Gospel Class


The Aerial View

When I was young I wanted to be big. I would walk around and say to adults, "how's the air up there?" It wasn't that I was short, I simply wanted to be taller, I wanted to know what the world looked like from a higher perspective.
As a child my parents took me to Washington DC. I loved seeing the different monuments that had been erected in honor of presidents, soldiers, and statesmen. Everything was big, but nothing was as cool to me as the Washington monument. The monument is one of those places you can go inside and peer out and see what everything looks like from above. It was amazing and I could see a lot farther than I thought possible. Everything looks freakishly small when you are up that high, but you also get a good sense of geography (where the other monuments are) and scale (the size of that giant swimming pool).
I've been honored to serve on the board at Element Christian Church since it's founding, and more recently as the chairman.  I get a different perspective on how Element is being used by God and how Element uses the resources He has given. Sometimes board chairman is like being a janitor cleaning up messes, but more often I usually get to see some of the stuff that will come your way before others (like a backstage pass to your favorite band). Seeing things like the architect’s plans for a new building, our upcoming Stewardship Journey: Planting Roots, is all very exciting!
At the end of 2013 we purchased the vacant lot next our current facility and our entire board, including me, went through a roller coaster of emotions. The internal questions ranged from, "How awesome would it be to have our own building!" to "Wait, it costs how much to get water connected?" to "Are we sure about this?" to "God can't really be asking me to put my finances on the line" and finally "yes, God, I'll follow you." I believe it was clear that God has called us to Santa Maria to be hope in our current community.  When we purchased the land it was with total faith, and hearts surrendered to Jesus, because we wanted to continue to serve Him and this valley; eventually planting more churches in the surrounding towns (and world).
There is something else I learned on top of the monument when I was a kid: you can't live up there.  I remember asking if I could, but my parents told me it wasn't a reality. You can't interact from up there because people are on the ground. It is nice to get an overview, but on the ground is where we can actually be useful. As I said, sometimes I get to see some of the stuff early, the aerial view, but I'm so much more excited to be on the ground with all of Element. I love that we are called to be on mission where we are, to see the revelation that Jesus is showing all of us, and be led to give as He has called.
Element is starting a new journey, it is sort of the nature of how Element works. When we go where God leads, it usually changes everything up. Today that means moving forward with a building, but why? You can tell by our current accommodations that the nursery has been expanded and moved five times, there are doors where there were not doors before (or no doors where there were doors). The truth is we outgrew this building a long time ago, but we refused to let that stop us. 
As chairman, I've been able to prepare for the Planting Roots journey a bit longer than most. I've done research, interviewed consultants, been in the meetings, and prayed for guidance, but one thing I am certain of though, God can and will use the journey to change our hearts; I know this because I have experienced it. 
Where Element ultimately ends up will only be by following Jesus, and that will happen with prayer, generosity, and sacrifice. I've been praying for months that you and I would get a glimpse of the perspective of God, a heavenly view, but then, like Him, we would come to live life on the ground, serving, giving, and loving. I encourage you to let go of anything that might keep you from hearing God during this journey and to commit to joining us over the next few weeks of Planting Roots. The question we all want to ask during this journey is, “Lord, what is it you would do through me?”
We have a lot of material coming your way and we don’t want you get overwhelmed. If you have questions, concerns, comments please don't hesitate to ask, we want to be as open and encouraging as possible. If you are confused, excited or just unsure what to do with all of your emotions, please don’t hesitate to share those questions and feelings with your leaders.
This is a journey we are all called to travel. There's something better than building and living in monuments, it is living as God's church together.  Let's start Planting Roots.

Individual Sin, Community Redemption

Not sinning is not the opposite of sinning. Wait, what?!  If that were true, the day a new believer was baptized it would be the responsibility of the church elders to lock that individual in an anechoic chamber and remove all possible temptations to sin.  The opposite of sinning is being transformed into the loving image and character of Jesus Christ.  Transformation comes not by mere abstinence, but by the redemptive salve found in the service of others.
Paul called his sin affliction a "body of death." (Rom 7:23-24).  Paul knew what we all experience as we struggle with sin.  Sin does not just cause bad feelings, broken relationships, shame, and doubt; sin causes death.  It is no wonder Paul suggests that believers fight fire with fire.  He says in Colossians 3 we are to put our sin to death: "Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." 
The problem with sin is that it is an addiction you cannot overcome by abstinence, and it will kill you from the very first time you use it; but for believers, death has a cure. "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Col 3:3-4) God is great!  For those of you who proclaim Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, your old nature has died and your eternity is secure. 
Why then do believers go on sinning?  Is it to test how much grace Jesus is willing to dole out?  I sure hope not!  Although I'm grateful that He has grace to spare, because I keep on sinning.  Perhaps saved people keep sinning because we don't accept Jesus' redemptive gifts.  Redemptive gifts are the tools that Jesus gives to believers to transform our formerly useless sinful selves into useful workers for the kingdom. 
Jesus told us to be holy as His Father in Heaven is holy.  The only way we can hope to be Holy is if Jesus makes us holy.  One of the redemptive gifts that is available to all believers -- and it is the central ministry of Element -- is community. 
Not sinning is not the opposite of sinning. Colossians 3:12-13 says, "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive."   Paul tells us that a major avenue of redemption for sins of the flesh -- adultery, immorality, idolatry -- is not abstinence from those things, but loving service of others. 
Built into community is an opportunity to love.  It is love that transforms a believer's character.  Love replaces the old sins, which formerly brought death, with attitudes and actions of righteousness.  Community gives the believer a venue to be like Christ.  How can we be compassionate like Jesus, if there is no one in our lives on whom to bestow compassion?  How can we bear with fellow believers if we do not first fellowship with believers?  Paul tells believers to forgive one another, which is key to understanding the forgiveness by which Christ saved our souls.  If you don't live in community with other believers, you don't give them the opportunity to offend you, so who will you forgive?  
It is hard to understand the full measure of God's grace if we insulate ourselves from God's people.  Imperfect as we may be as Christ's Church, He still loves us.  We are a gift to one another.  We give each other the chance to learn and experience the love that defeats sin.  If I love my brother, I cannot slander him with my mouth, lust after his wife with my mind, or covet his possessions; love simply will not allow it. To love my brother, I must get to know him, and once I experience true brotherly love, I will have experienced Christ.
In practical terms, it is difficult to commit a sin with a brother in your presence holding you to account.  The Holy Spirit reflected in a brother in Christ has a powerful restraining effect.  If lust is the sin that plagues you, you will find it difficult to act on it in the presence of a fellow believer. 
A funny thing happens when believers gather -- they start to worship God.  In both word and deed, when believers gather, God tends to be glorified.  I think this happens because in community, we all experience true relationships and love.  Colossians 3:14-15 says, "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."
Not sinning is not the opposite of sinning.  Love is the opposite of sinning.  In God's perfect law of love He tells us to love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  It is hard to love people if you live under a rock, and impossible to experience true redemption if you never work out your salvation through service.   

Grace For Y'all Part 2

Hello everyone, this is the other half of team Gee. I want to echo what Michelle said in her post about Redemption Group Training, that it would be intense. We knew we would be confronted by our sin and we knew we would have to be vulnerable in front of strangers, what we did not know is how profoundly we both would experience the Holy Spirit’s love, grace, and power. 
By trade I am a therapist, and on a daily basis I see people who are suffering, broken, looking for fulfillment, and trying (with varying degrees of success) to change.  As a result, I assumed what we would experience at the Immersion would be similar; I couldn’t have been more wrong. When the Holy Spirit shows up all we can ever really do is underestimate Him because there is nothing so big as the power of God. In three short days I saw miracles being worked in my life, Michelle’s life, and the lives of the men in my group.
What we learn at Redemption Training sounds like what you hear in church service on a given Sunday, but what Redemption training does is enable the understanding to penetrate into all aspects of our life. I came to understand so much better that God is truly good and He alone is necessary and sufficient for joy. I learned how to rest in His glory, trust in his sovereignty, and how to truly repent and experience the forgiveness, love, and grace of Christ.
Before this immersion I even thought I had a decent understanding of grace and repentance, but that was a lie. Intellectually I understood the blood of Christ covered my sin, but I was not living as if I believed that. After I sinned, I would dwell in my sins and attempt to atone for them myself by working or trying to spend more time with Christ. When I failed at this (and I always would), my heart would become hard and I would distance myself from God. I believed foolishly that my sin was too great for Christ to overcome, which ultimately belittled the power of the cross. 
In my group, I was given the opportunity to repent of my specific sins to Christ in front of men I hardly knew. When I did this I was surprised by how I felt. I no longer felt shame, guilt, despair, or even a skeptical attitude toward Christ’s goodness, but instead, felt a freedom, peace, and joy that I never remember having. I felt loved, and finally understood what it means to rest in God’s presence. Reflecting back on it, it seems so simple and yet I cannot articulate how truly miraculous it was; something changed in how I understand God’s love for us. I have never felt like I have had a more genuine relationship with Christ than I do today. I experienced something I want everyone to have—a true understanding that God loves us and He is more than enough.
Convinced of Christ’s love, and now having a deeper understanding of his grace, I am currently emboldened through the Spirit and actually feel passionate about sharing Christ’s love. Since I had previously not been convinced of His goodness and grace, my faith had been something that I only shared if asked about it. However, seeing firsthand the power of God in the immersion, I have been given the courage and understanding to pursue those conversations about faith with others. For example, I did this with my sister, who is currently not a believer, just yesterday, and we had an incredible conversation as a result. I now realize that the more loving act is to confront others with the truth about who God is.
As I said earlier, it is hard to articulate what exactly happened at the Redemption Immersion, but God’s love for us is real, and He is SO GOOD. It is amazing how much happened in three days, it was nothing short of a miracle (and they do still happen).
As Element prepares to begin launching its own Redemption Groups (that will be 10 weeks and not 3 days) we encourage you to trust in the goodness of God and the miraculous changes He will make in people's lives. If you are interested in hearing more, please reach out to me (Jon), Michelle (the other half of team Gee), Mike Harmon, Eric Djafroodi, or Deb Harman about our experience. 

Grace For Y'all

Team Gee (or one half, I should say) here—at 38,000 feet. I’m writing this on our return flight to California (oh, how we’ve missed you!), after spending almost a week in Texas. Jon and I had the privilege of participating in a Redemption Group Immersion—an experience designed to train potential leaders of Redemption Groups by immersing them in the actual experience. Redemption Groups is a ministry aimed at exposing sin and suffering and placing it within the context of God’s overarching story of redemption, so that participants can understand God’s grace, freedom, and love. This particular immersion took place over the course of three days, and let me tell you, it was intense! What a week! We are exhausted and yet, revived.
Where do I even begin? We knew from the start that this would be an intense time for both of us, and that we would be confronted with the stark reality of our sin, but we can certainly say now that we truly underestimated the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Over just three days, we each met with a group of complete strangers and were encouraged to be completely transparent regarding the struggles, doubts, fears, and lies we have faced. It felt terrifyingly dangerous to be so exposed, but in that brokenness, we were met with the truth of God’s love and assurance. We both saw lives completely transformed, and our own eyes were opened in astonishing ways.
What did I learn specifically? I realized that the shame I’ve imposed upon myself, as a sort of self-penance, is antithetical to the Gospel. In doing so, I have idolatrously made myself a god and looked within for hope for lasting change, rather than relying on the blood of Jesus. In addition, I’ve expected people around me to wallow in their own sin, as I’ve held them to my same standard, and have therefore withheld from them the grace that God longs to show them.
I make such a horrible god!
Jesus is so, so much better than me, as He wants us all to be free of shame and guilt, as He took that upon Himself on the cross. While processing this with the women in my group, I expressed joy at this realization, but admitted a remnant of hesitation and ultimately, fear—what if I mess up again? I’m sick of disappointing God, others, and myself. One of my leaders lovingly, yet firmly, reassured me: “You get to repent and experience more grace.” Just typing this still brings me to tears. WE GET TO EXPERIENCE MORE GRACE! For too long, I have believed the lie that it is shameful for me to run to the cross again and again, yet this is the essence of the Gospel—I am not ashamed of it anymore.
It is now with unbelievable joy that I can admit my complete brokenness and the grace I have received as a result. No longer do I expect or want others to live in shame; I want them to experience God’s grace like I have. I want YOU to experience God’s grace. Through experiencing this grace, I can now love and forgive others the way Jesus calls me to.
With such a profound revelation in a single immersion experience, I can’t imagine what else could be revealed in an actual 10-week Redemption Group setting, but I am so eager to find out, and that is why we are so passionate about this ministry. Please, if any of you are interested in our experience, feel free to come talk to us.
I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with this—something we sang repeatedly that cut straight to my core:
O, the joy of full salvation!
Sin and death defeated
Glory to His Name!

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.