Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013: The Year In Review

This was a wonderful year for me. I published an expanded print edition of “The Power of Weakness”with a foreword by Ross Rohde. I was also interviewed about the book at The Otter Limits, and by Anthony Mathenia's blog.
In 2013 I launched the Subversive Radio Podcast covering a variety of topics; from Hell and Women in Ministry (both co-hosted with Jon Zens) to House Church Leadership (a series), and following Jesus into non-violence.
This was also the year I joined the House2House Ministries board and started co-hosting H2H Podcasts with Ken Eastburn and became the managing editor of the brand new online version of House2House Magazine.
It was also great to interview my friend Herb Montgomery and to join the board of Renewed Heart Ministries, and also to meet Salim Muyaner (from Musalaha reconciliation ministry) and to interview him as well.
It was also great to re-launch the Pacifist Fight Club with my friend and co-fighter/founder, Chase Andre. We were able to post great articles and links and videos on a daily basis and we also added several new "fighters" to the PFC as well.
On the blog, I wrote a series of articles on various themes, including:
*[blank] Is A Person Series
*The Unbelievable Truth Series
*How To Make Disciples (Part 1 and 2)
*The “Home” Series
The Top 10 Articles on my blog for 2013 were:


In the new year I hope to finish writing my next book on New Covenant theology, and to publish three new e-books over at Subversive Interviews Vol.2; House Church Dynamics; and Raging Against Your Own Machine.

I also hope to host another live Pacifist Fight Club event with my co-conspirators, Chase Andre and Thomas Crisp, and our other fighters.

If possible, I'd love to continue the Subversive Radio podcast series, and continue to co-host the H2H Podcast with Ken Eastburn.

Of course, who knows what the Lord has in store? I'm sure there will be surprises and challenges and doors will open and close in 2014.

I'm looking forward to what's next.

Are you?


Wednesday, December 25, 2013


“I've given like a beggar but lived like the rich
And crafted myself a more comfortable cross,
Yet what I am called to is deeper than this,
It's time You had my whole life;
You can have it all.” – Matt Redman (The Way of the Cross)
Someone once said, “When we consider our love for others we measure how much we give. When God measures, He considers how much we hold on to.”
As the Christmas season approaches I can’t help but feel excitement at all I can give to those in need around me. I have been blessed beyond measure. I am rich in all the things that matter and my family has everything we need to survive (and a whole lot extra we don’t need too).

When we consider how much we have been blessed (and if we live in America we are among the richest people living on the planet today), it’s easy to let go of what we own and share it with those who have little.

I don’t care how poor you think you are, I can probably show you someone who is much worse off than you are. And joy comes from giving to others, helping people in need, and bringing a smile to someone else’s face. Joy is never about what you give to yourself, or even what someone gives to you. That might make you feel thankful, or happy for a moment, but real Joy is something deeper and lasting. It is always about what you give away to others. Making a noticeable difference in another person’s life and knowing that something you did, or something you gave away meant something to another human being is what fuels real joy.

For the last few years now our family has been moving away from buying gifts for one another and focusing instead on bringing joy to others around us. So, we take the money we would normally spend on gifts for each other and we buy gifts for children at the motel where we’ve been serving for over 8 years now. Or we take the time to go caroling at a local senior home and bring joy to people who are desperately lonely and empty. Or we find ways to creatively bless people on our street, or to see the person on the fringes who most people ignore and buy them a meal, or engage them in a friendly conversation.

What changed my mind about Christmas was when we partnered with a few others to bring a Christmas blessing to a woman and her son who were desperately poor a few years ago. She had just recovered from brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Her son had asked if they could have a Christmas tree because they had never had a tree or gifts to put under it before. After we set up the tree and laid all the gifts under it and hung up the stockings which were jam-packed with blessings, we sat down to pray over her. When we were done she looked up and said, “Can I pray for you?” That’s the moment when my heart broke forever. As this dear, humble sister in Christ lifted up our family in prayer I silently wept. Huge, wet, hot tears dropped into my hands as she called us each by name and gave thanks to God for these blessings.

On my way out to our car to go home I told my family, “That was my Christmas gift. I don’t want or need anything else but that.” And I decided right there and then that from now on I only wanted my Christmas to be about doing all that I could to bless others.

Really, it’s a very selfish decision on my part. I get so much out of this. It’s not really fair because no matter how much I try to bless others, I always come away with a bigger blessing than I brought with me.

Listen to what Paul the Apostle said about serving and giving to others:

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:32-35)

What will you give away this Christmas? The more you give away, the more joy you’ll receive in return.

I dare you to test me on this one.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013


*Note: This post originally published as part of the [Subversive Underground] e-newsletter.


My greatest fear is that I will never be a great man, that I will always be less than average...the lowest, the least of God's shining stars.

After nine months I still have no clue what to do with my life. I look in the mirror at night and I wonder if I'll die a failure.

Will I ever publish a book? Would that make me great? Will I ever find a full-time job that pays well, with insurance for my wife and children? Would that make me a great person?

Will I ever be famous or successful or honored among my peers?

Would any of those things make me a great man?

What is greatness? I'm sure someone somewhere has written a poem or a speech about it. I should google it sometime. Is that what a great man would do?

Why do I struggle with these questions at all? Why do I care so much about things like success or popularity? I don't know. I just know I can't find a job. I can't be the husband and the father...the provider I want to be.

I don't know what would make me great, but I do know one thing. I am not great. I am less than average. I am only me.

The ironic thing is that I'm currently writing a book about the hidden wisdom in the Gospel of the Kingdom regarding the power of weakness.

The truth is, sometimes it's hard to believe the words in my own book. It's hard to believe that God has a plan to make me more like Jesus and that the path to that involves enduring a measure of pain, of weakness, of humility, in order to discover the power of Christ.

What I'm learning now is that there is a very big difference between knowing something is true because you've read it in a book, and knowing something is true because you've lived it.

As I learn to daily die to myself, I'm discovering that God is really in complete control. He has everything where he wants it to be, including me.

Yesterday I read a wonderful quote from the book "Let Go" by Fenelon. It read:

"It is in weakness that we can admit our mistakes and correct ourselves while confessing them. It is in weakness that our minds are open to enlightment from others. It is in weakness that we are authoritative in nothing, and say the most clear-cut things with simplicity and consideration of others. In weakness we do not object to being criticized and we easily submit to censure. At the same time we criticize no one without absolute necessity. We give advice only to those who desire it, and even then we speak with love and without being dogmatic."

Maybe I am not great. I freely admit I don't even really know what the word means. I do know that most of what I would expect to help make me great will really only make me shallow and self-absorbed.

God's plan for my life is to make me like Jesus. The character of Christ is one who came to serve and not to be served. Jesus was the leader who got on his knees and washed his follower's feet. He was the one who suffered and died under the hand of unjust punishment without striking back. He even forgave those who were in the act of torturing him to death.

The path to greatness is not the same as the path of Jesus. The way of the cross is the only way to follow him. He said so himself.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.

This is why Jesus calls us to "Repent" in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Because "Repent" literally means to "think again". It involves re-thinking our lives and re-defining the things we value most.

I am not great. I am just me. And the real problem begins there.

The real miracle is that, someday, somehow, God's plan is to take someone like me and make me into the image of his Son.

So, every day I have to wake up and take up my cross and submit my life to Christ. There is no other way.

"If anyone would be the greatest, he must be the very least and the servant of all"- Jesus (Mark 9:35)


Monday, December 23, 2013

Do You Have Diotrephesia?

For those organic churches who prefer to focus on teaching and doctrine, the risk of spreading the disease of Diotrephesia is very high. What is Diotrephesia? It is a highly contagious virus which causes people to put themselves first.

John was the first to identify the symptoms of this disease when he called out the man for whom the disease is named:

“I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come I will call attention to the deeds he is doing – the bringing of unjustified charges against us with evil words! And not being content with that, he not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but hinders the people who want to do so and throws them out of the church!” (3 John 1: 9-11)

The symptoms of Diotrephesia are:

*Always seeking to be first
*Strong desire to do all the talking
*Tendency to "Lord it over" others
*Fixation with literature, conferences, and titles that imply leadership is about being in control rather than being a slave.
*Tendency to assume the entire church fellowship is under his authority and control.
*Continually finds ways to exploit the talents of others for his own gain.
*Keeps others dependent upon himself for spiritual health
There is only one known cure for this disease. It’s simply to humble oneself before God and to put others needs ahead of your own.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Seven Mistakes Every Church Should Avoid

1) Embracing the building - Regardless of the fact that the New Testament emphasizes a Church made "not by human hands" but composed of people (who are themselves the Temple of the Holy Spirit), many churches in America today get very distracted by the need for a building. In fact, most christians couldn't imagine the possibility of church without one.

More on this topic HERE

2) Misrepresenting the tithe - Nearly everyone who finds out we lead a house church asks me if we at least make sure everyone tithes. When I say we don't they usually begin to cock their heads to one side and look at me funny. However, the Biblical mandate for tithing is purely an Old Testament concept intended to maintain the Jewsish Temple system and support the Levitical Priesthood. The New Testament church neither taught it, nor practiced it. In fact, the Christian Church didn't mandate a tithe until the 7th Century. Imagine, over 700 years with no tithe? How could that be? To begin with, offerings in the early, New Testament church were voluntary and freely given out of love. In fact, most gave more than a tithe, they sold everything they had and shared it with those around them who had need. Still, this offering wasn't a law or a command of the Church, it was freely shared out of love. Tertullian, in his "Apology" (2nd Century) affirms that no offering was taken out of compulsion but says:

"Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering…to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old." (Read the entire quote HERE )

Under Constantine, the clergy were paid for their services (for the first time in Church history), but that payment was provided by the Roman Government, not by the Christians themselves.

3) Ignoring the poor - There are over 2,000 verses of scripture in the Bible about God's heart for the poor and His expectation that we, the people of God, should also love and bless their poor among us. The strongest verse, in my opinion, comes in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells us that, at the Judgment, He Himself will separate the sheep and the goats based on how much they cared for the poor and the outcast they encountered in their life. A few other verses include:

"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land."
- Deut. 15:11

"All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (Paul being sent out as the first missionary by Peter, James and John in Galatians 2:10)

God is speaking of King Josiah and says: "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" (Jeremiah 22:16)

Much more on this subject HERE

4) Over-emphasizing the role of the pastor - Contrary to popular opinion, and American culture, the pastor was not the head of the church in the New Testament. The word "Pastor" only appears once and none of the epistles to the churches are addressed to the pastors, they are addressed to the church; the people themselves.

In the New Testament Church, no one could point to a single man and say, "There is my Pastor" even as none of them could say, "There is my priest". Why? Because everyone understood from Peter, Paul and the rest of the Apostles that THEY THEMSELVES were the Priesthood.

No Christian today would think it was Biblical to start offering lambs for sacrifice as part of Sunday morning worship, would they? Why not? Because Christ fulfilled that upon the cross and became the sacrificial lamb once and for all. Why then do we so easily embrace a priest and a temple? Didn't Jesus offer the sacrifice as our High Priest? Didn't Paul and Peter tell us that we were the Temple of the Holy Spirit?

Certainly, the temple and the priesthood and the sacrifice are all important to the worship of God, however in the New Testament Christian Church the people themselves are the temple, the priesthood and the daily sacrifice.

More on this hot topic HERE

5) Yearning for political power - Nothing underscores the frustration of the American Church more than the current lust for political influence and power. Because "Plan A" has failed to create the result we desired, we have now reverted to "Plan B" which is to attempt to Christianize the society around us and to legislate our Christian values.

The New Testament Christians lived under an oppressive pagan government. They were killed for sport and persecuted horribly. Instead of attempting to reform their government, they obeyed Jesus and loved their oppressors. They did not take up the sword and fight back. They did not verbally abuse the pagans for their sinful lifestyle. They did not attempt to form a coalition or a lobby group to force legislation that aligned with their views. Instead, they simply loved the people around them, shared all that they had with others and, in time, they turned the world upside down by imitating Christ Jesus our Lord.

We should do the same.

More on this topic HERE and HERE

6) Business-minded ecclesiology - Nothing has gotten me in more trouble than this topic, but it is something I feel passionate about. The New Testament never refers to the Church as a business. That's not my opinion, it's just the plain fact of the matter. The Church is described as a Body, a Bride, a Family, a Spiritual House, and an Organism where Christ is the head.

More on this HERE

7) Conversion-focus instead of disciple-making - So many Christian Churches today are focused on making converts with elaborate Easter dramas and Christmas Pageants and Outreach events that gather large crowds, ask for a show of hands from those who do not wish to burn in hell forever. Ask them to repeat a prayer and then count raised hands of those who repeated it.

One Church I visited recently did this exactly and cheered on Sunday morning that 500 people had surrendered their lives to Christ. This same church spent over $40,000 just to produce this event. Yet absolutely zero time, money, energy or thought was placed into making disciples of those 500 people.

For me, and I believe for those who follow Jesus, conversion isn't the touchdown, it's the whistle that starts the game. Jesus commanded us to go and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and to make disciples and to teach them to obey all that He commanded. He didn't tell us to go out and make converts and count hands.

My sincere prayer and hope is that every Christian Church in America would repent of these seven failures and return to a more Biblical, New Testament form of Christian life.

Many of these practices above involve repairing the veil that was torn at the crucifixion and returning to an Old Testament form of religious worship where an elected priesthood offers spiritual guidance within an elaborate temple on behalf of the common people.

This is why the church we read about in the New Testament bears little to no resemblance to the church on the street corner, or the one we attend.

Can we hope to return to a Christianity based on freedom? Can we hope for the day that every believer is a priest of God? Can we pray that followers of Jesus begin to embrace the idea that they are actually the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that they are the ambassadors of Christ to the world?

Yes, we can hope, and we can pray.

And I do...


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Difference

There's a difference between wanting America to be more "Christian" out of a desire to be more comfortable (as a Christian) and what it would actually mean to have a passion to see people's lives transformed by the Gospel.

From what I observe, most Christians who demand a return to Biblical values are more concerned with their own desire to be around people who are more like them, share their opinions, etc. and less about a genuine heart for people and a passion to see the Kingdom of God advanced.

In other words, most Christians in America are more concerned with their own comfortability than they are with the conditions of people's lives and hearts outside their home.

If you want America to value the Word of God, you'll have to preach and live out the Gospel.

If you really want to put "Christ" back into Christmas, you'll have to start spending more money on the poor than on yourself. You'll have to give up some of your comfort and let go of some of your wealth in order to share some of that abundance you have with those who have nothing.

This is as much true for me as it is for anyone else.

Death to my status quo. Let His Kingdom come.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Impractical Jesus

Is Jesus’ teaching on non-violence really practical? The real question is, “Is anything Jesus taught practical?”

Is it practical to love your enemies? Is it realistic to bless those who curse you? Is it convenient to turn the other cheek?

This is not the point. The point is that if you are calling yourself a follower of Jesus and you’re refusing to do what He said, you’re not actually following Jesus. You’re fooling yourself.

Non-Christians don’t seem to have a problem seeing Jesus as a non-violent messiah. He sort of invented the concept in the Western world. Even Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. point back to Jesus as their guide when it comes to the practice of non-violent resistance and radical love in action.

Only Christians (especially those in America) seem unable to see Jesus for who He really is – the leader of a non-violent movement based on His original example of love and self-sacrifice.
Most Christians will bristle at that last sentence because I have neglected to mention the Deity of Christ. But I think the real reason some people want to point to Christ’s deity is so that they can disqualify themselves from obeying Him.

See, if Jesus was God and if He was perfect then that explains how He could do all those wonderful things like forgiving His enemies and loving those who hated Him and laying down His life for others. That also means that if the only way He could do all of that is because of His Deity then I am exempt.

However, Jesus was pretty clear that He really did expect us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, forgive others, and let go of our worldly possessions in order to embrace the glorious riches of His Kingdom.

It should not come as any surprise to us that the teachings of Jesus are at odds with the conventional wisdom of the day. It’s the Gospel of the Kingdom. It’s upside down in comparison to the world we live in.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies because He has a plan to release the transformative power of love into those situations. Jesus wants to invade the lives of those people who hate you. He wants to show them the power of His love, and your loving response in the face of their hate is the catalyst that brings transformation.

And, while we do not follow Jesus based on whether or not his teachings are practical, the truth of the matter is that history proves to us that nonviolence does work. It has been the catalyst to many historical civil rights movements around the globe for centuries now, from Liberia, to India, and Africa - even in America.

Are the teachings of Jesus practical? Yes. But even if they weren't our calling is to obey Jesus without questioning His authority or doubting His wisdom.


Friday, December 13, 2013


*NOTE: This post originally appeared on the [Subversive Underground] e-newsletter.

Business As Usual?

I recently received an email from someone who had a question for me regarding the mounting debt issues at their church.

The email read: 

"Our church is in debt. We owe the bank thousands. We now need the debt to function. We have become dependent on it. My spouse challenged the finance person, in private, about this and got no where. We suggested we stop doing stuff and paying so many people to run the church. These suggestions feel on deaf ears."

Now, my perspective may be different than most in this situation, but since the question has been asked, and since I believe that many other Churches will soon find themselves in the same boat very soon, I wanted to respond here.

For a bit of background on my personal situation, let me make it clear that my wife and I have fairly radical views when it comes to the Church, and especially when it comes to church finances, offerings and tithes. For our family, it is our conviction that the offering belongs to the poor and not to the Church to spend on herself and her own comforts. This is why, about 7  years ago, we left our on-staff, paid pastoral positions and started a house church where 100% of all offerings could go to the poor in our community. I do not take a salary. We use every penny received in our basket to buy groceries for needy families and to help people in need.

However, many churches, if not most, do not operate in this way. Most churches in America today are operating as a business. Because of this, these churches, like every single other business, are suffering financially and facing economic hardships that force many to make difficult decisions about staff, expenses and programs.

Like every other business, Churches around the nation are laying off workers, cutting back on programs and down-sizing to make it through these uncertain economic times.

Could it be that God might be allowing the Church as we know it to go out of business so that she can realize that He has never intended her to operate as a business in the first place?

Most Christians today cannot imagine Church without a paid professional clergy, a large building, a state-of-the-art sound system, and programs for youth and children. However, the historical evidence is that people have been operating without these things for literal centuries. These churches have been making disciples and preaching the Gospel and serving the poor and worshipping Jesus just fine, thank you. All without a building, a paid professional clergy, or programs or a thousand dollar sound system. Seriously.

Furthermore, the New Testament tells us that Jesus refers to His Church as a Family, a Body, an Organism and a Bride. He never treats her as a business and, in my opinion, the Scriptures reveal a very different DNA for Church than we've adopted here in the West.

One pastor friend recently shared that he had approached his board of directors at his church about not continuing to take a salary for his services. He wanted to take a job in the real world and not be a burden to the Body financially. This, I thought, was a wonderful idea. However, they wouldn't allow him to work for free or to take his salary elsewhere. This response puzzles me in many ways, but sadly, most cannot conceive of running the Church in any other way than as a business.

Over the last few years I have met three different pastors, here in California, who have found it necessary to let go of their church building and their paid staff due to financial hardships. In each case, these pastors made the decision to re-organize as a series of house churches. All of them have since discovered the joy and the freedom of "Being the Church" rather than asking their people to attend one. None of them would ever go back. None of them would have taken the step towards House Church if their bank accounts were bursting either.

Now that they have made the leap towards organic forms of "being Church" these three pastors have also discovered that, instead of shrinking in size, they are growing, in maturity and in numbers. Instead of hurting for money they cannot help but generate money, because they have little to no expenses. Instead of spending thousands of dollars a month on utilities and bills, they now spend hundreds of hours in community and in fellowship with one another and have discovered what it means to really be the Family of God.

Our house church, The Mission, has been together for just over 7 years now. I have been very blessed to grow alongside others who share our passion for living outward-focused lives of love. My family has been blessed to open our home and discover true Koinonia fellowship and community with people who have a sincere desire to follow Jesus. We've all been blessed to encourage one another in our faith and to spur one another on to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

We've been blessed to share our finances with one another, and with those we encounter in the community, who are in need. We've been amazed to connect every dollar we give with actual people whose lives are blesssed because of what we share.

Of course, this is no way to run a business, and that's the whole point. Our passionate desire is to live our faith and share what we have been given without allowing profits or corporate strategy or ROI to muddy the waters.

Perhaps God has other reasons for allowing financial pressures to put the Church out of business? Perhaps our economy will rebound soon and all of this will go away? Who knows?

I just cannot help to see God at work in all of this, especially when I hear joyful reports of pastors who are seeing growth and maturity in their church as the walls come down and the people discover what it means to be the Church they were always meant to be. 

My hope and prayer is that the people of God here in America would really begin to fully understand what it means to operate as a family, and to share what they have, and to embrace one another, and the poor, no matter what the cost.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hey, Look At Me!

One thing I’ve noticed lately is that there are some Christian bloggers out there who are desperate to be noticed and followed. They offer their opinions, Tweet their links, and argue their positions mainly because they have an insecurity. They are obsessed with being seen as experts. Their egos are fed on the positive comments and the number of shares and quotes they get on every post. Essentially, this boils down to nothing more than ego-driven, narcissistic self-love and it makes me sick.

As I write this I have to be honest. There’s one person in particular that I’m thinking of who is probably the most guilty of this kind of self-promotion. Now, I don’t usually name names here, but in this case I think we all need to know who this person is. Why? So we can pray for him, of course. This guy needs our prayers and he needs to be held accountable. Besides, we can’t really pray for him if we don’t know what his weaknesses and struggles are, can we?

Furthermore, I think what bothers me most about this Christian brother is that he often talks about the need for humility, and even about how there should be no hierarchy in the Church, but then his actions betray the fact that, in his heart, he does hope to be held in higher esteem than the rest of us. We really should not tolerate this level of hypocrisy. That’s why it’s so important that we call this person out publicly and pray for him to repent of this selfishness.

So, of course, I’m talking about Keith Giles. I know this might come as a shock to you, but then again, maybe not. I’ve known this guy longer than almost anyone else and I can say without any reservation that he needs your prayers.


I wrote the first part of this article a few months ago and sat on it. A few days ago someone insulted me and ripped my heart to the core. It was a brother, a friend and someone I love and respect. The attack was personal and painful and it came out of nowhere. I was angry, and very hurt.

That night I lay on my bed and made my complaint to God, feeling very much the victim and quite justified in my feelings of injustice. But then the Holy Spirit whispered to me: "Maybe he's right?"
I waited. I considered this possibility. What if those words hurt me so deeply because they were actually true? Then I remembered this passage from the book "Let Go" by Fenelon:

"If we have inner resentment at being corrected, that just shows how deeply correction is needed. In fact, the sting of correction wouldn't be felt at all if the old self were dead. So, the more correction hurts, the more we see how necessary it is."


"Oh, what wonderful grace will descend upon you if you will accept like a little child all the corrections and reproofs which God uses to humble you and bring you into submission."

So, there it is.

And then, this afternoon, I found this old draft of a blog that I had written a few months ago and I realized that the Lord had been speaking to me about this for a long time now.

So, go ahead. Please pray for me. I need to constantly lay myself down on the cross and ask the Lord to crucify this flesh. My heart is crushed, both from my friend and from the Lord. But I know the Lord's desire is to restore me and to apply a generous layer of mercy and grace to balance out this merciless wound from the blade of Truth.

Either way, my flesh needs to die and Christ needs to live in me more and more.
Conversatio Morem! (Death to my status quo!)


Monday, December 09, 2013

Love Much?

“The one who is forgiven much, loves much.” – Jesus

Have you ever found yourself running low on love? Especially if it’s for a certain person who tends to bother you?

Perhaps our lack of love is related to our unfamiliarity with repentance?

In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus teaches a parable to illustrate how our humility is related to our love. The story is told because a “sinful woman” crashes the party where Jesus is dining in the home of Simon, the Pharisee, and proceeds to weep. With her tears she washes the feet of Jesus, and with her hair she dries them off. Next, she opens an expensive alabaster jar of oil and anoints his feet with it. All the while, Simon and the other Pharisees murmur in their hearts about how scandalous the whole thing appears.

That’s when Jesus tells the story of two men who owed a debt to the same creditor. Both had their debts forgiven, but one of them owed a lot of money and the other only a little.

“Which of these men loved the creditor most?” asked Jesus.

Simon replied, “I suppose the one whom he forgave the most.”

That’s when Jesus makes his point about love and how it is tied to our acquaintance with our own sinfulness, saying that the one who is forgiven much loves much, and the one who is forgiven a little, loves little.

Those of us who are more aware of our weakness, and our sinfulness, tend to have a deeper well of love and compassion to draw from than those who refuse to confess their sins and receive God’s mercy. Consequently, whenever we find ourselves with very little love for another person it might be because we have forgotten how much we have been forgiven – and still need to be forgiven.

Hitler and I are both sinners. Without Christ, we would both end up receiving the exact same sentence of death and eternal separation from God. The playing field is level apart from the love of Jesus.

I share this insight with you because there is one particular person whom I am finding it very hard to love. Over the weekend, as our house church family gathered together and the Lord began to speak to us through one another and His Word, I began to realize that the problem was not the other person – it was me.

When it comes right down to it, my impatience and intolerance of this person is directly related to my lack of love. More specifically, my attitude about this person is tied to my blindness concerning my own need for Jesus.

See, God loves this person dearly. In fact, God loves this person exactly as much as He loves me. God sees me and this person the same way – He loves us through and through. So, why can’t I love this person? It’s because I have an unspoken perspective that thinks that this person and I are different. But we’re not. This person is arrogant. I am also frequently arrogant. This person is prideful. I am often prideful. This person is self-absorbed. I’m very self-absorbed at times. This person is not a follower of Jesus. I am a follower of Jesus. But we are both sinners.

As a follower of Jesus I am commanded to love everyone – even my enemies – so that those who have not experienced God’s unmerited grace and favor might get a taste of it by being in relationship with me.

Frankly, this is very, very hard for me to do. Whenever I see this person I want to run the other way. But instead I need to lay down my life, die to my flesh, and pray for the Holy Spirit to supernaturally fill me with His love so that I might be empowered to love this person as God loves him; to bless this person who annoys me; to serve this person who grinds my gears; so that the life and love of Jesus might shine through this jar of broken clay.

So, I confess to you all that I am a sinner, and that I am failing in this area of my Christian walk. I ask for your prayers to live out these things that I have learned. Because, in the words of Jesus: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:16-18)


Christian Oxymorons

In the Central African Republic there are men with machine guns who are killing other people. They refer to themselves as "Christian Militants" but don't you believe it for a minute.

There is no such thing as a "Christian Militant" who goes around shooting his enemies. Just as there is no such thing as "Open Secrets" or "A Fine Mess" and just as no one can ever be "Almost Pregnant" or "A Little Drunk", there can also never be any such thing as a "Christlike Killer".

Would Jesus throw a grenade into a Mosque? Would Jesus bust a cap into someone who didn't agree with his views? Would Jesus set a bomb to kill innocent people at a train station?

No, he would not. How could anyone ever imagine that he would?

That is why a "Christian" - which by definition is someone who follows the teachings of Jesus - can never take a weapon in hand and fire a bullet into their heart. Because once that person does such a thing, they cease to be like Jesus.

Certainly, Christians are capable of failure when it comes to following Him. We've all fallen short of the high calling of Jesus Christ. And for those who have killed others in war, or in the line of duty, can always repent of their sinful actions and receive the full and complete forgiveness of Jesus.

But what a Christian cannot do is to continually kill others in the name of nationalism, or political ideology, or "freedom" or anything else. Not even in the Name of Jesus. Especially not in the Name of Jesus.

So, when you read news stories like this one you can't accept the words "Christian Militant" at face value. There is no such thing as a "Christian Militant" who takes the life of other human beings who are made in the image of Christ.


Friday, December 06, 2013

Onward Christian Killers?

How can those who say they follow the Prince of Peace shoot their enemies? How can those who say they have experienced the transformational power of love and forgiveness kill 12 civilian citizens and wound 30 others? How can Christians murder children?

It has to start with a redefinition of the term "Christian" from "one who obeys Jesus" to "one who is in agreement with a set of doctrinal statements". Then one may behave however one likes without doing violence to the concept of "being like Christ" as a prerequisite for identifying with Jesus.

Over and over again, we read news items with headlines that reveal the sad news:

"Christian Tutsi's Slaughter Thousands Of Their Hutu Brothers in Rwanda"

"UN Reports That Armed Christian Groups Known As "Anti-Balaka" Have Killed 12 Muslims in Central African Republic"

Is this what Jesus had in mind? Did Jesus come to earth as an infant, and teach us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us - and Himself forgive those who nailed him to a Roman cross - so that those who come after Him could form an army and slaughter their enemies?

This is the same Jesus who said, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my disciples would fight." (see John 18:35-37)

So, if we fight, are we truly His disciples? Or are we fighting for the wrong kingdom?

Yes. When we take up arms and kill our enemies we are doing so for the kings and kingdoms of this fallen world.

As a follower of Jesus, there are many things worth dying for, but there is nothing - nothing - worth killing another human being for.

What could make me betray my Lord Jesus and take another life in disobedience to His clear commands to love and forgive? If I am more loyal to my nation than I am to Jesus, then I am not fit for His Kingdom.

“If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." - Jesus (Luke 14:26)

So, let's be clear: Someone who is like Jesus cannot take up arms and kill another human being. Anyone who does this, in the name of God, or country, or patriotism, or national pride, or "freedom" is doing so in outright defiance of Jesus.

If Jesus is Lord, then let us obey His commands:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)

Monday, December 02, 2013


Over the weekend I spent some time with a Palestinian Christian who was visiting Orange County. As we sat together and listened, this man shared with us the sad details of how fear and prejudice and nationalism has made peace in the Middle East a seeming impossibility. However, he and a handful of other Christians are convinced that the way of Jesus might still work. So, they are doing what they can to bring Jews and Christians and Muslims together to help them see beyond those cultural, religious, racial divisions and begin to actually love one another, as Jesus commanded.

One thing he shared that greatly shocked me was that even as hundreds of Muslims are coming to faith in Christ, most Palestinian Christians will not fellowship with them. They are still blinded by racism and fear.

This man, Salim Muyaner, has written one of the only curriculum's in existence on peaceful conflict resolution. As he shared this, one man in the room said to him, "You should send that curriculum to the Sudan." Salim responded by saying, "Only to them? What about to you? Your nation is the most influential cause of violence in the Middle East. Why shouldn't America study peace?"

Later, Salim reminded us that "We find peace in the face of our enemy. We find our future in the face of our enemy."

Later, at this same meeting, I also talked to another Christian man who has befriended the leaders of Hamas and often visits these men to pray with them and to urge them to seek peaceful resolutions to the conflict and struggle they are involved in. He told me about an amazing conversation he had with the leader of Hamas that stunned me.

He said that he asked this man two questions; One was, "Do you believe that God speaks to men in dreams and visions?" The man said "Yes." Then he asked, "Will you pray with me about one thing until God does it?" The man said, "What is it?" My friend said, "Pray that God would give a vision of Jesus to Obama, Netanyahu, and the Prime Minister of England and that He would teach them the way of Peace." The man - who was the leader of Hamas - with tears filling his eyes, grabbed my friend around the neck and began to kiss his cheeks again and again. "Yes," he said. "I will pray with you for this."

Maybe you're shocked to hear this? But many Muslims revere Jesus (or "Isa" as they call him) as a great teacher, and as a messenger of peace.

As I drove home that night, I reflected on what I had heard. The situation in the Middle East is beyond difficult. The stake-holders are not about to give up power. The Christians there are unwilling to love other Christians if they were formerly Muslims. The Jews are unwilling to grant Palestinians the right to "one man, one vote". The Muslism are not willing to accept Jewish rule. Where does that leave everyone? In the middle, endlessly struggling against one another.

The words of Jesus came to my mind: "Repent or likewise perish." In other words, if the people there do not repent of their lust for power and their desire for justice, then there is no hope for them except for more bloodshed and violence and pain.

What could turn everything around? It is the transformative love of Jesus. If the Christians there in Palestine could begin to love their Muslim neighbors, if they could begin to forgive their Jewish oppressors, then there would be peace in their land, and more importantly in their hearts.

I have been praying since that night that God would begin to touch the hearts of His people there in Palestine and in Israel, to look beyond their prejudice and fear to embrace other Christian brothers and sisters - whether Jewish Christians, or Arab Christians, or Palestinian Christians.

Then, I pray that those united brothers and sisters in Christ could begin to go next door and wash the cars of their Jewish neighbors, and share food with their Muslim neighbors, and pray for their communities to come together, and be willing to lay down their lives for one another.

Does that sound impossible? It has happened before. It has happened in Liberia, and in South Africa, and in South America, and yes, even here in the U.S.A. Believe it or not, it has even happened in the Middle East! In fact, this whole idea of loving your enemy, and blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who hate you, and doing good to those who mistreat you started in the Middle East.

So, perhaps there is more hope than we think?

Maybe you would pray with me for Christians in the Middle East to come together in unity? Maybe you would also join with my friend, and the leader of Hamas, as they pray for God to send a vision of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to Obama, and Netanyahu, and Cameron?

There is hope for the Middle East. There is hope for America. That hope is Jesus, and His radical message of Enemy Love.

Let us pray.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Repent America

Thus shall I strip you naked, America and give your wealth to another nation,
for your sins of injustice upon the poor of this earth.

The cries against you have reached my ears
from the workers at Foxconn you have devoured whole;
from the families in Kenya you have stolen resources from;
from the men, women, and children working as slaves in China, Africa, India, and Mexico who make your clothing,
shoes, and luxuries.

Night and day they beg for mercy from you, but you will not listen.
They stand barefoot and naked while they make your shoes and clothing.

The Sins of Sodom are heaped upon you. The Sins of Laodicea are tattooed upon your heart.

I will show no mercy to the nation that wears my Name as they rape the weak and exploit the innocent.

With your lips you speak praises to my Name, but your hearts are far from me.

On the day of your Judgment - which I will bring swiftly upon you - you will say to me,
"Did we not invade nations in your Name and drop bombs on our enemies?"
And I will reply,
"Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you."

Surely you will say to me, "We have grown rich and rise to power because the Lord our God has blessed our wars, our guns, our exploitation of the poor." 

But I will say, "Truly, you have never known me."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What About Hell?

Many Christians today believe that the Gospel is about helping people to escape an eternal suffering in Hell. But what they don't realize is that the scriptural evidence for an eternal hell is pretty hard to come by. In fact, there seems to be a lot more evidence for a hell that is limited and purposeful rather than punitive and eternal.
If your entire Christian walk centers on escape from hell, the suggestion that hell isn't eternal can be challenging, to say the least.
Moreover, if you're only a Christian because you don't want to burn in hell forever, you might not actually have any interest in following Jesus (which is actually what being a Christian is supposed to be about). You might only want to avoid endless pain, making your profession of faith little more than a totally selfish act.
But doesn’t Jesus talk more about Hell than anyone else in the Bible? Well, yes and no.

Jesus does teach that those who reject Him as Lord will suffer in Gehenna, which we translate as "Hell", but His contemporary hearers would have understood this as a reference to the garbage dump outside the city gates. At best, Jesus is using this constantly burning trash heap as a metaphor for what will happen to those who die without His life in them.

At the resurrection, when Christ returns, both the righteous and the unrighteous will be raised from the dead to face the Judgment seat of Christ. (See Matthew 25) Those who love Christ and who have followed Him will be raised to live forever with Him in the New Heaven and the New Earth. But those who do not belong to Christ will be raised for...what?

That’s hard to say.

Yes, Jesus warns that unbelievers will be sent to a place of torment – a place that should be avoided at all costs – but we do not know for how long these people will suffer in this way.  Jesus does say that the fire will be eternal, but we are not told that the people, or the suffering, will be eternal.

Jesus tells us that in Gehenna there will be weeping (Matt 8:12), wailing (Matt 13:42), gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:50), darkness (Matt 25:30), flames (Luke 16:24), torments (Luke 16:23), and "everlasting fire". (Matt 25:41)

As scary as this may be – and Jesus did emphasize that this was a fate to avoid at all costs – it does not specifically teach us that Hell involves eternal suffering.

We have to balance these statements with verses where Jesus warns us to fear God who:

"...can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

For most of us the idea of an eternal hell is almost universally accepted as being what the Bible teaches. We almost cannot imagine any other view being taken seriously. However, that was not always the case. In fact, for MOST of Church history, there were 3 different views of Hell, and the eternal suffering viewpoint was in the minority.

Note this reference in the New Schaff-Herzog Christian Encyclopedia which says: 

 "The earliest system of Universalistic theology was by Clement of Alexandria who was the head of the theological school in that city until 202 A.D. His successor in the school was the great Origen, the most distinguished advocate of this doctrine in all time." (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 2)

"In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six known theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked." (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 3)

So, what are the other two views? One is “Universalism” which teaches that those who die without Christ will suffer for a time in Hell but eventually everyone will accept Christ as Lord.

The other view is the “Annihilationist” view which teaches that those who die without Christ will suffer for a limited time in Hell and then be destroyed forever and cease to exist.

So, throughout the centuries, Christians have disagreed with which view of Hell is correct. Many Christians are also unaware that when Augustine attempted to refute the Universalist view of hell – which was the majority view in his day – he freely admitted that his doctrine of eternal suffering was against the grain.

What are we to make of this? If it seems that the Old Testament scriptures hardly mentions the topic, and if Jesus speaks mainly of the "death" (perishing, destruction, etc.) of the unrepentant sinner, and if the early Church had no grid for the concept of eternal suffering, and if both the Old and the New Testament Scriptures affirm that only those in Christ have eternal life, then the views of Annhilationism and Universalism (after a period of suffering/punishment) seem to be much more in line with the whole of Scripture.

At the very least, all of these facts certainly make the commonly held doctrine of Eternal Suffering seem very weak in comparison.

In the final analysis, Christians should have mercy with those who disagree with their view of Hell since all three views have scriptural support and on this side of the grave none of us can decisively claim one is more correct than the other.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Mortal Souls

Christians often evangelize by telling people that every human soul is eternal and that after we die we will continue to live in immortality. The only question, we suggest, is whether or not we will live forever with God in Heaven, or suffer forever in Hell.  But is this idea actually taught in the scriptures? I would say, no. Here’s why.

From the beginning, in the book of Genesis, why does God banish Adam and Eve from the Garden after they have sinned? He says it's so that they won't "eat of the Tree of Life and live forever." (Genesis 3:22)

So, apparently the only way that Adam and Eve would live forever is if they were to eat from the Tree of Life.

Remember, the punishment Adam and Eve received for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? It was this: "You shall surely die" (Genesis 3:2)

Now, if death was the punishment for their sin, and if they were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life because to do so would be to "live forever", then are human souls inherently eternal?

I don’t think so. For example, Jesus says:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life..” (John 3:36)

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. “ (John 5:21)

Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” – (John 5:40)

“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.” (John 6:47-48)

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – (John 10:10)

Paul and the other Apostles also affirm this idea that only those of us who are in Christ have life, and without Christ we have no life beyond this one:

"…your life is hidden in Christ" and "when Christ, who is your life, appears, you will appear with him also." (Colossians 3: 3-4)

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12)

Therefore, the evidence of scripture seems to overwhelmingly support the idea that only those who are in Christ will enjoy eternal life. Those without Christ, will not live forever but will, as Jesus warns us, “perish”. (See John 3:16)



Friday, November 22, 2013

UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH #7 – Jesus Sets Us Free From Every Sin

My internet friend, Brant Hansen, said something the other day that inspired me to write today’s blog.

What Brant noted was that we tend draw the line between good people and bad people. If we do good things, God will accept and love us, but if we do bad things then God will hate us and punish us. But, as he wisely pointed out, Jesus never drew those distinctions between good people and bad people. Instead, Jesus seemed to always draw a distinction between proud people and humble people.

Humble people receive God’s mercy and grace, but God opposes proud people. (See James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34)

What matters, then, is not “being good” or “being bad” but coming to God with humility.

See, God isn’t looking for a few good men. He already knows there aren’t any. Instead, God is looking for humble people who are willing to receive His wonderful gift of life and justification through faith.

I was also looking again at a series of verses in Acts 13:38-41 where Paul affirms something equally amazing, saying:

“Through Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you…everyone who believes is set free from every sin – a justification you were not able to obtain under the Law of Moses.”

Most of us don’t really get that. In fact, that’s why Paul goes on to quote Habakkuk 1:5:

“I am doing something that you will not believe, even when someone explains it to you!” (quoted in Acts 13:41)

What’s the thing that we cannot believe? It’s the idea that Jesus has “set (us) free from every sin” and that we are now fully and totally justified under the Law of Moses – AS IF WE KEPT THE LAW PERFECTLY. Even though we don’t keep the Law perfectly (because we can’t), Jesus DID keep the Law of Moses perfectly and then (get this) He transferred that justification to every single one of those who put their trust in Him.


What if we actually believed this message? Well, if we did it would mean that we would live like people who were not condemned for their failures. We would live like people who really believed this:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Over the weekend I was sharing this exact verse with a brother in Christ and after we were finished he said something like this:

"How awful to miss what Jesus has done for us on the cross."

That is exactly what someone might say who hasn’t yet understood Romans 8, and Acts 13 because after hearing this truth our first reaction is to put ourselves right back under condemnation again.

Don’t do that.

The point for us is that Jesus has set us free from every sin and has justified us "as if we kept the Law of Moses perfectly" because Jesus DID do that in our place, and then He shared that work with all of us.

So, rather than being down on yourself for not seeing it - just see it and accept it and start walking in the light of a new day, rejoicing in the freedom that Jesus has given you and the FACT that you are set free from sin and from condemnation!

Go ahead and say, "Woo-hoo!"

You might even want to jump for joy. I'm serious. Find a private place where no one is around and jump into the air and say "Praise God!" because that's an appropriate response.

Try it! And then make it your mission to daily wake up and remind yourself of the Truth: I am set free to live without condemnation from God because Jesus has done what I could never do – kept the Law of Moses perfectly – and now I live in the reality of God’s Grace as if I had kept the Law perfectly. Not because I have, but because Jesus did and He gave that gift to me.

Keep saying it until you really believe it. Then spread the Good News.