Created on Tuesday, 02 February 2016 00:00
Written by Jonathan Whitaker
Since Friday of last week the Whitakers have been on a bit of a sabbatical. Not of our plan or design but a welcomed vacation, none the less. On the Central Coast such things as blizzards must seem mythical or at least foreign, but out here on the East Coast we get the odd snow storm or nor’easter. But you have El Nino, so I suppose we’re even.
Last week was my first blizzard, and in spite of all the hype and doom saying on the news, I rather enjoyed it. It really brought out the kid in me. Each night I was glued to the TV to see if the government of Washington DC would be closed for just one more day. Chant it with me, “one more day. One More Day! ONE MORE DAY!” Though I didn’t realize it, I needed a few days off to play with my wife and kids and enjoy their company. No distractions, no possibility of running errands (thanks to 24 inches of snow), just rest. The fact is, God is much better at giving us rest than we are at finding it on our own.
At the root of the word “sabbatical” is a concept which God introduced to man on the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath. A day of rest. So important is the Sabbath that God commanded us to observe it in Exodus 20:8-11. Rest is not only required of us by God, but it is called holy. The Sabbath was the day God rested from creation, which is why he blessed it and called it holy. If we are to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (1 Peter 1:15), then we need to understand rest.
I struggle, as many of you do, to rest when I’m on vacation. You know the drill, you take leave, plan to rest, then you work in the yard for the duration of your time off. In a blizzard you can’t even see your yard, so the temptation is completely removed. All you want to do is build a 45 foot luge track in your backyard and slide down it with your kids on an inflated truck inner tube. God is good.
God is serious about rest, so we should be serious about rest. Read Leviticus 25 about the Sabbath Year if you want to see just how serious your Lord is about you enjoying rest, enjoying your family, and seeing just how good He is.
God wants you to experience Him in all facets of His goodness, and I have gotten to experience Him anew over the last five days of blizzard-sabbatical. Each time I hear the echo of my children’s laughter, each time I snuggle with Jennifer on the couch under a warm blanket, each time I sleep past 8 a.m., I am reminded of how good God is to me. And you know, all joking aside, it feels holy.
Created on Tuesday, 26 January 2016 11:37
Written by Aaron
Last week our Gospel Community was meeting to discuss the previous week’s sermon and someone asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I asked what they meant, because I knew this person trusts and believes in Jesus and His sacrifice for us. They said (I’m paraphrasing), “Why couldn’t God just say, ‘All’s forgiven’ rather than have Jesus die?” This is a really good question.
I mentioned it to our staff two days later in staff meeting, and someone asked how I responded. They suggested I share my response in a blog post, because this is something that has come up in multiple Gospel Communities during Notes Night. I had no idea this was a common occurrence. If you have been wondering about this question, are a GC leader who has been asked this question, or never even thought about it until now, this post is for you.
It is hard to start answering this question in any other place than the book of Genesis. In Genesis, God creates everything, including man, and lays out what is good in front of man. The Hebrew word for good is tov
); the word refers to everything good, in the broadest sense possible. God determines what is good and beneficial and He imparts that knowledge and wisdom to the man He creates. God fashions man with His hands, He makes man in His image, He breathes His very own breath into the man to make him alive, and then He instructs the man on what is good and right and places this man in the garden.
God then tells the man the consequence of sin—he will die. You sin, you die (simple, right?), and yet we have made it so much more complicated today. To make this as simplistic as possible, death is separation. Death is not the stopping of our hearts, or the blood in our veins turning from red to blue (it’s all still red anyway), and it is not the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies. Death is separation from life. God is life and He tells us that if and when we sin, we are/will be separated from Him. Death is separation, not just from life, but also from all that is good.
In Genesis, God separates
for the man what is light and dark
, truth and lies
. God makes the distinction between life and death
for the man. This explanation of what constitutes life and death includes the idea that man is free to live and love God and His creation in any way the man sees as most useful. The man is not part of the garden; he was fashioned and placed within the garden to nurture and take care of its beauty because beauty is good
When man decides to go his own way in the garden, without God, and do what he feels
is right, he sins. In Genesis 3 you see that as soon as the man and woman sin, they tragically died. The scriptures use words like “shame” and “exposed” to illustrate what has happened. Their sin made them lose their innocence and their connection with each other and God; they became separated, they died. They, like us, no longer know the beauty of innocence, the good
that allowed them to face one another without shame was now gone. They also lost true life that came from being in connection with God, the world around them, and each other.
The saddest part of all comes in Genesis 3:8. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day
, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
They hide from God. Adam was the head of the human race and because he died, we are all born into life with a deep-rooted propensity to sin and seek our own “good.” However, man cannot know good apart from God showing us what it is—He alone makes that definition. To this day, sin runs rampant in our lives and causes us to be separated from others, our Creator, and eventually our own flesh.
How can God restore us to the place of understanding and knowing His definition of good? In the rest of Genesis 3, you see God comes walking into the garden, this place of rebellion and death, and He calls out to the man. It is not that God couldn’t see Adam hiding behind a bush trying to cover his baby-making parts; the point is that God comes looking for the man because the man could never find God on His own. God is on a rescue mission to redeem His people from death.
God then makes a promise, in His holiness, that He would provide Himself as a sacrifice to remove man’s sin and restore relationship. We see the first sacrifice when God slaughters an animal to clothe Adam and Eve’s shame. We can oftentimes gloss over this verse, but it is devastating—blood is spilled as the cost of man’s sin. The fact that God made this sacrifice Himself shows how important and necessary it was. Sinful people cannot dwell with a holy God. Eventually, this leads to the whole Old Testament sacrificial system, which ultimately points towards the final sacrifice for our sin, Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews sums up the entire Old Testament by saying in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
” So God Himself provided Jesus, His son, at the appointed time to be the One that dies for us, in our place, as our substitution. God could not just wink at sin and say it was no big deal, like when our kids do stupid things and we act like it is okay. God is holy, just, right, and true. If He brushed sin off, He would cease to be God. Because He defined the consequence of sin as death, He had to follow through because His words are true. This is why blood, which is related to life, is required for the sin we commit.
The problem is that we could never pay for our own sin, because our own lives, our blood, are tainted because of our sin. What is taught through Scripture is clear - either you die
, forever separated from God, or you trust
in the provision of God through His Son, who has died for you. Your death for His life, your sin for His righteousness—Martin Luther referred to this as The Great Exchange.
I am trying to keep this blog on the shorter side, but the idea of our regaining life is rooted in the idea of sacrifice—more specifically, His sacrifice for us. Why did Jesus have to die? Because we are so evil, and the cost of sin is death. Why DID Jesus die? Because He is that good. Don’t let this get you down. There is a reason it is called “good news” or the Gospel; it is the only hope we have ever had. Our God has sought us and bought us with Himself. We don’t live in despair because of what it cost Him; we live new lives of joy because He has first loved us and given us a reason for great joy.
We are not dead. We are redeemed.
Created on Wednesday, 20 January 2016 09:29
Written by Aaron
I am going to write this blog to get this out of my system, I am going to rant and rave about my current situation. Almost everyone on our staff at Element, at the moment, is on this Whole30 diet where you can’t eat anything you would normally eat (unless you normally eat like a goat). The diet is expensive, hard, and if I don't feel better at the end of 30 days, I am going back to my old diet.
Oh how I miss my friends called Oreo's, grilled cheese sandwiches, Raisin Bran, rice, wraps, chips, and bread. I am coming to loathe fruit smoothies and eggs. I know I am irritable, I am hungry, craving cookies, and think slamming my face in a car door for 30 days would be easier than trying to read every label on the food I buy. I went to TWO of our local hippie markets trying to buy food as listed on the whole30, but they don't really carry stuff as organically made as they would like you to think.
I am coming to believe that the operative word in “diet” is the word “die.” But then I also think that as a follower of Jesus the word “die” shouldn’t be too shocking to me. We are called to die to ourselves, it was one of the things Jesus emphasized in Luke 9:27, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me
.” These are words about embracing death, not because we are fatalistic, but because the call of Jesus in our lives holds more weight and significance than everything else.
I think part of the problem in Christianity today is that we treat faith like it is a diet. We deny ourselves so we feel better, we work hard to reach our own goal (not necessarily Jesus’ goals), and when it gets hard to live on mission, we cheat. Sometimes the word “cheat” is being generous because most times we don’t even cheat, we just give it up completely while still trying to convince everyone else we are still eating (living) healthy.
We are a people who see our normal habits of life, usually engrained in us from our culture, as healthy and reasonable even as we slowly eat ourselves to death as we mindlessly consume all that is offered (metaphorically). When Jesus comes into and invades our lives he calls us to give up certain things that are killing us, but we typically find a reason to put it off, or even find ways to justify why it is OK. We are so short sighted that we convince ourselves that our lives today are more important than our lives in eternity. Taking the short view discourages mission, dampens a healthy trust of God and His word, and places our focus more surely on our own messed up hearts.
Luke 9:23-25 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"
Maybe, instead of doing a Whole30 diet, we should all do a diet that follows Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
” Having God renew our minds so we see what He sees is true about our own lives and those around us is central to this renewal process.
In my opinion, the best place to start our diet is to quit assuming we are healthy and doing great and simply allow God’s Spirit to do a careful inventory of our lives. We must also begin to listen to what others say to us (those who love us enough to be honest). We must trust God’s redemption of our life enough to stop consuming our own self-propaganda and begin to live and walk in the new life He promises. Why? Because he promises not just a Whole30, but a WholeEternity
of true life.