Friday, July 31, 2009

HELP ME NAME MY NEW BOOK

Ok, I'm nearly finished with my third book project and I need your help deciding on a title.

Just take a second and click on this short, one question, multiple choice survey at the link below and let me know your preference, or write in your own suggestion.

Thanks!
Keith
**
Click Here to take survey

THE GOSPEL: For Here Or To Go? (1 of 6)

THE GOSPEL: FOR HERE OR TO GO? (Part 1 of 6)
By Keith Giles

There’s a great scene at the end of the film, “The Big Kahuna” where Danny DeVito’s character counsels a young co-worker about his overt mode of evangelism.

He says, “It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.' That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are - just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep.”

That scene sums up, for me, how the world sees the insincerity in our attempts to sell our faith the way a door-to-door salesman sells magazine subscriptions.

As a young college student, I was very passionate about Christian Apologetics. I read book after book dealing with how to “give to every man an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within” using science, history, archaeology, and logic to convince the skeptic and the unbeliever that Jesus really was the answer.

After several years of learning, and even teaching others, about the basics of the Christian Faith, I came to the realization that I had never once argued anyone into trusting Jesus. I had some great theological and mentally stimulating discussions with people, but the fact was that my apologetics had not won a single person to Christ.

That’s when I realized that the only Apologetic that really matters is the Apologetic of your life. No one can argue with your actual, personal experience with God. I realized that my life needed to reflect the transformational power of Jesus, or else my logic and wisdom and answers were useless.

Granted, I’m much wiser and more secure in the grounding of my faith now that I’ve spent so much time studying and discussing the issues with people. But what is best for others is that I begin to actually live out the Gospel in my daily life and share openly about my own struggles, failures, experiences and insights as I personally follow Jesus every day of my life.

When Peter exhorts the early disciples of Jesus to “..always be ready to give an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within..” it was written with the underlying assumption that the people he was writing to were living radically transformational lives within the culture they were part of. We know this because of what we see in the book of Acts and by looking at the first three hundred years of Church History. The early followers of Jesus were living lives that were extremely different from those of the pagan world around them. Because of this, Peter is encouraging these disciples to be ready to explain why they cared for lepers, and fed pagan widows, and shared personal belongings with anyone in need whenever unbelievers asked them the reason why.

These days I fear we in the Church have largely lost this sense of living a different sort of life from those around us. Instead, we’re quick to offer answers to questions that no one is asking us.

(end part one)
**
EXCERPTED FROM THE BOOK, "The Gospel: For Here or To Go?" available as a free, downloadable PDF at www.KeithGiles.com

Monday, July 27, 2009

WHAT GOD IS DOING

Yesterday our house church group met in a local park. It’s not one we’ve ever gathered in before, but since it was near to one of the families in our church we decided to meet there to worship and fellowship.

As we were worshipping under the shade of the trees a man on a bicycle rode up and got off his bike and walked over to one of the picnic tables and sat down to join us. A few of us noticed this but we continued to worship and after we shared communion together and began sharing with one another the man spoke up. “I was very blessed to find you guys in the park today,” he said.”It’s been a blessing to be with you here this morning.”

We affirmed that it was a blessing to have him join us and we even took some time to pray for him during our prayer time that followed.

Afterwards my wife went over to talk with him and she discovered that he only takes this bike ride once a year. That particular day was the only time he happens to get on his bike and ride 14 miles from his home in Newport Beach to this park in Tustin and back again. So, we were very blessed that he happened to be in the park the same day we also happened to be in the same park.

Then he asked about our house church and where we meet. My wife told him we live in Orange. He asked where since his ex-girlfriend just recently moved to Orange. “We live near the Orange Circle,” Wendy said. “Oh,” said Eric, “my ex-girlfriend lives about two miles from there. What are the cross streets?” My wife told him that we lived off of Main and Almond. He asked if we knew where Glenview street was and when we told him that this is where we lived he said, “Really? My friend lives on that same street.”

So, if you’ve doubted that God is building His church just remember this story.

As I marvel at this great work that God has done to bring Eric and his friend Tracey to our group, I am reminded that only one other family in our house church was known to us before we started out. In fact, other than this family and my sister-in-law and one other sister in Christ, every single other person in our house church was brought to us by the Lord. I didn’t recruit anyone or advertise our fellowship or hang out a sign. Everyone who is part of the Mission House Church now has come to us by the Grace of God. They found us and they came and felt at home and this is how God has been building this Church.

Over the weekend I found out about two other men who want to start coming to our house church, and another brother in Christ from a sister church wants to join us also. This is in addition to a family of eight from Bellflower who e-mailed me over the weekend about visiting and another man who contacted me via e-mail about two weeks ago.

That makes fourteen new people who want to join our house church in the next week alone. We’re already bursting at the seams. There are about 30 people who call “The Mission” their church home currently. What will we do if even more people want to join us? How will we respond?

Is it time for us to start taking the idea of a second house church more seriously? If so, where will our second group meet? Who will stay to become part of the new group in our home? Who will launch out with the families we already know and love?

These are questions we need to answer in the next few weeks. I’m praying that God would continue to build His Church and lead us in these next steps.


I appreciate your prayers for us as well.


Peace,

Keith

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mission House Church Family

Special thanks to our own Kelly Tague for sharing these awesome photos of some of our recent house church gatherings together.












Want to see more?
GO HERE

Re-Post: Hokey Pokey

"You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out..."

We do this all the time in our spiritual life. We surrender to Jesus on
Sunday, and we take it all back on Monday morning. We mean well. We intend
to serve Jesus with our life, but the daily pressures of life wear on us and
we end up returning to the old patterns of life.

The good news is, God knows that we're dust. He knows we're weak. He
understands that the flesh is willing, but the maturing of our spirits takes
time.

"If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown
Himself."- 2 Tim 2:13


God is patient with us, and because of this we still have hope.

"...you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out..."

I've been tested lately about some of the same things I've been through many
times before.

Why does God keep putting me through these tests of faith? I look to the sky
and ask, "Haven't I already learned this lesson three times before? I
thought I passed this. Why are we having to go through this again, Lord?"

A dear friend reminded me the other day that God's purpose for allowing
challenges in our life is to draw us nearer to Himself. "We just want God to
fix it, or do it, or make it better, but God wants us to take His hand and
walk through these things alongside Him," my friend said.

Still, I'm weary of putting my faith into action again and again. I'm tired
of wondering if God will work this miracle and save my family (again), or if
this time we'll have to endure the pain.

God whispers to me, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness,
and all of these things (food, shelter, daily needs, etc.), "will be taken
care of as well."- Matt 6:33


So, I do my best to seek the Kingdom of God. I try to focus on Him instead
of on my own challenges. But still I find myself drifting back to the
question; "What if this time God doesn't rescue us?"

"...you put your whole self in, you take your whole self out, you put your
whole self in, and you shake it all about..."


God wants all of me. He wants all of you. He wants my time. He wants my
heart. He wants my trust. He wants my entire life. He wants my "whole self
in".

Surrender to Jesus is, in reality, a gradual exercise in trust. It would be
wonderful if that one time I went down front and bent my knees on the altar
was enough. I wish it were true. Maybe for someone else it is true, but for
me, I must confess, I'm still daily learning to bend my knees, surrender my
heart, and trust Jesus with my life...with my entire life.

Maybe, in some strange way, the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?

"You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all
about."


-kg

Friday, July 24, 2009

FOUR UNBIBLICAL MODELS FOR CHURCH

"And he (Jesus) said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" - Mark 7:9

Regardless of the fact that our New Testament never reveals anything close to the form of Church we practice today, the majority of Christians in America embrace traditions of men rather than follow the Biblical model.

James Rutz, in his book "Megashift" outlines four non-Biblical models for the modern Church:

The Harvard Model - Where the professor is the preacher, the lectern is the pulpit, and the students are parishioners. Trouble is, they can sit and take notes for forty years, but they'll never graduate, never get a degree, and never ever become professors themselves.

The Hollywood Model- With its stage, entertainers, polished performances, costumed singers, applauding audiences, etc. All the church needs is popcorn.

The IBM Model - Where a board of directors runs everything from the top down, where permission to do things is denied or granted by the CEO (Pastor) and committees, where finances are the overriding factor behind policies, and where the institution competes with other churches for market share.

The Wal-Mart Model- Where aisles and aisles of tempting merchandise offer something for everybody. Seeker-sensitive mega-churches, with their array of 100+ programs, mirror beautifully the "consumer heaven" ideal of Wal-Mart."

Why is it that Christians will adopt the pattern of anything under the sun when it comes to the Church except the New Testament model?

The modern Church loves the fruit of such models. They hold up the church in Acts as the model for every Christian believer, and yet they refuse to even seriously consider practicing their faith in such a way.

Why is that? Is it because we are afraid of truly embracing the Priesthood of the Believer where every baptized believer is empowered to build up the Body and receive direction from the Holy Spirit?

Is it because we want a system where paid professionals can take responsibility off of our shoulders?

Is it because we don't want to seem "weird" to the rest of the world?

I'm sure there are a variety of reasons why we refuse to embrace the New Testament model, but the bottom line is, we love and trust our traditions more than we love and trust the Word of God.

We take the words of the Apostle Paul more seriously when it comes to head coverings and women leadership than we do when it comes to instructions on gathering to worship and glorify God in the assembly. Even though the number of chapters regarding the practice of our faith and God's design for His Church vastly outnumbers the handful of verses regarding the other debated topics, we cannot seem to take these verses seriously.

When we first left to start our house church there were those who told us, with a straight face, that what we were doing wasn't Biblical. Others claim that the New Testament is silent regarding how the Church should gather and worship. Neither claim could be more laughably untrue.

There are 58 "one anothers" in the New Testamnent. These verses instruct the Body to love, teach, train, equip, correct, admonish, restore, encouarge and share with one another. The New Testament was written to the Body. It wasn't written to Pastors or Leaders, but to encourage and strengthen the Body and to remind the Body "to build one another up in love".

We are the Church. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

If there's any model we should be following it should come from the New Testament, not the corporate structures and systems of this World.

"Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." - Jesus (Mark 7:13)

**
-kg

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CHURCH HISTORY 101 - "PEACE"

Quotes from first and second century Christian writers about the continuing posture of non-violence in the early Church following the age of the Apostles:

"The Lord, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier." —Tertullian from "On Idolatry"

"Christians could never slay their enemies. For the more that kings, rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more Christians have increased in number and grown in strength." —Origen Contra Celsius Book VII

"Wherever arms have glittered, they must be banished and exterminated from thence."
—Lactantius’ Divine Institutes IV

"As simple and quiet sisters, peace and love require no arms. For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained." —Clement of Alexandria Chapter 12 of Book 1

"Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence."
—Clement of Alexandria

"I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command... Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it."
—Tatian’s Address to the Greeks

"We who formerly used to murder one another now refrain from even making war upon our enemies."
—The First Apology of Justin Martyr

"Whatever Christians would not wish others to do to them, they do not to others. And they comfort their oppressors and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies. Through love towards their oppressors, they persuade them to become Christians."
—The Apology of Aristides

"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God."
—Hippolytus of Rome

"There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished."
—Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians

"The new covenant that brings back peace and the law that gives life have gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: "For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he will instruct many people; and they will break down their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and they will no longer learn to make war." These people formed their swords and war lances into plowshares,” that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting, so when they are struck, they offer also the other cheek."
—Irenaeus

"We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. As a result, an ungrateful world is now enjoying–and for a long period has enjoyed–a benefit from Christ. For by his means, the rage of savage ferocity has been softened and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow creature. In fact, if all men without exception…would lend an ear for a while to his salutary and peaceful rules,…the whole world would be living in the most peaceful tranquility. The world would have turned the use of steel into more peaceful uses and would unite together in blessed harmony."
—Arnobius

"Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service."
—Disputation of Archelaus and Manes

"We have rejected such spectacles as the Coliseum. How then, when we do not even look on killing lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?"
—Athenagoras of Athens’ A Plea for the Christians

**

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

JESUS: The Prince of Peace (4 of 4)

By definition, we who call ourselves "Christians" should be followers of Jesus. Our Lord is known as the Prince of Peace. We are commanded to "Love one another" and to be known for our love. Jesus pronounced a blessing to those who would be peace makers saying, "Blessed are the peace makers for they shall inherit the Earth."

Yet, somehow, we who are called by His Name are not known for our great love. We are not known for our expertise on the ways of peace. Even though we are given the ministry of reconciliation, we are not the ones people come to when they hope to resolve conflict and experience peace in their lives.

What has happened?

It was not always this way. In our New Testament we find a seamless flow of love from our Lord to His disciples and from his disciples to the world.

In fact, for roughly 300 years the followers of Jesus were models of peace. Even though they were hunted and beaten and pursued and persecuted and put to death by the sword and wild animal, they did not raise a hand in retaliation. They shared all that they had with anyone in need and gave up their own daily bread to feed the hungry in their midst. For 300 years they were people of peace and examples of love to everyone they met.

Imagine that. Imagine 300 years of Christian history where not one recorded instance of violence is found in the record books where a follower of Jesus took a sword to another person or raised his hands in violence.

Something happened to change our tune. Someone stepped in and rearranged the music, and the saddest thing is: We listened.

When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 A.D. and established himself as the "Pontifex Maximus" of the Church he effectively unraveled 300 years of Christian pacifism and ushered in a new era where Christianity would be re-defined as a belief system rather than as a way of life.

In 316, Constantine acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the validity of Donatism (a Christian sect). After ruling that the Donatists were heretical in their faith, Constantine led an army of Christians against the Donatist Christians. For the first time in Christian History, after 300 years of pacifism, a Christian took up a sword aganst another person - and those people were other followers of Jesus.

This radical shift created by Constantine set in motion a series of changes to the Christian faith that are still being felt to this day. While the early Christians peacefully opposed the Empire and lived a life of quiet subversion against the pattern of this world, the new Christians (under Constantine) became the tool of the Empire.

To this day the Christian faith remains the puppet of the Empire. In America, the Christian Church has alligned herself with the State and has adopted the party message, seeking to influence the world through political means rather than through the transformative power of the Gospel.

I've met Christians who cannot imagine their Christian faith apart from an allegiance to the Republican Party. I've spoken to Christians who feel that the use of deadly force against another person is not only acceptable, it would be endorsed by Jesus. I've debated Christians who support the use of torture against other human beings as long as it means we can sleep safe in our beds at night.

These views are not in line with the words of Jesus. We have to divorce our faith in Christ from such blind Nationalism and rediscover what it means to submit to Jesus as our Lord, placing Him on the throne of our hearts.

If our allegiance is to Christ, then we must take seriously his commands to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We must wrestle with these difficult issues of ethics and faith.

Our calling as followers of Jesus is not only to avoid violence, it is to take the initiative to show love to our enemies and to bless those who want to bring violence against us.

These are not political issues, these are personal issues. These are matters of personal faith and obedience to the words of Jesus.

Either we love Him and we believe His words to be true, or we must admit that we've found another way that is more attractive to us than the Way of Christ and embrace the American Dream. We cannot have it both ways.

My prayer is that Christians in America would rediscover their original DNA as peaceful, loving followers of Jesus and jettison the Nationalized Christianity that enslaves us to the Empire.

Let us place Jesus back on the Throne of our hearts, and crown him again as King of the Church. Let us pledge allegiance to Christ and to His Kingdom, not to any man-made creed or political system.

-kg
**
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
- Jesus (Matthew 5:25-30)

Monday, July 20, 2009

JESUS: The Prince of Peace (3 of 4)

HOW RELEVANT IS CHURCH HISTORY?
The behavior of the first and second century church is relevant because it shows us how the early Christians consistently carried out the practice of radical love and non-violent resistance to persecution and evil in their day. The practice of loving, non-violent behavior originated with Christ and continued under the Apostles. It endured for over 200 years as a defining mark of Christian faith and practice.

Non-violence wasn't an "error" that showed up after the new testament was written. It was not a new teaching that was introduced after the Apostolic Age. No, it was simply a continuation of practice from the founder of the movement. One of the premier characteristics of the church, which was founded on the teaching and example of Jesus, was love. And that love was expressed in humility and peaceful interaction with all men.

Jesus is our blueprint for life in the Kingdom of God. The early Christians understood this. They knew that they were held to a higher standard of love than anyone else on the planet. When Stephen is stoned to death for his faith in Christ, he doesn’t defend himself or retaliate, or even run away. Instead he stands his ground and forgives his killers, even as Jesus did, before giving up his life for Christ.

The New Testament is full of references, both from Jesus and from the Apostles, regarding the expectation of non-violence in response to persecution. Furthermore, we also know that hundreds of followers of Jesus also went to their deaths for their faith and they did not raise a hand in self-defense. They either ran away or they submitted to torture, crucifixion and death. Why? Because of the example of Jesus and out of obedience to His command to love our enemies and endure hardship and persecution.

For anyone serious about following Jesus and learning to be His disciple, non-violence is a critical element of obedience. Jesus set us an example and he expects us to follow it.

The Christian practice of radical non-violence flowed from the example of Jesus and his commands to his disciples regarding love for our enemies. This example and teaching was carried forward by the Apostles and it was further embodied by the early church for over 200 years.

As Shane Claiborne once remarked when asked if he was a Christian: “Go and ask my enemies, or the poor, or my neighbor and if they say I am a Christian then I suppose I’m a Christian.”

Could our enemies affirm that we are followers of Christ? Would the poor in your community testify to your faith in Jesus? Would your neighbors on your street, or your co-workers bear witness to your Christ-like attitude?

What we do matters. How we live is critical. We are the Ambassadors of the Risen Lord. We are the Body of Christ, Incarnate on this Earth.

Let love be our tattoo.

Peace,
Keith

Sunday, July 19, 2009

JESUS: The Prince of Peace (2 of 4)

One of the more creative arguments in favor of Christian violence has been the suggestion that the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion to the Christian faith is an indication that Christians accepted violence and even professional soldiers among their ranks. If there is any real instruction to be found here (in Acts 10) regarding the attitude of the early Christians towards violence it is mostly from silence. The point of the passage is that Cornelius, a Gentile, is miraculously converted to the faith in Christ as the Messiah. The inference in this passage is that Cornelius was a practicing Jew who cared for the poor and loved God. He did not, however, know about Jesus and it was only through an angelic vision that he was told how to seek out Peter in order to receive the Gospel and be saved.

The argument in support of Christians who practice violence seems to be that, since it says Cornelius was a Centurion then it must be an endorsement of his violent lifestyle. However, we do not know what happened to Cornelius after his conversion to Christ. Did he continue to serve the Roman Empire and engage in war? Maybe he did, we don't know. But even if he did the question remains: "Does the New Testament endorse such behavior in any way?" No, it doesn't. At least, not for a follower of Jesus.

We could ask, “Did Cornelius resign his commission in the Roman Army and face martyrdom?” Again, we just do not know. Although we do know that many other Roman soldiers who came to Christ did just that and were put to death for it, as in the example of Martin of Tours.

Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army under Constantine. After the Emperor “converted” to Christianity in 312 A.D. and began to re-define the faith it became acceptable in the church for followers of Jesus to define their faith by a set of beliefs rather than by a practice of values and principles embodied by Christ. As Christianity and the Empire became entangled, the line between following Jesus and being loyal to the State became blurred. Much like it is today.

One Roman soldier, Martin of Tours, upon converting to faith in Christ dared to defy the status quo. Even though it would have been completely acceptable to many within the State-sponsored Christian Church of his day and age, Martin instead took a bold step to follow Christ and not bow his knee to the Emperor. So, at a ceremony in which soldiers were given a monetary reward for their service, Martin of Tours stood up and explained to his commanding officer that he could no longer remain a soldier in the army of Rome, saying:

“Up to the present I have served you as a soldier. Allow me now to become a soldier of God. Let the man who is to serve you receive your donation. I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.”

For this act of disobedience, Martin was condemned and he volunteered to be sent to the front lines of the next battle without weapons to show that he was not a coward, choosing to remain loyal to Jesus rather than to compromise his faith in submission to the State.

Did Cornelius do the same? We’re not sure. Perhaps yes, or maybe no. The point is that the scriptures do not tell us what Cornelius did after his conversion to faith in Christ. All we know is that Jesus clearly teaches us to love our enemies and to refrain from violence. What Cornelius did is less important to us than what Jesus expected, and of that we are well-informed and accountable.

At any rate, the story of Cornelius’ conversion is not meant to teach us anything about violence, it is meant to teach us how much God loves the Gentiles and how Peter was obedient to God and allowed them to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom and enter the Body of Christ.

[END PART 2]
**
-kg

NOTE: The original version of this article mistakenly stated that Martin of Tours was executed for defying the Roman military. This version has been corrected.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

JESUS: THE PRINCE OF PEACE (Part 1 of 4)

*Over the next few days I will be publishing a series of articles regarding the radical teachings of Jesus on love and non-violence. Some of these will also touch on the Americanized-Christianity heresy which continues to plague our nation.

**
One of the most difficult teachings of Jesus involves love. Thought at first his commands to “Love God” and “Love one another” seem simple to our ears, we soon discover that living these things out takes more out of us than we are prepared to give.

Lately I’ve been spending some time looking at the more radical teachings of Jesus regarding non-violence and how it informs our practice of the Christian faith.

If you only learn one thing from Jesus in the Gospels it’s that he expects his followers to be known as people who love with extravagance. Jesus teaches his disciples to not only love those who love them, but to also love even their enemies and to bless those who curse them.

Love, above all else, is the defining characteristic of a true follower of Jesus.

BUT WHAT ABOUT…?

Some Christians today flat out ignore the dozens of verses from the mouth of Jesus regarding love and the practice of peace and look instead at one or two verses to base their theology upon. This is largely endorsed by a certain segment of Christians who teach a decidedly Americanized form of Christianity, one fueled by politics and infused with an heretical twisting of the words of Jesus to conform to those of the Founding Fathers of our Nation. These America First Christians teach that the United States is God’s favored nation. They teach, either outright or by inference, that God loves America more than He loves the rest of the world and justify the use of force to advance American interests in the name of God and country. They even endorse torture and believe that Jesus would approve of it.

This is one of the main reasons I so vehemently oppose the politicized version of American Christianity. Because it distorts the pure Gospel of Jesus and attempts to mix such opposing ideas as “Take up your cross daily and die to yourself” with “The pursuit of happiness”.

Even more, this Americanized brand of Christianity aligns the Gospel with a specific political party and equates loyalty to one with righteousness and justification in the other. In many ways the two concepts are tightly intertwined and many cannot imagine following Jesus apart from pledging allegiance to the Party.

Not that Christians shouldn’t exercise their freedom to vote or to stand for justice, mind you. Those are wonderful opportunities and I applaud those who take the time to do their civic duty and participate in politics. There is a time and a place for this.

However, whenever we begin to place our allegiance to Christ beneath the shadow of a political party or system, we have jumped the tracks. Whenever we are more passionate about our candidates or our political issues than we are about the Gospel of the Kingdom, we are off base. Whenever we begin to judge someone’s salvation based on whether they vote the way we do, we are misguided. Whenever we find it impossible to imagine following Christ apart from being a good Republican or Democrat, we have another Jesus and we have embraced a false Gospel.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist or a Libertarian. If you cannot imagine following Jesus apart from participation in, and agreement with, your political views, you are not really following Jesus, you’re following a political system.

ONE BODY, ONE SPIRIT, ONE CHURCH

Most of our brothers and sisters in this world today are found in communist or socialist nations such as North Korea or China, or in continents such as Africa or Asia. If someone hears the Gospel in one of these nations and receives Christ as Lord and Savior, do they then also become a Republican at the same time? No, of course not. But if the majority of Christians in this World, who make up the largest segment of our Body, are not also Good Americans, or faithful Democrats or Republicans, then it must be possible for us to divorce our politics from our faith in Christ. Not only must it be possible, it must be accomplished in order for us to see clearly who our Lord is and what it means to fully die to ourselves and follow Him alone.

GO AND BUY A SWORD

Some have recently questioned me regarding whether or not Jesus really taught such a radical form of non-violence in the Gospels. They reference one verse where Jesus asked his disciples to go and buy a sword so that “this scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” – (See Luke 22:35-38). It’s easy to read this passage and simply conclude that it is an endorsement of violence in the name of self-defense. Yet, one must take into account all the many other teachings of Jesus regarding turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and not resisting an evil man.

Is this passage an example of Jesus making an allowance for violence in the name of self-defense? Perhaps. Although two swords is hardly enough to protect 13 people. And furthermore, when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus and Peter responds as we might also have responded, Jesus rebukes him and offers another strong teaching on non-violence saying,

“Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” – Matthew 26: 52

One possible interpretation lies in the reference Jesus makes to a passage in Isaiah which he quotes in the same breath as he asks about swords. He then refers again to the fulfillment of scripture when Peter cuts off the soldiers ear saying:

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" – Matthew 26:53-54

Perhaps what we’re missing here is the necessity for the scriptures to be fulfilled in that Christ was treated as a criminal and “numbered with the transgressors”? This is a viable interpretation, especially in light of the response Jesus has to the act of violence itself and his constant statements that “the scriptures must be fulfilled” in this way.

[END OF PART 1]
-kg

Thursday, July 16, 2009

IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU!

When Paul was preparing to return to Jerusalem he wrote a letter of farewell to many of the churches he had helped to plant and nourish. As he encouraged them he took the opportunity to remind them of something that had been burning in his heart for three years. It was something that, in his own words, he "never stopped warning each of (them), night and day with tears." - (Acts 20:25-31)

What do you suppose it was that concerned Paul so much? What could bring him to tears like this? What could compel him to constantly remind and warn those first Christians "night and day"?

Was it false doctrine in the church? Was it the coming persecution? No, it was something far more devasting to the Body. The rise of teachers and leaders who would draw disciples after themselves rather than pointing them directly to Christ.

"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." – Acts 20:25-31

What troubled Paul most of all was the knowledge that, after he was gone, men would rise up "to draw away disciples after themselves". Paul was broken-hearted to think of the Body submitting to the authority of men rather than to the authority of Christ.

Think about this. Paul is mainly concerned that men will rise up from within the Body itself and, in his absence, set themselves up as leaders and draw disciples to themselves.

Why would this concern Paul so much? Why would it cause him such anxiety and emotional turmoil? Perhaps because Jesus made the issue of leadership within His Body very clear: It was designed to be a family, an organism and a community, not a hierarchy.

Jesus sternly warned his disciples not to "lord it over" one another (Mark 10:42-45) as the Gentile rulers did. He also commanded them not to follow the example of the Jewish leaders who loved the praise of men and built their own kingdoms to glorify themselves. (Matt 23:8-12).

Peter and the other Apostles obeyed Jesus and appealed to the Church as fellow laborers in Christ and fellow elders in service to the Body saying:

"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." – 1 Peter 5:1-4

Paul agreed saying:

"Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm." - 2 Cor.1:24

This is also what Paul is warning the Church about when he rebukes them for identifying themselves as followers of Appollos, or Peter, or even of himself. Instead he warns all of them not to become disciples of any other man, or leader, but to fully submit to Christ alone as Lord and Savior and Teacher.

Paul warned the church "for three years" and "never stopped warning" them "night and day with tears" about this dangerous tendency in the Body to put anyone other than Christ at the head of the Body.

If I were to ask you, "Who is the leader in your church?" What would your answer be? Is your leader "Pastor Bob?" or is your leader Jesus Christ?

I've noticed a troubling tendency in today's Christian Church to gather and identify ourselves based on whose church we attend. Just name any famous church and you can name the leader of that church. You know their names. People will even say, "I go to [insert celebrity Christian pastor’s] church!" rather than to say, "I go to Second Baptist".

Forgetting for a moment that "going to Church" is, in itself, a misunderstanding of the New Testament idea of Church (ecclessia)- We cannot hope to fully embrace the priesthood of the believer without first letting go of the man-made, pastor-driven form of Christianity that holds us captive.

Who is your leader? Who is the head of your Church? Are we, as a Body and a Bride, fully submitted to Christ as our Lord and Husband? (See Ephesians 5:22).

Are we guilty of "lording it over" one another in a top-down hierarchy of Church? Jesus said that we are all brothers in His Body. He commands us not to call anyone "Father" or "Teacher" because there is just One Father and One Teacher and He is the One to whom the Church belongs.

Let us take seriously these words of Jesus. Let Paul's tearful appeal to us soften our hearts. Let Peter's humble example shame us all for elevating one man above the rest of the Body.

As Jesus said to His disciples: "It shall not be so among you!" (Matthew 20:25-26)

How I wish that it were not so among us all.

-kg

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why I Will Not Attend A National House Church Conference

Even though I've been involved in the House Church movement, and have been hosting a church in my home for over three and a half years now, I have never attended any of the various National House Church conferences. Nor do I have any desire to do so.

Why?

Because they all deny the very things we say we hold most dear. They are celebrity-driven gatherings where we sit in rows and listen for hours as our own brand of "Special Clergy" dispense information while all of us sit quietly and listen.

What sort of House Church conference might I be interested in attending? Maybe one like this:

*Shared meals.
*Emphasis on gathering with other brothers and sisters who are also doing house church around the nation.
*Emphasis on the ministry of the Body to the Body by the Body (not trained professionals attempting to sell their newest books).
*Spontaneous worship times.
*Smaller, practical discussions on various subjects and relevant themes (i.e.- "How to handle Children", "What is Leadership?", "Serving our Community", etc.) lead by the Spirit of God (not one "expert" on the subject).

Anyone else interested?

Sure, we'd invite people who have written books and who speak on national conference circuits to join us, but we won't use their celebrity to drive ticket sales. These brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals, not as those with "special revelation" and they will be free to share along with the rest of the Body as we share together openly.

Better yet, we won't sell tickets. It will be free or "at-cost".

We could meet at a campground and invite whole families to participate (yes, even children).

Wouldn't it be amazing if our National House Church Conferences were actually modelled after the pattern we say we believe to be Biblical and born of God?

-kg

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

He Who Dies With the Most Toys Loses

(Sigh)...Once again our priorities in the American Church are sadly misplaced.

We claim to follow a God who gave away everything to save us. We are encouraged to be like Him and to surrender our resources for the good of others rather than hording it all to comfort ourselves while others suffer.

Today's news brought this:
Televangelist builds $4 Million Mansion – Lays Off Workers; Freezes Wages & Retirement Accounts

“A religious broadcaster is building a $4 million home in a gated, lakefront community, while at the same time his ministry has cut jobs and reset thermostats to save money in its new headquarters...

“In addition to laying off workers, the newspaper reported, the ministry froze wages and stopped making contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts. The thermostat on the network's new building was cut to 65 degree during the winter.”


READ THE FULL STORY
HERE


Believe it or not, Jesus spent a lot of time warning his disciples against the lure of money and it’s adverse affects on those who seek the Kingdom of God.

Listen to Jesus:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." – Matthew 19:23-24

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." - Luke 16:13

"Do not save riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are." - Matthew 6:19-21

“Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." – Luke 12:15

As we follow Jesus, let’s not forget that His Kingdom is upside down from this world we live in. Success is found in giving away our possessions. Greatness is found at the feet of others, serving them and loving them.

He who dies with the most toys loses.

-kg

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

John Bunyan: Radical Heretic

In 1658, Bunyan was arrested and indicted for preaching without a license. He continued to preach, in spite of this, and avoided being imprisoned until November of 1660.

In that same year, The Restoration of the Monarchy by Charles II turned up the heat on John Bunyan's unlicensed preaching of the Gospel as the country returned to Anglicanism. As a result, unlicensed (non-Anglican) houses of worship were closed and all citizens were required to attend their Anglican parish church.

Under this rule of law, it became illegal for Christians in England to "conduct divine service except in accordance with the ritual of the church, or for one not in Episcopal orders to address a congregation."

Because John Bunyan no longer had the freedom to preach that he had enjoyed under the Puritan Commonwealth, and because he refused to stop preaching the Gospel, he was arrested on November 12, 1660 while preaching privately.

He was confined for three months, but, because he refused to conform and expressed his intention to preach the Gospel in opposition to this law, his confinement was extended for a period of nearly 12 years, during which time he wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress” his most famous work.

Bunyan was incarcerated for his faith because he refused to accept the lie that only special clergymen have authority to preach the Gospel saying, "If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow."

Monday, July 06, 2009

DOES IT REALLY COST $11 MILLION TO BUIILD A TEMPLE?

Today I ran across an article that made me sick to my stomach.

Templo Calvario, a local Christian Church, unveiled a new $11 Million Dollar Sanctuary yesterday.

Read full story
HERE

Reading this article I couldn't help but question the judgement of God's people - and what's more their lack of understanding God's design for His Church.

"For Pastor Daniel de Leon, the idea and inspiration to build a new worship center for Templo Calvario came from God himself.
The pastor often tells his story of how in 1997 "God spoke to my heart and told me, 'Build me a house.'"


When it comes to "building God a house" God clearly says in Isaiah 66:1 - "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?"

God Himself has already promised to build His house, His Temple. He does not need our help to do this.

When King David wanted to build God's house God's response was:

"I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" - 2 Sam 7:5-7


Why are we still building Temples to God when we already have the Spirit of the Living God living within each and every one of us who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

In all fairness, perhaps Pastor Daniel simply misheard His Lord? God didn’t say, “Build me an $11 Million dollar Temple” did he? No. He said, “Build me a house” and according to the Bible, the only “House” God wants to build is made up of living stones and a Kingdom of Priests.

In this article one member of this church says, "I can't believe this is now our temple," said Marielena Gonzales, 21. "I can't think of a better place to come each week to celebrate God."

What makes me sad is that God already commissioned a new temple over two thousand years ago. It was also very costly and was purchased at the expense of the God’s own Son. On the cross, Jesus destroyed the temple of His Body and fulfilled God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. God Himself tore the veil on the old temple, even as the foundation was being laid upon the Cornerstone of the New Temple of God.

What’s more, these people still believe that they must come each week to a certain place in order to worship and celebrate God. Yet God’s design was to expand His worship to cover the Earth, and to become a daily, living act of praise and surrender and worship to His amazing and Holy name.

It also saddens me to know that this church, (which has become known in the past for her concern for the poor), has wasted $11 million dollars on a cold, empty building and that they have burdened their congregation with a loan payment of over $90,000 a month. Imagine how many of the poor in Orange County could have been fed and clothed for this amount of money? What’s more, this building could have provided shelter for the thousands of homeless who spend each night in the cold and the rain due to our lack of affordable housing and shelter beds.

“The pastor told his congregation to work to recruit new members in order to maintain a strong church community.”

Their solution? Use evangelism as a method of generating enough income to afford the building. Now this church exists to recruit people – not so much as brothers and sisters who are loved and embraced for who they are- but targeted strategically to help afford a building which should never have been built in the first place.


As my friend Mark Main has said:

“Churches have spent more money just on buildings in less than twenty years than it would take to eradicate hunger and many diseases from children in Africa. Add in salaries, utilities, and all the other things churches spend money on and I can only guess how much money has been spent simply on 'the faithful'.

‘That is why I am so frustrated by what I see marketed as Christianity in this country today. Is spending 28 billion dollars on nice buildings for our Sunday morning meetings more important than showing grace, mercy, compassion, and love by helping those in Africa who are dying at a rate of over 25,000 a day from starvation and preventable disease? Obviously, for American Christianity the answer to that question is a resounding YES. You can claim that isn't the case, but the facts are undeniable. American Christianity has basically said that the sickness and starvation of others isn't nearly as important as it's need for bigger, nicer buildings. Do you realize how perverse that is?"


Reading the comments below this article it’s plain to see that most do not believe that this building was worth the cost, nor that it will magically attract new congregants with open wallets and bountiful checkbooks.

People do not want a building. They want to know a God who loves them. They do not want an impersonal club to join. They want to be embraced into the loving Family of God. They do not hunger for giant screen televisions and professional sound systems. They are yearning for an intimate relationship with Jesus.

As Jesus said, "I tell you that one greater than the temple is here." (Matt 12:6) and when Jesus had fulfilled the role of the High Priest and offered himself as the final Lamb of God, and the veil in the Temple was ripped in half, from top to bottom, He made a way for us, the people of God, to become the new temple, not made with human hands, but spreading out over the whole earth, and living as the new priesthood of believers, to make known His Glory among the nations.

We do not need a temple because we are the temple. We do not need a priest, or a pastor, because we are all priests of God, empowered and filled by His Holy Spirit. We do not need an animal sacrifice to be made, because He was our final blood sacrifice, and we are now the living sacrifice, daily dying to ourselves and carrying our cross to follow Him.

Let us not return to the rubble and rebuild the man-made temple. Let us not take up needle and thread and repair the veil that was torn. Let us not commission special priests and clergy who will stand before God in our place.

Our identity, as followers of Jesus, runs deeper than brick and mortar. It transcends a building. It goes beyond ceremony. Our identity as disciples of Christ is defined by a relationship between a Loving God, and a Living Temple made of people who love God, and love others.

You are the only Temple God has ever wanted. He has already bought and paid for this. Let us focus our time and energy on "being the Church", not attending one, or building one ourselves.

**
Keith

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Embracing the Family of God

Last night I met with a house church in Yorba Linda that I never knew existed before. They welcomed me as a brother in Christ and together we listened as Mok, a pastor of a house church in Hong Kong, shared a message of encouragement through Henry, an interpreter.

I was there as the guest of one of our newest house church brothers, Scott Sutherland. He graciously invited me to dinner last night to meet with Mok and his assistant Matt. The food was amazing and the fellowship was sweet. Afterwards I was invited to join them as Mok spoke to this house church fellowship.

What blessed me the most was hearing Mok's heart for the Western Church and for sending missionaries to preach the Gospel in England, Germany and the US. "The Gospel came to China through missionaries in the West," Mok said. "I feel we owe a debt of gratitude."

What's so amazing about all of this is that Mok's church is roughly one hundred people meeting secretly as an illegal house church in Hong Kong. They are very poor, and yet they have a vision and a dream of sending or supporting missionaries to the West.

Mok shared a story about how he recently visited a Reformed Evangelical church in London and brought a financial gift to that Body. "They were very surprised to receive this gift," Mok shared. "Do Chinese Christians really love us? Do they really think of us?" and Mok corrected their pastor saying, "No. Not 'Chinese Christians', just 'Christians'. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ."

That really blessed me. To see that the walls between nations, and language, and politics are really nothing compared to our new identity as members of the family of God is awesome.

It was also quite humbling to see how much these brothers from China valued the Gospel and how much they prayed for us here in the West. "We always remember you in our prayers," Mok said to us at one point, and I knew from the tears in his eyes and the tone of his voice that his church actually did pray for us constantly. Could I say the same?

Afterwards, I was blessed to meet and share with several in this house church, and to embrace more of my brothers and sisters in Christ. These are people who love and serve Him above all else, regardless of race, or language, or culture. This church was small but there were people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures in attendance. It was refreshing to be reminded that, in Christ, we are all one Body.

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
- Galatians 3:26-29

**
kg