Tuesday, November 29, 2011


In the dialog between Christians about whether or not following Jesus entails embracing a non-violent lifestyle, there are certain verses in the New Testament that have to be addressed.

For example, whenever non-violent Christians quote Jesus saying, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52), there are pro-war Christians who will respond by saying, “(Jesus) said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’” (Luke 22:36)

In other words, some Christians believe that Jesus fully endorsed owning and using weapons for self-defense (or for use in war), and other Christians believe that Jesus categorically prohibited His followers from using violence. What’s the real story?

Well, those verses where Jesus forbid violence are numerous and they are not difficult to understand. In addition to the one quoted above, we also hear Jesus declare that we should love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek, and forgive those who seek to harm us. These are not figurative passages and taken together they paint (in my mind at least) a pretty straightforward picture of Jesus’ expectation that his disciples would not do violence.

In addition to Jesus’ commands we also have His example of forgiving those who crucified him, healing the ear of the soldier who came to arrest him in the Garden, restraining the Legions of angel soldiers at his command, and telling Pontius Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this Earth, and if it was his disciples would fight, begging the question, “If His disciples do fight then are they not part of Christ’s Kingdom”? (see John 18:36)

But this one verse where Jesus tells his disciples to go out and buy a sword is right there in the Bible, isn’t it? What’s it there for? If Jesus didn’t intend for us to own or use swords then why did he say this? Especially if, later on, he was going to contradict himself and rebuke Peter for using the sword he told him to go out and buy?

Well, here’s what I think is going on. First of all we need to look closely at this passage in Luke. Notice that right after Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword he goes on to say, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38 ESV)
Right away we can see that Jesus’ statement about the swords is directly related to prophecy (“…this Scripture must be fulfilled in me”) and what is the prophecy that must be fulfilled? The one in Isaiah that says, “And he was numbered with the transgressors”.

Was the statement about buying a sword about self-defense? Probably not. Why? Because first of all, two swords are not “enough” to defend 13 guys against a legion of Roman soldiers. Also, because when Peter uses his sword in self-defense (or to protect Jesus from the soldiers) he is harshly rebuked with the verse we’ve already looked at, “Put it away! Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”.

Clearly, Jesus is not a fan of self-defense here. At least, not according to the overall context in this passage. However, he does tell the disciples that he wants them to have those two swords with them so that the prophecy about the Messiah being numbered with the transgressors may be fulfilled in Him. That’s why two swords are “enough” for Jesus; to fulfill the scriptures, not to endorse war or physical violence.

Are we sure that Jesus only meant this in light of fulfilling the prophecies about Himself? Yes. How? Because after Peter cuts off the soldiers ear, listen to what Jesus has to say, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54)

See? Jesus tells them to get a few swords so that the prophecy in Isaiah will be fulfilled. Then, once it’s fulfilled in the Garden he makes a point of saying that this is what he had in mind in the first place. So, it’s all about fulfilling the prophecies, not a statement from Jesus endorsing violence.

As sincere followers of Jesus we must take into account all the many other teachings of Jesus regarding turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and not resisting an evil man. We must also be careful to interpret the Old Testament scriptures in light of Jesus, not the other way around (i.e. – trying to fit Jesus into the Old Testament context).

Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant, and He accomplished this in full. The Old Covenant is obsolete. (see Hebrews 8:13) We don’t need to refer back to it again when it comes to guiding our daily lives. We have Christ. We have the Living Word of God who has come to make His home in us. Jesus gave us a New Covenant and He lived a better example for us to follow.

“Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Luke 6.27-28)

Monday, November 28, 2011


A few months ago I saw the documentary, "With God On Our Side" for the first time and I've never been the same since.

The Director of the film, Porter Speakman, Jr. was kind enough to spend about half an hour with me on the phone to talk more about this important film.

KEITH: Forgive me for saying so, but the quality of your documentary caught me off guard. By that I mean that it was so well done that I didn’t expect it to be something made by Christians and for a Christian audience.

PORTER: Thanks. It was made by Christians and our target audience was the Church.

KEITH: So, what sort of reaction has the film received so far?

PORTER: The feedback overall has been positive. I think the phrase we’ve heard most often is ‘I had no idea’ so I think there’s a certain perspective on the events that are happening between Israel and Palestine that we hear all the time, but we don’t hear the other side. Of course, there has been pushback from various Christian Zionists groups and others who actually don’t want this story to be heard. But, aside from that the feedback has been very good.

KEITH: It was quite a huge score to land someone like John Hagee for this film. I’m wondering if he had any idea where you were going with this documentary when he agreed to appear?

PORTER: Well, I haven’t heard anything directly from pastor Hagee about the documentary. When we set up the interview we told him we were doing a film about the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories and what the Christian response should be. So, we kept our questions very basic because we just wanted to hear from him and other Christian Zionists to get their point of view. Rather than us telling the audience what that position is we decided to let them speak for themselves.

KEITH: I totally agree. Actually, it’s one of the things I really appreciate about the film. I feel that your documentary was very balanced and no one side was misrepresented in any way. Kudos to you for providing an open forum for both Hagee and other Zionists in the film to speak their minds without prejudice.

PORTER: Thank you. We were very careful about that. We wanted to make sure that not only were their opinions and perspectives heard, but that we kept their comments in the context of our subject matter. So, for example, if we’re talking about the Palestinian Settlements and we get a response from John Hagee, that response had to do with the Settlements.

KEITH: Can you provide any sort of a background on yourself personally? Did you have any sort of past experience with Christian Zionism that made you feel like you needed to make a film about the topic?

PORTER: The film itself is pretty much my story and my journey. I think a lot of people who grow up in an Evangelical home, if you ask them about Israel and the End Times would pretty much give you the manifesto for Christian Zionism. But at the same time, they would have no idea what a Christian Zionist actually is. The theology is just kind of ingrained in us. I mean, we all are told we’re supposed to support Israel, the Palestinians are trying to take the land that belongs to the Jews, etcetera, and then you put all your theological framework and grab scriptures to support those ideas. So, I grew up like that. But then my wife and I got to spend some time in Israel doing a Bible Study Course and very quickly all the stereotypes and ideas that I had were quickly challenged.

The main thing was that Palestinians as a people weren’t who I thought they were. Then, also seeing the situation for ourselves, firsthand, really changed our ideas. At the time we were over there in Israel, during the second Infitada, we saw the checkpoints, we experienced the curfews, and seeing the wall being built, all of that changed us. Then we saw the Christian justification for many of these injustices and that began to really disturb me. It challenged me to think critically and to examine my theology more.

So, I set out to make the documentary for a couple of reasons; one to express a perspective that isn’t heard very often by Christians in the West, and secondly to demonstrate that we have to be very careful about the way that we handle scripture and interpret certain things when it really has a negative impact on people. I really don’t think we understand the implications of some of our unfounded beliefs on people groups – namely Muslims and Palestinians.

KEITH: I agree. It’s been a slow process for me. Like you, I had always heard growing up – from the pulpit and from my parents and from Christian mentors – that it just wasn’t up for debate that America (and the Church) must bless Israel because there’s this verse where God says to Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. Therefore, this means that we as a nation, and we as Christians, must bless Israel the nation or we won’t be blessed of God. So, as a young Christian no one ever questions any of that. ‘Well of course,” we say. Of course we’re going to bless Israel and we move on with our lives without really questioning where that may take us, or really what that verse even means – and if it even means what we’re told that it means.

PORTER: Exactly. And I think that’s the separation, even when you’re talking about people who want to love and bless the Jewish people. Most of the time they’re overlooking the actual people themselves and they’re looking to a political situation – secular Jewish nation state. So, we’re supposed to bless people but our support for this State can have implications which are negative for the Jewish people.

Even with the verse in Genesis 12:3 that you mentioned, and we talk about this in the film, this verse is God speaking to Abraham. It is not a mandate that we have to then always support the geo-politically, ethically pure State of Israel.

KEITH: After watching your documentary I went back and re-read those scriptures again and it just seemed very much like – taking it at face value – that this promise isn’t something that God seems to have intended to be for every generation to come after Abraham. It really seems like God is simply saying to Abraham that, as I send you out into these foreign lands, those who receive you I will bless and those who make trouble for you along the way I will deal with. That’s it. Nothing about every person from now until the end of time supporting everything that any Jewish person ever does or else they’ll be cursed. It’s just not in there.

Thinking about all of this in the existing situation we have today in Israel – and I don’t know if you specifically intended to wrap this into your film or not – but in America today there is this very dominant theology called Dispensationalism that pulls the story of Israel into this version of the End Times and really, really confuses the issue for a lot of Christians. So, if you’re a Dispensationalist you’re probably a Christian Zionist because there are certain things you’d believe about Israel – like that the Jewish Temple needs to be rebuilt and the daily sacrifice needs to be reinstated so that the Anti-Christ can show up and put an end to that and make a treaty with Israel for seven years and then set up the Abomination of Desolation and all of that, which is really just a major misunderstanding of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel and the teachings of Jesus from the Olivet Discourse. But, if you accept that whole Dispensational story (and I know many who do even though they can’t even spell ‘Dispensationalism’), then you have a de-facto acceptance of Christian Zionism – and it’s all based on erroneous theology and bad teaching which only showed up on the Christian scene in the last 500 years.

PORTER: Dispensationalism is the foundation for Christian Zionism, and I agree with you that if you’re accepting of one then you’re most likely the other. Now, I do also have friends who would call themselves Christian Zionists and would reject Dispensationalism as well. So, it’s not always the same thing. Sometimes it’s a Messianic Christian congregation and similar groups.

All it takes is an earthquake here and a hurricane there and what’s going on with the Palestinians applying for Statehood at the U.N., and you see the Christian Zionists websites and e-mails and articles saying “Here we go”! So, they relate any current events to End Times prophecy and stick a Bible verse with it and it’s been going on for over 200 years now.

KEITH: I was talking last night to a friend of mine who’s a journalist. In fact, he’s the same guy who initially screened your film for me. Anyway, we were talking about how if you say someone is a Palestinian here in America there’s an immediate mental picture of a guy with a turban covering his face and a rocket launcher slung over his shoulder and he’s a member of Hamas or Hezbollah. Basically, “Palestinian” means “Terrorist” to us, so to have that idea broken is wonderful. It’s one of the amazing things about your film, Porter. The idea that someone can be a Palestinian and at the same time be my brother or sister in Christ is phenomenal. Not just because it’s likely to be true, but also because no one else is painting that picture for us.

Those who watch your film will no doubt come away from this documentary saying to themselves – as I did – “Oh my goodness. I have brothers and sisters in Palestine who are being oppressed by the state of Israel and they’re suffering horribly on a daily basis.” My family is Christ is under the thumb of a secular Jewish nation. I mean, the one question I asked myself after watching “With God on Our Side” was, “What is the fundamental difference between a secular Jewish Israel and the Pharisees of Jesus day?” They both reject Jesus as the Messiah, and they both persecute Christians and the Church in Palestine. Yet Christians in America are told that they are bound by the Scriptures to support this secular government as it oppresses an entire people group. That just seems so screwed up to me.

PORTER: Yeah. The thing is most of us just don’t know about any of that or the effects of the occupation. That’s really why we felt like this film had to be made. What I saw again and again on this whole subject of Israel and Palestine is that once they saw it, once they understood what was really going on, their paradigm was blown. Again, most of them respond by saying, “I just didn’t know.” That’s one of the things I wanted to do with the film. I wanted to get these stories out. Not just the current events and the political realities but more about how all of these things are affecting real people on the ground in Palestine. I believe personally that a majority of American Christians, when they can see the true situation, they will begin to change the way they engage it.

KEITH: I agree. I mean, I hope so, anyway. I wanted to say that one of the most impactful scenes in your film is when the Palestinian Christian pastor, Salim Munayer, recalls being shunned by fellow Christians in America once he tells them that he’s from Israel but he’s not a Jew. That really grieved me. I just wanted so badly to apologize to this brother for such horrible treatment from the Church here in America.

I looked up his website afterwards and re-published some of his writing on my blog to share his heart with people here in the States.

So, let me ask you, Porter, what practically can we do to support our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine today?

PORTER: There’s a couple of different ways. The first is to be a voice for them. Speak up for their suffering. Most Christians in Palestine feel that they just don’t have a voice. No one is telling their story. Not only is their story not being told, it’s not allowed to be told. So, we need to educate ourselves first of all, about what’s going on and to be more aware, and then sharing their stories with others in our church or on our blog. There are a few organizations where people can get involved listed over on our website at www.WithGodOnOurSide.com.

Next I’d recommend people to actually go visit Palestine, visit Bethlehem and meet Palestinian Christians yourself. Listen to their stories. Tell their stories to others. Ask them how you can partner with them. Of course, you may have to fight to get your tour to go into Bethlehem and into the Palestinian territories because they’ll tell you that it’s too dangerous, but that’s just propaganda really to keep you on the accepted Jewish tourism trail. Make your way into Bethlehem and spend time there.

KEITH: I think those are excellent suggestions. The upcoming event at the Bethlehem Bible College called “Christ at the Checkpoint” looks amazing. I wish I could attend.

PORTER: That’s the kind of conference where people can not only see the situation for themselves but meet Palestinian Christians in person. There will be Messianic Jews and American Theologians and Palestinian Christians all coming together to discuss these issues. But our overall goal is to find better ways to build bridges and connections to the Palestinian Church.

KEITH: I think that’s wonderful, Porter. Let me ask you if you’ve had anyone radically change their views after seeing the film?

PORTER: Maybe not radical changes, but most people who come to the screening and see the film are blown away to hear this unheard perspective. But rather than just base your entire theology on our little film we encourage people to let this be the beginning of the learning process.

We’ve had people come up afterwards and say that they’re still Christian Zionists, but they want to help find a more peaceful approach to the occupation. So, I believe that most Christian Zionists have pure motives and they believe they’re following the Word of God, and many (after watching the film) are realizing that you bless the Jewish people without it being at the expense of others. If nothing else their beliefs are challenged.

KEITH: I do think it’s possible to watch the film without renouncing your Zionism and still realize that there is a more Christ-like way to bless the Jewish people in the nation of Israel without oppressing our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

PORTER: The Old Testament is full of that sort of thing. God constantly addressed ideas of justice with the Jews all the time. Even the King of Israel couldn’t oppress non-Jews without incurring God’s wrath. Today we want to give Israel carte blanche and allow them to do whatever they want without ever questioning what is being done, and frankly that’s not being a very good friend to Israel.

KEITH: No it’s not.

PORTER: We need to love them enough to say that what they’re doing is wrong and try to help them find better responses.

KEITH: In Psalms 50 God calls the Jews “my Holy Ones” and later he says to the same people, “you wicked” because they cast God’s words aside. So, “chosen ones” or not, the whole point of being blessed of God is to bless all the Nations. Even as Jesus pointed out, there were many lepers in Israel but the prophets were sent to the pagans.

PORTER: Yes, it’s not just that Christ was the Messiah, but that he was the Messiah for all nations and not just for the Jewish people.

KEITH: Let me ask you some practical things. How can people see your film right now? Are you looking to get this on Hulu or Netflix or Redbox eventually? Is it only available through your website or through Amazon? Any upcoming screenings?

PORTER: We’re trying to get on Netflix but as an independent filmmaker it’s really difficult. The movie is available on the iTunes store and there’s also an iPad application with a study guide as well as the film. We’re also working on an online viewing option down the line as well so people can look out for that coming up, as well as Amazon and the website for DVD sales.

We don’t have any screenings planned but if anyone would like to host one at their church or seminary with a Q&A afterwards we’re always open to that and people can contact us on our website to request that.

KEITH: I really want to do anything I can to help spread the word, Porter. It’s an important film and Christians in America need to see this documentary and repent.

PORTER: I appreciate that, Keith. If your readers want to find us on Facebook or Twitter and follow us to learn more that would also be wonderful.

KEITH: Are you very much involved with promoting the film, but are you thinking about any sort of follow up to this film?

PORTER: Right now I’m working on short documentaries to further explore the stories of what’s happening over there. Right now those short films and the upcoming “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference are my main focus. Plus, we also help set up tours for Church groups in America to visit Palestine.

KEITH: There’s a brother in our house church family who has been very instrumental in making friends with Muslim students where he teaches college locally. He’s even brought some to visit our church and we’ve had an amazing opportunity to put a face to the stereotypes and we’ve found that many of them are very open to learning more about Jesus.

PORTER: Awareness is the biggest thing. Keeping Jesus in the center is so important and finding ways to love others without excluding people groups.

KEITH: I’d be very interested in meeting more Palestinian Christians and finding ways to encourage them, because so many Christians in America are not only ignoring their suffering, but we’re actively supporting the government that is trying to snuff them out.

PORTER: So much of the pain and rejection in the Muslim community comes from this as well. They see this and they think that this is how Jesus is. So as followers of Jesus we have to demonstrate that we see their suffering and their persecution and we need to say that we do not agree with using the Bible and using Jesus to justify this kind of injustice.

KEITH: Let me ask you how Christians on the ground there in Palestine are responding to the oppression. It seems like this situation is ripe for a non-violent response, much like what Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. did to address similar injustices in their day.

PORTER: Actually the non-violent Christian response is quite strong there and we just don’t hear about that over here. There are many Ghandi’s and MLK’s over there protesting non-violently every week. In fact, the Israeli government doesn’t know how to handle that. I agree, it’s the perfect opportunity to respond in this way, and there are even many Jews who are standing with the Palestinians and participating in these non-violent protests for peace and trying to help get their stories out.

KEITH: That’s very exciting to me. Maybe down the road you can help me get in touch with some of those people, Porter. I’d really like to help tell those stories too.

PORTER: Thanks for your support, Keith and helping us to get the word out.

Note: Those interested in learning more about Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 can go

Learn more about the film at www.WithGodOnOurSide.com

*This blog is part of an online contest promoting the event "Christ at the Checkpoint 2012".

Thursday, November 24, 2011


My friends Noel and Julie Cruz started a ministry feeding the homeless in Orange County about a year ago. The OC Register ran a story about them today. Let me warn you, these people are remarkable. You won't believe the things they're doing and have done. Prepare to be challenged and humbled.

Here's an excerpt:

Their outreach began more than three years ago when Noel Cruz decided to help a young couple as they gave out peanut butter sandwiches and water to the homeless in downtown Los Angeles.

Wary of street people, Julie Cruz didn't join him. But on the next trip, she pushed aside her fear and went along with Noel, her sweetheart since their high school days in the 1970s.

Together, they found a calling.

Turning their attention to Orange County, they started driving from park to park where homeless congregate. They gave sandwiches and fruit and snacks in bags packed by friends and family.

Before anchoring their soup kitchen at the riverside park near the Honda Center, the Cruzes spent a week living out of their Ford Explorer. They ate in local soup kitchens and slept behind a Taco Bell – all in a hope to better understand the people they'd be helping.

Julie even spent time begging for change near a freeway. Most drivers avoided eye contact, she says, but others showed compassion. A couple with a baby gathered up loose change and gave it to her; a man in a BMW flicked a $20 bill as he drove past.

She gave the $27 she begged to a homeless couple she knew.

Of greater value, she says, is what she learned about hunger: "We'd have one meal and the next thing I thought of was where are we going to get that next meal?"
On Sundays, at the river, the Cruzes answer that question for up to 150 homeless people.

"Sometimes, if this wasn't here, we weren't going to eat," says Jerry Nowakovski, 49, who has survived the past year on unemployment. He and his girlfriend ride their bikes over from a tiny rehearsal studio they call home.

"They give us a home-cooked meal," he says from beneath a battered Fedora pulled down against the rain. "We're grateful, that's for sure."

Julie and Noel Cruz in turn thank those in the community who help them help the homeless.

Their garage is stocked with food and supplies picked up from donors such as Second Harvest Food Bank. They get contributions every week from Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana, Brea High School, and a local Albertsons.

"We could not do this if not for this amazing network of friends and people who we didn't even know before this," says Julie Cruz.

In August, Julie Cruz was laid off, and she now devotes her full time attention to their nonprofit, LifeHouse of Orange County.

"It's so amazing to us," she says. "There are so many stories on both sides of the table

Read the full article

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Yesterday I received a call from Ken Eastburn's wife, Ally. The Eastburn's started the Well, a local (and now global) network of house churches here in Orange County. Since I frequently meet with Ken, this call from his wife was unusual, but soon I learned why she wanted to talk to me.

Turns out that Ally met a woman from Romania named Maria in the parking lot of a grocery store in Anaheim. Maria was begging for money and food for her children. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to learn that Ally didn't just give the woman money and go on with her day. Instead, she went with the woman to her apartment nearby and met her 3 children and her husband.

Once Ally met the family she was allowed to look over their legal documents, and even opened up their refrigerator and cabinets. They had nothing in the house. The cupboards were bare. They had a futon in the living room to sleep and sit on. One table with no chairs near the kitchen and nothing else. No food. No clothes. No toothbrush. Nothing.

From what Ally was able to understand, Maria and her husband fled Romania and are trying to get asylum here in the States. Until things get worked out they are begging since he cannot work and speaks little english. Maria speaks only a little more than her husband.

Last night I took my two sons and we brought them more food, sleeping bags, toothpaste, a few clothes and a can opener.

I got to meet their children, Maria Denisa who is 3 years old; Dennis who is 6yrs old; and a baby boy who is only 3 months old.

They had one diaper (size 1) in the house.

Over and over again Maria would start to cry as she begged for help with their rent. She wrote in the air with her finger, "One. Zero. Four. Five. On December 4." That's $1,045 due December 4th.

After dropping off all the food and showing her what we had brought for them, Maria showed me all that Ally had given them, too. She pointed to the fruit on the counter, "Ally" and the Turkey in the freezer, "Ally", and the milk in the refrigerator, "Ally," she said over and over.

I asked her if we could pray for her and she enthusiastically agreed, calling her little children to gather around us. We held hands and I lead us in a prayer for provision and for peace and for wisdom.

As we were leaving, Maria took my hand and kissed it. I started to pull it away, "No, no," I said. But she was crying so much and I think it was important for her to say "thank you" this way. So, I didn't stop her. "It's going to be ok," I said. But, of course, I don't know that for sure. I can only say this in faith and pray that God will work everything out for them in time.

Between the groceries that Ally took them and what we brought them they are alright for food this week, and possibly next week, but they obviously need a lot more help.

A family in our house church gave $500 as soon as they heard about Maria's family. So, we do have some money that we can use to help them out, but if their rent is $1,045 we're not even halfway there yet. Even if we do pay their rent, what then? They still can't speak English. He can't work. We can barely communicate with them. This is bigger than any of us.

I supposse the biggest challenge is that we cannot communicate with them. Luckily, I have a co-worker who speaks Romanian and another friend who is willing to come with me to visit them who is also from Romania. Hopefully we can visit them again this weekend and find out more about their story.

We're also hoping to get them connected with a Romanian church nearby who can help them as well.

Last night I couldn't sleep and I got up to pray for Maria and this family. "All they need is a Miracle, Lord," I said. "Please, God, give them the miracle they need."

Your prayers for Maria and her family are very welcome. Prayers also for Ally and for us as we do our best to understand the real back story here and to discern how best to really help them in the long term.


PS- Peter Thomson was found in Riverside yesterday. He's alive and well. Please continue to pray for him as we try to help him with depression and other things.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I'm putting the word out to help my co-worker find a lost friend. His name is Peter Thomson, he's in his mid-thirties and he's from New Zealand. Up until about a week ago he lived in Anaheim with some friends and then he just left. His wallet, his phone and his car are still there, but he's gone.

A missing person's report has been filed, but we're hoping that someone has seen or talked to Peter recently.

He may be at a local shelter in Orange County, or staying at a motel nearby, or under a bridge somewhere. We don't know.

If you know anything, please send an email to elysiansky@hotmail.com.

Please also keep Peter in your prayers. People love him and care about him and want to know he's ok.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


"In My Father’s house are many rooms (dwelling places); if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."(John 14:2-3)

Most of my life I've understood this verse as being about Heaven. But recently someone pointed out to me that the phrase "my Father's house" is used by Jesus exclusively throughout the other Gospels to refer to the Temple.

For example, early on in Luke when Jesus is separated from his parents for three days they find him teaching in the Temple. When they finally find him Jesus says, "Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:48-50)

Also, when Jesus clears the Temple of those who sell doves he declares, "stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:15-17)

This makes a lot of sense in context as well if we look at what Jesus is speaking to His disciples about in this section of the Gospel of John. We find it's all about what's going to happen next, how to prepare for the coming persecution, etc.

If Jesus is speaking about the Temple here, and not about Heaven, then we need to try to re-read this section with new eyes.

Here's what I think Jesus is teaching His disciples here:

"In My Father’s house are many rooms (dwelling places)" - Here Jesus is stating that in the Temple (which is now the Church) there is room for many people. Throughout the New Testament the Apostles talk about "dwelling places" where we (the people of God) find rest in our Lord and Savior. For instance:

"If anyone has my words and obeys me...we will come and make our house (dwelling place) with them." - John 14:23

The same word Jesus uses here for "house" He also uses in the passage about the "many dwelling places" in His "Father's house."

"Christ is the Lord over his own house, whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." - Hebrews 3:6

So, the idea that we, the Church, are now God's "dwelling place" is all through the New Testament.

Let's continue to look at the rest of the passage:

"if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you."

Here, I believe, Jesus is telling His disciples that He needs to go - to get out of the way - in order to make room for them (the Church) to grow as He has promised.

"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."

Jesus says that if He goes away, it will make room (prepare a place) for the disciples. He also says that where He is they will be also. Where is He going? To be with the Father. And as we've already seen, Jesus promised that "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode (dwelling) with him." (John 14:23)

Where does God dwell? In us - His Church. His Temple. His Father's House. The household of God is the Church.

"I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." - (1 Timothy 3:15)

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household." - (Ephesians 2:18-20)

"You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." - (1 Peter 2:4-6)

This promise of Jesus to go away in order to prepare a place for the Temple to expand into the "many rooms" or "dwelling places" was fulfilled at Pentecost when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and thousands followed Christ in that day. And this promise is still ongoing today.

So, it may be that Jesus isn't promising us "mansions in Heaven" after all. In fact, most of the scriptures indicate that our eternal destination is to live here, on a New Earth, and reign with Christ forever.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." - (Revelation 21:1-3)

I'm curious to hear what others think about this passage in John and whether or not you agree that Jesus is speaking about the Temple (His Church) when He speaks about His "Father's House" in John 14.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

45 Years Ago Today

Yes, 45 years ago today, the fabric of space and time pulled back to reveal this fragile and yet strangely troubled soul.

It was a day of wonder and tears.

Cigarettes were burned. Laughter echoed down the hallway. A mother's heart slid into gear.

The angel's sighed, and one of them farted, but no one knew which one it was so they pretended not to hear.

It was a day of love so great it hurt to breathe.

Glad to be here, my friends.

Hope to be here a bit longer before I join the flatulent angels.



Tuesday, November 08, 2011


"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father."
(John 14:12 ESV)

What does Jesus mean to say here? Maybe you’ve heard someone teach that this verse proves that every believer should be healing the sick, doing miracles on a daily basis and generally out-Jesusing-Jesus on a daily basis. If you haven’t heard this verse used to teach this, you should probably prepare yourself for the inevitability.

Before I get into the scholarship of this verse, let me first go straight to the common sense response to this argument. If Jesus intends to teach here that every believer will "do greater things" than He did (meaning bigger miracles), then either Jesus is a liar, or the Church failed from the very beginning to accomplish this. Of course a third option is that Jesus didn’t mean this at all, but we’ll examine that option in a moment.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Jesus did mean that He expected His disciples to do greater miracles than He did if they had faith in Him. If that is what He meant, then why don’t we see Peter feeding the One Million? Why don’t we see Paul running across the water? Why don’t we read about James or John flying through the air like Neo? These miracles would be "greater" than the miracles performed by Jesus, but we don’t see any of the early Christians doing greater, bigger, more fantastic miracles than Jesus did. Yes, we do see Paul and Peter healing people on occasion. We do see them casting out demons. We do even see a teleportation through space when Philip disappears after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, but that's a singular event. Besides, Philip didn’t do that. It was God who transported Him away as the man was coming up out of the water. No one was more surprised by this than Philip, I would imagine.

So, if we don’t see a steady progression of "greater" miracles than Jesus did being performed by the early Christians as normative, we must conclude that either the Apostles didn’t believe in (or "have faith in") Jesus, or that Jesus was mistaken about this ability of disciples to do more powerful miracles than He did. Or – and I think this is what’s really going on – Jesus wasn’t talking about miracles at all.

The word Jesus uses here for "works" is ergon in the Greek and it is not the same word used for miracles or signs in the Gospel of John. In fact, throughout this Gospel, John does speak of the miracles Jesus does as being "signs" that point to His identity as Messiah. The "works" (ergon) of Jesus include his miracles, but also his teaching, his preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom, his compassion for the poor, and his general ministry among the people. Therefore, "signs" are specifically (and only) the working of miracles while "works" is a blending of practical service, teaching, preaching, and working of miracles.

So, Jesus begins by saying that those who "believe" in Him as Messiah (those who place their life into His hands and trust Him completely) will first of all "do the works" that He has been doing. Namely, they will preach the Gospel, they will care for the sick, they will feed the poor, they will serve one another, etc. The gist is that Jesus expects His disciples to follow His example of service and compassion to others. Next, Jesus says that "because I am going to the Father" these works will be "greater".

For example, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised falls on the Disciples, When Peter stands up to preach (something that Jesus did when He was here on Earth) the result was exponentially greater than any other sermon or teaching Jesus ever gave. Over 3,000 people respond, repent, are baptized and begin to follow Jesus that day. This was only the beginning.

In fact, it’s why we have the "Acts of the Apostles" in the scriptures at all – to demonstrate the "greater works" done by the Apostles and the early Christians. Note that these "acts" or "works" are both miraculous and practical. People who were strangers only days earlier are now so filled with love for one another through the Holy Spirit that they are selling property and sharing it with one another. People who are sick are being healed, but those who are destitute are embraced and welcomed into the family of God as well. These are all "greater works".

When it comes to these "signs and wonders" like healing the sick and raising the dead, I’d like to ask an important question: "Did every single believer and follower of Jesus work miracles like this, or was it only the Apostles?"

Why is this an important question? Because if everyone worked these miracles then maybe Jesus’ statement above really does suggest that all of us should be healing people with our shadows and raising the dead on our lunch breaks. If we’re not living up to our calling as followers of Jesus because we misunderstand this verse, then we need to repent and start living more by faith. However, if the scriptures suggest otherwise, then we also stop using this verse to make people feel like failures for not working greater miracles than Jesus every week.

What does the New Testament say about the working of miracles?

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is defending his Apostleship to the saints in Corinth. A few self-appointed "Super Apostles" have been slandering Paul’s name in the region and Paul must stand up for his calling as an Apostle to the Church. In verse 12 he says,

"The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works."

Keep in mind that Paul wants to demonstrate to these Corinthians that he is not simply a follower of Jesus, but something more. He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ to the Church. In order to prove to them that he is not an ordinary disciple, he points to three things, "signs and wonders and mighty works".

Now, if every single believer who followed Jesus was capable of healing the sick, raising the dead, and performing "mighty works" like this, then what good would it do for Paul to say, "I can do the same miracles that all of you are doing on a daily basis"? What would that prove to them except that he was a follower of Christ, just as they all were? Obviously, when Paul appeals to these "signs and wonders and mighty works" that he performed among them he is reminding them that these are the "signs of a true apostle" and not signs that he is a Christian.

Therefore, the Apostles were the ones in the New Testament who were filled with the Spirit of God and empowered to do these miraculous signs of healing and raising the dead, not every day ordinary believers. Otherwise, Paul’s appeal to these signs and wonders would mean absolutely nothing to the believers in Corinth as evidence of Paul’s Apostleship.

Now, we do see evidence that Elders in the Body of Christ were empowered by the Holy Spirit to lay hands on the sick and heal them on occasion:

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14)

However, not every believer who was prayed for was automatically healed. How do we know this? Because Paul exhorts Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach problems, and because Paul himself suffered a “thorn in the flesh” that God refused to take away from him. Sometimes people were healed in the early church, and sometimes they were not- even when an Apostle prayed for them to be healed. Stephen was stoned to death and no one raised him back to life again. Nor were other saints raised to life again. Clearly, miracles like Jesus performed were infrequent and only widely practiced by the Apostles as signs of their being sent by Jesus to serve the Church. Not every believer worked these kinds of miracles, and not every Apostle successfully worked miracles without fail.

The passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus says that those who have faith in, or "believe in", Him will do the works He has been doing, and will do even greater things than these because the Holy Spirit will come upon them in power, is not a verse about every Christian wielding the anointing of an Apostle. It is not a verse intended to condemn us for not walking on water or healing every sick person we pray for. It is simply a statement about how those who follow Jesus will do the works that He did – to teach, preach, serve, and love as He did – and that by the power of the Holy Spirit we will bear much more fruit than Jesus did in His ministry – although to be fair, all fruit and life in the Church is from Him anyway, so it’s all still the ongoing ministry of Christ in the world today through His Body, the Church.

The verse here in John's Gospel is about discipleship to Christ and obedience to Him. This has nothing to do with miracles. It has to do with an apprenticeship to Jesus, as evidenced in the verses just below this one where Jesus says, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15)

Here's a parallel concept to make it clear: A professional Indy 500 Race Car driver tells you, "If you do what I teach you, and learn what I have to show you, you'll be a better race car driver than I am one day."

Now, you wouldn't expect to just immediately jump in the Indy Car and qualify for the race would you? No, you'd spend the next few years learning from this guy about how to be the best race car driver you could possibly be. It wouldn't happen by magic or by osmosis but because you had faith in this driver and you actually did everything he told you to do.

That's my perspective on what Jesus means in this verse. We become disciples and followers of Jesus by daily serving others in obedience to His example. As we continue in obedience, we will become empowered to bear greater fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Should you expect to do even greater works than Jesus did if you never even attempted to do the basic things that he did while he was here on Earth? That's like someone who doesn't even have a learner's permit or a driver's license thinking they can grab the keys to that Indy Car and end up in the winner’s circle.

Start by doing the works that Jesus did: teach, preach the Gospel, care for the poor, serve others in love, etc. As you obey the Lord by following His example of love, He will fill you with His Holy Spirit and empower you to do even greater things than this.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Thoughts on the Third World Fast

Earlier this week I spent three days eating only rice and lentils for every meal, with no snacks in between. The purpose of this Third World Fast was to help me identify with people around the world who largely survive on just rice or beans for survival. I also hoped to gain a deeper appreciation for how blessed I am to be surrounded by such an abundance of food on a daily basis.

I have to say that this was harder for me than not eating anything at all. Usually when I fast from food I drink lots of water and maybe juice to keep my energy up. In this case I was able to eat but only at mealtimes and when I did eat it was only a single serving of very bland rice or lentils.

One thing I realized was how much I eat for the sheer pleasure of eating. I love the flavors, the textures, the aromas, and the variety of foods I enjoy on a regular basis. Rather than eating for sustenance, I eat mainly to enjoy the experience. This Third World Fast took all of that pleasure away.

I found myself getting very hungry right before it was time to eat again. My mouth would begin to water for food, but not for the taste of it, only for the experience of having my stomach filled so that I would not feel hunger again until the next meal time.

One brother who wrote to me this week to share his Third World Fast experience agreed:

“I must say I have fasted before eating no food, but I think this was even more difficult. By dinner last night I was ready to skip eating altogether rather than facing the rice and beans again! I am not and never will be a fan of rice anyhow so that made it doubly challenging. As I forced myself to eat last night I was thinking about the blessings of variety in America and how even though we are going through economic hard times, many of us have yet to know true suffering and sacrifice.

Also the fast has made for some intriguing and engaging conversation with my soon to be 7-year-old daughter. She did not participate in the fast, but she sure was curious about what her mother and father were doing. I was very proud that she got past the "yucky beans" to really understand what was going on.

Thank you very much for sharing this experience with my family. Tonight as I eat whatever I want, I will be all the more thankful to my Father for providing me with a truly amazing bounty.”

After breaking my fast I found myself feeling more thankful for my food, and not just food but everything else in my life. My prayers lately are filled with thanksgiving to God for my wife, my sons, my job, my church family, my house, my cars, my friends, and more. I am so blessed.

The Friday before I started my Third World Fast our company fed our entire marketing department breakfast. We were served eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, fruit, and coffee. Of course, there was so much food that many had seconds or thirds, and afterwards they still had food left over which ended up being tossed into the garbage.

That same day I emailed my friend Vilbert who lives in India to share all of this with him and he surprised me by explaining that he had never heard of, nor tasted, waffles, pancakes, sausage or bacon. He confirmed that his family eats rice for every meal, with curried vegetables and maybe twice a month they would eat chicken, although most could only eat chicken once per month. This reminded me of how my friend Robert Higgins, who died last year from bone cancer, had told me he had never tasted lobster in his life. All of these realizations jolt me into an awareness of my own extravagance. I am so rich. I am so blessed.

So, with all of this in mind I spent three days eating only rice and lentils and praying for God to change my heart and open my eyes.

This 3 day fast was very hard for me, I must admit. I've become so used to having access to such an endless variety of foods and snacks and candy that to eat only rice became a struggle, but one that I’m glad I endured in order to understand more viscerally how people around the world survive each day.

I am so blessed, and if you are reading this in America, chances are that you are too. Food is not so much an issue for you and I. We can find it easily. Even the homeless and those living in poverty in America can usually find free or low-cost sources for food without much trouble. But for most of our planet this is not the case. Most people eat once a day if they’re lucky, and when they do it’s usually rice or beans.

I’m not sure when I’ll do this experiment again, but I’m glad I’ve had this opportunity to share in the sufferings of so many around the world. Of course, I have the privilege of choosing to eat this way whenever I like. Most people do not have this luxury.

If your'e interested in learning more about what people eat around the world, take a look at this fascinating slideshow comparison of what different families eat on a weekly basis in different nations.


P.S. – If you did this 3 day, Third World Fast with me I’d love to share your story with everyone here, too. Either write your experiences in the comments below or send me a direct email to let me know what God taught you through all of this.