Book Review: Help, Thanks, Wow

by Aaron

I have typically been an Anne Lamott fan from other people’s books. What I mean is that so many people quote her that I really didn’t feel like I needed to read her myself. Often though, as is always the case, when we quote people it is usually from the parts that only speak to us and so get skewed in the translation.
 
Recently I was reading a book on the soul, it took a bit of getting in to, but it was still good (by the end). In this book they quoted from Anne Lamott’s “Help, Thanks Wow” so I decided to read it. I guess if you want this review wrapped up in one sentence it would be thus: Not much “help,” undirected “thanks,” and “wow” I hope my life is deeper than this book.
 
I know, as is always the case, people will get mad at me for not loving everything Anne Lamott, but please stop before you write something nasty to me and remember, I am not judging her heart, just the words in this book. The words of the book I found devoid of any passion and simply words for words sake.
 
At the outset it seems as though she tries to placate everyone from every manner of “faith,” accept for Christians who she likes to poke in the eye and claim they are all self-righteous for believing in something fixed and unchanging. I know Lamott would call herself a believer, and while I believe at times Christians need to be called out for their stupidity, we also need to speak of where the goodness is as well. Lamott seems to go out of her way to always reference God as “she” for no real purpose that I can discern (other than to try to win points with those who dislike a “Father” view of God).
 
She writes this book for those who have any manner of faith, from those who worship mountains, to old chairs, to themselves. It seems as though the book doesn’t give a second thought to the reason so many prayers sound and feel so flat (other than we need to pray more), but what if the deeper issue is that we are talking to things either unworthy of worship or non-sentient…and if that is the case of course your prayers will ring hollow. Much of the book seems very “self” focused, I want to be loved, I want to cry out, I want…whatever; this is the problem with placing ourselves at the center of God’s world, we think God must worship us.
 
Any time we seek to make God out to be less than He is it doesn’t hurt Him, it hurts us. We were made for glory, but that glory has been bestowed upon us, yet we constantly take that glory and think that we have created it ourselves and are deserving of it. To me, this seems the course of Lamott’s book, sort of an American Kabala-ism that ceases to focus on the true-ness of God and instead elevates the reasoning of man.
 
There is a reason why the Old Testament word for GLORY came from the word for WEIGHT and SIGNIFICANCE. Because God is the one who has weight, we are weightless without Him. He is fixed, His glory forever shines, and we are the ones who fail to notice or see it. We cry for glory all the while overlooking the steadfast glory of the one who made us.
 
Maybe, just maybe, I feel the way I do about Help Thanks Wow because I just came off reading Timothy Keller’s book on Prayer (Experiencing the Awe and Intimacy of God) and Lamott’s book seemed so colorless in comparison. Either way, I give it 2 stars, maybe it’s better than I thought…but I doubt it.

Souls and Prayer

by Aaron

I have been a little introspective lately. I tend to be affected by books I read the same way I am affected by people, slowly but deeply.  When I read a book (or meet people for that matter) I usually scrutinize and dismiss much of it for the first half, then it slowly sinks in and I actually start to think about it on a much deeper level.
 
Recently I have been reading a few books on prayer and the nature of the soul. Everyone has opinion about the soul and prayer (and you know what they say about opinions). I have been taking some time to actually think about, more deeply, what I think about the soul, prayer, humanity, and how God intended it all to fit together. It will all probably end up in a sermon some day (probably an Easter message), but for now I think I would like to share some thoughts.
 
The word soul, and it’s derivatives (given the most license on interpretation possible) appears over 850 times…yes, 850 (according to one author 856 to be precise). The Bible is a book about Jesus; He said all the scriptures point to Him (Luke 24:27), but it also is a book about our souls and connection with Jesus.
 
We are called living beings, that God breathed into us (In Gen 2:7) and we became living creatures…but the word used is nephesh, which literally means SOUL. It seems, in the scriptures, that the word soul is used a lot to encompass all of us (mind, body, and will). The soul is what holds, or integrates, us all together (it is why some commentators have called “integrity” a soul word).
 
When our souls are surrendered to God our lives begin to align in a way that our will, our minds, and our body line up. When our lives “line up” true and real life is produced in and through us. Our souls were meant to be found IN Christ, but apart from Him we will always be fractured and disintegrated because we are not whole. We all have dependence upon Him whether we will admit it or not, we can see this in people’s lives every day who are always searching for the “wholeness” that can only be found in Jesus.
 
Part of how we are to live our lives as followers of Jesus is as an “integrated whole.” We begin to understand this better as we pray and surrender our wills to the calling of Christ. We pray and live in relationship with God. Tim Keller’s book on prayer (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God) is amazing and delves very deeply into the ways and modes of prayer; while Anne Lamott’s book on prayer (Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers) is like the paper plate version compared to Keller’s fine China. While I whole-heartedly recommend Keller’s book, Lamotte’s, if not read with a deep understanding of Jesus, might be confusing. My point is, by referencing these two books, that prayer is indispensable and will most likely change the more we mature. We may start out like a Lamotte, but (hopefully) become more like a Keller as we grow.
 
Prayer is essential in our soul’s communion with God, it is vital for our soul’s growth to mature into lives that are whole.
 
As I said, I am still processing this, but my prayer for you is that you would begin to understand that your soul craves wholeness and that wholeness will only be found in what your soul was made for, to glorify and live in relationship with God. Everything in our world today seems designed to pull you away from the fact that YOU were MADE for Him, only when we fully embrace the fact that we were made for HIM will our souls find the rest and wholeness they crave.

Truths From 2014 - Part 3 (Degrees And Vision)

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.

Oh The Humanity - Community Good Friday Service 2015

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.

Being Cold For Jesus' Name

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.
 

Truths From 2014 - Part 2

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. 

Gospel And Mission In An (Un)Tolerant Age

by Element Christian Church
As I mentioned on Sunday, this is a short blog that ties into Sunday’s message about living on mission verses our cultural definition of tolerance.
 
We have constantly reiterated that “Mission” is the life purpose of a person who believes in Jesus. Our mission is first to glorify God and then to disciple one another. We disciple each other by leading each other to submit every aspect of their life to Jesus as we:
  • Serve on Mission – Followers of Jesus serve those around them like Jesus came and served. We long to be serving on mission, not just with others, but also in our community. Serving on mission together brings people into Gospel relationships and Gospel community with one another.
     
  • Develop Gospel Relationships - Gospel relationships are centered on our understanding of the Gospel itself. As we grow and understand the deep truths of God our Father, Jesus coming to rescue us, and the Holy Spirit's power in and through us, our relationships will begin to demonstrate Gospel fluency. Discipleship naturally takes place in relationships when those involved obey the call of Jesus to live the life of the Gospel.
     
  • Invite into Gospel Community - Gospel community grows up around a people serving on mission with Gospel-centered relationships. Everyone is at a different stage on the path, but we are all growing together, in both worship of Jesus and intimacy with each other, as the Gospel calls us forward (sanctification).
All three of the above goals in discipleship stand in contrast to our modern view of “tolerance.” Tolerance today means letting anyone do anything, and far from keeping our mouths shut about it, we are called, by our culture, to also approve it.
 
When living the truth of the Gospel in relationships there are many times we must stand up for, and up to, people who are destroying their lives. Standing up to people is not only loving; it is also true tolerance because we are standing up for people’s true humanity even when they refuse to stand up for their own. Jesus hates how sin destroys people, He hates how sin gets it’s hooks in us and convinces us that it is the only true freedom, and I believe that He grieves how today’s definition of tolerance is broken lives full of broken relationships tacitly approved by the masses.
 
There is a great article I mentioned on Sunday, that we are linking to below by Timothy Keller titled, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.” Many people hate the idea of Hell, but we have already relegated much of our cultural landscape to reflect its values judgments while being blind to fact that we have done it.
 
The only way that we will begin to live redeemed lives and have a redeemed culture is living on mission. Going out into the culture, not hiding in a bomb shelter, not mirroring culture, not merely coexisting, but bringing the true Hope and Good News only found in Jesus to a sick and desperate world.  I hope the current series is helping in that regard, I also pray that in the end you too will live on mission in true tolerant gospel centered relationships.
 
http://www3.dbu.edu/jeanhumphreys/DeathDying/preachinghell.htm
 
 

Park and Judge

by Element Christian Church
Have you ever pulled into a parking lot looking for a space and couldn’t find one? Have you ever driven by a car that was taking up too much space so you couldn’t fit on either side of them? That brings me to this photo I took in the Costco parking lot at the end of 2014.


Who in the world parks likes this? Seriously, taking up two spots? There isn’t even enough room to park one of those tiny SMART cars next to this truck.
 
Here’s the thing, that’s actually my truck, I took up two spots of prime parking lot real-estate…but the question is “why?” Well, I thought it would be a great way to illustrate how quick we are to judge.
 
People at Costco, and most other stores for that matter, refuse to put their carts away. I once had someone put their used cart right under my passenger side fender; I didn’t see it and smashed it into a car next to me as I backed out (yes I left my name and fixed their car). Other people try to be somewhat conscientious and put their cart into the center divider (which doesn’t help). I have also seen people simply put their cart right behind someone else’s car hoping that “someone else” will be forced to put it away for them. By and large though, most carts are left right in the middle of an empty parking spot…and such was my predicament.
 
I parked the way I did because it was between a whole mess of shopping carts left by people too busy to put them away. After I parked, I took all the carts and put them in the cart corral (which was no more that 30 feet away mind you) and then took this picture to make a point. The point is, we are prone to judge too quickly, if you pulled in and saw a truck taking up 2 spots you might be tempted to judge and think someone (namely me) is a total moron.
 
Proverbs 18:17 says “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverb 18:13 “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” What we are being told is that we should not be too quick to make judgments about situations, or others, when we only know one side of the story.
 
People do this on places like Twitter and Facebook all the time. Someone will make a comment about how someone was mean to them and everyone will jump on the bandwagon of hate against the perpetrator of said offence without ever knowing more than half of the story. In reality, we should be slow to anger and slow to judge, as most people do not live their life with evil malice in the front of their thoughts twenty four hours a day.
 
There are times when others hurt us, but we do not know the circumstances behind their reactions. There are times when we hurt others and have no idea that we have hurt them. In all situations we should be a people who always error on the side of grace and not judgment or malice. Who knows, maybe someone was trying to park between two shopping carts you left in a stall (metaphorically speaking).
 
Let’s offer more grace and less judgment this year.
 
And just so you know, the answer is “no.” After I put the carts away I didn’t move my car, I did all the hard work of cleaning up the cart situation, I figured that gave me a few minutes of lackadaisical parking.
 
Don’t judge.

Truths From 2014 - Part 1

by Element Christian Church

I know, 2014 was a little while ago now, but one of the things I find most interesting about getting some distance from the previous year is how wrong we are about certain beliefs we feel we are so right about. I think understanding our limited vision can help us, hopefully, put less stock in what we think we know and actually trust Jesus more than our own feelings.
 
Here is an example of a statistic from 2014: Global poverty is on the decline, but almost no one believes it. Over the last 30 years the percent of the worlds people living in extreme poverty has decreased from 52% to 21% (according to the world bank as reported by Barna Research group). 84% of Americans say they are unaware of that fact, the reality is that 67% of Americans believe it has increased in that time period.
 
Another sad fact about global poverty is that, statistically, concern about global poverty has declined from 21% to 16%. I believe part of the problem is that we believe nothing can be done about it and that all of our efforts come to nothing.  We see more ads on TV today for hunger and poverty than ever before, it leaves us feeling hopeless.
 
Can I honestly say that I do believe it is all hopeless…without Jesus. Without Jesus why would anyone care about anyone else? If survival of the fittest is how the world works, shouldn't we assume that we are just more fit than anyone else? Without Jesus, compassion, hope, service, and offering grace to one another simply makes no sense. This is why I believe 68% of adults in the United States do not believe it is possible to end global poverty in the next 25 years. While I think it will be difficult, I do believe we can make a pretty good run at ending global poverty.
 
Even with the good news of the decrease in poverty, it still means there are 21% of people in the world in extreme poverty. With all the work that has been done getting clean water to so many places there are still 1.4 billion that need access to clean water. This is why Element supports multiple efforts locally, and around the world, to end suffering.
 
Now, imagine with me all suffering in the world was ended, would everyone be OK? The answer to that is no. The Gospel we preach has two facets to it, we meet physical needs, but also (and I would say more importantly) we meet spiritual needs. Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? This truth is something that many forget when trying to simply alleviate suffering. Man has a sin and death issue that is deeper than mere physical necessity. The truth is that we are far from relationship with God without Jesus, His atoning work on the cross, and His life giving resurrection.
 
Celebrate that poverty is down, have hope that it can/should be eradicated, but never (ever) divorce it from the fact that people need to hear, live in, and know the grace of Jesus as well. The grace of Jesus is extended to people in the alleviation of suffering, but you cannot properly care for others without the WHOLE Gospel. Love others enough to share with them all that Jesus calls us to, the Gospel is not simply social change, it is about real heart and life change that begins and ends with faith in Jesus.

All I Want For Christmas (Merry Christmas Part 4)

by Aaron

Last Sunday night I arrived home after spending my entire day at Element, by "my entire day" I mean 16 hours straight. I was glad to get home and was looking forward to being able to grab a snack, pet my dog, and sit down for a few minutes before heading off to bed. One of the greatest things about owning a dog is the joy they show when they haven't seen you for 16 hours (our 16 minutes…or 16 seconds).
 
We walked in the door, my wife went to get something and I walked into the backyard to bring the dog in (yes, this was one of those rare days when she wasn't with me). I head into the backyard awaiting my joy filled reunion and I was not let down. My dog pranced around the yard, ran past me 5 times holding her ball, and showed her joy by the smile of her facial expression. I went to pet her, placed my hand on her head, and then realized she smelled like a skunk. It was at this moment I realized her joy was not from seeing me again; it was because she was so proud of herself for catching ANOTHER skunk.
 
This happens every few months because she thinks skunks are cats that have wandered into our yard…and only one cat is allowed in our yard is ours (and even then its iffy). It's also important for you to understand that she doesn't kill the skunks, she plays with them…aggressively. Aggressively will eventually translate into her being sprayed in the face by skunk juice, which translates into me washing her down for the next several hours.
 
If you were to ask me what I wanted for Christmas on Sunday night when I got home I would have said, "some peace and relaxation." If you had asked me after I was "loved on" by my dog I would have said, "someone else to wash her." If you were to ask me today what I want for Christmas I could list a myriad of things, and none of them would be related to skunks or taking a nap.
 
Throughout our lives events happen to us and around us that we do not see coming, do not understand, and definitely cannot appreciate with our limited scope of vision. We are told in Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Many people today use this verse to talk about all of life's circumstances being used by God for our good, and while this is true, Paul also takes this statement to directly move us into a deeper understanding of our salvation. All of our life events, no matter what they are, are redefined in light of the great salvation we have received as a gift of grace from Jesus.
 
Christmas, for us, should be a time of great joy, but also sober reflection. I think it is important to understand that Jesus birth was a joyous occasion in Heaven, while on earth it wasn't seen the same. A dirty stable, cave, or horses stall (depending on your translation), a poor mother and adoptive father, and the only ones witnessing the birth of God into frail human flesh were probably simple farm animals (maybe even one of them sprayed down by a skunk).  Yet this moment of Christmas progresses forward to Jesus death, also not seen at a great joy at the time, and into His ultimate resurrection. All so that God could redeem and restore a lost and broken humanity into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-23).
 
We are told in Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Our hope is not in our circumstances, we are not defined by our past, our present is not solely at the twisted whims of others, and the future is not unsure but grounded in the steadfastness of Jesus.
 
So, what do you want for Christmas? Our 'wants' are all over the place, but God's desire has remained constant and true, His desire is for His children to be free…always has been, always will be. Now if I could only get Him to do my own personal Christmas miracle and get rid of our neighborhood skunk.

Why Do I Care So Much? (Merry Christmas Part 3)

by Aaron

I know the title of this BLOG sounds self-promoting, doesn’t it? “Why do I care so much?” It is like putting, “I just work too hard,” on a job application when they ask for weaknesses; but my “too much” is actually real and true…I do care too much…about my dumb Christmas lights.
 
Last night I turned my Christmas lights on, you know, to bring people Christmas cheer, but also make my neighbors jealous with how festive I am. When I turned them on, some how, the lights surrounding my front door were off. I looked at all the lights, the strands, the plugs, and there is no reason they should be off. I have been obsessing about this all day. Are my neighbors going to laugh at me for my house being a bright shining beacon on a dimly lit street, only to have my front door pitch black?
 
This cannot be, this cannot stand! How can the glory of God be shown at Christmas if my lights aren’t on and functioning properly? Yes, I know, these are first world problems, but I live in the first world and so do you.
 
I guess I should ask that question differently, shortening it up a bit to give a better perspective: how can the glory of God be shown at Christmas? It certainty isn’t through the amount of lights on a house, the cost of a present, or the redness of Santa’s suit. Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
 
We have spent the last year in the Sermon on the Mount, looking at Jesus’ words in how to live our lives in the Kingdom of God. I can't believe how I can still come to something that is supposed to be Christ-centered like Christmas (I mean, His NAME is even in the title) and still lose sight of what is important. Jesus reminds us that when we truly understand the blessing of God bestowed upon us, we are the ones who become Salt and Light in the world.
 
Matthew 5:14 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…” when referring to His followers. I guess that puts my house not simply a distant second, but out of running for being the light of world. Christmas is supposed to be seen in our actions, attitudes, and worship. So I guess I would ask you the same question I have just asked myself, “why do you care so much?”
 
What do you care so much about things that really don’t mean that much in light of eternity? What things should we be caring more about? Christmas is a wonderful time for perspective because we see what God cared most about…it wasn’t Santa, reindeer, Christmas lights, egg nog, or the right ugly sweater to get the free appetizer at Red Robin. God cared about His glory. John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Because God cared about His glory, He cared about us.
 
The best questions to ask this Christmas would be, how could I bring glory to God by caring about the right things. Not that Christmas lights or ugly sweaters are bad…it is just that sometimes we care too much.
 

Agape 2014

by Aaron



Last Sunday was or church wide Agape dinner. If you missed it, or were here and helping serve, or your bonfire was a little chaotic, we thought it would be nice for you to have what was shared around the fire by the group leaders. We wanted everyone to be able to focus for a few minutes understanding food as gift, friendship as gift, and the meals we share together as gifts.
 
Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Our God is a giver, He loves to give.  When we share meals together we are sharing THAT gift, we are partaking in the goodness of God together. God has always intended meals to bring us together. Most of what follows is found in the book A meal with Jesus (discovering grace, community and mission around the table) by Tim Chester.
 
 
Throughout the Old Testament and New

  • Meals were seen as an act of grace.
    Jesus called people to follow him…Tax collectors (traitors to their country), zealots (crazy hot headed people), Pharisees (who thought they were better than others), prostitutes (you know what they do), and whole group of people just labeled as "sinners." What we see constantly Jesus do is share a meal with them (Luke 5:27-32, Luke 11, Luke 15 prodigal son).
  • Meals were seen as an act of Community
    Jesus welcomes us, creates space, listens to, and provides for His people. Meals make people slow down and have conversation. Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote, "Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate."  Meals shape, and reshape, relationships in terms of friendship. It is one of the reasons scripture tells us that God will throw a great banquet for His children.  
     
  • Meals were about enacted Hope
    In Isaiah 55 God talks about His provision for a people who cannot buy what they really need. For us Jesus provides for us through the Cross, and resurrection, what we cannot buy, but what we truly need.
     
  • Meals are about Mission
    Reaching, loving, sharing, hosting. The scriptures constantly speak about the poor, blind, lame, crippled…but in God's view that is ALL of us.

-We are the spiritually poor - we have nothing to offer for our salvation
-We are the spiritually crippled - we are made powerless by sin
-We are the spiritually blind - we are unable to see the truth about Jesus
-We are the spiritually lame - we are unable to come to God on our own

  • Meals are a symbol of Enacted Salvation
    On Sunday we had baked potatoes, pork, and carrots, can those be about enacted salvation? Yes. It was and is about people laughing, sharing news, passing food. We say "grace" before we eat, we thank God for his great provision for us. Meals are a part of hospitality; bringing someone in and taking care of their needs. This again is what God has done for us, He has welcomed us into His family and given us bread and wine that will cause us to never thirst and never go hungry again.
  • Meals are Enacted Promise
    The risen Jesus ate with his disciples (Luke 24:42-43). The physicality of Jesus is not cancelled because of the resurrection.

In one sense, throughout the scriptures, creation, redemption, and mission all exist so that Christ's meal with us can take place. We are redeemed to forever eat meals in Christian community and with Christ Himself.
 
…A meal, a life, a community on mission for Jesus' name…may you live and believe in that.
 
 
These are the questions that were asked around your bonfires:

  • If you knew you only had one meal left in life, what would be your last supper?
  • Who do you enjoy sharing meals with?
  • Do you find the more you “eat” with someone, the easier it is to love/like them?
  • Why do you think Jesus used a meal to symbolize His life in communion? 

Dedicate (Sounds Like A Hip Hop Song)

by Aaron
I haven’t really mentioned this in a blog in a while so I thought I would say it again, baby dedications are cool; they really are. There is also something I really hate about baby dedications: that would be me. I feel like such a broken record when we do them because I say, essentially, the same thing every time. 


 
The last two weeks at Element we have done dedications in second service, in just a couple weeks we will be doing another (again in second service); which leads me to believe that second service must be the frisky crowd. Second service could also be the godly crowd following the biblical mandate to FILL THE EARTH, but I am pretty sure it’s the frisky crowd.
 
Sometimes people ask if we baptize infants, the answer is no, we dedicate children. Why? Baby dedications essentially came about because certain churches after the reformation stopped observing infant baptism (because infants can’t understand the ramifications of what baptism entails). As a body of believers we still want to encourage parents and children to do life in the midst of community, so at Element we practice child dedications.

A Baby Dedication is a short and simple ceremony in which believing parents, and sometimes entire families, make a commitment before the Lord to submit a child to God's will and to raise that child according to God's Word and God's ways. We also ask the entire church to commit their lives to be lived before the child in such a way that Jesus is constantly on display. A child will get their main understanding of the world through the community around them…which means we want to be a Jesus centered community.
 
So, if you happen to be at Element in the next few weeks, and happen to be in a service with a dedication, and happen to be pleasantly surprised by the great blessing that children are…thank God and dedicate your life to helping raise that little one to know, and live in, the grace of Jesus.

No, uh…No, Really

by Aaron
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.
 

Goals Are Good

by Aaron
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.

Who Wants Responsibility?

by Aaron

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).

Circle of the Beatitudes

by Aaron

We spent the last 4 months going through the beatitudes, we are now continuing on to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. As we rounded out the beatitudes a lot of you mentioned that you had never heard them explained the way we talked about them. You also mentioned that the last week with the circle diagram made a lot of sense and opened your eyes, so we thought we would give that to you as a recap blog.


Remember that Hebrew story telling is much different than ours in that Hebrew story telling goes: beginning middle beginning. The story that we call the Prodigal Son starts with the father, then speaks of his boys, then ends with the father (beginning middle beginning). The scriptures do this as well, in Genesis God makes man and tells him to take responsibility for (and have stewardship) over creation. God places man in the garden to partner with Him (not that God needs it, but He loves working with His kids) to create a new culture.
 
In the book of Revelation we are told Revelation 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. The word reign = basileuō and it has the connotations of "to exercise influence or to participate with." There will be a river, trees, city, fruit, healing of nations, proper healed relationships...and they will participate with God forever and ever. This means working with God in stewarding, participating in, and guiding creation. This is what God intended from the beginning. The story starts Genesis and doesn't end, but continues at the end of Revelation.
 
The beatitudes do this as well.
 
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Go to the 'end,' Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It comes full circle. This is only promised that is repeated. Hebrew blessing is not a straight line, it is a loop.

  • We begin "Poor in Spirit," God meets us when (and where) we are nothing and offers the Kingdom of God > This leads to "mourning" because we recognize our sin and we become comforted in His grace > This leads to "meekness" (humility) where we receive the grace of God and understand our inheritance > We then begin to "hunger and thirst" for God's rightness in our lives and in the world and will be satisfied.

When we understand where and how God has met us, we interact with the world around us in a new way.

  • We become "merciful" to others because we have received mercy > Our hearts become "pure" as we look for what God is doing (and wants us to do) in the world. We actually see God moving in places we never noticed before > When we live that way it makes us into "Peacemakers" who live as God's children in the world making the announcement that God has offered peace to us > AND sometimes that peace that we offer can lead to "persecution," but we must remember that we live, and have been given, the Kingdom of God.

 
Jesus announces blessing, ONE BLESSING, and the beatitudes tell of the characteristics of one type of people, those who live in the Kingdom of God. The beatitudes are Jesus' way of saying that "when you follow me, and when you become my disciple, when you truly live the gospel and extend grace it will be very hard." We will always need to end up back at the beginning realizing we need to rely on Him for everything.
 
It is there that we remember that Jesus has already blessed us, while He continues to call us into something greater.

 

 

Glory/Fire/Light -- Good Friday 2014 Recap

by Aaron



CS Lewis in the book the weight of glory writes, " Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity." He is speaking of glory for ourselves (he says he doesn't want fame and doesn't want to be a light bulb)…when speaking of God though, neither is ridiculous and both are true. In Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,The heavens speak of His fame, everything speaks of His fame, every knee will bow and every tongue confess HIS FAME.
 
But what about his luminosity?
 
The concept of light runs throughout the scriptures: Genesis 1 starts with light…this light that God separates from darkness. Genesis 1:3-4 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God creates the light and this becomes a metaphor for what God does in lives throughout history. Life begins with God AND LIGHT (light is a foundational element that all life is built needing and it is based in the glory of God).
 
In Genesis 3 we sin/death enters the world, and the light of God is pushed out of our lives in favor of sin and death. When the children of Israel wandered in the desert after God freed them from slavery, He provided a cloud and pillar of fire to guide their way. When the fire moved you moved, if the fire didn’t move YOU DIDN’T MOVE.
 
In Exodus God appears to the Israelites and the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Hebrews 12:28-29 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. The glory of the Lord is like a fire, radiant, bright. We love fire, but fire is also a dangerous thing. We can't live without it, but it is dangerous. Exodus 20:18-19 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die." They can't go away, but they can't get too close.
 
When Moses comes down from the mountain he was glowing with luminosity simply by being near the presence of God.
 
Psalms has light dominate throughout the book (19:8, 27:1, 36:9, 56:13, 89:15, 90:8, just to name a few). The Psalms are all written at the height of Israel's kingdom, soon after they fall into idolatry, turn their back on God and eventually when you reach the end of the Old testament God goes silent for 400 years. 
 
But one night we read Luke 2:8-9 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, (and once again because of this light/glory we read) and they were filled with great fear. In John 1:14 we read And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
 
In John 8 we read about the Feast of Tabernacles (one of the 3 great feasts) celebrating God delivering His people from slavery. At night there were HUGE CANDLABRAS in the temple as there was no electricity. When the sun went down these large candles would be lit and the flames would shoot up to heaven and the temple would be illuminated. JESUS begins to teach in the MIDDLE OF THIS SETTING. John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Musicians play, songs are sung, holy men dance, they celebrate God being light and Jesus stands there and says “I am the light of the world.” People who don’t think Jesus ever claimed to be God are simply wrong...Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” How do you partake in that light? Jesus says YOU FOLLOW ME.
 
The Gospel of John starts John 1:4-5 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. What do we do to the light of world, the glory of God in human flesh? We snuff it out. Because we love our sin more than we love His glory. We want what we want. We are more offended when someone hurts us then when someone tries to hurt God. We hold grudges, and lash out in anger (internally or externally) because we refuse to forgive, like our great God who has forgiven us. We believe we have more right to act like God than God…and Jesus dies to pay for these sins and so much more.
 
This is why Jesus died, to restore us to be the people that God bestows His glory upon. God's glory is not stuffed out, it continues to spread and will eventually cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. How is He doing that now? Through you and me as we believe, receive, surrender and follow the crucified and risen Jesus. As one person becomes redeemed it's like a light goes on, glory shines and spreads, and God is made known one person at a time.
 
God's Spirit is changing us into the people who better everyday reflect God's glory. One person at a time. On Good Friday we gave each person a light bulb to illustrate this. For those who had surrendered their lives to Jesus they were invited to take communion in remberance of what Jesus has done. After they partook in communion they were, one by one, to screw their bulb into the sockets on the table to illustrate "one by one" how the light will grow, illuminate, and eventually become too much to gaze at.
 
It is a picture of the Glory of God covering the world. It was hopefully a small microcosm of display to remind us all what should happen as the church lives on mission for the glory of God. We repent and lay bare the hardness of our hearts as we remember our Lord's body broken and bleeding for us.

The Good Friday 100

by Aaron

I have probably said this before, but I love all things sci-fi. If a new movie or sci-fi show comes out, I have to watch it…the problem is that most of the new shows are horrible, boring, rote, trite, or any other number of adjectives used describe shows that have overused ideas. Take for example this show called “The 100.” It is sort of a Lord of the Flies meets dystopian future after a nuclear holocaust where there are 100 people sent to earth to see if they can survive.
 
At one point there is this guy that no one likes, but he gains an unlikely following and brings mayhem to the struggling culture of survival. He is wicked, heinous, and now murderous, as he wants to kill a 10-year-old girl.
 
After a very lengthy, and not very interesting, build up, the little girl takes her own life to save her friends from this monster. As soon as this happens, everyone’s minds return to reality and this murderous individual no longer has a following. Instead of taking this murderous guy out (by ‘out’ I mean OUT), they ‘banish him;’ which we all know only leads to some future return of this guy at an inopportune moment, to wreak havoc on the fledging society.
 
When I saw this I thought it was a great analogy to the Christian life and Easter. Our sin wants to murder us, it causes us to go crazy and do stupid things that destroy people and relationships around us. When we finally come to a moment of lucidity, when we see things clearly, we know we should kill our sin…but instead we banish it, thinking that is good enough, but in reality we know deep inside sin will rear its ugly head again when we least want it to.
 
John Owen once said, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:12-13 “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

On what we now celebrate as Good Friday, Jesus goes to the cross because sin causes death. Jesus died the death we deserve to die, not just for 100 of us, but all of us. The deeds of the flesh must be put to death, but how do we do that? By becoming alive, living in the Spirit, and walking in His strength…which is the point of Easter. Resurrection takes us from our place of death, where sin left us, and brings us back to life again. Jesus’ death removes the sin; His resurrection brings us to life with Him (and in) Him.
 
The way you kill sin is with the Spirit, it is why Paul says, “by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body.” John Piper says the best way to live in the Spirit is by staying in the Scriptures. Piper’s mother used to say to him, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” It is the same idea; the scriptures connect us with hearing God’s Spirit, which gives us strength to kill sin.
 
In one sense sin was crushed at the cross, it’s demise has been heralded and witnessed at the cross (Good Friday), our hope for real and new life comes in the form of Easter and Resurrection, and the only death we need truly concern ourselves with is the death of the old ways in which we used to walk. For, though sin has been defeated, our flesh still craves it…so be killing sin or it will be killing you.
 
Happy Good Friday.

If Trash Cans Could Speak

by Aaron
The other day I was driving home from one of my jobs (I can’t remember which one, but that is not the point). As I drove down the streets adjacent to my house the sky was becoming darker as the clouds for the coming storm started overshadowing everything. It was then that I noticed the green garbage cans in front of everyone’s houses.
 
Our trash pickup is scheduled on an every other week rotation; one week it is normal trash and recycle, the next week it is normal trash and green waste. This particular morning I had put out my regular waste and recycle waste, but as a drove home I noticed that all my neighbors had put out their regular waste and their green waste. I thought, “Look at that dummy, he put out the wrong can.” A little farther down the street I saw another and thought, “another dummy with the wrong can.” As more and more people had their green cans out I began to realize that either everyone else was the dummy, or I was.
 
Sadly, as seems too often the case, the dummy was me (or “I” or however that punctuation and grammar stuff works).
 
Many times we need that subtle reminder that as much as we think we are right, we can many times be completely wrong. We can get so upset at others that we tend to lose our way and begin to wrongly assume things about them that are not necessarily true. We can judge motives based upon how we interpret them and not how the person intended them, we can get angry over a perceived slight that was never there, and we can think every else is the dummy with the wrong trash can on curb when the reality is that it is us who are sub-par in our memory.  Philippians 2:3 reminds us Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
 
Sometimes we all need a reminder of our fallibility because we can get so self-righteous that we don’t even notice how we might be the only people who got the trashcan wrong. Its is a humble thing to realize who the real dummy is, it’s me, its us, but those are also the people Jesus uses because we realize we don’t have all the answers, only He does.
 
Welcome to the poor in spirit club.