The God We Imagine vs. the God of the Bible

by Jonathan Whitaker

This past Sunday and then again on Monday (because of my inability to operate the camera above a 1st grade level), I preached on 1 Peter 1:13-25. Catch the sermon on our current sermon series, Identity: Who We are In Christ. All of our sermons are available on the ElementCS.org website.  The two word tag line for these Bible verses is, “Be Holy.”  Holiness is a lofty call indeed and a deep topic to plumb in 30 minutes.  Needless to say, the sermon will only whet your appetite on the topic.  That is a good thing because holiness is something that you need to explore on your own as you get to know God.  The topic of holiness is naturally controversial, because holiness is an attribute of God.  And God’s holy nature is fundamentally at odds with our sinful nature.  When sin and holiness collide, strong opinions are sure to follow.  As people who have been born again in Christ (1 Peter 1:3), we must strive to align our beliefs about God to what God has said about Himself in the scripture. 

Every waking hour of the day you are exposed to stimulus that causes you to form and then reinforce your beliefs and opinions; culture, social circles, family, media, the list of sources is endless.  What is your primary source for your belief in God?  You have probably at one point in your life discussed a controversial topic from the Bible and had a person make the following remark, “I just can’t imagine God would do that.” Perhaps you have uttered that phrase yourself. 

As a Christ follower, you should be bothered by that statement.  Chiefly because God is not a figment of our imagination. What we imagine God to be like is irrelevant.  A Bible believing Christian should not have to imagine God at all.  The very notion belies the true issue that the person who would make such a statement doesn’t know what the God of the Universe has said about Himself in His Word.

The fact is we as Christians are blessed above all men, because our God valued a relationship with us so greatly that He descended into His own creation as the Man Jesus Christ.  He then left His inspired Word for us so that we can actually know Him.  Peter, who saw Jesus in His glorified state and then later resurrected, said that the Word of God (the Bible) is a more sure word of prophecy than even seeing those things with his (Peter’s) own eyes.  (2 Peter 1:16-21)  We have a God who can be known and has gone to great lengths to reveal Himself to all who will seek Him in the scripture.

So, what is the problem with trusting in your opinion or imagination of what God is like?  Well… it’s wrong!  God is wholly other than us, His ways are above ours and His thoughts are incorruptible. (Isa 55:8-9)   Psalm 50 points out the error of people who substitute their opinions of God vs knowing who God really is, “…you thought that I was one like yourself.  But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”  God is not like us.  We must see when we substitute the truth about God for a lie (Rom 1) then we make ourselves the judge of God. 

“I just can’t imagine that God…” my friend you don’t have to imagine God.  You can know Him. It will take hard work and daily seeking, but the journey will be worth it.  God’s Word is like a bright light shining in the darkness.  It illuminates and reveals a God, about whom we were all ignorant until He revealed Himself to us.  It has the power to move us from the corrupt thinking of sin, where we imagine God in our image and it enables us to see the God who is nearby and present and able to be known. (Jer 23:22-23)

The Queen of Sweden

by Jonathan Whitaker

“How’d you become king?  I didn’t vote for ya.” said the filthy peasant woman Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The answer of course is found in the annals English lore, which reveal that Arthur became King of the Britains when the Lady of the Lake distributed him a sword from the pond she was lying in.  If indeed strange women lying in ponds were a basis for a system of government then, Saga Vanecek an 8-year-old girl from Sweden would be Queen.

Saga, like King Arthur, pulled a sword from a lake earlier this month.  Google it. In fact, she pulled a corroded rust encased 33-inch Viking sword from the mid 500’s AD from a lake.  Not a bad find at all.  And as it happens, a great illustration for my blog!

This week Element Colorado Springs embarks on our fall series in the book of First Peter called, Identity.  We chose this title because Peter’s epistle has so much to teach believers about who God says we are as Christ followers.  What could a rusty Viking Sword possibly teach us about who we are as believers?

1 Peter 1:3-7 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Do you see the security described in these verses?  Peter describes the new-life of a believer as permanent and durable, “an inheritance…imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  Not only that but Peter says it is God that is guarding that inheritance in heaven.  I can only speak for myself, but as I read those verses my heart sinks a little when I see the words, “you have been grieved by various trials.”  I don’t want to go through trials, nor do I want my loved ones to experience trials.  I suspect you don’t either.

Perhaps it is the weakness of our sinful flesh that we can read such amazing promises from God and still focus on something negative.   Let’s try to walk in God’s shoes for a moment.  Peter says, “if necessary you have been grieved by trials.” and, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith...”  will reveal glory and honor when Christ returns.  The cynic would read this incorrectly and say, God tests us to see if we are worthy.  That statement is as wrong as it is blasphemous.  Peter’s words acknowledge that in our sinful fallen world trials come and the trials come reveal (in an individual) their true nature.  In essence, the inferno burns away that which is impermanent and leaves behind that which cannot be consumed by the fire.  God has made you indestructible.

Saga’s sword was made by a master craftsman.  His intent was likely not that the sword would endure for 1,500 years, but durability was the result of his careful work.  You were made for a purpose as well, to love and serve God.  God, as The Master Craftsman has made for you an indestructible inheritance which will be revealed in your indestructible body, “more precious than gold.”  when Jesus returns.

This Viking sword was an instrument of war and tumult.  When it was lost in a lake over a millennium ago it was subject to one of the harshest winter environments on the planet.  This environment marred and encased its surface in rust and mud till the sword underneath was unrecognizable.  Strangely though, it was these harsh conditions that preserved the sword for 1,500 years.  Then when the weather and level of the lake were just right, one little girl with a keen eye recognized something precious when she saw it. 

Peter is not saying that, God tests us to see if we are worthy.  He is saying, that trials will come and God gives us the strength to endure them.  As trials come they also pass.  Once trials pass, God’s master work in our lives is revealed, precious and indestructible.  A lot can be learned from a weathered old sword.  Its beauty is no longer outward or obvious, but to the one who truly knows, it is perfect.  Saga’s sword my not seem beautiful or wonderful, but to the people of Sweden, its priceless.   Your Father in heaven has made as a new beautiful indestructible creation with a living hope in Jesus Christ. That is your Identity.

Planting Churches

by Christian Alf

This week was very exciting for us at Element Christian Church Colorado Springs! Our Launch weekend is coming up October 21st, but this past Sunday was a soft launch so we can work through some things. That means it was our first Sunday gathering as the church. A lot of work and prayer over the past few weeks, and it's nice to see it finally came to fruition.

Now why would we want to plant a church in Colorado Springs? Isn’t it the center of the Christian Church Universe in America? Every para-church organization has an office or their headquarters here, right?

That is certainly what I thought before we moved here. While it is not a spiritual desert, there is still a huge need for the Gospel in the city. Even with all these organizations present in the city, there are still a lot of people in need of hearing the Gospel. Think about your neighbors and coworkers; they are why we are answering God’s call to plant a church here.

Jesus calls us all to be a witness and to go and make disciples of those around us. He clearly states this call in Matthew 28:19-20. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” There are three main commands here: Make Disciples, Baptize Believers, and Teach Others.

Each of these commands can be answered in a local church. Before I dig too far into this, I should define church, and especially the local church. I will use a very simple definition here, and save the in-depth discussion for later. A local church is simply a group of people gathered to worship God. This means that the gathering is focused not on the individuals but on giving God the Glory!

Acts 2:42 shows us one way in which the early church acted on this commission. It states that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This description shows that the early church was meeting together to worship God and preach the Gospel. God blessed this dedication and brought a revival to the town. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those where were being saved.” This is our prayer for Colorado Springs.

Our vision is to see disciples formed in Element CS who then go out and make more disciples. We aim to equip those around us to teach others the Gospel and transform their communities into Gospel Communities.

Praise the Lord! Psalm 112

by Christian Alf

Writing blogs was harder than I expected! I am used to writing technical reports, that are full of jargon, pictures, and graphs. But writing about my thoughts and scriptures in a clear and meaningful way is a very different style! It is probably good for me that this was not as easy as expected. I can become focused on my own abilities and rely on my skills instead of allowing God to work through me. So struggling to find my stride writing these will prove to be beneficial for both me and you as the reader. And maybe one day I will be able to sneak in a graph or two.

This last week I gave my first sermon, and the experience was similar to writing this blog. I was stressed leading up to Sunday; the more I tried to perform and produce on my own the more stressful it became. God definitely used the scripture passage to prompt me to turn it over to Him. This is a small example of the power of scripture and how it is important for us to spend time reading God's words and meditating on them.

The passage for the week was Psalm 112. It starts "Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord; who greatly delights in his commandments!" This short verse has a lot to say about how to live our lives. The beginning is what God used to continue to remind me to turn the preaching over to Him and not rely on my own skills or abilities. It draws my focus to God, giving Him the glory and not trying to seek it myself.

The end of the verse is another reminder to read the Bible and spend time meditating on it. The author uses the word delight to describe how to feel about the commandments of God. This is not a word that describes someone who is only reading the Bible in the morning to check off a To-Do list or out of a bound duty. No, this is describing someone who reads out of passion and desire. We desire to spend time with God and give Him glory.

Called and Sent

by Jonathan Whitaker

Have you ever noticed that we seem to refer to the noblest professions in society as a calling?  Nurses, teachers, the military (that one was self-serving), mothers, and preachers for example are all callings in the context of 21st century America.  Based on context clues alone you could infer that calling means “does not pay well.”  And it’s largely true, with the exception of nursing recently. Thanks, Obama.  Joking aside, we label jobs as callings when they require sacrifice and the service of others.  No one ever called being a professional video game player a calling.  Yes, that is a real job; no, it is not a calling, and see kids, you really can be anything you want.

If you are a Christ follower, read the first line of 1 Peter.  Notice what Peter calls you?  He calls you elect.  The term elect means that you were chosen.  Who chose you?  God chose you.  His choice also implies something else about you -- that you were called.  You may not be a nurse, a mom, or a preacher, but you, too, have a calling in life.  Let me suggest something to you.  Calling is something someone else does to you, not what you do.  You are a Christ follower; you were called to salvation. (Matt 11:28, Eph. 2:8).  In truth, your calling in life is both motivated and fulfilled by the work of Jesus Christ. 

So now what?  Jesus called you to Himself.  Why did he do that?  So that He can send you out.  If Jesus calls you, then Jesus sends you.  In Matthew 10:5, Jesus sends out His 12 Apostles among the towns of the Jews.  Not only does He do that, He gives them the authority and power to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.  Think about that for a second. A few chapters earlier He called these bumpkins from their fishing boats and tax booths, and now He is sending them out with the power to raise the dead.  Praise Jesus for the calling, but get me some of that sending!

If that weren’t enough, a little later Jesus did the exact same thing to 72 more disciples.  But, He didn’t stop there.  Skip to the last paragraph of Matthew (Matt 28: 16-20).  There you find the Great Commission.  Read it.  Right about now, you are realizing that Jesus sent more than 84 guys out into the world 2,000 years ago.  Today, He sends you.  Not only that, but he sends you with more power than even the original 84, because He sends you with the Holy Spirit and the power to save men’s souls with the completed work of Jesus on the cross. 

You know what your calling is -- salvation.  Where have you been sent?  I have been pondering this question personally for years.  Through my nomadic profession, the answer has been very easy to this point.  Wherever the Air Force sends me is where I am sent and where I will serve.  In my most recent sending-out that includes a new church plant called Element Christian Church - Colorado Springs.

Element CS is church of Gospel Communities that disciples lay-pastors to take up the calling of planting home-churches and associated GCs wherever Christ sends them.  I am blessed to be in a community where there are already men and women who have served in the GCs of Santa Maria, California.  It is amazing to see the many ways Jesus orchestrated a gathering of former Element members in Colorado for the purpose of planting churches. 

We look forward meeting with you and sharing our lives with you on this new mission.  We have been called, therefore we are also sent.  Our mission, as Paul said in Romans 15:20-21, “…thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”  Where have you been sent? 

So they Bulldozed the Chapel

by Jonathan Whitaker

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Fans of poetry will recognize this as the opening clause of a poetic form called simile. As a word of caution, if you so choose to start your simile with this particular phrase, I recommend you tread lightly with your conclusion to that verse. It is my humble observation that God probably has an opinion on what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Fortunately for us, Jesus was the author of the parables that coined this particular poetic idiom.

Every morning as I drive by the now-empty lot where the Base Chapel used to sit, the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...” are brought fresh to my mind. No exaggeration, every day, at least twice a day. It is the end of the simile that has resonated so strongly with me as I watched the month-long demolition of a place of worship. “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matt 13:31-32)

A church building being demolished is a concrete example of what Jesus was talking about in this parable. In the 20 or so verses in which Jesus references the Kingdom of Heaven, he is always talking about the Church. As a quick reminder, the Church is the body of people who have believed in the resurrection of Jesus and declared Him their Lord. The Church is not people who get together on Sunday, people who celebrate Christmas, and most definitely not a building. So, if you meet the description of the Church, then you should be keenly interested when Jesus describes what you are like.

In this parable, a member of the Church is compared to a mustard seed, and together many Church members are represented by a mustard plant. So far, so good. A plant is a good thing, because plants make seeds and seeds make more plants. A quick google search will tell you that mustard plants are prolific seed makers. We Christians should take that to heart; we should be prolific seed makers. Re-creating your faith in others is absolutely the call to discipleship found in Matthew 28:16-20.

But the parable of the mustard seed is not encouragement -- it’s a warning. An honest read of these verses will puzzle an educated reader. A mustard seed is indeed small, less than 1mm in diameter. However, one thing a mustard plant is not, and never will be, is a TREE. At this point you have stopped reading and started Googling. Your next thought is, “Well what about the brassica negra, mustard variety?” I will grant you, brassica negra can grow for multiple seasons, and they do get big, but at best they are a bush. Here is the thing: Jesus would have been very familiar with this variety of mustard plant, because they grow all over Judea. He would tell you that nobody in their right mind would cultivate a brassica negra into a large bush. A large mustard bush is the sign of a neglectful farmer.

Even this giant species of mustard plant is considered healthiest when cultivated seasonally then pruned or culled before it overgrows. Jesus knew that. You can see it in his warning, “birds of the air come make nests in its branches.” Bird nests and birds are not good for a mustard plant. They weigh down the branches, they use the foliage to make their nests, they eat the seeds so that they can never become another mustard plant. If the "birds" have infested your church, it is the beginning of the end. You can see the direct application to Jesus’ Church.

It seems that Jesus was saying that His Church should grow for a season, then put out seeds to grow more plants. What good is one large plant? Even the greatest mustard plant can only make enough seeds to season the food of a small group. A field -- or many fields -- of mustard plants and you’ve got a French’s factory on your hands.

I say the bulldozer is the best thing that could have happened to the base chapel! Today we have a thriving ministry called HCCF. At HCCF, the people preach, rather than the professionals, the people lead the worship, not the professionals, the people serve, and are on mission, and are making new seeds, to plant new churches.

One last thought. God has truly blessed HCCF. We are a congregation of nomads. We are all employees of the government or government contractors. We all serve short tours then move on. At HCCF we get a chance to serve, to learn, to grow, and then God gives us a boot out the door. We need to see that boot and the bulldozer as an opportunity to turn another seed in to a plant.

SPEAK FOR YOURSELF

by Jonathan Whitaker

"Speak for yourself." We utter these words when we don’t want to get lumped in with someone else and their declarations of nonsense. When I was in high school and a member of my football team would get called out for messing around at practice, my coach always used to say, “It takes two.” What he meant was, a jester always needs an audience. And it’s usually the case that a person caught getting into trouble has an accomplice. Why is it that when two, three or a whole group of guys get into trouble, one dude always naturally emerges as the spokesman for the group? The role of the teenage troublemaker spokesman (TTS) is a time-honored tradition. It is the role of the TTS to interface with the authorities for the purpose of misdirection and doubt-casting. If successful, the TTS will adequately conceal culpability and avert punishment for the whole group. The typical result is that everyone just gets into more trouble. It’s best to just speak for yourself.

It’s a rare thing to take responsibility for your thoughts. There’s comfort in receiving confirmation from another person, and there’s validation found in agreement. This phenomenon is beautifully expressed by the “Like" button on Facebook. Click "like" if you agree, and the author receives instant and permanent validation. On the other side of that coin is the naked isolation that comes with speaking for yourself.

HCCF is embarking on a new sermon series exploring the book of Philippians. Philippians is as personal a book as you will find in the Bible. It was written by the Apostle Paul, and its singular focus is on his personal experience with Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, Philippians is just Paul, speaking for himself.

In Paul’s opening greeting he introduces himself and his companion, Timothy. I believe the mention of Timothy is simply to acknowledge to the church at Caesarea Philippi that Timothy had made it to Rome and was present with Paul. The bulk of the letter is a personal testimony from Paul, speaking for himself.

What a testimony it was! Paul was not in Rome as a tourist, though he was a guest of Caesar’s household. Well, I suppose you could call him a guest, but a prisoner is really a more apt description. When Paul wrote this very personal testimony, he was on house arrest literally chained to a Roman guard. Paul had been arrested in Judea some time back and leveraged his Roman citizenship to petition every level of appeal between the lowest regional prefects and governors and worked his way one by one all the way to the Emperor’s court. In the process, Paul gave the Gospel to the most powerful people in the Roman empire. Paul did what Peter advises all Christ followers to do (1 Peter 3:15) make a defense for the Gospel. Paul, who started his career accusing and killing Christians, was utterly changed and redeemed by the work of Jesus in his life, and was now a prisoner of Rome. He was well aware that the end of this road would likely be execution. Ironically, the crimes for which he ultimately died were not the ones he actually committed. Philippians is Paul’s chronicle of the redeeming work Jesus had done in his life.

Craig challenged us this week with a encapsulating statement from Paul about his outlook on his walk with Christ: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.“ (Phil 1:21) The staccato of this succinct 11-word phrase is accented by the fact that it is also 11 syllables. I point that out not to be clever, but to encourage you to memorize it, repeat it, and experience it. Short, punchy verses are easy to commit to memory. And this verse is useful, because it expresses SO MUCH theology that we profess as Christians!

Broken down to the basics -- “to live is Christ, to die is gain” -- Paul told the world that “I might live or I might die. If I live, then I’ll serve Jesus, if I die, I’ll be with Jesus!” This is me paraphrasing the paragraph that surrounds the verse, but you get the idea. Paul even says that if he had his way, he would have picked being with Jesus. Who can blame him.

Peel the onion one more layer and you are struck right between the eyes with the truth that gave Paul the confidence to face death or continued suffering as a prisoner. “TO LIVE IS CHRIST.” I am not exaggerating when I say that Paul literally said that without Christ, he is not even alive. To quote Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Paul said it himself in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were DEAD in your trespasses and sins.” That’s pretty unequivocal language; without Christ all men are dead. Jesus gives LIFE, and that is the heart of the matter. So, when the Apostle John said that in Jesus was “life, and life was the light of men,” he was not speaking figuratively. Apart from Jesus, we are all just dead meat.

Paul said it better than I could have, but to my original point, when someone gets in trouble, it takes two. Well, Paul was in a heap of trouble, and sure he had Timothy, but he has me now too. If you would allow me to pile on to what he already said so well, I have Life because of Christ, and when I die, I will be with Christ.

Paul did not die immediately after writing this letter. As with all bureaucracy, both ancient and modern, you will become ancient waiting for it to work. Paul waited a long time for his audience with Caesar. What did he do with the “life” that Jesus allowed him? He gave it to Caesar’s family. “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.”

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GIVE IT A REST (Sabbath Revisted)

by Jonathan Whitaker

I have a terrible track record for making typos in emails... and blogs if I am being honest. My wife Jennifer has for the last 16 years or so, been my volunteer copy-editor for all of my work posted for public consumption. Jennifer makes a good volunteer editor in no small part because she was a professional editor in the Air Force for nearly six years. Alas, even her critical eye cannot save me from typos in the realm of email, because it is a path I walk alone. It was because of my chronic addiction to typos that I inadvertently wished that everyone at HCCF “NOT” have a restful Christmas holiday. I assure you what I meant was the word “NOW”, and not some Freudian curse I secretly harbor against all of my fellow parishioners. Perhaps it is because of my hasty typing that I offer you this blog. I want more than anything for you to enjoy one of the greatest gifts that God has given to mankind: rest.

Jesus was an enlightening person. The end. Ok, I’ll explain. During His ministry, Jesus in His fulfilment of the Law of Moses (His words, Matt 5:17) spent quite a bit of time explaining what the law really meant. Like a pair of holy-spectacles from heaven, Jesus focused our fuzzy reading (interpretation) of the law. He would teach rabbis and the rabble alike -- really anyone who would listen. Jesus corrected a misunderstanding about the 4th Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Jesus was accused of “working on the Sabbath" when his hungry disciples picked heads of grain to eat while they walked through a wheat field. 
To accuse someone of “working” when they pluck a grain then put their hand to their mouth to put food in it is a strict interpretation of the 4th commandment even by Pharisee standards. You could say it was all a big misunderstanding between the disciples of Jesus and the Pharisees, and you’d be partly right. The misunderstanding was in the Pharisees’ understanding of the commandment. Jesus did not miss the opportunity to shed some light on the topic and in the process greatly bless EVERYONE ON EARTH. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even over the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

What a revelation. God wants you to rest. And he was serious enough to make it one of the ten big laws! To commemorate that Jesus was indeed Lord over the Sabbath, we now observe the Sabbath on the day He was resurrected. An important date, to be sure, because it was the day that He fulfilled the whole law.

So, here’s the question. Do you obey God and observe the Sabbath? I don’t mean just Sunday -- I mean at all. Is there a day when you rest from your labor, eat good food, spend time with people you love, and thank GOD that he gave you all of those things? Or do you fill every day with work and obligations, never taking time to appreciate GOD’s provision? Do you know that is sin? Oh, and that sin was mentioned before murder and adultery…just sayin’.

I don’t need to make any deep theological points for you to know that the type of rest that Jesus is talking about is holy. I suspect we all need to repent of how we have abused the Sabbath. Not only for ignoring it -- and by association -- God, but for causing our spouses and children to ignore it by filling their days with work and obligations.

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:9-11)

You are not stronger than God, and he made a point to rest. I challenge you this year to observe the Sabbath every week. Plan it and make it a purposeful offering to God. If you do this, I guarantee you that your six days of labor will be truly blessed. Be like God and rest.

SACRED COWS

by Jonathan Whitaker

Time to talk about sacred cows, kids. Well just to be clear, I am writing about metaphorical sacred cows. Hilltop Community Christian Fellowship in no way endorses the worship of any livestock, views expressed in this article are that of the author (moi), and all scriptures referenced are of course from our Lord and Savior… Jesus Christ.

I am big enough to admit that I have triggers like all millennials, although I am technically a Gen-Xer. As a member of the Second Greatest Generation, I too can get my ire up as unreasonably as the next guy. So, Pope Francis. Yep, you already know where this is going. The Pope is a trigger for me. I admit it. This week the Pontiff announced that the Lord’s Prayer needed to be changed. I only read the headline and I was SUPER FLY T-n-T. I was like, “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!!!”

Then my friend Brandon gave me some great advice. First he encouraged me to try to understand what the Pope was really saying. He went on to say that through his own research, he understood that the Pope was striving to make sure that the translation from New Testament Greek to English was as accurate as it could be. You see, I value Brandon’s opinion, especially where language is concerned. Brandon, as some of you know, is a lawyer, a profession that strives for clarity of language and understanding. And if any of you have ever read law before, you know that it is a heady pursuit.

Brandon was right, I needed to strive to understand my scripture using the best available sources. The fact is, New Testament Greek is to modern Greek as Old English is to American English. It is practically a different language. Oh by the way, Jesus spoke Aramaic, so when Matthew recorded the Lord’s Prayer, he did so by giving us the first translation.

The offending verse is the first half of Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation.” Until this week, most Standard English versions of the Bible (not all) have rendered this verse as you see it. I say until, we first got this translation from Wycliff’s original English translation from Greek in 1384 as, “and leede us nat in to temptacioun.” You can see the problem with my sacred cow.

Meaning is what is really important. We should strive for accuracy in meaning. And one of the most blessed proofs that the events recorded in the Bible are real, is the fact that they are recorded from the point of view of multiple authors, who all use their own language and phrasing to describe the same events. If every account of every event were identical, we would know that the Bible had been tampered with and there was likely literary collusion on the part of the authors or compilers.

I for one am glad that the controversial Pope brought up the Lord’s Prayer. I’m glad, because now everyone on earth is reading the words of Jesus when He taught us how we ought to pray. It is that meaning that I would like to leave you with today.

First, just as there are no sacred cows, the Lord’s Prayer is not magical or more powerful than any other prayer. The object of any prayer should be God, and that's where the power comes from. Jesus prayed the Lord’s Prayer to give us a form (or model) to follow. It’s a good thing he did too, because Romans 8 tells us that we don’t even know how to pray as we ought! And Paul used the word ‘ought’, so you know he was serious.

With that in mind, Jesus tells us, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:” Jesus said, be real with God, tell Him what you need, He already knows anyway. He also makes a great point about the quality of prayer. Your impressive vocabulary does not a good prayer make. My wife teased me yesterday that I was better at praying than she was. In context, she meant praying in public. But, honestly based on what Jesus says, the best prayer is the one that is raw and honest.

He goes on, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” I know that Jesus is the Son of God, but you have to admit, this is just good advice. God and God’s will should be the focus of our prayer. God’s will is just better than ours. If you pray for what God wants, 100% of the time it will turn out better than whatever you can come up with. Check out Ephesians 3:20 if you need some encouragement that God’s will is good!

Jesus reminds us in the Lord’s Prayer that God is concerned with the most fundamental details of our lives, “Give us this day our daily bread,” This theme is throughout scripture. Not even 14 verses later Jesus tells us not to be anxious about small things like what we eat or drink. He tells us that God has it in hand. If God will listen to your petitions about bread (or in my case tortillas), He will hear even your greatest request.

Speaking about your greatest request, Jesus tells us that God will forgive your sin in His prayer, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” 1 John 1 confirms what Jesus says in this verse. God is faithful to forgive all sins that we confess. Because God is that good, Jesus reminds us in the Lord’s Prayer, that if we want to be transformed into his image (Phil 3), we too should forgive others. Talk about a concise sermon on forgiveness!

Jesus finishes where we started today, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I began this blog by talking about finding meaning for verses that are difficult to understand by searching the Bible for supporting information. I think this passage is best understood by reading the prayer of Jesus’s earthly Great Great Great etc Grandfather, King David. That prayer, the 23rd Psalm, is better known as, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Just as we all memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm is nearly as memorized throughout the Christian world.

Crucial to the controversial phrase, ‘lead us not into temptation’, David prays, “He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake”. I truly believe this gives us the clarity of meaning. Fundamental to both of these famous prayers is “LEAD,” We are instructed to ask God to lead us. Men and women, left to our own devices, will seek evil. “No one is righteous, not one” (Rom 3:10). It is because of this unfortunate fact that we must ask God to lead us, then follow Him when he does. So, when Jesus says we should pray that God will deliver us from evil, we can trust that GOD will do just that. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” (Ps 23:4) No kidding David, you’ve got nothing to fear in that Valley, cause the Guy you’re walking with is the baddest Dude in the valley.

Yes, I capitalized ‘Guy’ and ‘Dude’, that’s called being respectful to God. So, I have decided to give the Pope a pass on this one. I am going to continue to seek clarity and you should too. The Lord’s Prayer was given to us so that we could walk a little closer with God. And now, everyone is talking about it.

Read Your Bible People

by Jonathan Whitaker

Pictured here: Two munchkins reading a prop Bible, brandishing a light-saber, in front of a prop fireplace…banana for scale.)

Haven’t heard from God in a while? Have you been praying for guidance or a sign from heaven, but one never comes? Or perhaps you are going through a transition or turmoil and you just need wisdom. Most of you have already figured out where I am going with this… cue dramatic organ music… duhn, duhn, duuuuuuuhnnn. Read your Bible.

The Bible is just a good read. Your Bible says some crazy stuff and asks you to take it as completely reasonable (which I do by the way). I love a good crazy Bible claim. I’m not talking about something a crazy person says about the Bible. I am talking about something written in the Bible that it says about God, or us, or even itself.

Read back a blog or two and you will get a very 1 and 2 Peter vibe from my recent submissions. Rightly so; I have been reading the work of the Apostle Peter. It follows that the books I am studying are the books from which God is speaking to me. No miracle, no sign in the heavens -- right off the page from the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter chapter 1 makes one of my all-time favorite crazy Bible claims. 2 Peter 1:16-22 says that the scripture (the Bible) is a more sure word of prophecy (claim to the knowledge of truth) than even eyewitness testimony from the disciples. Read it… yup, that’s what it says.

These verses are referring to an episode recorded in the Gospels in Matthew 17 and Luke 9, when Peter, James, and John are led onto a mountain, witness Jesus in his heavenly glorified state, and then hear the voice of God affirm that Jesus is His Son. 2 Peter confirms what two of the Gospel writers recorded, saying he saw it with his own eyes and heard it with his own ears.

Please tell me you can see why this is so crazy. Not the Glorified Christ part… I told you I believe that. If I saw the Son of God with my own eyes and heard God’s voice with my own ears, that would be the HEADLINE of the rest of my life. "For a limited time only, Jonathan Whitaker, THE BOY WHO SAW GOD!"

Peter was convinced of the things he witnessed. He stuck to his story for over 30 years right up to his death and did not flinch once. With that in mind, he says something far more insane. That the book you hold in your hand -- I assume you haven’t read this far without your Bible -- the book you now hold in your hand is more trustworthy than even the testimony of eyewitnesses Peter, James, and John.

Here is why this is important to you: you need answers. The Bible has answers. The Holy Spirit through the scriptures can search your soul and you will find answers to the questions you didn’t even know you had. (Heb 4:12, Ps 139:1) You might go looking for peace or guidance for a transition in your life and in the pages of the Bible you find LIFE itself!

2 Peter 1:19 says, ”And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,”

So pray on. Pray for guidance, wisdom, a miracle… God can and will do all of those things for those who trust Him. But if you have a need, a want, a longing, and are hoping for a sign… well… here’s your sign.

Read your Bible.

Sort of a Coincidence, Kinda…Well Not Really

by Jonathan Whitaker

It’s funny when the scripture you are reading and the events of your life sync up. Well it’s not actually funny, “ha, ha”, nor is it that uncommon when you spend time in God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 tells us quite clearly that God’s Word is living and active, sharper than a two edged sword. It isn’t strange then that God’s living Word shows up in real life. Some of you reading this blog can confirm that statement. Some of you will call it a coincidence. Either way, I’ll try to keep this interesting and we’ll all high-five at the end.

Take a good look at that photo. The cute kids in the foreground are there to hook you into reading this. As cute as they are, the story starts in the background. For those of you with an eye for famous architecture (and a microscope), you will recognize that pointy bit as St Peter’s Basilica. Not only is it the Pope’s personal chapel in Vatican City, but as I learned it's also the largest church on Earth. My tour guide was not amused to know that I am kind of the Pope of the smallest church on Earth, HCCF. I kid, I kid.

I was in Rome last week, and as we were rushing from UNESCO World Heritage Site to UNESCO World Heritage Site -- that really doesn’t roll off the tongue -- we paused to take a picture of the entrance to Vatican City. When we returned to our cruise ship, I had some time on my hands, so I decided to read a little history about the sites we had sprinted past. And thus began my dive down the wiki-hole.

The Vatican that you see in this photo has looked that way for a very long time, but it hasn’t always. The Vatican is not a Catholic name. In fact, Vatican Hill has its roots in pagan origins -- in Latin, "Collis Vaticanus." Even in pagan Rome, Vatican Hill was an important site. It is one of the seven hills of the City of Seven Hills, Rome (Rev 17:9). In a macabre twist, Vatican Hill was the burial mound for Rome. It was called the necropolis, which means the city of the dead. (Side note: should be a busy place during the resurrection.)

Stick with me; the point is coming! Vatican Hill was the home to Emperor Nero’s palace. The Roman Historian Tacitus recounts that Vatican Hill was the site where Nero crucified and set fire to hundreds of Christians to light the path to a party at his home. It is also supposedly the site where the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down, then buried.

Lean hard on the fast forward button and you will find me in cargo-shorts taking selfies at this site. Suddenly my real life found a crossroads with the Word of God. What do I mean? Well, I am studying the book of 1 Peter, a book written by the man for whom this massive church was named and over whose grave it is supposedly constructed.

Considering the history I just learned, I was particularly struck by the following passage, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 3:16-17) This must be the Word of God, because given what Peter witnessed from the emperor first hand, there is no way he came up with it on his own. “Honor the Emperor,” are you serious?! Peter was the Bishop of the Church at Rome for twenty five years. During that time he certainly served while Claudius and Nero were emperors of Rome. He would have been aware of the exploits of their predecessor Caligula. Claudius, Caligula, and Nero were violent, hedonistic, perverted men. Men who not only presided over a wicked empire, but heartily approved of its wickedness.

Nero is credited with executing both the Apostle Paul and Peter himself. Yet, Peter makes a point to say honor the emperor.

I don’t think Peter suffered from any delusions that Nero wanted to do him or the Christians any good. But, through words inspired by the living God, Peter tells us to honor our leaders in government. As I continued my research, the thought occurred to me that Peter did not have the lens of history by which to judge the wisdom of his writing. We do.

Ok, the Romans were by and large wicked sinners. They are in good company…with us I mean. They were sinners yes, but nonetheless organized, democratic, and industrious. During their heyday, Rome conquered most of the known world, built roads, exported their law and language, and then policed it all to a relative peace. What they provided was opportunity. And in this opportunity the Son of God was born in the Roman town of Bethlehem. In this opportunity, Jesus preached, died for our sins, and was resurrected. In this opportunity, Jesus made disciples and sent them out into a world walking along Roman roads. Because of wicked men like Nero who built the vast Roman society, the Disciples of Jesus were able to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth as it was in their day.

Peter knew that Nero would not be the boss if God did not make him the boss. Peter certainly remembered what the Prophet Daniel wrote while serving the greatest emperor of his day (Nebuchadnezzar), “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21) Looking back from this vantage point, it certainly seems that God gave Peter wisdom and blessed him with knowledge. Perhaps we can trust God on his point about the king. Honor the emperor, Christian; he maintains the roads.

One last thing. I hope through your Bible study, the Life that is between the pages meets up with your walking-around life. And as promised, *high-five.*

It’s For Gains Bro!

by Jonathan Whitaker

So, you clicked on this blog and you are probably having one of two reactions; half of you are giggling and the other half are sitting there, brow furrowed, saying to yourselves, “Who does this guy think he is??? That’s Jesus he’s making fun of.” Well, to both of you let me say thank you for giving me a chance to explain myself. For the latter, may I offer a truce for the duration of this article. At least you clicked, everyone else just swiped past the picture and now they are grumpy with me.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) As irreverent as this meme is, it got a few things right amongst all the wrong. First, Optimum Nutrition tm whey protein is the best. If you want “Gainz” with a “Z”, then look no further. No, I am not sponsored by them. So, they got that right. Jesus is surrounded by children in the picture and the scripture says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” Again, the meme is pretty accurate up to this point. The rest is probably bogus. I’ve never been to ancient Israel, but I am guessing Jesus was not a Norwegian hair model (that’s a thing right?). Isaiah 53 is clear that Jesus was not pretty, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” I’ll just leave it at that and give this meme a two out of three for accuracy.

Look, you and I both know that a funny Jesus meme was click bait. I offer one personal alibi and I will get to my point. I love Jesus, and I take His commission very seriously. It is because of the commission that I continually scrutinize my life and ministry. I want to make sure that I am not living two lives; the secular and the Christian. I just want one true-identity and that is the identity I have in Christ.

This Jesus meme has hit my phone and desktop numerous times. I admit, it makes me laugh, but strangely, it also convicts my heart. For those of you who know me, you know that one of my biggest personal pursuits is weight lifting. I am not claiming any particular talent or skill, but I do it a lot. Five days a week at 6:30 am, Jennifer, Josh, Dom, and I hit the weight room. We are a club…and I am going to name our lifting club, the Wyld Stallyns. Excellent! Now you understand my mass consumption of whey protein.

This meme is convicting because it contrasts a profound statement about salvation and Jesus’s divinity against a reality that I live. What I mean is, I often find it easier to be an evangelist for exercise than I do for Jesus.

I think you will agree that when you are excited about something, it is easy, if not fun, to tell others about it. For me, weight lifting and exercise is that thing. If I hear that you are feeling lousy or want to get in shape, I will drop what I am doing and give you the gospel of the gym in a heartbeat. It is easy to do because I am passionate about it, and people are willing to listen. People love talking about getting in shape, whether they intend to do it or not. I have never had a person get offended when I talk about fitness. I’m not alone either. There are fitness disciples by the millions all preaching the gospel of the gym, for FREE. #fitspo on Instagram has 48.3 million posts. That is one single Instagram hashtag of probably thousands dedicated to the same topic. Now there are not 48.3 million independent posters (otherwise we’d all be in shape), but it is probably safe to assume across the entire Instagram site, there are half a million or more.

The book of Revelation says during the Great Tribulation there will be 144,000 evangelists who will reach the entire population of the world, so that all will have the opportunity to accept or reject salvation. (Rev 7) 144,000 is a pittance compared to the disciples of the gym.

At the heart of the matter is rejection. I don’t - and I suspect you don’t - like rejection. While people want to hear about how to get fit, often they are uncomfortable or ambivalent to hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Frankly, the Gospel is offensive. “I am the Way, the truth and the life, NO ONE comes to the Father EXCEPT through ME,” (emphasis mine). That is an exclusive claim. No religion, no payment, no amount of good behavior gets you into heaven, only belief in the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Oh, by the way, let’s not forget that when you tell people they can be saved that you are also telling them that they are under the wrath of God, a wrath that ends in hell. People want to hear about gains, but not hell.

So, you see the dilemma. If you have been following this blog for the past three weeks, you have now gotten the Gospel three times. It has really been on my heart. I want you to be saved. Yes, even those of you I don’t know. Blogging is a step I have taken to fight the fear of rejection that comes with witnessing for Jesus. I can give the Gospel to 100 people at once, check my facts, double check my verses, and fire my blog away into the internet. Then if you reject the Gospel it is not to my face. That is a good first step.

You and I need to move beyond first steps and get serious with our friends and family. Reading is fine and effective, but, “Faith comes by hearing.” (Rom 10:17) This means eventually we need to tell people in person. This means you have to put yourself out there. This means people will ask you questions, which you may or may not be able to answer. This means you will be dismissed and maybe made fun of. This means you need to practice and know what you believe, and more importantly, what the Bible says. But, in all of this, someone will be saved. And that is why we do it.

One story and I will give you your Facebook back. My uncle John is a fearless evangelist (or so it seems). I picked him up from the airport in Washington, D.C. once and was delayed at the arrivals curb for 10 minutes while he gave a complete stranger the Gospel. The guy just sat there and listened, asked a few questions and made a few excuses. Then an amazing thing happened, the guy prayed to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. In just ten minutes of uncomfortable conversation, a man’s life was saved from an ETERNITY in hell. The young man, Frank, ended up attending church with me for the next few months while he was in school learning to be a train engineer.

Thomas was a success story. John said during his time in seminary, he was required to street evangelize for an entire semester. He said it was a humbling experience. He once preached for hours from a street corner, while hundreds of people walked by and ignored him like he was a lunatic. At the end of the day, while packing us his things to drive home, a man approached him. The man had listened for a half hour from a cracked door of his business. In the midst of my uncle John’s rejection and humiliation, this man stood quietly by himself and repented of his sin and prayed to Jesus to be his savior. You never know in whose heart the Holy Spirit is at work.

Examine your life. What are you passionate about? Take that same passion and offer it to Jesus. Perhaps He will take the things you love and combine them with the mission He has given you to spread the Gospel. Who knows, maybe the Wyld Stallyns will be the name of my weight lifting/evangelism club. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Plans and Hope

by Jonathan Whitaker

Last night as Jennifer and I were winding down for the day, her phone started to buzz. We paused the show we were watching, The Good Place on Netflix (funny show, bad theology), to investigate the rapid-fire texts that were blowing-up her phone. The texts were from a good friend and they were dire. The first text was a picture of a huge 6 foot long crack traversing a load-bearing wall of her house. The next text was the expected exclamation of horror. Quickly following was a picture of the doors to her living room that no longer open, because the weight of the wall was resting upon them. Her friend’s house was literally collapsing around her. You should feel much better about your house fix-up projects given this alternative.

The owner of the house our friend is renting has begun, let’s say, an overly ambitious renovation project. At this rate, gravity is taking care of the demolition phase of the renovation at a schedule that far exceeds the plan of the general contractor. Jennifer’s friend was going about her evening business one minute and without warning, her whole life is now in upheaval.

I am amazed how apropos this situation is to James chapter 4, verses 13-17. The basic premise is that we as humans make grand plans about tomorrow and we put our faith in those plans. Verse 14 tells us that faith in our own plans is foolishness, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” No, I’m not calling Jennifer’s friend a fool.

As you read on in James, it is no surprise that the author tells us to place our faith in the Lord, not in our plans. But, there is something that IS shocking, verse 17. If you are a believer in Jesus, verse 17 should run into your conscience with the force of a speeding truck. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” If you know right and you do wrong, you are a sinner.

The story of the crumbling house actually started months ago, when our friend’s landlord decided to dig out the basement of a 150 year old house and build a rental condo. He made his plan, contracted his workers, did not ask for permission from the tenants, did not heed their objections, and most importantly, did not seek the legal approval from the city council. I have kept the parties relatively anonymous, because this landlord acted just as James 4 warns, boastfully.

Many times along the way, Jennifer’s friend and her husband brought to the attention of the landlord the small indicators that his unpermitted work was going awry, but he did not listen. Now with his house collapsing and the authorities contacted, he can no longer avert the disaster he has brought upon himself.

As I meditate upon James 4 and pray over my friends, I am convicted that in many ways throughout my life I have been the landlord in this story. Have you? There are times when we are the author of our own disaster. Knowing the right thing, but choosing wrong. That is sin. Unequivocally, sin. My life and my plans are like a mist; there is no permanence and therefore, no foundation for hope.

Blessedly, Jennifer and I started a new study of the book of 1 Peter. God’s living Word will never let you down. You need to stop reading this and read 1 Peter 1:3-12. Are you back??? Do you see why I said that God’s word is alive? While James 4 is clear that there is no hope in my strength or my plans, I AM NOT WITHOUT HOPE! I have a savior who has given me an indestructible hope. 1 Peter 1:3-5 says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

The permanence of those verses gives me great hope that though I have been a landlord who has built houses upon the sand with false foundations, I have been forgiven. Now my house is built upon a Rock (Matt 7:24-27). And to my friends: don’t miss verse 4. Your house may be crumbling now, but in heaven awaits a mansion that will not crumble.

When a person knows the right thing but chooses wrong, to him it is sin. I know God will protect Jennifer’s friend through this trial. I know because we have asked God and he is righteous. My hope is that her landlord will be convicted of his wrongdoing in his heart, before it is too late and he is convicted by the government. I hope that, because God spared me when I was as guilty as that man is. Here is the thing: Jesus is Lord, and believing in the resurrection is the only thing that saves men’s souls… that is the right thing. I think you know where I am going with this…

Wanna Know Jesus?

by Jonathan Whitaker

Wanna know who Jesus is? Ask these two little girls -- they know, and they’ll tell ya, “He’s God’s Son.” Or as the one on the right declared to her preschool class last week, “I love Jesus!” That’s great. It’s worth mentioning that she followed it up with, “…and you don’t.” Effective evangelism nonetheless!

These smiling three-year-olds are Olivia and Natalia, and they comprise about half of our Elementary Sunday School class at HCCF. We would love to add your three-year-old to the rolls! Here is the deal: these sweet little kiddos don’t have the answers to deep theological questions, and they might only have a simple understanding of salvation. But when asked what they believe, they had an answer.

A preacher friend of mine, Andy Wilson, preached this weekend at HCCF from Acts 10. The juxtaposition of Andy, who is blind BTW, preaching from these verses was powerful. It was powerful because Acts 10 is about two men receiving visions. One, a Roman centurion who loved God and desperately needed salvation, and the other the Apostle Peter, whom God sent to the centurion. The centurion knew, just as all men do (if they are being honest), that they need to be saved. Even the most ardent atheist is not comforted on his deathbed by the knowledge that he weighed the options and determined that there was not a great case for a god to exist. No… death without the assurance of salvation is absolutely hopeless.

What an advantage Peter and the centurion had. God sent them both visions and angels to tell them exactly what to do to be saved. If you are reading this as a Christian, while God reserves the right to send you a vision, he’s probably not going to. I am willing to be wrong on this point 😊. Instead, Jesus, before he ascended to heaven following the resurrection, told all believers to go tell the good news to the whole world. (Matt 28:16-20) I consider that better than a vision.

Let me ask you a fundamental question about life. Where are you going when you die? If you said heaven, I would follow it up with this: what is your plan to get there? Do you know you must be saved to go to heaven? If you don’t know if you are saved, I have bad news for you in the vision department… God tells us that there is nothing within us that craves righteousness. (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:10-12) In fact, apart from Jesus, none are righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). As you and I know all too well, we have a sin problem. The scripture is clear, if you have a sin problem, then you have a death problem. The payment for sin -- just one sin or a million sins – is exactly the same: death. (Romans 6:23) Here’s the thing -- if you cannot answer the question “what saves a man?” then the chances you are saved are pretty slim.

I hope you are asking the same question that was asked of the Apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30-32) The answer is simple, and it may surprise you. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Believe what about the Lord Jesus??? That He existed? No, history tells us that He existed. Even the most hard-line Muslim, Hindu, or atheist believes Jesus existed. He is a historical figure. The Bible tells us that it is WHAT we believe about Jesus -- a man who claimed to be the Emmanuel, or God with us -- is what saves us. Romans 10:9-10 is as clear a presentation of salvation as can be found in scripture, and it tells us exactly what we are to place our faith in. “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Ask yourself, do I believe that?

So little of us is required to be saved, just belief in the resurrection of Jesus by God. No works, no penance, no payment, just belief and acknowledgement, “Jesus is Lord.”

Jesus loved you an awful lot to secure a salvation from death. A salvation that is not just fire insurance but adoption into God’s family, with an inheritance in Heaven. (Ephesians 1:11-14) If you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, please tell someone. I would love it if you told me.

I am humbled to say that God took a life that I made worthless through my bad choices, selfish acts, and wanton disobedience (to a God whom I have always believed existed), and made it beautiful.

I hope for each of you whom I consider friends, that you too will believe in what Jesus accomplished on the cross, so that today I can call you brother or sister.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever (YOU) believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Just a Few Questions

by Jonathan Whitaker

That is a blurry picture of Cheeto sitting in Jennifer's Mothers Day gift. Cheeto has nothing to do with this blog, but posts with pictures always get more likes and I have to do my part to keep the internet as the premier destination for cat photos.

You ever take a road trip with an eight year old? Or, have you ever driven to the store alone with an eight year old? If the answer is "yes," then you have made this remark: “You know, you sure ask a lot of questions.” My two oldest daughters, Lauren (10) and Holly (8) (no I’m not an NCIS fan), can ask some questions. They score high marks for complexity and volume in the arena of question asking. My kids could be Guantanamo interrogators if they weren’t so over qualified. Kids ask a lot of questions. So does James chapter 4. Nice transition, huh?!

Like my kids, James 4 crowds a lot of questions into a very small space of text. Seventeen verses and I count six question marks. James starts with a question I ask my three kids at least once a week, “why are you fighting?” But, he doesn’t stop there; he gets real deep, real fast. “Who are you to judge your
neighbor?" “What is your life?” The question posed in verse four is the one that really gets me, not just because it is the basis for major self-reflection, but because James asks it in a way that suggests that the answer is self-evident, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” Well,
don’t ya?!

That question is the definition of the word juxtaposition. Which as we all know means putting two things next to each other in a sentence to create a contrasting effect. And what a stark contrast it is. If friendship with the world were a white piece of paper, enmity with God would be a huge inky black dot right in the middle. There is no similarity, no blurred edges, just total separation, total otherness (yes, Google confirmed that otherness is a word).

This question has me asking some questions. First off, am I friends with the world? I mean I have friends who are not Christians, that means they’re in the “world’s camp.” What about my life do I love that is not of God? How long is God going to let me harbor this enmity? What in my life is holding me back from being friends with God instead of being friends with the world? How can I change?

There it is... how can I change? Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this point. James 4:8 tells us to, ”Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The truth is, you are going to have to navigate your way through a sinful, fallen world, and you are gonna get dirty. Being dirty and being dirt are two different things. Ask yourself the same questions that I did to gauge your dirt vs. dirty quotient.

I am reminded of Jacob, the restless son of Isaac. Jacob left his father’s home and went to work, live, and eventually thrive in a foreign land. But on his way God promised Jacob that He would never leave him and that He (God) would bless him. In turn Jacob made a commitment to God, based on God’s promises to him, and he laid a marker stone and called it Bethel (which means "God's Camp") as a reminder that he was and always would be in God’s camp. (Gen 28). Jacob then went on and sojourned in a foreign land. He went out into the world and got his hands dirty. And though he made his way in the world, from that point forth, he was no longer friends with the world.

God has made you promises as well, and as a Christian person, you may have gone out into the world. Here is the difference between you and Jacob. You were sent by the Son of God into the world. But, it was not you who set up a marker, it was Jesus, when He marked you with His blood and claimed you as His own.

So I guess what I’m trying to tell you is this: you’re gonna spend some time in the world. That’s where the people are. You know, the people God has sent you to tell the good news to. Keep your eye on the one who sent you and maybe just don’t go native.

The Biggest Blessing

by Jonathan Whitaker

As many of you know, one of our Elders, Jonathan Whitaker, is currently stationed in England. He will periodically write a blog for Element’s website, but hasn’t sent anything for a while. He is currently overseeing the base’s church ministry where he is stationed and wrote a blog for them. I thought I would repost it for you here:
 

 
This little kid sitting next to me, who says she looks like me, is one of the greatest blessings in my life. She doesn’t look like me, she looks like her mom, thank God. But, we’re wearing the same glasses, so that’s something, right?! The point is she is a blessing. Blessing is something I want more of in my life.

Blessing IMHO is a result of getting acquainted with the one who blesses… you know… God. Paul said in Philippians 3 that it was his “determined purpose to know God the Son.” Knowing Jesus is a pretty good way to bring more blessing into your life. But the biggest blessing on knowing Jesus is experiencing Him… yes you can actually experience the unseen God of the Universe in this life.
 
I personally have experience with this. Lots of experience. I am blessed and blessed and blessed. I would love to tell anyone who will listen and buy me a cup of coffee, all about it. But, for those of you who want to save a couple bucks or quid, as the case may be, I will give you the top three ways that I have experienced blessing from the living God.
 
First, through prayer. I pray with specificity. I pray, doing my best to trust that God will answer and I pray with my utmost effort for God’s will (not my desire) to be done. God shows up often immediately and in undeniable ways. Sometimes I have to wait, but I am always on the lookout for the results or a report of what God has done. Psalms 5:3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch. If you are intrigued by this, ask me any question you want. If you have never had a prayer answered, ask me about mine.
 
Second, tithes and offerings. In my decade of giving to the Lord out of what I now know is his money (not my money), I have never been able to give more to God than what he has given me in return. Disclaimer, this is not a get rich quick scheme. If you are giving in order to get something from God, that’s a bribe and that is sin. I’m talking about trusting God with your money. Give a little to honor Him and see what he does. Give a lot and watch Him show up in a major way. Remember the Widow in the synagogue who gave a mite. Monetarily it was worthless, but to her it was priceless because it was all she had. God wants you to give big with your heart. But, if you want to know more, I will tell you a personal testimony that is nothing short of miraculous. (Malachi 3:10)
 
My third tip for experiencing Jesus is very simple. Honor him with your words and acknowledge him in public. 1 Samuel 2:30, tells us that those who honor God, will be honored by God. I wish more Christians would take God at his word. When I have been bold enough to speak out for Christ in my life, Christ in return opened doors for me professionally, academically, and personally. I’m not joking… there is no other explanation. Honor God and He will honor you.
 
These aren’t my tips for wealth, health, and fame. Nor are these tips advice for non-believers to get the proof that God exists, so they can believe. This is just my testimony as a believer, about the promises that God made to me and kept. I would love to tell any of you specifics, but I would rather you experience Jesus for yourself.
 
As for that pretty girl sitting next to me, she was just a blessing God gave me because He is good and He loves me.

What You Say and What You Do

by Jonathan Whitaker

What you do says much about what you believe. James said of Abraham, that he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. However it was not Abraham’s mere belief in God that was counted as righteousness. Instead James tells us that it was Abraham’s belief demonstrated through his actions.

After giving Abraham a son in his old age, God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar he had to build with his own hands. As a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the turmoil, the grief, and the anger Abraham must have felt. Knowing the custom of his father was to sacrifice a lamb to God, Isaac asked a very reasonable question of his dad, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” With his reply, Abraham demonstrated a belief in God, which God credited to him as righteousness, “(son) God will provide his own lamb.” It was not till Abraham had raised the knife to fulfill his vow to God and sacrifice his own son, that God stayed his hand and provided a ram for the sacrifice. (James 2, Gen 22)

To understand Abraham’s belief, you must understand God’s promise. Many years before, God promised Abraham that he would have decedents as numerous as the stars. But that wasn’t all, for years between that promise and the altar he built on Mount Moriah to sacrifice his own son, God had made and kept many promises. Abraham knew that if God could bless him with a son when his wife was 90 years old, then he could make his descendants as numerous as the stars. Here is the critical point: Abraham knew that even if God did not stay his knife, God would keep his promise. God was able to make Abraham a great nation and God would do it through Abraham’s son Isaac… even if God had to raise him from the dead. God did not need Isaac as a sacrifice, he sent his own Son as that Lamb.

Paul once testified before King Agrippa (Acts 26) about when God sent his Lamb asking, “Why is the thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” You have to admit on Abraham’s side of the cross, the thought that God raises the dead would have taken a lot of faith.

You may wonder, "how can I demonstrate faith like Abraham?" Your righteousness is credited to you the same way it was to Abraham -- through belief. God has also made you a promise. A better promise. He did not say he will make you a nation, he did you one better. 
Romans 10:9 says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Plenty of people believe in the resurrection, it’s that ‘confess with your mouth’ part that is so difficult.

Confessing Jesus publically may not be like raising a knife to sacrifice your child, but there is a cost. You will often be ridiculed, have your intelligence questioned, lose friends, lose family, be laughed to scorn. I was made fun of this week for believing in creation. People in Egypt, this year, have lost their lives for confessing Jesus.

Faith without works is dead. God has provided His own Lamb. The work of the believer is to tell others.

Mercy is a Revolution

by Jonathan Whitaker

I bet your non-Christian friends can quote at least one verse from the Sermon on the Mount, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." (Matt 7:1). They, like most of us will probably even quote it in Old English... excuse me Olde English. No matter the source, your friend, the scripture, or from the lips of Jesus Himself, the words, "judge not", are true and just good advice. What good ever came from being judgmental?


James 2 adds another dimension, "mercy, triumphs over judgement." (from James 2:13). I like that idea, because try as I may, I'm often a judgmental person. I don't want to be judgmental, who would? You may feel the same way (about yourself, not me). That is why mercy is a revolutionary idea, because it is the antidote to judgment. When you feel tempted to judge, you can choose mercy. When we let mercy beat judgement, more people will feel loved. When people feel loved, they want to know the person who loves them. And when they ask, you can tell them the truth, Jesus... and they just might listen

Count It All Joy

by Jonathan Whitaker

"Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4) No one in their right mind would pray for trials or testing of their faith. None the less, trials come to us all. And when they come, the last thing we want to hear from someone else is, "stay strong or, have faith." Instead, when you see a brother whose faith is put to the test, be open to the possibility that God has sent you to meet your brother in his trial to walk beside him. Kind words can comfort, just remember to back them up with your actions

PRAY FOR MENWITH

by Jonathan Whitaker

James 5:16 tells us that the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its working. I believe this, but I am often confronted by the fact that I am not a righteous man. Romans 3:10 tells us that in fact none of us are righteous… not one. So much for the power of my prayers, right.

Blessedly, the Apostle Paul didn’t stop writing the book of Romans at verse 10. Romans 3:21-31 says that our righteousness, our justification, is imparted to us through the man Jesus and his finished work on the cross. So, it is not our righteousness, but Jesus’s righteousness that brings power to our prayers.

When Jesus prayed people were raised from the dead (John 11:41-43). That is the power that the prayer of a righteous man has in its working.

Menwith Hill is not just a collection of golf-balls and buildings. It is people, it is a community, it is lives, joy, pain, plenty, and need. Menwith Hill needs our prayers. Pray for Menwith.

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