East Coast Blizzard Snow Day

by Jonathan Whitaker
Since Friday of last week the Whitakers have been on a bit of a sabbatical.  Not of our plan or design but a welcomed vacation, none the less.  On the Central Coast such things as blizzards must seem mythical or at least foreign, but out here on the East Coast we get the odd snow storm or nor’easter.  But you have El Nino, so I suppose we’re even.  

 
Last week was my first blizzard, and in spite of all the hype and doom saying on the news, I rather enjoyed it.  It really brought out the kid in me.  Each night I was glued to the TV to see if the government of Washington DC would be closed for just one more day.  Chant it with me, “one more day. One More Day!  ONE MORE DAY!”  Though I didn’t realize it, I needed a few days off to play with my wife and kids and enjoy their company.  No distractions, no possibility of running errands (thanks to 24 inches of snow), just rest.  The fact is, God is much better at giving us rest than we are at finding it on our own.
                 
At the root of the word “sabbatical” is a concept which God introduced to man on the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath.  A day of rest.  So important is the Sabbath that God commanded us to observe it in Exodus 20:8-11.  Rest is not only required of us by God, but it is called holy.  The Sabbath was the day God rested from creation, which is why he blessed it and called it holy. If we are to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (1 Peter 1:15), then we need to understand rest. 
                 
I struggle, as many of you do, to rest when I’m on vacation.  You know the drill, you take leave, plan to rest, then you work in the yard for the duration of your time off.  In a blizzard you can’t even see your yard, so the temptation is completely removed.  All you want to do is build a 45 foot luge track in your backyard and slide down it with your kids on an inflated truck inner tube.  God is good. 
 
God is serious about rest, so we should be serious about rest.  Read Leviticus 25 about the Sabbath Year if you want to see just how serious your Lord is about you enjoying rest, enjoying your family, and seeing just how good He is. 

 
God wants you to experience Him in all facets of His goodness, and I have gotten to experience Him anew over the last five days of blizzard-sabbatical.  Each time I hear the echo of my children’s laughter, each time I snuggle with Jennifer on the couch under a warm blanket, each time I sleep past 8 a.m., I am reminded of how good God is to me.   And you know, all joking aside, it feels holy.

Advent Week 3

by Mike Harman
As we continue through our Advent journey, we thought weekly blog posts would serve as a reminder as to why we are doing what we are doing. In the scriptures the prophets are constantly looking forward to the coming Messiah. Like they looked forward to the coming of the Savior, we too look forward and anticipate Jesus coming again to bring culmination to His work of redemption and restoration.  The pain, suffering, sin, sickness, brokenness and decay that we see and experience in our everyday lives remind us that something is not right.
  • Based on the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus we have hope, that God will not rest from His redemptive work until every aspect of creation has been made new and every vestige of sin removed, (Romans 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.).
  • We know God’s love by remembering that Jesus came for us while we were broken and lost because God loves us. (Romans 5:8…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.)
  • We have a joy that is not based on our circumstances, but an understanding of the sovereignty of God. (1Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.),
  • We get to live in peace that passes understanding because we now have peace with God. We are no longer cut off from Him. (Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.)
As a people living in this time between the incarnation of Jesus and his second coming, we celebrate God’s breaking into history in the person of Jesus. We anticipate Jesus’ return when He comes and wraps up redemptive history, completing God’s mission of redemption and restoration. During this time we have the opportunity and privilege to trust Jesus, live in faith as those who live in gospel community, and to live on mission to make disciples, who make disciples, loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, mind and strength.
 
Happy Advent!

Advent Week 2

by Mike Harman
Jesus came for God’s mission, God’s ultimate Glory. Part of God getting glory is how He brings redemption and restoration through His life, death, and resurrection.
 
Redemption is the freedom gained through Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God, escaping His eternal judgment and wrath. In Jesus we become freed from enslavement to death, now we can live life from heart that have been renewed and made alive. Our lives now live in obedience and sacrifice through the grace and mercy we’ve experienced. (Colossians 1:13-14 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.)
 
Restoration is the aspect of God’s mission to restore His purpose, design, order, and intent of creation that was marred and broken through our sinful rebellion and idolatry. God is at work to restore, making all things new, even us, so that we will accurately reflect Him as we are created in His image. (1Peter 5:10  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.)
 
Because of the redemption and restoration that we have, and are experiencing, we like Jesus should be focused on, and engaged in, God’s mission (GO BLESS). (2 Corinthians 5:18-20  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.)  
 
As ambassadors of God we now get to represent Jesus to our world by incarnating Him by how we live. We are called to be a people who exemplify biblical Hope, Love, Peace and Joy.
 
This week pray that God would use you in the lives of those who are lost, to speak the truth of the gospel into lives that have been alienated from God. We hope a better understanding of Advent teaches us all to live in such a way that we are turning community into gospel community, seeing God’s order and design restored as the lost are rescued and redeemed and communities are healed. (Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.)

The Patient God Whom We Serve

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

Redux: Planting Roots

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

DISCIPLESHIP Anatomy 101

by Eric Djafroodi

In our current sermon series, Aaron has been talking about how each of us is uniquely made and how we must seek and pursue God according to how he has made us as individuals. We are all different. But we all are also similar in fundamental ways as well. That is why the Gospel is good news for ALL people—because we all have the same need to have our souls redeemed from sin and to be transformed into the image of Christ. If we intend to faithfully live as Jesus’ disciples, it requires that every dimension of our being becomes aligned with his will. The point of spiritual disciplines and training in godliness is to shape our whole lives, our character, to reflect God’s glory.

Our nature is basically the same for all of us, even though the particulars of our personality, gifts, and talents are very different. For example, we all have a Spirit. If you look at the scriptures, our spirit is also referred to as our heart and our will. This is where our choices originate. It’s the root of our being where our freedom and creativity reside. This is where the power to do good or to do what is evil comes from. Jesus said that this is the source of sin… Mark 7:21-23  "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  (22)  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  (23)  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

We all have a mind, and therefore we all have thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts are our perceptions, imagination and ideas. Our feelings are what incline us toward or away from the things that come to our mind in thought. When we think about food, cars, jobs, relationships or God, our feelings are intricately attached. Are our thoughts pleasant, painful, attractive, or repulsive? We have no feeling without a thought in mind and no thought without some feeling associated. Our thoughts and feelings are interdependent.

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Discipleship - The Secret of the Easy Yoke

by Eric Djafroodi

Have you ever taken test when you knew that you hadn’t done your homework? Were you stressed about the result? Or have you played a competitive sport without putting in the practice time? How well did you do? Many times we look at people who are “successful” (whether it is in school, sports, career, talent, etc.) and it often seems like it comes easy for them. But we typically only see them when they perform—when they’re put to the test. What we fail to realize is that for most of them, their abilities are the result of a regular regimen of mental and physical preparation that no one sees. Their training has transformed them into people who can perform at that level with relative ease.

This is a general principle of human life that applies to anything of significance that we want to achieve. If you want to become a musician, speak a new language, or become a brain surgeon, you will need to regularly train mentally and physically before you actually become a person with those skills.

The same principle applies to our relationship with Jesus and characterizes the life of his disciples. Jesus calls to us in Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (29)  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30)  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Unfortunately, so many of us don’t enjoy and enter in to the ease and lightness that Jesus promises. We find following Jesus hard and the burden heavy because we haven’t trained and have not been transformed into people who naturally and easily obey his commands.

To be sure, without God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we can do nothing in his kingdom. But what is also true is that if we do nothing, it will be without Him.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1Timothy 4:7-8  "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  (8)  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." The Christian who expects to act like Jesus when put to the test, even though they have not trained in godliness, is just as ridiculous as an athlete expecting to excel in the game without the proper training. Instead of the easy yoke, all we will experience is failure and frustration.

The Son of God became flesh, which means that he had a body like you and me. Because of this, he too trained in order to walk in full submission to his Father’s will. And this he did this perfectly. We read in Hebrews 5:8-9  "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered  (9)  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."

The secret of the easy yoke to our generation (which was not a secret to the early church) is that we are to follow Jesus in His "overall" style of life, which includes his disciplines and practices when he was not in the public eye. By these disciplines and the grace of God, we are transformed into people that easily and naturally act as Jesus would if he were living my life, in my place, under my circumstances.

God is more interested in the person we are becoming, than in what we do. Jesus calls us to a life where behavior like loving one’s enemies is the natural thing to do. True Christ-likeness comes at the point when it is hard for us not to respond as Jesus would. Then we won’t have to ask ourselves "What would Jesus do?" We would just do it!

Discipleship - Not just for Super-Christians

by Eric Djafroodi

Why has the modern church done so poorly living this eternal life that Jesus made possible? We know that so many Christians are among those caught up in the sad epidemics we see today. Christianity has become viewed by many in the world as powerless, archaic and irrelevant. Either the Gospel is not true and doesn’t work, or we just don’t understand how God works in and through us!

Every believer in Christ is called to become a disciple of Jesus. Our mission as the Church is to make disciples from every ethnic group on the planet and to teach them how to really live the way Jesus taught and lived. Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The sad truth is that the church is filled with undicipled disciples. An estimated 25% of Americans profess an evangelical conversion experience. William Iverson observes that “A pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter pound of salt. If this is real Christianity, the ‘salt of the earth,’ where is the effect of which Jesus spoke?” In many churches today it is believed that one can become and remain a Christian without any signs of progress in following Jesus in his example, spirit, and teachings. Too often discipleship is presented as an “option” for those with a special calling.

A big part of the problem is that we have not been faithful to our own message—we have failed to take discipleship and transformation into Christ likeness seriously as a practical issue to be dealt with in realistic terms.

Jesus introduced a revolution of character and life to his first disciples. He said “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is where God’s rule and God’s will are done. It’s about what God is doing in the world, and everyone is invited to now become a part of His activity. This is the blessed life. This is the safest place to be. This is where we can be anxious for nothing, because we are seeking first the Kingdom of God. It is here that our deepest needs are met. It is in the realm of God’s Kingdom that our transformation takes place as we allow God to rule in our hearts, minds, bodies, and relationships. The heart of the Gospel is this: Because of God’s mercy and grace, we can become like Jesus in character and in power, and we can realize our highest ideals of well-being and well-doing.

Discipleship is not just for Super-Christians! It is a prerequisite for every believer. The disciple is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of Christian, but the first level of basic transportation in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ promises are for his disciples! The New Testament is a book about disciples, written by disciples, and meant for disciples of Jesus Christ. ALL of the assurances and benefits offered to humanity in the Gospel by Jesus are in the context of a life of discipleship - apart from that, they don’t even make sense!

Check back as we explore what the life of a disciple should look like and how we are to follow Jesus in our day.

Discipleship Living an Eternal Life

by Eric Djafroodi

When you hear the promises of Jesus spoken about at church or read them in the bible, do you ever feel like your looking into another world? It’s because the scriptures describe a reality so different than what many of us normally experience. They describe a divine world with a divine life!

Our world is filled with stress and distress from political revolutions, wars, famines, epidemics and economic disasters. All of which are usually always the result of human choices—the expressions of the human spirit. Individual disasters abound all around us and everyone is impacted directly or indirectly by depression, suicide, loneliness, drug and alcohol abuse, out of control sexual perversion and violence. These aren’t new problems. Humanity has struggled with them for ages. But they are spiritual problems that can only be addressed by a spiritual solution.

Think about these words: John 4:14 “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Jesus promised his followers “living water,” the Spirit of God Himself that would keep them from ever being thirsty again - from being driven and ruled by unsatisfied desires. How about these words: John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is not just merely getting by with a bare existence. Jesus is talking about receiving everything needed for a fully blessed and satisfied life—this is an eternal quality of life.

At Christmas we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart, prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!” We are reminded of the angels words in Luk 2:10-14 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

The news of Jesus entering our world is that God had come to make a way for things on Earth to really be different. The powers of evil and sin could now be broken so that people can be freed from their bondage and become transformed in righteousness and goodness - to really live an eternal kind of life - to become like Jesus. This is what the “Good News” is all about!