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


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.

Children Obey Your Parents in the Lord

by Jonathan Whitaker

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." A three year old named Natalia, quoted me this verse on Sunday. I couldn't have been more encouraged. Not only was this precious little voice accurately quoting God's inspired scripture, but frankly it was a good reminder for me. When Paul wrote these verses, he was not only addressing Christian children, but all of us. We are all someone's child. When we accept Jesus as our savior, we are given the right to be called children of God. It is no surprise then, that God places such importance on honoring your father and mother. So much so, that in the Ten Commandments, honor your father and mother, is the first commandment with a blessing attached to that you may live long in the land I have given you. You can enjoy that blessing today, by honoring your father and mother.

Thanks Natalia, for the reminder that God wants to give us good things! (Eph 6:1, Exodus 20:12)

Accountability: Why We Must Be Accountable!

by Jonathan Whitaker

I read an interesting article a few weeks back that cited a study of nearly 58,000 participants from the Millennial Generation. The study compared the religious practices and beliefs of Millennials to a similar population of Gen Xers and found that hallmarks of religious life (prayer and church attendance) are in major decline. There was a five-fold increase since the 1970’s among 18-22 year olds who say they never pray and the number who attend church (ever) was cut in half. 
The study found one odd and alarming fact, among people who never pray or attend church, the belief that when they die they will go to heaven…increased. That is the world’s standard of accountability. The world now says you no longer have to talk with God, worship Him, or even believe in Him to go to heaven. These folks certainly don’t believe that God created the world and man and I suspect the thought never occurred to most of them that if heaven exists, God would have had to create that, too.
In the Air Force we call this conundrum a “self-licking ice cream cone.” In essence, heaven exists in my imagination, I set the standard for going there when I die, and I do the quality control check for who gets into heaven based on my own criteria. It seems like people have replaced accountability to the sovereign God with accountability to themselves alone. Personally, if I were going to invent a make-believe heaven, I would not make dying one of the prerequisites for entry. 
This lunacy is not Christian accountability. The fact is, we are all going to die, and we are all going to be judged (Heb. 9:27-28), but you, Christ follower, will be raised to life; that means there is work for you to do here and now. In the modern protestant parlance, accountability is among the churchiest of words, no doubt you have heard the term. Some of you have even thought through how you can get some of that accountability in your walk with Christ. You may even have gotten an accountability partner or accountabilibuddy, but what is accountability anyway? IMHO it is being held to a standard by something or someone greater than yourself.
Here is the thesis: for the Christ follower, the standard of accountability is the grace of God (Rom. 6:1-14).  Since Christ died for your sin, you are no longer held to account by death, instead you are held to account to God, by the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. The resurrection is a much higher standard than death for two reasons. 

  • First, the resurrection overcame death.  
  • Second, it took the God of the Universe dying on the cross in our place to achieve that standard.

A Christian person can expect to either be conformed to the image of Christ by trusting in the resurrection and walking in it, or they can expect to be conformed to the image of Christ by ignoring the resurrection and being held accountable to it. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  The question is, are you going to go willingly, or kicking and screaming?
Christ has a plan for His church and good work for each one of us. That work begins when we turn from sin and serve Jesus with our whole hearts (Rom. 1). This also means that when our brothers are caught in sin it is our duty to pull them from the fire, so that they can be restored (Jude 23). Accountability is not about rule following, it’s about holding one another to the standard of righteousness that is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…the standard which we claim as our salvation.
What’s crazier? Believing in heaven while denying its creator, or believing in the Creator then denying Him with your actions? I don’t know about you, but when your kids misbehave, I don’t punish them, but when my kids misbehave, discipline is a certainty. Do you see the difference?  God disciplines those he loves.  We are His children. 
There is you preview of this coming Sunday. Come to church this weekend and get the main show! See you soon.

Unexpected Rest In An East Coast Blizzard

by Jennifer Whitaker

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

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

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

East Coast Blizzard Snow Day

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

Spamalot What Is Your Quest

by Jonathan Whitaker

"What is your quest?”...”To seek the Grail!" 
In my attempt to treat my wife to an evening of culture, I recently took her to see a local production of Spamalot.  For those of you not acquainted with the finer works of the Broadway stage, Spamalot is a theatrical adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  If you are a fan of the movie, you won't be disappointed.  The play is exactly what you'd expect.  It has all of your favorite characters and scenes, but they are now set to music.  A song from Life of Brian even makes the bill. 
I am sure, for those of you who have not seen the musical, it is a safe bet you have at least seen the film.  The rest of you, seriously, get Netflix and join the human race.  Regardless of which camp you fall into, you should understand one important point about the plot: King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are on a quest from God to find the Holy Grail.  The Grail, just so we are all on equal footing, is the cup that Jesus drank from at the last supper (Matt. 26:27).
In the play as in the film, when King Arthur is given this quest, God appears in the clouds in all of His kingly regalia, complete with flowing white beard.  As any of us would do in this same situation, the knights commence groveling and averting their eyes (Matt 17:1-13).  That's when God gives King Arthur his purpose: to find the Grail.  Arthur is to use his quest to set an example in dark times. 
The irony was not lost on me that -- much like God does for King Arthur in the play -- Jesus set each one of us on a quest as He ascended into the heavens.  That quest is to make disciples of the nations and baptize them in His name (Mark 16:15-19).  And we, like the Knights of the Round Table, often find ourselves on many "holy" misadventures that distract us from the quest to which we were charged. 
Take King Arthur for example.  Here is a man who was the leader of the band, the man who received the primary instruction from God, yet he often found himself far from the path on which he started.  Shortly after consulting a blind oracle, King Arthur found himself lost in a dark forest embroiled in an epic struggle with the Knights Who Say Ni.  After matching wits with the fearsome Knights of Ni, Arthur uses all of his skill to produce a shrubbery, which appeases the Knights.  Now, I don't mean to suggest that Arthur was not devoted to the task of finding the Grail, but his efforts, noble as they may have been, didn't get him any closer to his goal. 
Like Arthur and the Knights of Ni, Christ followers devoted to the Great Commission of Jesus often find themselves engaged in Godly side quests that don't get them closer to their charge of winning souls.  What do I mean?  Christians do a lot of good for a lot of people.  We give money to the poor, we work in food pantries, we lead Bible studies, and we are generally good citizens; all good things.  However, as noble as those quests are, what they aren't is the quest that Christ charged us with: to make disciples of the nations, teaching them to obey all He commanded and baptizing them in His name. 
So, what can we do about it?  First, keep fighting the side quests! Give to the poor; lead a Bible study; slay the Black Knight; defeat the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.  But when you do, remember that all of those good works need to serve the Gospel. Take the time to tell people that Christ died in their place when you are out on your side quests. You will have to be brave, like Arthur and his Knights (except Sir Robin). The Gospel is offensive and its enemies are many.  However, you need not fear your enemies, because God promises to go with you on your quest (Matt 28:20, Ps 23).  Arm yourself with the Word of God, because like Excalibur, it cuts right to the marrow of those whom God has called. 
Let me encourage each of you: God has called you by name. You are on a quest.  Be brave like Sir Lancelot when he took Swamp castle, so his steed Concord would not have died in vain.  In our case, be brave and obey Christ to tell others about the gospel, because Jesus died that we might live. 

Important Conversations

by Jonathan Whitaker

Recently, I stood in a pulpit in small town rural Virginia.  Staring at me, as I gathered my composure to give my talk, were most of the living relatives on my father’s side.  A sense of deep relief washed over me as I began to eulogize my grandfather, who lay next to me draped in the American flag.  I smiled because we have a God who saves, and because of an important conversation I had with this man whom I loved, I knew that he was with the Lord. 
Two years ago, when I was serving with you at Element, I received a call from my dad.  He said, “Son, your grandfather is in the hospital and he may not be with us for many more days. You should try to call him if you can.”  My grandfather was 92 at the time.  For me, he had always been there, and it seemed like he would always be there.  What would I say to him?  I knew Jim Whitaker as a moral man, a good provider and a loving grandfather.  I knew that after he retired from the Air Force he worked as a gentleman farmer for 50 years in central Virginia.  He was a hard worker.  I knew that he had struggled with alcohol for a period in his life, which he blessedly overcame.  But there was one very important thing I didn’t know about my grandfather: was Jesus Christ his savior?
I was a wreck.  How could I let a man I love pass, without introducing him to Jesus?  I have shared my faith with hundreds of strangers, but the thought of confronting my own grandfather about the state of his soul was terrifying. I had considered this dilemma before; I even prayed that God would send someone to talk to him, to get through to him, to lead him.  As I cried thinking about the hopelessness of dying without the sweet salvation of Jesus Christ, I started a conversation with God.  I asked, “God why won’t you send someone to minister to my grandfather?”  The answer came softly and swiftly.  God’s reply was clear: “I send you.” My answer came when I turned on the radio, and KLove was on, which Jennifer will tell you, I don’t listen to KLove that often (I must have been driving her car).  On the radio a young woman gave her testimony about how glad she was that a stranger had given her the gospel; of course she was glad, she was saved! I felt that God told me then and there that I had nothing to fear. 
God made a promise to Israel through the prophet Isaiah that applies to all who serve the Lord, and should give us strength when He sends us to proclaim the Gospel. “You are my servant; I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand”  (Isaiah 41:9-10).
When I got home, I called my grandfather at his hospital bed.  He answered the phone with a weak but clear voice.  I told him that I loved him and wanted to be with him in heaven.  I told him that Jesus was my Lord and savior and that I believed in His sacrifice for my sins.  Before I could go on, my grandfather stopped me and said, “I have believed those things for a very long time.”  I had never known that about my grandfather, but in an instant God gave me peace.  It turns out the Holy Spirit had been at work answering my prayers long before I was even alive to pray them.
What important conversations are you waiting to have?  My grandfather lived two more years, but he could have only lived two more hours.  None of us know the hour, but, for those of us who love the Lord, while we are here we can’t waste a minute. For everyone who calls Jesus Lord, believing in His resurrection, God is faithful to save.  If you are waiting for the right time to tell someone about Jesus, don’t wait; now is the right time. If you are waiting to confess your sin and ask forgiveness from God and those you’ve hurt, don’t wait; now is the right time.  If you are withholding forgiveness, don’t wait; now is the right time. Trust God. You can be assured that He has gone before you in what may be the most important conversation of your life.  “Fear not, for I am with you.”

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

by Jonathan Whitaker

Ok, sorry this is a long one.  But you have come this far...
Jesus is Lord!  By faith you declared Christ's Lordship on the day you were saved by God's grace.  But, what is faith?  Faith is "...the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).  Logically, there must be an object of that hope and a cause for that conviction.  In our case, it is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, by which He conquered death and took his seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven. (Mark 16:19) 
Our hope in the Lordship of Christ is grounded in the fact that He has proven worthy of His title as Lord.  You and I know that because Jesus is Lord, we are immeasurably blessed.  The only sane response to the Lordship of Christ by a redeemed sinner is nothing short of obedience. 
Hebrews 10:26-29 (paraphrased) doesn't mince words with believers: " For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins...How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?"
These verses aren't saying that you can lose your salvation.  Just as you could not earn your salvation with your works, you cannot lose it for your sin (Eph. 2:8-9, Heb. 10:19-22).
The fact remains that when Christ followers deliberately choose disobedience over obedience to Jesus, we make His sacrifice seem ridiculous. Take that one step further: not only do we deserve judgment because of disobedience, but we are incapable of assuaging God's judgment by our works.   Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousnesswere through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Gal. 2:20-21)
Sounds like a Catch-22. God has given us the law to obey. We cannot fully obey it, and even if we could, we would still fall short of righteousness. There must be something more. 
There is. Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." By the same faith that saved you, Jesus can transform you into an obedient servant.  Remember that faith has to have an object.  As stated above, the object of saving faith is the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day (Rom. 10:9).  What about faith that allows us to be obedient to Christ?
This question reveals God's great love and provision to all who believe. "You shall love the Lordyour God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:5-6). Loving God is the object of our faith that compels the believer to be obedient. 
From ancient times believers have demonstrated their faith, not by works, but by trusting in God's work. 

  • "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead," (Heb. 11:17-19)
  • "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward." (Heb. 11:24-26)
  • "By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies." (Heb. 11:31)

The common tie among all of these ancient believers is not the work that they accomplished, but what God did. "...God was able..." "...the reproach of Christ (was) greater wealth..."  Even Rahab, a prostitute, not even a Jew, believed the promises of the God of Israel. Her faith not only saved her life and demonstrated the condition of her soul.
It is worth noting that all of these people lived long before Christ. Two of them lived before there was a law, and yet they were saved through the same means by which you and I are saved: faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3 tell us that Abraham (simply) believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.  If none are righteous except for Jesus and there is no other name by which we are saved, what must that mean (Rom. 3:10, Acts 4:12)?  It means that Abraham believed God would save him because he could not save himself.  Abraham believed God the Son would die for his sins.  While he may not have understood the particulars of how God would save him, he had faith (looking forward) that God would save him (Heb. 11:8-10).
When people of faith trust Jesus to be Lord, He makes them very useful for the Kingdom.  Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Joseph, Jacob, Paul, Timothy, the list is endless, all submitted to Christ's Lordship and out of their faith Christ accomplished mighty works through them.
On the day of your salvation Christ began a new work in you.  And you can be sure that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). Will you faithfully trust Him?  In 2015, I hope you will join me as I seek to yield my will and desire and place my faith in the Lordship of Christ.  Surely He can do a better job with my life than I can.  

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

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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