Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What About Now?


If we’re not careful, we can come to think of the Christian life as a religion, or as a set of beliefs we agree on, or about what we’re against and oppose. Christianity is best expressed as the imitation of Christ or as Jesus put it, “Following” Him into a life of complete submission to God lived for the benefit of others.

Following Jesus is always about right now. It’s not about what you did a few years ago. It’s not about what you’re planning on doing some day. It’s about whether or not you are following Jesus right now, in this very moment.

As the scriptures remind us:

“God again set a certain day, calling it ‘Today’” (Hebrews 4:7)

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15)

“…then chose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-16)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Like Paul wrote to us, we must “forget the past” (Philippians 3:13) and press onward to our calling to follow Jesus daily.

It’s why Jesus asks us to pray for “daily bread” (Matt 6:11) and to receive God’s rich Mercies that are “new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:23)

We need to think of our walk with Jesus as a moment-by-moment engagement with Jesus where we are trusting Him with every heartbeat and in time with every breath we breathe.

Are you trusting Jesus as your Lord and Savior at this very moment? Is His Kingdom brand new in your heart? Have you devoted yourself to His service 24/7?

My prayer is that I could always experience this sort of constant conversion where my commitment to Jesus is as new as my latest thought and as immediate as this very moment.

Conversatio morem!

-kg

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Just Like Jesus


A friend and I were talking recently about the meaning of Jesus’ words in John 14 when he says, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (v.11)

Part of the problem we run into whenever we try to wrap our brains around complicated concepts concerning God is that we use spatial terminology to understand non-spatial realities. So, you might try to imagine placing a ping pong ball inside of a coffee cup but you can’t imagine that – at the same time – the coffee cup could also be inside the ping pong ball. That’s because spatially this is impossible. But God is Spirit and the sense in which Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him is not something that can be conceptualized in terms of space and time.

The other problem comes because we tend to forget that we need to look at the whole of scripture before we come to any conclusions. Even in the same Gospel of John we can see that Jesus explains in what ways he means that he is in the Father by saying: 

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:7-10)

Elsewhere Jesus also affirms that he does nothing under his own power, nor does he teach anything apart from what the Father tells him to:

“These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24);

“For I do not speak of myself, but from the Father who sent me and commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that to obey his command is life everlasting. Therefore, whatever I speak is just as the Father tells me to speak." (John 12:49-50)

“Then Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you; the Son can do nothing of himself, but only does what he sees the Father do. For whatever things he [the Father] does, these are also likewise done by the Son.” (John 5:19)

Of my own self, I can do nothing. I judge only as I hear; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me.” (John 5:30)

“But so that the world may know that I love the Father, I only do exactly as the Father has instructed me to do.” (John 14:31)

So, it’s clear that Jesus didn’t accomplish his perfect life on Earth out of any power of his own. This means we cannot point to Jesus and say, “Of course Jesus could live that sort of selfless life – He’s God!” On the contrary, it was because Jesus emptied himself of his glory and power and took on flesh to become nothing that he was capable of doing what he did:


“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)


Jesus laid everything down and became – not just a mere human – but a servant among humans. Remember, “...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Because Jesus laid everything down and emptied himself and allowed the Holy Spirit to fill him and to guide him throughout his life, he was capable of great things. He fully submitted himself to the Father and allowed the Father to speak through him and to work through him.

The whole point is that we can do this too.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ the possibility of living and loving and forgiving and sharing and serving like Jesus is more than possible – it’s promised!

Think about how Jesus told us to follow him:

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)

We all begin our walk with Jesus by laying everything down and fully submitting our lives to Him. This is how we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and (like Jesus) do only what the Father is doing and speak only what the Father is speaking.

Peter and Paul affirm this principle:

If any man speaks, let him speak with God's words; if any man ministers, let him do it with the ability that God gives, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen. “ (1 Peter 4:11)

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Cor 2:12-13)

So, the next time you’re tempted to blow off your calling to be like Jesus because “He was God and I’m not” remember that Jesus let go of his own power in order to show us the truth that the weaker we are the better God can empower us and work through our empty lives to bring glory to His name.

-kg

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why I Reject Calvinism

Calvin's Five Points are usually spelled out with the acronym T.U.L.I.P. which correspond to:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistable Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Let’s take each one in turn and look at what they mean and why I reject them all.

 Total Depravity: To the Calvinist this doesn’t simply mean that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Instead, they take it to mean that everything about everyone is sinful and that sin touches every aspect of every person’s life. It’s also expressed as “Total Inability” which means man is incapable of even wanting to choose good or to repent.

So, if people are truly as depraved as Calvinists say, then no one could ever be saved because no one is saved without repentance and no one would ever want to repent according to this doctrine. Unless you also believed the second point of the doctrine which is:

Unconditional Election: This is the belief that the only way anyone is ever saved is by God’s choice before the creation of the earth. Some are saved by God’s choice and some are damned by God’s choice. It’s all about God’s choice and not about any human’s sincere repentance or desire to be saved since man is totally depraved (see point one above). In other words, Calvinism teaches that those who are saved receive salvation because God chose them so that they could repent, not because they repented.

This belief is largely founded on a grave misunderstanding of Romans 9 to 11. At any rate, if you accept this then you must also accept the next plank in this doctrine with is:

Limited Atonement: Since God has only chosen to save some and not all of the people, then the Atonement of Jesus is limited only to those who are pre-chosen, not for everyone on the planet. Therefore, Christ only died for those He was already planning to save ahead of time, not for the whole world. Calvinists hold that the atonement is “sufficient for all but only efficient for the elect”.

This means that God could have saved everyone on Earth, but He chose not to. Calvinism teaches that there is a select group of Christians with a set number of members that cannot be added to or taken away from. You’re either chosen to be saved or not chosen to be saved. That’s it. Next we have:

 Irresistible Grace: This just means that if you are lucky enough to be one of the number of elect, then God will give you the Grace to live the Christian life. This Grace is not resistible by the elect. It is forced upon you just like your election.  The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, "graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ." This brings us finally to:

Perseverance of the Saints: This means that you will remain in the faith and you will never backslide, fall away or lose faith. Since your salvation wasn’t your choice, and since you have an irresistible grace from God, you will never and could never lose this faith. Good news if you’re one of the elect. Bad news if you’re not.

Those who are not elected have no opportunity to be saved, ever. It’s just game over from before the universe began. Those are the breaks.

The good news is that no one before Augustine (400 ad) ever believed or taught this doctrine. The cultic Manichaiens (a Gnostic cult) taught and believed this doctrine, which is where Augustine borrowed it from. John Calvin later refined it and because there was an attempt to refute the five points of Armenianism, the Five Points of Calvinism were created.

It is my opinion that the New Testament scriptures do not teach this doctrine and neither should we.

Why I don’t believe in the Five Points of Calvinism

Why not Total Depravity? Because God’s Word implores us over and over again to repent. It makes no sense for God to demand that people do something that He knows they cannot do, and especially to rest their eternal well-being upon an act that cannot be accomplished.

God’s salvation is conditional and that condition is met when men and women turn from their sins and chose to follow Christ and receive his eternal life within.

 Why not Unconditional Election? Because Romans 9 through 11 doesn’t teach that God is choosing individual people, it teaches that God chooses Christ and that anyone who is in Christ is saved. If you are in Christ then you are “elect” because you are part of the Body of the Chosen One who is Jesus.

The election Paul is talking about in Romans 9 to 11 is simply the identity of the Israel to whom God made His promises in the Old Covenant. Paul is clear to point out that not every Jew is truly Israel and he explains how God has the right to choose some Jews to carry the promise and others not to carry the promise. Again, this is not about salvation – it is simply about being the chosen or not being the chosen of God to carry the promise of God.

So, who is chosen? God has chosen to bless the faithful remnant of Israel. If a Jew has faith in Christ then they are truly Israel. If they are not trusting in God’s messiah, then they are not true Israel.

Again, this is not about salvation but about who is actually the rightful recipient of God’s promises and who is not. God has created two categories: Those who are in Christ (true Israel) and everyone else (those who reject Christ).

Who then are the chosen of God? Anyone who is in Christ Jesus. Who is not the chosen of God? Anyone who rejects Christ as Messiah. There are only two categories. As Paul explains so clearly in Galatians chapter 3, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (v.29)

Why not Limited Atonement? Because once you remove the first two points of Calvinism there’s no reason to accept this contrived view that God’s Grace is limited only to a select group of pre-chosen souls. Remember, “For God so loved the world…”

 Why not Irresistible Grace? Because God doesn’t treat us like robots. We can choose to follow Christ or we can chose to embrace our sin nature. This is why the New Testament scriptures urge us over and over again to guard our hearts, work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and not to fall away from Christ – because if we’re not careful we certainly can. Yes, you can turn from the faith and fall away from Christ and salvation. No one is “once saved, always saved.” If they are following Christ then they are saved but if they are not following Christ then they are – of course – not saved. It’s that simple.

Why not Perseverance of the Saints? Because as I’ve said above, we are free agents who can either chose to continue in our faith or we can chose to follow a path of sin and selfishness. God does not make us do anything, nor does the devil.

“Chose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – (Joshua 24:15)


*NOTE: Obviously this is a very hotly contested topic among Christians. If you have questions or disagreements, I'm open to your comments. Please play nice.

-kg

Saturday, July 21, 2012

COME AND DIE

Last night I woke up with this thought in my head: “To know more of Jesus you must be willing to share in his sufferings.”


I realized that this is part of what has held me back the last few months in my spiritual journey. I’ve known this was true and I was unwilling to pay that price.

Jesus made it very clear that anyone who would follow Him and become His disciple must take up his cross and daily die to self. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that one must be willing to die daily, but that daily death is par for the course.

So far, I think I’ve only been willing to die, just as long as no one actually asks me to lay down and die upon the cross of humiliation, or shame, or embarrassment, or suffering. I’ve stopped short and stood on the door mat labeled “Willing” but not taken the actual step inside the threshold marked “Death”.

Instead of moving forward, I have padded my cross with comfort. I have done what I can to avoid discomfort and pain. I have pretended that it’s possible to follow Jesus without the cross. I have meandered along the narrow path without truly looking to Jesus as my guide.

It doesn’t do any good to look back down the path and ask for credit based on past sacrifices. What was done to get me to this place in the road is meaningless. It’s like trying to move closer to the sun by hopping on one foot. Sure, I’m technically closer to the sun when I’m at the apex of my jump, but the distance isn’t worth measuring. 


I am still stuck where I am on the path. Standing at the crossroads with my cross at my feet. I wonder if I have the strength to lift it again. I doubt that I could even carry it another foot without dropping it again. I just don’t think I have the strength within me to carry on.

As I pondered this truth, I was challenged to fall on my knees and pray. I confessed my weakness to God. I admitted my apathy and my weariness. I asked Him to fill me with courage and strength to embrace the cross in spite of the pain. As I prayed I was reminded of the words spoken by Jackie Pullinger – “The Gospel is always death for the one who brings it, and life for the one who receives it.”

I need this death to self. Without it I cannot experience the resurrection life of Jesus. It is a process, a mechanism, whereby my sinful flesh is consumed and the life of Christ is revealed within me all at once. But it is painful. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. There is a cost and it is not cheap.

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a man who found a great treasure in a field. When he found it he covered it up again and ran with joy to sell all that he had in order to buy that field and gain that matchless treasure.

I think I am needing to be reminded of how much greater His Kingdom is worth compared to whatever He might ask me to give up, or to let go of, or to abandon, in order to gain more of Him and His Kingdom. Right now I am mainly concerned with the pain and the discomfort. This is what is real. This is what is right in front of me at this very moment. The experience of death to self.

There is no glory in this. If I step forward, if I embrace this cross, there will be no cheering crowds to spur me onward. If I take up this cross, there will be no immediate reward for my obedience. There is no anesthetic to dull the pain. It is nothing but nails, and blood and dying flesh. This is what it will cost me – everything.

But, what else can I do? Really, how could I possibly turn back now? As hard as it seems, the act of laying down and giving up is more repulsive to me than the prospect of enduring the inevitable humiliation and shame. This life is but a vapor. I know it. My Lord Jesus is waiting for me to choose Him over my own temporary comfort. I need that cross. I need to find it again, and to lift its weight on my shoulders, and to carry it the rest of the way.

Here’s what I know; writing about it is not the same as doing it. Blogging the process isn’t actually participating in the daily process of death to self. I either embrace the cross and endure the pain, or not. Writing about it doesn’t accomplish anything.

So, today, I take up my cross. I hold it close. I await the painful piercing of those nails upon my flesh. I anticipate the death of Keith Giles, the fake, the pretender, the expert, the semi-internet-famous-blogger, author and radio host. He will die. He must die so that Christ may live in me and transform me from within.

As Keith expires, Jesus will breathe. As Keith fades away, Jesus will rise up. As Keith decreases, Jesus will gloriously increase.

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

-kg 

Friday, July 20, 2012

THE HARDEST TRUTH


Once again Christian leaders in America have declared that God’s judgment is coming upon this nation because of gay marriage and the practice of homosexuality.  But God’s Word directly and specifically contradicts these people.

Even in principle, the idea that God would bring judgment upon our nation – or any nation – because of a single sin is erroneous. The sin of homosexuality itself doesn’t stand out as being the most offensive sin to God according to the Bible.

Sins like pride, rebellion, disobedience and a lack of concern for the poor are typically the sins associated with the fire of judgment falling from heaven to destroy a wayward nation.

Take Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. According to God Himself:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

So, according to God, the sin of Sodom was arrogance, over-eating, and apathy towards the poor and needy. They were proud people who flaunted their wealth and ignored the sufferings of their own people living in poverty on their streets.

Now, I do admit that this sounds an awful lot like a certain “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”, so the idea that God’s judgment is coming upon our nation may be true, but not for the reasons so often cited by the ruling religious class.

You see, God appears to be mostly concerned with the behavior of the righteous when it comes to blessing – or withholding a blessing – from a nation. As God says:

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."- (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Do you see it? God speaks to those who are "called by (His) name" – that would be us Christians – and says that the healing of their nation is directly tied to their own lack of humility, their own lack of prayer, and their own unwillingness to seek His face.

Notice that God says nothing about “those sinners”. We do that. We say, “If only all those sinners over there would repent and become more like us the world would be a better place.” But that’s not the truth. At least, not according to our God.

God holds His own people accountable for the healing of their land. What He says needs to happen first is that we humble ourselves. That means we don't use statements like "If only those people would be more like us, everything would be wonderful". Humble people don't talk like that, or think that way either.

Next, he calls us to pray, and I would suggest that in this context what we need to pray for is our own hearts to be changed and softened and melted. We need to humble ourselves first, and then second we need to pray for forgiveness and repent of our pride.

Remember, "God opposes the proud, but gives Grace to the humble"- (Proverbs 3:34). That word “opposes” is defined as “goes to war with”. Wouldn’t you rather receive God’s Grace than go to war with Him?

God asks us to seek His face. This means that we remain humble, we stay on our knees, and we submit ourselves to Him and His perfect will for our lives.

God asks that those who are called by His name "turn from their wicked ways".  This means that – horror of horrors – it is OUR sin that is holding back the healing of America, not the sins of "those people".

If this is true, and if we believe God’s Word, then we have to admit that it is our sin, and our pride that prevents America from being blessed and healed and restored.

Simply put, the truth we don’t want to admit is that we are the problem, not "those people". We are "those sinners" who need to repent and humble ourselves and seek the face of God.

Let us pray.
-kg

The Finish Line





My family has been sitting down together for times to reflect on the goodness of God this summer.

Last night we listened to this song by Steve Taylor called "The Finish Line" and talked about it together.

As usual, my wife and I cried at the end of the song. But there are beautiful truths scattered throughout and as we talked about these with our boys several thoughts came up.

First, the song begins with a young man who kneels at the altar and surrenders his life to Christ, vowing like Peter before him that he will never forsake Jesus, even if everyone else does. However, as the song reveals, he's full of self-righteousness and spiritual bravado.

And I saw you, upright and proud
And I saw you wave to the crowd
And I saw you laughing out loud
At the Philistines


And I saw you brush away rocks
And I saw you pull up your socks
And I saw you out of the blocks
For the finish line

Almost immediately, as the young man runs the race he discovers that the race isn't a sprint, but a marathon. He is distracted by the world, and worse, he is swayed by those other runners who meander along and lose sight of the goal.

Darkness falls, the devil stirs
And as your vision blurs
You start stumbling


The heart is weak, the will is gone
And every strong conviction
Comes tumbling down

Haven't well all been here before? We start off so passionate for our faith, so in love with Jesus, but we are quickly discouraged by our own weakness, or the lack of passion we experience in those who have been following Jesus longer. Soon we realize that everyone is much more comfortable if we just tone things down a bit and settle down.

I love the lines in the song where he describes the condition of the young man's heart after he has followed "the party line".

Let's wash our hands
As we throw little fits
Let's all wash our hands
As we curse hypocrites


We're locked in the washroom
Turning old tricks
Deaf and joyless
And full of it

"Deaf, and joyless, and full of it." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? We curse those hypocrites over there, not realizing that we are the "chief of sinners". We are deaf - unable to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit convicting us of our apathy. We are joyless - mocking those who are full of passion when we ourselves are desperate for it. We are full of it - unable to admit our own weakness and blindness.

But, thankfully, the song doesn't end there, and neither does our walk with Christ. Because of God's grace, we are given another chance to stand up, set our gaze on the finish line, and run once again.

Off in the distance, bloodied but wise
As you squint with the light
Of the truth in your eyes


And I saw you, both hands were raised
And I saw your lips move in praise
And I saw you steady your gaze
For the finish line

I love this image of the young man, "bloodied but wise" who squints "with the light of the truth in (his) eyes" as he finds his faith again and runs the race before him.

Every idol like dust
A word scattered them all
And I rose to my feet
When you scaled the last wall


And I gasped
When I saw you fall
In his arms
At the finish line

This is the part that always gets me. My wife and I both wiped away tears as we pictured this man, much like ourselves, who runs the race before an audience of believers and non-believers alike, living out his faith in full view of all mankind.

As he scales that last wall and once again falls - but this time into the arms of Jesus who catches him at the very last step of the race, on the finish line.

To me, this image stands in contrast to the young man's posture at the beginning of his race where he was confident and waving to the crowd. His fall after that was due to his pride and arrogance, but after enduring that shame he is wiser and more aware of both his own weakness and the true nature of this long marathon race of life and faith. When he falls the final time, it is almost a statement of faith. He knows that he cannot make it alone. He finally realizes that only those who fall completely upon the mercy and grace of Jesus will ever actually reach that finish line. So, when he does fall, he does so accepting his own weakness and admitting his need for more of God.

In our conversations together as a family after listening to this song, we talked about how God can only help those who admit they need help. As Jesus said to the Pharisees:

"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41)

We have to admit our weakness to God, and also to ourselves. We can't let our pride delude us into believing our own hype. We are made of dust. We are weak. We need all the Grace and Mercy that God can give us, and even then we still need to hold on tightly to Jesus for all that's within us.

Paul used this metaphor of running a race when he wrote to the church in Corinth.

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Cor 9:24-27)

Paul wants to run as if there's only one winner. He runs against himself, ultimately, and fights his own body or flesh so that he might finish the race well.

I love that, at the end of us life, Paul returns to this metaphor and says:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." – (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Paul has fought the fight against his own sinful flesh. He has finished this race. He has kept the faith, and now he will receive that crown at the finish line and look deep into the loving eyes of his savior and King as he hears those words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

As important as it is for us to live our faith daily, it's also important to keep our eyes on that finish line and to do all that we can to finish well, regardless of how many times we stumble along the way.

We need to know that we will fall. That's a given. But when we do we need to make sure we fall into the arms of our Lord Jesus who knows our weakness and rains down mercy upon us each and every day.

-kg

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

WHAT ABOUT PASTORAL SUPPORT?

Listen to internet radio with Subversive Radio on Blog Talk Radio
Should our modern day Pastors be compensated financially for the services they perform? What does the New Testament have to say about this practice? What can we learn from Church history regarding the practice of paying members of the clergy and the practice of tithing? Join author, speaker and radio host Keith Giles as he explores the Biblical view of Pastoral Compensation and Salaries on Subversive Radio.