Wednesday, June 27, 2012
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” If there’s one phrase that is more commonly misused in Christian circles than this one, I’m not sure what it could be.
People who are struggling with sin in their lives, or who wrestle with various addictions constantly quote this verse (or I should say, “misquote it”), as a sort of mantra against returning to the behavior they hope to resist. But what bothers me most about this isn’t semantics. It’s the true spiritual reality that is lost whenever people think they’re quoting the scripture but are in fact totally missing the entire point.
What the misquote does is to reinforce the myth that you and I are left alone to resist temptation and to overcome our own sinfulness. This is absolutely not the message of the Gospel. God never urges us to rely on our own ability or strength to rescue us from sin or temptation. Not ever.
Let’s look at the actual verse and hopefully we’ll all understand this a lot better.
"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10)
The differences may appear subtle at first, but trust me, the differences couldn’t be farther apart in meaning and substance.
In the actual passage found in the fourth chapter of James, the message is that we should first “submit (our)selves to God”. How can we leave this out of the equation? Worse, how can we tolerate anyone else who hopes to eliminate God from the process? We need God. Without Him we are toast. Newsflash: The Devil is not afraid of you. He is not fazed when you resist him. You are a sheep. Without the Good Shepherd protecting you the Wolf will eat you and your lunch. Therefore, submitting ourselves to God is probably the most important part of this verse.
I look at this way; picture yourself in the center of a number line. God is on the right and Satan (or temptation) is on the left. If you begin by submitting yourself to God – by moving as close to Him as possible and laying your life down at His feet – then you will notice that you are – at the same time – moving away from the devil. Both actions are the same. However, if you only resist the devil and if you do not also turn and run toward God, then you are sitting in the same place and trying on your own strength to resist the gravitational pull of the Enemy. Without turning your face to God and submitting your life to Him, you will eventually grow tired of resisting and you will get sucked into the vortex, just like everyone else who tried to do it all alone.
We cannot create light by resisting the darkness. Only by embracing the light will darkness ever be pushed back. Go ahead and try it yourself. Go into an empty room that’s dark and start resisting the darkness. How long do you think it will be until your resistance eliminates all that darkness? But flip on the light and see how quickly darkness flees. Darkness isn’t overcome by our resisting it. It’s overcome when you turn on the light.
So, if you find yourself in a place of weakness or temptation, please do not simply resist the devil. He will not flee from you. Instead, focus all your attention on submitting your life to Jesus and trusting the One who would rather die than live without you. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Light of the World. In Him you will find rest and peace.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012
Last night as I was falling asleep I started thinking about all the different ways I've been hurt emotionally over the last few years. I started asking God to heal me of those. During the night as I woke up over and over I would pray and ask the Lord to heal my heart in those areas.
Please God, help me to throw off these soft chains that so easily entangle me, and let me press on to the high calling of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, my Lord and King.
I woke up this morning with the Peter Gabriel song "Digging in the Dirt" in my head, especially the line, "I'm digging in the dirt to find the places I got hurt". So, I listened to that song in the car this morning on my way to work.
As I was talking to the Lord about this I realized that I had shut myself off from pain, and therefore lost my heart for others.
See, I have a little secret. Over the last several months now I’ve felt very numb. I have lost my passion for things that used to drive me and excite me. Even though I have prayed about this often and taken it to the Lord, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the cause of this loss of passion might be, although I had a few suspicions.
I thought that it could be the loss of my friend Robert Higgins to bone cancer about a year and a half ago. But still I wasn’t sure. I’ve recently lost a lot of people, a lot of friends, for various reasons and the pain is still very real to me. Sometimes people have moved away to pursue a career or to follow God’s calling. Some friends just walked away from me because of differences in theology. Some just stopped returning emails or phone calls and I have no idea what, if anything, I did or said to create the space. Others have drifted away. Some friends that I care about have insulted me or made comments that have hurt me deeply. Over time, all this accumulation of pain has slowly paralyzed me.
As I was driving to work listening to the Gabriel song on my stereo and talking to God about this, I thought about the word, “Passion.” I had slowly lost my passion for things like poverty, social justice, the Gospel of the Kingdom, making disciples, organic church, and everything else that used to interest me. The word passion means literally “to suffer.” Then I thought about another word, "Compassion" which means "to suffer with". This is what I had lost. I realized that I had lost my heart of compassion for others because I didn’t want to hurt anymore.
Essentially, I have retreated to my comfort zone, and I'm very snuggly and warm and comfortable now. I’m safe and I like it. No one can hurt me here. But at the same time, I am unable to engage with the people that God has called me to serve, and to share in the sufferings of those who need to experience the tangible love of Jesus.
I can think back over the last few months and see places where I’ve held back from serving or sharing with others. Now I can see why, and it doesn’t excuse my apathy, but at least now I can sort of understand what was happening and why.
Now that I’m aware of my situation, I can at least start to fight my way out of this. But I know it won’t be easy.
Honestly, I’m not sure how to escape this soft, comfy prison I’ve made for myself. The hardest thing for me right now is to even want to escape it, because my flesh is resisting the process of stepping out again into the cold to share in the suffering of others.
It's really just so much easier to stay where I am and to remain disengaged. At the same time my spirit and my heart know that this is wrong and that I need to return to the Lord and to take up my cross again and die to myself. I need those nails. I need to let Jesus crucify this flesh again.
One of the only people in my life who has stood beside me, loved me, cared for me, and encouraged me through it all is my amazing wife, Wendy. Before I left for work in the morning I had shared with her my confusion over my lack of passion of late. When I got to work I sent her an email to explain a bit more about what I had discovered after praying in the car and listening to the song. Her response to me was to keep on pouring myself out to the Lord in service to others and in thanksgiving. Then she said she had already heard from the Lord to share a quote with me that we both love from Mother Teresa that says, “I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, there is no hurt, only more love."
In the end, it’s still all about daily putting myself to death. It’s about enduring the cross so that I can allow the life of Jesus to thrive within my heart.
Please God, help me to throw off these soft chains that so easily entangle me, and let me press on to the high calling of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, my Lord and King.
Conversatio Morem! Death to my status quo!
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
If you listen to the wrong people, you'll come away believing that every Christian today should be healing the sick and raising the dead at will. It's simply not true.
First of all, when the New Testament mentions miraculous healing we see that it is only the Apostles who peform such signs and wonders. For example:
"...apostles prayed and laid hands on them..." (Acts 6:6)
"The apostles performed many signs and wonders..." (Acts 5:12)
"...wonders and signs peformed by the apostles..." (Acts 2:43)
"...with great power the apostles..." (Acts 4:33)
"...the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands..." (Acts 8:18)
Better yet, when Paul is appealing to his genuine apostleship in his second letter to the church in Corinth, he says, "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perserverance." (2 Cor 12:12)
So, if every Christian was expected to heal the sick and raise the dead, then what would Paul's ability to do so actually prove? Only that he was also a Christian like they were. Not that he was an apostle. However, since Paul uses the phrase "the things that mark an apostle" to refer to signs and wonders and miracles, we can safely assume that the apostles - and only the apostles - were the ones who worked genuine miracles in the early church.
But what does that mean for us today?
If you believe that God still works miracles today (and I do) then it can mean one of two things. First, that those who work miracles today are also apostles, or it means that in the absence of apostles we are all potentially capable of being filled with God's Holy Spirit for the purpose of healing those who are sick or working miracles as God gives us grace.
I tend to lean towards the second option.
I suppose this might beg several questions, such as "Are there no apostles today?" and I would say, "Yes and No."
An apostle is a "sent one" but who sends is the key. The New Testament seems to identify two sets of apostles; those who are "Apostles of Christ" and those who are "Apostles of the Church". As you might suspect, one group is sent by Jesus directly (that would be Peter, James, John, and even Paul), and the other apostles are sent out by the Church.
I would say that we have apostles of the Church today, but I'm not sure about whether or not we have apostles of Jesus. By that, I mean I'm not aware of anyone who has an annointing that is equal to Peter's or Paul's or the other original apostles who were sent out personally by Jesus. Maybe they are out there, but if so I'm not personally aware of them.
However, there are plenty of those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the Church to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, plant and establish new churches, and provide prophetic instruction to the Body of Christ. These are still apostles, of course, but these are much more common and the working of miracles may or may not accompany their ministry.
Still, as I said earlier, I do believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today. They have not ceased.
I say this because I have experienced divine healing, and I have seen it in my own family members, and because I have had dreams from God and even - just once - an open vision from God. I also speak, or pray, in tongues, but that's another story.
However, even though I do believe that God heals today, I do not believe that every single follower of Christ should expect to heal the sick or raise the dead every single day of their lives. Why? Because the Bible says so.
Just read 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Done? Ok, see? Paul is very, very clear that God has given each person in the Body of Christ a different and specific set of gifts. Not everyone has the same gift, and no one should look down on another person if they don't have the same gift that you have.
I've been in churches where the expectation was that everyone should be able to speak in tongues or to prophesy or to heal the sick, and those of us who didn't do those things were made to feel as if God didn't love us, or that we weren't really filled with the Holy Spirit. Those things are not true, of course, but we were made to feel that way nevertheless.
Paul is clear when he says, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 cor 12:29-30)
And the implied answer is "No."
So, it was normative in the early church for every christian to heal the sick and raise the dead. Nor is it normative today for every christian to heal the sick and raise the dead.
In the early church it was the apostles who healed the sick, raised the dead and worked miracles. In the church today it can potentially be anyone the Lord chooses, but it is not to be expected that we all have the same gifts of the Spirit.
In the church the pattern is that there are many members and there are many gifts and the Lord distributes them to each one of us just as He determines and wills.
Your gift might be teaching. It might be encouragement. It might be helps. It might be service. It might be healing. But whatever your gift might be, please do not expect everyone else to have the gift that you do. Enjoy the variety. Celebrate your uniqueness in the Body. Embrace all of the wonderful gifts of God's Spirit together.
Remember: The gifts are given for building up the church, not for building yourself up. The gifts are for the common good, not for your selfish good.
It's no coincidence that each time Paul speaks about spiritual gifts in the New Testament he follows up immediately by talking about love. That's because we are expected to use our gifts for the benefit of others - not for ourselves - and they only work as God designed them to if we use them in love to bless and strengthen our brothers and sisters in the Body.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
In today’s church world there are pastors and then there’s everybody else. Really, nothing trumps the pastor in the church environment. If you want someone to know what church you go to, you’ll most likely need to mention your pastor by name. If you want someone to attend church with you you’ll probably need to say something about the pastor to get them in the door. If someone leaves a church you can almost guarantee it’s because of something the pastor did, or didn’t, do.
But where did this Pastor-centric idea of Christianity come from? Certainly not from the New Testament. The word is only used once and in that case it is in the plural form, meaning that within the church there were many who cared for the spiritual needs of the Body, not just one guy. In this same passage (see Ephesians 4:11) there are several other gifts mentioned including prophets, evangelists, teachers, and apostles. The majority of the New Testament reveals that it was functionally the elders who helped facilitate the gathering of the saints, and in those cases it was both male and female who served the Church in this fashion. But these elders were nothing like modern pastors. There was still an emphasis on the Body life of the Church, as evidenced in the writings of Paul, namely 1 Corinthians, and the 52 “One Anothers” that we find peppered throughout the New Testament. These “One Anothers” reveal that everyone in the early Christian Church was tasked with teaching, encouraging, sharing, giving, serving, leading, admonishing, rebuking, and loving everyone else in the Body of Christ.
None of the epistles are written to pastors. They are written to the entire Church in that region to encourage them to “be the Church” and to function under the Headship of Christ and in submission to one another – not to one paid professional.
The rise of the pastor within the Christian church started when pagan’s like Cyprian and others started to emphasize their gifting above other gifts within the Body. Soon we had an office of priest rather than a shared priesthood of all believers in the Church. Even when Luther and others reformed the Catholic system of church they kept the hierarchy intact and simply replaced the priest with a pastor.
Now, within our Church family no one is called “Pastor”. In fact, no one is called “Elder” either, although I’m certain that we have no shortage of both within our fellowship. What’s funny is that the only people who call me “Pastor” are those outside our actual church family. A few people at the motel church we’ve been helping to plant do call me “Pastor.” I don’t correct them because it’s not that important to me either way. I am not their spiritual guru, nor do I have any more authority than anyone else in the church at the motel. But, maybe I should start correcting them? It couldn’t hurt to have them call me “Brother Keith” rather than “Pastor” whenever we meet together. Since I am not their CEO, and I don’t have any spiritual authority over them – or anyone else – it could be a step in the right direction for this new church to follow.
“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” – (Matthew 20:25-27)
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” – (Matthew 23:7-9)
Monday, June 04, 2012
What is the “Spirit of Poverty”? Over the years I have heard Christians use this phrase on numerous occasions. To those who use this phrase regularly, the term is meant to convey the idea that someone is in bondage to a delusion that they don’t deserve better standards of living, or more expensive material possessions. Often, I've heard the phrase used whenever someone wants to talk about a person behind their back. This is where it comes in most handy, actually. For example, someone who looks down on another person might say that they need to get away from their Spirit of Poverty and get a better job. Or, they might suggest that someone is under the Spirit of Poverty because they wear old clothes, or because they drive a used car.
From a quick Google search of the term I found this quote regarding the Spirit of Poverty:
The spirit of poverty is actually a spirit of fear. “Well, the stock market is down, unemployment is up, our area is a poor area as you know, etc.” “Of course we want to pay our Pastor more, but we don’t have the money.” Or, “When we have money, then we’ll give.” These are the voices of the spirit of poverty that do not recognize God as the true source of our material needs.
The idea seems to be that if you ever make an allowance for being less than victorious financially you are suffering from the effects of a Spirit of Poverty.
While I do agree that Christians need to see God as their true source, there needs to be a balance to that perspective. We have to say, like Paul the Apostle:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” - (Philippians 4:11-13)
And as the book of wisdom says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion” – (Proverbs 30:8)
I also agree that Christians shouldn’t use the excuse “when I have more money then I’ll start to give” because generosity begins in the heart. You can share whatever you have – no matter how little it may be – with someone else in need. That is, if you truly trust that God is your provider and source.
However, the concept of a Spirit of Poverty is simply another form of being judgmental. By using this term we can make the act of judging someone because they are poor appear more holy and acceptable; as if somehow the person we are judging is helpless to overcome their lack of wealth or fashion sense due to some demonic deception that prevents them from being more affluent.
Worse, this phrase assumes that being wealthy is a sign of God’s favor. For example, if a Spirit of Poverty is something bad, then logically a Spirit of Affluence or Wealth would be what we all should strive for. But this concept ignores key distinctives of the Gospel and outright contradicts the clear teachings of the Apostles and Jesus Himself.
Just look at what the New Testament writers have to say about poverty and wealth and see if it fits with this notion of God’s favor equating to material wealth.
Paul the Apostle says:
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” – (1 Cor 4:11-13)
“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.” - (James 2:5-6)
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” - (James 5:1-3)
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – (Luke 6:20)
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” – (Luke 6:24-25)
“So then, you cannot be my disciple unless you first give up your own possessions.” – (Luke 14:33)
I also find it fascinating that in the early church Christians responded to the poverty of their brothers and sisters with a radical outpouring of generosity and love. They willingly sold their own possessions and risked become poor themselves in order to provide the basic necessities of those within the Body of Christ. Today we see our brothers and sisters in need and we respond by insulting them for their lack of faith, or we attempt to raise their economic status to meet our own. We do not dare risk becoming poor ourselves, do we? No. We’d rather that they become self-sufficient so that we don’t have to continue sharing what belongs to us.
Now, I spend a lot of time with people who are poor. My approach is often to find ways to lift people out of poverty, or to help them take care of themselves. I admit that I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else, and I also admit that poverty sucks. It’s nothing to glorify or to celebrate. However, the truth remains that those who are in poverty are much more capable of seeing the Kingdom than the rest of us who are blinded by our affluence. Poverty, then, is a paradox of sorts in that it helps us to clearly see true riches. Poverty helps us to realize our need to rely on God for our daily bread, and once we receive that daily bread we need to be careful not to cling too tightly to it but to share it with others if they are in need.
Biblically, this term (Spirit of Poverty) isn’t found anywhere in the Scriptures. Not once. It’s a completely fabricated concept to provide Christians with a quasi-spiritual covering to justify their prejudice against other Christians, or to control people and rob them of their dignity – or their money. It’s also used to perpetuate the heretical doctrines found in the Prosperity Gospel.
If anything, the true Spirit of Poverty is embodied by those who are so focused on material wealth that they cannot see the beauty of simply trusting Jesus for every breath, every morsel of food, and to surrender everything in order to gain the incomparable riches of Christ.
So, any Christian who is living with debt and can’t seem to get control of their spending isn’t suffering under a Spirit of Poverty. Instead, they are suffering under a simple cause-and-effect reality, namely over spending and under budgeting.
In my list of terms that no Christian should ever use again, Id’ like to add the phrase “Spiritual Poverty”. It’s a term used exclusively to put down our Christian family members and make ourselves feel better, and it’s not based on any scriptural basis of reality for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Friday, June 01, 2012
Derek Gilbert from A View from the Bunker Radio interviewed me last month about my new ebook "The Power of Weakness"
IT SEEMS illogical, but we may be most useful to God when we’re at the end of our rope.
Keith Giles joins us to discuss his new book,The Power of Weakness. Drawing on examples from scripture, Keith argues that our natural Key Performance Indicators — to borrow some jargon from the business world — may actually lead us away from the path God wants us to walk, and that His glory is most evident when He works through those least likely to succeed.
Please join the discussion at the PID Radio Cafe, visit the VFTB Facebook page and check out the great Christian podcasters at the Revelations Radio Network.