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.

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.