Membership Has its Privileges

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Believe

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Believe

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God We Imagine vs. the God of the Bible

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Queen of Sweden

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called and Sent

by Jonathan Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.  

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