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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jonathan Whitaker
Have you ever felt truly worthy of something?  Most of us married guys would look at our wives and say, "I'm lucky to have her."  But few of us, if we are being honest, believe we are worthy of such a wonderful creature.  It's true: you and I are slobs, and she is an angel sent from heaven (most likely to endure us as some sort of punishment).  If you work hard for 40 hours a week and fulfill your obligations to your employer, certainly you are worthy of a paycheck.  What about your salvation: are you worthy of that? 
 
When Christ is our Lord, the scripture tells us we are worthy, but not by our own merit.  (Col 1:11-14).  Christ is worthy to be called Lord, and because He is worthy, we can be made worthy through Him. 
 
How does one go about becoming a lord?  It's like the peasant woman from Monty Python said, "How did you become king? I didn't vote for ya!" There are a few ways.  First, you can inherit your title by hereditary succession.  Second, you can be declared lord by the authority of the one who is in power.  A lord can also claim the title by winning a great victory.  Christ, interestingly enough, is qualified as Lord on the merit of all three avenues I just described.  And no, Aaron, the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur had nothing to do with it.
 
As Son of the living God, Christ is worthy to be called Lord.  He is heir to the majesty on high (Heb 1:2). If God and Jesus were like earthly father and son, Jesus would qualify outright as the first born of many brethren to assume the title of Lord (Matt 3:17, Rom 8:29). Our earthly affairs in no way compare to the already established Lordship of Christ as God the Son.  However, Matthew chapter 1 covers all the bases and establishes that by His birthright Jesus should be the political king of Judah.  Take a minute to read it.  Had the Babylonian Captivity never taken place, Joseph would have been King on the throne of Judah when his adopted Son Jesus was born.  Whether by His heavenly or earthly lineage, Jesus is worthy because of his heredity. 
 
Jesus is also qualified to be called Lord because God, the creator of Heaven and Earth and the ultimate authority, bestowed that title upon Him. Philippians 2:6-11 says, " Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Because of Christ's obedience to God the Father, God saw fit to impart His Son's lordship by divine decree.  Jesus is worthy because God said He is worthy.
 
If you did your homework from last time, you already know the third reason Jesus is qualified to be called our Lord.  As the winner of the great victory over sin and death, Jesus has become our Lord and Savior. 
 
Hebrews chapters eight and nine are a tale of two covenants.  The first covenant was made between God and Israel, when God brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Heb 8:9). The history of Israel has been rebellion against this covenant.  Before we start feeling high and mighty, we must realize that we have also run roughshod over God's law.  The second, more excellent covenant is enacted by Christ and supersedes the old covenant. 
 
Anyone who has ever attempted a study of Leviticus can tell you that the law is vast and complex.  In Hebrews eight and nine, Paul reveals that the law (old covenant) was merely a copy or shadow of heavenly things.  When God instructed Moses to construct a tent from a pattern, each intricate piece was a brush stroke in a portrait of God's plan of salvation.  That portrait was never intended to save men from their sins, but to point to the One who would.  In Galatians, we learn that those who rely on the works law are condemned by it (Gal 3:10-11). The work of a man has never saved anyone; on the contrary, Christ's New Covenant is accomplished by Him and has the power to save men (Heb 8:10-12).
 
Work is clearly not the currency of salvation.  Ancient Israel understood this.  Under the old covenant, the Priests would make offerings for the sins of the people using the one thing that does satisfy sin debt: blood (Heb 9:22). Temple sacrifice was a bloody affair, necessarily so, because it was merely a picture of a salvation to come, not salvation itself.  If the blood of goats and bulls could satisfy sin, then temple sacrifice would be a footnote in the Bible.   As it stands, the only blood that would satisfy the eternal condemnation of sin was the blood of God Himself (Heb 9:14).
 
Because Jesus quenched sin with His own blood once and for all we can be glad.  His death ended the bloodshed forever and secured a great victory.  With His victory in a battle we could not have won, over a foe against whom our weapons were insufficient, Jesus is worthy and rightfully our Lord…and because He is worthy, all who believe that God raised Him from the dead and call Him Lord are worthy.

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

by Jonathan Whitaker
Ok, ok, ok, I know what you have come here for. You have come to get the Element New Year's resolution blog.  It's the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, and naturally you expect a blog about making a resolution that matters for the Lord.  Well that is what you are going to get, but not exactly.
 
This year, instead of making big plans to change a habit or start a program, I think you should just resolve to give up.  Yep, give up.  More accurately, I think you should give up your plans, your will, your desires, and submit.  Submit to the Lordship of Christ. Don't act so deflated. The day you followed Jesus as your Savior, when you believed that God raised Him from the dead, you agreed to this arrangement.  Part of salvation is declaring to the world that Jesus is Lord...of you. (Rom 10:9) Today is the day to follow through on your commitment.
 
"You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am." (John 13:13)  "Lord" is a word that has lost some meaning in the parlance of our times.  Our closest modern use of the word is in reference to the English landed gentry, sort of a Lord Grantham, Downton Abbey arrangement with very dramatic maids and butlers. "Lord," in the sense "Jesus is Lord," means the one to whom full and unwavering allegiance is owed.  Your Lord is the one to whom you submit your will implicitly, yielding your desires and plans to His care and direction.  When you sing, "I want more of You and less of me" on Sunday morning, submission to the Lordship of Christ is what you're singing about.
 
I have been reflecting on my own submission to Christ as Lord of my life, and I want to encourage you to do the same. Starting next week, I hope to show you some important truths about our Lord Jesus found within Hebrews 8-11.  As I study these verses I am continually stretched and challenged, as you will be in your walk with Christ.  These chapters make a few things very clear: Jesus is worthy to be called Lord, because He is Lord; we are blessed; and as a Christian there is no other choice besides total submission to the Lordship of Christ.  Egad! I know, heavy.  I will do my best.
 
Should you choose to give up like I have, here is how to prepare for the next installment, first, read Hebrews chapter 8. These verses help establish why Jesus is Lord.  As we read, let's pray for understanding of the text and conviction about the state of our submission to our Lord.  We will consider submitting to what Jesus commands of us as Lord: to love the Lord our God with all of our soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Are you and I obeying our Lord's commands with our thoughts, with our finances, with our actions? 
 
John 13 recounts the last supper when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.  When Jesus begins to wash the feet of his disciple Peter, Peter rebukes Jesus saying, “You shall never wash my feet.” Thinking he was being noble, Peter rejected the Lordship of Christ for his own concept of righteousness.  Jesus told Peter (and us) that if He did not wash Peter’s feet then he has no share with Him.  Jesus shows us that if we submit to Him, He will accomplish the work of making us righteous.
 
Submission to the Lord is not about righteousness through works, nor is it about beating yourself up. Submission is about obeying God, who loves you and willingly paid your penalty. Submission is the avenue by which our old life passes away and we are made useful to the Kingdom.
 
The Prophet Samuel told Israel when they asked for a King that they dishonored God.  When we place our desires over God's will, we make ourselves king (1 Sam 10:17-27). Submission restores Christ to His rightful place as Lord over our lives and is the foundation of a personal relationship with Him.  All of the “work” we have done for the Lord to earn our righteousness is counted as loss, when compared to the awesomeness of knowing Him. Submission is the way we can know our Lord intimately (Phil 3:4-11).
 
See you next time in Hebrews Ch 8.  Now let's all "GIVE UP in 2015".

All I Want For Christmas (Merry Christmas Part 4)

by Aaron

Last Sunday night I arrived home after spending my entire day at Element, by "my entire day" I mean 16 hours straight. I was glad to get home and was looking forward to being able to grab a snack, pet my dog, and sit down for a few minutes before heading off to bed. One of the greatest things about owning a dog is the joy they show when they haven't seen you for 16 hours (our 16 minutes…or 16 seconds).
 
We walked in the door, my wife went to get something and I walked into the backyard to bring the dog in (yes, this was one of those rare days when she wasn't with me). I head into the backyard awaiting my joy filled reunion and I was not let down. My dog pranced around the yard, ran past me 5 times holding her ball, and showed her joy by the smile of her facial expression. I went to pet her, placed my hand on her head, and then realized she smelled like a skunk. It was at this moment I realized her joy was not from seeing me again; it was because she was so proud of herself for catching ANOTHER skunk.
 
This happens every few months because she thinks skunks are cats that have wandered into our yard…and only one cat is allowed in our yard is ours (and even then its iffy). It's also important for you to understand that she doesn't kill the skunks, she plays with them…aggressively. Aggressively will eventually translate into her being sprayed in the face by skunk juice, which translates into me washing her down for the next several hours.
 
If you were to ask me what I wanted for Christmas on Sunday night when I got home I would have said, "some peace and relaxation." If you had asked me after I was "loved on" by my dog I would have said, "someone else to wash her." If you were to ask me today what I want for Christmas I could list a myriad of things, and none of them would be related to skunks or taking a nap.
 
Throughout our lives events happen to us and around us that we do not see coming, do not understand, and definitely cannot appreciate with our limited scope of vision. We are told in Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Many people today use this verse to talk about all of life's circumstances being used by God for our good, and while this is true, Paul also takes this statement to directly move us into a deeper understanding of our salvation. All of our life events, no matter what they are, are redefined in light of the great salvation we have received as a gift of grace from Jesus.
 
Christmas, for us, should be a time of great joy, but also sober reflection. I think it is important to understand that Jesus birth was a joyous occasion in Heaven, while on earth it wasn't seen the same. A dirty stable, cave, or horses stall (depending on your translation), a poor mother and adoptive father, and the only ones witnessing the birth of God into frail human flesh were probably simple farm animals (maybe even one of them sprayed down by a skunk).  Yet this moment of Christmas progresses forward to Jesus death, also not seen at a great joy at the time, and into His ultimate resurrection. All so that God could redeem and restore a lost and broken humanity into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-23).
 
We are told in Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Our hope is not in our circumstances, we are not defined by our past, our present is not solely at the twisted whims of others, and the future is not unsure but grounded in the steadfastness of Jesus.
 
So, what do you want for Christmas? Our 'wants' are all over the place, but God's desire has remained constant and true, His desire is for His children to be free…always has been, always will be. Now if I could only get Him to do my own personal Christmas miracle and get rid of our neighborhood skunk.

Why Do I Care So Much? (Merry Christmas Part 3)

by Aaron

I know the title of this BLOG sounds self-promoting, doesn’t it? “Why do I care so much?” It is like putting, “I just work too hard,” on a job application when they ask for weaknesses; but my “too much” is actually real and true…I do care too much…about my dumb Christmas lights.
 
Last night I turned my Christmas lights on, you know, to bring people Christmas cheer, but also make my neighbors jealous with how festive I am. When I turned them on, some how, the lights surrounding my front door were off. I looked at all the lights, the strands, the plugs, and there is no reason they should be off. I have been obsessing about this all day. Are my neighbors going to laugh at me for my house being a bright shining beacon on a dimly lit street, only to have my front door pitch black?
 
This cannot be, this cannot stand! How can the glory of God be shown at Christmas if my lights aren’t on and functioning properly? Yes, I know, these are first world problems, but I live in the first world and so do you.
 
I guess I should ask that question differently, shortening it up a bit to give a better perspective: how can the glory of God be shown at Christmas? It certainty isn’t through the amount of lights on a house, the cost of a present, or the redness of Santa’s suit. Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
 
We have spent the last year in the Sermon on the Mount, looking at Jesus’ words in how to live our lives in the Kingdom of God. I can't believe how I can still come to something that is supposed to be Christ-centered like Christmas (I mean, His NAME is even in the title) and still lose sight of what is important. Jesus reminds us that when we truly understand the blessing of God bestowed upon us, we are the ones who become Salt and Light in the world.
 
Matthew 5:14 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…” when referring to His followers. I guess that puts my house not simply a distant second, but out of running for being the light of world. Christmas is supposed to be seen in our actions, attitudes, and worship. So I guess I would ask you the same question I have just asked myself, “why do you care so much?”
 
What do you care so much about things that really don’t mean that much in light of eternity? What things should we be caring more about? Christmas is a wonderful time for perspective because we see what God cared most about…it wasn’t Santa, reindeer, Christmas lights, egg nog, or the right ugly sweater to get the free appetizer at Red Robin. God cared about His glory. John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Because God cared about His glory, He cared about us.
 
The best questions to ask this Christmas would be, how could I bring glory to God by caring about the right things. Not that Christmas lights or ugly sweaters are bad…it is just that sometimes we care too much.
 

What's In A Name (Merry Christmas Part 2)

by Jonathan Whitaker

One of the features of the small towns throughout America is Main Street.  Without fail, Main Street in any town, in any state is the home of city hall and a collection of traditional Christian churches.  Sure in Santa Maria you have Broadway, but the concept is the same.  The center of small town culture is that main store-lined thoroughfare that heads straight through town.   
 
We in the season of advent, the time of expectation when we symbolically wait upon the arrival of the Lord.  Main Street will be trimmed and decorated. It will play host to parades and pageants, and each Church along its route will set up a nativity scene.  As you are out admiring the bunting of the Christmas holiday, take time to consider the name of each of the churches that line Main Street.  In any town you will have churches named Calvary, New Covenant, Bethel, or Salem.  For the most part we are satisfied that these names sound sufficiently churchy and never give them another thought.  But, a lot can be communicated by a church's name.
 
Somebody deliberately named a church Calvary.  Calvary was both a place of sadness and great triumph for Jesus and for us as His Church.  But Calvary (also Golgotha) is translated as, "the place of the skull". (Luke 23:33) What an ugly and awful name.  Why on earth would you want to be associated with a hill where executions were committed? Because on a very sad Friday, Jesus our Lord, willingly took the full wrath of God the Father in our place (1 John 4:10).  In that light, the "place of the skull" takes on a different meaning, and Calvary becomes a name we should solemnly remember.
 
Consider why a congregation would name their church Bethel.  Bethel is nothing more than a heap of stones in the desert where the Hebrew patriarch Jacob slept one night.  That seems kind of random.  But, Bethel means "God's Camp".  Bethel was the place where God began to draw Jacob's heart toward his future as the father of the nation of Israel. (Gen 28:10-22) A church that would be named Bethel, signifies that they believe that their congregation actually belongs to God and His will is greater than theirs.  Bethel is a place where we humble ourselves and pray to God, "Your will be done."
 
Salem means "peace".  In Genesis, Abraham was greeted by the Priest and King of Salem (Gen 14:17-24).  A church named Salem, reminds us at Christmas that unto us was born Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and that we are a people of peace (Isaiah 9:6).
 
When a church calls itself New Covenant, we should think of Hebrews 8:8-12.  The Lord says he will establish a new covenant with His Church, when He will write His laws on our hearts, we will be His people who will know Him, and He will remember our sins no more.  What an opportunity we have to remember God's goodness just by driving down Main Street! 
 
Each one of you who profess Christ as your Lord and Savior is just like those old Main Street churches.  Your lives are on display for everyone to see as they go about their busy days.  Like those churches you have a name written upon you by which you are known to all who pass by.  Is the name written on you a name by which you want to be known?  This Christmas season, consider writing the name "Love" over your life.  1 John 4:7-21 tells us that by our love we will be known as the servants of God.  Who ever loves has been born of God and knows God. 
 
As Christ's Church, love should be our banner.  Advent season provides us a perfect opportunity as we wait upon the Lord, to consider our identity as His Church.  Are we harboring hatred in our hearts? Do we love ourselves above others? Do we love others above Him? 1 John 4 asks how we can hate a man whom we have seen, but love a God whom we haven't seen.  No, we have been given too much by our Lord to continue harboring hate in our hearts.  We have only one option: love.
 
I hope as you walk down Broadway or Main Street this Christmas season that God will give you opportunities to show that the name written over His Church may read “Element,” but it is translated "Love".  

Getting Our Hands Dirty (Merry Christmas Part 1)

by Michelle Gee
A few months ago, Jon and I came across a man outside a market in town. He seemed desperate as he stood by his bicycle and frantically looked from one person to the next, and we were horrified to see that he, a grown man, had defecated himself. We approached him to see how we could help—as you can imagine, the smell was absolutely unbearable. As we spoke with the man, we could hear the embarrassment in his voice as he described his need to get home. We weren’t quite sure what we could do to help, and then asked if we had room in our car for him and his bike. We physically didn’t have the room, but I couldn’t help but feel relief and then disgust at my own reaction. In that moment, I realized, I had been more concerned about my own comfort and car than a human being created in the image of God. I wonder…if we would have had the room, would we have given him a ride?
 
We live in a culture that allows us plenty of excuses to say “no” in situations that are inconvenient for us or uncomfortable. We are independent, autonomous beings with the freedom and right to pursue pleasure at almost any cost, as well as guard our own wellbeing and happiness.  The more we understand the Gospel, however, these excuses vanish; we are confronted with the truth of a God who relentlessly pursues people.
 
Philippians 2:5-7says:  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
 
How scandalous is it to think that the God of the universe would humble himself to be one of us? What love and passion must have driven God to execute this plan. Knowing the darkness and brokenness of the world we live in, he still eagerly ran toward it in the only effort to save us. He became a human being clothed in filth—much like the man Jon and I met must have felt—and he did it joyfully (Hebrews 12:2—“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”).
 
If we are to reflect Christ in word and deed to the world around us, what excuse do we have for not getting our hands dirty? We are co-heirs of a Kingdom that breaks into darkness and floods it with light, transforming what was once broken with the truth of Jesus Christ. At what costs are we willing to live this way? I want to challenge you…
 
What areas of darkness have you been avoiding out of inconvenience/discomfort?
How can you go toward them and flood them with light?
As the body, how can we encourage each other to engage with the dirtiest, most broken aspects of the world?

Agape 2014

by Aaron



Last Sunday was or church wide Agape dinner. If you missed it, or were here and helping serve, or your bonfire was a little chaotic, we thought it would be nice for you to have what was shared around the fire by the group leaders. We wanted everyone to be able to focus for a few minutes understanding food as gift, friendship as gift, and the meals we share together as gifts.
 
Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Our God is a giver, He loves to give.  When we share meals together we are sharing THAT gift, we are partaking in the goodness of God together. God has always intended meals to bring us together. Most of what follows is found in the book A meal with Jesus (discovering grace, community and mission around the table) by Tim Chester.
 
 
Throughout the Old Testament and New

  • Meals were seen as an act of grace.
    Jesus called people to follow him…Tax collectors (traitors to their country), zealots (crazy hot headed people), Pharisees (who thought they were better than others), prostitutes (you know what they do), and whole group of people just labeled as "sinners." What we see constantly Jesus do is share a meal with them (Luke 5:27-32, Luke 11, Luke 15 prodigal son).
  • Meals were seen as an act of Community
    Jesus welcomes us, creates space, listens to, and provides for His people. Meals make people slow down and have conversation. Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote, "Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate."  Meals shape, and reshape, relationships in terms of friendship. It is one of the reasons scripture tells us that God will throw a great banquet for His children.  
     
  • Meals were about enacted Hope
    In Isaiah 55 God talks about His provision for a people who cannot buy what they really need. For us Jesus provides for us through the Cross, and resurrection, what we cannot buy, but what we truly need.
     
  • Meals are about Mission
    Reaching, loving, sharing, hosting. The scriptures constantly speak about the poor, blind, lame, crippled…but in God's view that is ALL of us.

-We are the spiritually poor - we have nothing to offer for our salvation
-We are the spiritually crippled - we are made powerless by sin
-We are the spiritually blind - we are unable to see the truth about Jesus
-We are the spiritually lame - we are unable to come to God on our own

  • Meals are a symbol of Enacted Salvation
    On Sunday we had baked potatoes, pork, and carrots, can those be about enacted salvation? Yes. It was and is about people laughing, sharing news, passing food. We say "grace" before we eat, we thank God for his great provision for us. Meals are a part of hospitality; bringing someone in and taking care of their needs. This again is what God has done for us, He has welcomed us into His family and given us bread and wine that will cause us to never thirst and never go hungry again.
  • Meals are Enacted Promise
    The risen Jesus ate with his disciples (Luke 24:42-43). The physicality of Jesus is not cancelled because of the resurrection.

In one sense, throughout the scriptures, creation, redemption, and mission all exist so that Christ's meal with us can take place. We are redeemed to forever eat meals in Christian community and with Christ Himself.
 
…A meal, a life, a community on mission for Jesus' name…may you live and believe in that.
 
 
These are the questions that were asked around your bonfires:

  • If you knew you only had one meal left in life, what would be your last supper?
  • Who do you enjoy sharing meals with?
  • Do you find the more you “eat” with someone, the easier it is to love/like them?
  • Why do you think Jesus used a meal to symbolize His life in communion? 

When Turkeys Drive

by Element Christian Church

Thank you for making the Turkey Drive for the Central Coast Rescue Mission a huge Success! Your Generosity brought them over thirty turkeys! These turkeys could be seen driving around town all afternoon on Sunday and will go to serve hundreds of people in need of a good Thanksgiving meal this holiday season.


Dedicate (Sounds Like A Hip Hop Song)

by Aaron
I haven’t really mentioned this in a blog in a while so I thought I would say it again, baby dedications are cool; they really are. There is also something I really hate about baby dedications: that would be me. I feel like such a broken record when we do them because I say, essentially, the same thing every time. 


 
The last two weeks at Element we have done dedications in second service, in just a couple weeks we will be doing another (again in second service); which leads me to believe that second service must be the frisky crowd. Second service could also be the godly crowd following the biblical mandate to FILL THE EARTH, but I am pretty sure it’s the frisky crowd.
 
Sometimes people ask if we baptize infants, the answer is no, we dedicate children. Why? Baby dedications essentially came about because certain churches after the reformation stopped observing infant baptism (because infants can’t understand the ramifications of what baptism entails). As a body of believers we still want to encourage parents and children to do life in the midst of community, so at Element we practice child dedications.

A Baby Dedication is a short and simple ceremony in which believing parents, and sometimes entire families, make a commitment before the Lord to submit a child to God's will and to raise that child according to God's Word and God's ways. We also ask the entire church to commit their lives to be lived before the child in such a way that Jesus is constantly on display. A child will get their main understanding of the world through the community around them…which means we want to be a Jesus centered community.
 
So, if you happen to be at Element in the next few weeks, and happen to be in a service with a dedication, and happen to be pleasantly surprised by the great blessing that children are…thank God and dedicate your life to helping raise that little one to know, and live in, the grace of Jesus.

Uprooted (Part 2)

by Jonathan Whitaker
Part of the Planting Roots journey is about resources.  Specifically, God's resources and our relationship to them.  For much of my personal planting roots journey, which began when I was saved at age 11 and started in earnest when Jennifer and I were expecting our daughter Lauren, my relationship with God's resources has been in total disarray. 
 
Ask my Mom or wife: I can be a bit stuff-obsessed.  When I wanted something as a little boy, I would execute a three-to-four month campaign of wearing my parents down.  Like a siege army, I would deplete their resolve until I had secured the object of my desire.  I would like to say that this has not been the story of my life, but I would be lying.  Compounding matters, I have always been a planner and saver with money. I know how to earn it, save it and amass it.  Thriftiness is typically a virtue. However, I had a relationship with my money and stuff, and as a result it strained my relationship with the One who gave me the money and stuff.  You know WHO I mean. 
 
In my mid-twenties when I began to seek my Savior in relationship, Jennifer and I were involved with a terrific group of Christian friends in a weekly (sometimes daily) small group.  During this time our group -- all of us recent college grads and newlyweds -- decided to take an obedience challenge.  We decided to take on Proverbs 3:9-10.  Money was something I was good at.  Surely I could at least be obedient though giving to the church I attended. 
 
I told Aaron last week that I am reluctant to give people my testimony about tithing, because I think they will get the wrong idea.  He told me I didn't have a choice.  As the story goes on you will understand what I mean. 
As I said, I thought I was pretty good with money and I had sufficient income that making my tithe would be an easy first step in obeying God more fully.  Jennifer and I started with a decision to tithe, but we ended up where we should have started...with prayer.  Our decision was to give the full tithe (old testament style). For those not yet following, that meant the first tenth of every dollar we made, would now go to Bandera Road Community Church.  Our next step was to make a budget, which we had not had to this point in our marriage.  It was at this point I discovered my relationship with stuff was preventing me from growing in the relationship with the One whose resources I spent on the stuff.  Jennifer and I had two new car payments, a mortgage, and a new baby.  What we didn't have was ten percent of our income to pay a tithe.   
 
It was at this point we regrouped and circled back to where we should have started in the first place: prayer.  From our budgeting, we knew that we could give three percent, but we wanted to give ten percent.  We agreed that all that we had belonged to God.  So, it occurred to us that if we wanted to serve Him with what is already His, perhaps we should just ask Him for an assist. (Matt 21:22)
 
That month we gave three percent.  After more prayer and a harder look at our budget, we cut out some luxuries and found that God had provided enough in our budget to not only tithe, but cover all of the obligations which we made before we considered financial obedience. By the second month of the challenge we paid our full tithe. I had not yet read Malachi 3:10 (read it now), but I am convinced this was God's answer to our obedience. Also, this is where things took a turn for the weird.  That month I received a check in the mail from my Military Travel Credit Card reimbursing me for multiple overpayments I had made during overseas travel. Apparently, I benefited from the exchange rate and my math had been conservative.  Here is the thing though -- the reimbursement was unexpected and more than the amount I tithed by roughly ten percent.  I know...makes the hair on your neck stand up. 
 
Needless to say, I kept tithing. I will admit this hasn't happened every month since we started tithing.  Though unexpected money has shown up at critical times of need since then.  But more than that, out of our tithing God put us on the path of stewardship and budgeting that allowed us to pay off our car debt and build a rainy day fund.  Through steady obedience in this small way, God has shown us that we cannot out-give Him.  The best part has been that He has matured us on the subject of resources.  I know now that God does not want me to be dogmatic about some percentage; He wants 100 percent.  It is His.  He wants us to experience the joy of being generous as He is generous. What is funny is that He is so generous that He allows us to give away His stuff! (2 Cor. 8)
 
Having tested and seen that God is good in the area of resources and money, Jennifer and I resolved to set a dollar amount to give to our local Church.  We felt this is important for two reasons.  First, God faithfully allows me a paycheck twice a month; I should acknowledge His generosity.  Second, I believe it is important to give at the place where you are serving and being served.  Since I have five members in my family, I require a lot of service, so this turns out to be a real bargain for me. 
 
The best part about this is that God wants you to bring the tithe into the storehouse.  He wants you to fill up the storehouse, so that there will be plenty to feed His Kingdom.  This means giving is wide open.  When you give, ask yourself, "Is this for my glory or God's glory?" If the answer is that you are giving for God's glory, then sign the check.  If you are worried that it felt too good to do something nice for another person with the money God gave you (i.e. you think you might be glorifying yourself)... STOP WORRYING!!!  Think how much more God is smiling that you gave to a person in need so He could be glorified. 
 
I believe in giving to my local church, but if given the choice of dropping it in the offering box or meeting the need of another person who is hurting.  I choose the person every time.  Seldom do I have to make a choice between the two. God has made a way to do both.
 
If you are new at Element or a Military person who will likely move in three years, you may ask, "What stake do I have in the building program?"  Perhaps none.  Perhaps everything.  As a nomadic Christian, my roots have been planted in the community that I have found at many churches.  In Christ's eyes, we are one body of believers. It is no different for me to give to build a building in Santa Maria or Timbuktu, so long as it houses a body of believers who exalt Jesus Christ. 
 
As Jennifer and I transitioned from California to Maryland, God allowed us a wonderful gift of generosity.  Without a Church home, He allowed us to give our full tithe to serve people whom we know and love.  We even got to give a few months to a building fund for a group of believers whom we love, but may never get to worship with again. 
 
As you give from the resources that God blesses you with, you get to experience your Father in Heaven in one of the best ways.  You get to feel His generosity.  Someday when we experience the full measure of His lavish generosity, it will seem strange to us that we ever held back, when all we had to do to know Him was give. 
 

Uprooted

by Jonathan Whitaker
It has been about seven months since the Air Force uprooted Jennifer, the girls and me from our comfortable plot in Santa Maria.  I suppose enough time has passed that many of you are new to Element and may not know me.  Well to you I say, welcome.  You are truly blessed and I hope you find Element the community of loving Christ followers that I knew when I worshiped at that strange used car lot between Orcutt and the airport. 
 
Just a quick introduction (or reintroduction for some of you with sketchy memories), my name is Jonathan and I was blessed to serve at Element as an elder while stationed at Vandenberg AFB.  It is a job that I never expected God would entrust to me and that I took very seriously... although those of you who know me will raise an eyebrow since I am not the most serious person.
 
Though Jennifer and I have been worshiping at a new church here in Maryland, our hearts are still in many ways with our beloved family at Element.  So much so, that we are sharing your journey of Planting Roots. Each morning before I head to work in D.C., Jennifer and I have a couple's devotion and review the daily exercise in our Journey Guide. 
 
Earlier this week in one of our regular conversations, I asked Aaron if Element was experiencing an influx of new folks corresponding with the summer military move cycle.  He informed me that there were new military families among other new people who have joined the worship since I left in April.  Our conversation then turned to how new folks might respond to a church entering a building campaign.  More specifically, how folks like the military families who will move in 3 years fit in to a roots-planting movement. 
 
I laughed at Aaron a bit, because I know that this puts him in a position that he is uncomfortable with.  He fears that he and the church will be perceived as being after your money and that's all.   First, let me reassure you, as a person who attended several church business meetings, if Element and Aaron Carlberg were after your money, they are not very good at getting it. So your wallet is safe.  Second, as a person whose job and life have only allowed me to plant shallow roots in this world, all I can offer you is my testimony on root planting and resources.
 
Jesus found me when I was 11 years old at a Fundamental Baptist summer camp.  There I professed that Jesus is Lord and I believed that God raised Him from the dead. (Rom 10:9).  It wasn't until I was married with a kid on the way that I got serious about knowing my Savior.  Living in San Antonio, Texas I submitted to a more mature Christian in discipleship and realized that God wanted me to know Him intimately. Really it wasn't me seeking as much as it was Jesus sending people into my life who pointed me to Him. 
 
One of the key ways that we can know God is through fellowship with other believers (1 John 1-2).   At my small group Bible study in Texas, I first experienced Christ's love for believers, which is lived out through His Church.  I hope you all are able to experience authentic community in the way I did; praying for one another, serving one another, laughing and crying with one another.  So much is revealed about Christ's love in this setting.  1 John 2:3 tells us that we are known to be His servants if we keep His Commandments.  In verse 10, John goes on to tell us that keeping His commandments means loving your brothers. 
 
On a personal note, I am convinced that within Christ-centered community, God Himself is present.  I know this because when you have to say goodbye to a true loving community of believers, it is painful.  In the summer of 2010, Jennifer and I had to do just that. 
 
After three months of wandering, we moved to Santa Maria and found Element.  It was there that God taught me my next lesson: His Church is bigger than I thought.  God is loving, and as Jennifer and I yielded to Him and trusted Him, He led us to a community of deep loving relationship at Element.  After being at Element for a month or so, I met with Eric Djafroodi and Aaron (separately) and told them I would like to serve in a small group ministry.  My honest desire was to serve God at Element.  God turned the tables on me.  Over the course of three and a half years, He gave us a home of worship, grew our understanding of Him, gave us a new family of believers, and ultimately we received tenfold the service that we gave. 
 
My journey with Christ has shaped my perspective of planting roots.  God's kingdom is vast and His Church is global.  Though in my heart I desire to be with you at Element, Christ has shown me at least twice that He will give me real community wherever His Church is.  God wants to be known by His children.  Community is a key means by which believers can know God.  No matter how far you wander from home or the Church family you love, seek God and fellowship -- wherever you are -- with others who seek God (Phil 3:10).  He will be known and you will find that your roots are deeply planted in fertile soil. 
 

Planting Roots, Is it Over?

by Aaron
Sunday morning was officially that last of our Sunday morning messages going through Planting Roots, but is it over? The answer is, no. The truth is Planting Roots is just beginning. Our five-week passage was the introduction to a three-year journey that will see Element have a permanent home.
 
Even as we look at it today, it is very hard to visualize. We have blank dirt, half of a parking lot, a whole lot of spunk and determination, but none of those is what makes Planting Roots a reality…that is Jesus. We wanted Planting Roots to do FOUR things at Element.
 

1) We wanted it all to glorify God by its focus, its implementation, and its ultimate results. Everything God does is for His glory, so everything we do should be for His glory as well. If God was and is not glorified, we missed the point.
 
2) We wanted all of Element to grow closer to Jesus by going through personal and corporate Planting Roots journeys, that all of Element would know Jesus in a deeper way than they have in the past. We want all of our lives to be lovingly submitted to Jesus by understanding Him better. This means He has the right to examine every part of our lives throughout the process.
 
3) We wanted to unify, for everyone, Element’s vision for the future. Our hope is that, as a result of this journey, we will all understand and support the vision God has given us for the future. Ideally, whenever someone new comes to Element, anyone who has been through the journey would be able to explain where Element has been and where we are headed.
 
4) It was to gather us around a to raise enough funds to build our permanent home because Element needs one. We prayed through the entire process that God would move people through the Planting Roots Journey in such a way that we all take it to heart and participate. Only by understanding God's call, His grace, and our great blessing will this become a reality.

 
Last Sunday, those of you who attended our one service literally brought tears to my eyes as you came forward and filled out commitment cards to realize these purposes. It is a great pleasure for my wife and I to serve and worship Jesus with you.
 
If you missed last Sunday, or haven’t made a decision yet about what God wants to do through you in Planting Roots, you can still fill out a commitment card this Sunday. We even made an online version for you if you like those better.  Planting Roots isn’t over, it has just begun, I think we will all be amazed at what God does over the next three years when it actually IS over.