How did this become the norm?

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By Brian Sharpe

My wife and I have norms in our marriage, parenting, and extended-family lives. We all have norms. These norms sometimes collide when we first get married or we take on roommates or even when dating someone.

Tomina and I started one norm early in our marriage because it was needed, but it hinders us now—our sleeping habits. When Tomina and I were first married, I was still in school. She worked full-time; I was a full-time student and worked part-time at a church. Tomina was as a waitress at Applebee’s. She would work from 3 p.m. until closing many nights of the week. I generally had classes in the morning and then worked at the church as needed.

When Tomina and I were first home from our honeymoon, she made the statement, “We will go to bed at the same time!” I didn’t question this statement. In her family, her parents went to bed at different times, and she wanted to change that norm. So, we agreed to go to bed at the same time. This was a great idea. The problem was, she would get home at midnight to 2:00 a.m. every night she worked. This meant that I was staying up until then to wait for her to come home. Then we would catch up on the day and go to bed. I would then get up a couple hours later and go to school. I would take naps, but it started a norm in our marriage. We were both naturally night people, but that was further solidified by our schedule. This is a norm that I have had a hard time breaking, even now that I am 40.

We all have norms. Every relationship has them. Unfortunately, they can be seen as ruts. Over the years, Tomina and I have had hard conversations about the norms in our marriage. We have talked a lot about how to love each other well. It is easy to settle into patterns and then coast on autopilot. The problem with this is that it can turn into complacency, and it can ultimately lead to a lack of intentionality. Now, this isn’t the intention of norms, but it is often the outcome.

This idea of norms affects even our relationship with God. A norm may be that when I am scared or in trouble, I run to God. That isn’t a bad norm, unless that’s the only time you run to God.

A norm could be that I go to church every week. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we understand why we go to church. We go to church to connect with God and other believers for mutual encouragement and growth. The book of Hebrews says we go to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

A norm may be that we read our Bible when we think about it or when we schedule it. This is a good norm, as long as it makes it on the schedule. A norm that we don’t want to talk about is the norm of not spending time with God in the studying his Word. That’s the downside of norms: we may create a norm in which God is only part of our lives when we are at church or when we are around people of faith, but not in our everyday life. This is a huge problem, because if we love God and are followers of God, we will spend time with God in some fashion or another in our everyday lives. We need to make sure that being with God and cultivating our relationship with Him is a norm in our life.

The other part of this is, if we have kids or are speaking into kids’ lives, we need to help them know the “why” of what we are doing to cultivate our relationship with God. First-generation Christians are excited to get to know God. Second-generation Christians get to hear the stories of what God has done with the first-generation Christian. But for third-generation Christians, being a Christian is normal to them, so they lose sight of why we do things, and in forgetting the reason, the practices become less important.

We need to stop and take inventory of the norms in our life. Our character qualities sometimes become the norm; for example, I am an angry or stubborn person. We need to evaluate these norms and make sure that we are reflecting Jesus in our marriages, parenting, friendships, and work. We need to make sure we are passing down reasoning for our norms for future generations to understand them.

What are the norms in your life? Are they what you want them to be? Are they a reflection of who Christ is calling us to be?

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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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Effective Community Groups “Live Life in Proximity”

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By Larry Short

This is the fourth in a series of seven posts on guiding principles for Community Groups at Elim. To read all seven principles together, please click here.

This one is difficult . . . but inescapable. Our fourth principle is:

In the most effective groups, people “live life in proximity.” That means they spend a lot of time together. They get to know each other beneath the surface. An effective group is a lot like a village. They don’t simply come together for “yet another meeting” one, two, or four times a month; rather, they truly live their lives together, in many contexts beyond simply a regularly scheduled group meeting. They stay connected. That’s what creates community. We will encourage this among Elim groups.

For the past 15 years, Darlene and I have poured ourselves into Elim’s young adults group, known as “Pulse.” At times Pulse has had three events each week, so the bar is set quite high. In addition to our formal get-togethers, we’ve found many of our group members do things together with other group members outside of the normal group meetings. They have game nights and various adventures together. They go hiking. They simply hang out. And what we’ve discovered is that the more time we spend together, the better we are able to effectively enfold group members into the life of the church.

Our model for this is Christ’s interaction with His disciples. If you think about it, there are a lot of different ways He could have related to the disciples. He could have organized them into a loose association, a group that met together monthly (or perhaps even weekly) to discuss discipleship stuff.

But no! He chose to live life WITH His disciples—in proximity. Where he went, they went. They left their jobs behind. Their families went with them, or perhaps in some cases they even left homes and families behind. The three years they spent with the Messiah was an all-or-nothing commitment. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Now, that’s a pretty hard saying! But it was very important to Jesus for His disciples to be ALL IN. After all, ultimately, they would be asked to lay down their lives! Better get used to the idea of your life not being your own.

Frankly, the bar is often set way too low in many small groups. They may meet monthly or every other week. They may dismiss for the summer. Nothing is wrong with these things, inherently, but we intend to challenge groups at Elim to aspire to something higher. There is a certain power in being WITH other believers, in living life in proximity, and in experiencing life together

Please join us in prayer for Elim’s group leaders, as we meet this Sunday after worship to fellowship and share both joys and challenges. For more information, please email me at LarryShort at Gmail dot com.

Next in this series: The most effective Community Groups seek to be both intergenerational as well as focusing on life-stage affinity.

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Relationships That Are Worth Having

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By Jim DeAngelo

A brief word on my experience and growth in sharing my front and back stage with others. The process for me was long and involved.

I wish my historical lack of sharing was because I found no one of sufficient character to fit this position in my life or that I had no close friends to encourage me. Neither of these were true. What has happened to me has occurred over a period of time. I had to see myself for who I was: a person with many flaws who could only grow in my walk and character through the work of the cross. This had to go beyond an intellectual exercise. I had to understand in my heart that who Christ said I was, is, in fact, who I am. That it was okay if others accepted me or not and I could lose the fear that if they knew me, they would then reject me. That I needed to show myself better than I really was.

I found that protecting myself was more important than the risk of rejection. What I didn’t understand was that to risk rejection was the first step to real relationships with those who would make a difference in my life. The kind I wanted to talk into my life and I into theirs. We all have blind spots. The areas I was afraid to share, I already knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to change, but I wasn’t sure how to let Him. The areas I didn’t know were even more important. I was protective of myself and, therefore, not honest with myself.

The best prayers I have ever prayed were to ask God to change me to be the best husband, father, grandfather, friend, and follower of Christ I could be. I asked God to show me how to change. Through these prayers, God opened my heart to the change process and the work of the cross. I found a new, changed heart and could share the real me with the appropriate individuals, and the transformation has accelerated. Without this sharing, my progress was much slower. I now find myself in relationships that shared with me and I with them, and I understand more and more what it means to have a closer walk with God.

Some of this learning has been a process. When I am afraid for any reason, I ask God for help to change me to meet this challenge. I never ask God to remove the source of the problem; we are to be overcomers, not avoiders. Removing pretense (fear of sharing my story) is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. This has removed the fear of rejection and allowed me to pray and share with integrity and with pure motives. It is no longer about me. My knowledge, trust, acceptance, and assurance in Christ have grown significantly (though I have a lot more learning yet to come). I have significant friends and individuals in my life who are enriching me in ways I could not even have imagined a few years ago.

Start the process today and pray for God’s help in your life to be who He designed you to be. Expect it, anticipate it, trust in God and His word about who you are. Find those who can share with you about our walk with Christ and our walk with each other.

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People are Hard Work

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By Dan Amos

“Community is an Elim strength, but there’s much more to do as many are lonely and hurting, leadership included.” Pastor Martin introduced the current sermon miniseries on relationships with this statement, which was the last sentence of the Elder input to the annual report a couple years ago. The input was generally positive, pointing out where we had moved forward with personnel, property, and programs. But it didn’t seem right to present a positive report when people reading it might be thinking, “Yeah, but I’m lonely and hurting.” And that very thought had just been expressed by several in leadership at a retreat that fall, me included. So I tagged on the incongruous statement as an acknowledgement of need, of an area where we need to grow.

Relationships aren’t easy, and they take effort. We, collectively, have a responsibility to be open to new relationships. Every relationship won’t be of the deep friendship variety. We are too different, with different interests, backgrounds, and baggage, for us to expect all to be at the same level. Even Jesus concentrated his time on a few of the twelve who were chosen out of the many. And beyond our community responsibility we have individual responsibilities.

Relationships take time. Acquaintance relationships don’t take a lot of effort, but they also aren’t particularly fulfilling. Deeper relationships can be fulfilling, but they take a significant investment of time and, because of the finite nature of earthly time, we are limited in how many we can deeply invest in. My circumstances then and since have limited my time and energy, and I have made choices that have limited my investment in these deeper relationships. The result is that at times I have been lonely and hurting. I know what the solution is, but I have to choose to implement it.

And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. – 1 Thessalonians 4:10

Relationships aren’t about me. Most of you know I go to the men’s retreats infrequently. A lot of men love them and come back refreshed and rejuvenated; for me, they are work. Several years ago I was having lunch with some people and an impertinent young man asked if I was going that year. I said, “No.”

He countered with “Sometimes it’s not about you,” and explained that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to because we can’t be in community when we don’t. I had no wiggle room and went to the retreat that year. I’ll go again, too, just not every year, and that whippersnapper is now our Associate Pastor.

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. – Proverbs 13:10

Relationships are with imperfect people. If you get to know me, I can almost guarantee I will let you down and you will do something that rubs me wrong. That’s just the nature of who we are. I have stuff going on in my back story and you have stuff in yours. We don’t always have that in mind when we process our interactions with each other. I am under stress at work, which none of you see because we don’t work together, and I’m not very good at leaving that stress behind when I do see you. That is just one thing I carry that affects how I act and react. My strongest relationships will be with those who can look through the stupid things I do or say, who are in a position to speak wisdom into my life, or who just love me anyway.

A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. – Proverbs 19:11

Relationships take work: A simple search of Proverbs on relationships yields a wealth of simple but profound wisdom that often comes down to loving others more than yourself: listen more, forgive repeatedly, speak less, be kind, value the eternal over the temporal, discern foolishness, accept wise counsel, avoid quarreling. There are things that are incumbent on us in building relationships. Though they are simple, they are often difficult.

I have to take responsibility for my part in my relationships. When relationships fail or don’t go to the next level, there is rarely a one-sided reason. It’s not all about the other person; when they fail, I have to look at my part in why they failed … and do something about it.

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