Wednesday, January 30, 2013

LEADER OR PASTOR?

Pastor Davis wanted more than anything to be great at his job. So, to be a better pastor, he got in his car and drove across town to the Christian book store. Using his pastor’s discount card, he purchased ten different books on Leadership written by various business-leaders, professional speakers, and motivational authors. After reading all of those books he was good at one thing: Leadership. Unfortunately for Pastor Davis, being a great pastor has absolutely nothing to do with leadership.

The problem here is that we have redefined the term “pastor”as it was intended in the new testament to reflect our modern day ideas of what church should look like. See, the noun “Pastors” only appears once in the new testament scriptures, and then it is used in the plural sense, not the singular. Not only that, the group of people called upon to “shepherd the flock”in the local assembly are called “Elders” not “Pastors”.

Beyond the obvious misuse of the word, the real danger is that we’ve completely redefined the verb “to pastor” so that it no longer has anything to do with loving people, caring for them, serving them, feeding them, strengthening them, making sure they are spiritually healthy, or anything remotely close to what a “shepherd” would do to take care of the sheep. Instead, we have reduced the term “shepherd” or “pastor” into the most narrow function – leadership.

Pastor Davis made the mistake of reading books and attending conferences and listening to audio books about leadership so he could inspire people to listen to him, or to motivate people to do stuff, or to convince people to invest in his church. What should he have done instead? Well, if the function of being an elder (who is part of a group of other elders) is to nurture the spiritual development and growth of his brothers and sisters in the church, maybe the first thing would be to spend time praying for those people? And then maybe you could spend time with them? Perhaps you might decide to read books about how to listen more, or how to encourage people? You might also want to try doing all of these things without an ulterior motive like wanting to use your influence on people to get them to do stuff, or to give you money, or to volunteer for something. Just love them and listen to them and bless them and encourage them because you love them, and because you genuinely feel called –and gifted – by God to care for people.

See, Pastors who are obsessed with leadership are like husbands who expect to improve their marriages by reading books about monster trucks. Not only is leadership not related to loving people, it will train you to become more self-focused and less others-focused.

Books about leadership make you a better leader – in the worldly, CEO, “I’m the boss” sense of the word – but if you really want to learn how to please Jesus and be the best “shepherd” you can be, just focus on learning how to love people more, and to serve people more. It’s what Jesus did. It’s also what Jesus commanded us to do. He got down on his knees and washed the feet of this disciples, and then he said, “Now that you know these things you will be blessed…if you do them!” (Not if you read them, or if you know them, but only if you “do” them).

Biblically, a good shepherd or pastor is one who loves people and serves people and helps people to depend more on Jesus. Good pastors do not train people to depend on themselves. They constantly point others to Jesus and they teach them to hear the voice of the One, True, Good Shepherd who is more than capable of speaking to His own sheep and leading them where He wants them to go.

Pastoring is not about being a good speaker. It’s not about being a good marketer. It’s not about motivating people to do stuff. It’s not about being a smart business man. Simply put, pastoring is about loving and serving people.

Don’t be like Pastor Davis. Be like Jesus. Get on your knees. Serve others. Wash feet. Teach people to look to Jesus, and to cling to Jesus, and not to yourself. Then you will be a good pastor, and you know what else? You’ll also be a leader who sets an example worth following.




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Thanks to Aaron [@CulturalSavage] for his Tweet that inspired this blog.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Most Dangerous Sermon




Anticipation was high that morning. The hometown hero had returned. Today he was scheduled to speak after a long, celebrated tour of the surrounding country side.

No one knew what he might do, but they were eager to hear what he had to say and to see him with their own eyes.

Sure, he had grown up there. Most remembered him playing with their children when he was a young boy, or seeing him and his brothers and sisters at the market. But this was different.

When he left he was a nobody. Today, he was a genuine sensation.

Everyone in the synagogue held their breath when he stood up to take the scroll. It was time to read the scheduled passage in Isaiah on this particular Sabbath, but what might Jesus have to say about it? What new miracle might he do in their presence? Most were aware that he had a habit of healing on the Sabbath, even though many Jewish leaders felt it was controversial.

Jesus took the heavy scroll and unrolled it. There was no other sound in the room as Jesus read aloud these words:

“The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisonersand recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”

Suddenly he stopped reading. The following section of that verse dealt with “the day of vengeance of our God”. Why had he left that part out?

Just as quietly, Jesus rolled the scroll back up and handed it to the attendant. Then, he turned and he sat back down.

Every eye was fastened on him now.

“Today,” Jesus said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

They gasped. It was true! He was the promised Messiah who was to come. Many began to whisper to one another, “Can it be?”, “Isn’t that Joseph’s son?” But then Jesus continued, adding, “Surely, you will all say to me, ‘Physician heal yourself!’ and you will demand of me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.’ But no prophet is ever honored in his hometown.”

The murmuring stopped, but everyone’s gears were churning in their heads. What did he mean by this? What did this have to do with the year of the Lord’s favor? Did this mean he wasn’t going to do any miracles after all?

Jesus looked over the crowd and added something that sent them over the edge in a frenzy of anger and bloodthirsty wrath. Something so simple, and yet so infuriating that they rushed the stage and dragged him bodily by force out to the edge of a high cliff so they could throw him down onto the sharp rocks below. He said, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

What happened here? Why was this statement so insulting to these people? How could this simple statement of fact so enrage those who were gathered to cheer on their hometown hero?

The very idea that the Messiah was about to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor to the Samaritans, and to the Gentiles, was intolerable to them. They were the chosen people. They were the ones who were oppressed. They were the captives that needed to be set free. Yet this Jesus was suggesting that the Messiah was about to set everyone free, and to show the Lord’s favor to all nations on Earth.

Simply put, they wanted the blessing for themselves and they weren’t about to share it with “those people” who weren’t like themselves.

But what about the part where Jesus said they would call on him to heal himself? The prophecy that Jesus made to them that day was fulfilled a few years later. As he hung from the cross the religious leaders, the roman guards, and even the thief next to him on the cross all mocked him and dared him to save himself if he was truly the Christ. "He saved others, let him save himself," they would say.

On this particular day, Jesus did save himself from death and disappeared from their midst as they were about to throw him off the cliff. But, later, he would hang on that cross and call out “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

What can you and I take away from this?

First, the idea that Jesus is for everyone, not only for us.
Second, that we must admit our spiritual poverty, our blindness, our bondage to sin if we are to receive the blessing of the Messiah that was promised in the scroll of Isaiah.

Remember, Jesus said that he was "anointed" to  “preach good news to the poor...to proclaim freedom for the prisonersand recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free..."

We must humble ourselves and admit that we are the sick, and the blind, and the prisoner. If we do, Jesus will heal us and set us free.


As Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance.”



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Friday, January 25, 2013

GOD HATES WHO?



My friend Jared told me once about the first time he attended a Gay Rights rally in Los Angeles. He is not gay, but as a follower of Christ he wanted to see for himself what these people were like, and he was willing to see them as human beings in need of Christ’s love first and foremost.
To get ready for his trip he posted a carpool notice on Craigslist asking if anyone from Orange County would like to ride with him up to the rally and share gas money. He got three responses, all lesbians.
On the ride up to the rally they all started talking about their experiences being lesbian, how their families had treated them, and various “ice breaker” conversation points. Eventually they asked Jared how long he had been Gay.
“I’m not gay,” he admitted. They laughed at first, and then when they realized he was serious they started asking him why he was going to the rally. That’s when he admitted to them that he was a Christian and that he wanted to meet people first-hand who are Gay. He apologized for the way his fellow Christians had responded to homosexuals. That’s when they really started to share their experiences with him.
What they shared was heartbreaking. They talked about being sexually abused by their Christian youth leaders as teens and about how the church leaders had blamed them, and eventually kicked them out of their churches. They talked about how their Christian parents had screamed at them and disowned them once they found out about their sexual orientations. They talked about how they still loved God and still believed in Jesus but couldn’t be part of any Christian church out of fear for how they would be treated.
All Jared could do was to listen, and to apologize to them for the hateful ways that they had been treated by other Christians.
Does God condone homosexuality? I don’t think so. Not any more than He condones adultery or fornication, or lying, or stealing, or gossip. But if we can associate with Christians who have committed adultery, or lied, we should be able to fellowship with Christians who are struggling with their sexual identity. If we can have grace for people who have had abortions, or who have been to jail, or who have been divorced, or who have used every curse word in the book, then we shouldn’t have trouble loving and forgiving someone who is Gay.
Now, if we can’t love people who have sinned, then we have to ask ourselves if we’re really following Jesus or not. Because we’re all sinners, and we all continue to sin, even after we have come to Christ. So, being a sinner isn’t really the problem. It’s the symptom we all share. It’s what makes us human. It’s what makes us the people that Jesus came for, and died for.
God loves "fags." He loves all sinners. He even loves you. He loves everyone.
That much should be abundantly clear. If it’s not, the problem comes from His people, not from God Himself.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

HERE COMES THE JUDGE




"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matt. 7:1-3)

You'd think that this verse would be clear enough at face value. But, it's not. Christians still want to wiggle out of this one. Lately I've heard some creative excuses to skirt around this clear command from Jesus. 
To quickly recap:
Jesus contrasts Love and Judgment as two opposite actions. (see Luke 6)
This means that we can't do one if we're busy doing the other.
If our mandate from Jesus is to love like God does, then we can’t waste our time judging the hearts of others.
Simply put, we can't love and judge at the same time.
Paul says that when we judge others we're actually passing judgment on ourselves. (see Romans 2:1)  
Paul even draws a distinction between correcting sinful behavior of those within the Church (1 Cor 5:12) with the right to judge those outside the church.
James chapter 4 tells us that when we judge others we're putting ourselves in God’s place.
So, according to the New Testament, followers of Jesus have no business trying to condemn those around us. In fact, by judging them we're ignoring the much larger sin in our own hearts.
The responses? Well, I’ve had people try to explain to me that we all judge every day because we have to “judge” whether or not to eat at a certain restaurant or not, and we have to “judge” whether or not our kids are lying about who broke the lamp, etc.
I’ve also had Christians try to make the case that calling something sinful that God has already identified as sinful isn’t the same as “judging” others, and when we vote in the polls we are making a “judgment”.
So, see, Jesus was just kidding about that “do not judge” stuff. Ok?
Well, no. It’s not ok.
What do you think Jesus means by saying we should love others and not judge them? Do you think it's possible to condemn people with the truth rather than love them and point them to the Truth?
Simply put, the other examples of “judging” are not even close to what Jesus was referring to. The examples above are about making a decision about where to eat, or what to believe, or about casting a vote on an issue. None of those things, in and of themselves, are about turning to another person and calling them “evil”.
What Jesus was forbidding us to do was to treat people differently – negatively – because of a determination we had made ourselves (in our own hearts) about the “goodness” or “badness” of that person. This is the very specific kind of judgment that Jesus forbids us to do.
But, didn’t Jesus also say, “By their fruits you shall know them”? Yes, he did. But when he said that he was warning his disciples not to be like the Pharisees – who, by the way, were quite judgmental of others.
So, again, Jesus has commanded us not to judge and not to emulate the judgmental behavior of religious leaders among us who behave in this way.
But, how else will people know that they are sinners? Well, I try to think of how I came to know Jesus. Your experience might be different, but I know that as a 9 year old boy I was mainly overwhelmed with my need for God. I couldn't have told you the first thing about sin or repentance or any of that. I just knew I needed Jesus desperately. Now, the Holy Spirit told me about my sin, and I responded to that and I repented. But it wasn’t a person who helped me to see my sin, it was God.
A friend of mine once told me that before he came to Jesus he already knew he was a sinner. No one needed to point that out to him. He got that. What he didn't know was what to do about it.
But, how else will we share the Gospel if we don’t hold up the “sinner” mirror to everyone? Personally, I think our evangelism should be more about loving people first (and that can only be done in relationship), sharing our own testimony (i.e. “I’m a sinner. I’m desperate for Jesus.” ), and inviting people to know and trust Jesus, too.
I think God will convict people of their sins just fine without us. Because that's what He said He would do (and the Holy Spirit would do), and He specifically told us that it is not our place to convict people of their sins.
Another example I can share is a couple we met at the motel several years ago. They were like sheep without a shepherd. We continued to serve them and love them in practical ways as they had need. They eventually started reading through the Gospel of John with us and suddenly they both began to realize that they were sinners. They suddenly started to tell us that they needed to make some changes in their life. That was the Holy Spirit, not us. Today they are continuing to read the Word of God and to allow Him to change their hearts. We never once had to say anything to them about their sin. We just loved them and let God do the rest.
But: "Isn’t voting a judgment of what is right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse, etc.? So, if I vote for same-sex marriage to be illegal, I'm judging same-sex marriage to be wrong. Right?"
I'd suggest that by voting against same-sex marriage you are not necessarily judging any persons. [And this is really where Jesus wants us to be careful]. As a Christian, if you vote against adultery or fornication, etc. then you are simply in agreement with God's judgment about those behaviors. HOWEVER: There is a difference between judging an action sinful and judging a person sinful. Even if you're right, you've stepped into a place reserved only for God - judging the hearts of other people.
My point is this: If we love people we make room for the grace of God to touch their hearts. (The kindness of God leads to repentance). But if we judge people, our condemnation becomes a barrier to them and they cannot see the love of Jesus in us - and where else are they supposed to see it?
Jesus commanded us not to judge others. He did command us to love others. We can't do them both at the same time. 
Do the math. Then do what Jesus told you.
-kg

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

DROWNING




I have a healthy fear of the ocean. It’s the darkness of it. The enormous depth. The multitudes of creatures that swim beneath the surface – all capable of killing you instantly.

I don’t mind the shore. In fact, I love going to the beach and walking barefoot in the sand. I love the feeling I get when I hear the ocean waves and take in the endless horizon where waves and sky blur into one. My soul feels refreshed on the shore. I am safe. The dangers are few.

But if I go deeper I risk pain, and death. The riptides have the power to thrust my body out to sea. The jellyfish and the urchin threaten me with their sting. The shark and the eel and the sea snake can end my life with a single bite. Even the gentle whales terrify me with their immense size and power.

One of my earliest memories is of riding on my father’s shoulders as a young boy. He was walking out into the ocean with me on his back. “Are you touching the bottom, daddy?” I asked every few steps. “Yes,” came the answer. “I’m touching the bottom.”

Eventually we were far out to sea. My mom and my grandmother were small specks on the horizon. “Are you touching the bottom, daddy?” I asked again in disbelief. “Yes, son, I’m touching the bottom.”

But then the wave came. It hit us from behind as I was looking back towards the shore at my mom. One moment I was riding on my father’s shoulders in the warm Florida sun, and the next I was swallowing salt water, tumbling over and over again in the blinding foam.

I don’t remember how long I was under. But then I felt my father’s hands grab my arm and pull me to the surface.

My father and I sputtered and coughed as we bobbed on the waves. He was holding me tighter now. Tighter than I can ever remember him holding me before. I looked into his face and saw the fear. The panic subsiding, slowly replaced by pure relief. He started to laugh as his emotions shifted. He had his son back. But in my little heart his laughter sounded like a mockery.

“You lied,” I shouted. “You said you could touch the bottom, but you lied.” Then I started to cry. He pulled me closer and tried to comfort me, but if I could have I would have swum away from him in my anger.

Maybe that’s part of why I fear the ocean? At a young age I tasted firsthand how unpredictable it could be and how quickly it could snatch you from blissful serenity and thrust you into an unexpected encounter with mortality.

Last night I had a dream about the ocean. It threatened to swallow me alive. I felt that same taste of real fear just before I woke up. Then I lay there in the darkness and heard the voice of God in my ear. “I’m calling you into the depths,” He said. I knew that there was danger, and suffering, and pain, and even death beneath those dark waves. “This is not a metaphor. This is not a spiritualization. The pain and the suffering and the death are real.”

For nearly half an hour I lay there and considered these words. I admitted my fear. I confessed my preference for the shoreline, for the sand beneath my feet. I kept hearing the voice of God urging me to follow Him deeper into the dark depths.

The danger is real. The suffering is real. The pain will be real. The death will be real.
“Follow me,” came the voice again.

I got up from my bed and wandered into the den. I dropped to my knees and kept listening. How could I agree to this? How could I refuse? My decision to follow Christ was made a long time ago, but now it was being challenged again.

What if my cross was really about dying? What if following Jesus actually meant letting go of everything; my wife, my sons, my safety, my own breath? What then? What now?

I can tell you that my response was not immediate. I can tell you that the answer wasn’t automatic. My one request was for my sons. I wanted to know that they would continue to walk with Jesus after I was gone. I couldn’t ask the same for my wife, because I didn’t know if my decision was something we might experience together or not. But if she remained behind, my prayer was that she would be comforted.

It is God’s mercy that I do not know exactly what I am saying yes to. If I knew exactly then there is a very good chance that I would never agree to following Him that far. All I asked was that Jesus would go with me and that He would meet me in person when the ocean sucked that last lungful of air from my body.

This time I know that my Father has me in His grip. I know He will never let me go. I know that He can be trusted to carry me all the way home, safe at last to that other shore.

One last breath…

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Monday, January 21, 2013

TRUTH IS A PERSON


“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)


When Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” he was not making any general statements about the power of truth to improve the quality of our lives in any generic sense.

In other words, Jesus is not suggesting that the phrase, “Yes, those pants DO make your butt look remarkably huge” has any power to set us free. Truthful statements are not what makes us free. If that’s what Jesus meant he would have said, “Speaking the truth sets you free” or “Hearing truthful facts will make you free.” But that’s not what he said. He said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

So, what was Jesus implying? He was saying that Truth is a person, not a statement or a fact. His actual statement was related to being someone who follows Him – a disciple. If, Jesus says, "you hold to my teaching” (or take my words seriously enough to actually try putting them into practice), then you will be my disciples, and if you are my disciples..."then you will know the truth”.

So, being a follower of Jesus is a pre-requisite for “knowing the truth.” If you know this person, Jesus, (who is Truth) then he will make you free.

He makes it much clearer when He says:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)


See? Jesus is the Truth. The truth is a person. Not a fact. Not a statement. The truth is a living, breathing person that you and I must get to know. Why would we want to get to know this person? Because if we know this person, He will set us free. How do we know Him? We start to follow Him and become a disciple. We become someone who actually tries to put his teachings into practice in our lives. Then we will know him, and then we will be set free because we have entered into a relationship with the truth.

“So, if the son sets you free, you will be free, indeed.” (John 8:36)

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Friday, January 18, 2013

THE GOSPEL: TO GO!



Back in August of 2012 I receive an email (see below) from Randy Legassie. He's a Canadian missionary teaching in a training school for pastors in Kenya, working with an independent African-based denomination which has done some significant evangelism in the past - from about 40 members in their inception in 1947 to well over a million in five different East African countries today.

Randy asked me if he could use my book, "The Gospel:For Here or To Go?" as a curriculum to train these pastors at the school in Kenya. They don't have the money to purchase individual copies of the books for each student, so Randy asked if they could have permission to photocopy the PDF version and pass them out to the students.

Of course, I gladly said "Yes!"

Today, Randy emailed me to let me know that they started their class this week and that 11 of these students have received a copy of my book (literally, a photocopy because they don't have the funds to purchase these books), and they are beginning to use it to train them to share the Gospel of the Kingdom in their community.

I'm so blown away!

Not sure how God will use this resource in the future, but already this same little book has been translated into French (also in Canada) so there's a great potential for it to reach many others.

Here's the email I first received from Randy in 2012:
I downloaded and read your ebook, The Gospel: For Here or To Go?...and found it a very helpful tool for understanding the reality of evangelism today. That is important because I am a Canadian missionary teaching in a training school for pastors in Kenya, working with an independent African based denomination....However, they too are discovering that the old ways don’t work and are struggling to find how to get the message out. One of the courses I teach is evangelism and I have been exploring the cultural shifts and talking about ways to do evangelism that are bout effective and Biblical. I would love to be able to use your book as a text when I next teach the course in January but there is a problem.
Although the denomination is big, they are a rural-based denomination, which in East Africa translates as poor. The students don’t have money for texts, let alone computers and tablets. I was wondering if I could have permission to print out your book and make a photocopied version for each student—in January, I anticipate 9-10 students, with a another class of 22 coming the next year. I have access to mission funds for the photocopying.
I work with Canadian Baptist Ministries (cbmin.org) and am currently teaching at the Eastern Kenya Integrated College in Mitaboni, Kenya. EKIC is owned and run by the Africa Brotherhood Church, with its headquarters in Machakos, Kenya.
Thank you, first of all for your book, from which I will be drawing ideas for the course (with appropriate citations, of course—I also teach ethics) and for your consideration of this request.
Randy L.
**
Here is the email I received from Randy this week:
 
Hi, We have begun our term here in Kenya and I distributed copies of your book to the11 students in my evangelism class.
 
They were excited to receive them and wanted me to thank you for allowing them to have this resource. Our students are poor as is the denomination and this book represents a valuable resource for them.
 
I will let you know later in the term how they respond to the book, Thank you again for your permission to use the material.
 
-Randy Legassie .
**
 
I'll be praying for these eleven students as they go through the book and learn how to share the Gospel of the Kingdom in Kenya.
 
BONUS VIDEO:
 
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THE WORD OF GOD IS A PERSON.



When we read about “The word of God” in the new testament, this isn’t usually a reference to the Bible or to scripture but to a person who is known as “The Word of God” or Jesus, the Messiah.

There are a few references where Jesus talks about the Old Testament scriptures as “the word of God” but those are the minority. Often, the term “word of God” is used to describe the sharing of the message of the Gospel, but in many instances the term is used to talk about a person, not a book that (at that time) had not been written yet.

For example:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:1-4)

This verse, obviously is equating the "Word of God" with God, but then we read:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Now the "Word of God" is being identified as someone who became flesh and made his dwelling among men, namely, Jesus.

These verses below are also examples of the phrase "Word of God" being used in reference to a person (Jesus):

“Then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
In this verse, the "Word of God" can't mean "the Bible" because it wasn't written yet. At least, not the parts being referred to here (i.e. "the Gospel").

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:11-13)

Probably the most overly quoted verse about the "Word of God" and usually in the context of written passages (the Bible) instead of what it was meant to - a person (Jesus).

Jesus is "alive and active". Jesus "penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, etc." Jesus is the one who "judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." A book can't do those things, even a book as awesome as the Bible.

“I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:13-15)

Again, the "word of God" that lives in you and me is not a book. It's a person and that person is Jesus.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” (Revelation 6:8-10)

People were not put to death because of the Bible. They were persecuted for faith in the person of Christ, who is the word of God.

“He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (Revelation 19:12-14)

In case there was any doubt, we are told that Jesus' name is "the Word of God." We also see that John, who writes the most about this subject, affirms that he is exiled for his faith in Jesus, not because of a book that hasn't been written yet:

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:8-10)

So what? You might ask. Why does any of this matter? Because the apostles wanted us to understand that it was important to have a relationship with a person named Jesus, not with a book that they were in the process of writing down.

Jesus even warns us not to fall in love with a book, even with the Scriptures:

"You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about me, but you refuse to come to me for eternal life." (John 5:39-40)

The Word of God is a person. His name is Jesus. Get to know Him.

-kg

Thursday, January 17, 2013

LOVE IS A PERSON.


Love isn’t a concept. It’s not a feeling. According to the Bible, love is a person, and that person is God.

In the first epistle of John we read:

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-9)

God is love, and the one who abides (lives) in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:15-17)

As I was reading through the first epistle of John recently I realized that there’s not much debate about the topic of love. See, once you establish that God is love and then you point out that we are commanded by Jesus to love one another, and to love those who do not love us in return, there’s only one thing left to do – love others.

Debating love and analyzing love and creating a strategy for love is mostly useless. Other than actually practicing love, there’s not much else to do about it. Maybe that’s why there are so few debates about these little epistles by the Apostle John?

So, God is love. This means that love’s origin is God. Apart from God there is no love. And by “love” here we do not mean the earthly, selfish, conditional love that most of us have grown up with. No, we mean the ultimate expression of love that is expressed in the Greek language as “Agape”. It is a love that is unconditional. It is a love that is based on the character and nature of the One who is loving, not on the one who receives that love.

In the Gospel of John, penned by the same author, we read where Jesus proclaimed:

“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Paul places an exclamation point on that by saying:

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:8-10)

That means that if God is love, then Jesus is also love.

So, to know “love” we have to get to know the person, Jesus, who is love incarnate.

It also means that if we are like Jesus, then we will be loving as He is loving. That’s why He said, “They will know that you are my disciples (followers) if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

When we obey Jesus in this area of love we declare that we belong to Him, and we also express to Jesus that we love Him in return.

Love is not an emotion. It is not a feeling. It is a person. His name is Jesus. Get to know Him.

-kg



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

WHY I HATE GOING TO CHURCH



It would be very easy to post a very long list of reasons why I hate going to church, but the main reason is that “going to Church” is a sad excuse for “being the Church” and those who follow Christ are called to be the Church, not to attend one.

In other words, “going to Church” involves having a meeting about Jesus. Whereas “being the Church” involves meeting with Jesus and allowing Him to do the speaking, the teaching, the leading and the directing.

Going to Church is about assigning people specific functions, and often involves compensating them financially to do so, while the majority of people sit and observe them.

Being the Church involves every single person using the gifts that God has provided them with to serve one another, where no one person is considered greater or smarter or more spiritual than anyone else. In fact, we’re all equally miserable apart from Christ, so our desire to meet with Him and to hear from Him is magnified because we understand that without Him leading us, and teaching us, and speaking to us, we are completely hopeless.

Jesus did not die for an organization or a business model. Jesus died for a people (ekklesia) that He could call His own. He wants relationship. He wants love. He wants to be known. Most of us can relate to that.

God made us with the ability to know Him, and even placed a craving within us to seek Him out. He is not far away. He wants us to find Him.

This is exactly what the New Covenant was all about – “I will be their God and they will be my people.” [Hebrews 8:10]

What people need most today is not religion. They do not need another Church. They need Jesus. They need to meet the God who would rather die than live without them.

Forget going to Church. Go to Jesus. Be the Church. Embrace your identity as the Bride that Jesus died to redeem. 

Learn to hear His voice. He wants to speak to you. He wants you to experience the kind of life you could only dream about. That life is found only through knowing Jesus.
-kg

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I FORGIVE



It’s one of the very hardest things in the world for most of us to do – Forgive.

Yet, Jesus commands us to forgive others, and not only to forgive them, but to forgive them in the same way that we have been forgiven by God. That’s a lot of forgiveness. In fact, it’s complete forgiveness that let’s go and forgets, as if the wrong doing never even took place.

But that’s not all that Jesus has to say about the topic. I hope you’re sitting down for this.
Jesus actually says that he won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others.

Yes. He really does. Right here:

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." - JESUS (Matthew 6:14-15)

Whoa Nelly. Is Jesus suggesting that his forgiveness to us is conditional? I’ve never once heard a single sermon on such a thing in my entire life. How can that be?

Perhaps Jesus is forgetting that "if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness"? (1 John 1:9)

And what about the fact that the Psalms tell us that "as far as the east is from the west, this is how far he has removed our sins from us"?(Ps 103:12)

What’s Jesus talking about here? How can he say that we can’t be forgiven of our sins unless we first forgive others of their sins against us?

The reason is very simple: Unforgivness is a sin.

So, if we hold a grudge against someone, that is a sin. If we refuse to repent of our sin, and if we do not stop practicing this sin of unforgiveness, we cannot be forgiven of it.

In order to receive forgiveness, we have to honestly confess our sins to God and we need to repent of these actions which hurt our relationship with God - and which also hurts us as well.

As hard, or even as impossible, as forgiveness can sometimes be, we have to learn to forgive anyway.

“There is someone that I love even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.” - C.S. Lewis

See, this is why Jesus also commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Because we give ourselves permission to do horrible things and still consider ourselves worthy of forgiveness and mercy. That means we need to love others enough to consider that they, also, are worthy of being loved and forgiven and shown mercy.

Now, the truth is, we are no more “worthy” of forgiveness than anyone else is, including the ones who have harmed us. But Jesus doesn’t give us any room to argue. Our forgiveness is tied to our forgiveness of others.

Let’s repent of the sin of unforgiveness and extend the same grace and mercy and love that we want so much for ourselves.

Forgiving others unlocks you from the prison of bitterness. It also sets you free to receive God’s forgiveness.


-kg

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

PARADISE EARTH: WHAT IF THE MAYANS WERE RIGHT?

Anthony Mathenia has survived the apocalypse and he's written a book about the experience.

Perhaps I should say that Anthony has survived an apocalypse of faith as a former Jehova's Witness, and his new sci-fi book, Paradise Earth, is an allegorical re-imagining of his experiences as told through the eyes of someone who survives the apacalypse.

His book, an intriguing exploration of ruined society and enduring humanity, adds an interesting twist of faith on the subject.

In his own words, Anthony shares his inspiration for the book and what readers can expect to find between the pages of Paradise Earth.


What inspired you to write a post-apocalyptic story about faith?


I was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses and remained an active member until I was disfellowshipped for apostasy -- questioning their practices and doctrine. Because of my religious upbringing, faith has always been linked with the apocalypse. Like a lot of people, I believed my religion was absolute truth. And like a lot of people, I started asking difficult questions later in life that I was unable to get answers for. As part of this questioning process, I began to wonder what if everything a person hoped for was false, and if it was, what that would do to the individual. As I write in the novel, "The problem with expectations is that in the end we don’t always get what we hope for."


Also, the apocalyptic setting mirrors the themes. Paradise Earth is about personal death and rebirth. Just as the earth is "born again" through a cataclysm, so too the narrator is reborn through his own trial.



Was it painful to return emotionally to your experiences as a JW?


Definitely. Writing Paradise Earth was an act of personal catharsis. It was an attempt to encapsulate thirty years of life in a high control religion and put it into perspective. In many ways Day Zero is a distillation of Jehovah's Witness beliefs. It follows a lot of ugly tendencies to their logical conclusion. It's horrific at times. For example, it's one thing to believe that God is going to slaughter everyone on the planet, it's quite another to live through it. Within the story, the narrator begins to understand what is written in Amos, "Woe to those who are craving the day of Jehovah!"



How autobiographical is this book?


I think Paradise Earth: Day Zero is very true to the Jehovah's Witness mindset if not the exact experiences. Their homogeneity of beliefs it a matter of organization pride. One of the reasons I chose not to name the main character in this volume, was to allow him to exist as a proxy for any number of Witnesses, struggling with doubt and holding onto a fading hope for the future. I definitely see echoes of my own crisis of faith in him, but his experiences are unique.




Do you see this book more as an allegory of escape from cultic deception or as a metaphor for an individuals survival and escape from adversity in general?


Personally, I think it would be a mistake to characterize this as just a novel about getting out of a cult. As the first volume of a series, Day Zero contains an element of that, but it is simply the starting point of a much bigger journey.


In that way it mirrors what I found in my own life. At the same time I was put out of the Jehovah's Witness religion, I discovered that many others were also leaving other institutional churches. This movement among Christians was well documented in George Barna's book Revolution. However, I think it is bigger than that. I even see the rise in atheism among the young as a reflection of what is going on. We are going through a time period where people are willing to leave indoctrination and start asking questions. I'd like to hope that we all end up with some answers.


It will become more clear in the next two volumes, but ultimately Paradise Earth is a story about ditching all sorts of mental barriers to make a more pure connection with something bigger.



Was it challenging to sell a book about life as a JW after the end of the world?


Surprisingly, no. I shared the manuscript with Curiosity Quills Press and they were very enthusiastic about it. They recognized that it had much broader appeal, beyond former members of a niche religion. Once I was assured that they would give me the room to tell the the story I needed to tell, I was happy to sign with them.



What sort of responses have received from readers.


I knew that those with a Jehovah's Witness background would get this story. The welcome surprise is how this book has been embraced by those from other backgrounds. They have recognized that I'm actually telling a very human story. They have pointed out that even if the intricacies of the religion are unique, the actions and feelings and emotions of its adherents are very familiar. And even though this book has an undercurrent of spirituality, I have had great response from the non-religious. It is very accessible for thinking persons of all sorts. That is exciting!

How can people buy this book?

 
The book is available in print and various ebook formats from online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 
What might readers expect in the next two volumes?
Paradise Earth was originally conceptualized as one novel, but early on I made the distinction to break it up into three parts. The entire work acts as contemporary retelling of Genesis creation narrative. Day Zero is prehistory, or "in the beginning" as in the Bible. The next volume is Week One, just after the apocalypse, and it will follow the congregation as the new world reveals itself. They certainly have their own idea about their paradise earth, but they may find that it doesn't perfectly match up to the reality of a destroyed world. That volume aligns with creation days one through six. The final volume, Forever After, acts as the day of rest. I won't spoil it, but I'm hopeful for a happy ending. In short the next two volumes will offer more grim horror, but not without some optimism. As in many of my novels, the light always overcomes the darkness.
 
**
About the Author
Anthony Math­e­nia is a nov­el­ist and free­lance writer. He is the author of Hap­pi­ness: How to Find It and Par­adise Earth: Day Zero. His travel writ­ings have appeared on vagobond.com and other places. His works deal with themes of the search of per­sonal iden­tity and the lib­er­a­tion of the human spirit from oppres­sive high con­trol groups. He grew up in a reli­gious cult and sin­cerely apol­o­gizes for wak­ing you up on Sat­ur­day morn­ings in order to recruit you.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Paradise Earth

When the ground quakes and blaz­ing balls of fire fall from the sky, a reli­gious sect inter­prets it as the ful­fill­ment of long-held prophe­cies fore­telling the end of the world. The mem­bers flee to their reli­gious sanc­tu­ary, believ­ing that this global cat­a­clysm is the por­tent of a new par­adise of eter­nal happiness.

Inside, one cold and starv­ing man strug­gles to hold onto his hope for the future. He’s sac­ri­ficed every­thing for his faith in the prophecy, includ­ing his fam­ily.

As the tor­tu­ous night drags on, he strug­gles to hold onto his hope for the future and grap­ples with a life­time of beliefs, and expectations.

If he sur­vives to see the par­adise earth, will it be worth it?

Par­adise Earth is a decon­struc­tion of faith at the end of the world and beyond. The first vol­ume of the tril­ogy, Day Zero, was pub­lished by Curios­ity Quills Press on Decem­ber 21, 2012. Week One and For­ever After will follow.

Monday, January 07, 2013

CAN GOD "DVU" THE WORLD?

Translator Lee Bramlett was confident that God had left His mark on the Hdi culture somewhere, but though he searched, he could not find it. Where was the footprint of God in the history or daily life of these Cameroonian people? What clue had He planted to let the Hdi know who He is and how He wants to relate to them?

Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for love. Lee and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.

“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?” Lee asked. Everyone laughed.

“Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded.

“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel, and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based on who I am. I love you because of Me and not because of you.”

God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there—unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system. If God was like that, and not a mean and scary spirit, did they need the spirits of the ancestors to intercede for them? Did they need sorcery to relate to the spirits? Many decided the answer was no, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.

The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed now, and twenty-nine thousand speakers will soon be able to feel the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, ‘dvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘dvu’-d the church.…” I invite you to pray for them as they absorb and seek to model the amazing, unconditional love they have received.

As God’s Word is translated around the world, people are gaining access to this great love story about how God ‘dvu’-d us enough to sacrifice his unique Son for us, so that our relationship with Him can be ordered and oriented correctly. The cross changes everything! Someday, the last word of the last bit of Scripture for the last community will be done, and everyone will be able to understand the story of God’s unconditional love.

Article by Bob Creson.
Reprinted from Wycliffe inFocus

*READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE>

Saturday, January 05, 2013

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS




Have you ever noticed that Jesus never really answered anyone’s questions? In fact, his usual response to a question was to ask another question of his own. This behavior suggests that Jesus is quite comfortable in the presence of people who ask questions. So much so that He would seemingly rather send people away still clinging to their questions than to enlighten them on the spot and provide the answers they seek.

This is in stark contrast to the Church today which seems to relish the idea of providing answers to people, even if those people aren't asking any questions.

I can’t help but wonder what might happen if Christians shifted their tactics from providing verbal answers to everyone and instead started behaving more like Jesus. What if we simply invited people to get to know Jesus for themselves. See, Truth isn't information. Truth is a person. Jesus is the Truth, and that means that to know Truth (the person) you will have to enter into an ongoing relationship with Him.

However, one might also expect to not ever completely “know” the Truth completely. That is because Jesus, the person, is also God, and that means that Truth cannot ever be fully and completely known on this side of eternity. And I kind of think that this is how Jesus prefers things. Because, based on what we can observe about Jesus, he seems to prefer the company of those who lack wisdom and are hungry for truth, rather than to spend time with those who believe that they already have all of the answers and only want to broadcast the solutions to everyone around them.

If I'm honest, I've spent a lot of my Christian life trying to be the guy who has all the answers. The Pharisees had all the answers too. They loved the status that being an "answer person" gave to them among all the seekers around them. However, the people around them still had questions, apparently. Because when Jesus shows up they ask Him a lot of questions. The funny thing was, when Jesus refused to answer their questions but instead gave them another question to consider, they looked at Him as someone who had authority that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (the ones who supposedly had all the answers) did not have.

I can remember hearing someone at a conference ask a question of the speaker. I knew the answer and I was expecting to hear this person explain everything, but instead the response given was, "That is a great question. I'm sure we'll explore that as we continue throughout our day."

At first I wanted to raise my hand and provide the answer. But, thankfully, I held back. Afterwards I went up to the speaker and I asked him why he hadn't answered the man's question. He looked at me and said, "Because the answer to that question is a key to the Kingdom. I can't give it to him. He needs to find it himself."

Later that day this same man raised his hand again and began to share what the Lord had been speaking to him about this same subject. As he spoke he started to break into tears. Those around him began to pray for him. He had found the key to the Kingdom. It was beginning to turn in his heart. 

Maybe that's why Jesus loves questions. He loves to reward those who earnestly seek Him. He loves to show Himself to people who are hungry and thirsty for His presence. 

If you could ask Jesus one question, what would it be? Knowing that He is likely to never answer that question, what do you think your response should be? How can you search out the answer for yourself? 

Maybe, the answer is to get to know the "Truth" (the person) a little better?

-kg