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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Worship and the Best Fruit Salad

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By Nate Champneys

If you ask 10 different people the question, “What makes a good fruit salad?” you will undoubtedly get 10 different answers. “Oh, I love banana in mine!” “No, I hate bananas! You have to have blueberries!” “You have to have Miracle Whip in it!” “No, I can’t stand Miracle Whip!” And so on.

I know, because I asked this question at the last extended-family dinner we had together. But, in order for you to have a good time with your family during a meal, must everyone agree on the contents of the fruit salad? Probably not.

I like to compare worship to a fruit salad. What is “good worship” to you? What are the circumstances under which you are able to most easily connect with God? The answer to this question may be very different, depending on who you ask.

I recently was privileged to represent Elim at the Evangelical Free Church of America worship leaders’ gathering at EFCA headquarters in Minneapolis. It was such an amazing time for so many reasons, but one of my favorite things was being able to worship together with other worship leaders from across the country. It could have been my least favorite part, if God hadn’t helped me get out of my own way in connecting with Him.

As we started the gathering, there were about 30 of us in the room, with a group of musicians and singers up front leading. They handed us a booklet containing a liturgy of readings and songs. Sadly, an attitude of disappointment began to form within me. At Elim, we tend to not do a lot of traditional, liturgical things in our worship, so it’s something that I’m not used to. Thus, when they handed me the book, I was skeptical.

The guy who was leading the worship time began to play and sing, and I immediately began thinking critical thoughts. It can be very hard for me when I am at another church or at a concert to focus on anything other than the tech they are using or what chords they are playing, because I deal with all those things on a daily basis.

But at that moment it was as if God said to me, “Nathan, will you stop? Stop critiquing. Stop focusing on all the instruments. Stop focusing on the everything but Me, and just be with Me in this time. Just be with Me!” And at that moment I let go of all the analysis and the critique and merely began to simply be.

What followed was one of the sweetest times of worship I have ever experienced in my life. The funny thing is, the ambience of the room was still not ideal. The flourescent lights were very bright. The sound wasn’t perfect. The instrumentalists made a few mistakes here and there. The songs were not even all songs I knew, nor were they particularly my favorites … BUT, it didn’t matter. Because I was with Jesus!

I have been asking the question, “What is worship and what are we really doing here?” God has continued to break out of the box that I’ve put Him in. I have realized that the biggest barrier between us and a close, intimate time with God is not the lighting, the music, the strength of the vocalists, or the volume level. Instead, it is what I see when I look in the mirror. Me! I have heard the phrase, “We should be able to worship God no matter what the music is like.” It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s much more difficult to follow. I have said it myself. But I don’t think I really believed it.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about the heart we are to have. He says, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We will never have the same passions or the same preferences, but we can have one mind, as Paul says. We can have a mindset of selflessness and the heart of a servant. We may not agree on what is the best style of music or what color the lights should be, or even what songs to sing, but we do agree that Jesus is worthy of praise, that He is the object of our praise and that He modeled humility and selflessness to us and has asked us to follow Him.

So I challenge you, the next time you’re in a corporate worship time and you find yourself thinking negatively about the songs, the music, or the lighting, ask Jesus, “Lord will You help me to just be with You, worship You, and let my heart honor You during this time?”

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

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Staying Connected

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By Jim DeAngelo

With the summer in full swing, kids out of school, and family vacations abounding, we set out on our annual 4th of July extended family vacation. This year we went to the lake rather than the beach and spent seven days in the sun. During these trips, we get the chance to connect with our adult children, their spouses, grandchildren, and the friends they bring along.

These times can be stressful with all the activity, changed environments, hard beds, sore muscles, late nights. Old conflicts can surface, and, if given a chance, they can damage our relationships rather than renew them. We have a choice on how we provide an environment for renewal. We need to ask ourselves if we remembered to bring Jesus on the trip.

I struggle with being who God designed me to be if I don’t spend my daily personal time with Him. Spending quality time first thing in the morning works best for me. When I make God the priority and put Jesus on the throne of my life, I find that I can be the patient, understanding, helpful, loving servant I am called to be. When I am who God designed me to be, being the leader, the whole family does better and we connect and share in a much deeper way. When I fail to lead, the connections become more about the activities instead of the relationships we have with each other. The enemy can get an opening and conflicts can surface.

Having fun and doing exciting activities is great. Most of us desire adventure and change from the routine. Yet what I remember most about these times together are the connections and time we spend in loving each other. These are what I think about when I recall my time spent on vacation. And it’s only through Christ that I’ve found it possible to do this in a meaningful way.

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Suffering

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By Tomina Sharpe

As I have processed through the news this week of my dear friend Nancy’s worsening cancer, I have really been in turmoil. I know that in light of eternity it is not going to matter to me whether I lived on this earth 1 year or 100 years. The number of years that any of us has on this earth is completely up to God and His sovereign plan.  If God chooses now to take Nancy at the young age of 49, I can accept that as His plan, even though it is not what I or anyone else would choose.

What my mind has been in turmoil about and unable to accept has been seeing my friend’s pain and suffering and knowing the pain and suffering that her family is experiencing. Cancer is a horrendous disease that was never God’s intention for anyone to experience. Over the years I have seen this disease in action from afar. It has come closer to home for me recently as I have watched Nancy go through it and as I watched my grandfather die from it in February. Cancer is horrific and the pain goes on and on over long periods of time.

As I was thinking about this today, my mind went to the pain that Jesus suffered on the cross and I questioned for a while whether even Jesus suffered as much as I see those with cancer suffering. Jesus’ pain lasted a matter of days while those with cancer can suffer for years. I felt almost blasphemous even thinking the thought that someone else suffered more than Jesus. But then it hit me. The physical suffering that Jesus went through, while horrible, was nothing compared to the suffering that He went through when he took our sin upon Himself and the Father turned His back on Him.

We measure our life through the lens of time, but I don’t know that Jesus experienced this suffering within the framework of time. I cannot comprehend the suffering that my friend Nancy is going through and I pray I will never experience that suffering myself to understand it. But I know that nobody on this earth has ever experienced anything close to the suffering that Jesus felt on the cross when He took our sin upon Himself and the Father turned His back upon our Savior. This brings me to my knees before my Jesus and I can only weep at the love that He must have for me and for the whole world to willingly endure this.

As I see those around me that have suffering forced upon them through cancer or loss, I have to remember that Jesus didn’t have suffering forced upon Him. He chose it. He chose it out of love. Whatever suffering I may experience on this earth can only serve to remind me of the suffering that He experienced on my behalf. While I would never willingly choose to experience suffering such as my friend Nancy is experiencing, there is one joy that she is experiencing that I never may. She has a much more intimate knowledge of pain and suffering which gives her a deeper knowledge of the love that Jesus had in order to choose to suffer for us, a love so great that our minds will never be able to come close to wrapping around.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
LOVE SO AMAZING, SO DIVINE
DEMANDS MY SOUL, MY LIFE, MY ALL

O, the wonderful cross
O, the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find
That I may truly live
O, the wonderful cross
O, the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace
Draw near and bless Your name

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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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Spinning out of control

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by Jeff Foerster

Wings spread wide. Whirling and swirling. Nothing within grasp. Three choices were before me: Do nothing and watch. Hasten its demise. Save. I reached down and the moth pressed into me as it made another rotation in the water. I lifted it from its watery mess.

I don’t know exactly what incited me to keep this tiny creature, whose relatives I have quite frankly often viewed as pests, from drowning. I placed it on dry ground and watched as it stretched each weary leg slowly outward and away from the churning water. On its own it would not have ended well.

That’s when it hit me – no, not the moth. It was Jesus. I realized I had been the one twirling to and fro, grasping at many things, but securing nothing. But God reached down, gently, until I pressed into Him. He lifted me from the mess.

Think back to what your life was like before Jesus. Thank Him. Praise Him. Recall and recount the ways He has changed you. He is not through with you, and no one is beyond His reach.

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