The Patient God Whom We Serve

by Jonathan Whitaker
I live just outside of Washington, D.C.  From this vantage my family and I can travel to hundreds of different museums and monuments within 30 minutes from leaving our suburban home. We aim to see them all, but we are starting with the basics.  This weekend we hit the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.  I was most moved by the Jefferson memorial.  Within the rotunda there are a number of quotes from our third president that stand in stark contrast to our politicians of today.  It is easy for me to lament the decline of our elected officials while acquitting my own sinful behavior.  I can grieve that our world has shunned God, but I am ultimately responsible for what I do with the Word of God.  Will I abuse it or will I allow it to transform my life?
 
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever." These are inscribed on the northeast portico of the Jefferson Memorial.  They are excerpted from various writings of Thomas Jefferson on the topics of liberty, justice, and slavery.  Most notably, they are found in correspondence between Jefferson and the father of our country, George Washington.  Jefferson points out a truth that should give us pause: God's justice cannot sleep forever.
 
Why then does a just God wait to deliver his judgment?  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) Though it is widely held that the author of the Declaration of Independence was a deist and not a Christ follower, his words nonetheless ring true to believers.  We serve a God who, through His love and patience, allows us the liberty to choose either sin or righteousness.  It is God's patience that guarantees our liberty.  God graciously allows us to turn from the sin that condemns us and freely offers us life everlasting.  Though patient, God is also just.  Because He is just, He will not abide our sin forever. 
 
Matthew 13 recounts the parables of Jesus Christ.  Parables are stories that convey truth to those who seek truth (and conceal truth from those who despise truth). In the parables, Jesus says, "He who has ears, let him hear." (Matt 13:9)  What He is saying is that people, us included, may physically hear or read His words, but the one who listens and seeks understanding with his heart will truly hear.  Romans 10:17 tells us, "faith comes from hearing..." Listening intently in order to seek truth is the type of hearing to which Paul refers in that verse. 
 
Hear with your heart Jesus' Parable of the Weeds. (Matt 13: 25-30)  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weedsamong the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servantsof the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, 'Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
 
Jesus explained this parable to his disciples later in the chapter, but here is the gist.  The sower is Jesus and the field is the world.  The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, those who profess Christ.  The enemy is the devil and the weeds are his children, all who reject the gospel of Jesus.  When Jesus sends his angels to reap, the weeds will be cut down first and the wheat will be taken up.  The wheat that is taken up are those who have been made righteous in Christ and they will be with their Father in Heaven. 
 
For some of you who read these words, you are sure that you are a weed.  Some of you think you are wheat, but are deceiving yourselves.  Some of you are wheat, but your roots are entangled with the weeds, so you have been choked out from bearing a fruitful harvest.  Some of you are good wheat bearing good food. 
 
First things first, what is wheat?  "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved," (Rom 10:9).  If that describes you, then you are wheat.  Anything other than that, you are a weed.  But take heart, God is patient and He does not want you to be cut down with the weeds. 
 
Look around.  The weeds are thick.  As my family's day in D.C. drew to a close, we approached the Lincoln memorial.  The grounds were crowded with thousands of people.  I counted at least a dozen different languages being spoken.  There in the midst of the crowd on the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I have a Dream" speech stood a man preaching Christ and the future that awaits unrepentant sinners.  He was at full rant and no one paid him any attention.  Then he simply read the words of the Gospel and I heard my wife Jennifer say, "Amen." He who has ears, let him hear.  "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart," (Heb 4:12). The seeds of the Sower will find purchase in the soil of the hearts of those who seek Christ.
 
Brother and Sisters of Element, Jesus will wait, and has waited, for two thousand years, but He cannot be expected to wait forever.  Will we tend to the garden, or do we plan to wait for the Gardner Himself to cut the weeds down?  I have to agree with Thomas Jefferson. I tremble when I realize that God is not only patient, He's just.  We cannot continue to say, "live and let live," while our family, friends, and countrymen grow deeper and deeper roots in their sin.  True liberty comes not from satisfying your every desire, but from the freedom that God offers us in Christ.  Christ promised us life more abundantly, and when He reaps His harvest, the wheat of righteousness will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of His Father. 
           
So my weedy friends, if you have kept reading this far, perhaps you do have ears to hear the truth.  You too can serve a God who is not slow as some might count slowness, but has been patient toward you, not wishing that you should perish, but that you may understand repentance.  If you are wheat with tangled roots, seek God in His word and let your roots grow deep in His rich soil.  If you are a weed, give your life to Christ and He will pull you up by the roots and make you a new creation.  He will plant you anew as wheat to bear fruit for His kingdom.
           
Tell your friends.  

Mission -> Community -> Gospel (Grace)

by Chris Reis
Our Gospel communities are currently going through the book “Called Together;” it is laid out in the progression of Gospel, Community, and Mission, but what does this look like to someone who lives outside of the of the Church (outside of the community of believers)?  We, who live in the community of believers, in the presences of the King of kings, must always remind ourselves of where we have come from.  Let me draw from the history of King David an event that shows what “Called Together” means to someone who was brought in from the outside.
 
The story starts with the death of King Saul (the first king of Israel).

 [1Sa 31:2-3, 6] 2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons and killed his sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. 3 When the battle intensified against Saul,  the archers caught up with him and severely wounded him.  ... 6 So on that day, Saul died together with his three sons, his armor-bearer, and all his men.  (HCSB)

Because of Adam, our blood relative, we are all dead in our sins.  With the death of Saul and his sons itwas customary in those days for the king of a new dynasty to completely massacre anyone connected with the prior dynasty (kill the heir apparent who is first in line of succession to the throne).  We see David, when he becomes king, going against the principle of self-preservation and asks what he can do for the family of the former king.

[2Sa 4:4] 4 Saul's son Jonathan had a son whose feet were crippled. He was five years old when the report about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. The one who had nursed him picked him up and fled, but as she was hurrying to flee, he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth.  (HCSB)

David does something that is very “missional” when he asks the following question:

[2Sa 9:1-4] 1 David asked, "Is there anyone remaining from Saul's family I can show kindness to because of Jonathan?" 2 There was a servant of Saul's family named Ziba. They summoned him to David, and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" "I am your servant," he replied.  3 So the king asked, "Is there anyone left of Saul's family that I can show the kindness of God to?" Ziba said to the king, "There is still Jonathan's son who was injured in both feet."  4 The king asked him, "Where is he?" Ziba answered the king, "You'll find him in Lo-debar at the house of Machir son of Ammiel."  (HCSB)

The verses above happened many years after Mephibosheth was injured while being carried away by his nurse.  Between that time and this, Mephibosheth's uncle Ishbosheth, waged a bloody war against David for the throne of Israel.  David seeking to honor the memory of Jonathan, Saul’s son, asks the question “Is there anyone remaining from Saul's family I can show kindness to because of Jonathan?”  David, at some point may have considered that there was at least an outside chance that Mephibosheth might follow in his uncle’s footsteps and not his father’s, but instead of fearing this possibility, David, in love for the lost family member, trusts God and seeks out the lost son of Jonathan (the grandson of Saul). 
 
Mephibosheth, a young crippled man with a son of his own named Micahis hiding in Lo-debar, probably hoping to remain anonymous to King David.  What Mephiboshet doesn’t realize is that David wanted to lift him out of Lo-debar and bring him into “Community” with him in the house of the king.

 [2Sa 9:5-9, 11, 13] 5 So King David had him brought from the house of Machir son of Ammiel in Lo-debar.  6 Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, bowed down to the ground and paid homage. David said, "Mephibosheth!" "I am your servant," he replied.  7 "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "since I intend to show you kindness because of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul's fields, and you will always eat meals at my table."  8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, "What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?"

Mephibosheth, like so many that are outside of the “community” of God, are leery and suspicious of our intent.  Do we look at these outsiders like a “dead dog” or is there love and concern in our eyes?  Are they a notch on our belt or a lost family member that needs to be brought into the community?

9 Then the king summoned Saul's attendant Ziba and said to him, "I have given to your master's grandson all that belonged to Saul and his family. ... 11 Ziba said to the king, "Your servant will do all my lord the king commands." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table just like one of the king's sons. ... 13 However, Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem because he always ate at the king's table. His feet had been injured.  (HCSB)

The king called the servant of Saul's family named Ziba and placed him in charge Saul’s estate.  But the most amazing part of this story is Mephibosheth is given a place at the table of David the king.  This is a beautiful picture of “grace” (the Gospel in action).  The scene closes with Mephibosheth sitting at David’s table like one of the king's sons with his injured feet coved by the loving grace of the king.  That is truly the purpose and picture of “Called Together,” reaching out, bringing in, and extending grace to all.

Book Review: As You Wish

by Element Christian Church
A friend of mine gave me this book, As You Wish (Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride) at Christmas with an inscription on the inside that said, “Let’s make more stories.” This friend of mine loves the stories of hope and redemption in how Jesus can constantly change us into the people we want and need to be.
 
First, let me start with AS YOU WISH. I am one of the people that Cary Elwes talks about in the book who didn’t even see the movie in theaters, but later found The Princess Bride on VHS (VHS were these large tapes that resembled large music cassettes…and those were…you know what, never mind). I later bought it on DVD and now own a digital download because the movie is simply perfect. A farm hand, a maiden, a giant, a sword master, a six-fingered man, love, revenge, betrayal, a magician, and a loud-mouth Sicilian.
 
The book (As You Wish) on the other hand, not as good as the movie. Don’t get me wrong, the book is fun, but at times it almost seems that Cary Elwes goes out of his way to gush all over everyone, repeatedly. I think I heard the same complements about everyone on the cast in at least 3 different sections of the book (unless it was about Andre the Giant or Rob Reiner, then it was in at least 10 places in the book).
 
There were some great stories, but much of the book felt like filler to make it long enough for print. After reading the book I didn’t have nostalgia to go back and watch the movie, I actually just googled “blooper reel.” One thing the book does admirably is set the stage for friendship and how memories live with us long after the events that make them transpire.
 
I think it is a good remembrance for life. I find myself often, in the midst of laughing with friends, thinking “remember this, it doesn’t last forever.” There was a time that every Sunday night 8-16 people would gather at my house for dinner and a movie (one of these was the Princess Bride), this lasted for about 4 years. I remember about year 3 thinking, “This will end, enjoy these moments while they last.” Today, I work with some of those people, some have moved away, others have children, and though we do not gather like we used to, those memories still influence my view of friends and community.
 
I think it is important for us to remember that life is fleeting, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “it is a vapor.” A vapor is what gets sprayed out of a water bottle when the cap is tight enough that only mist can come out…it’s there and gone. Only God knows what comes after us. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, reminds us that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men, our souls long for more life…and not just life, but for all the world to made right.
 
I doubt we will ever see the whole world made right until Jesus redeems all things, but I do believe that times when we are making good memories, good stories, are when we feel the rightness of what Jesus is doing the most. We were made for communion with God and one another. When those two things intersect there is nothing better…and our souls know it.
 
So, let’s make new, better, and ongoing memories. It is like Jesus reminded us that all of the Scriptures can be summed up in loving God first and loving people. When that happens everything else falls into place. 

Book Review: Help, Thanks, Wow

by Aaron

I have typically been an Anne Lamott fan from other people’s books. What I mean is that so many people quote her that I really didn’t feel like I needed to read her myself. Often though, as is always the case, when we quote people it is usually from the parts that only speak to us and so get skewed in the translation.
 
Recently I was reading a book on the soul, it took a bit of getting in to, but it was still good (by the end). In this book they quoted from Anne Lamott’s “Help, Thanks Wow” so I decided to read it. I guess if you want this review wrapped up in one sentence it would be thus: Not much “help,” undirected “thanks,” and “wow” I hope my life is deeper than this book.
 
I know, as is always the case, people will get mad at me for not loving everything Anne Lamott, but please stop before you write something nasty to me and remember, I am not judging her heart, just the words in this book. The words of the book I found devoid of any passion and simply words for words sake.
 
At the outset it seems as though she tries to placate everyone from every manner of “faith,” accept for Christians who she likes to poke in the eye and claim they are all self-righteous for believing in something fixed and unchanging. I know Lamott would call herself a believer, and while I believe at times Christians need to be called out for their stupidity, we also need to speak of where the goodness is as well. Lamott seems to go out of her way to always reference God as “she” for no real purpose that I can discern (other than to try to win points with those who dislike a “Father” view of God).
 
She writes this book for those who have any manner of faith, from those who worship mountains, to old chairs, to themselves. It seems as though the book doesn’t give a second thought to the reason so many prayers sound and feel so flat (other than we need to pray more), but what if the deeper issue is that we are talking to things either unworthy of worship or non-sentient…and if that is the case of course your prayers will ring hollow. Much of the book seems very “self” focused, I want to be loved, I want to cry out, I want…whatever; this is the problem with placing ourselves at the center of God’s world, we think God must worship us.
 
Any time we seek to make God out to be less than He is it doesn’t hurt Him, it hurts us. We were made for glory, but that glory has been bestowed upon us, yet we constantly take that glory and think that we have created it ourselves and are deserving of it. To me, this seems the course of Lamott’s book, sort of an American Kabala-ism that ceases to focus on the true-ness of God and instead elevates the reasoning of man.
 
There is a reason why the Old Testament word for GLORY came from the word for WEIGHT and SIGNIFICANCE. Because God is the one who has weight, we are weightless without Him. He is fixed, His glory forever shines, and we are the ones who fail to notice or see it. We cry for glory all the while overlooking the steadfast glory of the one who made us.
 
Maybe, just maybe, I feel the way I do about Help Thanks Wow because I just came off reading Timothy Keller’s book on Prayer (Experiencing the Awe and Intimacy of God) and Lamott’s book seemed so colorless in comparison. Either way, I give it 2 stars, maybe it’s better than I thought…but I doubt it.

Souls and Prayer

by Aaron

I have been a little introspective lately. I tend to be affected by books I read the same way I am affected by people, slowly but deeply.  When I read a book (or meet people for that matter) I usually scrutinize and dismiss much of it for the first half, then it slowly sinks in and I actually start to think about it on a much deeper level.
 
Recently I have been reading a few books on prayer and the nature of the soul. Everyone has opinion about the soul and prayer (and you know what they say about opinions). I have been taking some time to actually think about, more deeply, what I think about the soul, prayer, humanity, and how God intended it all to fit together. It will all probably end up in a sermon some day (probably an Easter message), but for now I think I would like to share some thoughts.
 
The word soul, and it’s derivatives (given the most license on interpretation possible) appears over 850 times…yes, 850 (according to one author 856 to be precise). The Bible is a book about Jesus; He said all the scriptures point to Him (Luke 24:27), but it also is a book about our souls and connection with Jesus.
 
We are called living beings, that God breathed into us (In Gen 2:7) and we became living creatures…but the word used is nephesh, which literally means SOUL. It seems, in the scriptures, that the word soul is used a lot to encompass all of us (mind, body, and will). The soul is what holds, or integrates, us all together (it is why some commentators have called “integrity” a soul word).
 
When our souls are surrendered to God our lives begin to align in a way that our will, our minds, and our body line up. When our lives “line up” true and real life is produced in and through us. Our souls were meant to be found IN Christ, but apart from Him we will always be fractured and disintegrated because we are not whole. We all have dependence upon Him whether we will admit it or not, we can see this in people’s lives every day who are always searching for the “wholeness” that can only be found in Jesus.
 
Part of how we are to live our lives as followers of Jesus is as an “integrated whole.” We begin to understand this better as we pray and surrender our wills to the calling of Christ. We pray and live in relationship with God. Tim Keller’s book on prayer (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God) is amazing and delves very deeply into the ways and modes of prayer; while Anne Lamott’s book on prayer (Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers) is like the paper plate version compared to Keller’s fine China. While I whole-heartedly recommend Keller’s book, Lamotte’s, if not read with a deep understanding of Jesus, might be confusing. My point is, by referencing these two books, that prayer is indispensable and will most likely change the more we mature. We may start out like a Lamotte, but (hopefully) become more like a Keller as we grow.
 
Prayer is essential in our soul’s communion with God, it is vital for our soul’s growth to mature into lives that are whole.
 
As I said, I am still processing this, but my prayer for you is that you would begin to understand that your soul craves wholeness and that wholeness will only be found in what your soul was made for, to glorify and live in relationship with God. Everything in our world today seems designed to pull you away from the fact that YOU were MADE for Him, only when we fully embrace the fact that we were made for HIM will our souls find the rest and wholeness they crave.

Truths From 2014 - Part 3 (Degrees And Vision)

by Aaron

Periodically this year (2015) I have been taking some of statistics from 2014 and commenting on them as we go through this New Year. I came across this statistic and thought it was just fascinating that many young adults are questioning the value of a college degree.
 
For people growing up in previous generations the prospect of college was something many in their families were never able to obtain. There are stories of how certain kids are the first ones ever in their family to attend college, but when 2015 rolls around all of that has now changed. It is now EXPECTED that kids will go to college, get a degree, and then use that degree to further themselves in life. I have personally spoken to kids who feel so much pressure to pick a major it actually gives them nightmares.
 
Barna points out that, “The traditional commencement speech platitudes that welcome students into the opportunities of adulthood—“the whole world is before you”; you just have to “follow your dreams” to “make a difference”—now ring hollow to many young adults…” Why is this? I think trying to blame it on the poor economy is a copout, I think it is deeper and much more profound.
 
Sure, 4/10 twentysomethings would say they need their college degree for their current job (42%), but that same number wish they’d chosen a different major altogether. Barna 2014 research has pointed out that “fewer than half of Millennials (47%) would strongly agree their degree was worth the cost and time.” How can this be? Isn’t this all that the American dream was meant to be?
 
Besides the truth that many people enjoy working outside or with their hands, and vocation schools (mechanics, welding, construction) would be better suited for a lot of kids, we today make them feel like that is less than desirable. I have a fear today that we are going to run out of good plumbers, electricians, and garbage men because we have demeaned those jobs. We must allow kids to flourish AND fail so they can grow into those who trust Jesus and not their own intellect or effort. That their salvation rests in a person and not a piece of paper handed out by a university. That redemption is a gift of grace and bestowed NOT by our own works or what we have attained.
 
Many people, Christian and non-Christian, like to quote the verse in Proverbs (29:18) that says, “where there is no vision the people perish,” but the actual rendering in the original language is, “where there is no PROPHETIC vision.” The word “prophetic” doesn’t mean some hokus pokus future horoscope foretelling, it means GOD’S message of the truth. Our culture is very quickly becoming disillusioned with our own dreams and visions of the future because they are so small. All of our efforts at bringing about our own view of what would fulfill ourselves is too little. It is God’s vision that is bigger and greater than anything we could imagine, it is His vision we must begin to live for. 
 
Is college a good thing? Yes. Is it the best for everyone? No. How can you know if it is right for you or your children? That is the much harder question. I would say that no matter what age your kids are, instill in them NOW the value of a good work ethic. That God Himself works and if we are to be imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1) we should work as well. Remind them that God’s love is not predicated on our work, but when we imitate Jesus we will find value in what we do. Ask your kids their dreams and then help them devise a plan to get there. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but God stands above it all and that is what we trust in.
 
May you be reminded of God’s goodness, that His vision for us is deeper and more nuanced than we could ever imagine, and that though our dreams do not always work out the way we want, Jesus weaves it all together with His unstoppable grace.

Important Conversations

by Jonathan Whitaker
Recently, I stood in a pulpit in small town rural Virginia.  Staring at me, as I gathered my composure to give my talk, were most of the living relatives on my father’s side.  A sense of deep relief washed over me as I began to eulogize my grandfather, who lay next to me draped in the American flag.  I smiled because we have a God who saves, and because of an important conversation I had with this man whom I loved, I knew that he was with the Lord. 
 
Two years ago, when I was serving with you at Element, I received a call from my dad.  He said, “Son, your grandfather is in the hospital and he may not be with us for many more days. You should try to call him if you can.”  My grandfather was 92 at the time.  For me, he had always been there, and it seemed like he would always be there.  What would I say to him?  I knew Jim Whitaker as a moral man, a good provider and a loving grandfather.  I knew that after he retired from the Air Force he worked as a gentleman farmer for 50 years in central Virginia.  He was a hard worker.  I knew that he had struggled with alcohol for a period in his life, which he blessedly overcame.  But there was one very important thing I didn’t know about my grandfather: was Jesus Christ his savior?
 
I was a wreck.  How could I let a man I love pass, without introducing him to Jesus?  I have shared my faith with hundreds of strangers, but the thought of confronting my own grandfather about the state of his soul was terrifying. I had considered this dilemma before; I even prayed that God would send someone to talk to him, to get through to him, to lead him.  As I cried thinking about the hopelessness of dying without the sweet salvation of Jesus Christ, I started a conversation with God.  I asked, “God why won’t you send someone to minister to my grandfather?”  The answer came softly and swiftly.  God’s reply was clear: “I send you.” My answer came when I turned on the radio, and KLove was on, which Jennifer will tell you, I don’t listen to KLove that often (I must have been driving her car).  On the radio a young woman gave her testimony about how glad she was that a stranger had given her the gospel; of course she was glad, she was saved! I felt that God told me then and there that I had nothing to fear. 
 
God made a promise to Israel through the prophet Isaiah that applies to all who serve the Lord, and should give us strength when He sends us to proclaim the Gospel. “You are my servant; I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand”  (Isaiah 41:9-10).
 
When I got home, I called my grandfather at his hospital bed.  He answered the phone with a weak but clear voice.  I told him that I loved him and wanted to be with him in heaven.  I told him that Jesus was my Lord and savior and that I believed in His sacrifice for my sins.  Before I could go on, my grandfather stopped me and said, “I have believed those things for a very long time.”  I had never known that about my grandfather, but in an instant God gave me peace.  It turns out the Holy Spirit had been at work answering my prayers long before I was even alive to pray them.
 
What important conversations are you waiting to have?  My grandfather lived two more years, but he could have only lived two more hours.  None of us know the hour, but, for those of us who love the Lord, while we are here we can’t waste a minute. For everyone who calls Jesus Lord, believing in His resurrection, God is faithful to save.  If you are waiting for the right time to tell someone about Jesus, don’t wait; now is the right time. If you are waiting to confess your sin and ask forgiveness from God and those you’ve hurt, don’t wait; now is the right time.  If you are withholding forgiveness, don’t wait; now is the right time. Trust God. You can be assured that He has gone before you in what may be the most important conversation of your life.  “Fear not, for I am with you.”

Oh The Humanity - Community Good Friday Service 2015

by Aaron
Two years ago I was asked to part of the community Good Friday service in Santa Maria. The service is held at noon and many of you couldn’t make it so we posted the transcript of what I was going to say online as a blog. This year, same deal. Many of you cannot make it so I am posting what I am going to say three days before the service. I was given John 19:28 to speak on…here it is (under five minutes):
 
Almost 80 years the global travel industry was about to be quickly transformed by the invention Zeppelins. Huge flying blimps that resembled gigantic eggs made of Duralumin, steel, hydrogen, and various other materials. The most famous of these Zeppelins was the Hindenburg. After making a flight from Germany to Rio De Janeiro and up to New York in 1937, the passenger Zeppelin Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed, killing dozens of people. As the cameras rolled and the Hindenburg burned, the American Radio Reporter Herbert Morrison said this famous line, “Oh the humanity.”
 
The term, “oh the humanity” over the years was a cry over the anguish of human suffering.
 
The theological term we use today for understanding Jesus being both God and man in one person is the “hypostatic Union.” This causes many to look at Jesus’ life and see him a bit like Superman. How did Jesus never sin? How did He please the Father? How did He go to, and endure, the cross…well, we say, “He was God, of course could do it.” But the scriptures are clear that Jesus did not lean into His divinity to not sin or endure the cross. We are told He lived the life we should have lived because He lived how we were to live, in His humanity, through the power of God’s Spirit.
 
When we look at Jesus and the cross, the suffering of Jesus for us and our sin, we tend to miss or gloss over the fact that Jesus suffered in his humanity…how do we know this? Because on the cross Jesus says these two simple words in John 19:28 “I thirst.”
 
Let me tell you about the cross…The cross today is one the most recognized symbols in the world, but it is far cry from the piece of jewelry we make it out to be; it was symbol of brutal agonizing death. The early church never used crosses because it was too grizzly, and they believed too humiliating, a remembrance for Jesus
 
Crucifixion was always reserved as the worst punishment. Crucifixion was so horrendous we made a new word to describe it, “excruciating,” meaning “from the cross.” Persians invented it, Roman’s perfected it. It was done publically (down in front of Wal-mart or at the Santa Barbara bowl). Death could take days and people would come to mock, throw stones at, and spit upon those being crucified. To prolong the agony Romans put a seat under the buttocks of those being crucified so they would take longer to die. Some men, wanting the agony to end, would slide off the seat. Eventually, the soldiers started nailing a mans penis to the cross so he couldn’t slide off the seat to make his death any faster and the torture would last longer.
 
Crucifixion was done at EYE LEVEL (not all high like the pictures) eye level so you could watch a man die. Even though all of this is true Christians (including me) call this GOOD NEWS. How is this good news? The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died(by itself not good news…but the theological understanding of that event is. Paul uses the word “for” to move you from the fact to its implication for us….) for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. That’s why it is good news, the cross is the only hope we have ever had. This is what is called propitiation and atonement, which is what Jesus made for us on the cross on Friday.
 
A lot of pastors today have brought the doctrine of substitutionary atonement under attack; people want to shy away from the cross because it is offensive. The truth is, YES IT IS offensive! People trip over it because they think they are good enough. You and I need to grasp the severity of the doctrine of Atonement and what it meant for God to declare us clean in His eyes.
 
Heb. 9:22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.So Jesus Dies in our place as our perfect Lamb. Friday is the language of love, restoration, and reconciliation. Why would God do this? I love how John Calvin says this: “The Father wanted His kids back.” Atonement is what weaves scripture together.
 
Jesus dies to defeat our enemies of Satan, sin, and death, not His enemies because no one can stand against God…but Jesus came in the flesh, real flesh, to save and redeem us.  Too many of us have the view when we look at Jesus on the cross of “Oh the divinity, look at the suffering of God,” but it was truly the most incomprehensible, tragic, horrific, blood curdling “oh the humanity” moment of all human history. All sin, in one moment, laid upon Jesus. He bore the brunt of it all. Not just other’s sins, YOUR sins and MY sins.
 
Sometimes I have a fear of calling Good Friday “good,” it was only good for us. All God got out of the deal is self-serving, self-focused, self-centered people. We must remember, this is Friday not Sunday, this is a day to lay ourselves bare before the cross of Christ and remember that He died for us in His humanity, to save humanity.

Being Cold For Jesus' Name

by Aaron
We recently finished looking at the 7 churches listed in the book of Revelation as a way to examine our lives, and church, in light of what Jesus said to those early churches. Jesus had strong words of comfort (as He first reminded them who He is), then He offered them words of rebuke (reminded them of mission), and ended with words of encouragement to either return to, or continue in, His mission. I think, if we took all the words to heart, we could walk away with a deeper understanding our life purpose in the Kingdom of God.
 
The last week we finished with the church of Laodicea. The church in Laodicea was rebuked very harshly with these words from Revelation 3:15-16 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. To the north of Laodicea is Hierapolis, a city that was built upon a thermal hot spring. It was famous for its medicinal qualities because of all the minerals in the water. The water that flowed from this city’s springs are boiling hot! To the south of Laodicea is the city of Colossae (which the book of Colossians was written too), and next to this city is a stream that flows from a mountain spring; the waters are exceptionally cold and refreshing. Laodicea sits in between these two cities, one hot, one cold, but both with good water.
 
Laodicea’s water source was terrible, it wasn't hot or cold, it was lukewarm, reddish in color, and induced vomiting. Like the city’s water, the church was lukewarm and Jesus was on the verge of spitting them out of His mouth. A lot of people have taken this verse out of context and said incorrectly, "be hot for Jesus or be cold to Jesus, just don't be in the middle." The verse doesn't say Jesus either wants you for Him or against Him, it says He wants you to be on mission in the world for His name. Be Hot and have a passion for Him AND be cold like a refreshing glass of water on a hot day, BE GOOD THINGS…just don't be Lukewarm.
 
A few of our Gospel Communities have had discussions centering on this idea of being “cold for Jesus,” but are wondering how to do it. I think the best way to think about it is to be, as Matthew 5:13-16 in the Sermon on the Mount says, Salt and Light. When Peter preaches the second sermon ever recorded in the New Testament, he makes a statement about what happens in midst of hope and salvation, he says that “Acts 3:20 times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…”
 
How are we cold and refreshing? Think of it this way, when a tragedy happens in someone’s life they are full of doubt, anger, fear…they have lots of emotion; you could probably say their emotions are running hot. In those moments God’s people need to “keep their cool” and not become all hot with emotion as well, but instead speak words of hope healing and grace. We are to bring a coolness to situation.
 
This coolness applies to much more than tragedy. We are also called to be peacemakers in the world (Matt 5:9), peacemakers usually diffuse hot and tense situations with grace. How often are you with a friend who is “steaming” because someone said or did something to them that they didn’t like? Our job as followers of Jesus is not to “stoke the flames,” but to try and reorient people to understand that there are a million things that happen in other people’s lives every day and we do not know what lead to the inappropriate exchange (from being flipped off to being demeaned).
 
We are to do our best to re-center the world around us on the person of Jesus that He may bring hope and healing. Too often we do just the opposite by not being cold and refreshing in Jesus’ name.
 
Be hot with passion for Jesus, be cold and refreshing for Jesus, live the life purpose of anyone and everyone that calls Him “Lord:” MISSION. Glorifying God and being a disciple of His in the world by having your life centered on the amazing heat given off my God’s passion for His people in Gospel, but also the refreshing coolness of the stability and hope that comes from the Gospel as well.
 

Truths From 2014 - Part 2

by Aaron
Here is a big question for you, especially coming out of the Prodigal God series, "what is a practicing Christian?" There are so many ways and qualifiers to that question. Is it based on performance? Is it based on how many Bible trivia questions you can get right (I mean the shortest verse in the bible question really depends on what translation you are reading)? Is it faith and how that faith is lived out? What is this elusive creature we would like to view in its native habitat known only as the "practicing Christian?"
 
The way Barna research describes them, they are people who go to church services at least once a month and say that their faith is "very important to their lives." How about that? Seems like they just described every single person involved in a cult across not just the United States, but also the globe. Do you see how hard it is to define this?
 
According to Barna Research, Intervarsity, and the American Bible Society those who call themselves "Christians," and meet the above criteria, have a few things in common about the bible. First, is that they believe the bible is their top source of moral truth, outranking church and parents both. Sadly that outranking is only 36%, compared to church at 16% and parents at 14%. What that tells you is that there are 64% of "practicing Christians" who believe there is greater moral authority somewhere "else."
 
Second, is that they are more likely to believe the Bible is the word of God, a staggering 96% believe this. This 96% also believe that the Scriptures contain everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life. Sadly, again, only 46% of the "practicing Christians" believe the bible should be taken in a literal manner. It seems dropping from 96% to 46% based on those two questions is a little bit of a head scratcher.
 
If we take a step back and ask ourselves a different question, it might help. That question is, "what is salvation?" The bible defines salvation and as deliverance by God FROM God and his wrath. Romans 5:9-10 tells us Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Our God is loving and forgiving  while at the very time He is Holy and righteous. Our sin against Him causes His wrath to burn because of his righteous holiness, but His grace and glory cause Him to seek and save His lost children.
 
We don't understand how God can be both of these at the same time without being schizophrenic, because we don't know how to be more than one thing at a time. When we are mad…we are mad,  when we are happy…we are happy, we find it near impossible to have wrath and love burn at the same time. Because we view God as being "just like us" we diminish who He is in His grace and Holiness. This is why, to be a "practicing Christian," that lifestyle must begin from a place of humbleness.
 
Humility allows us to stand amazed at the goodness and grace of God for rescuing us, humility puts us in a place of trust with Jesus when our views and His conflict, and humility lets us worship Jesus through even the toughest of circumstances because we know that in areas that we don't understand, He is still sovereign.
 
Don't get me wrong, we are not saved by humility, we are saved by grace through faith…And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9). We are saved by GOD, beginning to end, but if we want to live as practicing Christians in our natural habitat, that habitat is humility. It will allow us to honor Jesus in ways where we trust His words when we read them, gather with other believers to worship Him corporately, and surrender our wills to his on a moment to moment basis. 

Cinderella’s Closet March 14th

by Element Christian Church
Cinderella's Closet is an event organized by the students of Orcutt Academy High School and hosted by Element Christian Church. It started with a Gospel Community serving and loving the students of their community. Cinderella’s Closet serves senior High School girls to give away prom dresses, shoes, accessories, and select services to help them realize a childhood dream: prom.  It is open to all girls in the area going to prom in our area. Girls are invited to view, try on and take home dresses from 10 am until 3 pm.

New and gently used formal dresses, shoes and accessories are donated by the community and given away once a year to any high school girl who wishes to participate. Last year we had about 200 girls come through our doors; it is our hope for at least 400 this year!
 
You may be thinking to yourself: How can I help (let us give you a few)?
  1. You can donate time - We need people who can do hair and make-up workshops, Fairy Godmothers, set up, and clean up crews.  
     
  2. You can donate items – We need dresses, shoes, or accessories that are taking up space that you will never use again…we WANT them! 
     
  3. You can donate services - There will be several raffle drawings throughout the event for things like prom-day hair do’s, nails, etc,. 
     
  4. You can go shopping - There are many, many dresses in the area thrift stores, consignment shops, and garage sales; in many cases (if you talk to the owner of the store) they will cut a deal!
 
If you can help in any of these, or other creative ways, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Donations can be dropped off at either Orcutt Academy School during school hours or Element Christian Church on Sundays.

Lent Reflection: Old And New

by Michelle Gee
The old has passed away, the new has come…Team Gee has bought a house! Let me tell you, home ownership definitely has its perks over condo ownership. For instance, no more long treks out to the carport in the rain…uphill….both ways. No more questionable noises from our neighbors upstairs. No more inane laws from our power-hungry HOA. It’s been pretty exciting for us to discover new blessings in the midst of this transition. The downside, however? Boxes. ALL the boxes.
 
Jon and I try to live simply, and yet, I am amazed at the crap (am I allowed to say that on this blog?) we have accumulated over just a couple years of marriage. I mean, we found out we had Season 1 of Everybody Loves Raymond in our office—still in the original packaging. Neither one of us has ever seen the show. Neither one of us WANTS to see the show. How does this happen?!
 
This whole move has been such a great reminder of the need to stand back, take a deep breath or two, and assess the clutter—and not just in a physical sense. It’s been interesting to tangibly go through this process during the current sermon series at church, as we embrace conviction, repentance, and the resulting joy offered to us by Jesus. As co-heirs of the Kingdom (Romans 8:16-17), our lives have been completely uprooted and dramatically transformed. Such a change (similar to a new home) offers us the perspective to see what just doesn’t belong anymore. Sometimes, if we want to continue growing in our relationship with Jesus and our understanding of the Gospel, we need to let go of the crap, and understand that it pales in comparison to what is offered in Christ. Through repentance, we lay it at Jesus’ feet, and trust that He is enough for us.
 
This move has also underscored the importance of community in life. With all the disarray at home, it can be tempting to shield friends and family from the chaos, to wait for the day when we’re “completely” settled in, and then share our home with others. I think it’s easy to have this attitude toward life sometimes, “I’ll let others in once I’m cleaned up.” Scripture, however, tells us that we’re never finished, but as believers, enjoying God’s work in us through the process of sanctification: “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”—Philippians 1:6
 
If we wait until we are “complete” to enter into community, we miss out on the beauty of Gospel-centered community—community that sees the brokenness and “incompleteness” of our lives, yet acknowledges the unending hope found in Jesus. And sometimes, God happens to use those people we let in to speak into our lives, to tell us what shouldn’t have a place anymore. Through this process of Gospel living, done in community, discipleship happens—we become more like Jesus. When we remember who we are in light of the Gospel, we can enjoy growing together each day.

Gospel And Mission In An (Un)Tolerant Age

by Element Christian Church
As I mentioned on Sunday, this is a short blog that ties into Sunday’s message about living on mission verses our cultural definition of tolerance.
 
We have constantly reiterated that “Mission” is the life purpose of a person who believes in Jesus. Our mission is first to glorify God and then to disciple one another. We disciple each other by leading each other to submit every aspect of their life to Jesus as we:
  • Serve on Mission – Followers of Jesus serve those around them like Jesus came and served. We long to be serving on mission, not just with others, but also in our community. Serving on mission together brings people into Gospel relationships and Gospel community with one another.
     
  • Develop Gospel Relationships - Gospel relationships are centered on our understanding of the Gospel itself. As we grow and understand the deep truths of God our Father, Jesus coming to rescue us, and the Holy Spirit's power in and through us, our relationships will begin to demonstrate Gospel fluency. Discipleship naturally takes place in relationships when those involved obey the call of Jesus to live the life of the Gospel.
     
  • Invite into Gospel Community - Gospel community grows up around a people serving on mission with Gospel-centered relationships. Everyone is at a different stage on the path, but we are all growing together, in both worship of Jesus and intimacy with each other, as the Gospel calls us forward (sanctification).
All three of the above goals in discipleship stand in contrast to our modern view of “tolerance.” Tolerance today means letting anyone do anything, and far from keeping our mouths shut about it, we are called, by our culture, to also approve it.
 
When living the truth of the Gospel in relationships there are many times we must stand up for, and up to, people who are destroying their lives. Standing up to people is not only loving; it is also true tolerance because we are standing up for people’s true humanity even when they refuse to stand up for their own. Jesus hates how sin destroys people, He hates how sin gets it’s hooks in us and convinces us that it is the only true freedom, and I believe that He grieves how today’s definition of tolerance is broken lives full of broken relationships tacitly approved by the masses.
 
There is a great article I mentioned on Sunday, that we are linking to below by Timothy Keller titled, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.” Many people hate the idea of Hell, but we have already relegated much of our cultural landscape to reflect its values judgments while being blind to fact that we have done it.
 
The only way that we will begin to live redeemed lives and have a redeemed culture is living on mission. Going out into the culture, not hiding in a bomb shelter, not mirroring culture, not merely coexisting, but bringing the true Hope and Good News only found in Jesus to a sick and desperate world.  I hope the current series is helping in that regard, I also pray that in the end you too will live on mission in true tolerant gospel centered relationships.
 
http://www3.dbu.edu/jeanhumphreys/DeathDying/preachinghell.htm
 
 

Park and Judge

by Element Christian Church
Have you ever pulled into a parking lot looking for a space and couldn’t find one? Have you ever driven by a car that was taking up too much space so you couldn’t fit on either side of them? That brings me to this photo I took in the Costco parking lot at the end of 2014.


Who in the world parks likes this? Seriously, taking up two spots? There isn’t even enough room to park one of those tiny SMART cars next to this truck.
 
Here’s the thing, that’s actually my truck, I took up two spots of prime parking lot real-estate…but the question is “why?” Well, I thought it would be a great way to illustrate how quick we are to judge.
 
People at Costco, and most other stores for that matter, refuse to put their carts away. I once had someone put their used cart right under my passenger side fender; I didn’t see it and smashed it into a car next to me as I backed out (yes I left my name and fixed their car). Other people try to be somewhat conscientious and put their cart into the center divider (which doesn’t help). I have also seen people simply put their cart right behind someone else’s car hoping that “someone else” will be forced to put it away for them. By and large though, most carts are left right in the middle of an empty parking spot…and such was my predicament.
 
I parked the way I did because it was between a whole mess of shopping carts left by people too busy to put them away. After I parked, I took all the carts and put them in the cart corral (which was no more that 30 feet away mind you) and then took this picture to make a point. The point is, we are prone to judge too quickly, if you pulled in and saw a truck taking up 2 spots you might be tempted to judge and think someone (namely me) is a total moron.
 
Proverbs 18:17 says “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverb 18:13 “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” What we are being told is that we should not be too quick to make judgments about situations, or others, when we only know one side of the story.
 
People do this on places like Twitter and Facebook all the time. Someone will make a comment about how someone was mean to them and everyone will jump on the bandwagon of hate against the perpetrator of said offence without ever knowing more than half of the story. In reality, we should be slow to anger and slow to judge, as most people do not live their life with evil malice in the front of their thoughts twenty four hours a day.
 
There are times when others hurt us, but we do not know the circumstances behind their reactions. There are times when we hurt others and have no idea that we have hurt them. In all situations we should be a people who always error on the side of grace and not judgment or malice. Who knows, maybe someone was trying to park between two shopping carts you left in a stall (metaphorically speaking).
 
Let’s offer more grace and less judgment this year.
 
And just so you know, the answer is “no.” After I put the carts away I didn’t move my car, I did all the hard work of cleaning up the cart situation, I figured that gave me a few minutes of lackadaisical parking.
 
Don’t judge.

Truths From 2014 - Part 1

by Element Christian Church

I know, 2014 was a little while ago now, but one of the things I find most interesting about getting some distance from the previous year is how wrong we are about certain beliefs we feel we are so right about. I think understanding our limited vision can help us, hopefully, put less stock in what we think we know and actually trust Jesus more than our own feelings.
 
Here is an example of a statistic from 2014: Global poverty is on the decline, but almost no one believes it. Over the last 30 years the percent of the worlds people living in extreme poverty has decreased from 52% to 21% (according to the world bank as reported by Barna Research group). 84% of Americans say they are unaware of that fact, the reality is that 67% of Americans believe it has increased in that time period.
 
Another sad fact about global poverty is that, statistically, concern about global poverty has declined from 21% to 16%. I believe part of the problem is that we believe nothing can be done about it and that all of our efforts come to nothing.  We see more ads on TV today for hunger and poverty than ever before, it leaves us feeling hopeless.
 
Can I honestly say that I do believe it is all hopeless…without Jesus. Without Jesus why would anyone care about anyone else? If survival of the fittest is how the world works, shouldn't we assume that we are just more fit than anyone else? Without Jesus, compassion, hope, service, and offering grace to one another simply makes no sense. This is why I believe 68% of adults in the United States do not believe it is possible to end global poverty in the next 25 years. While I think it will be difficult, I do believe we can make a pretty good run at ending global poverty.
 
Even with the good news of the decrease in poverty, it still means there are 21% of people in the world in extreme poverty. With all the work that has been done getting clean water to so many places there are still 1.4 billion that need access to clean water. This is why Element supports multiple efforts locally, and around the world, to end suffering.
 
Now, imagine with me all suffering in the world was ended, would everyone be OK? The answer to that is no. The Gospel we preach has two facets to it, we meet physical needs, but also (and I would say more importantly) we meet spiritual needs. Matthew 16:26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? This truth is something that many forget when trying to simply alleviate suffering. Man has a sin and death issue that is deeper than mere physical necessity. The truth is that we are far from relationship with God without Jesus, His atoning work on the cross, and His life giving resurrection.
 
Celebrate that poverty is down, have hope that it can/should be eradicated, but never (ever) divorce it from the fact that people need to hear, live in, and know the grace of Jesus as well. The grace of Jesus is extended to people in the alleviation of suffering, but you cannot properly care for others without the WHOLE Gospel. Love others enough to share with them all that Jesus calls us to, the Gospel is not simply social change, it is about real heart and life change that begins and ends with faith in Jesus.

Redux: Planting Roots

by Mike Harman
I’ve been around “the church” for a long time; I began trusting in Jesus over 40 years ago. I started tithing (giving 10% of my income) very early on in my new life as a Christian.  Over the years, the commitment to live this way grew simultaneously with my trust in, and love for, Jesus. A joy of living generously emerged toward God, the church, non-profits, and other people. Don’t think I have it all dialed in; I still struggle with money, material desires, a want for comfort, and an appetite for self-gratification, but through these many years, God has taught and enabled me to faithfully share what He has shared with me.
 
I’ve been through a number of building campaigns, so when Planting Roots was first being discussed, I honestly dreaded another one. I’d given before and made commitments based on what I thought was the leading of God, only to question later why I was doing this extra giving. After the years of seeing churches struggle, staff members be underpaid, ministry be underfunded, and an emphasis on buildings, I’d grown jaded. I was tired of hearing talk of, and requests for, money. I judged what I’d believed were misuses (and misappropriations) of funds for the sake of structures. My feeling became that of: if everyone would tithe and live generously toward God, the church would have enough money to support facility, ministry, and staff. It just makes logical sense to me (as if what I think or come up with as logical means anything). The icing on my cake of cynicism was a several years ago during another church’s campaign to purchase a new organ, which seemed laced with guilt and coercion. Statements were made to the effect of, “If we are going to worship God rightly, we need this new organ.” Special offerings and pledges were taken, and my heart and mind began to close. My giving beyond tithing shifted to the many worthy causes, ministries, missions, and people outside the “church.”
 
I did not warmly receive the idea of Planting Roots when we first started. You could even say I had some dread and dismay, but as one of the elders, I figured I’d better get behind it and come up with some commitment to give. Deb, my wife, and I began a process of figuring out what we could do, what we could make affordable. Through the Planting Roots journey, Sermon on the Mount preaching series, devotional, and Gospel Community participation, our hearts were softened. Our enthusiasm for the ministry of the Gospel through Element, the awareness of lives needing rescue and transformation, and our sense that God was up to something all began to capture our hearts. Our conversations went from, “We can afford this” to, “Can we afford to do this?” to, “How about this much? Wouldn’t it be fun to do this?” to, “I’d sure like to be able to do this…wouldn’t that be amazing?” And so the journey began, the course was set, and now here we are…three months in.
 
Already, I have found myself wondering, “What have I done?” when writing that check. (Maybe you’ve had similar moments.) When I think about the total commitment we made, and the 33 months of commitment remaining, I can find myself feeling stupid or over-extended, lacking in joy, gratitude, and expectation. I then remember what Element is to us, and what it is to so many we see and talk to. Element is not a better church than others, but like others, a church God is uniquely using to reach certain people with the saving grace of the Gospel…and with that reminder, my hand steadies as I sign the check, my heart smiles at the goodness and faithfulness of my God, my worries shrink in light of His generosity, and I am overwhelmed by the scandal of God—that He would choose to not only rescue me, but to redeem me (set me free), and continue His work of restoration in my life.
 
My prayer today is that we would see the next 33 months as time we are allowed to grow in, and more fully understand, the generosity and graciousness of our God. As we continue to experience His love and trust Him more deeply, may we be able to more accurately represent His extravagance by the way we live in this community and in this life.

Let's All Give Up in 2015 (Part IV)

by Jonathan Whitaker
Ok, sorry this is a long one.  But you have come this far...
 
Jesus is Lord!  By faith you declared Christ's Lordship on the day you were saved by God's grace.  But, what is faith?  Faith is "...the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).  Logically, there must be an object of that hope and a cause for that conviction.  In our case, it is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, by which He conquered death and took his seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven. (Mark 16:19) 
 
Our hope in the Lordship of Christ is grounded in the fact that He has proven worthy of His title as Lord.  You and I know that because Jesus is Lord, we are immeasurably blessed.  The only sane response to the Lordship of Christ by a redeemed sinner is nothing short of obedience. 
 
Hebrews 10:26-29 (paraphrased) doesn't mince words with believers: " For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins...How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?"
 
These verses aren't saying that you can lose your salvation.  Just as you could not earn your salvation with your works, you cannot lose it for your sin (Eph. 2:8-9, Heb. 10:19-22).
 
The fact remains that when Christ followers deliberately choose disobedience over obedience to Jesus, we make His sacrifice seem ridiculous. Take that one step further: not only do we deserve judgment because of disobedience, but we are incapable of assuaging God's judgment by our works.   Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousnesswere through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Gal. 2:20-21)
 
Sounds like a Catch-22. God has given us the law to obey. We cannot fully obey it, and even if we could, we would still fall short of righteousness. There must be something more. 
 
There is. Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." By the same faith that saved you, Jesus can transform you into an obedient servant.  Remember that faith has to have an object.  As stated above, the object of saving faith is the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day (Rom. 10:9).  What about faith that allows us to be obedient to Christ?
 
This question reveals God's great love and provision to all who believe. "You shall love the Lordyour God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:5-6). Loving God is the object of our faith that compels the believer to be obedient. 
 
From ancient times believers have demonstrated their faith, not by works, but by trusting in God's work. 
  • "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead," (Heb. 11:17-19)
  • "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward." (Heb. 11:24-26)
  • "By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies." (Heb. 11:31)
 
The common tie among all of these ancient believers is not the work that they accomplished, but what God did. "...God was able..." "...the reproach of Christ (was) greater wealth..."  Even Rahab, a prostitute, not even a Jew, believed the promises of the God of Israel. Her faith not only saved her life and demonstrated the condition of her soul.
 
It is worth noting that all of these people lived long before Christ. Two of them lived before there was a law, and yet they were saved through the same means by which you and I are saved: faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
 
Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3 tell us that Abraham (simply) believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.  If none are righteous except for Jesus and there is no other name by which we are saved, what must that mean (Rom. 3:10, Acts 4:12)?  It means that Abraham believed God would save him because he could not save himself.  Abraham believed God the Son would die for his sins.  While he may not have understood the particulars of how God would save him, he had faith (looking forward) that God would save him (Heb. 11:8-10).
 
When people of faith trust Jesus to be Lord, He makes them very useful for the Kingdom.  Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Joseph, Jacob, Paul, Timothy, the list is endless, all submitted to Christ's Lordship and out of their faith Christ accomplished mighty works through them.
 
On the day of your salvation Christ began a new work in you.  And you can be sure that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). Will you faithfully trust Him?  In 2015, I hope you will join me as I seek to yield my will and desire and place my faith in the Lordship of Christ.  Surely He can do a better job with my life than I can.  

Let's All Give Up in 2015 (Part III)

by Jonathan Whitaker
I have a question for all of you teachers out there, if I were to go to your school today, where would I find my permanent grade-school record?  The permanent grade-school record is the single most important document in the record of a human's life.  We are taught from a young age that if we mess up, step out of line just a bit, the consequences would be a mark on our permanent record.  We all know it's out there, serving as an open indictment against each one of us.  Worse yet, everyone knows the intimate details of your record. your teachers know it, your parents, your boss, your in-laws.  The only escape from your permanent grade school record is death itself…Sweet release!
 
Hopefully by now we all know that a mark on our record was a farce, an empty threat, used by adults to scare us straight.  But, to our core as humans we know that there is a standing record against us.  That record, as most of you have already guessed, is sin.  We are born with a sin nature; we are selfish right from the womb; sin is inevitable.  Sin is the real permanent record... or is it?  Well that all depends, is Jesus your Lord?
 
I offer you the permanent record conundrum because I want you to understand blessing, true blessing from its deepest, most elemental meaning; the blessing that comes from having the biggest burden in your life removed from your shoulders, permanently.  Isaiah 43:25 says, "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins."  
 
When Jesus is Lord of us He removes the greatest burden in our lives: sin.  We may not feel it from day to day, but remember that the wages of sin is death and once we are dead, we face judgment (Rom 6:23, Heb 9:27). For believers, the reality is that we no longer have a sin burden, Jesus has removed it from us (but He doesn't stop there).  In fact, not only are we free from the consequences that we deserve, but He also burned the record.  "I will not remember your sins," that means there is no nagging about what you did ("sure I forgave you, but I will never forget"). Your sin is forgotten, as if it never happened.
 
What a great deal.  The only thing closely comparable to this level of amnesia in my life is when Jennifer asks me to do the dishes.  You want to talk about a spiritual level of forgetting something, man that's it. 
 
We no longer have to fear the sin-burden that was killing us. "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you...when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you" (Isaiah 43:1-2). Some of you (you know who you are), will read Isaiah and say, "but he was addressing Israel," and you are right, he was, but take heart! Our Lord is the Lord of a new covenant, and to us he declared, "I will remember their sins and their lawlessness no more" (Heb 10:17).
 
Christ, the Lord and Creator, was the only sacrifice that could lift the burden of sin. Hebrews 10:14 says, "For by a single offering, He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." When you and I trust Jesus as our Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, then we are among those who are being sanctified. The natural response to a person who has blessed you is gratitude. So naturally, the same is true for us with respect to Christ, we understand the true meaning of blessing because of the Lordship of Christ.
 
For the believer, there is only one right response to Christ's blessing: obedience.  Christ did not save us for our sake; He saved us for His sake (Is 23:25).  We use the terms, "bought us with His blood," and "paid our debts," etc.  So when Isaiah 43 says, "you are mine," do you know what it means?  We are His.  We literally are His possession (Ex 19:5).
 
That puts a different spin on it.  As a response to grace we should want to obey Jesus, but as His possession He should expect us to obey.  My kids belong to me, and yes I love them and am generous with them, but I also expect them to do what I say.  Sometimes they surprise me and bless me with obedience because they want to please me, but even if they don't I still expect obedience.  As we are His possession, Christ should expect the same of us. 

As I conclude I want you to meditate on obedience as a response to grace.  Hebrews 10:25-30 says, "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”..."The Lord will judge his people”…”It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The ellipsis (...) in this paragraph should give believers pause. 

Remember, as a believer your permanent record is expunged. The days of choosing sin and death are in the past.  Just as Jesus was faithful to forgive and forget our sin, He should rightfully expect our obedience.  How strange to Jesus that His precious ones, bought with His blood, would choose sin over obedience. 

These stern words are not meant to scare you to the straight and narrow, but if they do, great.  Just as God knows that we are incapable of saving ourselves, He knows we are incapable of even obeying Him.  Like salvation, God has also made possible our obedience. 

Join me for one last blog about 'giving up' because I have good news, by faith, Christ has transformed the lives of believers throughout history.  Our works are worthless to God.  Our faith in His finished work is a precious thing to Him.  Here comes the real New Year's resolution: in 2015, I want to yield my life in faith to the Lordship of Christ.

Read Hebrews chapter 11 and you will understand what I mean.