Created on Tuesday, 14 April 2015 22:31
Written by Aaron
Periodically this year (2015) I have been taking some of statistics from 2014 and commenting on them as we go through this New Year. I came across this statistic and thought it was just fascinating that many young adults are questioning the value of a college degree.
For people growing up in previous generations the prospect of college was something many in their families were never able to obtain. There are stories of how certain kids are the first ones ever in their family to attend college, but when 2015 rolls around all of that has now changed. It is now EXPECTED that kids will go to college, get a degree, and then use that degree to further themselves in life. I have personally spoken to kids who feel so much pressure to pick a major it actually gives them nightmares.
Barna points out that, “The traditional commencement speech platitudes that welcome students into the opportunities of adulthood—“the whole world is before you”; you just have to “follow your dreams” to “make a difference”—now ring hollow to many young adults…” Why is this? I think trying to blame it on the poor economy is a copout, I think it is deeper and much more profound.
Sure, 4/10 twentysomethings would say they need their college degree for their current job (42%), but that same number wish they’d chosen a different major altogether. Barna 2014 research has pointed out that “fewer than half of Millennials (47%) would strongly agree their degree was worth the cost and time.” How can this be? Isn’t this all that the American dream was meant to be?
Besides the truth that many people enjoy working outside or with their hands, and vocation schools (mechanics, welding, construction) would be better suited for a lot of kids, we today make them feel like that is less than desirable. I have a fear today that we are going to run out of good plumbers, electricians, and garbage men because we have demeaned those jobs. We must allow kids to flourish AND fail so they can grow into those who trust Jesus and not their own intellect or effort. That their salvation rests in a person and not a piece of paper handed out by a university. That redemption is a gift of grace and bestowed NOT by our own works or what we have attained.
Many people, Christian and non-Christian, like to quote the verse in Proverbs (29:18) that says, “where there is no vision the people perish,” but the actual rendering in the original language is, “where there is no PROPHETIC vision.” The word “prophetic” doesn’t mean some hokus pokus future horoscope foretelling, it means GOD’S message of the truth. Our culture is very quickly becoming disillusioned with our own dreams and visions of the future because they are so small. All of our efforts at bringing about our own view of what would fulfill ourselves is too little. It is God’s vision that is bigger and greater than anything we could imagine, it is His vision we must begin to live for.
Is college a good thing? Yes. Is it the best for everyone? No. How can you know if it is right for you or your children? That is the much harder question. I would say that no matter what age your kids are, instill in them NOW the value of a good work ethic. That God Himself works and if we are to be imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1) we should work as well. Remind them that God’s love is not predicated on our work, but when we imitate Jesus we will find value in what we do. Ask your kids their dreams and then help them devise a plan to get there. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but God stands above it all and that is what we trust in.
May you be reminded of God’s goodness, that His vision for us is deeper and more nuanced than we could ever imagine, and that though our dreams do not always work out the way we want, Jesus weaves it all together with His unstoppable grace.
Created on Tuesday, 07 April 2015 10:27
Written by Jonathan Whitaker
Recently, I stood in a pulpit in small town rural Virginia. Staring at me, as I gathered my composure to give my talk, were most of the living relatives on my father’s side. A sense of deep relief washed over me as I began to eulogize my grandfather, who lay next to me draped in the American flag. I smiled because we have a God who saves, and because of an important conversation I had with this man whom I loved, I knew that he was with the Lord.
Two years ago, when I was serving with you at Element, I received a call from my dad. He said, “Son, your grandfather is in the hospital and he may not be with us for many more days. You should try to call him if you can.” My grandfather was 92 at the time. For me, he had always been there, and it seemed like he would always be there. What would I say to him? I knew Jim Whitaker as a moral man, a good provider and a loving grandfather. I knew that after he retired from the Air Force he worked as a gentleman farmer for 50 years in central Virginia. He was a hard worker. I knew that he had struggled with alcohol for a period in his life, which he blessedly overcame. But there was one very important thing I didn’t know about my grandfather: was Jesus Christ his savior?
I was a wreck. How could I let a man I love pass, without introducing him to Jesus? I have shared my faith with hundreds of strangers, but the thought of confronting my own grandfather about the state of his soul was terrifying. I had considered this dilemma before; I even prayed that God would send someone to talk to him, to get through to him, to lead him. As I cried thinking about the hopelessness of dying without the sweet salvation of Jesus Christ, I started a conversation with God. I asked, “God why won’t you send someone to minister to my grandfather?” The answer came softly and swiftly. God’s reply was clear: “I send you.” My answer came when I turned on the radio, and KLove was on, which Jennifer will tell you, I don’t listen to KLove that often (I must have been driving her car). On the radio a young woman gave her testimony about how glad she was that a stranger had given her the gospel; of course she was glad, she was saved! I felt that God told me then and there that I had nothing to fear.
God made a promise to Israel through the prophet Isaiah that applies to all who serve the Lord, and should give us strength when He sends us to proclaim the Gospel. “You are my servant; I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand” (Isaiah 41:9-10).
When I got home, I called my grandfather at his hospital bed. He answered the phone with a weak but clear voice. I told him that I loved him and wanted to be with him in heaven. I told him that Jesus was my Lord and savior and that I believed in His sacrifice for my sins. Before I could go on, my grandfather stopped me and said, “I have believed those things for a very long time.” I had never known that about my grandfather, but in an instant God gave me peace. It turns out the Holy Spirit had been at work answering my prayers long before I was even alive to pray them.
What important conversations are you waiting to have? My grandfather lived two more years, but he could have only lived two more hours. None of us know the hour, but, for those of us who love the Lord, while we are here we can’t waste a minute. For everyone who calls Jesus Lord, believing in His resurrection, God is faithful to save. If you are waiting for the right time to tell someone about Jesus, don’t wait; now is the right time. If you are waiting to confess your sin and ask forgiveness from God and those you’ve hurt, don’t wait; now is the right time. If you are withholding forgiveness, don’t wait; now is the right time. Trust God. You can be assured that He has gone before you in what may be the most important conversation of your life. “Fear not, for I am with you.”
Created on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 09:57
Written by Aaron
Two years ago I was asked to part of the community Good Friday service in Santa Maria. The service is held at noon and many of you couldn’t make it so we posted the transcript of what I was going to say online as a blog. This year, same deal. Many of you cannot make it so I am posting what I am going to say three days before the service. I was given John 19:28 to speak on…here it is (under five minutes):
Almost 80 years the global travel industry was about to be quickly transformed by the invention Zeppelins. Huge flying blimps that resembled gigantic eggs made of Duralumin, steel, hydrogen, and various other materials. The most famous of these Zeppelins was the Hindenburg. After making a flight from Germany to Rio De Janeiro and up to New York in 1937, the passenger Zeppelin Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed, killing dozens of people. As the cameras rolled and the Hindenburg burned, the American Radio Reporter Herbert Morrison said this famous line, “Oh the humanity.”
The term, “oh the humanity” over the years was a cry over the anguish of human suffering.
The theological term we use today for understanding Jesus being both God and man in one person is the “hypostatic Union.” This causes many to look at Jesus’ life and see him a bit like Superman. How did Jesus never sin? How did He please the Father? How did He go to, and endure, the cross…well, we say, “He was God, of course could do it.” But the scriptures are clear that Jesus did not lean into His divinity to not sin or endure the cross. We are told He lived the life we should have lived because He lived how we were to live, in His humanity, through the power of God’s Spirit.
When we look at Jesus and the cross, the suffering of Jesus for us and our sin, we tend to miss or gloss over the fact that Jesus suffered in his humanity…how do we know this? Because on the cross Jesus says these two simple words in John 19:28 “I thirst.”
Let me tell you about the cross…The cross today is one the most recognized symbols in the world, but it is far cry from the piece of jewelry we make it out to be; it was symbol of brutal agonizing death. The early church never used crosses because it was too grizzly, and they believed too humiliating, a remembrance for Jesus
Crucifixion was always reserved as the worst punishment. Crucifixion was so horrendous we made a new word to describe it, “excruciating,” meaning “from the cross.” Persians invented it, Roman’s perfected it. It was done publically (down in front of Wal-mart or at the Santa Barbara bowl). Death could take days and people would come to mock, throw stones at, and spit upon those being crucified. To prolong the agony Romans put a seat under the buttocks of those being crucified so they would take longer to die. Some men, wanting the agony to end, would slide off the seat. Eventually, the soldiers started nailing a mans penis to the cross so he couldn’t slide off the seat to make his death any faster and the torture would last longer.
Crucifixion was done at EYE LEVEL (not all high like the pictures
) eye level so you could watch a man die. Even though all of this is true Christians (including me) call this GOOD NEWS. How is this good news? The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died
(by itself not good news…but the theological understanding of that event is. Paul uses the word “for” to move you from the fact to its implication for us….
) for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
. That’s why it is good news, the cross is the only hope we have ever had. This is what is called propitiation and atonement, which is what Jesus made for us on the cross on Friday.
A lot of pastors today have brought the doctrine of substitutionary atonement under attack; people want to shy away from the cross because it is offensive. The truth is, YES IT IS offensive! People trip over it because they think they are good enough. You and I need to grasp the severity of the doctrine of Atonement and what it meant for God to declare us clean in His eyes.
Heb. 9:22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
So Jesus Dies in our place as our perfect Lamb. Friday is the language of love, restoration, and reconciliation. Why would God do this? I love how John Calvin says this: “The Father wanted His kids back.”
Atonement is what weaves scripture together.
Jesus dies to defeat our enemies of Satan, sin, and death, not His enemies because no one can stand against God…but Jesus came in the flesh, real flesh, to save and redeem us. Too many of us have the view when we look at Jesus on the cross of “Oh the divinity, look at the suffering of God,” but it was truly the most incomprehensible, tragic, horrific, blood curdling “oh the humanity” moment of all human history. All sin, in one moment, laid upon Jesus. He bore the brunt of it all. Not just other’s sins, YOUR sins and MY sins.
Sometimes I have a fear of calling Good Friday “good,” it was only good for us. All God got out of the deal is self-serving, self-focused, self-centered people. We must remember, this is Friday not Sunday, this is a day to lay ourselves bare before the cross of Christ and remember that He died for us in His humanity, to save humanity.
Created on Tuesday, 24 March 2015 11:07
Written by Aaron
We recently finished looking at the 7 churches listed in the book of Revelation as a way to examine our lives, and church, in light of what Jesus said to those early churches. Jesus had strong words of comfort (as He first reminded them who He is), then He offered them words of rebuke (reminded them of mission), and ended with words of encouragement to either return to, or continue in, His mission. I think, if we took all the words to heart, we could walk away with a deeper understanding our life purpose in the Kingdom of God.
The last week we finished with the church of Laodicea. The church in Laodicea was rebuked very harshly with these words from Revelation 3:15-16 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
To the north of Laodicea is Hierapolis, a city that was built upon a thermal hot spring. It was famous for its medicinal qualities because of all the minerals in the water. The water that flowed from this city’s springs are boiling hot! To the south of Laodicea is the city of Colossae (which the book of Colossians was written too), and next to this city is a stream that flows from a mountain spring; the waters are exceptionally cold and refreshing. Laodicea sits in between these two cities, one hot, one cold, but both with good water.
Laodicea’s water source was terrible, it wasn't hot or cold, it was lukewarm, reddish in color, and induced vomiting. Like the city’s water, the church was lukewarm and Jesus was on the verge of spitting them out of His mouth. A lot of people have taken this verse out of context and said incorrectly, "be hot for Jesus or be cold to Jesus, just don't be in the middle." The verse doesn't say Jesus either wants you for Him or against Him, it says He wants you to be on mission in the world for His name. Be Hot and have a passion for Him AND be cold like a refreshing glass of water on a hot day, BE GOOD THINGS…just don't be Lukewarm.
A few of our Gospel Communities have had discussions centering on this idea of being “cold for Jesus,” but are wondering how to do it. I think the best way to think about it is to be, as Matthew 5:13-16 in the Sermon on the Mount says, Salt and Light. When Peter preaches the second sermon ever recorded in the New Testament, he makes a statement about what happens in midst of hope and salvation, he says that “Acts 3:20 times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
How are we cold and refreshing? Think of it this way, when a tragedy happens in someone’s life they are full of doubt, anger, fear…they have lots of emotion; you could probably say their emotions are running hot. In those moments God’s people need to “keep their cool” and not become all hot with emotion as well, but instead speak words of hope healing and grace. We are to bring a coolness to situation.
This coolness applies to much more than tragedy. We are also called to be peacemakers in the world (Matt 5:9), peacemakers usually diffuse hot and tense situations with grace. How often are you with a friend who is “steaming” because someone said or did something to them that they didn’t like? Our job as followers of Jesus is not to “stoke the flames,” but to try and reorient people to understand that there are a million things that happen in other people’s lives every day and we do not know what lead to the inappropriate exchange (from being flipped off to being demeaned).
We are to do our best to re-center the world around us on the person of Jesus that He may bring hope and healing. Too often we do just the opposite by not being cold and refreshing in Jesus’ name.
Be hot with passion for Jesus, be cold and refreshing for Jesus, live the life purpose of anyone and everyone that calls Him “Lord:” MISSION. Glorifying God and being a disciple of His in the world by having your life centered on the amazing heat given off my God’s passion for His people in Gospel, but also the refreshing coolness of the stability and hope that comes from the Gospel as well.
Created on Wednesday, 18 March 2015 08:25
Written by Aaron
Here is a big question for you, especially coming out of the Prodigal God series, "what is a practicing Christian?" There are so many ways and qualifiers to that question. Is it based on performance? Is it based on how many Bible trivia questions you can get right (I mean the shortest verse in the bible question really depends on what translation you are reading)? Is it faith and how that faith is lived out? What is this elusive creature we would like to view in its native habitat known only as the "practicing Christian?"
The way Barna research describes them, they are people who go to church services at least once a month and say that their faith is "very important to their lives." How about that? Seems like they just described every single person involved in a cult across not just the United States, but also the globe. Do you see how hard it is to define this?
According to Barna Research, Intervarsity, and the American Bible Society those who call themselves "Christians," and meet the above criteria, have a few things in common about the bible. First, is that they believe the bible is their top source of moral truth, outranking church and parents both. Sadly that outranking is only 36%, compared to church at 16% and parents at 14%. What that tells you is that there are 64% of "practicing Christians" who believe there is greater moral authority somewhere "else."
Second, is that they are more likely to believe the Bible is the word of God, a staggering 96% believe this. This 96% also believe that the Scriptures contain everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life. Sadly, again, only 46% of the "practicing Christians" believe the bible should be taken in a literal manner. It seems dropping from 96% to 46% based on those two questions is a little bit of a head scratcher.
If we take a step back and ask ourselves a different question, it might help. That question is, "what is salvation?" The bible defines salvation and as deliverance by God FROM God and his wrath. Romans 5:9-10
tells us Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life
. Our God is loving and forgiving while at the very time He is Holy and righteous. Our sin against Him causes His wrath to burn because of his righteous holiness, but His grace and glory cause Him to seek and save His lost children.
We don't understand how God can be both of these at the same time without being schizophrenic, because we don't know how to be more than one thing at a time. When we are mad…we are mad, when we are happy…we are happy, we find it near impossible to have wrath and love burn at the same time. Because we view God as being "just like us" we diminish who He is in His grace and Holiness. This is why, to be a "practicing Christian," that lifestyle must begin from a place of humbleness.
Humility allows us to stand amazed at the goodness and grace of God for rescuing us, humility puts us in a place of trust with Jesus when our views and His conflict, and humility lets us worship Jesus through even the toughest of circumstances because we know that in areas that we don't understand, He is still sovereign.
Don't get me wrong, we are not saved by humility, we are saved by grace through faith…And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9
). We are saved by GOD, beginning to end, but if we want to live as practicing Christians in our natural habitat, that habitat is humility. It will allow us to honor Jesus in ways where we trust His words when we read them, gather with other believers to worship Him corporately, and surrender our wills to his on a moment to moment basis.
Created on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 11:06
Written by Michelle Gee
The old has passed away, the new has come…Team Gee has bought a house! Let me tell you, home ownership definitely
has its perks over condo ownership. For instance, no more long treks out to the carport in the rain…uphill….both ways. No more questionable noises from our neighbors upstairs. No more inane laws from our power-hungry HOA. It’s been pretty exciting for us to discover new blessings in the midst of this transition. The downside, however? Boxes. ALL the boxes.
Jon and I try to live simply, and yet, I am amazed at the crap (am I allowed to say that on this blog?) we have accumulated over just a couple years of marriage. I mean, we found out we had Season 1 of Everybody Loves Raymond in our office—still in the original packaging. Neither one of us has ever seen the show. Neither one of us WANTS to see the show. How does this happen?!
This whole move has been such a great reminder of the need to stand back, take a deep breath or two, and assess the clutter—and not just in a physical sense. It’s been interesting to tangibly go through this process during the current sermon series at church
, as we embrace conviction, repentance, and the resulting joy offered to us by Jesus. As co-heirs of the Kingdom (Romans 8:16-17), our lives have been completely uprooted and dramatically transformed. Such a change (similar to a new home) offers us the perspective to see what just doesn’t belong anymore. Sometimes, if we want to continue growing in our relationship with Jesus and our understanding of the Gospel, we need to let go of the crap, and understand that it pales in comparison to what is offered in Christ. Through repentance, we lay it at Jesus’ feet, and trust that He is enough for us.
This move has also underscored the importance of community in life. With all the disarray at home, it can be tempting to shield friends and family from the chaos, to wait for the day when we’re “completely” settled in, and then
share our home with others. I think it’s easy to have this attitude toward life sometimes, “I’ll let others in once I’m cleaned up.”
Scripture, however, tells us that we’re never finished, but as believers, enjoying God’s work in us through the process of sanctification: “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”—Philippians 1:6
If we wait until we are “complete” to enter into community, we miss out on the beauty of Gospel-centered community—community that sees the brokenness and “incompleteness” of our lives, yet acknowledges the unending hope found in Jesus. And sometimes, God happens to use those people we let in to speak into our lives, to tell us what shouldn’t have a place anymore. Through this process of Gospel living, done in community, discipleship happens—we become more like Jesus. When we remember who we are in light of the Gospel, we can enjoy growing together each day.