Is Life Worth Living

by Aaron
This morning I showed up to Element and there was a piece of paper taped to the main entrance door. You have to understand that this happens every once in a while. Sometimes it is other churches asking us things, sometimes it is crazy Christian gibberish about the wrath of God being poured out (complete with verses taken out of context), and sometimes, like this time, it is a question that seems genuine. I opened up the piece of paper and this is what it said in its entirety: “Is life even worth living?” Here it is in case you want to see it:


Because I have deep-rooted issues of my own, my mind immediately starts racing with a couple of questions. “Are they asking me, are they asking the church as whole, or are they asking God?” I wonder if there is a reason they didn’t stick around for an answer. I wonder if it was a homeless person, but then wonder where they would get paper, pencil, and tape. Like I said, I have my issues. My first and natural inclination is to want to answer the question, but because no one stuck around to hear the answer, I was just left frustrated. So…I wrote this blog about it instead.
 
Let’s ask the question (by the way, this is typically not how I would answer this person face to face…I would be much less logical and try to speak to their emotions), “Is life worth living?”. The word “worth” means to have a value, and as an adjective, it means “important enough to justify.” Is someone’s life important enough to justify? According to the Scriptures, the answer is a resounding “yes.” We are told that God made mankind in His image and that is what gives us our “worth”; we have worth simply because God says we do. Matt 6:25-26 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” That worth that we are assigned means that life is worth living.
 
I started to wonder what would make me question the worthiness of life, and I decided that if my wife died, I might ask that question. I would have what I imagine to be unbearable pain, heartache, and sadness; my life would be placed into turmoil because of what happened to me. Then I started to think that there would lie my issue: I had made my life all about myself. If I asked, “Is life even worth living?” it would be because I had centered my world upon myself and my own circumstances. Don’t get me wrong here, I understand it is much easier to say this and think this way when my world hasn’t collapsed around me…but it makes it no less true. The more we make our lives and our happiness dependent upon ourselves and our circumstances, the more we will be at the whim of circumstances beyond our perceived control (which is truly every circumstance in life). When our lives become about us, they will all eventually become not worth living, because in reality, we can’t control anything.
 
Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…Worth can be defined by how much someone is willing to pay for something. The God of the universe gave the life of His son to pay the penalty for our sin and redeem us from a lost way of life. This redemption is not based up on our merit, but upon God’s goodness, upon the value He has given to us. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” These are words of worth and value.
 
If we are a people who live our lives for ourselves, focused on ourselves and our desires, we will always end up in a place of regret. However, if we live our lives centered on Jesus and the good news of His hope and redemption, while we may still find ourselves in times of sadness, we will have a life that is full and free.
 
“Is life even worth living?”
 
I think the answer to that question depends on who we are living for—ourselves or Jesus. I think it depends on whether we allow our circumstances to define us or Jesus to define us, because Jesus defines us as worthy, which makes life worth living because our lives are about Him.

Baptism Stories - October 23, 2016

by Element Christian Church



Ahead of this Sunday's Baptisms, check out the five stories of those who are getting baptized this weekend! Please read them, be excited for them, and join us on Sunday at 1pm to witness and celebrate this amazing step in their walk with Jesus!

Acts Part 1 Video Recap

by Element Christian Church
This week we finished our series of Acts Part 1. We found this fun video to help vizualize what happened in the first twelve chapters of Acts by our friends at the Bible Project. View more of their videos at: http://www.jointhebibleproject.com. Enjoy:



 

Happiness, Contentment, and Sobriety

by Aaron
I was reading an article on ESPN two days ago. For me (yes, Aaron), that is an odd way to start a blog because I do not normally (or ever) read ESPN, their website, or sports commentary. I would rather play sports than watch them or read about them. I am pretty sure it was click bait of some sort that made me look at it—if you’re friends with me on Facebook, it just might have been your fault. Either way, I ended up on ESPN’s site reading a blog about Michael Phelps, swimming, and how he is going to cope after the “golden age” of his life.
 
If you don’t know, after Phelps retired the last time (a few years ago), his life became meaningless because swimming, once the center of his life, was now gone. He went off the rails, so to speak, became addicted to prescription drugs, and wanted to commit suicide—all because he felt there was nothing in his life to give him meaning and purpose. Phelps went through rehab, got cleaned up, started swimming again, and at the 2016 Olympics won 1 silver and 5 gold medals. He has now said he is retiring again, but the question becomes: how will he stay sober, focused, and have purpose in his life?
 
It is here I would like to quote the ESPN article: “This time, Phelps insists it's different. He will no longer have swimming to keep his life within the boundaries -- to bring him happiness, contentment, sobriety. But he doesn't need it. He finally knows who he is beyond a swimmer. He no longer needs gold medals to define himself as a successful and productive human being. He has a fiancée who has been there through the good times and bad and loves him for the man, not the medals. He has a son who will blindingly care about him and has cried in recent days during FaceTime chats because he misses Dad.”
 
I hope you guys caught what the article actually said. Swimming will no longer give him “happiness, contentment, and sobriety.” That will now be provided by his fiancée and his son (who is an infant at the time I write this blog); this son’s job, according to the article, is to “blindingly care about him [Phelps].” Isn’t it obvious that this is a recipe for disaster? Has Phelps’ son agreed to these terms? If I was in Vegas and were to run odds on people’s misery, I would start taking bets against Phelps right now…not because I dislike him, but because I know basing his “happiness, contentment, and sobriety” on others will fail.
 
While not many of us are Olympic swimmers, this happens quite often in our culture. We have laid the things of God on people, because we think people can stand up under the pressure. When people fail to live up to the God-like standards we have set for them we think they have let us down. In actuality, we have failed them by putting them in a position they could never hope to fulfill. This is idolatry. How sad is it that an infant isn’t sacrificially cared for by a parent, but instead is seen as the thing that gives the parent’s life meaning?
 
Since the beginning of creation, man has always been drawn to becoming his own God. When that fails, as it always does, he is drawn to make something in his life, that he can control, become his God. Psalm 115:4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. Isaiah 44:13-17 speaks of how we will cut down a tree and use half of the wood to make furniture and use the other half to make a god we will fall down and worship. “Anothershapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” God goes on to say, “How dumb are you?”
 
The answer is…pretty dumb!
 
One of the reasons God continues to remind His people who He is throughout the Old Testament (which is often) is that they needed to remember that He is God—not people or things. Fiancées, children, friends, parents, spouses—no one can live up to god-like expectations, because none of us are God. My advice for all of us, including Mr. Phelps, is that if you want your life to have meaning and weather the challenges of life, stop exchanging one corruptible self-centered god for another and surrender ALL of your life to the true Lord, Jesus Christ. After all, no one else can promise true fulfillment and rest as Jesus can. He doesn’t “blindingly” care for us, but rather, died for you and me fully aware of our sin and betrayal. In spite of our brokenness, He paid the final and ultimate price so that we can be fully confident in His power to redeem our lives.  
 
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. The rest we long for is found in Jesus—there’s no need to look elsewhere. Jesus doesn’t help us fulfill our potential. He re-orients our life to how it was created to be, with Him as the center.

What the What? True Confession

by Christie
The following is a blog post written by Christie Marangi on our eFamily! website.

True confession
:  I’m not good at vulnerable.  Because I’m not good at vulnerable I’ve put this blog post off for far too long.  I’m going to be honest, this one hits me close to home, and in answering it, I feel like I’m leaving myself vulnerable to people seeing shadows that I’m pretty darn good at hiding.  God, however, has different plans for those shadows, so hence the blog post. This is the second in a series of posts that I am writing to answer some of those questions that make us scratch our heads. These questions were gathered at camp from a bunch of high school students from all over the country.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to do justice to the feeling behind these questions, and while not all of the questions are easily answerable in this format, I’m praying that through this series that Jesus will be glorified and that those of us with these questions are not alone in our ponderings and our sometimes pain.

How do I fight through pain, depression and eating disorders?

This one breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart because I have been there, and it’s a place I would never wish on another soul.  If this is a question you are asking right now, just know that I am praying for God’s comfort to come upon you.  If you are currently living this question, please make sure you seek help.  Tell a parent, tell a trusted leader in your church or at your school. Get support.  DO NOT GO THROUGH THIS ALONE.  That said, the answer to this question on a practical level is personal for each of us that struggles.  But I can tell you what I’ve learned and about my continued fight through some of my own personal demons.

The first thing I had to discover was that God is Relevant. We have a God who relates to every struggle that we have.  When He sent His son, Jesus, to earth, the Son of Man wasn’t sent as a fully developed adult male, he was sent as a helpless infant.  He had to learn and struggle and grow and go through puberty and do all of those things that we struggle through as well. 

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

God knows the ugliness inside me, He can relate, and He loves me in the midst of that. God knows that some days I struggle to even look at myself in the mirror because I hate what I see.  God knows that there are days when I just want it all to end because it’s exhausting to be constantly working through issues.  And even though He could be angry at me, because I’m hating on His creation, He continues to walk with me every step of the way, and wants to walk with those of you that struggle as well.  But I had to surrender that pain to Him, and it’s not a one-time surrender, it’s a constant surrendering.  Because sometimes we wear our pain and hurt and issues as a sort of badge of honor. I used it as an excuse to lash out at those who love me, maybe you use it to lash out at God. Sometimes it’s easier to live in that place of struggle and anger rather than admit that we need a Savior to rescue us.

When we allow ourselves to stay in that place of pain, it’s very easy for that pain or that struggle to become our identity.  Which leads me to my second take away; Know Who You Are.  We are not our struggles.  We are not our sin.  We are not what has happened to us. We are God’s Children who are redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ His son.  My identity was (and if I’m honest), at times still is, a “Depressed” person.  When what I really should label myself is is a child of God that struggles with depression. If you haven’t already, surrender your life to our heavenly Father, allow His power to transform your heart.  Give yourself to Him and take on your true identity, as one who is loved and forgiven. Don’t allow people or Satan or yourself to define you as anything else.  When you take on the true identity of a loved and forgiven Child of God and take off the false identity of whatever it is you have labeled yourself as, you will find that your struggles get framed in a different way, and for me, it is easier to deal with my struggles when I see them in that light.

All of this to say, I still struggle.  There are good days and bad days.  But because I know that God cares, He relates, and I am His, on my best days I can try to use those struggles to God’s glory.   But I’m only able to do this through God’s power, and not my own.  My prayer for those of you who can relate to this question is that you will rely on God’s power as well.

Q&A: Peter's Vision

by Aaron

Years ago, a friend of ours told us he believed that Christians misinterpret Peter’s sheet vision in Acts 10 to mean that we can literally eat all kinds of animals previously considered unclean. Peter’s vision is later explained (as you've pointed out in recent sermons) to mean that no person (i.e. Gentiles) is excluded from God's message/kingdom. My friend's point is that this is the only meaning of the vision, that we read too far into it by taking it to mean that we can literally eat any animal.

Have you considered this stance? What are your thoughts?

(Even further, what do you think of the idea that we were created vegetarian, if not vegan, based on the available food in the Garden of Eden?)

 

I hope I don’t sound too harsh, but your friend is a legalist. Legalists will look for any reason to ADD laws where there aren’t any laws.
 
Let me start at the beginning. (Or, in the beginning, if you will…)
 
In the garden, we were probably vegetarians…but remember the garden was called “good” and not perfect. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with being a vegetarian; we just can’t use the Garden of Eden as the standard to say this is how everyone should live. Everything changes once Noah exits the ark in Genesis 9:3. God says to him, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” He does go into prescriptions about blood and such after this, but here we get the idea that we get steak (praise the Lord!).
 
When Jesus comes, He does follow dietary laws because He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). He couldn’t do that by ignoring it (haha). Jesus was showing us the true intent of the law…it was made for man’s benefit. The law was meant to lead us to Jesus and His grace as we realize living up to it is unobtainable. This is why Jesus fulfilled the law for us.
 
When you get to Peter and his vision, you see God moving his church toward understanding the greater call of mission. Dietary laws were part of the civil law (as was not wearing blended fabrics or cutting your sideburns). These laws limited the interactions that God’s people had with their surrounding neighbors, because they couldn’t eat the same things; they essentially hindered mission. One of the reasons God showed Peter the vision in Acts 10 was so Peter would understand that he COULD now eat with Gentiles.  It was about witness, and that witness included food.
 
A few years later, Peter actually forgot this and Paul confronts him in Galatians 2:11-14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?

The circumcision party said what your friend did. “You can’t eat that; God’s vision for you wasn’t REALLY about food.” They tried to make everyone start to follow dietary laws again. Paul goes on to say, Galatians 2:15-16 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
 
Think about this…because we talked about this during Acts as well, is the prescription for circumcision still valid if the dietary laws are? That is part of the civil law as well. Why not tell everyone they have to be circumcised? Paul goes on in Galatians 5:2-12 and essentially says if the Law and circumcision is so great, why not cut off your whole penis? Then you will be REALLY spiritual! (Paul is being sarcastic). Paul then says these amazing words in Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedomGal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
 
I have no problem if someone wants to eat a certain way; they have that freedom. However, the second they say others have to eat a certain way (or be circumcised, or wear certain clothes, or cut their hair a certain way), they have left the realm of freedom and entered slavery. They have cut themselves off from those God has called us to minister and serve. The point of the freedom God gives is that we can worship God in any context we find ourselves in…serving others is worship, and we cannot serve others if we feel like we are better than them.

Planting Roots Re-Mix Week 4

by Element Christian Church

Within our Gospel Communities, or as a family or group of friends, we encourage you to watch this recap video together and answer the following questions.

 

Introduction
At Element we believe there are 4 main things to remember about generosity:

  1. Generosity is how we learn the best stuff in life isn't stuff. When we live in generosity, we find out that we really trust in the good and faithful providence of God to sustain us and bring us true joy.
  2. Generosity creates humility before God. In the early church, they didn't just give up money; they gave up control. This was demonstrated in other areas of their lives as well.
  3. Generosity strikes a blow at our core sin. We are meant to be something more than just consumers. In the early church, the Holy Spirit developed a habit of giving in His people instead of simply getting.
  4. Generosity is part of God’s character. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, what we take for granted is that God Himself is the ultimate giver. We see God’s invitation for others to take from Him at the end of Scripture: Rev 22:17 And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. We can't change our clutching hearts to giving hearts, but Jesus can. 

Discussion
How much stuff do you have that simply takes up space and never gets used?

Explanation Read Isaiah 55:1-2
Do you think how you interact with others gains favor for God’s Kingdom or destroys it?
Do you think the lure of materialism and acquisition has gotten weaker or stronger in our day versus Jesus’ day?
How does the lure of materialism show itself in your life?

Application – Read Luke 12:15
How has God been generous toward us? Toward you, specifically?
God first gave us, and our giving is meant to be a response. How does that challenge your views?

Mission
If someone were to give you a nickname based on your financial behavior, what would it be?
How do you want to be known for your financial behavior?
What steps can you take to live more that way?

Prayer
Our city and surrounding communities: for the grace to redeem culture, to share the gospel in all opportunities, gangs, drugs, crime, prostitution, human trafficking, homelessness, under employment, marriages in crises, families/parenting in crisis, racial and economic division.

 

Watch the original full-length message here.

Planting Roots Re-Mix Week 3

by Element Christian Church

Within our Gospel Communities, or as a family or group of friends, we encourage you to watch this recap video together and answer the following questions.

 

 

Introduction
The researchers Lea and Webley coined a metaphor for American culture and our use of money. They say money is a tool and also a drug. They say, “For a long time economists thought of money only as a tool. We value money because it's useful.” Money does lots of useful things as a medium of exchange. For example, we can pay the bills to keep our lights on and stay fed, but, they point out, if money is only a tool, then why do people who have a lot of it want more? This shows, they say, “Money is also a drug.” Money makes us feel things we would not otherwise feel and gives us a temporary escape from reality with the illusion of wellbeing.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

 

Discussion
Give some examples of money being used as a tool and as a drug in our culture.

 

Explanation
Based upon how you use money, would you say money (for you) is a tool or a drug? How?
Do you feel tempted to make money a drug in your life?

 

Application – Read Proverbs 30:15 and 1 Timothy 6:9
When are you most prone to forget that God is the owner of everything?
If you were to die today (I know, morbid thought), what money regrets would you have? What things would you rejoice over?
How can an eternal mindset change how you handle money today?

 

Mission
In what ways do you, or don’t you, equate giving with worship?
What would your kids, friends, and/or family learn about money by watching your life?

 

Prayer
Element as a gospel community of faith: Humble thankful people of grace and goodness, Philosophy of Ministry, Gospel Communities, learning to live on mission, becoming disciples who make disciples.

 

Watch the original full-length message here.

Planting Roots Re-Mix Week 2

by Element Christian Church

Within our Gospel Communities, or as a family or group of friends, we encourage you to watch this recap video together and answer the following questions.

 

Introduction
There are two simple reasons God gives us money and things:

  1. To enjoy them. It is not a sin to have fun with the money you have; as a matter of fact, the scriptures repeatedly tell us that our pleasure and joy come from the right hand of God. It’s fine to sleep in a nice bed, wear comfortable shoes, and eat nice meals with your family. The problem arises when we close our hands and make our pleasure all about us.
     
  2. The be generous and share. Some of God’s blessings we enjoy, and some we put into others’ hands. We are to understand that we are not simply receivers, but also givers; God has entrusted His stuff to us so we could distribute and share it. God’s goodness is meant to flow through us to others.

Discussion
Are you someone who mainly focuses on enjoying money or being generous with money?
How do you enjoy what God has given you?

Explanation
How do you strike a balance between generosity and enjoyment of your money/stuff?
In what ways would you say money has its “hooks” in you?

Application – Read Matthew 6:19-21
How has money become like a god in our culture?
In what ways do you currently serve that god?

Mission
Where is your treasure currently stored?
How is God trustworthy with financial matters even in spite of our fears?
What would it look like for you to enjoy your money and be generous with it at the same time?

Prayer
Construction: Weather, materials, laborers, inspectors, permits, plans, etc….. Timely management of the project and successful on time completion.

Watch the original full-length message here.

Planting Roots Re-Mix Week 1

by Element Christian Church

Welcome to week one of our Planting Roots Re-mix. Our goal for the next four weeks is to revisit the Planting Roots Journey on Sundays, in our communities and personally as we seek God in our finances, giving and our future at Element. Click here to download our Re-mix brochure with update letter, next steps and the Re-Mix Commitment card, where we will ask everybody to confirm, renew, modify or make a brand new commitment to our journey.

Within our Gospel Communities, or as a family or group of friends, we encourage you to watch this recap video together and answer the following questions.

 

Introduction
Everybody has a desire to be “rich.” We all think we would handle finances better than other people who are rich, because we secretly see ourselves as being better than them. In reality, if we were rich, we would handle our finances in the same way we do now, just on a larger scale. This is why the Scriptures invite us into a redeemed life that shows us the reality of who we are, and one of the ways that is done is through how we steward our finances.

Discussion
Who would you say is rich? Why?

Explanation
What things do you lack that prevent you from feeling “rich?”
What is something you hold on to that would be hard to give up if God asked you to?

Application – Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Do you typically view your possessions as God’s or yours?
Have you ever had the thought that if you just had “more money” you would then become “more generous?”
Why do we tend to think we need to reach or attain the “next level” to do so? How can you find a way to be generous now?

Mission
What does generosity mean to you?
How have others shown you generosity?
How do we model and teach generosity?
How often do you use what God has given you to bless others?

Prayer
Financial Resources: Fulfilled and exceeded commitments, the loan, the sustaining giving to manage the mortgage and maintaining the building while growing in our ability to love and minister to our city and to one another.

Watch the original full-length message here.

A Prayer for Planting Roots

by Mike Harman
The following is a prayer written by Mike Harmon, one of Element’s elders, for reflection during the Planting Roots Re-mix journey. As you pray during the Re-mix we wanted to offer it to you as way to seek God refocus on Jesus.
 
Father, we ask for your good blessing as we continue on this journey of building a facility as a place for Element to gather and to grow, a place to mature and become a community who would love and influence our city with the gospel. We ask that your gospel would redeem and transform our city as you have redeemed and transformed us.
 
We continue on this journey knowing that any facility we would undertake to build is no substitute for Jesus’ rule and reign. A building is not meant to honor us, cause us to feel good about ourselves, or even to somehow contain Your glory as no building built by human hands could ever do so. We don’t do this for You because we think You need a facility, we do it as a mean for You to continue to reveal Yourself and bring redemption to our community. We recognize that it is Jesus who is building a place for You to dwell, purchased by His blood, and we are that house, that dwelling! Teach us to understand that we, as your people, are being built up into a dwelling place for Your presence and power, that we might become ambassadors and representatives of You in our city!
 
Father increase our faith and our trusting You more deeply through this process of building and moving into our permanent “home.” May we grow in Your likeness through it all. Keep our focus centered on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, worshiping and rejoicing with thanksgiving at the gift we’ve been given. Teach us live knowing that a facility is nothing more than a tool to facilitate what You are doing in us individually, collectively, and in our city by transforming it by the gospel lived out in and by us.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV)
 
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 (ESV)
 

Planting Roots Re-Mix Coming

by Element Christian Church
It’s been almost two years since we started our Planting Roots Journey. Since that time families have moved away, other families have moved to town and started attending Element. No matter where you find yourself today we think we could all use a refresher of the practical wisdom of stewardship and sacrificial giving that we walked through during Planting Roots two years ago. That is why we are about to set out on a shorter journey through our Planting Roots Re-Mix.


Our goal through the Re-mix is the same as when we originally went through Panting Roots: to understand God’s call in our lives, to understand the vision God gave Element, and to all find ourselves on the same page in regard to giving and honoring Jesus. We will revisit the teachings, videos, and ideas from two years ago. At the end our Re-mix four-week journey you will have the opportunity to recommit, or make a first time commitment, towards our future home.
 
We have a realistic time frame where we believe we will be able to break ground during the Re-Mix! I know this sounds like a late-night infomercial, but that’s not all, during the Re-mix we will also have Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, prayer gatherings, and family/GC discussion evenings.
 
If you’ve made a commitment in the past to Planting Roots, you will receive a letter in the mail starting next week with your giving records for corrections. You will also receive a Re-Mix brochure that will have an update on our Planting Roots Journey Progress, ways to respond, and a new (re)commitment card.
 
Please keep Element in your prayers as we continue to walk toward building our future home and listening to what it is God would have us do, individually and corporately, in these coming days.
 
Our Re-Mix Journey will start August 28th, 2016 and culminate September 18th, 2016 where we will all turn in our (re)commitment cards!

Book Review: Zealot

by Element Christian Church

This is a review that I did on my Goodreads page for the book Zealot by Reza Aslan, I thought it would be helpful for you as well.

A friend of mind read this review and said I sounded angry, I don’t think I am angry as much as frustrated. Let me start by addressing something that repeatedly comes up throughout the entirety of Zealot…We all have a bias. Each of us has a worldview that shapes how we process and analyze information. Research shows we are more likely to accept and gravitate toward people, things, and ideas that reinforce our beliefs. This is why critical thinking is so important...we must be willing to have our worldview challenged, but also be able to point to true evidence that reinforces it. Make no mistake when reading Zealot, Aslan has a bias, even though he claims not to. His bias is markedly strong on every page. When I read the book I had to put it down multiple times in order to avoid a metaphorical aneurism.
 
To be upfront about my own bias, I believe the Bible is a truthful, historically valid collection of writings, and that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe these claims have withstood time and the opposing arguments (like Reza Aslan’s) along the way. I wrote this review only after a former youth group kid shared his review of the book and stated, “Zealot is an attempt to look at the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than looking at the founder and reason for Christianity, Aslan looks at Jesus the political revolutionary.” As I said, I had previously tried to read through the entire book, but put it down because it brings up the same arguments that have been disproved for the last 150 years, after the review of this young man, who I love dearly, I finally finished it. I assumed where the book would be going, and it turns out, I was right.
 
Most of my comments throughout this review are made at the times when I put the book down out of frustration with Aslan’s bias, it is why many of the things I say have a frustrated tone. If I could sum up this review in a few words, they would be this: “Aslan claims the New Testament writers were biased in their testimonies about Jesus, but he (Aslan) claims to be unbiased…he is full of BS.” That’s it. Throughout the book, Aslan shows his bias in how he masterfully twists biblical book order, phrases, verses, and history to fit his particular worldview, and yet consistently acts like he is not doing that. You lose credibility as an author if you can’t even cop to your own bias. Many people, if they are not aware of what he is doing, can easily be swayed by his less than true arguments.
 
As an example, Aslan, at the very beginning of the book, completely dismisses ALL of the apostle Paul’s writing in one paragraph—simply because Paul believed and taught the virgin birth, Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, and the resurrection. Seriously, just ONE paragraph to dismiss one of the greatest scholars in the ancient world. However, Aslan has to do this because the rest of his claims wouldn’t stand up to Paul’s theology. If that doesn’t scream “bias,” I don’t know what does. How about Aslan’s central premise (common among liberal scholars) that the synoptic Gospels took their information from an outside document known as “Q”? The “Q” hypothesis argues that Matthew, Mark, and Luke may not have even known each other, and that the Gospels were written after the fall of Jerusalem (70AD – or CE, depending on how you like to refer to the current age); they were a collusion of the church to deify Jesus and fit its theological structure. The biggest issue with this theory is that we have thousands of documents, fragments, and pieces of the synoptic gospels, but not one shred of evidence for the “Q” document/source material other than a bunch of liberal scholars saying “it must exist” because they cannot believe the New Testament could have been written any other way…can you say “bias?”**

 

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What Is Meta For?

by Aaron
A few weeks ago Eric Djafroodi gave a message about Stephen’s sermon in front of the religious leaders of his day. Stephen was the first deacon in the Church that was martyred for his faith. As I sat in service listening to the message, various things struck me and I wrote a short blog about it (you can find it here). As more time has passed, I keep thinking how brilliant Stephen was because he used his culture’s metaphors to explain the Gospel in a tangible way.
 
I originally wrote about how we (not metaphorically) need to understand what God is doing in real world sense of living on mission by being a blessing. After I wrote the blog I had a couple people ask what our current cultural metaphors are today.
 
The word “metaphor” itself comes from a root that means “to transfer,” where we transfer the idea of one thing onto another to give it more meaning. Like if you are into NASCAR and someone jumps out into the lead, sometimes people will say, “He took off like a rocket.” The imagery gives more detail to what you are talking about.
 
Our culture has metaphors that explain how people see the world today; it is important to identify  those metaphors in order to communicate effectively. After all, we want people to be able to connect with what we have to say, especially in terms of the Gospel. Currently (and this will date this blog years from now), the term LEMONADE is making a comeback because Beyoncé just released a critically acclaimed album with that title. This title is a reference to the adage: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Her album has resonated with a whole culture that is struggling, in their own way, to be heard.
 
Martin Gannon, from the University of Maryland, writes, “A cultural metaphor is any activity, phenomenon, or institution with which members of a given culture emotionally and/or cognitively identify.” It is important to realize that metaphors will come to represent the underlying values of a culture. Sometimes when we feel out of touch with the “language today,” it is simply a misunderstanding of metaphor. Everyone is looking for a way to connect…and as Christians, we must remember that part of speaking the Gospel into culture is knowing the right words to use for connection and meaning.
 
The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of a BODY to describe what the church is meant to function like in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. I’ll just quote verses 12-13: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. With Paul’s words in mind, listen to much of what our society is saying today. Recently, the Huffington Post shared an article titled “Are We All One?”—obviously with a whole different connotation than the Bible, but this speaks to humanity’s ingrained desire to connect.
 
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians about the diversity in who we all are and how we can still connect and function together when centered on Jesus. One body with many parts can speak directly to the racial divide our country is experiencing today. How do we do this? We understand the metaphors of how people are looking to connect (tolerance, mother earth, all one) and speak plainly about how the only way everyone will ever work together will be by centering on Jesus and not on ourselves. The 2000-year-old metaphor that Paul used, a diverse body made up of many different parts living for the Gospel, is still just as fresh and relevant as an image today.
 
Acts 17:22-23 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.Paul, in Athens, notices how the culture was worshipping; he doesn’t demean or talk down to them, but simply takes their language and moves it to Jesus and the truth. Instead of telling those around us what they need to hear in words they do not understand, we must speak truth by noticing the words that are used.
 
I would challenge you to be more aware of the common images and themes that are so prevalent in our culture today. As believers, we should constantly be thinking about how the Gospel speaks and applies to those themes. Ask yourself, or better yet ask God in prayer, how can you “translate” the Gospel to our culture so that it is clear and relatable without compromising the truth?

A Prayer In Tragedy

by Aaron

Last week one of our Elders sent me a prayer that was written by Ravi Zacharias and posted on their website www.rzim.org
 
We thought that after the tragedies in the past few weeks, with our country more divided by death and confusion, we as God’s people must remember to be peace makers and seek the welfare of others. We will do this by lifting up everyone, victims and families, in prayer before our great and good God. Please take time to pray for Jesus to grow us into greater unity through the tragedies.
 
Here is the prayer by Ravi Zacharias in his post: A Prayer on this Day of Shock and Heartbreak. We offer it to you as a prayer of lament and hope.
 

God, our heavenly Father, our minds go back to the day when Jesus knelt beside his beloved city and wept, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).

We sense so deeply the same reality. We weep for our cities even as we bury our dead. The sound of gunfire is the grim sound of what has already shattered our relationships. We are witnesses of distrust, revenge, and anger. We see no one to lead us and guide us. To whom shall we go?

Our differences seem to lead us even farther apart. Oh, Lord of miracles, do what only you can do to save us from ourselves. Give us men and women who will lead us to reconciliation. Give us leaders who will bind us up to heal our wounds, not those who will only incite more hate.

Give us voices that will bring hope and not despair. Please comfort the bereaved and give humility to the ones who are resistant to your ways. Give us pause so that we might sit back for just a few moments to look to you before we look at our impulsive solutions.

We shed another’s blood when we are without answers. You shed your own blood as our only answer. We kill, buried in despair. You rise, giving us hope.

You told Peter to put back his sword and you restored the one wounded. That’s what we long for. A reprimand to the one who would injure and a healing within the one injured. God of miracles, please do it again. We need you. Our nation needs you. Our leaders need you. Many a home today will not have a loved one returning. Without you we have no hope. With you all things are possible—even for beauty to come out of ashes. We pray for the day of unarmed truth and unconditional love. Please answer our prayer.

In the name of Jesus your Son, our only Savior, we ask this.

Amen.

Happy Fourth of July

by Element Christian Church
Happy Independence Day from all of us at Element. Hope you have a safe and fun weekend. 

Truth and Meaning

by Aaron

I try very hard to look at the Bible objectively, to teach you as best as I can so you will see the Scriptures as they were meant to be seen, but I also know that is somewhat impossible. I don’t say that to diminish your trust in my teaching or your trust in the Bible; I say it because we must be careful to read OUT of the Bible what God wants said, and not IN to the Bible what we want it to say.

I recently had an experience of running into someone I haven’t seen in a couple of years. They had become “hyper-spiritual,” and I do not mean that in a good way. They had begun to look for numerical patterns in the Bible (we call this numerology). They took pictures of the clouds to look for signs from God, and they believed that when everyone “really” trusted Jesus they would all agree with him. It’s easy to dismiss someone like this as crazy, because they talk crazy, ask questions they don’t want a response to, talk over you, and become very adversarial, but I know my calling as being a witness for Jesus is to always steer people back to Him.

The Bible’s focus isn’t about numerology; the Bible’s focus is Jesus. When we get caught thinking God has hidden messages in the Bible, we miss the main point of why we have the scriptures at all. 

As I said, our experiences shape how we read and interpret the Scriptures, that is why we must always come back to prayer and listening to God’s Spirit. Christopher Hall wrote a great article about this when he wrote a review of Randolph Richard’s book: Misreading the Scriptures with Western Eyes. Our culture will help us see some things very clearly, but can also distort other things altogether.

In the article, they point out that even simple details in the parable of the prodigal son can be overlooked. “When 100 North American students were asked to read the parable and retell it, only six mentioned the famine the prodigal experiences away from home.” Americans forgot the famine and the hardship that pushed the young man to return home because, as the author suggests, “Most Americans simply have not experienced terrible famine.” When they had 50 Russians read the parable, “42 out of 50 mentioned the famine.” In Russia’s cultural history, World War II brought famine and starvation that rooted itself deeply in their collective consciousness. Both of our cultural contexts determine what stands out to us in a passage of scripture.

I used to go to a Bible study where the leader would have us all read through a passage from the Bible and then ask, “What does this mean to you?” If I was in an ornery mood (which was often), I would start right in by being a loud-mouthed sarcastic participant, but if I wasn’t “in a mood” most of the room would stay quiet for a few minutes before someone would eventually say, “To me, this passage is saying _____.” People would start to answer, but not out of any source of knowledge from the actual scripture; they would answer out of their heart’s emotional response (which usually resulted in less learning and more ignorance).

Don’t misunderstand me, I think it is great to talk about how Scripture impacts our hearts. It is great to ask what a passage means, but as Hall says, “To make the individual Christian the starting point for interpretation and the center of a text's meaning—the Western pattern—is problematic.” In the book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, they point out two main dangers in this approach:

  • If we, as a people, make ourselves the center of the search for truth in a passage of the Bible, we will skew things in our own direction and miss what the text is actually saying. The passage may very well be challenging us! We will, as I said earlier, read in to the text the things we want instead of allowing the text to examine and change us. The author says, “This…leaves us basing our Christian life on less than the full counsel of God."
  • The me or “I” centered approach to looking at the Scriptures confuses two words: application and meaning. We must understand that we are not the focus of Biblical texts—Jesus is. Yes, we are made in the image of God, Jesus did come to save us, and the story of redemption includes us as God’s people, but we must always first ask how a passage reveals Jesus. If our first question is “How can I apply this to my life?”, we will skip the meaning and be self-centered on application (not that application is a bad thing).

A major problem with how the Church in America has taught the Scriptures is that it is a very man-centered view. We tend to make people the point, and not God—who made people, revealed Himself, and calls us into relationship with Him. When we make the Scriptures man-centered, we will assume there are hidden messages, secret codes, and the ability to “unlock” all we have ever dreamed. But if the Scriptures are about God being first, they will change our whole view and we will begin to realize that Jesus is the author and finisher of not just our faith, but the Scriptures as well.


Let’s not forget Jesus’ words in John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Planting Roots Update - June 2016

by Element Christian Church
Big News for Planting Roots this month! The first is that we have entered a lease agreement with our landlord to rent our current facility one more year (until January 1st, 2018)! This should give us the time needed to build our permanent home.
 
The second is that we've received the plans from our Civil Engineers and have submitted them to the city for plan check. If all goes well, we have the potential to start moving dirt within 4-6 weeks! 
 
Please pray for our continued process and thank God for His providence in working all things out for His Glory.
 
Here's our updated Planting Roots Giving numbers...



Crux Sola Est Nostra Theologia

by Aaron
If you just read the title of this blog and thought, “Did Marianne’s cat walk across Aaron’s keyboard?” the answer would be a resounding, “No.” Sometimes I get in these moods where I want to just write something for the fun of it…that usually means something no one else really cares about, like theological words and phrases.
 
When the Magisterial Reformation of the church occurred, some wonderful bits of theology were emphasized to the “common” people. The reformers (like Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Simmons) wanted normal everyday people to understand more of the truth of the scriptures. This resulted in an emphasis on what were known as the “five solas.” The word “sola” means “alone,” but unlike getting lost in the woods, this use of “alone” means “by itself and no other.” Here’s an explanation of each of the five solas:
  • Sola Fide – Faith alone. We are justified before God by faith alone. (Rom 3:28)
  • Sola Gratia – Grace alone. We have no claim upon God and He saves us by His grace. (Eph 2:8)
  • Solus Christus – Christ Alone. There is no human achievement that takes the place of Jesus and His work. The Reformers loved to say over and over, “Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.” (Acts 4:12)
  • Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. The Bible is our authority, not Popes, churches, traditions, or councils. When men contradict the Scriptures, we are to remain faithful to the Scriptures. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
  • Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone belongs all glory. God does all things for His glory and so should we. (Romans 11:36—For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.)
If you would like a more in-depth (but still brief) explanation, you can check out this short article on the Gospel Coalition website: (https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/scottysmith/2007/12/03/the-solace-of-the-reformation/).
 
When we say “sola means alone,” it means by itself in a good way…not in an eating-lunch-by-yourself-kind-of-way. These things alone are sufficient for a fruitful understanding and practice of the Gospel. The Protestant church has held these solas as foundational to who we are in a “deep rooted faith in God” kind of way, but some people forget that Martin Luther added a sixth sola while defending himself at the beginning of his time as a reformer.
 
On October 31st (What? Halloween?), 1517, Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses that he nailed to a church door in Wittenberg. These words were mainly to combat the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church. (Indulgences were pardons you could buy to make up for your sins). The posting of questions was not something new, and most historians agree that Luther was shocked that his 95 Theses caused the stir that they did. However, we’re glad today that they had such a strong impact. Luther’s challenge to the Church was to essentially change its ways, because Jesus alone (Solus Christus) paid for our sin.
 
On April 26, 1518 (no one ever said the Church was fast at doing anything), Luther was called upon to defend himself and he did so in what we call the Heidelberg Disputation. In this disputation, Luther laid down the principle of Crux Sola Est Nostra Theologia (“the Cross alone is our theology”). Luther, in this sola, was not discounting the birth or the resurrection of Jesus; he was directly combating the idea that you could buy your way into God’s graces. He was saying that Jesus alone (Solus Christus) paid for our sin at the Cross (crux sola).
 
Luther pushed for an understanding that all human history comes to a head at the cross of Christ and that without a proper understanding of the Cross, we will misunderstand everything else (even the other 5 solas). I think for us, an understanding of the centrality of the Cross is also more important than most people realize. The Cross is where Jesus paid for our sin. The Apostle Paul uses many metaphors for this:
  • For those who get focused on the temple, he uses the words sacrifice or atonement (Rom 3:25)
  • For those who love the law, he uses the word justification (a legal term)
  • For those who love relationship, he uses the word reconciliation
Scot McKnight wrote, “The metaphors Paul chose determined the problem they addressed: if the word is redemption, the problem is slavery; if the word is sacrifice…the problem is sin…; if the word is reconciliation, the problem is alienation.” The cross is the means of liberation, reconciliation, justification, and atonement for our sin—not the church, not men, not worship, not law—only the work of Jesus through the Cross.
 
We are a people who must understand Christ’s sacrifice in a sola type of way. If we do not understand the Cross, we will preach a false gospel that elevates people as being central AND ALSO begins to slowly demonize God Himself for requiring a sacrifice of us. Our sin required a sacrifice, but God Himself stepped into human history to BE that sacrifice. This is why “justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone” changes everything. The truth of these words is given to us throughout the entirety of Scripture (Sola Scriptura), and God is the one who gets all the glory (Soli Deo Gloria)…but an understanding of the Cross of Christ (Crux Sola) is what brings it all into proper focus.  

Live The Message

by Aaron
The start of this blog is more of a public apology to Eric Djafroodi. If you were at Element last Sunday morning, you know that I gave him the longest section of Scripture to preach on in Element’s history. As I was sitting at his practice run-through (AKA 1st service…just kidding), I wanted to reemphasize something that stood out to me from Eric’s (Stephen’s) message—the idea of speaking intelligently into our cultural contexts.
 
If you were to read through Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7:2-53, you might walk away thinking that it was the strangest message you have ever heard, that certain points didn’t land, and that the Gospel wasn’t clearly articulated. All of those things would be false, because Stephen perfectly articulated the truth of the Gospel in a context that was highly relatable to his audience: the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin). The Sanhedrin were not concerned with transgender bathrooms, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, gun control, three strikes laws, or any laws other than those handed down in the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Torah).
 
Stephen spoke in a way his listeners could understand, as should we. Sometimes we get caught up in using “Christian” words (“Christianese”) and forget that many of our co-workers, neighbors, and friends don’t understand words like atonement, redemption, grace, or even hope in the same way that a believer in Jesus would. We must be careful that when we use words we say them in a way that connects and makes our understanding clearer by adopting the cultural metaphors around us.
 
Stephen tells the religious leaders that God is not confined to the nation of Israel because God chose a man named Abraham before Israel was even a country. He then sent His people into the land of Egypt before eventually giving them an inheritance of the promised land. Over and over God is showing them that He is not confined to a space, but that He blesses and intends for those who follow Him to bless others.
 
Stephen tells the religious leaders that God is not confined to their temple, their holy space. When Moses meets God, it is out in the middle of nowhere and God tells him to take off his sandals because the place where he is standing is holy. What made the place holy? The presence of God made the space holy; the space itself held no special significance. Today we like to make some spaces more holy than others (whether it is a baseball hall of fame, or a Hollywood walk of fame, or a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame); we need to understand that it is God’s presence that makes a place sacred and holy.
 
Stephen then went on to show that any time someone came to show who God was and is in a real way, they ended up being killed for their faith. Stephen showed how the nation of Israel constantly rejected their calling to be a blessing and made the blessing of God all about themselves; they held themselves as a privileged elite in the world, rather than a Kingdom of priests.  
 
So, let’s see if we can connect this to us and our culture…
 
Like Stephen, we are called to be people who can speak the truth into our current cultural setting in a way that makes sense. What can stop us from doing this in a practical way? Living like the religious leaders Stephen is speaking to. We have a tendency to see the world in our own context, just like the Sanhedrin. We want to confine God to our sacred places, we want to determine who can be eligible for the blessing of God, and we more often than not reject the calling that God has placed on our lives to be a blessing.
 
I think we should begin to ask where, metaphorically speaking, we need to take off our sandals, because God is moving and working in places we refuse to believe or recognize. I think we need to understand where we have tried to confine God and His work to fit our narrow cultural view. I think we must open our eyes to understand the blessings we have received are blessings that God intends for us to share with others.
 
When we refuse to live as God’s priests to the world, we are refusing to live the calling of God. 1 Peter 2:9 But you area 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. We, many times, are just like the men Stephen addresses; we think because our great God has redeemed us, we are better than others. We think the blessings we have received are somehow because of our own effort, or because we have done something good enough to deserve them…but the truth is that we have been blessed to bless others and give our blessings away.
 
The biggest cultural push of our day is tolerance for only the things that are deemed tolerable. Laws are passed and people fight for a view that is constantly letting individuals do anything they/we want as long as our hearts say it OK (you can insert the conservative or liberal movement you wish here). How do we speak the gospel into that? It starts with understanding that the scriptures teach that our hearts are wicked and cannot be trusted to be other than self-serving. Beginning to understand how God has made us, how we have marred His image, will begin to bring compassion because we will see the brokenness around us. When we love them as God calls us to we will begin to understand them better, when we understand others better we can speak to the depth of their brokenness as well as ours in a way that is full of Gospel truth and blessing.
 
Blessing others does not mean letting them get away with everything they want; it is speaking the truth and offering love and hope, while showing how to live a life that loves God in practical ways. How can you love your neighbors? How can you love your friends? How can you love your coworkers? How can you love your family, your spouse, your children? Live out the blessing of God in others’ lives, while not begrudging them for your effort, energy, or trampling on your blessing. It was never yours in the first place. It was always meant to be given away.