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? 

When Turkeys Drive

by Element Christian Church

Thank you for making the Turkey Drive for the Central Coast Rescue Mission a huge Success! Your Generosity brought them over thirty turkeys! These turkeys could be seen driving around town all afternoon on Sunday and will go to serve hundreds of people in need of a good Thanksgiving meal this holiday season.


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.

Uprooted (Part 2)

by Jonathan Whitaker
Part of the Planting Roots journey is about resources.  Specifically, God's resources and our relationship to them.  For much of my personal planting roots journey, which began when I was saved at age 11 and started in earnest when Jennifer and I were expecting our daughter Lauren, my relationship with God's resources has been in total disarray. 
 
Ask my Mom or wife: I can be a bit stuff-obsessed.  When I wanted something as a little boy, I would execute a three-to-four month campaign of wearing my parents down.  Like a siege army, I would deplete their resolve until I had secured the object of my desire.  I would like to say that this has not been the story of my life, but I would be lying.  Compounding matters, I have always been a planner and saver with money. I know how to earn it, save it and amass it.  Thriftiness is typically a virtue. However, I had a relationship with my money and stuff, and as a result it strained my relationship with the One who gave me the money and stuff.  You know WHO I mean. 
 
In my mid-twenties when I began to seek my Savior in relationship, Jennifer and I were involved with a terrific group of Christian friends in a weekly (sometimes daily) small group.  During this time our group -- all of us recent college grads and newlyweds -- decided to take an obedience challenge.  We decided to take on Proverbs 3:9-10.  Money was something I was good at.  Surely I could at least be obedient though giving to the church I attended. 
 
I told Aaron last week that I am reluctant to give people my testimony about tithing, because I think they will get the wrong idea.  He told me I didn't have a choice.  As the story goes on you will understand what I mean. 
As I said, I thought I was pretty good with money and I had sufficient income that making my tithe would be an easy first step in obeying God more fully.  Jennifer and I started with a decision to tithe, but we ended up where we should have started...with prayer.  Our decision was to give the full tithe (old testament style). For those not yet following, that meant the first tenth of every dollar we made, would now go to Bandera Road Community Church.  Our next step was to make a budget, which we had not had to this point in our marriage.  It was at this point I discovered my relationship with stuff was preventing me from growing in the relationship with the One whose resources I spent on the stuff.  Jennifer and I had two new car payments, a mortgage, and a new baby.  What we didn't have was ten percent of our income to pay a tithe.   
 
It was at this point we regrouped and circled back to where we should have started in the first place: prayer.  From our budgeting, we knew that we could give three percent, but we wanted to give ten percent.  We agreed that all that we had belonged to God.  So, it occurred to us that if we wanted to serve Him with what is already His, perhaps we should just ask Him for an assist. (Matt 21:22)
 
That month we gave three percent.  After more prayer and a harder look at our budget, we cut out some luxuries and found that God had provided enough in our budget to not only tithe, but cover all of the obligations which we made before we considered financial obedience. By the second month of the challenge we paid our full tithe. I had not yet read Malachi 3:10 (read it now), but I am convinced this was God's answer to our obedience. Also, this is where things took a turn for the weird.  That month I received a check in the mail from my Military Travel Credit Card reimbursing me for multiple overpayments I had made during overseas travel. Apparently, I benefited from the exchange rate and my math had been conservative.  Here is the thing though -- the reimbursement was unexpected and more than the amount I tithed by roughly ten percent.  I know...makes the hair on your neck stand up. 
 
Needless to say, I kept tithing. I will admit this hasn't happened every month since we started tithing.  Though unexpected money has shown up at critical times of need since then.  But more than that, out of our tithing God put us on the path of stewardship and budgeting that allowed us to pay off our car debt and build a rainy day fund.  Through steady obedience in this small way, God has shown us that we cannot out-give Him.  The best part has been that He has matured us on the subject of resources.  I know now that God does not want me to be dogmatic about some percentage; He wants 100 percent.  It is His.  He wants us to experience the joy of being generous as He is generous. What is funny is that He is so generous that He allows us to give away His stuff! (2 Cor. 8)
 
Having tested and seen that God is good in the area of resources and money, Jennifer and I resolved to set a dollar amount to give to our local Church.  We felt this is important for two reasons.  First, God faithfully allows me a paycheck twice a month; I should acknowledge His generosity.  Second, I believe it is important to give at the place where you are serving and being served.  Since I have five members in my family, I require a lot of service, so this turns out to be a real bargain for me. 
 
The best part about this is that God wants you to bring the tithe into the storehouse.  He wants you to fill up the storehouse, so that there will be plenty to feed His Kingdom.  This means giving is wide open.  When you give, ask yourself, "Is this for my glory or God's glory?" If the answer is that you are giving for God's glory, then sign the check.  If you are worried that it felt too good to do something nice for another person with the money God gave you (i.e. you think you might be glorifying yourself)... STOP WORRYING!!!  Think how much more God is smiling that you gave to a person in need so He could be glorified. 
 
I believe in giving to my local church, but if given the choice of dropping it in the offering box or meeting the need of another person who is hurting.  I choose the person every time.  Seldom do I have to make a choice between the two. God has made a way to do both.
 
If you are new at Element or a Military person who will likely move in three years, you may ask, "What stake do I have in the building program?"  Perhaps none.  Perhaps everything.  As a nomadic Christian, my roots have been planted in the community that I have found at many churches.  In Christ's eyes, we are one body of believers. It is no different for me to give to build a building in Santa Maria or Timbuktu, so long as it houses a body of believers who exalt Jesus Christ. 
 
As Jennifer and I transitioned from California to Maryland, God allowed us a wonderful gift of generosity.  Without a Church home, He allowed us to give our full tithe to serve people whom we know and love.  We even got to give a few months to a building fund for a group of believers whom we love, but may never get to worship with again. 
 
As you give from the resources that God blesses you with, you get to experience your Father in Heaven in one of the best ways.  You get to feel His generosity.  Someday when we experience the full measure of His lavish generosity, it will seem strange to us that we ever held back, when all we had to do to know Him was give. 
 

Uprooted

by Jonathan Whitaker
It has been about seven months since the Air Force uprooted Jennifer, the girls and me from our comfortable plot in Santa Maria.  I suppose enough time has passed that many of you are new to Element and may not know me.  Well to you I say, welcome.  You are truly blessed and I hope you find Element the community of loving Christ followers that I knew when I worshiped at that strange used car lot between Orcutt and the airport. 
 
Just a quick introduction (or reintroduction for some of you with sketchy memories), my name is Jonathan and I was blessed to serve at Element as an elder while stationed at Vandenberg AFB.  It is a job that I never expected God would entrust to me and that I took very seriously... although those of you who know me will raise an eyebrow since I am not the most serious person.
 
Though Jennifer and I have been worshiping at a new church here in Maryland, our hearts are still in many ways with our beloved family at Element.  So much so, that we are sharing your journey of Planting Roots. Each morning before I head to work in D.C., Jennifer and I have a couple's devotion and review the daily exercise in our Journey Guide. 
 
Earlier this week in one of our regular conversations, I asked Aaron if Element was experiencing an influx of new folks corresponding with the summer military move cycle.  He informed me that there were new military families among other new people who have joined the worship since I left in April.  Our conversation then turned to how new folks might respond to a church entering a building campaign.  More specifically, how folks like the military families who will move in 3 years fit in to a roots-planting movement. 
 
I laughed at Aaron a bit, because I know that this puts him in a position that he is uncomfortable with.  He fears that he and the church will be perceived as being after your money and that's all.   First, let me reassure you, as a person who attended several church business meetings, if Element and Aaron Carlberg were after your money, they are not very good at getting it. So your wallet is safe.  Second, as a person whose job and life have only allowed me to plant shallow roots in this world, all I can offer you is my testimony on root planting and resources.
 
Jesus found me when I was 11 years old at a Fundamental Baptist summer camp.  There I professed that Jesus is Lord and I believed that God raised Him from the dead. (Rom 10:9).  It wasn't until I was married with a kid on the way that I got serious about knowing my Savior.  Living in San Antonio, Texas I submitted to a more mature Christian in discipleship and realized that God wanted me to know Him intimately. Really it wasn't me seeking as much as it was Jesus sending people into my life who pointed me to Him. 
 
One of the key ways that we can know God is through fellowship with other believers (1 John 1-2).   At my small group Bible study in Texas, I first experienced Christ's love for believers, which is lived out through His Church.  I hope you all are able to experience authentic community in the way I did; praying for one another, serving one another, laughing and crying with one another.  So much is revealed about Christ's love in this setting.  1 John 2:3 tells us that we are known to be His servants if we keep His Commandments.  In verse 10, John goes on to tell us that keeping His commandments means loving your brothers. 
 
On a personal note, I am convinced that within Christ-centered community, God Himself is present.  I know this because when you have to say goodbye to a true loving community of believers, it is painful.  In the summer of 2010, Jennifer and I had to do just that. 
 
After three months of wandering, we moved to Santa Maria and found Element.  It was there that God taught me my next lesson: His Church is bigger than I thought.  God is loving, and as Jennifer and I yielded to Him and trusted Him, He led us to a community of deep loving relationship at Element.  After being at Element for a month or so, I met with Eric Djafroodi and Aaron (separately) and told them I would like to serve in a small group ministry.  My honest desire was to serve God at Element.  God turned the tables on me.  Over the course of three and a half years, He gave us a home of worship, grew our understanding of Him, gave us a new family of believers, and ultimately we received tenfold the service that we gave. 
 
My journey with Christ has shaped my perspective of planting roots.  God's kingdom is vast and His Church is global.  Though in my heart I desire to be with you at Element, Christ has shown me at least twice that He will give me real community wherever His Church is.  God wants to be known by His children.  Community is a key means by which believers can know God.  No matter how far you wander from home or the Church family you love, seek God and fellowship -- wherever you are -- with others who seek God (Phil 3:10).  He will be known and you will find that your roots are deeply planted in fertile soil. 
 

Planting Roots, Is it Over?

by Aaron
Sunday morning was officially that last of our Sunday morning messages going through Planting Roots, but is it over? The answer is, no. The truth is Planting Roots is just beginning. Our five-week passage was the introduction to a three-year journey that will see Element have a permanent home.
 
Even as we look at it today, it is very hard to visualize. We have blank dirt, half of a parking lot, a whole lot of spunk and determination, but none of those is what makes Planting Roots a reality…that is Jesus. We wanted Planting Roots to do FOUR things at Element.
 

1) We wanted it all to glorify God by its focus, its implementation, and its ultimate results. Everything God does is for His glory, so everything we do should be for His glory as well. If God was and is not glorified, we missed the point.
 
2) We wanted all of Element to grow closer to Jesus by going through personal and corporate Planting Roots journeys, that all of Element would know Jesus in a deeper way than they have in the past. We want all of our lives to be lovingly submitted to Jesus by understanding Him better. This means He has the right to examine every part of our lives throughout the process.
 
3) We wanted to unify, for everyone, Element’s vision for the future. Our hope is that, as a result of this journey, we will all understand and support the vision God has given us for the future. Ideally, whenever someone new comes to Element, anyone who has been through the journey would be able to explain where Element has been and where we are headed.
 
4) It was to gather us around a to raise enough funds to build our permanent home because Element needs one. We prayed through the entire process that God would move people through the Planting Roots Journey in such a way that we all take it to heart and participate. Only by understanding God's call, His grace, and our great blessing will this become a reality.

 
Last Sunday, those of you who attended our one service literally brought tears to my eyes as you came forward and filled out commitment cards to realize these purposes. It is a great pleasure for my wife and I to serve and worship Jesus with you.
 
If you missed last Sunday, or haven’t made a decision yet about what God wants to do through you in Planting Roots, you can still fill out a commitment card this Sunday. We even made an online version for you if you like those better.  Planting Roots isn’t over, it has just begun, I think we will all be amazed at what God does over the next three years when it actually IS over.
 

Planting Roots Story: Laura Weiting

by Element Christian Church
A look at Laura & Donald's story as Laura found Element and what Jesus has done in her life and in the life of her family and the excitement for what He is going to do next!

Start Daily Devotionals

by Element Christian Church

Planting Roots is more than focusing on building a building; it is more than a creative way to ask for money. Planting Roots is all about Jesus and His calling on our lives. We hope that you have spent some time looking through your Journey Guides (you can still get a copy this Sunday, or download it here). As you wall through the guide, our hope is that you will quickly notice that we are committed to Jesus and what He is doing.

Planting Roots is a Spiritual Journey that we are inviting all of you to join us on. It starts with daily devotionals, simple and easy reading, that will get some scripture into you while asking a couple of important questions. Hopefully this helps to form a habit in your life of spending time everyday with Jesus.

If you haven't done so already, start the Daily Devotions on page 18 of the Journey Guide. We encourage you to write down your answers to the questions as well as any questions and feelings you may have. These devotions will prepare you for Sunday's sermon. We also hope they prepare you to share with your family, in the Family Devotions, what you are learning.

Here is Aaron, sharing his thoughts on the Fatherhood of God:

 

Don't forget two things: First, bring your Journey Guides to church services on Sunday. Secondly, mark your calendars and join us for a night of prayer on September 12th. On this night we will pray over our property as as one body and seek, "Lord, what is it You would do through us?"

 

Here We Go.

by Michael Reed
Over the past several months the staff at Element have been diligently working to prepare for Planting Roots. This last Sunday we presented both the Planting Roots journey, as well as the conceptual designs for the new building. We know there are a lot of questions, concerns, and fears, but we also hope there is a lot of excitement and eagerness as well. God has already been doing an amazing work with Element and we want to see it continue.
 
If you missed Sunday’s rolling out of Planting Roots, you can listen to the forum here, and watch the video:



Also, make sure to grab your Journey Guide this Sunday because Planting Roots officially starts next week. We ask that you would commit to going through the daily devotions, leading your family through the Family Devotions, and getting together with your community and asking them the tough questions you may not usually ask.  
 
You can check out www.elementroots.org for all the information and to download a digital copy of the Journey Guide.
 
We know Planting Roots sounds like a lot, but prayer is a huge part of the journey. We are simply asking you to commit to the process and to ask God, “what is it you would do through me.” Only with His blessing, and us all pulling together in being faithful, will we accomplish the vision laid out in front of us.
 
On September 12th, Element will have a night of prayer and music and we collectively, and individually, seek to hear God's voice. Feel free to come and leave this event as you wish. We will start with some music in our current sanctuary at 6:30pm and then move over to our property where we will pray over the land (where we will have our current plans mapped out).
 
Thank you for going on this Journey with us as we Plant our Roots. 

The Aerial View

by John Warren

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

Individual Sin, Community Redemption

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

Grace For Y'all Part 2

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