Friday, February 25, 2011

EMBRACING DISCOMFORT

Lately I've been feeling a very strong urge to step outside of my comfort zone again.

There was a time when I was regularly crossing that border to minister to prostitutes in Santa Ana at 12am, or hosting hot dog picnics with the homeless in Costa Mesa and hoping the cops didn't try to shut us down.

Over the last few years I've slowly settled into the comfort of my daily routine. I've given myself permission to spend my time on myself and as a result I've been less and less engaged in the lives of others around me. Not just the poor, but those in my community, my neighborhood, even my own house church family.

Slowly I've been awakening as if from a long nap and I'm discovering once again a strong desire to pursue Jesus outside of my comfort zone.

Truth be told, this is where you'll find Jesus. He's out there. He's moving among the poor. He's near to the destitute. He's wrapping his arms around the homeless. He's weeping over the prostitute. He's grieving with the hopeless. Just as he was when he walked this Earth over 2,000 years ago, Jesus is always "out there" where the broken and the forgotten are crying out for love.

So, right now I just know that I need to rediscover Jesus in the street and I'm feeling, personally, a need to be challenged more in this area of my life.

Someone reminded me the other day that the word "Compassion" means "to suffer with". If we do not make ourselves available to those who are suffering, we can't truly know what compassion is all about.

I know that I need to start leaving my comfort zone more often to encounter Jesus in the world around me, and specifically among the poor where I live.

My friend Thomas Crisp has been spending his Sunday mornings hanging out with the homeless at a local shelter. Together we've been trying to explore how to create an incarnational expression of Jesus among the poor here in Orange County. Meaning nothing more than he and I sitting down and having a meal with people living on the streets. Not to fix them. Not to evangelize. But to allow the Holy Spirit to change us (and them) in the process of sharing a meal and inviting Jesus to be with us.

It's simple, yet it's bold. It's quiet, but it's radical. It's small, but it's powerful enough to transform a human soul into the image of Jesus. At least, that's what I'm about to find out.

Peace,
kg

Thursday, February 24, 2011

WHAT ABOUT PASTORAL MINISTRY?

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you know that I've spent a fair amount of time discussing the modern concept of the Pastor and how it corresponds (or not) to the New Testament use of that same word.

Before you read any further I have to say that I am not against pastors. Many of my dear friends are senior pastors. I do not hate pastors and I'm not writing this article to put pastors down. I love pastors (and some of them even love me).

My beef with the word "pastor" is that we've given it (and the concept of a clergy-lead church) a level of importance that the New Testament doesn't support.

As I've said elsewhere, it's not that I'm against the idea of someone surrendering their life to serve the Body of Christ. Far from it. What I'm in favor of, instead, is the idea that every single believer in Christ is already a member of the priesthood. I'm in favor of the ordination of all Christians into the ministry of the Gospel, not just a select few professionals.

Does that mean that all are pastors? Of course not. But every believer is a member of the priesthood and that means that they have an ability to hear Jesus's voice, to minister to (serve) others using their gifts, and to participate in the life of the Church.

So, for me, the title of "pastor" is something I've worked hard lately to get out from under. Although I have been licensed and ordained as a minister in the Southern Baptist Church, my aim is to empower everyone who follows Jesus to operate fully in their gifting and serve in the Church as the Holy Spirit directs them to do. (My ordination papers are framed and resting happily on the floor under my bed covered in a layer of dust).

I'm in favor of the 58 "one anothers" being practiced and celebrated rather than recognizing a handful of professionals who attempt to do the work of the entire Body all by themselves.

Still, there are plenty of people who still call me "Pastor" and get away with it. For example, my family has been involved in planting an organic church at a local motel lately, in partnership with Saddleback Church. Because of this, it's more and more common for people involved to call me "Pastor Keith". I don't mind it and I don't try to correct them. Why? Because I'm actively encouraging them to "be the Church" and to follow Jesus in their daily lives. It matters less to me what they call me and more to me whether or not they are becoming disciples of Jesus.

When I used to visit my friend Robert Higgins at the Senior Home near my house, everyone called me "Pastor" and even Robert would introduce me to others as "His Pastor". Quite honestly, I was very happy to be known as "Robert's Pastor" because this is what I was for him. I was "shepherding" him into the presence of Jesus and he and I both recognized this.

To me, a pastor is someone who cares for others in the Church. He, or she, has been filled with the Holy Spirit and gifted to come alongside people in trouble or distress. As far as I can see, the New Testament (which only mentions the word once) gives us no restrictions as to how many people can operate in the pastoral gifting. And the scriptures always speak of a plurality of elders who shepherd, never one single pastor.

What's more, the gift of pastoring is a service gift. It's not a gift that carries any authority with it. Pastors care for their brothers and sisters in Christ, but there is only one Father and that is God. There is only one Head of the Church and that is Jesus.

A few years ago, when I first started this blog my bio at the left identified me as a "Writer, pastor, teacher, and house church leader in Orange County". You'll notice now that the word "pastor" has since been removed. That's because I've tried to distance myself from both the title and the popular perception of what most believe a pastor is or does.

In our house church family I have also done my best to back myself out of the senior pastor role, allowing others to share scripture, lead us in communion, teach the Word, and operate in their gifting more. Most are shocked to learn that I do not teach or preach at our house church. In fact, no one does! Instead, everyone one of us - children included - are encouraged to bring a scripture, a teaching, an encouragment, a song, or whatever else the Lord compels them to share with the church family.

One member recently remarked that he was shocked the first time he visited our house church because I wasn't the one leading the meeting. At one point I even left the room while everyone else continued to share from scripture! This is by design. It's taken me a long time to learn how to shut my mouth and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in the meetings. And I've love the freedom we've enjoyed over the last 5 years together, operating in this way. It's been the best thing I've ever done with the word "Church" on it.

So, when we look at the New Testament we see that the Apostles used the terms Elder, Shepherd and Overseer interchangeably.

The terms "elder" (or, presbyter), "overseer" (or, bishop) and "pastor" all refer to the same thing. So, we should not separate elders, pastors, and overseers into three different groups with differing functions.

An elder (presbyter) is literally "an old person". The same word is used in the Greek to refer to someone who is old and also someone who is recognized in the Church as such. In Titus 1:5-7, Paul talks about appointing elders in the church but then he switches to the term "Overseer" which suggests that the two were one and the same in his mind.

In 1 Peter 5:1-2, the Apostle Peter exhorts the "elders among you" to "shepherd (pastor) the flock of God that is among you." So, who are the one's "pastoring" the church in the New Testament? It's the Elders (plural) who are recognized as being mature, humble and trustworthy in the Body.

In Acts 20, all three of these words (Overseer, Pastor and Elder) are used to refer to a single group. Paul calls "the elders of the church" and instructs them to care for "the flock" (suggesting that they are therefore "shepherds") and reminds them that the Holy Spirit has made them "overseers" (v.28). So, elders, pastors and overseers are referring to one group of people in the Church who perform all three works of service.

I always have to point out that the New Testament also commands all of us in the Body of Christ to submit to one another. Submission isn't something you demand in the Church, it's something you grant to others out of love.

So, all of us are called to submit to one another and that means that the elders/pastors/overseers submit themselves to serve the entire church and the entire church submits to them and to everyone else. The only supreme person to whom all Christians should submit is Christ, and Christ alone.

The pastors (plural) in the Body are called to be the servants (or slaves) of all and to serve out of humility and love. If we follow the New Testament, it's not about one person leading us in everything. Instead, everyone gets a chance to serve and to lead and to encourage. Eventually, the immature among us will become the "elders" of the group and they will have their turn to serve others in the way they have been served.

The Church is a family and in God's family there is only one Father (God) and one Head (Christ). The rest of us are just brothers and sisters in Him.

-kg

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

OC/ ORGANIC CHURCH FORUM: This Saturday

You're invited to join us for our next OC/OC FORUM on Saturday, Feb.26th.

We'll hear from local house church leaders Wendy and Keith Giles as they share their story and answer questions about their journey into organic church in Orange County.

*** RSVP REQUIRED! ***
Seating is very limited for this event.
TO RSVP: Please reply to this email with names of all who wish to attend.

Check-in will be required at the door. Please bring a picture ID with you when you arrive.

Info:
OC/ORGANIC CHURCH FORUM
Saturday, Feb. 26th - 9am to 11am
Fuller Seminary California Coast
2021 Business Center Drive, Suite 115
Irvine, CA 92612

Need more info? Post questions here or visit
http://www.OCHouseChurch.com/

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Difficult Path and an Easy Yoke

Jesus is often found saying things that challenge us, perplex us and confuse us. For example, he tells us that we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood if we ever hope to enter the Kingdom. He also expects us to love people who want to kill us and in the Gospel of Matthew he appears to contradict himself. But does he really?

First, Jesus says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

Then later on in Matthew he says something that sounds contradictory like, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

So, which is it? Is following Jesus easy, or is it difficult? Let's see if we can make sense of what Jesus is teaching us here.

Starting in Matthew 7:13-14 we see that Jesus tells us that following him will not be an easy thing to do. This by itself can be confusing to a lot church-goers since pastors and evangelists have been teaching for years that all we have to do to escape judgment is to believe in Jesus and we’ll be saved. What could be easier than that?

Yet, Jesus is adamant here that it is certainly not an easy thing to find the narrow gate and to enter it and to walk in that path. What is easy? The wide gate. This is wide and easy to see and – look – so many other people are walking in that direction already! How can it be the wrong way to go?

Jesus affirms that the way that leads to life is hard to find. Not only that, once we find it we will soon discover that the way is difficult and not many people will come with us.

What is he talking about?

I think there are a few different things going on here. First, I believe that Jesus is warning us that "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12 ; Proverbs 16:25).

Basically, if we ask most people if they believe in God they will say "Yes". Every national poll for the last 50 years has confirmed this truth. Most people, in general, believe that God exists. Most people also believe that if they live a good life and don’t kill anyone that they will go heaven when they die.

Of course, all of this simply human wisdom. It does not take into account that none of us is "good enough" to earn heaven. If we were, then Jesus was the dumbest messiah ever because he came and suffered in our place for no reason whatsoever. This human wisdom also doesn't take into account that going to heaven when we die isn’t really the issue. It's who we will put our trust in now – today – while we are still living.

Jesus never invited anyone to believe in him so they could go to heaven. He always asked people to follow him, and he always talked about one thing: The Kingdom of God.

The most famous passage that people gravitate towards is, of course, John 3:16. But if you read the entire chapter you'll see that the conversation was all about the Kingdom and who could enter the Kingdom of God (v.3). Those who are able to become like little children and who are willing to start over again with God as their Father (i.e. – “Born Again”) are capable of entering the Kingdom. They must receive a spiritual birth (v.6) in order to receive the new life of the Kingdom.

This is why the "gate...that leads to life" is narrow and "few (people) find it"; because without Jesus we cannot see it or understand it. In fact, you cannot live in a Kingdom unless you submit to the King. That is why many miss the narrow path; because they are unwilling to submit their lives to the King and live under His rule and reign. They want life on their own terms.

This is what the "wide gate" is all about. It's about the American Dream. It's having your plans succeed and your dreams come true – usually at the expense of others – and certainly without compromise. The shocking thing is that Jesus says that this way "leads to destruction" and that "many go this way". Why? Are they stupid? Of course not. No one would continue driving down a road marked "certain death" no matter how well-paved it might be. People gladly travel down the wide path because it promises the happiness that everyone craves.

The wide path is the one you see advertised on Television. It's what the Paparazzi chase with their cameras. It's what drives big business, and fashion, and celebrity, and the Lottery. It's a willful submission to the promise of a Me-centered reality. It's about a Kingdom of comfort where the only King is you.

Now, how do we reconcile this teaching with the passage where Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)?

Which is it? Is following Jesus difficult, or is it easy and light? This is confusing stuff.

In this passage, Jesus contrasts his "yoke" with the one that the world gives us. The yoke of the world isn't gentle. It is not rooted in humility but in pride. The yoke of the world isn't about rest. It’s not "easy" or "light". The world's yoke uses us up, exploits us, and spits us out. In fact, the world leverages the empty promise of the Wide Gate and puts us on the treadmill where we can chase the carrot dangling just out of reach. If we ever actually succeed, we'll find out that it was all a lie. But most of us never realize our dream for fame or riches, and so we continue to run the race that leads to nowhere.

Elsewhere, Jesus also tells us that "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

So, we know that while we are in the World we will have trouble. The yoke of the World is burdensome and does not lead us to peace. The Narrow Path (following Jesus) is difficult (because it requires us to leave our comfort zones), but Jesus has already overcome the World and has shown us that it is possible to walk the Narrow Path successfully if we trust in (believe in) Him to show us how – day by day.

When Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14 that the way is difficult he doesn’t mean that it takes work to be saved. So, what does he mean? He means that the way is difficult because it challenges our sinful nature. As we read in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks us to do some pretty difficult things: Loving our enemies, forgiving people, not worrying, going the extra mile, not lusting, not being angry, etc. All of these are difficult things for us to do because they are not our natural tendencies. However, if we can let go of everything we think we know and submit ourselves fully to the King, then He will empower us to walk in the narrow path and to enjoy the peace of a light and easy yoke. In fact, he will walk beside us along the path and show us how it’s done because He’s already walked down this way many times before.

-kg
**

Three things Jesus tells us about the Narrow Gate:
1. It’s the path of life. (Jesus is the gate and His teachings show us how to live an abundant life which eventually leads us to eternal life with Him)

2. It is difficult. (It involves a willingness to do things that are not easy for us to do but that are good for us in the long run)

3. Not many people chose this path. (But those who do will discover the real life that the other path can only promise)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LOVE BEYOND KNOWLEDGE

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:14-21)


Notice how many times Paul talks about "Power" in this passage, and in what context the word is used.

What Paul is praying for the church in Ephesus is, first, that the power of God would be exerted in the hearts and lives of the followers of Jesus "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

It takes God's power working in us to reveal Christ in our hearts and to empower us to have an ongoing relationship with Jesus.

Secondly, Paul prays that the power of God would lead us "to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

I love this verse because here Paul confesses a bit of his inability to express with words the incredible love of Christ for us. Notice the phrase, "to know this love that surpasses knowledge". How can we know something that is beyond knowledge? If there is a concept that "surpasses knowledge" can it really be known? Not in the natural world, but supernaturally it is possible, and only through the miraculous power of God working in us by His Spirit.

Lately I must admit I have forgotten this. I've been very busy with a lot of "Christian activity" but I've neglected to simply come to my dear Lord Jesus and sit at His feet and love Him. Not only to love Him, but to allow Him to love on me.

Re-reading this passage reminds me that what I need most is the power of Christ to be made alive in me so that I can "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge".

Do you think it's possible for us to know something that goes beyond knowledge? Is the love of God really greater than our ability to absorb or comprehend without an upgrade to our spiritual software?

Paul seems to think so. And he spends a lot of time in his letter to the Ephesians trying to express something with words that cannot be understood through words. He struggles to communicate to us in this epistle that God's love for us is beyond comprehension, and then he prays that we might have an ability to understand it, and to receive it, and to be empowered by it in our everyday lives.

God's love transcends information. The Gospel is not about information, it's about a tranformation of the heart by our Creator who comes to live within us as we humbly submit to Him as our King.

One of the ways that we can be empowered to know the love of God that surpasses knowledge is through suffering. Paul affirmed this when he talked about his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7) and said that it was given to Him by the Lord "so that Christ's power may rest on (him)" (v.9) because "(God's) power is made perfect in weakness" (v.9).

Over the last few days my family has endured a lot of suffering. In fact, at almost every level we have been under attack, and I think this is why I was able to realize last night that I had been neglecting to remember that I am called to love Jesus and cling to Him no matter what.

Today, in my weakness, I am thankful for the power of Christ at work in me. This power reminds me that I am loved and treasured beyond words and that the love of God is greater than I ever fully know with my natural mind.

"The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17)

Peace,
kg

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Your Cross And Mine




In all things and in all ways, Jesus is our example, teacher and master. We are his disciples, followers and friends.

It troubles me that often we make the Gospel about His cross and not ours.

I think that what Jesus did for us on the cross was incredible. It was the single most heroic and astounding act ever committed by anyone in the known universe. Mostly because the person committing this ultimate act of humility and sacrifice was God Himself. He certainly didn’t have to go through this. No one forced Him to do it. He simply could’ve wiped out all of mankind and started over with a new group of humans rather than endure the shame and the agony of the cross. Better yet, He could’ve just avoided all of this by not creating anything at all.

But, for whatever reason, God did create everything. He did know that it would cost Him everything. He did realize that this creation would require Him to leave His throne in glory, step down from the eternal praise of the angels and the twenty-four elders, and take on the form of a servant. Even the form of a baby, in a small stable, surrounded by smelly shepherds and barnyard animals.

Worse still, He realized that this creation would compel Him to first suffer unbelievable rejection, humiliation, physical torture, pain, separation from the Father, and even physical death.

Would you have said, “Let there be light” if you knew it would cost you all of this?

Yes, the cross of Jesus is miraculous and awe-inspiring. We don’t talk about it or meditate on it enough. It is the scandal of the universe that the perfect, pure, Holy One became smeared with the filth of sin and shame…our filth…our shame.

But we forget that Jesus offered us a cross of our own. Before he took up his cross, he called his disciples to take up their own cross and follow him.

“Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” – Luke 9:23

A.W. Tozer once said, "Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying."

We are also called to die along with Jesus. His death was for our salvation, but our death is also necessary to the process. We must surrender our lives in exchange for the new life that Jesus died to give to us.

Jesus also tells us, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:24-26)

Somehow, in my walk with Jesus, I have forgotten to carry my own cross. Somehow, I have neglected to receive the words of my teacher, my master and my friend when He tells me that “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

What is left for me is repentance, and a search for the cross which He has set aside for me to carry.

Jesus has left me with an example of what love is. He has called me to follow where he has already traveled. Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus, as he humbled himself, we are to humble ourselves, as he emptied himself, we are to empty ourselves, as he took on the form of a servant, we are to take on the form of this same servant.

The amazing thing about the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus came and died to preach and proclaim is that “the Kingdom of God is near you” (Luke 10:9). This means that we don’t have to strive and dance around to get the Kingdom to arrive or to make it go. It’s here. Right now. Jesus announced it. He invites us into the Kingdom right now. Today.

What we often miss is that, the pathway into this Kingdom is through humility, servant hood and taking up our cross to declare Jesus as our Lord and our King.

Jesus declared the Kingdom was near to us. He demonstrated that it was true. He modeled for us how to enter the Kingdom and enjoy the Kingdom kind of life.

We’re left with little mystery then, as to where the Kingdom is and how to enter it. What we’re challenged with is the cost of this great treasure. It costs us everything, and yet, in comparison, it costs us nothing at all.

“I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old "I", but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and sacrificed himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

We’d love for there to be “another way” into the Kingdom, wouldn’t we? Even Jesus, when faced with his own cross, prayed and asked if there was another way, yet he concluded by saying, “Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours” and he accepted this call to surrender unto death.

Our temptation is no different. The lie of the enemy is that there is “another way” to partake of the Kingdom and to follow Jesus besides the cross. We cannot allow ourselves to think that following Jesus is possible without dieing to ourselves daily and allowing Jesus to be our Lord and King.

"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ.” (C.S. Lewis, “Counting The Cost”)

The cross of Jesus is a stunning and breathtaking act of love and sacrifice by God Himself for people like you and me, and the cross He asks us to carry is our declaration of love and gratitude to Him for this amazing sacrifice.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” - (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost Of Discipleship”)

”…BUT LET JUSTICE ROLL ON LIKE A RIVER, RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A NEVER-FAILING STREAM!”- AMOS 5:24


-kg
*Originally posted here on July 13, 2005

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

JACKIE PULLINGER: THE SIGN OF THE CROSS



It seems that there are many of us in the church these days who look at miraculous signs and think, ‘If God would only do them, the whole world would come to Christ’. And they’re hoping that the Holy Spirit will fill a church while we worship, and fill it so full that it will somehow get to the ends of the Earth.

No. If it worked like that, He would not have told us to go! It does not get there by itself. It gets there if you go.

You think Jesus Christ, up there in heaven, couldn’t have done sky writing? Done a few signs and somehow by the power of God we’d all be one?

No.

The miraculous sign upon which all men will be judged was the cross. That is the miraculous sign that the world is waiting for, through us.

There’s this terrible song that we sing called “Lord Let Your Glory Fall”. I don’t know if you sing it, but I get real upset when we sing this song.

I can’t sing that song, especially when they sing it all sweet. You know what the Glory of God is? The Son of God, crushed, voluntarily.

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, only to take it up again.”- John 10:17.

God gives us this same privilege. “Anyone who would follow me must take up his cross, daily.”- Luke 9:23

See? That’s it!

I don’t think the Glory of God is going to get to the ends of the Earth when we sing in church. I mean, it’s not a bad thing to do, to praise His name and bless His heart. But that’s not how the Gospel gets to the Nations.

You see, it isn’t “just” a miraculous sign. The miraculous sign comes through a man.

I think the world has yet to see this. The world has yet to see Christians laying down their lives. They’re singing in church for God to do it again.

I think we’re so rude to God. I mean, He gave us His son, He gave us His Holy Spirit and we say, ‘More, Lord’! What more can He give?

He gave everything, and we say ‘More Lord’?

We say, ‘We need more before we go’. No! No! We haven’t used hardly any of what He’s given us yet. And if you go and it’s quickly used up, great! Because as you use it up you get more, and you use it up, and you get more. That’s how it works!

We haven’t seen hardly any of the signs and wonders that we’re supposed to see yet. Hardly any.

Because we think that the sign and the wonder is instead of the Cross. But the sign and the wonder is “in” the cross.

Then, when we understand the Cross, which is His heart, all the other signs and wonders are the expression of His heart. They are not demonstrations of His power, merely. They’re expressions of His heart.

You know that this was Jesus’ temptation, right at the beginning of His ministry, and at the end, to have it all without the Cross.

For any of you, young people, if you will minister with the poor, everything’s backwards.
You spend a year on these people, and then they rob you of your money. In this ministry, you go backwards. God is faithful, of course, they all come off drugs by the power of the Holy Spirit, but then many of them turn back.

I was sharing this with a church in Taiwan and the pastor came up to me afterwards and said, ‘How can this be? We’ve never heard this teaching before.’ And I said, ‘It’s the way Jesus did it.’

Look at Him. At the end of three years, what’s He got to show? I mean, he’s had some great Glory meetings and some people got healed, but what’s He got at the end?
Eleven in disarray and one suicide. His group hasn’t multiplied even.

Not until Peter knows the Grace of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s that Rock the Church is built on; a weak, forgiven Peter knowing the Grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And so few yet in this world have used this explosive mixture of the compassion of Lord with a broken heart, and the power of the Spirit.

It’s what the world waits for.

*Transcribed from Tape 4 in the conference tape set entitled “The Fragrance Of Justice”; VMG, 2005

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trust: The Key To Everything [Part 3 of 3]

Here are some possible barriers we might face when it comes to fully trusting God:

*We don't really know God.
*We have a fear of letting go.
*We think we know what's really best.
*We don't want Gods intervention in our lives.

Let's briefly examine these four barriers to trusting God.

*We don't really know God.
If we really knew God, we would have no problem trusting Him. I believe this is why God sends trouble and difficulty into our lives. When things are going well we tend to ignore God, but when we are in financial difficulty or walking through uncertainty, we are suddenly desperate for God to rescue us. Whereas our goal during these trials may be to coerce God into making the pain go away, I believe God's goal during this time is simply to teach us that He can be trusted.

Time and again my family has been through crisis after crisis. Each time God has come through miraculously, and yet this fact is lost on me when that "next crisis" occurs. I still find myself wondering, "Will God rescue us this time? What if this time is different?" I believe that God wants us to come to a place where we immediately trust Him whenever we face trials. For now I still find myself freaking out first and then remembering to trust Him later.

*We have a fear of letting go.
I spent most of last year as an unemployed "temporary" worker. This made our financial future quite uncertain and called for us to daily trust God with everything. I can remember clearly the epiphany I had a few months into this ordeal- "If God is in control, that means that I am not." I needed to learn to be ok with being out of control so that God could be in control. This takes courage. It's not easy.

One of my favorite books of all time is "Let Go" by Fenelon. It's only a 99 page book, but the wisdom and spiritual insight found inside is solid gold. The overall theme, as you might guess from the title, is to remind us to let go of our lives and surrender fully to Christ. God knows that we need to develop a deeper sense of trust with Him and He is patient with us as we slowly learn that loving Him means trusting Him.

*We think we know what's really best.
Sometimes I believe we find it hard to trust God simply because we're pretty sure we already know what we want with our lives. God's ideas might not line up with our plans and letting go, trusting Him completely, will probably mean laying that dream (or that plan or hope, etc.) on the altar.

*We don't want Gods intervention in our lives.
Some of us aren't entirely comfortable with the idea of God running our lives as He sees fit, however this is what the Gospel of Jesus is all about. We're called to surrender our lives to Christ. We are expected to die to ourselves daily and put the words and teachings of Jesus into practice. The idea of living life "our way" and ignoring the clear instruction of Jesus is anti-Christian. God does not want to be your Co-Pilot. He is either "Lord" or you are living your life your own way. For many of us, our biggest problem is that we've not understood the "death to self" portion of the Gospel.

THE KEY TO TRUST IS COMPLETE SURRENDER
I know you probably believe in God and the Bible. You've probably received Jesus into your heart. But the Gospel is about giving up your life and allowing God to have His perfect will, even if it goes against your beautiful plans.

Do you feel like God is really calling the shots in your life right now? Is Jesus really your Lord or is He just your Savior? If you want to call yourself a follower of Jesus, you have to let go of your life, your way of living, and surrender everything to Him.

"Then (Jesus) said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." - Luke 9:23-24

REMEMBER THIS
As long as you are in the drivers seat of your life, you will always be miserable.

God isn't interested in having you believe in Him. He wants you to trust Him to make the decisions in your life. He wants to have your permission to allow Him to change your behavior.

God wants to be God, which should come as little surprise. He designed your life (and my life) to work best that way. I know in my life I've learned that it doesn't work when "Keith is Lord". That's when things get really screwed up.

But, if we can let go and trust God with our entire life, if we can make a total surrender to God and let Him lead us, that's what The Gospel is all about. That's when He can really transform us into something amazing.

This is why Jesus urges us to pray by saying, "Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On Earth (right now) as it is in Heaven..."

Its all about depending completely on God.

To fully trust God we must first fully surrender to Him. It's crucial for us to raise the white flag and let go of our way of doing life.

God is trustworthy. Isn't it time to really trust Him?

-kg
[END OF PART 3]

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Trust: The Key To Everything [Part 2 of 3]

"I believe in God, but it's so hard to trust Him sometimes."

This is a phrase I've heard more than once from my friends as we've shared together. Heck, I'm sure at one time or the other I've said the same thing myself, but as I analyze this statement I realize that we don't really understand the meaning of the phrase "I believe in God."

In fact, if I could outlaw one word in the Christianese language it would be "Believe" because so many of us really have no idea what the word really means in the context of faith in God.

Biblically, the concepts of belief, trust, and faith are one and the same. So, for us to say, "I believe in God but I don't trust Him" is like saying, "I trust in God, but I really don't trust Him."

A "Believer" is by default also a "Truster" of God. The concept of trusting in God is imbedded in the definition of "Believer". Why then is trusting God, in our minds, a separate concept from believing in Him?

I think it is partly due to our misunderstanding, and therefore our misuse, of the term "Believe." I think most of us use the term belief to refer to an idea we think is true. So, when we say, "I believe in God" we're saying, "I think God is real" but we don't necessarily mean, "I trust in God."

It's also fascinating to me that people who identify themselves as follower of God, or as Believers, find trusting God difficult. Imagine the headline: "Study shows that 90% of Christians don't trust God" or "People of Faith Find Trusting God Difficult." I mean, shouldn't it be the other way around? It would make sense to me to read that the majority of unbelievers find trusting God difficult, that would explain why they remain in their unbelief. But, for Christians to find trusting God to be a problem seems more than strange- it seems wrong.

In the amazing New Testament book of James this concept is explored in full, which means that our modern misunderstanding of the term "Believe" is nothing new. In his book, James demonstrates the uselessness of leaning on belief in God, as opposed to really trusting, or having faith, in God, when he says, "You believe in God? Good! Even the demons believe and they shudder." (see James 2:19)

James, in this passage, wants to illustrate to us the impotency of belief alone. If we think that believing God is real means anything at all, let us consider the demons who don't just believe God is real- they know it! Not only do the demons know it, they quake in fear. But does this knowledge of God's realness save the demons? Of course not. What the demons lack is trust in God. They know God is real, they even shake in fear of Him, but they refuse to trust in God. They refuse to have faith in God.

My question is, are we more like the demons than we are like disciples? Do we believe that God exists but refuse to trust in Him? Do we resist putting the words of Jesus into practice? Do we refuse to surrender our will, our plans, our ideas, our dreams to God and crown Him as the King of our lives? If so, we are more like demons who believe in God but have not yet trusted Him with our lives.

WHY DO WE FIND IT HARD TO TRUST GOD?
Here are some possible barriers we might face when it comes to fully trusting God:

*We don't really know God
*We have a fear of letting go.
*We think we know what's really best
*We don't want God's intervention in our lives

-kg
[END PART 2]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Trust: The Key To Everything [Part 1 of 3]

The other day a friend of mine made the comment that trusting God seems to be the hardest thing for us to do, even as followers of Jesus who should find it easy...or at least fundamental to our daily practice.

Several thoughts splinter outward from the impact of this statement. First, I wonder why it is that we find it so hard to trust God. Second, I wonder if this isn't the central key to everything.

WHY IS IT HARD FOR US TO TRUST GOD?
There are several possible reasons for this. One being that we may have a problem with trust in general. Meaning, all of us have been manipulated by the media, society, politicians, teachers, lovers, parents, etc. all of our lives. After a while we simply lose the ability to completely trust anyone or anything 100%.

There is no logical reason not to trust God. After all, if you could name only one being in the entire known Universe whom you should be able to trust with absolute certainty, it is God.

Author Jan David Hettinga suggests that the issue of trust is a big part of what God was doing on the cross in the first place. Even though God had all power and all authority at His disposal, including the ability to force us to do whatever He wanted us to do, God instead chose to lay it all down (see Philipians 2) and embrace a posture of servanthood and humility.

When Jesus laid down his life on the cross he was demonstrating that his intentions for us were good, that he only considered what was best for us, and that therefore we can trust him completely.

Not only did God not abuse his power over us, he allowed us to have the power of abuse over him! He took the punishment and refused to lash out. He forgave us for the nails and excused our ignorance.

When we look at Jesus, God in the flesh, hanging upon the cross, enduring the shame meant for us, we look into the eyes of a God who says, "Look at me. I will not trick you. I will not manipulate you. I will not lie to you. I love you."

If we cannot trust Jesus, we have no hope of ever trusting anyone, or anything, ever.

IMPERATIVE TRUST
The author of Hebrews reminds us that "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (see Hebrews 11:6) and the more I meditate on this concept of trusting God the more I realize that "Faith", "Belief", "Trust" and "Obedience" are practically synonyms.

If we believe God, we will obey His commands. Jesus says that if we love him we will obey his teachings. To trust someone is to believe them. To have faith in someone is to believe, and to trust them.

I now also realize that our joy in Christ, our ability to enjoy peace, or contentment in this life, is tied directly to our ability to trust God.

If we can trust God, completely, with everything in our life, we can experience peace because we know He is in control. If we really believe that God loves us then we can trust that He knows what is best for us.

The question then becomes, if we can't fully trust God with our everyday life, why not? What is it that prevents us from trusting God? Why is it so hard? What can we do that will make us more capable of trusting God with everything?

-kg
[END PART 1]

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Glorious Now

What if you knew you only had a few months to live? Are there any people you'd call one last time to apologize to? Are there any places you'd travel to see before you passed away? What are the things you would do that you always intended to do but never got around to? Maybe you'd paint a picture or finish your novel? Maybe you'd teach your children a story, or take a vacation with those you love and soak in every last ounce of their presence while you could?

Wouldn't food taste more exquisite? Wouldn't laughter be deeper than before? Wouldn't color and sound and simple moments take on new significance?

Just holding a dear one's hands in your own would resonate with meaning. Just looking into the eyes of your children would bring you to tears. Just drawing a breath deep into your lungs and exhaling slowly would seem like drinking in the universe and exhaling your soul into the sky.

But what if you really only have one more week here on this Earth before you're gone? What if tomorrow you discover a lump, or get sick, or suffer a heart attack or a stroke? Do you know for certain how many days you have left upon this Earth?

None of us does, of course. So, we try not to dwell on the thought because it makes us uncomfortable to pause and listen to the clock over our head as it ticks down the remaining hours of our life. We are happier, more at ease, when we imagine ourselves to be invulnerable to the effects of entropy.

Yet, this is not the truth. We are not immortal. We are not immune to time. Death may have lost its sting, but death still retains its bite and every one of us alive this very moment will one day breathe our last.

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
- Psalm 90:12


When we face the reality of our own mortality and accept that we are finite and limited, it gives us freedom to love and to forgive and to share with glorious abandon.

If we really understand that nothing we have will come with us to the grave, then we can open our hands and share what we have with those in need.

If we truly understand that in a few days our time here will be over, we can freely forgive those who have offended us and set ourselves free to enjoy the time we have left on this Earth.

All things created by God have a beginning and all things created by God have an end. Our time here is limited. Every one of us will come to the moment when we know our life is done. What matters is that we accomplish what we have been placed here to accomplish. What matters is that we live today as if it were all we have to live.

Our focus should be, not on yesterday which is over and done, and not on tomorrow which may never come, but on this glorious gift of now we call "today" where we live by the grace of Almighty God to love and share and reflect His Glory.

"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days
a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man's life is but a breath. Selah
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you." - Psalm 39:4-7


Peace,
Keith

[Originally posted on the Subversive Underground, November 29, 2008]

Sunday, February 06, 2011

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY - Part 5 of 5


by Keith Giles

This is the final installment in our series on how you can start a ministry to the poor in your community.

If you have any questions, comments or ideas youd like to share please feel free to email them to me directly at:elysiansky@hotmail.com
**
MINISTRY TO THE HOMELESS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Ministry to the classically homeless is much more challenging than you might think.

Our family has centered mainly on ministry to families who live in motels or to individuals who find themselves suddenly in danger of becoming homeless, or to the elderly.

Ministry to those who have lived on the streets for long periods of time, those I call "Classically Homeless", can be difficult. Here's some of why that is and what can be done to provide assistance.

WHY ARE THEY HOMELESS?
Many of those who live in a state of long-term homelessness are there because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness issues.

ADDICTIONS
For those who are homeless because of addiction and substance abuse issues, you should keep in mind that they will do whatever it takes to get money from you in order to get their drug of choice. Don't be surprised or offended if they lie to you. Don't be afraid to tell them you know they are lying (if you suspect it to be so). Honesty can go a long way and it helps them to know you're not easily fooled.

HOW TO HELP
Usually the best course of action to take is to help them with the condition in place that they seek out help for their addiction. So, if you buy them something to eat or if you put them in a hotel, etc. you let them know that next time your helping them will depend on whether or not they have followed through with getting off the streets and addressing their greater need to escape addiction.

MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Many of those who are living on the streets for long periods of time are dealing with mental health issues. Local mental health hospitals have the unfortunate habit of releasing residents who are not dangerous to themselves or to others due to over-crowding and a lack of funding. This puts many homeless on the streets who are not taking their medications and are suffering (not just due to hunger but also the pain of their illness) without any hope of getting better.

Communication with them can be difficult, if not impossible. Some cannot carry on a coherent conversation while others can appear lucid at first and then drift off into delusional behavior and display wild mood swings and unexpected changes due to their illness.

HOW TO HELP
In these cases I usually refer them, if possible, to a local mental wellness organization or to a non-profit that is more adept at treating people like this since it's very far outside my area of expertise.

Of course, not all of those who are homeless are mentally ill or struggling with addictions. Some of them have emotional issues and others have simply fallen deeper into the pit of poverty due to a loss of employment or other unexpected event.

CHALLENGES
Ministry to the classically homeless is much more difficult to do as a family due to the erratic and sometimes frightening behavior which can be encountered. Our family has focused mainly on ministry to the elderly and to families living in motels or in low-income housing since its something we can do with our children. However, there is plenty of great ministry to be done with those who are living in long-term homelessness. This will usually involve a more specialized skill-set and typically requires a person have lots of patience and a high level of discernment.



MINISTRY TO PROSTITUTES – INTO THE REAL DARKNESS

I've only been out about four times to the streets here in Orange County to minister to women caught in prostitution. Most of what I've learned is based on research and several crushing episodes of utter, empty defeat and failure.

This ministry is easily the most challenging and "outside my comfort zone". It means entering a dark, dangerous world where you are an outsider and the level of commitment required is off the charts.

First, a little bit of background about the issue.

HARD TO QUIT
Most girls who are on the streets will either get off and back into a normal life in the first three months or it will be another ten years before they can escape this lifestyle. Why? Because the work is so repugnant and degrading, at first, that if they're ever going to escape it has to be in those first few months. Otherwise, they get trapped into this lifestyle through fear of their pimp and/or through dependence on the drugs their pimp supplies them with.

HOOKED BY FEAR AND ADDICTION
What keeps most girls on the streets is the fear of being abused or killed by their pimp, and/or their need to keep an expensive drug habit going. Their pimps usually get them hooked on drugs as quickly as they can in order to control them. They know that no other lifestyle would afford their girls the kind of money they need to keep the drugs flowing, so the girls are essentially trapped into this life of prostitution.

HUMAN SLAVERY
Another difficult and impossible situation is where you have forced prostitution through organized crime syndicates. Many girls are here from Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, Thailand, Cambodia, and other impoverished nations. Many were tricked into coming here and are kept here by the threat of harm to their families back in their home country. They cannot leave, even if they desperately want to escape, because to leave would mean the murder of their mother, father, siblings, etc.

It's very shocking to realize that human slavery is alive and well in the United States of America. Just about a year ago the Orange County Police Department broke up the largest human trafficking/forced prostitution ring in the history of this region. I remember it because it was just weeks before the Freedom Day on March 25th at Vanguard where hundreds gathered to protest slavery and bring attention to this very real problem.

America is the number one market for human sexual slavery. Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, is one of the largest markets for human trafficking in the Nation.

You can find out more information about this online at
STOPTHETRAFFIK.ORG

DIFFERENT TYPESYou'll encounter one of four different kinds of girls who work on the streets.

1)Street level- Normally these are homeless girls who have no pimp and work prostitution for the food and for drugs. It's purely survival and quick cash.
2)Weekenders- These girls come and work to support their children or save money for college or other reasons. They are healthy and generally wear clean, attractive clothing.
3)Circuit Girls- These girls work a circuit throughout California, Nevada, Florida, etc. They wear exaggerated clothing (very Hollywood-esque). These look the most like obvious prostitutes and are the easiest to spot.
4)Transvestite- A man who dresses like a woman to turn tricks. Some have had surgery and take hormones to round off the illusion. You think it would be easy to tell the difference. You would be wrong.

MINISTRY IDEAS
*Stay Up Late
Due to the nature of this ministry, to find the girls you need to be where they are, and that means on the streets between 12am and 4am. You're guaranteed to loose sleep over this ministry.

*Mixed Teams
If you go out you need to always stay in mixed teams of guys and girls. It's a bad idea for guys to go out alone, since they might be arrested for soliciting, and it's not safe for girls to go out alone either. Mixed groups of at least four people work best.

*Pray, Pray, Pray
Prayer is crucial since you are entering into the Enemy's camp. This is where the Kingdom of Darkness clashes with the Kingdom of God. Expect a lot of spiritual attack at home and during the ministry time.

*Bless Them
You mainly want to get to know these girls. As with other ministries weve discussed thus far, consistency is the key. Build a relationship. Buy them breakfast if they'll let you. Listen to their stories. Ask them what they need and try to meet practical needs.

*Gift Bags
One local ministry to prostitutes brings gift bags to the girls with make-up supplies, gift cards to shops and food stores, clothing stores, etc. It brings down their guard and allows you a chance to smile, bless them, find out their names and ask if you can pray for them.

*The Pimps
Believe it or not, getting to know these guys can be a significant part of the process. One ministry I know of actually spends a lot of time trying to help these guys change their lives and turn to Christ. If they do, the girls usually follow and the operation is shut down because the girls, and their pimp, have surrendered to Christ and are seeking to live a new life.

*Statistics
Sadly, 98% of the girls who are on the streets now will stay there, and die there. This means that out of every 100 girls you reach out to, only 2 of them will get off the streets and stay off.

For those who do get off the streets, the process means getting off the streets and then relapsing over and over again for a few years before finally, eventually, getting off the streets for life.

Of course, these statistics don't tell the whole story. Some girls get off and stay off in one shot, some leave after several years, others after only a few months. But you should know what you're getting into before you commit to such a challenging ministry.

GETTING THEM REAL HELP
If you encounter girls who are under 18 you should refer them to "Children of the Night" (if you have one in your area) or even the local police department. These are minors who need to be rescued from this lifestyle.

The challenge I've run into is the lack of resources for girls who are under 18, don't have a Driver's License, or a SS card. These are usually girls who are here illegally or runaways.

If the girl is over 18 you can send them to Teen Challenge and/or another drug and alcohol treatment center where their addictions can be addressed and they can receive spiritual guidance and emotional healing. Sadly, most non-profit groups will not accept a girl who is under 18. Go figure.

What is really needed to minister to these girls is a long list of resources:
*Trained counselors
*Free shelter
*Addiction treatment
*Job Training
*Free Child Care
*Healthcare access (for health checkups, STD's, etc.)

As I said before, the most challenging and overwhelming ministry I've ever known is ministry to prostitutes. Not for the faint of heart.

**
I know this series doesn't even come close to scratching the surface of this topic of serving the poor and the homeless and people in need. So, I do hope you will email me directly if you have further questions or response to this series of articles. Many of you have already asked me for permission to reprint them and use in your Church or ministry efforts. That's what these are for. I do appreciate knowing about where these are being used and how, but otherwise they're meant to help you to serve others more effectively.

Peace,
Keith

Saturday, February 05, 2011

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY - Part 4 of 5




by Keith Giles

In our fourth installment in this series I wanted to share some specific ideas and insights about the kinds of ministry to the poor that you can initiate in your community.

I want to stress that most of these do not require a large budget, or a team of thousands. Most of these can be done with families, including children of all ages, and two or three adults who are willing to listen, love and share what they have with people in need.

IDEAS FOR MINISTRY TO THE POOR
*Lower-income families (Housing projects, apartments, motels, etc.)
*Motel Ministry (especially for kids and families)
*Food/Grocery Distribution
*Homeless Ministry (Hot Dogs in the Park)
*Senior Home Visitation
*Prostitute Ministry
*Single Moms/Widows (Free oil changes, yardwork, grocery assistance, etc.)

DETAILS:
*Lower-income families (Housing projects, apartments, motels, etc.)

This ministry works best when you get to know the management of the apartment or motel, etc. Explain to them that you're not there to preach or to promote your church. Disarm them with the idea that you really just want to bless people. Explain to them that your ministry will involve giving away free groceries (if possible) or hosting game times for the children (or puppet shows, crafts, etc.). Help them to visualize a monthly or bi-weekly carnival that they get to help bring to their residents. It makes them look like heroes and it gives you an opportunity to express the love of Jesus in tangible ways.

*Motel Ministry (especially for kids and families)
Essentially the same as above. I'd only add that befriending people is the key here. Pray for them. Listen to their problems. Find ways to help them that are practical. This should not be about money. It should be about helping them discover resources in your community, hooking up with other ministries doing work to help with education, rent, health concerns, etc.

Also, ask God to highlight one or two people or families that He wants you to focus on and love them with all you've got. Invite them to your house for pizza and a movie. Hang out with them. Learn to love them. This is where you realize that the real ministry is being done to you, not by you.

*Food/Grocery Distribution
Find a food bank nearby. Second Harvest is a national food bank, but you may have another in your area. Our small house church can purchase a week's worth of groceries for twenty or thirty families for under $100 a month.

As I've said previously, don't distribute the food after you preach. Just give them the food up front and bless them. Ask them at the end of the food line if they want prayer. Most will say yes. If not, just smile and bless them as they go back into their rooms. Consistency is vital.


*Homeless Ministry (Hot Dogs in the Park)
Again, this is very cheap and it's more about getting to know people who happen to be homeless and less about throwing food at the poor and running home.

We found a park where a lot of homeless hang out that also had barbecue stations at each picnic table. Our group set up the grill, cooked the dogs, laid out the fixings and then fanned out to invite the homeless to join us for a picnic. We sat with them, ate with them, asked them their names, where they were from, etc. Even our kids enjoyed getting to know our new friends.

*Senior Home Visitation
You will not believe the treasures that are hidden away in the senior homes near your house. Former Generals in WW2, former actresses, singers, engineers, writers, and even regular people who have amazing stories to tell. All they need is someone to listen. Give it time and you will soon find yourself falling in love with these people.


*Prostitute Ministry
This one is waayyy outside my comfort zone, but I've been out around 3 times with small teams to try to connect and pray for these girls. I'll write in more detail about the challenges and dangers of this ministry next week. Not for the faint of heart.

*Single Moms/Widows (Free oil changes, yardwork, grocery assistance, etc.)
This is more of a Men's Ministry thing, but it can be awesome to bless single Moms and Widows who need assistance around the house, with the yard, the car, etc.
Oh, and it's Biblical too.


OTHER IDEAS FOR MINISTRY
*Local Newspaper/Community Response Ministry

This is one I've always wanted to do but have yet to attempt. Basically it involves reading the local paper and responding in compassion to people in your city who experience the death of a loved one, is the victim of abuse or rape or violence, tragedy, etc. This is one that I feel could have a huge impact on your community if your church or small group could consistently respond to people in need of comfort and prayer support.

*Community clean-up (graffitti cleaning, trash pick-up, etc.)
Steve Sjogren and Mike Pilavachi have championed this form of "no strings attached" service to the community. When I was at Soul Survivor I was involved with massive groups of teens taking to the streets and cleaning up parks, neighborhoods, etc. This may involve contacting city officials and cooperating with them to discover their needs and partner with their employees.

*Clean toilets for local businesses
Again, Steve Sjogren championed this one a long time ago. It's an amazing way to demonstrate the love of Jesus in practical ways to local business owners. Most will be blown away that you show up with a bucket and cleansers to do the ugly job that none of them wants to do. When you explain to them that you're doing it because Jesus washed feet and this is the closest thing in our modern society to that, you'll be amazed at the reactions you get. Worth it for the stories you get to tell later, if nothing else.

*Free Car Wash
Be careful. People will argue with you to take their money. They simply cannot bring themselves to receive a free blessing with no strings attached. Do it anyway.

NEXT WEEK: We'll finish off this series by looking at the specific challenges and dangers of working directly with the homeless and with prostitues.

[END OF PART 4]

Friday, February 04, 2011

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY Part 3 of 5



by Keith Giles

This week's installment will continue to look at valuable lessons I've learned over the years. Next week we'll look at specific ideas for the types of ministry to the poor that can be done and a brief "How To" for each of them. After that I'll end off this series with more detailed discussions of what ministry to the homeless and to prostitutes looks like, and the specific challenges involved with each.

For now, here's the rest of the list we started last week:

A long list of valuable lessons

*You Will Get Back More Than You Give. Everytime. - I used to drive away from our various ministry sites feeling depressed. In my heart I always felt like we could have done more to help, or that I was desperately inadequate to meet the incredible needs of the people we were in relationship with. After awhile I began to understand that this is part of what it's all about. I also began to realize that the blessing I was taking home with me was always greater than the one I had just brought to the people we were in ministry to. No matter how massive or outrageous our ministry was, I always felt like it wasn't enough..and it never would be enough. Part of what I learned was how to be ok with this.

*You Can Only Help People Who Want Help - There's a great passage in the Gospel where Jesus comes upon a man who is laying beside the Pool of Siloam. He is lame and obviously in need of healing. However, Jesus looks at this man and asks him, "Do you want to be made well?" It seems, at first, like a very stupid question. However, in my years of ministry with the homeless and the addicted and the broken, I have been amazed at how many of them don't really want to be made well. For some of them, if I were to reach out my hand and take away their addiction, or their poverty, or their infirmity, they would hate me for it. Sometimes you have to ask people if they're really looking for healing or not.

*Some People Only Want Help Staying The Way They Are, Not Help Getting Better -Honestly, I'm a push-over. If someone asks me for food or money or assistance I have a hard time saying "No" and turning them away, especially if it's in my power or ability to do something. I think it has something to do about the Lord Jesus saying, "Give to anyone who asks of you expecting nothing in return" (Matthew 5:42). So, I will almost always help someone who comes to me for help...the first time. However, I've learned to help them further by saying, "Here's food/shelter/money/assistance for tonight, but what about tomorrow and next week? You need a long-term solution to your problem. Here's a few phone numbers to call. These people can help you make long-term changes and get off the street/off drugs/self sufficient/healing/counseling, etc."

The next time I see them, if they ask for help again, I will ask them, "Did you call those numbers I gave you last time?" and if they say "No" then I explain that the reason I'm not helping them today is because they didn't take any steps towards helping themselves in the long-term. Another response is to help someone financially with the understanding that they need to agree to sit down and allow us to help them create a budget to live on. If they agree, we help them. If they don't then we've established the terms under which were willing to help them out. However, sometimes I do just hand them food or money or pay their rent without any conditions attached. It depends on the person, the situation, and a bit of discernment.

*Be Prepared To Welcome The Poor Into Your Church, Your House, Your Family, and Your Life - I usually caution people who come to me asking how to start a compassion ministry with this statement: "If you're not willing to sit next to these people in Church on Sunday, or to have them play with your kids, or to invite them over for pizza afterwards, then don't start a compassion ministry." Nowadays I usually just let them get their feet wet and after they've been doing it a while I'll suggest that this ministry is more about loving people and less about an outreach. Outreach implies going out to accomplish something. It keeps the poor "Out There" and that's not what Jesus modeled for us. If we're going to step out and demonstrate to people that Jesus Loves Them it has be consistent. It has to mean "We love you too," otherwise what we're really saying is "Jesus loves you but we're not too comfortable around you. Stay out here and we'll come back next month and minister to you again." This isn't the Gospel and we can damage the true power of the Gospel if we say one thing and model another.

*Change Is Difficult - As you begin to minister to people who are homeless or living in poverty you'll no doubt come across a few people who just can't seem to get the courage to take that big step towards escaping poverty. I've seen people, more than once, come right up to the point of escaping poverty only to run as fast as they can in the other direction. Here's what I've learned: Holding their hand is good, but doing it for them is a big mistake. Sometimes the psychological leap is too great. It's much easier to remain in the world they know than to take a big step and risk failure. Some people will need you to be there with them every little step of the way. It can be frustrating, but when they finally do escape their situation the celebration will be well worth it. Others will just not ever be able to take that test or apply for that federal aid or drive down to that learning center or make that phone call to the counseling center, no matter how much you hold their hand and urge them to take the step. Taking that step for them will ease your frustration in the moment, but unless it's their idea and they're ready to follow through with things, they'll just back out of things eventually anyway. Prayer is really your best weapon usually.

*Don't Withhold The Blessing - This is one of my big pet peeves in compassion ministry. I understand that everyone does things their own way, but nothing makes me more angry than to watch Christians withhold the food or the assistance, etc. until after people have sat through an hour long sermon or church service. The Gospel is expressed just as much in showing love and compassion without cost or agenda…maybe moreso. People understand love. They understand compassion. They appreciate sincere giving done without an ulterior motive. Just try it. It's incredibly powerful. Maybe if you bless them without strings attached they will WANT to know more about why you love them, and why you love Jesus.

*Listening Is The Best Ministry Possible - File this under "Bigger is not Better." When you boil it all down, people just need to know you really care about them. Listening to people is the most powerful way you can demonstrate real love to them. Spending time with people and really paying attention to them is the best ministry you can ever do, and it doesn't cost you a thing.

*Don't Forget The Poor Among You - I'm embarrassed to say I needed someone from my compassion team to point this out to me. Our church was so busy knocking ourselves out to minister to the poor in the community that we were neglecting the poor and the orphan and the widow and the single Moms in our very own congregation. Let the blessing begin in the Family of God. There are those among us who are also poor and need the love and the compassion of the Body. Don't forget them.

*Don't Use This Ministry As A Way To Market Your Church - File this under "Things that make me very angry". I've noticed a disturbing trend among some churches lately where ministry to the poor is seen as being trendy and hip. They treat compassion ministry as a selling point for their church because it makes them look cool and it looks great on their website and in their bulletin each week. However, caring for people in need is typically not what they have foremost in mind. It's marketing their church. This really ticks me off. So, when we first started our Compassion Ministry I told our team members that, although I wasn't forbidding anyone else, I would never wear one of our church t-shirts to our ministry events. "Why not?" someone would always ask me. Because I don't want them to ever see that t-shirt and say "Oh…that's why they're being so nice to us." In fact, recently we've been joined by another large mega-church at the motel. Although we've been there for five years now, this mega-church has been serving breakfast every other Sunday and setting up tents and chairs and tables and having an on-site Church service. Beause their presence is quite large, many of those we minister to often assume that we're from this mega-church. They will even end their prayers by saying, "And God bless the good people of **** Church" to which I always say, "Amen!" I love it that our specific church is able to bring Glory to Jesus and even favor to another local Church by serving these people. It's a great reminder that our service to these people isn't about making our church famous or competing with other churches. It's simply about modelling the love of Jesus for people.

*Don't think of it as "Outreach" but as Loving People - After awhile the word Outreach becomes a dirty word. To me, the word carries the connotation of keeping people at arms length. I prefer to refer to what we do as Compassion Ministry or Service or simply "Being with our friends". Even to call them "The Poor" in some ways puts them into a classification that is demeaning and de-humanizing. Whenever possible think of them as your friends. They are people. They have the same needs as you and I. Love them as Jesus loves you.

[End Part 3]

Thursday, February 03, 2011

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY - Part 2



By Keith Giles

This week I want to share a long list of valuable lessons I've learned over the last few years when it comes to serving others. Keep in mind that a lot of what I learned here had to be experienced. Even as I share this with you I understand that reading about this is no substitute for actually experiencing it for yourself. Hopefully as you move forward in your own journey with serving people you'll discover the truth of these observations in your own heart.

A LONG LIST OF VALUABLE LESSONS
As you take your first tentative steps into compassion ministry, you'll need to know what to expect. Here are some basic things I've discovered in my journey serving others in our community:

*Consistency Is Vital - We started ministry at the motel in Santa Ana almost 8 years ago. Over time we've consistently come every month with a bounce house, games, snacks and a puppet show for the kids who live in this motel. For over four years we only blessed them. We never preached a sermon or passed out maps to our Church. (Although we weren't shy about sharing with them if they had need or if they asked us why were doing this for them.)

Recently, in our fifth year, we started passing out free groceries and asking them if we can pray with them about anything. Why? The goal of the ministry is to show the love of Jesus to them in tangible ways. Not to market our church or to get them to buy something. We have intentionally withheld a sermon or an evangelistic message so that we create the question in their minds- "Why?" We want people to respond to our compassion by asking "Why would you come out here and bless us like this every month?" When they ask us (and they eventually do) we then share with them the difference that Jesus has made in our hearts and lives.

Having no agenda disarms them and, more importantly, demonstrates that we really are only interested in loving them and blessing them in practical ways.

*You WILL Get Burned. It's Part Of The Process - A fellow compassion ministries pastor once suggested that we publish a guide to help local churches serve the poor. He wanted to include a section that would help prevent them from getting burned by some of the poor who take advantage of our goodwill. I protested against this quite vocally because the best lessons I've learned in loving the poor have come from the numerous times I've been played like a violin. Without those experiences of being lied to, taken advantage of and played for a fool I wouldn't have a shred of discernment regarding the poor. Getting burned is part of the process. Try to learn from it. The biggest challenge is to get burned and continue to love people and bless them, even knowing they might be playing you.

*Bigger Is Not better - For the longest time our ministry to the families in the motel was pretty much my wife, my two elementary-age sons and one other woman from our church. We still managed to put together great games for the kids, snacks, puppet shows and a meaningful ministry to the families who live in this motel. Sometimes having a massive ministry footprint means that the people you're ministering to get lost in the hype. I'd rather sit down and share a sandwich under a tree with one homeless guy than have a massive army of people running a huge event where the poor feel like outsiders.

*Don't Pet the Poor - Early on I was warned not to treat the poor as a project or an outreach. When we do this we end up treating them like people who are less than the rest of us. The goal in serving the poor is to make them feel like an equal human being. Look them in the eye. Laugh with them. Learn their story. Pray for them during the week. Get to know them. If you can think of your ministry as being more about making new friends (who happen to be living in poverty) and less about fixing these poor people you'll be fine.

*Don't Attempt To Cure Poverty In Your City - This is a common mistake for those who start off doing compassion ministry. In their zeal to bring justice to the poor they get off target and begin to see their ministry as a grandiose scheme to end poverty forever in their city. The sad thing is that when we do this we stop caring for the actual people who are in need. If our focus can remain on finding a few people and learning how to love them we'll be closer to the heart of Jesus. One of my early mentors, David Ruis, used to communicate it this way: "What do you see and what do you have?" Meaning, start with the people in front of you who have a need. Ask yourself what you have that you could share with them. Befriend people and learn to love them.

*It's About Sharing, Not Giving - Giving to the poor, although important is not what we're necessarily called to as followers of Jesus. We're called to share. Giving means writing a check and walking away (and taking the tax break on our IRS return). Sharing means taking something that is mine and giving it away to someone who needs it more than I do. That's an investment. That's also about friendship and relationship, not compassion from a distance.

*Befriend A Few and Learn To Love Them Deeply - When we first started our Motel Ministry I had grand visions of leading huge outreach teams to lead worship and preach the Gospel and rescue hundreds from the despair of poverty. God quickly corrected my vision and showed me one small family living in the motel. Love them, He said. Get to know them. Invite them to your house for lunch.

For the first two years or so that was the main focus of our ministry in that motel. The difference was that this ministry soon became less about ending poverty in that motel and more about the struggles of my new friends, Mike and Pam and their two children.

*You Will Learn More From Them Than You Teach - My relationship with the families at the motel has taught me more about courage and forgiveness and humility than I could have ever learned from reading a book or a blog or listening to a sermon. The things I've heard and seen and experienced by being in relationship with these wonderful people has impacted me greatly.

[END PART 2]

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

[SUBVERSIVE INTERVIEWS] - cover art



My next book, [Subversive Interviews] is a collection of conversations with Dallas Willard, Todd Hunter, Neil Cole, Walter Kirn, Frank Viola, Jim Wallis, Matt Redman, John Fischer, Dr.Scott Bartchy and Dr.G.K.Beale, among others.

Hopefully it will be available in the next week or so on my blog.

Next: My book "This Is My Body" (with a forward by Jon Zens) should be published in about another month or so. Keep watching this space for more details.
-kg

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY



Part 1 of 5

Over the last several years I have been involved in serving the poor here in Orange County, California. During this time I have learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to serving the least and the forgotten.

In the upcoming series of articles I will do my best to provide practical insights and information about what serving the poor looks like. I hope to inspire many of you to step outside your comfort zones and begin to serve the poor in your own community.

Whether you volunteer at a local soup kitchen or if you lead a small group or a church team to go out and minister to the poor I hope you can benefit from these articles and catch a vision for serving others.

I am very excited about this new series of articles. My prayer is that this will inspire many of you to take first steps into an outward expression of God's love for others. I welcome your feedback and your questions as we take a few weeks to explore this subject and wrestle with these ideas.

BEFORE WE START
This series will not be about building a case for the "Why" we serve the poor, instead I will assume that most of you reading this have already come to terms with the overwhelming Biblical evidence regarding God's command to care for the poor and the example of our Lord Jesus towards the sick, the broken and the outcast.

It is my firm belief that, as a follower of Jesus, serving the least and the forgotten in our culture is expected of us. Jesus was our blueprint for living the Kingdom life. His example to us compels us to leave our comfort zones and to seek out the lonely, the forgotten, the least and the lost in our society. Jesus himself made it very clear that those who sincerely love him will be found caring for the hungry, the poor, the lonely and the imprisoned (see Matthew 25).

For more on the Believers Biblical mandate to care for the poor please refer to the numerous Scriptural references (over 2,000) concerning Gods heart for the poor and His expectation of compassion and obedience from us.

CATCHING THE VISION
So, with the assumption of an understanding regarding our personal calling to serve the poor and to love them as we love Jesus, (and as Jesus has loved us), I will try to share some of what I've learned over the last few years regarding God's heart for the poor and how we can step forward in obedience to care for them.

HOW DO WE BEGIN?
One of the first things I did when I realized that God was calling me to lead a ministry to the poor, (or Compassion Ministry), was to seek out other leaders who were already caring for the poor around me. There was a church in my neighborhood that hosted a weekly luncheon for the poor in their parking lot. I was also aware that they had started a Men's Shelter and opened a local Thrift Store to fund the ministry. After a few phone calls I got in touch with the pastor in charge of this ministry and took him to lunch.

Over a cheeseburger I took notes and asked a lot of questions. From there I took this pastor's advice and got in touch with the chaplain of our local rescue mission. A meeting with this amazing gentleman proved very insightful and provided further understanding of what poverty in our community looked like and how best to help.

FIRST STEPS
If you feel called to start a ministry to the poor through your church, or small group, or just want to get involved in some way, here's what I recommend:

*Understand that this is a Spiritual Battle - Some of the people you are about to minister to are trapped in the most unbelievable darkness you can possibly imagine. They are bound by drug addictions, sexual perversion, demonic possession, mental illness, physical sickness and more. You will need to recognize that you are not enough. You are perfectly inadequate in every way. You will need the power of the Holy Spirit. You will require a complete dependence upon God for help. You will not last a second without Jesus as your example, friend and constant strength. Pray.

*Don't reinvent the wheel - If there's already a dozen ministries in your area who are serving the homeless there’s no point in starting another one. Partner with them and work together.

*Find out what causes poverty in your community - In Orange County there are several non-profit organizations who conduct annual surveys and publish community index reports on everything from education and crime to employment rates and homelessness. A call to your local Rescue Mission and/or the area Salvation Army office can probably put these reports into your hands. Learning what the specific causes of poverty and homelessness in your community are goes a long way to providing
your next step. NOTE: If you live in Orange County, California you can visit www.PovertyInTheOC.com to find more resources and info to help you understand poverty in the OC.

*Become an expert in what causes poverty in your city - Soon you'll be teaching others about the problem, and the solutions. Because I've taken the time to study the causes of poverty in Orange County, I've had numerous invitations from local churches to come and share what I've learned. Part of my personal mission is to help others to see what I see and to catch a vision for serving the poor. This is a great way to do that.

*Piggy-back with others who have more experience and learn from them - When our group wanted to minister to prostitutes we did our best to find others who were experienced in dealing with this issue. When we felt called to minister in motels we partnered with the local Rescue Mission who was already organizing church groups to address the issue. Don't assume you know the needs, or the best methods for helping the poor. Every city is different. Every category of ministry (homeless, elderly,
veterans, prostitutes, drug addicts, battered women, etc.) is unique. Learn before you step out.

*Build a team who can serve with you - Don't start out alone.
Even if it's only one other person, you need to have a partner in this adventure. Pray together. Research the needs and brainstorm your approach to ministry.

*Don't blindly copy what someone else is doing - Every community is different, and I believe we need to begin caring for "our poor" first. The homeless or the low-income family in your area is not the same as the homeless or the poor in San Francisco, or New York or Chicago, etc. Take cues from others, but don't assume you can "cut and paste" what one ministry does into your community and be
successful.

*Start close to home - The poor who live within ten miles of you are "your poor" and getting to know them, and understanding their needs and what keeps them in poverty is crucial. Try not to do long distance ministry to the poor. Find ways to be in fellowship with those you are serving.

[END PART 1]