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

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.

 

All The Lost Things (an Acts part II blog)

by Aaron

I am currently writing the sermon series for next year, Acts part 2. Acts part 2 will take us from chapter 13 in Acts through the end of the book as it mainly focuses on Paul’s missionary journeys. As I go through it I occasionally have too many notes to fit into what I am talking about. Sometimes I try to take those notes and push them into another week, but there are times I just have to delete them all as they won’t fit…even though I like them. Michael Reed said, “Why don’t you just turn them into blogs?” Well, that’s what I guess I will do. 

I am reading tons of notes and commentaries by NT Wright, Kent Hughes, John Calvin, Craig Keener, compilations from Abingdon press and intervarsity. So much material, so little space, but it is a good problem to have I suppose (I would rather have something to say than nothing at all). 

In Acts 22 Paul enters into Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. A very strong sense of Jewish nationalism has over taken the Jerusalem church at this point because many people were “zealous for the law.” This means that a very good thing is happening, the Jewish nation is coming to trust Jesus in large numbers…but there is also the bad in that they are elevating their tradition over God’s grace in reaching people that aren’t Jewish. Paul has been out among the Gentiles (non-Jews) speaking of God’s grace in salvation, explaining that Gentiles didn’t need to become Jewish (in culture and practice) in order to be brought into relationship with God. This does not sit well with those who were “zealous for the law.”

God told Paul to go back into Jerusalem knowing full well what would happen to Paul when he got around the zealous people, but Paul goes because he trusts God even though he is aware of what will befall him. As he heads to Jerusalem people from every church on the way try to stop him from going, warning him what will take place. Prophets even show up to show Paul how he will be bound when he is there…he even says to these people in Acts 21:13 “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Everyone thought that the trouble they knew would befall Paul were warnings that he shouldn’t go, but Paul knew God was simply preparing him for what was to come. This doesn’t always mean all of our harebrained ideas are God telling us to do something. I had three things I found in one of my sources on Acts that I couldn’t work into my message about what we learn from Paul’s experience and thought I would share them here (I am pretty sure these were from Kent Hughes).

1) In our moments of highest spiritual motivation we need to especially beware of error or bad judgment. Sometimes we make decisions with the right heart that turn out to be very bad. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a professional athlete become a Christian and within days they are all over the circuit speaking about Jesus even though they have zero theological or deep understanding of God. It usually ends up doing more damage to the name of Jesus than anything else when their life falls apart and becomes a mess. When Paul became a believer he took time out to learn what God was calling him to before he ever did anything. It’s not that our hearts are necessarily wrong, it is that our enthusiasm can blur our judgment. Many people thought Paul going to Jerusalem was a bad idea because they were motivated by love for him.

2) We can be pressured toward questionable action by the sins of others. The sins of others may even seem like something that sounds godly. Think of the Jews who were zealous for the law, they wanted people to adhere to moralistic, nationalistic, and Kingship (governing) laws that had been laid down by God in the Torah. In their zeal they had pushed out God’s love and grace and so encouraged others to do the same. When Paul got to Jerusalem, instead of the church there fully defending him and his mission to spread the good news of Jesus everywhere, they allowed the legalists to have sway over their words and actions.

3) We need, like Paul, to have hearts full of passion for lost souls and for God’s glory where we are willing to run the risk of making people mad who would see our decisions as unwise. I know at this point some will point to Proverbs 3:10 and say that “wisdom is found in those who heed advice.” While true, it is also advantageous to see why Paul didn’t heed the advice…it wasn’t out of arrogance, but out of motivation for the lost. Everyone wanted to stop him from going into Jerusalem, but by going in and eventually being arrested he gets to speak the Gospel to those “zealous for the law,” to Roman soldiers, to tribunes, to rulers, to kings, and to make a difference while in his chains.

The only part of my lost notes that did make it into my message was a line that said, “Some hearts never risk anything. They strive neither for sin nor for sainthood. They desire a temperate zone free from the storms of sin and from the tempests that accompany a life of service. Never burn for the souls of others, and you will avoid rejection. Never suggest a plan to reach the community or the world, and you will never be criticized for it. Never give counsel to someone undergoing the pain of separation or divorce, and you will never give errant advice.” But in never risking we are never living for the Gospel…and we are called to live for Jesus no matter where we find ourselves. My hope is that we become a people who have the Gospel come first in all we decide to do in our lives.

The Struggles of Being the One in Four

by Aaron

On Easter this year we talked about The Miracle of Forgiveness. Whenever I hear the word for “forgiveness” my brain goes back to this old Don Henley song (he was in this band called the Eagles at one point…they were a big deal for a while). The song goes, “I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter…but I think it's about forgiveness.” I think the words he wrote are true, even if he meant them in a different way: the heart of the matter is hard and our wills do not want to face it; instead we want to “scatter,” run another direction. A recent Barna study shows that 1 in 4 “practicing” Christians, people who claim to be born-again believers in Jesus, struggle or refuse to forgive others.

The good news here is that 75% of practicing Christians have offered forgiveness to someone else. The article actually says they offer, “joyful forgiveness to another person who had hurt, upset or sinned against them (or someone they love).” While awesome, the study also stated that only half of people said they remember someone offering them the same forgiveness they offered to someone else. There is a huge disparity in the results of the study where some can’t offer forgiveness, some do, and yet many people can’t accept it or even see it when it is offered to them. I believe this is all a result of not understanding the Gospel first. 

If you will indulge me I would like to talk about forgiveness (in a different way than I did on Easter) and see if I can’t give a bit of theological clarity that is useful.

In The Old Testament there are essentially three roots for where we get the word forgiveness. Two of the roots have a similar connotation that sit in conjunction with sacrifices and so are used with the word atonement, or covering our wrong before God. The coolest of the three is the root ns’; the word you see most often is nasa’ and it means to lift, to carry, to support, or to sustain. It is an incredible word that carries the picture of sin being lifted off of us and carried away by God’s provision; in the Old Testament this was through the temple, for us today it is all through Christ. 

Throughout the Old Testament the words for forgiveness are written in the connotation of awe and wonder. Our offenses before God merit punishment, but we are pardoned with His outstanding grace. The Intervarsity Press New Bible Dictionary states, “The OT knows nothing of a forgiveness wrung from an unwilling God…” meaning it is clear by the words that are used that God wants to forgive us our trespasses and sin before Him.

In the New Testament Jesus draws a connection in Luke 7:47 between those who have been forgiven, who understand that great forgiveness, and those who forgive others. The Barna study also bears this out when they ask people about forgiveness: of those who say they have received it 87% say they have given it in return (compared to 64% who say they have not received it). Can you imagine going through life and either thinking you have never needed to be forgiven or never experiencing forgiveness? Forgiveness is central to Christianity and reminds us who we are as people, a people who need God’s forgiveness because of how we have broken relationship with Him.

81% of practicing Christian believe offering undeserved mercy (extending forgiveness even before it is asked for) to someone else is something that God looks favorably upon (makes me wonder what the other 19% believe), but not everyone is willing to do it. 27% don’t want to, 23% “just can’t” offer that forgiveness and mercy. In one sense it is understandable--forgiveness is hard when hurt is so real and many offensives against us so heinous, but this is why we are reminded to look to Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). When our eyes no longer linger on our own hurt, but on the graciousness of a God who brings us to Himself, a God who calls us His children, and a God who removes the offenses that we have done to Him, it is meant to change us.

Brooke Hempell, speaking about forgiveness in the Barna study said, “It’s what distinguishes it from any other religious faith. We are reconciled to God through Jesus’ sacrifice, and in response, we should be agents of reconciliation in every aspect of our lives. If Christians struggle to extend or receive forgiveness, not only do their relationships suffer, the Church’s witness is marred.” This is why I titled this blog “The Struggles of Being the One in Four” because many times I can react like that 25% who has my eyes on myself and thinks forgiveness is beyond my ability to give. It is only when I honestly look at who I am with all my own personal flaws and failures, then look at Jesus in His perfection, that I can agree with God about my sin and live in light of His forgiveness of me. When we live out our lives with a view of God’s forgiveness of us as a meaningful part of our lives, it teaches me to also forgive others.

Forgiving others doesn’t mean other who hurt me always get let back into my life to cause destruction, but it does mean I can honestly pray for others and want the best for them (which is coming to know the saving grace of God). Christianity is unique in that we believe God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus; in doing so He teaches us that forgiveness is central to who He is. We do not need to “work off” a debt before Him, he has paid the cost of our sin by sacrificing Himself, cancelling the debt and thereby enabling true forgiveness.

May we be a people who come to a place where we all are undone by God’s gracious forgiveness of us and learn to be imitators of Him.

 

 

Yo Tengo Gozo Gozo Gozo Gozo En Me Corazon

by Element Christian Church

Years ago we used to do these mission trips down into Mexico to work with orphanages and impoverished people. One of the things I tended to notice is that the children and adults were not as depressed as I would be as an American if I found myself in their same situation. It is all a matter of perspective on what they have and focus their lives upon. It was on one of these trips that a small church of poor laborers in Mexico taught me a song that went:

Yo tengo gozo gozo gozo en mi Corazon!
Donde? En me Corazon
Donde? En me Corazon
Yo tengo gozo gozo gozo en mi Corazon!

I never really learned Spanish and my memory of the song lyrics may not 100% correct, but that’s how my brain brings it back in recollection. They translated the song for me:

I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart!
Where? Down in my heart.
Where? Down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart!

This is sung about Jesus saving us, bringing hope, and residing in us by His Spirit that brings a deep abiding joy “down in our hearts.” I was blown away by a people so in love with Jesus despite their circumstances that it has left a lasting impression on me ever since. 

Where does this deep joy actually come from and what is it (and by contrast, what is it not)? As all things do, I think it stems from God’s provision over us and His revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus. What we eventually see and understand about Jesus, even before His birth, is how the Prophets spoke about Him and His life: Isaiah 53:5 says “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” The words “as one whom men hide their faces” means He most likely was not a man of physical beauty as we would traditionally define it. Think about this: oral hygiene and dentists weren’t as popular as they are today. Can you imagine Jesus NOT having all of His teeth? I mean we hope He did, but most likely He didn’t. He was also rejected and despised by the very people He made. He experienced sorrow and brutality like none of us ever has…and yet He brings peace and joy to those who find their lives in Him.

Based upon what we know, it seems logical that joy and peace can’t stem from good looks, popularity, money, or having an easy life of leisure. We know this to be true because we can look around the world and see that those who have all of those things are just as messed up as we are. Then there’s the most glaring truth: Jesus had none of those things in His earthly life and yet experienced deep and abiding joy. Let me show you Hebrews 12:2 from a couple various translations:

  • We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. (New Living Translation)
  • fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (New International Version)
  • looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (English Standard Version)

This verse is the writer of Hebrews telling us how to set aside everything that wants to entice and snare us and begin to run the race as Jesus did…and how did Jesus do it? With the joy set before Him. Jesus, we are told, endured the cross, with all of our sins placed upon Him, because of the joy set before Him. What this tells me is that our joy is too small and we probably don’t understand the meaning of it as He does.

We most often look at joy as a byproduct of getting or attaining something, but Jesus sees joy as something that is extended to us by God Himself. It is why Nehemiah 8:10 reminds the Israelites that the joy of God Himself is meant to be our strength. Joy does not mean never having hardship, sorrow, pain, or grief. Joy is the fact God has found us and delighted to rescue us in Himself. The prophet Habakkuk in 3:18 says that even if all the crops fail and nothing is left, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savoir.” Throughout the Old Testament all of the most ecstatic expressions of joy are concentrated in worship; that people are able to celebrate apart from material blessings shows that there have only been two essential reasons for joy: God and His salvation.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul finds great joy when people grow in their trust of God. The entire book of Philippians details how we can have joy even during sorrow because we realize it produces something glorious in us. He also reminds us that joy is a gift God gives to us in Galatians 5:22. God gives joy because it makes us strong. Joy is not happiness, joy is an abiding understanding of God’s goodness, salvation, and sovereignty. One of the last words of the entire Bible is about our joy: Revelation 19:6-8 “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

 

Vacation, from Prayer?

by Aaron

I hate blogs where I show you my deep, personal flaws, not because I hate blogs about deep, personal flaws—I just hate when they’re my flaws. Having said that, let me explain my situation and see if you can relate (if not, feel free to judge me with every form of self-righteousness). I hope you can indulge a bit of personal introspection during this blog…just imagine it is another growing moment like the author of Ecclesiastes tries to get us to see. 

At the end of 2018 and the first few days of 2019, I went on vacation to the (mostly) snow (or ice) covered winter wonderland that is Lake Tahoe. Some friends of mine, and their kids, rented a large house together to get away, relax, and have some fun. We enjoyed ice skating, snowboarding, sledding, movie watching, cold picture taking, snowmobiling, eating, cooking, thrift shopping (we call this “poppin’ tags”), and beverage consuming. We watched TV shows, played pool and games together…the only thing we didn’t do together, until almost the last day, was pray.

I felt so tired at the end of most days, still recovering from the year, that I essentially found a spot and interacted sporadically with others (unless it was in the form of a video game). When the last evening there rolled around, I had finally come out of my funk enough to be cognizant at dinnertime. It was then I realized we hadn’t said thanks to God for any meal the entire week. You have to understand that this is odd for me, because I typically do say “grace” over every meal. During the whole time away I did pray and read my Bible every morning, but for some reason, I never even realized that we hadn’t prayed as a group.

I hope anyone who went with us on this vacation doesn’t take this blog as an indictment in any way, because it’s not. I was simply astounded at how easy it was to forget to thank God in one of the most stress-free and mundane ways possible. I have asked myself over the last few days why it is easier for me to personally remember my own prayer time, but forget the great beauty and joy of corporate prayer. Everyone on vacation with us was in a GC or happens to be a GC leader, so it is not like they would have been surprised or offended by praying. As a matter of fact, they all would have gladly jumped in! But…none of us seemed to remember. Isn’t that odd?

As I have processed the last couple of weeks, I think part of it came to down to our comfort with one another. No one felt like they had to impress anyone else, or be more “spiritual” than we actually were, but I also think another part of vacation is that we leave our “normal life” for something that is “other.” We step away from routine and do something different, which makes us forget the various habits, good and bad, we have in our lives. I hope I am not overanalyzing this too much, but it makes me start to worry that corporate prayer for me is more of a habit, rather than daily heartfelt remembrance. I want to open my eyes and my heart to naturally fall in love with Jesus in such a way that prayer flows out of me wherever I am…maybe I am just not as enamored with Jesus as I thought.

Or…maybe this is exactly what God wanted to me to experience as a sort of wake-up call, to see the natural inclination of my heart. To be honest, the natural tendency of my heart is toward self-centeredness even in the moments when I think am the least self-centered. Moments that open my eyes, like this vacation, are God’s grace to me, reminding me not of His disappointment or judgment, but of His gentle love that leads me back to Him. I can so easily forget God at times, but He has never once forgotten about me! Throughout that entire vacation, God was there with me. Though I forget to pray and speak with Him, He is consistently speaking and leading me…and if he does it for a knucklehead like me, He also does it for all of you.

In Matt 28:20 Jesus reminds His disciples that He will be with them “even to the end of the age.” If you look at the disciples’ lives, you will see many times where they seemed to forget Him, but Jesus promises not to forget them. Psalm 94:18-19 the writer cries out that he is slipping (maybe he went on vacation and it snowed too much for his car to stop on the downhill), but then he says, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” The writer says this because he understands that God’s love for us is not dependent on our effort, but upon who God Himself is.

This is what makes me want to remember to pray, to want to thank God when I am alone, and to want to thank Him when I am with others. It is God’s steadfast love first given to me, the same love given to you. That is what makes me thankful and that is what God teaches me even when I forget. What does God need to remind you of when you forget Him?

Splitting The Adam

by Aaron

I love the title of this blog post, though I can’t take credit for it. Richard Hess is an Old Testament Scholar and professor of Semitic languages at Denver Seminary who wrote a paper called Splitting the Adam: The Usage of ʾĀadām In Genesis 1-5. In this paper, which is part of the Vetus Testmentum Supplements (you can see them here) he talks about how the word used for Adam is used 34 times in Genesis 1-5, yet in only 5 of those occurrences does it reflect a personal name. The other times it is used it refers to mankind in general (a reading like this tends to freak people about who look at Genesis 1 with ONLY an ontological purpose).

Now you may be wondering why I start a blog in the new year with words you don’t understand and talking about a book you will never read by an author you have never heard of…the answer is: Because we need to learn to be a people who trust the bible, but also understand the context in which it is written. When we do this well, we will encounter lots of people that may make us think outside of the box that we have placed God within…this is what the article I mentioned above did for me. Though I may not agree with all of his points, I do not think it is heretical in any way.

When I have a couple of weeks off, as I just did, my brain starts to think about lots of stuff (sometimes these are things other people don’t care about). I started thinking about how a couple of years ago I was personally cornered at one of our connect parties by someone who had just started attending Element for a couple of weeks. They asked me a question about origins from the book of Genesis and I replied that we have to be careful because Genesis wasn’t written in a 21st century scientific mindset, it was written from a Hebrew perspective. When we look at days and times we must understand that no Hebrew at the time would have been trying to figure out the day and time creation began by looking at the genealogies, their view of Genesis 1-5 would be one of functional origins.

What I mean by that is their questions would have been: Who made it all? The answer laid out clearly in Genesis is: God. The next question would be: Why did He make it? The obvious answer is: His glory. Today we ask questions like, “Was it ten thousand years ago or ten billion years ago?” The answer of the Genesis account is that THOSE questions really don’t matter because that’s not the point of Genesis. What we should be asking is, “Why were humans placed into this creation,” because the answer to that is what Genesis concerns itself with…and the answer to that question is: to be God’s image bearers, partnering with Him on His behalf to order creation in ways that glorify God and bring fulfillment.

The person at the connect party didn’t like my answer and said that Genesis was a psychological, scientific, philosophical, and religious text and that anyone who said different wasn’t reading the bible correctly. I was accused of not taking the bible literally (meaning her personal interpretation of what “literal” meant) and therefore I was teaching heresy and was wrong. The only saving grace out of this exchange is that they were one of the few who didn’t immediately go out and write a Google or Yelp review about how terrible Element is as a church.

If you didn’t guess, no, they never came back to Element.

I recently finished a book by John Walton titled The Lost World of Adam and Eve which covers in detail a biblical view of human origins that may be hard for some people to even consider. Again, I do not agree with everything in this book, but I do not think the author is heretical, at some points he is quite brilliant in thinking outside the standard theological box. In the end his main thrust is that we must do better in allowing conversation and debate about human origins because it is often cited as one of the major reasons people leave the church or feel unwelcomed. For some reason the view that science stands against the scriptures is one that many a misguided Sunday school teacher has told students under them...and they are wrong, nature and the bible do not contradict.

What if there was a way to enter into a dialog with people who sincerely want to trust Jesus, but they look at Christians with suspicions because they think believers in the Bible are afraid of “science.” I believe that as Christians we need to be able to tell people what the scriptures are truly about before our personal opinions, no matter how great we think our opinions are, but in the end don’t have much bearing on the message of salvation. We need to explain that whatever or wherever people find themselves God has never abandoned them, that He seeks relationship with us, and that He is about the restoration of our lives into what we were originally meant to be: image bearers of Him. In Romans 8:19 the Apostle Paul says it like this: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. That’s us!!!

All creation waits for God’s promised rescue and restoration. This is the point of the Scriptures: God’s work in the person of Jesus to restore and redeem. This is what runs through the Bible, all the way from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22, that Jesus is what matters and we can be in relationship with Him. If we are going to fight for a truth, let us be a people who understand that truth and passionately present it to the world.

 

 

 

Don't Let Me be Misunderstood

by Aaron

I have a gift for being misunderstood. It started back when I was little kid, and as a result, I was always getting in trouble or hurting people’s feelings, because I couldn’t communicate what I was trying to say. This gift brought on some tears for family members that thought I was insensitive, but it also brought more tears to myself as I got in trouble…a lot.

This aspect of my personality has apparently not changed as I have gotten older…it just gets worse as I encounter more individuals and speak to a crowd on a fairly regular basis. On one hand, I would hope that people who know me would understand what I am trying to say, but all too often, that doesn’t happen and my words are still received negatively. Occasionally, I find a blog post (like this one) can serve as some clarification. 

We are currently doing a series through Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. Last week’s message was about injustice (you can listen to it here). The central premise of my message was that when we (humanity) approach anything with an us versus them mentality, when we view ourselves as “better than” others, it will lead to division and, ultimately, to injustice. When we elevate any cause above Jesus, no matter how great that cause may be, it will, at its furthest extent, lead to division and not unity. We will only become unified by centering our lives around Christ. Centering our lives around Jesus first doesn’t mean there can’t be disagreements on topics—political or otherwise; it simply means that with Christ as our center, we can actually have varying opinions while still loving one another like family.

After service last Sunday, a friend of mine, who I have known for a long time, came up and said he disagreed with what I said. I was kind of taken aback, because once again, I thought I was clear and he thought I wasn’t. He said that I was implying that we do not need to take a stand against injustice or evil. He said my message spoke of becoming complacent and letting everyone do whatever they wanted.

Let me clarify…as believers, we are meant to stand against injustice and evil. I think the problem comes when we view the evil in others as a means by which we compare ourselves to say that we are “better than” someone else (in a created sense). 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV) We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We do not get to compare ourselves to others—that leads to inappropriate judgements…if we compare ourselves to anyone, it should be Jesus. This leads to humbleness, because we are nowhere near as good as Him.

God calls us to be agents and ambassadors of His Kingdom (not ours) in this world. That means there will be many times where we must take a stand that may be unpopular in any given cultural context…but I think we will only be able to take that stand in graceful ways when we first understand that all of humanity needs to know the relationship-restoring love of Christ. I think our goal, while standing against evil, should always be with an eye to others’ salvation.

Take a bully, for example…

We should stand up for the weak around us and stop the bully from hurting others…yet, in the midst of stopping the bully, we should do our best to speak of the Gospel, so that he or she would have a change in heart. We should pray that our heart’s desire is for the bully to know Jesus and become someone who stands up for the right things, who ceases to be a perpetrator of evil. We can pray this even if we have to arm-bar him off someone else that needs our help. In the end, I think that those who were once enemies of the cross, which is all of us, can best be a testimony to God’s grace and goodness by changed hearts and lives.

To be clear, I am not saying that I think that something like war is never justifiable; there are times where I believe it is imperative for those with power to protect the weak. But I do firmly also believe that hope for someone’s salvation is a much better call for the health of our hearts than hope for someone’s destruction.

Statistical Anomalies (At Least to Me)

by Aaron

Sometimes it’s weird trying to write things as a pastor, because I constantly think people will get the wrong idea about the point I’m trying to make. I know I say, “It’s weird,” but it still doesn’t stop me…so here goes. 

I saw this statistic today about people who share their faith in conversations with other people. The whole study was interesting as to why, when, and how they have these “spiritual conversations,” but the thing that I found most interesting was something the article didn’t address. The people who shared about their “faith” the most (upwards of 98%) said, “Faith was very important to them,”  and they had “prayed in the last week,” but only 62% had attended a church service in that same time.

I know you are probably thinking that I would notice this statistical anomaly because I need people to go to church services as my job kind of relies upon it…but you would be wrong. I notice things like this because I am a weirdo who doesn’t really care about a simple pay check. I care about what type and kind of faith people are sharing. You see, I used to be one of the people who said, “A Christian doesn’t have to go to church,” and I still believe that to an extent. Salvation is not dependent upon church attendance; it is dependent upon Jesus and what He has done to rescue us. I will also tell you, however, that the older I get and the more time I spend working in a pastoral role, the more I realize how important it is to actually attend a church and be a participant in the life of its body.

I think telling people about Jesus, but not inviting them into life with other people who are on the same journey, significantly decreases the life God intends for His people to experience. God does save us as individuals, but we are never (ever) meant to see our faith as a solitary thing. Just look how the scriptures speak of our lives when found in Christ:

  • - Matt 12:49-50 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
  • - Eph 1:5 He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.
  • - Rom 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
  • - Rom 8:16-17 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

All the scriptures point to us being brought in to a family, with multiple siblings. Paul even says that we are like a body and we all need each other (just like a body needs all of its parts to function) in order to truly live and proclaim who God is to the world.

Yes, churches are full of people who are hypocritical. I call those human beings (I am one and so are you), but we do not get the option of running away from connection to a church family. I do believe that some churches are a better cultural fit for some people, but the only way a family will truly function is by speaking the truth to one another with conversations being influenced by the good news of Jesus. If someone is a hypocritical liar, part of our job is to gently and honestly bring that to their attention, affirm their worth in Christ, and come alongside them in trying to live out the Gospel in their life.

Too often, people stop attending a church because people are hard…this is totally true, and if it bothers you, just imagine how God feels! But what does God do for us? Romans 5:8 While we were still sinners Christ died for us. If we are called to be imitators of God (Eph 5) and ambassadors of Him (2 Cor 5,) then we cannot forsake the family He has given us. So, if you are excited about sharing the Gospel with strangers, I would also encourage you to make friends with those you will also spend eternity with by being connected in a local church.

Some Good News

by Aaron

If you have been at Element over the last few months you have been taking part in our series through the book of Proverbs that we have been calling “Counter Culture.” It is a series to look at practical ways that followers of Jesus can live out in our lives the great redemption we have first received in the person of Jesus. We have covered a wage range of topics that include parenthood, our hearts, anger, wisdom, foolishness, pride, contentment, money, friendship, work, laziness, and sluggards. We have done this series to hopefully see how living for Jesus in the world can bring a counter-cultural positive change.

In the last 4 weeks we looked at money (twice), contentment (once), and we will be looking at work for the second week this coming Sunday. In looking at the practical and theological ramifications of money, contentedness, and work I wanted to give you some great hope for what can happen in the world when we begin to see ourselves as stewards of God’s stuff rather than merely seeking or own comfort. I am calling this short blog “Some Good News” because there is actually good news going on the world that we don’t hear a lot about and I thought I would share it with you.

Here it is, according to the World Bank standards 1.1 billion people (that’s billions with a BIG B) in the world have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. This doesn’t mean there isn’t more to be done, but it does mean that mission efforts are making a difference. Barna’s recent book The Good News About Global Poverty, which is based on surveys of the U.S. public and pastors, “points to the power of empathy and optimism in facilitating justice for the poor.” How has this happened decline in global poverty happened (because we all know governments are notoriously bad at using money well)? It turns out that Christians are more generous, not just with their money but with their time. Practicing Christians outpace every other demographic in the world in giving of their resources and time to make a difference. 

Barna states that, “Practicing Christians outpace all U.S. adults in participation in a variety of actions to help the poor, in the U.S. and abroad.” They also found that those who had greater hope that the world could be changed for the better were those who were actually willing to try. I know when we look at our culture and our world around us it almost seems like a daunting task to live in a counter-cultural way, but we must be willing to try in the strength that God provides. Too often followers of Jesus are blasted in pop culture…and yet, despite all the voices to the contrary, Jesus’ followers are making the biggest difference.

These statistics, as I have said previously, are wonderful, but we shouldn’t just pat ourselves on the back and move on. We must remember that all we do is for God’s glory and not our own. As important as it is to alleviate suffering where we find it, we must also speak of the saving grace of a God who has called us to be His ambassadors to the world.

In the next few weeks Element will be sharing with you all of our efforts locally and globally to make a difference. You will see how your support helps Element to give in areas that not only alleviate suffering, but also seeks to connect people in community that will speak of the saving grace of Jesus. In speaking about how God cares for each of us, Jesus reminds us in Luke 12:23, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…” As people who follow Jesus we must be concerned with both aspects, and that is what we want to be about in our endeavors at Element.

So cheer up, the work is far from over, but there is hope to be celebrated. Our hope and prayer over the last couple of months is that you have been drawn into greater trust of who God is in your finances and life. If you missed the proverbs series you can find it here.

I Am The Monkey

by Aaron

There is this old saying that goes, “Monkey See Monkey Do.” It means when we see someone do something dumb, we are more inclined to do that dumb thing. Today I was the monkey when I had an encounter that revealed how terrible I am and how my natural reactions are NOT like how Jesus would react. I drove down to the Santa Maria post office and pulled into a spot pretty far from the door. As I got out of my truck, I looked up just in time to see a bearded man in disheveled clothes (no, not Jon Gee) ride an aqua blue beach cruiser directly in front of me. He didn’t stop…he just rode in circles. I smiled, ducked my head to say, “Hello,” and he yelled, “F*@K YOU” at me.

I was a little taken aback. I thought I was being nice and unobtrusive someone yelling an expletive isn’t the typical cultural response in these situations. He made another circle on his bike, yelled, “F*@K YOU” again and punched the rear fender well of my truck. He then eyeballed me and said, “What are you going to do about that?” That question should have made me stop and think before reacting, and ask myself, “What are you going to do about that?” Instead of pausing a beat, I asked him if I needed to call the police.

Here is a good bit of advice if you have not spent a lot of time dealing with some of the mentally unstable homeless people in our city: do not engage in rational conversation. You can call for help, but do not expect that rationality will get them to be rational. His response was an ever louder, “F*@K YOU” accompanied by a finger gesture that essentially meant the same thing. I probably could have diffused the situation a bit by asking if I could pray for him in any way (asking to pray for people usually makes them pause for a moment because they can’t figure you out). Instead, I fell into my natural state without Jesus, sarcasm. I didn’t yell, but I also didn’t see the brokenness of his humanity as he rode away flipping me off and yelling his expletive. In the end, we probably just looked like two mentally unstable people trying to have a dialogue about what the nature of “F*@K YOU” actually meant.

I tell you this story because as we go through our series on Proverbs, wisdom, and counter culture, I want you to know how hard it is to actually live differently in our world. The second the guy was out of my line of sight (and hearing), I stopped and asked myself if I made anything better with my reaction and sarcasm; the answer was no. My first response wasn’t Jesus’ response, which would have been to recognize this man’s brokenness…instead, my first response was, “What a jerk, I can out think him” (which is debatable). In the end, what I realized was my own less-than-stellar emotional and cognitive intelligence in functioning as God’s image bearer in this world.

I so often speak about Matthew 25 and looking for and acknowledging the “least of these” in our society, but when confronted in a way I didn’t like, I didn’t respond as I hoped I would. In Hebrews 13:2 the author speaks about entertaining strangers, who may be angels in disguise. Whether the author is speaking metaphorically or literally, it makes me think of this TV show where they set up uncomfortable circumstances and film them to see what people would do. As I went about the rest of my day, I thought about that moment because it was so surreal. Someone could have easily jumped out of a bush and asked, “Why did you respond that way?” My answer might have been “I don’t know,” but the real answer is that the circumstance reveals what is truly in my heart.

Last Sunday I mentioned the illustration by Amy Carmichael, who was a missionary to India in the early 20th century. She speaks of two glasses of water—one filled with sweet pure water and one filled with bitter dirty water. She says when you bump the glass, what comes out is simply what is in the cup already. The bump didn’t turn pure water into bitter; the bump reveals what is already in the cup. We will be bumped against our entire lives; in those moments, we get the great blessing of seeing what is truly in our cup…and what was in mine wasn’t the greatest.

It is also in these moments of reflection that I am reminded I don’t need to live in shame or guilt at my failing. I can lay myself at the feet of Jesus and trust Him to change me day by day. I can once again surrender my heart and will into His hands and trust Him for His great grace to restore me. My hope in the end doesn’t come from response in the post office parking lot; my hope comes from Jesus, who has loved me and allowed me to once again see how far my heart has to go in my daily life while still being fully accepted and loved by Him. 

Don’t misunderstand me…when an unstable person accosts you in a parking lot, you do not need to have a conversation and are more than free to get to a safe place. What I am saying is that we need to see God’s image in others before we first see the offense that we take upon ourselves.

 

The Accumulative Effect of Bad Knowledge

by Aaron

A few weeks ago Element started a new sermon series going through the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a book that is centered in wisdom, how to live in God’s world in a way that reflects who He is and what He has done in our lives. As a matter of fact Proverbs is part of a section that was (and is) known as the “Wisdom Literature.” We are calling the series “Counter-Culture” because we want to bring about hope, life, healing, and grace which seems to be so counter to our culture of self-centered interest. 

One of the things that Proverbs leads us to is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Biblically speaking, knowledge is good and we should learn things (lots of things). I believe Christian’s should be a people who are known by “knowledge,” but I also think that knowledge in and of itself is can be bad. If knowledge doesn’t go anywhere, or it isn’t lived properly, it has the power to destroy and not build up. Knowledge is principles and wisdom becomes the practice of how we live certain things out in our lives. Knowledge must become wisdom and it does that through life experience; this is why we are reminded in James 1:22 to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

In the first two messages in Proverbs I talked about the difference between good and bad knowledge, but I believe the message left it on the surface and didn’t go much deeper. I mentioned that in the book of Genesis humans were supposed to trust God for ALL good knowledge and listen to what He said, but we went in search of bad knowledge and so destroyed our relationship with God, ourselves and even creation. When I say “bad knowledge” what I mean is that man was never supposed to have knowledge of sin and death because they were not necessary to real and true life (they knew what sin was, but they didn’t need to experience sin themselves). We do not need to have the personal knowledge of alcoholism, drug abuse, or infidelity in relationships, there is some knowledge we simply don’t need. 

I asked a friend of mine last week while our Gospel community gathered together why he was so quiet, his response broke my heart, “I don’t have anything to share, my whole life seems to be the accumulation of bad knowledge.” Not to make it all about me, but I instantly felt like a bad preacher and pastor because I didn’t mean to heap guilt and shame on people, I meant to lead everyone to a place where they understood that our bad knowledge is meant to lead us to Jesus for the good knowledge of His grace and salvation.

As honestly as I can say this, my friend’s response should be most of our response because when we see the reality of our lives they become a clear picture of the accumulation of bad knowledge. The beauty of the Good News of Jesus is that He can even take this bad knowledge and turn that into wisdom for His glory and our ultimate good. The difference between good and bad knowledge was not to say that there is some people who only live in good knowledge and that if you have experienced detox, a divorce, or a country music concert then your life is a waste; it was meant to say that all of our lives are a waste without the goodness of Jesus and His rescue of us. 

We do not need to hide in shame and guilt from our bad knowledge, we look at it with honest reflection understanding what our lives look like when not centered in the Gospel. Good and bad knowledge is only ever meant to be the first step (it is facts and truth), good and bad knowledge can both transition to wisdom when we begin to live it out in ways that honor Jesus. 1 Corinthians 8:1 we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. All knowledge, good and bad, if not transitioned to wisdom will become self-centered self-reflection. Knowledge comes very fast because every day, every situation, we are accumulating knowledge. Wisdom on the other hand comes slow because it takes those life experiences and should view them in light of the cross in order to bring about wisdom. 

James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness (humbleness) of wisdom. One of the first things wisdom brings is humility, a focus that is not on ourselves. It means that in becoming wise there were probably lots of mistakes along the way (bad knowledge), instead of that leading to guilt and shame it can (if we let it) instead lead us to humbleness before God’s good salvation. If we want to see our culture and world change it will always start and end with the Jesus’ wisdom, not our own. We need wisdom and knowledge so we can participate in God’s work of creating a culture that honors who He is in all things. It is why we don’t run from or hide our bad knowledge, instead we lay it at the feet of Jesus so we can use even that bad things to grow us in His wisdom.

 

Community Good Friday 2018 - Why Have You Forsaken Me

by Aaron

Good Friday

Every few years I am asked to take part in a community Good Friday service. In these services we cover the 7 last statements of Jesus. Various preachers from the community are each given one of these that we share (for 5-7 minutes) as a reflection of why we call Good Friday good. Most of you work and can’t make it to the service, so as I do every year I speak at the service, I am going to post my manuscript of what I am talking about so you can have a little piece of what the service entailed. Here you go:
 
In Matt 27:46 Jesus cries out to His Father, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" There is no other verse that causes as much controversy as this one. People have asked if this was Jesus faltering or was He questioning the Father and the plan of salvation…I will do my best to help you understand (as best we can)what is happening here in less than 5 minutes.
 
If you ask people what is salvation is from, the answers are mostly: death, sin, Satan, but Romans 5:9-10 defines salvation as deliverance by God from God and His wrath against sin. Sin destroys relationship, sin brings death, and God hates it. Death is not the stopping of our hearts or the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies, death is separation. It is separation from Life, from God, who is our source of life.
 
Kenneth Bailey writes extensively about Middle Eastern culture and he speaks about a 1st century Jewish custom called the kezazah.  Kezazah is a Hebrew phrase that means "the cutting off."In the story of the prodigal son a young man goes to his father and asks for his inheritance before his father died, it was very insulting and the boy is essentially telling his father he wished he was dead.
 
If a Jewish boy takes his inheritance and loses it among the Gentiles, so the Gentiles end up with all the resources that had been a part of Israel, he was seen to be cut off.The village would gather together and find a clay pot, which would be a symbol for the life of the boy, and they would break it (many times in front of the boy) on his return home. It was a way to say, "This is the brokenness that you have caused in our community."  They were showing that he had broken the trust and heart not simply of the father, but of the entire village. Broken pot, broken life, broken trust, broken community, broken faith…it was separation, “you are dead to us.” It was to show that you could never be whole, you were not welcome, and you certainly were not family.
 
In the story of the prodigal son the child loses everything and won’t go home, most likely because he knows kezazah is waiting for him. This son will end up on the very door step of starvation rather than go back, until he finally remembers the kindness of the father. But even when he remembers his dad’s character he formulates a plan work off his debt himself. This is how many people approach God today, this is why we say things like, "if I went into a church lightning would strike me" or "the walls would fall down;" it is this innate feeling of kezazah. It is why Christianity is so ridiculed by people who haven't surrendered all they are to Jesus, because to truly follow Jesus we must see and understand our own lost-ness, our own weakness.
 
When this boy does go home the father sees him and runs to him, because if the village would have caught him first the Kezazah ceremony would take place. He gets to his boy first, he embraces his son, and brings him back into family. We live post resurrection and I think we get a unique perspective on this parable, we get to look at it in light of the cross. It's like Jesus says, "If you want to know how much the Father loves you, look at the Cross, because out of Father's love for you, His own son became broken…forsaken…cut off." His body was broken on the Cross, in many ways we can never even fathom. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?On the Cross, Jesus becomes kezazah, cut off, and all this is done so we can come home.
 
1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.Admitting unworthiness and inability is difficult because we have spent our whole lives trying to prove we are anything but unworthy. We want to believe that our mistakes are not that bad, that deep down we are still pretty good people. But when we will acknowledge our sinfulness John’s continues: 1 John 2:1-2 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” God has testified not only to our sinfulness, but also to His graciousness. He has told us that He so loved the world that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus, God in the flesh, lived the life we should have lived and then died the death we had been condemned to die. By doing so He put away our death forever.
 
Advocate is a legal term, referring to someone who argues your case before the bar of justice on your behalf. Normally an advocate argues for your innocence—or that you should not be punished based on extenuating circumstances (your general good character demonstrated in other places). Our Advocate does no such thing. Jesus never argues for our goodness, He argues His righteousness in our place.

This is where Matt 27 comes in, Jesus does not argue our worthiness, He argues His substitution. We may not be worthy to be forgiven, but He is worthy to forgive us.
 
1 John 1:9 John says that Jesus is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” John didn’t say that God is “merciful” and “kind” to forgive our sins (though God is MERCIFUL and KIND), but the basis of God’s forgiveness of us is not mercy, it is justice. Jesus paid the full penalty for our sin; not an ounce of judgment remains.
 
If we think of Jesus standing before God begging for mercy, or leniency, on our behalf, it will provide little comfort. "God, can you give Aaron one more chance? He’s a good guy. Please?" We would always wonder when we would reach the end of God’s patience. But Jesus does not appeal to God for mercy on my behalf, He appeals for justice because Jesus has satisfied all the claims against me. He know says to the Father, “I paid the full price for this sin. I took the penalty due to him so that he could have the credit due to Me."
 
For those in Christ, this is the confidence we have before God. We don’t hope we are forgiven, we know it, because our standing before God has nothing to do with our worthiness, but the worthiness of the Advocate (JESUS) who now stands in our place. He was forsaken that we may be brought in. This is why there is only ONE hope for a sinful people, and it is Jesus.

What If Someone Doesn't Believe In Baptism?

by Aaron

Question: I have a friend who is solid on the gospel, the good news of Jesus, but has one primary area where he believes differently than most: baptisms. He believes baptism is an early church cultural symbol and doesn’t need be practiced today. Would Element still allow this person to become a member if not baptized (due to strong belief rather than laziness)? 

Answer: People today have many reasons why they don’t want to partake in certain rites that the church practices. I have heard the cultural objections and the personal objections to baptism, and while I believe God’s Spirit will guide us when we listen, I think a good place to start is: does your friend partake in communion? Do they see communion as something that was simply an early church custom, and that it doesn’t need to be practiced today because most people today do not understand completely what it means?

Most people, when you ask the question about communion say, “Well, Jesus said to ‘do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24). Similarly, Jesus also said in Matt 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Simply because our current culture doesn’t understand a practice, should not mean that it is no longer valid. The church has awkward songs that we still use today, with words like “There is a fountain of blood” and “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” I would say far from jettisoning these songs, we should instead seek to educate people on the full understanding of what Jesus did “with His blood.” Not knowing the parties involved, could it be possible your friend’s stance on baptism is simply a point of pride? Sometimes people get to a point where they like to have something that sets them apart from others in doctrine and as we know, even the most godly people can easily fall into pride. I am not saying this is the case, it is just simply a question that springs to mind.  

I would ask your friend if this stance is a place that they have come to after prayer and seeking God’s counsel. Would they be willing to attend a baptism celebration with others to give God glory for the amazing work He has done in people’s lives? I ask these questions because it helps to understand how this person views baptism.

Let me also say that baptism has nothing to with salvation; we are saved by grace alone. If people are not baptized during their life on earth, it makes them no less a child of God—right standing before God and forgiveness of sin is no different. But the question you asked wasn’t about salvation; it came down to church membership at Element. We believe that the early church came together and celebrated around two main rites, communion and baptism. At Element, we also want to celebrate with one another what God is doing in our lives—this is why we celebrate baptism and communion.

Baptisms at Element entail a big party with food, laughter, joy, and stories that center around redemption. Before people get baptized, we have a class (we even have two versions—a long one and a short one) to educate people on what baptism represents and why we do it. Through baptism, we make a public statement about our lives and commitment to walk in the ways Jesus calls us. Baptism is not magical, but it is a deeply spiritual event that reflects the work Jesus has done in our lives. As your friend said, it is a symbol, but it also presents us with an amazing opportunity to speak of Christ’s work today. The act of baptism represents the death and resurrection of Christ, and also the truth that God is restoring and placing (immersing) us in His family. 

The entire point for us is the public identification with Christ and His work within us. He is our great God and Savior that has come to restore a broken humanity that cannot have a relationship with God on our own. He is the Redeemer, He is the Remedy, He is the Hope, and He is our Life. At Element, we believe it is important for people around us to understand the changes that are taking place in our own lives based on the work of Christ in us. To help others understand what baptism is and what it means to those being baptized on a personal level, we ask them to share their stories in booklet form (you can read some of those here). 

At Element, we do require baptism as part of membership, but it is not required for involvement. We have plenty of people who are involved in Gospel Communities, serve in various ministries, and are vital to the life of Element that aren’t official “members”…(I would add the caveat ‘yet.’) Also, baptism for membership doesn’t mean you have to be baptized at Element; it simply means that you have partaken in baptism at some point. It is part of who we are. Just as baptism doesn’t save us and isn’t meant to be a badge of honor or pride, not being baptized shouldn’t be a point of contention or pride. 

This is who we are as a church, and we do all that we do with the hope that one day everyone who attends a baptism celebration will come to the saving knowledge of trusting in Jesus with their life.

 

Why Jesus and Not Immanuel?

by Aaron

Last Sunday, we covered Jesus coming as God in the flesh, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to answer a question I occasionally hear. The question comes from Isaiah 7:14 and Mathew 1:22-23: Matt 1:21-23: “’She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” The question is: “Why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel if that’s what the prophets said we would call Him?” 

As short and simple as I can say it, Immanuel is a title and descriptor of who Jesus was (or is). This is similar to how we use POTUS (President of the United States); for the rest of a former president’s life, they are known as “Mr. President,” and not Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Obama, or Mr. Trump. Their names are still Ronald, George, William, Barack, and Donald, but we call them by a title.

When it says, “…and they shall call his name Immanuel,” this simply means that “God with us” is what and who He was (and is). In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet says, “…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” If that was His actual name, Jesus’ birth certificate would be pretty long! Jeremiah 23:6 states, “In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness…” That is also a pretty long title for a birth certificate. The word “LORD” is the word YHWH, God’s personal name. He didn’t call Jesus YHWH, though He was God in the flesh. All of these verses are descriptions of what Jesus would do—bring God’s righteousness to His people. Like 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In Luke 1:32-33 the angel says to Mary, “´He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” Mary didn’t name Jesus “Son of the Most High God,” because she understood the angel’s words; plus, in Luke 1:31, the angel said, “’You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’”

This is why we can sing Christmas songs about Jesus being Immanuel, or say that He is the Son of God, or speak of Him being our Savior and King, and still call Him Jesus…because that’s His name (at least how Americans pronounce it anyway).

For Now Or Just Then?

by Aaron

Today I had someone involved in our Women’s Bible Study ask a question that I hope more people would consider: “How do we know which promises are for us or the Israelites in the Old Testament?”

In our world today, we tend to like soundbites that we can apply to our lives, rather than look at the whole message a person is saying. Soundbites are one of the ways we can keep people from looking as bad as they actually were at times. We do this for Christian thinkers like A.W. Tozer, often remembered for the great things he wrote, but he also had a horrible marriage because of how he personally neglected his wife. We quote people like David Livingstone, the often heralded missionary giant, yet conveniently don’t talk about how he sent his family to live in near poverty in Britain and never even really knew his children. Our culture loves soundbites because we like to focus on what makes us feel (personally) good.

This focus on ourselves relates to how we view the Bible, as well; we take bits and pieces we like out of context because they “speak to us” or “give us what we need”…not realizing those things may not mean what we think they mean. This is a long way of saying that I appreciate a question about what promises are actually for us and which one aren’t, because as a culture, we typically think everything is for us. In one sense, it is true—it is for us…we believe the Bible wasn’t written to us per se, but it was written for us. The Scriptures were written to a particular people in a particular place in time, but the words transcend time and are useful and didactic to us today.

In one sense, if read correctly, the promises from the Old Testament not directly referring to specific events (Israel’s battles during the Exodus, for example), can have broad meaning. It can be read different ways because many promises spoken in the Old Testament are reiterated in various ways in the New Testament. Take as an example the promise to Joshua as he prepares to finally enter the Promised Land. God says to him in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is most certainly a definite promise given to Joshua AND the whole people of Israel…but look in the New Testament:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
  • Philippians 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

We may not be going to conquer a land given to us by God, but God still promises to be with us. Even when telling His disciples to go out and make more disciples, Jesus says in Matthew 28 that He will be with them (which I also take to mean us when we follow the great commission).

It is important to remember the character of God has not changed from the Old to the New Testaments, God is the same. In Malachi 3:6 God says “I, the Lord, do not change.” In Hebrews 13:11 we are told “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” In this way, Biblical promises that don’t even directly apply to us can still reveal truths about God’s character. But…here is my issue. Many people from Western culture (like ours) don’t know how to read the promises of God in the context in which they were written. We instead read them as soundbites for us, not as words spoken to a whole people. 

As an example, a big one people love to take out of context is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Our culture tends to read those words as written to “me” as an individual and not how God intended it, to a whole people; this has caused many issues today, especially within the Church. We think God wants to prosper me, God has a future for me…which is true, but not how this verse means those words. Jeremiah 29:11 is written to a whole people (the nation of Israel), who were in Babylonian captivity, essentially slaves to a world super power. He is promising these people a future and a hope (which is something they would have understood because that’s how their culture saw things, as a people, not an individual). Not everyone survived, not everyone’s children made it back, some people were tortured and killed…but as a whole, they understood that God would bring them (their whole people) back into a future and a hope…(by the way, it took seventy years).

I think our larger problem is trying to read specific things into the text that are not there. Think of Roman’s 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” As Western people we naturally read the word “me” into this verse, as in: “God works for the good of me.” Ancient readers would not have seen it as God obligating Himself to bring about our own perceived personal good in a situation. They would have seen this as a collective promise to “those” (plural) who love Him, who are called to His purpose.

Yes, God loves us (personally), yes, God wants His good in our lives (personally), but God has always intended for his followers to be a connected people who see His promises as a collective, within the overarching story of what He is doing in the world. We do much damage to our faith and to non-believers by trying to read into the Bible what is not there. We must become a people who see His promises as intended, trust them, and walk corporately together to be His priests to this world.

The First Gospel

by Aaron

This blog post will actually go along with Didn’t See That Coming: Week 2, wherein we talked about how God made everything good and mankind ran in the opposite direction and fell. The message also centered on God’s promised rescue of humankind in the coming child, Jesus, who would restore us to what He made us to be—His image bearers. In that message I quoted Genesis 3:15, where God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” I said that I believe the word referring to the woman’s offspring was singular, yet the word for the serpent’s offspring was plural. Before I get questions from budding theologians, I want to answer why I say that. 

Warning: I may lose some of you in the explanation of the words that I am about to write, and I am sorry. If you do get lost, I am simply saying that I believe when God makes this promise, which is about Jesus’ coming, that He is specifically referring to Jesus (in contrast to the serpent’s offspring, which would be all people who actively reject Jesus and seek to destroy who He is). I believe that Genesis 3:15 is the first time the Gospel was proclaimed (and it was proclaimed by Jesus Himself...hence, the preaching of the first Gospel).

Here we go…

In Genesis 3:15 there is an underlying current of headship…the snake and the woman representing more than just themselves. This is why the author is careful to notate the word “offspring,” which is actually the literal word “seed” (“offspring” is more understandable in our modern minds). The first half of the verse describes the enmity between the serpent and the woman; the second half is in regard to enmity among their seeds or offspring (“he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”). The word for offspring or seed (“zerah” in Hebrew) can be plural or singular; I believe it is plural when referring to the serpent. Though it does refer to God’s people as a whole, it is singular when referring to the woman’s eventual, specific seed (Jesus). (Notice how the verse refers to a “He.”)

The author lumps the serpent and his offspring together as one, and as having one goal: to try and destroy God’s image in man and ultimately stop the promise of God’s redemption. There has always been strife (or enmity) between those who hate God and those who love Him; many times, those who hate God masquerade as those who claim to love Him, doing more damage to God’s name than those with open hostility. When Jesus actually comes, he delivers on Genesis 3:15: crushing the serpent’s head (singular), while also dealing a blow to those (plural) who would seek to destroy who God called man to be, His image bearers. 

John Sailhamer writes, “What happens to the snake’s ‘seed’ in the distant future can be said to happen to the snake as well. This suggests that the author views the snake in terms that extend beyond this particular snake of the garden…The snake is represented by his ‘seed.’ When that ‘seed’ is crushed, the head of the snake is crushed.” When we speak of the war that humanity finds itself in, we tend to forget that it is not God versus the Devil—as if anything could stand against God. The war is between man and Satan/sin/death. This is a war mankind willingly started (the rebellion in Genesis 3) and had no chance of winning. This is why God Himself came, as a man without sin, to win the war on our behalf.

Sailhamer points out that when Genesis 3:15 starts to talk about the woman’s seed, it looks as if it is written for a point in time far removed from the woman…as if to raise the question, “Who is her seed?” The rest of Genesis, and the rest of the Scriptures, will spend their focus answering that question. The result of the woman’s sin leads to greater pain in childbirth and strife with her husband, among other tragic consequences we see and experience today. However, the promise of Genesis 3:16 once again points to a child that would be born of a woman in fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption. 

All of this is my roundabout way of simply restating that God knew what He was going to do to rescue man from the very start. So often we question and worry over the course of our lives, when we need to instead trust God and live out His calling for us. We were made to reflect God’s peace to the world, His goodness that He gives to us; though we have destroyed that peace and hidden that goodness behind a wall of disobedience, God Himself comes to break down that wall so we again can not only see His peace and goodness, but actually live in it (…and we didn’t see that coming)!

It’s So Loud

by Aaron

Today I received an email from someone who USED TO attend Element. Your first question is probably, “what did you you do? Why did they leave?” Well, they didn’t leave because of something I did, they left because of something Uncle Sam did when the Air Force moved them away. This is now their second transfer since leaving the Central Coast and we still keep in touch periodically. Today he sent me a question about Element’s stance on volume of music during services.

He said that for the first time ever he, “had to leave a worship service after having had my fingers in my ears for a few minutes…I talked with the sound guy afterwards, and encountered a relatively prideful position of ‘this is how we do it.’” He pointed out that this isn’t him trying to put his tastes upon the whole group, “If I don’t like a mix, or the way the drummer is mic’d, or the style of a song, or how silly an electric guitar player is acting...I can get over that (and have).” But then he says, “the ringing [in his ears] didn’t stop until later that afternoon.” If you are wondering if he felt this way at Element, he did say, “I never had even a moment of this issue at Element. There might have been a time or two I put my fingers in my ears, by they were transient and not a pattern” and his wife didn’t feel the same and thought the volume was always fine. 

I found his email interesting because he asked how Element would like to be approached about this issue by people who feel this way. Last week a blog actually came across my feed where the writer said the volume needs to be low enough that you can hear your neighbor sing because that will make you want to sing. It also said volume needs to be low enough that OTHERS can hear YOU sing because that will make you want to sing. I actually totally disagree with the blog writer as we have found the quieter that the band gets, the quieter that the congregation gets. Everyone actually seems to be afraid others will hear them be like an off pitch American Idol reject.

At Element we believe volume should be in a place that you could feasibly sing comfortably without worrying about others. What is pretty cool from a band side of things is that when people enjoy a song and everyone truly joins in, we (as the band) can actually hear that OVER the instruments. All of these things are a tough line to find and sometimes we do it right and sometimes we don’t. The problem is everyone has an opinion and we all feel our opinions are correct and that those who don’t agree with us are wrong (it stems from the little thing called sin).

At Element we have done a couple of things to try and alleviate some of the volume issues. First service is typically turned down a bit as first service is usually lower in attendance and when there are less people there are less bodies absorbing sound waves. Second, we supply ear plugs for anyone who wants them back at the sound booth (some kids have tried to eat them thinking they are candy…they are not). Third, we have various staff members walk through the room on occasion to listen for volume levels. We hope that over time we as a church have become more consistent in our levels and our approach. I have even had people say that the electric guitar needs to turn up at times (you almost never hear that and I am happy to always oblige).

How should my friend approach it where he is now? How would Element like to be approached about it? I do not think approaching the sound guy is anyone’s best bet. Sound guys get the short straw every week. Anything that goes wrong in a service they are automatically blamed for, even if it had nothing to do with them. They get a lot of complaints (and in-turn) shut off and can become territorial because people don’t usually ask them questions, they usually get people’s opinions foisted upon them. Find out who is over the service from an “arts” point of view and talk to them instead. Approach the music leader and speak with him/her about your issues and the volume concern.

From Element’s experience, there have been some people who have shared their concerns and we have dismissed them (we did listen though), but there was nothing we could really do about it (this was more along the lines of style). At other times people have shared and we have taken their words into account and tried to change. When the band hits a first chord and everyone kind of moves back a step, it is too loud, but something to understand is that many times the music leader doesn’t even realize the volume issue because they are on the other side of the main PA speakers than the congregation.  

In everything we must be those who extend grace and try to see the issue from all sides, not simply our own. Zac Hicks wrote, “Regardless of your tradition, volume may be one of the top three perennial ‘unsolvable’ problems in worship planning and leading. No matter which way you go, someone is unhappy.”

We are told that when we worship through song it should be LOUD:

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (Psalm 33:3);

“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1);

“Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:5).

Hicks writes, “Joy, again and again in the Psalms, seems to be associated with pushing the faders up, pressing the organ volume pedal to the floor, and turning the amps up to eleven. The joy of salvation and deliverance is expressed in shouts (Psalm 20:5; 27:6; 32:7, 11; 33:1; 35:27; 42:4; 47:5; 65:8; 66:1; 81:1; 89:15; 126:2; 132:9). Trumpets (no mutes in the ancient Near East) were blasted (Ps 47:5; 98:6; 150:3). So it seems that the loud end of the dynamic spectrum is appropriate for worship music.

We are also told that when we worship through song it should be SOFT:

“I have calmed and quieted my soul” is what one worship song sings (Psalm 131:2).

Hicks again, “Psalm 95 verses 1-5 express loud, thankful, jubilant worship. But Verses 6-7 encourage a different posture: bowed, quiet, reverent. Alongside the admonitions to leap, clap, and shout are the edifying words that whisper “be still” (Ps 37:7; 46:10) and “wait” (Ps 25:5, 21; 33:20; 37:7; 130:5)…In the Psalms, therefore, we hear that low decibels, even a zero reading, are appropriate for worship music.”

In the end it is how we approach Jesus in our attitude of worship that matters, but let us never forget worship is all that we do…so it matters how we approach one another as well.

A Sanctified Affliction (Follow-Up to Ruth Week 3)

by Aaron

If you have been at Element the last three weeks, you know that it might seem like a bit of a downer because we are in the first chapter of the book of Ruth. This is simply because the first chapter of Ruth is depressing. It starts off at very low point: no one is following God, a man moves his family to a pagan place and dies, his sons marry women who worship foreign gods, those same sons die, and all hope seems to be lost. These scenes we read about in Ruth should give us pause to consider the whole idea of suffering and affliction in our own lives.
 
The term “sanctified affliction” has been used by Charles Spurgeon, John James, and most recently, John Piper. Sanctified affliction teaches that everything that comes into our lives can be used by God to grow us more into His likeness and image. This means not one tear we have shed is meaningless in light of God’s overarching sovereignty. As I talked about on Sunday, John Flavel, a Puritan in the 1600s, wrote extensively on this subject. He personally lost three wives, a son, his parents, and he was ejected from his church…he (understandably) asked the question, "Why does God sovereignly permit the suffering of his people?". He gives eight answers to that question (from an article by Brian H. Cosby in Modern Reformation Magazine, February 28, 2014):

1.To Reveal and Deter – Flavel writes, "I heartily wish that these searching afflictions may make the more satisfying discoveries; that you may now see more of the evil of sin, the vanity of the creature, and the fulness of Christ, than ever you yet saw."

2.To Produce Godliness and Spiritual Fruit – Flavel believed that the most fruit producing soil in our lives is the ground of suffering. "The power of godliness did never thrive better than in affliction." 

3.To Reveal More of the Character of God – God reveals his kindness (hesed) and character by how He cares for us in the midst of our suffering. Flavel writes in reference to 2 Cor 12:9 (where Jesus says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”), “By exposing his people to such grievous sufferings, he gives a fit opportunity to manifest the glory of his power…and of his wisdom."

4. To Relinquish the Temporary for the Eternal – Too often we cling to things that have no eternal value, so God removes them from us even when it hurts. "Thy affliction is a fair class to discover [the creature's vanity]; for the vanity of the creature is never so effectually and sensibly discovered, as in our own experience of it."

5. To Produce a Sincere Faith, Devoid of Hypocrisy – Suffering reveals what we truly believe about the kind of person Jesus is. He says that in suffering we have "an opportunity to discover the sincerity of your love to God."

6. To Encourage Fellowship with God through Word and Prayer – In times of suffering, we should be drawn to the goodness of God and develop a deeper faith than we have ever known. Flavel writes this amazing line, where he says, "I am sure the sweetest melody of prayer is upon the deep waters of affliction."

7. To Bear Witness to the World – How believers live in the midst of their suffering will be a great witness of the reality of salvation and the goodness of God. Rather than hiding or running, we embrace what affliction can teach us. In The Touchstone of Sincerity he writes, "The frequent trials of grace…prove beyond all words or argument that religion is no fancy, but the greatest reality in the world."

8. To Cultivate Communion with Christ, the Greatest Sufferer – We have a God who not only walks with us through our suffering, but suffered Himself for salvation by taking our sin upon Himself. When we understand that Jesus cared enough to die the death we should have died, it should humble us and draw us into deeper relationship with Him. In The Method of Grace, Flavel writes, "In all your afflictions he is afflicted; tender sympathy cannot but flow from such intimate union."

The Puritans, as a group, were unique in their understanding of our suffering and the goodness, sovereignty, and kindness of God. Today it seems as though the American church wants to run and hide from any theology that touches near the subject of suffering and pain. We are told that God’s job is only to bless you…and “bless” is defined as whatever makes you feel happy and fulfilled. On the contrary though, we know the truth is that God does bless us many times, but that blessing comes either in the midst of, or as a result, of suffering. God isn’t too small to allow pain into our lives, and He is big enough to walk us through it to grow us in our sanctified afflictions.
 
How about one last quote from Flavel? “A Christian may develop and cultivate a deeper and more meaningful relationship and fellowship with God, especially in times of suffering."