The Flavors of Community

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By Bill Naron

Peer through this looking glass with me and take a look at the world. Do you see the hurt and confusion? People are searching for answers in the things this world has to offer, searching for happiness in earthly treasures. They are looking for fulfillment through any means possible. Life is hard in this world that is fallen and scarred by sin. It is easy to be discouraged, to give up hope, to just go with the flow, to give in to my selfish desires, and to seek my own will. After all, we are only human, right? I am only flesh and bone; how could I deny myself? I may go to church, but I am not dead.

This is the dilemma that we face as Christians, this is what we fight against. I have seen this happen to people I know, for example, when they forsake community and church altogether. They read their Bibles and they continue to try to live for Jesus, but it becomes very difficult. I believe that sometimes we tend to think that once we accept Jesus, things will be easy, and when they are not, it is easier to run away. We think, “Well, if this is going to be hard, that is not what I am signing up for! I do not want it to be difficult.” But is that what Jesus promised us? Nope. In fact, He says that in this life we will experience trouble, but He offers us hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I believe that this is why community is so important for Christians.

In community, we can grow much more than on our own. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17). I believe God uses the community to help grow us. See, as much as salvation and relationship with Christ happen on an individual level, I would argue that the vast majority of the process is community-driven. Be in fellowship, put yourself in proximity to others, as Martin and Brian both talked about a couple weeks ago. As a group, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a community of believers that possesses an amazing hope, refuge, and strength. This is something we should be sharing with the world, something that we should be living out.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and that if salt loses it saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). We are the church and we have a mission. It is not an individual mission that just one person is called to—this is a mission that we are called to as a community. We are called to be tangible examples of lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. Like a savory seasoning, we are a group of people who give the world something to grasp with their senses. This community that we create gives us a tool with which we can draw those from the outside in, to come alongside new believers and nonbelievers. We can create space to practice the gospel in a relational way.

I was not raised with a pressing emphasis on the Idea of community, but I have grown to love the implications of it. You can find reasons to not try or to get out of joining in with a group. But when I joined a men’s group about two years ago, it was the best thing that I ever did. I finally realized that I was not the only one struggling, that I was not alone. I finally experienced people carrying burdens together, and that is what we are called to do—to bear one another’s burdens. I would encourage you, if you have not found a community group, women’s group, or men’s group, to find one and get involved. If you cannot find one, then start one and bring your friends with you. Through community, we can be a catalyst for change; we can show the world what it means to walk through messy, hard times. We can live out the example of Jesus Christ. So, get involved and don’t walk life alone—that is not what we were meant to do.

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Investing in Community

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by Larry Short

I’ve enjoyed reading what Pastors Martin and Brian had to say in the last two Last Words, regarding proximity. Brian shared the week before last that investing in getting to know people and spending time with them has the power to help us defeat loneliness and disconnectedness, and also puts us in a better position to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of those around us.

Then last week, Pastor Martin offered some very practical ways that we can develop stronger relational proximity to the people we are investing in.

Over the past few months I’ve been confronted with this truth, over and over again. It falls under the Galatians 6:7 principle:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

The truth is, relational connectedness requires investment investment of time, energy, and even risk. You may have to take a risk, put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. You will have to invest time with people! This all requires thoughtful energy and even prayer. Investing in people doesn’t guarantee connectedness; but you can’t connect with people without investing in them.

And here are two other closely-related investment principles we find in Scripture: First, reward follows investment. It’s not necessarily immediate; it usually requires patience.

And second, astute investment typically results in greater yield than the value of what you invested.

We see this second principle working both for good and for evil, don’t we? If you invest your time and energy in gossip, you will probably find yourself alienated and in conflict. You will reap dysfunction and unrest. If you invest in swindling others, you will reap these things and more, including possibly being in trouble with the law. Et cetera! When you invest in evil things, you reap the whirlwind.

But if you invest in good things (what the Bible calls “treasure in heaven”), we see the potential (biblically speaking) for reaping a whirlwind of good! If you invest in the lives of people – serving them, caring for them, telling them the truth, and developing connectedness which requires the investment of time, energy and risk – then there is the potential to reap a great blessing in both their lives and yours. (And even better, Christ’s bride, the Church, will be strengthened, and God will be glorified!)

I feel that one of the most significant things we as leaders at Elim can do for the people God has entrusted to us is to create the opportunity for the investment of time and relational energy that leads to proximity and connectedness to occur. One of the ways we do this is by investing in community group leaders: recruiting them, coaching and training them, praying for and supporting them as they seek to create groups where proximity and discipleship can work its magic.

This weekend during and after the worship service we are celebrating the Fall Kickoff of an entire slate of community groups. Some of these are ongoing, and others are new. We have a half dozen community groups of various flavors (mostly intergenerational but some targeted to specific groups such as young people or married couples), and also four men’s groups and three women’s groups.

As far as I am aware, all but two of these groups currently have space for, and are eager to enfold, newcomers! (And even those two which are currently “full,” groups led by the Paveys and the Waples, are inviting people to join a waiting list that should enable them in the near future to launch new groups.)

With 13 or more such groups in place, we should have more than enough space for every adult at Elim who desires to be a part of a group to find one she or he can feel good about joining. There should be no excuse for not investing in being meaningfully connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ here at Elim! (If you can think of one … please call me, and let’s talk!)

Be sure to tune in this weekend when our group leaders share more from the pulpit about the groups they are leading. Also, there will be a “Community Groups Fair” in the fellowship area, directly after the worship service, where you can learn more about groups and visit with group leaders and members.

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Power of Proximity x 2

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By Martin Schlomer

Last week, Brian Sharpe wrote a Last Word on the power of proximity. If we are going to know others and be known by others, we need to be in proximity to them. We need to be with them. Most people are hungry to be with others, not just through physical proximity, but also through what I call “relational proximity.” While we might know how to have physical proximity, the relational side feels elusive. Throw into the mix busy schedules and different ages and stages in life, and relational proximity can feel beyond our reach.

What is the answer? Honestly, there isn’t just one answer. However, I know that part of the answer to the dilemma of relational connections is being willing to be with and relate to the other person. How does relating happen? Last week, Lee Severson posted an article from Psychology Today titled “Why You Need to Start Having Deeper Conversations.” It suggested that when it comes to relating to another person, instead of asking the questions, “How are you?” “How was your weekend?” “Where did you grow up?” or “What do you do for a living?” you should consider saying, “What’s your story?” “What was your favorite part of the weekend?” “Tell me something interesting about where you grew up,” or “What drew you to your line of work?” The goal is to get to know the person and to hear his or her story.

Entering another person’s story is a sacred pursuit modeled by Jesus. Because He entered the story of humanity, not just through listening but through becoming, He empathizes and understands our lives, our weaknesses, and our vulnerabilities. He knows our stories. When we choose relational proximity, to enter another person’s story through listening and engaging, we can give this person a taste of what it is to be known by his or her Father. As we lean into this as a Jesus-formed community, we give the fragrance of our Father to all who enter.

Whose story can you pursue this week? Next week? Let’s make the choice. Choose to listen … and enjoy the journey!

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The Power of Proximity

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By Brian Sharpe

I have a couple of friends who, when we get together, it is as if no time has gone by. We can pick up after years of separation, and the connection hasn’t faded. This isn’t the norm — it is unique. I cherish those relationships. Most relationships take time, energy, and, ultimately, proximity.

Proximity is a weird word for me. I was first introduced to it in a video game. In this game, you were given proximity mines that you would place throughout the playing field. When someone’s character walked near it, it exploded. That was the main way I used that word. Then as I got older, I started to think about what helps our relationships with God and one another, and it is proximity.

Proximity — the closer you are to someone or something, the greater the influence that person or thing has over you. I know the word doesn’t make sense at first, but let me explain. When I spend several hours a night with a cast of characters, the way I think and talk starts to look like what we are seeing on the screen. Tomina and I have watched the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice a lot in our marriage. There are so many times when a quote from that movie or a circumstance comes up in conversation. It has become part of my thinking process, and some of the language comes out in me. What we are closest to comes out in us. This is the same with people. That is why it is important to think about whom and what you give influence to in your life by being around.

Now, there a lot of people who feel lonely. They feel uninvited. They may be an introvert or extrovert, but they still feel lonely, because they are not in proximity to anyone. This is hard. The question asked is usually, How do I get close to people? There are many reasons why it is hard to get close to people, but one of the main reasons is that our culture values business over relationships. We don’t have the time to move toward or be in proximity of people. I would argue that, though most of us want to be known, we fear what people may think. I think we need to cross that bridge when we get there. I think most of us need to decide whom we want to be in proximity of or whom we are already moving toward and ask a couple diagnostic questions. Does this person point me to Jesus? If not, am I giving them too much influence in my life? The answers to these questions will tell you if you should move closer to them and not farther away.

The bottom line is this: we all need people. We need Pauls, Timothies, and Barnabases in our lives. We need those relationships. It starts with us taking a conscious step toward others. Quantity time will lead to quality time, and you will be in proximity with others, which will help you be known and know others. It will also help you realize that most of our struggles aren’t too different and most of us have the same fears. Whom will you move toward to point you to Jesus? Whom will you allow to point you to Jesus?

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