I Am Not … the Hero!

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By Pastor Martin Schlomer

Over the years some people have given me certain gifts and various “titles.” One couple gave me a Superman cape because they said I projected the image of a caped crusader on a mission to rescue people and save the world! Another individual calls me Father Martin. She says, “I am like a father to Elim.” These tell a story, a perception that I can fix things, make things happen. I can see why.

In January 1994, when I was 33 years old, I flew to the Northwest to interview with Elim for this position of Senior Pastor. I was full of hope and personal expectations that I would do great things for Elim! I was eager to make necessary changes, see the church grow, and reach the lost. The church wanted the same. I believed I could make it happen. (Looking back, there was a lot of personal ego tied to achieving these outcomes!) On February 13, this small congregation cast their votes, and on April 1, 1994, we arrived in Puyallup. Such were the aspirations of a young man who wanted to be the hero.

Over the past 22 years — especially 2015 and 2016 — my Father has shown me that I’m NOT the hero in this story! My limitations have been exposed. My Father has confronted my sinful ego. I am learning to accept that I do not have the power to change a person’s heart with persuasive arguments, to heal a person’s wounds with empathy and prayers, to persuade a person to do what they do not want to do, to raise money, to build new buildings, or even to fix a broken toilet. That’s right: I’m no hero!

The important news is, I’m okay with this now. For me, 2016 was all about trying to let go of ropes that tied me to my dysfunctional expectations.

Seven Priorities for 2017

In 2017, what can you expect from me as your Senior Pastor? What do I hope for in 2017? First, I will work to do my part to shepherd and equip people (through personal growth, prayer, preaching, leading and discipling) to be passionate disciples of Jesus who make passionate disciples of Jesus. Every person has a role to play. Every person is called by Jesus to invest in this one mission: be a disciple who makes disciples. No exceptions! No excuses! We are like rivers of gospel-motivated grace, changing the landscape, not reservoirs where we gather to simply enjoy the company of others to meet our own needs.

Second, I will continue to develop those who are discipling others at Elim. We call them our “Pauls.” We will meet on a quarterly basis to strategize and problem solve issues and challenges they experience as they take on this important role of making disciples.

Third, I will get involved in reaching out to those who are lost in our community. I will do this by becoming a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), working with the Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS). It is my strong desire to bring the heart and hope of our Father to those who are in very dark and desperate circumstances. It is my desire that this will be the heart of Elim as well. For this to happen, I must lead by example.

Fourth, I will work with a team of people who will facilitate a process to help victims of sexual abuse. One in five men and one in three women suffer from the trauma and shame of sexual abuse. It is our desire to help them begin their redemptive journey toward personal health and wholeness.

Fifth, I will continue to partner with Brian Sharpe and our staff, with the Elders and the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), to develop a leadership development pipeline. This development process will apply to all ministries across the board. It will implement the steps a person needs to follow to be developed and coached as a leader. To accomplish this, Elim is a part of a cohort of churches being trained and held accountable to implement this process. It is an exciting, yet challenging, yearlong development process.

Sixth, I will step back from working with the Stewardship Team and empower them to take a more proactive approach not just to monitor Elim’s finances, but also to communicate with the congregation our financial position and strategize how to meet Elim’s future financial needs, especially regarding our campus needs. At some point, soon, Elim must replace the building known as the “Youth House,” which is also used for MOPs and Oasis Kids. It gets a lot of use, even though it is well past its original intended end-of-life date.

And finally, I will step back from overseeing property and build a team of people to oversee and care for our facilities and landscaping. We need people to prune, weed, trim bushes, clean gutters, mow grass, etc. There is no shortage of opportunities for people to serve, even just a couple of hours every month. How we care for our property is an indication of how much we value what we do on this strategic corner for the 50,000+ people who drive by daily.

Four Things I Hope for From You

In 2017, what do I expect from those who consider Elim to be their church home?

First, join in this journey of growing as a passionate follower of Jesus who nurtures passionate followers of Jesus. (Be a disciple who makes disciples!) Jesus has a fierce commitment to our joining Him on this transformational journey.

Second, ask our Father to develop your heart to reach out to those who are lost. I hope that we will hear you tell your stories of how our Father is using you to influence the landscape of another person’s life.

Third, use the talents our Father has given you to serve the needs of His Church, both within these walls and beyond. The heart of Jesus is not that we will be served, but that we will serve others.

Fourth, give generously to meet the needs and commitments of this Body so that we might fulfill our purpose to nurture passionate followers of Jesus who nurture passionate followers of Jesus in South Hill and beyond.

I close with what I shared on Sunday morning, January 15, 2017. Jesus didn’t come to live the life of a servant, die the death of a savior, rise from the dead as a victor, and indwell us with the power of His Holy Spirit, all so that we might just GO TO CHURCH! He lived the life of a servant, died the death of a savior, rose from the dead as a victor, and indwells us with the power of His Holy Spirit SO THAT we might BE THE CHURCH! Amen?

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Salt, Light, and Uber Mushrooms

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My son Nathan (far left) and I training up a generation of future mushroom hunters.

By Larry Short

In worship last weekend, we heard Pastor Martin share from John 2 of Christ’s consuming passion for both the symbolic and manifest presence of God in our midst.

For the Jews of His day, that symbolic presence was the Temple. Christ’s passion for this powerful symbol of God’s presence in the midst of His people was so consuming that this most meek, humble, and lowly of men stunned religious leaders, bystanders, and even His own disciples by making a whip of cords and forcefully driving exploiters out of His Father’s House of Prayer! (That would have been something to see!)

Passion for the Presence

One of the most fascinating things about this passage, to me, is the few verses that follow it. They reveal that while the Temple was the symbolic presence of God, the real presence of God there in Jerusalem, the real “Temple,” was the Body of Jesus Himself:

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

Martin then went on to connect this passage with 1 Corinthians 3:16:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The implications are profound. We are to be consumed with zeal for the presence of God in His Church, the Body of Christ—both corporately and locally, and, more specifically, as He dwells in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ! Loving each other well is how the world will know we are His disciples. We are to burn with passion for His Church, His presence in the midst of a dark and decaying world.

Being Salt and Light

We are also to honor God’s presence in our own hearts by seeking His holiness and by being salt and light as He calls us to be.

Recently, on my personal blog, I shared how God used Cindy, one of our sisters in Christ here at Elim, to help me understand how He wanted me to recognize that part of the purpose for this particular season in my life, having been laid off from my career job with World Vision, was to “clear out the rubble” so I could move forward to see and embrace what He next had for me.

I had an epiphany of sorts about this while Martin was sharing on Sunday. He spoke about how he had struggled to understand how he could be salt and light while working completely within the “Christian bubble” that is Elim and how, as a result in 2017, he was planning to move “out of the bubble” and become a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in order to start sprinkling salt into some of the places in our world that really needed it!

This made me think about what God was doing in my own heart and life. At World Vision, I too frequently felt frustrated that I never really had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the unsaved. (World Vision is another “Christian bubble.”)

Then, guess what? My “bubble” got burst! I was laid off. Since then, God has been building four new things into my life, and it wasn’t until Sunday that I realized each of them is an opportunity for me to become better salt and light. Here are the four things:

  • Writing a science fiction novel
  • Tutoring for the Puyallup School District
  • Developing a mushroom business, training young ‘shroom hunters, and writing about what fungus teaches us about the presence and heart of God
  • Driving for Uber, which has created many opportunities to share Jesus’s love with more than a few (because they asked)

For more about how each of these four activities creates opportunities for me to be salt and light (and how fungus declares the glory of God), see this blog post.


Salt and Light Is Humble and Simple, Right?

Working for nearly minimum wage as a tutor or a wannabe taxi driver is not something I anticipated as God’s best for me when I was laid off from World Vision. (Although I could see myself gushing about mushrooms or writing sci-fi! I’m weird, I know.) Compared to what I achieved and experienced at that wonderful organization, what I am doing now is humbling in the truest sense of that word. But as I realized as Pastor Martin was teaching, it’s not something I chose; it’s something God chose for me, even as I prayed for His best for my life and for how He might use me in His Kingdom.

So, that’s my challenge to each of us as we consider how God wants to use US to be salt and light. You may not be the next American Idol, or the Great American Novelist. But, maybe, does God want you to serve others in the humblest ways possible? Perhaps He wants you to help a bedridden invalid, or care for a foster child, or ride the bus and talk to a hurting stranger, or build and hand out homeless survival kits. Or maybe He wants you to spend your time and energy praying (in obscurity, like countless prayer warriors before you) for anyone and everyone. Who knows?

Being salt and light is not just an individual responsibility for the believer; it’s a Body responsibility. So we are also to encourage and hold each other accountable as we seek to “march off the map” and influence a world that desperately needs Jesus.

Pray for His best (both for you, for Elim, and for the Kingdom), and then let Him lead you where He wishes to!

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The Spiritual Cheeseburger

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By Nate Champneys

In the story of the woman at the well, the disciples leave Jesus sitting at a well in Samaria as they go off to buy food. Now, most attention and study usually goes to the Samaritan woman and not to the dialogue Jesus has with the disciples after she leaves. If you read the story too fast, you might miss an important lesson.

The disciples return with the food and try to give it to Jesus, and He gives them a most peculiar reply: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

The disciples are confused! They ask each other, “Who could have brought him food?” Then Jesus says, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work He started.” Huh?

Jesus implies here that He receives something from serving God. Isn’t that the opposite of what we generally assume? As a full-time pastor, I have seen many people go through difficult seasons of life: The loss of a job. The death of a loved one. Struggles in their marriage. People often make the decision to withdraw from the areas that they are serving in, in order to focus on “getting their lives in order.” They say, “I just need to take a break.” “I just need to focus on me for a little bit.”

So often, this is the beginning of the end. I see them withdraw from the community of faith. They stop being involved in a community group. Their attendance on Sunday mornings wanes. They stop serving in whatever ministries they have been serving in.

Now, I am not saying that there are not seasons of life to step out of a ministry you have been serving in, but many times when life is difficult this is actually the last thing you should do!

It’s a dangerous trap we can fall into, when we stop asking the question, “How can I serve God and others?” and start asking the question, “What about me? What about my needs?!?!” Then we become inwardly-focused instead of outwardly-focused. Are you feeling disconnected from your faith community? Are you depressed? Are you feeling like nobody cares about you? Perhaps what you need is not for your church to “feed you better,” but for you to “eat the food” God has placed in front of you — by serving others!

It’s an interesting paradox God has made. The ways of God always seem backwards. In His Kingdom, we receive by giving. This is not generally what any of us want to hear when we are feeling this way; but consider that perhaps it is exactly what we need to hear.

For example, the times in my marriage when I am the least happy and the least pleased with my wife are those times when I fall into the trap of the “What about me?” question. When I take my eyes off serving my wife and focus on how she is not meeting my needs, I am always left unhappy. No matter how good my wife is at serving me, when I am focused on what she isn’t doing, I will always find something wrong and will always be left wanting.

This idea is exactly the opposite of our normal, logical thinking, but over and over it proves true. The less I focus on myself and the more I focus on serving others, the more fulfilled I am. The more I focus on how my needs are not being met, the less happy I am, and the more I continue to look for even more ways that I am not being fulfilled.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

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Funnel Cakes and Elephant Ears

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By Jeff Foerster

Having been to the fair, I can tell you there is no lack of choice. From your pick of animals to smell and amusement rides to jostle the “kid” in you, to every gastronomical delight a taste bud may savor that wallet can procure. Whatever you desire, it’s there — especially if it’s deep-fried. When I was a wee lad, I knew the “elephant ear” to be a rare treat. Being of tender heart, I, of course, had misgivings about the origins of said delicacy and approached each encounter with reverence, at least until the buttery, buttery goodness reached my tongue and then any sense of propriety was thrown out the window.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tie edible pachyderm parts into an object lesson with spiritual implications — this is where the funnel cake comes in. Next, I suppose I need to apologize in advance to all you linear thinkers out there who are hoping I produce a direct connection; alas, you are to be woefully disappointed.

On Sunday last, Pastor Martin spoke of the narrow and the broad way, at one point referencing a funnel to illustrate this truth. I think this is a profound picture to keep in mind and meditate upon. Other than cars and kitchens, I don’t know where you’d find funnels, but either way, I invite you to bring a picture of one familiar to the forefront of your mind (or just look below).

The open, or “gathering,” side represents the wide way, one like the fair with options galore. You can choose “traditional” Christianity or choose a “prosperity” message. You can select a life closely following religious mandates or traditions, or you can choose “freedom” from any code of conduct other than that which seems good to you. You may go to church weekly, on Christmas and Easter only, or not at all — It’s entirely up to you, and that’s the point — you create a system of morality and a god in the image that is acceptable to you and, after all, as long as you are sincere, who is to say any differently? The problem is that there is no life here, only a shrinking existence — spiraling toward the small end — culminating in spiritual death.

But there is another way. Look at the narrow end — such a small opening; there’s not much room to pass that way. That way is Jesus. It is not Buddha or Mohammed. It’s not “spirituality” or sincerity or keeping rules, laws, or promises. You can’t take anything with you on this journey; there is room for neither pride nor prejudice. Passing through the narrow way is akin to baptism, symbolizing and identifying with Jesus in His death. But this is only the beginning. From there, from the narrow and uncompromising path of accepting our guilt and inability to do anything about it, embracing God’s solution in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and entering the life of Jesus, from there life eternal begins! Traversing through the narrow way, we come to an opening that has no ending. Expanding ever outward, representing resurrection, this eternal life begins immediately, bringing true freedom that the world cannot offer nor comprehend.

So, the next time you visit the fair or decide to change your engine oil, remember the illustration of the funnel and the amazing gift of God, given to the undeserving, bringing life forevermore to all who praise the name of Jesus!

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