Identity Theft!

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By Bill Naron

We have been talking a lot about identity lately, and it has gotten me to thinking about my own identity and where I am finding it. I think about when you have conversations with people and they will ask, “What do you do for a living?” Now normally one would just say, I am a mechanic, or a salesman, etc. I find it interesting because what we do for a living oftentimes can shape our own picture of who we are, and it can become our identity. But what allows us to move to a more stable identity, not centered in doing, but centered on being? I think that it is coming into a deeper understanding of who God is and His character, as stated in Matthew 6:26-33 below:

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (KJV)

We as a society love to associate titles to so many things and to people. People will say that they identify as this or that, but they are never full — they are always looking for the next thing to make them feel valued or important. What if our identity were rooted in the God of the universe, in the God who reigns over the whole earth? The Bible says, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). This means that He created everything, and since He created everything, He is not constrained in the same ways we are. This is what Jesus was talking about in the verse above not worrying but seeking the kingdom of God, finding your identity in relationship with the One who made you — not finding it in some societal title you are given or in the work you are doing, because our work is first and foremost the living out of the gospel and shining the light of Christ and bringing glory to God.

I would have been a person whose identity and value was rooted in position at work. But the reality is that in Matthew, Jesus says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. All the things that will be added are the things that our Heavenly Father knows that we need. You may be wondering what all this has to do with identity. God’s Word says that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I would argue that amongst the things that the enemy wants to steal is our identity. The ways in which it gets stolen is when we buy into how the world says we should acquire identity by pursuing whatever fad or trend the world says should define us. Or maybe we dive into what we do for a career and place our careers above all other things and soon our identity is derived out of who we are at work and how successful we are.

When our identity is rooted in the things that we do and the things we can accomplish, we are not leaving any room for our lives to be pictures of God’s glory and of His grace and mercy. We begin to shape our lives through the gospel, we begin to look at things differently. For myself for example, I now see differently my role at work. My role is not to work hard so that I can make more money and gather more successes; my role is to do my best work and to perform the tasks I am asked to with joy and a cheerful heart because that is what God expects of me as a passionate follower of Him. I perform my tasks diligently so that glory is brought to the name of Jesus, because He is the reason that I am able to do my work in the first place. We are in this place and in our jobs for a reason, and it is not so that we can be more successful and serve ourselves — it is so that we can help accomplish the work that God is doing in that place.

Even though I have grown up in the church, even though I have heard these things before, it spoke to me, and as I reflect upon it, I think it is because I myself struggled with my identity being wrapped up in my job and in the things I was doing. It was tied to the successes I was having and that was driving me to want to devote more and more of myself to my job. Everything would filter through how it would affect my job. Then, as I read and reflected on the verses in Matthew 6, it became clearer to me that if I am to be a disciple and my identity is to flow out of that, then the physical places that God has me are my mission field, and they are the places that God has put me to fulfill His purpose and to be a light and a voice that draws in and calls back the lost sons and daughters that He wants to redeem. And I do not need to worry about anything, because God will provide, just as He does for the grass and the lilies and the birds of the air. He will provide the things I need, and I do not need to worry about where they will come from.

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Our Father Delights in Us!

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By Martin Schlomer, Senior Pastor

“Light up the darkness!” (2 Corinthians 4:6, The Message)

Delight, honor, and repair: these three words are reshaping my heart and relationships. These are three words my Father has spoken over me. In my upcoming Last Words, I’m going to look at each of these three words, one at a time.

This week:

My Father delights over me!

This is the heartbeat of the gospel. Our Father delights over us! This is personally transformational. When I am having a horrible day and my choices reflect the darkness of my own ways, He speaks a better word over me than I deserve. When I sin, He offers forgiveness. When I fail, He gives me His Son, and I get the righteousness of Jesus. He lights up my darkness, and He shepherds me through the chaos! Why? Because He’s my Father. This is what good and gracious fathers do. We are connected.

“Light up the darkness!” Speak our Father’s delight over another person today, tomorrow, the day after, next week. When we do, we bring the presence of hope and beauty into lives silently simmering in uncertainty, loneliness, shame, and chaos. Find something our Father delights in and speak it. It’s transformational for them and for us. I’m the beneficiary. As I pass on my Father’s delight, His delight leaves a residue of joy in my life!

Delight, honor, and repair — three words that are reshaping my heart and relationships. In a few weeks, I’ll share about the concept of honor. Until then, “Light up the darkness!”

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Because He Loves …

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By Brian Waple

To be honest, I absolutely adore my granddaughter, Dylan. I have adored her from the day she was born, and always will. Even with all her awkwardness, there is something special about her that evokes strong feelings in me that are indescribable. Now I know that as she grows older, there will be times of testing. But my love for her will never change. No matter what she does or doesn’t do, I will always love her.

Isn’t it the same with God and us? God knows our past, present and future, and yet He still loves us. In fact, he is absolutely crazy in love with us. Did you know that the word “love” appears close to 550 times in the NIV translation? (By the way, the number of times the word “love” is used outnumbers the word “sin.”) What does that say about God? John 3:16 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT). When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind … a second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why so much emphasis on love? If we just obey as we’ve been commanded, isn’t that enough? If we attend the weekly worship service at church, join community groups, pray regularly, read our Bibles, lead Bible studies, help out at activities, disciple others … isn’t that enough? The people of Israel thought so. They thought that all God required were their sacrifices. In Micah 6, we read, “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?” Micah goes on to say, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” It is a heart of love for God and others that enables us to do these things. Our obedience to God should come out of our love for God, not the other way around.

I guess my preoccupation with love comes out of a book I’m reading by Dr. David Benner called Surrender to Love. In discussing the story of the prodigal son, Benner writes, “Part of me — and I suspect part of all of us — wants to earn the Father’s love. In the story both sons fall into this trap, and both have to learn the same lesson. The Father’s love reflects the Father’s character, not the children’s behavior. My behavior — whether responsible or irresponsible — is beside the point. Responsible behavior does not increase the Father’s love, nor does irresponsible behavior decrease it” (p. 20).

I remember a conversation I had with my sister Whitney, who struggled with alcoholism. Looking back on her life, she asked, “How could God possibly love me after all things I’ve done and continue to do?” I told her about one of my favorite Christian authors, the late Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest and chronic alcoholic. I told her about Manning’s belief that God continued to pursue him, even in the midst of his wretchedness, because of God’s love for him and the grace God extended toward him. I told her that God continues to pursue her, because He loves her and extends that same grace to her. She just needed to acknowledge her need for Him — that in spite of what we do and because He loves us, God never gives up on us.

We were made to be in relationship with others and we were made to love, because we were created in God’s image and that is God’s character. And here’s the really crazy thing: even the love I feel for Dylan, or Cindy, or other members of my family cannot come close to how much God loves me. Can we love as God loves? I don’t think we can in this life; but I believe there is a long-forgotten part of who we are that desires to love that way. And one day, I believe we will. God has pursued humanity from the beginning because He has loved us from the beginning. Although at times our actions and behaviors can grieve God, He continues to pursue us because of the immeasurable love He has for us.

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Effective Community Groups “Live Life in Proximity”

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

This is the fourth in a series of seven posts on guiding principles for Community Groups at Elim. To read all seven principles together, please click here.

This one is difficult . . . but inescapable. Our fourth principle is:

In the most effective groups, people “live life in proximity.” That means they spend a lot of time together. They get to know each other beneath the surface. An effective group is a lot like a village. They don’t simply come together for “yet another meeting” one, two, or four times a month; rather, they truly live their lives together, in many contexts beyond simply a regularly scheduled group meeting. They stay connected. That’s what creates community. We will encourage this among Elim groups.

For the past 15 years, Darlene and I have poured ourselves into Elim’s young adults group, known as “Pulse.” At times Pulse has had three events each week, so the bar is set quite high. In addition to our formal get-togethers, we’ve found many of our group members do things together with other group members outside of the normal group meetings. They have game nights and various adventures together. They go hiking. They simply hang out. And what we’ve discovered is that the more time we spend together, the better we are able to effectively enfold group members into the life of the church.

Our model for this is Christ’s interaction with His disciples. If you think about it, there are a lot of different ways He could have related to the disciples. He could have organized them into a loose association, a group that met together monthly (or perhaps even weekly) to discuss discipleship stuff.

But no! He chose to live life WITH His disciples—in proximity. Where he went, they went. They left their jobs behind. Their families went with them, or perhaps in some cases they even left homes and families behind. The three years they spent with the Messiah was an all-or-nothing commitment. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Now, that’s a pretty hard saying! But it was very important to Jesus for His disciples to be ALL IN. After all, ultimately, they would be asked to lay down their lives! Better get used to the idea of your life not being your own.

Frankly, the bar is often set way too low in many small groups. They may meet monthly or every other week. They may dismiss for the summer. Nothing is wrong with these things, inherently, but we intend to challenge groups at Elim to aspire to something higher. There is a certain power in being WITH other believers, in living life in proximity, and in experiencing life together

Please join us in prayer for Elim’s group leaders, as we meet this Sunday after worship to fellowship and share both joys and challenges. For more information, please email me at LarryShort at Gmail dot com.

Next in this series: The most effective Community Groups seek to be both intergenerational as well as focusing on life-stage affinity.

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