Wednesday, October 27, 2010

VOTE FOR JESUS

Regardless of what the literal meaning of "Traditional Values" may imply, most everyone in America today would agree that the term conjures up a laundry list of good, old-fashioned concepts like "God, Grandma, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet", or some similiar combination of words. At the core, it's a reflection of our inner desire to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when politicians were honest, prices were low and life was simple.

The problem of course comes when we realize that this is nothing but a fantasy. Sure, we might love to kick back and remember the good old days with fondness, but the reality is that we've always complained about high prices, lying politicians and never having enough time to slow down and enjoy our lives. Besides, we do not have access to time travel technology outside of Hollywood and science fiction, so any longing we have to turn back the clock is automatically moot. It's just not going to happen.

Therefore, what we're left with now is what you see in front of you. This world we live in is the only world there is. There is no such thing as a "Christian World" other than the one we create when we surround ourselves with media, clothing, and services that shelter us from reality. There is no such thing as a better yesterday that we can return to by wishful thinking or by breeding a super senator who can dismantle the corruption in Washington with his bare hands and restore sanity with the stroke of his mighty pen. It's not going to happen.

As followers of Jesus, our only hope is Him. When we place our hopes in politics, or politicians, we've already lost the battle. In fact, nothing so underscores our lack of faith in the Messiah or His Gospel than our attempt to solve the world's problems by legislating the outward behaviors that only Jesus can create from within.

The American Church is currently lusting for political influence and power. Why? Because "Plan A" has failed to create the result we desired, and so we have now reverted to "Plan B" which is to attempt to Christianize the society around us and to legislate our Christian values.

I would encourage today's American Christian to remember this: The Christians we read about in the New Testament lived under an oppressive pagan government. They were killed for sport and persecuted horribly. Instead of attempting to reform their government, they obeyed Jesus and loved their oppressors. They did not take up the sword and fight back. They did not verbally abuse the pagans for their sinful lifestyle. They did not attempt to form a coalition or a lobby group to force legislation that aligned with their views. Instead, they simply loved the people around them, shared all that they had with others and, in time, they turned the world upside down by imitating Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our faith was born under intense persecution and the Church survived by emulating the humble, peaceful, loving response of Her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. If we do anything less - or more - than follow the example of Jesus today, we are hopelessly lost.

-kg
**
NOTE: Today's article was written originally in response to a question asked of me by my friend and fellow blogger, Joe Ortiz, regarding the question of "Traditional Values" and their meaning in today's political climate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ark Syndrome: The Walter Kirn Interview

Back in 2003, Walter Kirn was the fiction editor for GQ Magazine. He wrote an article, "What Would Jesus Do?" an insightful commentary which chronicled his immersion into the Christian subculture.

After a friend shared this article with me, back in 2005, I re-posted this article to my blog. Five years later, it's still one of my top 3 most read pages every month. That says a lot.

Fast forward to 2010, and Walter Kirn is now an author whose books get made into films starring George Clooney (Up In The Air) and Tilda Swinton (Thumbsucker).

What's even more amazing (at least to me) is that Mr. Kirn would take the time to do a phone interview with me on a Sunday afternoon to talk about an article he wrote seven years ago and explore how the Christian subculture is still a bad idea.

**

Walter Kirn: I’m happy to hear that my article is still drawing traffic to your site after all this time.

Keith Giles: It must resonate with people at some level, I’d say for people to still be searching for it online. Were you aware that this article had such an impact outside of that initial publication in GQ?

WK: No I didn’t. I didn’t even know that it had any impact even on its initial publication. I mean, you write a piece like that one and by the time it’s published you’ve moved on as a writer. In those days, when it first came out in GQ (2003), we didn’t have the ‘Net to measure the response. You’d get a few letters to the magazine or whatever, but it was really impossible to tell whether it had any impact.

I’ve heard a few people discussing it and I thought that it was interesting that the people who were discussing it were doing so as sort of self-critical Christians; questioning whether or not a certain kind of commercialization had gone too far, rather than people using it to criticize the Christian community. I didn’t want it to, but I always suspected that the article might provide an opportunity for people to make fun, but it turned out not to be the case. It turned out to cause a dialog of conscience on the part of believers.

KG: That’s certainly been the case in my experience. A friend of mine showed it to me back in 2005 and I had never heard it before and he let me borrow his copy of the magazine and it inspired some great dialog. I’m aware of a half dozen other groups of people who have leveraged your article to launch sweeping email-based dialogs with other people of faith on this issue of materialism in the Church and the pitfalls of the Christian subculture in general. As you said, most of those dialogs involved Christians asking themselves, “In what ways do we contribute to this mentality?” You called it an “Ark” mentality in your article, as I remember.

WK: Right. It’s one that I have a certain sympathy for. I understand the challenge. The attempt to challenge this mass media monster and of course one of the tactics is, “If you can’t beat’em, join’em.” So, I’m not surprised that this sort of parallel universe of Christian pop culture has arisen. At the same time, it seems so…and I said it in the piece, but not as strongly as I might’ve – the culture that’s come out of this seems to pale in comparison to the great Christian art that’s come out of the church in the past. You know, whether that be painting or real Gospel music, or other works of art that are really moved by the Spirit. The modern versions of Christian art seem to be pale imitations that attempt to just give people an alternative, but it’s not a superior alternative. And it saddened me to see artists who basically just copy cat the secular culture and do it in an inferior way and then labeling it “Christian”. I would think that “Christian Art” should be an excellent, provocative, interesting form of art that transcends all others, rather than a kind of “Me Too” subculture moving off the mainstream.

KG: Yes. I think what happens – and by the way I used to work for a large Christian record company, and I worked in a Baptist Bookstore when I was in college, so I’ve had a background being a part of that machine and I’ve seen it from the inside, and what I observed was, as you’ve already said, it was mainly intended as an alternative to the popular culture. We used to actually publish charts that would hang in the stores that would let every Soccer Mom know that if Johnny liked Pearl Jam she should buy him the new Petra Cd. Exactly as you’ve said, the idea is that we need a Christian product to replace the popular product and that’s really the main goal. It’s a very fear-based business model, really. Even to the degree of suggesting that people aren’t really following Jesus if they dare to freshen their breath with “secular mints”.

WK: (Laughter) Yeah!

KG: It’s the idea of getting your Christian Milk from a Christian Cow and it creates this division, this false version of the World, that’s safe for the whole family. We end up quarantining ourselves from the world by surrounding ourselves with Christian versions of everything so that we don’t catch what “they” have. Of course, that goes totally against what Jesus prayed for us in John when he said, “I don’t pray that they be taken out of the world but that they would be protected from the evil one.” So, we’ve taken ourselves out of the world by making a Christian version of it that keeps us safe and inoculated against “those people.” They should catch what we have. We shouldn’t be afraid that we’ll catch what they have.

WK: Exactly! I mean, if you look at Gospel music, I mean, wait a second. There’s an incredible argument to be made that a lot of Rock and Roll came out of faith-based music.

KG: Yes.

WK: There’s kind of a lack of self esteem in the whole thing, too. There’s this latent inferiority complex that somehow you’ve got to clone this popular culture in order to have a culture, when in fact there was a very vibrant – and still is- dimension of Christianity which might not lend itself to commercialism, but certainly stands as viable art and as culturally relevant as anything that Hollywood turns out.

Also, I think you’re right, you can end up creating a bubble in which you’re sure not to see any disruptive messages, or be offended or be exposed to disconcerting images or ideas. Also it seems to me that retreating in that fashion makes it impossible to bring the light to the people who don’t have it. It’s complacent to sit back and lock your doors and enjoy your little safe zone. You know? When in fact, it’s only the awareness of what’s going on in the world that allows you to attract people in a way that acknowledges the real problems that people are dealing with. Creating a nice, pre-padded cell is not the way to bring the masses to Christ.

Didn’t Jesus seek out some of the most troubled and distressed people in his society? He walked into the very places most religious figures would avoid. He didn’t hole up in a cave and surround himself with reassuring images and “yes men” and let the world outside go to heck.

KG: I think that’s what concerns me. When I see the Church retreating from society and refusing to really engage the problems that people are dealing with in the actual world.

WK: It’s one thing to have to survive in the age of persecution, it’s one thing to have to retreat into a defensive position when the Romans are looking for you. But, it’s another now to be in this time when – how can I put it? – I used the term “Ark” in a dual sense. I do understand the impulse to preserve a zone of safety, especially for children.

Although the piece made fun of Christian culture, it’s not that I don’t understand the impulse to have a safe place and especially for young children. At the same time, there is no relevance to the message or any sense of the adventure of living with faith if you have eliminated all other sources of dissonance and contradiction.

Finally, how do you bring a message to people if you’ve insulated yourself from reality? There’s something frightened about the Christian commercial culture. It sends this subliminal message that says, “We’re not going to be able to make it out there” or “It’s too scary out there.” It’s like going down to the basement alone or something. It’s also just nakedly profit-based too, I imagine. I can’t believe a lot of it isn’t just outright exploitation by people who really don’t care and who are just looking to make some money in a different market.

KG: You’re exactly right, and that’s one of the most disheartening things I observed during my tenure in the Christian subculture was to realize that it really was just a business like any other business. I mean, on the outside the Christian record business says that they’re all about spreading the Gospel, but the reality is that if you’re not selling 20,000 units as an artist your label is going to drop you for another artist who can, and it won’t matter if hundreds of people are coming to Christ at your concerts either. Selling product is the only thing that counts.

I have to say, however, that most of the artists I’ve known are genuinely seeking to glorify God in what they do, they really do have a desire to use their gift to spread the gospel. But most of them discover pretty quickly that it’s not about ministry, it’s about money. That’s where it gets weird, to me, when you’ve made a business out of something that I’m not sure should be a business.

WK: Well, it certainly wasn’t intended to be in the first place. I don’t know how you mix those things successfully? I mean, how do you make faith and mammon mix?
I don’t really know. I’m sure Christian music is probably bigger than ever now isn’t it?

KG: I’ve been out of that loop so long, I don’t really even know to be honest.

WK: Probably much more organized, I have a feeling anyway. The Internet has allowed a lot of people to be more organized.

KG: Can I ask you why you wrote this article and published it in GQ of all places? I mean, you probably had an idea that the readers of that magazine were probably not Christians.

WK: Well, I mean I always think it’s more interesting to write things that the audience isn’t guaranteed to be familiar with already. You know what I mean? I knew that that my article wasn’t necessarily what GQ’s audience would identify with, but I wanted to bring it to them in a way that might cause them to think.

Of course, I know that this same audience had noticed the Christian subculture out of the corner of their eye. Whether or not they were living in it or not, they were certainly living around it. A lot of subjects I choose for essays and articles are phenomenon that everybody has been exposed to, perhaps only obliquely, but hasn’t had the chance to really think about it. Or had any reason to think about it.

Anybody who has ever turned a car radio dial has come across Christian radio. Anybody who had cable TV had come across Pat Robertson or whatever. So, I knew that no matter who you were – if you were just a GQ reader who bought the magazine to find out what hair gel to get or learn how to match your socks and your shirt, you had noticed this phenomenon and perhaps even formed some thoughts and opinions about it that you weren’t even aware of. So, I wanted to just bring it up into a level of consciousness.

I live in Montana and I grew up in the middle of the country, in Minnesota, and I’ve always enjoyed bringing subjects to national magazine that don’t have to deal with life in Los Angeles or New York, necessarily.

Of course, a lot of what I’m talking about is right there where you live, in Orange County, California.

KG: Yeah, it’s all over the place here. I mean, TBN is right down the street. Most of the nation’s largest mega-churches are out here, too. I could literally walk to the Crystal Cathedral if I wanted to, and Calvary Chapel is here, and Saddleback. I don’t know why, but God put me here and I’m living in this place. From here I can see how it warps people a bit. I mean, I’m from Tennessee and I grew up in Texas and I remember when I first moved out here about 16 years ago, I told my friends back in Texas that it was like living on another planet. The clothes were the same and they spoke the same language and watched the same TV shows, but other than that it was like living in a Twilight Zone episode.

WK: (laughs) That’s funny.

KG: In the time you have left do you mind talking a little about your personal faith journey? I think most people know you for your novels and your articles, but they probably also wonder who is this Walter Kirn guy and why is he talking to me about the Church?

WK: Well, it’s not something that I talk a lot about, number one. Nor is it something I’m asked a lot about. For one thing, I feel that not talking about it overtly gives me more flexibility to talk about it secretly in my writing, in both my fiction and non-fiction. In other words, for me to identify myself loudly and widely as a Christian would probably cause a lot of ears to close. Perhaps it would cause other ears to open, but the one’s that would open wouldn’t necessarily be the ones I’m addressing.

So, my faith is something I’m discreet about and quiet about, because I think of it simply as a point of view that can trickle through my writing and I don’t have to be strong about or announce as such, but it gives what I write a moral, ethical, spiritual framework that I hope will show through between the lines.

So, my faith isn’t something I discuss publicly, but I don’t mind it either. It’s nothing at all to be ashamed of or to be embarrassed about. It’s not something to be proud of either.

KG: (laughs)

WK: But it is something to witness to when asked. My history with organized religion is sort of checkered. I was baptized a Presbyterian in a very formal way. My family didn’t go to church much. When I was about 12, however, we converted to Mormonism and I was a member o f the Church of Latter Day Saints from about 12 to 17. Then, for social reasons as much as spiritual reasons, I made the most of it because it wasn’t something that I’d chosen necessarily. So, at 17 I decided not to go on a Mormon Mission and went to Princeton instead.

I don’t know that I thought much about my relationship with God for maybe about seven or eight years. But, around age 30 I stopped drinking and entered a 12 step program. As people may already know, the 12 step program urges the addict to reflect on their spiritual beliefs and to enter into a relationship with a higher power. So, that caused me to start looking at how I defined God and I could not really adequately or satisfactorily relate to any God but that which I knew from the New Testament. The Christian story at every level was all I needed to feel spiritually whole - at the literary level and as the real-life account of one man’s persecution and death, and as a large-scale description of our predicament here on Earth. I tried other things. I tried meditation. I tried all the various unfocused, fuzzy spiritual options. I could not dispense with Jesus Christ. I could not – either as a teacher, as a suffering, divine human being, as a contradiction, and a mystery.

So, that put me in a strange situation because I was a writer and a journalist who was addressing people of all kinds and didn’t want to limit myself to so-called Christian themes. That’s one of the problems I have with Christian culture. Christian culture is should be all culture. It should not think that it has to confine itself to certain kinds of themes or certain issues or certain characters. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of being in the world. If you believe it, it’s an account of what’s going on everywhere with everybody. When it starts backing up and taking only these small portions of reality rather than the whole society and the whole reality then it seems there’s something wrong with it.

So, I had to ask myself, “Do I announce myself as a Christian artist?” And I thought, “Why? No I don’t have to.” I don’t have to because it’s either part of myself and part of my work or it’s not. I wrote this piece (in GQ) out of this argument I was having with myself about whether or not you had to put that capital “C” or that fish symbol on your forehead. I thought, in some instances it’s what works and it’s what’s best, and in other instances it’s not.

To be honest with you, I just didn’t want certain employers of mine to discriminate against me. Not that they would, necessarily. There’s no reason to believe that they would, but it was possible that I might come out with a certain opinion on something and they would dismiss it as the opinion of someone who didn’t actually think; as someone who was simply proceeding blindly for the sake of certain religious principles rather than as someone who was thinking things through.

I never saw any conflict between thinking through every question that comes to you with the brain that God gave us and assessing it through Christian ethics and morality and tradition.

KG: The decision not to compartmentalize yourself, your art is a wise one, I think. It reminds me of a few years ago when a friend of mine said that he didn’t want to call himself a Christian anymore. When I asked why he said there were two reasons. First, because when most non-believers heard the term “Christian” they drew up a mental picture of those same faces on Christian television and they automatically assumed that he was like those people; always after money or always bashing this group or another. Secondly, when he read about the people called “Christian” in the New Testament he found a people who were radically giving their lives away and selling their property to anyone in need and he didn’t think he was worthy to be compared to people like that.

WK: (laughs) That’s interesting.

KG: When my friend said that to me I found I agreed with him, so whenever anyone asks me “Are you a Christian?” I respond by saying, “No, but I am very fascinated with the person of Jesus and I’m doing my best to follow him and to put his teachings into practice in my everyday life.” Which is more true than to simply say, “I’m a Christian”, I think, since that phrase conjures up a host of images and assumptions.
I’ve found that this response is so much more inviting and intriguing than to just say, “I’m a Christian.”

WK: It draws people in rather than to give people an excuse to draw back.

KG: There’s so much baggage associated with that term in our society.

WK: Hey listen, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to deny Jesus Christ. I don’t want to say, “I don’t know him.” But at the same time, I don’t want to do something more than say “I do know him” either. I mean, I admire him and I’m trying to understand him and to follow him as much as I can. I mean, that title is something that somebody else created actually. I don’t have to own all the implied political views, as you say, or the implied cultural narrowness and all the rest. I want people to think, I don’t want to use a title that causes people to stop thinking.

KG: I want to say thank you. I’m very blessed and honored that you would take the time to talk to me today, especially when you’ve got your kids with you this weekend and everything else.

WK: Likewise. I took a look at your blog and I like the feeling of it and I loved the sincerity of it. I like the honesty of it, and it’s got a tone that I’d love to see more of. So, I’m thrilled that I can take some time and do something that’s not just completely selfish.

**
Walter Kirn is an American novelist, literary critic, and essayist. His novels include Up In the Air, Mission To America, and his latest book, Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Whore At His Feet

"When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD." – (Hosea 1:2)


One of the more disturbing metaphors in Scripture is the recurring image of God’s people as a prostitute. Whenever we turn away from God and give ourselves to the pleasures of this world, God is grieved and often He likens this act of spiritual adultery to prostitution.

"'But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—would you now return to me?' declares the LORD." – (Jeremiah 3:1)

In the Old Testament book of Hosea, we see this prostitution of God’s people personified in the form of Gomer, the wife of Hosea the prophet.

"The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods...So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver...Then I told her, "You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you." – (Hosea 3:1-3)

I recently saw a Barna research report that rated people's perceptions of different groups of people. In this study Barna found that only prostitutes rated lower on the scale of favorable impressions than Evangelical Christians. So, that got me to thinking, maybe we're a lot more like prostitutes than we'd like to imagine?

In what ways can the Church be like a prostitute? When she offers services rather than genuine love. When she is more concerned with looking good on the outside than being good on the inside. When she fails to engage in a lifelong love affair with her husband. When she only remains faithful because she’s afraid of losing her security. When she honors people more for what they can do for her than for who they are as people.

Many years ago a friend of mine told me about a paper he had to write for a seminary class. The assignment was to write about which Biblical character you would want to be and why. At first my friend started to write his paper about how he’d like to be King David, but then he heard this song:

In the night, the harlot moves across the floor
She turns the handle on the door
A hundred eyes seem to look right through her
Why she's there they're not sure
Behind her love, she falls down to her knees
Without a word, she begins to weep
And her tears, they fall down upon his feet
She smothers them with kisses
And she dries them with her hair

In my life, sorrow has kissed my lonely heart
Fear of man tears me apart
And I try, but many times I've loved the world
So many times I've been the whore
And I cried a million tears, or maybe more
So many times I have been the whore
I will fall down on my knees
And I will sing "I love you"

I will sing "I love you, my love"
And my tears, they fall down upon your feet

Let me smother them with kisses
Let me dry them with my hair
Cos if I could be anyone at all
Well, if I could be anyone at all
Let me be the whore at your feet
The whore at your feet*


After hearing this song, my friend tore up his paper and began to write a new one entitled, “The Whore At His Feet”. The next day, after his professor read the paper he asked my friend to present it to the class. When my friend was done reading, everyone in the class asked if they could also re-write their papers and identify themselves with the whore at the feet of Jesus.

The truth is that we are all, like this prostitute, desperately in need of Jesus and His love. We are all sick, we are all sinners, we are all in the same boat and hopelessly lost without Him.

Because we’ve received such abundant and marvelous love so graciously and without merit, we cannot help but to fall on our knees before Him and express our devotion with a thankful heart.

Now, if you could be anyone in the Bible, who would you choose to be?

-kg

"When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner"...Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." – (Luke 7:37-39; 44-47)



*Lyrics by Mike Prtizl, from the Violet Burning album "Strength" - 1992

Monday, October 18, 2010

ABUSE, ADDICTION, SHAME AND REDEMPTION

When I was in first grade my family moved from Tennessee to Texas. By that time I had been sexually molested by 3 different people.

Our move to Texas was God's grace to us. It served to heal my parent's marriage. It helped me to escape the sexual predators in my life, and it brought my family to a saving faith in Christ.

I still remember standing in the kitchen as a second grader and gripping the butcher knife in my hands with the point against my belly button, trying to find the courage to stab myself to death. I didn't know why I felt so bad, but I knew I wanted it to stop.

My mom walked in on me, standing in the kitchen with tears streaming down my face, holding the knife against my stomach. I couldn't talk to her about what had happened to me. I couldn't find the words. I felt so much shame. So much confusion about my feelings. How could I admit all that I had done? I didn't even know the words for what had happened to me.

Somehow, after hours of tears and unbearable confession, I managed to explain what had happened to me. Most of it, anyway. It would be years before I could put all the memories together into something my adult mind could process. I still have flashbacks today of things that I cannot put into words, and I won't try to do so here.

Even in the midst of all this pain, I can remember laying on the bed at a babysitters house during naptime and talking to God. I remember telling him that I would be a preacher if he would help my mom and dad get back together. I don't even know why I said that, really, because I had only visited a church once before at that time and I hadn't even sat through the entire service.

Still, God heard that prayer. He took my family out of Tennessee and carried us far away to Eagle Pass, Texas where we found ourselves in the front row of the Lighthouse Freewill Baptist Church.

I remember Bill Sikes, a white-haired man from Virginia who sang "The King is Coming" almost every Sunday morning with a strong baritone voice. I remember Sandra Peterson, the cute blond girl whose father was the town's only vetrinarian. I remember singing "Victory in Jesus" at the top of my lungs with my new friends Shane Briggs and Carl Rutledge on either side of me. But mostly, I remember Vance Link, a tall, dark-haired preacher from North Carolina, talking about how Jesus loved me and died for me. How He could wash away my sins and make me clean inside. I remember my heart racing when he made the invitation to come up front and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. I wanted to take those steps, but my feet were frozen to the floor. The piano played the final verse of "Just As I Am" and it was over. I had missed it.

After the closing prayer I remember taking my Dad's big hand in mine and asking him if he would please tell the pastor that I had wanted to go up and ask Jesus into my heart but that I couldn't make my feet move.

My dad looked at me and said, "No, son. I won't do that."

I was stunned, but he wasn't finished speaking. He said, "But I'll go with you and you can tell him yourself."

So, my dad held onto my hand and we walked those ten steps to the front of the church where I did my best to explain to Pastor Link that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. He prayed with me through my tears and then something really amazing happened. My mom and my dad both asked if they could be baptized along with me. So, together, all three of us were baptized on the same day into the family of God.

Years later, I found that the ideas and experiences I had been exposed to at such an early age made it nearly impossible for me to escape an eventual addiction to pornography that plagued me throughout high school and into my early college years.

I went through a cycle of addiction for several years. It was always the same. I would start by immersing myself in pornograhic magazines, videos or books. Eventually I would become disgusted with myself and beg for the Lord to forgive me and take away my desire for those things. Then I'd enjoy a season where I could resist the temptation, but eventually it would overwhelm me and I fall right back into that cycle again.

The amazing thing is that, no matter how many times I repented and begged the Lord to take away my desire for pornography - He would do it. It was so amazing to me. He never seemed to get tired of forgiving me and removing my desire.

Over time, my ability to resist the temptation grew stronger and eventually I found freedom from this seemingly endless cycle of addiction. Not that I consider myself to be immune from the power of this addiction. I am constantly aware of the fact that it would only take one stupid mistake to send me back into that cycle again. But now I have a wife who loves me for who I am. I have two amazing boys who I hope to protect from this same addiction. I have no desire to return to that hideous slavery of lust again. Freedom is sweet and the fruit of this freedom is reward in itself.

One thing I learned during my seasons of resisting this temptation that I'll share with all of you is this verse:

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." - (James 4:7)

Many people misquote this verse and say, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" but that's not what it says, and it's not true. The devil isn't afraid of me, nor am I stronger than him in my own flesh. The scripture starts by saying, "Submit yourselves, then, to God." This is the key. If we are submitted to God, then we are automatically moving away from the devil and the flesh. If we are in the arms of God then we are safe from the enemy's power and the enticement of lust. We have to start by submitting ourselves to God and then, when we resist the devil he will flee from us because he knows there's no use trying to pry us out of the hands of Almighty God.

I'm sure a lot of you reading this will wonder why I decided to share this personal, intimate testimony on my blog. I think mainly because I realized this week that God had rescued me from so much already and that it was good to remember it, and to openly confess these things to others.

Everytime I've shared this testimony in the past I have been innundated with people who share similar stories with me about their own molestation, or their own struggles with addiction to pornography. I guess I wanted to let people know that they're not alone and that God really can take away that lustful desire in the heart. I wanted to let people know that God can heal the wounds and the scars of our past and that it's not our fault if an adult takes advantage of us against our will. We are not dirty because someone treated us like dirt. We are dearly loved children of God who need to be held in His arms and made whole again.

I'm one of the lucky ones who can say that Jesus healed my heart and made all things new in me. He gave me the strength to resist temptation yesterday, and He will continue to give me the strength today, and tomorrow as well.

-kg

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

NOTES FROM THE OC/OC FORUM

Here are a few notes to reflect what those who attended the Orange County Organic Church Forum on Monday night of this week had to say about our topic:
“Learning to Put Jesus at the Center”

What Can We Do to Put Jesus at the Center?
*It starts with an inner relationship with Jesus that flows outward into the Body.
*Participation is essential
*The principles in 1 Cor 14 reveal that “encouragement” is the fruit of this participatory expression.
*Embrace those who are different and who disagree with us. (No “Party Line”)
*Have the courage to believe that Jesus really IS already at the center and acting out of that reality is key.
*Real fellowship (see 1 John) – “Walk in the Light as He is in the Light...”
*Going first, being transparent and real and authentic is crucial.
*Let Jesus lead the meeting.
*Be Church.
*Church is not a performance.
*Christ in us = Christ in the meeting.
*The quality of my intimacy with Christ influences what I bring to the Body and the Assembly.
*Embrace simplicity. Following Jesus isn’t a riddle to be unraveled but a life to be lived one day at a time.
*Explore what it means to have “Christ in me, the Hope of Glory” by asking Jesus daily to show you.
*Listen more than you speak.
*Allow everyone the opportunity to share their portion of Christ with everyone else.
*Be ok with waiting for God to lead. Uncomfortable silence is ok.
*Embrace spontaneous moves and break your liturgy easily and joyfully.
*Discover Jesus in one another.
*Encourage the hunger to experience loving God, loving others, and being loved by God and others.

What Does It Look Like When Jesus is At the Center? [Breakout session]
*Let the church be what God is forming not what meets your expectations.
*Take off your mask.
*Kill the hymnbook, songsheet, liturgy and remove any other crutches where your comfort reigns.
*Uncomfortable silences are great!
*1 Cor 14:26 – “Not one of you comes not ready to bring something to share...”
*Seeing Jesus in everything daily, not just in the meeting.
*Confess your weakness and sins and failures to others often. They’re not surprised and it makes it easier for them to be real too.
*The Church should be a safe place to be real and human with everyone else.
*How do we prepare? More quality and quantity time with Jesus during the week.
*Find ways to break your unspoken liturgy with joy. "Behold, I make all things new..."
*Find creative ways to involve children of all ages in every part of the meeting.
*Pray together and ask Jesus to lead you in everything. Then make sure to actually let Him!
*Have the courage to trust Jesus as your leader in the meeting, and in your daily life.
*People shouldn’t be allowed to act religious. Instead everyone should be honest, human and humble.
*Recognize that people want so badly to belong that they will assimilate to almost any group to be accepted. Therefore, accept everyone on the basis of their place in the Family of God, not on their allegiance to the party line or the culture of the group.
*Have courage not to create hoops in order to belong.
*Let go of expectations - no model.
*Drop your religious mask.
*Disagree in love, respectfully.
*Share food.
*Mentor the young people.
*Focus on following Jesus, not tradition.
*Church never "begins".
*Let love be the guide.
*Love, acceptance and forgiveness are freely practiced.

Friday, October 08, 2010

DID JESUS SAY THAT?



I’ve started to notice that the wisdom of Jesus is a bigger part of our collective intelligence than I ever realized before. Often at work I will hear people who are not followers of Jesus quote Him in their conversations with one another. This made me wonder just how many of the phrases we commonly use are actually attributed to the words of Jesus.

Here’s what I found:

Go the extra mile – Mt 5:40-42
The truth will set you free – John 8:32
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – Mk 14:38
Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing – Mt 7:15
The Good Samaritan – Lk 10:30
(He/she is) the salt of the earth – Mt 5:13
Don’t cast your pearls before swine – Mt 7:6
The blind leading the blind – Mt 15:14
Count the cost – Lk 14:28
Do unto others – Lk 6:27-31
The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing – Mt 6:3-4
Man does not live by bread alone – Lk 4:3-4
The Straight and Narrow Path – Mt 7:13-14
Turn the other cheek – Mt 5:38-40
The Prodigal returns – Lk 15:11-13

I think the next time I hear someone who is not a Christian use one of these phrases I’ll ask them if they realize that they’re quoting Jesus.

-kg

FINANCIAL SUPPORT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT - Part 2

"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” - (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

What is “double honor” referring to here? What if when Paul suggested that the elders among us are worthy of double honor he meant that we should honor them? If we read the entire passage in context, this would seem to be the case. After saying that they are worthy of “double honor” he goes on to say that accusations against elders shouldn’t be taken at face value but must be supported by two or three witnesses. This seems to imply that what is due the elders who teach is respect, or “double honor”.

The examples of the ox treading out grain and the worker deserving his wages is simply meant to support his original statement that, because they work to preach and teach their brothers and sisters in the church, we should reward them with double honor. How? Well, by not listening to rumors about them or entertaining false accusations against them for one thing.

If “double honor” is financial support, then when Paul commands us to “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10) does this mean we should financially support everyone and that the elders should receive twice as much? Far from it.

If Paul meant to suggest that they should receive financial compensation, then why doesn’t he just come out and say so? He doesn’t give any guidelines for how much they should be paid, or how how often, etc. In light of the passage in 1 Corinthians 9 we’ve already examined, it would seem that Paul would be violently opposed to the idea of providing “a material harvest” to someone just for teaching the scriptures in love.

For this verse to be taken to mean that elders in the body are to be supported financially, we should find evidence elsewhere that this was ever practiced in the early Christian church and no such evidence exists. Even in the second century when Cyprian attempted to introduce the idea of tithing in the Church to support the overseers, no one supported the idea and it was rejected. What does this tell us? First of all, that it wasn’t the custom or practice of the early church to financially compensate the elders or overseers. If it were, why would Cyprian propose it as if it were a new idea? Secondly, we learn that the idea was so foreign and objectionable that no other church leader agreed with Cyprian’s idea. The church did not financially support their leaders. In fact, we know historically that the Church didn’t formally introduce tithing until the year 777 a.d. under Charlemagne.


“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” - (2 Timothy 2:6)

This passage, taken in context, is using 3 different metaphors: A soldier, an athlete, and a farmer, to communicate 3 different principles to Timothy. First, that as a soldier of Christ, Timothy should not concern himself with the affairs of the world but instead should focus completely on obedience to Christ. Secondly, that as an athlete who runs the race to win it, he can only emerge victorious if he obeys the rules of the race. Third, Paul reminds Timothy that if he is faithful and obedient to Christ he will receive a share in the harvest that is to come. This is not a verse about financial support, as far as I can tell.

If you want further proof, beyond the New Testament accounts, I'd recommend looking at the Apology of Tertullian, a 2nd Century Church Father. As he attempts to explain what early Christians believe and practice regarding money he says:

“Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering...to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old..."

Once again, no mention of the offering being used to support elders or leaders within the local assembly of faith.

As I’ve already said, there is little historical or new testament evidence to support the idea that leaders within the Christian church were financially compensated. Apostles, missionaries and traveling church planters were offered support in the form of a place to sleep and food to eat and perhaps a care package to take with them on their journey to the next village. But the idea of financial support for those who teach and edify the local Body of believers is unknown in the new testament scriptures.

I understand that this is a hotly debated issue in the Body of Christ and so I leave room for others to believe differently about this than I do. I’m not against anyone who serves as a full time senior pastor or who takes a salary as a servant of a local church. I think it’s wonderful that these people have felt God’s calling on their life to serve others for the sake of Christ.

However, it is my personal conviction that everyone who follows Jesus is a member of the priesthood of all believers and that we are all ordained into the ministry of the Gospel of Christ. All of us are called by God to serve others, preach the Gospel and teach those who respond to follow Jesus daily. We should all rejoice that our true reward is the same as Paul’s:

“What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (1 Corinthians 14:18)

-kg

Thursday, October 07, 2010

FINANCIAL SUPPORT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT - Part 1

In the debate over whether or not pastors or church leaders should receive financial support for their service to the Church there are three main verses to look at.

In part one I will look at 1 Corinthians 9:7-18. In part two I will combine the verses found in the two epistles to Timothy in one article.

Comments are welcome, but please first take the time to read my entire article before you respond. Please also keep this conversation friendly and focused on the topic, not the author or the commenters.

Thanks,
-kg
**

FINANCIAL SUPPORT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT - PART ONE
Before we can even begin to have this discussion it must be pointed out that there is no New Testament analog for our modern day senior pastor. The closest you can get to leadership in the New Testament church is a group of elders, or overseer, but not one single leader who handles all teaching, preaching, counseling, and administrative duties.

This fact makes it very difficult for us to effectively guess what the Apostles might have taught on the subject of whether these senior pastors should receive financial compensation. One might wonder if the Apostles would be even more concerned that one single person was leading the local church himself than whether or not that person should be compensated financially. But, I digress.

If we can attribute the function of the local senior pastor to the work done in the New Testament church by elders, then there might be grounds for arguing that a pastor in our modern day churches should be supported financially. That's more of what this article will attempt to discuss.

Let's begin by looking at 1 Corinthians 14 and what Paul has to say regarding whether or not Apostles should receive financial compensation for their work.

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?" - (1 Corinthians 9:7-12a)

If we stop right here, (and most do), it would seem that Paul believe quite strongly that those who minister in the Body of Christ should rightfully expect to “reap a material harvest”. However, let’s continue to read further and see where Paul is going with this argument before we make up our minds.

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” - (1 Corinthians 9:12b-18)


Here, Paul affirms that Jesus has commanded that those preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. This sounds pretty convincing for those who believe that pastors should be put on the payroll. But “those who preach the gospel” are evangelists, and like Paul and the other apostles, travel from town to town preaching to the lost and helping to establish churches. That's not what senior pastors do. They, like the elders and the overseers in the New Testament church, remain with the local assembly to provide ongoing spiritual guidance under the leadership of Christ.

Paul is not arguing that those who remain behind and who facilitate the regular gathering should be financially supported here in this passage. What’s more, he goes on to say, in the strongest words possible I might add, that “he would rather die” than to “hinder the gospel of Christ” and to offer his preaching of the gospel “free of charge.”

Does this really come across as a glowing endorsement for financially supporting those who preach the gospel to you? To me, taken all together in context, it would seem that Paul feels that it’s more than a little possible for such practice to “hinder the gospel of Christ.” This should give us pause, I believe.

I also believe it’s no small distinction to point out that travelling missionary evangelists like Paul and the other apostles are the only ones who have any right to material harvest, according to the New Testament. Historically, we know that this support was usually in the form of a place to sleep and food to eat for as long as they remained in the city preaching the gospel to the lost. It did not correlate to $50k a year and a housing allowance with medical and dental benefits.

In 2 Corinthians 11, verses 7-9 Paul reveals more of his attitude about receiving support from the Church:

"Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so."

Here Paul tells us that receiving support from another church in order to preach to the Corinthians was comparable to "robbery" in his mind. Suffice it to say, he didn't feel comfortable with doing it, but he did agree to this at least in this instance in order to devote himself to the service of the Believers in Corinth.

The Didache, written in the late first or early second century, was a collection of teachings used by the early Christian church to guide them in church matters. Here we find the following instruction:

“Let every Apostle, when he comes to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.” – (Didache 11:4-6)

So, clearly, there were those, even in the early Christian church, who desired to fleece the flock and the leaders of the church provided instruction on how to deal with them. Specifically, those who ask for money were considered to be false profits, which suggests also that Paul’s passionate example (in 1 Cor 9:12-18) had an impact on how the church supported those who were apostles.

Now, I'm not saying that our senior pastors are trying to fleece the flock. Most of them are humble servants of Christ who have responded to a genuine call on their life to encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ and teach them to obey the words of Jesus. Many of my dear friends are senior pastors and I have been an associate pastor myself who served alongside these men and have myself been supported financially by the church.

But that was before I felt God calling me to leave that model in favor of one where all of the offering from the church could go to help the poor in the community. I, like Paul, felt that it hindered the gospel, and my own walk with Christ, to participate in a system where the church spent most of the money received on herself and not on the poor and the broken around us.

In our next article we'll see what Paul has to say in his letters to Timothy regarding elders in the church and what compensation - if any - they are due.

-kg

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

TEACHING IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

My friend Tom Crisp and I have been engaged in a fascinating email discussion lately and I wanted to share some of what we’ve been talking about here to get more reactions and thoughts from you guys.

The conversation started when Tom observed that many in the Organic Church arena tend to read 1 Corinthians 14:26 as if it says that everyone can teach as opposed to the more American model where only one person stands up front and teaches everyone else.

Tom said that while Paul's Body metaphor suggests active participation in church meetings where all use their various gifts to minister to one another, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is therefore a teacher.

He goes on to say, “I think Paul is better read in 14:26 as saying each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue OR an interpretation. He's not saying to the Corinthians that, when they meet, everyone has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue and an interpretation. He'd just finished saying in chapter 12 that different gifts are given to different members of the body for the common good, then in verse 29, he asks rhetorically, "All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? ... All do not speak with tongues , do they? All do not interpret , do they?" where the context strongly suggests the answer to those questions is 'no'. Thus his saying in chapter 14 that he wishes everyone spoke in tongues, but more so that all would prophecy, the implication being that not everyone had these gifts.

[Therefore] I'm inclined to read 14:26 as suggesting, then, that, when the Corinthians met, everyone contributed his/her gift to the meeting, but that only some contributed the gift of teaching.”


In response, I said that I totally agree with Tom’s assertion that not everyone in the Body is a teacher, or has the gift of prophecy, etc. No disagreement there. But, the more I thought I about it I realized that there was another way to look at the situation.

While the scriptures suggest that there are a variety of different spiritual gifts given to the Church and that not everyone has the same gifts, the Bible also tells us that all should be able to share their faith with unbelievers, for example. Dose this mean that everyone has the gift of evangelism? Of course not. But it does suggest that every believer is a member of the priesthood of believers. (see 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:10) Therefore, even if one does not have a specific gift to evangelize, or to pray for the sick, etc., it does not excuse that Christian from sharing their faith or praying for someone in need. In other words, in the Kingdom of God we are not allowed to say, “that’s not my job!” because we’re all members of the priesthood of believers.

Looking again at the passage:

"What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." – (1 Cor 14:26)

As I read this I wonder if teaching is really so central to Paul's concept of what is important when the Church gathers? As I read through his epistles I tend to come away with the idea that Paul has a greater concern that the people of God love one another and know the love of Jesus. It seems that Paul is much more concerned, at least to me, with edification and the "strengthening of the church" than he is with teaching. Especially when we read through the entire epistle of 1 Corinthians I think Paul leaves a stronger impression that he values "Love" and "Prophesying" over teaching.

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” – (1 Cor 14:1)

Over in 1 Cor 14, in verse 31 Paul says; "For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged."

Doesn't this suggest that Paul does think that "all can prophesy" in the gathering? Or is that "can" more about having the freedom to do so, if not the ability or gifting?

Tom’s response to this is that Paul is speaking only to the prophets here and not to the entire church. This may be the case. (In fact, I think he’s correct.) But, again, the prophesying done here is by a group of people, not only one person, and the purpose is that “everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” This suggests, again, that the goal of the meeting is not only instruction but encouragement and it’s being accomplished through a participation of everyone in the Body – whether those prophesying or those teaching or singing, etc.

However, later on I realized that we were both taking an academic approach to this subject. If we were talking about a group of people who got together to discuss Trigonometry or to study the Chinese language, we would expect that they might require a teacher - an expert - to help them understand the material. But in the Church we are not only gathering for the purpose of understanding information. In fact, whenever two or more gather, the Author of the Book is in the room! The main character of the book is on site and available to explain Himself to us!

The Holy Spirit - the author of the Bible - is living within us. We are capable of reading the Word and asking Him to lead us and reveal the Truth to us. And He will!

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” – Jesus (John 16:13)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” – James 1:5

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.” – 1 John 2:27

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." – Jesus (Matthew 18:20)


So, even if the people who have the "gift of teaching" are not present for one of our gatherings, it's still possible for everyone else in the room to read the Scriptures, and pray, and ask God for wisdom and insight. If they do this they should expect to receive revelation from God Himself through the Holy Spirit.

In this way, the Church is never without a teacher. She has been filled with the Spirit of God, and the head of the Church is in her midst. Jesus has promised that He is the Good Shepherd and that His sheep can hear His voice. (see John 10:14-16)

Again, this doesn't make everyone in the room a teacher, but everyone in the room does have access to hear The Teacher and share what they learn from Him. Therefore, it’s still possible for everyone in the Body to come together under the Headship of Christ and share the gifts they’ve received from the Holy Spirit and participate in the life of Jesus together.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

SERMONS DO NOT SAVE US

I've mostly given up on the idea that a sermon can change anyone or anything. I've heard - and preached - hundreds of sermons in my lifetime. Only a handful of these - literally maybe only six or seven of them - have had any real impact on my spiritual life. That means that most of them have done nothing to draw me nearer to Jesus.


Have you ever run across a set of old notes in your Bible or in a notebook? What good did it do us to write things down, underline passages and jot down sermon points only to tuck them away for months or years?

The Gospel isn't meant to be studied. It's not something we are called to disect. It's a life we are called to live before men.

Bible Studies, while they are helpful to us, only fill our heads with knowledge. But unless we obey God's Word and put the teaching's of Jesus into practice, we are fooling ourselves.

"Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." - Jesus (John 13:17)

Putting the words and teachings of Jesus into practice is what we are called to do. Not to gather more and more knowledge. Knowledge does not save us. Jesus saves us.

"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." - Jesus (John 17:3)

The word for "know" here in this passage is the same word used for when a man "knows" his wife. This sort of knowledge is not about information, it's about intimacy and transparency and trust.

The kind of "Knowledge" we are called to have about God and His Son is the quality of knowing that conceives something within us. It is a knowledge that must give birth to the life of Christ within.

"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." - Jesus (John 4:39-40)

Studying the scriptures, listening to great sermons (even the one's I preach), and reading the Bible are great, but they are not the object of our faith. Jesus is our life. Jesus is our hope. Jesus is the living God we are called to know, and that knowing must involve an intimacy that conceives a new life in our hearts.

The good news is that Jesus wants us to find him. He's already promised that those who seek him will find him.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." - Jesus (Matthew 7:7-8)

One of the the names of Jesus is "Emmanuel" which means "God with us." He is not far away. He is near. He is available. He loves to reveal more of Himself to those who hunger and thirst for Him.

We find our life in Jesus. We find our hope in Him alone.

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as[c] the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." -Jesus (John 7:37-38)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

WHY OH WHY DOES THE CHURCH TITHE?

The tithe (literally "a tenth") is an Old Testament law designed to provide for the Levitical Priesthood (who could not own property) and to maintain the temple in Jerusalem.

In the New Testament, there is no temple to provide for except the people of God. That is, there is no building or structure to support and maintain. Why? Because the New Testament Church is not a building.

In Ephesians 2:21, (and elsewhere), we are told that we are the Temple of God:

"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

Under the New Covenant the people of God are the only Temple. This is why the Apostles and the early Christians didn't bother to build a Christian temple for people to worship in. They fully understood that God did not live in temples built by human hands (as both Stephen and Paul affirm in the book of Acts), but that He has now poured out His Spirit on all flesh - old and young, male and female, Jew and Gentile. This is the New Covenant.

Because there is no longer a physical temple to maintain, there is no longer any need for a tithe to the Church. Historically, the Apostles, and the early church did not collect a tithe from anyone.

In fact, the Christian Church didn't mandate a tithe until the 7th Century. Imagine, over 700 years with no tithe? How could that be? To begin with, offerings in the early, New Testament church were voluntary and freely given out of love. Most gave more than a tithe (or "tenth"), they sold everything they had and shared it with those around them who had need. Still, this offering wasn't a law or a command of the Church, it was freely shared out of love.

Tertullian, in his "Apology" (2nd Century) affirms that no offering was taken out of compulsion but says:

"Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering…to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old."

Under Constantine, the clergy were paid for their services (for the first time in Church history), but that payment was provided by the Roman Government, not by the Christians themselves.

Additionally, under the New Covenant, every single believer is a priest of God. Therefore we should either keep our offerings to ourselves (to "pay our priests") or we should give and share with those in need around us.

Here's what the early christians did with their money:

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had...There was no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”- Acts 4:32-35

Our house church family gives freely to help the poor in our community. We do not pass a basket. Yet we do give 100% of every penny received to buy groceries, support families in need, and to care for the needs of people in our own Body and in our community.

This is only possible if we do not pay our pastors or maintain a building, but under the New Covenant of God, this is more than a possibility, it's highly encouraged.

Giving is a high value in the New Testament Church, but tithing is unknown under the New Covenant of God.

-kg

Friday, October 01, 2010

WHERE OH WHERE DOES MY TITHE GO?



Ever wonder where your tithe money goes when you drop it into the collection plate?

Well, this break down below might help you get an idea of where it’s being spent. Of course, not every church is the same. There are a few that might spend a little on the poor or help support missionaries, but even those churches would only give around 3% under that category.

60% of the Tithe goes to:
Pastor Salaries
Health care
House payments (Housing allowance)
Children’s Tuitions
Vacation pay
Cars (Vans, maintenance, registration, etc.)
Utilities
Travel costs
Entertainment (Pastor’s lunch, catered meetings, etc.)
Seminars and conference costs

35% of the Tithe goes to:
Church mortgage
Audio visual equipment
Fellowship food and drink
Music instruments

5% of the Tithe goes to:
Youth group materials
Sunday School curriculum

0% of the Tithe goes to:
The poor
Evangelism
Missions
*Special Offerings are usually taken for these concerns.

Next blog: Where Oh Where Did The New Testament Tithe Come From?