Gospel Class

Ionosphere

No, uh…No, Really

Have you ever watched something, done something, or read something that did nothing to enhance God's Kingdom or your life on this earth; something where you walk away saying, "that is two hours of my life on earth that I will never ever be able to get back?" I just had that experience myself about a week ago, I was suckered into watching the movie Noah.
 
Let me just tell you what the movie got right because it is easier than telling you what it got wrong. I can count on one hand, and I could even be missing one of my fingers, and be able to list what was right according to the Biblical narrative (which is where the writer and director said they got their information from):
  1. There is a guy named Noah
  2. He has three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  3. There is a boat (ark)
  4. There is a flood
That's it.
 
Aside from the horrible special effects, the bad acting, and the worse theology, it just wasn't even a good movie. There are just so many things wrong with this movie that I am flabbergasted (see, it's a real word) that anyone thought it was any good.
 
Let me simply give you my biggest issue with the entire move, it was predicated on the goodness of a man, Noah, and the tyrant like characteristics of a God, God. In the movie the fallen angels are fallen because they wanted to help man after the fall, they disobeyed God by reaching out to and loving on mankind…this displeased God so He cast them to earth and encased them in rock. If you have ever seenThe Neverending Story, just think of the rock guy with his, "good strong hands" that couldn't even save "the stupid bat," that is what they look like.
 
I love good fiction, but Noah is simply another way for someone who doesn't know the goodness of God to tear down the goodness of God; it is another way to try to get people to think that the God of the scriptures is an irrational tyrant that throws tantrums.
 
In reality, the God of the scriptures is a God who makes a way to rescue His wayward children. After the disobedience of man, when WE brought sin into the world, God promises Himself to come and rescue us in Genesis 3. We were a people with no hope and God came to restore us because of His own goodness.
 
In the movie the character of Noah goes crazy, trying to kill newborn babies because he is convinced that God wants it because God has remained silent. The truth is that God has NEVER remained silent. He has spoken to us through prophets, priests, and kings for millennia, He gave us the scriptures to so we have His words in writing, and most importantly He came in the person of Christ, the clearest revelation the world has ever seen or known.
 
The problem is what we did, and do, with God's clear revelation, we try to get rid of it in favor of our own wants and desires. Roman's 1:21-23 reminds us of the peril we all face: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. IN verse 25 it is even more clear that they exchanged the truth about God for a lie
 
Noah is a perfect example of that exchange, the truth for a mythical lie that only furthers misunderstanding of a gracious God. It would be good to examine our own lives and see the instances we have exchanged God's truth for lies. These could be in areas of faith, finance, family, friendships, or service. Our culture lives under this horrible lie that God is not as good as He has revealed Himself to be and that Satan is not so bad as he has shown himself to be.
 
How about when something begins to question the character of God we simply trust in His goodness as it has never been false. May we as a people surrender ourselves to His providential grace even when we don't know why the rains come. Let us be committed to trusting God's truth, as revealed to us throughout the scriptures, rather than letting Hollywood dictate our theology.
 

Element Time [From the Illustrious Jonathan Whitaker]

I have a super power.  I know you’re skeptical, but it’s true. Ask my wife, Jennifer.  I have known for many years that I have this special ability, and it never fails… lines form behind me.  Yes, that is my secret super power.  When I arrive at a restaurant, movie theater, theme park, or anywhere people queue in lines, a line that wasn’t previously there will appear behind me.  It is a phenomenon, and I am not making it up…lines form behind me.  In fact, the longer I sit here typing this, the more likely it is that a line of people will start gathering adjacent to or directly behind me.  I am a human velvet rope.  I hope to only use this power for good. 
 
If I take an honest look at my so-called super power, there are probably personal habits which I practice that result in lines forming behind me.  For example, I arrive early to most destinations, which tends to put me ahead of the crowd.  I wake up early in the morning for work, so my lunch hour is 11 a.m. instead of the more traditional 12 p.m.  As a result, the 12 o’clock lunch crowd arrives just after I get my order in at the counter, and thus lines up behind me.  Another explanation is that once I get to my destination, I take my time and that means folks just have to wait. 
 
So, it may not be much of a super power, but my military upbringing has made me a neurotic schedule-keeper; if I am early then I am on time, if I am on time I am late, and if I am late… so help me.  This has long been my mentality for schedule-keeping.  Now imagine the first time I encountered ‘Element Time.’
You all know what I am talking about.  Element Time is the five minutes that our congregation runs behind the rest of the population of the Central Coast of California.  We are a geographical oddity.  Sunday services are scheduled for 8:15, 9:30 and 11:00, so naturally we get started promptly at 8:21:33, 9:35:17, and 11:06:03.  Yet somehow we always finish the service on time.  This means that we are able to accomplish one hour worth of worship, announcements and preaching in 55 minutes.  And, for some reason, it works.  In fact, it works well.   Sure, Aaron has to preach at the pace of a Barrett Jackson auctioneer, but the worship is powerful and the messages are Biblical, scholarly, and most of all, Christ-honoring.
 
Recently, my personal conundrum with Element time has shifted to wistful nostalgia.  I am currently on the church-home hunt at my new assignment in Maryland.  Church services in Maryland lasts for one hour and forty-five minutes, period.  No matter the denomination -- Evangelical, Baptist, Fundamentalist, you name it -- one hour and forty-five minutes.  If Aaron preached for an hour after forty-five minutes of announcements and songs, you would duct tape him to a wall.  Needless to say, I miss Element Time. 
 
Thanks to Aaron, Ryan, James and Michelle Gee, I now have the worship attention span of a gnat.  Look, of course I am kidding -- a short service is not superior to a long service for reasons of brevity, nor is a long service good because you are worshiping longer.  Element Time is just special.  On Element time you get a Biblically dense message book-ended by Christ honoring corporate worship music.  If you have gotten the chance to experience it, you are blessed.  I find that after two hours of structured church, most people have just enough energy left to go home.  I find after 55 minutes of Element Time, you are ready to fellowship with one another in the lobby or over lunch.  That is a good thing.
 
I am now going to shoe horn scripture into my blog so Aaron will publish it.  Jesus probably doesn’t sweat the length or starting time of our service nearly as much as I do.  In fact Jesus ordains situations in our lives where the timing just makes no sense at all to us.  Think about the man born blind from John 9. When the disciples of Jesus viewed his disability, they questioned whether it was the result of the man’s sin or if it was the result of his parents’ sin.  Jesus said neither.   In fact, Jesus then showed His disciples that the man was born blind for this ordained moment in history.  Jesus said the man was disabled so he could be healed.  God the Father orchestrated this time and place so God the Son could be glorified. 
 
Only God can heal the blind.  In His wisdom God chose that this man was to be born blind, so that you and I would have the opportunity to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  A series of events began many years before that day that started with a man being born without his sight and our Lord and Savior being born in a manger.  And at the correct time, by no coincidence, Jesus healed that man, giving us the opportunity to believe that the Son of Man has the power to heal, and therefore the power to forgive sins. 
 
So, lines might not form behind me because of my super powers. Maybe it is just the timeline on which I live my life that results in people queuing in my wake.  The real question is, what am I going to do with that line of people waiting there behind me?  God knew from the foundation of the world that we would all just be waiting there together.  Perhaps He sent me to start a line so that they might know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive their sins. 
 
That is my kind of Element Time. 
 

Goals Are Good

I know the World Cup is going on right now and the moment I say “goals” you are thinking of Germany knocking out Brazil, 7-1, but I am not talking about Soccer…I am talking about goals for just about everything in life.
 
Recently my wife and I hiked down a couple of miles into a volcanic crater…the path down was windy, steep, hot, and a lot easier than the trip back out. The whole time, in the back of my mind, I just kept saying, “as far as I go in is how far I have to hike back out.” Here is a picture of the crater and a small section of the path, but it really doesn’t do it justice.

 As my wife and I started to hike back out we both started to get tired and dizzy, as the altitude was almost 10,000 feet. The steepness of the terrain made taking each step upward a chore, but we knew we had to get back out, if not for lunch then at least for the bathroom. How did I cope? I had goals. Every so far in front of me I would find a landmark and walk towards it, never giving up until I got there. Here is a picture of one of my landmarks.

 

I know, it’s not that impressive, but the point is that I had a goal…and the funny thing is that when I reached the goal I not only felt great about getting there, but I actually wanted to go farther.
 
Why do I tell you this? Because we are a people who have been saved by grace and not works. Everything that makes us acceptable to God is found in the person of Jesus; His righteousness given to us in exchange for our sin, His life given to us in exchange for our death. Even though this great salvation, as a gift, is completely true, it does not negate you and I also having goals. Dallas Willard says, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”
 
Look at what the Apostles Peter and Paul say:
  • 2 Peter 1:5 makeevery effort to supplement your faith with virtue
  • Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
  • Ephesians 4:3 [be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • 2 Peter 3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
These are all words that, in our vernacular, would be goals…and good goals at that. Maybe you are struggling with forgiveness towards someone; make a goal to simply start praying for them, no matter how you feel in the moment. Maybe you struggle with being generous or worry about having ‘enough’ all of the time; make a goal to start giving something (and I do mean monetarily, it can always start small). Maybe you struggle leading your family into the knowledge and grace of Jesus; make a goal to simply read the Scriptures yourself and begin to pray before meals with your family. Maybe you don’t know how to love and honor your spouse, make a goal to pray for them and speak kindly to them.
 
We are saved by the grace of God, but He also calls us to live out our faith. If we never have any goals then life is lived in an awkward state of not knowing which direction is forward and which is not. Make some goals, and I am pretty sure when you reach them you will acknowledge 2 things:
  1. You could have never gotten there without the grace of God.
  2. You will see how much farther you can actually go because, when you reach the goal, you will see how much strength and grace you have already received from Jesus in the first place.

Tape Day 2014 Recap Videos

If you missed it, here is the recap video, and a time-lapse of the great Tape Day 2014!



 

Who Wants Responsibility?

A funny thing happened at Element on a recent Sunday morning, I was making a sermon illustration and it turned out better than I ever dreamed.
 
If you missed it, this is what happened. I showed everyone in the room a 20$ bill, it was easily identified by most people. I then asked who wanted it; I proceeded to give it away to the person who was the fastest on the draw. I then proceeded to tell the person who won the 20$ that they were free to spend it however they wanted, but they need only to remember where it came from: it came from a church and was given to them by a "man of God"…(that would be me in case you were wondering).
 
In our 11:00am service, the young lady who got the 20$, after she heard my words about remembering where it came from, said (my paraphrase), “That’s a lot of responsibility, anyone else want this 20$?”
 
I was almost speechless because I could not have said it better myself. One of the main things scripture teaches us is that EVERYTHING belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). Even the ability we have to think and work to produce wealth comes from God (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth).  These types of reminders run all throughout the scriptures, but why does God take so much time to remind us of this?
 
The reason goes back to the creation of mankind. We were created to have responsibility and stewardship over creation.  God gives us things (including money) to steward them for Him…and that is a lot of responsibility, like the young woman at the 11:00 service stated.
 
How much different would we steward our lives, resources, and yes, money, if we first remembered that it was Jesus’ and not ours? Think of how much different our priorities in spending would become if we understood the ‘responsibility’ that our great God has entrusted to us with all that is His.
 
As Element prepares to launch into a stewardship season in a few months, I would think it would be a great place for us to start to reflect on the truth that we have been given a great responsibility (because with great power comes great responsibility).

Imputed Righteousness

If we were to read Romans chapters 1-3:20 (which you should, because Romans is amazing)  without an understanding of the gospel, without knowing of our rescue, we could and should come away feeling desperate, lost, and hopeless. It’s a good thing we don’t stop at Romans 3:20, however, because verse 21 says: “But now…..” telling us something has changed. This change is something dramatic and pivotal, as evidenced by those two amazing transitional words, “But now.”
 
Many people who call themselves Christians have thought about this, but don’t believe it. Even on our worst day, we have the righteousness of God! This righteousness reveals all my unrighteousness; it reveals my self-righteousness, leaving me totally exposed and desperately in need of help. “But now,” God’s righteousness has been imputed, credited, deposited to my “account” (Romans 4:3). Do we really believe we have God’s righteousness, even on days when we are at our worst? Yes.
 
Romans 3:21-4:25 reveals the “what” of the “But now,” and it’s changed everything.  Romans 3:21-22 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it (it’s been there all along, not something new, but now clearer) – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  By believing what is true, by trusting God, through faith in Jesus Christ, He interrupts, interjects into my life the “But now.” I am now able to be reconciled and restored to God.  I am acceptable to God, pleasing to God, now, always, even on my worst day – rescued from myself, from my treason, my adultery, because I have the righteousness of God.
 
What is this righteousness of God? God’s righteousness is His being fully upright and just; it is the combined perfections of God’s character and nature (goodness, faithfulness, sovereignty, absolute power, beauty, creativity, etc.) that vindicate His judgments and actions; these reveal Him to be trustworthy and true.  Some people have said that the Gospel is simply too good to be true, but it is true!  And that is what makes it scandalous: that people like you and me can have the righteousness of God. 
 
How can it be?  To all who believe He gives this  gift!  Humanity lives in absolute selfish rebellion, self-gratifying adultery against God, living in enmity toward Him, running away from Him, bent on doing life our own way, and He comes after us to rescue, redeem and restore us to Himself. Romans 5:8: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Colossians 1:13 also remind us that we are given this exact righteousness before God. It sounds heretical. 
 
I do not live this righteousness out every day, but one day I will, because of what Jesus has done, and is currently doing in me by the Holy Spirit. Philippians 1:6: 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. Phil 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

In Romans 3:21-26, Paul articulates how we’ve been made righteous, having been justified by his grace, having been redeemed by the payment of Jesus, and spared God’s wrath by it being poured out on Jesus.
 
This blog only took me two months to write, but in a future blog I’d like to further explore this righteousness of God that is now ours (for those who believe and by faith receive it). Until then, ask yourself if you really believe in God’s imputed righteousness. Are you brokenhearted about your own unrighteousness? Turn to Jesus in faith and believe; trust what is true about you now, since you believed and trusted in Jesus. Believing this will change your life; it will free you from the snares of sin and the smug, proud, alienating attitude of self-righteousness. Believe it!