Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BREATHING LESSONS

As a child I used to suffer from asthma. I can remember wheezing and struggling to breathe as my parents coerced me to swallow the two bitter pills that would help to open my bronchial tubes and allow my lungs to process oxygen again.

The thing about asthma is that it keeps you from doing things that everyone else takes for granted, like running, riding your bike, playing tag, and a lot of other physical games with other kids.

At this age I was very aware of the fact that I had inherited my asthma from my own grandmother. Hers was much worse and required her to burn some sort of incense in an ashtray and inhale the fumes to clear her lungs. To this day I can instantly recall that smell whenever I remember being in my grandmother's house.

Eventually I outgrew my asthma, but I’ve never forgotten this phase of my life. Often, it serves as a metaphor to me when I consider the sustaining power of prayer in my life.

In the New Testament we are commanded to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), and breathing is often equated with prayer in the spiritual disciplines for this very reason. Our spiritual communication and connection with God should be a constant and never ceasing activity – just like breathing. We exhale our confession of weakness and we inhale the empowering Spirit of Grace.

This act of breathing prayer is life for us. Without breath none of us could survive very long. Prayer becomes our life line to the source of our life - Christ Himself. Breath also becomes an essential activity for anyone who runs a race, or hopes to compete in a marathon.

I point this out because Paul and the author of Hebrews often speak of the Christian life in terms of running a race.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)


Without great, deep, constant lungfuls of oxygen, we are unable to compete in this daily marathon of faith. Prayer is the key for us if we hope to reach the finish line.

Lately I've been thinking of this because I've started to realize that my asthma is starting to kick up again. Not the physical asthma (I've outgrown that), but the spiritual asthma has begun to slow me down. Thankfully the cure is not a bitter pill or any noxious smoke. It's simply bending the knee and taking the time to listen to that still, small voice again. Time to sit quietly in the darkened silence - and breathe.

-kg

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Gospel: For Here or To Go? (Part 6 of 6)

*This is the final installment of this excerpted series of articles from the book. Download the PDF for free or purchase the book online (in English or French) to read the entire book
HERE

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RELIGION OF COMPASSION?
One of the most disheartening things, when you listen to non-believers talk about why they are not followers of Jesus, is to hear things like, “My boss is a Christian and he’s the meanest person I know”, or “Our neighbors are Christians but they are just as screwed up as we are, why would I want to join them?”

One thing that’s clear when we look at the early church is the fact that they were living radically different lives from those Jews and pagans around them. It was the curiousity such living provoked that drew the majority of early converts to the Jesus Way of life.

Early Christians did not pass out printed tracts about salvation, they did not market their religion, and everyone knew that to join them meant becoming an outcast within the culture, possibly even arrested and put to death because of aligning oneself with Christ.

Yet the early church grew by leaps and bounds. Hundreds of thousands of people gave up their lives to follow this Jesus, in spite of the lack of evangelistic crusades and the threat of persecution. Why is that?

Many scholars are convinced that the lifestyle of those first and second century disciples was, in itself, the main reason. Some even suggest that their lives of service to the poor and their inclusive nature was as important as the miracles performed in their midst by the Apostles, perhaps even more important.

Historian, Henry Chadwick, for example, attributes the practical application of Christian charity as the “most potent single cause of Christian success in the ancient world..” and German theologian George Krestschmar has said that it was not so much the miraculous signs and wonders that followed the early church but unbelievable conduct of the Christians that had such an impact on the world of its day. He calls this, “the propaganda of the deed” where the generosity of the early church spoke louder than the doctrine or the healing of the infirmed.

It was the overwhelmingly generous lifestyle of those early believers that transformed the world and overcame persecution. Their lives demonstrated that Christ was more than powerful enough to change their hearts and the evidence was their ongoing care for others.

The sad truth is that, in our day, especially here in America, the line separating the pagan and the self-proclaimed Christian is difficult to see.

You don’t have to read too many Barna or Gallup polls to see that attending church services and proclaiming oneself to be “Born Again” doesn’t make any noticeable difference in the sort of life you may live on a daily basis. Many experts on Church Growth and Evangelism see a direct correlation between the lower ethical standards of those who claim to be Christian and the kind of evangelism we’ve been practicing for the last century.

“They’ve simply believed the story we told them,” says Todd Hunter, President of ALPHA Ministries USA. “We’ve made the story of the Gospel reductive in the absurd,” he says. “It’s like that old bumper sticker that says, ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’. Is that all we are? Just Forgiven? What about living a life of radical transformation where we are learning to live our lives like Jesus?”

Granted, the sound-byte culture we live in has encouraged the Church to present a watered-down version of the Gospel to the world around us. Most have heard our story over and over again and have decided that it doesn’t work.

The real question is what sort of Christianity are we calling people to? Are we really calling people to surrender their lives to Christ? Do we even really know what we mean when we say this?

Sadly, most of us do not think of conversion as a surrendered life to Jesus as our Lord and (yes), our Savior.

Most of us think of salvation as the answer to the question, “If you died tonight do you know you’d be in heaven tomorrow?” and perhaps the better question we should ask is, “If you knew you’d be alive tomorrow (and most of us will be), then whom will you follow and how would you live your life?”

Christianity is a way of life. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves in order to walk in his path.

Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions? If so, we’re offering the wrong answers too.
This would explain why the majority of people, both inside and outside the Church misunderstand what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Nothing illustrates this better than a comment made by the son of former President Ronald Reagan after the death of his famous father. In a New York Times exclusive, Ron Reagan Jr. was asked about his outspokenly Christian father and his own opinion of Christianity in general. Here’s what he said:

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Q: Now that the country is awash in Reagan nostalgia, some observers are predicting that you will enter politics. Would you like to be president of the United States?

Ron Reagan Jr. (RRJ): I would be unelectable. I'm an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won't accept.

Q: Do you ever go to church?

RRJ: No. I visit my wife's sangha.

Q: So you sometimes practice Buddhism?

RRJ: I don't claim anything. But my sympathies would be in that direction. I admire the fact that the central core of Buddhist teaching involves mindfulness and loving kindness and compassion. ... One thing that Buddhism teaches you is that every moment is an opportunity to change.
**

The sad truth is that, in the private life of his Christian father, Ron Jr. saw nothing about Christianity that felt real to him, or relevant. Furthermore, he didn’t think of Christianity as a religion that promoted compassion or loving kindness.

While we might blame the first part on Ron Junior’s parents, we have to take the blame for the second part ourselves.

It would have been virtually impossible for an unbeliever living in those first three hundred years of Church History to ever reject Christianity on the grounds that it lacked compassionate people or failed to teach loving kindness.

In fact, we have testimony from many of the most hostile pagans who lived during the first three hundred years of Christianity who were put to shame because of the overwhelming generosity of the Church. Julian, the Apostate wrote of this frustrating situation when he said, “..The godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also.”

Christian philosopher Aristides (125 AD) wrote about the radical charity of the early Church also, recording the fact that, “…if there is among them a man that is poor and needy and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”

Radical compassion indeed.

Where have we gone wrong? Perhaps we’ve forgotten that our first and greatest command was to love.

GHANDI ON CHRIST
One quote which has always haunted me comes from a great man of peace named Mohatmas Gandhi who said this about Jesus Christ; “(He was) a man (Jesus Christ) who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”

As encouraging as those words may be however, Gandhi had little good to say about those who call themselves the followers of Jesus. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” he said. “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”

Have we missed our opportunity to change a nation for Christ because of our inability to live out the Gospel on a daily basis?

THE WAY BACK
Mike Pilavachi, the founder of Soul Survivor Ministries, uses a great illustration of our modern evangelistic efforts when he describes the Church as a great castle that, out of guilt, lowers the drawbridge annually to embark on an evangelistic crusade. Traveling in large groups, (for safety), we pass out tracts, launch “Bible Bombs” at people, play Christian music or perform pre-recorded puppet shows for those poor, lost people. Somehow, by sheer luck, we manage to convince one or two of them to pray a prayer and join us inside the castle where we raise the drawbridge and begin to teach them our quirky “Christianese” so that, a year later when we launch out again, they can’t talk to non-Christians either.

It may be funny, in some ways, but it’s the Truth. We have to change the way we think of non-Christians and we have to start changing our approach now.

First, I believe we need to lose the “drawbridge” mentality. The Church in current times desperately needs to stop treating non-believers as if they have social leprosy. We need to lower our defenses and learn to express the love of Jesus in practical ways to those in need.

Secondly, we need to expand our concept of evangelism to include an intentional discipleship to this person known as Jesus. As long as discipleship is optional, all our efforts at evangelism will lack the necessary proof that the kind of life Jesus offers is worth a dime.

Third, we have to take the calling to love others personally. It’s not “The Church” that needs to have a reformation of the heart, it’s you and I.


CONVERSATION – COMMUNITY – CONVERSION
The only formula I can see, at a basic level begins with conversation, which at some point leads to community and relationship, and then, somewhere in the course of all this, conversion takes place. Our role is simply obedience and the practice of unconditional love towards everyone God leads into our path.

THE MISSION
Recently, my wife and I left our role as pastors at a local church we had helped to plant more than three years earlier. Our dream was to start a new sort of a church. One where everyone took following Jesus seriously. One where the practice of compassion to others was expressed in the giving of 100% of the tithe to the poor and the needy.

Our conviction was that everyone who called themselves a follower of Jesus was, by default, a missionary to their culture. Because we wanted to be reminded of this, we called our new church, “The Mission”.

Just a few weeks ago, we started a Sunday Morning “Kids Club” in our neighborhood. Four elementary-aged children came, along with our two young boys, to spend five weeks studying the life of Jesus. We sing songs, play games, and have fun together while we learn more about how Jesus loves us and can change our lives.

For over a decade my wife and I have taught Children’s Ministry in the local church, and many of those children came to faith in Christ as a result. We are thrilled for that experience and we applaud all of those who serve in this way. However, we felt a tugging in our hearts for those children who played with our sons every weekend and yet did not know Christ. So, we decided to host a Sunday School program in our living room on Sunday mornings for all those children who weren’t going to church anywhere.

Now our plan is to get to know the parents of these children and to eventually invite them to join us all on Sunday Morning for a few songs, some Bible Study and free coffee and bagels in our living room.

This is the way my wife and I have felt called to express our calling as missionaries in our neighborhood. Your talents are probably different than ours. Your area of ministry is probably a little different too. But your calling to “Go” is exactly the same.

Our challenge has been to inspire this sort of activity within our own weekly house church gathering. While we’ve called ourselves, “The Mission”, not everyone has come to the place where they have their calling figured out completely. This is where discipleship comes in. Our goal is to lovingly assist everyone in our house church to discover their gifts, their talents, and their mission field.

So far, the experience of house church has been amazing. We patterned our group after that of the early Christians, gathering in homes, breaking bread together, and sharing and ministering to one another in the power of the Holy Spirit, with God as our leader and teacher, not as a select group of qualified professionals.

So far we’ve enjoyed the simple joys of being the family of God. We’ve seen healings, we’ve seen miracles, and better yet, we’re all learning how to “be the Church” and not how to simply attend one.

CONCLUSION
Whether or not you decide to start a house church is beside the point. The issue of who we are as Christians is still just as important, if not more important, than what we say we believe in our heads. However we decide to express this, the truth is that we must begin to live out the truth and the power of the Gospel in our everyday lives. We must begin today.

Evangelism, like following Jesus, is all about going to where the broken and the lost and the forgotten are and loving them as Christ loved us. It’s not, I am convinced, about finding new ways to get them to come to us on our terms and to learn to believe the way we believe.

Jesus commanded us to “Go” and the command is still valid today. If we have any hope of accomplishing this command, it will only be as we go out in the power of the Holy Spirit and as we cooperate with Him in the process.

I encourage you to engage others in conversation. Tell your story, and listen to their story. Share your experiences with God in natural ways, not rehearsed speeches, but with a genuine voice of concern and compassion. Love others the way Jesus loved you. Invest in people. Trust that God loves them far more than you ever will, but ask God to teach you to love them more anyway.

And, whatever you do, “Go”!

-kg
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Monday, August 29, 2011

THE Gospel: For Here or To Go? (Part 5 of 6)

PATTERNS OF EVANGELISM
One thing that’s also helpful to me is to realize that, contrary to popular opinion, there is not a formula to evangelism found in the New Testament. Several times in the Gospels we see various people who come to Jesus and ask point blank, “What must I do to be saved?” One of the most shocking things is that Jesus never gives the answer that all of us have been trained to give. Not once. Jesus never says, “Confess your sins, believe in me and repeat this prayer after me.”

What we see is that Jesus gave a different answer to this question every single time. He never gave the same answer twice. It’s as if Jesus goes out of his way to demonstrate to us that evangelism needs to be done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, being sensitive to the specific heart of the one person we are speaking to, and not applying the cookie cutter approach to preaching the Gospel.

Let’s look briefly at the various answers Jesus gives to those who approached him asking about what must be done to inherit eternal life and see what we can learn from Him.

To Zaccheus Jesus simply acknowledges him in the crowd, invites himself to dinner and when Zaccheus repents of skimming from the taxes he’s collected, Jesus proclaims that salvation has come to his household. In the case of the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus commands him to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and become a disciple under Jesus. The man refuses and is allowed to walk away, seemingly unconverted. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, is told he must be born a second time. This confuses him and Jesus does little to explain what he means, leaving the teacher of the Law to work it out on his own time. The Woman at the Well is boldly confronted with the promiscuous lifestyle she’s been living and yet never feels offended or condemned by Jesus throughout the conversation. Finally, the Thief on the Cross is converted and welcomed into Paradise simply for realizing that Jesus was the promised Messiah. His only part in the process seems to be the amazing good fortune of being crucified for his crimes on the same day as the Son of God.

Many other examples of salvation in the New Testament reflect this same lack of pattern and tailor-made response to the Gospel message.

How does your personal conversion experience compare to these found in the New Testament? Do you see a common pattern in your own story?

When I look at this amazing variety of conversion experiences in Scripture it really puzzles me as to why we’ve made evangelism so predictable and uninteresting.

What’s more, our focus on evangelism seems to be in asking whether or not someone knows whether or not they would go to heaven if they were to die tonight? If anything, it seems the basic questions beings asked by Jesus and His disciples dealt with what one would do if they knew for a fact that they’d be alive tomorrow. The real question seems to be, “If you were alive tomorrow, who would you follow and how would you live your life?”

Are we asking the wrong questions?

HAVE YOU EVER FALLEN IN LOVE?
If you’ve ever fallen in love you know that it’s a scary, delicate and uncertain process. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get in the way of the natural progression of things. Other times we fall in love and we can’t even really explain how and when it really happened, only that one day we woke up and realized that we could not live without this other person in our lives. There is no science to the process of falling in love.

What I think we fail to realize is that, conversion to Christ is really a process of falling in love with Jesus over a period of time. When we make this process about a series of steps and a progression of words, we have seriously interfered with something that is far outside our ability to grasp and coordinate.

I can remember when I fell in love with my wife, Wendy, back in college. I can remember that first time I ever saw her, as she stepped onto the bus headed to a leadership conference we were attending with an on-campus student ministry. As she walked towards my seat and eventually sat in front of me I remember thinking, “Wow. Who is she? I’ve not seen her around campus.”

Before the bus left the parking lot she and I were engaged in small talk, she leant me new batteries for my Walkman and we barely interacted for the rest of the trip. A few weeks later I joined the Drama group she was leading, just to be near her. Over a series of months I got to know her. Finally I asked her to join me to see a local play and she turned me down cold. I was crushed.

Eventually she did join me and over time we got to know each other over the course of a year or so. After formally dating for a few months I asked her to marry me and a year later we were married.

Now, what if I took my own personal experience of falling in love and created a formula by which all others who wanted to fall in love must follow? Would that make any sense?

Hopefully we can plainly see that to expect everyone to fall in love the way that we fell in love is ridiculous. Yet, we have formulated a process for falling in love with Jesus and if people miss a few steps along the way we are quick to point out that they have failed to fall in love with Him in the acceptable way.

Doesn’t this seem foolish?

My prayer is that we will begin to see evangelism, and conversion, and discipleship to Jesus as an organic, creative, and miraculous process, as mysterious and marvelous as falling in love.

“And they will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”
–Jesus (from John 13:35)

-kg
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Excerpted from the book "The Gospel:For Here or To Go?" with a forword by Neil Cole. Available as a free PDF download or for purchase in print (in English or French)
HERE

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Gospel: For Here or To Go? (Part 4 of 6)

SOCIAL LEPROSY
In the book of John, Jesus prays for those who would follow his teachings after he ascended into heaven. What I find fascinating is that Jesus began by praying for what he didn’t want to pray. Yeah, it sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Why would anyone every start praying by asking God for what they were not asking? Maybe the clue is in what it was that Jesus didn’t pray. He says, “I pray not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One” (John 17:15).

Why did Jesus pray this?

I think it’s because he knows human nature and he knew that, soon after his ascension, we would want to remove ourselves from the world around us. We’re not comfortable hanging out with those sinners. More often than not, we treat the lost, those outside the Church, as if they have some sort of “Social Leprosy”. We’re afraid we’ll catch what they’ve got, so we avoid contact with them. We create Christian versions of the world so that we never have to interact with these “Social Lepers”. We have Christian Radio Stations, Christian Yellow Pages, Christian Coffee Shops, Christian Book Stores, and all sorts of private avenues where our contact with non-Christians is minimized.

I’m convicted when I realize that Jesus didn’t even treat people who had actual leprosy this way, and yet I treat those who think differently than I do as if they had some infectious disease that I might catch if I’m exposed to them for any extended period of time. The ironic thing is that Jesus expected that his disciples would be salt and light in the world, not hidden under a basket waiting for the second coming.

Paul the Apostle echoed the prayer of Jesus when he instructed the Christians in Corinth about their interactions with non-believers. “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people; not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)

Have we removed ourselves from the world? If so, we’ve allowed the Enemy to pacify us into complacency. It’s time to awaken from our slumber and burst out of our Christian bubble.

SALVATION IS A PROCESS, NOT AN EVENT OR POINT IN TIME
One thing I find fascinating as I study the New Testament and the practice of the early church is that their concept of salvation was much different than mine. When I think of salvation, I usually think of that one day when, as a nine year old boy, I walked forward and prayed with my pastor to ask Jesus into my heart. However, Peter and Paul seemed to have a different opinion about the salvation process. In their minds, salvation was an ongoing experience, not a one-time deal.

“..And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

"For you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9)

When we begin to think of Salvation as a process, and not an event, it changes the way we think of Evangelism.

In your own experience, what happens when someone you’ve been praying for and witnessing to finally accepts Christ as Lord and Savior? Don’t you cheer and weep and give high-fives to all your Christian friends? Sure you do. That’s an appropriate response. Even the Scriptures tell us that the angels in heaven celebrate when someone is saved.
(Luke 15:7-10)

However, our response and attention usually diminishes soon after this event. I believe it’s because, for us, our work is done. Our friend has “made it”. They are “in”. They’ve crossed the finish line and we can all move on with our lives now.

But, if Salvation is a process, and not an event or a point in time, then our work is not done. Our friend has not come to the end of the journey. Instead, they have only just begun.

In other words, Salvation is not the finish line, it is the starting line. If we begin to think of Salvation in this way, as an ongoing, daily commitment to following the marvelous person of Jesus, it will have a radical effect on our methods of evangelism and the way we treat those we hope to lead into this way of life.

-kg
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Download the entire book in English or French for free as a PDF or purchase online
HERE

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Gospel:For Here or To Go? (Part 3 of 6)

BELIEVE, BELONG, BECOME

Someone once told me that every single human being has a desire to believe something, to become something and to belong to something. As we enter into relationship with others we need to listen for the clues to where people are at in this process.

Ask people questions about what they believe, find out what they are searching to belong to, help them to come to grips with what they want to become.

In some cases, the answers to these questions will be very practical. Some people want to become a nurse, or a mechanic. Others want to become significant or necessary. A few people we talk to will reveal that they want to belong to a family, or a discussion group, or that they are already identified with people who share their viewpoint. Until we engage people in real, honest relationship we’ll never discover the answers to these questions, and we cannot help others find their own answers to these questions.

If nothing else, start your conversation with the person in front of you by saying, “You know, I was reading the other day about how everyone wants tobelieve, belong and become something. What do you think about that?” Let the Holy Spirit guide things from there and see where things go.


GARDNER VS WARRIOR MODES OF EVANGELISM
Another useful concept for me lately has been the understanding that there are two different styles of evangelism we can employ. As described in Spencer Burke’s book, “Making Sense of Church”, the two styles are “Warrior” and “Gardener”.

The “Warrior” model is the predominant method that I have been trained in over the course of my Christian life. This model uses ideas like closing the deal, winning the lost, and targeting sinners, as if they were deer on the other end of our hunting rifle. Our mindset, in this model, is squarely centered on results, and often we expect the result to come sooner rather than later. If we take a shot and miss, we simply move on to the next target and take a shot at another one.

Granted, this sort of evangelism style has been largely successful in bringing hundreds of thousands of people into faith in Christ over the years. Perhaps, again, our focus has been so centered on conversion that many have fallen through the cracks, but over the decades of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies especially, this “Bag’em and Tag’em” mode of evangelism netted scores of new converts.

I think in today’s culture this warrior form of evangelism is a dead-end. If anything, it does more damage to the Gospel than good, in my opinion. The reason why is that, honestly, we’ve gotten so good at blasting out the message that “Jesus Loves You” and “Jesus Died For Your Sins” that the world is tired of hearing it. What they want now is to see.

They want to see, with their eyes, if what we say is true, and they are looking at the lives of those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus to find the evidence.

The “Gardener” model of evangelism takes a much different approach. Like a farmer or a gardener plants, waters and protects the growing things in their care, they recognize that making the plant produce fruit is not their job. They recognize that they are simply cooperating with the natural process of growth inherent in the creation.

This does not mean that the gardener does nothing. Far from it. As anyone who has tended a garden knows, success depends on daily attention and care, but the bloom and the fruit will come in due time. These things cannot be forced or coerced. They must be allowed to occur in an organic and natural way.

To apply this to evangelism, it means trusting that God loves people more than we do. It means daily placing our attention on the lives and spiritual development of those whom we are in contact with. Our goal is to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He urges us to love people into the Kingdom of God. This means we’ll be invested in the lives of people for the long haul. We’re not loving them because we want to push them into our way of thinking, we are loving them simply because God loves them and we are committed to love them in tangible ways to express the love of God to them every single day.

-kg
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The entire book is available in English or French editions for purchase or as a free PDF download
HERE

Friday, August 26, 2011

THE GOSPEL: FOR HERE OR TO GO? (Part 2 of 6)

In the closing words of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus leaves us with what has become known as “The Great Commission”. In it, Jesus charges his disciples with a set of tasks until he returns. Here’s what Jesus commands us to do:
1) Go out into the world and make disciples.
2) Baptize these disciples in the name of the Trinity.
3) Teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded us.

If we take a moment to evaluate how we, the Church, have done in accomplishing these tasks, I think we’ll see where we’ve missed the mark, and hopefully where we need to get back on track.

First, we’re called to go. It seems simple enough, but what frustrates me is how often I see us in the Church twisting this into a more comfortable format. For the most part, the organized Church has built a model of evangelism and discipleship that says, “Come to us”. We build large buildings, we buy plasma television screens to announce our upcoming events, we host large-scale musicals and plays to dramatize the Gospel, and we instruct our members to invite their friends to Church so that the professional clergy can do the evangelizing.

I’m not trying to say that these methods are wrong or evil, but just that we’ve taken a very simple and clear command to “Go” and made it into a call for the lost to “Come to us”. This isn’t what Jesus commanded us to do. Jesus very easily could have commanded us to create inviting environments where the lost feel welcome. He could have commanded us to make space for unbelievers to show up and meet us on our terms, but he didn’t. He commanded us that we should go out and, in the course of our everyday, regular life, communicate and live out the message of the Gospel among those we encounter everyday.

Secondly, Jesus commands us to make disciples. A disciple is someone who is daily, intentionally following Jesus with their whole life. A disciple is not a convert. If you take a look at how our local churches practice evangelism you’ll probably see a lot emphasis placed on winning people to Christ, getting them to come forward in the meeting to make a public profession of faith, and not as much emphasis on taking them from this first step into all the other steps that follow.

As one example, I recently came across a very helpful tool called “The Engel’s Scale” which charts the slow progression by degrees of those who are far from God and how they slowly come to faith in Christ over time and with the assistance of loving friends and the Holy Spirit.

What I found troubling about the scale was that it stopped at conversion. As if, after the conversion experience, we no longer had any need to chart their ongoing development and discipleship to Jesus.

Again, the entire emphasis was on conversion, not on discipleship.

I understand that there are exceptions to this in the Body of Christ, and for that I am very grateful. I’m simply pointing out that, at least as far as I have seen, most modern American Churches seem to focus entirely too much on conversion and not enough on discipleship, which is expressly what Jesus commanded us to focus on.

Thirdly, Jesus commands us in the Great Commission to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded”. I find this part the most painful to explore. Simply put, I have never once encountered a church or a ministry where the main goal was to emphasize the commands of Jesus or to communicate a strong expectation of obedience for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus.

If you want to know whether or not the Church has been obedient in the third section of The Great Commission, just ask yourself if you can name all of the commands of Jesus. If you don’t know what all of these commands are, you not only cannot teach others to obey them, you yourself cannot obey them.

Jesus had an expectation that those who would follow him would…well…follow him. Obedience to Jesus was not an optional activity for disciples. Over and over again Jesus spoke about how those who love him obey his commands. His unwavering invitation was for disciples who would take his words seriously and put them into practice.

For the Gospel to become a living reality to those around us, it must become a living reality to those of us who have decided to make Jesus our Lord and Savior.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded by saying, “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind...and the second is like the first; you should love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matt 22:37-39)

Without embracing the Great Commandment, we can never hope to accomplish the Great Commission. This is why Paul the Apostle tells us that, without love, all that we strive to do for the Kingdom is meaningless and empty. (1 Cor 13)

We have to love people because they are people that Jesus loves. We have to learn to love people unconditionally. To love others as He loved us. Until we get really, really good at this, all our efforts to evangelize and to make disciples will appear hollow and empty.

-kg

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*Taken from the book which is available in English or French as a free PDF download or for sale in print
HERE

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Gospel: For Here Or To Go? (Part 1)



*This is an excerpt from the first chapter of my book, "The Gospel:For Here or To Go?" available as a free PDF download or for purchase in print
HERE

French language version also available at the link above.

**

There’s a great scene at the end of the film, “The Big Kahuna” where Danny DeVito’s character counsels a young co-worker about his overt mode of evangelism.

He says, “It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.' That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are - just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep.”

That scene sums up, for me, how the world sees the insincerity in our attempts to sell our faith the way a door-to-door salesman sells magazine subscriptions.

As a young college student, I was very passionate about Christian Apologetics. I read book after book dealing with how to “give to every man an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within” using science, history, archaeology, and logic to convince the skeptic and the unbeliever that Jesus really was the answer.

After several years of learning, and even teaching others, about the basics of the Christian Faith, I came to the realization that I had never once argued anyone into trusting Jesus. I had some great theological and mentally stimulating discussions with people, but the fact was that my apologetics had not won a single person to Christ.

That’s when I realized that the only Apologetic that really matters is the Apologetic of your life. No one can argue with your actual, personal experience with God. I realized that my life needed to reflect the transformational power of Jesus, or else my logic and wisdom and answers were useless.

Granted, I’m much wiser and more secure in the grounding of my faith now that I’ve spent so much time studying and discussing the issues with people. But what is best for others is that I begin to actually live out the Gospel in my daily life and share openly about my own struggles, failures, experiences and insights as I personally follow Jesus every day of my life.

When Peter exhorts the early disciples of Jesus to “..always be ready to give an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within..” it was written with the underlying assumption that the people he was writing to were living radically transformational lives within the culture they were part of. We know this because of what we see in the book of Acts and by looking at the first three hundred years of Church History. The early followers of Jesus were living lives that were extremely different from those of the pagan world around them. Because of this, Peter is encouraging these disciples to be ready to explain why they cared for lepers, and fed pagan widows, and shared personal belongings with anyone in need whenever unbelievers asked them the reason why.

These days I fear we in the Church have largely lost this sense of living a different sort of life from those around us. Instead, we’re quick to offer answers to questions that no one is asking us.

-Keith Giles

Monday, August 15, 2011

SHANE CLAIBORNE INTERVIEW EXCERPT

A few months ago I interviewed Shane Claiborne over the phone. This is a short excerpt of that conversation. The full interview will be published in an updated version of my book, [Subversive Interviews].
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Keith: What were the experiences that God used in your life to open your eyes to the needs of others and what it means to follow Jesus into solidarity with the poor?

Shane: There’s certainly a ton of those kinds of experiences for me. But the one’s that most poignantly stirred things up in me have been personal relationships with folks that are hurting in different ways.

I’d have to say that being in India and seeing Mother Teresa and the sisters engaging the poor in Calcutta was very transformative for me also.

My time in Iraq was also quite significant. Being face-to-face with the collateral damage and seeing the myth of redemptive violence; witnessing some of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen in my life. That had an impact on me, as you might expect.

Being in Iraq during Advent and the week of Easter was powerful.

I think we have a hiccup in our theology or our politics when we encounter real people. Prior to any relationship it’s easy to cling to our ideology or to quote statistics or whatever. But I can remember one of my friends in college telling me he was gay and he said he felt like God had made a mistake when he made him and he just wanted to kill himself. Those experiences really mark us, I think. Because they are real human relationships and to me those are the kinds of things that have created the DNA of what love looks like and what justice looks like to me.

Keith: You’ve hit on something I’ve experienced as well. I think that when these issues become not just talking points or clever arguments but they suddenly have a name and a face and you’re forced to engage with actual human beings who are your friends and they’re struggling with poverty or drugs or their sexual identity, it’s a whole different story. When the people you love and care about are caught in addiction or trapped in poverty, or whatever, it’s not so easy to quote statistics or give easy answers. I mean, it’s one thing to win an argument about these issues on a blog but it’s something else when you’re friend is looking at you with tears in her eyes and she’s asking you for help.

Shane: Right.

Keith: When I spoke to Jim Wallis we touched on something I wanted to ask you about if you don’t mind.

Shane: Sure. Go ahead.

Keith: Sometimes I think Christians in America confuse politics with social justice and they have very little understanding of the Biblical mandate we have as Christians to care for the least and the lost and to follow Jesus into these uncomfortable places, regardless of political affiliation. Do you agree that we politicize social justice? If so, why and how can we break out of that?

Shane: I think it was Cornell West who said that justice is what loves look like in public. I think that’s true in a lot of ways. The language that I use for social justice is the phrase “restorative justice” because I think it gets at the heart of what Biblical Justice is really about. It’s not just getting what we deserve but it’s about restoring what’s been broken and creating space for reconciliation and forgiveness. It’s really the idea of “Shalom” and how righteousness and justice are the same word in the Hebrew. This means it’s about making wrong things right again and repairing what has been broken in the community we live in.

I think it’s ok to be involved with legislation as long as we don’t think that love can be legislated, or that it needs to be legislated. But good laws are not a bad thing either. We just have to remember that good laws can’t change a bad heart.

So, restorative justice is a work of God and the work of the Church.

Keith: It seems that this is what has been working itself out in your community there in Philadelphia. Sometimes the solution may be found in a courtroom, or before a city council, but other times the solution is found in someone’s living room as you pray with them.

Shane: Yeah. That’s like a prayer we have painted on one of our buildings here that says “Come Holy Spirit and repair all that is broken in our homes and in our street and in our world.” I think that’s really beautiful because it recognizes is a personal God who is about the restoration of all things and His Kingdom coming on Earth. I think we need to see justice as encompassing inclusion and immigration and the death penalty and poverty and war and abortion and all these are issues of humanity. We’re called to care about those things. We have to marry all those things together and not allow them to be divorced in our minds. These are all inseparable concerns.

In the recovery community they say “We cannot fully recover until we help the society that made us sick recover.” So, I think that we need an integration of healing for individuals and for our world that has grown very sick.

Keith: You mentioned recently that your community is like an onion. I know that doesn’t that mean you smell bad and you make people cry. So, can you explain that concept and unpack it more for me?

Shane: Really what we’re trying to do is to grow people into an integrated and holistic Christian life. It’s about what we believe but it’s also about how we live. So, the onion was, for years, the way we did spiritual formation essentially. In the monastic order it takes years to grow into that rule of life. So, I think we’re correcting one of the shortcomings of Evangelical Christianity which has been so driven to do evangelism that it’s forgotten discipleship.

Keith: Yes, you’re right.

Shane: So, rather than making members on a Sunday service we’re really talking about what it means to make disciples instead of merely believers. It says we’re called into the world to make disciples and I think that’s where our Christianity today has become really shallow. Our faith has become a set of doctrines on paper and not about our whole life and how we integrate what we believe. I think Christians in the past have been able to say, “If you want to know what I believe then watch how I live.” So, we’re trying to get back to that.

We also recognize that people are on different kinds of journeys and there are different layers within our community so it’s not like you’re either in or out. As we see with Jesus there were many different people at many different places. There are some people who think they’re in but they’re on their way out. (Laughs) Because they’re choosing patterns that are really contrary to what Jesus is about.


NOTE:The rest of this interview will appear in the updated version of my book [Subversive Interviews]. Available soon.


-kg

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Over 2,250 people have download my book for free.



My book, "This Is My Body:Ekklesia as God Intended" is available as a free e-book download for Nook, Kindle, iPad or other e-book reader device at this link
HERE

Or you can purchase a print version my book at this link
HERE

If you'd like to read reviews of the book, listen to my radio interviews, check out reader reactions, see the press release or read related articles you can do that at the book blog located at
www.WeAreTheTemple.com

For all of you who've purchased or downloaded the book I want to say "Thank you" and I invite you to share a review of the book which I'd be happy to add to the reader reactions already posted at www.WeAreTheTemple.com.

-kg

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Our Idea VS God's Idea

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD." - Isaiah 55:8

Quite often we develop our own ideas about who God is and what He wants from us. Lately I've noticed that a few of our concepts about doctrine, worship, fasting, missions, church-planting and faith are quite divergent from what God reveals in His Word. Here's a few of them for you to consider. See if you notice a theme running through a lot of these:


Our idea of Sound Doctrine:
An unwavering commitment to a set of teachings about tongues, salvation, the return of Christ, baptism, hell, etc. that must be argued for, defended, and held onto in order to preserve our denominational truth and/or identity.

God’s idea of Sound Doctrine:
“You, (Titus) however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

"Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us." - Titus 2:1-8



Our idea of Faith:
To believe that what the Bible says is true and to agree with doctrines that our church upholds as truth.

God’s idea of Faith:
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." – (James 2:14-19)



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


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



Our idea of what is essential for Missions and/or Church planting:
Finding a strong pastor and leadership team, raising enough money to rent or purchase a building and marketing the new church in the community.


God's idea of what is essential for Missions and/or Church planting:
"James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." - (Galatians 2:9-10)

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

"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many." – (1 Cor 12:14)

"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." – (1 Cor 12:18)

"…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." – (Matthew 16:18)



Our idea of knowing God:
To study the Bible and to learn as much as we can about His character and His covenant and how it all fits together.

God’s idea of knowing Him:
"He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD." – (Jeremiah 22:16)

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


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


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

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


-kg
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Note: This article is a compilation of previous articles on this theme that appeared here in September of 2010 and earlier this year.