Monday, April 25, 2011

WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?*

Yes, Jesus could turn stones into bread and make sure no one was ever hungry again. But then we’d live in a world where people had too much food and no reason to share with those who had nothing.

Jesus could heal every disease and remove sickness from the world. But we would still live in a world where people cared more about themselves than about the needs of others.

Jesus could step in and prevent every car accident and rescue every innocent child from hit and run drivers. But we would still live in a world where people cared nothing about the safety of others, took foolish chances with their lives, and abused alcohol.

Jesus could guide every bullet so that it always missed taking a life. He could turn our guns into candy canes if He wanted to. But we would still live in a world where people wanted to kill each other.

Jesus could appear to everyone and prove that He exists right now. He could float through the air, appear on CNN, visit every human on the planet in person and shoot healing lasers of love out of his eyes. But people would still not love Him or serve Him.

Jesus has the ability to change things and circumstances, but what really needs changing is people and their hearts.

Now, if we would simply follow Him and listen to what He says and put His words into practice, we’ll see that He’s really telling us the truth. We really can enter the Kingdom right now. We really can enjoy peace that passes understanding. He really will be with us until the end of the time. He honestly will never leave us or forsake us.

The problem is the cold hearts of people and what happens in the spaces between them.

-kg

*Inspired by the Tweet stream of @JesusBenyosef.

Friday, April 22, 2011

BLOOD



BLOOD
by Keith Giles

There was rhythm in the air that morning
a seed-planting rhythm in a land
of broken ground. It traveled
from my heel to
my fingertips and
circled in my neck until
I bowed my head in submission. The beat
continued, echoed across
the arid stretch
of the hillside and all
of the faceless people stood
swaying to the rhythm
the compelling metronome
of hammer and nail and
the crescendo mounted until the blood
the blood gushed hot and wet onto the grass
we held our breath until they lifted
the crossbar over our heads, until the sky
turned to black cloud, until he whispered
that it was finished and the soldiers took him down.
But the rhythm never left my feet
kept time with
the beating in my heart, turned
my blood to wine.

A Portrait of Christ

Visit "This Is My Body" Book Website



There's a radical difference between Church as we know it and Ekklesia as God intended. Read "This is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended" starting on May 4th and see how God's plan for a living temple and a universal priesthood of all believers is woven into the very DNA of the Body of Christ.

To find out more about the book and to read reviews, watch videos and share your thoughts please visit the book blog
HERE

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Signs of Life



Checking the pulse of Jesus.

Anything?

Is His Body still breathing? Are His lungs full of life?

Is His Body in motion? Does it still go to those same dark places where He once brought hope? Does His Body still soothe the broken heart? Does His Body still reach out and touch those who are forgotten and lonely?

Tell me, is the Body of Christ still stretching out arms of love and forgiveness to those who need it most, but deserve it least?

Listen for the heartbeat of Jesus. Do you hear anything? Are His vital signs growing stronger? Or are we losing Him?

Just how strong is the heart of Jesus beating within the bosom of His Body today? Is the Body full of compassion for the orphan and the widow? Is the Body of Christ acquainted with grief? Is His Body still weeping with those who weep and comforting those who mourn? Who does the Body of Christ cradle in loving arms today? The AIDS orphan? The Cancer victim? The Afghan mother who lost her husband? The Iraqi Grandfather who lost his family? The motel children who have no food? The illegal immigrant who goes to bed hungry every night?

Look at His Hands. Are they still open and accepting, or do they clench tightly into hardened fists? Are the hands of Jesus still motioning for wayward disciples to put away their swords? Are His hands still reaching out to heal the wounds of those who have been caught in the crossfires of war and hate? Where are His hands?

Look at His feet. Do they still walk the same alleyways where the drunkards stumble and the prostitutes sell their bodies to support their children? Are His feet still taking Him to mother’s who have lost their only sons? Do His feet ever cross the threshold of poverty? Do His feet carry Him to the addict or the prisoner? Where are His feet?

Examine His Body. Can you tell me how healthy it is? Does His cleansing blood still flow powerfully through veins that intersect and refresh every capillary? Is every part of the Body of Christ nourished and fed by His healing and holy blood, or are there parts of His Body that are suffering and forgotten today? Are there members that are beginning to fall off due to abuse, or neglect?

I hear people saying that this Jesus who died for the sins of the world on a Roman cross is alive again. Is it really true? I know they host concerts to sing about it. They publish books about it. But the best evidence for the Resurrection of Christ from the dead is simply to look at His Body and tell me what you see. Are there any signs of life? Is Jesus still laying motionless in the dark safety of the tomb with the stone rolled firmly in place? Is He licking his wounds in the darkness, or is He full of joy and life? Is He out in the real world with the rest of us?

Is it possible that Jesus is actually still walking this Earth today? Is it really possible that the life of Christ continues to thrive in every corner of this globe? When we look at His Body do we see that same vibrant, active spirit of love and mercy in the flesh? Is the Body of Christ visible? Is the Body of Christ moving along the same paths of restoration and hope as before?

Can someone show me Jesus today? If I can see Him, then maybe I could believe that He is still alive. If I can see His Body. If I can touch His Body. If I can experience the presence of Jesus in such a tangible and authentic way, then I will believe that this Jesus who died is now alive forevermore.

So, before you try to convince me that Jesus is Risen, please just show me His Body and let me examine it. Then I will know if He is really alive.

Has Christ risen from the dead? Is He alive and breathing today?

Tell me what you see.

-kg

Monday, April 18, 2011

CHRISTIANS UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT



I read today that Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" photograph was destroyed by Christian protesters as it hung in the Avignon museum in Paris.

Certainly, I do not believe that the artist himself created this work in order to communicate any deep spiritual truth. Perhaps he did, I'm not sure really. But, as a follower of Christ and a student of Scripture, I do not find his artwork disturbing or offensive - at least not in the way that most Christians are offended by it.

If you're not familiar with Serrano's work, it is a photograph of a crucifix immersed in what is purported to be a glass jar of the artist's own urine. Hence the name, "Piss Christ."

The title itself is probably what most Christians find offensive. The idea of "Christ" being associated with "Piss" is scandalous. Of course, if you understand the Gospel message, then you should already be used to such a scandalous idea.

Because when Jesus left His perfect, holy throne in Glory and let go of His majesty and power, and inserted Himself into the womb of a teenage girl, and allowed Himself to become a baby, born in a stable that smelled of dung and animal urine, it was indeed the most scandalous act in the History of the Universe.

For me, Serrano's "Piss Christ" is theologically accurate and artistically beautiful. It is probably one of the most profound and moving works of Christian art I've seen in my lifetime. What could be more amazing than the truth which this art communicates so powerfully and effectively?

Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself and entered our world of filth and repugnant sinfulness in order to express his unending love for all mankind.

Some of us who call ourselves Christians want to keep Jesus above the common and the lowly. We don't want to see Jesus wallowing in our sin, touching prostitutes, hugging lepers, kissing tax collectors, and forgiving adultress women. But that is who Jesus is. This is what the Gospel is all about.

If Jesus is really to be "God with us" then we have to allow Him to actually be "with us" and we are more sinful and dirty than we care to admit.

Maybe that's what's really going on? Maybe what we're most offended by is the idea that WE are immersed in our own piss and feces of sin? Maybe Serrano's art reminds us of our absolute and utter filthiness and exposes our dark and sinful hearts?

I don't know for sure, but I will tell you this: If we cannot allow a Holy God to leave His throne and become one of us, and swim in our filth, and suffer and die in our place - even at our hands - then we cannot call ourselves "Christians", because this is at the very heart of the Gospel message.

-kg

Friday, April 15, 2011

HOLY WEEK

Honestly, I really love Holy Week. Every year I look forward to this time because it always moves me and reminds me of God's amazing participation in human history because of His great love for each of us.

This year, as we've done the last 4 years, our house church family will gather to observe the various touchstones of Holy Week and particpate in the Passion of our Lord together.

Here's what we have in store starting on Monday of the coming week:

Passover Seder - On Monday evening we will share a Passover Seder dinner together to remember that God ordained the fulfillment of the shadows in the exodus - thousands of years in advance. I am always moved to tears we we see Christ revealed in the Passover Seder. Who taught the Jewish nation to observe this Passover? God did. Who told them what day to remember this? God did. Who fulfilled the promise of the Passover Lamb? God did. Wow. Not only this, but Jesus fulfilled all of these promises on the very day - even the very hour - thousands of years after the first Exodus, just exactly as God had promised. Awesome.

Good Friday - On Friday, we host an interactive and meditative experience in our home. People enter quietly and visit several stations spread throughout our home. They drive nails into wood, they hold a crown of thorns, they taste vinegar, they tear cloth, they cast lots for Christ's robe, they partake in the break and the wine (juice for kids), and they reflect on the sacrifice Christ made for them by dipping their hands in red paint and placing their handprint on a white sheet of paper. Afterwards we sit quietly in the dark, holding candles, and sing songs of thanksgiving, share scriptures remembering His sacrifice for us, and extinguish candles one by one with a word of grateful remembrance. All exit in silence.
Note: To see photos of the stations from our previous Good Friday meditations just click HERE

Easter - On Resurrection Sunday we meet in a local park early in the morning, sing songs of rejoicing and thanksgiving for the resurrection of our Lord and share together about how we (the Body of Christ) must be alive and moving in the World we live in if we are to bear witness to the living Christ within. Then we go back to our house and we have the kids make "Resurrection Rolls" as an object lesson. The kids take a marshmallow which symbolizes Jesus and we tell them that, after his death on the cross, his body was annointed with oil (and they roll in it melted butter) and spices (they sprinkle it with cinnamon) and then he was wrapped in a shroud (they wrap the marshmallow in crescent roll dough). Then we bake these in the oven and when they come out the retain their shape (rounded humps of dough). When you break them open they are hollow - the tomb is empty! *Plus they are totally delicious to eat. :)

What does your church family do to celebrate and observe the Passion of our Lord during Holy Week? I'd love to know. Share it here in the comments, please.

Blessings,
Keith

Monday, April 11, 2011

For Richer or Poorer?

Why is it that we put so much hope in money? We dream about winning the lottery. We fantasize about how we would spend our sudden fortune to make our lives more comfortable, or even how we would bless the people we love if we only had vast riches at our disposal.

But ask yourself this question, "What is the quality of life that we dream of having if we only had such great wealth?" Obviously, if you or I had millions of dollars in the bank we would have all that we need right now. We would have no fears about tomorrow. We would be able to rest comfortably and enjoy our lives completely. Such is the fantasy we imagine enjoying "if only" we had great wealth.

However, Jesus confidently assures us that, if we will change our perspective, we can enjoy exactly the same sort of life right this very minute. He tells us that we already have all that we need for our life today. God has already provided each of us with our daily bread. Just as God cares for the daily needs of sparrows, He cares even more for us.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" - Matthew 6:25-26

Jesus also tells us that we do not need to worry about tomorrow. Why? Because God has everything - absolutely everything - under complete and perfect control.

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Matthew 6:31-34

Of course, if God is in control, that means that you and I are not. This is what most of us really struggle with. We're not too concerned about God being in control, but we don't like it when we're totally out of control. But we can't have it both ways. If God is in control, we are not. That's why trusting God is so important. Without trust, we are filled with anxiety and strife. But if we can let go of everything and trust that God is good, that He really loves us, and that He really only wants us best for us, then trusting Him is the only response that makes sense.

So, who is the truly rich person? Isn't it the person who has all they need right now and who has no fear or anxiety about tomorrow?

If you and I are true disciples of Jesus, then we have all that we need for today, and we have no cause for worry or anxiety about tomorrow. Our Heavenly Father has given you all you need for today, and He has tomorrow under complete control too.

According to Jesus, the wealth of this world does not compare to the "true riches" of the Kingdom of God. Seek first His Kingdom and do whatever you have to do to obtain it, because the Kingdom of God is worth more than anything - and everything - you currently possess.

"So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" - Jesus (Luke 16:11)

Thank you, Lord, that I have all I need for today and tomorrow is under control.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:11-13

-kg

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hidden with Christ

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." - (Colossians 3:1-4)

I woke up this morning and this verse was in my mind. It's not often that this happens, especially when I've not been reading or studying a given passage and it becomes highlighted in my thoughts out of the clear blue. At first I wasn't even sure where the passage was found in the Scriptures. It wasn't until later that I looked it up that I realized where it was found in the New Testament. But I was familiar with these verses so I lay there and waited to see if God had something to say to me about the verses.

The first thing that came to me was that Paul says, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." My typical response to this verse is that it's saying something to me on a personal level as an individual follower of Christ. But then it came to me that this letter was not written to any single individual. It was written "to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse." (v.2) So, Paul's instructions here are not meant to be taken as individualized components. He's speaking to a community of believers in a region of Colosse when he reminds the Church that their "life is now hidden with Christ in God." He's wanting the Church in Colosse to understand that the life of the Church is hidden in Christ.

You can see further evidence of the fact that Paul is speaking to a community of believers (rather than to an individual) when he says "set your hearts (plural) on things above" and "set your minds (plural) on things above." Individuals only have one heart or mind. Paul uses the plural in this case because he's talking to a group of people; the Church.

So, what does it mean for the life of the Church to be "hidden with Christ in God"? Again, I think I always thought of this passage as saying that my personal life was to be found in Christ. But it says our life (in the Church) is "hidden". If something is hidden then it means you can't find it. It means you're not supposed to find it. It's gone. So, our life in the Church is forever hidden in Christ. All that is left of us is now in the Church is in Christ. We have died. Our life (as a Church) has been swallowed up in the glorious life of Christ our Lord.

Paul also says that "Christ...is (our) life". We have no other life apart from Christ. When we are "hidden with Christ in God" we are wrapped up in the Divine mystery and only when Christ appears will we appear. If Jesus does not manifest Himself, the Church is still hidden. Without Christ there can be no Christian.

Reading chapter 3 of Colossians again with this new awareness of Paul's instructions for a Body of Believers, it's now plain to see that his intent was to provide a basis and framework for how the Church was to relate to one another in fellowship. As he says in verse 16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." He continues to talk to a community of Believers here, urging them (and us) to let the word of Christ live in us powerfully as we teach one another and encourage one another through song.

When we come together as a Body, the purpose of our teaching, then, should be to encourage one another. We should share the "word of Christ" with each other in love. Our singing should also be full of the word of Christ, and even this is not a selfish pursuit. The singing of songs is also meant to share the word of Christ with our brothers and sisters. It's meant to be shared from a thankful heart full of gratitude for what Christ has done for us all.

I'm not exactly sure why this verse came to me in the night. But it does seem more obvious to me now that God wants His Church, and specifically the church family where I am a functioning member, to understand that Her life is only in Christ, not in the individual people who take part. We, as individuals, are called to be lost in Christ when we come together (as a community) and to discover Christ's life in our midst. We are called to be filled with the word of Christ and to encourage one another and even to sing to one another out of our sincere gratitude for the amazing love of God that has been lavished upon us all.

Now, to practice the simple truths of these verses in our time together. That's where things get really exciting.

-kg

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

GUEST BLOG: THE FREEDOM OF MATURITY by W.Carl Ketcherside

We have always been told that "the new testament" consists of twenty-seven books. It seems almost heretical for one to say this is not true. To refute it seems to deny God's Word, even though God nowhere said or implied that such was the case.

It cannot be denied that thousands of people in the world, both Jews and Greeks, were in covenant relationship with God before one word of the New Covenant Scriptures was ever written. Many who died for the faith had never seen an apostolic letter. Many had no idea there would ever be a compilation of such letters. They simply believed that Jesus was the Messiah and God's Son, and pledged allegiance to Him. They renounced any thought of their own righteousness as having been attained by works of the law, and simply put their trust in the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

The divine agreement, the covenant that established their relationship with the Father of all mercy, was inscribed by the Holy Spirit upon the walls of the inner chambers of their being. It was written in terms of love, a dynamic so powerful that it not only transformed their lives but completely altered the world in which they lived. The New Covenant Scriptures, now entitled the New Testament, grew out of their covenantal relationship, not vice versa.

As time went on, the Holy Spirit motivated certain ones to make a record of the divine breakthrough on the human plane. A former tax-collector told the story primarily for the Jews. A young man who grew up in Jerusalem, a close friend of Simon Peter, wrote it for the Romans and the Latin world. A Greek physician interviewed eyewitnesses and then compiled and collated the information he had received for presentation to a Greek state official. To this he later added and certified an account of the struggle of the message of hope to free itself, first from the bonds of Jewish legalism, and second from the toils of Greek philosophy. The account ends with the proclamation free and the proclaimer in prison. Much later, a former fisherman, who survived all of the other apostles, wrote a supplementary account to offset the effects of one of the most subtle foes that ever sought to infiltrate the faith.

As communities of believers were beset with problems growing out of the humanity of the covenant people, the apostles wrote letters to them, furnishing guidelines for rethinking their conduct. Sometimes these grew out of reports received from persons who were familiar with the saints in a given locality. Other times they were replies to letters that had asked for information. In still other circumstances the apostles wrote simply because the situation warranted it. One of these was a letter commending a runaway slave to his master, to whose home he was returning. Another was addressed to a people who were being seduced from the liberty they enjoyed in Jesus.

Those who received the letters did not regard them as legal documents. The writers who penned them had no consciousness of creating a code of laws. They merely wrote letters of deep affection to people whom they loved, without any thought of writing a Bible. Paul, who wrote most of the letters, disclaimed any thought of domination over the faith of the recipients. He said, "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24; KJV).

During the life span of the apostles, the letters were scattered among isolated communities, although they were occasionally shared with other believers in the same general region (Colossians 4:16). It was not until long after the death of John, and after a good deal of debate about the validity of some of the letters, that the canon was completed and the New Covenant Scriptures were collected as we now have them.

It is true that our relationship to God is a covenantal relationship. There is a great deal of difference, however, between the covenant or agreement and the letters written to the covenant people. The covenant is entered by faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God. It results from a response to the good news that Christ "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). The gospel was fully proclaimed on Pentecost. Not another word was ever added to it. Those who responded to it, by reformation of life and baptism, entered into the covenant with God, even though they never saw an apostolic letter and certainly never saw a copy of the New Covenant Scriptures.

The gospel is not a legalistic arrangement by which we earn God's favor. It is the good news of God's marvelous grace growing out of the love which God is. The New Covenant Scriptures are not a legalistic code, for we are not under law but under grace. The Scriptures are a collection of "love letters," written in familiar terms. They do not represent the will of God imposed, but the mind of God exposed. They act as guidelines, showing how Christ would react under conditions faced by saints on earth. They are instructional material intended to inform subjects how to prepare for the coming of their King.

Another reason for the reluctance of many people to accept what was said about the covenants is that they would rather be under law than under grace. It is for this reason they make grace into law and convert the love letters of the apostles into a written code. They are frightened by the freedom that makes them personally responsible for their decisions. They prefer to have things "spelled out" and have a law-book. Then they can go and "look it up" to see how far they can go and still remain within the limits. It is easier to qualify as a good lawyer than as a great lover. It is easier to lay down the law than to live up to love.

This is indicative of emotional and spiritual immaturity. An adolescent outwardly demands freedom but inwardly craves restraint. He wants his parents to lay down laws, even though he professes outward rebellion against their regulations. The reason for this inner turmoil is his association of love with law. Enforcement of law, even though it galls him to comply, indicates to his still immature mind that his parents are shielding and protecting him from the big world he is still afraid to face alone. He would rather be behind walls with a sense of security than to be forced to face life openly and on his own.

In the Roman world in which the apostles lived, a son was turned over to others who were charged with his rearing. Even though the boy was destined to become heir to his father's estate and title of nobility, he was under such a tight reign and subjected to such strict discipline that he was little better off than a slave. Every action was ordered by others. His life was regimented each hour of the day. He made no independent decisions. All of this continued until he reached the age of puberty, when his father publicly presented him as a citizen to the populace.

The whole course of a youth's life was changed from that moment onward. No longer was he under the hand of disciplinarians who could flog him into compliance with their will. Publicly recognized as a son by the father, he could now move among men as a man. This did not mean he was a law unto himself. He was bound by ties of respect to his family. His actions brought honor or dishonor to the family name. His concern had to be for others. He had to measure his behavior in the light of his influence.

Paul uses this familiar way of life to illustrate God's plan for His people through the ages. After describing the law as a custodian charged with delivering us to Christ, and pointing out that once this was accomplished we were no longer under a custodian, he introduces the example drawn from social life: "Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father" (Galatians 4:1, 2; KJV).

Notice now his application to the people of God: "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (v. 3). In their childhood age, God's chosen people were treated as children. At Mount Sinai they were placed under the tutelage of a custodian. That custodian was the written code. This stern disciplinarian actually reduced the children to a status comparable to that of household slaves. The written code is here referred to as "the elements of this world." The term refers to the fundamental or primary principles upon which any system is founded. In the literary world it was applied to the alphabet, which was basic to all writing. In the natural world it was applied to atoms out of which all matter was composed. In the social world it was applied to fundamentals of moral and ethical behavior.

"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (vv. 4, 5). Under Roman law the father decided the time when he would deliver the son from his custodians, and publicly acknowledge him as a son of the family and a citizen of the commonwealth. In the spiritual realm, it was God who ordained the time when faith should come.

When the time arrived for the world's attainment of sonship, God sent His Son. It was important that our deliverance be wrought by the Son, because in Him we could see what was entailed in divine sonship. The Son of God became the Son of man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God. Note that God did not send a new or better legal code to deliver us. Instead, He sent His Son. In Christ we do not sustain a legal relationship to the Father, but a personal one. God sent a person to inaugurate that relationship.

In His entrance into our world to share our lot, Jesus was made of a woman. He was not the seed of man. He was not begotten by Joseph, although He was conceived by Mary. He was made under the law, and He fulfilled it. He was the only person who ever did so. He was tempted in all points as we are, but He was without sin. Because He had no sin for which to suffer, He could suffer for our sins. God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He delivered us from the curse of the law by having been made a curse for us.

It is through Christ's sacrifice that we receive the adoption of sons. "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (vv. 6, 7). God did not hand us another law, a written code to govern us as sons. Such a code belonged to the days of childish immaturity. He sent forth the Spirit of His Son, that is, the Spirit of sonship. The Holy Spirit's indwelling presence marks us out as belonging to the divine family.

The Spirit within brings out the consciousness of a father-son relationship. It is not based upon legalistic compliance but upon acceptance through mutuality of love. "We love him, because he first loved us," wrote John (1 John 4:19). In the joy of acceptance, expressed by the word "adoption," the inner being cries out "Abba, Father." The first term expresses the initial exclamation of the little child for the parent, conveying affection and dependence. The last is the mature recognition of warm relationship.

God has delivered us from the status of slaves. He no longer treats us as minors. The coming of Jesus was the signal for the coming of age of the people of God. The fullness of the time was the time of their fullness. Unfortunately, many people are not able to accept the sense of responsibility involved in the freedom of sonship. In their spiritual adolescence they seek to convert the very love letters addressed to them into a legalistic arrangement, which would thrust them back into slavery.

Only a little thought is required to demonstrate that the new covenant cannot be postulated upon such a written code. When a community is founded upon law, the law must be enunciated first. Those who are to constitute the community must consent to it and pledge their allegiance to it. If the procedure were the reverse of this, the community could have imposed upon it regulations that the members would abhor, and to which they could not subscribe in good conscience. As was stated, we do not erect a structure and then construct a foundation; we first lay the foundation.

The nation of Israel is a good example. It was God's design to create for himself a nation that would preserve the concept of monotheism until the Messiah should come. He would be identified as the Son of the one God who made Heaven and earth. Accordingly, God called His people out of slavery in Egypt and led them across the Red Sea. Instead of taking them by the ancient caravan route, which gave direct access to the land of Canaan but led through hostile Philistine territory, He conducted them southward to Mount Sinai, or Horeb. He called Moses to come up into the mountain in the presence of all the people and gave him instructions to relay to the multitude. The people were to wash their clothes so they could appear clean in the presence of the Lord. They were to abstain from sexual relationship with their wives. They were not to touch the mountain, under the penalty of death. A boundary line was drawn around the base of the mountain so no man or beast could make physical contact with it. Then, "Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God" (Exodus 19:17; KJV).

When the assembly heard the voice of God thundering from the peak, they were frightened. They requested that Moses be allowed to go and receive the message of God and relay it to them. "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do" (Exodus 24:3).

Moses wrote all the words God had spoken, and arose very early in the morning to construct an altar in the shadow of the hill. Young men were dispatched to offer a sacrifice upon the altar. Moses caught half of the blood in a basin and sprinkled the remainder upon the altar to sanctify it. He then took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. They responded to the reading by saying, "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (v. 7). Moses thereupon took the blood in the basin and sprinkled it upon the people and the book, saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words" (v. 8).

The sprinkling of the book consecrated it to the people, while the sprinkling of the people consecrated them to the book. The covenant founded upon law was inaugurated, and from thenceforth the nation was bound to keep all the words of that law or die. To violate a covenant with God is a tragic renunciation of a promise. To break a covenant with Him is to become a traitor to the Eternal God.

In the case of the "new covenant," which God specifically declared was not to be like the one made with the fathers when they were led forth from Egypt, there was no written code announced and read. Ours is a personal relationship with Jesus, through whom grace and truth came. Instead of writing a book and sprinkling it with blood, Peter publicly announced the facts concerning the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He ended by saying, "This same Jesus God raised up and made Him both Lord and Christ." The application of the blood of the new covenant was figuratively to the hearts of the believers.

The New Covenant Scriptures could not have constituted a legal code upon which the church was erected, simply because they were not yet written. They were written many years later. It is true that those who were baptized "continued stedfastly in the teaching of the apostles," also in the sharing of the common life in Christ, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers, but this was in no sense a ritualistic performance based upon legal specifications. It was the natural expression of hearts filled with the Holy Spirit after being cleansed and purged by divine forgiveness.

A written code was the foundation of the nation composed of those called out from slavery in Egypt. The foundation of the kingdom composed of those called out of bondage to sin was a simple fact, the greatest in all history. That fact is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. When Simon Peter openly testified to it, Jesus pronounced a blessing upon him and declared that his statement was a Heaven-revealed truth. He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." On that fact He would plant the called-out ones. The church is composed of those who are not under law, but under grace. Their hope is not derived from righteousness based upon law, but from righteousness of faith in Christ.

At one time in my life I thought the New Covenant Scriptures, consisting of the apostolic letters of love and sharing, constituted a blueprint for the church, exactly as the legal code given at Sinai did for the nation of Israel. I did not stop to realize that a blueprint must be in the hands of the construction superintendent and the carpenters before the building is started. I freely quoted what God said to Moses when he was about to make the tabernacle, and applied it to ourselves. The instruction to Moses was "See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5; KJV).

In spite of what may be said about "pattern theology" and a "divine blueprint," the New Covenant Scriptures do not constitute either a pattern or blueprint by which the church was constructed. If they do, the church was not built by the blueprint, because it was in existence a good many years before a single epistle was written. Each letter was addressed to only one community of believers. Not one area had all of the Scriptures available to it for many decades. There were congregations that lived and perished who never saw one segment of "the blueprint," and did not know that such existed.

The writer of Hebrews contrasts the old covenant and the new. Unfortunately, many readers think he is comparing them and pointing out similarities. Reference is made to the time when Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle after having been shown a pattern of the tent and all of its furnishings. Many readers assume that when God said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern," He was, by implication, telling us also to build the church according to a blueprint supplied to and by the apostles. This analogy breaks down for several reasons, including the following:

1. Moses was given a preview of the tabernacle because it was to be built by men who had never seen such a structure. It is specifically stated, however, that the true tabernacle was one "which the Lord pitched, and not man" (8:2). Since it was not pitched by man, it was unnecessary to provide a blueprint for man.

2. Since the priests offered gifts according to the law and served "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things," it is sometimes argued that we are under a written blueprint to provide the antitype. In that eventuality our blueprint would have been the pattern shown to Moses, not the New Covenant Scriptures at all. Our task would be to "spiritualize" the pattern shown to Moses and to erect the true tabernacle accordingly. In that case the true tabernacle would be pitched by man, and not the Lord, in contravention of the plain Scriptural statement.

3. The very next sentence after the quotation relating to the "pattern shown to Moses" (v. 5), begins with the words, "But now." When these words occur in Scripture, they indicate a change in God's dealings with mankind. It is true that under the first covenant Moses was shown a replica of the tabernacle and instructed to make everything according to it. The writer of Hebrews continues, "But now hath he [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (v. 6).

Under the new covenant God did not provide a pattern or blueprint of a structure. Instead, He gave His Son, and it is the Son who is our pattern, or example. Speaking about the persecution and hardship that are to be endured by one who is identified with Jesus, Peter writes, "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21; KJV).

The temple of God today is composed of living stones, of individuals who are cleansed and purified by the blood of Christ. The only sanctuary is a consecrated human heart, and for this the blueprint is the life of Jesus. The first covenant began with a book; the new covenant began with a baby. The first created holy days and holy places, the second created holy persons. The first covenant, like the first Adam, was of the earth, earthy; the second covenant, like the second Adam, was the Lord from Heaven.

Our hope lies in conformity to the Christ, not in conformity to a code. We do not walk in statutes but in the Spirit. We are free from the demands of the flesh which made law necessary. The flesh has no claim upon us, since Jesus died in the flesh. Those who continue to walk after the flesh shall die. We are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is true that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us. When the dominion of the flesh was destroyed and we were liberated, we were freed from the bondage in which we were once held. To form a new written code from the letters that the apostles wrote to congregations and individuals, would be to forge anew the fetters that would bring us once again into captivity to law.

-by W. Carl Ketcherside

Monday, April 04, 2011

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT?

"When troops move to take a beachhead, they do so with the conscious plan that they will sacrifice thousands of men. What if the Christian church moved into the world with the same convictions? What if we had a conscious plan to follow (Jesus) even though it might cost many lives? ...It would appear that before the Christian church justifies giving the lives of so many of its people in military involvement it should look at the greater sin of being unwilling to sacrifice lives of affluent ease for the cause of building the Kingdom of Christ." - Myron S. Augsburger; War:Four Christian Views, page 93.

Counting the cost is difficult. It forces us to look at ourselves with unflinching honesty. It means looking into the mirror to see who we really are without our masks on. It means not turning away from that painful reflection, no matter what we see staring back at us.

Where does the loyalty of the Church truly lie? Are we more passionate for our flag or our nation than we are for our Savior and our God? Perhaps the answer is more obvious than we care to admit.

An idol, by definition, is anything you will sacrifice your children to in order to maintain your own comfort and protect your way of life. What, then, do we in America sacrifice our children to? What is the name of the god we appease when we send our sons and daughters off to a foreign land in order to protect the American way of life?

"And I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities'" (Revelation 18:4,5)

What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world? Are we primarily citizens of the Kingdom of God? Or are we first and foremost the patriotic sons and daughters of the United States of America?

The Church is part of a global nation whose citizens are found all around the world. Most of our brothers and sisters were not born under the banner of the red, white and blue. They do not call themselves Capitalists, or Socialists. They are simply followers of Jesus who hold their greatest allegiance to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

To this day the worldwide Body of Christ is made up of former communists, capitalists, socialists, and zionists. We are now members of One Body. We are not properly identified to our Lord as Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Charismatics, Pentecostals, or Anglicans. We are simply His children. We are His Body. We are ambassadors of His Kingdom, and His Kingdom alone.

The question before us now is, are we willing to lay down our lives for the Kingdom of God? Are we willing to die for the Gospel of Jesus? Do we honestly place Jesus on the actual throne of our lives?

There is a profound difference, I am learning, between "being willing" to lay down your life for Christ and actually laying down your real life for Him.

And now, sitting here at the keyboard typing out these words, here in my 3 bedroom house in one of the richest counties in our nation, I am reminded of the words of Jackie Pullinger who said, "The Gospel is always life for the one who receives it, and death for the one who brings it."

Where is my death? Where is my dying? Where, even more, is the life of Christ in the one who has received the Gospel I have championed?

What has it cost me to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom? What is the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus in my actual life? Am I being transformed daily into His image? Am I capable of letting go of my life in order to receive the rivers of living water that Jesus offers me now?

"Are you able to drink from the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?" - Jesus (Mark 10:38)

Would I sacrifice my bank account to advance the Kingdom of God? Would I surrender my career for the Gospel of Christ? Would I risk everything - or anything - for Jesus?

Would I?

-kg

Friday, April 01, 2011

Ensenada Grace

Last Saturday I drove down to Ensenada with my friend, Brodie. He was kind enough to volunteer to be my ride to and from the YWAM base where I was scheduled to speak over a 3 day period.

On the way down to Ensenada I reflected a little about how God had opened this door for me. It started months ago when I began to pray (near the end of last year) that the Lord would open up new opportunities for me in 2011 to teach about the Gospel of the Kingdom, Following Jesus, and God's Heart for the Poor.

The first thing that happened was that a friend handed me an envelope of cash and said, "This is so you can get your passport". (Thanks Mike!)

About the time I got my passport I got an email from my friend William who volunteers at the YWAM base. He asked me if I could come and speak for 3 days to several youth groups who were coming down to build houses for poor families in Ensenada, Mexico. The theme of the week? "The Kingdom of God".

My time there was a great blessing and I got to share 4 different messages about the Kingdom of God. Spiritually it was an uphill battle, but by the final night the dam broke and several kids came forward to respond to the calling to follow Jesus and surrender their lives to Him.

Now I'm praying that God would open even more doors for me to share about the Kingdom of God and our blessed opportunity to follow Jesus daily.

Let the Kingdom come!