What If…? Gospel Community Brainstorming! Part I

by Will Flathers

We’ve explained the WHY of Gospel Communities; now let’s look at the HOW.

First and foremost, I don’t want to be too prescriptive here. In boy-meets-girl relationships there are no cookie-cutter instructions (Step 2: Tell your date “I love your dress”), but there are Biblical principles (“Do not stir up love until it pleases” SOS 8:4) and there is wisdom in applying those principles (Now is not be a good time to awaken love, because I don’t have a job). The same goes for Gospel Communities.

The challenge for each of our Gospel Communities is to wrestle with how we are going to live out the imperatives of the Gospel – how we can wisely apply the principles we’ve been looking at in previous discussions. The result will look different in every case, because every Gospel Community is facing a different situation and has different members bringing their unique mix of giftings, personalities, passions, and experiences to the table. That’s the beauty of it! But that’s also the difficulty of it. So with this post, I’m going to try to kick-start your imagination, not define it.

How can we share life together? How can we share life intentionally for the gospel? How can we live on mission together?

Let’s brainstorm a little.

What if you watched Top Gear together with a bunch of folks from your Gospel Community, rather than each on your own? What if you made a point to spend 10 minutes praying before starting the show? What if you invited a friend along too?

What if you made sure that nobody in your gospel community celebrated a holiday alone? What if you made sure that your neighbors never had to celebrate a holiday alone? What if you made a point to regularly celebrate together as a Gospel Community what God has done?

What if you invited someone from your Gospel Community over for dinner once a week? What if you admitted your struggles to them and ask for their prayer and support? What if you invited a neighbor over for dinner once a week? What if you did both at once?

What if your Gospel Community made a commitment to show love to those who our society seems to ignore? What if, when you throw a party, you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind? What if your Gospel Community threw a party for precisely that reason?

What if you babysat the kids so someone in your Gospel Community could have a date night? What if you made a point to ask them beforehand how you can pray for their marriage? What if you did the same for a friend?

What if you help your coworker become friends with the whole Gospel Community? What if the first time your coworker visits Element, they already know lots of people from the friendships first built at a Gospel Community cookout, or movie night, or murder mystery night, or hike, or…?

What if you took into account your Gospel Community when you decide where to live, what hobbies to pick up, and what opportunities to pursue? What if you took into account the mission of your Gospel Community when you made those decisions? What if you joined a book club with some folks from your Gospel Community so you could meet new people? What if you bought an extra sofa for your living room, rather than a new phone?

What if you stopped by someone’s house on the way home from work for a quick chat? What if you help fold the laundry while you are talking? What if you point someone back to the Scriptures a little bit every day (while folding laundry), rather than wait until a crisis?

The Honeymoon is Over: Welcome to Gospel Ministry

What if your grocery bill goes up? What if you find it hard to love someone in your Gospel Community? What if your Gospel Community wants to focus in an area in which you have no interest? What if your Gospel Community finds out that you don’t have perfectly behaved kids and a perpetually clean house? What if someone newer in the faith rightly rebukes you? What if someone folds your laundry the wrong way? What if someone asks you a question that you don’t know? What if a friend turns their back on you because the gospel offended them? What if progress is slow and no one seems to be coming to faith? What if your group grows, and decides to plant a new Gospel Community? What if you have to say goodbye after nurturing such close friendships?

2 Timothy 2:8-13; “Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

“This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him, we will also live with him.

If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.

If we deny him, he will deny us.

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful –  for he cannot deny who he is.”

2 Week Mealtime Devotionals for Families

by Element Christian Church

At CTV (Change Their View) this week, our primary goal was to help families learn together, and to equip parents to continue to teach their kids about Jesus and the Scriptures. We compiled two weeks worth of Mealtime Devotions for you to download to go through with your kids either at the dinner table or whenever you can, to keep the momentum! Download Mealtime Devotions here!

How does loving somebody actually make them beautiful?

by Element Christian Church

The wording of the question is out of order because it is not simply loving someone that makes them beautiful, it is HOW you love them.

In our culture we have turned love into an emotion, it is about how we feel. This is why people use terms like "fall in love" or "fell out of love" for justification of divorce. I am not saying that love is NOT a feeling, it clearly is, but if that is all that it is then we are doomed. I mean, I love cookies, but sometimes after eating too many, I no longer feel like I love them...I feel like I hate them because they are destroying my manly figure (and giving me the runs).

By using love solely as an emotion, a feeling, we cheapen it, and lessen what it was meant to be.

What is love besides an emotion? It is a choice. Look at how the scriptures relate to love:

[list class="bullet-1"][li]Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is a commitment type love, not a feeling type love.[/li]
[li]1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This love is action oriented...it DOES THINGS.[/li]
[li]1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. Why do we love? Because He loved us first.[/li][/list]

I believe God does have emotions toward His people, but His love for us is primarily a love of extending Himself, it is action oriented, and of lasting commitment.

How does loving someone in this way make them beautiful? Because it is a choice to SEE them as beautiful even before they are, it is treating them as beautiful even before they are, and it is a love that gives them beauty even before they ever give back.

Eventually you start to truly SEE them as beautiful, because in your heart, mind, and action, they have become that.

THE DUD

by Aaron

In the early 1990s (or late 80s) whichever, because it's all a blur; there was a movie that came out called Crazy People. It was a movie that was about many things, but in part it was about truth in advertising. There were some mental patients who started writing ads for major manufactures like "Metamucil: It helps you go to the toilet. If you don't use it, you'll get cancer and die."

I like truth in advertising, I think it is why I like Milk Duds. Why were they called Milk Duds, you ask (I know you are asking)?

Because in 1926 the F. Hoffman and Company in Chicago, tried to manufacture a perfectly round, chocolate-covered caramel candy. What happened was the machines could not turn out round confections so they started calling them "duds" and marketed them that way. 85 years later we still call them Milk Duds.

You may be wondering why I even write this blog today, well, first, Milk Duds are awesome. They rank right up there next to the cookie as one of the greatest achievements of mankind. It is only by sheer grace that a dud turned out so well…because God likes to take broken things and make them soar. I would hazard to say that a milk dud is very close to the heart of God (...I'm just saying...).

Second, because you can come to our Film and Theology Friday's during the summer and get some Milk Duds from the youth snack bar as you watch the movie. I promise they will make the movie much more enjoyable.

The third reason was Michael and I were talking last week about how we haven't had a stupid/fun blog in a while…so here it is. "Milk Duds: the only candy that tells the truth."
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oh…uh, wait. Apparently I am wrong. Milk Duds have fallen into the trap of the world in which we live and have eaten the forbidden fruit and sinned greatly and has fallen. It seems that there is NO MILK in Milk Duds. The Hershey Company, in 2008, changed the ingredients of some of its products, including Milk Duds. They got rid of cocoa butter and started using cheap substitutes. The Food and Drug Administration (because they have nothing better to do than regulate candy) has said that recipes that do not contain cocoa butter cannot be called MILK Chocolate.

For shame Milk Duds…SHAME.

Who would cover the truth to try to get ahead…oh wait…that would be all of humanity.

Why Gospel Communities? Part II

by Will Flathers

In Part I we talked about What Gospel Communities Are, today we'll look at why Element takes this approach to community...

Why Does Element Take This Approach to Community?

1) Because community is important, and we want to put it into practice! Have you ever noticed how many times commands in The New Testament include the phrase “one another”? We are commanded to love one another, serve one another, be devoted to one another, accept one another, instruct one another, encourage one another, build each other up… and the list goes on and on. I counted 44 occurrences. Those commands are not optional extras – rather, they are fundamental to what looks like to live as God’s family – to bear the family resemblance of Jesus! They are the fruit of the Gospel at work in our lives. GC’s are an excellent context for us to put those commands into practice. Because all too often in larger groups and larger settings, “fellowship” gets downgraded to a shallow chat over coffee; “family” gets downgraded to a theoretical relationship we have with 200 other people we barely know; and the “one anothers” get applied to people we like, but tend to conveniently exclude people we don’t like or people who are not like us.

2) We want to give everyone the opportunity to use their God-given gifts for the good of the church and the good of the city. GC’s are small enough that everyone is a critical member. Your contributions to your GC are critical! Your input and involvement is vital for the health of the GC! Christian ministry is not just for professionals, or paid staff, or super-Christians; we may not all be gifted speakers or skilled theologians, but the Bible is clear that all believers have a role to play (Ephesians 4:1-16, 1 Peter 4).

3) We want to reach more people. With multiple GC’s, each with their own unique group dynamic and situation, we will be able to reach more diverse sets of people. When John glimpses the throne room of the Lamb, it is filled with people from every nation, tribe and language – a diverse crowd united around Jesus. Imagine if we had GC’s reaching young and old, rich and poor, influential and marginalized in Santa Maria. GC’s are a great way for people to see the body of Christ in action – people who may otherwise never walk into a church building. GC’s are a great way to for us to connect with folks who are new to Element.

4) Conviction. We believe this is how we are called to live as God’s people. This approach is not meant to be a condemnation of other ways of doing church. We are not saying this is the only way! Rather, we are trying to take the principles we see in the Bible and best apply them in our unique situation: Central Coast, California, 2011. We believe that the bar can and should be so raised. Challenging? Certainly. Impossible? Yes – except that we have a God who is gracious, patient, loving, forgiving, and in control, a God who is growing His church and building His kingdom, a God who calls us and equips us. And because of that, we can confidently follow wherever He leads.

In future posts we’ll dig a little deeper and give some ideas of what GC life might look like in practice. But I’ll close with this encouragement:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11

Why Gospel Communities?

by Will Flathers

So far, we have discussed why community is so important (Part I & II). We saw how mankind reflects our Trinitarian God who is God-in-Community with Himself and who defines perfect community. We also looked at how community relates to the Gospel; how the Christian community is a tool the Spirit uses to grow us in Christ; and how the Christian community is Jesus’ persuasive witness in the world. Now we are going to look at how Gospel Communities fit into the picture.

What are Gospel Communities?

First, we need to define Gospel Communities. Gospel Communities (GC’s) are smaller groups of people (around 8 to 20) committed to each other and to the lost – their desire is to see the Gospel transform lives. Thus, GC’s open their lives to one another (Acts 2:42-46) and are inviting to those who do not know Jesus. GC’s are simply ordinary people doing ordinary things with a Gospel mindset, together.

It’s all in the name – communities of, by, and for the Gospel:

[list class="bullet-3"][li]GC’s are about people loving each other as family – because God has invited us into His family.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people serving together – because Jesus is our servant-Savior.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people learning together – because we are given the Spirit of truth.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about caring for each other – because God has richly supplied all our needs in Christ.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people submitting to one another – because Christ submitted to the Father.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people worshiping together – because of the cross and resurrection.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people welcoming others – because God welcomed us.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people proclaiming the Gospel together – because Jesus first reached out to us and commissioned His church to do the same.[/li][/list]

Fundamentally, GC’s are all about seeing the Gospel advance deeper in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and impact our city. They are all about normal Christians (warts and all) living extraordinary lives together for the Gospel – lives that bring glory to God from believers and unbelievers alike.

Check back next week to see why Element takes this approach...

The Song of Solomon for Singles

by Will Flathers

By Will Flathers

I have the gift of singleness; by which I mean, I am single. So what about Song of Solomon? What about our “Summer of Love?” Is this sermon series merely rubbing salt in the wound? Should I simply save the sermon audio in hopes that I’ll need it someday? In short, no. I offer two personal reasons.

1) To honor God with my dating and marriage

I study the Song of Solomon with an eye towards preparing for marriage. I want to learn in advance what redeemed romance looks like. I want to learn in advance how to love my wife as Christ loved the church. I want to learn how to build and foster a relationship with my wife that is as poetic, servant-hearted, committed, and passionate as one we see in these songs. I don’t want to start from scratch. But three of the biggest takeaways for me have been that romance in marriage is worth waiting for, worth pursuing, and worth holding onto.

If Christian marriage is anything as beautiful as what we read in these songs, then it is entirely worth waiting for; it is entirely worth doing God’s way. Getting a glimpse into the beauty and intimacy of their marriage makes waiting less of a cold, mean rule that excludes me from any fun, but rather a loving rule that makes the gift all the more attractive. The lie of the serpent in the Garden of Eden was that God’s rule was harsh and tyrannical (Genesis 3) – but we know His gracious rule brings abundant life. Now, I realize that every marriage of two sinful people will have its trials and rough spots – we even see that in the songs – but that just seems to lead to new heights. My mom and dad say they are far more in love now than when they began.

It is worth waiting for, but it is also worth pursuing. As a guy, I realize that I can’t let fear of rejection prevent me from pursuing my own beloved. I shouldn’t let selfish pursuits get in the way, either. Marriage is a good gift from God. It is not wrong to desire it (1 Timothy 4) as long as those desires aren’t idolatrous.

And thirdly, it is worth holding onto. From what I’ve read, this book was likely written in Solomon’s early days as king. But something went horribly wrong – he married 700 women and had 300 concubines and they led him far from God. 1 Kings 11 tells us exactly what happened, and it was ugly. Reading these songs is a sobering reminder for me that something that started out so well could go so wrong when we chase after other gods. I never, never, never want that to happen to me or my marriage, so I must fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrew 12:2). And I know that His grace is sufficient for me, thankfully! (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Okay, I’ll be honest. I also want to learn how this whole romance thing works; it’s all Greek to me. King Solomon had some great lines. I just need to figure out the modern equivalent to “Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon…” Suggestions?

I am content. And I will try to be content as long as God gives me the gift of singleness, whether that is for a short time or the rest of my life. God is good, and He is working all things for His glory and my good (Romans 8:18-30). Sometimes that truth is easier to cling onto than others, but it is true nevertheless and I can be at peace because of it. But even if I never get married, there is another very good reason for me to learn from Song of Solomon.

2) To be a blessing to others

I want to know how to be a blessing to others; how I can best love others. In learning about marriage and intimacy and romance, I will be better able to pray for married folks, to encourage married folks, to admonish/rebuke married folks, and share the gospel with married folks. Because we are all called to do precisely that (James 5:16, Hebrews 10:25, Colossians 3:16). Even, the couple in the songs have a community surrounding them!

It’s daunting to do that as a single guy. But then I remember that Paul wasn’t married either, but he had a lot to say about marriage!  Now, I am under no delusion that I will be an expert on marriage, but I am convinced that I can and should be ready to help support married couples – love demands it.

Shameless plug for Gospel Communities

In Gospel Communities, you get to see other people’s marriages up close – the good, the bad, and the ugly. When you share life with others, you see their good days and their bad days, just like family. And that is a good thing!

As a single guy, that is a goldmine for me. Because I want to learn from Godly men what servant-leadership looks like in practice. I want to learn from Godly women what loving submission looks like in practice. I want to learn how they resolve conflict, how they honor one another, how they serve one another. It is also a healthy reminder to me that marriage is not always peachy, and certainly isn’t easy. I want to learn from other people’s marriages – even from their mistakes, so I don’t repeat them.

But for that to happen, I must see it! That is why we say we want to “share life together” in Gospel Communities. I was in England last month for a visit to my previous church and was at breakfast one day with my old Gospel Community. Two of my very good friends (husband and wife) had an argument on the way that morning. I knew them well enough to know that things were clearly not right between them when they arrived. Eventually, the husband felt convicted about it and asked his wife for forgiveness. She admitted that she was hurt by his words, but forgave him. They could have waited for the privacy of home. It would have been less embarrassing and less humiliating. But they chose to forgive in public. I observed it, I learned something about marriage from it, and I was blessed by it.

The impetus is on the married couples! It takes openness on their part to allow me to see both the good and the bad. It takes humility on their part to be encouraged or rebuked by someone who has “never been there.” It takes wisdom for them to teach single people about Biblical marriage. And overall, it takes a certain level of relationship within the Gospel Community as a whole so that anyone can (graciously, in love!) challenge them to be better husbands and wives. Is that you? Is that your Gospel Community?

So, all that said, I have enjoyed the series thus far, and am looking forward to the rest of it!

Creed(s): More Than a Band

by Aaron

What value did the creeds have for the church (during the time that they were created and used the most)?

This is an easy and short answer….maybe.

The English word “creed” comes from the Latin word “Credo” which simply means, “I believe.” The most popular of all creeds is the Apostles Creed, which starts with the words, “I believe in God the Father…”

The word Creed is actually never applied to any protestant denomination. Faith statements that were specific to denominations were called “confessions;” such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (Reformed) or the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran).

In the simplest way possible to explain, the creeds came out of the church formulating a stance against heresies. They believed people needed something they could memorize that could be taken with them so they knew when the gospel was being threatened.

The Nicene Creed came out of (essentially) the Arian Heresy (that denied the deity of Christ). The creed that came out of the council of Chalcedon (Chalcedonian Creed) was about the monothelite (or Monophysite) heresy (where they hammered out the dual nature of Christ...fully God, fully man).

The purpose of the creeds was to make these truths accessible, memorable, and to pass them on. They are great confessions of truth and faith.

Lastly, The Creeds and Confessions produced by the Christian Church over the centuries are not inspired additions to Scripture nor in any way replacements for the words of Christ, His apostles, or the prophets which preceded them.

Peter Kreeft in Fundamentals of the Faith has a Chapter all about Creeds (it’s Chapter 17 in case you are curious).

Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul {meaning human soul} and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these "last days," for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten -- in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the "properties" of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one "person" and in one reality {hypostasis}. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word {Logos} of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers has handed down to us.

Men should aspire to be providers

by Element Christian Church

Study Ties Wage Disparities To Outlook on Gender Roles:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/21/AR2008092102529.html

God designed the family to strongest a certain way...and HERE HE is the provider. Men should aspire to be providers.

The above study came out in Sept of 2008 that tracked more than 12k people starting in 1979 ages 14-22 who are now 43-51 found that those men who believe THAT THEY are called to be providers actually earn 12-14k a year MORE than those who don't. WHY? I think it is because they take responsibility and FEEL it. Men, be providers... I am not saying you have to be rich.

Why Community Matters Part II

by Will Flathers

We're looking at why the issue of community is so important for the church, so we can then explain how Gospel Communities fit into the the picture of Element. In Part I we discussed the Trinity and the Gospel.

Discipleship That’s Why Community Matters

Discipleship is a community project. We need each other to grow more like Christ. Christian community is the context were we can be “instruments in the redeemer’s hands” and “means of grace” to each other; the context were others can remind us of the gospel when we are prone to wander; the context where others can “speak the truth in love” into our lives (Eph 4:15).

Hebrews 3:13 warns us to “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” That’s the problem with sin – it is deceitful and seems so reasonable that we are often the last ones to notice it in our own lives. The author of Hebrews says we need to exhort one another daily. We need friends who are committed to our growth in godliness. Superficial, once-a-week relationships are not very helpful in spotting sin that creeps in. We need people who know us, our strengths, our weaknesses, our prayers, our history, our hopes. We need people who are emboldened and permitted to speak the truth to us in love.

Jesus shepherds His sheep (John 10, 1 Peter 2:25), and one way He does this is through appointed leaders, who are also shepherds and overseers of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). The role of church leaders is to shepherd, guard, take care of, and be an example to the flock, subordinate to Christ. But we, the congregation, also have responsibility for pastoral care. Paul used the same wording of ‘teaching and admonishing everyone’ of both his ministry as a pastor and of the congregation (Colossians 1:28, Romans 15:14). We are to mutually teach and admonish one another, just like Paul.

The bottom line is that trying to ‘go it alone’ is dangerous and foolish and wrong. Sin is blinding.

Mission That’s Why Community Matters

Finally, Christian community matters because it is critical to our mission of spreading the fame and name of Jesus.

Israel was called to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 18:18-19). They were called to be a distinctive nation – a priestly kingdom among nations (Exodus 19:6). The result? Worship from nations who didn’t yet know God: upon receiving the Law, Moses challenged the Israelites to “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Chris Wright commented that “God’s message of redemption through Israel was not just verbal; it was visible and tangible. They, the medium, were themselves part of the message.”

Peter picks up the same language from Exodus when describing the church in 1 Peter 2:9-10, a priestly kingdom. And in a similar way, he shows that the life of the congregation invokes praise to God from those who don’t yet know God, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus says that it is by our love for one another that all people will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35) – our love for one another reveals our true identity and the gospel that gives us that identity. Love does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationships.

Similarly, Jesus prays that we would have unity so that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23). It is our unity with one another that shows the world that Jesus is the real deal, the authentic, loving God. Again, unity does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationships. Francis Schaeffer concluded that: “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful. Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.”

People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the message of the gospel. That’s not surprising, because when we reflect the Trinitarian community, we are showing the world the way things are meant to be, a glimpse of heaven.

Why Community Matters Part I

by Will Flathers

As you are probably aware, we have been strongly encouraging people to get involved with a Gospel Community. In order to help everyone get a better sense of why we are heading in this direction and what that might look like, we are going to start a series of semi-regular blog posts discussing Gospel Communities. So, the purpose of this post is to set the stage for following posts. We want to first explain why the issue of community is so important for the church, so we can then explain how Gospel Communities fit into the picture.

Trinity That’s Why Community Matters

The God of the Bible is clearly a relational God; throughout Scriptures, we see Him intimately and lovingly involved in the world. But contrary to what some religions teach, God did not create man to cure His loneliness. The one God is not a solitary individual, but a divine community. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) summarizes the doctrine of the Trinity by saying, “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.” One God, three equal persons. God is persons-in-relationship, existing in love from all eternity (John 17:24).

We are made in the image of the Trinitarian God (Genesis 1:26-27) One implication is that we are created for community; we too are relational beings. The only thing in the Garden of Eden that was not good was a solitary Adam. God forbade the Israelites to create an image of Him (Deuteronomy 4:15-24), for God Himself had already made an image of Himself in the world – humanity! That image was terribly marred in our rebellion, but God’s redeemed people are now His image in the world.

So the Trinity means that community matters, but it also shapes and defines our view of community. Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears write that “The Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all communities. That community alone has not been stained by the selfishness of sin. Therefore, in the diversity of God the Father, Son, and Spirit is perfect unity as one God communicates truthfully, loves unreservedly, lives connectedly, serves humbly, interacts peaceably, and serves selflessly. In a word, Trinity is the ideal community in every way.”

Gospel That’s Why Community Matters

We are made in the image of God, but sin has marred that image. The result of sin is enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy (Galatians 5:19-21)—those words all describe broken communities and broken relationships. In the very first book of the Bible, we see sin dividing mankind from God, husband from wife, brother from brother, family from family, and nation from nation. Sin brings racism, classism, war, murder, divorce. We often long for true community but never quite seem to attain it – it is a longing for something that was lost in the Fall, and ultimately a longing for the Trinitarian God.

But we know the good news! Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. In doing so, Jesus brings reconciliation between God and man (Romans 5:1-11). Jesus brings reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, husband and wife, even nation and nation. The sin that separates us has been dealt with, once and for all time, at the cross. Jesus makes true community possible again.

Jesus is saving a community – not merely a collection of individuals. Jesus loves you individually and personally, but ultimately, He is about the business of saving a people – a new humanity, His Church – to whom and through whom He reveals His glory. Peter rejoices in that truth: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Our God is a God who creates people for community, and who also places people into community; our God is the God who “places the lonely in families” (Psalms 68:6), the God who ensures that widows, orphans, aliens and outcasts are cared for and welcomed (for example, James 1:27).

The New Creation is often described in communal terms: a glorious city; a wedding feast; a vast, diverse community worshipping Jesus. Heaven is more than just God and I; it is God and us. That is where all of history is heading – and that is good news for those who know Jesus! In the mean time and by God’s grace, we are called to reflect that heavenly, Trinitarian community together.

Tune in next week for part II

What Does ESV Stand For?

by Aaron

Starting this Sunday we are switching the version of the Bible we use at Element from the NIV (New International Version) to the ESV (English Standard Version). The question most ask is "why?"

There are 3 simple approaches to Bibles today and how they are translated.

  • There is the Word for Word translations that try to simply take the text and translate it WORD FOR WORD. Current Word for Word translations would include the ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV.
  • Then there are Thought for Thought translations that seek to take a section and translate the entire thought in a way that keeps with the original wording but gives you the thought behind it. Poetry makes more sense in the scriptures in a Thought for Thought translation as many of the nuances can be kept. Current Thought for Thought translations would include the NIV, CEV, TNIV, NLT.
  • Lastly, there is the Paraphrase. A paraphrase is a modern attempt to rewrite the scriptures in a way that modern readers can see it in a contemporary light (many times changing some key meaning in a text). A Paraphrase would be the Message, The Story...

The problem with each new revision of the NIV (it has been revised a number of times in the last 4 decades) is that it moves further and further towards a Paraphrase rather than a Thought for Thought translation. For what it is worth Collin Hansen, who serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, likes the 2011 edition of the NIV.

Presently, there are more than 25 English translations. But The English Standard Version (ESV), in contrast to most modern translations, is not entirely "new." The ESV is the product of a rich translation legacy which spans almost 500 years. The modern starting point for the ESV was the 1971 Revised Standard Version (RSV). Over 90 percent of the RSV is retained in the ESV. The RSV was regarded by many as the best modern translation in terms of precision and literary elegance.

The ESV improves upon the RSV in 3 important ways.

The following are from www.evangelicalbible.com where they list the differing aspects of many translations.

First, and most crucial to the evangelical community, is that the ESV corrects key Old Testament passages whose prophetic intent was dulled in the RSV.

Another example of an important correction to the RSV was the translation of the Greek word hilasterion and its cognates (Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10) which the RSV translated "expiation." The ESV corrected this to "propitiation." Propitiation means to appease the wrath of someone by the substitution of an offering.  Thus Jesus bore the wrath of God that was due mankind.  The righteous anger that was due mankind was placed upon His Son. Christ's sacrifice had the effect of both bearing the sin of man (expiation) and the punishment due man for his wickedness (propitiation).

The NIV and the NRSV both took the "middle ground" and translated hilasterion as "atonement."  In so doing the translators decided not to take a stand on the issue since "atonement" captures both expiation and propitiation. Both the "Message," and the CEV translations have removed the heart of the meaning of propitiation from their respective translations entirely.  (See Romans 3:25)

2. Archaic language was updated. (Thee, Thou, Art, Ye, Hearken, etc.)

3. The ESV translation is more literal than RSV. It attempts, as much as possible, "not to improve on the originals". Most people believe that different Bible translations are simply a function of varying levels of readability, though all roughly similar in accuracy; this is untrue.

Since the middle of the 20th Century there have been a lot new translations whose focus is not transparency of the original languages, but rather to make the "thoughts" or the "meaning" of the text more comprehensible to the modern reader.  These translations (thought for thought) have noble intentions of making the Bible easier to understand, BUT the result has produced translations which compromise the meaning of the text.

We believe that when a person reads the Bible, he should be confident that he is actually reading the words of God, in the form God delivered them to the biblical authors.

 

At Element we would like everyone reading the same trustworthy translation together. If you do not own a bible we will give you an ESV with a custom Element cover. Our free ones aren't the greatest paper quality so don't get them wet or they will expand like that kid in Willy Wonka who ate the Blueberry candy.


Having said all that there are at times problems with a literal Word for Word translation. I will give you some (because they are funny). When translators render a text “literally” without realizing the potential for double meaning it gets funny. In various places the following scriptures have been pointed out:

Gen. 30:35, “But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped …and put them in charge of his sons.” This was corrected in the second printing of the ESV, taking authority away from Laban’s goats: “… and put them in the charge of his sons.”

Luke 17:35 “There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” In today's culture "grinding together" has a totally different meaning.

Prov. 30:26 “the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs;” I think you can see what this actually means.

Amos 4:6 “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities” The Hebrew idiom literally means they had nothing to eat.

Funny right? But seriously, all in all the ESV is one of the best translations out today. The work involved an exceptional team of more than 100 people worldwide, including: (1) the twelve-member Translation Oversight Committee, led by Dr. J. I. Packer as the General Editor; (2) sixty leading Bible Scholars; as well as (3) a sixty-member Advisory Council—all of whom are committed to historic Christian orthodoxy and to the timeless truth and authority of the Bible.

We hope you like the ESV.

IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT PART II

by Aaron

It seems that no matter where you look, there are either "prophecies" or speculations about the last days and when the world is going to end.

Second, reading and understanding scripture... Please read last weeks blog (part 1) in order to continue to this so it all makes sense.

As for interpreting the word of God, here are some simple principles (regarding the "end" or anything else). The following is adapted from an article that I read by Matt Slick.

The Bible is God’s Word. But some of the interpretations derived from it are not (like the end times garbage). There are many cults and Christian groups that use the Bible, claiming their interpretations are correct. Too often, however, the interpretations not only differ dramatically but are clearly contradictory. This does not mean that the Bible is a confusing document. Rather, the problem lies with those who interpret and the methods they use.

We need, as best as can be had, the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word.

We must approach God's word with care, humility, and reason. The Bible is inspired by God and is addressed to His people. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand what God’s word means and how to apply it.

On the human level, to lessen the errors that come in our interpretations, we need to look at some basic biblical interpretive methods.

  1. Who wrote/spoke the passage and to whom was it addressed?
  2. What does the passage say?
  3. Are there any words or phrases in the passage that need to be examined?
  4. What is the immediate context?
  5. What is the broader context in the chapter and book?
  6. What are the related verses to the passage’s subject and how do they affect the understanding of this passage?
  7. What is the historical and cultural background?
  8. What do I conclude about the passage?
  9. Do my conclusions agree or disagree with related areas of Scripture and others who have studied the passage?
  10. What have I learned and what must I apply to my life?

Matt. 24:40, "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left," (NIV).

1. Who wrote/spoke the passage and who was it addressed to?
Jesus spoke the words and they were recorded by Matthew.  Jesus spoke them to His disciples in response to a question.

2. What does the passage say?
The passage simply says that one out of two men in a field will be taken.  It doesn’t say where, why, when, or how.  It just says one will be taken. It doesn’t define the field as belonging to someone or in a particular place.

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IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT PART I

by Aaron

Q: So there has been so much said about the end of the world recently. It seems that no matter where you look, there are either "prophecies" or speculations about the last days and when the world is going to end. I know what I believe, but I wanted to know your thoughts regarding all this speculation we are hearing. Oh, and I hope you are prepared because the world is going to end on May 21st.


A: Well, I think I will answer this in two parts. One about the end time speculation, and two maybe a primer on how to study your bible.

First, end times...

I have two people I really love getting married on May 21, so I hope I hope the end of the world waits another day or so.

All the speculation really bothers me because it does nothing but hurt the message of the gospel of Christ. The modern church is so caught up in prophesies and trying to identify if "this person" or "that person" is the anti-Christ that many lose sight of the REAL Christ in the process. Jesus said WE WILL NOT KNOW the day or hour so why in the world do we keep trying to prove Him wrong when we know He is always right?

The current slate of doomsayers are predicting May 21, 2011 as judgment day. They call it "awesome news" that the world will be destroyed. The ad campaign has been estimated to have cost more than 3 million dollars so far.

The spearhead of the May 21, 2011 date is Harold Camping. Camping previously had predicted that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994. When it didn’t, he blamed it on mathematical error (because we know that the scriptures are all about math and not about Jesus). This time he believes the new date because of the proper "mathematical calculations" and "clues in the Bible."

Personally I believe the scriptures teach that God is NOT going to destroy His creation on May 21 or any other day. It says in Romans 8:19-21 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. God loves this world He made, He doesn’t want to preside over its demise, He plans to make it right again. Redemption is the redemption of all creation. The Jewish Idea was restoration, redemption of creation, making it into what it was intended to be.

There is a reason God never gave us a time and a date about the end of the world...the reason: WE ARE CRAZY. God calls us to be a people of simple trust and faith in Him and what He is doing, not second guessing Him or trying to conform Him to our narrow little view.

Ralph Tone wrote on the Baptist Press website. “Jesus left no doubt about the futility of playing the dating game when he told his disciples three times in Matthew 24 not to go there.”

Warren Gage, dean of faculty at the Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, said, "I think there's a very clear scriptural reference that no one knows the time in the end. May 21 is not circled on my calendar. And I'll be looking forward to Sunday, May 22.”

The goal of Jesus' teaching was never to get us out of here and go to some other place, it is for us to live as light in the world making a difference IN this place. So don't give away all your stuff, go into debt, drink the grape juice or wear the tennis shoes (and tin foil hat) of the doomsayers.

I am sure I will see you Sunday morning May 22.

Check Yourself

by Element Christian Church
in FAQ

I thought I would write a quick little blog about being careful what you ask us at Element. If you send us a question, that question may end up on our website if we think it can help others.

Lately I have been getting a lot of questions and have been posting our answers (with a lot of editing to the questions to keep the innocent, private). But we wanted you to be aware that if you are thinking it, and you decide to ask it, we think that other people are thinking and wondering as well.

Most of the time we, at Element, have such a different view than a lot of other churches, that we don’t anticipate what you are thinking that well. Not assuming we know what you are thinking is a good thing at times, but it also can bite is in the dairy air (or the buttocks).

So you are warned…ask and we will answer, but everyone may get your answer as well.

UFC

by Aaron
in FAQ

Q: My husband and I recently started coming to Element, and we have been getting the weekly update. I noticed that UFC was on this update, and I thought it was interesting. My husband and I have been debating whether it is Biblically (and morally) right to watch UFC. I was going to ask Pastor Aaron about it at church, could you forward this email to him so that I might hear his opinion on the issue.

A: First off, I think we must be aware that if God has called you not to watch UFC, then you must be true to what He asks of you no matter what I may say. God is God, and when He says something we must listen. But we must also be aware if it is a personal preference that you as a person have, and not an issue about Christianity.

Now, you asked for my opinion (and we all know the old adage about opinions…right? If not, then ask me Sunday and I will finish the quote).

Straight up fighting and violence is pointless…but violence does exist in the world that we live in. Some people believe that even learning how to defend yourself is wrong because they believe it promotes more violence (I do not hold to this opinion).  If you talk to the people who are the most proficient at self-defense, the "Masters" of martial arts, they will be quick to tell you (and their students too) that you should never use your acquired skills to inflict physical harm unless it is absolutely necessary.  Conversely, the people who are usually the most eager to use violence are individuals who have not had formal training or instruction.  Many men feel the need to, in some way, prove themselves and test their toughness (it is how men are made…God created us to slay the dragon and protect the princess). Many men do not understand how to properly funnel this God given gift and so become bullies to others or their spouse.

The original idea of the UFC was to determine which martial arts discipline would be the most effective in a real-world combat environment.  At that point in the event’s history, there were no weight limits, and very few rules. While the UFC, and the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) as a whole has evolved significantly from those early days, the idea of testing the various chosen styles and skills of the participants remains intact. With the additional benefits of rules, weight limits, sanctioning bodies, and referees who are dedicated to ensure the fighters’ safety now in place, the UFC and other MMA competitions are the best ways to compete and test oneself within a controlled environment.

In an MMA competition almost all (probably 95%) of the opponents have deep respect for each other.  Even if they dislike each other beforehand, after the fight, they frequently hug and demonstrate mutual respect for one another (the Georges St-Peirre/Josh Koscheck fight was a perfect example of this). In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Randy Couture summed it up like this, "It's a combat sport, and injuries can happen. But what a lot of people don't realize is that you're not there to hurt the other guy. Your adversary isn't your enemy. It's a kinetic chess kind of thing."

As a matter of fact, a couple years ago on The Ultimate Fighter (UFC’s reality show) two of the fighters got in a personal fist fight while living in the UFC house. Dana White, the president of UFC, had a very strong reaction to it…He said, "For the last six years I've been…[trying] to prove that this wasn't what this sport was about." He explained that this would have the non-fan thinking what they've always thought, that this sport was full of "a bunch of goons." Dana kicked the two fighters off the show as well as one more guy who was the instigator of it.

Numerous fighters in the UFC claim to be Christians. Some are very outspoken (one of my favorites is Rich Franklin). But many others claim to be: Quinton Jackson, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia, Ron Waterman, and Diego Sanchez.

The Bible's perspective:

  • Psalm 144 - The Bible advocates men being strong warriors.
  • The Old Testament heroes: Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Sampson, and David were all men, skilled in battle, and yet still loved God.
  • When Jesus said to turn the other cheek when struck, it had nothing to do with violence, it had everything to do with retaliation, respect and honor. A Rabbi, in Jesus’ day, would never advocate NOT protecting yourself or your family.
  • As believers we are to protect victims.
  • Scripture is full of protecting your country from invaders.

I'm not saying that all violence is good (not at all). As Christians, we believe in the actual existence of evil, and with this belief is the reality that sometimes it is necessary to physically defend yourself, your family, other people, and/or your country against those who are controlled by its influence.

If we can embrace this concept, then watching an event like the UFC is merely observing and appreciating two highly trained mixed martial art combatants who desire to test their skill and their fitness level against one another, to eventually answer their own questions of “How effectively can I apply what I’ve learned?”

Again, UFC is not simply violence for violence sake, but skilled athletes applying what they have learned.

Not all people will see it that way, and I understand that. I believe it is an open handed issue when it comes to faith; which mean it comes down to personal conviction. Personally, I enjoy watching UFC, the one this Saturday is actually at my house. But I also don’t think you should feel judged if you don’t enjoy it…my wife is a nurse and she hates it, not because she sees it as wrong, but simply because she sees enough blood during the day.

We also do the events as a group because it is WAY cheaper to pitch in together than pay for it on your own (haha).

Hope that helps.
Aaron

ARE 'LAMENTS' FRENCH AND MINTY? PART III

by Aaron

I never intended to write a part 3 to the Lamenting blogs that came out at the beginning of Lamentations, but I thought it was appropriate after last Sunday. If I couldn't get the words out, or make sense, maybe this will help.

God has never forgotten His people. In the middle of our pain we sometimes accuse Him of doing so, much like a child accuses a parent of hating them when they can't have candy for dinner. As I shared on Sunday, I am not a parent, though I have really wanted to be. My wife and I have tried for years (and years and years)...so I actually wonder how a parent feels when their child says crazy things like "you don't love me", "you hate me" or even "I hate you."

On one side I am sure it's humorous, as when my friend's child Mason thinks that when his parent's let someone else play with one of his toys he will never get it back and he goes into full meltdown mode (if you have never seen it, it’s pretty funny). But when words like "I hate you" come out, even though they are stupid and untrue words, and a parent has to know, it still must sting a little. There has to be something in the back of a parents mind that says, "look, I know you are a child...but really, after all I do to make sure you are safe, fed, loved, cared for...really?"

When I hear people say things like, "I don't believe in Jesus anymore," I think, "really?" I wonder how God thinks, or even feels, about that. His Son, the only way for us to be redeemed, sacrificed out of love so we no longer need to be lost and alone...and His kids think they are so smart and can handle life on their own and say "I don't believe in Jesus."

There is tragedy in the world, unimaginable pain, a sense of hopelessness and loss...and yet we say to the only one who brings meaning to our pain, covers our hopelessness, and makes sense of the loss...we say to Him, that we don't need Him? What we are acting like are spoiled kids who cry: God didn't give me candy for dinner, therefore He does not exist; when we know in core of our bones that He does exist.

Sometimes when people say words of lament like this, it is because of some 'feeling' they used to have but no longer do. But love is not based on feelings, it is based upon choice. Our God chose to love us and seek us when there was nothing lovely about us. Romans 5:8 ...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God's love is action, it rescues His children, God remembers, pays attention, and sees His child and will bring him home (Lam 5:1).

As we approach Easter let us remember that our God has not, nor will He ever, forget His children. Even in the midst of hardship and suffering, which is central to a Christians understanding because of the cross, God does not promise to spare us from it, but will walk through it with us, holding His child, never letting go.

Throw the tantrum if you need to, but God will remember you, He has always paid attention, and sees you as you really are. God's words are not iffy truths to take or leave, they are the very words of life.

What a great God...Happy Good Friday; and Easter.

Hole In Our Gospel

by Aaron

Q: I just finished reading the book "The Hole in our Gospel" by Richard Stearns. This was the most impactful book that I can remember reading; it has such an incredibly convicting call to action that I cannot do it justice describing it. What do you think about it?

A: There is a couple things about David Stearns book (and sorry, it seems I wrote a book in reply). First, yes, yes yes, Christians should be doing something about the worlds problems. I talk about this all the time, so please don't misunderstand my reply. David Stearns is a great guy with strong calling, I think World Vision is doing an excellent job; they are worth while to support…

But there are problems with what is called the 'Social Gospel.' Many times, in order to get into countries World Vision will partner with a government and agree to never talk about the gospel of Jesus (like in India).

They have followed secular humanist priorities which view injustice and physical need as man's primary problem when, as Christians, we are to understand these as symptoms of a much deeper spiritual crisis that exists in communities unable/unwilling to care for their own people. With so much emphasis in the media on the issues of poverty & injustice it is certainly easier to follow their lead rather than stand as a prophetic voice and point to the spiritual crisis that is the deeper issue and offer the solution of Jesus.

In many cases getting the money out has caused World Vision to neglect the local church in many countries. The church on the ground should be trained and led so they can begin to meet these needs AND the people have a place to learn about Christ.

Today there seems to be a relationship between Christian aid organizations and the American Christian donor that is not good. The donor get's to sacrifice a bit of their wealth and lifestyle and feel better about themselves because they are staying in line with a humanistic, yet biblically uninformed conviction that poverty and injustice are mankind's worst enemies and can be solved without the God of the Trinity.

In turn, the Christian aid organization gets to receive the donor’s dollars with few questions asked...and even takes pot shots at the Church and claims it's being prophetic in doing so!

Neither seems interested in each other's transformation. Neither seems interested in transforming communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby truly helping the communities solve their own problems for the long term. Transforming communities through the Gospel takes time and involves face-to-face relationships based on human interaction that results in discipling people.

It's a lot easier all around for Christians in America to simply throw money at the world's immediate problems rather than be prophetic and involved sacrificially in addressing the spiritual roots.

Many books like this are basically an extended argument for supporting an organization that is doing a job that the church should be doing (it’s a pretty veneer that wreaks of poor ecclesiology).

Yes the book could be great reading for motivation but it is only HALF of what people need to understand in terms of helping change the world. We need to be involved with local people on the ground, who love Jesus, so not only are people fed…but they are also FED.

If that makes sense.

We support clean drinking water to Indonesia, giving aid and training to get girls out of prostitution in Thailand, getting medical supplies and education to orphans in Haiti, and are looking at how to expand into helping get clean water to some remote tribes in Central America.

I don't want to sound callous in what I am writing to you. I mean, it really does no good to say to a starving kid, "you need Jesus" because they don't care when they can't see past their hunger. But on the other side if you feed them and never teach them how to provide for themselves and, in the end, never introduce them to Jesus, we just did the biggest disservice to them.

So, I think, we support local ministries on the ground (like Element does)...ministries that do both of those things. That is where a church should be able to be trusted with money. That they are seeking the best way to give that money away to those in need in the best way possible.

Many churches don't look for the best way to do that...but I think Element does. Could we do better, of course we could, but I think we are heading in the right direction.

That's my 2 cents.


PS...To give you a better idea of what I am saying (and so you don't think I am hating on World Vision). There is an excellent section from the Desiring God 2010 Conference led by Kevin DeYoung about mission/missional...and the world that I would like to share with you.
http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/rethinking-missional-reconciling-the-mission-of-god-and-the-mission-of-the-church#/watch/full