UFC

by Aaron
in FAQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible's perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope that helps.
Aaron

ARE 'LAMENTS' FRENCH AND MINTY? PART III

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hole In Our Gospel

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If that makes sense.

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

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

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

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

That's my 2 cents.


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

Hebrews 6:4-6

by Aaron
in FAQ

Q: Is the writer of Hebrews addressing those who are born again, but are not? There was a time in my life from the age of 13 to 15 where I believed I was a Christian but left the church/God and started believing and even arguing with other Christians about the bible. A couple years later I asked God to save me and to take control of my life. Hebrews 6:4-6 should I come to the conclusion that I am not saved and hope for salvation is impossible for me?


A: How about a short answer (for once).

If you are worried about it, then I believe you are saved, regenerated, redeemed. Those who weren’t would not care either way.

At Element we do not believe a person can lose their salvation because our salvation is based in the person and work of Christ, not in the person and work of ourselves. If He is an eternal God (which He is), and He has forgiven all of your sins (past present and future), then your future is secure.

We believe in what is called the "perseverance of the saints." This is a simple way of saying that those who God calls, He brings home. The fact that you ran off like a crazy child into traffic, thinking you were doing your own thing, thinking you were so smart in your arguments...but are now WHERE YOU ARE simply shows that your Father in heaven was seeking you, chasing you down, and bringing you home.

Hebrews 6:4-6 must be understood in context. All the verses that people use to say a believer can lose their salvation actually teach the opposite in context of the surrounding passages and the Greek text.

So, rest at ease, serve God more fervently, love those around you more closely, because God holds you in His hands...and as Jesus says in John 10:28-30 "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” You are not stronger than Jesus...so rejoice that He brought you home (like the prodigal son).

Too many Christians have been taught too many clichés. I will tell what truth is...2 Cor 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. Stop living in regret, that is not GODLY GRIEF it is worldly grief and will never lead to life. Jesus left your sin at the cross, you should as well.

You are called to now to live and walk in new life.

Ending of Mark

by Aaron
in FAQ

What’s the deal with the ending of Mark, and where do you think the ending actually is? Is after verse 8 or 20 in Chapter 16? And what would the reason be that there is a discrepancy where the end of the book is? It just doesn't seem the appropriate place to not be too sure. I guess I would think that with something as important as the bible, there would not be anything that would leave room for "personal interpretation" or "guessing."

There is a short and a long answer to your question; I will try to land somewhere in the middle.

Most of the complaints about the verses in Mark 16:9-20 start in the 19th century because the critics believe that Mark should stop after 16:8. The added verses are NOT arbitrary and are not added simply because someone felt like it. Many of our current manuscripts from Mark contain the ending you have in your bible but the style is a bit different from the rest of Mark (which some suggest makes the ending not part of the original).

From the oldest manuscripts we have found, (“we” meaning the church as whole and biblical scholars specifically) the last twelve verses are missing.  There are even a handful of manuscripts that include a shorter ending before the current longer one in your bible today (this exists in the oldest Latin Codex in existence).

What you have to understand is that the current ending of Mark is consistent with the gospel accounts, there is nothing out of place with it. What the note tries to give you is simple honesty: SOME (not all) early manuscripts have it missing. This could be scribal error, the addition could be tacked on because a scribe somewhere didn't like the abrupt ending, or the original ending could have been lost (which is not uncommon with ancient scrolls due to their wearing patterns), or the gospel may have been unfinished, due to death or some form of persecution.

There is also evidence that it was part of the original though. Justin Martyr (one of the original church fathers) wrote a famous work called the Apology (Defense of the Gospel) in AD 160; he states that Ps. 110:2 was fulfilled when Jesus' disciples, going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere. His wording is remarkably similar to the wording of Mk. 16:20. Justin's student Tatian (AD 172) incorporated the "Longer Ending" into his Diatessaron (this was a blended narrative consisting of material from all four canonical Gospels – I have a copy you can read if you want). Irenaeus (in AD 180) quoted from the verses 9-20 specifically as part of Mark's gospel.

Critics are divided over whether the original ending at 16:8 was intentional, or whether it resulted from accidental loss, or even the author's death.

To give you more food for thought (and not meant to confuse you at all), in some of our earliest manuscripts there is a shorter ending, which is then followed by the current ending. These appear together in 6 Greek manuscripts, and in dozens of Ethiopic copies. I know you are wondering “what does the shorter ending say,” because I know you want to know, this is it (with slight variations): “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."

There is huge disagreement among scholars as to whether Mark originally stopped writing at 16:8 -- and if he did so, if it was deliberate or not—or if he continued writing an ending which is now lost. Allusions to a future meeting in Galilee between Jesus and the disciples (in Mark 14:28 and 16:7) seem to suggest that whether what we have the real ending or not, Mark intended to write beyond 16:8.

Some interpreters have concluded that Mark's intended readers already knew the traditions of Jesus' appearances, and that Mark brings the story to a close at 16:8 to highlight the resurrection and leave anticipation of His return.

Either way, whether it belongs or not, nothing about it is arbitrary. It has been thoroughly thought out, researched, and placed in scripture. They give you the footnote for honesty’s sake. It is their way of letting you know what we have and what we don’t, so you as the reader have nothing hidden from and are fully infirmed.

And whichever way you see it, it is all good news, the tomb is empty and He is risen.

Something Better Than In The Middle?

by Aaron

I have never intended to jump on this bandwagon in written form but so many of the people who attend Element have asked me to comment that I guess I will...I am talking about Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. Many people believe that Rob Bell is now teaching a form of Universalism (Universalism teaches that all people will be saved/redeemed regardless of what they have done or what they believe, from Hitler, to Stalin, to you and me).

I got the book last night, have read the majority of it, and have two opinions about what people think of Rob Bell. One, is those who think he is a heretic; well, he is NOT as unorthodox as they would like to portray him. Two, is those who love him, well, he is NOT as orthodox as they would like to portray him.

Rob Bell, as best I can explain it, is like the area of a water melon where it turns from pink and yummy to white and rind(y). You don't really know where the watermelon stops and the rind begins. A little rind changes the flavor a bit, but a lot of the rind is terrible. That is the problem with Rob Bell, you don't know where he is watermelon and where he is rind.

In the book he sets up arguments that all evangelicals would, hopefully, reject, and then spends much time saying why they are wrong (in a witty sort of way). Other times he makes assumptions about what people think or feel and then shows how and why they are ludicrous....this is all very much like the rind of the watermelon.

There are other times when he is talking about Jesus’ view of the world, various Greek verbs, the redemption and hope for the world and these are right on...very watermelon like.

These two sides seems to pop in and out of each other so much that the orthodox parts no longer seem so orthodox and the unorthodox parts seems less unorthodox. It is dangerous on one hand but could be very helpful in talking to others about volatile issues on the other. It is so hard to explain that my explanation sounds like it doesn't explain anything.

I could list the multiple theological issues I have with the book (and there are many), I could list the multiple other things that I love his explanation of (there are a few), but that again can lead to why the book could be dangerous.

In the end, if you have a good head of theology on your shoulders, know what you believe, this could be an interesting book for you to read. If you have a hard time determining what you hold as truth and find yourself easily swayed by crafty arguments, I would stay away from it.

Whatever you think about Rob Bell, he is a marketing genius. All the hoopla about the book has made the pre-release sales skyrocket to half a million...

...that is some pretty smart marketing for watermelons.

ARE 'LAMENTS' FRENCH AND MINTY? PART II

by Aaron

Lamentations was a book many attribute to the prophet Jeremiah. Many believe that after witnessing the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah could not contain himself and wrote these 5 poems of lament.

There are essentially 3 players in these poems:
The Narrator - This person starts off an impartial observer but breaks down later in the book as he looks at Jerusalem's pain at being cast down.
The City - She is seen as a woman that goes from the extremes of Harlot/Whore to Virgin daughter.
The Gehber - He is a man who has seen the destruction up close and personal.

The 3 characters help us understand what it means to reflect and grieve. That God does offer healing but this healing, most often, takes place within community.

One of the recurring questions from the book is "who can heal you?" In the New Testament, when Jesus arrives on the scene, this question is plainly answered then as it is today. Jesus redeems, He heals, He renews, He restores. As we go through the book you may have many questions about the misery of not only the book, but also the hard times in your life. Scripture is constantly pointing somewhere, to someone, who can heal us.

If you are taking this journey through the book of Lamentations with us, awesome...if you are trying to figure out why, well, the answer to the book of Lamentations is Jesus.

ARE 'LAMENTS' FRENCH AND MINTY? PART I

by Aaron

At Element, starting this week, we will be taking 6 weeks to look at the book of Lamentations. Many people have asked me "why?" so I thought I would let you know.

Our lives are woven through seasons. Birth, infancy, adolescence, teenage, marriage, middle age, old age, death, and resurrection. Seasons of religious holidays as times of reflection and feasts were held in the Jewish Calendar:

In Biblical times, the following Jewish religious feasts were celebrated :

• Pesach (Passover) – 14 Nisan/Abib (sacrifice of a lamb), 15 Nisan/Abib (Passover seder)
• Shavuot (Pentecost) – 6 Sivan
• Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) – 10 Tishrei
• Sukkot (Tabernacles) – 15 Tishrei
• Hanukkah (Dedication or Lights) – 25 Kislev (instituted in 164 BC)
• Purim (Lots) – 14 Adar (instituted c. 400 BC)

These are based on the ancient names for months (from the Babylonian calendar):

1. Nisan (March-April)
2. Iyar (April-May)
3. Sivan (May-June)
4. Tammuz (June-July)
5. Av (July-August)
6. Elul (August-September)
7. Tishrei (September-October)
8. Cheshvan (October-November)
9. Kislev (November-December)
10. Tevet (December-January)
11. Shevat (January-February)
12. Adar (February-March)

Later, with the advent of Christianity, the church also had a liturgical calendar:

1. The liturgical year begins with Advent, the time of preparation for both the celebration of Jesus' birth. This season begins about 4 weeks before Christmas and lasts until 24 December (Christmas Eve).

2. Christmastide and Epiphany follow, beginning with First Vespers of Christmas on the evening of 24 December and ending with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

3. Lent is then celebrated (which starts about 6 weeks prior to Easter). Lent is period of purification and penance which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday.

4. Good Friday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, which includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. These days recall Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples, death on the cross, burial, and resurrection.

5. Then you have Pentecost which is a seven-week liturgical season of Easter that immediately follows the Triduum, climaxing at Pentecost. This feast recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples after the Ascension of Jesus.

6. The rest of the liturgical year is commonly known as Ordinary Time.

This year we will do 6 weeks of reflection through the book of Lamentations, come into Easter, and then take 3 weeks to look at the Spirit. It isn't as long or as full as the liturgical calendar, but I thought it would be nice to give you a taste.

Purgatory or Bust

by Aaron

Understand, what follows is trying to be fair and is not meant to be Catholic bashing in any way. My community group had a question about purgatory. Without going into all the arguments various Catholics will use for purgatory, I am going to try to use strictly what is from official church statements.

Purgatory, in the Catholic Church, is a place where believers go, after death, to undergo final purification before entering the presence of God.

It is interesting to note that Purgatory, as a place, was not part of Catholic church doctrine until the 15th century. Purgatory as a PLACE is still not considered official church doctrine...it is believed to be a state of the soul. To a general audience in August 1999, John Paul II laid what this looked like to him (you can read it here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_04081999_en.html.

The Trentine Creed of Pius the IV in 1564 states "I constantly hold that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful."

The Second Vatican Council, p. 63, says, "The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. Gods holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death. Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments."

The official Catechism of the Catholic church states it like this " All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." (1030). You can read it here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2N.HTM if you want.

A lot of Catholics will point to many verses for purgatory, but the only one listed in the Catechism is from 2 Maccabees 12: 45-46  But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

Maccabees is what is known as an apocryphal book. It was not part of the original canon of scripture. The one reference the catechism used is to a book that was later added (in the 1500's) to sacred scripture after the protestant reformation had taken off.

According to Roman Catholic Doctrine, a person may be in a state of grace, BUT he may not enter heaven until he is purified from sins that were not dealt with on earth (ie: Baptism remits sins committed up to that point, but prayers, indulgences, penance, absolution, and the Mass are means by which the sinner is able to expiate sins committed after baptism...see the blog about the ESV to get an understanding of expiation). If sins are not remitted, after death he must suffer the flames of purification until he is sufficiently cleansed and pure so as to enter into the presence of God. Additionally, intercession can be made by Catholics on behalf of those who are presently in purgatory. This is also done through saying the Mass, certain acts of penance, saying the Rosary, or by indulgences where the benefit is applied to the dead in purgatory.

The length of time that someone must suffer in this state is never known, but it is considered to be proportional to the nature and severity of the sins committed. Therefore, it could be anywhere from a few hours to millions of years.

What is the protestant view of purgatory? Well, it doesn't exist.

Problems with the Doctrine of Purgatory

1. It is not explicitly found in the Bible.

2. It implies that the righteousness of Christ does not cleanse from all sin.

3. It implies that justification is not by faith alone.

4. It implies that there is something we must do in order to be cleansed of sin.

On the cross Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). In the Greek, this was an accounting term which meant a debt was paid in full. If the payment for our sins was paid in full on the cross, then how could purgatory be a reality; especially when the scriptures don't mention it and even contradict it? In Hebrews 9:27 we are told that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment"

Purgatory is a doctrine that makes the Cross of Christ insufficient by requiring the person to undergo suffering in order to be made worthy of being with God when it is JESUS who makes us worthy of being with God.  We are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1), not by faith and works (Rom. 3:28)

This answer is not meant to be a dividing place of ammo between protestants and Catholics, too often we like to bash each other rather than coming together.  I know many Catholics will disagree with my assessment and problems of the doctrine of purgatory,  they will cite church Fathers, the apocrypha, and various biblical references to fire and purification...they are coming at it with a bias...

...BUT,  I too, come to the argument of purgatory with a bias, my bias is Jesus and His work for us on the Cross.

Asatru

by Element Christian Church
in FAQ

[blockquote]Question: My brother (who is in jail) told me that he is following in the Asatru Religion.  Know anything?  I'm getting ready to write to him and trying to think about how Jesus would respond.[/blockquote]

A: Do you remember Norse mythology? Odin, Thor, and all the Norse gods? Asatru is German Paganism (sometimes called Odinism or Norse Tradition). There were believed to be 2 families of gods...1 was called Æsir the other was Vanir. Asatru literally means "Æsir's Faith."

This is the religion that was practiced before Christianity reached the Germanic peoples. They believe in multiple gods and have strong leanings toward animism. They believe elves (or land spirits) can inhabit inanimate objects and these objects can have a fate all their own.

For your brother to use the word Asatru is very odd because it is pretty specific. He is being influenced somewhere because this is not some THING some ONE finds just wandering around. If he is actually in jail (I think that is what you said) he is probably embracing it so he can join a gang. Odinism in the US has VERY strong ties to the American Neo-Nazi scene. I have a friend in jail right now and he says YOU HAVE TO be a part of a gang inside or you are essentially dead. I would think he is probably following it so he can keep his butt safe and really has no idea what it truly believes. He probably is told "it's a religion for white guys."

In talking to him maybe you could ask if he knows why many of these people in pre-Christian Europe decided to follow Christ. I think you need to approach it from the standpoint that your brother is looking for some security…and yet only Jesus can truly offer that. Not trying to be too harsh, but when Jesus’ disciples were worried about Jesus’ safety he responded in Matt 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus is NOT telling us that fear should be our motivator…but if you are going to live in fear, there is really only ONE that needs to be feared (and it is not people). Jesus goes on to say in Verse 32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.

You mentioned before that he wanted to follow Jesus; maybe he needs to realize that now is time…and even in jail…that is the place.

Core Values

by Aaron

On January 27th Element had a church meeting to discuss where we are today and where we are going in the future. Part of what I talked about in the beginning was Element's core values. I don't know how many have ever read our core values so I thought we could post them for you.

Element Core Values

Jesus – Everything we do is about Jesus. At Element we can ‘do’ many good things but if we lose focus that Jesus is what those good things are about, then we have lost everything.

Meaning - God calls all people to a life of meaning. As people created in God's image we all have purpose, but many have never recognized their purpose because they have not realized their life in Christ. Meaning for our lives can only be found in the person of Christ.

Beauty - God loves lights, colors, sounds, imagery, and creativity. The Scriptures tell us that God surrounds Himself with beauty and so should we as the church. This includes art, decoration, good music, great colors and vivid imagery.

Grace and Truth – God is full of Grace and Truth. What God does is true, and as people we do not get the luxury of defining what is and is not. Jesus defines truth, what He has said and does is truth; we follow and obey that truth by becoming His disciples and learning from Him.

Gospel Community – God himself lives in a perfect community of Father, Son, and Spirit and we believe He intends for people to not only experience the community that comes from knowing Him but also the friendships of other people as well; at Element this is achieved through Gospel communities.

Redemption and Redeeming – Our world has been stained by sin and today many of the things God has created as good have been abused and bare little semblance to His original intent. We believe that as a people who follow Christ our duty is to partner with Jesus in redeeming this lost and broken creation.

Mission – All people who call themselves Christians are missionaries in the culture in which they live. Jobs, schools, neighborhoods, and homes are all places that we live and can display the love of Christ to. Jesus came as a man, as a missionary, to us, so we follow His example and live the same way.

As part of Mission, Element believes church planting is key in reaching those who need Christ. New church planting is a major focus of Element Christian Church.

ESV Propitiation

by Aaron

A discussion came up in my Gospel community a few weeks ago about why I like the ESV translation. One of my major things is that it uses the word Propitiation where it should be used. This then triggered all kinds of discussion like "what does that even mean." If you feel like reading, here is my answer.

Trying to make this understandable. I'll give you two words. Propitiation and Expiation.

  • Propitiation literally means to make favorable and specifically includes the idea of dealing with God’s wrath against sinners.
  • Expiation literally means to make pious and implies either the removal or cleansing of sin.

What we have to understand is that the idea of propitiation includes that of expiation as its means; but the word "expiation" has no reference to quenching God’s righteous anger. The difference is that the object of expiation is sin, not God. One propitiates a person, and one expiates a problem. Christ's death was therefore both an expiation and a propitiation. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin God was made propitious (favorable) to us.

I'm trying not to write a book here but where the ESV translates the Greek word 'hilasmos' as propitiation most other modern translations define it as atonement. Why does it bother me? Well, that is a theological question.

  • Propitiation is the work Jesus did on the cross to appease and satisfy God's wrath so sinners could be pardoned.
  • Atonement throughout the Old Testament meant "to cover." The Hebrew word is "kaphar" also "kippur". The same word is used for pitch, when Noah built the ark (Genesis 6:14). Israel as a distinct nation was required every year to offer the blood of an animal for the sins of the nation on the day of atonement or "yom kippur" (Exodus 30:10).

The difference is the death of Jesus Christ was a propitiation for our sins not just a covering. The old repetitive system required under the Mosaic law was done away with and a new covenant was established. The shedding of Christ's blood satisfied once and for all time the wrath of God, which no animal's blood could ever do (Hebrews 10).

Using atonement in place of propitiation renders the death of Christ a perpetual sacrifice, which it is not, it was a onetime event.

ESV

Romans 3:23-25
For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Hebrews 2:17
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

1 John 2:2 

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:10 

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

NIV

Romans 3:25
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Hebrews 2:17
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

1 John 2:2
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The New Living is just terrible

Romans 3:25 
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

A Door, or the Lord?

by Aaron

OK, ok, I know some of you who read these blogs were raised Catholic so please do not think I am simply Catholic bashing (I mean, seriously, I bash everyone including me).

Yesterday I took a tour of the Vatican, an OFFICIAL TOUR led by an official guide from the Vatican. She was saying things like “mos impourtant” “you like” and “mmmm, yes.” After about 3 hours of her showing us the “most extraordinary, most exquisite, most unique” piece for the 100th time I started to tune her out.

We passed through the Sistine Chapel and headed into Saint Peter’s Basilica, and then she said something that stopped me in my tracks. She pointed to a door to the right of main door of the cathedral and said it was called the “Holy Door.” They open it up in the time of jubilee (the last one was in 2000, the next will be 2025). She told us that if you are a true Catholic, a true believer, you can come during the jubilee and walk through this door and your sins will be forgiven. She also stated that she waited 5 hours to get through it when it was open last.

Now, really, I walk through a door and get my sins forgiven? That’s how it works? I mean, Jesus WAS a carpenter and all, so maybe that makes a little sense. But if true, don’t you think God the Father should have sent Jesus a memo that said, “hey, you are a carpenter, just build a door, you don’t need to die on a Roman cross.”

This is one of the many dangers of religion, that we will make it about ourselves and what we do (ie: walking through a door). This line of thinking has been around forever…from Pelagius to Arminius to any number of religious systems that make your salvation about you and not Jesus.

It is ALL about Jesus, period. When we get our eyes off Him we will lose perspective of who we even are. 1 John 2:2 reminds that He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. When Jesus died he said “it is finished” (John 19:30). It is finished means “paid in full” because we can’t pay for our sins by doing anything, only he could pay our penalty.

And finally Hebrews 9:12 (one of the greatest statements in scripture) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. In Hebrews 9:28 it reminds us that Christ was offered once (ONCE) to bear our sins. Your sins have been paid for, you should LIVE in the life Jesus has provided for you.

ROME …if you want to

by Aaron

It seems that men (and when I say men I mean men and women) have a desire to try to make their own names great. We are all so self-consumed with how we look, how we act, how others treat us, if we are getting our fair share…and it’s all selfishness.

We want everyone to know how important we all think we are in our own eyes. This is nowhere more on display to me as I walk the streets of Rome with my wife and our friends Shawn and Michele. We are walking around and looking at the ruins (say that word again, RUINS) of ancient societies.

The arch of Titus, the arch of Constantine, the Roman forum and senate, the house of the vestal virgins, they are all rubble. Every monument people create to display their own greatness crumbles into sand and is then trampled upon by tourists taking pictures to send back to show their friends.

Even the Coliseum, as impressive as it still looks, is a crumbled set of stones (that I cannot believe they let people walk around inside of because it could collapse at any moment).

All we do in our own names crumble, just like coliseum, yet we still continue to think that with us it will be different…trust me, it won’t. This why Jesus told us in John 12:32 that when HE is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. He was speaking about he type of death He was going to die, but it has greater ramifications as well. We must be those who get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him in order for anything we do to have lasting significance.

John 15:16 reminds us: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. That is what lasts.

A Christmas Blog That is Just For Fun

by Aaron

What is the big deal about egg nog, really? I don't really like eggs (unless they are runny and scrambled) and I have no idea what a nog is or why I would want to drink it.

Eggnog actually came to America from Europe. Eggnog is related to various milk and wine punches that had been concocted long ago in the "Old World". However, as America is won't to do, we spiced it up just a bit. Wine apparently didn't have the alcohol content that we craved so we used Rum in place of wine.

Which leads to another weird question like, who in the world makes punch with wine (don't say Sangria Matt).

In Colonial America, rum was commonly called "grog", so the name eggnog is probably (and I stress the "maybe not so much" portion of probably) derived from the very descriptive term for this drink, "egg-and-grog", which corrupted to egg'n'grog and soon to eggnog.

So, grog...ya, that's doesn't sound like something I want either.

Merry Christmas

Born on Christmas Day

by Aaron

I was listening to the radio yesterday and I found an amazing thing, many radio stations are playing Christmas songs throughout the day. Most of the songs are updated renditions of old tunes with modern twists, but every once in a while a band writes a new Christmas song for the holidays.

It was of the new songs that caught my attention. Some people just think I like to nitpick about theology, and I do, but I also think that if we have wrong theology our view of God will be skewed. Not only will bad theology mean we will misunderstand Jesus, but we will also misinterpret what He is doing through His people in the world today...it could go so far that we could misunderstand what He has done in eternity past as well.

The chorus of this song kept repeating, "Hope was born on Christmas day." At first I found myself humming the tune (off key and very loudly, as I do in the car). But then I started to think how dumb the chorus was because hope was not born on Christmas day, JESUS WAS (unless Jesus changed His name and I didn't get the memo). Seriously, Jesus was born and hope was a very happy by-product. It seems that today we want to only see what we want to see about Christmas, "Jesus is nice to everyone, peace on earth," but our version of peace seems to be different than Jesus'.

Jesus, as God, knows that sin has caused separation between ourselves and God and ourselves and each other. This is why Jesus was born, to take care of the awful state that humanity had done to itself. Jesus brought our sin into the light and exposed it, Jesus called the religious elite who trusted in their own goodness hypocrites, and Jesus had to die because we are so bad.

Yes, I know what you are saying, "it's Christmas Aaron, lighten up, be happy." Well I am happy because Jesus was born...Merry Christmas.

Jesus' death and ultimate resurrection were never to be separated from His birth. It is one event in regards to our salvation. Jesus dies for our sins, rises from the dead to give us new life. It is birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Yes, Jesus offers hope...but He embodies so much more and it is the MORE we should see. It is Jesus we worship on Christmas (and every other day) not hope, love, peace or anything else...because it was Jesus who was born.

What, what...It's like this shirt one of friends just gave me (which I will never wear because I don't do Jesus junk). The shirt said, "Go Jesus, it's your birthday," at least a cheesy T-Shirt got it right.

Merry Christmas, worship Jesus.

And...before you get all uppity with me, YES, I know Jesus wasn't born on December 25th, but it is the day we celebrate His birth.  Let's get it right when we do.

Ho Ho Hummmm

by Aaron

What’s that Mazda commercial? Zoom Zoom Zoom…I thought it was about going superfast in a cheap car, but as I sing the words Zoom Zoom in my head I think it is about Christmas. Maybe instead of Deck the Halls or Joy to the World a more proper tune to sing would be the Zoom Zoom Zoom song as it reflects what we have done to Christmas.

Is it just me or has this Christmas been extremely trying, or tiring, or whatever the proper word is. I find myself not having anytime at all to do anything. Christmas, far from being a time of “Peace on Earth” feels like “Havoc in my Foxhole.”

Surely this isn’t what Christ intended by coming as a baby, living His life, and rising from the dead, was it?

Of course not.

God has always intended for His people to have a time of rest, of recharge, a gathering of focus to reset our eyes upon Him AS OUR REST. In the Old Testament this rest was mandated through law (Exodus 16:26; Exodus 20:8), in the New Testament (Hebrews 4:9-11) we are told that God’s rest is continuing to this day and we are to be those that enter into it. Entering into God’s rest is about hope and grace, neither of which we will understand when we are too hurried.

Hope has always, from the foundation of the earth, been found in our Great God.

Hope and trust in Him brings true rest because we realize we do not have to be in charge or control the world around us. Everything is His, including us, and we can slow down and take time to properly honor our God, as we should: unhurried and unworried.

This Christmas, use the brakes of grace to take a moment to slow down and rest…and in that rest, ask God to reveal Himself to you through His word and His Spirit so you can become who He made you to be: a person of hope and rest.

What Does The Bible Say About Money?

by Element Christian Church

At Element, we base everything we do off of the scriptures. The Bible contains great advice about life, from improving your marriage to getting along with your boss at work.  But does the Bible really say much about money?  Does it really give us advice that we can apply to our own life in today's world?

The Good News is Yes!  Absolutely!  We believe the Bible is as relevant and helpful today as when it was written, and God has a lot to say about money.  In fact, money is mentioned in the Bible over 800 times.

In fact, Jesus says in Luke 16:11, "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"  It appears from this verse that God uses money as a test of our management and stewardship skills before entrusting us with spiritual things.  See more below.

Money in the Bible

1. Proverbs 13:22 "A good man leaves an inheritance to his childrens' children" indicating that God wants us to make a difference, financially, in our family tree.

2. Proverbs 21:20 "In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has."  This gives us an idea of how God wants us to save for a rainy day, to set something back for safekeeping.

3. Proverbs 22:7 states that "The rich rule over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender."  Really?  The Bible discourages debt?  Does God really want me to pay my debts off and avoid debt?

4. Luke 14:28 "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it."  Does Jesus really want me to save up and pay for the things I buy?

5. Matt. 6:24 "You cannot serve both God and money".

We can talk about a lot of things openly, but it seems like as soon as we talk about money, people tend to close off and stop listening. There are many reasons for this, but the top reason is that most people don't realize how much of a problem managing money is for the average family.  Look at the statistics below:

Financial Statistics

1. Marital Problems - 37 percent (the highest rate) of marital problems derive from financial situations

2. Cash Flow - 70 percent of all consumers live paycheck to paycheck, meaning they run out of money before the end of the month

3. Savings - The average family would have to use a credit card to pay a $1,500 unexpected expense (ex: home or car repair).

4. Retirement - Nearly half of all Americans (46%) have less than $10,000 saved for their retirement.

It is a problem that affects everyone, inside and outside of the church.  In fact George Barna says that the fastest growing churches are teaching about marriage, child rearing, finances, and careers.  Money is a serious subject, and God is serious about money, which is why we should study closely what he has to tell us.

This is why in January, we will be offering Financial Peace University - a 13-week course on finances. In it we will all learn how to make the right money decisions to follow what God has taught us throughout the scriptures. The course includes practical lessons on eliminating debt, building wealth, giving like never before, and much more. We invite you to come and learn what it means to truly have Peace with your finances. Read more & Sign up online here.

The Tails of Ales Pt IV

by Aaron

In finishing up this blog on alcohol, let me state this emphatically: SOME OF YOU SHOULD NOT DRINK.

There are two types of sins:

  • UNIVERSAL: these are for everyone, no exceptions. These would include don’t kill, murder, steal, (I think it also includes reality TV and boy bands).
  • PERSONAL ISSUES: these are a matter of conscience. There is not a definitive right or wrong so the Spirit guides your conscience on what is right for you, this is an issue of freedom.

A Christian who is free should not cause someone who struggles, to sin which would mean, be aware when you drink, notice who is around, and always be careful about how much you are drinking. But also those who abstain should NOT look at those who do with contempt. The words “I don’t drink so I am holy and righteous” OR “I do drink and I am mature and have self-control”, thrown back and forth do nothing to move the progress of the gospel forward. The question should be, "Do we participate in the world in a way that glorifies God?".

In History, Saint Gall, the great evangelist to celts, was better known for his brewing than his preaching. Shortly after Charlemagne's reign in 814AD the church became the exclusive brewer for ales beers and ales in Europe. John Calvin, one of the greatest thinkers in the Christian church, had as part of his pastoral compensation package 250 Gallons of wine a year because he threw large parties as part of his pastoral duties.

Never forget God is the life of the party: If you can’t have fun, and not sin, you will never understand God. God threw the first party and he will throw the last one as well…and in the end the Kingdom of God will hold New and Good wine.