Gospel Present

by Aaron

I am sitting in a hotel next to the Sea of Galilee in Israel as I write this short blog. Because of the time difference I tend to wake up at 3am every morning right now and today is no exception.

Aaron and Marianne in Israel

It is interesting that I am here in Israel because, while I love the history of what God did in the world, I also feel like we miss the point if we only focus on broken ruins of where God was and not what He is still actively doing in the world today. One of my friends has an uncle who led tours in Israel and invited my wife and I to go at cost, my wife said we should go, so we came (not that my jet lag is her fault).

On this tour we are mixed with a whole group of pastors from other churches, mostly from the southern United States. As the days have progressed, I have noticed a difference in how I view God’s promises and the call of Jesus differently, in a cultural context, than many of the other people on this expedition. As an example, someone asked our guide what the original borders of Israel were that were given to Abraham verses what they are today, a perfectly valid question with no ulterior motives. Our guide said, “further east and further south,” it was a nice dodge of not stepping on a landmine for American Christians (I almost applauded him). Another question came on the heals about Israel’s aspirations to reclaim all of that promised land, to which the guide said that he believes it would be impractical based on the political climate of the world. One last person then piped and said, “when Jesus returns, He’ll give it to you.” Our guide was gracious and said, “when Jesus returns there will be no borders.” 

I found the guide’s statement brilliant and the some of the responses by our group odd because it kind of missed the point of what Jesus said to do in the world.

The Gospel, in its raw form, is the GOOD NEWS of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus lived the life we could have never lived, one of goodness and perfection. On the cross Jesus took our death upon Himself and gave us His life, He took our sin and gave us His own righteousness. We get to be reconciled to God because of what Jesus did and that is good news (the Gospel). Today people and churches tend to fall into one of 3 categories in regards to what the Gospel is and does.

  • Gospel Past – This would be where you hear phrases like “remember the good old days, we need to go back to when men were men, pews were long, and everyone loved the King James Version of the Bible.” I jest, but you get my meaning.
  • Gospel Future – This is when churches spend all their time talking about what God WILL do ONE DAY. He will come back, crush enemies, rapture us, and all sorts of other things.
  • Gospel Present – This is where I think we all NEED to be. A church that understands our rich and deep heritage that has been handed to us from the past, a hope of what God will truly do at the return of Jesus, but a present attitude that sees that the Gospel is good news for today and every day because it means reconciliation now.

When Jesus rises form the dead the disciples ask Him in Acts 1:6 “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” This is kind of like the guy’s statement in our tour group, “when Jesus returns you will get the land.” It is a Gospel future mixed with a gospel past attitude that misplaces Jesus work in the world to only be for our perceived benefit and not good news for all of the lost. When the disciples ask Jesus this question about their own borders He responds with (Acts 1:7) “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” That is a nice way of saying, “no, and you missed the point about the restoration of the true Kingdom of God.” So Jesus then says (Acts 1:8) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What Jesus does is reminds them what the Gospel will bring, relationship with God that results in God’s Spirit indwelling us. God’s Spirit will indwell for the purpose of speaking the Gospel as a present reality to all the world now. He is saying that the results of the Gospel in our lives is peace with God which can (and hopefully will) result in peace with one another. We need stop asking God, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel…make America great again…destroy the infidels…bring back family values?” And start to live in the present mission which will speak of God’s reconciliation of the world; it is WHY God gave us His Spirit and power. We do not need to have our focus be the ruins of an ancient society, or a future of bloody destruction where everyone finally realizes “we were right;” what we need is a present reality of the true and living God offering us hope and restoration to Himself by what He Himself did in the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It is not just for us, it is for all people.

Element University 2020

by Element Christian Church

Join us Wednesday Evenings for a 9 Week Course, starting January 29th at 6pm-7:45pm, feel free to bring your dinner. We will have Childcare and Kids programs up through 5th grade. You don't need to sign up to come, but we are trying to plan for childcare. If you are bringing children please fill out this form so we can be fully staffed.

Element U (U stands for University) is our effort to educate you by intensive classes that will give you a greater knowledge and understanding of the gospel and the culture around us.

Element U: The Unfolding Mystery of Redemption: God's Gracious Plan to Redeem the Human Race. 

The Unfolding Mystery of Redemption: God's Gracious Plan to Redeem the Human Race.

It is a series of lessons that present the plan of salvation as an unfolding story through the Old Testament and the Gospels. The journey through the Scriptures is not is not just a Bible Overview or Bible History course. We will not stop off at every story, but will highlight the events that are particularly helpful in preparing people’s hearts for an understanding of the good news of our Redeemer’s work.

Our Plan is to take 9 weeks to walk through the Story, discovering how God "unfolded" His plan to the human race.

As the story unfolds, it reveals the Power, the Love and the Holiness of God, as well as the devastating consequences of sin, and our helplessness to save ourselves. Little by little, through the connected
stories, we will slowly but clearly see everyone’s need for a Redeemer/Savior.

In the Old Testament We’ll see:
- the qualifications required of the Savior,
- the predictions of what the Savior would be like,
- and specific things that the prophets said would identify Him,

And then we’ll go to the New Testament Gospels, and take a look at the Man called Jesus, and consider Him as a candidate for the position of Redeemer.

As we do, we see how Jesus uniquely fulfills both the Requirements and the Prophecies, and we gain a firm foundation for our Faith in Him as our only hope for redemption.

Our hope is that we will all come away with a clearer understanding and appreciation of our own firm foundation, and also gather some great tools that will help us share the story with others.

We invite all GC's to take a break from their traditional Notes Night to attend. For questions, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Lone Pine Island

by Holly DeKorte

You might have had someone in your life say to you, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church.”  What is your response to that statement? Do you want to throw Bible verses in the person’s face, do you want to shrug and let it go, or do you want to engage with the person and have a meaningful conversation? For years, I have struggled with my response. My face would show skepticism, disbelief, and sometimes even anger. My words would take on a Hermione Granger like tone and my volume would rise. My arms would cross and I perhaps would even take a physical step back. Or, perhaps more dangerously, I would lean too far to the other side and respond with a “That’s cool.” Now, however, I am equipped with a story that shows a better, more loving response.

About a month ago, Mr. Smith came to dinner. He is a man well into his nineties and has been a close family friend since my mother was a child. The Smiths befriended my grandparents when the two couples moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s and attended the same church. My grandparents transplanted themselves in sunny California, leaving their eastern ties behind, and the Smiths were uprooted from snowy Canada. Mrs. Smith recently passed away and my mother has made sure that Mr. Smith is still a part of our family. During dinner, Mr. Smith launched into a story about a tree, a lake, and the logging industry.

The Smiths have a cottage on White Lake in Ontario, Canada. Once, many years ago, a logging company rerouted the lake and by doing so, flooded a piece of land close to the shore. An island was created, cut off from the mainland and the pine forest. One pine tree survived and lived its life alone on the island. This isolated tree became stunted even as neighboring trees on the mainland thrived. It never grew very tall, because without the protection of larger trees, it was prone to attracting bolts of lightning. The other pine trees dropped needles and cones, self-fertilizing the soil. The birds made homes in the forest and also provided nutrients to the trees. Winds would sweep across the lake and the little tree was left to brace itself while the pines in the forest protected each other. Without shelter and nutrients, the lone pine pressed on, standing by itself for years until it finally succumbed to a violent storm and fell. Mr. Smith, being of curious mind, rowed out to the island and counted the rings of the small, secluded tree. It was well over 100 years old, but tragically, it never lived up to its full potential. 

While Mr. Smith told this story, I realized he was giving me a response to those who call themselves Christians, but who don’t attend a church and involve themselves in a community of believers. Was the pine tree still a tree even outside the forest? Yes! Is a Christian a Christian even if the person doesn’t attend church? Sure. However, is it healthy to be a Christian and not attend church or to insert yourself into community? No. We speak of “the storms of life” sometimes flippantly, yet anyone who has lived a decade or more certainly knows that no one is safe from a squall. The Holy Spirit certainly is our Helper and sees us through life’s storms, but He uses His people to help in His work.   

One of the purposes of church is for nourishment. Every Sunday, we hear the Word of God preached from the pulpit. As our understanding of scripture grows, God changes our hearts. The Holy Spirit, through our pastors, shapes our thoughts, feelings, and actions as we feast on the Word. Think of sermons as fertilizer for your soul. We also feast at the Lord’s Supper. The physical act of receiving communion is supposed to be done in community as we, together, remember Jesus’s death and resurrection. As a high school student, my father would take me with him on shut-in communion visits. We would visit the elderly and the sick members of our church to pray, talk, and take communion together. Sometimes, the church comes to you.

Another reason that a Christian attends church is community. Thinking about Lone Pine Island and the tree isolated from the forest is rather depressing. We are not meant to be that tree, struggling alone to fend off lightning, wind, rain, and snow. Ultimately, God shoulders our burdens, but He has given us the church family to assist. Do you ever visit the deacons in the back for prayer? Do you ever share your burdens in a Gospel Community? If so, you know that your brothers and sisters are joining you in your grief and helping to carry your burdens. Paul instructs the Corinthians to “Greet each other with a holy kiss.” 2 Cor 13:12. In our cultural context, that would be a hug or, perhaps, a handshake. Some people go an entire week without physical contact and might depend on their brothers and sisters at church for it. 

Mr. Smith kept a bit of wood from the lone pine’s stump. One day, my father will make something beautiful out of it. Perhaps, you have been hurt by the church. Guess what? I would venture to say that most of us feels the scars from a church experience. We are a supernatural family, being made holy so that we become more like Jesus, but in the meantime, we hurt each other. Remember, God redeems all things, even the pain, and that ultimately, the church will be perfect. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of what it means to be a church, and who is our High Priest:  

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”   Hebrews 10:19-25 

Maybe you feel like a lone pine.  Jesus, by His sacrifice for our sins, has made it possible for us to approach the throne of God.  He has made us clean and given us a spiritual family.  We, at Element Christian Church, would love to come alongside you, to love and encourage you.  Find your forest and grow in it!  Your presence matters. For those of you who are planted in church, look for the lone pines in your life. Invite them in to community and offer them your friendship. God uses us all in the process of growth! 

Delta Holiday Store Recap

by Element Christian Church

Christmas for Kids (CFK) was a program Element started a year after planting as a church in 2008. Christmas for Kids’ goal was to provide for families and kids in need in our community that may have fallen through the cracks and didn’t get support from other organizations and/or the government. We loved this ministry as each year we were able to provide two meals and take kids shopping for Christmas gifts for themselves.

When Element moved to our Bethany property, two things happened. First, we quickly realized how much of a need there is for the students who show up every day next door to Delta High School.  Secondly, the family who spearheaded CFK was no longer able to organize and run the program. While we felt called to bless the students next door, the first couple of years, as we were building trust with the faculty, we simply provided movie tickets as a way to wish the students Merry Christmas. This year, we partnered with one of the teachers who runs the HOPE club to put together a free Holiday Store for the students to be able to ‘shop till they dropped’ for either themselves or for family/friends.

It was an amazing week. Thank you so very much to all of you who helped donate items or serve the week of to make it happen.

Shawn, the teacher over the HOPE club, put together a Delta Holiday Store in 2015. They hosted it on campus and focused mainly on clothes. Here is a picture of what it looked like.

Original Delta Store in 2015

Shawn had a vision for expanding the store and having more resources for students and asked if we would be able to host it for them; which we were glad to do. The HOPE club actively helped all week: setting up and maintaining the store, greeting all students as they arrived and explaining the why and how the store worked, and they passed out “HOPE notes” (an encouragement letter) to each student. We expanded the store to include more household items such as toiletries, kid’s toys, baby items, Christmas décor, shoes, and so much more. We even had a coffee table that kids fought over. Here are some pictures of our gathering room the first day. 

Element Store 1 Element Store 2 Element Store 3 Element Store 4 

Element Store 5 Element Store 6 Element Store 7 Element Store 8 

Roughly 80% of everything went. The store opened and all students came on Tuesday and “shopped.” The rest of the week we opened it before and after school. Some teachers brought their entire classes over, where some brought individual students who needed more time.  It was great to hear excitement as students would say, “I got my little brother (sister, cousin, etc.) something this year, I have never been able to do that before!”

It was eye opening how much the students wanted/needed basic items such as toiletries (including toilet paper), towels and blankets. We couldn’t keep them in stock. We had several people offer to donate more and replenished these items several times, and always ran out.

Toiletries 1 Toiletries 2 Toiletries 4

Toiletries More! Towels More

We were also able to bless the students by offering a gift-wrapping station where they could wrap gifts they wanted to give. Many used this service and interacted with volunteers who wished them a Merry Christmas.

Gift Wrapping 1 Gift Wrapping 2

Lastly, we raffled off decorated Christmas trees, we had 8 in total, to those students who didn’t have a one this season. The kids who won were all very appreciative of the trees and were genuinely excited. One girl who one a tree actually gave it to a friend who she knew needed it more than she did. It was encouraging to see the student’s generosity grow from being part of the Delta Store. 

Tree Give Away - Kid Happy Decorated Trees 1 Decorated Trees 2 Decorated Trees 3

Tree Wrapping 1 Tree Wrapping 2 Tree Delivery

The students were appreciative and thanked Element several times. At this time our plan is to provide this store again, taking all we learned this year and applying it to next year’s store as there are always ways to improve.

For Element it is great to see the heart of our original Christmas for Kids continue even though it looks completely different now. In the end we were able to provide Christmas gifts to 300+ High School students, as well as give them the opportunity to give gifts to others, and we pray provided some hope for each of them.

It is called the HOPE club because the teachers and staff want to provide hope and encouragement to all students at Delta through giving and sacrifice. It’s our prayer that each and every student saw their needs being taken care of and come to know that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice as He gave His life for them – the ultimate gift. We look forward to continued relationship and ways to serve the students and staff at Delta. If you would like to get involved serving the High School, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

(Note: We do not have permission to post pictures with students) 

The Morning After

by Kelly Borjas

The Monday after Thanksgiving started—and all I could see was my to-do list. Piles of laundry, recovering from company, cookies to bake for school performances, Christmas cards to send, presents to buy, and a smattering of holiday events (interrupted by an out-of-town wedding in the middle of December). It’s a ridiculously busy time of the year. Then I think about all the things I have coming at me to soak up Advent, remember what Jesus did for us, be present, focus on what matters. I felt overwhelmed at the contradiction. How am I supposed to stop and focus on Jesus when I am running a hundred miles an hour to accomplish everything in the month of December? To clarify, I love all of these things. Truly, I love watching a Hallmark movie and writing Christmas cards, basking in the glow of a lit Christmas tree, baking cookies with my kids, buying presents.

I went for my morning run that day, and prayed, asking the Lord how I was supposed to juggle everything and still keep Him at the center of our lives. At the end of the run, I saw a rainbow in the sky. Before you think I’m over spiritualizing, I had a realization. After God instructed Noah to build an ark and flooded the earth, He gave a promise that He would never flood the earth again. A rainbow is a sign of that promise. A reminder. That rainbow reminded me of something Steve said in his sermon last Sunday: God always does what He says He is going to do. He’s never flooded the entire earth again. God did what He said He would do.

I started thinking: what did God say He would do in regard to a Savior? The Old Testament is filled with God guiding his people and a promised Messiah. At the beginning of the Bible God says His offspring will defeat Satan (Genesis 3:15). He promised Abraham he would be a great nation (Genesis 12:2). He promised a Messiah to be born of a virgin, whose name is Immanuel, meaning God with us. (Isaiah 7:14). This savior would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The Bible also says this Messiah would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), and that He would not stay in the grave (Psalm 16:10). There are several other prophesies of this coming Messiah, but these stood out to me. God did what He said He would do! He brought Jesus into the world as a baby—both human and God incarnate. Jesus lived on earth, ministered to people in all walks of life, and then died for our sins, rising again to defeat death and sin. All people are invited into this Kingdom, fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham to make a great nation.

As I’ve reflected on those truths this week, I’ve realized it’s not overly complicated. We don’t need to read every Advent devotional or follow some specific process to be reminded of the meaning of Christmas. Rather, we can simplify. God did what He said He would do. He brought a Savior into the world. Immanuel—God with us. When I think of it that way, it’s life changing. When we’re at school performances or wrapping gifts; when we’re baking cookies or shopping, we can remember the significance of this Savior. In fact, if all I remember is that God fulfills His promises, I can reflect and appreciate His great gift. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace came to the world to rescue sinners. God did what He said He would do.

The Tension of Truth

by Aaron

In a message a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we are called to speak God’s truth as seen in the Gospel by speaking hope, grace, and truth to the world around us. I then received this question the next week and thought we could put it in a blog for everyone. Here is the question: How do we as believers balance the tension of not being judgmental with standing for God’s truth? If standing for truth requires we differentiate right from wrong, how do we keep ourselves from being judgmental or being perceived as judgmental (even if in our own hearts)?

The short answer is you can’t stop people from perceiving you a certain way when they are predisposed to do that…but what we can do is slowly change those preconceptions with a life of grace. The long answer is that sometimes people react poorly to a message of truth because those with the truth do not communicate it in a way that makes sense (and sometimes people have hardened hearts so our words only sound like judgment).

As an example, one of the greatest preachers in American history, Jonathan Edwards, spent most of his career preaching at the Congregational Church of Northampton. At the time this was considered one of the most important towns in Massachusetts. He had a disagreement with a church policy over communion (who should be allowed to partake) and was fired. He then went to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on the American frontier, where he started to minster to a congregation that had many Native Americans in it. When he spoke in the new congregation, he changed how he preached. His words didn’t lessen the Gospel message, but they became simpler.

He changed his way of reasoning and started to use more stories and metaphors. As Timothy Keller notes, “He preached more often on the accounts of Jesus’ life instead of on the propositions of the Pauline epistles.” I have been re-reading an excellent book by Keller called Center Church and it speaks at length about speaking into our given cultures in understandable ways. The truth without judgment. I will quote or rephrase the book at length because I think it is helpful to answer the question.

Center Church points out that “to enter a culture, another main task is to discern its dominant worldviews or belief systems, because contextualized gospel ministry should affirm the beliefs of the culture wherever it can be done with integrity.” The book shows that we should be able to determine 2 types of beliefs in a culture.

  • “A” beliefs are beliefs people already hold that, because of God’s grace, roughly correspond to some parts of biblical teaching.
  • “B” beliefs contradict Christian truth

With “A” beliefs people are already predisposed to latch onto many of the Scriptures teachings, but “B” beliefs are those a culture finds offensive or implausible. When speaking truth we should look for the “A” beliefs; these beliefs will differ from culture to culture. Keller states, “To use an obvious example, in Manhattan, what the Bible says about turning the other cheek is welcome (an “A” belief), but what it says about sexuality is resisted (a “B” belief). In the Middle East, we see the opposite—turning the other cheek seems unjust and impractical, but biblical prohibitions on sexuality make sense.”

What we want to do in speaking of the Gospel is point people to the overlapping beliefs they can easily affirm. Paul does this in his speech in Athens in Acts 17. We spend time building rapport and relationships with people because where truth is found we can affirm it whole heartedly. We can build people’s respect for biblical wisdom this way. “A culture that puts a high value on family relationships and community should be shown that there is a strong biblical basis for the family. A culture that puts a high value on individual human rights and justice should be shown how the biblical doctrine of the image of God is the historical and logical foundation for human rights.” We must take care to affirm “A” beliefs before engaging in the “B” beliefs. We don’t start with the challenge, we start with affirming truth. We show respect even when disagreeing on many “B” doctrines.

When Paul speaks in the book of Acts he doesn’t just go out and put down the Greeks’ love for the mind or Jews’ love for morality; he wants to help them see they are pursuing those things in defeating ways. Valuing morality (as the Jews did) was a good thing, but without Jesus that pursuit of morality leads to judgementalism and weakness. To the Jews, Christ seemed weak, but that weakness brought (and still brings) true power. “Paul does not simply dismiss a culture’s aspirations; rather, he both affirms and confronts, revealing the inner contradictions in people’s understanding.” It is so important for us to understand and enter a culture BEFORE challenging it. “Our criticism of the culture will have no power to persuade unless it is based on something that we can affirm in the beliefs and values of that culture.”

It is much different to challenge the wrong things a culture believes from the common ground of the things they say they already believe. Center Church states, “It is important to learn how to distinguish a culture’s “A” doctrines from its “B” doctrines because knowing which are which provides the key to compelling confrontation.”

Yes, we must be able to judge what culture around us deems as right vs wrong, but we do not need to become ‘judgmental’ in the process. No matter what, in areas where “B” doctrines collide there is always great opportunity for offense and anger, but starting in the common grace of common ground gives us a surer and more tactful approach presenting Gospel truths. Healthy confrontation can occur when relationships are built between people, and honestly human cultures are extremely inconsistent in conforming to what they say they believe…contrast that with God Himself, who stands above all culture, and is always consistent.

 

Upcoming Delta High School Holiday Store

by Element Christian Church

As the neighbor of Delta High School, we at Element Christian Church try to bless and serve Delta as much as possible. One thing that the teachers have asked for is for Element to host a Holiday Store for a week in December. Delta is a continuation school. Many of the students come from difficult circumstances and have very little money. In previous years, Delta has offered a free store where kids can go to “shop” for either themselves if there’s something they need (clothes, accessories, games, etc.) or, shop for a gift for someone else. We love this idea! The teachers say that letting students get a Christmas gift for someone else helps change their perspective on the Holidays, and helps them learn to be more generous. The school hasn't been able to provide the store in the past couple of years due to a lack of resources in collecting items and hosting, so Element is going to step in to help get donations and host the Holiday Store.

A couple quick stories the Delta Staff has shared with: 

  • One year a girl who had been a part of a sex-trafficking ring locally (and wasn't at this time), ended up getting gifts for each of the girls who were still involved, showing them love by giving them gifts.
  • One boy's father was homeless, and the boy didn't have any money to get him anything but was able to get him some new clothes, shoes and a blanket.
  • There was a boy who was able to get shoes for a friend in need who wasn't going to school.

The Store will be held at Element Church December 10 -13th, 2019 during school hours. We are looking for donations of NEW or very slightly USED donations that are in clean and in working order. Some items Delta has received in previous years that have been a success:

High Priority:

  • Great condition teen/young adult clothing
  • Like-new items for Christmas gifting (decor, jewelry, toys, etc.)

Other Items:

  • Clothing and shoes for all ages of people: babies through adults in good condition, new socks
  • Formal clothing: dresses and suits for employment and dances, etc. 
  • Sports shoes: cleats, basketball shoes, etc.
  • Hats, accessories
  • Christmas ornaments, decorations, cards
  • Any type of game, including board games
  • School supplies
  • Home goods: towels, kitchenware, cookware, etc.
  • Household essentials, blankets, candles
  • Baby gear, including strollers in nice condition, car seats for babies

We would appreciate any sort of donation you can make. All donations will receive a tax donation slip. We need all donations delivered/picked up by Sunday, December 8, 2019.

There are other ways to help, we'll need help setting up and organizing, and some people to help with gift wrapping, etc. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Delta Holiday Store - Donations Needed

Pumpkin Killing 2019 Invite

by Element Christian Church

You're invited to this year's Pumpkin Killing! Join us Sunday, October 27th from 1:30-4pm as we Launch, Carve & Eat Pumpkins. Event and pumpkins are free! We will also have burgers, hotdogs, water & pumpkin pie will be available.

Location: Orcutt Hill / Newlove Picnic Grounds.

Watch highlights from this year's Pumpkin Killing!

Click Here to Download Invite & Map

Learn More & Watch Recaps

Watch Turn by Turn Directions to Newlove Picnic Grounds:

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Membership Has its Privileges

by Jonathan Whitaker

The following blog post is from Jonathan, an Element Colorado Springs Elder, check out original blog post here.


“Membership has its privileges.” This is a phrase I have often heard, but seldom experienced. When I was younger, in a job that had me travel the world on frequent business trips, I was given some good advice by the seasoned travelers in my office: “Choose a hotel rewards and airline miles program and stick with it.” This really is good advice, which I stand by for religious reasons.

Between flying to Asia, Europe, and all over the continental US, I racked up a lot of loyalty points. My goal was to take my family on an all-expenses-paid vacation to somewhere, if not fabulous, at least free.

After Holly was born (my second eldest), I was able to book my first vacation using loyalty points. We flew to Orlando from San Antonio on Delta Airlines for free. Not too shabby. I had top-tier status with Delta, and this ate up most of my points. But, the crown jewel of my frequent traveler treasure chest was my Diamond Status with Hilton! It was my plan to turn a move from San Antonio to California into a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with swanky stays along the way. Unfortunately, the Hilton resort I booked in Arizona did not have Hilton Diamond amenities, so my four years of Hilton stays netted me a Starbucks and a bagel each morning from the hotel grocery. Wah wah... After that debacle, they booked us in the stinky pet room at the Embassy Suites in Lompoc.

I didn’t travel for business for the next three years. My status with Delta now allows me to fly on the roof of the plane with the chicken crates. As I look back, my real problem was that I should have used my travel points when they would have done me some good. Instead, I hoarded them for a future vacation that never happened.

My story of being a Christian is a lot like my story of being a travel rewards member. The status I had was not the status I used. The day we are saved God gives us the Holy Spirit, full access to the God of the universe, spiritual gifts, a mission, and eternal life. It is like getting Diamond Status the day you sign up! You get this fabulous rewards package, and so did I. But, I never used my points!

It gets worse. For two decades I never used my points. I had the Holy Spirit, but I did not find time to get to know Him. And sadly, I never experienced His power. The whole time as a saved person, I knew there was so much more that God wanted for my life. I knew this, because the Holy Spirit constantly convicted my soul…AND I WAS MISERABLE! Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

I was living Hebrews 10:24-25. I had no one to stir me toward good works, because I avoided those people like the plague. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say, because it pricked my heart and made me feel guilty. Well, that is exactly how a person who has been given the GREATEST GIFT in the universe only to squander it SHOULD FEEL!

The turning point in my life was when I submitted to mature Christians, joined a fellowship of believers in a Bible believing church, began worshiping the God of my salvation, and yielded my life to God’s plan. These things only happen when a Christian participates in Christ’s body, the Church.

I want you to have these benefits too. Don’t make the mistake I did. Jesus did not leave you on an island. He is a God of community (hence the Trinity). He wants to commune with you as you commune with other believers. This is why he went to such lengths to establish His church. I mean for crying out loud, he spent weeks church planting after being raised from the dead. I can tell you when I have been raised from the dead, I’m gonna be worshipping God, not worrying about all of you!

To learn more about church membership, click here.

In The Name of Freedom

by Kelly Borjas

I have a love-hate relationship with my scale, and recently it’s been more on the side of hate. When it shows the number I want (or progress), I love it, but when it goes the wrong direction I’m moody and frustrated, fixated on the problem (and myself). I’ve tried a bunch of ways lately to get where I want to be weight-wise: fad diets, extreme exercise, cutting out the foods I love, then I land on some sort of binge of all things chocolate and carbs.

I find myself wondering: why do I care so much? Why do I tie my worth to my body, and focus more on the outside than the inside? Then it hit me: I’ve made an idol out of obtaining this goal, this elusive standard of perfection. I’ve developed unhealthy habits, and tried to find my value in achieving this goal.

There’s an idea Aaron mentioned last year that struck my husband and me: we have freedom as Christians. Yet, if that freedom causes us to be enslaved, it’s not true freedom. In fact, 1 Corinthians says everything is lawful, but not all things are helpful (1 Cor. 6:12). Finding a balance is hard to do; it’s a discipline that requires the Lord’s help. Gluttony or dieting depending on how they are done can both be as much of a sin as anything else, yet I constantly justify them both at different times. I use food as an entitlement, like I deserve some sort of reward. I would guess we all have areas that we struggle to strike the right balance of freedom in the physical world. Am I free to enjoy all foods and drinks and exercise? Yes, absolutely! 1 Timothy says everything created by God is good and nothing should be rejected if received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). However, if I’m enslaved to these things God has created as a way to find fulfillment or worth, or I’m abstaining out of some type of punishment to myself, I’m not truly free.

Our worth should be found in Christ, and who He says we are. It should be in what He’s done to redeem us from sin and offer us a way of hope. We are free—to live and enjoy the gifts He gives. We have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11). My worth is not found in this physical world, yet the physical world impacts our spiritual lives.

1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” I read that this morning and the pieces fell together. Our bodies are in the physical reality, and what we do with our bodies and how we use and treat them is a way to honor God. Romans 12 says to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This begs the question: do we honor God in the way we live our lives in all areas (whether we are feasting or fasting)? Are we exercising freedom?

I know someone who battled sexual addiction for many years, and only by God’s grace did this person find freedom from the chains that bound him. This lifestyle impacted the body, but also the spirit. The choices we make are a way to follow Christ and let His work be displayed in us. This applies to food, drink, sex, sleep, and any other way we treat our bodies. Are we stewarding what God gave us? Do we treat our bodies well because they are important? I find there are times where I’m more dominated by something than is healthy, and when that happens I’m no longer exercising freedom. Instead, that’s a reminder to realign my priorities.   

I’m no expert in this, but I am praying for discernment as I change habits and patterns, one day at a time. I put my scale away so I could stop the Yo-Yo of my emotions and instead focus on healthy, balanced choices. I want to develop a lifestyle of discipline and of enjoying the gifts God gives in moderation. When we live in this freedom, we honor God with our bodies, and find true freedom that is liberating.

 

Adopted

by Holly DeKorte

Maybe it is because I teach English Language Arts, maybe it is because my parents nurtured my imagination, or maybe it is because books and I have always been friends. Whatever the reason, God often speaks to me using metaphor. He pulls me into a metaphor and shows me how it communicates something about His nature.  

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of His greatest metaphors. Lizzy*, a little girl who I mentor, invited me to be present for her adoption. No longer would she be a foster child, she would now be a daughter.  Lizzy was orphaned by neglectful parents, now she would be adopted by a loving mom. Over the year that I had mentored Lizzy, there was some confusion as she was moved from one foster home to another. Being new to mentoring, I hadn’t understood the process, but I now appreciate how God was working in Lizzy’s life. This adoption was something to celebrate.

I entered the Santa Barbara County courtroom behind the family and their close community. Lizzy was asked to sit in front of a microphone with her eyes on the judge, next to her adopting mother. Her little sister, who was also being adopted, sat on her new mother’s lap. The family, including other adopted children, a child in foster care, grandchildren, and a biological daughter, formed a semi-circle facing the judge.  

The judge stated the names of the individuals present as witnesses to the adoption. He then pulled up the paperwork proving that the cost of the adoption had been fulfilled. As part of the proceedings, he stated the enormity of adoption and how it was his responsibility and privilege to ensure that Lizzy and her sister were in the right home. The judge asked Lizzy if she wanted to be adopted and Lizzy stated that she did. Her adopting mother told the judge about a recent conversation in which Lizzy was excited about the adoption, but hadn’t understood that the adoption was forever. She thought that the adoption would end when she turned eighteen, like foster care. The judge explained to Lizzy that once she was adopted, she was a part of the family forever; her mother would always be her mother. He then repeated the question and asked Lizzy is she agreed to this. She replied, with an emphatic, “Yes!”  

Lizzy’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) was asked to give testimony about the family. Then the family members gave examples of the adopting mother’s love and of her character. The witnesses were also invited to testify to the character of the mother and the safety of the home.  

As I was welcomed to participate in the adoption, I began to see it from an entirely different perspective. Instead of a man in glasses on the judge’s seat, I visualized God the Father. But, curiously, not only was He in the judge’s seat, He was also seated in the mother’s chair. It wasn’t Lizzy seated next to Him, it was me. I heard a voice say, “What is the cost of Holly’s adoption?  Are you, the adopting father, willing to pay it?” There was a silence. “The cost,” said the voice beside me, “Is my own Son. His nail pierced hands are proof that he died for her; the nails held my Son to the cross so that this child could be mine. She can sit in my presence because my son’s righteousness was given to her. The cost is fulfilled.” 

Again, the voice from the judge’s seat asked, “Is there anyone here who can advocate for this girl?” An advocate stood, but not the CASA worker as I expected. It was a man dressed in white with scars on his hands and feet. His gaze held mine. “I am the Father’s Son and I am her advocate. I can tell you; she needs a new identity. She was lost, and now she is found; she was dead, and now she is alive. I have made a way for her to her to be adopted by my Father.”

The judge’s voice now addressed me. “Is this agreeable to you?  Do you want to be adopted?” A lump caught in my throat. I asked, “But don’t you think I need to do something in order to be adopted?  Shouldn’t I prove that I’m good enough, sweet enough, pretty enough, to be called His daughter?”

A soft chuckle came from beside me. “Don’t you see?” asked God the Father, “It’s nothing that you have done or will do that pays the cost of your adoption, it’s what my Son has done. The adoption is my gift to you. Do you want to be called my child?”

I thought about my sin nature: the envy, the pride, the jealousy, the anger. I wanted that nature to die; I wanted a new identity. I answered, “Oh yes!  I want to be your child, but...what if I wander away or what if I do something so shameful that I can never come home?”

Once again, I heard a soft chuckle.  “You will be mine forever; I have ways of pursuing you and of calling you back home. I love you so much that I sent my Son to die in your place. You get a new nature, a new name. You get to be my daughter and I will never leave you or forsake you.” 

Joy began leaping up from a place deep inside.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by others. “These are your brothers and sisters,” God the Father explained, “I have also adopted them and called them my own.”  The voice from the judge’s seat asked, “Who can give testimony to the adopting Father’s character?”

The witnesses, my brothers and sisters, began speaking. “He is good. He is not tame, but he is good,” said one. “He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” said another. “He counts the tears you cry,” testified a brother. “He sees your walk of shame as you come home and runs to welcome you back. Then he throws a party for your homecoming,” a sister said. “Wow,” I thought, “This is my Father and I get to be his daughter.”  

I glanced at the faces of my brothers and sisters, then back at the man in white, and over at God the Father. “Clearly, something is troubling you,” the judge said. “Well,” I slowly replied, “I don’t look or behave like God’s Son.  I don’t look like His other adopted children.  Their skin color is lighter or darker, their hair is straighter or curlier than mine, their eyes are blue, green, or black.  How will the world know that I, too, belong to my Father?”  

God the Father leaned over and placed a kiss on my head. “This is my seal, my guarantee that you belong. You have my Spirit in you to comfort and guide as you begin to look more like my Son. It’s not an easy process, but you are not alone. Your adopted siblings are also sealed in my name and are also undergoing the same transformation. You will need your adopted family to help you, but most importantly, you need my Spirit who is your ultimate Helper.  He will remind you of who you are and of my words and promises.  Whether you eat, sleep, drink, work, play, or rest, He will be with you.”

A little girl’s voice pulled me from my reverie.  “Am I adopted yet?” Lizzy asked into the microphone. The courtroom exploded in laughter.  The judge with glasses looked down at her and said, “Not yet, you’ll know when you are.”  He leaned back in his chair and said, “My findings are that Lizzy and her sister are being placed in the best situation possible. This is what ought to be shown on the nightly news; people who are willing to take in a lost child and make the child their own.  You were formerly Lizzy Smith, now you shall henceforth be Lizzy Marie Jones.”  The judge turned and asked Lizzy’s mother for a formal signature in his presence.  “Lizzy, you are now adopted,” he said.  The courtroom exploded in applause, the certificate of adoption was presented to Lizzy, pictures were taken, and Lizzy was hugged by countless arms.

I walked out of the courtroom into the blaring sunlight and smiled.  Adoption should be celebrated. As God’s children, we should be celebrating what He has done: He has called us to Himself and adopted us as His sons and daughters, He gave us a new name and a new identity, we belong to Him and our lives reflect His glory.  May our lips be ready to share the good news and testify to His character. He is a very good Father.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Hope In The Hopless

by Kelly Borjas

I’ll never forget when I was younger, living in Colorado, the massive pain of the Columbine Massacre—the images and news coverage; the sheer horror. A couple years ago, I woke up to the news on my phone of the Las Vegas shootings, and shot out of bed, remembering I had a friend there for the concert where the shooting took place. She had to flee the event, watching the carnage play out in front of her while her husband worked to help the wounded. Just a couple weeks ago, I heard about the Gilroy incident and I was cut to the heart about a little boy passing away—a little one close to my own son’s age.

Honestly, I can hardly even read or follow these news stories as they induce a fear inside me. Today, my parents are taking my kids to the movies, and the thought goes through my head: will my kids be safe? What if something happens? My first reaction is to want to avoid anything that could be dangerous, especially for the safety of my kids, but if I play this logic out—where can I go? Where is a guaranteed safe place, away from any harm? Not a movie theater, festival, concert, public building, school. It’s not just shootings I need to think about—I’m not even guaranteed a safe drive on the freeway to work today; yet I can’t hide out in fear. That’s not living.

This past weekend, my husband and I had a getaway with our best friends, without our kids. As per usual, we talked about everything in our lives. I remember after one of the mass shootings, talking to these friends about how I would logistically get my kids to safety in the event something happens (run, hide, fight—what mother wants to think this way)? My friend has four kids; her husband is a police officer. We all want the answers and the solutions to these problems that are so prevalent in our society. Is it the guns? The mental health? Social media? Not catching the signs of these behaviors sooner? We ask the questions; we can’t find the answers.

As I’ve grappled with the intensity of the news in the last couple weeks, I want to find the solution. I would do anything to guarantee a world where we could be safe anywhere, where I could live with certainty in the knowledge that my kids would be safe. As we discussed this topic, we came to the same conclusion: since sin entered the world, evil has been prevalent. We’ve seen it in wars, genocides, terrorism, mass shootings…the list continues on. While our society may be more aware of the news now, and the notoriety of these events escalates, it’s nothing new under the sun. We can’t remove evil.

This is where perspective comes in as a believer in Jesus. I am reminded of the hope of the Gospel. I am reminded that until Jesus comes back, renews and restores the earth, and rules for eternity, we will live in a fallen world. I don’t pretend to have the answers to the issues at hand. Instead, I have to live in the tension of knowing we live in a world of sin and heartbreak of our own making, but that we have THE answer. We have Jesus, who offers redemption, who rescues us from the chains of sin. I’m reminded that the here and now is not our eternity, but that Jesus conquered sin and death for us to live in eternity. He is the Author of Salvation, the Comforter, the Redeemer.

This may seem trite or naïve—I am in no way advocating that Christians remove themselves from places of influence or that we just “give up” attempting to find solutions. We should eagerly seek to apply prayer, intellect, and logic as we engage in these discussions, and critically examine the environment in which we live. However, we need a framework for our beliefs, a worldview that impacts our decisions. It is this unwavering belief in the truth and redemption in Jesus that helps us understand our fallen world and where our hope lies. We engage, even when it is hard and do not have the specific answer to an unanswerable question, we do not shrink back. We have the message of the greatest news the world has ever heard and it can certainly make hope more real even in the midst of pain and loss.

Like so many things in life, living in the tension, the balance, is a difficult place to be. We are caught between the knowledge that “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). We can’t stop living, because it’s our lives on earth that point to Christ, grow us closer to Him, give us glimpses of that great joy, but we long for the day of completion. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Friends, let us live in the hope that Jesus brings: the eternal, complete hope. There will come a day without pain and sadness.

 

Lachrymatory (Some Thoughts on Mass Tragedy)

by Aaron

The last couple of years, my wife has been expecting her mother to pass, but her mother comes from hardy stock and continues to fight on. Almost fifteen years ago, the doctors told my wife’s mother that she had five years to live if she stopped smoking and started eating better--she did neither. About five years ago, her mother was mostly forced to stop smoking and could no longer make her own meals and she couldn’t remember a whole lot by then. Last year, the family decided to place her in a full-time care facility, so she didn’t hurt herself and could be looked after 24/7. It was at this time we thought that her death must truly be near.

When the realization hit of the seemingly imminent passing of her mother, I went online and bought my wife a lachrymatory that was made in the late 1700s. I know….a what?

A lachrymatory is a glass or metal vial that is used to store tears that have been shed in love, joy, sympathy, and remembrance. The tear bottle dates back more than 3000 years, when mourners would bury their tears with loved ones to express honor and devotion. Many people think that when King David penned what we now call Psalm 56, it was when he was hiding from Saul in Gath; while there, he says  “You have kept count of my tossings (‘tossings’ refers to restless slumber because we are so bothered by something in our lives); put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8) In Ancient Near Eastern societies, these bottles were well known.

She didn’t know that I bought her this gift. I was going to give it to her when her mother passed as a reminder of the joy and sorrow that was shared with her mother during her life. Instead, I gave it to my wife when she turned fifty a couple of weeks ago as her mother, being cared for by professionals, shows no sign of slowing down.

In ancient Roman times, mourners would not only fill small glass vials, but sometimes whole cups, and place them in burial tombs as symbols of love and respect. There were even masses of women who were paid to cry into "cups", as they walked along the mourning procession. Those who cried the loudest and produced the most tears received the most compensation.

Why do I tell you all of this?

I believe, right now, our nation is at a place where it needs to learn to collectively mourn. There have been mass shootings for senseless reasons (these can stem from ideologies on the right or the left), people breaking friendship and fellowship over political views, and there are those who put words into the mouth of God from all walks of life who may not even truly know Him. I was thinking about the lachrymatory this week and thought that it would be a good thing if we, collectively as a nation, could learn to mourn with one another. Instead of displaying visceral reactions to those we disagree with, what if we mourned the death of civility, respect, and ultimately, the lives of fellow human beings?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what to say about the latest rounds of mass shootings in our country. My initial reaction is to tell everyone to stop with the rhetoric and reaction and first mourn this loss. When thinking clearly, we can respond with clarity. However, it often seems like another shooting interrupts our clarity. I do not have the answers to these tragedies, but the ultimate problem is not weapons, politics, mental health; it is with our hearts. Don’t take that as a political statement--it is not. What I am saying is we can ban everything that could potentially harm someone, and mankind would still find a way to hurt each other.

None of that is to say we shouldn’t critically examine our laws, but ultimately, we must understand where both the problem and solution lie. We are broken because of our rebellion against God. Humans react out of fear or blame. We try to understand, but until we grasp the magnitude of sin and evil, we have misplaced explanations, attempting to label the problem as a mental health issue, weapons issue, societal issue, religious issue, or any other reason we can find. In the book of Genesis, when Cain kills Abel, Cain is at first flippant and angry with God for chasing him down, but eventually, he changes, sees what he has done, and mourns the loss. Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. This verse has many connotations about God’s care for the hurt and vulnerable, but it also talks about godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). We must cry our tears individually and corporately over our sin—only then will we begin to come together.

What would it mean if we could collectively set aside our opinions about why certain tragedies have happened and come together to mourn the loss that strikes all of us at our core first? I would love for us to come to a place where together we would say, like David, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle,” knowing that God remembers and that He truly does care—even when we forget to care for one another. God cares so much for us as humans He sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin—to be the only solution for the devastation sin leaves because God Himself grieves the effects of sin.  If we were able to grieve together, without first pointing fingers or espousing our solutions and judgments, we could be on the same page to begin to move forward. We could meet on the common ground of our own frailty and loss. As disciples of Jesus, we could mirror the way He enters into our brokenness and despair—offering hope, but also sitting with us in our grief.

In the midst of these tragedies, my encouragement for you is to not first look to manifestos, news commentators, and radio talk show hosts for answers; I encourage you to spend time praying and seeking God’s face. If there are tears to be cried, let them come. Then, seek out others to give voice to what is going on inside and pray corporately. It is from humble and broken hearts that we can receive guidance from God regarding where to put our efforts toward making a difference. Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Here is a post written by a mass shooting survivor on how to best pray for those who experience these tragedies.

The Faith of Samson

by Aaron

A few weeks ago I was out on the lake with my wife and some friends and broke my boat through my own stupidity. I had double gasket-ed the oil filter and blew all the oil out of the engine and essentially ruined many perfectly good summer days at the lake. We had a little vacation planned that got cut short because of my said stupidity, and decided to head out to Element’s plant in Colorado Springs for a visit. I was texting with Jonathan who leads the plant and he asked if I wanted to speak or help do music when I was here. I replied, “Whichever would make your life easier and more enjoyable.” His immediate response was, “great, you’re speaking about Samson.”

At Element CS they are going through Hebrews 11 looking at archetypes of faith based on the people listed in those verses. I thought it was a bit funny when talking about Samson because it says in Hebrew 11:32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. The writer of Hebrews didn’t have time to talk about these other people, but Element CS does (it’s why that series is taking months to get through). I thought, if you are bored, I would give you a chance to listen to or watch what I said because I have a hard time with Samson.

You might have heard of Samson as a kid, seen a cartoon, fantasized about his great strength, but none of it does justice to how much of a knucklehead this guy was. I have a hard time even understanding why he would be talked about in Hebrews 11 as an archetype of faith…unless we can properly understand the word faith a bit better and who God is.

So, if you are so inclined, here ya go.

Listen to Aaron's Message on Samson Here

Anxiety, Depression, and Struggles—Oh My!

by Kelly Borjas

While reading in my Bible this morning, I noticed something interesting. In Psalm 30:11-12, the Psalmist says: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing, you have loosed sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” What stands out to me in this passage is the presence of mourning and sadness, not the absence.

For most of my life, I have felt like a “bad” Christian for any emotion other than happiness.  Yet, God created humans with emotions, and the people of the Bible are full of these emotions, as noted above. For years I’ve struggled with anxiety/OCD tendencies. I’ve been ashamed of this weakness, searched for a formula to handle it, and prayed for deliverance. Many of my friends deal with anxiety, and several battle some form of depression; lots of them are Christians. Sometimes these areas of struggle are a lack of trust in God, caring too much what people think, a sin, or any other number of causes, and we should prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance as we wade through the reasoning. Oftentimes in my experience there’s also a physiological component (I’m not a psychologist, so this is a non-professional opinion), and the struggle just “is what it is.”

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh,” for which he pleaded for God to remove. God’s answer was, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” As I get older I’m learning a reality in life around me: everyone has something they struggle with. A thorn, if you will. It may be a broken family, health issues, anxiety, depression, financial problem, grief, or any other number of issues. As we’ve studied Ecclesiastes, we see this idea even more: life is full of toil. That’s normal! It’s in this reality that we turn to Jesus and find joy in our lives: with our families and friends, homes and feasts, and other abundant gifts from God. We have an eternal hope that outlasts the here and now, and it colors the world around us in a different way. Pain doesn’t triumph; it’s short-lived in light of eternity. Does that mean we are “happy” all the time? Void of problems? No! It means we have a framework to understand the good and the bad, the roller coaster of life.

Anxiety is one of my weaknesses. Yet it is in this specific weakness that I have seen that God’s grace is sufficient for me. Do I hate anxiety? Yes. Do I wish I could eliminate it forever? For sure. However, I’ve learned to ask myself: where do these emotions make me turn? This struggle drives me to the feet of my Father. I can’t manage on my own. He is the one who holds me, comforts me, heals me. I’m oddly thankful for this struggle that pushes me to the cross, to the present reality of God’s grace. It’s almost like I get to relive the beauty of His grace and marvel at it all over again each time I reach out in desperation.

Managing struggles usually cannot be achieved by following a simple formula, it’s a combination of many things: a reliance on the truth of Scripture combined with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, support of community, health for the body, and the constant reminder of God’s grace. The beauty of this “formula” is that we can revel in God’s grace. These labels we place on ourselves can help us understand the symptoms of our struggles, but they are not our identity. They are components of our humanity, but they deteriorate and lose their power in light of our identity as children of God and followers of Christ.

There’s not anything we have to do or be to earn our salvation. That work is done! We can stop and find peace. Struggles are a part of life, but like the Psalmist says, we get to see God turn our pain into dancing and clothe us with gladness! That is an amazing hope, one in which we can give thanks to God.

 

Simul Justus Et Peccator

by Aaron

If you are reading this blog you might think that the title of it is something that looks like the fake words that inexpensive website developers put in their templates (lorem ipsum). Miscellaneous dummy text to fill space…but it is not. The words Simul Justus Et Peccator were written by Martin Luther in an attempt to help people better understand the beauty of salvation and new life.

Last week Mike Harman sent me a really nice note about how he sees the preaching of God’s grace continually spoken at Element. Most of us aren’t fluent in German or Latin, and rather than have you read Luther’s treatise on the book of Galatians, I thought this would be a good concept to understand in our further understanding of the Gospel. Simul Justus Et Peccator means "At the same time righteous and a sinner."

It is the idea that we are righteous in God’s sight due to the blood of Jesus covering us, but we are also daily being conformed more to His image. Hebrews 10:14 says it like this “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (ESV); the NIV translates it like this, “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” RC Sproul once said, “…if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula [Simul Justus Et Peccator].”

Let me explain:

  • Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously, it could also mean “at the same time.” Like I am a husband and a pastor at the same time. Two things that can be mutually exclusive, but because of my position I am both.
  • Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous.
  • Et means “and.” (Yes, I took a whole line to say that).
  • Peccator means transgressor or sinner, it was originally a Latin legal term.

It can be a little hard to parse in our heads, It means that from God’s perspective, because of Jesus, we are justified or righteous (declared not guilty), but from another perspective (most likely those of the people around us) we still sin. Luther will point out that under the scrutiny of God we still have sin; it is not that God is purposefully naïve, it is that God chooses to see us through Christ’s righteousness. The heart of the Gospel is that by faith in Jesus, His righteousness is now transferred to us so that our Father sees us as righteous.

The point is that before God, we will either be judged on our righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ. If we only trust in our own righteousness there we be no possibility of redemption. Back when Luther first taught this, the Roman Church considered it a serious threat because they contended that “justification” means making a man righteous in his own person. They asked the question that some still do today, “How can God pronounce a man to be righteous in His sight unless he is actually righteous?” This is a question that leads many people to fear; they wonder if their salvation is certain.

Monergism.com says it like this: “Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is his.” What is our contribution to our salvation? Just our sin. Jesus gives us His righteousness as a gift and God chooses to see us covered in Christ’s righteousness. A person who trusts in Jesus is not declared righteous by virtue of their own merit, but on the basis of the merit of Jesus. His death and life for us.

Martin Luther was very cognizant of the fact that as followers of Jesus we may be new creations in Christ, but we still live in the world and still commit acts of sin. Sometimes there is an attempt to redefine what sin is to make it less severe. Luther does not shy away from what sin is and shows that there is no place for us to boast in our own righteousness because we have none. Christians must always rely on the finished work of Christ for our acceptance before God; it leaves us in a place of humble trust in Christ.

RC Sproul points out that, “at the heart of the gospel is a double-imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God…is both just and the justifier…my sin goes to Jesus, His righteousness comes to me in the sight of God.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith in Chapter 11 (which deals with justification) says it like this:

"Those whom, God effectually calls he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God."

There is a lot of technical theology in this blog,  but it is important because there is a truth we get to carry with us every day. We cannot earn God’s favor or salvation. What we get to do is trust that Jesus took all of our sins: past, present and future, and covers us with His Righteous life. Believing that changes everything and will even start to change the way we relate to God Himself…with humbleness, love, and thankfulness.