One Dark Day in Texas

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By Larry Short
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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Great Expectations

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By Jeff Foerster

My expected delivery of a short treatise on how the philosophy behind Star Wars has infiltrated the Christian church has been pushed back past its opening date. This coming polemic will simply have to wait, as I myself uncovered, and will here reveal, something simpler and much greater: hope. In this age of Islamic terrorism, economic instability, and frequent natural disaster, hope has by many been relegated to the category of “four-letter word.”

You may not be able to accomplish all that you ever dreamed, but you will be able to accomplish all that God has planned for you! He knows the end from the beginning and knows you better than yourself. He has plans that are greater than you can imagine or could ever craft if you had a thousand years for planning and another thousand to execute; but, do you believe this? Will you trust that being the servant of all here on Earth can lead to greatness for eternity? (Luke 9:48, 22:26-27)

I tell you these words with truth, but true hope does not originate with me; neither does it come from you. This is good news! Being a hope-filled person doesn’t require boundless energy, nor a gregarious personality brimming with enthusiasm. It doesn’t require me to listen daily to talks from motivational speakers or to make lists of happy things. I am not the source. Nor are you. God alone is the source of all hope, for hope requires promise, and promise requires power to fulfill it; He alone is able.

JeffLastWordI have hope because of Jesus. I have hope because our Savior was promised from days of old. I have hope because Jesus lived a life bent not on His own glory, but to seek and to save the lost, declaring the great news of the Father He was sent to deliver. I have hope because Christ despised the cross, but went willingly, becoming a slave to the will of the Father. I have hope because He died, showering the ground with His blood in order to shower me with forgiveness and mercy. I have hope because Messiah rose from the dead so that you and I could have life eternally! I have hope because Jesus is coming back again for all those who love Him. I have hope because heaven and earth will one day become one as God makes His dwelling among men forever and ever, amen!

I wanted to stop writing there. I wanted to end with an exclamation point, and where do we go from here? But “go” we must. Inspiration without action is futility; it is a love song never given voice.

Just as thankfulness is a choice, so too, embracing hope requires the will. Hope requires bending the will to focus on what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1), Living in hope is faithfulness of the heart. It requires an attitude, a pathway of conscious decisions to divide thoughts into two camps, those that please Christ and those that should be crushed, bound, and burned.

How do we “choose” hope? Again, hope is not all butterflies and lollipops and Cheshire smiles. It is lived out among struggles, and difficulties, and sorrows. It requires a firm adherence to the truth, and a reliance upon God to administer it with integrity. Choosing hope announces the unstoppable power of our Creator and affirms the loving-kindness and persistence found in His grace.

It is a choice – a choice to see the day not as a set of circumstances with dictates defining reality, but as a series of opportunities to express thankfulness, trust in His promises, and take action in steps small and large. If you find yourself staring into broken circumstances and listening to voices telling you, “It doesn’t matter …” or, “No one will know …”, or “How many times do I have to …?” At that point recall the words of God, what he has said about you and His promises for you: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). In addition, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). God has plans for us, for good, and we can demonstrate our faith in Him and hope in these promises.

Choose obedience like Abraham did. He was a man who “went forth” from everything known when God called him to do so. Now, God has not called all to travel to unknown lands or to sell all that they own and give to the poor, but He has called each of us to obedience to the clear commands of Scripture. Allow me to engage you in two practical steps:

  1. Pray for God to reveal His commands as you read the Scriptures. Pray for His power to obey those commands He lays upon your heart by your eyes and through your ears.
  2. Refresh your view of the Ten Commandments as Jesus describes them -asking God how you might step out in faith to obey from the heart, honoring God when no one else may know, when you don’t see a reward on the horizon, save for pursuing a closer relationship with the Almighty, even if you’re not sure how obedience and trust work together toward that end.

Embrace obedience for sure, but above all know your Bible and keep your eyes and heart fixed upon our Savior (Hebrews 12:2). May your adoration forever be poured out to the One who loved you before the foundations of the world!

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The Last Word I Didn’t Want to Write!

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By Martin Schlomer

“Overwhelmed” describes my emotions this week. There are no easy outs to the painful dilemmas many people we know are facing. Their only option is to endure. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just neither easy nor pleasant.

Our lives are both fragile and short. I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but they are. James said that this life is like a vapor; here today and gone tomorrow (James 4.14-15). How often do we ask, “Where has the time gone?” Honestly, this truth is unsettling! Why? I realize that I make a big deal over this very short earthly existence. This is not unreasonable. This reality is all I’ve experienced. Therefore, it seems reasonable to make a big deal over it, to hang on and fight for it.

However, there is another perspective, which I am trying to bring into my experience. This is the hope and reality of eternity. Instead of making a big deal over a very short and fragile period of time—70 years if we are fortunate—I want to loosen my grip on the here and now and make a big deal over our eternal existence. Eternity will never end! This is what counts! Preparing for this reality and living in light of this truth is the big deal! Without this perspective we easily lose hope.

At Elim, we enjoy the presence of those who are confronted with these painful realities of their immortality. Nancy and Doug Ide, to mention just two, are right there as they continue to fight the cancer in Nancy’s body through prayer and medicine. As they fight this battle, one can easily despair. However, as I pray for her I ask God, in addition to her healing, to overwhelm and speak to them with His presence—through His Holy Spirit—in a way that surpasses what human words can accomplish. This is what is happening! Nancy continues to hold onto Jesus as He holds onto her! While her circumstances are difficult, her peace is compelling! I want that kind of peace!

Please, continue to pray for Doug and Nancy along with Bethany, Taylor, Brian, and Andrew and his wife, Micha. Pray that God will meet them in this sacred time in those places words cannot touch!

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. — 1 Peter 1:3-8

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Turn your eyes upon Jesus

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by Jeff Foerster

Turn your eyes upon Jesus…

…and the things of earth will grow strangely dim.

From the beginning of the Bible to the end, it is all about Jesus and the wonderful love of the Father in Him. The Scriptures are soaked in pictures of Jesus the coming King, Messiah, Redeemer of the lost! He is the Seed that would crush Satan’s head. He’s pictured in Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High.

He’s foreshadowed in the account of Abraham and Isaac, his “one and only son”. Representing a type of Christ, Joseph, when in prison, alongside the baker (bread) and the cupbearer (wine) echoed beforehand the words of Jesus at the last supper, as Joseph asked them to, “Remember him”.

Mike this past Sunday led us in another look at Judges 11 and Jephthah’s sacrifice, once again bringing us back to the cross of Christ. Jesus is the Rock in the wilderness, struck and from whom flowed life-giving waters.

As the details of this life disappoint, use that gift to turn to Jesus. I urge you, I implore you, I beg of you; turn your eyes upon Jesus. As you become engrossed and enamored with God’s magnificent and abundant love for you, live the final lyrics of the song:

“Then go to a world that is dying,

His perfect salvation to tell!”

This is my hope for you. This is my only hope.

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