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.  

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

by Jonathan Whitaker

Have you ever felt truly worthy of something?  Most of us married guys would look at our wives and say, "I'm lucky to have her."  But few of us, if we are being honest, believe we are worthy of such a wonderful creature.  It's true: you and I are slobs, and she is an angel sent from heaven (most likely to endure us as some sort of punishment).  If you work hard for 40 hours a week and fulfill your obligations to your employer, certainly you are worthy of a paycheck.  What about your salvation: are you worthy of that? 
 
When Christ is our Lord, the scripture tells us we are worthy, but not by our own merit.  (Col 1:11-14).  Christ is worthy to be called Lord, and because He is worthy, we can be made worthy through Him. 
 
How does one go about becoming a lord?  It's like the peasant woman from Monty Python said, "How did you become king? I didn't vote for ya!" There are a few ways.  First, you can inherit your title by hereditary succession.  Second, you can be declared lord by the authority of the one who is in power.  A lord can also claim the title by winning a great victory.  Christ, interestingly enough, is qualified as Lord on the merit of all three avenues I just described.  And no, Aaron, the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur had nothing to do with it.
 
As Son of the living God, Christ is worthy to be called Lord.  He is heir to the majesty on high (Heb 1:2). If God and Jesus were like earthly father and son, Jesus would qualify outright as the first born of many brethren to assume the title of Lord (Matt 3:17, Rom 8:29). Our earthly affairs in no way compare to the already established Lordship of Christ as God the Son.  However, Matthew chapter 1 covers all the bases and establishes that by His birthright Jesus should be the political king of Judah.  Take a minute to read it.  Had the Babylonian Captivity never taken place, Joseph would have been King on the throne of Judah when his adopted Son Jesus was born.  Whether by His heavenly or earthly lineage, Jesus is worthy because of his heredity. 
 
Jesus is also qualified to be called Lord because God, the creator of Heaven and Earth and the ultimate authority, bestowed that title upon Him. Philippians 2:6-11 says, " Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Because of Christ's obedience to God the Father, God saw fit to impart His Son's lordship by divine decree.  Jesus is worthy because God said He is worthy.
 
If you did your homework from last time, you already know the third reason Jesus is qualified to be called our Lord.  As the winner of the great victory over sin and death, Jesus has become our Lord and Savior. 
 
Hebrews chapters eight and nine are a tale of two covenants.  The first covenant was made between God and Israel, when God brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Heb 8:9). The history of Israel has been rebellion against this covenant.  Before we start feeling high and mighty, we must realize that we have also run roughshod over God's law.  The second, more excellent covenant is enacted by Christ and supersedes the old covenant. 
 
Anyone who has ever attempted a study of Leviticus can tell you that the law is vast and complex.  In Hebrews eight and nine, Paul reveals that the law (old covenant) was merely a copy or shadow of heavenly things.  When God instructed Moses to construct a tent from a pattern, each intricate piece was a brush stroke in a portrait of God's plan of salvation.  That portrait was never intended to save men from their sins, but to point to the One who would.  In Galatians, we learn that those who rely on the works law are condemned by it (Gal 3:10-11). The work of a man has never saved anyone; on the contrary, Christ's New Covenant is accomplished by Him and has the power to save men (Heb 8:10-12).
 
Work is clearly not the currency of salvation.  Ancient Israel understood this.  Under the old covenant, the Priests would make offerings for the sins of the people using the one thing that does satisfy sin debt: blood (Heb 9:22). Temple sacrifice was a bloody affair, necessarily so, because it was merely a picture of a salvation to come, not salvation itself.  If the blood of goats and bulls could satisfy sin, then temple sacrifice would be a footnote in the Bible.   As it stands, the only blood that would satisfy the eternal condemnation of sin was the blood of God Himself (Heb 9:14).
 
Because Jesus quenched sin with His own blood once and for all we can be glad.  His death ended the bloodshed forever and secured a great victory.  With His victory in a battle we could not have won, over a foe against whom our weapons were insufficient, Jesus is worthy and rightfully our Lord…and because He is worthy, all who believe that God raised Him from the dead and call Him Lord are worthy.

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

by Jonathan Whitaker

Ok, ok, ok, I know what you have come here for. You have come to get the Element New Year's resolution blog.  It's the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, and naturally you expect a blog about making a resolution that matters for the Lord.  Well that is what you are going to get, but not exactly.
 
This year, instead of making big plans to change a habit or start a program, I think you should just resolve to give up.  Yep, give up.  More accurately, I think you should give up your plans, your will, your desires, and submit.  Submit to the Lordship of Christ. Don't act so deflated. The day you followed Jesus as your Savior, when you believed that God raised Him from the dead, you agreed to this arrangement.  Part of salvation is declaring to the world that Jesus is Lord...of you. (Rom 10:9) Today is the day to follow through on your commitment.
 
"You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am." (John 13:13)  "Lord" is a word that has lost some meaning in the parlance of our times.  Our closest modern use of the word is in reference to the English landed gentry, sort of a Lord Grantham, Downton Abbey arrangement with very dramatic maids and butlers. "Lord," in the sense "Jesus is Lord," means the one to whom full and unwavering allegiance is owed.  Your Lord is the one to whom you submit your will implicitly, yielding your desires and plans to His care and direction.  When you sing, "I want more of You and less of me" on Sunday morning, submission to the Lordship of Christ is what you're singing about.
 
I have been reflecting on my own submission to Christ as Lord of my life, and I want to encourage you to do the same. Starting next week, I hope to show you some important truths about our Lord Jesus found within Hebrews 8-11.  As I study these verses I am continually stretched and challenged, as you will be in your walk with Christ.  These chapters make a few things very clear: Jesus is worthy to be called Lord, because He is Lord; we are blessed; and as a Christian there is no other choice besides total submission to the Lordship of Christ.  Egad! I know, heavy.  I will do my best.
 
Should you choose to give up like I have, here is how to prepare for the next installment, first, read Hebrews chapter 8. These verses help establish why Jesus is Lord.  As we read, let's pray for understanding of the text and conviction about the state of our submission to our Lord.  We will consider submitting to what Jesus commands of us as Lord: to love the Lord our God with all of our soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Are you and I obeying our Lord's commands with our thoughts, with our finances, with our actions? 
 
John 13 recounts the last supper when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.  When Jesus begins to wash the feet of his disciple Peter, Peter rebukes Jesus saying, “You shall never wash my feet.” Thinking he was being noble, Peter rejected the Lordship of Christ for his own concept of righteousness.  Jesus told Peter (and us) that if He did not wash Peter’s feet then he has no share with Him.  Jesus shows us that if we submit to Him, He will accomplish the work of making us righteous.
 
Submission to the Lord is not about righteousness through works, nor is it about beating yourself up. Submission is about obeying God, who loves you and willingly paid your penalty. Submission is the avenue by which our old life passes away and we are made useful to the Kingdom.
 
The Prophet Samuel told Israel when they asked for a King that they dishonored God.  When we place our desires over God's will, we make ourselves king (1 Sam 10:17-27). Submission restores Christ to His rightful place as Lord over our lives and is the foundation of a personal relationship with Him.  All of the “work” we have done for the Lord to earn our righteousness is counted as loss, when compared to the awesomeness of knowing Him. Submission is the way we can know our Lord intimately (Phil 3:4-11).
 
See you next time in Hebrews Ch 8.  Now let's all "GIVE UP in 2015".

Element Time [From the Illustrious Jonathan Whitaker]

by Jonathan Whitaker

I have a super power.  I know you’re skeptical, but it’s true. Ask my wife, Jennifer.  I have known for many years that I have this special ability, and it never fails… lines form behind me.  Yes, that is my secret super power.  When I arrive at a restaurant, movie theater, theme park, or anywhere people queue in lines, a line that wasn’t previously there will appear behind me.  It is a phenomenon, and I am not making it up…lines form behind me.  In fact, the longer I sit here typing this, the more likely it is that a line of people will start gathering adjacent to or directly behind me.  I am a human velvet rope.  I hope to only use this power for good. 
 
If I take an honest look at my so-called super power, there are probably personal habits which I practice that result in lines forming behind me.  For example, I arrive early to most destinations, which tends to put me ahead of the crowd.  I wake up early in the morning for work, so my lunch hour is 11 a.m. instead of the more traditional 12 p.m.  As a result, the 12 o’clock lunch crowd arrives just after I get my order in at the counter, and thus lines up behind me.  Another explanation is that once I get to my destination, I take my time and that means folks just have to wait. 
 
So, it may not be much of a super power, but my military upbringing has made me a neurotic schedule-keeper; if I am early then I am on time, if I am on time I am late, and if I am late… so help me.  This has long been my mentality for schedule-keeping.  Now imagine the first time I encountered ‘Element Time.’
You all know what I am talking about.  Element Time is the five minutes that our congregation runs behind the rest of the population of the Central Coast of California.  We are a geographical oddity.  Sunday services are scheduled for 8:15, 9:30 and 11:00, so naturally we get started promptly at 8:21:33, 9:35:17, and 11:06:03.  Yet somehow we always finish the service on time.  This means that we are able to accomplish one hour worth of worship, announcements and preaching in 55 minutes.  And, for some reason, it works.  In fact, it works well.   Sure, Aaron has to preach at the pace of a Barrett Jackson auctioneer, but the worship is powerful and the messages are Biblical, scholarly, and most of all, Christ-honoring.
 
Recently, my personal conundrum with Element time has shifted to wistful nostalgia.  I am currently on the church-home hunt at my new assignment in Maryland.  Church services in Maryland lasts for one hour and forty-five minutes, period.  No matter the denomination -- Evangelical, Baptist, Fundamentalist, you name it -- one hour and forty-five minutes.  If Aaron preached for an hour after forty-five minutes of announcements and songs, you would duct tape him to a wall.  Needless to say, I miss Element Time. 
 
Thanks to Aaron, Ryan, James and Michelle Gee, I now have the worship attention span of a gnat.  Look, of course I am kidding -- a short service is not superior to a long service for reasons of brevity, nor is a long service good because you are worshiping longer.  Element Time is just special.  On Element time you get a Biblically dense message book-ended by Christ honoring corporate worship music.  If you have gotten the chance to experience it, you are blessed.  I find that after two hours of structured church, most people have just enough energy left to go home.  I find after 55 minutes of Element Time, you are ready to fellowship with one another in the lobby or over lunch.  That is a good thing.
 
I am now going to shoe horn scripture into my blog so Aaron will publish it.  Jesus probably doesn’t sweat the length or starting time of our service nearly as much as I do.  In fact Jesus ordains situations in our lives where the timing just makes no sense at all to us.  Think about the man born blind from John 9. When the disciples of Jesus viewed his disability, they questioned whether it was the result of the man’s sin or if it was the result of his parents’ sin.  Jesus said neither.   In fact, Jesus then showed His disciples that the man was born blind for this ordained moment in history.  Jesus said the man was disabled so he could be healed.  God the Father orchestrated this time and place so God the Son could be glorified. 
 
Only God can heal the blind.  In His wisdom God chose that this man was to be born blind, so that you and I would have the opportunity to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  A series of events began many years before that day that started with a man being born without his sight and our Lord and Savior being born in a manger.  And at the correct time, by no coincidence, Jesus healed that man, giving us the opportunity to believe that the Son of Man has the power to heal, and therefore the power to forgive sins. 
 
So, lines might not form behind me because of my super powers. Maybe it is just the timeline on which I live my life that results in people queuing in my wake.  The real question is, what am I going to do with that line of people waiting there behind me?  God knew from the foundation of the world that we would all just be waiting there together.  Perhaps He sent me to start a line so that they might know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive their sins. 
 
That is my kind of Element Time. 
 

His Will Not Mine.

by Jonathan Whitaker

This week I got that old familiar feeling, that nervous tension in my stomach that means only one thing… it’s time to move again.  Jennifer and I have been at this a long time, both of us were Air Force Brats, Air Force Officers and Air Force Spouses, so we have said our share of goodbyes.  Some are harder than others.  This one was a Duisey.

For us, leaving our friends at Element, the people we serve along-side, people with whom we share our lives, people who have become aunts and uncles to our little chicks, was truly as hard as leaving family.  For the simple fact that you have become our family.

So, now I have a problem.  I want to serve God, but I want to do it by serving all of the people I love at Element.  It seems I have two options in this case.  First, I could sulk and tell God, “I wanna be with my friends in Santa Maria.”  Sure, why not, I had a good run there, I could just quit my job and move in with James and Hailey!  Or, I could do what I did the last time I left a group of people whom I loved… I can trust that God is sovereign and that He has a plan that is already in the works. 

How do I know this is true?  Well, because of you.  As I left San Antonio, a place I love, in Texas, which is home to 90% of our blood family, I prayed that God would give my family a home, community and a mission in Santa Maria.  I think we can agree that He did just that. 

In his greetings to the Roman Church, Paul expresses his deep desire to minister to them,  “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.  For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—  that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.” Romans 1:9-12.    Element brothers and sisters, I am Paul and you are my Rome. 

As God was faithful to give you to me the first time, He will no doubt have a fruitful ministry awaiting Jennifer and me in Washington DC.  This has to be the case, or He would not have excused me from the important work that you are doing at Element.  For this same reason, I know that he will bring us back to you.  On a side note, next time we see each other, we will all be older, fatter and grayer, so everyone just be cool, alright!

Here is my blessing over you.  Keep up the pace, forge strong bonds with one another, be kind and forgiving, don’t let the sun set on your anger with one another, become a community of the Gospel that God can use to accomplish His work in Santa Maria.

For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”  Romans 16:19

Signing off,
Jonathan & Jennifer Whitaker

Salvation AFTER Death

in FAQ

Why can't a person believe and give their life to Christ after death?

I have been trying to put into words how to answer your question about Salvation AFTER death in a way that makes sense.

What you were talking about, by a person trusting Christ after salvation, is a form of what is known as Universalism. Universalism teaches ALL people will come saving faith…no matter what they believe or how they have lived (it is considered a heresy).  Seriously, why would Jesus hold the Gospel and its proclamation in such importance if NONE OF IT MATTERED.

First, there is a vast difference between life and death (right?)…The difference between a death bed conversion and an after death conversion is that the person on their death bed is STILL ALIVE. Sin brings death; Jesus in John 8:23-24 is talking to the religious leaders and tells them plainly, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." Jesus wasn’t confused on what happens after death.

If someone dies in their sins they are DEAD in their sins, separated from the life of God.

In Jewish thought, which would have been prevalent for Jesus, everything was thought of in terms of life. A house wasn’t a home unless someone was living in it…if no one lived there it was just sticks and mortar. This is why EVERYTHING has to deal with life. Romans 6:22 "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." No Jew, especially Jesus, would argue about people changing their minds after death.

From a Calvinistic perspective if someone is not redeemed in this life it is not going to happen…period; but I am trying to give you a broader perspective just in case you don’t hold to a reformed point of view (which I am guessing you don’t if you think people can change their mind after death).

One of the most amazing things about God is that NOT ALL PEOPLE go to heaven. He doesn’t force those who disbelieve to live in His presence forever. Most people want to live without God in their lives, so why not simply get your wish for all eternity? Is it that living without God for eternity is not pleasant enough so they would want a change from hell they currently participate in? That would seem to indicate that God then tortures people after death into believing…something I am sure He does not do.

This is why God gives us THIS life and THIS time... 2 Cor 6:1-2 As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says,
"In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you."


I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

Many people have gone off the rails because they want things done differently than God does them. We think we are smarter, kinder, more loving, more gracious…but we are not. We must trust that God knows what He is doing better than any of us.

I guess I should end with the most important verse on this: Hebrews 9:27-28 "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."

Hope that helps,
Aaron

DISCIPLESHIP Anatomy 101

In our current sermon series, Aaron has been talking about how each of us is uniquely made and how we must seek and pursue God according to how he has made us as individuals. We are all different. But we all are also similar in fundamental ways as well. That is why the Gospel is good news for ALL people—because we all have the same need to have our souls redeemed from sin and to be transformed into the image of Christ. If we intend to faithfully live as Jesus’ disciples, it requires that every dimension of our being becomes aligned with his will. The point of spiritual disciplines and training in godliness is to shape our whole lives, our character, to reflect God’s glory.

Our nature is basically the same for all of us, even though the particulars of our personality, gifts, and talents are very different. For example, we all have a Spirit. If you look at the scriptures, our spirit is also referred to as our heart and our will. This is where our choices originate. It’s the root of our being where our freedom and creativity reside. This is where the power to do good or to do what is evil comes from. Jesus said that this is the source of sin… Mark 7:21-23  "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  (22)  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  (23)  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

We all have a mind, and therefore we all have thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts are our perceptions, imagination and ideas. Our feelings are what incline us toward or away from the things that come to our mind in thought. When we think about food, cars, jobs, relationships or God, our feelings are intricately attached. Are our thoughts pleasant, painful, attractive, or repulsive? We have no feeling without a thought in mind and no thought without some feeling associated. Our thoughts and feelings are interdependent.

Read more

What's Up with Your Name?

by Element Christian Church
in FAQ

Please explain the meaning of the "element" symbol. Thank you.

The symbol came out of the name. One definition for Element is "the surroundings necessary for life." We believe that everything comes down to Jesus. Redemption, hope, life...all Jesus. We believe that out of our relationship with Christ God has called us as a people glorify Him above all else. We believe we do that by living how He calls us to live...part of that is by living in community. By being a place that lifts up Christ and fosters gospel community Element will be a place that is "the surrounding necessary for life." Hence, the name...

The symbol, well...We have a couple graphic artists who attend and they all worked together to come up with the logo. I could feed you drivel about how the X in the center of the element's represent the cross how it was first shown in the Chi-Rho (the first cross used by Christianity) but really, the logo is just a logo. If one day we change it, its no big deal...because the logo is not Jesus.

Discipleship - The Secret of the Easy Yoke

Have you ever taken test when you knew that you hadn’t done your homework? Were you stressed about the result? Or have you played a competitive sport without putting in the practice time? How well did you do? Many times we look at people who are “successful” (whether it is in school, sports, career, talent, etc.) and it often seems like it comes easy for them. But we typically only see them when they perform—when they’re put to the test. What we fail to realize is that for most of them, their abilities are the result of a regular regimen of mental and physical preparation that no one sees. Their training has transformed them into people who can perform at that level with relative ease.

This is a general principle of human life that applies to anything of significance that we want to achieve. If you want to become a musician, speak a new language, or become a brain surgeon, you will need to regularly train mentally and physically before you actually become a person with those skills.

The same principle applies to our relationship with Jesus and characterizes the life of his disciples. Jesus calls to us in Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (29)  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30)  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Unfortunately, so many of us don’t enjoy and enter in to the ease and lightness that Jesus promises. We find following Jesus hard and the burden heavy because we haven’t trained and have not been transformed into people who naturally and easily obey his commands.

To be sure, without God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we can do nothing in his kingdom. But what is also true is that if we do nothing, it will be without Him.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1Timothy 4:7-8  "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  (8)  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." The Christian who expects to act like Jesus when put to the test, even though they have not trained in godliness, is just as ridiculous as an athlete expecting to excel in the game without the proper training. Instead of the easy yoke, all we will experience is failure and frustration.

The Son of God became flesh, which means that he had a body like you and me. Because of this, he too trained in order to walk in full submission to his Father’s will. And this he did this perfectly. We read in Hebrews 5:8-9  "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered  (9)  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."

The secret of the easy yoke to our generation (which was not a secret to the early church) is that we are to follow Jesus in His "overall" style of life, which includes his disciplines and practices when he was not in the public eye. By these disciplines and the grace of God, we are transformed into people that easily and naturally act as Jesus would if he were living my life, in my place, under my circumstances.

God is more interested in the person we are becoming, than in what we do. Jesus calls us to a life where behavior like loving one’s enemies is the natural thing to do. True Christ-likeness comes at the point when it is hard for us not to respond as Jesus would. Then we won’t have to ask ourselves "What would Jesus do?" We would just do it!

Discipleship - Not just for Super-Christians

Why has the modern church done so poorly living this eternal life that Jesus made possible? We know that so many Christians are among those caught up in the sad epidemics we see today. Christianity has become viewed by many in the world as powerless, archaic and irrelevant. Either the Gospel is not true and doesn’t work, or we just don’t understand how God works in and through us!

Every believer in Christ is called to become a disciple of Jesus. Our mission as the Church is to make disciples from every ethnic group on the planet and to teach them how to really live the way Jesus taught and lived. Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The sad truth is that the church is filled with undicipled disciples. An estimated 25% of Americans profess an evangelical conversion experience. William Iverson observes that “A pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter pound of salt. If this is real Christianity, the ‘salt of the earth,’ where is the effect of which Jesus spoke?” In many churches today it is believed that one can become and remain a Christian without any signs of progress in following Jesus in his example, spirit, and teachings. Too often discipleship is presented as an “option” for those with a special calling.

A big part of the problem is that we have not been faithful to our own message—we have failed to take discipleship and transformation into Christ likeness seriously as a practical issue to be dealt with in realistic terms.

Jesus introduced a revolution of character and life to his first disciples. He said “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is where God’s rule and God’s will are done. It’s about what God is doing in the world, and everyone is invited to now become a part of His activity. This is the blessed life. This is the safest place to be. This is where we can be anxious for nothing, because we are seeking first the Kingdom of God. It is here that our deepest needs are met. It is in the realm of God’s Kingdom that our transformation takes place as we allow God to rule in our hearts, minds, bodies, and relationships. The heart of the Gospel is this: Because of God’s mercy and grace, we can become like Jesus in character and in power, and we can realize our highest ideals of well-being and well-doing.

Discipleship is not just for Super-Christians! It is a prerequisite for every believer. The disciple is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of Christian, but the first level of basic transportation in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ promises are for his disciples! The New Testament is a book about disciples, written by disciples, and meant for disciples of Jesus Christ. ALL of the assurances and benefits offered to humanity in the Gospel by Jesus are in the context of a life of discipleship - apart from that, they don’t even make sense!

Check back as we explore what the life of a disciple should look like and how we are to follow Jesus in our day.

Discipleship Living an Eternal Life

When you hear the promises of Jesus spoken about at church or read them in the bible, do you ever feel like your looking into another world? It’s because the scriptures describe a reality so different than what many of us normally experience. They describe a divine world with a divine life!

Our world is filled with stress and distress from political revolutions, wars, famines, epidemics and economic disasters. All of which are usually always the result of human choices—the expressions of the human spirit. Individual disasters abound all around us and everyone is impacted directly or indirectly by depression, suicide, loneliness, drug and alcohol abuse, out of control sexual perversion and violence. These aren’t new problems. Humanity has struggled with them for ages. But they are spiritual problems that can only be addressed by a spiritual solution.

Think about these words: John 4:14 “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Jesus promised his followers “living water,” the Spirit of God Himself that would keep them from ever being thirsty again - from being driven and ruled by unsatisfied desires. How about these words: John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is not just merely getting by with a bare existence. Jesus is talking about receiving everything needed for a fully blessed and satisfied life—this is an eternal quality of life.

At Christmas we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart, prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!” We are reminded of the angels words in Luk 2:10-14 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

The news of Jesus entering our world is that God had come to make a way for things on Earth to really be different. The powers of evil and sin could now be broken so that people can be freed from their bondage and become transformed in righteousness and goodness - to really live an eternal kind of life - to become like Jesus. This is what the “Good News” is all about!

Page 3 of 3