JOURNEY: I Refuse to Go There!

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By Martin Schlomer, Senior Pastor

Two weeks ago, I spoke of the journey Elim is taking over the next few years and the need to chart a course that equips us to be disciples who make disciples among those who are not disciples. In my annual report, I shared how we had no adult I was aware of who had come to know Jesus in 2017. I asked the question, “What might it be like to come to the end of 2018, look back, and celebrate 12 adults who have given their lives to our Lord, have been baptized, and are now in disciple-making relationships?” (Since I wrote my annual report, I learned of a good friend who gave his life to our Lord in December! We will celebrate by baptizing him this Sunday!)

We have done a great job developing disciples among those who are already a part of our community, but we need to be equipped to make disciples among those who are outside our four walls.

As some people have pondered this “course correction,” a few questions and concerns have surfaced that I would like to address.

“Are you going to establish a quota for new Christians each year at Elim?” Absolutely not! This would betray a belief that you or I have the power to convince someone to give his or her life to Jesus. We do not have the power to determine outcomes on behalf of other people. This would be foolishness. Not even Jesus claimed to have this power while on Earth.

“Are you going to restart outreach programs like Freezing Nights, Feeding the Homeless, or Faith in Action?” While these are great compassion outreach ministries, they are beyond the scope of what I’m talking about. I’m not planning on starting any programs. As we take our next steps, if there is support for compassion-based outreach among people ready to lead and serve, we can certainly try to facilitate making that happen. But compassion-based outreach is beyond the scope of where we are going at this point in time.

“Then what is the Journey about?” It is about being disciples who make disciples among those who are not disciples. It’s about loving our Father and His mission. It is about embracing the truth that we are made for His mission. It’s about being equipped to live out this mission through our identity as salt and light among our friends, neighbors, coworkers, or whomever our Father brings our way. It’s about being a part of a community who pray fervently and support one another as we walk out our Father’s mission. It is about understanding how a person develops from a nonbeliever to a maturing disciple. I’m sure we’ll discover a lot more as we take this journey together.

“What’s next?” Last Sunday, we started a three-week preparation process. If you missed the message, please take time to listen. It is that important that we are all on the same page. Last Sunday, I gave everyone some homework. First, prepare your heart by asking our Father to give you a heart for those who are not disciples. Second, do what you can to protect and repair your reputation among all people. We are salt and light. If we ignore this aspect of our identity, we become something our Father never intended us to be (Matthew 5:13b). Third, identify two to three people who do not know Jesus whom you can pray for daily that our Father would prepare their hearts to surrender to the gospel. We must always talk to our Father about our friends before we talk to our friends about our Father.

As we take this journey, we will have opportunities to share the great things our Father will be doing. Jesus promised that as we go on this mission, He will be with us, empowering and leading along the way! To me, this is the most exciting part! See you along the way!

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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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Why Does God Send Worms?

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By Larry Short

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

I don’t know whether women struggle with this as much as we men do, but, as Americans, I think we are all way too performance oriented. Whenever something good happens to us, we have a tendency to feel a bit buoyed up. We may think, “Yes, I deserved this.”

Conversely, whenever something bad happens, we are deflated and frustrated. We also may think, “Yes, I surely deserved THIS.”

Scripture provides great anecdotal perspective on these, our very American tendencies. In the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah, we find our reluctant prophet—who so far in the story has struggled with massive disobedience issues, prejudice, and lack of compassion—acting like a spoiled child, disappointed because God has given grace to his enemies, and sitting alone on a hillside overlooking Nineveh, hoping for fire and brimstone while a spiritual revival of historic proportions is going on in the city below him.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

“But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”’

As Jonah sat and sulked, two very interesting things happened:

“Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.”

“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’”

Jonah 4:1-11 NIV

As Elim’s young adults group, Pulse, was studying this chapter, God sent a worm to take away a shade tree I had enjoyed for 22 years: my job at World Vision. I’ve had the privilege there of doing enjoyable, meaningful, and rewarding work for more than two decades. I can’t remember when I last felt bored at work. I started an Internet program that is now the third-largest online nonprofit fundraising platform in the world, pioneered online products that now raise hundreds of millions of dollars and save or change countless thousands of lives, and enjoy a huge amount of respect and a significant sense of accomplishment.

Then along came a worm. I was informed that I was being laid off on August 3.

World Vision is a wonderful organization, despite being staffed by fallen human beings like me, and I’ve learned not to take such things personally. I’ve gone through a lot of challenging transitions in my four decades of adult work life, and each and every one has ultimately proved the truth of Paul’s words in his letter to the church at Rome:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV

It’s awesome news … we, too, can claim this promise if we love God, knowing that we have been called “according to His purpose!”

I know many of you reading this are going through far tougher things than I am right now: cancer, heart disease, family or marital struggles, addictions, or financial challenges. But God’s promises are true. The same gracious and loving God sends both shade trees and worms. He cares more about building Christ-like character in us than He does about making us comfortable.

I am praying for you as you face whatever “worms” God sends your way. Thank you for praying for me as well!

P.S.—One quick insight about the worm God sent Jonah. The Hebrew word for that worm is a very specific one: Tolah, the crimson worm who, throughout Scripture (as in the messianic Psalm 22), represents Christ Himself! Our suffering Saviour is present in a very real way in the midst of whatever sufferings God brings our way to build our character. So chew in that one for awhile!

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Muddy Water

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By Martin Schlomer

Kim and I love to hike. When we come to a lake we enjoy sitting beside it and gazing into it. We can see the fish and all of the underwater beauty. However, there are seasons when that beauty is lost because of muddy water.

Following Jesus is a beautiful pursuit. It’s filled with challenge, depth, and increasing beauty. However, there are times when its beauty and depth are lost in the muddy water of life’s questions and complexities.

Last Sunday, a person texted this question in response to the message: “What is the by-product of a passionate follower (disciple) of Christ?” I’ve thought A LOT about this. Left to my own thoughts, I can muddy the waters with many, many, many, many good thoughts. Since I wish to avoid muddy water, I will keep my thoughts brief and focused.

The first by-product is a growing awareness that Jesus loves you A LOT! Many people know this, but the growing awareness is a bit vague. This awareness is anchored in our identity in Him. If God was to write you a letter expressing how He sees and feels about you right this moment, what would He write? While we may all believe we are sons or daughters of God, on our insides, many feel like orphans. This sabotages this growing awareness. This is why Paul prays so fervently, “And I pray that you, being [having been and continuing to be] rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ … that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). As this develops, then, as the hymn states, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

Second, out of this growing awareness emerges a growing hunger to learn and follow the ways of Jesus (Matthew 28:20). His ways are beautiful and life-giving. They are not burdensome and life depleting. I’ve never heard a person say his or her life has been diminished because of following Jesus as prescribed by Jesus.

Third, out of this awareness and hunger we embrace community. I believe this is the most challenging outcome of being a passionate disciple of Jesus. The image of community we long for is seldom one we can walk into. It must be formed through the crucible of time, trial, and personal change. Peter Scazzero said it best: “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”[1] This is why we must be “taught by God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). However, it is an outcome of following Christ, nonetheless. Jesus refused to relent on this one (John 13:34-35).

At Elim, these by-products (or outcomes) are core to understanding God’s work in this community and family. They require our surrender, focus, and intentionality. However, more importantly, they require the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13

[1] Scazzero, Peter (2006-07-01). Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ (p. 175). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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The Important “L”

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By Brian Sharpe

This past weekend we went on a senior high retreat to the Parsons’ cabin. The Parsons’ cabin has become a yearly staple in our student ministry calendar. It is a small, simple cabin that God has used over the past thirteen years to do some great work in me and the students that have attended those retreats. This past weekend was no exception — God was at work. He prepared a lesson in me that was just right for the group we had going. Our topic of conversation was legalism, licentiousness, and liberty.

As someone who grew up in the church, legalism is a pitfall I can fall into. Legalism is where we create rules that God doesn’t hold us to and we expect others to adhere to those rules. If others don’t hold to those rules, then we judge them. That’s what the Pharisees did in Scripture. They would create laws that they expected everyone to follow, and if someone didn’t follow them, they were less spiritual than they should be.

Licentiousness is where we create a moral law for ourselves apart from God, and we live by it. There is no expectation of others except, as long as they allow us to live as we want. This is a huge problem in our culture today. We become god and set our own standards. As believers, we have to pay careful attention to make sure this doesn’t sink into our way of life. It is easy to fall into, but we have to fight the urge to be king over our life.

Legalism and licentiousness are two ends to the spectrum, and both lead to bondage. Legalism sets up rules for everyone, licentiousness sets up rules for self and no one else. Legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain types of music. Licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, because I want to. Legalism says it is a sin to date. Licentiousness says that I can date whomever I want, when I want. Legalism says that everyone should only eat certain foods. Licentiousness says I can eat whatever I want, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Then there is liberty. Liberty is freedom. We understand that because of the country we live in. Yet how I define liberty as a believer is understanding the freedom we have in Christ, but living out of love and not our rights. Liberty filters every decision through a screen of, “How will what I am doing bring glory and honor to Christ?” Its focus is on loving God and loving others. Its focus in not on rules or rights. When legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain music and licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, it doesn’t affect me. Liberty says, “How does this music bring glory and honor to Christ?”

This is the conversation we had last weekend with high school students. It was a fun conversation, but also led to some great dialogue and self-reflection. How am I living? Am I living in liberty, where I seek to live out of love, or am I being legalistic or licentious? The hard thing about this question is that it is not a one-time thought, but it’s a constant evaluation of every decision. As a passionate follower of Christ, I need to seek to live out of liberty. I need to seek to live out of love, asking the question, “How is what I am doing bringing glory and honor to Jesus?” It’s what our students were challenged with last weekend, and it’s what I am challenged with every day.

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What Matters Most to This Pastor?

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By Martin Schlomer

The year 2014 has been a year of many blessings as well as spiritual growth! God’s faithfulness and grace is evidenced in the lives of many who have been baptized and in those who continue to grow in following Christ.

As I look back on 2014 and write this report, I ask myself, “What matters most?” I could talk about the blessings of increased attendance, new people coming, near-record giving, strategic efforts to develop disciples (efforts which need a lot more work), missions trips, building projects we’ve accomplished, or challenges we’ve faced where God has grown us. All of these metrics—and many others not mentioned—matter a lot! However, in this season of my life and ministry, they are not what matter most to me.

What matters most to me? Elim being an oasis for renewal (life-changing redemption) with God and one another so that people become passionate followers of Jesus who live out the compelling realities of the Kingdom of God in the midst of our increasingly lost, hopeless, and hostile culture! Are there metrics from this last year I can write about that would indicate this is taking place? I suppose what I mentioned are some worthy indicators. However, while they measure things that can be seen, they don’t necessarily reveal the passions of the heart.

Passions of the heart that would indicate whether or not what matters most to me is happening are discovered through story. For instance, in the community group Kim and I lead, we are listening to life stories for the first few months. As I listen to these stories, I hear a common theme of how God is using Elim to redeem these people through the grace and love from this community, the preaching and study of the Word, and prayer. “Elim has been an Oasis for me,” is a common statement. As I look back over this past year, this is what matters most to me. As I look forward to 2015, this is what matters most to this pastor!

What challenges do I face when pursuing what matters most in 2015? I need to make sure that what matters most continues to be what matters most. My heart can be fickle and easily distracted by good but lesser things. I believe that if I focus on what matters most, the good but lesser things will follow. For those planners among us, I realize there needs to be strategic planning. However, I’m also realizing I need others who will take that on so I can focus on what matters most.

As I focus on what matters most, I need to transmit this focus and passion throughout the fabric of Elim’s core leadership. I want to do my best to make sure they “catch this virus.” This is essential because those they lead need to catch this virus also. If the leaders don’t have it, the followers won’t catch it. This means I also need to work with others to develop a leadership pipeline that will infect leaders with the virus of what matters most.

As I focus on what matters most, I need to transmit this focus and passion throughout the fabric of the congregation through preaching and leadership. I desperately want every attender to choose to become a passionate follower of Jesus! I pray that God will do whatever it takes to make this happen in your life, because following Jesus is what is most important in all of life. This calls me to greater levels of boldness and clarity as we enter this new year.

There you have it! This is what matters most to your pastor. I hope you will join me in this pursuit.

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