Book Review: Zealot

by Element Christian Church

This is a review that I did on my Goodreads page for the book Zealot by Reza Aslan, I thought it would be helpful for you as well.

A friend of mind read this review and said I sounded angry, I don’t think I am angry as much as frustrated. Let me start by addressing something that repeatedly comes up throughout the entirety of Zealot…We all have a bias. Each of us has a worldview that shapes how we process and analyze information. Research shows we are more likely to accept and gravitate toward people, things, and ideas that reinforce our beliefs. This is why critical thinking is so important...we must be willing to have our worldview challenged, but also be able to point to true evidence that reinforces it. Make no mistake when reading Zealot, Aslan has a bias, even though he claims not to. His bias is markedly strong on every page. When I read the book I had to put it down multiple times in order to avoid a metaphorical aneurism.
 
To be upfront about my own bias, I believe the Bible is a truthful, historically valid collection of writings, and that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe these claims have withstood time and the opposing arguments (like Reza Aslan’s) along the way. I wrote this review only after a former youth group kid shared his review of the book and stated, “Zealot is an attempt to look at the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than looking at the founder and reason for Christianity, Aslan looks at Jesus the political revolutionary.” As I said, I had previously tried to read through the entire book, but put it down because it brings up the same arguments that have been disproved for the last 150 years, after the review of this young man, who I love dearly, I finally finished it. I assumed where the book would be going, and it turns out, I was right.
 
Most of my comments throughout this review are made at the times when I put the book down out of frustration with Aslan’s bias, it is why many of the things I say have a frustrated tone. If I could sum up this review in a few words, they would be this: “Aslan claims the New Testament writers were biased in their testimonies about Jesus, but he (Aslan) claims to be unbiased…he is full of BS.” That’s it. Throughout the book, Aslan shows his bias in how he masterfully twists biblical book order, phrases, verses, and history to fit his particular worldview, and yet consistently acts like he is not doing that. You lose credibility as an author if you can’t even cop to your own bias. Many people, if they are not aware of what he is doing, can easily be swayed by his less than true arguments.
 
As an example, Aslan, at the very beginning of the book, completely dismisses ALL of the apostle Paul’s writing in one paragraph—simply because Paul believed and taught the virgin birth, Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, and the resurrection. Seriously, just ONE paragraph to dismiss one of the greatest scholars in the ancient world. However, Aslan has to do this because the rest of his claims wouldn’t stand up to Paul’s theology. If that doesn’t scream “bias,” I don’t know what does. How about Aslan’s central premise (common among liberal scholars) that the synoptic Gospels took their information from an outside document known as “Q”? The “Q” hypothesis argues that Matthew, Mark, and Luke may not have even known each other, and that the Gospels were written after the fall of Jerusalem (70AD – or CE, depending on how you like to refer to the current age); they were a collusion of the church to deify Jesus and fit its theological structure. The biggest issue with this theory is that we have thousands of documents, fragments, and pieces of the synoptic gospels, but not one shred of evidence for the “Q” document/source material other than a bunch of liberal scholars saying “it must exist” because they cannot believe the New Testament could have been written any other way…can you say “bias?”**

 

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What Is Meta For?

by Aaron
A few weeks ago Eric Djafroodi gave a message about Stephen’s sermon in front of the religious leaders of his day. Stephen was the first deacon in the Church that was martyred for his faith. As I sat in service listening to the message, various things struck me and I wrote a short blog about it (you can find it here). As more time has passed, I keep thinking how brilliant Stephen was because he used his culture’s metaphors to explain the Gospel in a tangible way.
 
I originally wrote about how we (not metaphorically) need to understand what God is doing in real world sense of living on mission by being a blessing. After I wrote the blog I had a couple people ask what our current cultural metaphors are today.
 
The word “metaphor” itself comes from a root that means “to transfer,” where we transfer the idea of one thing onto another to give it more meaning. Like if you are into NASCAR and someone jumps out into the lead, sometimes people will say, “He took off like a rocket.” The imagery gives more detail to what you are talking about.
 
Our culture has metaphors that explain how people see the world today; it is important to identify  those metaphors in order to communicate effectively. After all, we want people to be able to connect with what we have to say, especially in terms of the Gospel. Currently (and this will date this blog years from now), the term LEMONADE is making a comeback because Beyoncé just released a critically acclaimed album with that title. This title is a reference to the adage: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Her album has resonated with a whole culture that is struggling, in their own way, to be heard.
 
Martin Gannon, from the University of Maryland, writes, “A cultural metaphor is any activity, phenomenon, or institution with which members of a given culture emotionally and/or cognitively identify.” It is important to realize that metaphors will come to represent the underlying values of a culture. Sometimes when we feel out of touch with the “language today,” it is simply a misunderstanding of metaphor. Everyone is looking for a way to connect…and as Christians, we must remember that part of speaking the Gospel into culture is knowing the right words to use for connection and meaning.
 
The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of a BODY to describe what the church is meant to function like in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. I’ll just quote verses 12-13: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. With Paul’s words in mind, listen to much of what our society is saying today. Recently, the Huffington Post shared an article titled “Are We All One?”—obviously with a whole different connotation than the Bible, but this speaks to humanity’s ingrained desire to connect.
 
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians about the diversity in who we all are and how we can still connect and function together when centered on Jesus. One body with many parts can speak directly to the racial divide our country is experiencing today. How do we do this? We understand the metaphors of how people are looking to connect (tolerance, mother earth, all one) and speak plainly about how the only way everyone will ever work together will be by centering on Jesus and not on ourselves. The 2000-year-old metaphor that Paul used, a diverse body made up of many different parts living for the Gospel, is still just as fresh and relevant as an image today.
 
Acts 17:22-23 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.Paul, in Athens, notices how the culture was worshipping; he doesn’t demean or talk down to them, but simply takes their language and moves it to Jesus and the truth. Instead of telling those around us what they need to hear in words they do not understand, we must speak truth by noticing the words that are used.
 
I would challenge you to be more aware of the common images and themes that are so prevalent in our culture today. As believers, we should constantly be thinking about how the Gospel speaks and applies to those themes. Ask yourself, or better yet ask God in prayer, how can you “translate” the Gospel to our culture so that it is clear and relatable without compromising the truth?

A Prayer In Tragedy

by Aaron

Last week one of our Elders sent me a prayer that was written by Ravi Zacharias and posted on their website www.rzim.org
 
We thought that after the tragedies in the past few weeks, with our country more divided by death and confusion, we as God’s people must remember to be peace makers and seek the welfare of others. We will do this by lifting up everyone, victims and families, in prayer before our great and good God. Please take time to pray for Jesus to grow us into greater unity through the tragedies.
 
Here is the prayer by Ravi Zacharias in his post: A Prayer on this Day of Shock and Heartbreak. We offer it to you as a prayer of lament and hope.
 

God, our heavenly Father, our minds go back to the day when Jesus knelt beside his beloved city and wept, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).

We sense so deeply the same reality. We weep for our cities even as we bury our dead. The sound of gunfire is the grim sound of what has already shattered our relationships. We are witnesses of distrust, revenge, and anger. We see no one to lead us and guide us. To whom shall we go?

Our differences seem to lead us even farther apart. Oh, Lord of miracles, do what only you can do to save us from ourselves. Give us men and women who will lead us to reconciliation. Give us leaders who will bind us up to heal our wounds, not those who will only incite more hate.

Give us voices that will bring hope and not despair. Please comfort the bereaved and give humility to the ones who are resistant to your ways. Give us pause so that we might sit back for just a few moments to look to you before we look at our impulsive solutions.

We shed another’s blood when we are without answers. You shed your own blood as our only answer. We kill, buried in despair. You rise, giving us hope.

You told Peter to put back his sword and you restored the one wounded. That’s what we long for. A reprimand to the one who would injure and a healing within the one injured. God of miracles, please do it again. We need you. Our nation needs you. Our leaders need you. Many a home today will not have a loved one returning. Without you we have no hope. With you all things are possible—even for beauty to come out of ashes. We pray for the day of unarmed truth and unconditional love. Please answer our prayer.

In the name of Jesus your Son, our only Savior, we ask this.

Amen.

Happy Fourth of July

by Element Christian Church
Happy Independence Day from all of us at Element. Hope you have a safe and fun weekend. 

Truth and Meaning

by Aaron

I try very hard to look at the Bible objectively, to teach you as best as I can so you will see the Scriptures as they were meant to be seen, but I also know that is somewhat impossible. I don’t say that to diminish your trust in my teaching or your trust in the Bible; I say it because we must be careful to read OUT of the Bible what God wants said, and not IN to the Bible what we want it to say.

I recently had an experience of running into someone I haven’t seen in a couple of years. They had become “hyper-spiritual,” and I do not mean that in a good way. They had begun to look for numerical patterns in the Bible (we call this numerology). They took pictures of the clouds to look for signs from God, and they believed that when everyone “really” trusted Jesus they would all agree with him. It’s easy to dismiss someone like this as crazy, because they talk crazy, ask questions they don’t want a response to, talk over you, and become very adversarial, but I know my calling as being a witness for Jesus is to always steer people back to Him.

The Bible’s focus isn’t about numerology; the Bible’s focus is Jesus. When we get caught thinking God has hidden messages in the Bible, we miss the main point of why we have the scriptures at all. 

As I said, our experiences shape how we read and interpret the Scriptures, that is why we must always come back to prayer and listening to God’s Spirit. Christopher Hall wrote a great article about this when he wrote a review of Randolph Richard’s book: Misreading the Scriptures with Western Eyes. Our culture will help us see some things very clearly, but can also distort other things altogether.

In the article, they point out that even simple details in the parable of the prodigal son can be overlooked. “When 100 North American students were asked to read the parable and retell it, only six mentioned the famine the prodigal experiences away from home.” Americans forgot the famine and the hardship that pushed the young man to return home because, as the author suggests, “Most Americans simply have not experienced terrible famine.” When they had 50 Russians read the parable, “42 out of 50 mentioned the famine.” In Russia’s cultural history, World War II brought famine and starvation that rooted itself deeply in their collective consciousness. Both of our cultural contexts determine what stands out to us in a passage of scripture.

I used to go to a Bible study where the leader would have us all read through a passage from the Bible and then ask, “What does this mean to you?” If I was in an ornery mood (which was often), I would start right in by being a loud-mouthed sarcastic participant, but if I wasn’t “in a mood” most of the room would stay quiet for a few minutes before someone would eventually say, “To me, this passage is saying _____.” People would start to answer, but not out of any source of knowledge from the actual scripture; they would answer out of their heart’s emotional response (which usually resulted in less learning and more ignorance).

Don’t misunderstand me, I think it is great to talk about how Scripture impacts our hearts. It is great to ask what a passage means, but as Hall says, “To make the individual Christian the starting point for interpretation and the center of a text's meaning—the Western pattern—is problematic.” In the book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, they point out two main dangers in this approach:

  • If we, as a people, make ourselves the center of the search for truth in a passage of the Bible, we will skew things in our own direction and miss what the text is actually saying. The passage may very well be challenging us! We will, as I said earlier, read in to the text the things we want instead of allowing the text to examine and change us. The author says, “This…leaves us basing our Christian life on less than the full counsel of God."
  • The me or “I” centered approach to looking at the Scriptures confuses two words: application and meaning. We must understand that we are not the focus of Biblical texts—Jesus is. Yes, we are made in the image of God, Jesus did come to save us, and the story of redemption includes us as God’s people, but we must always first ask how a passage reveals Jesus. If our first question is “How can I apply this to my life?”, we will skip the meaning and be self-centered on application (not that application is a bad thing).

A major problem with how the Church in America has taught the Scriptures is that it is a very man-centered view. We tend to make people the point, and not God—who made people, revealed Himself, and calls us into relationship with Him. When we make the Scriptures man-centered, we will assume there are hidden messages, secret codes, and the ability to “unlock” all we have ever dreamed. But if the Scriptures are about God being first, they will change our whole view and we will begin to realize that Jesus is the author and finisher of not just our faith, but the Scriptures as well.


Let’s not forget Jesus’ words in John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Planting Roots Update - June 2016

by Element Christian Church
Big News for Planting Roots this month! The first is that we have entered a lease agreement with our landlord to rent our current facility one more year (until January 1st, 2018)! This should give us the time needed to build our permanent home.
 
The second is that we've received the plans from our Civil Engineers and have submitted them to the city for plan check. If all goes well, we have the potential to start moving dirt within 4-6 weeks! 
 
Please pray for our continued process and thank God for His providence in working all things out for His Glory.
 
Here's our updated Planting Roots Giving numbers...



Crux Sola Est Nostra Theologia

by Aaron
If you just read the title of this blog and thought, “Did Marianne’s cat walk across Aaron’s keyboard?” the answer would be a resounding, “No.” Sometimes I get in these moods where I want to just write something for the fun of it…that usually means something no one else really cares about, like theological words and phrases.
 
When the Magisterial Reformation of the church occurred, some wonderful bits of theology were emphasized to the “common” people. The reformers (like Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Simmons) wanted normal everyday people to understand more of the truth of the scriptures. This resulted in an emphasis on what were known as the “five solas.” The word “sola” means “alone,” but unlike getting lost in the woods, this use of “alone” means “by itself and no other.” Here’s an explanation of each of the five solas:
  • Sola Fide – Faith alone. We are justified before God by faith alone. (Rom 3:28)
  • Sola Gratia – Grace alone. We have no claim upon God and He saves us by His grace. (Eph 2:8)
  • Solus Christus – Christ Alone. There is no human achievement that takes the place of Jesus and His work. The Reformers loved to say over and over, “Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.” (Acts 4:12)
  • Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. The Bible is our authority, not Popes, churches, traditions, or councils. When men contradict the Scriptures, we are to remain faithful to the Scriptures. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
  • Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone belongs all glory. God does all things for His glory and so should we. (Romans 11:36—For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.)
If you would like a more in-depth (but still brief) explanation, you can check out this short article on the Gospel Coalition website: (https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/scottysmith/2007/12/03/the-solace-of-the-reformation/).
 
When we say “sola means alone,” it means by itself in a good way…not in an eating-lunch-by-yourself-kind-of-way. These things alone are sufficient for a fruitful understanding and practice of the Gospel. The Protestant church has held these solas as foundational to who we are in a “deep rooted faith in God” kind of way, but some people forget that Martin Luther added a sixth sola while defending himself at the beginning of his time as a reformer.
 
On October 31st (What? Halloween?), 1517, Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses that he nailed to a church door in Wittenberg. These words were mainly to combat the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church. (Indulgences were pardons you could buy to make up for your sins). The posting of questions was not something new, and most historians agree that Luther was shocked that his 95 Theses caused the stir that they did. However, we’re glad today that they had such a strong impact. Luther’s challenge to the Church was to essentially change its ways, because Jesus alone (Solus Christus) paid for our sin.
 
On April 26, 1518 (no one ever said the Church was fast at doing anything), Luther was called upon to defend himself and he did so in what we call the Heidelberg Disputation. In this disputation, Luther laid down the principle of Crux Sola Est Nostra Theologia (“the Cross alone is our theology”). Luther, in this sola, was not discounting the birth or the resurrection of Jesus; he was directly combating the idea that you could buy your way into God’s graces. He was saying that Jesus alone (Solus Christus) paid for our sin at the Cross (crux sola).
 
Luther pushed for an understanding that all human history comes to a head at the cross of Christ and that without a proper understanding of the Cross, we will misunderstand everything else (even the other 5 solas). I think for us, an understanding of the centrality of the Cross is also more important than most people realize. The Cross is where Jesus paid for our sin. The Apostle Paul uses many metaphors for this:
  • For those who get focused on the temple, he uses the words sacrifice or atonement (Rom 3:25)
  • For those who love the law, he uses the word justification (a legal term)
  • For those who love relationship, he uses the word reconciliation
Scot McKnight wrote, “The metaphors Paul chose determined the problem they addressed: if the word is redemption, the problem is slavery; if the word is sacrifice…the problem is sin…; if the word is reconciliation, the problem is alienation.” The cross is the means of liberation, reconciliation, justification, and atonement for our sin—not the church, not men, not worship, not law—only the work of Jesus through the Cross.
 
We are a people who must understand Christ’s sacrifice in a sola type of way. If we do not understand the Cross, we will preach a false gospel that elevates people as being central AND ALSO begins to slowly demonize God Himself for requiring a sacrifice of us. Our sin required a sacrifice, but God Himself stepped into human history to BE that sacrifice. This is why “justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone” changes everything. The truth of these words is given to us throughout the entirety of Scripture (Sola Scriptura), and God is the one who gets all the glory (Soli Deo Gloria)…but an understanding of the Cross of Christ (Crux Sola) is what brings it all into proper focus.  

Live The Message

by Aaron
The start of this blog is more of a public apology to Eric Djafroodi. If you were at Element last Sunday morning, you know that I gave him the longest section of Scripture to preach on in Element’s history. As I was sitting at his practice run-through (AKA 1st service…just kidding), I wanted to reemphasize something that stood out to me from Eric’s (Stephen’s) message—the idea of speaking intelligently into our cultural contexts.
 
If you were to read through Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7:2-53, you might walk away thinking that it was the strangest message you have ever heard, that certain points didn’t land, and that the Gospel wasn’t clearly articulated. All of those things would be false, because Stephen perfectly articulated the truth of the Gospel in a context that was highly relatable to his audience: the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin). The Sanhedrin were not concerned with transgender bathrooms, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, gun control, three strikes laws, or any laws other than those handed down in the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Torah).
 
Stephen spoke in a way his listeners could understand, as should we. Sometimes we get caught up in using “Christian” words (“Christianese”) and forget that many of our co-workers, neighbors, and friends don’t understand words like atonement, redemption, grace, or even hope in the same way that a believer in Jesus would. We must be careful that when we use words we say them in a way that connects and makes our understanding clearer by adopting the cultural metaphors around us.
 
Stephen tells the religious leaders that God is not confined to the nation of Israel because God chose a man named Abraham before Israel was even a country. He then sent His people into the land of Egypt before eventually giving them an inheritance of the promised land. Over and over God is showing them that He is not confined to a space, but that He blesses and intends for those who follow Him to bless others.
 
Stephen tells the religious leaders that God is not confined to their temple, their holy space. When Moses meets God, it is out in the middle of nowhere and God tells him to take off his sandals because the place where he is standing is holy. What made the place holy? The presence of God made the space holy; the space itself held no special significance. Today we like to make some spaces more holy than others (whether it is a baseball hall of fame, or a Hollywood walk of fame, or a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame); we need to understand that it is God’s presence that makes a place sacred and holy.
 
Stephen then went on to show that any time someone came to show who God was and is in a real way, they ended up being killed for their faith. Stephen showed how the nation of Israel constantly rejected their calling to be a blessing and made the blessing of God all about themselves; they held themselves as a privileged elite in the world, rather than a Kingdom of priests.  
 
So, let’s see if we can connect this to us and our culture…
 
Like Stephen, we are called to be people who can speak the truth into our current cultural setting in a way that makes sense. What can stop us from doing this in a practical way? Living like the religious leaders Stephen is speaking to. We have a tendency to see the world in our own context, just like the Sanhedrin. We want to confine God to our sacred places, we want to determine who can be eligible for the blessing of God, and we more often than not reject the calling that God has placed on our lives to be a blessing.
 
I think we should begin to ask where, metaphorically speaking, we need to take off our sandals, because God is moving and working in places we refuse to believe or recognize. I think we need to understand where we have tried to confine God and His work to fit our narrow cultural view. I think we must open our eyes to understand the blessings we have received are blessings that God intends for us to share with others.
 
When we refuse to live as God’s priests to the world, we are refusing to live the calling of God. 1 Peter 2:9 But you area chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. We, many times, are just like the men Stephen addresses; we think because our great God has redeemed us, we are better than others. We think the blessings we have received are somehow because of our own effort, or because we have done something good enough to deserve them…but the truth is that we have been blessed to bless others and give our blessings away.
 
The biggest cultural push of our day is tolerance for only the things that are deemed tolerable. Laws are passed and people fight for a view that is constantly letting individuals do anything they/we want as long as our hearts say it OK (you can insert the conservative or liberal movement you wish here). How do we speak the gospel into that? It starts with understanding that the scriptures teach that our hearts are wicked and cannot be trusted to be other than self-serving. Beginning to understand how God has made us, how we have marred His image, will begin to bring compassion because we will see the brokenness around us. When we love them as God calls us to we will begin to understand them better, when we understand others better we can speak to the depth of their brokenness as well as ours in a way that is full of Gospel truth and blessing.
 
Blessing others does not mean letting them get away with everything they want; it is speaking the truth and offering love and hope, while showing how to live a life that loves God in practical ways. How can you love your neighbors? How can you love your friends? How can you love your coworkers? How can you love your family, your spouse, your children? Live out the blessing of God in others’ lives, while not begrudging them for your effort, energy, or trampling on your blessing. It was never yours in the first place. It was always meant to be given away. 

The Gospel and...

by Element Christian Church
A couple of weeks ago in his message titled Acts 14: A Hope That Heals Us (Acts 5:12-16), Aaron talked about how the gospel speaks directly about God’s miracle of reconciliation in the midst of broken relationships that seem hopeless.
 
Every day we face situations, circumstances, people, and desires that are broken and hurting that the Gospel can speak good news into. We get to be His people who know and speak God’s truth into not only our lives, but the lives of those we live with in community. Jeff Vanderstelt calls this being ‘Gospel Fluent’ – a language of redemption in all areas of life. And just like any other language, it needs to be studied and practiced much before it becomes second nature.
 
The Verge Network has released an eBook called “Gospel Fluency: The Key to Effective Disciplemaking” from one of Jeff’s talks. I want to pull a little from of the ‘everyday situations’ section of that book here.
 

The Gospel and Finances
When was the last time you counseled someone with finances and you said, "Okay, before we go anywhere, I just need to let you know the God of the universe has all the resources you need today, that you are co-heir with Christ.
 
Therefore, you are as rich as you could ever imagine. That He who was rich became poor so that in His poverty, you might become rich. So that should make you the most generous and eager to give because you know that even though He lost it all, He got it all back." And let me ask you, do you know much about first fruits? Because see, Jesus is the first fruit of a new creation.
 
And God was willing to give His own son so that with Him, He might take in everyone else. Do you know that idea of first fruits, that you give the very best that you have, trusting that God will complete what He started in your life?
 
And you won't have to worry about your provision tomorrow because when you give it to Him and trust Him with it, He will give you everything you need. How will He not also, with Christ, give you every good gift?
 
 
The Gospel and Debt
How do we counsel people in the area of finances? They're in debt. Why are they in debt? Because they went somewhere else to find great satisfaction, and they became an addict of a thing that didn't satisfy them. That's what's going on.
 
They thought that by buying more, I'll feel better. But it didn't make it better, so I kept buying. And I became a worshipper at the marketplace. And what they don't need is better financial counsel first. Rather, they need to repent and turn to Jesus Christ who's the only one who deeply satisfies their longing.
Because if we're not, what we're telling people is Jesus is really good when it has to do with your standing with God and your eternal destiny, but he doesn't really know a whole lot about finances.

 
The Gospel and Sex
What about sex? The reason why you wait to have sex till after you're married is because you're telling the story of Jesus Christ through your purity. That's why. We don't wait to have sex till we're married so we can have better sex. We wait to have sex till we're married because Jesus is the one who, with His own life, purchased his bride.
 
And then He said, "I will wait to return to consummate." You want to talk about someone who's waiting a long time? It's been over 2,000 years from my count, and He's doing pretty well at being faithful to His bride.
 
That's the story we're telling. It's not about you. It's about Jesus. Don't give people counsel about sexuality without helping them to understand the whole point of it is to tell the story of God's faithfulness to His bride.

Read more of Jeff’s words and download the entire ebook at the Verge website here.

The Law

by Aaron

After briefly talking about “The Law” on Sunday, I had a few questions from people that I thought I would briefly try to recap and answer.
 
The Pharisees taught and lived mostly what was known as the Oral Law, the Sadducees lived more in line with what was called the Written Law. The Written Law was more of a letteral (not literal) view of the Torah, where you lived it word for word. The Oral Law was more about the meaning behind the words of the Law. The oral interpretation was to make the Law more understandable and livable because they knew not everyone, especially foreigners, would understand the Law.
 
Many of the things Jesus taught lined up with the Oral Law, understanding that the Laws were made for man, not man for the Laws. As an example, if your animal fell into a ditch on the Sabbath the Written Law adherers would say to let it die and not to violate the Sabbath, the Oral Law adherers would say it is ALWAYS lawful to do good and you should pull your animal out.
 
The word Law can refer to the whole Old Testament, God’s specific 613 Laws found within the Torah, or the Torah itself (5 books of Moses). You find in the books of Moses, 613 Laws that can be broken in 3 categories.

  • Ceremonial Laws: these would refer to the temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial system.
  • Civil (or Magisterial) Laws: These would be how God’s people were meant to live as residents under His earthly Kingship. The Hebrew people didn’t have a King (except for God) so God gave decrees that ran their governmental system.
  • Moral Laws: These would include the 10 commandments (Don’t kill anyone, don’t steal anything, don’t lie, don’t gossip, don’t worship false gods.)

Many Christians today misunderstand what happens when we speak about these Laws today. Some want to take and try to live all of them, which is a strict form of moralism that tends to lead to defeat and failure. If we understand the scriptures as whole everything begins to make more sense.
 
The Ceremonial Laws were all fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus is our priest, Jesus is our sacrifice, Jesus fulfilled all of the ceremonial laws which brings us great freedom in worship. We also do not live in a theocracy, we live in a representative republic, this means the Civil Laws are not intended for us (you can wear a poly-cotton blend, shave your sideburns, and eat shrimp and not be in sin). The Moral Laws are the decrees that represent the character of God and they are still binding on us. Jesus dying to “fulfill the law” (Matthew 5:17) doesn’t mean we now get to lie, murder, and steal from others.
 
In Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the Law was good, it had an intended purpose: to draw us closer to God. The Law was meant to help us see how futile righteousness is on our own and that we need a redeemer.
 
As I said on Sunday, our job is to live as God always called His people to live, being a blessing wherever we are. Our job is not impose moralism or to run away from our culture, our job is to live on mission with the good news that Jesus has fulfilled the law, called us into relationship with Him, and is making all things new.  

Missional Calling of Jesus

by Aaron
Last Sunday I tried to give you a succinct definition of a phrase we say while studying the book of Acts, “The Missional Calling of Jesus.” I told you I would then post a blog, that a few of you will read, that you could have with you to better understand this phrase in a tangible way.
 
So, when we say things like the “missional calling of Jesus,” what do we mean? Stick with me as we go through this because it will get a little redundant.
 
Mission is simply our purpose. Element’s mission statement is this: “We exist to glorify God by teaching and living out the scriptures, transforming community into Gospel community, and planting churches.” In our lives we should glorify God, but we do that by living out the scriptures and moving from shallow relationships into deeper relationships that are centered on the Gospel. When we live with each other, centered on the Gospel, we begin to disciple one another.
 
This means our relationships take shape as we orient life around making disciples who make disciples—these disciples (who are us) become a blessing to the earth.
 
How do we disciple each other? By understanding and living the gospel in each other’s lives (see, I said it would be a little redundant).
 
What is the Gospel? The book Called Together defines the Gospel like this: The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through His own death and resurrection, and is making all things new, even us.
 
Living the Gospel in our lives means living in the reality of salvation and redemption that we have been given by grace through Jesus. As we understand His grace, love and discipline more fully, we live that out in each other’s lives.
 
This means we live in community centered on the Gospel. As I said, again, it sounds redundant, but it all goes together
 
Community is how God intends for His people to live with one another. We are saved individually, but we are also saved to live in community with one another just as God Himself lives in community in the Trinity.
 
Living the missional calling of Jesus is about mission, calling, purpose, being a disciple, making disciples, living the Gospel out, and community. These various aspects weave themselves together so we as a people can live the life God intends, on mission, glorifying Him, lifting up Jesus, submitting ourselves to his Lordship, while we grow deeper into the grace that He has given to us.

Baptism Stories - April 17, 2016

by Element Christian Church

 

Last Sunday was our Baptisms, and we had 5 people show their faith by being baptized! If you didn't make it, or missed reading the stories, this week's blog is simply a link to them. Please read them, be excited for them, and always stand amazed at the goodness of our great God.

Accountability: Why We Must Be Accountable!

by Jonathan Whitaker
I read an interesting article a few weeks back that cited a study of nearly 58,000 participants from the Millennial Generation. The study compared the religious practices and beliefs of Millennials to a similar population of Gen Xers and found that hallmarks of religious life (prayer and church attendance) are in major decline. There was a five-fold increase since the 1970’s among 18-22 year olds who say they never pray and the number who attend church (ever) was cut in half. 
               
The study found one odd and alarming fact, among people who never pray or attend church, the belief that when they die they will go to heaven…increased. That is the world’s standard of accountability. The world now says you no longer have to talk with God, worship Him, or even believe in Him to go to heaven. These folks certainly don’t believe that God created the world and man and I suspect the thought never occurred to most of them that if heaven exists, God would have had to create that, too.
 
In the Air Force we call this conundrum a “self-licking ice cream cone.” In essence, heaven exists in my imagination, I set the standard for going there when I die, and I do the quality control check for who gets into heaven based on my own criteria. It seems like people have replaced accountability to the sovereign God with accountability to themselves alone. Personally, if I were going to invent a make-believe heaven, I would not make dying one of the prerequisites for entry. 
 
This lunacy is not Christian accountability. The fact is, we are all going to die, and we are all going to be judged (Heb. 9:27-28), but you, Christ follower, will be raised to life; that means there is work for you to do here and now. In the modern protestant parlance, accountability is among the churchiest of words, no doubt you have heard the term. Some of you have even thought through how you can get some of that accountability in your walk with Christ. You may even have gotten an accountability partner or accountabilibuddy, but what is accountability anyway? IMHO it is being held to a standard by something or someone greater than yourself.
 
Here is the thesis: for the Christ follower, the standard of accountability is the grace of God (Rom. 6:1-14).  Since Christ died for your sin, you are no longer held to account by death, instead you are held to account to God, by the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. The resurrection is a much higher standard than death for two reasons. 
  • First, the resurrection overcame death.  
  • Second, it took the God of the Universe dying on the cross in our place to achieve that standard.
A Christian person can expect to either be conformed to the image of Christ by trusting in the resurrection and walking in it, or they can expect to be conformed to the image of Christ by ignoring the resurrection and being held accountable to it. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  The question is, are you going to go willingly, or kicking and screaming?
 
Christ has a plan for His church and good work for each one of us. That work begins when we turn from sin and serve Jesus with our whole hearts (Rom. 1). This also means that when our brothers are caught in sin it is our duty to pull them from the fire, so that they can be restored (Jude 23). Accountability is not about rule following, it’s about holding one another to the standard of righteousness that is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…the standard which we claim as our salvation.
 
What’s crazier? Believing in heaven while denying its creator, or believing in the Creator then denying Him with your actions? I don’t know about you, but when your kids misbehave, I don’t punish them, but when my kids misbehave, discipline is a certainty. Do you see the difference?  God disciplines those he loves.  We are His children. 
 
There is you preview of this coming Sunday. Come to church this weekend and get the main show! See you soon.

Not A Political Blog

by Aaron
I know, when I have to start out saying this is NOT a political blog, it seems like this must be some sort of political blog…it’s not, trust me (I’m not a politician). What I want to share is in regard to engagement in the current political process; it has very little, if anything, to do with candidates and policies; it actually ties in to what I was saying last Sunday (if you missed the message you can listen here).
 
In past few weeks I have had conversations with people from a wide variety of political persuasions, but one thing seems to be a constant, they all show their dislike for the other party by making fun of the opposing candidate’s name. As believers in Jesus I believe we should make our views known, but not in a way that destroys the humanity of someone else.  Many people I have talked to do not even know what the buzzwords of their favorite candidates mean; words from ‘democratic socialism” to “conservative values.” I say this to point out to you that the most recent study done of American politics shows that most people have no idea what their candidate of choice would actually do as an elected official, which tells us we are going by how we feel and not basing our decisions of who to back based on facts and truth.
 
According to the latest Barna survey (Barna.org), Christians who say they are most concerned for the upcoming election and the future of the United States are actually the most indifferent to their candidates’ actual beliefs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this firsthand with certain friends. These friends are often very vocal about their opinions on social media, but when you talk to them in person, they admittedly have no clue about a candidate’s policies—they just like them. This should be concerning to us not just as Americans, but as Christians first. Our support of a candidate should not be because of our feelings; it should be because we hold certain core beliefs.
 
I believe that God has placed us in a country where our vote not only matters, but counts. I believe that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what happens in our political process (this includes Facebook posts). I also believe that we cannot simply vote for “the nicest guy” because the nice guy may in fact be perpetuating evil. What are the things that God has clearly told us as believers to fight for?
  • That life is precious and all people have dignity. Does your candidate of choice treat others with respect and fight for the value of all life born and unborn?
  • That we are to be peace makers. Does your candidate of choice seek peace before the occasional necessity of battle?
  • That truth is a staple of our lives. Does your candidate of choice tell the truth or have they been found lying?
  • That we are to become a generous people. Is your candidate of choice generous with their own wealth and not just everyone else’s?
We choose what is good and right because it is what Jesus calls us to, not because it is politically expedient or socially acceptable. Let’s face it; being “right” most times it is neither of those. James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. Our problem is that many times we don’t like “the right thing.” We like the thing that makes others like us, and unfortunately (or fortunately), that is not what we are called to.
 
1 Thessalonians 5:22 reminds us Abstain from every form of evil. We don’t just get to stay away from the “greater” of two evils and vote for the lesser, we are to abstain from it. I believe we should be involved and we should share our views, but they must be informed by Jesus first. If we decide to support a person, we must take a close look at their lives so we are not inadvertently lifting up evil. In all things we must remember that the world is messed up by people and people are not the solution, Jesus is. The only person who will ever bring lasting hope and change is our great redeemer. If you have a chance to lift up anyone this political season, lift of Jesus.

Self-Guided Good Friday 2016

by Element Christian Church
Our Good Friday service was a self-guided open house service that took time to read through Matthew 27 and look at the issue of the betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, forgiveness of others, and letting go of identities in light of Jesus’ sacrifice. The night was meant to being us to a place where we contemplated what He has given us and our response to His great gifts.

Download the self-guided Good Friday Service handout here.



Identity: Servants

by Element Christian Church
We are taking three weeks to look at the identities that we receive from God, and how that affects true Gospel Community.

THE CHURCH IS MADE UP OF JESUS' SERVANTS

We are servants of Jesus who serve Him by serving others around us.
Fully God–fully human, Jesus took on the posture of a servant. He gave His life, even unto death, so that others could experience salvation, peace and restoration. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves…” All those who follow Jesus are called to serve in the same humility. For us, this means joyfully submitting to Jesus as Lord. We do whatever He leads us to do, whenever He tells us and wherever He wants us to do it. (Matthew 20:25-28; 25:31-46; John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16)

We submit to Jesus as Lord.
If I believe the Gospel, I am being set free from slavery to false gods that keep me imprisoned, don’t satisfy me and eventually beat me to death. All of us are serving a master or many masters. The question isn’t “Am I a slave”,
but “To whom am I a slave?” When I believe and live out my gospel identity as a servant of Jesus, He is my master and He sets me free to live life as it should be lived. I now belong to Him as His servant and whatever I do, I do as unto Him.

We lead people to Jesus by living as servants displaying His rule and reign in our lives.
As the servants of Jesus we are a holy nation – a city within a city. We give a foretaste of what the eternal city will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Living as servants to the King who serve others as He served us, presents a tangible witness to Jesus’ Kingdom and to the power of the gospel to change us. We serve in such a way that it demands a Gospel explanation – lives that cannot be explained in any other way than by the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus.
If we don’t serve others as Jesus served us it is because we have forgotten how we have been served by Him, or we don’t really know Him in the first place (Matt 25:31-46).

We submit to Jesus as Lord and serve one another as though we are serving Jesus.

How is your service and sacrifice for Jesus unto others your spiritual act of worship?

Used with Permission by Soma Communities

Identity: Missionaries

by Element Christian Church
We are taking three weeks to look at the identities that we receive from God, and how that affects true Gospel Community.

THE CHURCH IS SENT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT TO BE MISSIONARIES

We are sent by the Spirit to restore all things to God through Jesus Christ.
God sent Jesus to Earth to take on human form and live within the culture. He worked, ate and interacted among the people; living in such a way that those around Him could see and experience what God was truly like. Jesus came so that all people, places, and things could be restored to a right relationship with God. In the same way, we believe we are missionaries sent by God’s Spirit into our culture to restore all things to God through Jesus. We live this out through community. (John 1:14; 20:21; Colossians 1:19)

We submit to the sending and leading of the Spirit.
After Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father sent me I am sending you”, He breathed on them the Holy Spirit. Then, when He commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses, He told them to wait for power from  on high (Acts 1:8). He was referring to the Holy Spirit that the Father and Son would send (John 14:16; 16:7). Just as Jesus was sent by the Father, empowered and led by the Spirit, now we are sent as His missionaries by the same power and leading of the Spirit (Matt. 3:16-4:1). 

We are sent and empowered by the Spirit to share and show Jesus to others.
As missionaries we are sent to share the truth about God’s love for the world through the sending of His Son. The Spirit has been given to us so that we can know what is true of Jesus (Jn. 14:26; 16:12-15), live fruitful lives as evidence of the gospel’s power to change (Gal. 5:16-24), be empowered to share it boldly (Acts 4:23-31), and trust that He is the one who convicts the heart and gives new life (Jn. 3:4-8). All fruitful missionary work is a result of being people who are born of, filled with, and led by the Spirit. 

We submit to the Spirit as our Sender and Leader and are empowered to show and share Jesus to others.

Who is the Spirit sending you and your community to be a witness to?

Used with Permission by Soma Communities

Identity: Family

by Element Christian Church

We are taking three weeks to look at the identities that we receive from God, and how that affects true Gospel Community.

THE CHURCH IS MADE UP OF GOD’S CHOSEN FAMILY

We are children of God who live and care for each other as a family.
We are God’s chosen people – His family – set apart to live in such a way that the world would know what He is like. Through faith in Jesus we believe we are Children of God and brothers and sisters with each other. As God’s family we see it as our obligation to personally care for the needs of one another – both physically and spiritually. We disciple, nurture and hold each other accountable to Gospel life together. We do this through regularly gathering together for celebration, consistent involvement in each other’s lives and loving others in the path of our life like the Father loved us. (Genesis 12:1-3; John 1:12-13; Romans 12:10-16)

We worship God as Father.
We are God’s Children (John 1:11-13) who are adopted and fully accepted and loved apart from any good behavior. When I believe the Gospel I know I have a perfect Father who loves me and accepts me, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what Christ has done. This leads me to worship God as Father and obey His word because I love Him. I don’t obey God in order to be loved by Him. I obey God because He loved me while I was still His rebellious enemy. 

We show ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another.
As children of God we love one another as brothers and sisters. Jesus said this is the way the world will know that we are His disciples – by our love for one another. Paul said we were to be imitators of God as dearly loved children who love one another (Eph 5:1-2). The primary means by which we show the world what God is like and give tangible proof of the Gospel’s power to save is through our love for one another (John 13:35). If we don’t love one another, we show that we don’t know and love God (1 John 4:7-21)

We submit to God as our Father and love one another as brothers and sisters.

In light of being a family of God, how do you need to bring reconciliation, healing, and love to those in your Family?

Used with Permission by Soma Communities