“You have to fight for your right to …”

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By Bill Naron

Sitting in my plush green chair in the sanctuary this Sunday, I made a connection between something that my wife and I had been talking about and what Brian was speaking from the front. It was Jesus’s kingship! I was really intrigued as a video popped up on the screen and the speaker on the video was talking about the vastness of the universe and how the farther and farther out you go, the smaller and smaller everything looks. So, I got to thinking about Jesus and the Father. I began to think about creation and like we read in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God ….” Jesus is the Word, and He was there at the beginning; the Bible says that all things were created through Him and all things are held together in Him.

I love the story of creation; it is my favorite part of the whole Bible. But then, who does not love the beginning, when everything is awesome and perfect? When God created everything, day after day new things were spoken into existence. On the sixth day, God created man. The Bible says that He formed man from the dust and then something happened that had not happened up to this point: God breathed life into him through his nostrils. It is amazing — God creates this being that has a mind and an ability to think and process, and this being is created in God’s likeness and image! Then this creation is given all other creation to enjoy, and he gets to be in constant communion with God, walking and talking with Him in the garden. But then, because of sin, this relationship is severed; but God is not done — He sends the Word that was with Him. He sends Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God.

See, we were talking about Jesus’s kingship and how it affects our decision-making and how we should examine everything we do through this filter, and this is where my mind went: I began to think about how amazing it is that God breathed life into man at the very beginning. We were different from the rest of creation, we were given the ability to choose to either do the right thing or do the wrong thing. The situation of Adam and Eve in the garden and them having the choice to follow God or to follow their own selfishness and be their own god is the same choice that we are presented with daily. We are put in situations and surrounded by a culture that says, “Do whatever makes you feel good, do whatever makes you happy, be the driver of your life.”

No doubt, there are probably ideas that pop into our minds that we know we should not entertain because they are not beneficial to our health or they are things that we know to be wrong. Do we ever take the time to analyze and think about how the things that we watch or the music we listen to or even the books that we read may influence us and draw us away from our priorities? There are so many things in this world that appear to be good and harmless but are really just little pebbles that cause us to trip and stumble into something bigger. Therefore, I think it is so important that we examine everything we allow in our lives and in our homes through the filter of Christ, because Jesus is King and everything we do should be an example of Him to the world. So many things in the world are beckoning for our attention and trying to consume our time and efforts. This is where my wife and I have found ourselves in contemplation lately, especially when it comes to investing in our kids. We have six small children and an awesome field of discipleship with them. So, it is important for us to analyze how we can maximize our ability to speak life to our kids and how we can be that example of Jesus to our kids when we are around them inside and outside of the house.

Jesus has shown me that in some ways there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. For example, if television, or music, or “fill in the blank,” is taking time away from our priorities, which should be God and our families, that is too much of a good thing. See, we are not the makers of our own destinies or the masters of our fate. We are creations of the God who spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into man, who gave himself up to reconcile His broken and fallen creation to Himself. We are cared for by Him more than the birds of the air or the flowers of the field. Everything we have in our lives we have because He has given it to us, and that is what should give us the desire to live in a way that reflects Him. I encourage you all to take some time and look at what may be consuming your time, what might be hindering you from reflecting Jesus to the world. Grace be with all of you, my dear church family. Amen.

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I Made a Promise: Confronting the Shame and Bondage of Sexual Abuse

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By Pastor Martin Schlomer

It was early February 2016 when I made a promise to the Elim family. We had to confront the ugly reality of sexual abuse. A young man was accused of sexual abuse. When confronted, he confessed that the accusation was true. The individual was turned over to the proper authorities and arrested.

While none of this abuse happened at any Elim ministry event, we were asked the question, “What’s next?” Many others came with their own stories of being victims of sexual abuse. This was my introduction to the ugly reality that so many people must endure. One in three women and one in five men have endured sexual abuse. Most suffer in silent agony, enslaved in deep and toxic shame. I promised the Elim family that we would develop a strategy to shepherd and disciple those adults among us who have been victimized by sexual predators.

After eight months of thinking, praying, and looking for someone to help guide us through this process, I met with Shonna Porter to brainstorm options. She connected me with Mary Jane Apple, who works alongside Dr. Dan Allender, a renowned Christian psychologist in the realm of sexual abuse. I have assembled a team of eager individuals who will work with Shonna and Mary Jane to be trained and to develop a strategy to move us forward. At this point, Elim will host two seminars this fall. In September/October, we will host a two-hour seminar for Elim and the South Hill community, with the topic of defining the scope of sexual abuse: What is it, and how does it happen? Then, before the end of the year, we hope to offer a two-day intensive seminar called “Healing the Wounded Heart.” Coming out of these seminars, it is my hope that we will be equipped to pursue an ongoing ministry outreach based upon our understanding.

Why is this important? The Gospel has the power not just to save us for eternity, but also to lead us on the way of freedom here and now! “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This fullness is for ALL men and women who bow their knee before Jesus, experiencing His heart and following His ways!

This journey will be no picnic in the park. In my first conversation with Mary Jane, she asked me, “Why do you want to pursue this path?” After I explained my reasons, she gave me this rather unsettling assurance: “You are stepping into some strongholds, some very dark places. Satan will not step aside and walk quietly into the night. You need to build a prayer team as you begin this journey.” This is now my first priority! If you are willing to pray weekly, please email me (martin@elimefc.org), and I will put you on a prayer list and will keep you updated monthly on ways you can pray. Please put “Allies in Prayer” in the subject line.

May our Father lead us as we bring the light of the Kingdom of God to very dark places!

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Not yet in a small group at Elim? Here’s how to get connected!

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By Larry Short

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about small groups at Elim. I’ve been thinking about how incredibly blessed I have been, in my life thus far, because of my connection to those small communities we call “groups.”

This week I am turning the big six-zero. (Which really means, and I realize this is anticlimactic, that I have been breathing air for a total of 61 years now! But, we must have some excuse to party, right?)

And recently I realized that now I am twice as old as I was when I led my first small group. I know this because I have a very distinct (pleasant) memory, as a small group leader, of the members of my first group all wearing black as I led a Bible study on my 30th birthday. (I’m guessing 60 is the new black, right?)

So, more than half of my life so far has been spent connected to small groups. It was in one of those first small groups that a leader thrust a guitar into my hands and said, “You are now our group’s worship leader!” (I wanted to kabong him with it.) It was in groups that I learned how God answered prayer and how I needed to depend on Him when my heart ached for another person. He revealed Himself in small groups, and I have grown time and again over the years, thanks to the exhortation, encouragement, and even the occasional rebuke by small-group members. As we’ve studied God’s Word together, prayed together, worshipped together, served together, ate together, and just hung out together, God has helped me find and walk in His plan for my life . . . through small groups.

I sometimes hear people say, “I don’t really feel connected.” My wife Darlene and I feel connected—and we have small groups to thank for that!

Recently I submitted to Elim staff and elders a document that I titled “Community Ministry at Elim: Seven Guiding Principles.” I’d like to share these with you on this Last Word blog. We’ll start with Principle 1 and tackle a new one each time I get a chance to write. (If you are eager to read all seven principles at one time, I’ve posted the document here on Elim’s website.)

Principle 1: Groups are an incredibly important part of life at a local church such as Elim. They should be one of the key places where people truly connect to God and one another. A lot of life change (for the better!) happens in the context of small groups.

Because groups are so important, we will seek to:

  • Encourage as many friends and members at Elim as possible to be a part.
  • Recruit and raise up as many leaders as needed to lead as many groups as needed to accommodate all who should be in a group.
  • Pray for, support, and help equip group leaders in whatever ways we can to be effective in using their gifts in group leadership.

I’ve already mentioned the crucial role groups have played in my own life and in Darlene’s.  Our experience in groups hasn’t always been comfortable or pain free, but they have always resulted in growth as well as an opportunity to serve others. (Which, by the way, I really need to do in order to grow!)

Many of you know already that Darlene and I have been leading Elim’s young adults group, now called Pulse, for 15 years now. Like all groups, this group has had its ebbs and its flows. Right now we’re in a bit of an ebb; we’ve had a lot of people get married and some of those move away. For years we met on Friday nights (and before that, other weeknights), but because our members have been “aging” together (some now approaching that magic age at which I led my first group!) and are now more like young professionals and less like college students, Friday nights have become more challenging for everyone to gather on. So, we have gone to Sunday mornings (before worship service) instead, but we still have the occasional Friday- or Saturday-night fellowship event. (We also often hang out on Sunday evenings. We have a lot of group “togetherness” time! More about this in another post.)

Our original goal in hosting Pulse was to keep the young people who were being turned out by Elim’s wonderful Student Ministries engaged in the life of the church after they graduated from high school. God has provided a lot of blessings as we’ve seen this goal realized. Young adults are staying at Elim, bringing others in, serving in ministry, and even becoming leaders. And as I mentioned previously, they are also getting married and, in many cases, raising children here (you’re welcome, Children’s Ministry!). This reality, and the blessing of the friendships we have built with so many precious young adults, has been ample reward for the time, the prayers, and the many boxes of pizza we have invested along the way.

I sometimes wonder how people who are NOT involved in small groups at Elim (and probably about half of our congregation are not yet involved) stay connected. Honestly, Sundays aren’t enough! And while our Sunday services here are fantastic, small groups offer so much more opportunity for positive life change to occur. They are a key place God really does His work: through accountability, through prayer, through sharing your story, through encouragement and all the other “one anothers” of Scripture, through Bible study, and through just plain experiencing life together.

So, if you are a member or friend of Elim and are not yet in a small group, for both your benefit and the benefit of others, please consider how you can get connected to one! If you’d like to find a group to plug into, please call or drop me a note, and I promise I will try to help you get connected (call 253-906-9676 [mobile] or email larryshort@gmail.com). Thank you!

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Rearview Mirror

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By Brian Sharpe

Transition is always tough. Most times we aren’t able to see what God is doing or how He is using a transition in our life, until that transition is in the rearview mirror.

When I was in high school, my parents decided to move from a place where all my siblings grew up and went to school together — to a place where I knew no one — leaving a place where most of my extended family lived — to go to a place where I had no family.

I moved from Buffalo, New York, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. It was a tough transition. It was a transition I didn’t want. But as I look back in the rearview mirror of life, it was a transition that God used in my life.

I believe God used that transition to humble me. He also used that transition to protect me from myself. I was going down a path that would have led me to unhealthy places. God also gave me a lot of gifts along the way. He used this move to introduce me to sailing. He used this transition to lead me to Bible school, to meeting my wife, and ultimately to moving into pastoral ministry, working with students.

God used this transition to give me a story to tell and a way to relate to a lot of people whom I have encountered. Transitions are never easy, but when we surrender to God and seek Him in life, He uses it for His glory and our benefit.

After last Sunday, we as a church as well as Nate and Becky as a family found ourselves headed into transition. Do we know what God has in store for us in the future? No. But we do know that we have a God who is with us and who loves us. We have a God who is at work.

I am excited that we will someday be able to look in the rear-view mirror to see how God has been working throughout this transition. I liken this situation to a movie in which you didn’t know the ending, and you just look at the screen as it ends and say, “No way! Did that just happen?” It ended in a perfect, yet unexpected way.

That’s how I view transition. I view it as a way to see God’s handiwork in our lives.

Please pray for Elim. Pray for Nate and Becky. Pray for the staff and the elders. Pray that we will listen for the will of God, that we will lead with wisdom and godly insight. Pray that we keep the main things the main things.

Transition usually leads to us getting a bigger glimpse into God’s handiwork — which ultimately helps us develop into passionate followers of Jesus Christ!

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