Yo Tengo Gozo Gozo Gozo Gozo En Me Corazon

by Element Christian Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vacation, from Prayer?

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splitting The Adam

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Don't Let Me be Misunderstood

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a bully, for example…

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

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

Statistical Anomalies (At Least to Me)

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Good News

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am The Monkey

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Accumulative Effect of Bad Knowledge

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Community Good Friday 2018 - Why Have You Forsaken Me

by Aaron

Good Friday

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

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

What If Someone Doesn't Believe In Baptism?

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Jesus and Not Immanuel?

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

For Now Or Just Then?

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Gospel

by Aaron

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

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

Here we go…

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

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

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

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

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

It’s So Loud

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WITWpt2 (shorts!): What Did Jesus Know

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

I know, I told you last week that the last blog was my last for our What in the World Part 2  series, but I had three people ask me the same question after Eric’s message last Sunday so I thought I would come back and answer it. If you missed Eric’s message you can listen/watch it here.
 
The question Eric answered on Sunday dealt with Jesus cursing a fig tree in Mark 11:12. Eric spoke about how Jesus came not to attack Rome, but the fruitless religion of His people and used the fig tree as a living example of that judgment. In the course of this answer, when reading Mark 11;12 (which says, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.”), Eric made the comment that this was a time in Jesus’ life where you saw the humanity of Jesus. He said that Jesus went to the tree because He was hungry and He “didn’t know that the tree was fruitless.”
 
I was asked if I also agreed with that statement, that “Jesus didn’t know.”
 
Let me say that I love and respect Eric’s theology…and…there are many scholars that love Jesus, see Jesus as sovereign, and have written the same thing Eric said…that this is a moment where you see Jesus living out his humanity. Michael Houdman of gotanswers.org says, “Upon coming to the tree expecting to find something to eat, Jesus instead discovered that the fig tree had no fruit on it…” Wayne Jackson writes, “One must conclude that this circumstance reveals that though he was deity, Jesus did not exercise the full range of his divine powers constantly. He did not know the details regarding this tree until he was in close proximity.” There is nothing wrong with this assessment and it is part of an orthodox view of Jesus.
 
You also should know that I view Jesus in a particular way, that I always look for a reason why He would do something that would make others question His knowing things in certain circumstances. I have a bias; my bias is that Jesus was always sure of everything. So how could the text that reads, “he went to see if he could find anything on it” be anything different than Jesus not knowing? This could be a great What in the World question!
 
First off Mark writes his gospel account with a particular bent, he wants to declare the identity and authority of Jesus; this account in Mark 11 would then be part of that. In the New American Standard translation it even says that Jesus went to see “if perhaps he could find anything.” The English standard version omits the “perhaps” and just says “if” then says “he could find anything.” The word for “if” or “if perhaps” is the word araand it is a word that is there in order show someone wants to draw a conclusion. “He could find” is actually one word: heuriskō. Heuriskō means to come upon something in order to bring about knowledge. When putting these two words together it can be translated exactly as it is in the ESV or the NASB, or it could mean something deeper…that Jesus was hungry, but He intended to use that hunger in order bring His disciples to a conclusion that He wanted them to see. 
 
I know, it all sounds very confusing so let me un-muddy it as best I can. 
 
As Eric pointed out, this event takes place at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life. At the end of this week Jesus would return true worship to His people by His death and resurrection. He is trying to get the disciples to see that God longs for a fruitful people that are completely His (again, please listen to all of Eric’s message as this will make sense in that context). At the end of verse 14, after Jesus curses the fig tree for its barrenness, Mark records these words, “And his disciples heard it.” I would contend that Jesus and the disciples were hungry. Jesus took them to this fig tree which had leaves on it for the purpose of showing them what false worship looks like. I would contend that the tree’s barrenness didn’t surprise Jesus, it was exactly what He needed before the events of the coming week took place in order to grow His disciples in their understanding of true worship.
 
Willian Lane wrote, “If the incident occurred in the period approaching Passover, the parenthetical statement in verse 13c is incontrovertible and suggests that Jesus had no expectation of finding edible figs. Events have meaning beyond their face value; they become significant as they are interpreted. The unexpected and incongruous character of Jesus’ action in looking for figs at a season when no fruit could be found would stimulate curiosity and point beyond the incident to its deeper significance.”
 
There is no theological quandary in viewing it either of the ways I have talked about, I just thought I would do well to answer the question that some of you had. Thanks for being part of our What in the World series.

WITWpt2 (shorts!): Mustard Seeds

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

Sadly, I believe this will be my last blog in our What in the World Part 2 series; it is not my last because I have run out of questions, it my last because I have saved some good questions for an eventual part III of What in the World. What in the World is where we are answering your questions about verses in the Bible that make you scratch your head and ask, “What in the world does that mean?” The shorter-to-answer questions are being addressed in blog form. Today’s question is this, In Matthew 17:20 Jesus talks about faith as small as a mustard seed. I know how small mustard seeds are, but why are we supposed to have faith like it, what in the world does it mean?
 
First off, you are right, mustard seeds are tiny (just google it, it is a very small seed). In the context of Matthew 17 the disciples are trying to cast out a demon, something Jesus gave them power to do, but they were unsuccessful. It seems like they were questioning the power Jesus gave them and not their own lack of trust in Jesus…it’s kind of like they have faith in faith and not faith in Jesus. It is important were our faith lies, so the text says: Matthew 17:18-20 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
 
Faith is more than mustering up enough belief, our faith as Christians starts in history, that our God came and lived among us in order to redeem us. This is why faith is very important in the scriptures, it is why we call Christianity a “reasonable” faith because it is verifiable. Where something like Islam says, “submit,” our God says “let us reason together” in Isaiah 1:18. Our God stoops to our level so we could trust Him in a real and true way; it is not how much belief we can muster up, but the object that our faith is in. We are told that faith is so vital that it is impossible to please God without it in Hebrews 11:6, but we are also reminded it is a gift (in more ways than one) in Ephesians 2.
 
The Mustard seed analogy is used two times in the Gospels, Matt 17 and Luke 17, both in reference to doing something so out of the ordinary (mountains moving or trees uprooting and being planted in the sea) that it stretches the bounds of mere belief. This is why we must understand how Rabbis taught, especially in using an analogy like the mustard seed. Jesus is pointing to this small seed in reference to true faith in the One real God, not faith in your own power or faith in your own belief. Our faith can be tiny, but it truly matters who our faith rests in because God is faithful.
 
In Matthew 13:31-32 Jesus talks in a parable about a mustard seed being planted and eventually, if left to grow, it can become a tree that birds can rest in. I think this illustrates what faith and a foundation that grows into a legacy can become in our lives. It can start small, but Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. By continuing to trust Him, no matter how small or frail our ‘faith’ seems at the time, eventually our faith will grow and encompass friendships, family, children and grandchildren…it will last generations and leave an inheritance for those who come because it is not based in us, but in Jesus Himself.
 
The best definition for the word we translate as “faith” in the bible (the Greek word pistis) is probably our word “trust.” Let’s put our faith, as small as it sometimes is, in the person of Jesus. Michael Ramsden wrote, Ever since the church began, the refrain has always been the same: Come, believe, follow the light of the world. It has never appealed for people to leap into the dark; no such invitation is found anywhere in Scripture. Instead, we are called to step into the light. The Christian gospel is not a message that revels in ignorance. It is the revelation of God in the person of Christ, so that we might know there is no other.”

WITWpt2 (shorts!): Being Spit on by Jesus

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

We are currently doing a sermon series at Element where we are answering some questions you asked about the Bible. I mentioned last Sunday how some of the What in the World Part 2 questions that you have asked are too short for a full sermon, so we are answering them in blog form. Today’s question and answer is going to be very short, as no one knows the full answer except for Jesus. The question was: In Mark 31-37, Jesus spits on a man’s tongue to heal him. Why the spit? Wouldn’t people have thought that was gross?
 
The first thing I think we can do, as always, is remember the character of God or who Jesus is. Throughout His ministry, Jesus never met a disease He couldn’t heal. As we look through the Biblical accounts, it’s interesting to see that Jesus never healed the same way twice. This has caused many Bible commentators to think that Jesus was trying to get people to move away from superstitions associated with certain techniques.
 
Some people, even today, believe amulets, trinkets, and magical words are all effectual for healing to some degree. When my wife and I were trying to get pregnant, a Christian man gave her some earrings saying that if she wore them while trying to conceive, we would have a baby. (Yes, it was a little creepy and no, we never tried it.) By Jesus healing in the various ways He did, He emphasized trust in the power of God over some superstition or trinket.
 
But why the spit? Mark 7:32-33: And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Jesus actually uses spit three different times in the Gospel accounts when healing (Mark 7, Mark 8, and John 9). In John 9, most commentators assume Jesus makes and uses mud to refer to the creation account; He was making new eyes from the dust in the ground, as Adam was made from dust.
 
But…that doesn’t help answer the question about Mark 7. Would people think it was gross? Not necessarily. During this time, spit was part of common remedies employed by physicians for different illnesses. In the Greek text, it is implied that Jesus spit on his own finger, or simply got saliva on His own finger (He wasn’t hawking up a gigantic loogie). This could have signaled to the man that healing was coming and he needed to calm down and trust what Jesus was about to do.
 
Honestly, it is all just speculation. What it should remind us of in our daily lives is the old adage that “God works in mysterious ways” and we don’t always need to understand everything He is doing to live our lives in consistent and constant trust.  We should be humbled when we come to the limits of our understanding, and there will be lots of questions we get to ask Jesus when we see Him face to face. Mark D. Roberts once wrote, “May God protect me from pretending to know what I don’t know, or what cannot be known this side of heaven.”
 
We can know that Jesus has authority to heal, but how He does it, when He does it, and why He does it are all up to Him.

WITWpt2 (shorts!): Eunuchs

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

We have a current sermon series (summer of 2017) at Element calledWhat in the World Part 2. It is where we are answering your questions about verses in the Bible that make you scratch your head and ask, “What in the world does that mean?”. The shorter-to-answer questions are being addressed in blog form, because they are not long enough to take up an entire sermon. (Although, some of you would probably love a 10 minute sermon, wouldn’t you?) Today’s question is simply this: “What is the deal with eunuchs from Matthew 19:12?
 
Let’s put this in perspective by actually looking at the verse, Matthew 19:12: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
 
I know, it seems pretty weird, but for the disciples, this question would have made total sense. In the context of the broader passage, Jesus is speaking about marriage, divorce, remarriage, and hardness of heart; this is one of those places where the disciples are dumbfounded, like our culture, that the only justifiable reason Jesus gives for divorce is unfaithfulness (breaking the marriage covenant). The teachers of the law at this time often said that Moses “commanded” them to divorce their wives for any stupid reason. (You know, because it’s always the woman’s fault a marriage doesn’t work…SARCASM, people!) Jesus says that when a man marries a woman, they become one flesh and NOTHING should separate that unless one of them is unfaithful.
 
We are called to work through our problems in a real way, including the difficult issues that can arise within a marriage. The disciples are like, “Wow, that’s hard. If that’s the case, maybe we shouldn’t get married.” It entails the idea that we shouldn’t take the marriage union so lightly and that it is very important to God. Jesus responds that not everyone can accept this and then talks about eunuchs truly being the only people who can. So, what are eunuchs?
 
Eunuchs were traditionally men who were castrated (completely) in order to be guards over harems of ladies. Many rulers figured that you couldn’t put your hand in the cookie jar if you didn’t have a hand (so to speak). Eunuchs often held privileged positions in certain cultures because of their sacrifice. When Jesus says, “There are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men,” he is referring to men serving in these roles. He also talks about men who were born as eunuchs—who were born without the ability to have sex, or were born deformed or not fully developed (genitally). Lastly, Jesus says there are those who have “made themselves” eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. “Made themselves” does not mean they went into the garage and chopped off their man parts; it simply means they made a decision to serve God as a single man, and not as one committed to a wife.
 
There are all types of people who take these verses out of context today to make them try to say everything they want…but Jesus’ point is simply that if you aren’t married, you can devote more time in other areas. Jesus is not saying, as some have said, that being a “eunuch” is a better way of life or more noble choice. He is simply stating that those who have been called to that kind of life are rare and blessed. It is the same as those who have been called to marriage (and truly work on it) are blessed because it reflects the oneness of God Himself.
 
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of those who are unmarried and serve Jesus in other ways because of their state. Some people who are “eunuchs” (figuratively speaking) are able to serve in capacities well-suited for someone that is not married, but later get married and find their priorities need to shift. For example, they may serve as a missionary in a dangerous territory while single, and then relocate/change jobs once they have a family. It is important to remember that no one is better than anyone else; no one is less than anyone else. If someone doesn’t have sexual desire, that may be a gift from God where they can devote their lives to unencumbered ministry, just like those who do get married can devote their life in service to Jesus by how they love their family. It is all about the good news of Jesus and how we live it out. As the body of Christ, it is important for us to understand, appreciate, and encourage the diversity God has granted us in our individual callings. 

 

WITWpt2 (shorts!): Dinosaurs

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

At Element we are currently almost two-thirds of our way through our summer series called What in the World Part 2. It is part two because we did part one last year. During part one I asked you to submit any questions you had about the bible and we would address them this year. The shorter to answer questions we are doing in Blog form because they are not long enough to take up an entire sermon. Today’s question is one that gets asked any time anyone opens a general, “hey, ask question about the bible here” type forum. Today’s question about the bible is, “What does the Bible say about Dinosaurs?”
 
First off, the short answer is “not much.” Why is that? Because the Bible isn’t a book about dinosaurs…or a whole host of other things that people ask about, it is a book about God and what He will do to redeem mankind. The Bible spends its time showing humanities plight and the redemptive arc of God’s covenant of grace.
 
Much of the debate and questions about “dinosaurs” come to a head because of the different views of the age of the earth. There are young earth people who say that the bible does talk about dinosaurs, and old earth people who say that dinosaurs died off for one reason or another before God started His work in the garden into which He was going to place man so the Bible doesn’t talk about it.
 
The main word that most scholars agree refer to some sort of dinosaur is tanniyn. It is a Hebrew word that has been translated as dragon, serpent, or sea monster. In Genesis 2:21 the English Standard Version just says, “great sea creature.” There is another word “behemoth” which is said to be the mightiest of God’s creatures (Job 40:15-19). Some have said this is a hippo or an elephant, but others point to his tail being like a “cedar” (that’s a tree) and hippos and elephants don’t have tails like that and it must be a dinosaur.
 
Needless to say, there are hours of endless debate on this subject and nothing is certain (though everyone who debates it acts like they are certain). Almost all ancient peoples have some sort of art that depicts dinosaurs (from North America to South America, from Babylon to Mayan, from Rome to Asia). So I am sure the debate will continue. One site argues that if they did exist then after Noah’s flood the earth’s conditions probably changed so much that dinosaurs couldn’t survive…or if they did live when man was around then man hunted them to extension.
 
Either way, the matter is far from settled and the only thing we need to remember is that if they existed before or during man’s life on the earth, God made them and they were His creatures. We must be careful not to make the Genesis narrative into some sort of scientific textbook as that was not the point of it, Genesis was to show that in the end, all that is or ever will be, was created by God. We should become a people who trust Him for what He has revealed about life, truth, hope, love, and grace in the Scriptures.