Grief: It sucks!

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By Martin Schlomer

“Martin, I can’t believe you said, ‘It sucks!’ You’re a pastor. Pastors aren’t supposed to talk like this!” Honestly, I don’t care! I dislike grieving when tragedy strikes. Grief is messy.

When I was growing up in my family, showing emotions — especially grief — was taboo. Emotions exposed the raw mess of your inner world. Even though it was never stated, we believed that, if your emotions got out of control, you should find a distraction, redirect the conversation, intellectualize it, or take it to your room where people were not present. When you were finally able to talk about the loss and grief with family, you were supposed to focus on the hope we have as Christians so you didn’t display the pain and expose the mess. Hope became a useful tool. It was like a brush you used to flick off the grief, like it was an unwanted piece of lint or a crumb from an earlier meal. That way you never really had to engage in such messy emotional realities.

I know, it was really sick! It was the Schlomer way. That being said, I don’t believe I’m alone.

While on our way to lunch last Sunday, Kim and I talked for maybe 20 seconds about the sermon before she redirected the conversation.

Kim: Keep in mind that there are a lot of people grieving right now. We are grieving over Nancy (I learned this is called “anticipatory grief”). Joan and others are grieving over the loss of Herb. Harold is grieving the loss of Helen. Jeff is grieving the loss of his mom. I’m grieving the disappearance of Chrysti Kearns.

Martin: And your point is … ?

Kim: You need to help people walk through this season of grief.

Martin: I’m trying! I spend a lot of time talking about our hope.

Need I say more? Hope is never intended to minimize grief. Hope helps us realize that grief is not a dead-end street. Instead, grief is like a thoroughfare; just because we have hope doesn’t mean we have permission to speed through as if grief doesn’t exist.

How do we grieve in a way that doesn’t minimize it, but instead embraces the raw messiness that it is? A friend shared last night, “How do I learn to grieve well? It’s not something I learned how to do growing up.”

I am learning that grieving well means we own the mess. Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 says, “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. For death is the destiny of every person and the living take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because sober reflection is good for the heart.” It sounds like Solomon was a real fun guy! His point: There is no escaping these harsh realities of grief. It’s okay to let the tears flow with others. It’s okay to sit and be still in the presence of those who are grieving. It is okay to embrace and feel the loss. It is okay to rage against the loss. We were never created to die and be separated from our bodies. Our souls feel this more than we want to admit. No amount of distractions or avoidance can change this.

I am learning that grieving well is a healthy expression of love and loss. When those who were present at Lazarus’s funeral heard and watched Jesus weep openly and without embarrassment, they stepped back, amazed, and said, “Look how much he loved him!” It was an expression that came from the depths of His being. It made an impact. Grief was and continues to be a human and divine expression of love and loss, even for our Lord.

I am also learning that to grieve well is to invite trusted friends and community to walk alongside with you — to be present with you; to listen to you; to pray with you and to cry with you.

I am learning that grieving well eventually redirects the loss and longings of my heart toward eternity, when life will be made right and human flourishing will be realized. We live with the constant reminder (remember anticipatory grief?) that death is imminent, painful, and not God’s heart for us. But praise Jesus for that day when He will call us out of the grave in the same way He called out Lazarus, shouting, “Lazarus, come out!” Until then, we grieve death; we rage against the loss! However, we are not alone — God is with us each painful and messy step along the way. We live with the tension of present grief and future hope.

Never forget, Elim has resources and individuals to help you walk through grief. If you would like to talk and/or pray with someone contact Pastor Martin or Cheryl Weller at 253-848-7900.

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“Nothing is Wasted”

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By Brian Sharpe

One of my more formative experiences in high school was moving. I was in the middle of my freshman year when my parents came to me and told me that we would be moving from Buffalo, New York to Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that time, I was going to the same high school that my two older brothers had attended. I was having one of my best academic years. I had more friends than I had ever had in my life. I was doing well in sports. My life was going well. I had everything I could have ever wanted, and my parents told me I was moving. That transition was very painful. I went from knowing lots of people to only knowing my parents; all my siblings were out of the house at that point. It was a lonely time in my life. I mean, I could talk to people on the phone, but I had no one I could be with.

I look back at that experience in high school and realize that my family moving was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Now, God did not ask me if I would like to move. God didn’t even tell me that this experience was going to be for my benefit. I’m not sure I would have listened to Him if He had told me. But, looking back, God used that experience to get a hold of my heart and my life. I’m not sure if I would be in ministry today if I had not moved.

God is in the business of guiding and directing our lives. He is writing our story. I guess the question is, “Do we trust Him to write the best story for us?” When I was in high school, it wasn’t a matter of trusting God. In fact, I’m not sure if I was mad at God or if I understood that God was in control. I was too busy looking at my circumstances and not trusting in Him. I have learned since then that I can trust God. I can trust that He is good. I can trust that He knows what He is doing. I can trust Him with the details of my life. I just need to live in obedience and follow His lead.

I couldn’t have predicted all the good that came out of me moving. The opportunities I had because of that move were amazing. I was able to go sailing for 10 days in the British Virgin Islands. I was able to go to Mexico and Guatemala in college on missions trips. I had a friend that was a graduate of New Tribes Bible Institute who encouraged me to go there, and that is where I met my wife. While at New Tribes, I had a friend who after graduation went to Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so I went to Lancaster Bible College. When I graduated from Lancaster, my wife and I applied to churches in New York and Washington, where both of us were from, and God opened the door for me to come to Elim.

Looking back, God knew what he was doing. He knew the work that needed to be done in my life to bring me to Himself and to use me. We never know what God is going to use in our life to bring Him glory, but what we do know is that no experience is wasted in God’s economy. Even the most painful experiences can be used to bring God glory. We can be thankful to God in everything because we know God will use our experience to mold us and shape us into who He wants us to be. In this season, we can be thankful because God is writing His story on our hearts.

What’s the story that He’s writing on your heart? What experiences have you had that you feel have been wasted? Are you trusting God and the story He’s writing? Do you invite others into this story that God is writing? In the next couple weeks, we’re going to invite you to write this God story for others to see. Please open up and let us see what God is doing in and through you.

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My Westminster Confession

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By Dan Amos

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for work lately. When I’m walking or driving in unfamiliar areas, I often get the sense of being disconnected from those around me. TV, radio, and the Internet all tell me that the world is in conflict with God and us with one another. So, as I’m driving in Ohio, I look around and see strangers, people with whom I have nothing in common.

Recently I went to London for a conference. I arrived early enough on Sunday to make it to the 10 a.m. service at Westminster Abbey. If the Internet service on my current flight would work, I would look up the dimensions of the cathedral and tell you how old it is and how many famous people are buried there. I can’t, so I’ll tell you about the worship service.

2099709447003220150927_105412Other than the people running the service and the men’s choir, everyone in attendance was probably a tourist. Most of the service was sung by the men and the boys of the Abbey school. It was nothing we would recognize; there was no familiar melody. It was all poems to God set to music and accompanied by the huge pipe organ. Our participation was limited to listening, a responsive reading, reciting the Apostles’ Creed, and giving in the offering plate.

Then the first man in a gilded robe walked to the front, climbed into the cupola on the right, and read from the book of Luke about Jesus having dinner with the Pharisees. Another read a different passage. Finally, the senior pastor ascended into the ornate cupola on the left and gave a 20-minute sermon based on the passages that had been read.

The following Sunday I was privileged to hear Pastor Brian speak from Matthew about Jesus and His interaction with the Pharisees. How wonderful it is to be a part of a Church whose God is the same on the other side of the world as He is on ours. They worship the same God as we do. We have a connection that cannot be broken.

It is clear the world and its prince would have us stay disconnected from one another. Satan is working hard to divide us, and he’s having great success. But Christ binds His Church together, and as we get separated from the world as children of God, the difference becomes starker. “An Oasis for Renewal with God and One Another” is more than a motto. It is our mission, because it is God’s mission for us.

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Spare Some Change?

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By Jeff Foerster

Change. Nothing stays the same. Has your opinion ever changed? If so, how firmly to your current position do you hold? Have you ever learned something? If you have, you must admit some ignorance prior to that time. Your hairline and waistline may change. Your choice of clothing (hopefully) changes over time. Your fingernails grow, and there is nothing you can do to stop them (ask Nebuchadnezzar about this — Daniel 4:33).

With this constant personal change, the desire may build for something dependable outside of yourself to lean upon. Do not look for consistency and hope in the greatness of America. Our monetary system is smoke, clouding mirrors. Our nation’s position of leadership in the world is quickly disintegrating. Our cultural priorities have become infantile and delusional. There is more strength in dry rot.

If constancy, if hope, is not to be found within ourselves, in treasure, national might, nor human appetites of any kind, where do we look? To what or whom do we run? The Christian readily knows this answer, but do you consider, O Christian, to what lengths God has gone to demonstrate this to you? Do you see how God has spoken to all generations by the perpetual word of His creation?

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” the Scriptures tell us (Psalm 19). “Pretty!” you say, and move on with the day. But do you know what this means?

The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west each and every day like clockwork. Seasons take their place, in order, each and every year without fail. Seeds send forth shoots and trees blossom and bear fruit. Gravity continues day in and day out. Water falls from the sky, pooling upon the earth. Then, nearly imperceptibly, it vanishes into thin air, only to return again and again. Oceans roar the coming of the tides, only to shrink back a few hours later what was so forcefully pronounced, readying themselves for the next surge.

Though the human world is bent on change, even glorifying it for its own sake, God has provided stability in the chaos, a strong tower in the whirlwind. Though there be more, one great message I take from the constancy of creation echoes in the whisper of God’s own voice to us:

“… since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made …” (Romans 1:20).

Nature demonstrates His nature, consistent and reliable, upon which we can depend. The very earth upon which we live, move, and breathe testifies at all times. Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and we fear not because the Sun rises each day, water falls from the sky and is taken up again, and the ground brings forth fruit in season, reminding us that the Maker of all things is true to His word. Hills speak, “God is our Rock,” and mountains proclaim, “Yahweh is our Firm Foundation.” Oceans roar, “Jesus is our Strong Tower!” The wind cries “Faithful and True!” and the heavens declare the glory of our great God!

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God Is There in the Little Things

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By Jim DeAngelo

Our grandson Elijah has been without work for several months and, as is typical of grandparents, we (Sandra and I) have started to get concerned about his future and job prospects. With this as background, Sandra took Elijah out to dinner to Black Angus here in Puyallup to have an opportunity to spend some time with him the same evening Ralph Webb and I returned from a fishing trip to Montana (and yes, the trip was great fun and we did catch some fish).

During the evening meal, they discussed what Elijah wanted to do for a job and his desire to work in a restaurant. When the meal was completed and they were walking out to the car, Sandra reminded Elijah about getting an application. Elijah returned to the restaurant, talked with the manager, and got an application. When they returned from the restaurant, Elijah completed the application and Sandra prayed with Elijah that the Lord would bless the job application and that, if it was His will, Elijah would get what God wanted. Elijah dropped off the application later that evening.

Elijah did receive an invitation to interview, which he did, though he had some concerns on how it all went. Elijah called me on Monday and informed me that he had received and accepted a job offer for the position he had wanted. I shouted “Praise God for answered prayer!” Elijah was very excited, as he had been applying at fast food restaurants, which are not as good an opportunity.

I love how we can take all things to God in prayer. Psalm 116:1 says, “I love Jehovah because He hears my voice and my prayers.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray without ceasing.” I know that God is intimately involved in our lives. Jesus says in Matthew 6:8 that “your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him.” We find it helpful to meditate on God’s goodness to us and how we can always rely on Him in the big things of life as well as the little things. We find that when we take the little things to God in prayer and see Him working in our lives, when those big things come, we have increased faith in His response, because He is always faithful, even in the little things of life.

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