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. 

WITWpt2 (shorts!): Nephilim

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

Currently, on Sunday mornings, we are doing our What in the World Part 2 series to answer your questions in sermon form, but some of these questions were too short for a whole sermon so we are answering the shorter ones in our blog. While today isn’t actually a shorter question, we covered it back in our Genesis series in 2012, so I thought I could shorten my answer up a bit here. Here is the question: “Who were the Nephilim and what happened to them?”
 
This question comes out of Genesis 6:1-4 V1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, V2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. V3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” V4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
 
Because of how the paragraph is broken up in the English text, people want to connect the Nephilim with “sons of God and daughters of men” and make this into some sort of Halloween scenario where fallen angels are making half demon babies with humans; THAT IS NOT THE CASE! Verse 1 of Genesis 6 is taking what was just said in the last two chapters and bringing it together before moving on, this is why context is important. When Moses says, “sons of God,” it means descendants from Seth’s line (from Gen 5), those who followed God, marrying those from Cain’s line (Genesis 4). It essentially says that people who claimed to love God married those who hated God and acted like it was no big deal (sounds much like our culture today).
 
When people mix things in the Scriptures without context it tends to lead to some crazy ideas. Because of how people have connected “sons of God,” daughters of men, and “Nephilim,” we get 3 views of who the Nephilim were. I will give you all three:

  • View 1: These are fallen angel half demon babies (yes, this isthe craziest one first). In the Old Testament "son's of God" can, at times, be interpreted as angels (Job 1:6 for example). In the New Testament Jesus says very clearly Matt 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Even if these were fallen angels, the purpose of putting it here in Genesis would be to combat polytheistic religions of the day (who had gods making demigods with humans all the time). The narrative goes on to tell you that no matter what offspring these beings produced they were merely mortal, NOT GODS, and they were subject to God's judgment like everyone else.
  • View 2: These are Kings or dynastic rulers who took wives from whomever they pleased. The sin is polygamy just like Lamech from Genesis 4. These would be the earth's rulers before the flood who were to administer justice but instead multiplied sin.
  • View 3 (as stated above) They are godly men descended from Seth. This again seems most likely in context. John Calvin commented about these verses: "It was, therefore, base ingratitude in the posterity of Seth, to mingle themselves with the children of Cain."

It is meant to simply show that the world is getting worse as men rebel against God.
 
In Genesis 6:4 The Nephilim were called “mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”  People get all weird with this verse because some translations will actually use the word "giants" and link it (again) to sons of God and daughters of men. Because we are a culture inundated with science fiction we start to say, “Who are these people? Giants? Wookies?”
 
The text uses the word "Nephilim" because in Hebrew this word is NEPHILIM. It is only used here and in Numbers 13:33 when God’s people go into the Promised Land and are too scared to fight. They use this word as an excuse "we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers." They are saying, “we were scared to do what God told us to do,” and they reference this.
 
In all honesty, we do not know WHAT it means except what they text tells us: They were the men of renown. The text doesn’t say they were giants, demon-possessed, or Thor, it says men of renown. It could simply be the popular people of the day who didn’t know God, but everyone knew of them and wanted to be them.
 
The point of the opening chapters of Genesis 6 is to show how far man had fallen and what God was going to do when he started fresh with man named Noah to whom God offered grace…just like He does to all of us. 

 

What in the World Part 2…Appendix 2 (SSA)

by Aaron

At Element we are currently doing a series called What in the World Part 2, which seeks to answer questions you asked us last year. This past Sunday was a little tougher, because the question that was asked was: “What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?” If you missed it you can listen/watch it here. As you can imagine, this is a volatile subject in our culture today, and any answer that takes a stand will offend someone.
 
We didn’t spend a lot time talking about homosexuality; rather, we spent a lot of time talking about the story of the Scriptures and redemption. I did take you back to the book of Genesis and the creation account to show the normative way Scripture speaks about intimate sexual unions between one man and one woman. I do not believe that the Bible is in any way ambiguous in its stance on same sex unions.
 
I also believe that the Bible is not ambiguous on who Jesus died for and loves: all of us. Anything short of God’s best for us in our lives is sin. Many times, we live in open rebellion because what we want or feel trumps God’s call in our life. So when Jesus says things like,It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31), those words are spoken to everyone—whether gay or straight. As divisive as our society is today (including the Church, sadly), we can easily forget how broad the scope of sin truly is and start to categorize certain sins, such as homosexuality, as worse or more taboo than others. When the Apostle Paul states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” it refers to all of us…and when Paul continues and says, “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” this also refers to all of us.
 
Yes, at Element we believe that homosexuality is a sin, but we must make a distinction between the things people do, the things they struggle with, and who they are. In a culture that tells us we are defined by our actions or how we self-identify, we need to remember the truth of the Gospel—we are named and known by our Creator, and those who believe in His saving grace are forever redeemed. This truth should enable us to love anyone, regardless of what they struggle with, because love isn’t condoning what people do…it is recognizing their true identity and worth found in God. Too often, the Church has elevated this one thing above all other issues and said, “This is the worst thing a human can do!” But the worst thing any of us could do is reject the love and grace of God. God doesn’t hate people who are struggling with sin in their lives. If that was true, He would hate all of us. The reality is that our struggle with sin is not the end of us, nor does it define us; it is this universal brokenness that can drive us to the healing hands of the Great Physician.
 
In order to help you start the dialogue, I would like to point you to a couple of blogs. (I know, you are already reading a blog and now I am referring you to another one…it’s like the Twilight Zone). Read these articles with an open heart and pray that God would reveal to you what He is trying to say. The first one is written by a young man who struggles with SSA (same sex attraction); the second is a study by Mark Yarhouse, Professor of Psychology and the Rosemarie Scotti Hughes Endowed Chair of Christian Thought in Mental Health Practice at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
 
As followers of Jesus, we must be willing to enter into discussion with others, but we need to remember what this actually entails from a Gospel perspective. It is not telling people God hates them, and it’s not telling them the Bible condones whatever they want to do. Rather, we must enter with grace and point to the redemptive love and hope of God in all things—that it is not our works that save us, but the work of Jesus that saves and restores us.
 
Lastly, let’s work to create a culture within Element and beyond where we can feel the freedom to express our struggles with sin without shame. As shared in the first blog below, church climates are often tragically perceived as oppressive. If our lives are truly centered around the Gospel, we should be encouraged to move toward one another in our brokenness, as we recognize the great need each of us has for Jesus.
 
https://torreygazette.com/blog/2015/10/26/on-my-struggle-with-homosexuality
http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Yarhouse-Homosexuality.pdf

What in the World Part 2…Appendix 1 (Genesis 15)

by Aaron

At Element we are currently doing a series called What in the World Part 2 which seeks to answer questions you asked us last year. Last Sunday we answered this question: “In Genesis 15:17 it says that a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the halves of the animals Abraham cut in half at God's direction. What is the significance of the fire pot and torch moving between the halves?” If you missed it you can listen/watch it here. After the message I had five more questions that people asked, none of them had to do with the central premise of the sermon, they were simply inquisitive questions (because inquiring minds want to know). So, don’t let these questions distract you from the central message that Jesus promised Himself to rescue us from our brokenness and then He fulfilled that promise.
 
The five questions are as follows, if you listened to the message this will make sense. Why was Abraham the only one who brought something to the covenant ceremony, why 3 years old, which way did they cut the animals, why didn’t the birds get cut, and why a young pigeon? Here are the verses in question: Genesis 15:9-10 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.
 
All of these are pretty easy to answer:
Why was Abraham the only one who brought something to the covenant ceremony – When Abraham left the land of His father(s) at God’s call he was doing alright financially, but he wasn’t extravagantly rich. By the time Genesis 15 comes around God has so blessed Abraham with animals and goods that he has to separate from his nephew Lot because the land couldn’t sustain them both. Abraham sees all that He has as being given to him by God’s hand, so essentially Abraham is simply bringing what God has already provided.
 
Why 3 years old – At three years old the animals would all be at full growth and strength. They would have many years of child bearing ahead of them, so to give these animals would have truly been a sacrifice. On a side note, a heifer had not born any offspring yet (much like Abraham), a goat was used as a sin offering later in temple worship (one was sacrificed and one set free as a scapegoat) that represented Israel’s sin had been removed from them, and a ram is what God will provide in the place of Abraham’s son on Mount Moriah as a sacrifice.
 
Which way did they cut them – I find this question very funny because it never occurred to me that there would be more than one logical way to cut animals in half. They were not cut long ways (head to tail), they were cut side to side (usually behind the rib cage).
 
Why not cut the birds – The most common consensus among bible scholars is that the birds were simply too small, it is why there are 2 birds listed and not one. Two birds can be laid over against the other on either side of the isle. If you cut a bird in half behind the rib cage, like the larger animals, there isn’t much left. One side would have what is essentially a whole bird and the other side a pair of skinny, tiny, bird legs.
 
Why a “young pigeon” – This is a great question and my answer is only speculation because I am not 100% on it. The word In Genesis 15:9 for “young pigeon” is the Hebrew word gowzal. The word doesn’t actually mean a pigeon, it meant a young nesting bird, and maybe so young its feathers haven’t even come in. By putting the “gowzal” opposite the turtledove could represent where Abraham is in regards to his faith (it is newborn but also counted to him as righteousness) and what Israel, his descendants, will become. In Psalm 74 God will call the nation of Israel His turtledove as term of endearment and love. God could be saying to Abraham that you are starting off like this new born bird, but you and your descendants when full grown will be my beloved ones.
 
Remember that Moses is the one chronicling these events, which means he is viewing everything in light of the law that has been given to Israel at Sinai. Moses probably sees much greater and far reaching significance to these events than Abraham does. After Jesus’death and resurrection we also get to see much greater and far reaching significance than Moses saw. As we talked about Sunday, Jesus shows up and walks through the pieces and makes a covenant to save His people no matter what. Jesus passes through the pieces, not Abraham, which means Jesus will uphold and provide a way for both sides of the covenant to be fulfilled in Himself.
 
1Peter 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

WITWpt2 (shorts!): What is Corban?

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

Here is another blog post that is answering another what in the world question you guys asked us last year. Currently, on Sunday mornings, we are doing our What in the World Part 2 series to answer your questions in sermon form, but some of these questions were too short for a whole sermon so we answer the shorter ones in our blog.
 
Today’s question is as follows, “In Mark 7, what is Corban?” This is an interesting question because the word “corban” in Greek is literally “korban” and only used in Mark 7:11 and nowhere else in the entire New Testament (in Matthew 15:5 he uses the word “doron” meaning “devoted to God” but not the word corban). I think the answer is short, so let me answer the question and then paste the entire section in context so you can understand what you are reading.
 
When you hear the word “corban,” if you live on the central coast of California, you probably think it sounds like a mediocre winery up by San Luis Obispo, but it’s not. The only reason we know what it means is that Mark defines the term for us as “given to God” in Mark 7:11. Because it is an obscure word Mark did us a favor by defining it.
 
There is some interesting aspects to the verses where it comes about in Mark 7. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees about their rituals that have been elevated to the place where they take precedence over the realty of living life with God. It comes in the context of the disciples not washing their hands before a meal (I know you think, “Gross, everyone should wash their hands,”) but this type of hand washing had nothing to do with clean hands and had everything to do with ritual focused on false piety. The Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples eat with “defiled” hands, not dirty or muddy hands.
 
Throughout the Old Testament God is trying to get His people away from ritual and toward an open heart to what God was doing in the world, in Hosea 6:6 God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus answers the handwashing question of the Pharisees by going after them and pointing out their own corruption by showing how they have elevated ritual over true relationship with God. He does this by pointing out what they have done with money they claim has been “devoted (or given) to God.” When parents became older and frailer, Israelites were meant to care for them, but the Scribes and Pharisees let children off the hook if they gave a certain amount of money to the temple instead of helping their parents.
 
Simply saying, “it is corban” would gain them an exemption from helping their parents.
 
God never intended something good, like generosity to a temple (or a church), to be the impetus for getting anyone out of responsibility for caring for others in need. It reminds us today that God desires relationship and not a ritualistic obedience that has nothing to do with our hearts. We should not be looking for ways to get out of our responsibilities toward others, but living with focused Gospel intentionality because our lives are found in Jesus.
 
Mark 7:1-13 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
 
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” 
 
Now you should go on to read the next verses in Mark 7 where Jesus talks about what DOES defile a person.

 

WITWpt2 (shorts!): Greater Works than Jesus?

by Aaron

What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

We have been doing our What in the World Part 2 series on Sunday mornings, where we are answering your questions about certain things in the Bible. There were some questions you asked that were not long enough to make a whole sermon out of, so we are answering them, calling them “shorts,” and posting them to our blog. This is the next “What in the World?” question we received: John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” What in the World?
 
First off, it is always a good rule to read the Bible in context, so let’s take a step back and see what comes right before John 14:12. Before the verse in question, Jesus talks about us having trouble in the world, going to be with Him, and Jesus Himself being the only way to salvation. Jesus then says the following, starting in John 14:10-11: “Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
 
Jesus says there are 3 things we must see if you want to realize who He is: What are His words (What did Jesus teach and instruct…What are Jesus’ works (How did He live)…and What are His miracles (What evidence is there of God’s works and miracles in Christ).
 
So, His words, work, and His miracles…that’s how we investigate Jesus.

Read more

WITWpt2 (shorts!): I’m like the disciples, I lack understanding.

by Aaron
What in the World? Part 2 SHORTS!

At Element we are doing a series on Sunday mornings where we answer your questions that you gave to us last year in a series titled “What in the World Part I. Some of these questions are too short for whole sermon, plus we only have so many weeks for the current series, which means we are going to answer some of those questions in our blogs.
 
Today’s question is as follows, “Mark 8:14-21 – I am like the Disciples, after reading it in context I still don’t understand.” The answer will be short, so let me actually post the entire section the question pertains to (Mark 8):

14The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
 
16They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
 
17Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
 
“Twelve,” they replied.
 
20“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
 
They answered, “Seven.”
 
21He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

 
I like the question, because it is so honest, “I am like the Disciples, after reading it in context I still don’t understand.”
 
Simply put, rabbis’ would use anything thing they could find to teach their disciples about living the truth of God out in their daily lives. They would teach them to see the world as God saw the world. On this occasion the disciples are worried about how much food they have on their journey, because they were forgetful and didn’t bring enough. Jesus says to them, trying to relate it all together, to beware of the “yeast of Pharisees” and “Herod.”
 
The disciples scratch their heads and are like, “Is this because we have no bread? We should go and get more.” They failed to see that Jesus was taking a normal, every day thing, to teach them a deeper truth. While Jesus was teaching them this truth, they were stuck on what was in front of them and not on the “bigger picture” of what was going on in the world around them. So Jesus then, quite plainly, points out that bread, for Him, is not a problem (obviously, because He fed 5000 and 4000 people respectively, with almost no bread at all).
 
In Matthew 6:25 Jesus tells His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Yes, things are important, but they should not distract is from God’s ultimate working in the world around us. Too often we get fixated on our needs AND wants and we stop seeing what God sees.
 
Herod was the ruler over the area where Jesus and His disciples had their ministry. The Pharisees were the most popular group among the common people of Jesus’ day. But they had both failed to see their place in how God’s kingdom was to function in the world. The “rulers” and the “popular” were people that everyone admired and wanted to be like, but they were nothing like God in character; in fact they usually pulled people’s vision away from God rather than to Him.
 
The yeast that Jesus speaks of is that influence. When you put more stock into the Pharisees and Herod than you do in God’s call in your life, it will work through all the dough (your life) and bring about a ruined product.
 
Think of others in our world who seek power (that’s Herod’s yeast), popularity (that’s Herod’s and the Pharisees’ yeast), or a certain brand of morality, whether it’s conservative values or liberal values (that’s the Pharisees’ yeast). Now, think of yourself and where any of those things have overtaken what God calls you to focus on first…that is what Jesus is getting at.
 
It is so easy for us to lose focus on what God calls us to in this life, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking about our own comfort (bread) because of all of the pressures (yeast) of our culture. Jesus reminds us that He is good enough to be trusted with our lives, so we should be on guard for anything that wants to remove our focus from Him.