Jesus Had Something to Learn and so do You!

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By Nate Champneys

I had been meeting with my mentor, Jim, for over two years. Every Thursday at 10 a.m. we would meet at Denny’s, and every week God was faithful to speak through him. For the most part we never knew what we were going to talk about each week, but still, we never had a hard time finding things to talk about!

Sadly, God has asked Jim to move to Arizona, and he drove out last week with his whole life in a moving van and headed down to Tucson. I’m not gonna lie: it was really hard for me when he left! For two days I felt the weight of the loss of my mentor being regularly in my life. I was irritable to my family and I was moved to tears multiple times through those two days. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. I told myself, Nate, Jim isn’t dead. He is going to be back in Washington for a month every summer. You can Skype with him regularly. You can call him on the phone whenever you want.

Telling yourself why you shouldn’t feel something rarely works to make you stop feeling the way you feel. But my feelings told me something. They told me just how much I valued my time with Jim. Jim had really become a father to me. I had grown more over the last two years as a result of Jim’s mentorship than I had the rest of my adult life.

But what makes Jim an amazing mentor? Jim is a man who is more rooted in his identity as a son of God than anyone I have ever met. In our times together he never felt he needed to put forth an agenda, because he trusted God to say what needed to be said. Jim actually never told me what to do. He would just ask lots of questions and by the end of his questions, I would know what to do.

I wanted to share this with all of you for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to honor my friend for the love and selflessness that he showed me each week. Second, I wanted to encourage you. If you are a believer, it is God’s design for you to walk with others. Being a Christian is a personal relationship with Jesus, but it is also an interpersonal relationship with His bride. How long have you been a Christian? If the answer is more than just a few years, my question is, who are you pouring into? Do you realize that if everyone in the Church across the world never passed their faith on to the next generation, the Church would cease to exist in a generation!

“But Nate, I don’t feel qualified to speak into someone’s life.” The question is, is your God big enough to speak through you, and maybe to even work in spite of you? I think he is.

On the other side of the coin, who is walking through life with you that you allow to speak wisdom into your life? Luke 2:52 says that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” If the Son of God had something to learn, so do you! I have been meeting with a mentor regularly for the past 8 years. Not to my own credit, but do you know how much I have grown, and how many difficult painful things I have been able to avoid because I gave someone the right to speak into my life? What are you waiting for? What is holding you back from seeking wise counsel and sharing the wisdom you have learned?  Proverbs 12:15 “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”

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Changing Course, Making Disciples

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By Brian Sharpe

Twelve years ago I was sitting in my office and realized that I had no clue how to do my job. My proverbial “bag of tricks” that I entered into ministry with was all used up. What should I teach students? How would I train my leaders? I suddenly realized I had no real idea.

So, sitting there in my office in front of my computer, I began to search for solutions. God directed my attention to the Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) website, and I looked to see what they offered on their student ministries page. They spoke of training for youth pastors. Yes, I thought, I need fresh training.

So I contacted them and asked them about training. What happened next has been one of the most influential events that has occurred in my ministry life.

I received a call from the national director of student ministries for the Evangelical Free Church of America. We set up a training event at Elim, but beyond that, he invited me to work with a team of other youth workers to help further student ministries in the EFCA in our district.

The influence of this team has changed me in more ways than I could never express in this post. It has fanned within me a flame of desire to have others speak into my life. It put me around a table with a whole group of youth workers who had been where I was and had come out on the other side.

The effect this event has had on Elim is significant as well. Not only am I a better leader because of the people I have invited to speak into my life, but I have been challenged to ensure that disciple-making becomes at the core part of what I am about in student ministries, and in turn, what we as a church are about, as well. This focus has produced a lot of conversation among the elders, staff and ministry leaders about how we can focus on disciple-making.

Martin and Nate and I, along with the Elders, have sought to keep disciple-making a focus for us at Elim. This focus gave birth to the diagnostic tool that we are calling the Three Hands of Disciple-Making. This tool helps us evaluate the relationships in our lives, with a focus on who serves as our Pauls, our Timothys and our Barnabases.

As we have gone through this Three Hands process we have discovered that Elim can celebrate a lot of people who are investing as a Paul in others. This has led to the leadership trying to focus on helping our Pauls figure out how to be better Pauls.

We have walked this path of trying to be about disciple-making with some exceptionally helpful people. One was our district superintendent, Bruce Martin. Bruce has helped us on this journey to stay focused on helping develop people’s identity in Christ. Another is Jeff Sorvik. Jeff is leading a network called the Creo Network, which focuses on helping churches live on the mission of disciple-making. In order to be engaged in Creo you have to commit to create and execute a disciple-making vision. We have joined this network and look forward to working this disciple-making vision, not on our own but with other churches.

One of the commitments we have made in joining this network is to be engaged in a cohort group that is focused on building a leadership pipeline. Martin and I are excited to be a part of this cohort and the outcomes that could come from the investment in this cohort.

We value the input of other leaders in this process. As a church we talk about not walking alone, but living this life in community, walking with others. We are trying to model this by joining with our district leadership and inviting them into what goes on at Elim, and with joining the Creo Collective.

We are excited to see what God will do at Elim as we seek to honor Him and focus on being a disciple-making church. Elim exist to be an “oasis for renewal with God and one another.” As an oasis we seek to nurture passionate followers of Jesus. (We define a “disciple” as “a passionate follower of Jesus.”) Our heart as leaders is to nurture that passion in everyone who calls Elim “home.”

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How Anything That Truly Matters, Happens

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by Larry Short

I shared recently during worship that one of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Zechariah 4. In this chapter, the prophet is sharing a fifth out of eight visions. All occurred on the same amazing, exhausting night.

An artist's depiction of Zechariah's vision of the golden menorah in Zechariah 4.

An artist’s depiction of Zechariah’s vision of the golden menorah in Zechariah 4.

Zechariah’s fifth vision was of an object which would have been familiar to him as a priest—a menorah, or seven-branched candelabra. But this was a menorah on steroids! It was made of pure gold and had pipes to each of the seven lamps running from a reservoir on top, which was connected by two larger golden pipes, one to each of two olive trees that stood by it on each side.

The trees were delivering a constant, organic flow of golden olive oil to the lamps.

This vision was highly unusual in light of the normal duties of priests in the Temple. They were responsible to tend the golden menorah: to trim its wicks and to refill its bowls with a continuous supply of olive oil. The menorah in the Temple was to burn brightly, 24 hours a day, so this lamp-tending duty was a constant and highly important responsibility of the priests.

But here, in Zechariah’s vision, was a menorah that tended itself! No priest had to intervene to keep it burning brightly.

Zechariah was baffled by this vision. He asked the angel who had awoken him “from a deep sleep” to show him the vision, “What are these, sir?” The angel replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” I like Zechariah’s humble response, “No, sir.” (God help me to respond likewise when I don’t know the answer to a question!)

Therefore, the angel told him, “These signify the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”

Zerubbabel was a political leader of Israel who, along with its religious leader, Joshua, had been responsible 14 years earlier for leading a contingent of 42,000 Jews across the desert to reclaim Jerusalem after Israel’s 70-year captivity in Babylon ended. The project (to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and the Temple) had a great start, with the foundation being laid, but then it faltered due to internal dissent and external threats. The prophet Haggai, a contemporary of Zechariah’s, reveals that the Jews had become concerned only with rebuilding their own houses instead. They had grown complacent and given up on the vision.

The menorah symbolized Israel’s duty to be a light to the world. God had called Israel to show His glory to the Gentile nations, but instead they descended into comfort and complacency and considered Gentiles only as fuel to keep the fires of hell hot.
When Zechariah uses the Hebrew word translated “strength” in 4:6, it refers to resources we might wield, such as armies. When he uses the word “power,” it refers to our personal will or drive to make things happen.

This chapter reveals very clearly that God’s agenda for us is not to “make things happen” for His glory in our own strength and power, but rather to serve as channels, or conduits, for the flow of His power (symbolized by olive oil).

While Zechariah knew what a menorah was, he didn’t understand exactly what he was seeing, and he asked the angel for help grasping the meaning of the two olives trees and the pipes that carried their oil to the lamps. The angel said the trees were “the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

The immediate application was clearly referring to Zerubbabel and Joshua, the two God had chosen to complete the task of restoring Jerusalem. But a more future, prophetic application looks forward to the “two witnesses” of Revelation, where a  menorah representing the seven churches of Asia Minor also appears. These churches are tasked with shining God’s light into a dark, end-times society, and the two witnesses were the conduits through whom the power of the Holy Spirit would flow to make it happen.

Oil in Scripture always represents the Holy Spirit: it lubricates (removes obstacles and makes things happen); it burns brightly (glorifies God passionately); it heals; it anoints; and it offers a sweet-smelling fragrance (representing the prayers of the saints) to the heavenly throne.

The truth is, nothing that matters happens aside from the power of the Holy Spirit. All our frenetic activities yield only temporary results. Jesus said: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” His power must flow through us (if we “abide in,” or remain connected to, Him) and into the fruit (if we seek through open hands to serve and bless others).

Jesus often spoke of the Holy Spirit as a gift who is ours for the asking. Through prayer we must acknowledge that we are impotent to make anything of true and lasting importance happen. Instead, we must seek to become vessels of God’s Holy Spirit.
Hence, I have made Zechariah 4:6 my life verse, to remind me of these truths. For my natural tendency is to push, like Sisyphus, the rock uphill to try and make things happen, only to find myself sliding back to where I began.

Only through God’s power can we see obstacles removed, people healed, our lips and hands anointed, our prayers ascending like sweet incense to the throne of God, and the light shone into the darkness. Do you begin each day asking for God’s Holy Spirit to anoint you and make your efforts of lasting import, for His sake and glory and not your own?

*****

Larry shares these words and more about personal transformation on his new blog, ShortChanged.

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Investing God’s Way

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by Larry Short

I really enjoyed what Dan had to share during his sermon on August 28 about making a “see change” (clever!) in our hearts. Matthew 6:19-24 is packed full of amazing truths, and I had always wondered in particular about the meaning of Christ’s words, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Dan brought great clarity to my thinking when he revealed that this passage is really all about our focus. Having a clear (healthy) eye is having the ability to focus on the right priorities, the ones God desires us to focus on, and seeing clearly the grace He has given us, which we did nothing to earn. This focus on grace, Dan said, has the potential to change everything in our lives.

Larry Last Word

This spoke to me because clear eyesight has always been an issue for me. Many of you know that I am legally blind without my contact lenses—I am so nearsighted that I walk into trees! If I have to get up at night to put the cat out of the room, without my contact lenses she might end up spending the night in a closet. I once went to kiss my wife only to discover I was embracing her pillow – the real Darlene had gotten up to use the restroom!

So, I certainly realize how important clear eyesight is.

In light of this “focus” on seeing grace clearly, I’ve also been thinking a lot this week about a particular part of the passage he shared that God has used in my life to speak important truth. After Christ encourages us to “lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven” rather than on earth, verse 21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

This verse captures an incredibly important truth about us as fallible human beings, and that truth is this: Whatever (or whomever) we invest in (invest our time, our money, our energy, our longings and desires, etc.), that is the thing (or person) that (or who) will end up capturing our heart.

And we all know, of course, that Christ uses the word “heart” throughout Scripture to refer to our souls, that innermost, eternal part of us that makes choices about how we will live our lives, Whom we will follow, Whom we will worship. God’s Word reveals that if we invest faithfully in heavenly things (or perhaps more clearly, if we invest in Jesus’s priorities rather than our own), then our hearts will follow that investment and will be entrenched deeply, immovably in God’s Kingdom and in the things of God!

There are so many important applications to this principle. If we invest our time and energy in frivolous entertainment; in watching movies, TV shows or videos that mock God; in reading books that don’t edify; or in listening to music that blasphemes, rather than investing our time in soaking up God’s truth and sharing His love with people, where will our heart end up going? If we invest our money in toys that just please us and feed our envy of others, rather than investing in furthering God’s kingdom through our church and other worthwhile ministries, what will our investment gain us? Jesus said investments in “earthly things” are all wood, hay, and stubble that will burn under the brilliant focus of God’s final judgment, rather than gold that will be refined and last eternally for His glory and our pleasure.

So many times I hear brothers and sisters complain, “Please pray that I will have a heart to read Scripture. I just can’t get into it.” Well yes, I will pray, but I also want to shout at them: You dummy (yes, you’ve guessed it, I don’t have a lot of tact sometimes) this isn’t just something that you need “prayer” for! It’s something that you just need to start doing! (Like Martin says, “Stop it! Just stop it!” Only this would be, “Just start!”)

Carve out the time, and make it a priority, even if you don’t yet “feel like it.” And I say “yet” because Matt. 6:21 implies that if we invest in God’s Word, if we devote our time and our energy to reading it, meditating on it, praying through it, even if we don’t yet “feel” like it, eventually our hearts will follow along behind our investment.

And it’s a glorious thing when we discover that we suddenly have a heart to dig into God’s Word, and to spend time with Him in prayer, and in serving others—when what was previously a duty becomes a delight! Now there’s the kind of joy that Jesus was talking about in John 17:13.

How’s your eye? Can you see clearly? Are you focusing on the grace of our Savior? Are you investing treasure in the things of the Kingdom? Are you experiencing the “see change” that God desires to see happen in your heart?

P.S.: Do you realize how blessed we are, in addition to having staff like Martin, Brian, and Nate whose teaching blesses us nearly every week, to also have lay teachers such as Dan, Jeff, Tom, and Jim and others who are gifted to deliver God’s Word and can fill in from time to time? I don’t think you could find too many churches where this is the case. Many thanks to all who have taken a turn at the pulpit!

Please join Larry as he reflects about personal transformation on his new blog, ShortChanged.

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