Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart

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By Beau Leaman

As I think about the title of this Last Word, it strikes me as something so easy, yet so difficult. How could I possibly trust the Lord with everything? I’ve failed so many times before, and I wrestle future thoughts of potential failure. What if I fail again? What if I do not know what direction to take? What if I let down my greatest friends? What will my family think of me? What if I disappoint? What if I fail?

On February 11, my grandpa died. In fact, my grandpa died the same day as Helen Eash. Both loved, both missed, and both worshipping and praising Jesus now. The title of this Last Word is the title of Proverbs 3. I read it in the waking hours of the morning, thinking of my grandpa. My grandpa would handwrite me letters or small notes and would always end with mentioning Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” The Greek definition of “acknowledge” in verse 6 means “to know thoroughly,” or simply “to recognize a thing to be what it really is.” What a concept this defines. In everything we do, whether we eat or drink or whatever, we recognize Jesus in who He really is as the foundation of that decision we make. If we do this, our paths will be straight. How do we accomplish this? We accomplish this and have success because of one main reason. We have a great High Priest that has done the work for us. My grandpa’s favorite verse that allowed him to live the life Christ wanted him to is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We can trust because we have an advocate, Christ Jesus, who bled so that we can walk with God and have an intimate relationship with Him.

Toward the end of my grandpa’s life there was a small, yellow card he always pulled out and read every day. He would put it back in the same place every day and repeat the process. Part of what he read on the card was, “You are deeply loved.” My grandpa was an extremely active and physical guy. Most folks would rely on this as part of an identity thing, and I’m sure he struggled with this as he began to lose all strength. When he could no longer move, he had a Savior to bridge the gap. At the most difficult time in his life he was deeply loved, and no one would take that from him.

When I read about Paul talking about passing the baton, it seems like an out-of-body experience that is a daily fight. When we think that hope is lost, we have brothers and sisters in Christ encouraging us along the way. I hope you have an experience like I’ve had in this journey we call life, to either be the encourager my grandpa was or be on the receiving end of it like I was. My grandpa means so much to me and I miss him every day. He learned to pass the baton and speak life into people. What a husband, what a father, what a grandpa, what a great-grandpa, what a friend, what a brother, and what a man he was. Thank you for your witness, Grandpa! You are greatly loved!

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Reclaiming Our Identity as Followers of the Way

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By Martin Schlomer

Roots. They can grow deep and wide, overwhelming the ground around them, making it difficult to dig them out. Culture and popular opinion, encompassing all who are in a society, can be as tough as these roots to isolate and expose.

A lot of electronic ink and raw emotional energy has been spent recently, addressing President Obama’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast. While I disagree with his assessment and judgment in what he said, his point that some in the Christian church have made a contribution to the horrors of our past is correct. All one has to do is look at the many churches which supported slavery and Jim Crow laws, not to mention the Crusades.

Why did the Church make such contributions during these horrific seasons in our history? This is a fair question today’s church must understand and address. Did these events originate in the believing church of Christm or was the Church simply complicit in going along with the prevailing beliefs and values of the surrounding culture.

Generally speaking, it was the latter. The Church was being shaped by the surrounding culture and values. This is understandable — the church was birthed in the midst of popular culture and values, and unfortunately she was slow to give up those values and beliefs, contrary to Jesus’ calling for her.

Christians were first called “followers of the Way.” What, or who, was the Way? It was Jesus and His teachings! This is to be the core of the Church’s identity, beliefs, values, and actions. When this is not her identity, she maintains and lives out the identity and beliefs of society and culture, or some perverted form thereof.

The church participated in atrocities such as slavery and racism because she failed to take on and be discipled into her new identity as those who have been called out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. She maintained her old secular identity, beliefs, values and behaviors, and lived like the culture around her.

Should the church be called to account? Absolutely! However, she is accountable for more than her bad behavior, which reflected the prevailing behavior and values of surrounding culture. She is accountable for not embracing her new identity in Jesus and reflecting His identity, beliefs, and behavior. Throughout history, present day included, too many churches are more like the surrounding culture than the character of Jesus. Those who comprise today’s Church need to reclaim their identity as followers of the Way.

Elim’s mission and vision is to develop passionate followers of Jesus and His ways. This is our identity, which shapes our beliefs and then our behavior. Honestly, nothing else matters as much as this one focus!

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Identifying Your Identity

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By Jeff Foerster

We tend to form our identity based on the outcomes of our lives. Our outcomes will push us, like so much toothpaste through a tube, onward down, or diverting away from, the pathway we are upon. Our “outcomes” are those positive and negative experiences we enjoy and endure. These are the benefits of well-planned decisions and the “natural consequences” of actions or indecisions.

There are many ways to play this out. Some opt for an achievement-driven lifestyle stuffed full of trophies and accolades. Others grow accustomed to playing “fireman” over a myriad of life’s burning issues. Still others arrive in retreat mode, recoiling from difficulty and seeking out a listening ear into which to pour troubles or locating a vice or diversion to numb the feeling of disillusionment at what life was “supposed” to be.

Whenever one of the above patterns (or another variety not mentioned here) takes hold in our lives we place too much emphasis on the importance of outcomes to guide what we believe about our identity. This forms a circle of belief, decision, action, consequence, belief, decision, action consequence … etc., rolling along until a cliff or boulder comes our way. It’s often the trauma of one or the other that brings us face-to-face with the unsustainability of living outside of our TRUE identity.

I cannot hope to provide a comprehensive remedy to this problem in one sitting. What I can do is secure you in the knowledge that, if you find the above familiar territory, you are in well-traveled country. You are in company among us journeying forward to understanding, embracing, and living in (and out of) our identity in Jesus Christ.

I leave you, for the moment, with a question: “Will you be defined by a temporal outcome you have recently experienced, or will you determine to embrace an eternal identity as described by God Himself?”

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The Important “L”

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By Brian Sharpe

This past weekend we went on a senior high retreat to the Parsons’ cabin. The Parsons’ cabin has become a yearly staple in our student ministry calendar. It is a small, simple cabin that God has used over the past thirteen years to do some great work in me and the students that have attended those retreats. This past weekend was no exception — God was at work. He prepared a lesson in me that was just right for the group we had going. Our topic of conversation was legalism, licentiousness, and liberty.

As someone who grew up in the church, legalism is a pitfall I can fall into. Legalism is where we create rules that God doesn’t hold us to and we expect others to adhere to those rules. If others don’t hold to those rules, then we judge them. That’s what the Pharisees did in Scripture. They would create laws that they expected everyone to follow, and if someone didn’t follow them, they were less spiritual than they should be.

Licentiousness is where we create a moral law for ourselves apart from God, and we live by it. There is no expectation of others except, as long as they allow us to live as we want. This is a huge problem in our culture today. We become god and set our own standards. As believers, we have to pay careful attention to make sure this doesn’t sink into our way of life. It is easy to fall into, but we have to fight the urge to be king over our life.

Legalism and licentiousness are two ends to the spectrum, and both lead to bondage. Legalism sets up rules for everyone, licentiousness sets up rules for self and no one else. Legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain types of music. Licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, because I want to. Legalism says it is a sin to date. Licentiousness says that I can date whomever I want, when I want. Legalism says that everyone should only eat certain foods. Licentiousness says I can eat whatever I want, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Then there is liberty. Liberty is freedom. We understand that because of the country we live in. Yet how I define liberty as a believer is understanding the freedom we have in Christ, but living out of love and not our rights. Liberty filters every decision through a screen of, “How will what I am doing bring glory and honor to Christ?” Its focus is on loving God and loving others. Its focus in not on rules or rights. When legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain music and licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, it doesn’t affect me. Liberty says, “How does this music bring glory and honor to Christ?”

This is the conversation we had last weekend with high school students. It was a fun conversation, but also led to some great dialogue and self-reflection. How am I living? Am I living in liberty, where I seek to live out of love, or am I being legalistic or licentious? The hard thing about this question is that it is not a one-time thought, but it’s a constant evaluation of every decision. As a passionate follower of Christ, I need to seek to live out of liberty. I need to seek to live out of love, asking the question, “How is what I am doing bringing glory and honor to Jesus?” It’s what our students were challenged with last weekend, and it’s what I am challenged with every day.

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