Saturday, April 30, 2016

CRIMINAL MINDS



All of us struggle with this.

We know that God has forgiven us. We’ve read the verses. We’ve even quoted them to other people. But sometimes, in the darkness, when we’re all alone, we start to lose touch with who we are and fall back into that old pattern of thinking.

“I’m a loser,” we whisper to ourselves. “I’m a failure,” we say.

Maybe we blew it. Maybe we said something, or did something, that we regret.

Maybe it was yesterday. Maybe it was ten years ago. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, we drag it back up. We dig up old bones and we reenact the crime, playing it over again in slow motion within our memory.

We just wish God would fix us, but what we’ve forgotten is that God is already fixing us. In fact, He tells us that we’re new creatures who are in the process of being made into His image.

When God looks at us, He doesn’t see someone who needs to be fixed. He sees someone who is a new creation in Christ; someone so dearly loved and fully accepted.

We might feel like we’re not even worthy to ask for help, but we don’t need to be worthy. He is worthy and that’s all that matters.

If we’re in Him then we’re promised:
*There is no condemnation
*Nothing can separate us from His love
*We are new creatures
*We are His children

The next time you find yourself in this place, try reminding yourself of who you are now, not who you used to be.

Focus on drawing nearer and nearer to Jesus and not on how far apart you feel from Him.

As Paul reminds us, "Think on these things...":

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" [Phil. 4:8]

Going forward, it's important not to dwell on the past. As Paul also reminds us, 

"Forget the past and reach towards what lies ahead of you. Press on towards the goal which is Christ Jesus" [See Phil. 3:13]

Resist the temptation to return to the scene of the crime.

You were found innocent. Washed clean forever of all guilt by Jesus, two thousand years ago.

Your debt is paid in full. You are free to go.

All charges against you have been dropped.

We’ve checked with the Judge and you have no criminal record on file.

Keep reminding yourself of who you are now, not who you once were long ago.

Today you are free. There is no condemnation against you. There is nothing in this universe strong enough to separate you from God’s love.

Case dismissed.

-kg


Friday, April 29, 2016

Optimistically Organic



[My response to Frank Viola's recent post about Organic Church]

A few days ago, author Frank Viola shared an article about Organic Church that has garnered much attention. This isn't surprising given that Frank Viola is still seen as an authority on the movement, even though he hasn't been involved in an organic church for 8 years. He also admits that he's not interested in writing about the topic and he isn't planting organic churches and he typically refrains from posting anything at all about organic church on his blog, although he does still believe what he's written in his books.

So, this post was a bit of a surprise to me, given his inactivity in an organic church for nearly a decade now and his admitted lack of personal interest in the topic.

Still, he did write the definitive book on the subject and therefore his opinion carries a lot of weight with many people in the organic circles.

That's why his post caught my attention, and it's also why I felt the need to respond to some of what he shared.

It's probably a good idea to mention that I contacted Frank privately about this before I wrote this response. He and I corresponded back and forth on this already. I'm not against Frank. I love him and I do sincerely believe that Frank loves me, too.

Frank also mentioned to me that he had shared his post with several others in the Organic Church movement and that about 95% agreed with his statements. So, please keep in mind that my opinion on this matter is in the apparent minority.

Please don't read this article as an attack on Frank or an opportunity to pick sides. I'm simply responding to what Frank has said as a way to add to an ongoing conversation about a topic that we all happen to have an interest in.

So, having said all that:

In his post, Frank points out several things about the Organic Church today that I totally agree with.

*He says that it's not as popular as it was back when he wrote his books.
*He says that it's very hard to find an organic church in most communities.
*He says that most of those involved in the movement tend to be in the 50's and older range.
*He says that God isn't fanning the flames of revival in America like He used to.
*He says that many "organic church" groups aren't truly organic.
*He says that the term "organic church" is misued and abused.

I honestly agree 100 percent with all of that.

But the relative popularity of the ekklesia of God isn't relevant to me. What's relevant to me is that God has identified a specific design for His Body. Even if I was the only one following His instructions, it would still be important to obey Him in this area.

Are organic churches hard to find? Yes, they are. Mostly because they are word of mouth and not visible on the street corner or found in the yellow pages. It has always been that way.

For example, someone in Orange County, California [where I live] could search for an organic church and very easily conclude "there aren't any organic churches here" simply because they are hard to find. But there are at least seven organic/simple churches in Orange County that I am aware of. There most certainly could be more, but I haven't heard about them yet.

Simply put, just because they might be hard to find doesn't mean they don't exist.

But, what if they really DON'T exist in my community? Well, I would encourage you to start one in your home and begin to pray that the Lord might help you connect with others in your community who are yearning for the same organic expression of His Body.

Are most organic church members eligible for a Senior Discount at Denny's? Yes, maybe. I agree that there was a time very recently when I was beginning to despair that the next generation wasn't going to pursue the organic church. Our local conferences were beginning to look like my High School Reunion. But lately we've experienced a very encouraging shift. Our house church family is now mostly single adults in their 20's and 30's. Another new house church group has started recently among students at Biola University. This is encouraging. Granted, my experience isn't necessarily indicative of the rest of the movement, but it does give me hope.

I also noticed when hosting my "Jesus Without Religion [Or Politics]" groups on Meetup.com that dozens of young adults were very desperate for community and searching for other young Christians who wanted to get together and focus on Jesus. They wouldn't call that "organic church" but regardless, what they're hungry for is what we have and maybe we just need to find more creative ways to share it with them.

I also agree that many "organic" churches are not truly organic. They do not practice the priesthood of all believers. They still have a designated pastor or central teacher who makes all the decisions. They still operate like an institutional church but they've traded their pews for sofas. I get that, and I agree, that's not something I want to promote.

That being said, here are a few things I feel like I need to stress:

*Church has always been what God is doing, not what we are doing
*The growth of the Ekklesia might be hidden, but it continues to thrive apart from our observation
*Organic church has never been about numbers or popularity
*God’s design for His Ekklesia has never changed
*If we truly desire Ekklesia in our community we can start one now

For the last 10 years now, my family and I have been very blessed to experience the true Koinonia in the Body of Christ.

Yes, I do understand that not many people have this same experience, but I want to encourage you - if you're still searching - it’s not impossible. It will take a resolve and a determination – and it might be just you and your family for a long while before God sends others your way, but giving up isn’t a solution. Starting one in your living room, is.

Here’s my optimistic view of Organic Church:
*There are more free resources for the organic church today than when I started 10 years ago
*Most of those who are leaders in this movement are highly accessible and willing to help you
*There are people near you who are just as hungry for community and ekklesia as you are

Finally, as I read Frank's insightful post one sentence jumped out to me:

As I write this, we’re in a season where the waves of a Spirit-generated revival are non-existent in North America. There’s also no significant awakening regarding the restoration of God’s house.

My first thought after reading that was a quote I heard from an old surfer dude once. He said, “We don’t make the waves. We just ride them.” Which is great advice for those of us in Organic Church! But then this thought came to me:

“If you’re not in the water when the wave comes, you’ll miss it.”

So, my resolve is to stay here in the water. Maybe there are no big waves coming along at the moment, but every good surfer knows that if you stay in the water long enough, you’ll catch the big one when it arrives.

I would also encourage you, and others in this movement, that there are organic churches being started outside of our field of vision. For example, through my friendship with Herb Montgomery, I’ve discovered a new movement within the Seventh Day Adventist denomination which is identical to organic church in every way, but they don’t call it that.

It’s my firm belief that God is stirring up many other such movements like this here in the States, and all over the world, that might not bear the “organic church” brand but is still based on the simple church model found in the new testament where the priesthood of all believers is freely practiced and encouraged.

Thanks for taking the time to read my perspective and for allowing me to contribute my voice to the ongoing conversation. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

NOTE: If you're currently searching for an organic church in your area, please feel free to contact me. If I can't help you find one, I can help you start one. I’ve already made almost every mistake possible, so you can benefit from my failures.

Also: Be sure to search out the numerous Organic Church groups on Facebook. I'm a moderator over at the Organic Church Movements page along with Jon Zens, and Richard Jacobson. We'd love to have you join us.
Peace,
Keith


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unscientific Love




So...I had a dream last night. It was kinda strange, but I woke up wondering what it meant.

Part of it was someone looking at me and urging me to "be the scientist" I was meant to be. 

There was a bit about trying to tune a radio to find a station but it never would come in.

Then we were walking through the forest, up a hill. Someone was asking me if I was a Prophet or an Apostle. I started explaining how I might be a little one or the other, but I wasn't sure.

There was another bit where a friend and I went into a little child's playhouse and sat in this balcony overlooking a yard, almost like a hidden tree house thing. She started  doing this little dot-dash pattern on a writing tablet or book as if she was trying to help me figure out what my gifts or calling were. 

Like I said, weird.

But, then it got weirder. This morning on the train I'm reading the next chapter of this book, "The Cure", by John Lynch, and I come across this part:

"Some of the most disingenuous and useless relationships are those where one has an agenda in another's life, seeing ourselves as SCIENTISTS seeking a solution for disease in a twisted lab experiment. These people assume some equation of holiness: Four hours of small group study plus thirty minutes memorizing scriptures, multiplied by challenge, conviction and demand make the subject sin less and become a more productive church member."

How did I dream about something I hadn't read yet?

But honestly the whole chapter started to make me wonder if what I’ve been trying to do is to come up with some agenda where I can "fix" people. And maybe all I really need to do is to just help people understand that they are loved? That they can really open themselves up to be loved by us and by God and by others?

Later on this same chapter it says:

"The spiritually immature are not loved well, but it is not because they fail. They are not loved well because they fail to trust the love of another. Because they trust no one, their needs aren't met. Because their needs aren't met, they live out of selfishness. Not only do they not receive love, they don't give it either."

I wonder if this is really our core issue? Do we fail to respond to God's love because we don’t really trust that we are lovable?

Do we keep ourselves walled off from others because we don’t trust that we will be loved if people really knew all about us?

Do we shut ourselves off from God, and from others, because in our heart of hearts we’re just not convinced we are worth loving, or that if others knew us deeply that we would still be deeply loved?

Maybe so.

And if so, then maybe the cure is to start learning how to really receive God’s love. As it says in 1 John: “We love because He first loved us.” Not simply chronologically. It’s like a catalyst: We only know how to love because we have first received His love that transcends knowledge.

Once we really begin to believe that we are loved, and that His love won’t stop or change or go away if we screw up, then we begin to be changed by His love. It starts to transform us from within. We relax. We discover the freedom to be who we really are. We suddenly realize our masks are obsolete. We drop them on the ground, or absently forget them under the chair, as we start to laugh, and sing, and dance and enjoy being loved!

We finally start to believe it – really, really BELIEVE – that WE ARE LOVED!

Once we fully accept and trust that we are loved by God – forever, without fluctuation or conditions – then we experience the glorious freedom of being His Beloved in the here and now.

That’s when we have the best hope of helping others to break free of their chains and begin to believe that they, too, are loved beyond measure.

It’s a process, but we’re all made to be loved, and to love others, so the more we begin to move in this direction and to trust our Abba, the easier it all becomes to us. Soon, what sounds strange to our ears is the idea that we’re unworthy, or broken, or sinful, or that we’re full of darkness. Our hearts refuse to hear it. Our heads shake back and forth as our lips whisper: “Not anymore we’re not!”

We reach a point where we fully accept our identity as “the one the Lord loves” and our lives become re-calibrated to a new rhythm and pattern of being: We are the children of God. We are the one’s He loves. We are being transformed daily into His image. Christ is alive in us and He will never, ever leave.

Halleluiah!

So, I’m giving up on trying to be a “Scientist” who wants to “fix people”. My calling is to be one who proclaims the Good News that they are dearly loved of God and that if they put their hope in Jesus, He will show them how to be loved by God and how to love others out of that glorious relationship.

-kg


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?




Yes, Jesus could turn stones into bread and make sure no one was ever hungry again. But then we’d live in a world where people had too much food and no reason to share with those who had nothing.

Jesus could heal every disease and remove sickness from the world. But we would still live in a world where people cared more about themselves than about the needs of others.

Jesus could step in and prevent every car accident and rescue every innocent child from hit and run drivers. But we would still live in a world where people cared nothing about the safety of others, took foolish chances with their lives, and abused alcohol.

Jesus could guide every bullet so that it always missed taking a life. He could turn our guns into candy canes if He wanted to. But we would still live in a world where people wanted to kill each other.

Jesus could appear to everyone and prove that He exists right now. He could float through the air, appear on CNN, visit every human on the planet in person and shoot healing lasers of love out of his eyes. But people would still not love Him or serve Him.

Jesus has the ability to change things and circumstances, but what really needs changing is people and their hearts.

Now, if we would simply follow Him and listen to what He says and put His words into practice, we’ll see that He’s really telling us the truth: We really can enter the Kingdom right now. We really can enjoy peace that passes understanding. He really will be with us until the end of the time. He honestly will never leave us or forsake us. He actually does love us as we are, and not as we should be [because none of us is as we should be].

God, help those of us who are called by your Name to really believe in your amazing love. Help us to receive your love. Help us to live and breathe and move and give and share out of this endless stream of living water that you pour into us - and through us - to a hurting world so in need of your refreshing love. 

Help us to admit, first of all, that WE need your love as much as anyone else does.

Now, help us to soak up that love that transcends knowledge and squeeze it out in every human interaction we have today, and every day. 

Until the whole world knows your love.

Amen.
-kg






*Inspired by the Tweet stream of @JesusBenyosef.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Name-Dropping



As soon as the words left my mouth I felt like an idiot.

We were sitting at a restaurant sharing a great meal with a group of people from our house church family. One of our newer members invited his parents to join us. They were visiting from out of State and it was our first time to meet them.

We spent most of our time raving about the amazing food, and the rest of the time sharing wonderful testimonies of what God has been doing in our lives over the years as we've enjoyed learning to "be the church" together.

Then it happened.

My friend's Dad asked me if I'd read the latest book by Frank Viola. I said no, and then he shared with me how great it was and how it had been encouraging him in his walk with Jesus.

My response? I said: "I know Frank, so I'll just send him an email and see if he can send me a copy to review on my blog."

Even as I said it my brain was already back-pedaling. "Did you just say that out loud?"

Yes. I did. I said it.

And I felt like a schmuck the rest of the day.

Sure, it was true. I do know Frank Viola. I've interviewed him a few times. We've talked on the phone. He even mentioned me on his blog the other day. But so what?

I mean, who cares if I know Frank Viola? Or Jon Zens? Or Milt Rodriguez? Or Felicity Dale? Or Ross Rohde? Or Neil Cole? [I know all of those people, by the way].

Who cares if I've interviewed Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, or Kevin Smith, who directed the films "Clerks" and "Mallrats"? 

Who cares if I've talked on the phone with Walter Kirn, the author who wrote the books "Thumbsuckers" and "Up In The Air", which were both made into major motion pictures by the way?

Who really cares?

Well, for starters, I do.

I care because mentioning those names makes me feel important. It makes me feel like I belong to an elite group of experts who deserve respect and attention. It lets everyone know that I'm probably someone they should be proud to know, too.

But honestly, I doubt anyone has ever dropped my name to impress anyone.

That's the truth.

This "Respect by Association" game is our way of adding ourselves to a circle of people who we look up to, in the hopes that somehow we might also elevate ourselves.

I'm guilty as charged.

I'm like Will Ferrell in "Elf" every time someone mentions Santa Claus, I scream "I know him!"

But all of this talk about name-dropping has made me realize something else: I can drop the biggest name of all.

See, I happen to know the guy who designed DNA. I'm also a very good friend of the person who created the universe.

You know the guy who invented stuff like music, and sex, and puppies, and sunsets, and the ocean, and coffee, and chocolate, and love? Yeah, he's my BFF.

In fact, I was just talking to Him earlier today. He's crazy about me. Seriously. He really can't stop thinking about me. He loves me, like, a whole lot. It's almost embarrassing, really.

But what's really cool is this: That guy? He isn't unapproachable. He doesn't travel with an entourage. He doesn't have a rider that specifies a certain audience size before He'll agree to make an appearance. In fact, He'll show up and hang out if there's even two people in the room who are interested in hearing from Him.

Not only that, this person actually wants to share His fame with me. He wants me to be like Him. He wants me to talk like He does. He wants me to act like He acts. He wants me to love the way He loves. He actually wants me to impersonate Him whenever possible.

The big difference between name-dropping Jesus and all other name-dropping is that when we name-drop Jesus we're not elevating ourselves, we're humbling ourselves.

When we mention His Name, we're admitting that His love for us isn't something we deserve, but it's something He lavishes upon us simply because of who He is, not because of who we are.

He's not too important to be seen with us. He's not out of reach. He's more than happy to make Himself at home with us, no matter who we are, or where we live, or what we've done, or what we've failed to do.

And that's the kinda guy I want to be seen with.

Don't you?

-kg


Thursday, April 21, 2016

JESUS: OUR BLUEPRINT



"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" - John 1:29

I've often referred to Jesus as our blueprint for living the Kingdom life because Jesus lived a Kingdom life for us to emulate. He showed us how to humble ourselves and serve others, how to love those who are outside our comfort zones, and how to forgive those who hate us.

The life of Jesus was intended to show us that, in fact, it really is possible for us to obey His commands and live as He did.

This is what Jesus meant when he said "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing" - John 14:12
If we trust in Jesus, if we really believe in what He taught us, we will put His words into practice and we will do the things we see Him doing.

A few verses previous to this one, Jesus lets the Disciples know that all He has ever done is what the Father told Him to do:

"The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." v. 10

So, if Jesus accomplished all that He did by listening to Father, and doing what the Father was doing, then we also can, and will, do the things that Jesus did when we submit our lives to God in the same way.

A few verses later Jesus is asked a question: "Why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the World?"
The disciples are wondering why Jesus doesn't reveal His Glory to the entire planet at once. Here's what Jesus says in reply:

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." - John 14:22-23
Did you catch that? The Disciples want to know why Jesus only shows himself to the twelve and not to the whole World. Jesus answer? I'm showing myself to you and when you obey my teachings you show me to the World, then they will see me, and the Father.

Our obedience to Jesus allows the Gospel to be proclaimed in our lives each day.

The point of a blueprint is to read the plan and to duplicate it in the real world. Jesus' death on the cross was intended to set us free and give us a new kind of life in the Kingdom of God, here and now, where we live and breathe.

His sacrifice gave us life. His death gave us access to the Kingdom. And now, our daily sacrifice not only allows us to follow after Him, it is intended to put to death our flesh so that He can live in us.

Because Jesus died, we live. Because we die daily, Jesus lives within us.

Do people around you see Jesus in you? Are you daily taking up your cross to follow Him? There's still time to start living for the One who died to give you life.

"Behold, the Lambs of Jesus who die daily so that their Shepherd can live through them."

-kg

Friday, April 15, 2016

Worm-Free Christianity



There are no worms in the Body of Christ.

Everyone who abides in Christ is a brand new creature. We are no longer “worms” or “wretches” who are in need of God’s constant pity.

Our favorite hymns might suggest otherwise, but once we come to Jesus we cease to be worms and begin to become new creatures who are partakers of the Divine nature.

Yes, before the cross we were most pitiful and dead in our sins.
Before we knew Jesus we were broken and worthless and hopeless and blind.

But praise God we are no longer in this condition!

Those who are in Christ are no longer regarded as worms, but as sons of God.
We who are members of the Body of Christ are loved and treasured, not miserable wretches covered in our filthy sins.

Maybe there were some Christians in our church experience who poured shame over us.
Maybe there were pastors and teachers who preached messages of condemnation to keep us under control.
Maybe there were some worship leaders who planted melodies in our hearts that emphasized our former identity as worms and wretches.

But that’s not who Jesus says we are.

We are sons and daughters.
We are filled with the fullness of Christ.
We are new creatures with a new nature.
We are holy.
We are spotless.
We are dearly loved.

If you don’t believe me, look it up. The New Testament is chock full of truth about our new identity in Christ.

Jesus affirms our worth.
Jesus declares our freedom.
Jesus proclaims that we are friends, not slaves.
Jesus reminds us that we are God’s children who cry out “Abba!” to our Heavenly Father who loves us dearly.

Jesus says that He and the Father will come and make their home with those who love and obey Him.

Are you in Christ? Then there is no condemnation for you. None at all.

Are you in Christ? Then there is nothing in the entire Universe with the power to separate you from the love of God.

Are you in Christ? Then you are forever knitted together with Jesus for the rest of eternity.

Repeat after me: “I am not a worm. I am a dearly loved child of God. Jesus lives and breathes in me right now. He will never leave me. He will never forsake me. His love for me will never die.”

Now, set your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. Place your hope in Him, the One who loves you beyond measure.

Start living every day, moment by moment, in the new reality of your identity in Christ.

If you can, try helping others to see that they are not worms, either.

We all need a lot more worm-free Christianity.

-kg
**
See also: