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

Community Basics: Communication

by Element Christian Church
In an effort to better interact with the community in which I live in, I’ve started to compile a list of ways in which we can be in better communication with each other. I find often that different techniques have up-sides and down-sides, some aren’t quick enough, other people get left off lists inadvertently, and almost always no one has their feelings come through correctly. Here are some helpful ideas that might work for your community.

Email. A reliable, but not instant, way to communicate; another downfall is that emotion doesn’t carry over email and people tend to read their own emotion into communication rather than is actually meant. The challenge with email is, with so many different emails going, it can be hard to include everybody’s email address.  Some ways to help:
  • Create a contact group in your contacts with everyone in the group.
  • Create an email group using tools such as Google Groups. This handy tool can be set up to allow anybody in the group to email one address that blasts out and email to everybody else on the list. People can also unsubscribe themselves at any time. This email address would be something like “This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.”.
Texting. Group texts are great, there are limits to how many people can be in the group text at a time. It’s also hard for those without smartphones to participate. I highly recommend using an app/service called groupme.com. Within this texting app you can create multiple groups by simply adding phone numbers…AND they do not have to have a smartphone to participate as it works across all devices. You can send group texts, pictures, and create events; it also allows users to mute/silence conversations.

Facebook. Some Gospel Communities have a private Facebook group that works well. In this private forum they can share ideas, events, gatherings, prayer requests and as well as other matters everyone should be aware. Facebook groups are easy to add people and for people to remove themselves. The biggest challenge is for members who don’t use (or like to use) Facebook.

Contact list. If someone loves to make spreadsheets, their many times is nothing better. A spreadsheet can gather everyone’s information so it is easily shared; phone numbers, email addresses, birthdays and whatever other creative information everyone wants to share will be at your fingertips. Here is a sample you can fill in/disseminate to your community. Download template here.

Remember, there are up-sides and down-sides to all of these communication methods, but something is better than nothing. Most people seem to feel that we never have enough communication, so start now, because more communication is better than less.

5 Ways to Pray During Notes Night

by Michael Reed
The staff have conversations all of the time about Gospel Communities, one topic that comes up often is prayer. The conversations usually go something like this: “Prayer during notes night is taking up more and more time.” After some digging, I find that it is not actually prayer that is taking up a significant amount of time, but prayer requests. While working through the frustration I have found that the main complaint is that the same requests come up again and again. Everybody wants to share, but when it comes to prayer, only a much smaller percentage actually prays… to God.

Instead of seeing this as a negative, I believe it’s a great teaching/training opportunity. We need to be training the people in our lives about prayer. Below is a short list of ideas that will hopefully help you teach people how to pray.

  1. Modeling confession and repentance.The single most effect act you can do is model confession of sin and disbelief. Confession by itself is good, but not the whole picture; we must be the leaders of repentance. This entails confessing to both God and man and asking the Lord to help us turn away from sin.
     
  2. The “no prayer requests” prayer. I don’t really know what to call this, but the idea is that we are not going to take prayer requests in the group. Rather, we are going to open up the floor in prayer and encourage those with prayer requests/praises to talk directly to God about them. Some notes on this:
    • This does not mean that you can’t stop and ask more questions about someone’s prayer.
    • This doesn’t mean that you can have only one person pray for the request. There is much freedom in talking to God, and you can pray for someone else’s prayer after they have prayed for it.
    • Don’t be discouraged if there isn’t much participation early on; this can be very awkward at first and takes time for people to get into the habit.
    • Ask your group how they feel about praying to God out loud. For some, it’s an intimidating experience, we want to emphasize that our Gospel Communities are safe places to explore prayer without judgment.

      The goal throughout this approach is to spend the majority of our prayer time talking to God (vs. talking to each other) and encourage our members to go directly to God with their needs. 
       
  3. Dividing the group up. There are multiple ways to do this, but if your group is getting to be too large to all pray together every time, try breaking the group up into smaller groups to pray.
    • Have guys and girls split up for prayer. While you can do this anytime, it may be especially beneficial after a serious discussion (sin, sexuality, purity, etc.), or if you know that there is an issue going on that one would feel comfortable sharing only with members of the same sex. Both men and women can benefit from this time away from the opposite sex to share, but please do not let it be a complaining session about a spouse.
    • Another way to split the group for prayer would be half and half. This simple method forms two groups out of the larger.
    • Gather in groups of 3-4 where you already are, this breaks it up even further and allows people more time to share/pray.
       
  4. Praying in different times in weekly life. Spend time with others outside of Notes Night and prayer there. This isn’t to make every get together (like Superbowl Sunday) a spiritual prayer session, but this is where sharing a meal and getting to know other’s stories and struggles come into play. Encourage these kinds of meetings among the members of your group.
     
  5. Pray through a Common Prayer. Check out some liturgical prayers. Liturgy has been a staple of the church for a long time, but not something we do much today. Check out a book called “Common Prayer, A liturgy for ordinary radicals”… common prayers are community prayers that everyone participates in. I like what the book says in its introduction:

“Liturgy’s counterintuitive nature may feel a little culturally strange at first. It is weird enough in our culture just to get together to sing songs (unless you are going to a concert or playing Rock Band on the Wii). Singing and praying together can feel awkward, especially if it is not Thanksgiving or Christmas. But liturgy is meant to be an interruption. It disrupts our reality and refocuses it on God. It reshapes our perceptions and lives with new rhythms, new holy days, a whole new story.”

In what ways have you and your group prayed that you found beneficial and rewarding?
 

Unexpected Rest In An East Coast Blizzard

by Jennifer Whitaker


Life is busy.  For me, that busy life in Waldorf, Maryland looks like homeschooling three active girls, teaching a homeschool co-op class and Sunday School, hosting a life group, and serving at my church's food pantry and outreach events, all while keeping house and trying to be a godly wife and mother.  Back in November, I found myself looking forward to the Christmas holiday not so much for the spiritual celebration it should be, but for the break I thought it would afford me and my family.  Co-op and life group would be on break, we would take days off from school, and Jonathan would take several days off work.  My parents would come visit.  It would be a relaxing time of just enjoying life with family. 

Imagine my surprise when the Christmas holiday was anything but relaxing!  It was definitely sweet and full of fun memories we'll cherish, but making memories requires quite a bit of work.  I neglected my time in God's word because I was just "too busy."  Before I knew it, my not-so-relaxing holiday had come to an abrupt end and life was back in full swing.

 
That's when God showed His mighty hand.  He had a plan all along for me to find the rest I needed -- and it wasn't how I would have planned it.  He wanted me to find rest in Him and His word.  He sent a blizzard to give me the physical rest I craved, and He provided ample time for me to soak in His word and sweet time with my family.   
 
On January 22, as the snow began to fall and collect, I felt relief.  I knew all the events of the weekend -- and even our homeschool co-op day -- would be canceled.  I felt grateful to have a warm home, plenty of food, and good company to wait out the storm.  We snuggled down on the couch to play Super Mario Bros. and watch movies.  We fed the birds and watched them eat in the middle of the blizzard. We baked cookies and made snacks you'd usually see at a Super Bowl party.  When the snow finally stopped on Sunday morning, we ventured out to a world completely covered in two feet of snow.  We shoveled so much snow that I'm pretty sure it counted as a week's worth of workouts. We built a snow mountain and went sledding in our yard.  I didn't worry too much about the mess and got to just enjoy being with my family.  I finally felt the rest I had longed for in December.
 
Maybe God didn't send the blizzard just for me, but in this massive storm that crippled some of the East Coast's largest cities, I felt His love for me.  I knew He cared so much that He gave me rest.  In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to rest in Him. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." I know this can't always mean taking a snow day vacation in the middle of a busy season of life, but it can be a daily rest.  Each day as I seek God in His word, He reveals His nature and His character in fresh ways.  He restores my soul (Ps. 23:2). He renews my mind (Rom. 12:2). And He gives my soul a rest from the busyness of life.
 
When you find yourself in a busy season of life, make time to rest in Jesus.  His mercies are new every morning, He is faithful (Lam. 3:23), and He will give you rest.

East Coast Blizzard Snow Day

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

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

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

FAQ: Why Did Jesus Have to Die for our Sins?

by Aaron
in FAQ
Last week our Gospel Community was meeting to discuss the previous week’s sermon and someone asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I asked what they meant, because I knew this person trusts and believes in Jesus and His sacrifice for us. They said (I’m paraphrasing), “Why couldn’t God just say, ‘All’s forgiven’ rather than have Jesus die?” This is a really good question.
 
I mentioned it to our staff two days later in staff meeting, and someone asked how I responded. They suggested I share my response in a blog post, because this is something that has come up in multiple Gospel Communities during Notes Night. I had no idea this was a common occurrence. If you have been wondering about this question, are a GC leader who has been asked this question, or never even thought about it until now, this post is for you.
 
It is hard to start answering this question in any other place than the book of Genesis. In Genesis, God creates everything, including man, and lays out what is good in front of man. The Hebrew word for good is tov (or tob); the word refers to everything good, in the broadest sense possible. God determines what is good and beneficial and He imparts that knowledge and wisdom to the man He creates. God fashions man with His hands, He makes man in His image, He breathes His very own breath into the man to make him alive, and then He instructs the man on what is good and right and places this man in the garden.
 
God then tells the man the consequence of sin—he will die. You sin, you die (simple, right?), and yet we have made it so much more complicated today. To make this as simplistic as possible, death is separation. Death is not the stopping of our hearts, or the blood in our veins turning from red to blue (it’s all still red anyway), and it is not the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies. Death is separation from life. God is life and He tells us that if and when we sin, we are/will be separated from Him. Death is separation, not just from life, but also from all that is good.
 
In Genesis, God separates for the man what is light and dark, truth and lies. God makes the distinction between life and death for the man. This explanation of what constitutes life and death includes the idea that man is free to live and love God and His creation in any way the man sees as most useful. The man is not part of the garden; he was fashioned and placed within the garden to nurture and take care of its beauty because beauty is good.
 
When man decides to go his own way in the garden, without God, and do what he feels is right, he sins. In Genesis 3 you see that as soon as the man and woman sin, they tragically died. The scriptures use words like “shame” and “exposed” to illustrate what has happened. Their sin made them lose their innocence and their connection with each other and God; they became separated, they died. They, like us, no longer know the beauty of innocence, the good that allowed them to face one another without shame was now gone. They also lost true life that came from being in connection with God, the world around them, and each other.
 
The saddest part of all comes in Genesis 3:8. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” They hide from God. Adam was the head of the human race and because he died, we are all born into life with a deep-rooted propensity to sin and seek our own “good.” However, man cannot know good apart from God showing us what it is—He alone makes that definition. To this day, sin runs rampant in our lives and causes us to be separated from others, our Creator, and eventually our own flesh.
 
How can God restore us to the place of understanding and knowing His definition of good? In the rest of Genesis 3, you see God comes walking into the garden, this place of rebellion and death, and He calls out to the man. It is not that God couldn’t see Adam hiding behind a bush trying to cover his baby-making parts; the point is that God comes looking for the man because the man could never find God on His own. God is on a rescue mission to redeem His people from death.
 
God then makes a promise, in His holiness, that He would provide Himself as a sacrifice to remove man’s sin and restore relationship. We see the first sacrifice when God slaughters an animal to clothe Adam and Eve’s shame. We can oftentimes gloss over this verse, but it is devastating—blood is spilled as the cost of man’s sin. The fact that God made this sacrifice Himself shows how important and necessary it was. Sinful people cannot dwell with a holy God. Eventually, this leads to the whole Old Testament sacrificial system, which ultimately points towards the final sacrifice for our sin, Jesus.
 
The writer of Hebrews sums up the entire Old Testament by saying in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” So God Himself provided Jesus, His son, at the appointed time to be the One that dies for us, in our place, as our substitution. God could not just wink at sin and say it was no big deal, like when our kids do stupid things and we act like it is okay. God is holy, just, right, and true. If He brushed sin off, He would cease to be God. Because He defined the consequence of sin as death, He had to follow through because His words are true. This is why blood, which is related to life, is required for the sin we commit.
 
The problem is that we could never pay for our own sin, because our own lives, our blood, are tainted because of our sin. What is taught through Scripture is clear - either you die, forever separated from God, or you trust in the provision of God through His Son, who has died for you. Your death for His life, your sin for His righteousness—Martin Luther referred to this as The Great Exchange.
 
I am trying to keep this blog on the shorter side, but the idea of our regaining life is rooted in the idea of sacrifice—more specifically, His sacrifice for us. Why did Jesus have to die? Because we are so evil, and the cost of sin is death. Why DID Jesus die? Because He is that good. Don’t let this get you down. There is a reason it is called “good news” or the Gospel; it is the only hope we have ever had. Our God has sought us and bought us with Himself. We don’t live in despair because of what it cost Him; we live new lives of joy because He has first loved us and given us a reason for great joy.
 
We are not dead. We are redeemed.
 

To Die For

by Aaron
I am going to write this blog to get this out of my system, I am going to rant and rave about my current situation. Almost everyone on our staff at Element, at the moment, is on this Whole30 diet where you can’t eat anything you would normally eat (unless you normally eat like a goat). The diet is expensive, hard, and if I don't feel better at the end of 30 days, I am going back to my old diet.
 
Oh how I miss my friends called Oreo's, grilled cheese sandwiches, Raisin Bran, rice, wraps, chips, and bread. I am coming to loathe fruit smoothies and eggs. I know I am irritable, I am hungry, craving cookies, and think slamming my face in a car door for 30 days would be easier than trying to read every label on the food I buy. I went to TWO of our local hippie markets trying to buy food as listed on the whole30, but they don't really carry stuff as organically made as they would like you to think.

I am coming to believe that the operative word in “diet” is the word “die.” But then I also think that as a follower of Jesus the word “die” shouldn’t be too shocking to me. We are called to die to ourselves, it was one of the things Jesus emphasized in Luke 9:27, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” These are words about embracing death, not because we are fatalistic, but because the call of Jesus in our lives holds more weight and significance than everything else.
 
I think part of the problem in Christianity today is that we treat faith like it is a diet. We deny ourselves so we feel better, we work hard to reach our own goal (not necessarily Jesus’ goals), and when it gets hard to live on mission, we cheat. Sometimes the word “cheat” is being generous because most times we don’t even cheat, we just give it up completely while still trying to convince everyone else we are still eating (living) healthy.
 
We are a people who see our normal habits of life, usually engrained in us from our culture, as healthy and reasonable even as we slowly eat ourselves to death as we mindlessly consume all that is offered (metaphorically). When Jesus comes into and invades our lives he calls us to give up certain things that are killing us, but we typically find a reason to put it off, or even find ways to justify why it is OK. We are so short sighted that we convince ourselves that our lives today are more important than our lives in eternity. Taking the short view discourages mission, dampens a healthy trust of God and His word, and places our focus more surely on our own messed up hearts.
 
Luke 9:23-25 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

Maybe, instead of doing a Whole30 diet, we should all do a diet that follows Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Having God renew our minds so we see what He sees is true about our own lives and those around us is central to this renewal process.
 
In my opinion, the best place to start our diet is to quit assuming we are healthy and doing great and simply allow God’s Spirit to do a careful inventory of our lives. We must also begin to listen to what others say to us (those who love us enough to be honest). We must trust God’s redemption of our life enough to stop consuming our own self-propaganda and begin to live and walk in the new life He promises. Why? Because he promises not just a Whole30, but a WholeEternity of true life.