Dying

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By Brian Waple

I would like to use this Last Word to address something that we typically don’t talk about. We have brothers and sisters in our body who have experienced or are experiencing a family member’s or close friend’s death. Our Christian response is to lovingly pray for God’s comfort and peace for the individual’s family during these times of mourning and loss. But, what should be our expectations about dying?

In the Waple/Reynolds families, we have lost several loved ones over a short period of time, and it has caused me to reflect on the significance of death. I guess as you get older, you start to do this more often. One writer who has influenced my Christian life and thought is Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a beloved priest and author whose writings on the spiritual life are appreciated by those in many Christian faith traditions. Writing about dying, Nouwen had this to say:

Dying is returning home. But even though we have been told this many times by many people, we seldom desire to return home. We prefer to stay where we are. We know what we have; we do not know what we will get. Even the most appealing images of the afterlife cannot take away the fear of dying. We cling to life, even when our relationships are difficult, our economic circumstances harsh, and our health quite poor. Still, Jesus came to take the sting out of death and to help us gradually realize that we don’t have to be afraid of death, since death leads us to the place where the deepest desires of our hearts will be satisfied. It is not easy for us to truly believe that, but every little gesture of trust will bring us closer to this truth. [emphasis added]

This past Sunday, Pastor Martin spoke on desires. He addressed the desires that are driven by our natural tendencies. We (and I include myself) struggle with these desires our entire lives. But, I believe that the deep desires Nouwen alludes to, the ones we glimpse only rarely, are the ones that God has placed in us at our core from the very beginning. And I believe that as a Christian, one of our deepest desires is to be with God and know Him completely. During our lives, we strive to fulfill this desire in one way or another, but we are destined to fall short every time. It is only by passing through the mortal veil of this life that we reach a point where this deepest of desires is finally met.

So, although we will mourn the loss of those we love for the remainder of our time on earth, I believe that there is a truth about death that is helpful for us to hold in our hearts: it is only through death that God’s perfect work is completed. We can learn to be reconciled to death, because as Nouwen states, we are finally returning home, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And it is through death that we are finally able to live eternally, as we were created to be.

“I heard about a mansion / He has built for me in glory. / And I heard about the streets of gold / beyond the crystal sea; / about the angels singing, / and the old redemption story, / and some sweet day I’ll sing up there / the song of victory.” (“Victory in Jesus,” E. M. Bartlett)

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WHAT’S UP? An Exciting Announcement

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By Martin Schlomer

Six months ago, we found ourselves faced with the need for a new Children’s Ministries Director. Now, in case you haven’t noticed, Elim has A LOT of children running around (80+ kids 5th grade and under)! We have A LOT of volunteers who lead out in this ministry (50 leaders and helpers)! It can feel overwhelming.

“What are we going to do?” was my first thought. My second thought was, “Father, these circumstances did not take You by surprise. What do You want to do?” As the elders and staff prayed, there was peace. We sensed the need to wait to see how things developed over the next four to six months. Cheryl Weller stepped back in as our interim Children’s Ministries Director.

Then, we waited. We prayed. We clarified the skills we wanted the person to have. This was going to be a big decision. Ministry to children is VERY IMPORTANT in this body and to our Father.

In late June, we sensed it was time to take the next step. We put the information out to the congregation and invited those interested in the position to apply. We were blessed to have two well-qualified, enthusiastic people apply. The decision was difficult!

But now I want to introduce to you Geneva Mooney as our next Children’s Ministries Director. Geneva is no stranger to Elim or Children’s Ministries. Jean and Geneva have been actively serving at Elim for three years. Geneva brings a lot of spiritual maturity and discernment, enthusiasm, creativity, organization, and team-building skills to this core ministry. Her heart is to serve the volunteers so that they can thrive as they use their gifts. When Pastor Nate resigned, she volunteered to lead Elim’s Sunday-morning children’s program. Her passion is to serve!

As we prepare to enter the fall months filled with activities and ministries, please pray for Geneva and the entire Children’s Ministries team. Their task is huge, and the weight we all feel to nurture our children as passionate followers of Jesus is significant! While we have a great team of volunteers, there are some specific leadership positions we need to fill with qualified individuals. There are opportunities on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday evenings with AWANA. Would you consider serving and discipling our children? It is a significant calling our Father has placed on this community as He has blessed us with these children.

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THE CONGRUENCE OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP

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By Larry Short

Pastor Martin recently posted an article from Relevant Magazine titled, “What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?” The article is a conversation with Eugene Peterson, the renowned author of The Message.

At the article’s core, Peterson addresses the issue of incongruence in the Christian life. “Incongruence” is the gap between what we say we believe and what we act like we believe. A pastor for a number of years before he became a theologian and author, Peterson was shaken by the incongruence he saw in himself (as a preacher) and those who sat under his sermons each Sunday, so much so that he considered himself a failure as a preacher.

I would encourage you to read the article for yourself, and I won’t lengthen this blog by summarizing it. But I did want to present a couple of ideas that really jumped out at me, that resonated with my heart.

One is that the solutions to most of our problems really are quite simple. They aren’t necessarily easy, but they are simple. Peterson talks a lot about the importance of faithfulness, about which he coined the phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” in a book by the same name he wrote over 20 years ago. We have problems that may seem intractable, but the solutions are usually quite simple: disciplined financial management, thinking and praying before we speak or act, seeking to focus on the needs of others before our own, etc. Simple . . . but not easy.

A second thing that he said that really jumped out at me was that authentic Christian friendships are our best weapon against incongruence. I know many of us struggle with a sense that we don’t have many, or possibly even any, authentic, honest Christian friendships. In our culture, in particular, this feeling of loneliness, a lack of true friends, seems epidemic. We don’t stay planted in one place for very long. (I’ve read that the average American moves every three years.) And when we do have a place to call home, we usually hunker down inside it and hardly spend any time out-of-doors, getting to know our neighbors. (Darlene and I walk around our neighborhood daily, and we always marvel how rarely we actually see any of our neighbors out-of-doors.)

When EFCA missions director Nubako Selenga was visiting the United States for the first time, I asked him (while driving him to our church) what struck him as the strangest thing about America. “It’s so empty,” he replied without hesitation. “There are all these beautiful homes, but I don’t see people around them. When you drive down a road in Africa, everyone is outside their home, visiting with their neighbors.”

That was convicting. How well do I know my neighbors? How many do I consider friends?

And it seems, to me, to be getting worse in the younger generations. I’m always astonished when I see at a restaurant a table full of young people, and everyone is engaged deeply . . . in their smartphones or personal devices. A whole table full of silent people who are doing God-alone-knows-what on social media, but are barely even talking to one other.

Does it surprise us to learn that friendship is an extremely high value to our Lord? “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus said, “. . . but I have called you friends.” Exodus 33 tells us that the Lord would speak with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Job said he was “in [his] prime, when the friendship of God was upon [his] tent.” Jonathan and David had “sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord,” and the power and poignancy of that particular relationship rings down to us through the ages.

Solomon told us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” but “profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Herein, perhaps, lies the secret to the power of Christian friendship to create spiritual congruence (people who live like who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God): people willing to tell each other hard truth, even if it hurts, because their love and friendship makes such truth both necessary and beneficial.

Sounds great, right? But how? What if you are reading this and frustrated and tired of feeling alone? You wish you had intimate and authentic Christian friendships, but they just don’t seem to be happening?

I can’t think of how to say this without sounding trite, but this, once again, is something that I think is both simple and hard. It’s a “long obedience in the same direction.”

First of all, Scripture advises us to choose our friends carefully. “Be not unequally yoked,” we are admonished. I can’t tell you, however, how many times I see young people willing to enter into dating relationships and even become engaged and married to someone who does not share their faith. I understand that loneliness can drive us to make poor choices. But that’s one poor choice that has little chance of doing anything other than later enhancing and ensuring continuing loneliness.

One of God’s richest blessings on my life I am celebrating today, on the 38th anniversary of my marriage to my best friend. Actually, Darlene and I probably became the best of friends some six years before we were married, so that makes it 44 years and counting. She models to me what it truly means to be a Christian friend: she is unafraid to tell me hard truth, when I need to hear it, and I know that she is 100% committed to me and my best, no matter what lies ahead. A friend like that is worth more than all the money in the world.

Young people: please, please, please, hold out for God’s best for you! Don’t give in to the temptation to date people who do not share your faith. Could they become a believer? Sure, we pray so. But don’t take the chance that their interest in you lies in places that will eclipse their interest in Jesus.

Dating and marriage aside, my other “simple but hard” point is that any friendship requires risky investment: time, effort, love, whatever. Time is probably the big one we struggle with. But you can’t really expect to develop meaningful friendships if you aren’t willing to invest the time.

And I say “risky” because I know it doesn’t always work out. I’ve had people I invested in that I hoped I would be lifelong friends with, who for whatever reason didn’t reciprocate, and we drifted apart.

But true friendship is worth the risk! So get started today. Enroll in a community group at Elim and get to know others who love Jesus. If you make the investment but don’t find any solid friends there, move on to another group. Sooner or later, you’ll hit pay dirt!

And then, allow those friends to speak truth into your life! Each of us has a congruence problem—and part of the answer is finding good Christian friends.

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There’s gotta be more to life…

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By Bill Naron

No doubt life is a balancing act, learning to juggle — work, home, relationships with spouses, children, and friends. We spend our days racing from one place to another and from one activity to another. We must balance the checkbook, do the dishes, get gas and groceries … on and on it goes. We rush and rush and we try to hold on tightly to as much as we can. This is life in America, right? This is the American dream, isn’t it? We work 40 hours, sometimes more a week to get as much money as possible to line our pockets so that we can afford nice cars, houses, a yard that looks better than our neighbors’. But, is there something more?

Jesus has showered blessing upon us, in ways we cannot even fathom. A couple of years ago we lived in a house that was 990 square feet. It had three bedrooms and we felt we were bursting at the seams. Our little family of six at the time was outgrowing the house so fast, and we had no clue what we would do. We began to consider our options and as we did it started to feel overwhelming. The thought of moving and trying to purchase a home all seemed so impossible because we wanted more kids, which naturally meant we needed a larger house than we could afford in our price range.

So, amid our running around frantically trying to figure out what we were going to do, we realized something: We had not sought out what God would do for us in this situation we were in. The Bible says that God cares for his children, and that He knows the plans He has for us. So, in our newfound clarity we decided to stop pursuing options and simply wait on the Lord to see what He would do.

Less than a month later we were offered the opportunity to move into the house we currently occupy. God brought us a larger house, in the exact perfect way that we needed it at the time, and in His perfect timing — because six months after moving into this house, our family of six would be prompted to enter a fostering situation where we would find ourselves growing in size, from six to eight.

I share this as a hopefully encouraging testimony of God’s goodness and provision that we have had the chance to experience, as a family. I have been reading on the topic of “reverence.” As we see God work in our lives, through the events and people we encounter, we grow deeper in our awe and respect for our Father. We learn that we can trust Him and gain an awareness of the way He is working within our lives.

I believe that this is the “something more” that is there beyond the facade of the so-called “American dream,” beyond the glamour we are encouraged to seek, beyond the glory of the kingdoms of this earth. There is a life lived in reverence to our Creator, Father, and Redeemer. There is a life lived in dependence on Him for our sustenance. There is a life lived as a disciple of Christ, where the desires of our hearts become the same as His. Where we desire to share the experiences that have made the power of God a tangible thing to us. Because our desire becomes like the heart-cry of the Father, that we who act orphaned would come home.

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