with all his might. He nearly falls over as he struggles to carry the awkward package by himself. I walk my three boxes into the house and return to see that my son has only made it a few feet farther and is now dragging his box.

I am so tempted to let him continue to struggle while I finish quickly unloading the van, but I pause. My son has been so excited to unload this flooring; I can’t possibly rob him of that. So, almost annoyed, I ask him, “Kaelen, do you want to get one side while Daddy gets the other side?” He grins from ear to ear and says one word: “Yeah.” So, box by box, we carry the flooring inside the house, him on one end and me on the other. He is so happy to be doing this with me, but I can’t help but think of how I could complete this whole task myself in one-tenth the time it is taking us to complete it together.

All of a sudden, a huge “ah-ha” moment hits me like a ton of bricks (or laminate!). A few weeks earlier I had been thinking about how strange it is that God uses people like me to accomplish His purposes. It really isn’t very efficient. Really, when you look at the Church in general, we are not very efficient. The disciples were given one command when Jesus left them: Go, and make disciples. It has occurred to me that the church really is not efficient at this task. While I had been thinking about this I had a conversation with God. “God, why do you do it this way? It sure seems like you could do a much better job without using broken humanity.”

So, as I am moving this flooring with my son, God turns on the lights of understanding. I get the answer to my question: Because He is not only about the end result. Don’t get me wrong, He ALWAYS accomplishes His end goal, but, at the same time, he has purposes wrapped up inside the process itself. Yes, I could finish the task of unloading the flooring ten times faster if I just excluded my son. But, at the same time, I would not be allowing my son the joy of helping. I really don’t need my son’s help; but that’s not the point. God does not need us to accomplish his purposes. He simply doesn’t. He could accomplish the task one bazillion times faster and better all by Himself. He is God, and we are not. But that is not the point. It really is His joy to include us in HIS work and, in the process, our sanctification is also part of that work accomplished.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

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NO!

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By Dan Amos

Over the Christmas break I saw something I hadn’t seen in a while. All of my boys were home from college, and when you live in a house with four men you adopt certain coping behaviors. One of my wife’s is to put sticky notes with the word “NO” on them on certain food items she doesn’t wish to disappear.

I don’t remember exactly what it was I saw. The kitchen was bustling with foraging children and Fran trying to put something together. She pulled something out of the refrigerator, and there was the familiar note, “NO.” It’s a declaration that has frustrated many a snack or individual meal. It might have been on bacon, cheese, pound cake, or egg nog, but it hit me right then that “no” was not mean and it wasn’t selfish; it was profoundly beautiful.

How many times have we prayed and thought God would answer “yes” or “no” or “not yet.” It occurred to me that God often responds, “I have something better in store.” That bacon and cheese might have made a tasty lunch for someone, but when used as Fran used it, it became family favorites of fettuccine Alfredo and cheesy potatoes. The pound cake became trifle and the egg nog became bread pudding.

So the seemingly harsh “NO” was really, “I have a plan, and if you just wait for it you’ll see that it’s better than what you had in mind.” It’s a simple insight I got that day into God’s sovereign love for us, but it is life changing.

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What Matters Most to This Pastor?

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By Martin Schlomer

The year 2014 has been a year of many blessings as well as spiritual growth! God’s faithfulness and grace is evidenced in the lives of many who have been baptized and in those who continue to grow in following Christ.

As I look back on 2014 and write this report, I ask myself, “What matters most?” I could talk about the blessings of increased attendance, new people coming, near-record giving, strategic efforts to develop disciples (efforts which need a lot more work), missions trips, building projects we’ve accomplished, or challenges we’ve faced where God has grown us. All of these metrics—and many others not mentioned—matter a lot! However, in this season of my life and ministry, they are not what matter most to me.

What matters most to me? Elim being an oasis for renewal (life-changing redemption) with God and one another so that people become passionate followers of Jesus who live out the compelling realities of the Kingdom of God in the midst of our increasingly lost, hopeless, and hostile culture! Are there metrics from this last year I can write about that would indicate this is taking place? I suppose what I mentioned are some worthy indicators. However, while they measure things that can be seen, they don’t necessarily reveal the passions of the heart.

Passions of the heart that would indicate whether or not what matters most to me is happening are discovered through story. For instance, in the community group Kim and I lead, we are listening to life stories for the first few months. As I listen to these stories, I hear a common theme of how God is using Elim to redeem these people through the grace and love from this community, the preaching and study of the Word, and prayer. “Elim has been an Oasis for me,” is a common statement. As I look back over this past year, this is what matters most to me. As I look forward to 2015, this is what matters most to this pastor!

What challenges do I face when pursuing what matters most in 2015? I need to make sure that what matters most continues to be what matters most. My heart can be fickle and easily distracted by good but lesser things. I believe that if I focus on what matters most, the good but lesser things will follow. For those planners among us, I realize there needs to be strategic planning. However, I’m also realizing I need others who will take that on so I can focus on what matters most.

As I focus on what matters most, I need to transmit this focus and passion throughout the fabric of Elim’s core leadership. I want to do my best to make sure they “catch this virus.” This is essential because those they lead need to catch this virus also. If the leaders don’t have it, the followers won’t catch it. This means I also need to work with others to develop a leadership pipeline that will infect leaders with the virus of what matters most.

As I focus on what matters most, I need to transmit this focus and passion throughout the fabric of the congregation through preaching and leadership. I desperately want every attender to choose to become a passionate follower of Jesus! I pray that God will do whatever it takes to make this happen in your life, because following Jesus is what is most important in all of life. This calls me to greater levels of boldness and clarity as we enter this new year.

There you have it! This is what matters most to your pastor. I hope you will join me in this pursuit.

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Is Jesus Asleep in Your Boat?

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By Larry Short

Recently I led a Bible study in Mark 4:35-41. To set the scene, Jesus has spent a very long day teaching “by the lake.” The lake referred to is the Sea of Galilee, also known as “Lake Gennesaret” or the “Sea of Tiberias.”

The Sea of Galilee is currently 13 miles long and about 8 miles wide. At nearly 700 feet below sea level, it is the second-lowest lake on the planet, the Dead Sea (further south) alone being lower.

Today the Sea of Galilee is about 3 feet higher than it was in Jesus’ day. Which means it is also slightly wider and longer. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that is that the sea is subject to sudden, violent storms, due to its position ringed by mountains (updraft and air flow patterns can cause furious storms, particularly at night … in 1992 Tiberias, a town on the western shore, was flooded by 10-foot waves. Significant damage was sustained).

In Christ’s day, fish in the Sea of Galilee were relatively plentiful. Josephus noted that shortly after the time of Christ some 230 fishing boats regularly plied the lake. Only recently has it been nearly fished out.

At an average depth of over 70 feet, the lake contains a lot of water, and it is this weight that keeps a natural tendency toward salinity (due to extensive water evaporation) at bay. Gennesaret provides most of Israel’s water supply, so the government zealously controls its depth to keep salinization at bay.

In addition to teaching some popular parables (related to farming … focusing on the role of the Word of God, truth, and faith) Jesus spent his time on that day healing and casting out demons. It was a busy day, and by evening everyone was tired. Jesus dismissed the crowds and instructed his disciples to prepare boats to “pass over the lake to the other side.”

Fishing boats of the day probably held about a dozen passengers, and Mark says there were several other boats in the party. Jesus probably climbed into the boat with the apostles, and other boats were filled with various disciples. Mark says He promptly fell fast asleep on a cushion in the boat’s stern.

As they were crossing, a sudden and furious squall arose. Waves were cascading over the sides of the boats, and the disciples, many of whom were veteran sailors, felt they were in danger of being swamped. Finally, apparently as a last resort after all their best efforts failed, they awoke Jesus.

“Don’t you even care that we are perishing?” they shouted in frustration.

Christ’s response was to stand up, face the sea, and call out to the winds and waves to “be still!” (or quite literally, to “muzzle yourselves!” … which was the same language He used when calling demons to silence).

Scripture says the storm immediately ceased and the seas became as still as glass.

He then turned to His disciples: “Why are you still afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Over and over again, Scripture exhorts us to trade fear for faith. Fear seems natural to us in a situation like the one confronting the disciples, where their very lives felt threatened. One wouldn’t have blamed them for retorting, “You obviously know nothing about sailing, and how dangerous a situation we were in.” Except that, He had just demonstrated unequivocally that He was Lord and Master over the wind and the waves! So, maybe not.

A couple of observations

First, the disciples were doing exactly what Jesus had asked them to do when the storm arose: they were attempting to cross over the lake. Some “prosperity preachers” teach that if we would only do what Jesus says, all will go well and we will face no storms. Not true for these disciples.

Second, Jesus was in the boat. He was not out walking on the water (this time). And He was not afraid. He had promised them they would cross over. He also shared: “I don’t say anything but what I have heard from the Father.” So the God of the Universe had promised they would reach the other side. Despite the storm, there was in no reality any danger that they would end up in the drink.

So, what would have happened if the disciples had simply given up? Not bailed? If they hadn’t woken Jesus up? We don’t know exactly how it would have happened … but we do know they would have crossed over to the other side. Jesus said so.

And, if the disciples were afraid, why did they wait as long as they did to awaken Jesus? Obviously there was some pride involved. He was a carpenter, they were fishermen/sailors. They ought to have been able to handle a storm. Only when they came to the end of their wits were they finally willing to call out for help. (Sound familiar? I’ve been there.) The only problem was, by that time they were wracked with fear and far away from faith.

How can you possibly sleep at a time like this?

But I think the most interesting thing about the whole episode continues to be that Jesus slept. Surely He was very tired. But, how could you possibly sleep when the wind was howling and waves were crashing over the sides of your storm-tossed boat?

I don’t know about you, but there are certain places I absolutely cannot sleep, no matter how tired I am. One is in a plane being buffeted by storm turbulence. In 1978 I was in a small plane in a storm in Alaska, and the turbulence was so bad I ended up with seatbelt bruises on both hips. Sleep? Fuhgedaboudit. It was all I could do just to keep breakfast down.

Even though we spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping, most of us have never heard a sermon on sleep. But sleep figures prominently in the Bible. God obviously made us fallible, weak, requiring this resort each day to a very vulnerable state of unconsciousness in order to continue healthy functioning. Writing in the Desiring God blog, Jonathan Parnell says that sleep is “the midwife of humility,” and by that he means it is impossible to think it all depends on us and our brilliant activity, and forgo sleep so that we can do it all. If we try, we fail miserably. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Each of us desperately needs sleep.

And when we do sleep, we become vulnerable, don’t we? My wife and I recently had something die in the walls of our house, probably a squirrel or a rat, which caused an infestation of flies. We killed as many as we could possibly kill each night before going to sleep, because we thought, Lord knows we don’t want any nasty flies crawling on our lips while we slept! We had no fear of such a thing happening to us while we were awake. But when you sleep you give up certain pretenses of self-protection.

We ended up praying, “God, please keep the flies off our lips!” And we slept.

David viewed sleep as an opportunity to trust God. In Psalm 3:5-6 he wrote, “I lay down and slept and woke again, for the Lᴏʀᴅ sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Then again, in Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lᴏʀᴅ, make me dwell in safety.”

David knew that sleep was an act of faith in the Lord’s protection. In Psalm 2:12 he said: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” He committed himself fully into the hands of Him who sleeps not. Jesus, the Son spoken of in Psalm 2, knew this too, which is why He could sleep in the storm-tossed boat.

Parnell ends his message with this beautiful exhortation:

When we sleep we are saying — in that same spirit of faith — that God will protect his Anointed and all those anointed in him (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are saying that no matter how many thousand enemies surround our soul, because of the Father’s commitment to his Son, we will not be destroyed. We will not be condemned. Nothing will ever be able to snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). Nothing will ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:38–39). When we go to bed, we are saying that.

Christian, life is short. You should get some sleep.

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