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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Do They Know?

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By Tom Chase

This past month a man whom I have done engineering work for over the years passed away. After the initial shock of his passing (he was a man about my age, a young man right?), the first questions that came to my mind were, “Did he know Christ?” and, “What is his eternal destination?” I asked around our office to others who worked with him, others who had opportunity to know the answer to these questions, perhaps who had been bolder than me. No one seemed to know for sure. Yes, he had been a “nice” guy … very friendly … but what about Christ in his life? I went to his memorial service hoping to find out that yes he knew Christ, but sadly, no … no indication of that. There was simply the speaking of a life well lived and hopeful wishing about the future. I went home rather sad.

“Do They Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman

I’m one of the chosen few
God chose to carry to
A hopeless and dying world
Good News
I’m a disciple of
A caring Father’s love
A light to the world
To show them the way.

Do they know
Can they see
Jesus lives in me
Do they know
Can they see
Jesus lives in me

A vacant house comes alive
When somebody moves inside
A light in the window means somebody’s home
I say Jesus lives in me
But can everybody see
The light of His love that shines in my heart

Do they know
Can they see
Jesus lives in me
Do they know
Can they see
Jesus lives in me

A cloud of witnesses surrounds us
Who long to share what we’ve received
Tell me where will they see Jesus
If not in you and me.

So we must let them know
Let them see Jesus lives in you and me
Let them know, let them see
He is all they need
Jesus is all we need.

I am challenged by all this. Peter’s call to the church, found in 1 Peter 3:15-16, resonates with me:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

There is so much, here but one thing that stands out to me is that people will ask. They will ask about the hope we have as believers. If they are not asking, I have to ask, “Why?” Perhaps the answer lies in the context. The context of this call to be ready (and being asked) is a life lived in a different way (see below):

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.'”

(1 Peter 3:8-14)

My prayer for me is that the Gospel will continue; that in a fresh, new way it would change who I am so I can live in such a way that people will ask; and that in the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead I will invest the time necessary to better answer the questions people will have about the nature and character of the God whom I serve.

May it be so!

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The book of love

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By Jeff Foerster

The pastor said, “Turn in your Bibles to the book of love.”  Pages were turned to the Psalms while some chose the Song of Solomon. Others found themselves preferring Philippians or Ephesians, and still others moved on to 1 Corinthians in anticipation of a sermon on chapter 13.

As the pastor began to read from the beginning of the book, he spoke these words: “Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel…’” Upon hearing many low-intoned voices he understood there was confusion among the people. “I’m sorry,” he returned, “Turn in your Bibles to the book of Leviticus.”

It is here in the third book of the Law that we find God’s proclamation of His great love. Wait. Isn’t this where we find rules and regulations concerning grain offerings, burnt offerings, peace offerings, and sin offerings? Isn’t this also where we find details on parts of the animals offered, such as the kidney, fat tail, fat-covered entrails, lobes of liver, blood, breast, and thigh? Do we not also read of the intimate anatomy of both male and female alike, concerning their cleanliness, or the uncleanness of those with “raw flesh,” boils, scales, and leprous marks? These images don’t conjure up amorous thoughts or feelings. They don’t inspire me to write a poem or sing a song to a loved one.

However, just as God was not in the strong wind, earthquake, or fire before Elijah during his days of confusion, the LORD speaks to us likewise here with a gentle blowing and a whisper for those who listen. Throughout Leviticus God weaves in the Gospel message, 1,500 years before the breeze of the Spirit came and quietly placed our Savior in the womb of a young girl named Mary.

We are given a glimpse of our sin nature through “unintentional sin” (4:2-3). Romans 3:10, itself a reaffirmation of Old Testament writings, is brought to mind here. Gently we are shown our need for confession (5:5) and graciously we are brought the solution (atonement through sacrifice) for our sin. We didn’t go seeking after it, yet He came seeking after us, instructing, guiding, loving.

He provided a way for us to be in His presence (9:4). Carefully crafting and designing, the Father lays out the requirements for sacrifice (3:1), echoing into the future, “Jesus…Jesus.” Our perpetual need for this Savior is seen glowing in the firelight (6:13).

God deepens our gaze, giving a foretaste of the coming transfer of sin from the guilty to the One being sacrificed (16:21 and chapters 3-4), and the expiation (taking away) of those sins far from us (16:21 and 14:7).

My heart is heavy as I read of the blood of sacrifice being poured at the base of the altar (4:7 and 9:8) and realizing that God’s perfect sacrifice, His beloved Son, would do the same, pouring out his sacrificial blood at the base of His altar, pooling below, covering the dirt, reflecting the final cry, “It is finished!”

Rejoicing, I can see a foreshadowing of the empty tomb on the third day (7:17). He has done it! Carefully, patiently, intricately our God revealed to us our need and His wonderful solution, whispered to us, in advance, in the Gospel of Leviticus.

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The danger of ‘false conversions’

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By Larry Short

In a new book by Vince and Lori Williams, Falsified: The Danger of False Conversions, the issue of how some modern-day churches (many of them classifying themselves as “seeker-sensitive”) water-down the Gospel message is tackled. (Christian Post has a good review of this book.)

The Williamses’ thesis is that a one-sided view of conversion as simply expressing a belief in Christ, as promulgated by many churches, has led to a high number of converts who have missed the key truth that conversion also involves repentance (turning from sin, to God).

In other words, Jesus not only provides complete forgiveness from sin (available to us as we believe in His grace), but also the power to live a changed life (available to us as we cast our lot with God in dependence on His Holy Spirit).

As a child, I clearly remember being told that the way to be saved was simply to believe. Romans 10:9 was frequently quoted: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So true. And yet, Scripture clearly indicates that there are different kinds of “belief.” There is, for instance, the kind that fallen angels have: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” James 2:19 would seem to indicate that mere “theological” belief is not the type of belief that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9.

But then there is the kind of belief that John the Baptist spoke about in Mark 1:15, when he said: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

When the time comes for true conversion, wholesale change, the first step is repentance.

There is also the faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter 11, as he recounts Old Testament heroes whose belief drove them to obey God, to seek to please God, to take risks for God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died” (verse 13). Faith wasn’t simply a theological expression of belief. It was a way of life, of changed life.

Such belief (in the good news of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness) must be coupled with repentance. For salvation is not merely “fire insurance” designed for some life hereafter, in the sweet bye-and-bye. A biblical view of eternal life shows that it begins in the here and now. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” He wasn’t simply talking about Heaven in that verse. He was speaking of conversion, the life that He purchased, that He desires us to have, from this point onward: forgiven, free, cleansed, pure, and holy. Not just holy, but also wholly … wholly owned by God.

This is not to say that the hope for Heaven, for a life far better than the one we can have here on this fallen earth, is not a key part of the believer’s sustenance. But the “fire insurance” view of salvation, which says, “Heaven is the only thing that matters,” is as out-of-balance as its opposite, the view that God’s kingdom will only exist here on this earth. The statement that eternity begins now is true in so many ways; life after death must logically be a continuum from life before death.

A scriptural view of the saved person demands that their life bears evidence of their conversion. In John 15:16 Jesus told His disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” And in Romans 7:4 Paul wrote: “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” As Jesus said, in Matthew 12:33, “A tree is recognized by its fruit.”

Many agree that “false conversions” have indeed compromised and corrupted many in our modern-day churches, causing many to live with a false sense of security, believing that they can live however they want (living for themselves rather than for Christ) here on earth since they are “guaranteed” entry into heaven. One has to wonder if Christ won’t say to such people, when they cry out, “Lord, Lord!” in the day of judgment: “Depart from Me … I never knew you!”

How about you? Do you simply “believe the right things” (theologically speaking)? Or have you truly repented of the sin that drove Christ to the cross? Have you turned away from your dead life, toward the new life that Christ offers? Does the fruit borne in your life bear evidence of the seed planted in your heart?

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On the Gospel

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by Brian Sharpe

New Years always brings about great time for reflection. Stan preached on a passage last Sunday where we could reflect on the message that Paul brought to the Corinthians. This message was described as a message “of first importance.” Paul brought the people of Corinth back to the Gospel, helping them remember the message of the Gospel. What I would ask you to reflect on is: who brought the Gospel to you?

We can read biographies or autobiographies of great missionaries like Hudson Taylor or Jim Elliot, but what we fail to remember is that we had missionaries bringing Jesus to us. Missionaries are people who are sent with a message to share. God has made us all missionaries. We need to be on mission sharing the message we were given. This message may have been brought to by your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. It may have been friends or a pastor. It doesn’t matter who it was, it just matters that the message of the Gospel was brought to you. It was given as a gift from God to you.

Is the message that was brought by Paul to Corinth … the message that was brought to you by the missionary who taught it to you … as important to you as it should be? Is it a message that you live by and share or just a message that has helped and changed you? It is important to recognize that God built his church by word of mouth. He did not build it through large programs. He built it by his people loving him so much that all they could do is share him with everyone they knew. This is what we want to be about at Elim. We want to be a body that is so in love with Jesus that all we can do is by word and deed share Jesus with everyone in our sphere of influence.

This leads me to a couple of closing questions:

  1. Who shared Jesus with you … and what would your life look like if they had kept their mouth shut?
  2. How did they share Jesus with you?
  3. When was the last time you shared the Gospel with someone with your words?
  4. Who is in your sphere of influence that you can share Jesus with?
  5. What is stopping you?

Answer these questions and share your answers with someone. Elim is here to help people know God, grow together in Christ and go and serve South Hill and beyond. Join us on this Gospel journey and share Jesus with everyone you know!

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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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