Mad About You

by Jonathan Whitaker
in Blog

I have been procrastinating writing a blog for months.  I’ll ask you not to scroll down to my last blog to do the math on just how long it has been.  So without further ado…

Speaking of beloved 90’s sitcom “Mad About You,” (a bad transition is better than none at all)  I have been lingering in the book of Deuteronomy in my year through the Bible read and every time I crack the Book open to Deuteronomy, I can’t help but think of “Mad About You.”  “Why on earth?” you might ask.  Well, one of the recurring characters on the show was Uncle Phil, played by one of the greatest comedic actors of the last -- well, ever -- Mel Brooks.  In one episode, the main couple in the show, Paul and Jamie, (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) find out Uncle Phil is dying.  In an act of kindness toward dear old Uncle Phil, Paul promises to name his soon-to-be born child after his uncle.  The only problem is “Phil” is not Phil’s real name -- his real name is Deuteronomy.  Did I mention Phil is Jewish?  This always made me giggle (the name not the Jewish thing). 

The word Deuteronomy is derived from a Greek compound word deuteros nomos, which means “second law.”  The name suggests that there are two sets of law.  There aren’t two sets of law in the Bible, just the one. The name is confusing.  Deuteronomy is really a retelling by Moses of the Law found in Leviticus.  The book contains the majority of Moses’s sermons found in scripture.  Moses gave these sermons to a group of Israelites who either weren’t born yet or were very young when God dragged Israel out of slavery by the hand.  You may remember that shortly after leaving Egypt, Israel failed to enter the promised land because they did not trust that God would protect them.  Moses gave the law a second time to remind Israel of the greatness of the God they serve, so they would not fail to enter the promised land for a second time. 

We serve the Great God of the universe!  Like Israel, we need to hear that a second, third, fourth (and on, and on) time.  Deuteronomy chapter five is almost a word for word recounting of the Ten Commandments.  Great preacher’s tip from Moses -- if you got it right the first time, don’t mess with the format on your next delivery.  I was struck by how much time Moses spent on commandments one through four and how little was devoted to commandments six through nine (murder, adultery, stealing, lying).  It is really no surprise, because the first commandments are devoted to man’s response to the living God, and the last six are devoted to how we treat one another. 

In the very next chapter, Moses said these are the commandments of God, but there is a greater commandment still, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5) This command became a prayer known as the Shema.  It was recited daily by every Israelite, and is still recited to this day by practicing Jews.   When was the last time you loved God with all of your might?  This is good preaching.  Moses first laid out the scripture that they all knew (the Ten Commandments), then he said, “Ok the point of all of that is, GOD loved you more than you can conceive, so you love Him back with every fiber of your being.”  I think if we are being honest with ourselves, none of us really do that, and that is what has been missing from our worship, our service, our prayers, our very lives.  God gave us everything, and everything is all He wants from us in return. 

At Element Colorado Springs, we strive each week to remind you of the greatness of God, by sharing God’s truth found in His Word.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to sit under the preaching of Moses as he delivered this book to the people.  We certainly know the result: Israel was given a spirit of conquering and their hearts turned to God and His promised land.   When the most religious people asked Jesus Christ what the greatest commandment was, he simply quoted Deuteronomy chapter 6 and Leviticus 19.  He said a prayer that Hebrews from age 3 to 99 recited daily, “The greatest commandment is to love God,” and the other is like it, “love people.”   I suspect when God Himself gives it to you that straight, the effect is pretty powerful.  For a little perspective, the first time God gave them that law on Mount Sinai, Israel feared that if they were in His presence any longer, they would die.  Now God the Son stands in their midst, gives them the law, and they mock Him for it. 

Whoa, that got real heavy there.  You don’t need to beat yourself up over how you continue to fail God.  Just ask yourself, “did Jesus die for that sin too?”  The answer is yes, so repent, trust that His salvation is sufficient, and that He made you a new creation that can put one foot in front of the other and start loving God.  That is my simple plan.  God is amazing! Not only did He love us enough to die in our place, but He made us able to love Him in return.  And bonus, He probably won’t ask you to name one of your kids Deuteronomy.    

Blog over.  I won’t dilly-dally so much on my next installment. 

Calling All Instagram Influencers!

by Christian Alf
in Blog

Calling all Instagram influencers!

Yesterday we returned from Arches National Park in Moab, UT. It was a great vacation and a fun time camping with all the kids. Unfortunately, I think our career as Instagram influencers is not going to happen. We are not ready for the dramatic poses and attire required for being an Insta-Famous.

Two weeks ago I preached through the life and blessings of Jacob. I talked about judging people based on their appearances. Most of what I covered was judging people in a negative light; judging people as inferior because of the way that they appear. While walking through the park and seeing several wannabe Instagram influencers I was struck that we also judge the other way. We see a filtered life shown to us on our social media feed and judge someone else's life as better than ours, attributing them more honor than others.

What do we show the world through our social media feed? What value do we attribute to others based only on their feeds?

Remember that we are all created in God's own image. All humans are image bearers of God and therefore are worthy of honor. We should seek to honor God through our social media feeds and honor him by loving others online. It is hard not to try to present a perfect image of our life to all our social media followers. It is hard to admit that I am a broken human being, unable to save myself, wholly reliant on God's good grace in my life. That is the image the world needs to see and so rarely sees.

Being created in God's image means that we are all worshipers. We are worshiping something. Am I worshiping the praise of my followers online? or am I worshiping the creator of the universe? This is a question we hope to tackle and discuss with practical advice during our mid-week community meetings. We are kicking it off 5 June at 6:00.  Please message for details. We hope to see you all there!

Taking Thoughts Captive

by Jennifer Whitaker
in Blog

What do you do when the world seems against you?  How can you overcome anxiety, depression, fear, anger, guilt?

Recently I went through a dark time.  I felt oppressed and attacked spiritually.  I felt my best wasn’t good enough.  I felt defeated, and low, and embarrassed of how the efforts I put forward for ministry didn’t look how I thought they should look.  Things were grim.  I was beginning to spiral further into myself and my shortcomings, feeling more and more like a failure.  Being the DIY, self-sufficient all-American girl I am, I sought the advice of the internet.  I googled, “how to overcome depression” and was greeted with webpage after webpage of secular psychologists giving various tips on how to get yourself out of a funk.  There was one common thread among them: replace your negative thoughts with positive affirmations.  Tell yourself (in the words of Stuart Smalley) “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

I had been studying 2 Corinthians 10 that week. Verses 4-5 say, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  I’d had the weapons to fight off these mental and emotional attacks all along!  Not only that, but this powerful weapon, the very Word of God himself, has divine power to destroy strongholds.  My role in this was to take my every thought captive and make it obey Christ. 

Practically, how do I take thoughts captive and make them obey Christ?  I began by listing out all the lies I had been believing and listening to.  I looked up scriptures that contradicted those lies, and I began to meditate on those truths.  I found a stack of business-sized cards I’d received as a gift (thanks, Mutar!) that had beautiful and powerful promises of God printed on them, with my own name inserted into the verses.  I began to recognize the lies for what they were, and in each moment and each instance, replace those lies with the Truth of God’s word.

The change was immediate and amazing.  God’s word really does transform our minds!  When we store up His word in our hearts, we can overcome the temptation to sin (Psalm 119:11).  We don’t need to fear (2 Timothy 1:7, Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 23:4, Romans 8:38-39, Isaiah 41:10).  We have value and are infinitely loved (Genesis 1:27, Jeremiah 31:3, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:1, Luke 12:6-7).  We are made right with God through Christ, are adopted as beloved sons and daughters, and cannot be snatched from His hand (Romans 10:9-10, Romans 8:14-17, John 5:24, John 10:28-30). This barely scratches the surface of the depths of wisdom and promises of the Bible!  The more time you spend getting to know God in his word, the more you love Him, the more gratitude you have for the blessings in your life, the more your mind is renewed to be like Christ.

So, when seasons arise that overwhelm you, when you find yourself in a dark place wondering what on earth to do, seek wisdom in the pages of your Bible.  Take wayward thoughts captive and make them obey Christ by replacing lies with the truth.  God’s word is sufficient for all of life’s trials. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

Membership Has its Privileges

by Jonathan Whitaker

“Membership has its privileges.” This is a phrase I have often heard, but seldom experienced. When I was younger, in a job that had me travel the world on frequent business trips, I was given some good advice by the seasoned travelers in my office: “Choose a hotel rewards and airline miles program and stick with it.” This really is good advice, which I stand by for religious reasons.

Between flying to Asia, Europe, and all over the continental US, I racked up a lot of loyalty points. My goal was to take my family on an all-expenses-paid vacation to somewhere, if not fabulous, at least free.

After Holly was born (my second eldest), I was able to book my first vacation using loyalty points. We flew to Orlando from San Antonio on Delta Airlines for free. Not too shabby. I had top-tier status with Delta, and this ate up most of my points. But, the crown jewel of my frequent traveler treasure chest was my Diamond Status with Hilton! It was my plan to turn a move from San Antonio to California into a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with swanky stays along the way. Unfortunately, the Hilton resort I booked in Arizona did not have Hilton Diamond amenities, so my four years of Hilton stays netted me a Starbucks and a bagel each morning from the hotel grocery. Wah wah... After that debacle, they booked us in the stinky pet room at the Embassy Suites in Lompoc.

I didn’t travel for business for the next three years. My status with Delta now allows me to fly on the roof of the plane with the chicken crates. As I look back, my real problem was that I should have used my travel points when they would have done me some good. Instead, I hoarded them for a future vacation that never happened.

My story of being a Christian is a lot like my story of being a travel rewards member. The status I had was not the status I used. The day we are saved God gives us the Holy Spirit, full access to the God of the universe, spiritual gifts, a mission, and eternal life. It is like getting Diamond Status the day you sign up! You get this fabulous rewards package, and so did I. But, I never used my points!

It gets worse. For two decades I never used my points. I had the Holy Spirit, but I did not find time to get to know Him. And sadly, I never experienced His power. The whole time as a saved person, I knew there was so much more that God wanted for my life. I knew this, because the Holy Spirit constantly convicted my soul…AND I WAS MISERABLE! Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

I was living Hebrews 10:24-25. I had no one to stir me toward good works, because I avoided those people like the plague. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say, because it pricked my heart and made me feel guilty. Well, that is exactly how a person who has been given the GREATEST GIFT in the universe only to squander it SHOULD FEEL!

The turning point in my life was when I submitted to mature Christians, joined a fellowship of believers in a Bible believing church, began worshiping the God of my salvation, and yielded my life to God’s plan. These things only happen when a Christian participates in Christ’s body, the Church.

I want you to have these benefits too. Don’t make the mistake I did. Jesus did not leave you on an island. He is a God of community (hence the Trinity). He wants to commune with you as you commune with other believers. This is why he went to such lengths to establish His church. I mean for crying out loud, he spent weeks church planting after being raised from the dead. I can tell you when I have been raised from the dead, I’m gonna be worshipping God, not worrying about all of you!

Listen to this week’s sermon. The Elders of Element CS want to join with you in covenant membership. We want you to live the life God has for you. We are committed to you and want to offer you a helping hand.

How do I know if I have Spiritual Gifts?

by Jennifer Whitaker
in Blog

How do I know if I have spiritual gifts?  How do I know what they are?  How do I use my gifts?

If you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself these questions a time or two in your Christian life.  Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit in John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” So, we can be confident that we have the Holy Spirit from the moment of salvation (Eph. 1:13).  We can trust God’s promise that we have the Spirit, and thus, have the gifts of the Spirit.  In fact, the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control -- are evidences of a life lived in step with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  These are things that all believers’ lives should reflect as we submit our lives to becoming more like Christ. 

But what about those spiritual gifts? 

There are many passages throughout the New Testament that list or outline the spiritual gifts.  The apostle Paul tells us things like prophecy, wisdom, teaching, service, giving, leading, acting mercifully, evangelism, distinguishing between spirits, healing, working miracles, and speaking in and interpreting tongues are all gifts of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:11-16).  But how do I know which of these I have?  How can I identify the gifts given to me so I can be most effective in my service to God?

I sometimes find myself trying to shoe-horn the talents I have and the situation I’m in into one of those listed gifts.  But I can tell you, friend, this is not the right approach!  1 Corinthians 12:4-11 tells us, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

In light of what Paul tells us about the beautiful diversity of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:12-31), and the variety of gifts the Holy Spirit gives us, I believe we are to use the abilities, talents, and skills God gave us and the situations He puts us in to serve Him.  We are to use our unique personality, our varied experiences, our own personal story to further the kingdom of God.  When God sends a person into your life to whom you can be a blessing, do it!  If you’re presented with an opportunity to use your skills to serve in some capacity, whether it’s in your church, your family, your community, or even helping a stranger, do it! 

You may be saying to yourself, “But I don’t even know what my gifts are.  How can I use my gifts to serve God unless I know what they are?” I say to you, just start moving forward.  This week, make someone a meal.  That’s an act of service.  Encourage a friend.  That’s exhortation and wisdom.  Pray for that rude driver who nearly took you out on Powers Boulevard.  That’s acting in faith.

Still at a loss? Ask a trusted Christian friend if they see spiritual gifts in your life that you may be missing.  Can you sing?  Join the worship team! That’s leadership and contributing to worship.  Are you handy?  Use your skills to help someone.  That’s an act of mercy. Has God taught you something new as you study His word? Share it with others!  That’s wisdom, prophecy, and exhortation.  You’ll find that it’s easier to steer a moving ship – and that the more you use the gifts God gave you, the more sensitive you’ll be to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus gives the parable of the talents.  In this story, the master entrusts three servants with varying amounts of money and goes away on a trip.  Upon the master’s return, the servants with five and two talents have each invested wisely and doubled the master’s money, while the servant with one talent has simply buried the talent in the ground.  The master is, of course, pleased with the diligence of the servants who increased the master’s wealth, and angry with the servant who squandered the opportunity.  God has given each of us unique gifts and abilities.  Don’t be that foolish servant!  Don’t bury your gifts in the sand.  Get out there and use your spiritual gifts for God’s kingdom, and don’t be surprised when you see God’s overflowing blessing in your life.

What We Believe

by Jonathan Whitaker

Every Christian has a testimony, a record of what Jesus has done in their life.  Your story is uniquely yours and yet shared with everyone who has submitted their lives to Christ and received salvation.  The fundamental element of our testimonies is this statement: “this is what I believe.” The importance of being able to clearly communicate what you believe is at the heart of the gospel call, which Christ gave to all of us when He commissioned His Church to make disciples of the nations.  (Matt. 28:16-20)

I recently listened to the testimony of a young man who came to salvation out of Mormonism, while on his two-year Mormon mission.  What impressed me was not only his powerful story of conversion, but that he was able to tie every part of his story to scripture, God’s story of redemption.  There was real power in the young man’s words, because he told his own story using God’s word. 

To know what you believe is integral to your personal relationship with God.  God has spoken clearly about Himself in His word (the Bible). The Bible is unique among religious texts.  Unlike every other book that purports to be holy, the Bible is not simply a list of rules and restrictions to govern man’s existence.  In fact, its sole purpose is to reveal God Himself to man, and tell the story of how God is redeeming His creation.  More than that, it is a story that is unfinished, about a living God, who CAN be known, and goes to great lengths to be known by the people He created.  It follows then that your relationship with God is either enhanced or hindered by how much time you spend seeking Him in His living and active word.  (Heb. 4:12)

The Elders of Element CS have no greater desire than to help you get intimately acquainted with your God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Over the next two months we will undertake to share with you the Living Word of God that underpins the truth of what we believe.  Each week during our “What We Believe” series, we will teach you a different aspect of God’s grace.  It would take an eternity to fully explore these topics, so our hope is that each of you will be blessed by the reminder of how good God is, and you would each get a renewed vigor for seeking God in your personal study of scripture.  We hope to reinforce the truths you have mastered and possibly introduce you to truth you may not understand yet. 

There will be homework.  Notice I waited till the third paragraph to drop that bomb.  Boo, homework!  Here is my challenge to you.  Don’t make the mistake I did by waiting until I was an adult (nearly 15 years after my salvation) to truly make seeking God a priority.  The more time you spend with God now, the sooner He will reveal Himself through His word in your life.  The more I study the Bible, the more it is a joy to study the Bible. You may not believe me, but if you have never done it, your opinion on the matter doesn’t convince me.  I promise you that the life change you desire is found in the pages of scripture, but you must read God’s word to know Him.  Do the hard work, it’s worth it. (Phil. 3:12-16)

This series will be a blessing to you and me both.  And if you have had the urge to speak in church, it’s your lucky day, because Q&A will be encouraged.  One last appeal and I’ll wrap this up.  The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor. 13:11) Not only is that the part of 1 Corinthians 13 that your Maid of Honor left out of her reading of the “Love is…” passage at your wedding, but it is a call to maturity.  We have an opportunity to approach God and His Word as men and women, not children.  We should take that responsibility seriously.   When we understand what we believe in the light of who God said He is, then we will be truly effective for God’s kingdom.  Remember, your friends, loved ones, co-workers, and enemies will never call upon a God whom they have never heard of.  They will never hear of God unless we send a preacher.  My friend, you are that preacher. (Rom. 10:14, Is. 52:7)

What We Believe

by Jonathan Whitaker

Every Christian has a testimony, a record of what Jesus has done in their life. Your story is uniquely yours and yet shared with everyone who has submitted their lives to Christ and received salvation. The fundamental element of our testimonies is this statement: “this is what I believe.” The importance of being able to clearly communicate what you believe is at the heart of the gospel call, which Christ gave to all of us when He commissioned His Church to make disciples of the nations. (Matt. 28:16-20)

I recently listened to the testimony of a young man who came to salvation out of Mormonism, while on his two-year Mormon mission. What impressed me was not only his powerful story of conversion, but that he was able to tie every part of his story to scripture, God’s story of redemption. There was real power in the young man’s words, because he told his own story using God’s word.

To know what you believe is integral to your personal relationship with God. God has spoken clearly about Himself in His word (the Bible). The Bible is unique among religious texts. Unlike every other book that purports to be holy, the Bible is not simply a list of rules and restrictions to govern man’s existence. In fact, its sole purpose is to reveal God Himself to man, and tell the story of how God is redeeming His creation. More than that, it is a story that is unfinished, about a living God, who CAN be known, and goes to great lengths to be known by the people He created. It follows then that your relationship with God is either enhanced or hindered by how much time you spend seeking Him in His living and active word. (Heb. 4:12)

The Elders of Element CS have no greater desire than to help you get intimately acquainted with your God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Over the next two months we will undertake to share with you the Living Word of God that underpins the truth of what we believe. Each week during our “What We Believe” series, we will teach you a different aspect of God’s grace. It would take an eternity to fully explore these topics, so our hope is that each of you will be blessed by the reminder of how good God is, and you would each get a renewed vigor for seeking God in your personal study of scripture. We hope to reinforce the truths you have mastered and possibly introduce you to truth you may not understand yet.

There will be homework. Notice I waited till the fifth paragraph to drop that bomb. Boo, homework! Here is my challenge to you. Don’t make the mistake I did by waiting until I was an adult (nearly 15 years after my salvation) to truly make seeking God a priority. The more time you spend with God now, the sooner He will reveal Himself through His word in your life. The more I study the Bible, the more it is a joy to study the Bible. You may not believe me, but if you have never done it, your opinion on the matter doesn’t convince me. I promise you that the life change you desire is found in the pages of scripture, but you must read God’s word to know Him. Do the hard work, it’s worth it. (Phil. 3:12-16)

This series will be a blessing to you and me both. And if you have had the urge to speak in church, it’s your lucky day, because Q&A will be encouraged.

One last appeal and I’ll wrap this up. The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor. 13:11) Not only is that the part of 1 Corinthians 13 that your Maid of Honor left out of her reading of the “Love is…” passage at your wedding, but it is a call to maturity. We have an opportunity to approach God and His Word as men and women, not children. We should take that responsibility seriously. When we understand what we believe in the light of who God said He is, then we will be truly effective for God’s kingdom.

Remember, your friends, loved ones, co-workers, and enemies will never call upon a God whom they have never heard of. They will never hear of God unless we send a preacher. My friend, you are that preacher. (Rom. 10:14, Is. 52:7)

Stewards of God's Grace

by Christian Alf

This week I was preaching on 1 Peter 4:1-11; I said that I changed plans and redirected my focus onto the first line. We took a deep dive into Jesus, being both fully divine and fully man and then what this means for us. Go listen or watch it here.

We skipped talking about the second half of the verses in this section: 1 Peter 7-11. I wanted to spend a few minutes writing a blog about part of this section. Here are the verses:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake
of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude
of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use
it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who
speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies -
in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory
and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Peter just finished encouraging the reader to change their focus from the passions of the flesh to the will of God. The time has passed for us to continue to desire sin, now is the time for us to seek the will of God. Peter then says “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ greatest commandment. To test Jesus, one of the Pharisees asked him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40). You see, in both cases we cannot truly love our brothers and neighbors unless we first love God. That is the start of both these commands, that we would worship God first and only. And as a result we would love our neighbors.

Peter gives us two examples of this love. The first is to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling”. Hospitality is more than just inviting friends over. It is much easier for me to invite my friends over who look like me: families with young children and ties to the church, engineering, or the military. It is more difficult to love those who do not look like me. And then when I have people into our house what image am I presenting? A few weeks ago I encouraged everyone to ‘Pause and Reflect’ on the message being preached to them by books, music, and media (link). If I pause and reflect on the message being preached by my house when others come over it is that we have perfect little children and that everything is always clean. Neither of which is true. True hospitality is loving others where they are and loving them from where we are, dirty house and broken relationships. I am encouraged by Rosaria Butterfield (listen to this podcast or read her book)

Peter then goes on to call us to use our spiritual gifts, and we each have spiritual gifts. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” We are all members of the same body, but we have different gifts. We need to use the gifts to serve one another, and this will help with the hospitality piece. We do not need to live in a vacuum, we work with other believers to better show hospitality and love to one another. The example of the Whitakers opening their house up for us every week, and even the week when they were gone, is amazing. They are so generous with their time, space, and house. It is encouraging to me to see others live in this way and use their gifts (Hospitality and preaching the Word).

And why do we love one another and encourage each other to use our gifts? “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Everything is done to bring God more glory, so that we make much of him and less of us!

How to read difficult texts?

by Christian Alf

Recently I preached on First Peter 3:1-7. This is a difficult passages. Not only are there several verses that run contrary to culture, there is also one line that is confusing. Peter says to the wives: “Do not let your adorning be external --- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.” It is almost like he is telling the women not to braid their hair or wear jewelry. Is that what he is saying?

This verse reminds me of 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul writes: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.” (1 Cor 11:4-5) What is he saying? And why do the women at ElementCS not cover their heads or shave their heads?

Well, to answer these questions we need to spend a little time looking at how we read through the Bible, and especially through difficult passages. I am encouraging you to read passages and verses that you might not understand the first or 50th time through. But, I don't want you to just read the verses by themselves. When I pull out the single verse of First Peter 3:3 it seems to state that woman can't dress nicely. And then we go and look at those verses in 1 Corinthians and we get confused about headcoverings. What we miss by reading these verses independently is the context. It is critical for us to expand our view to the surrounding verses and read the context of the statement.

Let us first look at the context of First Peter 3:3-4.

“Do not let your adorning be external --- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear --- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.” When we extend the view onto the next verse we start to see that this truly is a statement about the adorning. “Do not let your adorning be external… but let your adorning be the hidden person” Peter is giving us an example of what adorning externally could be. If we were to take that clause as a literal command not to braid hair, put on gold jewelry, or wear clothes, that would be crazy! Peter is not telling the women to run around naked! No, he is saying, don’t let your focus be on your external beauty, but on the quite beauty of the heart, which is internal. (For more on this listen to the sermon from December 2, 2018)

Likewise we can look at what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians. Are men a disgrace if we pray in a baseball hat? And should the women of ElementCS shave their heads since they don’t wear headcoverings? This is an extreme statement, so we need to go look at the context to see what else he is saying. Just a few verses later he says: “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (1 Cor 11:13-14) We can start to see a picture come together here by pulling in more context. Paul says that the long hair of a woman is her glory, so clearly he is not a proponent of shaving, and he also says that it is contrary to nature for a man to wear long hair. Great! I used to have long hair. So this is where we can pull in some extra help. We read the difficult verses in context and then if there is still confusion we can turn to a trusted study bible, pastor, or commentary. I will quote two passages from the ESV study bible which will shed some more light on this.

Why should a woman not pray with her head uncovered? Well, this “may have connoted sexual availability or may simply have been a sign of being unmarried. In cultures where women’s head covering are not a sign of being married, wives do not need to cover their heads in worship, but they could obey this command by wearing some other physical symbol of being married (such as a wedding ring).”1 And then later in reference to Verse 14: “Nature probably means ‘your natural sense of what is appropriate for men and women’: it would be a disgrace for a man to look like a woman because of his hair style. Although the norms of appropriate hair style (and dress) may vary from culture to culture, Paul’s point is that men should look like men in that culture, and women should look like women in that culture, rather than seeking to deny or disparage the God-given difference between the sexes.”1 So, like the headcoverings this is not an explicit command. Wives should look as if they are married and men and women should look as culturally appropriate versions of their sex. This is why you will not see the women in ElementCS with headcoverings or shaved heads, and we will preach wearing pants and not dresses.

So, context matters when reading difficult passages and if the context does not clarify everything, then sometimes seeking external help will help provide the language and cultural context required to fully comprehend the text.

1Taken from the ESV® Study Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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 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.


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.”

Don’t forget to hit “LIKE” for this blog!

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.


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.*

Page 1 of 3