Wednesday, July 1, 2015

God didn't put rainbows in the sky...

There is no Hebrew word for 'Rainbow'. The word translated as rainbow in Genesis 9:13 is the same word translated elsewhere as an 'archer's bow'. What does that mean? It means that God didn't simply throw a rainbow up in the sky as a symbol of his peace and love for mankind. It means that he placed his bow upon the clouds as a sign of his pledge that he was retiring flooding rains from his arsenal of judgment against rebel humans. 


Rain-bows, then, are ultimately weapons of judgement, not symbols of love and peace. They only become symbols of love and peace when we recognize which direction the working end of those weapons are pointing. They are pointed toward heaven, towards God. 

The judgement of God against human rebellion and insurrection fell upon God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ upon the cross. He bore the torrent of the Father's wrath against sin by dying the death his people deserved, so that all who are found in Jesus, the true Ark of our Salvation, will escape the flooding fire of God's judgement.

Turn back to God, find sanctuary in Jesus, and you will be saved from the wrath that is to come.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A New Creation Community



The Church is a new creation community in Christ. This, my first sermon as pastor of Community Life Church in Waxahachie, TX, takes a look at that theme in a walk through redemptive history.

06/07/2015

Video credit: Robert Stulken
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Help, I'm a pastor!"

If you've not yet heard, I think you'll be pleased to find out that God has seen fit to have me pastor part of Jesus' Church in Waxahachie, TX. 

We are Community Life Church!

I'm very excited about the opportunity and yet very aware of the responsibility that God has set before me in my new role. Pray for me, that I'd lead well and wisely in my service! Pray for my family, that I don't lose myself in my work and neglect my role as pastor-husband and pastor-daddy! Pray for yet-to-be-made disciples, that God would grant us favor in Waxahachie, to gather in his lost sheep and train them for God's mission.


The role at Community Life, as it presently stands, is interim and part-time with the option of becoming permanent. This is where the new position presents some obstacles that need to be negotiated. My current employer was unable to accommodate a request to reduce my hours by granting me Sundays off. That obviously will not work for us, so I will need to resign my position. 

Where does that leave us? It leaves us with the opportunity to exercise our faith and it leaves God with the opportunity to flex his provision. I'm as certain of this calling as I can be certain of anything that God has called me unto. God has brought this together; he brought Community Life to me and me to Community Life. And I believe that strongly enough to lose my current employment for the sake of partnering with them in God's mission to reach our city. God always provides the means to accomplish the ends that he's determined.

How can you help? 
  • Pray 
    • I need a part-time job to provide at least $1000/mo at less than 20/hrs a week. 
    • I need grace and time to be able to get into a rhythm that suits writing and delivering Jesus-exalting gospel-saturated sermons that catalyze mission.  
    • I need favor with the church to lead them in building new structures that are better suited to disciple-multiplication.
  • Serve
    • Do you live in Ellis County, consider joining us in Waxahachie.
  • Give
    • If I'm able to secure a job that provides $1000/month that will still leave my family operating with a $1000 monthly deficit. That's unsustainable.
    • I know there is no shortage of requests asking you for some of what God has given you to manage ('cause I receive them too), but I'm asking you anyway. :) Whether you are a church giving out of your mission's fund, or a fellow servant giving out of your disposable income, pray about giving and consider whether this is an investment in the Kingdom that your willing to make.1
    • Send gifts to:
      Josh Elsom

      c/o Community Life Church

      PO Box 2672
      Waxahachie, Texas
      75168 
      2 

Thank you very much for your consideration of these requests.

For God's Glory and in His Strength,
Josh Elsom



1 I'm pleased to discuss the details of my current financial situation with would-be donors.

If you plan on giving us a monthly gift please let me know so I don't end up with too many people giving us more than what we require.


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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Six Acts of Redemptive History

I wanted to share a tool with you that I've found very useful when teaching the gospel to those both within and without the family of God. This is not the typical systematic gospel presentation methodology that is so prominent today and with which you are likely familiar — e.g. The Four Spiritual Laws, Way of the Master.1 This is a story-formed way of presenting the good news of Jesus and his kingdom come. — which is the proclamation methodology we find used most often by heralds in the New Testament.

These are the Six Acts of Redemptive History

2

Act 1:  — God comes down to create a people for himself, bearing his image and likeness, for his glory, and for their joy.

Act 2: x — Man rebelled against the Creator God; sin and death entered the world; and man was expelled from paradise and the shalom of God. But, there was a promise of a Redeemer given in Gen 3:15; it would be through the offspring of the woman that the Serpent’s head would be crushed and the curse of death would itself be put to death.

Act 3: — Abraham is chosen by God. He is promised that it would be through his offspring that the whole world would be blessed. Sarah, who was too old to bear children, miraculously has a child with Abraham. That child, named Isaac, is blessed by Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. Isaac blesses his son Jacob with the same blessing. Jacob has 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel. God makes covenant with them. In that covenant is a law, if Israel keeps it, they will receive such a blessing that the nations will come to them to enquire about their wisdom and their God. They would be a light to the nations. They almost get there with the reigns of David and Solomon. They are blessed and the nations begin taking notice. But, because they sinned and broke covenant with God, God casts them out of the Land, just as he cast their Father Adam out of the garden. 

There was a promise that emerged during this time of exile. Another covenant, unlike the former, would be given. One where God’s teaching would be written upon the hearts of his chosen people. There was also the promise that, one day, the knowledge of the glory of God would saturate the earth like the waters cover the sea.

Act 4: ✝ — The promised offspring of Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Mary is born. The wisdom of God and the blessing of the nations has finally come! His name is Jesus and he is the light of the world, a light for the nations. He is obedient where Adam rebelled, making him the ideal image bearer of God’s likeness. He did for Israel what Israel was incapable of doing for themselves; he kept covenant with God. He was flawlessly obedient, wholly submitted, and perfectly godly, thereby, making him the ideal Jew. He received all the blessings due Israel for covenant obedience. However, because he loved his people, he also took upon himself all the curses promised in the covenant for Israel’s unfaithfulness. He died the death that Israel deserved and received the ultimate expulsion from the Land, death and the grave. But, that’s not all that happened at the cross. He also gave to his people everything that his perfect obedience had earned. All the blessings that were due him, everything he had earned during his life, were now given as an inheritance to believing Israel. As he satisfied the terms of the former covenant he was also establishing the prophesied new covenant in his blood. It was not possible that death should hold him. He rose from among the dead, then received glory, honor, and all authority from the Father. And all who are believing in him, though their bodies die, because Jesus rose from among the dead, so too they will one day rise.

Act 5:  — Jesus sent his followers out, just as he was sent by the Father, to teach the nations about the knowledge of the glory of God. He sent his Spirit into them, to dwell among them, to write his teaching upon their hearts; and to empower them for the global discipling mission that he began during his ministry. 

Jesus crushed the head of the serpent at the cross and his holy congregation continues to storm the gates of the grave. Those gates will fall! 

Act 6: — God comes down again, to dwell with and among his chosen people. Everything that was spoiled by the curse through sin is over. It is gone, forever. Death and sin are killed by God, and life, as it should have been lived had there been no rebellion, is reestablished by our great God and King, Jesus. Shalom will be returned to the Land!

Heaven is not our final destination. A new heaven and new earth is. The Christian hope is not that we will one day die and go to heaven. Our hope is that we will one day rise from among the dead, like Jesus, and be given new bodies like his, made ready to live a forever life-after-death-after-life on a new heavenly earth. There, Jesus will be our light and we will forever joyfully image him to one another and to all his creation as his perfect image bearers. 3



1  This should not be misconstrued as a disparagement against these methods, particularly with regard to using the law in evangelism to bring about the knowledge of guilt and sin and the need for a savior. However, because these methods lack continuity with the biblical story and assume some biblical literacy on the part of the hearer, they truncate the gospel and insufficiently position Jesus as the answer to what is wrong with the world as we know it. A robust gospel presentation will include what these Systematic Theological presentations provide — namely, the knowledge of sin and the need of Jesus as Savior — but it will also provide a Biblical Theological foundation for the systematics to make sense; in other words, it will put Jesus and his gospel in their proper historical and theological context. 

 Credit goes to Chris Gonzalez for codifying the Story of God in the drawing (though I took some liberty with what he's drawn).

 The narrative provided for the 6 Acts above are not necessarily considered sufficiently complete. They are only intended to give you an idea of how to use the tool and help you better understand and communicate the metanarrative of the biblical story. In other words, don't accuse me of heresy if I left something out. Feel free to amend or draw out other relevant themes that best support the biblical story as Jesus as our Rescuer King.  


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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Pentecost, Church?

"Happy Pentecost, Church!"

Regrettably, very few of you are likely to hear anything mentioned about Pentecost tomorrow morning, much less receive a well wished greeting in recognition of the holiday. There will no doubt be services dedicated to Memorial Day, in recognition of America's fallen heros, but scant few churches will even be aware of the other holiday the weekend brings our way. We give a month to Advent, leading up to Christmas, we have special services and celebrations in recognition of Easter, but we do nothing to celebrate Pentecost.

Why is that?

Perhaps, it's because most don't understand what Pentecost is, why it happened, or why it even matters. Well, I want you to know something about it because, if it isn't the most important event that's ever happened in the history of the world, it certainly ranks a close second or third. So, to help you with this, I'm posting a paper that I wrote in seminary that I think will help shed some light upon this most important but unfortunately neglected holiday — oh, don't forget the endnotes!




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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Re: Millennials leaving church in droves, study finds


When you sell Christianity as a commodity people will dump their stock when its market value drops.

The following from the article (above) is key:
"It's not as if young people today are being raised in a way completely different from Christianity," said Smith, the Pew researcher. "But as adults they are simply dropping that part of their identity."
That tells me the roots of the phenomenon go much deeper and further back than the last number of years. There's a systemic problem with our discipleship and an incipient sub-biblical gospel and ecclesiology that's infected evangelicalism for some time; and it's only been in the last number of years, since Christianity has been pushed toward the margins of the culture, that the effects of these things has been noticed.

To be honest, I'm not overly concerned about the trend. God is just removing the dross that's rising to the top. And, in the end, I'd much rather have the culture filled with agnostic 'nones' than I would apathetic moralistic false disciples. 

The visible church might be shrinking but the invisible church militant is still storming the gates of hell. 
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Doing Good Deeds for the Sake of the Good News

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of rightly understanding what Peter meant when he wrote, “...in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...” in 1 Peter 3:15. I explained that contrary to its popular interpretation and Apologetics application, Peter was not instructing the Church to be ready to give a defense of their Christian faith. Rather, he was instructing them to be prepared to give a defense of their godly behavior. I went on to suggest that, for Peter, doing good works and abstaining from sin serve a broader purpose in the world than merely demonstrating our obedience to God and our love for one another. They also serve Jesus’ mission of making disciples. As a follow up to that, I want to take a minute to expand on the role of godly living in the disciple making mission.1

First, a caution. We must be careful to preserve the distinction that exists between law and gospel. In other words, we mustn't ever confuse our good works for the gospel itself. If gospel means good news and news is information that must be communicated coherently to be understood, then we must conclude that our good works, by themselves, are insufficient to explain the gospel. They have no explanatory power. So, good works are not the gospel. Jesus and him crucified, risen, and exalted, he is the gospel. 

That said, good works do showcase the gospel by making it more attractive to outsiders (Titus 2:7—10).  That’s not to say that our good works add any saving power to the gospel, it’s only to say that our message is more compelling when our behavior is consistent with our good news message. Think of it as evidence supporting a claim. A claim by itself is merely an assertion. But a claim buttressed with evidence is a persuasive argument. The evidence of the claim is not the claim itself, but the evidence is proof that the claim is true. So, good works are not the gospel, but good works being performed by the Church are an evidence to the world that our good news about Jesus is true (James 2:18).

It’s shocking to see what Peter actually writes in his letter. Remember, 1 Peter was written to people who were being persecuted for following Jesus. His instruction is counterintuitive. At least to my thinking it is. He doesn’t tell the church to go underground or to lay low until the persecution passes, instead he tells them to abstain from sin and to do good works. He doesn’t write, “Run for the hills!” He tells them to submit to the governing authorities who were oppressing them, to work hard for their masters, to submit to one another in marriage, and to suffer with joy. Why did he do that? Well, two reasons, I think. First, Peter understood that good works are centripetal, they project a light that attracts the attention of curious eyes. Curious people ask questions and faithful disciples boldly give witness to the living hope residing within them. Second, he realized that the mission of making disciples of Jesus was more important to the Church than the suffering of any of her members — persecution was not an excuse to push pause on the mission, it was an opportunity to make the gospel even more believable. In fact, we can extrapolate from 1 Peter 2:12 that Peter is teaching us that persecution actually makes the light of our good works more brilliant by providing a contrasting backdrop of suffering. A diamond is beautiful sitting all by itself, but put that diamond on piece of black velvet and it’s absolutely radiant. 

Our situation as it currently stands in the United States can hardly be compared to the persecution that was experienced by our triumphant brothers and sisters who suffered under Nero, nineteen centuries ago, but there’s little doubt, we are being marginalized in our culture. And that’s not a bad thing if your priorities are aligned with Jesus’. Because the further the Church is pushed to the margins of the culture the more brilliant the light of our good works will shine. And the brighter we shine the more compelling our gospel will become.  

Steve Timmis has said, “People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.” I think that is true (2 Corinthians 2:15—16). But that can only be true for a church if they don’t hide the lighted lamp of their good works under a steeple. God has called his Church to be a City within the city (Matthew 5:14). A contrast community, in the midst of the world, who are zealous for good works. The more hostile the world becomes, the more vigilant we ought to be in the outworking of our love for God and for our neighbor. So stop sinning and do good works for the sake of the gospel. Because when you do, people will start asking you questions.


Examples from Church history:

Julian the Apostate

Emperor Julian the Apostate reigned 1700 years ago. He was called the ‘Apostate’ because of his fierce rejection of Christianity and his sometimes brutal attempt to repress it. Julian was smart. He knew that he could not just eradicate Christianity without dealing with the things that made it attractive. He complained:

“Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

In response, Julian launched government philanthropic programs in an attempt to render the Christian message impotent.2

Dionysius 

“[Sociologist Rodney] Stark notes that there were at least two great plagues in the first three centuries (160 and 250 AD) that actually were instrumental in the nascent church’s incredible growth rate, which he estimates at 40% per decade. When the plagues came, those who were able fled the city but not the Christians. They stayed and ministered to the sick and dying--Christians and non-Christians alike."3

"Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty; never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and caring for others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…. The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom. The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape."

Eusebius

“Then did they show themselves to the heathen in the clearest light. For the Christians were the only people who amid such terrible ills showed their feeling and humanity by their actions. Day by day some would busy themselves with attending to the dead and burying them (for there were numbers to whom no one else paid any heed); others gathered in one spot all who were afflicted by hunger throughout the whole city and gave bread to them all. When this became known, people glorified the Christians’ God and, convinced by the very facts, confessed the Christians alone were truly pious and religious.”

Tertullian 

"It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. 'Only look' they say. 'Look how they love one another...Look how they are prepared to die for one another."

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.


Questions for your consideration:

What are your neighbors’ opinions of you? 

If you moved from your home, would your neighbors notice your absence?

Is the life you live in front of your neighbors compelling enough to invite their inquiry? 

If you were asked by your neighbor for the reason for your good works, would you be prepared to give witness to Jesus?

How are you doing life in community with your church family?

Are you hiding your good works under your steeple; aside from gospel proclamation, does your church do anything else to benefit your city?

Does your church community invite inquiry from the outsiders living in your city? Does your church’s existence demand an answer that only the gospel can explain?

How are you responding on social media to the riots in Baltimore and the same-sex marriage question being debated before SCOTUS? 

How will you and your church family respond to government overreach when the government revokes your church’s tax-exemption or seizes your church’s assets for reading Romans 1 or refusing a gay couple their constitutional right to marry?


Suggested reading:

To Transform a City — Eric Swanson and Sam Williams

The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries — Rodney Stark

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community — Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Halloween and Gospel Success — Me



1  By godly living we mean abstaining from sin and doing good deeds (doing justice and showing mercy) demonstrating love for neighbor, both to those within the church and to those without.

2  http://sntjohnny.com/front/christians-should-not-use-the-government-to-do-their-good-deeds/598.html
3  http://ericswanson.blogspot.com/2005/12/how-gospel-grew.html


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