Power of Proximity x 2

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By Martin Schlomer, Senior Pastor

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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Two Stories

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By Brian Sharpe

The older I get, the more I think in terms of story. All of us have a story. In some ways, we have two stories: we have our story and we have God’s story. I think the people with the most integrity understand how those stories coalesce and work together. Let me unpack this for you.

I am the youngest of four, and that shapes my story. My dad was a pastor, and that shapes my story. I moved when I was 16 to a state where I knew no one and had to start over in life, which shapes my story. I have had some wins and I have had some losses, and that shapes my story.

Every experience I have shapes how I look at life. This is normal and natural. The problem comes when the experiences that I have in life trump what God says is true. Over the years, I have had some experiences in my life that were so painful that I could have let them trump what God says. I have had instances in my life where I have made the wrong choice and consequently felt unloved. I could sit there and believe that I am unloved. I could listen to my experience and let that shape how I feel and ultimately react. Or I can trust what I know to be true from Scripture. God says that I am deeply loved, that His love for me is not based on what I do, but is based on Him and what He has chosen to do.

We have all had experiences that were not of our choosing. It could be that we were wronged severely, or it could be that, because we live in a fallen world, death came too early for a loved one. It could be because of a divorce or an abusive situation. All these situations are not what we would have chosen, but they happened. All these situations shape our stories. The question is, are we allowing these negative events in our lives to control the main narrative of our story? We cannot change these events, but we can limit the control these events exercise in our story by allowing God’s narrative to shape and to be on the forefront of our story, not in the background.

I see way too many people who allow real circumstances, feelings, and consequences to have too much control. Instead, I want Jesus and what He says to take control. He can forgive the past, and so can I. He can heal a wounded heart, so I need to trust Him in that. He can take my mistakes and the things done to me to bring glory and honor to His name. We need to receive what Jesus is giving us. We need to receive that He is making us whole, that He can make us whole in this broken, messed-up world. We have two stories, and my prayer is that we yield to God’s story and His narrative and let His narrative shape us more than our own. It is hard, but it is so worth it!

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“Nothing is Wasted”

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By Brian Sharpe

One of my more formative experiences in high school was moving. I was in the middle of my freshman year when my parents came to me and told me that we would be moving from Buffalo, New York to Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that time, I was going to the same high school that my two older brothers had attended. I was having one of my best academic years. I had more friends than I had ever had in my life. I was doing well in sports. My life was going well. I had everything I could have ever wanted, and my parents told me I was moving. That transition was very painful. I went from knowing lots of people to only knowing my parents; all my siblings were out of the house at that point. It was a lonely time in my life. I mean, I could talk to people on the phone, but I had no one I could be with.

I look back at that experience in high school and realize that my family moving was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Now, God did not ask me if I would like to move. God didn’t even tell me that this experience was going to be for my benefit. I’m not sure I would have listened to Him if He had told me. But, looking back, God used that experience to get a hold of my heart and my life. I’m not sure if I would be in ministry today if I had not moved.

God is in the business of guiding and directing our lives. He is writing our story. I guess the question is, “Do we trust Him to write the best story for us?” When I was in high school, it wasn’t a matter of trusting God. In fact, I’m not sure if I was mad at God or if I understood that God was in control. I was too busy looking at my circumstances and not trusting in Him. I have learned since then that I can trust God. I can trust that He is good. I can trust that He knows what He is doing. I can trust Him with the details of my life. I just need to live in obedience and follow His lead.

I couldn’t have predicted all the good that came out of me moving. The opportunities I had because of that move were amazing. I was able to go sailing for 10 days in the British Virgin Islands. I was able to go to Mexico and Guatemala in college on missions trips. I had a friend that was a graduate of New Tribes Bible Institute who encouraged me to go there, and that is where I met my wife. While at New Tribes, I had a friend who after graduation went to Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so I went to Lancaster Bible College. When I graduated from Lancaster, my wife and I applied to churches in New York and Washington, where both of us were from, and God opened the door for me to come to Elim.

Looking back, God knew what he was doing. He knew the work that needed to be done in my life to bring me to Himself and to use me. We never know what God is going to use in our life to bring Him glory, but what we do know is that no experience is wasted in God’s economy. Even the most painful experiences can be used to bring God glory. We can be thankful to God in everything because we know God will use our experience to mold us and shape us into who He wants us to be. In this season, we can be thankful because God is writing His story on our hearts.

What’s the story that He’s writing on your heart? What experiences have you had that you feel have been wasted? Are you trusting God and the story He’s writing? Do you invite others into this story that God is writing? In the next couple weeks, we’re going to invite you to write this God story for others to see. Please open up and let us see what God is doing in and through you.

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