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.

Q&A: Communion in the Creeds?

by Aaron

Why isn't Communion, the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, mentioned in the creeds of the church?

This could be a very short answer, but I will do my best to string it out a bit.
 
The Nicene Creed came about in 325AD and it was essentially a way to combat Gnosticism and the Arian controversy. Building on this creed, other creeds came along from different counsels, 381 Constantinople, 451 Chalcedon. The creed(s) were essentially baptism confessions of faith and they were intended to show right belief before baptism. This is why the creeds were packed with as many tenants of the faith as possible in the smallest space.
 
They were not intended to be an exhaustive exposition of every aspect of the faith and life in the family of Christ.
 
The church, for a very long time, also would not let anyone partake in communion until they were baptized as a confession of faith. This also shows why communion is not mentioned in the creeds because it came after baptism.

Today there are some churches who will recite the Nicene creed before communion, as part of the confession. 

Q&A: Nicene Creed and Baptisms

by Aaron

In the Nicene Creed, one of the most quoted and respected creeds, it says, "We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins." What does that mean? Did they believe baptism saved a person?

One of the things that we, westernized people, like today is what we call distinctions. We are constantly trying to separate things into their smallest details; wood is made up of fibers, fibers are made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of quarks. These distinctions have also made their way into theology (which is a blessing and curse at times).
 
First, the early church believed that ONLY Jesus saves us, not baptism, but baptism was still related. Today we see baptism in 2 parts, one is the act of baptism where we identify with Jesus in an outward display by being 'baptized' in water, the second (or the first) is the spiritual side where the Spirit takes us and places us into the family of God. Where we differentiate these two things, the early church did not, they were seen as being essentially part of the same act. It is why you see when people believed, in the early church, they were immediately baptized. It wasn't that the water baptism saved them, it was the fact that it was all a response to salvation and considered one act.
 
Acts 8:35-39 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. In this context it all became one essential act. 
 
The Nicene Creed is referencing both the physical act of water baptism and the spiritual reality of new birth; it is baptism in its ideal consideration. Water does not wash away sins, but the church, through the Creed, was making a statement about what God does for those who have faith in Christ.

One commentator says that in Acts 2:38, where the Creed draws its wording from, the word "for" should be understood (and could be translated as) "with reference to."  The reading would be "be baptized with reference to the remission of sins."

The historic context would be the sacramental union of the sign, water baptism, and the thing that is signified is the washing of our sins and the engrafting into Christ. 

The Theological Danger of Email Forwards

by Aaron

I recently received an email forward, because some of you have too much time on your hands and you think I do too. The email forward was a little PowerPoint show that was meant to be funny, but it was more perplexing to me than funny.
 
It started off with things like "In the beginning God created the Heavens and earth and populated it with broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and…vegetables." It goes on to say "then using God's gifts, Satan created…ice cream and…donuts." God creates salad and Satan makes fatty dressings, God brings running shoes and Satan brings a TV remote, God brings potatoes and Satan makes French fries, and God may have made ground beef, but Satan makes McDonalds.
 
As I read this I grew more and more frustrated because, even as a joke, this seemingly 'funny' forward reinforces the exact idea that I think Satan wants to people to believe: God creates boring stuff and Satan makes all things better. This is the lie all the way back to the Garden. God couldn't possibly be as good as He said He is, God would never give people the ability to make hamburgers or ice cream, only Satan could do that. The lie is: "don't trust Jesus for joy, he wouldn't know joy if it sat in His lap, only I, your friend the Devil, brings bliss."
 
We forget that the scriptures warn us against this type of thinking.

  • James 1:16-17 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…

We forget that everything good COMES from the hand of God.

  • Psalm 103 :2-5 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

 
It is the same old thing, the devil speaks lies, we believe them, pass them around, and joke about it. How about we think and live in the truth that says, "if Ice Cream is awesome, it is because Jesus is awesome. If hamburgers, remote controls, salad dressing, and desserts are amazing, it is only because our God is amazing." Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart…Why? Because Jesus is good and we can rest in that hope.
 
Ultimately, all of our joy should stem from the fact that our God sought us in our lost state, while we were sending email forwards, while even misunderstanding Him…and died for our sins and rose to raise us to new life and relationship in Him. 
 
That's some reason for joy.

Q&A: John 14:14

by Aaron

I have a relative who has been grilling me about some verses and brought up John 14:14, which he says can't be true since we clearly don't get everything we ask for from God. Do you have any insight?

Do I have any insight? I have an opinion about everything. In context let's start in verse 12, John 14:12-14 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."
 
This is one of those sections of scripture that is constantly taken out of the context of what surrounds it by people who believe that God is a genie in a bottle whose every desire is to give us what we think we want. Notice the verse starts out speaking of Jesus' work in the world and us being a part of it. Jesus' work continues, and grows even greater, because of the sheer amount of people involved in His work. This is why today the Gospel is not confined simply to a bit of real-estate that we call Israel (or even the Middle East). Because of what Jesus has done, and is doing in His people, good is happening all around the world. As the Gospel Transformation Bible says "our work for Jesus is really our work with Jesus." 
 
When Jesus says, "ask for whatever you want in my name," He is not saying, "Want a car? Say 'Jesus name.' Want a smaller waist line? Say 'Jesus name.'  Want to win the lottery? Say 'Jesus name.'" There are some very off base people today who tell you exactly that, but instead of whacking God like a piñata, I think we ought to whack them around a bit (with good theology).
 
In the context of the verses, the types of prayers that Jesus is referring to are those that further His work and bring glory to the Father. Most of our prayers today are about our own self-glorification (God give me a man, give me a woman, give me a house, get me a job, give me straighter teeth, and/or make me smarter). Jesus says that the prayers, in this context, that He answers are ones that honor God. We are to make it about His glory, His honor, and His gospel.
 
What should we pray for? How about:

  • Salvation for those who need Jesus.
  • Courage that we wouldn't be timid about the Gospel but speak with and LIVE with boldness.
  • Healing for those who are hurt.
  • The health of His church.
  • Opportunities to serve one another.

It seems as if almost no one prays, "God, give me opportunity to serve others."
 
Prayer is about changing the heart of God's people, not changing God. When you begin to pray for others your heart towards them will melt…I think this is why we are told to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
 
Again, in context, Jesus follows verse 14 by saying John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments." It sounds to me like He is reinforcing that we should be a people who are about His work in the world, not our own selfish wants and desires. Love for Jesus has everything to do with what we pray about, how we live, and how we partner with Him in the world.

A Great Big Thank You

by Aaron
When I was growing up, occasionally my grandmother would send me a Christmas or birthday card with five dollars in it. I would promptly take this five dollars and run down to the local convenience store and spend it all on bubble gum and candy. I know that today five dollars doesn't buy a lot of bubble gum and candy, but when I was a kid it was almost more than I could carry (yes, I am old).
 
I was very excited for my candy, it was instant gratification, and I could eat it all and no one could get mad because I bought it with MY money. I was so excited for my candy that I actually forgot to ever send my Grandmother a thank you…for years. Eventually the fact that I always forgot to send a thank you made her decide to stop sending me five dollars at all.
 
I know that none of you are my grandmother, if you were it would be awkward because she died almost 18 years ago. Even though you are not her, I did want to send you a thank you note. You have been more than generous to Element over the last year. In a culture that has seen giving drop to charitable organizations, you have not only helped Element meet our budget, but also exceed it. Your support is one of the main reasons we could afford to buy (well, finance anyway) the field next to Element.
 
The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:3-5 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I know I am not Paul, but I do feel the same way, I am thankful and grateful for you.
 
As we say every week, giving is part of our worship, it is why we give you the opportunity every week, and many of you are worshipping Jesus faithfully and fruitfully. So, thank you, and here is to a hopefully expectant 2014. I am excited to see what Jesus will do in and through all of us.

Scheduled Service

by Aaron
This is the first real blog entry of 2014, the idea for it (which I will call crazy) came from riding around in my friend’s car. His car is older and has a computer HUD (heads up display) that was probably the best thing you could buy in a car (if it was a 1996 Grand Cherokee).
 
I was asking a lot of questions about this HUD, I seem to do that a lot. As he answered my myriad of questions he also informed me that a lot of the sensors are bad so the HUD doesn’t always know what actually works and what doesn’t. About two minutes into the car ride the computer brought up another notification that said, “perform service.” I started to laugh to myself because if none of the sensors work, then you should probably perform some type of service.
 
I also thought how convenient it would be for our souls to have some sort of HUD that could identify all of our bad sensors and remind us to perform service.  In 1 Timothy 4:1-2 Paul says Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared
 
Having no ‘sensors’ in us seems to lead to a seared conscience, which leads to insincerity, which puts us squarely in the realm of devoting ourselves to living life the way a demon would; opposed to God. The best way to avoid all this, when our lives have been surrendered to Christ, is to "perform service."
 
Our God came in the person of Jesus, as a servant, and calls us to serve as well. In Luke 22:26-27 Jesus says, But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Jesus knew that one of the aspects He placed in us, to get our eyes and minds off of ourselves, was to be intimately acquainted with service.
 
So, in 2014, perform service, not because we are loved based on our performance, but as a response to what our great God has done for us.

Christmas Presents Made Of Coal

by Aaron

I know we hear that song during Christmas where Santa has a list and checks it twice to see who is naughty and nice like a capricious sky fairy waiting to give away all of his left over coal to those who are bad. But seriously, have you ever thought about what that really means?
 
We see the cartoons about elves making all kinds of presents for all the “good” kids, but if all the “bad” kids get lumps of coal, where does it come from? Does Santa own his own coal mine where he forces the “bad” elves to work away long hours of the day and night to mine the black rocks to give to bad kids? Do those elves ever get out of the mines, or are they lost "Lord of the Rings" Dwarves who begin to go insane for lack of sunshine? Is there an organized movement for better working conditions? Do they get free parakeets to tell when the air becomes toxic? There are so many questions, and I have never seen the cartoon that would explain it, so I do not know the answers.
 
Also, I think coal might even be worth more money in today’s economy then some of the other gifts those elves make. It almost seems like it would be better to be bad so I can get the coal…for free.
 
I am thinking of so many new ways to get Christmas animated classics to out TV screens to answer the hard questions: Rudolph the Black Nosed Reindeer, Black Christmas, It’s a Charlie Black Christmas…I think we could redo any classic to reflect the coal giving of the season.
 
Our lives become ludicrous when we start basing our worth on the naughty and nice list, on presents verses coal. If we make Santa into our God, then he is a very legalistic God indeed (with some very questionable business practices). This is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the real Christmas hope is completely different from our man-centered view of Christmas. The real Christmas is based solely upon God’s mercy and grace.
 
Titus 3:4-6 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
 
We don’t get coal, we get the gift of grace. This gift of grace is supposed to change us, from the inside out, into Children of God who reflect Jesus to the world. This Christmas, don’t be about the presents or the coal, be about the grace and truth of a God who tossed the list aside at the cross and extended to us the gift of relationship and grace. 

Ho Freakin' Ho Ho

by Aaron

That is probably a terrible way to start a blog as some people think "freakin" is now a bad word. Well, it's not a bad word, Jesus has told me so in a dream after I ate lots of cookies and went into an altered state called: sugar coma.
 
I really want to ask you in this blog if you feel overwhelmed by the holidays. For me I think I do…and I didn't even realize it, until yesterday. Every year I have been really trying to get into the Christmas swing by putting more lights on my house and bringing blinding light bulb cheer to all my neighbors, but last year I got lazy and never took my lights down. I know it is a major holiday faux pas, my wife tells me I am a redneck for doing it, but I think I am just tired.
 
This year I went out to plug in my lights, which were a lovely red and white last year, only to find that the sun had bleached my red lights and turned them all orangish-pink. Normally I would be horrified at this turn of events, but this year I am tired and busy so I just shrugged my shoulders and left them on. I will not switch them out, my neighbors will have to live with my half hearted ho ho ho (or ho freakin' ho ho) this year. 
 
I could write this blog about 6 ways to gain that Christmas cheer, 5 spiritual lessons from Christmas lights that have faded, or even 10 reasons to love your neighbors by taking down your Christmas lights at the end of the year, but I don't want to, I'm tired. Christmas is a short jump away and I would rather spend my time enjoying life with Jesus, my friends, my family, and my wife (who told me just to leave the lights up another year and they should be bleached white by that time).

John Wesley once said " Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can."

I guess that's a good Christmas admonition, but I like the Apostle Paul's even better in Galatians 6:10 "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."
 
I really do think decorating, bringing cheer and joy to those around us is important, but spending time connecting and investing in people is more important. So this year, if you have to pick between lights on your house or spending time with Jesus and friends, choose Jesus and friends…but if you have an extra hour, do the lights too (and replace them if red has turned to pink). 

Dads And Chicken Death

by Aaron

Today one of my friends asked me a question that I think would be good to write to you (at Element) about. My friend and his wife got some chickens (just a couple, not a whole farm) to be able to produce eggs and teach their daughters a bit about caring for farm animals. Over the last few days it has been bitterly cold over night (by “bitterly” I mean under 30 degrees). When he went out to see the chickens this morning the smallest one, Sunflower, was dead.
 
Sunflower was one of those chickens that ended up as the runt, skinny, small, but with a great personality. It would run up to you, hang out with you, and even sit in your lap when you were in the back yard…but Sunflower was also the weakest chicken in the bunch. My friend asked me how to talk about death to his 6-year-old daughter. Does he tell her Sunflower is in heaven?
 
I thought this was a perfect teachable moment for a father to talk about the truth of the Gospel with his daughter. I told him that he needs to talk about death in a real way, a way that doesn’t minimize what happened to Sunflower, and then help his daughter to understand that the pain she feels is hatred toward death and sin.
 
I said the he should explain that in school they will try to teach her that death is just a natural part of the “circle of life,” but the truth is that the pain she feels proves that it isn’t. Death is our enemy, we despise death, and we hate death because death is the result of sin. I told him that he then gets to talk about the greatness of Jesus because Jesus died and rose to defeat death for His people. Though our bodies may still be decaying, Jesus saves us for eternal life.
 
1 Corinthians 15:53-58 reminds us:

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

 
Through the death of Sunflower, the Gospel gets to be proclaimed; it’s helps his daughter not only understand the vileness of sin, but also the strength, majesty, and love of Jesus who died the death we should have died to give us His life.
 
My friend then asked if he should tell his daughter that Sunflower is in heaven, I laughed and said, “we have no way to know that.” I said the Scriptures are clear that Jesus loved Sunflower because Sunflower was one of His creatures, but that Jesus loves His daughter more and that is what she needs to know.
 
Death doesn’t have to be something Christians run from, it can be the perfect opportunity to help our kids understand that greatness of Jesus...because Jesus IS great!

RIP Sunflower

It's Easier To Be A Zombie

by Aaron
I like the Walking Dead, I mean who doesn’t like zombies being mowed down during the apocalypse. What is easy about being a Zombie is that your life is over, you just walk around looking for something living to eat its brains…that’s it, nothing else.
 
That is how a lot of people treat their walk with Jesus and their interaction with the church. Many people attend Sunday morning’s services and really want nothing else to do with people in the church. Sure we will go to the obligatory mid-week, small group, or other event we feel guilted into, but we would rather live like a zombie…doing nothing for the rest of the week other than meeting our own appetites.
 
As a person intimately involved in church leadership, I am always talking to other staff members, reading books, and finding useful people to talk to about how to get people (read: YOU) more deeply involved in life that is centered on the Gospel. Sometimes I think a lot of people would rather just go to services on a Sunday morning than get more involved in something that lasts longer than a of couple hours a week.  
 
Being involved in the life of other people, while living on mission for Jesus, is not easy and takes up a lot of “our” time; it would be so much easier to be a zombie. Many people in our current culture think Hebrews 10:24-25 (And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near) simply refers to getting together on Sunday mornings…but the truth is this is more than a Sunday morning admonition.
 
The words “stir up one another” actually assumes we are involved in the life of each other. We are to “stir up” each other to “love” and “good works,” we are to “encourage” each other…the only way to do that is to be involved with each other which involves more than a couple hours a week.
 
The question then becomes “why,” why do we live this way? I think Hebrews 10:23 tells us…because Jesus who called us to live this way is faithful. He made us, He knows what we need, He knows why He called us to more time with each other than a couple hours a week…He is faithful (Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful).
 
So, stop living like a zombie and wake up to the true life God has called us in to. Life with Jesus, life with each other, the life of the Gospel.

Q&A: Dating an Unbeliever

by Aaron

I would like to know your thoughts on a believer dating an unbeliever. I've talked to several people of faith, and been looking through scripture, and cannot find anything concrete. Please give me your honest opinion about this.

When you say "people of faith" I am taking that to mean "Christians," there are a lot of "people of faith" of different "faiths" who would disagree with what I'm about to say to you…or ask you, because my first thing is a question (or two).
 
What is the purpose of dating? Is it just to have fun or are you actually looking for something more serious?
 
The reason I ask you those questions is I believe a Christian should date different than everyone else, as everything we do should be for a purpose. If you want to date someone because you like them and you could see it going further, then the question of faith is of utmost importance. I am constantly asking men and women both if the person they are dating is who they want raising their children.
 
Since you are a guy, do you really want a non-Christian woman raising your kids and leading them into what is important? Do you really think faith and trust in Jesus is so little a thing that it doesn't matter? I believe Christians do a disservice to non-Christians when they date them because they act like their faith is not a big deal…like it really doesn't count (until after marriage). This is one of the problems with believers today, they don't think it is important to live with Christ on display in all things.
 
You know what you get when you date a non-Christian, nothing they do should surprise you, but when a non-Christian dates a believer, they really have no idea what they are getting. After a ring and an "I do" a believer turns into a whole other person because NOW they want the other person to start living a faith they have never professed. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul has been answering a few questions when he says these words "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"
 
That verse has many connotations, but I think one we can pull from it is that you have no business dating someone who doesn't believe, it is unfair to them, to you, and any legacy you hope to leave behind you. You are not better than her, your life's priorities are simply different.

The ESV study bible has a great note about the above verse...I have paraphrased it for you here. The image of being unequally yoked is a term from agriculture where you would have two animals unsuited to work together (like a dog and a cat on a bob sled team…it would just be havoc). They will consistently be pulling and moving in opposing directions. Believers and unbelievers have different operating principles and aims. As we constantly point out, this does not mean we do not have any relationships with unbelievers (or else evangelism would be impossible), but we are not to be in partnerships that allow principles or practices contrary to Christ to control us.

A Rant: Sin Vs Dumb

by Aaron
Sometimes I just like to rant about something that really bugs me, what's great about that is I have a forum to do it…it's called Element's blog. You don't have to read it, I don't have to write it, but I did and now you do, that's how it works.
 
I am reading a book right now, which isn't surprising if you know me. The author of this book got me thinking because he started talking about the difference between something that was a sin verses something that was just dumb.
  • If you spend all your money trying to soup up your car or your home stereo and have no savings for an emergency…it is not necessarily a sin, it's just dumb.
  • If you only have a part time job so you can play your video games to the wee hours of the night and become your clan’s next "guild leader," it may not be a sin, but it is just dumb.
Young men will often say things like "it's not a sin," like this author points out "neither is eating your cereal box instead of the cereal, it's just dumb." 
 
It's like I wrote about a few weeks ago, it is the idea of legacy, "what are we leaving behind us." Today a single woman is more likely to go to college, have a job, attend church, and have a driver's license then a young man (18-34 years old). Marketing companies target 18-34 year old males because they don't know what it means to be men as they try to fill their lives by what they consume and not what they produce.
 
I know it is easier to rant then give answers, and I want to encourage young men to actually want more than what our culture or their friends are driven by. I want young men, all men, to be those who lead those around them into something greater, who know what a true faith centered on Jesus looks like and is lived like, and are not afraid to take a stand for the truth even when assaulted by craziness from all sides.
 
If you are a reading this blog I would like you to consider praying to Jesus about:
  • Not only your rights, but also your responsibilities
  • How to give instead of take
  • How to meet obligations without expecting anything in return
  • How to wait until you can afford things rather than going into debt
  • The difference between work and fun (which goes back to responsibilities)
We must be a people a who honor Jesus with how we live…and I believe God's men must lead that way, because right now they are leading nowhere. It may not be a sin, but it is dumb. Let's move in Jesus' direction together.

A Call to Resurgence

Element U Week One Recap

by Aaron
We know some of you missed Element U week one and we wanted to give you a re-cap of it in case you were coming this Wednesday for part II. Understand, this re-cap is not all inclusive and you probably won't understand all that we talked about without LISTENING to last week's Element U.
 
Week one we discussed the differences in worldviews that are clashing in our culture today. These two world views have been described by Dr Peter Jones as One-ism and Two-ism (We recommend you read One or Two by Peter Jones and Doctrine by Mark Driscol and Gerry Breshears as most of this can be found in those books). The lie is what we call one-ism. One-ism is the pagan doctrine (of Idolatry)…it is the teaching and belief that there is no distinction between Creator and creation, and/or a denial that there is a Creator. The popular word for this notion is monism. One-ism is what our culture, TV shows, new media, government, and spiritual leaders are all espousing: the eradication of boundaries and differences to bring opposites together as one.
 
As a worldview, one-ism is antithetical to Christian two-ism because it seeks to place everything in the one circle.
  1. There is no distinction between God the creator and creation.
  2. There is no distinction between God and mankind.
  3. There is no distinction between good and evil.
  4. There is no distinction between mankind and animals.
  5. There is no distinction between mankind and creation.
  6. There is no distinction between men and women.
  7. There is no distinction between religions.
A Christian who makes distinctions (such as between God and man, Jesus and Satan, angels and demons, heaven and hell, man and animals, holiness and sin, the Bible and other texts, male and female, truth and error, good and evil) is considered a fundamental threat to the utopian world of peace, love, and oneness.
 
3 points of a Monist (or One-ism) worldview.
     1)    All is One and One is All (A Circle - O)
Every system that does not accept God as creator is a monistic system at its core.
     2)    Humanity is One
     3)    All religions are one

The push of one-ism, and our culture today, is that all religions must come together to make sure that the circle is complete. The power of the circle is the pull to unity, to coming together. One-ism defines the essence of Christianity as the fundamental problem with the world (that God makes distinctions).
 
We will be a people who can step into this dialog when we understand that there is a God and He is separate from His creation, yet stepped into it to save us. We must stop FIGHTING for victory and realize Jesus has already WON the victory, our job is to now win people over with grace and truth.
 
The fundamental distinction is that there is a creator and we are the creation. We are a people who have sinned and rebelled against our good and holy God. Yet God stepped into HIS creation in the person of Jesus to rescue a people who could not rescue themselves. Jesus died for our sin, for our brokenness, to bring us back into saving relationship with our creator. The reason Christianity is the threat that it is, why you will see more and more attacks against it, is that fundamental to who we are is the belief that there is a creator and we are creation. He is separate and distinct from us.

It's A Question of Definition Part II (Consumption or Love)

by Aaron

In the last blog I talked about how we are too often defined by what we consume and not our legacy that we are to leave behind us. This misunderstanding of our calling has led ultimately to our misunderstanding of everything including love.
 
It is why today fathers don’t understand how to love their children, because we have made love a self-serving endeavor. We convince ourselves that love is simply being nice because being nice is simply a way to make our lives easier. Too many fathers will tell their children when something is wrong, but will not lead them to what is right. Too many fathers will not lead their homes, but only point out what is wrong in their homes to others. When asked they will say it is out of love (I know, I have heard it many times).
 
But God has called Himself: Father. What does love look like when our heavenly father talks about it?

  • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son…” This tells us love is about sacrifice and hope. God’s love allowed His son to die to bring you and I into His family.
  • Romans 5:8 “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“ God’s love as a Father calls sin “sin,” but then also does something about it.
  • 1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God’s love doesn’t wink at sin and say it’s OK; God’s love points out what sin is and then leads us to grace.

Through the scriptures we read what God’s love is and does…God’s love changes us, it makes us become different people. If our lives are not changing in light of God’s love for us, then we either do not understand God’s love, or are not truly living in it.
 
Back to earthly fathers today… If the way you love your wife and your children is not changing them for the better, then your love is not like God’s love. Real love, like God’s love, brings change in those who are receiving that love. That means love will call sin what it is, not slough off responsibility onto someone or something else; it will step into a mess and help our families change. If you are not willing to do that, then you aren’t willing to love and simply want to continue to be defined by what you consume.

  • Sometimes love means we stop enabling those we care about to continue to live in ways that dishonor God in our own homes.
  • Sometimes love means we show we the mistakes people make to run the course of their consequences.
  • Sometimes love means we seek out the hurt and lonely and rescue them.

Sometimes love is all those things, but love is never inactive, and it innately calls and breeds change. Reflect and inspect what your vision of “love” accomplishes and see if lines up with God’s love as our Father, and how He loves us.

It's A Question of Definition

by Aaron
I’ve been wanting to talk about something for awhile, its more like a soapbox type issue for me so I have been waiting until I can work it in on a Sunday morning...but that won’t happen for awhile so I am going to blog about it.
 
Sunday morning I was talking to a young man, by young man I mean over 18 but under 21, the type of guy who should have a job but doesn’t. He applies for jobs (online) but spends more time playing video games than actually looking for work or thinking of his legacy. He is like most young men today and I have told him this stuff before, so if he reads this blog it will not be a shock.
 
As we are talking he tells me about this new video game he is playing, a side mission of this game allows you to train your dog to poop on your neighbor’s lawn…he thinks this is funny. He also has the strategy guide for this game on his lap while he plays this video game, and it is probably the most interest he has shown in a book the entire time he was in school.
 
Now, please don’t think I am pointing at this young man as if to say, “look how terrible he is,” I point it out because it is something that our culture encourages…it is a matter of definitions. What I mean by that is today we are allowing ourselves to be defined by what we consume rather than the legacy God calls us to leave.
 
We are defined by:
  • the car we drive,
  • the job we have,
  • the person (or amount of people) we date,
  • the clothes we wear,
  • the video game we play,
  • the house we live in,
and a million other things.
 
It is why we can think it is funny to spend valuable time training a video game dog to poop on someone’s lawn in a fake world, all the while ignoring the legacy of grace, truth and mercy that should be on display in our life. It is why it can seem perfectly reasonable to someone to not have a job yet find enough money to get a new smartphone so they can talk to everyone online, because it defines them.
 
Deuteronomy 6:6-8 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise….V20“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes…you were to say V24 …for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. God always wanted His peoples focus to be a good legacy, but our focus today is ourselves and what we consume…and not our legacy.
 
Not only must our hearts change, but our lives must change as well. A legacy is what we need to leave, not just for our children, but also for our family, friends, neighbors, nation, and world.
 
Think bigger; think about what comes after you.

It doesn't end here....part 2 coming next week.


Spinning Wheels

by Aaron
Do ever feel like you are just doing the same thing doing the same thing over and over doing the same thing over and over in your life and yet everything is still the same and nothing changes? Maybe a bit like a rat in wheel that runs and runs and never goes anywhere (much like a person on a treadmill)? I admit that I have felt that way recently, partly because I have become so busy that my focus has become getting the next thing done and never looking up.
 
I was driving through Santa Maria just a few weeks ago and thought of all the streets that would get me where I needed to go quicker, with less traffic lights, and less people…just to get my ‘stuff’ done. As I was driving I actually looked up and saw the hills that ring the valley we live in and I was taken back at how beautiful the central coast truly is. It made me start to think about how I am trying to get things done with out the intrusion of people who will mess up MY plan…and yet God made us to be a people who are intimately involved with others. 
 
I took another, albeit mental, step back and thought about how much easier it would be for God to get stuff done with out the intrusion of people messing it all up, and yet He uses us anyway. It kind of puts a different perspective about slowing down and noticing not just the creation around us, but also the creatures around us. We serve a God who is worthy of worship and honor, yet it is when we worship ourselves and/or others that we begin to feel like we are spinning our wheels…because we think they are OUR wheels.
 
In Romans 1:25 tells us about humanity, that they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! This wasn’t just true in Paul’s day; it is true in ours as well. We have made ourselves the center of our lives, we have become consumed with ourselves, and so feel like we are spinning our wheels because we aren’t getting ahead to where we want to be…we have made it all about us.
 
How about the next time you feel restless, the next time you want to convince yourself something is OK when you know the scriptures speak against it, or you feel like you are spinning your wheels, take a step back and look around. Look around at God’s word, His creation, and His creatures and see why those wheels are spinning…and maybe whom you are actually worshipping. Maybe the rat wheel will stop; then you can step off and surrender all of your energies to His ambition for your life.
 
Worship and serve the Creator and not the creation.