Sunday, July 31, 2011


A guest blog article by Alf Hutchison.

“So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'” (PS 95:11)

The writer of Hebrews takes this Word of God from Psalms to its ultimate conclusion, “For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,' " although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” (HEB 4:3)

The Lord, in Psalm 95, is addressing those Hebrews who had hard hearts and it was for them, He made the Laws, and they are still under that Law (Torah) today, even the law of the Sabbath, the Rest. "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,' for all those Christians who are returning to the ‘Jewish roots’, please read Gods words again "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'

The writer of Hebrews tells us more:
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (HEB 3:18-19)

The writer of Hebrews continues driving the point home.
“For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said, “So I swore in My wrath,'They shall not enter My rest,' " although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest." Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience.”
(HEB 4:3-6)

The writer of Hebrews then goes on to explain about the day concerned, regarding “His Sabbath rest”

“Again He designates a certain day, saying in David,( i.e. The Psalms) "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said:
"Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts."
There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
(HEB 4:7-10)

Finally remember well the words of Paul to those in Colossae:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.(COL 2:16-17)

The New Covenant came in to effect upon Calvary’s cross, "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (JER 31:33) And until that New Covenant is accepted by the Jews they will remain bound by the Law, and to the religious keeping of the Sabbath. Born again Christians already have the new Covenant in the Blood of Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit of God; and the Law in their hearts and their Sabbath rest is no longer a single day. It is every day.

"For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."(MATT 12:8) Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest, and His designated day is TODAY...and every day...not just Sunday or Saturday.

If we are to believe that “He is in us and we in Him”, then is it only on Sunday or Saturday that this occurs, or is it every day of our believing lives until He returns? If you are a born again Christian and you keep Sabbath, as the Jews do, you are in error.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (MT 11:28)

Yours In His Name,
Alf Hutchison

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bless Israel?

"...but Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation. You shall not be ashamed or disgraced forever and ever." (Isaiah 45: 17)

"All Israel will be saved." (Romans 11:26)

It's widely known that God promised to save Israel in the Old Testament scriptures. But most Jews today are not followers of Christ, so does that mean that this an unfulfilled promise?

Some Biblical scholars say that we should be patient because these promises to save Israel will come true eventually. One day the Jewish people will receive Jesus as the Messiah and they will be saved in fulfillment of God’s promise.

Another theory is that God’s promise has already come true. How? Because, according to the Apostle Paul, many of us have misunderstood the true identity of "Israel" as God intends it. To elaborate, God did not mean to suggest that the natural, national, ethnic Jews would all be saved, but only those who receive the Messiah (either Jew or Gentile) are truly "Israel".

Where does this teaching come from? In Romans 9:6 Paul says, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed." Why does he say this? Because, as he's about to demonstrate, God's promise to save Israel has not failed because "...not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel".

God made promises to Israel, the nation, but not everyone who is Jewish by blood will automatically receive the promised salvation. As Paul has already said, in Romans 2:28-29:

"For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God."

So, who is truly a "Jew" and who is truly "Israel" according to the Word of God? Is it anyone born from Jewish blood? Or is it only the one who is circumcised of the heart and in Christ? Clearly, Paul is adamant that the only true "Israel" are those who are in Christ and who accept the Messiah as Lord and Savior.

Let's look to the Old Testament to see if we can find evidence to support this claim. In Psalm 50:5, God calls those Jews who have made a covenant with him as his "Holy Ones". Later, in Psalm 50:16 God says to the same Jewish Nation,

"But to the wicked, God says, 'What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant upon your lips?’ For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you."

So, God clearly divides the Jewish people into groups; those who love and obey Him, and those who rebel against Him and refuse to submit to His rule and reign. One group of ethnic Jews are "Holy Ones" who will receive His promise. The other group of ethnic Jews are "wicked" and have no right to the promise.

So, when God made promises to Israel, He did not mean every single person with Jewish blood in their veins (of the flesh), but only to those who are truly "Israel" and submit to His rule and reign and obey Him in love, from their hearts (of the spirit).

As Jesus said of Nathaniel, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" (John 1:47) What does it mean to be "an Israelite indeed"? Apparently, according to Jesus, it means having no deceit in your heart. Therefore, not every Jew, according to Jesus, is "an Israelite indeed" but only those whose hearts are open to the will of God.

In Jeremiah 31:31, the prophet says, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah." In the upper room, before his crucifixion, Jesus held up the cup and declared, "...this cup is the new covenant in my blood."

To whom did he proclaim this covenant? To his disciples who were truly "the house of Israel" because their hearts were circumcised according to the Spirit and not to the flesh (except for Judas, of course).

Paul's argument is that the true Israel is a remnant of people, not the entire Jewish nation or race. In fact, this is why he proclaims,

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

Notice that he doesn’t say, “There are now both Jews AND Greeks”. Instead he says that now neither one exists as a separate entity. There is no more separation between the two groups because, in Christ, these distinctions cease to exist and become irrelevant.

Then, to put the icing on the cake, Paul ends this same passage by saying:
“And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:29)


Of course, this should come as no surprise because Paul also says in Romans 9:8, “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

So, when we are told that, as good American Christians we must support a secular state like the Nation of Israel, regardless of what political or military actions are taken, we have to stop and ask ourselves, “What does the Scripture really say about this?”

The notion that Christians, and America as a nation, should support the Nation of Israel comes from the scripture where God says to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

From this, we are told by our pastors and Christian leaders and political experts, that if we don’t bless Israel (the secular nation) politically, then we will as a nation will not be blessed. Is this true? I would say, no for several reasons.

First, because as we’ve already seen, not everyone who is Jewish is really “Israel”. Secondly, because there were plenty of Jewish leaders and Kings of the nation of Israel in the past who were anything but godly. So, for example, if we lived during the reign of Jeroboam (an evil King), God would not expect us to support his pagan worship practices, persecution of Jewish priests, and sacrifices to demons. Obviously not. So, the promise, (if it’s even intended to be something passed down to Abraham’s children or not), is meant to apply only to those who are spiritually “Abraham’s offspring” and according to Galatians 3:29, that means being in Christ, not being born a Jew.

Finally, I would like to ask what the fundamental difference is between today’s secular Jewish nation of Israel and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day? Both reject Christ as the Messiah and persecute Christians in Palestine. Should we support a government, any government, who persecutes our brothers and sisters in Christ?

What do you think?


Friday, July 29, 2011

When Should We Meet Together?

Once you start reading the New Testament it becomes clear that the original followers of Jesus had only one day set aside for worship, fellowship, teaching and community. That day was called "Every day".

For example, the book of Acts tells us that "every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts." (Acts 2:46) We also know that "the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers." (Acts 16:5).

The author of Hebrews calls for Christians to "encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." (Hebrews 3:13)

Paul the Apostle took a handful of followers of Jesus to the lecture hall of Tyrannus and "had discussions daily" (Acts 19:9).

When the Grecian Jews complained that their widows weren’t being cared for it was in regards to the "daily distribution of food" to the poor which the apostles themselves were performing as true servants. (Acts 6:1)

When the Bereans were commended it was because "they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11)

This really should come as no surprise to us, however. Jesus stressed that only those who "take up (their) cross daily" could follow him (Luke 9:23) and he taught his disciples to pray daily and to ask for "daily bread". (Matt 6:11)

A good friend responded recently pointed out that neglected to mention Acts 20:7 which indicates that the early Christians met on the “first day of the week” to share a meal and to hear Paul speak since he was about to go away the next day. (This is the infamous gathering where our poor brother Eutychus fell asleep and rolled out of the upstairs windows into the street below).

I will concede that, yes, it is apparent that the early church did see an importance to gathering on the first day of the week. However, I think we still don't grasp how much their expression of faith was so deeply ingrained in their daily lives.

To us, that "first day of the week" gathering is nearly the only time we think about things like discipleship, community, evangelism, compassion, worship, studying God's Word, fellowship, etc. However, the early church saw these things as daily activities, not once-a-week rituals.

So, if you take into account that the early, New Testament church was experiencing a daily community, and a daily study of God's Word, and engaged in daily discipleship, and daily distribution of food to the poor, and meeting together daily to fellowship and pray and sing and encourage one another, etc. THEN we can grasp how significant it is that they ALSO made a point to get together on the first day of the week to share a meal together.

I have to believe that if you and I were doing all that they were doing, we'd probably set aside the first day of the week as a special day where we DIDN'T gather together. I think we’d want to find a special day where we had a break from all that meeting and gathering and constant community. At least, I think I might.

Yes, the early church did set aside the first day of the week for sharing a meal together, and that was important to them, but it should be seen as yet another example of their astounding commitment to Christ - and to one another – not as evidence to justify our own lack of commitment.

So, instead of arguing over what day of the week we should worship or gather or teach, perhaps we should stop and realize that, according to the New Testament, every single day of our lives should be devoted to God, and to the community of faith. We need to be the Church every day of our lives, not simply attend one each week.


"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." - Colossians 2:16-17

*This article appeared here previously in October, 2009.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE (3 minute excerpt)

Excited to interview the producer/director of this excellent documentary, Porter Speakman, Jr., later next month for this blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Palestinian Christian Seeks Peace

"As believers, we are by no means immune to the destructive traits that mark our respective communities, and all of the factors that have further entrenched the divisions in the past decade have also affected us. We may disagree on how to go about reaching reconciliation, but we do still have hope for an improvement of our relations, and we have our shared faith in the Messiah who calls us to dwell in unity as brothers and sisters. If nothing is done to restore the relationships that have been damaged, there are dark days ahead, and this is why it is crucial that we allow God to use us as an instrument of his peace. We are called to be peacemakers, and stand against division, hatred and violence with love."
-Salim J. Munayer
Musalaha Director

"Musalaha is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus. We seek to be an encouragement and facilitator of reconciliation, first among Palestinian Christians and Messianic Israelis, and then beyond to our respective communities."

The name Musalaha comes from the Arabic word for 'reconciliation'.


More from Salim J. Munayer:

"So, what is our role as believers in this situation? How can we be a model of Messiah as we move forward in the reconciliation process? Are we too busy challenging the moral and ethical position of the other side that we are unwilling to take responsibility? Because our societies have chosen war and violence, there is a great need for reconciliation. We can accomplish this through taking on a priestly role of intercessor and prophetic role of speaking the truth.

"While the conflict has divided some believers, there are those taking a stand and fulfilling their priestly role. I was greatly encouraged last week to hear a Messianic pastor lead his congregation in a prayer of repentance, especially emphasizing that in a time of war, repentance is necessary from both the Israelis and the Palestinians. We must begin by examining our own sins, failures and shortcomings and seek God’s forgiveness and direction.

"Applying Joel 2, we read,
“Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12-13).

God desires us to grieve from within and turn our hearts back towards him. As we as believers intercede on behalf of the people in our societies we need to invoke the nature of God and beg for his mercy and compassion to fall upon us because we have sinned before him. We must also cry out for God’s mercy and compassion to fall upon the other side.

"In time of war we are also called to take on a prophetic role. The prophet was a representative of God who brought a message primarily to effect social change. The prophet spoke the truth and reminded us to care for the widow, orphan and stranger. When speaking the prophetic word, we need to be blunt without any hidden messages, and we need to have the courage to speak out when our people are wrong. In the prophetic role we are reminded that we must not only speak out against the injustice which has been committed against our own people, but also against others. We have a duty to speak out against the misuse of power and the blood of the innocent shed whether it is Israeli or Palestinian.

"The world views war as war. Some will say, “in war the innocent also die and we cannot help it.” My son was greatly distressed when his friend told him exactly this. I shared with him that in war we need to speak up for the innocent. We cannot justify the act of killing innocent people and say it was in self-defense. Yet, we cannot justify killing someone with a weapon just because they’re holding a weapon. Even killing in war for self-defense should be taken with caution and reverence. The enemy carrying the weapon is also a person who has also been created in the image of God. Especially in a time of war we need to speak louder and clearer against the misuse of power by our governments and their justification of power and violence. War doesn’t mean giving a free hand without any moral and ethical boundaries and limitations.

"So, while we are in the midst of war, we need to honestly seek the will of God and be discerning. We must become intercessors for our nation, our leaders and the other side and ask God to pour out his mercy and compassion. We must also become the prophet and convey that message of injustice happening in our societies. We need to attempt to relieve the pain of the innocent even if we feel our side’s reasoning for war is justified. Instead of pointing the finger, let us look within ourselves and repent. Then let us look at the other side with compassion and love, with a love that transcends societal boundaries, rocket fire and airstrikes."

- Salim Munayer

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What is "Sound Doctrine"?

You've probably heard teachers and preachers talk about the need for "sound doctrine" in today's church. Usually, this "sound doctrine" happens to mirror a denominational statement of faith ratified years ago and enforced by church leadership, (deacons, elders, etc.), and reinforced through church membership classes and sometimes even Sunday School classes.

But, what is "sound doctrine" according to the Word of God? Shouldn't we take whatever standards there may be for "sound doctrine" from the Scriptures themselves?

Here's what Paul had to say about "sound doctrine" when he wrote to the apostle, Titus:

"You, (Titus) however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine." - Titus 2:1

See? Obviously Paul knew that it was very important to teach sound doctrine in the Church. Luckily for us, Paul breaks down the elements of this sound doctrine for us here:

"Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." - Titus 2:2-5

Wait. So, let me get this straight. Paul says that sound doctrine is all about being self-controlled, loving, patient and full of faith? Huh. I was expecting more like rules and laws and stuff. Wait, let's see what he says after this part. Maybe the rules and laws come later:

"Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us."- Titus 2:6-8

Ok. So, sound doctrine seems to be more about how we live our lives before one another. It's like, setting examples for one another by doing good, showing integrity, speaking truthfully, living a simple, decent life before men. That's....shocking. So is the next part:

"Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." - Titus 2:9-11

Ok, then. So, slaves should continue to serve their masters in humility, show that they can be fully trusted and in so doing, "they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." Wow. Paul's goal here seems to be more about living out a sincere, authentic faith before the world than in any personal piety or in following rules and laws. Maybe he gets to the part about infant baptism or the pre-millenial kingdom in this last part? Let's see:

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." - Titus 2:11-14

Whoa. Now Paul has started to jack up the whole idea of Grace too. Here he says that Grace teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions. I thought Grace was there to give us a pass when we say "Yes" to our worldly passions. Right? Hmm...maybe not. Again, Paul seems to teach here that Grace empowers us to live out the Sound Doctrine of living self-controlled, upright and godly lives.

"These, then, are the things you should teach." - Titus 2:15

Really? Well....ok, then. Let's all start teaching "Sound Doctrine" as Paul outlines it for us here. We are called to teach one another to live simple, humble, godly lives of service, love, compassion and integrity before one another and to the world around us. How? By the power of Grace that "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions."

If our churches today would major on sound doctrine like this and not divide over stupid disagreements about the return of Christ, or over doctrines of tongues or the rapture, or predestination, or any other superficial topic, we might actually live out true sound doctrine as Paul describes.

Disputes over doctrines come because we allow them to become more important to us than our unity in Christ.

What is it makes us one? Christ! Not our agreements about infant baptism, or freewill, or pre-millenialism, or the King James Bible. None of that. The only thing that makes us one is Christ, and He is more than enough.



"If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:14-15 ESV)

"Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us." (Philippians 3:17 ESV)

"What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:9 ESV)

"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV)

"For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate." (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 ESV)

"But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV)

"Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV)

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7 ESV)

"Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God." (3 John 1:11 ESV)

"...not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:3 ESV)

Monday, July 25, 2011


Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. - Titus 3:10-11

The work of the Church is to make disciples and to build one another up in Christ. It is not to divide over foolish arguments or political issues.

Paul even goes so far as to suggest that we should give up our rights in order to keep the peace:

"Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" (1 Cor 6:7)

In the Body of Christ the ideas of love and unity are crucial. Why? Because the Church is called to embody the loving, accepting Koinonia love and fellowship that finds its root in the Holy Spirit of God.

When it comes to divisive men and women who only want to argue about doctrine or who seek to have their way in the Church, Paul makes one thing clear: Have nothing to do with them.

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.’" – Romans 16:17-19

This doesn't mean that we will never disagree on issues or on our understanding of scriptures. It's possible to disagree on these things and remain one Body and maintain loving fellowship. What Paul is warning us about is one who introduces ideas and arguments in order to bring division. The one's who upset the value of unity in the Church are to be avoided. Those who want to trap others, or who strategically plan their attack in order to have their way are to be ignored.

These people exist. They will seek to divide the Church over petty issues and doctrines. Their goal is not to bring peace, but to win the argument and to have the Church reflect their personal preferences.

None of us in the Church should ever desire division. We should not seek to have our own way. We should not take the wheel and steer the Church to where we want it to go.

The Lord Jesus is the Lord of His Church. He will have His way. Woe to those who put their hands to what belongs to God.

May the Lord Jesus always be allowed to lead His Church. He is the Head, not any one of us.


Sunday, July 24, 2011


NOTE: This is the final article in a ten part series. All of these are compiled and available as a free PDF download or for purchase as a physical book HERE>

Number 1- "The Gospel Is Not About Going To Heaven When You Die"

If you read the words of Jesus you'll quickly begin to notice that all he ever talks about is something called "The Kingdom of God." In fact, the only Gospel that Jesus ever talks about during his entire ministry on Earth was the Gospel of the Kingdom. There is no other Gospel.

Anyone who reads Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (the Gospels) will come away hearing all about The Gospel of the Kingdom from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was for here and now. This was the "Good News" in a nutshell- Anyone who wanted to enter God's Kingdom could do so on the spot. Jesus demonstrated what life in the Kingdom looked like. The Beattitudes are a picture of what life in the Kingdom looks like. Nearly every single parable of Jesus is designed to explain a particular facet of the Kingdom. His Sermon on the Mount declares the values of this Kingdom. His teachings are intended to show us how to live within the Kingdom, and His life was a blueprint for us to follow as we ourselves enter the Kingdom and learn from Him.

The only Gospel ever preached by Jesus is the message of The Kingdom of God. It was the new order where God's perfect will is always done in the lives of His followers. We do not need to wait until we die to enter God's Kingdom.

Many of us have been taught that the Gospel is about praying a prayer so that you can go to heaven when you die. This is false. Jesus never explained the Gospel in these terms. Instead, he talked about what it meant to follow him. He spoke about being a disciple. He described a way of life that was meant for today.

Most of us would define the Gospel as a spiritual transaction whereby we who are sinners receive a ticket to heaven when we die because of the death of Jesus upon the cross in our place. Yet, if we take this definition of the Gospel and apply it to the scriptures, we can easily see that this was not what Jesus or his disciples had in mind when they went around proclaiming the Gospel.

Even someone with a basic knowledge of the disciples can agree that whenever Jesus described his imminent arrest, torture and crucifixion to his closest friends and followers, their constant response to this was confusion, denial or flat out dismissal. If this were a central part of the Gospel as Jesus was proclaiming it to them, and as they themselves were proclaiming, it would seem logical that they would be able to grasp it. But this is clearly not the case.

Let's be very clear, the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross is an essential element of our salvation and those who place their complete trust in Jesus are promised an enternity in God's presence because of this. This is part of the Gospel message, but it is not the entire message.

Part of the reason we've gotten so far off the track when it comes to an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus is because we've attempted to reduce the message into a quick bumper sticker slogan or a set of easy steps to salvation. Our efforts to market the Gospel have back-fired. Now there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals in pews across the Nation who believe that they are Christians because they said a prayer once when they were nine years old and now they can go to heaven when they die, regardless of whether or not they intend to follow Jesus or surrender their lives to Christ.

Discipleship to Jesus, then, becomes optional, not essential. This is not what Jesus had in mind at all.

When we look at passages where Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding area to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense that what they were sharing with the community had anything to do with a guy who was going to die very soon for their sins and, once he did that, if they repeated a careful prayer, then they could go to heaven when they died.

Obviously, whatever it was that the disciples went out preaching, it wasn’t anything to do with a subject they exhibited zero understanding of or agreement with.

So, what was it that the disciples went out preaching? It was simply the Gospel of the Kingdom. The same message that we see Jesus publicly proclaiming over and over again in the Gospels.

Here are just a few examples from Scripture:

"I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." (Luke 4:43)

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15)

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." (Matt 9:35)

"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom.." (Matt 4:23)

What we must keep in mind, as we begin to explore the concepts found in the Gospel of the Kingdom, is that this new system of life is God’s system. It is not one way of living, but in truth it is the way of living. Even as these new ways of thinking and living and being confound our minds and defy our logic and reason, we must constantly strive to remind ourselves that it is not God’s system that is unrealistic, but it is our own pattern of thinking and living that needs to be reformed and renewed. (see Romans 12)

Most of us read the words of Jesus and see a version of reality that seems surprisingly alien.

The words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount seem to be for another world and another place, not for the actual world you and I live in and deal with every single day. But this is because the World around us is "upside down" to the values of the Kingdom of God. In God's Kingdom the greatest is the servant of all, the first is the last, the weak are stronger, and those who lose their lives find their life.

When Jesus came to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, it was for today. It was intended for the here and now of life, not for some mystical afterlife beyond the grave.

What Jesus was proclaiming was that we could live today under the rule and reign of Almighty God. Instead of waiting to have this quality of life, Jesus was presenting an alternative system of living whereby we could reap the benefits of a God-Ruled Universe right now.

This is why so many people followed Jesus. This is why his message, his Gospel, was so compelling, and therefore so dangerous, to those who held spiritual power over the masses.

In my own spiritual journey, from a nine year old convert in a small Texas town, to a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel pastoring others in their walk with Jesus, I have to confess that most of my progress has assumed the more popular Gospel of Salvation and not the actual Gospel that Jesus himself actually preached while he was here in the flesh.

It was only a few years ago, as I was doing my very first interview for a brand-new online column on American Spirituality called "Subversive" that I quite literally had my little spiritual paradigm re-arranged forever. I was interviewing a gentleman named Todd Hunter. Some of you may know him as the former National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, and perhaps others of you as the President of ALPHA Ministries here in the U.S. To me, he was someone I had heard preach at various times on Sunday mornings when our main pastor was out of town or sick. He was a practical and real-world teacher of the scriptures, and someone I respected in the arena of modern church development.

At one point in the interview, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the single biggest problem or challenge in American Christianity today. I suppose I expected him to cite apathy, or a lack of humility, or perhaps a lack of observable spiritual conviction among the Western Church. But what he said in response to this inquiry literally rocked my world and I have never been the same since.

Here is an excerpt from the interview with Todd Hunter that day.

"I think America is largely inoculated against the Gospel now, against what it believes the Gospel is all about," said Hunter. "I don’t believe the Gospel is about saying a prayer and then when you die you get to go to heaven. I think the true Gospel is about the in-breaking of the kingdom into your life today. The Gospel is not, ‘Jesus paid the price for my sins so I go to heaven when I die,’ or at least it’s not the Gospel that Jesus announced. The Gospel that Jesus announced is the good news of the present availability of the kingdom through Him. When we only think of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice, then His life and teaching and modeling just totally go out the window. Discipleship then becomes optional," Hunter argued. "But, if the Gospel is the good news that you can enter the kingdom and receive a different kind of life now, then you’ve got a basis for discipleship, or ‘follower-ship.’

NOTE: You can read this entire interview by downloading the free PDF or purchasing my book [Subversive Interviews] HERE

It was this single concept, the Gospel of the Kingdom, that radically influenced the most significant spiritual re-education of my life in every area of my personal theology.

It's the whole reason I continue to write and blog and publish articles and books on the subject of discipleship to Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Once you begin to understand the the Gospel is about living in the Kingdom of God here and now, everything else about the Christian life begins to fall into place. Scriptures begin to take on more robust and personal meaning. Humility becomese essential to your spiritual life. Jesus becomes your lifeline to this incredible way of living. Your entry into the Kingdom of God begins right now.

This is Good News. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom, and it's the only Gospel Jesus ever preached.



Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #2

Number 2 - "Belief Is Not Enough (Or It's Not What You Think It Is)"

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life"- Jesus (John 3:16)

In the actual passage, Jesus is having a conversation with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. In the conversation Jesus is not asking Nicodemus to believe that Jesus is standing there, or that he is real. Obviously Nicodemus believed Jesus was real and alive because they were having an active conversation together. So, to "believe" in Jesus is more than having mental knowledge of him, or an acceptance of a series of facts about Jesus as being true.

What does Jesus intend to teach here? I think it all hangs on how you understand his use of the word "Believe". If you think Jesus meant "to think that Jesus was an historical person", or even "to accept that Jesus was the Messiah", you’d be missing the real point.

I believe that what Jesus was trying to communicate in John 3:16 is the importance of living out what you say you believe, not simply saying what you believe and then living any way you please.

One way to express this is to ask yourself what it is you do each and every day of your life. I would suggest that Biblical belief can be expressed in the statement "Show me what you do, how you behave, and that is what you really believe".

So, what do you really believe about Jesus? It's revealed in the way you live your life. It's revealed in the way you treat people. It's revealed in the way you think of yourself. It's revealed in the way you behave when you think no one is looking.

If you have really confessed and believed that Jesus is Lord, then your life will reflect that reality as you submit to the rule and reign of God in your life. It will be revealed as you search the scriptures for wisdom and in the way you apply it to your everyday life. If you have confessed it and yet continue to rule your own life as you see fit, then in reality it is you in control and not Jesus, therefore, Jesus is not Lord.

There is a wonderful passage in a book called "Follow Me" by Jan David Hettinga (which I whole-heartedly recommend) where the author relates a counseling session between himself and a dear friend who is undergoing turmoil in his life. The author listens to his friend complain about his life and then challenges him to prove whether or not Jesus is really in charge of his life. At first this friend is angry at him for suggesting such a thing, but then the author calmly points out every event in his life where he has blatantly followed his own lusts and desires and kept Jesus out of control.

At the end of the conversation the author asks his friend, "What would your life look like if you really gave Jesus control over everything today?" His friend is quiet for a moment and then starts to say, "I guess I'd stop drinking so much and I'd have to cancel my poker night with the guys every week. I know I'd have to be a lot nicer to my wife and spend more time with my children, etc."

The author then asks his friend if he's willing to start allowing Jesus to be the Lord of his life or not.

I'm not suggesting that doctrine and belief are unnecessary. In fact, I feel that doctrine is quite important. But by itself it's not enough. In other words, if a group of people only believe that murder is wrong, but they don’t practice this belief, you’ll always have the occasional dead body to deal with. Practice matters.

The things we believe, really believe, will affect the way we live our lives. If we honestly believe that Jesus is God, then we will put His words into practice. If we say we do, but we live in a way that is contrary to His clear teaching, then perhaps we really don't believe in Jesus after all?

Maybe what we need is to have a reinterpretation of what it means to believe? Better yet, perhaps we should simply take Jesus at his word and begin to do what he says?

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching...he who does not love me will not obey my teaching." – JESUS (John 14:23-24)

I would love for the day to come when people can tell whether or not someone is a follower of Jesus by the way they practice the Jesus way of life.

In the early church, the Christian faith was defined more by practice, not by doctrine. Doctrine is necessary to outline the scope of the belief system, but without anyone actually practicing those beliefs, it's all quite useless and empty.

Islam, Judaism and the early Christians were all defined by what they did (practiced) more than their specific doctrines (beliefs). Jews kept the Sabbath. Muslims prayed several times a day, Christians gave to the poor. Faith was seen as a way of life, not something contained in a list of beliefs.

In our current culture, being a Christian is still understood as being more about having the right belief and less about having the character of Christ and practicing what you believe.

Again, I'm not against doctrine and this article is not in any way attempting to suggest that doctrine and theology are useless. Far from it. In fact, what I'm saying is that your doctrine and theology are a lie if you don't act out the principles contained in your doctrine and theology.

I am also not suggesting that our actions affect our salvation, which is 100% the work of Christ and his act of sacrifice upon the cross. It is not our actions that save us, but our actions are evidence that we have been saved. Dallas Willard, one of my spiritual heroes, has a great quote about this. He says, "What you really believe about Jesus is revealed by what you do when you realize that you cannot do anything (to earn your salvation*)".

(*From the Allelon Series on Kingdom Living)

My summation of this goes, "Swimming won't make you a fish; but if you are a fish you will swim." So, if you do good works in order to be saved you're wasting your time. However, if you have truly become a new creation through a relationship with Jesus, you will become the sort of person who does good works by nature.

My concern is for those people out there who are placing a false hope in a statement of faith in Jesus who have never actually surrendered their actual everyday life to Christ. I'm also concerned that our world is full of people who walk around proclaiming themselves to be Christians yet live any way they want; in complete opposition to the commands of Jesus

"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." – JESUS (John 17:3)

The kind of knowledge Jesus is speaking of here corresponds with the idea of intense intimacy. In fact, it's closer to the word for sexual interaction. This is the kind of knowledge that conceives new life. This is the kind of intimate knowledge of God and of Jesus we are meant to have. It's not about knowing stuff, it's about knowing Him as a friend.

Knowing stuff about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. For example, I could know all about Shaquille O'Neil but still not know him as a person. My knowledge of him would not mean that Shaq and I are friends. In the same way, it's possible for you and I to become experts on Bible Trivia about Jesus and still not really "know" Jesus personally.

A few months ago a friend of mine stood in my house and shared with me a story about someone who they were hoping would become a Christian. "If I can just get them to say they believe in Jesus, they're saved," the person said.

We had an interesting discussion out of that statement, but what really kept gnawing on me was the mindset that my friend had, and that I observe that many others have, when it comes to the question of Salvation. Specifically, I think it has to do with what we believe it really means to be a Christian.

Obviously, my friend would say that to be a Christian is to say that you believe in Jesus. Maybe you don't even have to really do anything else except say it out loud, like a magic word, and then God has no choice but to let you into heaven. I have to question this line of reasoning.

I know that many Christians believe that all you have to do to get into Heaven is to repeat a prayer, believe that Jesus was real and make plans for the afterlife. But is that really what the Scriptures teach about what it means to inherit Eternal Life? Is that really what it means to be a Christian?

According to Scripture, the earliest disciples of Jesus were of the opinion that following Him was all about practice, putting your faith where your life is, not saying one thing and then doing another.

Trusting in Jesus, believing in Him, is about obedience to His commands, submission to His will, and an ongoing relationship with Him. Biblical belief is not about cerebral acknowledgement of a set of doctrines, it's about putting into practice with your life what you have come to believe in your heart and mind.

So, the Christian life is about belief, and it's also about how we practice what we believe. This is where the real Christian life begins.

"Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." – James 2:18


Friday, July 22, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #3

Number 3- "We Are (not) Called to Judge (unbelievers)"

My first trial by fire as a young minister of music involved a best friend's mom having an affair with an associate pastor at our church. The woman was young enough to be the pastor's daughter, and he and this woman were both married to other people, with children of their own.

As a newly ordained pastor, I was thrust into a very complicated and painful series of deacon's meetings, private conversations, and sleepless nights as I wrestled with this ugly mess. The woman was our organist on Sunday mornings, and one of my own mom’s best friends. I was the minister of music for our church and I felt it wasn't prudent for her to continue to play the organ every week with this controversy raging through our church. Our deacon board verbally assured me that they would be behind me all the way, and they were behind me...about ten feet behind me. I had to approach this woman who I had known and respected for years, and the mother of one of my best friends, and ask her to step aside until the issue could be resolved. It was the first of many painful confrontations to come in my pastoral experience.

Many people at this church took the position that we are not to judge others when it comes to situations such as this. They all quoted Jesus himself in this case who said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1-2)

If we only look at this verse of scripture alone, we can easily close the issue and conclude that we are wrong to judge others. However, Jesus has more to say on the subject than this. Later on, in the very same Gospel, Jesus also says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)

Taking both passages into account, what Jesus is saying is that, first, we are to judge fairly. In the first passage Jesus talks about how we will be judged in the same manner that we judge others. If we judge them fairly, then we will be judged that way too. If we judge with prejudice or without a sense of mercy, we will also be judged without mercy.

Additionally, Jesus forbids us from judging the eternal salvation of others here. Whatever our response to someone's actions, we are never to judge their eternal position before God. We cannot determine if someone is righteous or evil, that is for God alone to decide. This is why Jesus follows the passage in Matthew chapter 7 with the added illustration of taking the plank out of our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. He wants us to be more concerned with our own personal righteousness and leave the inspection of others' righteousness to One more qualified.

In the second passage gives us a practical procedure for dealing with people who have hurt us or wronged us. People who are caught in adultery usually take the position that they are not hurting anyone else and the rest of us should just mind our own business and leave them alone. What they don't realize is that their infidelity is like an emotional/spiritual nuclear bomb that explodes, devastating family, friends, relationships and acquaintances for hundreds of miles in every direction. Adultery is an offense to everyone who ever knew you, loved you or trusted you. I’ve watched it decimate entire churches, families, and life-long friendships in a matter of days. With this in mind, Jesus' instructions to us in the second passage (Matthew 18:15-17) are very welcome indeed. First he asks us to go privately to the person who has wronged us. The goal is repentance. At every step, the ultimate goal is repentance. The person has to realize that they've done something that is fundamentally wrong and then they must be willing to take steps to cease the behavior, seek forgiveness and work towards healing (for themselves as well as the one's they have injured).

Paul the Apostle, in his letter to the Corinthians, also provides great clarity for us within the Church on matters of dealing with this issue:

"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. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you." (1 Cor 5:9-13)

Here Paul clearly states that he expects that those within the Church would be discerning and would deal with those within the Body who call themselves Christians and yet continue to behave in a way that is inconsistent with someone who has truly surrendered their life to Christ.

Paul assumes that if someone behaving this way is confronted by the Church, in a loving and humble way, they will certainly repent and turn away from their sins and be restored to the fellowship. If they have not truly surrendered their lives to Jesus, then they will refuse to repent and will continue in their selfish, destructive behavior, and in that case Paul echoes Jesus (from Mathew 18) and commands that this person be removed from the fellowship and treated "as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

Many in the Church today take too lightly the idea of Church Discipline. Most of us would rather "Live and let live" than to confront another person about their ongoing sinful behavior. Many feel that to ask someone to repent of their behavior is destructive and cruel, however the truth is it's the most loving thing we can possibly do for them. If we love them, we will come to them and give them an opportunity to repent and to turn away from their destructive behaviors. It's not the easy thing to do, the right thing rarely is, but it's the most loving thing to do.

Over the last few years, I've had many opportunities to confront a brother or sister in Christ who was engaged in destructive, sinful behavior. I've always dreaded those conversations. I've never enjoyed the process at all. Many times the person's response is to run away, or to get offended, or to leave the church. Sometimes, (and I am sad to say it's rare), the person responds with tears and confession and repentance and moves forward into healing and restoration and wholeness. I wish that happened every time, but for those few times it has happened, I am very grateful.

The real test comes when that person does repent and turn away from their sin. This is the time when the Body of Christ has the opportunity to practice forgiveness and acceptance. This is where we are the ones who get to prove that we also have truly surrendered to Christ and remember the amazing grace poured out on us.

There's a passage in Paul's first letter to the churches in Corinth that I love to quote on this issue. It starts out sounding harsh, but the latter section is brilliant. It says, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offender's nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Notice that he says, "And that is what some of you were." This is a wonderful reminder to all of us that we were all screwed up when we came to Jesus, and many of us are still screwed up as we wake up each day to follow Jesus. Paul points out that the early Church was made up of former idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and even homosexual offenders. Take that into consideration for a while. Those first groups of believers were hardly saints in their former lives. Paul wants them to stop and remember this. He wants them to recall that they were once far away from God and have no basis to wag their fingers at one of their own who falls back into that way of life.

The truth is that none of us has it figured out. None of us is yet perfect. So, when a brother or sister stumbles, we are called by God to lovingly, compassionately, confront them and offer them a chance to repent and turn away from their destructive behavior, and when they do, if they do, we are then expected to love them and embrace them and accept them as if they had never stumbled at all. One day you and I might stumble, and this is how we would want to be loved by our church family, isn't it?

Judging the unbeliever's around us is clearly out of the question for us. We are expected to love them and befriend them and serve them. We are called to demonstrate the love of Jesus in tangible ways to those who have yet to receive Christ. But within the Body, we are fully commanded to confront sinful behaviors and to remove those who do not turn away from their sin. This is also the love of Jesus.

We are called to love one another, and this means being willing to speak the truth, even if it is painful to those we love, and even to us.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." -Jesus (John 13:34-35)


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #4


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 view of salvation. 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.

The early church fathers also had a great saying that has come to inspire my own faith. The statement was "Conversatio Morem!" which can mean either "Death To The Status Quo!" or "Constant Conversion!", depending on the context.

This phrase was indicative of the mindset held by the early church fathers that salvation, or conversion, was something every disciple needed to experience constantly, not just a one-time event.

We could learn a lot from those early Christians, I believe. Our Church today could benefit from a new perspective on salvation as a process rather than as a single point in time. If we kept our focus on leading people to faith in Christ, with the understanding that we would continue, day-by-day, to encourage their ongoing submission to Jesus, the quality of our Churches would improve, our reputation in the community would improve, and the lives of those people would improve.

We need to follow Jesus, not just believe in Him. As it stands today, most Churches are more focused on winning converts, focusing on a one-time profession of faith, rather than aiming for long-term, daily surrender to Christ.

As I've said many times before, our question needs to be, "If you'd be alive tomorrow, who would you follow and how would you live your life?" and not, "If you died tonight, do you know you'd be in heaven tomorrow?” One question is about how you will die, the other is about how you intend to live. Salvation is about life, not death, and following Christ is about the life you're living right now, not the life you hope to live after you die and go to Heaven.

Following Christ, by definition, suggests a daily pattern of life modeled after Jesus and seeking His wisdom and guidance for daily decisions. It does not suggest a single event that took place years ago on a Sunday morning.

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.

We will realize that our part of this process of evangelism involves a committment to people that extends long after they've made that first, tentative step towards following Christ, and we'll begin to see our own salvation as something we have to daily work on, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, as we surrender our lives to Christ every morning and confess our need for Jesus with every breath.

"..Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." - Philipians 2:12-13


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #5

Number 5- "Humility Is Essential"

"Humility is a virtue so beyond my understanding that should I achieve it, I would be proud of myself" - Benjamin Franklin

Someone once defined a prideful person as "..someone who spends too much time thinking about themselves and not enough time thinking about me." Andrew Murray put it another way, "Humility is not thinking less of myself, it is not thinking of myself at all."

God has a lot to say about pride, and as I go through my life I have seen the wisdom of these words played out numerous times.

"God opposes the proud, but gives Grace to the humble."
- (Proverbs 3:34)

This verse speaks volumes, doesn't it? We are handed a simple choice; To humble ourselves and receive Grace, or to continue in our pride and have the creator of the Universe oppose us. Sadly, my own pride has often been the catalyst in my life for failure, bad judgement and hurt feelings. I have learned to hate my pride and to keep a close eye on it, just in case it tries to rise up and do something stupid.

When Jesus went out and spoke to the people of his day, he centered his teaching on something called "The Kingdom of God". He told stories to illustrate what life was like in this Kingdom. He used everyday moments to point out Kingdom values. Jesus was almost always teaching his disciples, and anyone else in earshot, what the Kingdom of God was all about.

One interesting thing about the Kingdom of God is that to enter it you must first humble yourself, (see Mark 10:14-15). That's because the Kingdom of God is quite simply that place where the absolute will of God is done. This means that God is King, and that you and I are not. So, if we will not humble ourselves and submit to God's will in every way, we cannot enter the Kingdom. Better said, when we refuse to humble ourselves, we have left the Kingdom of God and entered our own Kingdom, where our will is done.

This is why Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."(Luke 9:23) Jesus isn't being mean here. He's not saying, "If you don't jump through this hoop I will not allow you to join my club." What he's saying here is more like, "If you can't swim, you will not be allowed to work as a lifeguard at the pool." Jesus is simply pointing out that someone who is unwilling to let go of their agenda, their will for their life, cannot follow him. It can't be done without humility and submission.

Even Jesus began his ministry by humbling himself to become flesh, to be born to a simple, poor family, and even to lay down his life for us all. (see Phil 2:5-8) See, God went first. He humbled Himself before us. He submitted Himself to us first, and even when we were putting nails through His hands and feet, He continued to surrender to us in order to rescue us from our sins.

Now, Jesus asks us who are called by His name to humble ourselves. We are expected to look at Jesus as our blueprint for life in the Kingdom of God and become obedient to God, even to the point of death as we carry our own crosses daily.

I believe that is why Jesus set the example of washing his disciples feet. He humbled himself before them, served them as a slave would serve his master, and then said, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will blessed if you do them." (John 13:15;17)

That's the key ladies and gentlemen. We are blessed when we do these things. Not when we "know" these things, but when we "do" these things. That is when the blessing comes. Humility isn't just a good idea, it's a pattern of life for those who desire to place their feet into those prints left in the sand just ahead of us by a carpenter from Nazareth.

"He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #6

Number 6 - "We ARE The Church!"

Several years ago my wife and I helped some friends of ours plant a new church in Tustin, California. At the time I was longing to leave my job as a program manager at Ingram Micro in order to return to full-time ministry. As it happened, I was laid off from that job and went on staff at this same church only a few months later.

My time on staff there was a great opportunity to try new things and to lead to start ministry to the poor in our community. Personally, I learned a lot during this time and it was because of this that my wife and I began to feel a calling to start a new church-plant of our own.

At first my assumption was that we would plant another church much like the one we were currently on staff with. I envisioned a traditional church-plant with a small team of leaders meeting in a rented gymnasium somewhere in a neighboring city trying to coax the unchurched into our meeting each week.

Then something happened that changed all that. I had developed a strong desire to serve the poor during this time and I knew this would be a high value for the new church we started. However, one day I came across an article by Ray Mayhew entitled,"Embezzlement:The Corporate Sin of American Christianity". In this article, Mayhew looks at the high value that the early church placed on caring for the poor. He shares how the New Testament church considered all of the tithe as belonging to the poor and not to themselves. At no time did the offering ever go to building structures or purchasing equipment, in every case the offering belonged to the poor, the orphan, the widow and the sick. This realization galvanized my vision of establishing a body of believers who valued the poor beyond their own comfort and safety. My wife and I began to pray about how we could start a church here in Orange County, one of the richest counties in the Nation, with a committment to give 100% of the tithe to the poor and keep nothing for itself.

I can remember the day Wendy and I realized the answer. We were sitting on our bed talking about how great it would be if people could know that all of their tithe was going to help single Moms pay their rent, or to provide food for the homeless, or to assist the elderly to buy their prescription medicine. We were trying to figure out how we could realistically afford to run a church and still give all of our offerings to those in need. Wendy looked at me, and I looked at her, and almost at the same time we realized, "We're talking about a House Church". In that moment, if Wendy had laughed at the idea and told me I was crazy I think we would have found a compromise to our dilemna, or perhaps we never would have started a house church at all. Instead, she nodded her head and smiled. "You're right. It's a house church," she said.

When we first told our friends what we envisioned doing, many looked at us as if we had three heads. To be honest, I felt like I was insane whenever I tried to explain it to people. It just seemed so crazy and so "out of the box" to me, because no one I knew had ever done this before. I had grown up in the traditional church. I had been licensed and ordained in the denominational church. My entire Christian experience was totally connected to the modern, organized way of doing church. To step outside of that structure in order to follow our calling seemed uncertain at best, and downright terrifying at worst. This was what it felt like to be a pioneer, loading up the buckboard with supplies and heading West into the great unknown with only your family, a few provisions, and a lot of faith.

There are times when people say that we have left the Church. In fact, more often that not, whenever I hear someone refer to those in the house church movement, it's to say they have "left the Church". This illustrates one key misunderstanding that I'd like to clear up.

If you have surrendered your life to Christ and have an ongoing, daily relationship with Jesus, then you ARE the Church! This means you cannot leave the Church. You can decide to worship in another way, or in another place, or outside the walls of an established, organized expression of the Church, but unless you break fellowship with other believers, or turn away from your daily walk with Jesus, you cannot, and you have not, "Left the Church".

Sometimes I believe that people within the organized Church use this statement as a tactic to black-list those who dare to venture outside their established realm. Not every time of course, but if more and more people get it into their heads that they can "do it themselves", this threatens the organized expression of Church. Pastors who attended seminary in order to make a vocation out of the ministry feel as if they are no longer necessary when those within the House Church movement suggest that a gathering of like-minded Believers meeting in a living room with only The Word of God and the Holy Spirit to guide them are actually viable "Churches"; as valid and as acceptable as those with professional clergy and staff.

The other tactic I see over and over again is the claim that House Churches are vulnerable to heretical doctrine, again because of the abundance of lay people and the absence of professional, seminary-educated pastors. I find this argument especially ludicrous, honestly. If you want to create an environment that is ripe for heresy, here's what you should do: Only have one person act as the vocal spiritual authority. Have that one person speak without interruption each week and when the doctrine is spoken have everyone stand up, get in their cars and go home until next week. Do not allow those people to interact with the speaker. Do not allow those people an opportunity to discuss the message that was delivered by the speaker. That is, historically, how heresy develops. One person, usually a charismatic figure with a slanted set of doctrines, leads a large group of people
to follow his private vision and interpretation of the Scriptures. Those people do not question the leader and they are not allowed to discuss or challenge his message.

In the House Church it is much more difficult to introduce heretical doctrines such as this. If one person begins to suggest a set of ideas or teachings that are in conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture, there are many others within the group who can challenge these thoughts and point out other Scriptures to correct any errors of doctrine. This keeps us from being lead astray by one person with a private agenda.

This is why the first Christians, meeting in homes, lead by the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, actually preserved all of the creeds and doctrines of Christendom for over 300 years! Whenever heresy developed it was almost always lead by one individual who had a different doctrine or a particular spin on an existing one. Those people attempted to lead others astray after their own brand of the truth. But the New Testament House Church (and there wasn't any other kind of New Testament Church), maintained the teachings of Christ and the Orthodox Faith we hold so dear
today without ever resorting to any other form of church. I find that fascinating, to be honest. I think that God revealed His genius when He inspired the eary Church to form a family-based, Spirit-lead group where love for one another, and for others (the poor, the sick, the outcast), was the main goal.

So, if you ever feel called to change the location of where you worship, or if you feel the need to change churches, or perhaps even to join a House Church, please never forget; You ARE the Church! Church is not a meeting you attend or a building you gather in. You are the Church as long as you have surrendered your life to Christ and you daily seek His face and follow His teachings. If you gather with other believers, in a gymnasium, under a tree, in a home, by the beach, etc., then you are the Church and you can never leave it, unless you completely turn away from Jesus and abandon the Faith.

One of the most amazing things I've discovered in leading a House Church has been in realizing that we are called to be the Church and not to attend one.


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #7

Number 7- "Work" Is Not A Bad Word

There is a pervasive mind-set within the American Christian community that to do works is somehow in opposition to the Gospel. If you've ever heard a pastor or a well-meaning Christian chastise someone for acts of service by saying, "That's works, brother" then you know what I'm talking about.

It's easy to understand how this idea has crept into the Church here in America. We've equated the idea of doing good works with Liberal Theology, or cultic misunderstandings of the gift of salvation. By doing so, we've defined service to others out of existence, and in some cases we've even made people feel guilty for acting out their faith in any overt way.

Our mantra has become, "Salvation is a free gift! You can't do anything to earn it, and you don't need to do anything to keep from losing it." Therefore, we've concluded by inference, or by direct argumentation, that works of any kind must be in opposition to the concept of the free gift of salvation offered to us by the work of Christ on our behalf upon the cross of Calvary.

However, this idea of works being against the Law of Grace is a twisted concept. Paul the Apostle never teaches this, Peter never teaches it, and Jesus certainly doesn't ever suggest that doing good works is against the will of God. Far from it. The fact is, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament all agree that to be a follower of Christ is to be a doer of good works.

The real problem lies in our misunderstanding of the concept of Grace. Our pulpits have been polluted with a gross misrepresentation of what Grace is really all about.

First, let's talk about what Grace is not. It is not a free pass to sin so that you can pray for forgiveness when you're all done. It is not a license to do nothing. It's also not a "Get out of good works free" card.

Grace is opposed to earning your salvation. It is not opposed to exerting effort towards helping someone in need or serving others as you would like to be served.

Our misunderstanding of Grace has confused our calling and purpose on this Earth as Christ's Ambassadors. It has given us permission to barricade the doors of the Church, shutting us off from the pain and suffering beyond our sacred walls. It has infected us with apathy and assuaged our guilt with lies about how we might endanger our salvation if we act out the love of Christ.

I find it fascinating that one of the main verses of scripture used to argue in favor of this twisted version of Grace contains a clear call to do good works in response to the Grace of God;

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:8-10

There it is. Grace and Works in the same breath. One does not cancel out the other, in fact, if you really understand Grace your first response will be to serve God with all your heart simply because you truly understand what has been done for you...and what it cost.

To be a follower of Jesus is to be one who is saved by Grace, not by the works they do. At the same time, the works they do testify to the fact that they have been so redeemed by this Grace, and that it is real, and lasting, and effective.

My dumbed-down expression of this process is, "Swimming won't make you a fish, but if you're a fish you will swim!"

Early on, from the beginning really, the followers of Jesus were known for their good deeds and their works of kindness and compassion to others. They even wrote an entire book of the Bible on the subject of doing good works and they named the book "Works", or "Acts". In fact, the only way to carry out the command of Jesus to "love one another" is to do something.

Love, it turns out, really is a verb.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Top 10 Things Every Christian Should Know #8

Number 8- Obedience to Jesus is not Optional by Keith A. Giles

"If you love me, you will obey what I command."
- Jesus (John 14:15)

Somehow we have allowed the idea that someone can be a follower of Jesus without actually obeying Jesus' teaching or becoming a disciple. What we have in modern American Christianity is a brand of religion that says to its founder, "I'd like a little of your blood to cover my sins, but I don't care to follow you or take your teachings seriously. If you would please excuse me, I’ll get on with my life. See you in heaven." Dallas Willard calls those kinds of people “Vampire Christians” because all they want is some of Jesus’ blood, but none of His leadership.

"You are my friends if you do what I command"- Jesus (John 15:14)

In an effort to streamline evangelism and create a sound-byte version of the Gospel we've reduced the message to "Pray this prayer if you don't want to go to hell when you die". This makes the ninety-second evangelist happy, but the full message of the Gospel is lost in the process.

Gone is the idea that Jesus calls people to follow Him. A decision to become a Christian is a decision to give up your personal rights to call the shots in your life. It means submitting to God, to the teachings of Jesus and the authority of the Word of God as the one and only source of how to live.

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me." - Jesus (John 14:21)

Remnants of this more complete Gospel are still part of our Christian-ese language. People still say things like; "I gave my life to Christ" or "When I surrendered my life to Jesus" as part of their church talk, but many don't literally mean that they've done this, or that they are still doing this today.

The decision to obey Jesus, to submit to Him is a daily decision. We must bend the knee and whisper the prayer of surrender to Christ each day. It is not a one-time thing. This is why Jesus urges His disciples to ask for daily bread when they pray and to make their obedience to Him an act of daily taking up our
cross to die to ourselves. This is also why God's mercies are new every morning. We have short memories and God knows we need to surrender to him afresh with every breath.

Some of us still sing "I Surrender All" and we still have a "Jesus is Lord" bumper sticker on our car, but many in the modern American Church have forgotten the meaning of those words. Jesus is not really the Lord because we're not actually surrendering all to Him.

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching."
- Jesus (John 14:23)

What is most striking to me as I study the clear teachings of Jesus on the issue of obedience is the tight connection He makes between our obedience to His teaching and our love for Him. It is impossible to separate our devotion to Jesus from our submission to Him as our Lord.

This gives new meaning to the passage that says, "If anyone says, 'I love God' yet hates his brother he is a liar."- (1 John 4:20). If we say we love God but we disobey His clear teachings to love others, He knows we don't really mean the words we say. Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, and to love our enemies as ourselves. If we say we love Jesus but we fail to obey His teaching to love others, we are liars and the love of God is not in us. This is also why Jesus said that they would know we are His disciples by our love. Because we have obeyed His command to love others it will be clear that we love Him above all.

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.."
- Jesus (John 15:10)

I believe we have to start by changing the way we do evangelism. We have to stop inviting people to pray a one-time prayer in order to get the license to Heaven. We have to invite people who are tired of doing life their own way to surrender their life to Jesus and learn to follow Him and His teachings every day.

As Todd Hunter says, we need to ask people who have an interest in Jesus, "Who will you follow and how will you live your life?" instead of asking them, "If you died tonight do you know you'd go to Heaven tomorrow?"

We need a Gospel for life, not a Gospel for death. The Gospel that Jesus came and gave His life to communicate was that the Kingdom of God had come and that we could begin to live under His reign and rule today, right now. Not after we die.

Most importantly, we ourselves need to re-think our concept of what it means to be a Christian. It's not about attending a church service. It's not about where we shop. It's not about the bumper stickers on our car. Being a Christian is the way we live our lives. We are followers of Jesus. Daily we have to take up our own cross and obey the words of the Lord we love.

Obedience to Jesus is not an option. For a Christian, it's a necessity.

"He who does not love me will not obey my teaching."
- Jesus (John 14:24)

For further study:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven"- Jesus (Matthew 7:21).

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
- Jesus (Matthew 28: 19- 20).

"Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him." - 1 John 3:21-22

"Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them."
- 1 John 3:24

"This is love for God: to obey His commands." - 1 John 5:3

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands."
- 2 John 1:6

Also: Revelation 12:17; Revelation 14:12; John 13:17; Psalm 103:18

"There is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus'expense and have nothing more to do with him."
- Dallas Willard ("The Divine Conspiracy")

"A notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles; the widely—accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as Lord as long as we want to...salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures."
- A.W. Tozer ("I Call It Heresy")

Saturday, July 16, 2011


# 9 - "The Kingdom of God is NOT the American Dream"

As we continue in our series, counting down the top ten things the modern Church seems to have forgotten about, we look at number nine on our list: "The Kingdom of God is NOT the American Dream"

You'd think it wouldn't need to be said out loud, but more and more I find that there is a blurred line in American Christianity between "The American Way" and "The Kingdom of God".

Maybe it's the feeling that America is God's new Israel? Or maybe it started with The Dallas Cowboys being "God's Favorite Football Team"? Maybe it's something that's been brewing since the first Boston Tea Party? I'm not really sure, but I do know that today we have a serious problem separating good old American Values from the Gospel that Jesus died to proclaim.

If you've ever doubted someone's eternal salvation because they voted Democrat in the last election, then you may have a problem in this area.

Yes Virginia, there WILL be Libertarians and Green Party members in Heaven. (And Republicans and Democrats). You'll probably live next to one, knowing God's sense of humor.

The Kingdom of God and the American Dream are not the same thing, and in fact, they are two opposing viewpoints which are in conflict on many levels.

Believe it or not, Jesus did not come so that you and I could engage in our "Pursuit of Happiness".

The American Dream is founded on the concept of every person's right to the pursuit of happiness. Whatever you can imagine would make you happy you are free to pursue it with all your heart. That's your right.

The Kingdom of God is founded on the concept of laying down your life, your idea of what will make you happy, in favor of receiving what Jesus knows will really make you happy.

Following Jesus involves laying down your life and giving up your rights. It means full and complete submission to God because you recognize that His perfect will for your life is a million times better than anything you could ever dream up, or pursue, on your own.

Jesus didn't ever instruct any of his disciples to fight for their God-given, "Inalienable Rights", and neither did Paul the Apostle. In fact, they both encouraged their disciples to live humble lives, serving others and not demanding more because they deserved more. Paul even specifically told those followers of Christ who were slaves to remain slaves, even if they were being mistreated.

Historically, the early Christians didn't fight for their rights as citizens, they took it on the chin, and in the Lion's den, and in the arena. They literally would rather die than to take another person's life.

Simply put, they followed their Lord and Savior, Jesus in His example of non-violence and submissive service to those who hated them and mistreated them. Does that sound like the American Dream to you?

Repeat after me: "Politics and Christianity are not the same thing", "The American Dream is not part of the Gospel", "George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did not die for your forgiveness of sins", "Jesus was not a Republican".

Are we trying to make God in our image? Do we want a version of Jesus that fits into our way of life? Or are we willing to conform our life into His image?

It's interesting to me that the scriptures reveal to us a Jesus who was not so preoccupied with Earthly political discussions. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God's" was pretty much the only true political statement He ever made, if it can even be called that.

In his time on Earth, Jesus didn't seem so concerned about the politics of the day. Nor did He talk so much about current events, other than to reference the collapse of a tower in a nearby village where a few people had died.

However, Jesus WAS interested in a political system, a new way of life called "The Kingdom of God". In fact, it's pretty much all he ever talked about.

It might shock you to consider that Jesus probably cares less about what the upcoming Presidential Candidates are saying on their campaign trails than He does about what you and I are doing with our actual lives.

Many of us, if we're honest, know way more about the views and values of our particular political perspective than we do about God's Kingdom. But, Jesus urged us, His followers, to "Seek first the Kingdom of God."

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

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

Perhaps we're more comfortable with a blue-eyed, six foot tall, Republican Jesus who conforms to our political and social ways of living. Probably. But, is that really who Jesus is? Or have we now made God in our own image?

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

The polls are open.

- kg

Friday, July 15, 2011


NOTE: This is the first of ten articles in a new series I'm writing. We'll start with #10 and count down to the big one together. It'll be fun.

(But Probably Doesn't)
by Keith Giles

A few years ago I taught a workshop for High School students at an annual Summer Camp. We began by taking a simple "True/False" test together to determine our basic Bible Knowledge. Here's the test we took:

Test your Bible knowledge
Mark answers below “True” or “False”

1- Because Eve was tempted by Satan and ate the apple, sin entered the world.
2- According to Scripture, Samson was a super strong, physically muscular man that God used to judge the enemies of Israel.
3- Jonah the prophet was swallowed by a whale because he refused to go and preach to the people of Nineveh.
4- The city of Sodom was judged by God because of the sin of homosexuality.

It seems like a simple test that any elementary age child should be able to pass with flying colors. The sad thing was that every single kid in the room failed this test.

They all answered "True" to every question. Did you? Well, the answer for each is "False" and if you're not sure why then this series is for you.

My reason for having everyone take this little test was to illustrate how much we allow the popular Christian culture to influence what we think we know is true instead of studying things for ourselves.

Why don't we know what we believe? Why do we misunderstand even the most essential elements of our own faith? Have we allowed popular opinion or the Christian Subculture to blur the most crucial aspects of the Gospel?

Since most people fail my simple test, I'm tempted to guess that we have indeed allowed our faith to be compromised and polluted by the world around us.

So, let's start our series out with number 10:


We begin this series by looking at ourselves. The Christian Subculture has provided a safe haven for us to escape the world around us. We have created our own version of Heaven here on Earth so that we can safely enjoy quality, sanctified entertainment that is free from the secular world.

We have Christian television stations, radio stations, books, videos, films, breath mints, t-shirts, cartoons, socks, neckties, wristwatches, bumper stickers, jewelry, candy bars, coffee, and yes, even Christian underwear. I kid you not. (Google it at your own risk).

The real problem with this is that Jesus never intended His disciples to escape the world by creating a special, Holy version of the world that they preferred to live in while they await His return.

In fact, Jesus said something quite the opposite. When he was praying for those who would come after him he said, “I pray not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One”. (John 17:15)

The reason Jesus prayed this prayer was the he knew human nature and he knew that, in a few short years, his followers would want to remove themselves from the world around them.

We’re not comfortable hanging out with those sinners. More often than not, we treat 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”.

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 essentially decided to lay down and die. Of course, we've made sure to surround ourselves in a cocoon of safety, but that doesn't make us any less dead.

I've always wanted to host a "Burn Our Christian Crap" party to protest all the Christian Materialism we've bought into. There's something strangely beautiful about seeing swarms of Christian young people throwing their Carman Cd's and "Lord's Gymn" T-shirts into a giant bonfire behind the Church dumpster.

Whether or not we decide to box up our "Jesus Junk" and toss into the flames, the truth is that we still need to repent from taking ourselves out of the world we were intended to live in.

It’s time to awaken from our slumber and burst out of our Christian bubble. The world needs us to live out the transformational power of the Gospel right in front of their eyes.

We are not called to escape the World and its evil. We are supposed to be in the World, living open lives of faith before all Men so that they may see our good works and believe.

"Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." - (John 20:21)

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." - JESUS (Matthew 5:16)