Wednesday, January 05, 2005


The Discomfort Zone by Keith Giles

Lately I’ve been fascinated with the person of Jesus. He is more incredible, more unsettling, more confounding than my Sunday School teachers lead me to believe.

His words have a bite that most sermons play down, and his commands are more than enough to make anyone squirm in their chair.

I’ve been thinking these days about the huge gap between the life that Jesus led and the life that I live each day. 1 John 2: 6 says that “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” That’s an astounding and unsettling statement.

I’m finding more and more that my ‘comfort zone’ isn’t pleasing to God. I realize that Jesus didn’t have a comfort zone and that means that neither should I.

Many times I’ve excused myself from helping people in need because I rationalize that they will only use the money for drugs or alcohol, and so I’ve justified not helping them at all. I’ve even assured myself that this is really what God would want me to do because I’m actually being a “good steward” of my money by withholding such assistance.

The funny thing is that Jesus didn’t seem to act this way. In fact, using this logic, Jesus was a really bad steward of his resources because he healed eyes from blindness knowing that those people would surely use their eyes to lust or to covet. He healed withered hands knowing that they would probably use those hands to steal or to do violence to others. He healed lepers who would most likely re-enter society and commit crimes.

Obviously, Jesus wasn’t as much concerned with “being a good steward” as he was with showing compassion on those in need and advancing the Kingdom of God.

Of course, we should be wise in the ways we help people in need. If someone says their in need of food, we can offer to stand in line with them at a nearby fast-food chain and buy them whatever they want to eat. We can engage them in conversation. Ask them their name. Listen to them as they speak. Offer to pray for them as they sit down to eat their food. This is much better than simply throwing money at someone who says they are hungry, and certainly more Christ-like than justifying our lack of assistance as “good stewardship”.

As I was sharing this with my friend Greg Russinger this week he commented that actually the Holy Spirit is all about making us uncomfortable when it comes to the poor. If anything, he said, we need to embrace our “Discomfort Zone” because that’s where Jesus is usually operating in compassion and power.

As we approach this Holiday Season I pray that each of us, myself especially, can embrace our “Discomfort Zones” for the Glory of God.

Mother Teresa once said, “If sometimes our poor people have had to die of starvation, it is not that God didn't care for them, but because you and I didn't give, were not an instrument of love in the hands of God, to give them that bread, to give them that clothing; because we did not recognize him, when once more Christ came in distressing disguise, in the hungry man, in the lonely man, in the homeless child, and seeking for shelter.”

Look for Jesus in the people around you. Ask, “What do they need?” and then ask, “What do I have to share?” Those two questions are more than enough to get us going in the right direction.

Happy Holidays,


“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”- Amos 5:24


Jesus’ Favorite Question by Keith Giles

Did you know that Jesus had a favorite question? Well, it seems that he did.

As you read through the Gospels you start to notice that Jesus almost never seemed to answer a direct question posed to him. In fact, most of the time he would answer the question by asking another question of his own that went straight to the deeper issue at hand.

One question that Jesus seemed to ask the people he came into contact with most often was something like; “What would you have me to do for you?” Or, “What do you want from me?”

It’s something that makes me stop and think. At first I wonder what I would say to Jesus if he were to ask me that same question. Do I want more money? A better job? A nicer house? Or would I ask him for something more “spiritual” like peace or wisdom or joy?

But lately I’ve been challenged by the idea that maybe there is a totally different way for me to look at this question. For instance, Jesus is our example of how we are to live a Kingdom Life. If that is so, then maybe I’ve got it all backwards. Maybe instead of wondering what I want Jesus to give me, or do for me, or bless me with, I should instead begin making it my habit to ask others that same question.

Basically, if Jesus is my example, and if Jesus was constantly walking around asking people, “What would you have me do for you?”, then maybe what I’m supposed to do is to follow his example. Maybe that’s what it means to be “a servant of all”?

The reality of this floors me. I can hardly bring myself to seriously consider this as an actual lifestyle choice. It’s challenging. It’s radical. It’s…well, it’s what Jesus would do.

Can you imagine what your day would be like if you actually started every conversation with “What would you have me to do for you?” and then proceeded to serve each person you met in whatever way they had a need?

Maybe that’s extreme, but it’s something I’ve been hearing from God about lately as a personal challenge. Can I live a life of a servant? Can I put the needs of others above my own? Can I become like Christ by sharing in his ministry of service to everyone I come in contact with?

Only by the Grace of God.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”- Mark 9:35

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.- Philippians 2:3



About a year ago, Dennis Maranello came up to me after the morning service and shared a word with me that he felt was from the Lord. Even though Dennis had no way of knowing that I had been praying about whether or not I should move forward with the desires in my heart to serve the poor, his word was encouraging and exactly what I was waiting to hear from God about. Essentially, it was a word that confirmed to me that God was indeed calling me to step out and launch this Compassion Ministry here at The River.

Fast-forward to just last week when, after visiting a family at the Motel, I went across the street to the Albertson’s market. As I got out of my car there was Dennis Maranello standing next to a Fire Truck talking with another fireman.

He and I were both shocked to see each other in such an unlikely place, but soon we were talking about the motel across the street. It seems that Dennis is often called there as part of an emergency response team with the Fire Department. We did some small talk and caught up on family holiday plans for awhile but soon we both had to part and so we said our goodbyes and I started back into the store.

That’s when it struck me. Almost exactly a year later, here I was serving the poor in direct response to the word that Dennis shared with me, and I run into him in the parking lot across the street from the motel. It was like God hit me on the head with a soft hammer of confirmation. “Yes, Keith, this is what I was calling you to do.”

If I’ve learned anything this year in the ministry of compassion, it’s that it’s not about taking the compassion I’ve got and giving it to those who need it. The fact of the matter is, I’m the guy who needs more compassion. I need loads more of it than I really have to give. The truth is, this ministry of compassion has been more like a school for me to discover just how little compassion I really have for people in need.

It seems that compassion is something you pursue and receive from God along the way, in order to give it away to others as you go. At least, that’s how it’s worked out for me this last year.

The other realization I’ve made this last year is that, no matter how much we do, no matter how “successful” our service to the poor might be, I always walk away feeling like we barely scratched the surface. “We could’ve done so much more,” I think. It always feels like we’re inadequate to the calling we’ve received.

The reality is, God is the one who does the giving and not us. While we may always feel the “lack” of our resources, the Spirit of God has a limitless amount of Grace, Mercy and Love to funnel through us as we simply step out and say “yes” to Him.

I’ve also learned that, deep down, I’m not really a “people person”. That might seem like a shock, especially coming from a pastor who oversees ministry to children and to people in need. But, the truth is, I’m more comfortable being alone, or with my family, than I am in large crowds or social situations. Still, what I’m learning is that following Jesus is NOT about being comfortable. Far from it. Being a follower of Jesus involves, almost exclusively, pursuing a life that steers as far away from comfort as you can get.

“If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”- Jesus (Matthew 16:24)

God is in the process of changing me into the person He wants me to be, even though it may seem to be an agonizingly slow process. I may never become a “people person”, and that’s ok. But what I will become is more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in my life, more open to that voice that urges me to go and share and give freely to people in need. My heart’s desire is to cooperate with Him in every single way that I possibly can. If that means continuing to place myself in a position of discomfort for His will to be done, and for His Kingdom to come, and for my spiritual formation, then by all means, let the discomfort begin.

So, as we move into this New Year, I pray that we could lay down our comfort in exchange for the Kingdom of God and the cross that Jesus has for us to carry for His glory, and for His eternal fame.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


As long as it lasts....

Here's one of my sermon's from The River online via an MP3 link:



Maybe I’ve been reading too many books by Dallas Willard lately, I’m not sure. But, the other night I had a very strange dream that Jesus and I made a date to allow him to live my life for one day.

Dallas Willard always expresses discipleship to Jesus as “Living your life as he would live it if he were you.” So, maybe I was meditating on this too much the night before. Whatever it was, here’s what happened in my dream.

After getting dressed in my clothes, Jesus adjusted my best tie in the bathroom mirror and picked up my briefcase.

“I’ll be home in time for dinner,” he said. “Enjoy your day off.”

“Sure,” I said.

Jesus jingled my car keys in his hand as he strolled down the sidewalk and got into my car.

Does he know how to drive a stick? I wondered. But, he started the car and drove it out of the driveway with no problem.

As I stood there in my pajamas looking at the car disappear into the distance, I wondered what he’d do at my work in my place. What sorts of trouble might I be in tomorrow?

When Jesus got home it was late. My car wasn’t in the driveway. “I took the bus home,” he said.

As he sat down to tell me about his day as me I notice that my wristwatch was missing from his arm. I was afraid to ask him what had happened to it.

First Jesus explained about why he hadn’t brought my car back. “There was this homeless woman at the stoplight near your work,” he said. “She has two small children and her husband left her two years ago.”

I finally got the nerve to ask him what happened to my car and he responded matter of factly, “You didn’t give me any money, so I gave her your car. You should have seen the look of joy in her eyes.”

I remembered avoiding eye-contact with that woman the last few weeks. I wasn’t even interested in rolling down my window to drop a few dollars into the bucket she was holding. Now she was out driving around in my car. What would I tell my insurance agent?

Then Jesus went on to explain how, once he got to my cubicle at work, he began to hammer out those monotonous spreadsheets that were due on Friday instead of checking email and surfing the web for the first 35 minutes of the day. “I got done about ten minutes before the coffee break,” he beamed.

At break time, instead of slipping outside to eat a Snickers or smoke a cigarette, Jesus walked down the row to visit Charlie, the quiet guy at work that nobody ever talks to. At first I wasn’t sure who Charlie was, but as he began to describe the guy I start to remember him. He was a weird guy I’d never bothered to talk with before.

“I told him not to be discouraged. He’s been considering a divorce, but I reminded him of those early days when he and his wife first fell in love. I think he might be willing to try and love her more, in spite of the way she treats him sometimes. We prayed together before I left,” he said.

The rest of the day, Jesus tells me, he flew through my workload, returned all my old email messages, and got twice as much accomplished as I ever had.

“I really wanted to do a good job,” he explained, “So your boss would know how thankful you are to have a job. I think he was beginning to doubt how dependable and hard-working you were. Character is such as lost art these days,” he said. I nodded along as he spoke and tried to sit up straight in my chair.

“On the bus ride home,” Jesus said, “I met an old woman whose Grandson had just been diagnosed with HIV. At first she went on about his filthy lifestyle and how he got what he deserved.”

Jesus stopped suddenly and I thought he was about to cry.

I asked him, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s a terrible thing,” he said.

“What is?”

He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, “To get what you deserve.”

After drying his eyes, Jesus continued with his story. “I reminded her of those early days when her Grandson was a small boy, and then I asked her to share her fondest memories of him as a toddler.”

“He’s going to die soon,” Jesus said. “I wanted her to give him the grace he needs before it’s too late.”

After a few moments Jesus composed himself and stood to go. I offered him some dinner but he shook his head and said, “No thanks,” he said. “I’m fasting.”

Before he left, Jesus looked into my eyes with a smile. “You’ve had quite a day with me in your shoes,” he said. “We should do this again sometime.”

Then Jesus handed me a small box. “I made this gift for you,” he said.

When he left, I opened it. It was a small bracelet that said, “What Will You Do?”

Then I woke up.

Illustration by Andre Syzmanowicz



I just finished reading a short devotional book by John Fischer called “Love Him In The Morning” and there was one line which was so powerful it actually shocked me as I read the words on the page.

The quote read, “God works through our work and that would mean he can’t do anything if we don’t do something. It’s like the old adage about steering a car when it’s not moving. You can steer it, but it won’t do any good unless it’s already going somewhere.”

Now, I know that Fischer doesn’t mean that God “can’t” do something in the sense that He is helpless to act. However, the point is still a good one. God chooses to act when we act.

Consider God’s promise to Israel that they would be given the Promised Land. That did not mean that they would show up and have it handed to them. In fact, they had to fight, city by city, and conquer the land in order to receive it. Of course, God was with them all the way and, as they acted in obedience, He showed up in power and made the way for them.

Recently, while helping pass out baskets to families living in a local motel, I felt that God was telling me He’d give me the motel if I wanted it. As I watched the children playing together on the balcony and all around my feet, I knew in my heart that I really did want to serve these people and reach out to them in the name of Jesus. So, I said “Yes”.

Immediately I met with the area chaplain of the Rescue Mission about how we could start an outreach to the motel. He met with the manager of the motel about our desire to help people there and received favorable responses. In the meantime, I pulled together about eight people and we began to pray and plan the best way to serve these dear people who were trapped in a cycle of poverty, unable to afford an apartment and just one weekly rental payment away from living on the streets.

It was all coming together and I was very excited about the chance to step into the promised land of this motel. However, the process of receiving what I felt God had said He’d “give” to me proved to be quite the challenge.

The same week that our ministry team had planned to launch our outreach, we had the door slammed in our face by the motel manager. Suddenly he’d decided that he didn’t want us coming in there at all. Unless, he suggested, we could find someone willing to open up their room to host a small Bible study. Which, of course, we couldn’t do if he wouldn’t allow us to go back in and talk with people.

It was very discouraging to our team, and especially to me. But, a few weeks later I got a surprise when a man showed up at our morning services and asked us for help. He handed me a card with the name of the motel he was living in. I had to do a double-take as I realized it was the very same motel we had been praying would open up to us.

I still don’t know how he found our little church, which is pretty far away from this motel and meets at a Junior High Gymnasium in another city.

Somehow God had lead this man straight to us as we were praying for Him to open a way. I’m still amazed at how God opened this door for us.

Now I’m dealing with the challenges associated with helping someone who is used to a lifestyle built around fear, suspicion and extreme poverty. This isn’t easy either. But, it’s part of the process of stepping out into the land that God has promised us.

Faith is like that. Faith is doing something about what you believe. Because I believe that God will give me this motel, I’m continuing to face the roadblocks and my own fears, to set foot into unknown territory.

As we begin to reach out in tangible ways to the people at this motel who are trapped in darkness and poverty and addiction and depression, the Kingdom of God is advancing. The Kingdom of God is being proclaimed and demonstrated to people who have known only despair and hopelessness and pain.

Who can hold back the flood? Who can stand against the Kingdom of God ?

No one can.

“We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do”- Oswald Chambers

BLUE-EYED JESUS (A Perspective On Politics & Christianity)

Blue-Eyed Jesus by Keith Giles

I recently re-watched the ABC Special “Jesus and Paul” hosted by Peter Jennings. One of the more fascinating parts of the show was when they randomly asked people on the street what they thought Jesus must have looked like. Many of the people responded by saying that Jesus had blue eyes, was six feet tall and was a cross between DeNiro and Pacino.

Then the scene switched to find the same question being answered by Biblical Scholars and Middle Eastern Historians. They reported that the average height of a Jewish male during that time period was five feet even. He most certainly had brown eyes, not blue, and he probably looked like any other weather-beaten shepherd off the desert sands; Dirty, sun burnt and quite unremarkable.

This got me thinking. Why is it that we sometimes create mental pictures of Jesus that are so far off the mark? Is it that we really don’t know Him? Is it that we like to project our own likes and dislikes onto Him? Why are we so eager to make Jesus into an acceptable version of the Messiah? Do we also assume that Jesus must have been a good Republican or a Capitalist? Perhaps He was a Democrat or a Socialist?

It’s interesting to me that the scriptures reveal to us a Jesus who was not so preoccupied with Earthly political discussions. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God’s” was pretty much the only true political statement He ever made, if it can even be called that.
In his time on Earth, Jesus didn’t seem so concerned about the politics of the day. Nor did He talk so much about current events, other than to reference the collapse of a tower in a nearby village where a few people had died.

However, Jesus was interested in a political system called “The Kingdom of God”.
It might shock you to consider that Jesus probably cares less about what Bush and Kerry are saying on their campaign trails than He does about what you and I are doing with our lives.

Many of us, if we’re honest, know way more about the views and values of our particular political party than we do about God’s Kingdom. But, Jesus urged us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all of these other things will be added to you as well.”

It’s not that Jesus wants the Kingdom of God to influence or even to compete with the political systems of our nation, as much as he wants His Kingdom to influence and change us.

Do we share His views of the poor? Are we even aware what His position is on economics, or foreign relations, or peace-making, or consumerism? Are we actively, seriously, continually seeking after the things of The Kingdom of God?

Perhaps we’re more comfortable with a blue-eyed, six foot tall, Republican Jesus who conforms to our political and social ways of living? But, is that really who Jesus is?

Which version of Jesus are you holding on to? Which way of life are you currently pursuing? Is it the life Jesus describes in the sermon on the mount, or is it something pretty close to the life you would have lived had you never heard the Gospel?

The polls are open.



Seeing God in a New Light by Keith Giles

Too many times we’ve heard the message that “God is Love”. The idea that God wants relationship and intimacy with us has been cheapened by overuse, rendering any actual understanding of this truth meaningless to the average person.

Most of the time I find myself contemplating the mysteries of God’s love and His boundless grace from my side of the fence. The end result of such scrutiny is more often than not an admission that the ability to fully understand these matters is too rich for me. I have learned to dismiss them as truths that, however glorious and profound, are simply beyond my finite ability to comprehend, and so, therefore, most of the time I don’t bother to tread this path of contemplation again.

However, just the other day I was suddenly taken aback by a picture of God’s nature that has taken over my imagination and revolutionized my relationship with The Almighty One. Beyond that, it has provided me with a powerful insight into God’s motivation for every single thing He’s ever done.

I’m almost too embarrassed to admit here how simple and outright obvious this revelation into the heart of God actually is. Perhaps I will only state something that nearly every Christian has come to fully understand and reveal my spiritual ignorance to the world in the process.
Still, for all of those out there who, like me, may have never quite understood the heart of God in quite this same way, I’ll do my best to share this truth in the hope that others might grasp it too.

What struck me so profoundly was simply the idea that God’s entire purpose and reason for setting all of creation in motion was that, without creation, God would never have known worship, pain or have the opportunity to share His perfect love with us.

He sat before the Creation of the Universe and considered the heavy price He Himself would have to pay, understood His own level of sacrifice, and yet counting this cost, He took a deep breath and said, “Let there be light..”

Suddenly, I saw God as a being who simply wanted to share true love. He wanted people to know Him for who He really was and then He wanted those people to love Him.

Is that so far from what you and I want? Everyone human being has an inner desire to be known and to be loved, sincerely loved, for who they are inside. This is the heart of God too. The entire Universe, the Galaxies, the Earth, the sky, the Oceans, the vast plethora of life on this planet, the design of the human body, the sunset that graces the sky each evening, all of it was created for just one purpose: To woo His bride.

Let me take a moment to clarify what I’m saying. God does not “need” love. He does not have any deficiency or lack that must be met by the creation. The words ‘need’ or ‘necessary’ are totally foreign to God. ‘Need’ applies only to creatures and not the Creator. If God could have a need, then there would be incompleteness in God’s being.

Maybe we’ll never know with any true certainty “why” God created the universe. But, I believe it’s possible to make quite an educated guess. Based on how the dynamic of creation affected God and revealed His nature, I believe it’s safe to assume that God’s motivation for all of this was to share His perfect love with someone outside of Himself.

No, God didn’t "need" to do this. But, He most certainly "wanted" to do this. So much so, that He took upon Himself the greatest sacrifice imaginable to make it happen.

God wants a sincere relationship with His creation. He wants to be loved by His creation as they discover who He really is. He wants a specific, personal, intimate conversation with you and with me that will last for all eternity.

As I ponder God’s heart in this moment of excruciating love, I am confounded and compelled to pause at the wonder of it. If I allow this simple, and yet utterly profound truth to seep into my consciousness, I find myself moved to tears. I’m astounded by how much this new picture of my Father resembles something I’ve already discovered about myself. It creates a connection between us that I never knew was there before. Discovering that God wants to be known and sincerely loved by me has drawn me ever closer to Him.

The sad thing to me is how the picture of God as one who loves us and desires intimacy with us could ever become something that our hearts would be hardened to.

I hope that I will always be captured by this image of God as one who stood in the vast nothingness of darkness and whispered my name before He let loose the very fabric of Space and Time and began creating wonder upon wonder to declare as loudly and skillfully as He possibly could the words, “I love you.”


(Originally published online at

"And John replied, 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'John 3:30 (NIV)

Do you feel yourself shrinking? Do you feel Christ becoming more and more "at large" in your life? I don't. If anything, I feel the opposite. Most of my day is filled with the pursuit of my wants and concerns about my needs, thinking about my plans, and praying about my dreams.

Jesus? Oh, He's there. But He's not taking over. More and more I'm starting to realize that I really want Him to take over. I need Him to take over.

What I need is for Christ to permeate my life. I need to sense his presence all the time. I need to hear his voice. I need to know his heart for people. I need to take His words to heart and start living them out in my actual life.

When you reach this point in your life, you begin to realize the simple power and wisdom of the Spiritual Disciplines. Suddenly the idea of fasting and observing silence and simplicity become things that your very soul craves.

To many of us, the idea of Spiritual Discipline sounds like a means to take away our freedom in Christ. A way to drag us down and force us to observe the Law. That's not what the Disciplines are all about.

Sure, some churches and more than a few leaders, have misused the Disciplines in the past.
Sometimes we can allow others to place their expectations of perfection upon us and bind us up in the pursuit of an outward appearance of Holiness.

But, when a follower of Christ reaches the place where they realize that their flesh is much too weak, even when their spirit is most willing, the Disciplines become an escape route from the bondage of sinfulness.

The Spiritual Disciplines are like turning the spoon away from your own mouth and using it to dig a tunnel under the fence of sin and into the sunlight of freedom.

Jesus' parable of the Pearl Of Great Price (Matthew 13:44), where those who find a great treasure joyfully run out and sell everything in order to get it, is a great picture of what our attitude should be. We're not to worry about how much the pearl costs, we should be worried that we might not be able to sell things fast enough to get the money to buy that pearl.

When we truly understand just how utterly fantastic God's Kingdom really is, as compared to our own kingdom, then the idea of giving up time and food and money and worldly success is nowhere near as precious.

Jesus has some pretty strong words for those who call themselves by His name in Luke chapter 14, verse 27. He says "..Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

Taking up my cross means my own death. It means the end of my personal kingdom and the beginning of His.

My prayer is that God would give me the strength to daily deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him. I want to go where He¹s going. I want to walk with Him.

What will it cost me? My car? My house? My dreams? My job? Great. What else? I want to kick my kingdom to the ground and dance while it burns.

I'm ready to follow Him now. "He must increase, I must decrease."

Do you feel yourself shrinking?

By Keith Giles



For more years than I can remember, John Fischer has been saying what no one else had the vision, or the guts, to say out loud, or in print. He has always been able to discern the difference between what needs to be said and what has already been said too many times before.

As a prolific writer of songs, articles and a sought-after public speaker, Fischer has used his gifts to communicate the truth in love, especially when it comes to matters of Faith. Speaking to me over the telephone, Fischer doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. “Faith is necessary for a more dangerous life,” he said. Although he admits we’ve managed to immerse ourselves in a Christian subculture that seems intent only upon spreading the safety net. “That’s been a huge theme for me for a number of years as I’ve watched the Christian sub-culture grow up around me,” said Fischer, who inadvertently helped to create this very same sub-culture as a popular songwriter during the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the ’60s. “That’s why I’ve watched it so carefully,” he said. “And we’ve moved into areas now that we would have never thought of, and never intended to go, thirty years ago.”

As Fischer has watched the Christian subculture collapse in upon itself, he’s concluded that there’s one main thing that keeps it from being effective. “It finally dawned on me that the message of ‘Safety’ was really bugging me. It almost starts to appear that the bulk of the Christian sub-culture, all these Christian products in the Christian world, however it got started, it appears to exist today out of a fear of the world and a desire to be safe within a subculture where we can still enjoy all those worldly things, but they have been made safe for us and for our consumption. Like a Good Christian Seal of Approval,” he said.

“That has had some terrible ramifications,” said Fischer. “I think primarily it’s kept us out of having any kind of real impact on the culture at large. But, I think in terms of individual faith it has also affected us. Faith itself has to come in the midst of some kind of tension, pressure, fear, whatever. If everything is fine and we’re comfortable and we’re only around people of faith, in an environment of faith, then who needs faith?”

Pointing to a passage in the book of John, chapter 17, Fischer illustrated his observation with a prayer by Jesus on our behalf. “One of the most poignant expressions of this is Christ’s prayer where he says, ‘Father I ask not that you remove them from the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.’ We don’t stop to think a little more deeply about that and realize that Jesus is praying for us to be protected. If so, what does that assume about our situation? It assumes a dangerous situation. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus is not intending to put us in a safe place. He would much rather we be in a dangerous place, but He’s praying for us and looking for that opportunity to have our faith grow by being challenged in such a way.”

The irony is that, sometimes it’s our own misguided brand of evangelism that prevents any true evangelism from taking place. “We have had evangelism preached at us so much that we feel like we are wasting our time if we are in the presence of a non-Christian and we’re not telling them about Jesus. What that is saying is that we’ve made evangelism more important than Love,” said Fischer. “We sometimes mix the Great Commission with The Great Commandment and that is to ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus even said that if you do this, you will fulfill all the Law. I think we can assume that the ‘Go and make disciples’ at the end of Matthew was not presuming upon that earlier statement. In other words, He still said that (if) you love your God and love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll be fulfilling everything else.”

Fischer conveys a sense of exasperation as he considers the effects this has had on our culture. He argues that evangelism isn’t just about conveying information, it’s about having a life that really is different. “I think that’s where our life comes in, and the importance of our relationships, and being vulnerable and loving people follows. Then when we do get around to telling people about Jesus it’s because they want to hear about it. They’ve asked us about Him. It’s not that we’re interrupting their lives and saying, ‘Here, you need this piece of information’.”

Fischer’s ministry has been to talk about the practical nature of faith and how God meets us on a moment-by-moment basis, about how faith meets real life. “That’s always been the thing that I’ve wanted to talk about. I think we have such a tendency to miss the wholeness of what life is meant to be, and what faith is meant to be,” he said. “We keep it in a ‘faith compartment’ and it only works on Sunday’s and when we’re doing something obviously ‘Christian’. For sometime I’ve talked about this modern Gnosticism that we experience in the Western World. We keep our religion separate from our life. Once those two come together, that’s actually where the joy and excitement comes because suddenly there’s meaning to life. I get to find God in the midst of this stuff and now it’s not insignificant anymore. The most mundane part of my life has meaning. That’s a big thing for people to discover and I think we often miss it and yet it’s so simple.”

Delving deeper into the scriptures, Fischer has found himself at a surprising loss for words when he realizes how far we’ve strayed from the original wisdom of Jesus. “I’ve just been doing a study recently on the Sermon On The Mount and it’s just unbelievable how far from that we are. We are so far. We aren’t even at step one,” said Fischer. “What Jesus is talking about in this passage runs right in the face of everything that you see in the Christian subculture. The success mode, the worship of personalities and money and all that. Jesus is talking about a whole different reality there. We even have Christians who are out there talking about our political rights and religious rights to be this or to be that. Jesus message was all about giving up your rights, if anything. I just don’t get it. How can this even bear the name of Jesus?”

Looking at the words of Jesus, it is sometimes difficult for Fischer to understand why we’ve allowed the culture to ravage our Lord’s message of servanthood and compassion for others. “I think it’s largely because we have made so many alliances with our culture and the economic nature of our culture and our affluence and the whole 4.2 billion dollar ‘Christian Industry’ providing Christian goods and services to people,” Fischer said. “Where does that even fit in the picture of what Jesus was talking about? All we’re doing is we’re continuing to keep people focused on being consumers, we’re just providing Christian stuff to consume and taking their money for that.”

While Fischer is quick to admit that there’s nothing inherently wrong with capitalism or making a living, the truth he wants us to get is that capitalism doesn’t have the answers we all need. In America especially, the line between what it means to be a good Christian and what it means to be a good American are so blurred for us, we don’t even know the difference anymore. To us it’s become the same thing. “The point is that if we were Christians in a capitalistic system, we could deal with this, we could work it out. I think we could still be neighbors and work in our workplaces and do what Jesus said to do. But, instead what we’ve tried to create is a Christian Capitalism,” Fischer said.

“I’ll leave you with the best quote of all,” he said. “A guy posted this at my website the other day. He said, ‘I started to build a Christian coffeehouse until I realized that the world already had one and maybe I should just go there.’ Isn’t that great? Where was this guy twenty-five years ago when we tried to make a Christian version of everything? Yeah, the world already had that so just go there. It’s very simple actually.”
You can visit John Fischer at His new book, Love Him In The Morning is based on his enduring song of the same name. Fischer’s book takes little time to digest, but a lot longer to chew on, urging the reader to turn the pages slowly and consider the thoughts within them more seriously.

[Keith Giles only wishes he were half as cool as John Fischer and when he grows up (whenever that might be) he hopes to write just like him. Until that day, you’re welcome to visit and waste a few hours.]



For Matt Redman, worship is about much more than simply writing or singing a song to God. It’s as much about breathing as it is about chords and lyrics. “As we know, worship is about the whole of life,” he shared. “I’m trying to ‘worship God in the details’ (and) making a conscious effort to point to Him and honor Him in some of the smallest details of everyday life. In fact, taking it a step further, I have a challenge for all those reading this who are up for honoring God in the craziest details of life. When you go into the public restrooms, wipe the toilet seat clean, even though it wasn’t you that made the mess. I dare you. It’s a great thing to do because you’ll have served someone, and greater still because only you and God will ever know that you did it. Personally, I think that’s cool, and it’s got to make God smile.”

Making God smile and taking worship beyond the walls of the church, has been one of the main themes in Redman’s life. “A little more seriously,” he said, “another side to this whole thing is worship and justice. For example, what’s the good in me getting up to lead worship at church, wearing a pair of sneakers that I know for a fact were manufactured through the exploitation of workers on a completely unfair wage somewhere in world? Again, we don’t want to get too legalistic, but the point is when we know for sure that a certain company is operating unjustly, we need to think twice about whether we support that company by buying their goods. I have some non-Christian neighbors that put me to shame in this whole area. Whether it’s caring for the environment through re-cycling, or boycotting various companies for ethical reasons, they’re really living it. How much more as someone wanting to honor God in all the details of life, should I be thinking about and doing these things?”

Since he was 15 years old, Redman has been responding to a call on his life to worship God in extraordinary ways. Early on, he started leading worship for his youth group in England and that ended up becoming an international ministry. “My youth leader at the time, Mike Pilavachi, asked me if I’d lead a few songs of worship. I don’t think he realized quite how bad I was,” explained Redman, “but that’s how I got started.” Redman and Pilavachi soon found themselves starting a youth camp that inspired a movement now known as Soul Survivor. “(It’s about) thousands of young people living all out for God, and in the process positively affecting the culture they live in,” said Redman. “In England, there are headlines every other day about how the Church is dying and will soon be dead. That’s why I love Soul Survivor. It shows signs of a vibrant, passionate Church.”

Redman, along with fellow Soul Survivor worship leader Tim Hughes, will soon be taking part in an unprecedented venture into the culture as Soul Survivor hosts something called ‘Soul In The City’. For ten days in August, approximately 15,000 young people will hit the streets of London and demonstrate the compassion of Christ to people who would normally never hear, or perhaps even listen to, the Gospel. “It feels like a really holistic expression of worship,” said Redman. “Yes, these young people will head into London singing their songs, but they’ll complete the integrity of their sung worship by ministering to the poor, reaching out to the broken, and being good news wherever they tread. That is a beautiful thing.”

More recently, Redman has also become actively involved with Louie Giglio’s “Passion” ministry to college students. Many in the States know Redman from his involvement with these Passion Conferences. ” I love how authentic ‘Passion’ is,” he said. “There’s a real lack of hype, and they’ve managed to keep free of the personality culture which invades so much of today’s society, even in the church. The ‘One Day’ gatherings have been very particularly powerful. No one got their names on the posters, and no one took a bow. They were faceless gatherings where every person had simply come to seek the face of God,” shared Redman. “There’s a greater expectancy, because no one’s waiting for their favorite worship leader to take the stage. Everyone single soul is just waiting to meet with God.”

It’s this sense of invisibility that Redman seems to crave in the act of leading worship on stage. In spite of the ‘star-quality’ that most attach to Christian artists, Redman longs to draw people to Jesus and then quietly fade into the background. “Sometimes when you get tens of thousands of people gathered together there can be a real tendency for hype to creep in. But at those ‘One Day’ gatherings, even in the most heightened celebration times, there was a real feeling of depth running underneath. In fact, every Passion event I’ve been to has had a real depth to it,” said Redman.

As Redman seeks to become a better worship leader, he pours himself into the pursuit of being a better worshipper. When he sits down to write a new song, Redman finds inspiration in Scripture. “When it comes to writing worship songs, you have to see something fresh before you can sing something new. Every song has to have a seed, a little explosive heart moment, which becomes the idea for a song. For me, most often these days that seed is a verse or two of scripture. So many of my songs have started off like that,” he explained.

As modern worship has slowly evolved into an industry, Redman has sometimes found it difficult to keep his focus on the right things. “It’s so important that we allow the Spirit of God and the Scriptures to continually remind us and educate as to what true worship is all about,” he warned. “Every time I write a song, or record an album, I need to continually check my heart’s motives. For example, writing worship songs used to be my ‘hobby’ and now I earn a living from it. So that makes for some pretty severe heart-checking.”

Speaking of this, Redman has been in the studio recently recording his new album, Facedown and the process has been a difficult one. “I love the idea of recording,” he said, “but actually the practicalities involved work-wise always seem like a bit of a sacrifice. Not just for me, but for my amazing and persevering wife Beth, my kids Maisey and Noah. When it comes to recording an album, they pay twice the price and have half the fun. So, if I’m being honest, making an album can be a pretty costly thing to do sometimes.”

Other than the time away from family involved in recording this new CD, Redman also faces other challenges. “Sometimes it can be hard to re-create in a studio the dynamic that occurs when we’re gathered together as the worshipping church.” To counteract this superficiality, Redman made the decision to record his new set songs completely live. “And I’m so delighted that we did,” said Redman. “We had around 350 songwriters packed into a room at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta for a songwriting gathering run by Sixstep Records and (Redman’s website). All day long we studied songwriting, with the help of Charlie Hall, Chris Tomlin and others, and then each night I led worship and Louie Giglio spoke, and we recorded these times for the album,” he pointed out. The entire “FACEDOWN” album was actually recorded over a period of three separate evenings of worship. “On one night in particular,” related Redman, “There was an amazingly strong sense of the glory of God. That’s really what we were trying to communicate on this record. That ‘something’ happens when the church encounters God in worship, (it) doesn’t happen anywhere else on the face of the earth.”

Redman’s decision to call both his new album, and his new book release Facedown was inspired after a study of the scriptural posture of worship. “It struck me recently how much worship found in scripture is ‘Facedown’ and (this) is the ultimate physical posture to express reverence to God,” he said. “The point being that when we really face up to the glory of God, we find ourselves facedown in worship and submission.

“Worship is all-consuming, because God is all-deserving. So, we live our lives eager to breathe every breath, think every thought, and do every deed for the glory of God. Worship music is only one tiny piece of the pie, but it’s a really important piece. Singing is a sign of spiritual life, it’s a mark of healthy souls whose hearts are overflowing because they’ve seen the beauty of God.”

(this article also appeared in WORSHIP MUSICIAN Magazine)



Throwstar, an arts movement in Birmingham England, is intent upon worshipping God through creative means, and serving and loving people who are involved in all forms of art. Relevant Magazine’s Keith Giles spoke with Danielle and Joel Wilson of this UK Arts Movement about the power of art, asking the right questions and why being “new” isn’t necessarily a good thing.

According to their own online manifesto, Throwstar (, is all about expressing creativity and faith, not only by demonstrating worship to God through art, but also by telling others their own stories about Jesus. “We function mainly as a Christian arts charity,” says Danielle, “putting on events and activities and spending time serving, challenging, encouraging and collaborating with local artists and musicians.”

For example, this year the people at Throwstar put together a book club with half a dozen local secular creatives. “The book is John’s gospel,” says Joel. “ As well as getting these folk to chew over Jesus’ words and actions, we’re also looking at the author’s unique writing style, his literary devices and the narrative.”

Another example of how the folks at Throwstar are reaching their culture for Christ is found in their Thanksgiving Dinner held in November, which you might agree is an unusual occurrence in the UK. “During the meal everyone is asked to say one thing that they are thankful for,” says Joel, “our secular friends are struck by the profundity of this ritual and genuinely delve deep for their answers.”

As well as helping their secular collaborators grapple with the possibility that all art and music have their roots in honouring the great Artist, Throwstar also helps Christian creatives find their voice. “We aim to make them aware that there is another way to live out our faith and it involves chauffeuring people to gigs, discussing installation art, inviting touring musicians over for a meal, sharing our burdens and doubts with both our Christian and secular friends informally and through our art, and telling our personal stories of Jesus. These things don’t rely on church-endorsed out-reach initiatives. In fact, these very activities are church,” says Joel.

Perhaps one of the most successful and ambitious efforts produced by Throwstar, was something called The Wrong Exhibition. Danielle explains. “We wanted to run a project that would adequately value and honour the artwork of young artists, challenge people to consider their position on absolute morality, and demonstrate to the art and educational communities here that Christians care about the whole person and can put on events of high professional quality and excellence,” she says. “We challenged young artists from 11 Birmingham secondary schools to answer the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ through a piece of fine art. Over the course of the academic year, we taught lessons on art and morality in the schools and facilitated art and graffiti workshops. Then we coordinated several preliminary exhibitions where hundreds of pieces by the young artists were put on display. The strongest of these pieces were chosen to be hung in the prestigious Custard Factory Gallery this past May alongside contributions from a dozen professional artists, including New York artist Makoto Fujimura and Northern Irish artist Ross Wilson.”

The fruit of their efforts can be seen at the online version

“It was amazing to involve artists of such prestige, like Makoto Fujimura,” says Danielle. Fujimura, a well-respected artist started the International Artists Movement, which is affiliated with Throwstar’s parent organisation. In addition to contributing an installation piece called ‘The Fire and The Rose are One’ (connecting the two Ground Zeros – Hiroshima and NYC), Makoto was also able to attend in person for the first few days of the exhibition in order to judge the young artist’s contributions and to speak at the opening night ceremony. Fujimura also took time to teach a few seminars discussing the history of Japanese art and the impact of 9-11 on his view of ‘wrongness’. Fujimura even worked with Birmingham experimental music group, Iacon, on a live art/music collaboration piece about bad news. “It was fascinating to watch him create a piece of art live in response to music,” says Danielle. “I think this was a new experience for him which he enjoyed as much as we did.”

The most powerful thing about The Wrong Exhibit was that not one of those artists who contributed, felt a need to challenge the concept of evil in the world. “At the gallery itself, there was an opportunity to feed back and none of the attendees challenged this concept either. This surprised us. It seems that, at least in the UK, when push comes to shove, for most people, there is no question that humans have a concrete morality,” says Danielle.

While all of this seems exciting and new for most Christians, Danielle and Joel have a different perspective. “Sometimes I think that because we are orthodox in our theology and lifestyle that it can seem like we are doing something different. We’re not. We simply want to strip things down to basics and, in our own lives, put an emphasis on what Christian community, or church, is always supposed to have been about: loving and helping people, prayer, eating together, challenging each other with Scripture, and telling people our own stories of Jesus. I don’t think we want to pursue the ‘new’ and radical as much as we want to embrace the old and radical forms of Christianity,” Danielle says. “Today, I think we discount the wisdom of those who have gone before us simply because it is ‘old’. But age isn’t necessarily an indicator of relevancy. Personally, I think that St. John of the Cross has more wisdom to impart about suffering in ‘Dark Night of The Soul’ than some contemporary writers who seem to water down wisdom with 21st century values.”

Joel agrees, adding that, “Many Christians either consciously or subconsciously compartmentalise their lives. Church, social life, intellectual discussion, faith, or hidden doubts, worship, art appreciation, witness and cultural interaction, they are all separate entities. Our sacred life and secular life rarely touch. For many years now, we have seen the need for Jesus’ followers to work out how to live more holistic lives. How to dismantle the awkward barrier between the ecclesiastical and the every day.”

Even though events like The Wrong Exhibition and the various musical jams that Throwstar put together are able to communicate the Gospel in creative ways, Joel isn’t trying to use art as bait. “We are artists. Period. It’s how we are wired. I, for one, am constantly scrawling down lyrics. I am compelled to do this. If we see the arts as merely some sort of evangelistic fishing tool, then we overlook the fact that when we make intense art for the pain and joy and wonder of it that this really speaks volumes about our God’s character. It honours His vast creativity and demonstrates His day to day interaction with us as we respond to his inspiration,” he says.

Danielle agrees, but is quick to clarify that they take their faith very seriously. “Don’t take this to mean that we are wishy-washy about communicating the importance and pre-eminence of Jesus in our lives. Our love for Jesus should overflow into every area of life and drive our desire to serve and love the people around us. We don’t want to shy away from talking about Jesus and challenging others with His words.”
[Keith Giles is one of the world's greatest enigmas. Ruggedly handsome yet surprisingly gentle and compassionate with small animals, Keith actually has a very weak grasp of reality and often talks to himself in the bathroom mirror. He's currently writing his own story about his time in the wilderness, serving as a Pastor at The River Church in Tustin, California, and putting together a few subversive projects of his own in his spare time. You can see one of them here at]



At an Evangelical Seminary in 1970, a man named Jim Wallis met in his dorm room with eight other new students and made a startling discovery. Although they all had been raised in mainline Evangelical Christian churches, not one of them could remember a single sermon about taking care of the poor.

“One of my colleagues decided to try an experiment,” Wallis remembered. “He took an old Bible and a pair of scissors and began to cut, literally, every single reference to the poor. So, when my friend was done, this old Bible was in pieces. It was literally falling apart in my hand.” Soon after this, Wallis started publishing a magazine called Sojourners to specifically address the biblical mandate of Christians to serve the poor and help the oppressed.

“If the Bible is the word of God, if Jesus is Lord, what does that mean? We need to remember the biblical tradition that we give lip service to, but don’t often pay attention to. That first year of seminary where we made a study of everything the Bible said about poor people, wealth, poverty, injustice and oppression, we found several thousand verses on the subject. It is the second most common theme in the Old Testament. The first being Idolatry, and the two are often connected. In the New Testament, one of every sixteen verses is about this subject. In the first three synoptic Gospels, it’s one of every ten verses. In Luke’s Gospel, one of every seven verses is about the poor,” Wallis stated.

Wallis continued, “I still have that Bible, by the way. I take it out to preach with me and I hold it high above my head and I say, ‘Brothers and Sisters, this is our American Bible. It’s full of holes from all we’ve taken out, ignored, and paid no attention to. We each, might as well, get out a pair of scissors and begin to cut.’” Thirty years later, Wallis is still raising the question of poverty in the Church.

“Whatever else the Gospel may be, it may clean up your marriage, it may solve your drinking problem, it may do all kinds of other wonderful things, but if it isn’t good news to poor people, it’s not yet the Gospel.”

Jim Wallis was raised in an evangelical Brethren church in Detroit. In the early ’60s, at the age of 14, Wallis began to notice that the way he lived in “white” Detroit was drastically different from the way people lived in “black” Detroit. “I asked questions of my little church like, ‘How come there are people missing meals, going hungry, without jobs right here in Detroit?’” The answers Wallis got from asking those questions sent him spiraling away from the church and into a pursuit of social justice outside of the Church. “The answers I got were ‘When you get older you’ll understand’ or ‘We don’t know why it’s that way, it’s just always been that way’ or, as one honest elder informed me, ‘If you keep asking these questions, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble’, and that proved to be true.”

Wallis soon found himself repulsed by the attitudes of those in his church and felt drawn to the people around him in need. He spent time walking around downtown Detroit and exploring a world he never knew existed. A world of poverty and struggle was just beyond his world of comfort and plenty. “I took jobs in the city at old factory assembly lines or janitorial jobs and all my money was being saved for college and all the young guys I’m meeting, their money is going to help their family survive. I met a lot of young guys my age who were just like me except they were black in Detroit, and I was white,” he said.

After making connections with people around him who needed the help of the church, Wallis returned to his church hoping they would share his excitement for this new opportunity to be salt and light. Instead he found a great opposition that was worse than he ever expected. “I was told one day by another elder that ‘Christianity has nothing to do with racism, that’s political and faith is personal.’ At that point, these questions were tugging so hard at my heart as a teenage kid, I decided that if Christianity had nothing to do with these questions then I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. My church agreed with that sentiment; they wanted nothing more to do with me either.”

Wallis found a new home in the civil rights and anti-war movement of his generation. For years he did a lot of work organizing protests at Michigan State that numbered over 2000 people. “I was into some heavy movement organizing and politics, but that still didn’t answer all my questions about why these things were still happening, and what the foundations were for all these things,” shared Wallis.

“I was reading, in those days, Karl Marx and Ho Chi Minh and Che Guervara and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t find the answers there either. Then, I went back to the New Testament. During all that time, I don’t think I ever got quite shed of Jesus, even though I’d left the church. Looking back now, I’d say that Jesus stayed with me through that whole time. I was pretty angry at the Church, I felt betrayed by the Church, and a lot of young people feel that way. Not only was the Church not doing anything about these issues (of poverty) it was on the wrong side of these issues,” he said.

“I had some deep questions. I would’ve liked some Christians to try to figure out how to help. We were kids. We were young students who made a lot of mistakes, (and we) weren’t getting any help from conservative churches, or moderates or liberals.”

Wallis finally decided to take one last look at Jesus for himself and went back to the New Testament. After years of being chased by police and tear-gassed at rallies, he read the Sermon On The Mount and discovered a Jesus he had never met before. “I’d never heard a sermon on this in my entire life growing up. In my church, this was for the Kingdom dispensation, it wasn’t for now. It was for when we all get to heaven. But, I mean, ‘Blessed are the peace makers,’ what’s the point of that if you’re already in heaven? (This was) the cathetical Scripture for all new converts in the early church. It was the Magna Carta, the Constitution of the new order in Jesus Christ. This was it. This was the way of life.”

Reading the words of Jesus as an adult, Wallis found his view of Christ, and Christianity itself, transformed. “I was mesmerized by it. This was the most radical thing I’d ever read. More radical than Ho Chi Minh and Marx put together because this was going to change everything. It was meant to change the personal, the social, the economic and the political. It turned the world upside down. It turned the values on their heads. This was a whole new order of things. This was a revolution if there ever was one.”

Wallis read until he got to Matthew chapter 25 and began to understand that he and Jesus had a lot in common when it came to taking care of the poor. “My conversion text was this chapter of Matthew. Here is the Son of God standing in Judgement over all of those who think they belong to Him. Both sides name His name. He’s saying, I’ll know how much you love me by how you treat the poor. I had never seen anything as radical as that. This is the God of the universe saying that in some very special, particular way, you’ll find me dwelling ‘in the distressing disguise of the poor’ as Mother Theresa puts it. I was just blown away by that,” admitted Wallis.

“The people who had raised me were just like those who said, ‘We didn’t know it was you Lord’. I realized that they had been keeping Jesus at arms length all those years, while sincerely thinking that they were following Him. So, I hearkened back to that little talk with the elder who told me that ‘Christianity has nothing to do with racism’ and I realized at that moment, God is always personal but never private. That has been a personal theme for me ever since. If we don’t have a personal God, we don’t have any faith. I don’t want just a social teaching of Jesus, I don’t want a Liberal agenda for politics, I don’t want just a philosophy or wisdom to follow. If I don’t have a personal God, I don’t have any faith that means anything. God is always personal, but never, ever, private. When we privatize God and the Gospel and our faith, the truth is we’re committing a heresy.”

Wallis is adamant that the Church needs to do more than give money to their favorite charity when it comes to following the teachings of Jesus in regards to the poor. “It’s not enough to write a check and throw money at your favorite faith-based organization, it’s also not enough to roll up your sleeves and get on the ground and work directly with and alongside the poor. You can’t keep pulling bodies out of the river, and not send someone upstream to find out who’s throwing them in. For the last thirty years I’ve been banging the drum and brother Campolo’s been banging the drum, and Ron Sider, and John Perkins, and a whole generation that’s not so young anymore has been banging the drum, and we began talking about an Evangelical social conscience, and now I see a whole new generation of Evangelicals who are ready to apply that for a 21st century world,” he said.

Having spent the better half of his life on a crusade to awaken the Church to the needs of the poor around us, Wallis sees light at the end of the tunnel. “The audiences are larger and younger and more energetic than ever before. I think we have made enormous gains in the churches. I know younger people today can feel some of the frustration that I felt thirty years ago. But, back then we had no elders, no mentors, we had almost no one to teach us. We had to create our own communities, our own magazine, our own everything. I made a commitment a long time ago, that when the hearts of Christian young people turn in the direction of Justice, that they would have support. I want them to have mentors and somewhere to go for answers. I want them to have a movement to join and not one to begin,” vowed Wallis.

To find out more about Jim Wallis and Sojourners Magazine, go to

[Keith Giles is writing his own book of Subversive thoughts and musings, but you’ll just have to wait. Until then, check out one of his subversive projects right here:]


By Keith Giles

Dallas Willard has spent the best part of his life getting down to business. That has meant stepping down from a pastorate involved in trying to attract people to his church, and immersing himself into the culture around him armed only with a Bible and a desire to make his faith more real.

Having spent over 30 years as a professor of Philosophy at USC, Willard has become known as something of a controversial figure in Christian circles. Not for any overtly radical teachings or practices, but simply because of his call for the Church to return to more Christ-centered living and practice.

In short, Willard’s ideas confront the modern-day theological practice of atonement-centered Christianity rather than disciple-making Christianity. In this first installment of a three-part interview, RELEVANT’s Keith Giles speaks candidly with Willard about these two opposing theologies and the state of modern Christianity today.

[RELEVANT MAGAZINE]: “What are the most critical challenges facing the modern church?”

[DALLAS WILLARD]: “In a way it’s very simple. The greatest challenge the church faces today is to be authentic disciples of Jesus. And by that I mean they’re learning from Him how to live their life, as He would live their life if He were they. So that means, whatever I am, whoever I am, I take Him into my whole life as my Lord. Lord means that He’s my teacher. Another way of putting this is to say that our greatest challenge is to recover Jesus the Teacher. You know, if you don’t have a teacher you can’t have a disciple. Disciples are just students. Unfortunately, it’s a long and convoluted story, but roughly over the last two hundred years, Jesus as Teacher has simply disappeared. Whether Liberal or Conservative, it doesn’t make any difference. This is the unfortunate fact, and it lies at the foundation of the efforts of many people today to find a different form for the Church.

“What has happened is Church ritual has replaced Discipleship. That’s the really big issue. How to recover Jesus the Teacher? That would mean, of course, that we’ve decided now that we’re actually going to do what He said. So then we would need to know how. The Church then would have, as their big project, to make this the center of what they do as churches. I’ve remarked on this in the last chapter of my book, The Renovation Of The Heart, about the local congregation and the spiritual formation of the Believer.”

[RM]: “So, are you saying we have a crisis of follower-ship rather than a crisis of leadership?”

[DW]: “Now you’re going to get me in trouble. (Laughs) The fact of the matter is this leadership thing has just gone crazy. It is actually not from the Church, it’s a carry-over from the Culture and it’s one of the many ways that the modern church has bit and swallowed the contemporary culture whole. It is just shameless the way we go on about leaders and various kinds of figures. You’re absolutely right, it’s a crisis of ‘follower-ship’ and of leaders themselves living as disciples and inducting others into discipleship, not to them, but to Christ. It’s just heartbreaking to see this thing on leadership and how this has progressed.

“You remember Jesus saying, ‘Call no man Master, you have one Master.’ Don’t call anyone Teacher, don’t call anyone Leader or Doctor or whatever. We’ve got a leader, let’s follow Him!”

[RM]: “The idea of Discipleship; acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Teacher of our lives; is daunting for most. Jesus seemed to suggest that one cannot be His disciple without laying it all down for Him and taking up one’s own cross. That’s not a very popular idea in today’s culture. Have we misunderstood what it means to follow Christ?”

[DW]: “Well, I don’t think we’ve misunderstood Him. The real problem is not misunderstanding Him, but it’s setting it aside as a requirement for salvation. Now, a few decades ago you had leading speakers for Christianity across the nation who would say things like, ‘We’re not supposed to follow Christ, we’re supposed to trust Him’, and that meant not to trust His leadership and teaching, but to trust His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

“What has basically happened is that the meaning of ‘Trust Christ’ has changed. It has come to no longer mean trusting Him; it meant trust something He did. In that way, one theory of the atonement was substituted for the Christian Gospel. The results of this are that (now) discipleship is not essential, and people are not invited to become disciples. So then now you have crazy hermeneutics like, ‘The Gospels are for the Millennium, but Paul’s gospel is for us today’. This is just taking possession of the whole country on the conservative side. On the liberal side something different is happening. It’s amazing to see how every system within Christianity took a route that said, ‘You know, you don’t have to do that. That is not for you to follow. You just have faith in the death of Christ on the cross or have faith in Jesus as a great social prophet or whatever.’ But it’s amazing to see how universal it was. You have to suspect that there was some spiritual force in back of this. The 1800’s and the 1900’s were devoted to putting Christ away and saying, ‘All those things He said that sound so tough isn’t for you. That looks like ‘Works Righteousness’, that’s not Grace.’”

[RM]: “Are we in a state of “Grace Overload” today? It seems it’s all about easy forgiveness and a mental agreement of the death of Christ on the cross for our sins is where it all stops.”

[DW]: “That’s it right there. I’ve heard leading speakers in the last few years say on their television broadcasts that ‘Grace is only for guilt’. Now, there’s nothing more clear in the New Testament than that this is not true. But, this whole picture was developing in a way so that Grace was firewalled off from ordinary life and couldn’t get through. This misunderstanding of Grace as a mere transfer of credit just totally destroys the teaching of Grace in the New Testament. Grace, as it’s taught in the New Testament, is God acting in your life and that’s why, for example the great passages like 2 Peter 3:18, ‘Grow in Grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ … you can’t do that if Grace is just for guilt. The only way you can do that is to get more guilty.’”

[RM]: “Let’s sin so that Grace may abound?”

[DW]: “If you just do inductive Bible study on Grace you’ll see that Grace is for life. We would’ve required Grace even if we had never sinned. So Grace is God acting in our lives.”

[RM]: “I’ve noticed that in Ephesians, the famous verse that says we’re ‘Saved by Grace, and not of yourself lest any man should boast’ is immediately followed by the statement that we’re saved by Grace in order “to do good works”. Most of us stop at the first part and never move on to the second part. We still have this idea that God doesn’t actually expect us to do any works.”

[DW]: “Actually He might get kind of worried if you did. That’s Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8 and what people don’t understand is that’s not even the end of the sentence. But, it’s the end of their doctrine. So now, this heavy hand of this misunderstanding of Grace simply shuts off God’s activity through His kingdom presence in the lives of individuals. That’s one reason why the statistics on Christians generally don’t differ from the statistics on non-Christians. We’re not living a different life.”

[RM]: “I had a conversation with Jim Wallis in a previous column and his point on this subject was that Christians in the early church were living lives counter to the culture of the day. This is why Peter exhorts the Christians of his day to “Be ready to give an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within”, because he was aware that the lives of those believers would prompt such a curiosity. The problem with modern church is that we’re busy throwing answers at people who have never thought to ask the question. Our lives look just like theirs so there’s never a reason for them to wonder about why we’re different.”

[DW]: “Jim is right on in that statement and I would just add that the context of this text is one where Christians were suffering joyfully. That’s the context where people will say, ‘Where do you get this joy? How do you do this?’ and then you can explain it to them. But now we have sort of the ‘Bully-Boy Apologists’ who use that verse and it might be paraphrased, ‘Be ready to give an answer to questions no one’s asking’.”


[Dallas Willard is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Since 1965 he has taught at USC where he was Director of Philosophy from 1982-1985. He’s largely known for writing books about spiritual formation, Kingdom Theology and living a more Christ-centered life. He also lectures and publishes in religion. Renovation of the Heart was published in May 2002, and received Christianity Today's 2003 Book Award in the category of Spirituality. The Divine Conspiracy was released in 1998 and selected Christianity Today's Book Of The Year.]

[Keith Giles is a pastor at a new church-plant in Tustin, California called “The River”. He’s currently writing his own book of Subversive thoughts and musings, but you’ll just have to wait. Until then, check out one of his subversive projects at:]


By Keith Giles
(These 3 articles all appeared in Relevant Magazine's online column "Subversive" by Keith Giles)

In our second installment of a three-part conversation with author and professor Dallas Willard, we discuss the taking up our cross, the irrelevant church and why doctrine and tradition have crippled believers on both sides of the issue.

[RELEVANT MAGAZINE]: “Let me ask you this. I have been reading through the works of A.W. Tozer and Charles Finney and I am amazed at the drastic contrast between these men and their teaching as compared to the ‘seeker-friendly’ sort we hear today. It’s a shock to my system. Christianity seems to have lost that power to communicate that Jesus was right on in what he was teaching. The proof should be in the lives that we live day-to-day. Lives that are different from those in the world around us. Since we’re not living a life that’s different, the Gospel has lost its power.”

[DALLAS WILLARD]: “Well, it’s lost its power because it’s no longer intelligent. I recognize that the Spirit has to work. And none was better than Finney in understanding the relationship between the Spirit and the Word. But when you read his directions you sense the incredible intelligence in this fellow. By the way, that’s true of Tozer and Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, and all of these people. As intelligent men they were capable of addressing issues clearly and that is what you do not hear today. The level of intelligence in our sermons, the abysmal story telling that you hear constantly is just hopeless. The power that comes through the Bible itself, which is the most intelligent book ever written, is lost. If we didn’t just go, like you’re mentioning in the passage in Peter, to go and get a verse to endorse what we think we want to do, and if we read it with our intelligence and dependence on the Spirit of God then we would come out with what you’re hearing when you read Tozer. The same thing is true with C.S. Lewis. What comes through with all of these people is that they speak with such force because what they know what they’re talking about. That is not something that is opposed to the power of the Spirit, that’s what the Spirit would lead you into if you would ever open yourself to God and become His disciple.”

[RM]: “It’s not a very popular thing to say, ‘We’re passing out crosses today, come and die to yourself!’”

[DW]: “It’s unheard of today. The meaning of the Cross, the meaning of death to self, all the things Tozer and, in his own way, Finney, and certainly Wesley, all understood this. That isn’t heard today.”

[RM]: “It’s very sad and a lot of young Christians today are saying that church is irrelevant and they don’t get anything out of it. Some are leaving the church, but others are asking the question, ‘What does it really mean to be a follower of Christ?’”

[DW]: “That’s right, and their points about irrelevance are, generally speaking, absolutely right on. My way of putting this, as I mentioned earlier in my last chapter of Renovation Of The Heart, is simply that the churches don’t do what Jesus asked them to do. They’ve got all these other things and their main problem is distraction. They’re distracted from the main thing and they’re thinking about their tradition or about being really Baptist or Catholic or what have you, and the truth of the matter is, ‘Who cares’? That’s what the young people are sensing. In many respects they’re turning to the more ‘High Church’ models where you have a non-leader emphasis, where you have a person who is basically does rituals and there are wonderful, rich words there and so on. Many others see through that too because that is just as empty as the other, except for those wonderful words, which if you listen to, they will do a lot for you. But of course you don’t have to go long before you discover most people are not listening to those words, they’re just going through the ritual.“I think the hope, the great hope, on these young people, and it’s extremely important that they not be lead into over-reaction and simply become negative and loose the whole thing under phrases like ‘post-modernism’ because there is no Gospel of post-modernism. Post-modernism is basically of liberation which might set you free to go into something right, but it is not itself the Gospel, or a form of life even. It’s amusing for me to see, as I travel around, for people to try to do something that would be called post-modernism, but there isn’t anything like that. You just do kind of funny things and maybe it helps a little bit, but the important thing is that instead of going in that direction that they do what you have done and turn to Finney and Tozer and these other folks.”

[RM]: “My feeling is that what is lacking for these young people who sense this unrest and unease about their faith is that there is no one for them to look to who is actually living this sort of discipleship out, or even teaching about it. The most fascinating thing to me is that, for a modern Christian, the most radical thing one could possibly do would be to simply read the words of Jesus and then go and do exactly what he says to do.”

[DW]: “That’s exactly right.”

[RM]: “And if people did do that they’d be looked at by people in the Church as if they had two heads.”

[DW]: “And God would come down on them, they would be blessed and prosper, just like people who have done this at every period in the history of the church have been blessed and prospered and the Kingdom of God has come. But that’s the one thing that the whole culture and system around them is designed to keep them from doing. Most of this is theology. It’s the bad theology that is the main block because the people who will resist them and not think that they have anything to say are the ones who have a theology that reinforces their rejection. That’s the same thing that was true in the day of Jesus. He said, ‘If you can believe Moses you would believe me’ and it’s a recurring thing that happens when people get absorbed in their self-righteous traditions and their own rituals and they close their mind and they say, ‘Oh, we believe the Bible’. They don’t believe the Bible. If they did they would do what you’re talking about.”
[Dallas Willard is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Since 1965 he has taught at USC where he was Director of Philosophy from 1982-1985. He’s largely known for writing books about spiritual formation, Kingdom Theology and living a more Christ-centered life. He also lectures and publishes in religion. Renovation of the Heart was published in May 2002, and received Christianity Today's 2003 Book Award in the category of Spirituality. The Divine Conspiracy was released in 1998 and selected Christianity Today's Book Of The Year.]

[Keith Giles is a pastor at a new church-plant in Tustin, California called “The River”. He’s currently writing his own book of Subversive thoughts and musings, but you’ll just have to wait. Until then, check out one of his subversive projects at:]



In this final installment of our three-part conversation with author and theologian Dallas Willard, we explore the finer points of the Gospel of Jesus, what Grace is really all about, and the rise of “Vampire Christianity” in modern times.

[RELEVANT MAGAZINE]: “I think we’re in a place now where a lot of the modern Church is in rebellion against the old traditions and doctrine and theology, in favor of experience and signs and wonders. A lot of young Christians don’t want to talk about things like doctrine and theology because that sounds stale and boring to them.”

[DALLAS WILLARD]: “This is very unfortunate because, in fact, they are operating on a theology. When you take that move you take your theology and you’re unwilling to think about it. A theology is what enforces the attitude that they have towards theology. They mis-identified what theology is and don’t recognize its role in their own lives. It’s really tragic. It’s part of the problem of looking at the traditional church and seeing that it identifies theology with something you do in seminary, and then you come out of seminary and you lead irrelevant churches. So, if that’s theology, then we don’t need it. Problem is, that is not theology. Theology is just what you really think about God, and if you’re going to do that, you’d better use your mind and not just let it be a receptacle— a catch-all for whatever beliefs happen to be passing by. If you don’t do that then you become the victim of your feelings and you identify the old version of Christianity and you walk off with a big ‘Yuck’. But you walk off with a set of beliefs about God that are actually going to guide your life and sometimes that’s disastrous! Even if you do reject something that is wrong, that doesn’t mean that you accepted what was right.”

[RM]: “Exactly. You haven’t gone to the Word yourself to base your belief upon.”

[DW]: “What you need to do is to become a Word worm. You study and you think and you find people who are profitable to read, but the most important thing is to come to terms with the words of the Scripture and to learn to live by them, and you can’t do that without theology.”

[RM]: “There appears to be two camps of thought. One is the idea that just knowing the Word is all that’s necessary. You read and study and regurgitate it, but you never actually do anything it tells you to do. The other camp says you should just jump out and do all the stuff that the Word tells you to do, but without actually consulting the Word to make sure you’re doing it the right way.”

[DW]: “Yes, and often, unfortunately, they’re not. The most common thing for that latter group of people you’re talking about is that they don’t have a Gospel. They should have the Gospel that Jesus had, which is the presence and the availability of the Kingdom right here and now, through faith in Him. But they don’t have that and I’ve watched group after group and individual after individual just run out of steam. When they’re gone, the people who pick up after them in their place have just lost everything and they are all wandering in a version of a very benign and pleasing Humanism.”

[RM]: “And there’s not much difference between that kind of Christianity and anything else the World has to offer.”

[DW]: “Actually, there isn’t. All you can say for it is that its idealism is high, usually. But so far as being actually able to pull it off, since they’re not operating in the power of the Kingdom, it’s much less.”

[RM]: “Todd Hunter had a great quote that I think he might have borrowed from you, where he said that the problem with the modern church is that they’ve misunderstood the Gospel of Jesus. He said that the Gospel is not that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so you can go to heaven when you die, but that the Gospel that Jesus preached was the Gospel of the Kingdom. When you say this to people they look at you like you’re insane. ‘Of course the Gospel is that you can go to heaven when you die’, they say. But the Gospel isn’t a one-time event, it’s a daily participation with Christ in the Kingdom life.”

[DW]: “That’s right. The Grace of God empowers you to do what you can’t do on your own. Grace is unmerited favor, but to say that doesn’t tell you what form it takes. The assumption today is that it takes the form of a credit transfer in the books of heaven. I’ve heard preachers say that there’s absolutely nothing else that happens. So, in other words, your life on Earth is totally untouched by Grace.”

[RM]: “Well, they are correct in the sense that, if you live life the way they’re living then this is all that happens with Grace.”

[DW]: (laughs) “Excellent point. That’s what we actually see.”

[RM]: “That’s as much Grace as they’ve availed themselves of because their obedience to Christ has ended at the point of saying that prayer for salvation.”

[DW]: “Right”

[RM]: “I think you quoted Tozer a while back in another interview where he suggested that a new heretical thought had entered the modern Christian thought. The idea that people come to Jesus and say, ‘I want some of your blood for the forgiveness of my sins, but I don’t have any intention of following you or obeying you, and now if you’ll excuse me I’d like to get on with my life’.”

[DW]: “Those are what I call ‘Vampire Christians’. Tozer actually does say that this is outright heresy. He was very clear about this and the dear man was such a Christ-like man that he could do this and get away with it. But, on the other hand, you’ll have people who will hear this and say, ‘Isn’t that pretty?’ and they’ll do absolutely nothing about it.”

[RM]: “Unfortunately that seems to be a possibility with those who call themselves Christians.”

[DW]: “It has to come through deep work, I think, the kind of work that you’re doing, is perhaps among the most important things to be doing now because you will reach people who are ready to see it. Perhaps they’ve already seen it but didn’t know what it was and they’re ready to change. What has to happen here is a kind of tidal wave has to develop, and when it does, then people will pay attention and they’ll realize that this really is something different. Some will be mad and they’ll fight, but others will jump up and down for joy and join you. See, that’s what happens if you look at Finney or Wesley with them. Tozer is different, and it’s an interesting thing to study, he didn’t start a tidal wave, but he laid out some books that have nourished the souls of multitudes. It didn’t have an effect of making the churches say, ‘We must change’. You did see that in Finney and Wesley and there was a great battle and a great effect.”

[RM]: “Do you feel like we’re due for another tidal wave like this?”

[DW]: “Yes, it’s very interesting that now churches and para-church organizations are beginning to say, ‘We must change’. This could be the beginning of the wave. I think probably it would be better if it wasn’t focused on just one or two individuals, but it may be that one or two people will arise. But, in the last five years I’ve seen large churches, some of whom had been very prosperous as mega-churches, say, ‘This is all wrong. We must do discipleship.’ That kind of repentance is what is needed to start the tidal wave.”
[Dallas Willard is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Since 1965 he has taught at USC where he was Director of Philosophy from 1982-1985. He’s largely known for writing books about spiritual formation, Kingdom Theology and living a more Christ-centered life. He also lectures and publishes in religion. Renovation of the Heart was published in May 2002, and received Christianity Today's 2003 Book Award in the category of Spirituality. The Divine Conspiracy was released in 1998 and selected Christianity Today's Book Of The Year.]

You can read other articles by Dallas Willard here:

[Keith Giles is a pastor at a new church-plant in Tustin, California called “The River”. He’s currently writing his own book of Subversive thoughts and musings, but you’ll just have to wait. Until then, check out one of his subversive projects at:]


by Keith Giles

The thin line between art that communicates a scandalous truth and art that is sheer shock-sensationalism is something that takes time to explore and courage to proclaim.

When does art begin to confront the culture in the same way that the parables of Jesus perplexed and challenged and offended the culture of His day? When does art stop pandering to our basest desires and begin to challenge us to shrug off our complacency? Shouldn’t real art have the power to disturb and unsettle us?

The truth is, we don’t know the answers because examples of this type of art are so rare in this day and age. But isn’t this the sort of thing that our society desperately craves? Art that communicates to the soul?

Look at how Jesus packaged the Gospel when approached by Nicodemus. His response was “You must be born twice.”

Now, for you and I, thousands of years removed from this moment and informed by countless biblical commentaries, we understand plainly what Jesus meant. But, for Nicodemus, standing there in front of Jesus, the only response was bewilderment.

He tried to get a grip on what Jesus was talking about. “You mean, I need to re-enter my mother’s womb?”

He was grappling with this statement. He tried desperately to make sense of it and felt frustrated, challenged and annoyed. And that’s exactly what Jesus wanted.

Jesus did not give him theology. Instead, He gave him something to chew on. Something to exasperate and confound him. Jesus did something that very few of us ever do when attempting to evangelize. He engaged the person on a level that invited dialogue. He allowed the person to take a concept and think about it for himself.

When Jesus was approached by Nicodemus, He took a creative mode of communication that challenged the listener to actually engage his own brain. More importantly, He did not give Nicodemus the punch line.

The Gospels are full of these sorts of examples of Jesus’ style of evangelism. What are the parables if not simple stories that cause you to ponder the deeper meaning beneath the surface? I think if more of us took Jesus’ approach to the idea of evangelism, we’d be more effective—especially when it comes to creating art that transcends the norm.

Recently I came across a great quote from Steve Turner about artists as prophets in Image: Journal of the Arts and Religion: “One role of the artist is to provoke and even disturb us so that we can see in new ways. As the ancient prophets did, art frequently condemns the values and concerns of its surrounding culture-often in a loud, harsh voice. In consequence, the artist is often outcast, rejected, or unpopular.”

Maybe the problem is that, most of those whom we call artists today are in reality only entertainers. But a true artist, as defined above, is one who challenges the lifestyle, thought-pattern and behavior of a society, regardless of what anyone thinks—even if it means being unpopular.

Why don’t more artists take the role of prophet? Perhaps because it’s just a lot more difficult. Perhaps because we’re making some wrong assumptions, one being that to be evangelistic, we must somehow spell out the Gospel in plain English in a song or a painting.

But the world doesn’t want things spelled out. It doesn’t want the punch line. They’ve already heard the punch line (in regards to what the Christian faith is all about) numerous times. What they want to know is, How does it relate to my life? How do I actually “do” this stuff? What value are the teachings of Jesus to my life today?

Art has the power to ask these questions and to provide clues regarding the answers. But, the more important elements of the equation are the question and the clues, not the punch line.

Sure, it’s easier to just look through an art magazine and take cues from what the rest of the world is doing. Maybe slap a cross here or a few nails there and, presto, you’ve got something that other Christians might call “Christian art.” But, if your hope is to communicate something more potent and effective to the culture we live in, then it’s going to involve submission to the Holy Spirit when you sit down to create your art.

The finished product might not look, on the surface, like something that God could or would use, but as you continue to seek God’s face in your work, you’ll begin to find more and more success at hearing His voice and responding to His direction.
[Keith Giles is one of the world's greatest enigmas. Ruggedly handsome yet surprisingly gentle and compassionate with small animals, Keith actually has a very weak grasp of reality and often talks to himself in the bathroom mirror. He's currently writing his own original sci-fi novels and putting together a few comic books of his own in his spare time.]