Friday, December 28, 2012
I'm excited to offer the all-new print edition of my book, "The Power of Weakness", which includes two new chapters and a Foreword by author Ross Rohde (Viral Jesus) along with updated chapters.
THE POWER OF WEAKNESS by Keith Giles
Ships in 3-5 business days
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Ever wish you could be a great man or woman of faith like you read about in the Bible? Turns out, God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people. In this book, author Keith Giles explores this Kingdom principle of the power of weakness in the lives of people like Moses, Gideon, Samson, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and even Jesus, to help us understand how we can unleash the same "power of Christ" in our own lives.
BOOK RELEASE PARTY:
For my Orange County friends, I'm planning a book release party in mid-January. Details on that soon.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt.11:28)
As I've been reflecting lately on the Sabbath rest of God that we are promised in Hebrews chapter 4, and throughout the scriptures, it has occurred to me that this idea of rest isn't just about us.
Our resting place is in Christ, but where is God's resting place?
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?" (Isaiah 66:1)
We know that when King David wanted to build a house for God he was told that God would build Himself an acceptable dwelling place, and He promised to accomplish this through the Messiah who would come from David's lineage.
But when Jesus arrived there was already a very glorious Temple standing in the center of Jerusalem. So, what Temple did Jesus build? He built the acceptable house "not made with human hands" that is made of "living stones" - the Church. We are the temple of God. We are His resting place.
"In that day the Root of Jesse [the Messiah] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious." (Isaiah 11:10)Where does God dwell? In His Father's House, or in the household of God, which is the Church.
"I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:15)
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household." (Ephesians 2:18-20)
"Christ is the Lord over his own house, whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." (Hebrews 3:6)
So, while you and I find rest in Christ, the beautiful symmetry of this is that God finds His rest in us.
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode (dwelling) with him." (John 14:23)
The beautiful thing, to me, is that I am resting in the One who is resting in me. His greatest desire is to find a home in my heart, and my joy is found in resting within His loving arms.
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." (Revelation 21:1-3)
You and I were made to provide an acceptable resting place for the Creator of the Universe. He has prepared a place for us within Himself where we can know we are loved and at rest.
Together, we rest in one another.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)
The author of Hebrews makes reference to another paradoxical Kingdom concept in this passage when he says that we who have received the promise of God and heard the Good News of the Gospel need to work as hard as we can at entering into God’s rest.
At first blush, it seems strange to emphasize the need to work hard, or to “strive” (as some translations render this word), in order to receive God’s promised Sabbath rest. But, from a Kingdom standpoint it really does make sense. Let me try to explain.
This specific verse comes after a series of thoughts that originate in chapter 3 about how the sins of disbelief and disobedience keep us from entering into God’s promised rest. But there are two additional concepts that the author introduces in chapter 4. One is that we need to rest from our own works, (as God rested from His works on the seventh day), and that we should rest in His finished work (which was accomplished by Christ as our Messiah upon the cross). Or, as he says:
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-1)
So, there are probably about three kinds of rest being discussed here; the rest of God on the seventh day of creation, the rest from our own works to achieve salvation, and the rest that is accomplished by Christ for those who place their trust in Him. Or, if you will, for those who are resting in His finished work upon the cross.
So, why is it that we are encouraged in verse 11 to “make every effort to enter that rest” if the whole point is to rest from our own works and to enter into the Sabbath rest of God?
Perhaps what the writer is trying to tell us is that it’s hard work to remain in this place of resting on God’s finished work. Most of us are very accustomed to doing stuff for God. It’s very difficult for us not to define our Christianity by all the things we do for God, i.e. - “Didn’t we cast out demons in your name?”, etc.
When Jesus went to the home of Martha and started to teach his disciples, Martha’s sister Mary famously stayed in the living room with the men and sat at the feet of Jesus instead of helping out in the kitchen. When Martha eventually complained about this, Jesus responded by saying that Mary had chosen the best and most necessary thing by sitting at his feet and listening.
Now, taking this passage in Hebrews into consideration we can see that Mary was working very hard to remain at the feet of Jesus. Think about how difficult it was to stay there with Jesus when she knew that a woman’s place (especially in that male dominated Jewish culture) was in the kitchen. Imagine how hard it was to ignore the clash of dishes and the exasperated sighs of frustration coming from her sister in the next room? When you reflect on all of these factors, you can see how hard it was for Mary to strive to remain at rest near the feet of Jesus rather than to get up and go to work in the kitchen with her sister Martha.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
So, while we need to rest in the finished work of Jesus, we also need to strive to resist the temptation to work for things that are already accomplished for us by Christ.
As if that weren’t hard enough, (or perhaps it’s simple, depending on your perspective), the writer of Hebrews ties all of this together with the concepts of being obedient to Christ and how putting our faith into action is part of what qualifies us to receive this promised rest. At the beginning of chapter 4 he begins by saying:
“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (v.2-3)
And he concludes in verse 6 that:
“…those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience…”
So, to put it all together, we should obey the Lord Jesus (which sounds like working, I know) in order to enter the Sabbath rest of God which is all about giving up on our efforts and work in order to rest in Christ and His finished work.
Got it? Probably not.
See, I believe this is actually a seemingly paradoxical Kingdom principle, one where we obey Jesus by resting in His indwelling presence, and we enter into His rest by resting in Him. Or, to flip it around, we do not make the mistake of working hard to gain something that Jesus has already given to us.
It’s disobedient for us to continue working for God’s approval or favor when He’s already declared it finished. We don’t keep trying to drive nails into a house that’s finished. We don’t keep trying to paint a masterpiece once it’s hanging in the gallery. That’s foolishness, and it’s technically vandalism.
We need to trust that Jesus really does love us, and that He really does live within us, and that we have already received the promised rest because of what was done before we ever even knew His name.
What’s really hard work for most of us is to hang on to that perspective and not allow anyone to take it away from us. We are already loved. We are already filled with God’s presence. We are already the children of God. We are already resting in the finished work of Christ.
Let’s rest in Him and take upon ourselves that easy yoke and that light burden that is offered to those who trust in Him. Let’s remember that without Him we can do nothing.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
I was reflecting on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25 that the “least of these” are the ones that He identifies Himself with the most. And then it occurred to me that if we (the Church) are the hands and feet of Jesus, (actually His Body in this world), then we are Jesus whenever we go out and serve and love the “least of these” around us.
So, that means we are Jesus to the least, and the least are Jesus to us in that holy moment of loving and giving and serving and receiving His love.
Maybe that’s why I love serving others so much? It’s where I feel most like Jesus, and it’s where I meet Jesus in the faces of others, and it’s where Jesus meets me as I share His love with those He most identifies with in this world.
But that’s not all. I also started to ponder the term “the least of these” that Jesus uses to describe the poor, the broken, the imprisoned, the outcast, the immigrant, and the hungry. What did He mean by that phrase? Does Jesus really consider these people to be “the least” among us? Are they second class citizens who are only fit to be pitied and fed like helpless puppies? I doubt that very much. Especially since Jesus says that they are somehow the embodiment of Himself in this world.
The “least of these” are like Jesus. So, does that mean that if we consider the poor and the immigrant and the imprisoned to be “less than” the rest of us, this is how we really feel about Jesus?
Maybe what Jesus really meant by the phrase “the least of these” is that they are, like Him, worthy to be loved and honored as fellow human beings?
We know that Jesus left His throne in Glory and stepped down into humanity to become not only “one of us” but intentionally poor, “taking on the form of a servant”, “he became nothing” (see Philippians 2) and, on purpose, placed Himself into the womb of a poor, peasant girl named Mary.
This same Mary who was amazed that God would be “mindful of the humble state of his servant” (see Luke 1:48), and who couldn’t afford to bring the required Lamb sacrifice into the temple when it was time to dedicate her son, but had to bring two doves instead – the caveat made for those who could not afford a lamb. (see Luke 2:22-24 and Lev.12:8)
We have to remember that in the Kingdom of God things appear upside down to us. It’s not that they really are upside down. It’s this world and our way of thinking that needs to be turned right side up.
So, when Jesus says that the poor are “the least of these”, He’s using language that our untrained minds can comprehend. He wants us to be sure that we know exactly which people He’s talking about; He means “the poor in the eyes of the world.” (see James 2:5)
But those whom we call poor are, in actuality, the rich in God’s economy. They are the blessed ones. They shall be filled. They shall inherit the Earth. They shall receive the Kingdom of God. They will laugh. They will be satisfied.
You know who really are "the least" among us? The rich. The proud. The famous. The self-sufficient.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets." (Luke 6:24:26)
Remember the poor. They are the VIP’s in God’s organization. They are the very ones that Peter, James, John and Paul all agreed they should always remember whenever they went out to preach the Gospel or to plant new churches; something that Paul "had been eager to do all along." (see Galatians 2:10)
When we follow Jesus’ commands to love and serve the poor, we enter into a holy communion established between Jesus’ hands and feet (the Church) and Jesus’ heart and soul (the least of these).
We get to be Jesus to the least, and the least get to be Jesus to us. This is all part of God’s amazing plan to destroy the evil systems of greed and selfishness in this fallen world; to overcome evil with good, and to confound the wise with foolishness.
Don’t miss your chance to love subversively and overthrow the powers of darkness with compassionate acts of sedition today.
Let the Kingdom come!
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
“…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)
While many Christians are quite familiar with this verse above, we tend to separate the very last sentence from the rest of the context in which it is said. We simply say:
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)I used to believe this verse meant that whatever I wanted in my life, God would make it happen if I just had enough faith. Instead, the verse is saying that God will give me the faith and the strength I need to be happy and content – even if He never gives me what I’m asking for.
See, in the original context, Paul is talking about being content in every situation – whether in plenty or in want. He is not trying to tell us that we can do anything we like as long as we have enough faith. Usually we quote this scripture as a mantra for getting the things that we hope God will allow us to have. But, when Paul talks doing all thing through Christ he's speaking of trusting God so completely that his circumstances have no effect on him. His peace is not dependent upon his circumstance. His confidence in God is not changed by the environment he's in. He is fully resting on God and his joy is not influenced by what people say about him or how much money is in his pocket.
A better paraphrase of this verse might me: "I can endure anything life throws at me, even if I never get my way or live out my dreams, because the power of Jesus lives in me and all of my hope is in Him alone."
Now that is more like it. Paul wants us to understand that he’s discovered a real secret of the Kingdom of God. It’s how to endure suffering and to be filled with joy no matter what our circumstance might be.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:6-10)
Here, Paul flips things around to make a point about how our lack of contentment can rob us of our joy and plunge us into “ruin and destruction.” So, what should we do? We should strive to love God and to obey Him and to be content with all that He has already provided in His mercy.
Our attitudes should be the same about the blessings we receive from God. If we have food and clothing that should be enough for us. Everything else is a bonus.There’s another popular verse of scripture that we tend to divorce from its contextual relation to contentment:
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)Take the inverse of this statement for a moment and you’ll see how powerful it really is. What if the author of Hebrews had said, “God may leave you and forsake you one day, therefore you’d better grab as much money as you possibly can and continually seek after more and more.”
If we are always seeking contentment in our stuff, or in getting rich, what we are saying with our actions is that we do not trust God.
The fact that God won’t leave us and will never forsake us is meant to teach us to let go of our stuff and to trust Him with everything. Only those who doubt God’s faithfulness and enduring love will seek security in the things they own.See, God has promised to never leave us or to forsake us. Therefore, let us rest contentedly in our Father’s arms knowing that He is right here with us and that He has nothing but the best in mind for those of us who love Him and place our trust in Him alone.
Saturday, December 08, 2012
SO LET’S FLY
[A song by Keith Giles]
Before I made the world
You were in my heart
I gave it all to be with you
And I still have the scars
So let’s fly
Spread our wings
Glide above these broken dreams
You and I, in the clouds
Rising up, it’s alright now
All you’ve said and done
To keep yourself from me
I choose to forget
Let’s through it in the sea
And we’ll fly
Spread our wings
Glide above these broken dreams
You and I
In the clouds
It’s alright now
I will sing a song
Only you and I will know
I’ll take you to a place
We will both call ‘Home’
Take my hand
I am here
You are safe
Nothing to fear
And we’ll fly….
Thursday, December 06, 2012
People love to hear stories, especially true stories about those who find real love together. Maybe this is why my wife Wendy and I love meeting other couples and hearing the story of how they first met and fell in love.
These stories are almost always half told by each person in turn, with one person starting a thought from their perspective and the other person finishing that same scene in time from their point of view. Often the real fun is hearing what each person was thinking as they first met the other, about the misunderstandings that threatened to keep them apart, and about how, eventually, they both realized that this might be the person they wanted to spend the rest of their life with.
My wife and I have such a story. I saw her from a distance and thought she was gorgeous, but figured there was no real point in pursuing her. She barely noticed me sitting behind her on the bus ride to a college leadership conference, although she did lend me batteries for my Walkman.
Eventually I got up the nerve to ask her to join me to see a local play and when she showed up late, with her baby sister in tow, I stood up to leave in disgust. That was when the house lights came up for intermission and she saw me through the crowd. I stayed, we finished the play and that was it. Every date after that she continued to bring her little sister, and once even positioned herself so that she didn’t have to sit next to me during the film. I was pretty upset.
After that I officially gave up on her. All summer long I ignored my desires to call her and ask her out again, even though my friends urged me to keep trying. I was unmoved.
But after I joined the Christian Drama Team that she was leading we started to spend more time together, and I couldn’t help but start feeling close to her. One afternoon between classes she asked me to go with her to visit people at the Senior Home down the street. It was just her and I, for once, and I was glad to have some time alone with her.
As we approached the building I ran forward and held open the door for her, like a gentleman, but she was gone. I turned around and saw her looking up into the face of an elderly woman in a wheel chair that I had flat out ignored on the sidewalk. In that moment, as I watched her open her heart to this woman I had ignored, I knew I had met someone more amazing than I could ever have imagined before. Her heart and genuine love for others astounded me. That was when I realized that God was up to something in my life and that maybe I should listen for further directions.
The next few months took even more twists and turns, with more steps backwards than forwards in our relationship, but I knew that I shouldn’t give up hope. I knew that she was worth the fight, and she was.
I’ll never forget the night that she and I both agreed that only God could save our relationship. Over the phone we both prayed together and laid everything on the altar and said, “God, if you want this to work you have to do it all. It’s practically dead already, so if you want this relationship to fly we need your help.” And after that night, as corny as it sounds, everything started to click for us.
I held her hand for the first time after a cold night playing Putt Putt golf, saying “Here, my hands are cold. Can you warm them up for me?”
I kissed her for the first time on her back porch, in the rain, but only after she asked me to, and even though I had already planned to kiss her anyway.
I sold my brand new 9mm Browning High Power pistol with Pachmeyer grips (yes, this was Texas) and bought her a diamond engagement ring. The price of the ring was exactly, to the penny, what I had sold the gun for. It was a sign.
Later that week I got down on my knees in the middle of the restaurant to ask her to marry me. When I looked up she was walking towards the exit. I called out to her, “Wendy!” and she turned around and saw me kneeling there by her empty chair. I’m so glad she turned around and took her seat again so that I could ask her to be my wife.
For those of us who are following Jesus, we also have a similar story to tell. We can recall what we thought of Jesus before we first met Him, and about what our first impressions of Him were, and about what events and circumstances threatened to keep us apart. We can all share the story about how we eventually discovered that Jesus was someone we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with, and about when we first knew that He was the One we couldn’t live without.
So, I’m curious. What’s your story? When did you first meet Jesus? How did you come to realize that you wanted to spend the rest of eternity with Him? How has your life changed since you made that decision to follow Him all of your days?
Have the two of you been through difficult times together? Did it strengthen your love for each other? What did it teach you about yourself? About Him?
Can you imagine what your life would have been like without Jesus? Can you fully appreciate how significantly better your life is now that you’ve surrendered your life to receive His life?
Tell us that story. Tell that story to your neighbors. Tell it to your co-workers. Tell it to anyone who asks you. But let them ask first, and try to let them see that you’re in love with God before you say it out loud.
You see, people love to hear stories, especially true stories about those who find real love together.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Our house church family recently explored the idea of God’s amazing love for all of us. As we read scripture after scripture about how God’s thoughts about us are more numerous than all the sand on the planet, and how God rejoices over us with singing, and how God would rather die than live without us, a few people began to confess that this truth was almost too much to believe.
Immediately, several others nodded and said they felt the same. So, I took the opportunity to just begin to confess to God that we had trouble fully receiving the awesome reality of His love for us. I asked Him to help us, as a Body of believers, to really see, and to know like never before, that we really are loved with an everlasting, sacrificial, extravagant love.
As I prayed, the verse in Ephesians where Paul prayed something nearly identical for the ekklessia in that city came to my heart:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19)
Over the next few days, I began to experience the fruit of that prayer in my own life. My early morning prayer times shifted into simple times of reflection on God’s love for me. Sometimes I would just lay on the carpet and say, “Ok, God, please show me how high…how wide…how long…how deep…your love for me really is.”
More and more I’ve begun to grow more aware of His love as I go through my day. My times alone with God have started to become less about doing stuff (i.e. – praying, worshipping, reading the Bible, etc.) and less about my expectations for wisdom or knowledge or revelation. Instead, I’m realizing that this is a relationship with a living, loving being who deeply and desperately loves me with a fierce and unending passion.
Yes, I know, I don’t deserve His love, but He’s drenching me with that love just the same. He loves me because He is love and love is what He does best.
After a few days of meeting with the Lord like this, and simply asking Him to reveal the love that surpasses knowledge to me, I had a small epiphany: I don’t need God to do anything different in my life. I don’t need Him to give me anything extra. He’s already pouring out His boundless love to me – and has been my entire life – so all that I really need is to have eyes to see the astounding love of God that is already all over me and around me.
In other words, you and I are swimming in God’s phenomenal love right now. His unintelligible love is in our lungs, our hair, our food, our field of vision. There’s nothing we can experience that isn’t doused in His limitless love for us. What we need most is to have the power (as Paul suggests) to grasp the scope of this unspeakably awesome love that God is blasting us with twenty four hours a day. Even while we’re sleeping God’s love is singing over us like a still, small lullaby of unearned adoration.
My prayer for you, and for myself as well, is that we could all receive the gift of knowing the love of God more and more in our hearts and lives. The funny thing is how meditating on God’s love will change your attitude. It makes it nearly impossible to be in a bad mood. It makes it very difficult to stay angry at someone. It makes it challenging to look at other people without being confounded by God’s love for them as well.
May we all have the power to grasp this magnificent love of Christ, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
You know the kind. They stand on the street corner holding a sign that says “Turn or Burn!” or they shout at concert goers through a megaphone about how the lines in hell are even longer. They call themselves evangelists, but is that really what they’re doing?
It’s true that some Christians feel that preaching the Gospel is primarily about informing people that they are going to burn in hell forever. This is usually defended as “telling people the truth” and in spite of all the spittle and phlegm they assure you that they’re doing it all in love.
Why this may technically be true, at least in part, I want to ask whether or not this is the way that the Apostles preached the Gospel message, according to the scriptures.Leaving behind the debates about Hell, (and its duration and purpose), let’s stick to the evidence we have in scripture regarding the sermons that Jesus and the Apostle’s actually preached.
See, contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did NOT spend most of His time talking about Hell. He spent nearly every breath talking about the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Yes, Jesus did make reference to the punishment that awaited those who chose not to follow Him, but He did so in the context of a larger conversation about the Kingdom of God.I wonder what Paul focused on when he preached the Gospel?
“He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31)
And when Paul stood up to preach to those godless pagans in Athens, what did he focus on? Hell? Judgment? Damnation? Did Paul love them enough to tell them the truth about their eternal destination? Let’s see:“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him [Jesus] from the dead.” (ACTS 17:22-32)
Whoa! Where’s the fire and brimstone? First he compliments them on their spirituality, then he jumps right into telling them all about who God is, and how God wants to be found, and then he even quotes one of their pagan pop stars (or poets) and concludes that everyone one of us "are God's offspring".
Where’s all that love stuff about sinful abominations and eternal suffering in a lake of fire? Sure, he mentions that a day of judgment is coming, but he leaves out the fact that they are the ones who will end up getting the short end of that stick. I’m sure it wasn’t very effective. Right?“Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” (ACTS 17:34)
So, what Gospel did Peter preach? It was all about Jesus:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (ACTS 2:22-24)I wonder how much more effective our street preachers today might be if they preached this same kind of Gospel as Peter preached? Instead of focusing on Hell, maybe we should be preaching about Jesus with the same intensity and passion as the Apostles did?
Peter continued by saying:“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (ACTS 2:36-40)
Again, notice there’s no emphasis on eternal suffering here. Peter’s entire focus is on the person of Jesus. He’s our only hope. He’s the Messiah. He gave His life to save all of us because of His great love for us and those who receive Him will also receive many wonderful blessings as a result.Given that Jesus, Peter, and Paul (not to mention the other Apostles) never made eternal suffering the theme of their Gospel presentations, I wonder why we don’t see more preachers and evangelists today proclaiming what they did?
Can I make a suggestion? I’d like to suggest that those who have a gift of evangelism try to focus their message on preaching what Jesus and the Apostles did; The Gospel of the Kingdom. Or, for variety’s sake, try simply lifting up the person of Jesus and sharing with everyone how wonderful it is to know Him and to love Him and to follow Him. Just imagine how great that could be, especially if people actually respond and decide they’d like to know more about Jesus.You know, I’ve found that people really are interested in knowing about Jesus. They may not be very interested in Church, or in joining a Christian club, but they are interested in the person of Jesus. We should take advantage of that fact. We should do all we can to point people to Jesus and to invite them to follow Him in their daily lives. That’s sort of what the Great Commission was all about anyway.
As Paul said let us all, “…preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.” (Eph.3:8)Maybe, just maybe, the world would respond to the message that God loves them and would rather die than live without them.
I think it’s worth a shot.-kg
Saturday, December 01, 2012
Dig my grave, dig it deep, and find all the secrets that I tried to keep.
Repeat the words I never said.
Meaningless now that I'm dead.
Why do I keep this secret of love?
Where did I learn this silent tongue?
Confess my fear I confess my love.
Confess my sins to the Lord above.
Tooth for a tooth and a nail for my sin.
Hands in the flame and I'm hungry again.
Word into flesh and there's flesh on the nail and
my flesh is the temple and you're tearing the veil.
Digg by Elysian Skies, from the CD Exquisite Whisper.
Lyrics by Keith Giles. Music by John Wahrmund.
Available on iTunes and at Amazon.com here>
Friday, November 30, 2012
We love formulas, don’t we? Formulas make things easy. Patterns make things simple. But when it comes to Christianity this can be a serious problem. Why? Because God is not a formula. He’s a person.
Jesus is not a concept, He’s a living God.
When it comes to evangelism, we prefer the easy formulas. Give me the Roman’s Road, the Four Spiritual Laws or the King’s Way of evangelism. Even though Jesus never used any of those patterns to communicate the Gospel to anyone. Neither did the Apostles. The truth is, they never once repeated their message or their pattern. Instead, they took each person on an individual case-by-case basis and allowed the Holy Spirit to tailor-make a response based on the specific needs of that one person.
When it comes to theology we love patterns. Give me the TULIP, the Dispensations, the Apostle’s Creeds. The problem is, faith is more elastic than that, and our God isn’t a theorem to solve. He’s a living God with ideas, and plans, and emotions, and desires, and an agenda that is so far beyond yours and mine that it’s more than a little ridiculous to think for even a moment that we can figure Him out.
The real problem with patterns and formulas, however, is that once we think we’ve got everything reduced down into a formula, we don’t need God anymore. We can do everything by simply following our liturgy and our process.
But God does not work that way. He will always slip out of your box. He refuses to do things the same way every time. He is not on your leash. He is far and above every idea and concept you could possibly imagine.
How audacious to think that we can boil God down to a formula. If we’re honest, our formulas about how God works are almost always very simple. If God was ever to be expressed in a formula it wouldn’t be anything as simple as A + B = C. It would take an entire universe of chalk and an infinite blackboard beyond our comprehension to contain such a complex and unique formula like God.
Once we have a pattern we no longer need a person. Jesus is determined to slip out of our patterns because He does not want us to settle for anything less than His dynamic, constant, immediate presence and power in our lives.
How foolish we are to think that God could ever be reduced to a simple pattern. If anything, He is an enormously huge algebraic equation for whom there can never be a large enough white board to write everything down.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a relationship with a living God than with a set of formulas and predictable patterns.
Now, this doesn’t mean that God is just too complex to know and understand. The truth is, He does want us to know Him. But that ability to know Him more comes from His side of the process (revelation) not from our side of the process (formulaic faith).
Knowing God is as simple as having a conversation. Get on your knees, or take a walk in the park, or drive down by the beach, or just get alone with God and start sharing your heart with Him. Listen for His voice. Meditate on His goodness in your life. Be thankful for all you have. Trust Him with your life. And know in your heart of hearts that He loves you more than words can ever say.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
A few weeks ago I was reflecting on my need for inspiration in my life. I thought
about my half-hearted attitude and lack of passion and I concluded that what I was
missing was someone like Jackie Pullinger or Heidi Baker or Shane Claiborne to
jump start my zeal to serve God.
Almost immediately, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me and I heard the Lord say,
“No, you don’t. What you need is more of me.”
That made a lot more sense to me, actually. What was missing in my life lately was
simply a more immediate and vibrant connection to Jesus.
Don’t you do that sometimes? When you feel disconnected from God or far away
from the path you tend to gravitate towards a person, or a ministry, or a book, or a
church, or basically anything other than the actual source of life and peace and joy
“For He (Jesus) Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:14)
Plain and simple: What I need is more of Jesus. Don’t settle for anything less than the
author of life.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
"I urge you, therefore, in view of God's mercies, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God." (Romans 12:1)
You know, I've not only read that verse over a thousand times, I've also blogged about it here nearly as much. But the other day I actually saw it again and understood it as if reading it for the very first time.
Yes, we are called to be living sacrifices to God, but with an emphasis on the “living” part. See, it’s “life, life, life” that God wants to give you, not the constant pain of the dead flesh being consumed on the altar.
Notice that Paul in Romans 12 follows up this statement about being a living sacrifice with a list of things he wants to emphasize, and all of them are great things:
First, Paul says that this act of becoming a living sacrifice is our worship to God. Worship is good. Then he talks about transformation and renewing our minds. Those are also great things. Next he says that this will result in knowing God's good, perfect, and pleasing will for our lives.
All of this is good. What's the downside to being a living sacrifice? Nothing. In fact, if you keep reading Romans 12 you'll end up with an even longer list of blessings, including a more loving fellowship in a Body of believers and a more Christ-like spirit towards others.
I suppose my entire paradigm has since shifted regarding this idea of death to self and my need to embrace the continual life of Christ that such sacrifice produces in my heart. For too long now I've been fixated on this idea of death to self (which is still quite necessary) without fully understanding my need to go onward to the part about how God wants to pour into my heart an overabundance of his astounding love and his glorious life.
So, the next time you hear someone talk about the need to die to yourself and become a living sacrifice, be sure to picture in your mind a happy, dancing, life-filled clown like me who is absolutely so full of the life of Christ that he’s about to explode. Because that’s what it actually means.
As God says, “I want your loyalty, not your sacrifices. I want you to know me, not to give me burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 )
Monday, November 26, 2012
“Therefore, I began to think, my Lord, you purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed. Perhaps that is the very reason why we are here in this world, where sin and sorrow and suffering and evil abound, so that we may let you teach us so to react to them, that out of them we can create lovely qualities to live forever. That is the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good.” – Much-Afraid, from “Hinds Feet On High Places”, page 242.
My wife Wendy has been reading to us for a few weeks now from the book, “Hinds Feet On High Places” by Hannah Hurnard as part of our family devotion times together. So far, I’ve been very blessed by this allegorical story of faith, and often moved to tears at the beautiful devotion to Christ and the simple trust that Much-Afraid, the protagonist of the story, so effortlessly expresses from her heart.
But the other night my wife read the passage above out loud and it was as if a giant searchlight flashed out of the sky over my head and beamed pure wisdom down on my tiny heart. This is important. We need to stop and consider this profound truth. We must chew on it, swallow it, internalize it, digest it, and hold it forever in our beings so that we never forget it.
See, this is the key to something most followers of Jesus struggle with the most. We go to God with our sufferings and our trials and our only prayer is that He take the evil away. But what if the whole point of our being immersed in this world of sin and suffering and pain and evil is to recreate – over and over again – the amazing victory of Jesus over sin and death? What if God’s entire purpose and plan for our lives is to provide example after example of love overcoming evil and forgiveness overcoming hate?
Yes, Jesus prayed for those who nailed him to the cross saying, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” But what if you and I undergo suffering and persecution in order to duplicate that same scenario? What if every Christian is called to overcome evil with good, and to pray for those who hate us, and to love those who despise us?
Even more, what if God’s big plan is to defeat evil itself by this same testimony of love?
That would mean that our suffering has a purpose far greater than we ever imagined. Our response to hate is more critical than we might think. Our obedience to Christ could have eternal implications for those who are not yet citizens of His Kingdom.
This, I believe, is what Paul the Apostle has in mind in Romans chapter 12. First, he appeals to the unspeakable glory of God (at the end of chapter 11) and urges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Then he tells us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed.
But why? So that we can love others (v.9-10), and so that we can bless those who persecute us (v.14), repay the evil with blessings (v.17), live at peace with all men (v.18), refrain from vengeance (v.19), feed our enemies (v.20) and overcome evil with good (v.21).
Do you see what Paul suggests? He’s saying that once we are transformed we need to live transformed lives. This transformed life looks nothing like what we’re used to. Our new, transformed lives are upside down from what anyone would ever expect, and apart from the indwelling spirit of Jesus such lives are hilariously impossible to duplicate.
Ask yourselves this question: “How could you ever defeat an enemy who only gained strength as it got weaker?”
Answer: “You can’t.” And that’s the point of 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 when Paul tells us that God refused to remove his thorn in the flesh. Why? Because God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” It is, in fact, “the power of Christ”.
This means that we who embrace our weakness and our suffering are carriers of the unlimited and infinite power of the supreme deity who created the universe, and the way we unleash this power is to do what He did – let go of our own identity and status and rights and lay down everything, even unto death (see Philippians 2:5-10), so that the power of Christ can flow through us and rip gaping holes in the fabric of evil like super-charged thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction.
God’s love changes everything. It has changed us. It can change others. It overcomes evil. It lays flat the proud. It devastates the oppressor. It silences the mocking voice. It transforms a sinful world of selfishness into a selfless Kingdom of joyful service to all.
This is why we turn the other cheek. This is why we pray for those who hate us. This is why we are called peace makers. This is why we are called upon to suffer as Christ suffered. (see 1 Peter 3:9-18) Because, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.” (1 John 4:17)
Truly, we are called “Little Christs” (the literal meaning of the term “Christian”) for a very good reason. As Jesus loved others in suffering, we also are called to love those who hate us and to bless those who curse us. This is part of God’s amazing plan to change the world from the inside out.
We are each like little viruses that are transforming an organism from the inside out. Only the life of this organism depends on the success of this transformation.
This is Subversive. This is the Kingdom of God.
“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” – Jesus (John 16:33)