The Church as the Center of the Community

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By Bill Naron

To the believers amongst the body of Elim,

I have been meditating lately on the hope we have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How sure is our hope because He gave his body for us and rose victorious over death and sin. He paid the debt that we were enslaved to from our birth. Jesus is our hope and the catalyst that began a revolution, the original counter to culture, and we are called to follow suit.

Comparing today’s American Christian churches with that of the first-century church, I see vast differences in the way they operate. One of the more apparent changes is that the overwhelming number of programs offered by today’s churches tend to be more self-help, fellowship, or inward-focused. I cannot help but be bewildered by the stark contrast to that of the first-century church, where the body of believers were more network-minded, fostered community, and seemed to be more outreach-oriented.

Realizing these important distinctions only reinforced my excitement for the direction our leadership is taking us in 2018! Because while fellowship, self-help, and community all help believers grow in communion with Christ, these things cannot be the only mission of a Christ-minded church. The apostles and community of believers mentored the unsaved and walked through life with them. The church had a major impact on society and culture, and the Gospel spread like wildfire.

What will this more evangelistic, Gospel-spreading mentorship look like? I cannot say for sure. This is different than anything I have seen implemented in my years as a follower of Jesus Christ. I know that in the 1800s it was not uncommon for a church building to be the center of the community in many ways, including hosting schools and courthouses. While I am not suggesting we go back there, I am curious what it would look like for Elim to become such a prominent place of community again, a place where we the believers physically invite others to join in the life-altering power of the Gospel! And that we as believers could somehow regain that Christ-focused impact for good even on public institutions such as schools and courthouses. Let us not only be hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word.

Being an oasis of renewal in our community can only begin with the gathering of the community. We must break down our walls of insecurity and fear and truly be intentional fishers of men.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

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by Brian Waple

As I began reflecting on writing a Last Word for this week, I asked myself, “What would people need to hear?” Do they need to hear how much God loves them? Probably—we all need to be reminded of that. Or perhaps they need to hear about Christ’s substitutionary atonement for their sins. Again, in and of itself that’s good stuff, but not this week. Maybe they need to hear more about Pastor Martin’s new vision for creating a culture of being “disciples who make disciples among those who are not disciples” outside the walls of Elim. He promised we would hear more about that in the weeks to come.

Okay, so what then? I was ruminating on this and looking out the window and watching the rain, and then it dawned on me. As you may or may not know, winters in the Pacific Northwest can be difficult for some people (myself included). There is a bleakness to the winters here that makes us all groan for summer and warmer weather. That’s an interesting word—bleak. Dictionary.com gives this definition: “without hope or encouragement; depressing; dreary.” I have said many times how dreary the winters are here … but hopeless?

There is a wonderful old Christmas hymn that I remember singing as a kid. It’s called In the Bleak Midwinter, and the words of the hymn were written by Christina Rossetti in the late 1800s. The last line of the hymn goes like this:

“What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” (my italics)

Giving one’s heart means not holding back at all. In the hymn, Rossetti is speaking about what we have to give the Christ child. And even in the midst of our most abject poverty, when we have nothing left to give, we can still give our heart! It is interesting when we reflect on what God gave us. Almighty God could have given in to the desires that spring up from our wildest dreams. But He didn’t; instead, He gave us the most precious thing He had to give: He gave us his Son. He gave us His heart. And with that gift, we are not hopeless.

So, when life seems as bleak as a Pacific Northwest winter, the hope that we who call Jesus Lord and Savior have transcends the bleakness, the dreariness, the hopelessness. And that hope should encourage us to be willing to give our hearts to others. Maybe it’s toward your neighbor; maybe it’s toward a stranger; maybe it’s toward a friend; maybe it’s toward a family member. For many of us, this is all we can give. But it’s the giving of our hearts to others, as God freely did toward us, that helps transform us into the people God created us to be.

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Candlelight

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by Hannah Comerford

You take a candle at the door of the dim church. You stick the candle through the paper circle and hold it underneath, the wax malleable if you grip tightly enough. You clasp it gently, just enough to feel the thinnest residue on your skin.

How hard it is to wait until the last song of the Christmas Eve service to light the wick.

You find a seat in the fourth row of the right section. You leave space on the other side of you for friends who may or may not come.

You don’t need the lyrics to the carols, but you look up at the projected words anyway as you sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” A cello adds an especially mournful note tonight. You sing quietly, your voice lost in the crowd of fifty or so voices.

 O come, O come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear

Your mind doesn’t think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Instead, you think of Elizabeth, her cousin. The one who spent decades of marriage childless, the pity of her village.

Suddenly the words aren’t about the Messiah anymore. In your heart, they’re about Elizabeth’s missing child who never was. The cries of the strings become her cries of mourning as she reaches middle age without conception.

They become the cries of Anna, the prophetess whose husband died in their first short years of happy marriage.

It becomes the cries of the shepherds, living outside with animals, never invited to celebrations, lonely and poor.

It becomes the cries of the Magi, the wise men who longed for a King who would not disappoint them like every person in whom they had trusted.

The song becomes the pain suffered by so many in this well-known story.

And the song becomes every heartbreak and loneliness you’ve known this last long year. 

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel
shall come to thee O Israel
Emmanuel shall come to thee.

And in this you remember that their cries were not just for the missing child, the dead husband, the loneliness of being outcast, the disappointment of failed heroes. Whether or not they realized it, their cries were for a Savior, one who would make “everything sad come untrue.” A Savior who would come.

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

Shall come.

The music ends not on the completion, but on the hope of completion. The last note feels dark and unsettled, begging for the lighter sounds of the refrain, like a fairy tale missing the “happily ever after.”

The song does not recall the end of the story. It does not meet you in the happiness of Christmas morning, but it meets you in the long waiting of Christmas Eve. Like Isaiah, it looks forward to the hope that is yet to be.

You grip your candle tightly as you wait for the chance to light it. You know the time will come. 

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

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One Dark Day in Texas

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director
You may not recognize this wonderful couple, but they are your brother and sister in Christ, Bryan and Karla Holcombe. They and seven other members of their immediate family lost their lives Sunday in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

 

Joe and Claryce Holcombe are retired schoolteachers, now in their 80s, and are living in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sunday they hosted a prayer meeting of nearby pastors and churchgoers at their home as they awaited details about the tragic shooting at the First Baptist Church nearby.

The news wasn’t good. The Holcombes’ only son, Bryan, was Associate Pastor there and was filling in for the church’s pastor that fateful day. As he walked up onto the stage to lead worship, a deranged gunman named Devin Kelley burst into the church sanctuary and began spraying automatic-weapon fire.

Bryan was killed, along with 26 other members of the small congregation. One of them was Bryan’s wife, the Holcombes’ daughter-in-law, Karla. The couple had been married nearly 40 years.

And the bad news didn’t end there. Bryan and Karla had two children (the Holcombes’ grandchildren), Marc Daniel and John. Marc Daniel was also killed. John, who was recording the service from the back, took shrapnel to the leg but survived.

But John’s wife, Crystal—who was pregnant with their sixth child—also died in the hail of bullets, along with her unborn child.

John and Crystal’s other five children were also in the service. Three of them—Emily, Megan, and Greg—were killed in the spree.

Marc Daniel and his wife had one child, Joe and Claryce’s sixth great-grandchild, one-year-old Noah. She, too, was killed in the gunfire, alongside her dad.

Joe and Claryce, a couple who love and trust the Lord, lost nine members of their immediate family in Sunday’s massacre: their only child and his wife; a grandson and the wife of another grandson; and five great-grandchildren, including one yet to be born.

The “family tree” below dramatically illustrates what I have just shared.

The enormity of Joe and Claryce’s loss is truly difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. I was therefore very interested to read what this couple—living a nightmare reminiscent of the heartbreaking tragedy that befell Job’s family thousands of years ago—had to share about their personal loss and tragedy.

“It’s of course going to be difficult,” Joe Holcombe said about the days ahead, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

But he said, “we are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.

“They’re in heaven,” he added. “And they’re a lot better off than we are.”

It Could Happen Here

As I reflected on this tragedy, I was confronted with the stark reality that something like this could easily happen in our own church. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was really no different than we are, and only slightly smaller. They are a church where people learned about Jesus together, worshipped the Lord together, and simply lived life together, much as we do. None of them could have ever foreseen or anticipated the seemingly random violence that would tear through their congregation on this particular Sunday in November.

So, what should our response to all this be? Should we stay home, cower in fear?

Absolutely not! Like the Holcombes, we are Christian. We have read the book. We know how the story ends!

And we also know the Author of the book. He is the one who has told us, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” And, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

We are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, shining God’s glory for all the world to see. And the world is seeing that glory, today, shining through the lives of people such as Joe and Claryce Holcombe and their surviving family members, who have suffered such unspeakable loss but still choose to trust God regardless.

They are truly our brothers and sisters, and we must pray for them—and for one another—during these dark days. For, as the author of Hebrews says, another Day is drawing near!

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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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I Am Not … the Hero!

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By Pastor Martin Schlomer

Over the years some people have given me certain gifts and various “titles.” One couple gave me a Superman cape because they said I projected the image of a caped crusader on a mission to rescue people and save the world! Another individual calls me Father Martin. She says, “I am like a father to Elim.” These tell a story, a perception that I can fix things, make things happen. I can see why.

In January 1994, when I was 33 years old, I flew to the Northwest to interview with Elim for this position of Senior Pastor. I was full of hope and personal expectations that I would do great things for Elim! I was eager to make necessary changes, see the church grow, and reach the lost. The church wanted the same. I believed I could make it happen. (Looking back, there was a lot of personal ego tied to achieving these outcomes!) On February 13, this small congregation cast their votes, and on April 1, 1994, we arrived in Puyallup. Such were the aspirations of a young man who wanted to be the hero.

Over the past 22 years — especially 2015 and 2016 — my Father has shown me that I’m NOT the hero in this story! My limitations have been exposed. My Father has confronted my sinful ego. I am learning to accept that I do not have the power to change a person’s heart with persuasive arguments, to heal a person’s wounds with empathy and prayers, to persuade a person to do what they do not want to do, to raise money, to build new buildings, or even to fix a broken toilet. That’s right: I’m no hero!

The important news is, I’m okay with this now. For me, 2016 was all about trying to let go of ropes that tied me to my dysfunctional expectations.

Seven Priorities for 2017

In 2017, what can you expect from me as your Senior Pastor? What do I hope for in 2017? First, I will work to do my part to shepherd and equip people (through personal growth, prayer, preaching, leading and discipling) to be passionate disciples of Jesus who make passionate disciples of Jesus. Every person has a role to play. Every person is called by Jesus to invest in this one mission: be a disciple who makes disciples. No exceptions! No excuses! We are like rivers of gospel-motivated grace, changing the landscape, not reservoirs where we gather to simply enjoy the company of others to meet our own needs.

Second, I will continue to develop those who are discipling others at Elim. We call them our “Pauls.” We will meet on a quarterly basis to strategize and problem solve issues and challenges they experience as they take on this important role of making disciples.

Third, I will get involved in reaching out to those who are lost in our community. I will do this by becoming a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), working with the Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS). It is my strong desire to bring the heart and hope of our Father to those who are in very dark and desperate circumstances. It is my desire that this will be the heart of Elim as well. For this to happen, I must lead by example.

Fourth, I will work with a team of people who will facilitate a process to help victims of sexual abuse. One in five men and one in three women suffer from the trauma and shame of sexual abuse. It is our desire to help them begin their redemptive journey toward personal health and wholeness.

Fifth, I will continue to partner with Brian Sharpe and our staff, with the Elders and the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), to develop a leadership development pipeline. This development process will apply to all ministries across the board. It will implement the steps a person needs to follow to be developed and coached as a leader. To accomplish this, Elim is a part of a cohort of churches being trained and held accountable to implement this process. It is an exciting, yet challenging, yearlong development process.

Sixth, I will step back from working with the Stewardship Team and empower them to take a more proactive approach not just to monitor Elim’s finances, but also to communicate with the congregation our financial position and strategize how to meet Elim’s future financial needs, especially regarding our campus needs. At some point, soon, Elim must replace the building known as the “Youth House,” which is also used for MOPs and Oasis Kids. It gets a lot of use, even though it is well past its original intended end-of-life date.

And finally, I will step back from overseeing property and build a team of people to oversee and care for our facilities and landscaping. We need people to prune, weed, trim bushes, clean gutters, mow grass, etc. There is no shortage of opportunities for people to serve, even just a couple of hours every month. How we care for our property is an indication of how much we value what we do on this strategic corner for the 50,000+ people who drive by daily.

Four Things I Hope for From You

In 2017, what do I expect from those who consider Elim to be their church home?

First, join in this journey of growing as a passionate follower of Jesus who nurtures passionate followers of Jesus. (Be a disciple who makes disciples!) Jesus has a fierce commitment to our joining Him on this transformational journey.

Second, ask our Father to develop your heart to reach out to those who are lost. I hope that we will hear you tell your stories of how our Father is using you to influence the landscape of another person’s life.

Third, use the talents our Father has given you to serve the needs of His Church, both within these walls and beyond. The heart of Jesus is not that we will be served, but that we will serve others.

Fourth, give generously to meet the needs and commitments of this Body so that we might fulfill our purpose to nurture passionate followers of Jesus who nurture passionate followers of Jesus in South Hill and beyond.

I close with what I shared on Sunday morning, January 15, 2017. Jesus didn’t come to live the life of a servant, die the death of a savior, rise from the dead as a victor, and indwell us with the power of His Holy Spirit, all so that we might just GO TO CHURCH! He lived the life of a servant, died the death of a savior, rose from the dead as a victor, and indwells us with the power of His Holy Spirit SO THAT we might BE THE CHURCH! Amen?

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