Tuesday, August 31, 2010

OUR IDEA OF WORSHIP VS GOD'S IDEA OF WORSHIP

Our idea of Worship:

To close our eyes and lift our hands and to sing songs about Jesus for as long as possible in order to express to God our intense feelings of love and gratitude for His goodness to us.


God's idea of Worship:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." – (Romans 12:1-2)

"Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
– (Amos 5:23-24 )

Monday, August 30, 2010

OUR IDEA OF FASTING VS GOD'S IDEA OF FASTING

Our idea of Fasting:

To abstain from food or water (or any other activity) for a set amount of time in order to pray and hopefully find an answer to our prayers or hear God’s voice for direction concerning a specific issue or question.


God’s idea of Fasting:

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
– (Isaiah 58:5-9)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

THE MINISTRY OF ROBERT HIGGINS TO ME

Just the other day, Robert asked if he was a burden to me or if I was getting tired of doing stuff to help him. Of course, I said it was no trouble at all and that I was happy to serve him. I reminded him that I loved him and that God loved him, too.

After I prayed for Robert, I went home to eat dinner with my family.

But on the way home I thought about this a little more. In the beginning, my times with Robert were a little challenging and frustrating to me. Back when he was still living in the motel he and I would often grind gears over certain issues. Usually, I was the one who made Robert angry because I was doing things for him that he hadn't asked me to do. Eventually, I learned that, unless Robert had specifically asked me to do something, I should not do it. In time, Robert had trained me to listen to him intently and only do exactly what he asked me to do. Otherwise, I allowed him to do as much for himself as he possibly could.

Lately, Robert has been unable to do very much for himself at all. Sitting up in bed is a struggle for him. He will not allow me to pull him up by his hand because the day he needs my help - or anyone else's - to do something as simple as sit up in bed, he knows that the end is near. I understand that he also wants to do as much for himself as he can - for as long as he can - before the cancer takes that away from him.

What I do for Robert is still not very much, in my opinion. Yet, in his mind, I'm already doing too much. It was after I had pushed him in his wheelchair from outside and I helped him take off his shoes and placed them in front of his chair that he asked me if I was getting tired of helping him. Of course, he stood up on his own, and he walked to his bed on his own, and he laid down by himself. All I did during all of this was to watch him, and to stand ready to steady him should he begin to fall backwards.

The truth is that it is actually getting easier for me to serve Robert lately. I think this is partly because, in the beginning, I was too wrapped up in trying to be his pastor. I was trying hard to change Robert's attitude on my own. I was feeling frustrated that he was stubborn and heard-headed. Of course, God used this frustration to show me how much Robert and I were alike. As I began to see myself in him, I found more patience with him.

Over time I've been learning how to be his friend instead of trying to change him. I've also begun to develop a new perspective on what God is doing in Robert's life, and in my life through Robert.

Now I can't wait to talk to Robert about all of this. I want him to understand what Jesus is doing in my heart as I spend time with him, and I want to thank Robert for being part of God's working in my heart to humble me and change me.

I think that's one of the unexpected miracles of serving others. We start out believing that we have the answers and all the resources they lack, but in truth we end up being blessed even more than those we hope to serve.

It's amazing for me to realize that, after all this time, the real ministry taking place might actually be from Robert to me. Or, at least, that both of us are being changed through this process of serving and being served.

What a wonderful mystery of life in the Kingdom.

Peace,
kg

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Secret Formula of the Kingdom

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." – (Proverbs 16:9)

As human beings we crave security and gravitate towards areas of greater comfort. We are not content with unanswered questions or unresolved mysteries. We attempt to understand our lives by planning for the future and mapping out goals for tomorrow. None of this is necessarily bad, but it does prevent us from acclimating ourselves to life in the Kingdom of God.

In the Kingdom of God, there are no short answers. Sound bites are inadequate. Formulas do not exist. Your comfort zone is irrelevant. Tension is the new status quo for a citizen of the Kingdom of God, not resolution.

Most of us have a voracious appetite for knowledge. We prefer things to be predictable and if God did something a certain way yesterday, we expect Him to do it the same way again today. God does not play this game.

Instead, God operates under the rules of the Kingdom, and these rules are not formulaic. The Scriptures give us a snapshot of the many different ways that God has worked in people's lives in the past, but this variety of methods is meant, in part, to illustrate to us that God does not follow any predetermined script.

He is the Living God. He is the One in whom we live and move and have our being. He is always at work, even to this very day. His agenda is eternal. He has an individual plan for every specific person and He is weaving everything together to work for the good of those who seek Him.

The key to following such an unpredictable God is to come to Him each and every day with a blank slate. "What are you doing today, God?" we should ask. And then we should listen. And wait. And only do what the Father is doing.

"Yet those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not become tired."– (Isaiah 40:31)

Waiting is the key. Trust is the singular currency of the Kingdom. This is why Solomon encourages us to "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." – (Proverbs 3:5-6)

As our example for how to live the Kingdom life, Jesus exemplifies this beautifully. He is not afraid of unanswered questions. He only does what He sees the Father doing. He doesn't mind being the servant. He isn't afraid to offend the religious elite. He takes the time to give every person an individualized response to the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" without once repeating Himself to anyone.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being equal with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." – (Philippians 2:5-7)

We long for control. Even though control is only an illusion. God is the One who is really in control of everything. Admitting this to ourselves and relaxing our grip on the steering wheel helps us to see that the wheel we were holding was only an illusion.

In time, our lack of control will become a source of relief to us. At first it causes us to fear and to worry. But, in time, as we learn to trust Him more. We begin to experience a peace within us which flows out of the realization that we are not in control. He is. And that is enough for us.

In the Kingdom of God, we are called to trust God in everything. We are to put all of our hope in Him. He is the One who provides for us. Our jobs are only temporary sources of income. God is our source. He can take care of us with or without a career, or a spouse, or a 401(k).

This is why Jesus teaches us to pray for "daily bread" (Matt. 6:11) and to take up our cross and die to ourselves daily (Luke 9: 23). Why? Because it doesn't work any other way. Unless we are daily seeking to lean on Him for everything, we will invariably lean on our own ability.

This is why it says that God's mercies are "new every morning." (Lamentations 3:22-23) It's also part of the secret that Paul spoke of when he said, "I have learned the secret of being content in every situation. Whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." – (Philippians 4:12)

Formulas have no place in God’s Kingdom. Why? Because if we have a formula we will trust in that pattern and not in God Himself. However, if we continually come to God with an open hand and a sense of expectation it keeps us in a place of faith and humility and dependence upon Him alone.

Simply put, if we can do it ourselves and have God help us, we will. Most of us would rather live the Christian life this way. But God has another plan. It is not an optional plan. It is the only plan. His plan is to be the One we look to each and every day for life, for hope, and for truth. He knows us inside and out. He set aside a cross for you, and one for me, to carry one day at a time.

This is how we follow Jesus. This is how we live the life of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is no secret formula. There is only a daily trust in Him alone.

-kg
**

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment." (Isaiah 50:10-11)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

ENCOURAGING THE PERSECUTED CHURCH

I've recently started to sense that might be calling me to travel to encourage the Church in persecuted nations. Of course, first I have to apply for a passport and then wait for God to open a door, but someone handed me an envelope with enough cash to pay for my passport a few weeks ago, so I think I'm getting the hint.

As I was sharing this with our house church family recently, one brother asked me what I could possibly say to followers of Jesus who are already standing for their faith in the face of violence and death. I had to admit that I would probably only find out what God wanted me to share with them after the door had been opened. The best I could hope for would be to engage in a mutual exchange of encouragement with my brothers and sisters undergoing persecution.

But as I continued to think about this and pray about it, I realized that there was something I could encourage the persecuted church to do after all; “Love your enemies”.

A few days after this thought entered my mind, the floods in Pakistan become front page news. Thousands dead, millions homeless, complete devastation of entire villages. This was an opportunity for those who had been threatened to demonstrate compassion to the very people who hated them.

I know that Pakistan is one of the top nations in the world for Christian persecution. Can it be any coincidence that this tragedy has befallen these people? Not as a judgment of God against the persecuting ones, but as an opportunity for the persecuted to demonstrate the love of Jesus in tangible ways.

Certainly, our nation and many other governments and first-response non-profit groups will mobilize to show compassion from the outside. But this is the perfect opportunity for the Body of Christ in Pakistan to boldly stand up and love their neighbor as themselves.

May God give them grace enough to love those who have shown them such hate and may it turn many souls to the love of Christ.

-kg

Friday, August 20, 2010

THE END HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN

“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” – Hebrews 12:26-27

What are the things that everyone in America puts their trust in? Their 401k. Their Pension. Their house. Their job.

I find it fascinating that the very things that are being shaken in today’s America are these very same things that most people – including many Christians – put their hope in. The Stock Market is wavering. Pensions are in danger of being unpaid. The housing market has already crashed and many think it might crash again. Jobs are scarce and unemployment is at an all-time high.

Could it be that God is shaking all those things that people put their faith in so that they might turn to Him? Perhaps the day might come when these things are not only shaken, but they may be completely taken away. What then? If you lost one of these things, what would it do to your life? Would you lose hope? Would your world come crashing down? Or would you trust completely in God as your source of hope and life?

The two weapons that the spirit of antichrist employs against the Church are persecution and deception. For most of the planet, the Church is undergoing intense persecution by hostile governments and opposing religious systems. In Pakistan, India, China, Africa and many other nations, the Church is under the gun. In America, the Church is overcome by comfort and subdued by a version of the gospel that promises blessing and comfort, with a little Jesus on the side. All the more reason, I should think, that God might want to shake those pillars which uphold this illusion of our comfort and self-sufficiency.

The Church under persecution is not being overwhelmed. She is growing in the face of hate. She is thriving wherever the cost of following Christ is high. But in America, the Church doesn’t seem to be quite so resilient against the enemies of comfort and deception. Perhaps we need to reevaluate our definitions of God’s blessing? Maybe the best thing that could ever happen to the Church in America would be to lose everything?

I can’t help but wonder.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." - – Hebrews 12:28-29

-kg

Thursday, August 19, 2010

LOVE IS OUR (NEW) NATURE

"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." - 1 Peter 3:12

If you believe in Jesus, you believe in the power of love to redeem. If you believe in Jesus, you are a living example of how love can change the human heart.

How then can we, as followers of Jesus, fail to respond to those who are bound by evil with love, compassion and mercy? Are we surprised that they are sinful? Does it seem strange that those who have not tasted of God’s love should lack evidence of it in their lives? Hardly. Yet, when we respond to hate with more hate, we ourselves are the ones who are acting out of character. The unbeliever who curses us or insults us is behaving exactly as he should. He is being true to his nature.

As it says in Romans 8:7-8, "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."

However, you and I are no longer alive to the flesh or to sin. We are transformed into the image of Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" – 2 Corinthians 5:17

In fact, if we are truly redeemed by Christ – if His Holy Spirit is living in us daily – then we shouldn’t even have to think about how to love our enemies, or even if we should or not. It should be our reasonable response to love those who hate us and to bless those who curse us.

"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:20

When Jesus uttered these words there was no doubt a collective sigh of defeat from the crowd. How could anyone hope to be more righteous than the Pharisees? They were without equal in Jewish society as the defenders of the faith and keepers of the Law of Moses. No one outside of that group would ever have dared to proclaim that they were more righteous than any Pharisee. It would seem then that any hope of entering the Kingdom of God was extinguished from the beginning. “Who then, can be saved?”

What Jesus is pointing out here is that, even the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law is not enough. If the standard of righteousness required exceeds that of those professional law-keepers, then even they will be left outside of the Kingdom. Maybe what Jesus is suggesting is that keeping the law isn’t the right way to enter the Kingdom. Perhaps that door is locked? Or maybe that door was never a door at all.

I think that Jesus is trying to suggest that, unlike the Pharisees whose righteousness was only an outward display of false humility and oppressive legalism, our real hope for entering the Kingdom of God is found through transformation. Later on in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says,

"Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." – Matthew 7:17-18

Translation: It’s not about doing stuff. It’s about transformation.

The Pharisees had it backwards. They were attempting to produce good fruit in their lives by doing good things. Jesus uses the metaphor of fruit trees to point out that the kind of tree you are (your nature) determines the kind of fruit you produce (your actions).

One way to express this new perspective is to say, “To produce good fruit, first become a good tree. Good trees produce good fruit naturally.” The point Jesus is trying to make is that we are all “bad trees” and unless we are transformed from within, we will never become “good trees” capable of producing good fruit.

Our calling is to allow Jesus to transform us into His image so that we can model a righteousness that is a natural expression of our new nature.

My version of this idea is expressed in the phrase: “Swimming won’t make you a fish. But if you are a fish, you will swim.”

When we attempt to become righteous by doing good works, we miss the point. But, when we let go of our own effort and surrender ourselves to His indwelling Spirit, we allow Jesus to live in us and through us. When this happens, he empowers us to love the unlovable and serve others in His strength.

Of course, we must daily do battle with our own flesh – our own sinful nature – in order to allow the life of Christ to increase in us. This is what Jesus means when he says that those who desire to follow Him must take up their cross (the instrument of their own death) each and every day. Therefore, the beautiful thing about being humiliated by people who hate us is that it fuels our death to self. Insults are like the hammer pounding down on the nails in our hands. Spiteful actions are like a crown of thorns being pressed into our prideful brow. Persecution is like a spear being thrust into our soft, selfish flesh.

If we were dead to sin, these actions wouldn’t hurt us so much. If our pride wasn’t so sensitive, being disrespected wouldn’t wound us so deeply. The fact that we are insulted when someone treats us like a servant betrays the fact that we are not already humble enough to actually serve them.

So, laying down our lives for others is what we are called to do. Those who seek to find their lives lose them. Those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ, discover what true life is really all about.

If you believe in Jesus, you cannot put your faith in hate. You cannot put your trust in anger. You cannot. Your only hope is Christ. Your only salvation is through love. His love has changed your heart, and it can change the hearts of others too. When you are persecuted, insulted, and humiliated you are presented with an opportunity to share with Christ in His sufferings. You have been given a gift from God when this happens. It’s a gift-wrapped hammer and a set of nails. If you allow Him to, He will fill you with His love for those who mistreat you. He will help you to put to death your pride and your love of self. He will teach you how to serve others, even when they are doing their best to hate you.

This is what it means to follow Christ.

Conversatio Morem! Death to the Status Quo of Me!

-kg

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TO THIS YOU WERE CALLED

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
- Luke 6:27-31


"Is he serious?"

"Did he really say, 'Love your enemies?'"

Yes. He really said it. And worse, he really meant it.

If you study the New Testament and read only the red letters (the words of Jesus) and what he says about love, you'll discover that he didn't think of love as some emotional, romantic thing based on good feelings at all.

Jesus talks about love as being relational. He teaches us that love for God and love for our fellow man are connected ideas. He tells us that if we don't forgive those who hurt us, we ourselves won't be forgiven of our sins either. Jesus taught some pretty radical things about love and how our horizontal relationships with those we rub shoulders with every day affects our relationship with God Himself.

Now, Jesus uncorks the big kahuna: "Love your enemies."

Before you stop and say this is impossible, let me assure that it is not. Jesus wouldn't have asked us to do this if it were impossible to do it.

Those of us who follow Jesus have already experienced this kind of love first hand.

"For if when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
- Romans 5:8-10


See? When we were enemies of God, indifferent to the cross, mockers and skeptics and unrepentant sinners, Jesus died for us and demonstrated his amazing love to us - His Enemies.

We now look upon the sacrifice of Jesus as an act of supreme love, but once we had no concern for his gift. He took the beatings, the scourging, and the crucifixion without fighting back, and he even forgave those who drove the nails into his hands and feet saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

And now, as ambassadors of Christ, you and I are called to demonstrate that kind of radical love to people who have never seen it, and who don't even deserve it.

Of course, we didn't deserve his love either. No one does. But that's sort of the point. Mercy is for those who don't deserve it. If they did, it wouldn't be mercy, it would be justice.

"But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." - 1 Peter 2:20-21

I can remember when my oldest son Dylan was in first grade. He came home one day and told us about a boy in his class who was choking him and kicking him at recess. At first, I was enraged. I could only think of how to get that kid kicked out of school, or how to talk to the school principle about protecting my son. I even considered putting my son in a karate class.

Instead, my wife and I sat down with my son before bedtime each night and prayed for this boy together. We talked about what this boy must be going through at home. We prayed for his parents, and for his brothers and sisters. We asked Jesus to change his boy's heart. We also talked to Dylan about how he should try to avoid being alone at recess. We encouraged him to go to his teachers if he saw this boy coming after him again, and we explained to him that Jesus wants us to love those who mistreat us.

This process of praying for the bully at school took several weeks. Eventually, my son had a birthday party. He invited every kid in his class, including this boy who had bullied him.

During the party, this boy was included in every game. He was treated as one of my son's friends. My son, and our family, gave him the clear message - We don't hate you. We really love you.

I think this party was the tipping point, because, after this, the boy no longer bullied Dylan at recess. He didn't treat anyone else this way either. The love my son had shown him really did transform him. It touched his heart and changed his behavior.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." - Luke 6:32

Jesus takes the time to contrast the love the world has with the love that God demonstrates. In comparison, the love of the world is nothing special. The most evil among us can return love to those who are loving them. Big deal. I'm sure we could find a serial killer who loves his Mom and a rapist who loves his best friend. Even a racist loves someone. So what?

As followers of Jesus, we are called to demonstrate the amazing, unprecedented, unexpected, over-the-top kind of love that Jesus has lavished upon us. Why? For two reasons. First, so that even the most evil people can experience the undeserved kindness and mercy of God. Secondly, to teach you and I how to die to ourselves and to become more like Jesus every day.

See, the command that Jesus gives us to love our enemies is intended not only to change the hearts of sinners, but to change you and I as well.

We cannot love this way on our own. We just can't. The only way we can follow Jesus and obey his command to love those who are trying to harm us is if we take up our cross daily, die to ourselves, and throw ourselves completely at His feet and beg to be filled with His love for them. It just won't work any other way.

In the book, THE GRACE OF GIVING, author Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution named Peter Miller. Millerlived in a small town called Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and one of his dearest friends was a guy named George Washington. (Maybe you've heard of him?)

In the town of Ephrata their also lived a spiteful troublemaker named Michael Wittman, who did all he could to oppose and humiliate Mr. Miller.

One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to death. When he heard the news Peter Miller set out Philadelphia to plead for the life of his enemy.

After walking seventy miles - on foot - Miller petitioned his friend, General Washington, to spare Wittman's life.

“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend?” exclaimed the old preacher. “He's not my friend. In fact, he is the bitterest enemy I have.”

“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.”

And he did.

That day, Peter Miller and Michael Wittman walked back home to Ephrata together. When they arrived home, they were no longer enemies. They were friends.

As amazing as that story is, the bottom line is that Peter Miller had a different perspective when it came to difficult people, trials and persecution. He saw those things - not as battles to win, but as opportunities to love like Jesus loves.

You and I are expected to do the same.

"Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." - 1 Peter 3:9

As followers of Jesus, you and I are living examples of the redemptive, transformative power of undeserved kindness and love.

I pray that we can see difficult people and uncomfortable circumstances in a new light. I pray that in the worst of situations, you and I might crucify our flesh and bury our pride. I pray that when others insult us and mock us, we (the followers of Jesus), might be filled with the Spirit of the Living God and demonstrate to those who hate us most that the love of Jesus is truly powerful enough to change hearts and lives.

I pray this for myself most of all.

Peace,
Keith
**

Monday, August 16, 2010

IT'S YOUR FUNERAL

There's something amazing that happens to me whenever I attend a funeral. As friends and family members step up to the microphone and share their fondest memories of the departed, I can't help but wonder who will stand up at my funeral, and what will they say about me when I'm gone?

I know what I'd like them to say. I'd hope that my best friends would tell stories of how I've encouraged them or about a time when I helped them in a time of need. I'd hope that my wife would share about how thoughtful a husband I was. I'd love to think my sons would stand and share about how something I taught them about life, or about character, or about integrity had stuck with them through the years and allowed them to grow as individuals. I'd love to think that the crowd would be full of people who were inspired by my writing or my books, or who were touched or blessed in some way by my acts of service or compassion.

I'd love to think that, on the day they put me into the dirt, there will be a church somewhere filled with people who were blessed and touched and inspired by my life.

But the question, of course, is will there really be anyone eager to say these things about me?

I recently watched a little-known film called "The Lookout" which I really enjoyed. In the film, the main character is a young man who made a mistake on his graduation night that took the lives of his best friends and left him with a severe brain disorder. In the film he struggles to remember simple instructions due to his brain damage. He has trouble with completing things in sequence.

There's a scene in the film where one of his friends gives him some advice on how to accomplish a simple task. He says, "Start at the end and work backwards from there." When he tries it he discovers that it works, and this becomes a great metaphor in the film for how all of us can cope with our struggles.

I think of that statement now as I ponder what my funeral will look like. I have a picture in my head of what I'd hope that day to look like and how I'd love for things to play out as friends and family gather to remember my life.

The best way for me to insure that my vision of that day comes to fruition is to start at the end and work backwards from there. It means I need to live my life today in a consistent and intentional way. If I want my wife to speak glowingly of my thoughtfulness at my funeral, it means I need to be sure to be thoughtful to her today. If I want my sons to tell stories about how I inspired them to be better men of God at my memorial service, it means I have to inspire them today to be better men of God.

What do you hope your friends and family will say of you on that day? Maybe we need to consider this as we live out our daily lives. Maybe we should start at the end and work backwards from there?

It's your funeral.

-kg
**
Originally published on the [Subversive Underground] in 2008.

Monday, August 09, 2010

More Love, Less Politics

American Christians will always be frustrated by a desire to see our laws correspond with the Bible. The truth is, it never will. Why? Because our laws are built around a document called the Constitution, not the scriptures.

So, for example, if our courts have to determine whether or not it is legal to enforce a law that gives one set of rights to some people and a different set of rights to others, they will look at the Constitution and see that everyone is considered equal under the law and rule against that law.

Under the law of our land people have the right to enter into marriage with one another. Any law that gives this right to some people and takes it away for others will be considered unconstitutional.

Christians will always want those laws to be interpreted primarily by the Bible and secondarily by the Constitution, but since these two documents have different authors, and different purposes, they will not agree on most issues, including homosexual marriage.

When our nation was founded and our Constitution was written, they did not feel any need to write down laws which reinforced the morality and the common practice of society around them. It was a given. Therefore they wrote laws which, in tandem with their existing morality and observable societal norms, combined to create a harmonious nation of free people.

What has changed? Our Constitution is fundamentally the same, but the morality and practice of our society has changed. The laws we write cannot hope to touch our inner person. Laws do not change hearts.

If you hope to write and create laws to govern society you look to politicians and lawyers and presidents. However, if you hope to influence behaviors and change the heart of a person you look to clerics, priests, teachers and parents.

Our society has failed to live up to the ideals of our past because our churches have failed to pass on the morality and the practice of hospitality and brotherly love. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We have not been known for our love. Our laws have stayed the same, but our Churches have gotten off track and lost focus.

American Christians have become so disillusioned with the world around them, and yet they have no one to blame but themselves. For the last several decades the Church in America has been embracing a mentality of retreat. We have created a neat and comfortable little version of the world with a cross on top where our interaction with "those unbelievers out there" is minimized as much as possible.

Because we have refused to be salt and light as Jesus commanded us, the society around us has slowly become more and more "un-Christian" and really, what else should we expect it to become like? If we have reduced our interactions with others, focused all of our time and energy on ourselves, built larger and more expensive buildings to hide in, and invested millions of dollars building empires of entertainment, fashion and communication to occupy our time and tell us what we want to hear, how else should our world have developed in our absence?

In our frustration we have now turned to politics to create the change we have failed to create by avoiding contact with unbelievers. Now we hope to dominate these people politically and have our way, regardless of whether or not they agree.

In some ways, I wonder if it's too late for any of this. Too late for us to get back to our original calling to love and serve and live out the selfless beauty of the Gospel. Too late to attempt any sort of dialog with people we have avoided for so very long. Too late to be the Church that Jesus intended for us to be.

The solution to the problems facing American society is not found in changing our laws, and even if it were that would be a job for a lawyer or a politician, not a follower of Jesus.

Our only job is to love and to serve and to model a society where all people are equally important in the eyes of God.

Let's do our best to obey our Lord and Savior when he commands us to be known for our love.

If it's not too late....


-kg

Sunday, August 08, 2010

JESUS IS OUR BLUEPRINT

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

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

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

This is what Jesus meant when he said "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing" - John 14:12

If we trust in Jesus, if we really believe in what He taught us, we will put His words into practice and we will do the things we saw Him doing.

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

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

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

A few verses later Jesus is asked a question:

"Why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the World?"

The disciples are wondering why Jesus doesn't reveal His Glory to the entire planet at once. Here's what Jesus says in reply:

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." - John 14:22-23

Did you catch that? The Disciples want to know why Jesus only shows himself to the twelve and not to the whole World. Jesus answer? I'm showing myself to you and when you obey my teachings you show me to the World, then they will see me, and the Father.

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

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

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

Because Jesus died, we can live. Because we die daily, Jesus can live through us.

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

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

-kg

Saturday, August 07, 2010

GUEST BLOG: Ken Eastburn - Go to Church, Win an iPad

A few weeks ago our family visited a local church. A week earlier we had met their youth pastor who had invited our two teenage boys. We attend house church and presently we don’t have any other teens attending so we thought it would be nice to take our boys and see if they could connect with other kids.

On that Sunday they were advertising an evening Vacation Bible School. Our six-year-old boy was interested in going and we thought it might be fun and a good learning experience, so we signed him up.

On Monday evening my wife took our son and stayed with him for the whole time. She said that the staff did a really good job of keeping the kids interested and teaching them songs and bible stories. When they returned home I asked our son how he liked it. His answer was, “it was great! Can I take some friends tomorrow?”

Wow! I thought. He must have really liked it. Then he told me that whoever brings the most friends over the whole week would win an iPad. An Apple iPad?! Seriously? What would a six year old do with an iPad? Surely he was mistaken. They must have meant and iPod. Probably and iPod shuffle, I thought. Those are only around $50. I could see them giving one of those away.

The next night my wife took him back to VSB but didn’t stay the whole time. I returned later to pick him up. As we walked to the car I asked him what he had learned. I was excited that he told me all about a bible story that he learned. Then he followed up by asking, “Can I call my cousin and ask if he could come tomorrow? I really want to win that iPad.” They must be really pushing this iPad thing.

It was the same story for the next two days. “VBS was great! I need to win the iPad.”

Then came the final night night, Friday night, the grand finale. This was the night that family was invited. After VBS the pastor gave a short message. Then came the moment we all had been waiting for. Who would win the coveted iPad?

The pastor invited everyone who had brought friends to come to the front. Many kids went forward. Then he went down the row of children asking them how many people they had brought. The ones who had only brought one or two people seemed a little embarrassed. There was a courtesy round of applause for them.

Then, one young man announced that he had brought seventeen visitors. There was thunderous applause and hoots for him. All of his visitors stood. He was a shoe in to win.

After all of the visitors were recognized the pastor held up the iPad, still in it’s box. Yes, it was truly a brand new ipad. I must admit that I coveted it a bit myself. I have wanted an iPad since I had played with one at the Apple store.

Now was the time. The pastor held up the iPad box and made an amazing announcement. The winner would not be announced tonight. In fact there was still hope. You see, anyone who brought visitors on Sunday would receive DOUBLE POINTS!!! That’s right boys and girls. You still have a chance! The iPad could still be yours! I saw my son’s head turn around and his eyes fixed on mine. Could it still be true? Is there still a chance? Can I bring friends on Sunday Daddy?

My heart sunk. I understand inviting people to church. I understand that our mission is to pray for unbelievers and to invite people into the Kingdom. Maybe we are supposed to use any means at our disposal, even Apple iPads. But this did not feel good. “No, son. We will not be coming back on Sunday.”

After that Friday night VBS meeting I had a long talk with my son. I told him that we don’t go to church to win prizes. We go to learn about Jesus so that we can help others. I was surprised that he seemed to really understand and agree with me.

I don’t think we will be returning to that church anytime soon.

In our house church we have been trying to learn about loving and blessing each other. Of course that is a hard pill to swallow in this consumer driven culture that we live in. It’s about us, right? It’s about getting our needs met, right? It’s about enjoying the “experience” of church, right? Right?

Well…no. No it’s not.

The irony of the fact that I am typing this blog on my MacBook Pro doesn’t escape me. I am just as addicted to “stuff,” especially technology stuff, as the next person.

At the same time God is teaching me to take baby steps toward being more humble and generous. And if I attend a church meeting, if it is in a big building or in a house, I hope that my motivation is to love others, not to win an iPad


Read Ken's Blog
HERE

Thursday, August 05, 2010

THE KINGDOM REALITY

The Kingdom of God is the present reality which breaks into this illusion of ours intermittently, like very bad cell phone reception. It’s God’s way of saying, “Can you hear me now?”

For us, this coming, advancing, intermittent reality is counter-intuitive. We’ve been born into this illusion – falsely labeled “Reality”- and have been immersed in this do-it-yourself mentality (The World) all of our lives. We need to learn to “Re-Think” everything – or as Jesus said, to “Repent,” (Metanoia = Rethink), “for the Kingdom of God (Heaven) is near” (Or, “It is within our grasp, our reach, and close enough to touch.”)

It is very much like taking the red pill and finding ourselves wide awake in a reality which is upside down and backwards from the world we have been born into. At first we reel with the vertigo of a world where up is down and the first are last. Those who humble themselves are exalted, the greatest is the servant of all, and those who lose their lives find everlasting, eternal life, even though they die daily. This is the Kingdom of God.

Welcome to reality. Because this upside down world, we quickly discover, is NOT upside down, it is right side up. We have lived so long, head over heels, immersed in an illusion of selfish fulfillment and a pursuit of more, more, more, that we need to detoxify our minds and hearts and flesh in order to remain in God’s Kingdom Reality.

Jesus announced this Kingdom, told us how to see it, how to walk in it and remain in it, and gave us the best news possible: We could enter and begin living in Reality anytime we wanted to.

In the Kingdom of God there is just one King; God Himself. He is a good, loving, kind, and wildly, unpredictably, sometimes uncomfortably intimate, inclusive and wonderful King, and Father, and Friend.

His Kingdom is a place where His perfect will is always done and those who rest in His will are refreshed and delighted and fulfilled and at peace and overjoyed. They are children born into the poverty of excess wealth and selfishness who have been adopted into a new Family who know the unending wealth of generosity and the joy of always having enough to share and give away.

This is reality. Before God made this vast oasis called “Space and Time” there was no space or time. Everything was perfectly “Now” and Eternally present with Him. This is the only reality there has ever been. God’s Kingdom was, and is, and is to come.

Our temporary stay in this unusual experiment called “Time and Space” will eventually expire and the temporary Kingdoms of this Earth will soon fade away. The Kingdom of Pleasure will fall to the ground. The Kingdom of Greed will perish. The Kingdom of Exploitation and Oppression and Excess and Fashion and Wealth and Flesh, will all crumble and burn and disappear into oblivion. Only one Kingdom will remain and that is the Kingdom which was here “In The Beginning” – which has even now come, and which we can enter today. And, one day, soon, this Kingdom will break forever into this illusion we drift through for the moment, and overtake all we see and know.

Are you ready to enter this Kingdom? Are you ready to begin living under the awesome rule and reign of The King? There’s just one thing, before you take that leap, before you swallow the red pill, that you should know, so that you can count the cost. Those who enter the Kingdom can only step across the threshold if they pay the price. It’s really nothing when you think about it, when you compare the amazing riches of God’s Eternal Kingdom with the tokens and trinkets of our counterfeit reality. The price of admission, the way to step across, is to let go of this world.

Just as you were born naked and weak and vulnerable and empty-handed into this world, so you can take nothing with you into God’s Kingdom. It’s called being “Born Again”.

The things of this world are not truly treasures. When you die they will stay here anyway, and just as you can take nothing with you beyond the grave, you can take nothing with you when you step into God’s Kingdom.

Jesus only asks for one thing- It’s called Everything.

But what you gain, what you receive in exchange, is beyond anything you can dream of, or hope for or imagine. The Kingdom of God, when you see it, when you really understand it, you will gladly rush out to sell all that you have, as quickly as possible, to step across the threshold into Heaven.

This is the moment where many people stop and turn back. Their grip on this world, or its grip on them, is so strong that they can never let go of their tiny, petty lives in this place in order to receive real life and treasure in God’s Kingdom.

If we have really seen the Kingdom, if we really understood and believed that this Kingdom was real (in a way that nothing else can ever be “real”), then we would rush quickly to surrender all that we have and all that we are in order to receive the treasure that does not rust or face or disappoint.

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." - Luke 9:24

“The Kingdom of God 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. Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44)

All God wants is all of you. All He asks is that you Trust Him and Believe Him and surrender your meager treasures and petty personal kingdoms in exchange for His Kingdom. God wants to be your God. He wants you to be one of His People.

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” – Jesus (Luke 9:23). There is no other way but the Cross.

Jesus says it is very hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.” Who then can be saved? His disciples asked. “With man this is impossible,” Jesus replied, “But not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10: 23-27)

Will you let go? Will you surrender it all? Will you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? This is the only question we need to answer in order to step across the threshold into the amazing reality of God’s Kingdom.

You can stay here, on this side of reality, where you are safe and miserable, in your tiny kingdom where your will is what matters. Or you can sell it all, exchange your handful of crumbling mud for real treasure which lasts forever.

Is your kingdom so wonderful? Aren’t you tired of wearing the crown? Haven’t you suffered long enough under your own rule and reign?

When you are ready to set fire to your kingdom, and surrender your lordship, and dance as the flames consume your empty way of living, He is ready to invite you to experience Reality, today.

There is only One King, and He is good. He really wants what is best for you, and He can, above all, beyond any other, be Trusted. His Name is Faithful and True.

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by me” – Jesus (John 14)

-kg
**
Originally published here in 2008, and re-blogged again in 2009. Worth repeating.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

SALVATION EXPERIENCE?

Lately I've been thinking quite a bit about the process of salvation. Partly because I'm in relationship right now with someone who is dying of bone cancer but who may - or may not - be saved.

In some ways I can see God working in my friend's heart. I can see my friend responding to my prayers. I hear my friend affirm that he knows that Jesus loves him, and that my love for him is reflective of that same love. But is this enough? Does that mean anything? If my friend died tonight, would he be welcomed into God's loving embrace?

I don't know.

But this conversation makes me wonder. What does salvation look like? Does someone need to pray a prayer or affirm certain doctrines in order to be saved? If so, what about the thief on the cross? He wasn't baptized. He wouldn't have been able to clearly explain to anyone what the Gospel was, but Jesus affirmed his simple act of faith was enough to ride shotgun with Jesus into paradise that very day.

For that matter, I started to wonder something else. When did the Disciples get saved? Can we pinpoint their conversion experiences? I mean, was Peter saved when he threw down his nets and followed Jesus on day one? Or was he saved when he affirmed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God? Or was he saved when he denied Jesus three times? What about when Jesus asked him to feed his lambs? I mean, do we see any point in the New Testament that resembles a conversion experience for Peter that you and I would recognize? What about the other disciples? When did they get saved?

On one level, I know that this inability we have to pinpoint the moment of salvation is partly why Jesus commands us to not judge one another. Why? Because we're really not very good at it.

If you and I were next door neighbors to the Rich Young Ruler, we'd have sworn that guy was going to enter the Kingdom of God. But when Jesus makes him the offer, he walks away with sadness. He can't do it.

If we lived next door to the thief on the cross, we'd have sworn that criminal, low-life scum would never have any cheance at redemption. And we'd be wrong.

Only God knows our hearts. We can barely know our own hearts, much less the heart of someone else. So, if we're commanded not to judge one another's salvation, how can we really know either way?

In all of this I do admit that my frustration and anxiety about my friend is largely selfish. I want to know that he is saved so that I can rest easy. I want to know that my investment of time and energy with this friend wasn't for nothing.

Would I still have served and loved this man knowing his ultimate decision might not ever be known to me? I think so. Over time I've really, genuinely grown to love this gentleman. He's like a part of my family. He's a part of me. His death will affect me deeply, regardless of his eternal condition.

I may not ever really know whether or not my friend Robert is saved. For now, I will continue to serve him, and to show the love of Jesus to him, for as long as I can. I know that God is the one who ultimately deals with each of us individually. I can sow, another can water, but only Jesus gives the increase.

I trust my friend into the arms of Jesus, and I trust my Lord is faithful and true. He is a loving, kind, and giving Father who judges fairly. If nothing else, I can trust that God loves him more than I do, and that God is good.

Amen.

kg

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A PROFOUND MYSTERY

When you consider that the Bible as we know it today was written over a period of thousands of years, by wide variety of authors, and assembled as a single document nearly two thousand years ago, it's fairly miraculous that the first three chapters of the Bible correspond so symmetrically with the last three chapters of the Bible.

In the first three chapters of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, we see a series of events that are mirrored in the last three chapters of Revelation.

First, we see the creation of heaven and earth. At the end of Revelation we see a new creation.

In the first three chapters we see Satan ensnaring mankind and in the last three we see Satan cast down and doomed forever.

In the first three chapters we see a garden, and in the last three chapters we see a garden city. Both gardens include the tree of life.

In the first three chapters we have a curse given to man for his sins, and in the last three chapters the curse if forever removed.

In the first three chapters God visits the garden once per day, and in the last three chapters God is at home with man forever.

In the first three chapters man and woman are cast out, but in the last three chapters they are welcomed in.

In the first three chapters a bride is created from out of Adam’s side, and in the last three chapters a Bride is ushered in for the Son of God and a wedding feast is celebrated.

In the first three chapters we have the beginning of Time, and in the last three we have the beginning of Eternity.

DEEPER THINGS
The Scriptures reveal the Church to be the Bride of the Lamb. It is one of the most common metaphors used by God to describe His people throughout the Bible. However, as I began tracing these threads between Genesis and Revelation I noticed even more about what Paul the Apostle refers to as "a profound mystery".

In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul uses the metaphor of marriage to teach us something astounding about Jesus and about our identity as the Bride of Christ. I've edited the text to highlight the main thoughts:

"...just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." - Eph 5:25-27

"'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church." - Eph 5:31-32


Because this passage is so often used to counsel men and women in regards to the marriage relationship, I have removed those references so that we can see what Paul says he is actually talking about: "Christ and the church".

First, Paul tells us how Christ has given himself up for us (the Bride) and how he cleanses and washes us through the word of God so that we might be ready for our wedding day. Paul also quotes from Genesis chapter 2 in this passage and this reminds us of how God put Adam to sleep and made a woman for him because "God saw that it was not good for man to be alone". Notice it was God's idea, not Adam's, for man to have a wife. Somehow this reference points to God's plan for the Church. As Paul reminds us - "For this reason" the man is to "leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become one flesh". This is where Paul pauses and remarks that "this is a profound mystery". Why? Because he is not talking about Adam and Eve now. He's not talking about Christian marriage between a man and a woman. No, he is talking about Jesus and the Church "becoming one flesh".

THE MYSTERY OF THE BRIDE
We know from God’s word that we (the Church) are the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:22-33). But in Revelation we learn that the Bride is also a City:

"One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." - Rev 21:9-10

We are the Bride, and the Bride is a City.

THE MYSTERY OF THE TEMPLE
We also know that we are the Temple of God (Eph 2:21), but in Revelation we discover that it is Christ who is the Temple in us:

"The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." - Rev 21:21-22

So, we are the Temple where God dwells within, but we are also the Bride which is a city and in that city is a Temple which is the Lord Himself.

ONE IN CHRIST JESUS
Want to see how this is played out in the rest of the Scriptures? In the Gospel of John, beyond the prayer of Jesus to the Father that we (the Bride) would be one even as Jesus and the Father are one, Christ also prays:

"Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." - John 17:21-23.

In Ephesians 2:21 we are told that we are the Temple of God, as we have already seen, but look at what this passage actually communicates. Try to guess where God ends and we begin here:

"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." - Eph 2:21-22

Here we see that we (the Church/Bride/Body/Temple) are being built to become a dwelling in which God lives, and yet the Temple is being built "in him". So, we are being built in Christ to become a Temple where God will dwell by His Spirit. Who is on the inside? Who is dwelling where? We are in Christ, and we contain God's Spirit all at the same time.

THE MYSTERY OF THE BODY
In 1 Corinthians 12, and in Ephesians 4:15, Paul gives us another wonderful illustration of how the Body is to function. He refers to the Church as the Body of Christ and explains that we are dependent upon one another for life, and yet that Christ is our Head and without Him we can do nothing (see also John 15:5). Here we have a wonderful picture of the unity which Jesus prayed we would have (John 17:21-23) and a fulfillment of the picture that we are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24, Eph 2:21), with Christ since we are His Body and He is our head.

As I look at who we are in Christ, (His Body, Temple and Bride), and as I see God's sovereign plan from the beginning (to find a Bride for His Son, and a Temple for His presence), and as I hear the prayer of Jesus that we be in Him and that we be one even as He and the Father are one, I cannot help but feel an urgency to tear down our man-made divisions and embrace our identity as members of one Body, with one Head.

THE GLORIOUS MYSTERY OF GOD
This mystery is quite profound. One worthy of our awe. It is not my goal to explain or understand this mystery. One dear brother I shared this with recently said to me, "Let it continue to be a mystery in your heart" and that is my intention. This is a profound mystery and what we must contemplate is not how to make sense of it, but instead how to live out our part of it. How can we be one in Christ? How can we make Christ the head of our Body? How can we be the Temple of the Living God? How can we make ourselves ready for that glorious wedding day to come?

THE END IS THE BEGINNING
The last thing I see as I look at the symmetry between Genesis and Revelation is that all of History ends with a wedding. All that we have known, and all that we now experience is only the courtship. This is just the engagement phase of our life with Christ. One day we will become the Bride of Christ and be one with Him. Yet, a wedding is not the end of life, it is only the very beginning. God's Word ends with a beginning.

This is a very profound mystery, indeed.

-kg
**
Originally published October, 2009

Monday, August 02, 2010

SILVER AND GOLD

Some of us have to admit that we just don't care about the poor. We'd rather just write a check and be done with it.

I can understand that, and I've been there before in fact. For most of my life as a Christian I was comfortable writing the checks so that someone else could step out and touch the poor and serve the lost. Unfortunately, we are called to do more than write checks.

What frightens many of us most is the suggestion that Jesus might be asking us to invest something more than just a check.

A check is easy. I don't have to touch anyone. I don't have to look them in the eye, or smell their breath, or become entangled with their problems.

A check is still, ultimately, about me. I even get to write it off my taxes at the end of the year.

But sharing what I have, listening to someone's story, touching another person, loving them the way I would love Jesus? That's frightening. That would take a lot of faith. It would involve trusting God like I've never trusted Him before.

And that would be exactly what Jesus was talking about when He asked us to lay down our lives for one another and take up our cross to die daily to ourselves.

It's Not About Money
For the last five years or so we've been serving families at the Studio Inn in Santa Ana, California. During this time of service I've learned that the less program we have the more Jesus we can bring.

Our monthly motel service costs our little house church just over $100. That covers groceries for about 30 families, renting a bounce house and buying a box of popsicles for the kids. But again, it's not about money. In fact, there have been times over the years where we didn't have a bounce house, or treats, or free groceries. We just showed up, my wife and I and our two boys, and a few others, and we played games, ran relay races, made a craft and prayed for our friends. Those were honestly some of the more amazing times we ever had, actually.

Keeping it simple, and learning to love the people who are right in front of you, is all it takes. That doesn't cost anything. It doesn't take a small army of trained workers. It only takes an open heart and a desire to put the needs of others ahead of your own.

Strength in Weakness
One of the principles of the Kingdom is the power of weakness. Paul talks about boasting in our weakness because in our weakness the power of Christ is revealed (2 Cor 12:9). That's a huge lesson. I used to always believe that the power of Christ was revealed in my eloquence, or in my talent or skill or ability. Instead I've discovered that the more I come in weakness, relying on God's strength, the greater the outcome.

Living in Orange County, California I've come in contact with some very wealthy people. Many of them are paralyzed by their wealth. Because of their great supply of cash they are tempted to lean on that money to save their marriages, or to protect themselves from reality, or to insulate themselves from the poor. I wish for many of them that they were not so wealthy. If they didn't have all that money to make things easier for themselves, I wonder, would they lean more on Jesus to rescue them or challenge them or change them?

Freely You Have Received, Freely Give
So, what can you bring if you leave your money belt at home? If you have a wallet full of money to give away you'll be tempted to meet physical needs without paying attention to the spiritual poverty. If your focus is on what you can do, or give, or bring, you might just miss what God wants to do.

Jesus announced his ministry on Earth by reading from Isaiah 61 saying, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour..."

Even though the annointing that was on Jesus involved the poor, and even though he warned us that we would be judged based on whether or not we had compassion on the poor and the outcast and the forgotten (Matt 25), we cannot miss the fact that Jesus was called to the poor in order to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to them.

We have that same calling.

I've been reminded recently that if we bring the poor free groceries and we put on a big production for them, we can't forget to bring them the Gospel of the Kingdom too.

Your Portion is Small
If you can't bring them money, what can you bring the poor?

"Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." - Acts 3:6

Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he sent out the twelve to preach the Good News of the Kingdom? Maybe it's why God told Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver my people from the Midianites"? (Judges 7:2) Because when we are strong, we have no need of God's strength. When we come bristling with our own wealth and talent and power and possibility the best we can do is the best we can do.

Perhaps if we left some of our resources at home and simply went out with nothing in our hands but worship, nothing in our hearts but faith, nothing on our lips but the Gospel of the Kingdom, we would see more of the power of God revealed in our weakness.

I'm eager to find out. Aren't you?

-kg