Monday, August 31, 2009


Last week I had the opportunity to watch an insightful DVD by Dr. Jon Zens on the role of women in the New Testament Church. It's by far the best thing I've ever seen on this topic and, for me, it puts the nail in the coffin on the two most controversial New Testament texts (1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15).

Here, with Dr. Zen's permission, I've pasted part one of his study which will look at 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Our next section will look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

I hope this encourages you and blesses you as much as it blessed me.


1 COR.14:34-36

A Summary by Dr. Jon Zens

I’ve been wrestling with the issues raised regarding women in 1 Cor.11-14 for twenty-six years. My first article, "Aspects of Female Priesthood," appeared in 1981. For the first time I feel like significant light has broken through the lingering problems and questions. Without doubt every conceivable explanation of what is entailed in 1 Cor.14:34-35 can be challenged from some angle. It is admittedly a difficult passage. However, the position convincingly set forth by Cheryl Schatz in "The Elusive Law", does the best job I’ve ever seen of doing justice to what the verses actually say and the immediate context, beginning in 1 Cor.11.

In "The Elusive Law", Cheryl presents evidence to demonstrate that verses 34-35 are not Paul’s words, but the remarks of some in Corinth based on the Talmud’s restrictions on women (DVD #4, Women in Ministry: Silenced or Set Free?, MM Outreach, Nelson, B.C., Canada, 2006).

For a long time I’ve wondered what "law" was in view in v.34. There is strong reason to believe that it is not the Old Testament, but the Talmud that is being cited. According to Wikipedia, "The Talmud is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history." In Jesus' day the first part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, was in oral form, but in 200AD and 500AD it and the Gemara were put into writing.

In brief, two key issues point to why the Jewish oral law (Talmud) was behind what was stated in vv.34-35.

1. Only the Talmud silences women.

2. Only the Talmud designates the speech of women as “shameful.”

The Talmud Silenced Women

Cheryl observes that "The silencing of women was a Jewish ordinance. Women were not permitted to speak in the assembly or even to ask questions. The rabbis taught that a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff."

Josephus, a Jewish historian, asserted that "the woman, says the law, is in all things inferior to a man. Let her accordingly be submissive."

The Talmud clearly affirms the silence of females:

"A woman's voice is prohibited because it is sexually provocative" (Talmud, Berachot 24a).

"Women are sexually seductive, mentally inferior, socially embarrassing, and spiritually separated from the law of Moses; therefore, let them be silent" (summary of Talmudic sayings).

The Talmud Called the Voice of a Woman "Shameful"

"It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men" (Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin)

"The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness" (Talmud, Berachot Kiddushin)

The English translation of the Greek word, aiskron, as "shameful" or "improper" hardly convey the strength of what the word encompasses. The affirmation in v.35, Cheryl notes, is that a woman's speaking is "lewd, vile, filthy, indecent, foul, dirty and morally degraded."

Male and female prophesying was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18). Paul approved the prophesying of women in 1 Cor.11:5. In 1 Cor.14 he saw the whole body involved in prophesying – "everybody is prophesying" (v.24), "each one of you has a teaching" (v.26), "you may all prophesy one by one" (v.31). How could the same apostle Paul a few pen strokes later turn around and unequivocally designate women’s speech in the body as "filthy, lewd and vile"? It makes no sense at all. I have always felt like verses 34-35 didn’t sound like Paul. Something was awry.

The matter is cleared up by realizing that Paul did not write the negative words about women in vv.34-35. Instead, those basing their view of women on the oral law did. Paul never required women to be silent and never called female speaking "lewd and filthy." The Talmud was guilty of advocating both.

This is further confirmed in v.36 when Paul exclaims "What! Did the Word of God originate with you?" The "What!" indicates that Paul is not in harmony with what was stated by others from the Talmud in vv.34-35. Thayer's Lexicon notes that the "What" is a disjunctive conjunction "before a sentence contrary to the one just preceding, to indicate that if one be denied or refuted the other must stand."

Sir William Ramsey commented, "We should be ready to suspect that Paul is making a quotation from the letter addressed to him by the Corinthians whenever he alludes to their knowledge, or when any statement stands in marked contrast either with the immediate context or with Paul's known views."

Paul contrasts his commands which promote edification by the varied contributions of all with the restrictive prohibitions upon women demanded by the anti-gospel Talmud. Paul saw the voices of the sisters as a vital part of the building up of the Body of Christ. The Talmud, on the other hand, viewed female voices as "shameful" and as "filthy nakedness."

We know that various concerns and questions came to Paul from the Corinthians in a letter. He refers to this communication several times in 1 Corinthians. If quotation marks are placed at the beginning and end of verses 34-35, thus seeing them as the words of some Corinthians to Paul, then the apparent contradiction between Paul’s encouragement of female participation and then his seeming silencing of them is resolved satisfactorily.

Those who use 1 Cor.14:34-35 as a basis for requiring the sisters to be silent in the meetings would do well to consider the strong possibility that the words they cite as proof-texts are non-Pauline, and reflect the non-gospel viewpoint of the Talmud. Are they prepared to maintain, as the anti-feminine Talmud did, that a woman's voice is "dirty" and "like filthy nakedness"? I submit that it is unthinkable that Paul would assign such awful sentiments to the sisters' words.

FOR FURTHER STUDY - If you're interested in studying this issue further, I'd like to encourage you to obtain this set of 4 DVD's which contain 3.5 hours of instruction. They are filled with insight and presented in a respectful, Christ-like spirit. You may not be persuaded by every point that is suggested, but you will be challenged to search the Scriptures to see what is really so.

Order from: Searching Together, Box 377, Taylors Falls, MN 55084-0377; 651-465-6516;

To contact Dr. Zens you may do so at
or online at:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ten Books On My Nightstand

Hopefully I'll get around to actually finishing some of these in the next few weeks.

1- Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life - Robert D. Lupton
2- Hey Whipple, Squeeze This - Sullivan *This is for my work
3- Going to the Root - Smith *Loaned to me by Warren & Helen Peterson
4- The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus - Peter J. Gomes
5- Exiles - Michael Frost
6- The Shaping of Things to Come - Hirsch/Frost
7- From Eternity to Here - F. Viola
8- How Healed Do You Want To Be? - Bill Faris *Pastor of VCMN house church network
9- The Temple and the Churches Mission - G.K. Beale *Nearly done but it's deep stuff
10- A Million Little Pieces - James Frey *Yes, the infamous Oprah-gate book about addiction. Still, a great book even if it's largely fictionalized.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Since the age of 7, Raul Munoz has dreamed of becoming a firefighter. After graduating from High School in the Spring of 2009, he had his heart set on attending Santa Ana College’s Fire Academy. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances his family was unable to help fund the cost for him to attend school.

My friend, Jarred Lawrence Romley, who has been Raul's friend for several years now, has set up a website to help raise support for Raul. Our house church is supporting this young man with a gift. I'd ask you to prayerfully consider helping him realize his dreams to serve the community and offer hope to the other kids in his neighborhood.

Find out more and donate

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Last night a dear brother in the Lord, Craig Lewis, was compelled to share a message with me from man named Lance Lambert about how the Spirit of God built a wonderful Church called "Halford House" in England, back in the early 1950's.

This was a simple, humble testimony of how God spoke to a group of young people and how He formed their church. It rattled me - in a good way - and I've been continually challenged by much of what was shared concerning the headship of Christ, giving birth to new life, travailing with the Lord and unity in the entire Body of Christ. (Just to name a few things).

Since last night I've downloaded the message online and I've burned a Cd of it to listen to it again in the car and now I want to share it with you.

After listening to this testimony I am convinced that I know absolutely nothing. Four years of leading this house church in my home and I am an absolute beginner compared to this man.

To be sure, you'll be hearing echoes of this message in my upcoming blog articles, I'm certain, for many months to come.

If want to get a headstart, I welcome you to download and listen to the message it's

After you've heard it I'd love to know your thoughts about it. So please post comments here and/or email me and let me know how the Lord speaks to you.

DISCLAIMER: The audio quality is a bit low so I apologize in advance.


The story of Jesus begins at the Beginning. Literally. The Gospel of John affirms that Jesus eternally existed with the Father, and in fact, that he was not only with God, that he was God and that nothing was created apart from him.

Much can be said, and has been said, about the nature of Christ. But what amazes me when I consider this subject is that God knew what suffering He would endure before the creation of the world, and yet He still said, “Let there be light.”

He could have started over. He could have saved Himself a lot of pain and grief. But He didn’t. Instead, knowing the cross was inevitable, He took a breath and exhaled a Universe which He knew would include laying down His crown in order to become a sacrifice.

One of the most awesome verses of scripture to me is found in the letter of Paul to the Church in Philipi:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” – Philippians 2:5-8

Jesus laid aside His Glory and embraced humility. He turned away from the endless worship of the seraphim and the cherubim and stepped into the womb of a simple Jewish girl. He took the Crown off of his head and lowered himself to enter our suffocating world of filth.

We already know the story. He was born into a poor family, raised in a small village called Nazareth, and at roughly the age of 33 left his home to spend three years as a travelling Rabbi, proclaiming the Good News that every man, woman and child on Earth could freely enter the Kingdom of God.

Surrounded by a ragtag group of common fishermen, tax collectors, and misfits, Jesus touched the untouchable. He showed kindness to the leper, he showed mercy to the prostitute, he showed love to the Gentiles and Samaritans. He angered the religious leaders of the day and confounded their expectations of what Messiah should be.

At his crucifixion, the roman soldiers fashioned a new crown for him to wear.

“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said.” – Matthew 27:28-29

Here, the One who had created all things allowed Himself to be broken in our place. Even though He had all power and authority at His command, He humbled Himself, as if to say, “I will not use my authority to abuse you. In fact, I will surrender my power and allow you the authority to abuse me.”

And abuse Him we did. Through mock trials and repeated scourging, through grueling,dehumanizing violence, through ruthless and cruel torture, we did our worst to Him and yet His only response was, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

As Spurgeon has aptly noted:
“If they had only intended to mock him they might have platted a crown of straw, but they meant to pain him, and therefore they fashioned a crown of thorns. Look I pray you, at His person as He suffers under their hands. They had scourged him till probably there was no part of his body which was not bleeding beneath their blows, except his head, and now that head must be made to suffer too…There was no part of our humanity without sin, and there must be no part of his humanity without suffering.” – Charles H. Spurgeon, “Spurgeon’s Sermons on the Cross of Christ.”

As Jesus laid aside his crown of Glory in Eternity to embrace a cruel crown of thorns upon the cross, He did so for our sake. Out of a well of love so deep that no mortal man can ever fully understand, the creator of all things humbled Himself unto death and submitted Himself to us. How can we not submit ourselves to One like this?

Because of this exchange – the crown of Glory for the crown of thorns, you and I are eligible to receive a crown of our own.

“In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)

"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12)

"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (1 Peter 5:4)

How amazing is this? God Himself humiliated and broken, wearing a crown of shame so that you and I could inherit a crown of life, a crown of righteousness, a crown of glory. It’s scandalous in the extreme. Something so audacious that if a mortal man should suggest it we would call it blasphemous and shameful, and yet this is God’s plan. It is His idea to lower Himself and remove His crown in order to give us crowns.

This is why, at the end of time, when the saints are gathered into His awesome, beautiful presence, and we behold the Lamb of God who was slain, and our eyes linger on the scars with which he bought us, we will take these crowns from off of our heads, and we will lay them at the feet of the Glorious Son of God who has loved us so dearly and so deeply. We will lay billions and billions of crowns at his nail-scarred feet and in sincere adoration we will proclaim that Jesus is Lord of all, to the Glory of God, the Father.

And this, I believe, is why the scriptures say that He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

"‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown." – Jesus, from Revelation 3:11

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.



Monday, August 24, 2009

Your Cross And Mine

In all things and in all ways, Jesus is our example, teacher and master. We are his disciples, followers and friends.

It troubles me that often we make the Gospel about His cross and not ours.

I think that what Jesus did for us on the cross was incredible. It was the single most heroic and astounding act ever committed by anyone in the known universe. Mostly because the person committing this ultimate act of humility and sacrifice was God Himself. He certainly didn’t have to go through this. No one forced Him to do it. He simply could’ve wiped out all of mankind and started over with a new group of humans rather than endure the shame and the agony of the cross. Better yet, He could’ve just avoided all of this by not creating anything at all.

But, for whatever reason, God did create everything. He did know that it would cost Him everything. He did realize that this creation would require Him to leave His throne in glory, step down from the eternal praise of the angels and the twenty-four elders, and take on the form of a servant. Even the form of a baby, in a small stable, surrounded by smelly shepherds and barnyard animals.

Worse still, He realized that this creation would compel Him to first suffer unbelievable rejection, humiliation, physical torture, pain, separation from the Father, and even physical death.

Would you have said, “Let there be light” if you knew it would cost you all of this?

Yes, the cross of Jesus is miraculous and awe-inspiring. We don’t talk about it or meditate on it enough. It is the scandal of the universe that the perfect, pure, Holy One became smeared with the filth of sin and shame...our filth...our shame.

But we forget that Jesus offered us a cross of our own. Before he took up his cross, he called his disciples to take up their own cross and follow him.

“Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” – Luke 9:23

A.W. Tozer once said, "Among the plastic saints of our times, Jesus has to do all the dying, and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying."

We are also called to die along with Jesus. His death was for our salvation, but our death is also necessary to the process. We must surrender our lives in exchange for the new life that Jesus died to give to us.

Jesus also tells us, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:24-26)

Somehow, in my walk with Jesus, I have forgotten to carry my own cross. Somehow, I have neglected to receive the words of my teacher, my master and my friend when He tells me that “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

What is left for me is repentance, and a search for the cross which He has set aside for me to carry.

Jesus has left me with an example of what love is. He has called me to follow where he has already traveled. Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus, as he humbled himself, we are to humble ourselves, as he emptied himself, we are to empty ourselves, as he took on the form of a servant, we are to take on the form of this same servant.

The amazing thing about the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus came and died to preach and proclaim is that “the Kingdom of God is near you” (Luke 10:9). This means that we don’t have to strive and dance around to get the Kingdom to arrive or to make it go. It’s here. Right now. Jesus announced it. He invites us into the Kingdom right now. Today.

What we often miss is that, the pathway into this Kingdom is through humility, servant hood and taking up our cross to declare Jesus as our Lord and our King.

Jesus declared the Kingdom was near to us. He demonstrated that it was true. He modeled for us how to enter the Kingdom and enjoy the Kingdom kind of life.

We’re left with little mystery then, as to where the Kingdom is and how to enter it. What we’re challenged with is the cost of this great treasure. It costs us everything, and yet, in comparison, it costs us nothing at all.

“I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old "I", but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and sacrificed himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

We’d love for there to be “another way” into the Kingdom, wouldn’t we? Even Jesus, when faced with his own cross, prayed and asked if there was another way, yet he concluded by saying, “Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours” and he accepted this call to surrender unto death.

Our temptation is no different. The lie of the enemy is that there is “another way” to partake of the Kingdom and to follow Jesus besides the cross. We cannot allow ourselves to think that following Jesus is possible without dieing to ourselves daily and allowing Jesus to be our Lord and King.

"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ.” (C.S. Lewis, “Counting The Cost”)

The cross of Jesus is a stunning and breathtaking act of love and sacrifice by God Himself for people like you and me, and the cross He asks us to carry is our declaration of love and gratitude to Him for this amazing sacrifice.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” - (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost Of Discipleship”)

*From the book, "NOBODY FOLLOWS JESUS (SO WHY SHOULD YOU?)" available as a free, downloadable PDF at


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Cup of Christ

"Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." - Matthew 26:39

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Christ at his most human. He falls to his face in prayer, his heart is overcome with a myriad of emotions. Fear, dread, sorrow, and uncertainty swirl within him. In just a few moments he is to be arrested, and tortured, beaten and mocked and ultimately, nailed to a Roman cross to die after six long and painful hours in the hot sun.

Here, in the cool of the Garden, Jesus asks his father, if it is possible, for another way to proceed. Had there been another way, I am confident that God could have found it. If there had been a way to spare His Son this suffering and torture, this humiliation and intense pain, I know that a way would have been made.

The fact that no other option was available is telling. There was no other way. And, in fact, Jesus is confirming this in his prayer. There really is no other way, and so he submits himself to the violence that is about to overcome him.

The cup remains. He knows that he must drink from it on our behalf because there is really no other way to accomplish the task at hand.

At the final passover supper that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, mere moments before this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus made a promise to his disciples. At the end of the meal, after he had taken the cup of wine he said, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of thecovenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:27-29)

Here he promises them that he will not taste the fruit of the vine until the day comes when we are all able to sit as guests in His Father's house and share a glorious celebration meal at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Hours later, in the Garden, he is on his face, asking with anguish if there is another way for things to be accomplished, using again this image of the cup from which he must drink; the cup of the Lord's wrath which will soon be poured out upon himself for the sins of all men. Your sins. My sins. Every sin.

On the hill called Golgotha, straining for every breath, his body flooded with pain against the nails which have pierced his hands and feet, Jesus is offered wine vinegar, mixed with gall. This concoction was a drug intended to ease his suffering. He only has to suck the gall mixed with wine from the sponge which is lifted up to his mouth and swallow deeply to quench his thirst and anesthetize his physical agony.

Yet, as the drug touches his lips, Jesus refuses this, remembering his promise to his disciples not to drink again from the fruit of the vine until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. Now, when his pain is at its greatest, he refuses the cup that would remove him from his suffering and drinks deep from the cup that was offered to him in the Garden the night before. He has made his choice. He has fully submitted himself to the will of his Father, fulfilling his promise to his friends, and his prayer to God, "Not my will, but thine be done."

I am thankful that Jesus accepted the cup that was before him that night in Gethsemane. I am thankful that he refused the cup of gall that would have given him an escape from his pain and suffering. I'm thankful that Jesus chose instead to honor his promise to his disciples, so that one day, I might raise my glass alongside them, and toast the One who gave himself for us all that day. I look forward to that drink, and I will be watching the face of Jesus closely as he tastes this good wine, for the first time in over 2,000 years, at yet another supper which I know he has also "eagerly desired to share" with us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guest Article: Jon Zens

Has The Church Ever Met A War It Didn’t Like?
by Jon Zens

I’ve been thinking for some time, but more pointedly in the past few months, about how the visible church has an image in the public eye of always approbating each new war that comes along. As you look back over the history since Constantine, the church has pretty much put its imprimatur on conflict after conflict.
The obvious disparity between the peaceful Christ who did no violence, and the war-approving track record of those who confess allegiance to the Messiah seems to be questioned by few.

Recently, Sam Duncan wrote to Baptists Today and observed, “Lotz also says that [Billy] Graham is a model of moral integrity since he has not fallen because of money or sex. But Graham has preached about peace, yet he seems to have never met a war he didn’t like. He has supported every U.S. President in every war, providing a cover of moral justification for policies that are far from those of the Prince of Peace. Integrity demands consistency, not a pick-and-choose morality” (Feb., 2003, p.8).

All one has to do is read Ray Abram’s chapters, “The Church As Servant Of The State” and “The Church Contributes To War-Time Hysteria,” to see how quickly and unthinkingly the church caves in to nationalistic agendas (Preachers Present Arms: The Role of the American Churches & Clergy in World Wars I & II, Herald Press, 1968). It is scary, and the church for the most part remains a rubberstamp for the civil authorities.

We live in a fallen order and wars are inevitable. But it is far past time for the church to be more discerning and to stop being shaped like a passive piece of clay into un-Christlike images by the powers that be. Shouldn’t eyebrows be raised when the voices shouting loudest for war continue to come from Christian leaders? We are so used to keeping ranks with the war-program that is very difficult for us to say “No!” to the cultural frenzy for conflict. Why do we forget the words of the Master, “those who take up the sword will perish with the sword”? Didn’t the Psalmist pronounce a blessing on those who didn’t trust in chariots and horses?

When is the church going to find a war it doesn’t like?

Jon Zens

For Further Thought:
Ray Abrams, Preachers Present Arms, Herald Press, 1968.
John Driver, How Christians Made Peace With War, Herald Press, 1988.
Leonard Verduin, The Reformers & Their Stepchildren, Eerdmans, 1964.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Least of the Least

One of the most powerful things about the ministry of Jesus was that he saw the least and the last around him and made them central to his proclamation of the Kingdom.

In contrast to the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day, Jesus seemed to seek out those most outcast by society. The leper, the poor, the broken, the sick, and even the unpopular tax collector became the main disciples of Jesus. He welcomed them, he sought them out, and even greater still, he loved them.

This backwards strategy confounded his peers, bringing harsh rebuke and criticism from the Jewish leaders of the day, and yet this love for the common man, or woman, became a growing factor in his popularity among the people.

In Jewish culture, women were valued only for their child-bearing and mothering skills. Men had the authority to divorce them at will, for any reason, or no reason, at all. A woman had no such right.

At the time of Christ, women were not allowed equal access to the Temple. The court of women was further away from The Holy Place than the court of men, and in fact the court of the Gentiles was the second closest. Jewish women were valued below even the non-Jewish men in the assembly.

Jewish men, historically, did not speak to women in public, even their own wives. For a Rabbi, this would have been an even greater embarrassment.

Furthermore, a woman wasn’t allowed to even read from the Scriptures and was not counted as a member of the congregation. Even one of their most respected Rabbi’s, Judah ben Elai (A.D. 150) was quoted as saying, “One must utter three doxologies every day: Praise God that he did not create me a heathen. Praise God he did not create me a woman! Praise God that he did not create me an illiterate person.”3

Nothing could have been more backwards and counter-culture than for Jesus, an up and coming Jewish Rabbi, to honor women, and yet that is just what he did.

What we see in the Scriptures is that Jesus “…needed to travel through Samaria” a place where most of those outcast from contemporary Jewish society dwelled in community. The Samaritans themselves were an entire race of people who were devalued by God’s Chosen people. This little detour certainly caused the Disciples to scratch their heads.

Even more, the fact that Jesus only came to speak to one person in Samaria is even more confounding, especially when that one person turns out to be a woman; and not just any woman, but what most would refer to as the village tramp.

At the heat of the day, when most everyone was inside the cool of their home, the Samaritan woman is heading out to Jacob’s Well to draw water. Most every other woman would have long since completed this daily chore and that is our clue that the woman Jesus wants to talk to is an outcast in her community. She avoids the other women, probably because they tend to look down on her for her promiscuous lifestyle. Perhaps because she has been responsible for seducing one or more of their husbands.

At any rate, this woman is an outcast, even among other women who are themselves undervalued in this society. This woman has multiple strikes against her. She is a Samaritan, a woman, and a moral failure among her own people. She is the least among the least.

This is the woman that Jesus seeks out. He seems to be waiting at this well, at this specific time of the day, in order to meet with this woman that no one else would spend an idle moment with.

Many of us have made mistakes in our lives. Many of us have received condemnation from others about our failures. Our parents, our friends, even people within the Church, may have rejected us and turned us away to wallow in our shame. We need to know that Jesus does not condemn us. We need to know that, in the eyes of Jesus, we are not disqualified from Grace. We are not disqualified from ministry. Our weakness does not exempt us from participation in the Kingdom. In fact, according to Jesus, it is our weakness, our poverty, our humility, our sorrow, and our humanity that qualifies us as blessed members of the Kingdom of God. (See Matthew 5:3-12)

This, my friends, is Good News. Do you see the heart of Jesus here? Do you see how he goes out of his way to find this woman? He loves her. He spends time with her. He speaks to her and treats her with respect and dignity, even as he points out her personal failures regarding relationships with men. She is never offended by Jesus. She is never insulted. Intuitively she knows that Jesus takes her seriously and is showing real interest in her as a person.

In fact, Jesus is never seen treating people in culturally acceptable ways. Instead, he goes entirely against the prevailing cultural norms and treats people, lepers, sinners, even women, with uncommon respect, tenderness and love.

As we look closer at how Jesus interacted with this woman, I think we could all learn a lot by following his example of extravagant love. Just imagine what incredible impact we could have on people around us if we simply valued them as people, treated them with respect and took a genuine interest in their lives?

We are so quick to look for fault in others, to disqualify them from the free gift of Grace, and yet our Lord Jesus looked past the mountain of sin and the cultural prejudices of the day to see this woman for who she was. He spoke to her as an equal, not as someone who was beneath him. He looked into her eyes long enough to remember what color they were. He talked with her about the Law, even though women in that age were not allowed to be taught the Law. He listened. He took her seriously. He did not condemn her for her failures in life.

Yes, Jesus did confront this woman with her sin, but he did so in a way that did not offend her. He spoke to her as someone who was genuinely concerned for her well-being and expressed the truth without attaching judgment.

I’ve heard it said that listening to someone is so much like loving them that most people can’t tell the difference. When was the last time we listened to someone else as an act of compassion?

We should learn how to practice this sort of evangelism, because it was so successful that it impacted not only this one single person but an entire village.

If Jesus could seek out a woman and see in her an evangelist; If Jesus could have a conversation with an adulteress and treat her as a person worthy of his love; If Jesus could endure the humiliation of being seen with an outcast in order to set her free from her past failures; Then there’s hope for you and I, isn’t there?

Jesus still seeks out those who are sinners so that he can set them free. Jesus still searches for failures so he can transform them by His love. Jesus still values those who the rest of us have dismissed as worthless.

There is still hope for you. Whatever you’ve been through. Whatever your failures. Whatever your challenge. God has a place for you in His Kingdom. You are valuable. You matter. You are worth more than you know.

God longs to invite you into the ongoing story of His Kingdom here on Earth. If the woman at the well had a purpose and a value in this Kingdom, then certainly you and I do as well.

-Keith Giles
3(from “Man as Male and Female” by Paul K. Jewett, 1975)
NOTE: Taken from my book-in-progress, "The Power of Weakness"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


NOTE: This is the second part of the 2-part interview with UCLA Professor Scott Bartchy conducted by Keith Giles


Scott Bartchy is a scholar, professor, writer and historian. He has spent a lot of time studying the early Christian Church. His studies have resulted in a personal paradigm shift that has impacted the way he personally looks at Jesus, the Church, and the practice of the Christian faith.

Having spent several years on the conference speaking circuit, Bartchy soon abandoned the business of faith for the more practical, and appealing, practice of the faith.

Bartchy’s personal spiritual revolution came when he was attending a church-related liberal arts college in eastern Tennessee. “I had some great teachers that one year and I was preaching at a church full of farmers, mostly, in the early sixties when the Cold War had really set in. People were holding Christ Against Communism Crusades and things like this. So, the elders in my church asked me if I would preach a sermon against communism. I was still idealistic enough that I thought I’d rather preach for something rather than against something so I literally stumbled over Matthew 25. I had never paid much attention to it before. I had never heard a sermon on it. I had gone to church-related undergraduate schools and had never heard of this passage before. So, I decided to preach on that text and the elders and the rest of the people came to me and said they had no idea that was in the Bible. I never did preach that sermon against communism,” he says.

In his classes at UCLA, Bartchy will often take the Religion section of the Los Angeles Times and hold it up for the class to look at. As he reads aloud the advertisements for slicker worship services, dynamic youth ministries, and other goods and services offered, he points out that the early church would never have participated in anything like this. They were too busy caring for the poor and loving their neighbors and living out the Gospel to put energy and money into attracting newcomers. Most students are stunned. Some of them wonder silently about how we got so far away from what Jesus originally intended.

Bartchy contends that Constantine’s apparent conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, and his subsequent liberation of the Church from persecution was less a blessing and more a curse in disguise. Bartchy contends that Constantine’s brand of faith became polluted by his misunderstanding of who God really was. “How much more can you begin to add in before your idea of God has become imprinted on the historical Jesus? Did things get distorted with Origen? I don’t know yet, exactly what that tipping point was,” he says, “But what I do know is that the title of this book I might write one day is ‘The Betrayal Of Jesus At Nicea’ because I think the irony is that, at the point where Jesus is said to be ‘God of God and Light of Light’, at least from the point of view of Constantine himself, the God they were talking about was no longer the God that Jesus had been talking about.”

According to Bartchy, the major shift in the Christian faith of today and that of the early church took place under the rule of the newly converted dictator, Constantine. “We’re still trying to get out from under the cloud that he put over the Church,” he says. “Basically, Constantine decides in the fourth century that he’s going to become the sugar daddy of the Christian faith because there have been four waves of attempts to get rid of the Christians up to his reign, which involved fierce persecutions. So, if you and I were alive at that time we would have all known somebody who had been under persecution by the Empire. Constantine shows up and says he’s going to stop all of this and, of course, we have to wonder how else he could have done this without God’s Spirit being at work on his heart? Be careful, though. I would caution you not to believe him until he puts his sword away. Personally, I don’t think Constantine ever got it,” says Bartchy. “I don’t think he ever really understood Jesus.”

To Bartchy, one of the most fundamental ironies in the history of culture occurred at the Council of Nicea. “This was the first time the leaders of the Christian movement are called together for this big ecumenical meeting. They’ve been doing fine for hundreds of years without having any such meeting, but Constantine wants to know who wears the white hats and who wears the black hats.

So, Constantine calls all of these people together and he makes the first speech, stating namely that Jesus is the very same essence and substance of the Father. Nobody had ever talked that way before, but he wants an ideology, he wants unity, he wants to tie the Empire together, which has been divided. He makes sure that Christians are the glue that hold it all together and he wants what they think about God to be united.”

One of the things that’s largely not known is that Constantine himself was already a Monotheist previous to his conversion to Christianity. “He’s not leaving Polytheism to become a Monotheist when he decides to become favorable to the Christians. Before that he worshipped one God whom he was willing to call, along with the other traditional names of the high God, either Zeus among the Greeks, or Jupiter among the Romans. But Zeus and Jupiter are both kick-ass gods. In any case, that’s who he worships and so when Constantine stands up and says that Jesus is God he’s saying that Jesus is the son of Zeus, a kick-ass god. We still haven’t recovered from this. That’s why we still have people thinking it’s appropriate to kill people in the name of God,” says Bartchy.

If Bartchy is right, and the original essence of the Gospel that Jesus came and died to proclaim has been diluted, how can we ever hope to recover the essential power and truth of the Gospel for today? “I’ve asked myself numerous times what it would take to bring a restoration of this original concept of the Gospel to the modern church, about five thousand times,” he says. “I think what I am sure of is that a model is worth a thousand or more words and that our preaching is about a hundred years ahead of our action. So, I think we have to model it out. We’re not going to get young guys who’ve been corrupted into thinking that in order to be important or successful they’ve got to build a church building. I don’t think we’re going to be able to persuade those people not to do that. But what I think we can do is to do more of what I think Jesus did, which was grass-roots work.” This sort of grass-roots work, in Bartchy’s mind, begins in the home, not ironically, where the early church itself began and flourished. “I think there needs to be more networking between the house church movement. Some people respond to that and say it’s pretty fragile and you know, they’re right. It is pretty fragile. Not to go back on what I said earlier, that it can’t be stopped, but it can die out and then flare up again later. It has to be based on the quality of the interpersonal relationships between the people of God and we have to have ways of life that maximize the possibility and the necessity of these quality, interpersonal relationships that the Holy Spirit has been trying to get us into.”

In the American Church, there are two words that are used over and over again that are not very well-defined and therefore people can pour into them whatever meaning they need.

Those two words are ‘God’ on the one hand and ‘Salvation’ on the other. Bartchy believes that we need to return to a fundamental agreement about the definitions of these words. “So, do we mean by ‘God’ what Jesus meant? Do we mean by ‘Salvation’ what Jesus meant? Is ‘Salvation’ saving your spiritual butt, or is it salvation from meaninglessness, despair, from being a part of the people who opress others? I think salvation is a daily matter. I think what Heaven means, at least to me, is that some of the struggle that I’m involved in against so many people in powerful places, who live by a completely different set of values, is going to be over, and I’m going to have a chance to relax and play more music and talk with more friends and read all those books I’ve never had time to read and not spending all my time fighting against the principalities and powers.”

In the second chapter of the book of Acts, verse forty-two, its says that “The Lord was adding daily those who were being saved”, who were in the process. There’s two different ways, in the Greek, two different tenses, of putting things in the past. One is just like saying it happened and it’s over, and the other is about things that are ongoing, which is the imperfect tense. It’s imperfect because it hasn’t finished yet, so it’s an ongoing thing, in the Greek. That’s the tense you have in this passage which underscores the concept that salvation is a process," he says.

Bartchy wants to challenge the modern church to look itself in the face and ask itself what it’s actually communicating with respect to the words ‘God’ and ‘Salvation’. "What I mean is, to do something that was hard for me to do initially. Something that happened to me when I was in Grad School, as I was seeing people who were coming to Jesus and at first they were really hot, and after a year they were pretty tame," he says. "What happened was they looked around and found out that the words didn’t have the same meanings within the church that they first thought. Just like little kids, they watch what the grown-ups do when they use certain words and they figure out what things really mean."

It was a course in the Sociology of Religion that helped Bartchy to re-think some of the cultural aspects of the Christian Faith in a critical way. "This course didn’t just rearrange the furniture in my head, it put me on a different boat. Finally I was forced to say, in order to be an honest human being, is that for any religious institution, what really counts is what actually comes out at the end of the pipe. I had to ask myself, ‘Is this good for people or not, is this fantasy land?’, and I have to have the courage to look at the answer and not look away from it. Can Christianity be used in such a way to make you sick? Absolutely. Can it be used to turn you into an enemy of God? Yes. But people don’t want to admit that. They have a very magical idea of the words that if you just say the right words then of course everything is going to come out alright in the end, even though it’s not coming out alright now, you just continue to act like it is."

This University course challenged Bartchy to either sacrifice his intellect on the altar of faith or to admit the truth about his faith. "I didn’t think faith meant trusting blindly, it means believing that Jesus is right about God and not anybody else," he says.

As a professor in a secular university, Bartchy has students in his office all the time who ask “Do you believe in God", and his answers always stun them. "I say, with a smile on my face, that I have no idea what they’re talking about. What I can tell you is that about 80% of what passes in the American media and in public life with the name of God in it, I don’t believe. I’ll be glad to hear who you affirm God to be and then I’ll tell you if I believe in that or not. But at the highest level, the big question is, “Does the Church believe about God what Jesus does and if so then why aren’t we spending our money differently, why aren’t we treating people better, why are we not known as lovers instead of as judges?” and these are questions that have dogged me all my life," he says.


Monday, August 17, 2009


Scott Bartchy is a radical. He believes in a subversive system that embraces those on the fringes of our society and seeks to establish a new way of life that goes against the status quo.

Kind of like Jesus.

Bartchy, currently the Director of the Center for the Study of Religions at UCLA, notes a great gap between the original, early form of church in the first three hundred years of Christianity, and the modern concept of doing church today. “The biggest difference I see would be that those who became the followers of Jesus (in the early church) were convinced that Jesus was right about God,” says Bartchy. “They weren’t debating whether or not he was God, but simply said that if you’ve seen Jesus, you have seen God. As Jesus said to Phillip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:6-11)

For Bartchy, the difference between the modern church and the original church is summed up in a single question; “Was Jesus right about who God is?” Bartchy notes, “The earliest followers of Jesus believed that he had the authority to change the rules and to define how the God of Israel is to be thought of.”

So, what is it that Phillip and the other disciples had seen Jesus doing that would inform their ideas of who God is? “First of all they’ve seen Jesus at a wedding, turning water into wine. They’ve seen Jesus at the temple healing a man born blind, and addressing the question of whether or not sin is the cause of someone being born blind, or being sick. Jesus says that it’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s so that God might be glorified,” says Bartchy. “Phillip has seen Jesus comforting Mary and Martha, who are his personal friends, and raising their brother Lazarus from the dead, and of course he’s seen Jesus take the form of a servant and wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus says, if you’ve seen that, you’ve seen the Father.”

Bartchy is quick to make a distinction between the assertion that Jesus is God and the more radical concept that God is like Jesus. “Now, the profound irony of this is that Jesus is named after “Y’Shua”, or “Joshua”, Israel’s dominant warrior who fought the battle of Jericho and lead the children of Israel on numerous conquests. He (Jesus) is saying that the God of Israel isn’t acting that way anymore. Jesus is saying that the God of Israel loves his enemies and he’s not going to kill anybody.”

While much of what the media portrays concerning the “Religious Right” in America deals with the overtly political, Republican, Pro-War version of the Christian Church, Bartchy sees things a little differently. “I really do think that people are so eager for Christ to return today because they don’t like what he did the first time. They still want a kick ass God. They want a divine legitimation for what was done to us at 9-11,” he says. “That’s the only way I can understand how so many people in the Church are in favor of attacking Iraq, or killing people, or whatever. They certainly don’t believe that Jesus is right about God.”

But, the early followers of Jesus, Bartchy contends, did believe that he was right about God. “And for that reason they blew off Temple religion and the whole idea of priests and programs, and the like. They rejected the idea that what God really wants is to be served inside a church building rather than on the street. If Jesus is right about God then it means there are no more Holy Places, and for the first three hundred years Christians didn’t have any Holy Place other than their own homes where the churches met. So, they focused primarily in their relationships with each other because that’s where the Holy Spirit was manifested, in the very people who followed Jesus.”

The disconnect, so to speak, for Bartchy comes in the methodology of the modern church which has become so fixated with amassing large numbers of people, establishing political alliances and building larger facilities rather than simply acting out the compassionate example of the founder of the movement itself. “I think the big difference I see is that, today, the church isn’t really believing the same things about God that Jesus himself did and acted out,” he says. “That’s why the success of the Church today is seen not so much in doing the kind of things that we’re told that we’re going to be judged by when Jesus does return to judge us, as seen in Mathew 25, concerning whether or not we’ve clothed the naked or fed the hungry or visited those in prison, etc., and apparently doing so simply because this is the kind of people we have become.”

In Matthew 25 Bartchy notes a profound undermining of the modern apocalyptic rapture scenario depicted in most, if not all, Christian literature. “Yes,” says Bartchy, “The son of man is going to come on the clouds to separate the sheep from the goats. But one of the most fascinating things to me about those sheep is that Jesus identifies them as such because they have been visiting those in prison and they’ve been feeding the hungry, and Jesus says, ‘If you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me’ and the sheep say, ‘Hey, we didn’t have any idea we were doing it to you’, which is to say, they are doing it because of their new nature, they are doing it because of what they have become as followers of Jesus,” he says.

“The second bunch in this scenario are into what I like to call the ‘Save Your Butt’ religion. These people say, “Hey, if we’d have known it was you buddy we’d have done it” but only in order to save their own butt, not because of who they actually were.”

For Bartchy, what’s missing, sadly, is an emphasis on being a people who are transformed by the Gospel and who embody the example of their Lord. “We have preachers who come onto the campus today at UCLA down by what we call Bruin Walk and those guys all preach a version of the ‘Save Your Butt’ religion. They ask, “If you would die tonight where would you be?” So, it’s still a matter of appealing to the narcissism of the American public. It’s not an invitation to become a part of God’s new people,” says Bartchy.

Even though Bartchy spends most of his time instructing college students in the historical events of a fledgling movement several thousand years ago, he holds a very immediate passion that burns in him to this very day. “Now, what I’m saying then, is not only is Jesus right about who God is and what God is trying to get done, it’s that it’s supposed to be done here and it’s supposed to be done now. Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, “Take me to heaven when I die”, what he says is, “Your will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven”, in the here and now. What we’re supposed to be praying for is for Heaven to come here, rather than for us to go to Heaven. Now, I do believe that Heaven is the bonus at the end of the road,” says Bartchy, “But there I’d be on the same page with the apostle John, or with Paul who held that Eternity was a quality of life, not a quantity of life. It was a quality of life that begins here.”

Rather than focus on the typical questions of faith that surround the discussion about who God is, or whether or not He exists, Bartchy feels that the fundamental question begins with whether or not we believe that Jesus is right about who God is. “I find people saying that what I need to say is that Jesus IS God, but the reason I’m reluctant to put it those terms is that people give themselves permission to define God as they please. So, God is whoever they say he is, in the Freudian sense that he fulfills the projection of your desires. So, people define God they way they want and then they make Jesus fit into that,” says Bartchy.

“People tell me that they believe that Jesus is God, and yet they’ve never read the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end, or even the Gospel of John. They may have a formal understanding of the book, but they don’t know what’s in it. In any case, the Jesus that you read about in the Gospel of Mark has a program, Pardon me, Mel Gibson, but there’s only one and a half chapters that deal with his execution, and then there are a few verses that have to do with his resurrection,” he says. “But there are twelve to thirteen chapters that have to do with his program. His program is everything I’ve been talking about so far, it’s the Kingdom of God. It’s everything that Jesus anticipates should be done here and now on this planet by his people. I know the literature of the early church up until the time of Constantine backwards and forwards and I don’t see any evidence there that the appeal being made to people was about ‘If you died tonight would you be in Heaven’. The appeal was to come and be a people of God.”

The questions on the minds of the earliest followers of Jesus reflected more practical concerns of a faith for the here and now. ”Instead of asking people the sort of salvation question we always hear, the early church asked people to consider things like, how would spend your money, how would you treat people, how would you respond to that person who just called you an asshole yesterday, and how would you deal with the real world stuff?”

“Because the church today hasn’t asked this question,” says Bartchy, “ It ends up thinking materialistically and since we’re so fragmented from each other we can’t imagine that we might help each other when we get older, the world plays on our fears. It seems to me that if a church was a real church they’d have their own social security program. Indeed in the early church that was how they got their reputation, it was that they cared for so many people.”

As Bartchy speaks, the chasm between the faith of the early church and that of the modern church begins to grow wider and wider. “None of the current signs of success in the modern church can be found in the New Testament. When the people laid their offerings at the disciples feet it wasn’t so that they could build a bigger building or give the disciples a salary increase.”

“One of the things that Jesus does, in contrast to all of the other teachers, including John the Baptist, was to say that we don’t have to wait for God to kill anybody. We don’t have to wait for Tiberius to be knocked off his throne, or for Pilate to go home, we can start living according to the rule of God right now and all they can do to us is to kill us, but they can’t stop it,” says Bartchy.

“Out of the conviction of Jesus being alive after his crucifixion, what we call resurrection experiences, they know that they can’t be stopped and I don’t think that it can be stopped. As a secular historian on the outside and as a follower of Jesus on the inside, I would say it cannot be stopped,”he affirms. “Now, sometimes the gears grind really slowly, but it can’t be stopped. We can be blocked by sin or by oppression or by dictatorship or by injustice and the like, but all I can say is in the midst of that there is still hope.”


Friday, August 14, 2009

Family Death

My Mom’s oldest sister, Shirley, died last week.

I have never had any real connection to my extended family. Beyond my own Mother and Father, I only know my aunts and uncles and cousins from a distance, like familiar acquaintances who smile and make small talk over dinner every few years.

When I was still in First Grade my parents moved away from their own families in Tennessee and set their eyes towards South Texas. This is where I grew up. This is where my identity was shaped and my character was formed. I’ve actually thanked God for taking my family out of the environment I had been born into and transplanting me into a more modern world where race wasn’t an indicator of value and fear wasn’t a commodity.

Most of my childhood friends and several of my cousins who remained behind and grew up in that place are very different from me. I do believe that had I remained in the small Tennessee town where I was born I would have had a radically different life. I’m thankful to have left and to have had the life I’ve had so far.

Still, last night, laying with my head on the pillow, in the glow of an almost-full moon, I couldn’t help but wonder about the extensive family I left behind in Tennessee. They are the family I will never belong to. They are the flesh and blood that will never know me, and I will never know them—not as well as they know one another.

My parents were the city folk who left town and never looked back. We were the ones who would come back once ever few years for summer vacation or occasional family reunions, but as such we were visitors, tourists, in a place each of them called “home” and I knew only as a touchstone of childhood.

Today, as I consider the death of my Mother’s oldest sister, I am nursing an un-named ache deep within my chest. I have lost something I cannot name, but the more I contemplate this loss the more I know for certain that this loss is forever buried under an avalanche of years that I can never unearth or resurrect.

I am mourning the loss of a family that I was never fully embraced into to begin with. My yearning is for a place of acceptance among a people with whom I share a lineage and a legacy, but nothing more. We have no shared life, no shared memories, no deep connections beyond memories held like dreams in old photographs yellowed and fading in the sunlight.

Can I confess that I regret never growing old with those people? Can I admit that I wish with all my heart that I could have belonged to those people and that they could have known me and loved me as deeply as I now long to be loved and known?

My family, beyond my own parents, are like strangers to me. They do not know me. They have less awareness of me than the hundreds of Facebook friends who read my articles and respond to my status updates or make comments on my blog.

I am saddened to realize that these people will, one by one, all pass away from this life and remain strangers to me. My children will grow old and get married and have children and none of them will ever know or care. I will breathe my own last breath one day, and none of them will travel the hundreds of miles necessary to stand at my graveside or lay a comforting hand on the shoulders of my wife or children. This is my family. This is the tribe I will never know. This is the lost side of my soul that I can never excavate or replace.

Until today I didn’t realize just how much I needed them. Until today I didn’t know how much this missing piece of me mattered. But now I do. I realize these things too late. I understand the power of family when it’s of no use to me.

So, today as I say goodbye to Shirley Ferrell Wyatt, I mourn the family that I never knew. I pray for her son and her daughter who remain in my memory as elementary-aged children running barefoot on the Tennessee grass. I pray for the sisters who grieve their loss. I pray for the cousins who let go of their dear Aunt. I ask God to comfort them in their sadness, and I am grateful that they have one another to shoulder the burden during this time of regret. For that I am thankful. For that I give thanks.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

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

By Keith Giles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Do you ever go to church?

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

Q: So you sometimes practice Buddhism?

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


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

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

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

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

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

Radical compassion indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently, (almost 4 years ago), my wife and I left our role as pastors at a local church we had helped to plant more than three years earlier. Our dream was to start a new sort of a church. One where everyone took following Jesus seriously. One where the practice of compassion to others was expressed in the giving of 100% of the tithe to the poor and the needy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, whatever you do, “Go”!


*Buy the book: "THE GOSPEL:FOR HERE OR TO GO?" here>

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Gospel: For Here Or To Go? (5 of 6)

By Keith Giles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we asking the wrong questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t this seem foolish?

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

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

(end of part 5)

*Excerpted from the book, "The Gospel:For Here Or To Go?" available as a free, downloadable PDF at

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


By Keith Giles

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

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

Why did Jesus pray this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*From the book, "The Gospel:For Here Or To Go?" here >

Monday, August 03, 2009


By Keith Giles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*From the book, "The Gospel: For Here Or To Go?", available as a free, downloadable PDF at

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Gospel: For Here Or To Go? (2 of 6)

By Keith Giles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*Excerpted from the book "The Gospel:For Here Or To Go?", available as a free, PDF download at