Friday, July 30, 2010

OUT OF STRENGTH

Robert Higgins and I sat outside together today. He was in his wheelchair smoking a cigarette and I sat alone on a bench next to him.

There were four other men in wheel chairs all around us, puffing and coughing in unison. This was the smoking porch at Fountain Care where a handful of men made regular trips to "catch some fresh air" and swop stories of their youth. Cars whooshed by on the street just beyond the strip of bright green grass at random intervals. Talking was measured between the roar of the cars and the spasmodic fits of coughing.

We small talked, as usual, about the weather, about the Anaheim Angels, about what my family was planning to do this weekend. But in the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to talk to Robert about life and death. Over the last few days he hadn't been able to even sit up in bed, much less to stand up and get in his wheel chair to come outside. The cancer in his body was taking its toll and we both knew that it wouldn't be much longer now.

There was a small space of silence where Robert took a drag on his cigarette and a dozen cars flew by on the road nearby. I brushed at a fly which was zipping through the air.

"I sure don't know what you see in me, Keith," he said. "God must really love you a lot for you to show me so much love the way you have. I don't understand it."

I looked up at him and squinted as the smoke wafted into my eyes. What could I say to that?

"Well Robert," I said, "You're right. Jesus loved me and that's why I want to show you the same love. I want to serve and love the way Jesus would love and serve you."

He nodded but didn't respond. He took another drag on his cigarette.

A friend of his, Emery, was sitting near him in a wheelchair too. His motorized chair had broken down again, and so he needed someone to push him back into his room.

"Is it ok if I push Emery back to his room, Robert? I'll be right back," I said.

"Go ahead," Robert said.

After I got back Robert was all alone on the porch. "Ready to go?" I asked.

He stubbed out his cigarette. "Let's go."

I maneuvered his chair with one hand and held the large door open with my foot as I guided him back into the hospital. "You're getting pretty good at that," he said.

"I guess I am," I said as I rolled his chair down the hallway and back towards his room.

"You might have another friend in this place one day," he said. "At least you can say you've got a lot of experience with wheelchairs and things like that."

I wondered about that a little before I said, "You may be right, Robert. God might bring me another friend to take care of one day."

We got to his room and I helped him into his bed. He asked me if I could run to McDonalds and pick him up his usual - a Mini Meal with two apple pies. "Sure," I said. "I'll be right back."

Luckily the McDonalds was only a few blocks away. In less than ten minutes I was back in his room, laying out his double cheeseburger and squirting ketchup on his fries. "Here's your change," I said.

Robert sat up in bed and ate his food. After he was done I bagged up all the trash.

"I need to head home now, Robert," I said. "Can I pray with you before I go?"

"Ok," he said.

He lifted up his left hand to me, frail and skinny, and I knelt over and wrapped it between both of my hands.

"Robert," I said. "Everything I've ever done for you has been to show you that Jesus loves you."

Robert's eyes were closed but he squeezed my hand.

"Do you know that Jesus loves you, Robert?" I asked.

Robert nodded. "Yes," he said. "I do. I know that he does."

Then I prayed for Robert as I always do. I asked that Jesus would touch his heart and allow him to know how much he really loves him. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would open his eyes to see that every good thing that has ever been done to him was God shouting, "I love you, Robert."

When we were done I gave his hand a squeeze. He squeezed it back and didn't seem to want to let go.

"Is today Friday?" he asked.

"Yes, it's Friday," I said.

"I hate the weekends," Robert said. "There's never anything on TV."

"I know." But I knew that it wasn't just the TV he hated. He hated that none of his hospice nurses came to see him on weekends and that he had few visitors.

"I'll try to drop by and see you if I can," I said.

"Ok," Robert said. "Ok."

I turned to go and gave him one last wave before I left his room, number 316, and made my way to the parking lot.

As Robert nears the end, I am suddenly aware of every small detail. I wonder if every goodbye might be the last, and I wonder what I will do without this friend in my life.

He talks about all I've done for him, but I cannot even begin to talk about what Robert has done for me, and what God has done in me through my friendship with him.

As I drive home I talk to God about this work He's doing in me, and in Robert. "It's so hard," I say. "I don't want to be in this struggle with you, God. I don't want to know the pain of loving someone and letting them go," I say. "I just want to know that Robert is going to be saved and that he trusts you with his soul."

But I know that it doesn't work that way. I know that to get to the fruit you have to get down on your knees and dig in the dirt. You have to get thorns in your hands and stung by the pests and you have to work in the heat until you can barely stand it anymore. The fruit only comes after a long season of struggle, and my only fear now is that all that I have labored for is in vain. Or that I might not really ever know what the real fruit of this labor is at all.

I want the touchdown. I want Robert to cry out to Jesus for salvation with tears in his eyes and repeat this perfect prayer of repentance before he breathes his last breath. But he might not ever do that. He might never move any closer to God than he is right now.

Is this it? I don't know. I only know that I feel like I've done all that I can do in my own strength. I have nothing else to give. I'm out of ideas. I'm hopelessly at the mercy of God now. Just like Robert. We're both out of strength and at the mercy of God.

At least I can trust in His goodness. I know that God is faithful and true. I know that He loves to rescue His children. I know that when it seems hopeless and dark, He loves to reach down and save His people in the nick of time.

Please, Lord Jesus. Save my friend. Please save Robert Higgins.

Amen.

-kg

Thursday, July 29, 2010

For the Love of Your Pastor

In today’s Christian landscape the senior pastor has become the single focus of ministry and church life. This one man is expected to perform every wedding and funeral, to baptize every new believer, to preside over every Lord’s Supper, to teach and train and admonish and counsel and encourage every single member of his flock. He’s also expected to oversee the finances, preach every Sunday morning and evening, and to guide the Church through whatever challenge might be facing them. In effect, the senior pastor is carrying the entire weight of his church on his shoulders. Some are lucky enough to have a staff supporting them, but even these associate pastors are overloaded with the burden of doing all the ministry for the youth, or the seniors, or the college students, or the young married couples, etc.

In my own spiritual life I’ve personally been very blessed by many dear men of God who had surrendered to full-time pastoral ministry. In fact, I’ve been one of those who served as a pastor myself. I honestly believe that most who enter the pastorate do so out of a genuine desire to follow Christ and to use their spiritual gifts to edify the rest of the Body of Christ.

But as we examine the statistics for pastors in American churches the results are frightening. According to Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, and other respected groups:

* 1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America.
* 4,000 new churches start each year in America.
* 7,000 churches close each year in America.
* 50% of pastors’ marriages end in divorce.
* 70% of pastors continually battle depression.
* 80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles.
* 95% of pastors do not regularly pray with their spouses.
* 70% of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.
* 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living.


These statistics mirror what Moses felt like when he was struggling with leading nearly a million people after the exodus from Egypt. He cried out to the Lord saying,

“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin." (Numbers 11:14-15)

In response, God calls Moses to choose seventy elders from among the people, on whom He will pour out His Spirit and empower for ministry to the people. After this Moses says,

“I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29)

This prophetic cry from Moses is repeated when the prophet Joel reveals that God’s plan is to do just that:

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)

When was this promise completed? In the book of Acts, at the feast of Pentecost God did exactly this.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the shadow found in the Old Covenant priesthood. He is now our only High Priest.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the shadow of the sacrificial lamb who takes away our sins. We no longer require a levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the shadow of the temple. “One greater than the temple has come,” Jesus said in Matthew 12:6. At his crucifixion, God tore the veil in the temple in two, from top to bottom to signify the end of that old covenant temple system – the priests, the animal sacrifice, the temple itself are all now superfluous and unnecessary.

Why did Jesus do all of this? So that you and I could become the living sacrifice (Romans 12). So that we could become the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:4-10). So that you and I could become the new, living temple of the Holy Spirit.

“It was never in the mind of God that a privileged priesthood of sinful, imperfect men would attempt, following the death and triumphant resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to repair the veil and continue their office of mediation between God and man. The letter to the Hebrews makes that fact very plain. When Jesus rose from the dead, the Levitical priesthood, which had served Israel under the Old Covenant, became redundant.” – A. W.Tozer

Actually, it was never God’s plan to have His New Covenant Church operate like a Levitical priesthood. Jesus commanded His disciples not to emulate the top-down organizational structures of either the Jewish religion (Matt 23:8-12), or of the Pagan authorities (Mark 10:42-45). Instead, He urged them to treat one another as brothers and as equals.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, outlines God’s plan for the Church to operate as a Body. In this New Testament model, Jesus is the only one in control and the people within the Church are empowered – each and every one of them – by the Holy Spirit to minister to one another.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7)

Notice how each of these various gifts are distributed to the Body, by the Holy
Spirit for a single purpose: “for the common good.” God does this so that everyone in the Body is necessary and so that everyone contributes and shares the burden of ministry.

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Cor 12:11)

Notice how it doesn’t say, “..he gives them to ONE PERSON” but that these gifts are given to “each one” of the members within the Body.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Cor 12:12)

Notice how the body is a reflection of Christ himself if we operate as a unit made up of many parts all working together under the headship of Christ. The implication is that if we do not function as God designed, we are not reflecting Christ to the world.

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Cor 12:13)

Notice how throughout 1 Corinthians chapter 12 the emphasis is not on one particular member but on the entire Body itself. This is especially significant when you consider that this church in Corinth was probably one of the most troubled and morally challenged churches in early Christian history. Even so, Paul never abandons the shared body ministry in order to correct these errors. He never commands their elders to take control and whip people into shape. He never addresses the senior pastor at all in this letter, or any other letter. Why? Because there wasn’t one.

The overwhelming evidence throughout the New Testament is that every baptized believer in Christ was automatically ordained by the Holy Spirit into the ministry of Jesus. There was no separation between clergy and laity.

Were there some within the Body who were gifted to teach and to encourage and to lead? Yes, of course. But the entire life of the Church did not revolve around these few. Instead, every single believer was empowered to contribute and to speak and to use their gifting as the Holy Spirit directed.

According to the New Testament, when the Church actually becomes a real Body, and when Jesus is really the only Shepherd, the entire Body will be healthy and operate as God actually intended all along.

How can we continually refer to ourselves as “The Body of Christ” if we do not actually engage in the organic form of shared life as described in 1 Corinthians 12?

If you really love your pastors, the best thing you can do for them is to encourage them to stop trying to carry all of the weight of the entire Body on their own shoulders. Pray that the Church will return to a New Testament model as God originally intended. Pray that we would affirm with Peter that God has indeed answered the prayer of Moses and the promise in Joel to pour out His Spirit on all flesh so that every member of the Body of Christ can serve and love one another in love.

-kg
**

Monday, July 26, 2010

10 THINGS I'LL DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME WE PLANT A CHURCH

Over the last five years, my wife and I have been helping to facilitate a church which started in our home and has now begun to grow outward into various other expressions recently.

Like most people, what I've learned has mostly come from making mistakes. So, while I'm certain that I'll make more than my own share of new mistakes the next time I plant a church, here are the things I've learned from our first time around. Hopefully this will encourage some of you as you consider planting a house church.


1. Don’t call yourself the pastor.
If you're "the pastor" of your house church this means everyone will look to you for everything and it will paralyze the Body life of the Church. Instead, identify yourself as one of the functioning members along with everyone else. Involve others for sharing, teaching, testimonials, etc.

2. Don’t host every single meeting in your own home.
For most of the last five years, my wife and I have hosted a meeting in our home twice a week. That's a lot of meetings. We've only recently started rotating our Sunday gatherings. This allows others to share responsibility and to practice hospitality. The next time we plant a house church (assuming there is a next time), I will encourage others to open their homes as early as possible. As new people join, I will invite them to consider hosting as well. Sharing the hosting responsibility also reinforces the concept that anyone can facilitate the gathering and that they don’t need you to be present in order to gather as a Body.

3. Involve the children more.
In our group, the children have always shared scriptures alongside the adults and many of the greatest insights have come from elementary-age children. Even so, I wish we had involved them even more in our conversations, in prayer times for one another, in the communion of the Lord’s table, etc. I don’t think it’s really possible to have too much involvement from our kids. House Church provides the perfect opportunity to give our kids a hands-on experience of what it means to “be the Church” every single time we gather.

4. Have more fun together.
Over the last five years we’ve had occasional game nights and a couple of afternoons in the park, but I wish we had scheduled even more times to come together and just be the family of God. No songs, no teaching, no liturgy, just laughing and food and genuine intimacy with one another. Sharing life together is huge and later on as you grow deeper into Christ, those relationships will become even more important and necessary for keeping one another accountable and for loving correction. It's also important to reinforce the idea that we are the Church all the time, not just when we're reading scripture or praying out loud.

5. Talk less, question more.
I am plagued by a disease which compels me to answer every single biblical or theological question that anyone asks. I wish I had just shut up whenever a Biblical question came up. Instead of attempting to stun the inquirer with my Biblical expertise, I wish I had turned to the group and said, “I don’t know. What do you guys think?”

6. Emphasize the Gospel of the Kingdom more.
In my experience, people who really understand the Gospel of the Kingdom are able to grasp all the other concepts of the Kingdom more easily. I wish I had spent more time emphasizing that in our fellowship, and I know I will major on this more and more in the future.

7. Major on practicing our faith and less on theorizing.
Being the Church is so much more necessary than attending one. Because this is one of the core values of New Testament Church life, I would encourage everyone to live out their faith in more practical ways in the future – and make more room for sharing testimony and for continually challenging everyone to do so daily.

8. Pray more.
Jesus said that His house would be a house of prayer. If we are His Body, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then we should be on our faces before God more and more. “An open meeting requires more time in prayer together, not less.” That’s why I would encourage every home church to gather for prayer as often as possible. Jesus is our Head, without Him we can do nothing. That's why we need to be on our knees, seeking His leadership and listening for His voice.

9. Confess my own weaknesses more.
For too long I’ve kept my own personal struggles to myself instead of opening up to the rest of the Body whenever I felt hurt, or depressed, or discouraged. My wife knew when I was having a hard time with things, but the church was mostly oblivious. In the future, I will openly confess my struggles and allow the Body to comfort me and to heal me and to strengthen me.

10. Share the duties of sacrament with the priesthood of all believers.
In our next house church, I will not perform the baptisms. Instead, I will encourage the Body to operate as equals and to baptize one another and to take turns leading all of us in Lord’s Supper together. Again, if I am the one doing these things, I am behaving like the “pastor” or the spiritual superior and that's the last thing I want to communicate. Instead, I'd want to emphasize the truth that any follower of Jesus is already ordained by the Holy Spirit of God to preach the Gospel, baptize new believers and administer the Lord's Supper to the saints - among other things. The less I am up front, the more the Body can be empowered to step into their priesthood and utilize their gifts in love.

Of course, all of this presumes that I will ever help to plant another church in the future. I'm not sure if I ever will, but if not, perhaps some of this advice can encourage those of you who are feeling called to step out in faith and follow God's calling on your life to do so.

The single best piece of advice I can offer is this: Stop trying to grow the Church on your own. That's not your job. Jesus said that He would grow His Church, and over the last five years I've learned that this is exactly what He will do...if we can get out of His way.

Peace,
kg

Friday, July 23, 2010

10 Books I Recommend

As I continue to have conversations with different people (both online and over coffee) about the early church, God's heart for the poor, and what it means to follow Jesus daily, these 10 books are often quoted or referenced or recommended...and sometimes loaned out.

Here are 10 Essential Books I Recommend:

1. Faith and Wealth by Justo Gonzalez
2. The Early Christians by Eberhard Arnold (Available as a free PDF at Plough.com)
3. Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
4. Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna
5. What’s With Paul and Women? by Jon Zens
6. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider
7. The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G.K. Beale
8. Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn
9 What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancy
10. Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin of American Christianity by Ray Mayhew (not really a book but a 40 page PDF which I will gladly send to you for free if you e-mail me at elysiansky@hotmail.com with the subject “MAYHEW”)


BONUS:
*The Gospel: For Here or To Go? By Keith Giles
Yes, I'm promoting my own book on missional living. But, I'm giving it away!
This features a forward by author Neil Cole (Organic Church) and is available as a free, downloadable PDF here on my blog at www.KeithGiles.com.

I hope these books bless you and challenge you as much as they continue to challenge me.

-kg

THINK ABOUT IT A LITTLE

PRAY FOR THE CHURCH IN CHINA AND AMERICA

Earlier this week I read, and listened to, an interesting story on NPR about the growth of Christianity in China. The story looked at both the Government-sanctioned Christian Chuch, called the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (?), and also the underground house church movement of Christians who worship in freedom, in spite of the threat of persecution.

*Read the full article
HERE

In the article, this quote caught my attention:

Yao Hong, a 38-year-old woman in a maroon jacket who became a Christian almost two decades ago, seeking comfort after her husband at the time had an affair. She believes it's patriotic to be Christian.

"If you look at the U.S. or England, their gospel is very advanced. Their churches are rich, because God blesses them. So I pray for China."


Is this what Christians in China think it means to follow the Messiah? If nothing else, it should disturb us here in America to see how much these Chinese believers (in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement version, at least), equate Christianity with being a patriotic citizen. It should also alarm us how they equate God's blessings with material wealth.

Thankfully, those in the underground church in China do not believe these things. They understand that following Jesus involves death to self, enduring hardship and suffering for their faith.

Pray for the Church in China. Pray especially for Yao Hong and those like her who mistakenly see faith in Christ as a means to wealth, prosperity, military might, and patriotic duty. Pray for her brothers and sisters here in America who also pledge allegiance to the Government Church and mix politics and military prowess with devotion to the Prince of Peace.

-kg

Thursday, July 22, 2010

HOMELESS: THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY



Premieres This Monday, July 26th at 9pm on HBO

About this documentary
HOMELESS: THE MOTEL KIDS OF ORANGE COUNTY explores the world of children who reside in discounted motels within walking distance of Disneyland, living in limbo as their families struggle to survive in one of the wealthiest regions of America.

The parents of motel kids are often hard workers who don’t earn enough to own or rent homes. As a result, they continue to live week-to-week in motels, hoping against hope for an opportunity that might allow them to move up in the O.C.

For more information on the show - AND TO WATCH A TRAILER OF THE FILM:
GO HERE

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FELIX: BEFORE AND AFTER

Minicius Felix was a pagan living in the latter part of the first century. Prior to converting to Christianity he was an avid enemy of the faith, much like Saul of Tarsus who later became Paul the Apostle.

Here you can read his thoughts about the Christian sect prior to receiving Christ as Lord:

Before Conversion
"The Christians, they form a rabble of profane conspiracy, they despise temples as if they were tombs, they despise the titles and the purple robe of the high government office, though they are hardly able to cloth themselves in their own nakedness.

Just like a rank growth of weeds the abominable haunts where this impious confederacy meet are multiplying all over the world. Root and branch like a weed, it should be exterminated. Because they love one another before they even know one another, they practise a cult of lust calling one another brother and sister indiscriminately."


A few years later, having been won over by the intense faith of the martyrs, and being humbled by their radical love for the poor, and one another, Felix surrendered his life to Jesus and wrote this:

After Conversion to Christ
"That we should be considered poor is no disgrace to us, but an honor. A life of luxury weakens the spirit. Frugality makes it strong. And yet, how can anyone be considered poor who does not feel any want, who does not covet what belongs to others, who is rich in God's eyes? Much more should he be considered poor who always craves for more while he already has much.

"Let me tell you what I think. No one can be as poor as he was at birth...Just as a man traveling on the road is the better off the lighter his bundle, so too, he who makes himself light by poverty, who does not need to pant under the burden of wealth, is happiest on his journey through life. If we regarded wealth as useful then we would ask God for it. He surely could give us a share of it, for everything belongs to Him, but we would rather despise wealth than have it in our hands."


--I wish Felix was alive today. I would gladly support his radio and television ministry if he were bold enough to preach such truths to America. We need this truth to be spoken over us.

"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." - Ezekiel 16:48-50

MISSION HOUSE CHURCH UPDATE

Our house church was started about 5 years ago. My wife and I really felt God calling us to plant a church where 100% of the offerings would go to help the poor in our community. So, we stepped out in faith to obey Jesus in this vision. It wasn't easy. We lost a few friends along the way who didn't understand what we were doing, or why. But God was faithful. He brought many others to join us who shared this vision.

It's been very exciting, and encouraging, to know that God has brought so many to join us and to share in this simple vision to give all of our offering to bless the poor and help people we can touch and see and know and be in real relationship with.

I've learned a lot during this time. Especially about how to take my hands off of the wheel and allow Jesus to do what He promised - to build His church. In fact, the less I am in the way, the more Jesus takes control. He truly is the Head of the Church! He also is faithful to build His own church without my help.

Non-Denominational
We're not part of any denomination at all. The only church we're part of is Jesus' Church...because that's the only one anyway. In fact, we're all from wildly divergent streams within Christianity including Church of Christ, Baptist, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, Lutheran, etc. In spite of the fact that most of us disagree on many peripheral issues such as eschatology, spiritual gifts, etc., we love one another and consider one another to be family. Why? Because we've made a decision that the only criteria that matters is whether or not one loves Jesus and is following Him daily. If so, you're in the family. The rest doesn't really matter to us as much.

This means that not everyone agrees with me on everything. Most people don't share my views on every single point. We're not seeking agreement or homogenization. My goal is not to be part of a church family where everyone is just like me. (Can you think of anything more depressing?) No, our goal is to follow Jesus together and to encourage one another to seek Him and obey Him daily.

Missionaries
We believe that everyone who follows Jesus is a missionary. Your personal mission field will be different and unique. Your actual neighbors and co-workers are the people you're called to love and serve. Our hope is to encourage one another to discover our mission and to continue to work daily in our misson field by the grace of God.

Sending Out/Multiplication
One family recently felt called to leave and move to Indiana. They're praying that God might breathe life into a Church in their home soon. However, they are not part of my network....because I don't have a network. They're part of whatever God might be doing in His Kingdom, so that's enough for me to support them and pray for them. But, I don't expect them to answer to me in any way. I know that this brother will follow Jesus and that if a house church is formed in their household it will be exactly what God wants, not necessarily what I might want. That's the way it should be.

Also, another man recently felt God calling him to start a house church in his home with another family, locally. He still joins us on Thursday evenings, but on Sunday's he is gathering with a new church in his home. Still, they do not answer to me, nor do they follow any patterns established here in our house church. We do love them and pray for them and support what God is doing through them, but they are not part of my network. I am not their pastor, or their leader, etc. Just a brother who loves them and supports them and encourages them to follow Jesus.

So, neither of these house church groups are called "The Mission", (I'm not sure either will ever have any name at all, actually), and they do not consider me their leader. I am not their Pope or their Father. I did not plant these churches. Jesus has, or will, as He directs. I'm only one of the many brothers in the Body of Christ who love them and support them and encourage them in their efforts to obey Jesus.

New Chapter
Just a few weeks ago, the very week after we said goodbye to these brothers and sisters who left us to follow Jesus elsewhere, the Lord brought another wonderful family to join us. We're not sure if they will stay with us, but we're hoping they might decide to call this home.

I have no idea what the next five years might look like, but I'm excited to find out what God has in store.

As I've often said, this is still the best thing I've ever done with the word "Church" on it.

Our house church website is:
MISSIONHOUSECHURCH.COM

I also put together a website to help local believers find or start their own house church at OCHOUSECHURCH.COM

-kg

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REVIEW: "The Early Christians"

I received my copy of "The Early Christians" by Eberhard Arnold in the mail yesterday. It's a lovely hardback book with inserts and beautiful artwork throughout. Very lovingly put together.

I'm on page 109 already and I have to say I am very moved and challenged by what I've read so far. The passion of these martyrs, the convictions of these early followers of Christ regarding the poor, nonviolence, and the nature of persecution to proclaim the truth of the Gospel is humbling.

When I read how these dear people endured being flayed alive, nailed to a stake, burned to death, etc. it touches me and humbles me. It makes me wonder if I could ever do that. I think, maybe, I could handle the death part, but the torture that goes on for hours, or days, is what I think I could never endure.

One part that blessed me was the report of those who had renounced Christ under torture and how they were shown compassion and received back into the Body and comforted. I know that in some cases those who failed under persecution were put out of the Body and not allowed to return, but in several cases (documented here in this book), they were forgiven and accepted.

This blessed me a lot. Especially when those who were restored returned willingly to the court to proclaim Christ and accept persecution as part of their repentance.

Also, I loved how those in the crowd would often spontaneously offer themselves for martydom after seeing their brothers and sisters endure the flames with such joy. Amazing stuff.

It reminds me that the we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are enduring similar torture and imprisonment right now, all over the world. The Enemy has not ceased to torment the Bride of Christ. The Church has been under the sword from the very beginning. The Tribulation is now. May God have mercy on the saints who suffer in this way.

What this book makes me realize is that I have it so good. We all do here in America. We have no idea what it actually means to "live for Christ" the way our brothers and sisters do abroad. No idea.

A brother asked me on Sunday if I would consider joining him to go and encourage the persecuted church in Pakistan, Indonesia, Jordan, Sudan, China, etc. I'm honored to be asked, and I think I just might end up doing it....but it makes me wonder what I could possibly teach these people? If anything, I would go to learn from them what it truly means to live for Christ daily in the face of real persecution.

I'm barely through the first third of this book and already I know that it has the potential to change my perspective in radical ways. If nothing else, I know that it encourages me to die more to myself every day and to follow Jesus with greater humility.

-kg

Sunday, July 18, 2010

WHO EXACTLY IS MY NEIGHBOR?

In the Gospels, Jesus addresses the Great Command twice. The first time he refers to this, it’s to illustrate how all of the law can be summarized by loving God and loving your neighbor. (Matt 22:34-40) The second time, he expands on the same thought in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37)

In each case, the person who initiated the conversation was a lawyer. In Matthew, the question is asked in order to test Jesus and, possibly, make him look foolish to the crowds who were following him. In the second case, the lawyer asks a different question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” but the question is also intended to test Jesus. His response to the lawyer in this second case is to ask the lawyer, “What is written in the Law?” and it is the lawyer who says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

To the lawyer Jesus says, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." (v. 28)

But the lawyer isn’t satisfied with this answer. Instead, he wants to “justify himself” (v.29) and so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?”

To set this man straight, Jesus tells a parable that most of us know as the Good Samaritan. However, most of what is really going on in this exchange is lost to us today.

What we miss, first, is that Jesus flips the story around so that the person who is in need of mercy and love is the Jew. In effect, he’s saying, “You are walking along a dangerous road and a group of thieves jump out and beat the stuffing out of you. They rob you and leave you laying on the road to die.”

Now the person who is in need of mercy isn't “your neighbor”, it's you.

The lawyer asked “Who is my neighbor?” because he wanted to know where the line was drawn when it came to showing love to others. Obviously we’re not supposed to just love anyone and everyone, right? God just wants us to love the people who are like us, and who agree with us, right?

Wrong.

This is why Jesus chooses the hero of the story to be a Samaritan. They were very much disliked in this day and time by the Jews. For you and I, Jesus might alter the parable to read something like this:

“But an illegal immigrant from Mexico, as he traveled, came where the man was…”

Or maybe:

"...and when the Muslim man saw him, he took pity on him."

Or perhaps:

“The homosexual, liberal, democrat went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”

Or even:

“Then the Republican senator put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.”

It doesn’t matter really. You probably know already what person – or persons – Jesus would insert into your version of the parable if he were telling it to you. Maybe it’s a member of a political party, or an ethnic group, or someone who doesn’t share your family values. Who knows? God does. And He expects you to see that person as your neighbor, and therefore, someone worthy of love and compassion.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (v. 36) The lawyer cannot even bring himself to say the word ‘Samaritan’, he only says, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Here, the point is, that when we are the ones laying in the ditch, we really stop caring who comes to help us – we just want someone to show us a little human kindness. That’s why Jesus flips the story around. He wants us to understand that color, and politics, and differences of opinion mean nothing when it comes right down to it. Love is our calling, and we have no excuses in God’s eyes when it comes to who deserves to be loved.

One of my all-time favorite verses in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which says:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

That sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? And it might be if Paul didn’t add the very next sentence. Just about the time everyone is making a fist and getting ready to slam it down to say, “That’s right!” he adds:

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

See that? The church in Corinth was composed of former adulterers, sexual deviants, male prostitutes, idolaters, homosexual offenders, thieves, drunks, grifters, liars and sinners. Yet, somehow all of them managed to receive the love of Jesus without feeling condemned or ashamed. Instead, they were all loved and washed and set apart for the work of the Gospel and justified by the same, loving Jesus.

Apparently they had forgotten this fact. Paul had to remind them who they were when they were called. Maybe we need to stop and remember who we were when we first came to Jesus, too?

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

ARE YOU IMMUNE?

There are 700,000 child slaves in Indonesia alone. There are over 200,000 child soldiers in Uganda. There are 35,000 homeless in Orange County, California. 80% of those are families with children.

Why don't we care enough to change the world we live in?

A recent quote from artist and activist Milton Glaser noted that it becomes harder and harder to provoke Americans to act for justice because, as he says, "Americans are immune to outrage".

I have to wonder how we in American have become passive in the face of injustice and atrocity? Our Nation was founded by individuals who took up arms to protest an unjust system of "Taxation Without Representation". They were incensed and spurred to action because of a 4% sales tax that yielded no representation for the 13 Colonies in Parliament. Yet today, their descendants and the inheritors of their spirited revolt are quietly reserved to pay over 30% of their income to the United States Government each year and most have no faith that elected officials will fairly represent the true needs of the people they serve.

I'm not advocating a new revolution against our Government, but I am puzzled as to how we've become immune to the sort of outrage that helped found our Nation in the first place.

William Wilberforce fought the British slave trade in his day. After spending his life arguing for abolition and lobbying in Parliament for the immediate end of this inhuman practice he finally found victory on March 25th, 1807. He died three days later, his life's work completed.

Why did Wilberforce believe he could stand up to the powerful slave industry giants and succeed? Why did Luther believe he could take on the Universal Church of his day and prevail? Why did Martin Luther King Jr. believe he could overcome generations of hatred and bigotry and change the hearts and minds of an entire Nation?

Why don't we believe these things? Do we believe in anything enough to risk our lives, or our families or our careers to stand up and speak out? Are we too comfortable in our own little world that we cannot be bothered to experience sincere compassion, or moral outrage, at the exploitation of other human beings? Is it because they are far away? Is it because they are not American? Is it because we don't believe our voice will make any difference?

A dear friend of mine once admitted to me, "I don't care about the poor, and honestly what bothers me most is that I don't care that I don't care about the poor."

What is the cure for apathy? How do you provoke people to become outraged at their own lack of outrage? How do you inspire people to protest against their own lack of concern? What sort of hope is there for hopelessness? Who can awaken the one who does not wish to be awakened?

I often wonder why it is in America that we have made a multi-billion dollar industry out of escaping reality. We are the entertainment capital of the world. Yet, I cannot help but imagine what could happen if we were to spend those same billions of dollars on creating a world where reality was a place you didn't need to escape from?

Why don't we respond to the injustices of the day? Is it because we have no clear direction, no specific steps to take? Is it because we have no great leaders to show the way? Is it because we don't believe that our lives can make a difference? Or is it because we are too comfortable where we sit?

Where are the Wilberforces of today? Where are the Martin Luther Kings or the Ghandis or the Mother Teresas? For that matter, where are those who call themselves disciples of Jesus?

Why can't it be you or me? Aren't we ambassadors of the greatest world-changer who ever lived?

For me, to be a Christian is to be an activist. This is what "Subversive" is all about. It's about provoking others to change the status quo of their lives in order to follow in the radical life and love of Jesus of Nazareth.

To be a Christian is to be an activist.

In what way could someone call themselves a follower of Jesus and be anything other than someone who brings change in their wake? How else is a person who names the name of Christ to act?

In my mind, to be a follower of Jesus is to be one who sees things as they are and work to bring the Kingdom of God in order to make things better.

Looking at Matthew 25, it would seem that the kind of followers Jesus is looking for are the ones who are incapable of walking past the poor without doing something to help. When they see someone hungry, they give them food. When they see someone thirsty, they give them a cold cup of water. When they see someone who is lonely, they stop and spend a few hours with them.

“For whatever you've done for one of the least of these”, says Jesus – our example and teacher – “You've done it unto me.”

Jesus was a radical. He raised up a small army of revolutionaries with the sole "raison d'etre" of changing the world and turning it upside down. In their wake, the early followers of Jesus, left changed governments, changed religious systems, and changed hearts and minds.

If the early church had simply existed, if it had only found a way to blend in with the culture around it and become safe and acceptable to the populace, you and I might not ever have heard of a person by the name of Jesus of Nazareth who, about 2000 years ago, gave his life to change the world, one person at a time.

The church today needs to become more like its founder. It needs to be driven to press forward, out of its comfort zone, to get its hands dirty, to move in such a way that our words line up with our actions. To do any less is settle.

Who wants to belong to a predictable movement? Who wants to surrender their life for something ordinary and unremarkable?

Many of us are willing, we say, to die for Christ. The question is, are we willing to live for Christ?

When it comes to outrage, I believe a Christian needs to be constantly spurred to action against injustice and poverty.

Are you immune?


-KG

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds"
– Hebrews 10:23



**
Originally published April, 2007

Friday, July 16, 2010

LET THE CHILDREN COME

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."- Isaiah 40:11

This verse – written by the prophet Isaiah some 500 years before Christ – is a prophetic look at the Messiah who would come to set people free and bring salvation to every Nation.

The prophecy is fulfilled in The Gospel of Mark when Jesus allowed the children in the crowd to come to him. The full text says,

"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." - Mark 10:13-16

There are several key things to notice in the passage above. First, that the Disciples (sometimes referred to as the "Duh-Sciples"), didn't get it. They wanted to keep Jesus from the nuisance of children. Instead, Jesus grew angry and not only did he allow them to come near, he used this as an opportunity to teach us something about the Kingdom.

Great teachers around this time in history were often found blessing children. Greek philosophers enjoyed blessing the youth of their day, but here Jesus does something that none of the others ever did. He took them into his arms and held them in his lap, and he loved them.

All other teachers who blessed children did so from a distance, but Jesus allowed them to come near enough to embrace. He held them in his arms. He carried them close to his heart.

I had never before noticed that the passage in Isaiah was fulfilled by this scene in the Gospel of Mark. I had missed that the prophetic verse referred to a shepherd who would gather the lambs in his arms. Lambs are the children of the sheep.

This passage also shows us that Jesus had a heart for women as well. It says, "He gently leads those who have young", showing his compassion for women who care for children every day.

Most striking in the verses from Mark is the comment made by Jesus that "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it". He doesn't say that it will be hard for those who do not receive the kingdom like a child. He says they will never enter it. Never.

To receive the kingdom of God like a child is to submit totally to the Master. It is to crawl into his lap and to trust him, to let him bless you, and to obey his words because you take comfort in his love for you.

Let the Lord Jesus take you into His arms today. Let Him embrace you, and let Him bless you with His presence.

You are so loved.

-kg
**
Originally posted March, 2007

Thursday, July 15, 2010

PLEASE HELP ZACK COLLIE



About a month ago, our own Ade and Frannie Collie from our church family, received news that their grandson, Zack, had broken his neck while body surfing. Zack is only 15 years old.

It was a catastrophic injury rendering him paralyzed from the chest down. Some of his medical needs are being covered by insurance. However, many of his needs, particularly ongoing outpatient rehabilitation, are not covered by insurance.

For now he is staying at Casa Colina Inpatient Rehab but soon he will return home and enter an out-patient physical therapy program at Project Walk in Carlsbad, CA. They have years of experience specializing in spinal cord injury rehab.

The problem is, Project Walk is not coveredy by insurance. Rehabilitation at Project Walk costs $100 per hour. It is estimated that Zack's monthly cost for rehab will be $3,600. Because of this, Zack’s family has started a fundraising campaign through the Catastrophic Injury Program at NTAF. NTAF is a nonprofit organization, so all donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

Our church family has contributed what we can, and we will continue to support them as much as possible, but I wanted to ask if anyone reading this blog would please consider sending a gift to help this dear family?

To contribute financially to Zack's rehabilitation needs, please visit Zack's Blog
HERE

Click the link for "Zack's Campaign Fund (tax deductible)" under the "Financial Donations" heading in the right hand column. You'll be taken to Zack’s personal webpage at NTAF. You can follow the directions at the bottom of the page and contribute either by check or by credit card.

Thank you for your generous support and prayers for Zack. They are greatly appreciated.

-Peace,
Keith

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fame, Wealth & Beauty: The Source of Sadness

Think Being Rich, Famous or Beautiful Will Make You Happy? Think Again.

I must admit, when I’m all alone with my thoughts I often imagine that I’m a world-famous conference speaker or a highly-successful author. Sometimes I find myself wishing that I had enough money in the bank to just stay home and write my books and articles all day, rather than going into work on Monday morning.

You can probably relate. I think everyone has their moments or seasons of wondering “What if?” or contemplating “If only I had more money. If only I was famous. If only I was more attractive.”

Maybe this is why no one blinks an eye when asked what they would wish for if they suddenly found that genie in the bottle. Other than asking for three more wishes, (or world peace), most of us would probably wish for incredible wealth, a dash of fame, and a younger body. Why? Because these three things are universally accepted in our hearts as being the missing link to happiness.

Following a recent study by the University of Rochester on this very subject, one of the researchers, Edward Deci, a professor of psychology, said, "Even though our culture puts a strong emphasis on attaining wealth and fame, pursuing these goals does not contribute to having a satisfying life.” In fact, according to the results of this study, being rich, famous, well-respected, or beautiful can actually have the opposite effect. It can actually make you miserable.

Maybe this explains why one entertainment news show after the other reveals the desperate sadness and despair found among the celebrity class in our society. What do we see? Drug abuse, infidelity, diva tantrums, criminal acts, psychological meltdowns, and other assorted examples of self-destructive behavior. It’s no different for politicians, CEO’s or lottery winners either.

Recently a friend asked a co-worker who had been newly appointed as a Senior Director a revealing question. He asked, “How has this promotion changed you as a person?” Before we get to the answer, let’s examine the question. Why do we assume that success will change us? Nothing about us has changed except our paycheck, and our position in the company. So, why do we expect these outward changes to have an inward effect?

I can remember when I first got licensed and ordained as a pastor over twenty years ago.
At the time I expected this to change me somehow. But I was still impatient, petty, selfish and prone to use coarse language – just like I was the day before I was ordained. Why didn’t this act of being ordained change me? Because nothing changed about ME on the inside, only my title on the outside.

The same thing happened when I got married. I expected that moving from being single to being a married man would make me a different person, but it didn’t. Sure, my responsibilities changed, and my living conditions changed, but I did not change as a person. I was still me on the inside.

So, what was the response given to the question about how the recent promotion had changed this person? Simply that, “I’m still the same guy I was before.”

The researchers at the University of Rochester found that achieving "materialistic and image-related" goals, such as wealth and fame, can have negative consequences like "headaches, stomachaches, and loss of energy.” The scriptures agree.

“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” – Ecclesiastes 1:14

Solomon was one of the wisest men who ever lived, and that wisdom brought him all the things we often crave for most; fame and wealth beyond our wildest imaginations. Yet, all of this brought him nothing but pain and sadness. In the end, the single wisest thing he ever said was this:

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

Even if you have the greatest mind of your generation, as Solomon did, the smartest thing you can do is to lay that aside and trust in God rather than in your own wisdom.

The secret to real happiness and contentment is not found in the things of this world. It’s not found in our circumstance. I’ve met people who are dirt poor and yet full of joy. I’ve met people who are rich beyond belief and yet still empty inside.

"For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:11-13

As followers of Jesus, we have to have a change of mind – a "metanoia” – to see reality through the lens of the Kingdom of God. In God’s economy, the first are last, and the greatest of all is the servant of all. We either believe that Jesus is telling the truth – and our lives reflect this – or we live by the code of the world which says that having more equals greater fulfillment. We can’t have it both ways.

Still, it’s fascinating to me is how this study confirms what Jesus has been saying for over two thousand years now. According to one of the main researchers in the article referenced, “The things that make your life happy are growing as an individual, having loving relationships, and contributing to your community."

God give us the courage to live every day as living testimonies to the truth of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Help us to grow in Christ, to love others and to contribute to the success and happiness of others in this world around us, and in the Body of Christ.

Amen.

-kg

**
"If the Gospel isn't transforming you, how do you know it will transform anything else?
-N.T. Wright

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Matthew 16:24-26

Monday, July 12, 2010

GUEST BLOG: BRANT HANSON

Excuse Me While I Single-Handedly Neutralize Al-Qaeda
by Brant Hanson

Alan Hirsch, in his book, points out that Al-Qaeda is almost impossible to stop. This is, in large part, due to the way its message works, and the way the work gets carried out. And he's absolutely right.

So, in the service of national defense, I propose the following, in order to effectively neutralize the movement. Let's get Al-Qaeda to...

1) Complexify the message

Right now, it's so simple, it can pass from one to the next, and be easily grasped by the uneducated, the young -- everyone. This is dangerous, because it's highly contagious, and people on the street feel capable of enlisting others in the cause.

2) Construct a less "flat", more hierarchical structure

Currently, small, underground groups can move nimbly and autonomously, complicating efforts to thwart them. A more regimented, stratified approach, where some members are left thinking, "I can't know enough to do anything" would bring the movement to a halt.

3) Foster "expert" culture, and barriers to entry to the expert class

Promote the idea that the message is not only highly complex, but only some can truly understand it. Construct extensive barriers to entry to the presumed expert class. Promote idea that cells lacking a certified member of expert class, it is not equipped to be activated.

4) Focus on knowledge, rather than doing

Complexification and expert-class development will make cells spend immense amounts of time studying the work, even debating theories of the work, rather than doing it. Better yet...

5) Equate STUDYING the work with the work itself

The cells are called to ACT, of course. But if we can convince operatives that the work, itself, is in trying to understand the complexity of the work? They'll be effectively neutered. We need to get them to spend large amounts of time in study, gathering to study, believing they don't know enough, hiring new experts to teach them again and again, and attending teaching events.

They'll actually believe they're doing their work when they attend events held by experts. This will render the cell, and the whole movement, harmless! Convince them that the most radicalized, militant among them are merely called to bring other non-activated members to the cell events.

6) Sabotage cell multiplication

VERY important! Cells that operate under simple principles, with motivated operatives, devoted to multiplication? Very, very dangerous, fast-growing, and pop-culture endangering. We must stop this in its tracks, and this is done in multiple ways:

A) Foster egos and small-time celebrity. By convincing operatives to set up individual fiefdoms, fewer autonomous cells will be activated. Rather, the emphasis will be on building larger individual cells with numerous unactivated members.

B) Make the basic structure highly difficult to replicate. Al-Qaeda cells currently are, by necessity, simply-structured and easily replicated. Propagate idea that for cells to begin, planning, experts and capital must be simultaneously accumulated. Expert motivational speakers will be necessary, plus paid staff with highly specific training and talents. Operatives will see massively "successful" large cells, and attempt to duplicate them, with very limited success because of the huge inputs required. This will greatly inhibit growth.

C) Convince philosophically-aligned, but non-active, members to choose from among most entertaining, high quality, cells that offer services for them. Not only will this engender a harmless, internal focus, it will require IMMENSE amounts of resources and energy.

7) Make operatives really, really busy.

Replace simple, animating mission with lengthy lists, charts, and programs for cell maintanance. Convince them that this institutional maintenance is, actually, the mission, itself.

This will leave them will no actual time for conducting actual mission.

8) Get Al-Qaeda to seek governmental approval.

Offer tax incentives if necessary. The larger cells, requiring large edifices, will also require tremendous amounts of capital. This will also allow a measure of control, to threaten the cell's tax status, thereby threatening funds for internal programs, when necessary.

Better: They'll consider actual operational cells that exist without this governmental approval to be, themselves, invalid!

9) Co-opt Al-Qaeda with the larger culture.

Once members are convinced that cell maintenance and study are actually their "mission", the rest of their lives can be harmlessly integrated with the culture at large. They'll be indistinguishable from non-members, and, because of their new understanding of "mission", effectively equivalent to non-members.

10) Convince members to wear Al-Qaeda t-shirts with funny sayings and stuff.

Mission accomplished.

It'll work to thwart an evil message. It even works with the good ones.
**
Brant HansOn is a radio talk show host and infrequent blogger. You can read his insane brilliance over at his blog site "Letters From Kamp Krusty":
HERE

Saturday, July 10, 2010

WHAT IS A NEW TESTAMENT MODEL OF CHURCH LEADERSHIP?

The church in Corinth is a fascinating example of a church with numerous moral and ethical failures, yet when Paul writes to correct them he doesn't address their Pastor and command him to fix things. In fact, he doesn't even address their Elders or Overseers to respond to this by exercising their authority over the people. Why were the pastors, or for that matter the Elders of the Church, not commanded to exercise their authority and deal with the very serious moral failures within the Church in Corinth? Perhaps because Paul understood that the Body itself was capable of coming together to correct the problem themselves. Something he hints at when he says, "Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?" – 1 Corinthians 6:3

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SUBMISSION
I would like to humbly suggest that "Authority", and "Submission" do not necessarily imply organizational structures are at work in the New Testament Church. Submission is something that all believers are urged to do, and authority is only to be submitted to if it is in line with God’s Word and not on the basis of an office or appointment.

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." – Ephesians 5:21
Everyone is urged to submit to everyone else. It's a shared submission among brothers and sisters in Christ who are equals and who humbly care for one another. Only Christ is the head, or the leader, of the Church.

Many are of the opinion that Jesus actually taught and promoted hierarchy in the Church, something I find alarming and dangerous. But, just for a moment, let me ask, "What would we expect to see in the New Testament if Jesus DIDN'T want His Church to be run like a hierarchy? Wouldn't we expect to see Jesus condemning this practice? Perhaps he would have pointed to a hierarchical system and commanded His disciples not to follow that example?

"Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." – Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-45.

Does Jesus command his disciples not to exercise authority over people? Yes, he clearly and plainly does. What, then, are today's pastors doing if they are not exercising their authority over their church members? Isn't this a fair question to ask? Am I allowed to point out the disconnect between what Jesus says and what His Church actually does, or does not, do?

Here, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus points to the Roman Government (a secular hierarchy) and commands his disciples not to imitate this system of lording it over people or exercising authority over those who follow.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus points to a religious system of hierarchy and instructs them (again) not to imitate this system of hierarchy where the "Teacher" is exalted over the student. Instead, he says, remember that you are all brothers:

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." – Matthew 23:8-12

Next, let's look at the Apostles themselves. If they heard Jesus commanding them to avoid the hierarchical system of leadership, wouldn't we see evidence that they obeyed this command? Did they take his words to heart? Let's see:

"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

Paul the Apostle obeys Jesus and refuses to "lord it over" those who follow Christ alongside him. Instead he works with them, as a brother, not as an authority figure.

"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. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." – 1 Peter 5:1-4

Here, Peter identifies himself, not as an Apostle, but as a fellow elder among the brethren. He then urges these elders (plural) to serve as overseers because they are willing, not because they have been handed a title or an appointment, and especially urges them to be careful not to "lord it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" – as Jesus commanded him several years earlier.

Having said all of this, doesn't the New Testament ask that we submit to our leaders and their authority? Yes, it does. For example:

Hebrews 13: 17- "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Let me be clear, I am not arguing against leadership here. Not at all. Every church needs leadership, and this is also clearly taught in the New Testament, however I would like to ask us to consider the possibility that leadership doesn't automatically mean top-down, authoritarianism. Jesus modeled something different than this, and then he commanded his disciples to emulate his example.

So, going back to our verse above, you might read this and ask, "What is the basis for our submission to our leaders?" Does their authority rest in the office they hold, or is it found in something else? Are we to submit to these leaders only because they hold an office? Or are we to submit to them as they point us to follow Christ? Hopefully we do not blindly follow people because they are "the Pastor" or because they have a title of authority. Hopefully.

No, the only authority we are to submit to is Christ Himself. To me, this truth is self-evident when we look at the NT as a whole.

Earlier in this same chapter, the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 13 and verse 7 says, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."

Here we are told to submit to our leaders as they speak the Word of God to us. Not to them as authorities in and of themselves, but as humble servants who lovingly teach us to follow Christ, and who then demonstrate this by their actual lives of faith.

Submission then is to Christ and to the Word of God. If our leaders handle and teach the Word of God wisely, and if they faithfully live lives that reflect Christ, THEN we are to submit to their authority. But only if. Their authority is not automatic and it is not based on the office they hold. Otherwise, we would be accountable to obey leaders simply because they held that office, regardless of whether or not their lives reflected Christ or their teaching of God's Word was true.

If we follow the policy of hierarchy for the sake of itself we can end up with someone holding an office within the Church and exercising authority even if they are not followers of Christ. Such a person should have no actual authority in any spiritual sense over the life of believers. What counts is character, not the office or the position. However, someone with no organizational office may, because of gifting by the Holy Spirit and sincere love for others, have actual authority to speak and teach and lead his brothers and sisters in Christ (who are his equals).

Churches that employ such a man-made organizational method can only hope to mimic the kind of leadership such as the "rulers of the gentiles" possess, something that Jesus expressly commanded us not to do - "It shall not be so among you!" - Matthew 20:25-26.

The Holy Spirit is the only source of spiritual authority and accountability in the Church through real-life relationships, not titles handed down by men.

Did the Apostles depend upon the authority of men or did they give any weight to the opinions of men? Apparently they did not. For example, Paul says, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody." - 2 Corinthians.3:1-2

If hierarchy was so important in the early church, why don't we see them exercising it? Why do we see them operating as a Body and not as a business? Perhaps the answers are right in front of us? Are we courageous enough to answer truthfully?

As Biblical Scholar Richard Halverson has said, "When the Greeks got the Gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business."

I pray we can help God's people to see that they were never intended to be run like a business, and instead to help them see that, according to the Word of God, they are simply a Family, a Body, an Organism, and a Bride.

-kg

Friday, July 09, 2010

OH SAY CAN YOU SEE?

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – (Matthew 6:19-21)

Right after this verse about our treasure, Jesus says something that seems out of place. Sandwiched between this statement about treasure in heaven and the one about serving two masters is this:

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” – (Matthew 6:22-23)

Why is this here? Why is Jesus suddenly talking about our eyes and about light and darkness in the middle of a teaching about money and where we put our treasure?
I think it’s because Jesus is touching on the deeper meaning of our struggles. We put our hope in money because our hearts are full of darkness. We store up our treasures here on the earth because we do not have the light of God in our hearts. We set our eyes on what we can see and touch here in this life because we don’t see how much greater the treasure of the Kingdom of God really is.

The things we see with our eyes, in the here and now, can blind us to what is really most valuable in the Kingdom of God. If we could really be filled with the light of God, then we wouldn’t have any trouble recognizing how utterly worthless the treasures of this world really are. We would clearly recognize that the treasure of the Kingdom of God is worth selling everything and giving whatever it takes to enter into it.

Jesus uses the treasure metaphor again in the Gospel of Matthew. In chapter 13, verse 44 he says:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

In this case, the treasure is the Kingdom itself. When the man finds the treasure of the Kingdom of God he runs “in his joy” to quickly sell all that he owns in order to obtain the field where the treasure is hidden.

The cost of the Kingdom is everything, but in comparison to the treasure we receive in return, all that we have in this life is worthless and empty.

Have you seen the Kingdom like this? Do you see the difference between the things of this world and the things of God? Are you eager to run and sell it all, give it all away, pay whatever the price may be, in order to be part of that Kingdom?

Set your heart on the Kingdom of God, and make sure your treasure is found wherever Jesus is Lord.


-kg

Thursday, July 08, 2010

HALF A HEART

"No one 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” – (Matthew 6:24)

It was a beautiful summer day. I was walking in the mountains of New Mexico on my way to share lunch with a few college friends after attending a seminar on spiritual warfare. This was an oasis moment for me. I was feeling close to God, and I was surrounded by godly men and women who had gathered to seek His face for a weeklong retreat in the clear blue skies of Glorietta, New Mexico.

I walked slowly beneath the towering pines and inhaled the deep perfection of this moment. God loved me. I loved Him. My life was full of possibility and hope. Everything was right with the world. But then I heard something that made me stop in my tracks.

“I can’t use half a heart, or half a man.”

That’s what I heard. Clear as day, in my heart, this phrase was spoken softly, yet unmistakably.

I dropped my head. “Was I holding something back from God,” I wondered? Why had this voice spoken to my heart in the midst of a such a glorious and holy moment?

My steps after this were even slower, contemplative, and full of introspection.

As I continued to walk, I began to pray. “Search my heart, Oh God. Help me to give you all of me, not just half, or part of me, but everything.”

I’ve been praying that ever since.

Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and Money, or anything else for that matter. God wants to be first in our heart, and in our lives. He does not want to be our buddy. He does not want to be our co-pilot. Either He is at the wheel or we’re on the wrong plane.

As I contemplate this verse in Matthew, I wonder at the phrasing Jesus used here. Of course, the main point being made is that we cannot serve two masters. But Jesus speaks specifically about money here. In fact, he seems to be suggesting something interesting – that if we serve God we will hate money. Do you get that? If Jesus is talking about serving God, or serving Money, then in this illustration he is saying that we will either love God and hate money, or we will love money and hate God. It seems as if he is warning us that loving money will cause us to hate God, and that conversely, loving God will cause us to hate money, or at least the love of money.

This statement comes immediately after another verse where Jesus talks about our treasure.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – (Matthew 6:19-21)

Whenever we find ourselves wondering how much better our lives would be if we could just win the lottery, or get that raise, or deposit that bonus check, or get more money, I think we’re in danger of putting our hopes in the almighty dollar and not the Almighty.

I’ve certainly been in the place where having more money – even just a little more – would have made my life less painful. For those seasons when I was out of work for a year or more it was all I could think about, really. The process of cutting back on our expenses, eating simple meals, abstaining from fast food, and watching our budget was very difficult. But I realize that this was God’s way of putting to death my flesh. The pain I was experiencing when I went to work at a lousy temp job for peanuts was my pride being poisoned. The pain I felt when I knew I couldn’t take my kids out to eat on a Saturday was my flesh being crucified. Sure, I wanted to have that extra money in my pocket. Why? Because it would take away my pain and make my life a little easier to manage. But enduring that pain and accepting that death to self was what kept my eyes on Jesus. It was a blessing to me to depend upon Him for everything.

Whenever I catch myself musing over how good it would be to have a little more spending money, I have to remember these words of Jesus. Is my hope in money, or is it in God? Do I trust that He has my life under control or do I wish that more money would flow into my hands so that I could escape my current situation?

Money will not save us. Money will not make us happier people. As followers of Jesus, we must place our trust – our entire hope – in Him alone. Even our prayers to Him should be focused on Him as our source of life and joy, not on our need for money to make us happy. Jesus isn’t a tool for obtaining more money, and money isn’t our source for abundant life. Jesus is our life, and with our without money, we will find our everything in Him.

-kg

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

RECONCILING THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT WITH THE GOD OF THE NEW

Has anyone ever pointed out to you the apparent difference between the way God behaved in the Old Testament and the way Jesus reveals Him in the Gospels? Perhaps you yourself have struggled with this apparent contradiction of character? Is there a logical explanation for why God seems to be so bloodthirsty and vengeful in the Old Testament scriptures, and yet so loving and gentle in the New Testament?

Well, this debate is as old as Christianity itself. In fact, the very first person to point out this difference was Jesus himself. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus quotes the Old Covenant and then makes a new proclamation that demonstrates the differences between the two.

First, he points out the differences in the Old Covenant command “Thou Shalt Not Kill” found in the Law of Moses and provides a radical new command under the New Covenant:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” – Matt 5:22-23

Here at the start of his sermon on the mount, Jesus lays out for everyone a new covenant perspective which permeates the Good News of the Kingdom he has come to proclaim.

In the past, God operated under the Old Covenant rule which was expressed through the Law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments. Now, according to Jesus, things will be different. As we enter the Kingdom of God, we can now expect something new. Instead of "Do not murder", Jesus ups the ante with "Don't be angry."

Throughout this section of scripture, Jesus continues to contrast specific commands of the Old Covenant with new standards found in the New Covenant of Grace. Having addressed the command about murder, next he addresses “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." – Matt 5:27-28

"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." – Matt 5:31-32

Next he addresses the commands against bearing false witness or swearing oaths:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all..." – Matt 5:33-34

Finally, he addresses the Law in the Old Covenant concerning murder and retribution:

"Jesus said, "You've heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', but I say to you, do not resist and evil man, and whoever shall strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." - Matt 5:38-39

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." - Matt 5:43-44


Why do you think Jesus starts off his sermon on the mount by making such a radical set of statements? In effect, he is quoting the Law of the Old Covenant and saying that those things are no longer valid. Instead, he's replacing the commands of the Old Covenant with brand new, Kingdom-centric ideas which go beyond mere obedience. These words of Jesus speak of the heart, not simply about rules to follow.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matt 5:17

So, Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God and to proclaim a New Covenant. He did this, first of all, by fulfilling the Old Covenant. These were but shadows, according to the author of Hebrews.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” – Hebrews 10:1

“But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” – Hebrews 8:6-7


The New Covenant is not like the Old. So, we shouldn't be surprised at the differences. The Old Covenant has now been fulfilled in Christ, and now that Old Covenant is no longer in effect. It has been fulfilled. Now, we are living under the New Covenant which Jesus came to inaugurate. He is the High Priest of this New Covenant and He has outlined for us, in the Gospel, what life in the Kingdom should look like.

No longer will we live by the code, “An eye for an eye” but now we will live by the new code, “Love your enemies”.

This is why I am often frustrated to hear Christians who seem confused about the fact that we are no longer under this Old Covenant of Law and Judgment but we are now, by the blood of the Messiah, Jesus, set free to walk in the New Covenant of freedom and Grace.

I've heard Christians respond to homosexuals by quoting the Old Testament laws and suggesting that we put them to death. Yes, these scriptures are in the Bible, but we are no longer under that Old Covenant, are we? No, we are now under a brand New Covenant of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

I've also heard Christians quote Old Testament scriptures to justify the death penalty, or to justify going to war, or to justify the death of muslims, and all sorts of things. This is simply ignorant, misguided and in direct opposition to the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Whenever we behave this way, we suffer from "Old Testament Christianity" (as I sometimes call it). What we need is true New Testament Christianity that fully embraces and understands the Kingdom that Jesus came to announce.

The Old Testament and New Testament are not concurrent realities. The Old Covenant is fulfilled in Christ and now we are under a New Covenant. Behold the old is gone and the new has come.

This does not imply that the Old Covenant scriptures are irrelevant at all. These are still valuable to us so that we can comprehend how they were fulfilled in Jesus. But these are still shadows which point to Jesus.

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” – John 5:39-40

God is still the same. He has always been loving and merciful. The Old Covenant scriptures reveal to us a God who rejoices over us with singing and quiets us with His love,(Zechariah 3:17). But, at the same time, they also reveal to us a God who dealt harshly with sinful behavior and often had no mercy for disobedience.

In the New Covenant scriptures, we see a God who still deals harshly with sin and disobedience, but instead of punishing the sinners, He turns His wrath upon His own Son. His mercy and His love are fulfilled in Christ, and His Law has been made complete in Jesus.

Today, we serve the same God who does not change. Now, we are under Grace and we are ambassadors of the Messiah's love. For a season, we may freely receive of His love and mercy and enter into His presence by the Blood of the Lamb. But soon, Jesus will return and there will be the final judgment. And that judgment will measure how much love and mercy we have shown to others under this New Covenant. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Under the New Covenant what counts is love. Love is to be our calling card. Love is the litmus test of the Kingdom.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." - (1 John 4:7-8)

-kg

Friday, July 02, 2010

COUNTING THE COST

After the rich young ruler declines to sell all that he had and give it to the poor in order to follow Jesus, he turns and walks away. Jesus watches him go and remarks 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)

First, it's interesting to me that Jesus lets him go. He doesn't compromise and try to find a way to convince the man to return. He doesn't ammend his original call to sell everything in order to make it easier. Instead, he uses this as a teaching moment for those who have already made their decision to follow him.

Why does being rich make it difficult for us to enter the Kingdom of God? Is it because we tend to lean on our own resources instead of surrendering ourselves to God? Or maybe it's because we become enamored with what we have and find it difficult to let go of the things in this world in order to gain the eternal things of the Kingdom?

Perhaps this is also why James says,

"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." - (James 1:9-11)

It might also be why Jesus was sent to proclaim the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18), and why James says, "Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?" - (James 2:5)

Those who are poor already know that they have nothing, and that they must depend on the goodness of others to survive. Receiving God's favor and mercy is easier for someone who already knows they are weak. But those who perceive themselves to be healthy, or wealthy, do not require assistance.

"Jesus said to them, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" - (Mark 2:17)

As the rich young ruler walked away, still holding tightly to his wealth and unable to see the Kingdom of God, the disciples marveled at the words of Jesus concerning how difficult it can be for the rich to follow Him.

"When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, Who then can be saved?'" - (Matthew 19:25)

Jesus response is a famous one, he says, "'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

What is impossible with man? The power to let go of worldly wealth and to see the Kingdom of God.

What is possible with God? The ability to allow us to let go of our wealth and to humble ourselves and to enter the Kingdom.

This verse, which is all about having the ability to let go of worldly wealth, has sadly been twisted by many false teachers and applied to gaining even more wordly wealth.

The blessing we need from God is the ability to let go of our materialism, and our greed, and our dependence upon money. The miracle is to choose to trust God and not our own resource or ability.

Someone recently made a comment to me that God did not ever ask anyone - other than the rich young ruler - to sell everything and give it to the poor. However, look at Peter's response after the young man refuses Jesus' invitation and after Jesus proclaims that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

"Peter answered him, 'We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?'" - (Matthew 19:27)

See that? All of the disciples responded to the call of Jesus by leaving everything to follow Him. They left nets full of fish dying on the beach to follow Him. They left money on the tax collecting table and walked away from their duties to follow Jesus. They gave up everything - gladly - to seek first the Kingdom of God.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?'" - (Matthew 16:24-26)

If we make a decision to respond to the calling of Jesus and follow Him with our lives, we have to let go. We have to surrender our dreams, our plans, our hopes, our vision. We have to set our sights firmly on going where He sends us, and loving as He commanded us, and serving others as He has served us.

The promise for those who truly abandon everything for Jesus is this:

"....everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." - (Matthew 19:28-30)

Do we really take Jesus at His word? Are we really ready to count the cost before we follow Him? (Luke 14:28-30)

Maybe this is what Paul means when he urges us to "work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling"? - (Philippians 2:12)

-kg