Friday, August 31, 2012

NEW SERIES: The Anatomy of an Open Meeting

In this new series I want to answer some questions that several people have asked me after reading my latest book, "This Is My Body:Ekklesia As God Intended" which deals mainly with a biblical basis for a New Testament model of gathering together as a Body. However, I did not include any specific details about what an open meeting, (where everyone operates in their gifting without an up-front pastor leading the process), actually looks like, or how to participate or to lead one.

This series will run here on my blog over the next few days, and then I will collect these, along with several other more practical "How To" articles and publish them in an eBook over at Amazon.com under the title of "House Church Dynamics".

For now, let's start by defining what an open meeting actually is:

Part 1: WHAT IS AN OPEN MEETING?

An open meeting is one where everyone in the gathering is as free as anyone else to speak, or to share, or to teach, or to sing, etc., as the Holy Spirit leads them.

This sort of meeting is what Paul was describing in 1 Corinthians 12  where he begins by explaining how various spiritual gifts are distributed throughout the church and then uses a Body metaphor to describe how these gifts are designed to function in a practical way. 

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6; emphasis mine)

Right off the bat, Paul explains that there are different kinds of gifts, and also that the purpose of them is to work “in all of them” (the members of the church) and he emphasizes that “everyone” is expected to participate. Not only a select few. As he goes on to say in the next verse:

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7)

Here, he re-emphasizes that “each one” is given the spiritual gift “for the common good” of everyone else in the church gathering.

This tells us that the spiritual gifts are not to edify or build up the person using the gift, but to lovingly bless and minister to everyone else in the church fellowship. Therefore, the spiritual gifts are “in all of them” and “everyone” is gifted to be a blessing “for the common good” of their brothers and sisters.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that the manifestations of the Spirit are given for a select few, or to one man, but to “everyone” and that “each one” receives a different gift in order to be a gift to everyone else. This is the groundwork for an open meeting of Christians.

After listing a series of spiritual gifts that might be given to the members (“Message of wisdom”, “faith”, “gifts of healing”, etc.), Paul again says:

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Cor. 12:11)

Just in case we’ve forgotten, Paul reminds us that “each one” receives a gift from God in the church in order to facilitate the work of the Spirit in the church when they gather.

Next, Paul goes on to explain that the Body (which is a metaphor for how the Church should function), is one, even though it is made up of many parts. He then takes time to illustrate how the church is designed on purpose to be a group of very different sorts of people. Not a homogenous cookie-cutter group of clones, but a gathering of people who are not like one another. He talks about how those who are “feet” cannot say they are not part of this body because they are not like the “hands”, and he goes on to stress that the “eyes” cannot kick out the “hands” because they are different. Therefore, differences are to be expected – even celebrated – and this is because the variety is part of what makes us a body of many parts. He closes the chapter by saying:

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor. 12:24-27)

This is really only the ground work for what an open meeting of believers should look like. Paul explains how the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to everyone in the Church using the metaphor of a Body that is made up of different parts that serve different functions, and he makes the point that these parts are all essential for the life of the Body.

This means that if you are a follower of Christ, you have a spiritual gift from God. It means you have a very crucial role to play in the growth and development of the Church family where you are a member. It means that you matter. You are important. We need you, and you need all of us.

What I find fascinating is that Paul follows this chapter about how a gathering of believers can operate like a Body with an entire chapter on love. He does this twice more in Ephesians 4 and in Romans 12. Every time Paul talks about spiritual gifts in the Body, the very next thing he talks about is love. Why? Because the gifts are given in love, and they only work if we use them out of love to bless the brothers and sisters we love in order to help them to grow into the image of Christ who is love.

Later, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul returns to this idea of how everyone in the Body is expected to operate together for the common good, saying:

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Cor. 14:26)

Again, Paul returns to the theme he laid out in chapter 12. The command is, “When you come together, each of you” uses their God-given gifts for the common good. Why? Because, as Paul goes on to say, this kind of symbiotic sharing of love and ministry is essential and “must be done so that the church may be built up.”

This isn’t an optional method for gathering that Paul outlines for us here. Paul is emphatic that “each one” of us should use our gifts “for the common good” and that it “must be done” for the “church” to be “built up”. 

You can quickly see how a Pastor-centric church will never operate in this way as Paul describes. Because with a professional expert in the room, everyone will always turn to that person and wait for instructions. But, Paul doesn’t make any room for this aberration. Nor does anyone else in the New Testament scriptures.

An open meeting embraces Paul’s instructions here and in other passages to operate as a true body where Christ is the head (Eph. 4:15) – the only head – and we all “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21)
 
In our next article we'll look at what an open meeting looks like in practice.
 
-kg
[END PART 1]
 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FOLLOW JESUS?


It means forsaking your way of living and your own way of thinking and rationalizing to be like Jesus.

It means daily surrendering your life to Him.

It means enduring hardship and ridicule for standing up for His teachings in front of your friends and co-workers.

It means:
*Forgiving people
*Loving people
*Serving people
*Not judging people
*Being humble
*Turning the other cheek
*Not using violence
*Associating with sinners and the poor and the outcast and the broken
*Suffering rejection
*Giving up on popularity
*Letting go of this life


And, it means learning from Him how to love like He does.

That’s what it means to follow Jesus.

It does not mean:
*Standing up for your rights
*Protecting your religious freedoms
*Insulting people who disagree with you on politics, religion or ethics
*Being a good American
*Voting
*Tithing
*Attending Church services
*Defining “love” in such a way as to excuse yourself for being a jerk

Following Jesus involves a daily surrender of your will and your life in exchange for His life and His perfect will.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)


All that Jesus asks us to do is this - "Follow me!"


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PART 3: WHY ARE (SOME) CHRISTIANS SO MEAN?



One friend posted a comment of mine on their Facebook page last week that said “If you would shoot your enemy in the head, you might not be a Christian” and the comments that followed that simple truth were deeply disturbing to me, especially the ones that cried “Bulls**t!”, and “Keith Giles is soooo wrong” and my favorite, “This Keith Giles is a gut-shooter, not a head-shooter, a dumb-ass playing games.” [Nice].

It starts to make you wonder, “How can Christians who follow the One who said ‘Love your enemies’ respond to this comment in this way?” Are they unaware of their Savior’s teaching? Are they willfully ignorant of what He meant by this statement? Or are they mostly confused by how to apply His teachings in everyday life?

Reason #3 – Christians in America are confused about the Old and New Covenant.

As one commenter to that same post said, “I get a little confused with Old Testament vs New…is everything in the OT about war and defending (oneself) null after Jesus died?”

I think it’s this fundamental misunderstanding of how the Old Covenant and the New Covenant work together that allows us to call ourselves “Christians” without actually following Christ.

Jesus said that He came “not to abolish the Law and the Prophets” but to “fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

But, in what way did Jesus “fulfill the Law and the Prophets”? Most Christians are taught that this statement implies that the Old Testament Scriptures are still intact. However, that’s not at all what Jesus meant. As the writer of Hebrews explains:

“By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)

So, when Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, He accomplished what they were pointing to and prophesying about. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, and now we are under a new and everlasting covenant. Rather than become enslaved again to the Old Covenant Laws, we are free to follow Jesus and we therefore are bound to obey Him.

This means that when Jesus says, “Love your enemies” we need to actually do that and not shoot them in the head (or anywhere else). And when Jesus says, “If you do not forgive those who sin against you, then your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins either” we need to start forgiving people. (see Matthew 6:14-15).

Want further proof that Christians today don’t understand the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant? Let me ask you to tell me what the New Covenant is. Honestly, most Christians I ask have no idea what the New Covenant actually is. (Hint: You can find out in Hebrews 8:8-10; and Jeremiah 31:31-34).

See, when we fail to obey Jesus we start to act mean, and the reason why is that following Jesus is meant to transform us into the image of Christ. In other words, if we’re not following Jesus there’s no hope of ever actually becoming like Jesus. Only when we die to ourselves (daily)and deny our selfish, human (i.e. “mean”) impulses and actions, do we get anywhere near actually becoming like Christ.

It’s a little frustrating to me that I even need to write this down or explain this to anyone. It should be such a simple, basic idea to everyone that a follower of Jesus would be like Jesus.
 
How in the world have we gotten the idea that one can be a Christian but not follow Christ? This would be like a Muslim refusing to obey the Koran. Or a Jew who has no clue about Moses or his teachings. Either you’re a follower of Jesus and you take Him seriously, or you are not following Jesus and you should just go ahead and call yourself a humanist who does what he feels like. You can’t have it both ways.

We act nothing like Jesus because we have not been told we should follow Jesus’ teachings. We do not obey Jesus because we do not think of ourselves as “Disciples” but as “Believers” who accept a certain set of doctrines and we dare anyone to say we’re not really “Christians” even though we don’t act like Jesus.

For the record, the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” in Antioch back in the first century. You want to know why? Because they were all so much like Jesus that their enemies called them “Little Christs” – which is what “Christians” actually means.

If those Antioch pagans could come to America, I don’t think they’d call us “Christians” today.

Yes, I’d say that the Church in America is some serious trouble, and if we don’t start embracing the New Covenant that Jesus died to initiate, and die to ourselves to receive it, then we will be nothing but a nation of Mean Christians who have no idea who Jesus is, or what it means to follow Him.

-kg

[END PART 3]

 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

PART 2: WHY ARE (SOME) CHRISTIANS SO MEAN?




Reason #2 – Christians in America don’t know what makes you a Christian

I think the second reason that some Christians are so mean – or act nothing like Jesus – is because we evangelize people the wrong way. By that I mean that we tell people that they are “Christians” if they have prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” regardless of how they are living their lives right now.

This “Sinner’s Prayer” appears nowhere in the Bible, by the way. It’s just something we made up to make it easier to evangelize. This focus on ease of conversion is part of what’s wrong with the Church today. Rather than to invite people to follow Jesus (become Disciples) and obey Him in their actual lives, we urge them to repeat after us: “Jesus I believe that you died on the cross for my sins and that you rose from the dead and that you are coming back to take me to live with you in Heaven one day. Thank you Jesus for your gift of eternal life which I receive today. Amen.”

Once we get people to repeat this prayer (or something like it) we tell them that they are now “Christians”. Of course, getting them to pray that prayer isn’t so difficult if you start off by asking them something like, “Do you know that if you died tonight you would be in Heaven tomorrow?” or maybe even “With every head bowed and every eye closed, please just quickly raise your hand if you don’t want to burn in hell forever. I see that hand, thank you.” And then we ask them to repeat that magic prayer and – voila - they will go to heaven when they die.

Of course, Jesus had a slightly different method. First of all he called for people to follow Him. Not too complicated. Might actually fit that on a bumper sticker. But then He added that if anyone wanted to follow Him (become a disciple) they would have to give up just one thing – He called it “everything.”

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

And

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

This is pretty different, I’ll admit. Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask anyone about a preference for burning forever or not. Notice that He doesn’t ask them to repeat any magic prayers. Later on, just before He left His Kingdom in the hands of those same disciples He added this part:

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

So, Jesus expected us to make more followers (disciples) and then to “teach them to obey everything (He) commanded.”

Obedience is part of the package, according to Jesus. If you’re going to call yourself a “follower of Jesus” you might just have to, you know, follow Him and stuff.

This sort of theology allows people to think that just because they repeated a prayer when they were nine years old, they can go ahead and live any way they want – even become a Satanist or a Hindu, or whatever – and still go to heaven when they die. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that only those who “remain in (Him)” have life and those who do not remain in Him do not have life. In fact, those who do not remain in Christ are the ones who will be “like a branch that is cast out..and thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6)

Trust me, if you prayed a prayer a few years ago but today you are far away from Christ and you are not remaining in fellowship and relationship with Jesus, you will not end up where you wanted to be. Or, as Paul says in Collosians 3:3-4:

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

The problem is that we’ve turned salvation into a “thing”. We’ve overstressed the fact that salvation is a “gift” and then carried that metaphor out to an illogical (and heretical) conclusion.

Yes, salvation is a gift from God, in the sense that it is free and you don’t deserve it. But it’s not a gift in the sense that you can take it (like a pair of socks) and wear it apart from the one who gave it to you. That’s not how salvation works. Apart from Christ there is no life. Those who are in Christ have life, those who do not have Christ do not have life. Therefore, we need to remain in Christ and as long as we cling to Jesus we have that life.

Or, as the Apostle John states it:

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

If you prayed a prayer just so that you could go to Heaven when you die, you might not be a Christian.
 
I urge you to take a moment and pray a different sort of prayer. Something that takes into account that you are alive today and that you want your life to be lived in Christ right now. This prayer should be about surrendering your will and your attitudes to Christ Jesus, and dying to yourself so that Jesus’ life can fill you on the inside and spill out to those on the outside.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

See? Isn’t that better? Now, the deal is you will need to do this again tomorrow. All of us need to daily take up our cross and die (over and over again) so that Christ can live in us.

If we do that, we might just avoid being mean to others and at the very least we will be doing our best to obey Jesus in our actual lives. That means loving others, forgiving those who offend us, and serving the people He puts in our path.

Try it! It’s pretty amazing.

-kg

[END PART TWO]

Monday, August 27, 2012

WHY ARE (SOME) CHRISTIANS SO MEAN? – PART 1

It happens far too often. We hear stories like the one my non-Christian friend shared with me last week where someone she knows was turned away from a local church and asked to leave the property because it "looked bad" that she was crying in front of their building.

Of course, the woman’s daughter was missing, she was close to losing her apartment due to HUD restrictions limiting her ability to care for her grand daughter, and she needed help with food and clothes for this little one. Luckily, this elderly woman, with her grandchild in tow, ended up down the street at a secular organization which fed her grand child, referred her to a food bank, and even put some cash in her hand while the volunteers behind the counter scrambled to find clothing for the little girl and a dedicated social worker to help her with housing needs.

What’s wrong with this picture? How could the woman with the hungry grandchild be turned away by the people who profess to follow someone who said “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done it to me”, and receive help from those who do not?

It’s almost a modern day Good Samaritan story, isn’t it? Except that it’s not a story. It’s real.

So, how is it that Christians can be so insensitive and mean? What’s going on here?

In this short series of articles to follow, I hope to shed some light on this troubling phenomenon.

Honestly, I believe there are a variety of reasons for this aberrant behavior, the first one being that Christians in America define themselves by the things they believe, not by their attitudes or behaviors.

Reason #1 – Christians in America are defined by doctrines.

This idea goes all the way back to the third century when Emperor Constantine was allowed to define what it meant to be a Christian. Before this, the Christian church (as evidenced by the New Testament writings and early church practice) defined Christianity as a way of living that mirrored the life of Jesus. This is why Paul the Apostle was so adamant that the early Christians not associate with those who called themselves Christians but refused to actually obey His teachings.

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5:11)

Ironically, in this same passage, Paul makes a point that he’s not talking about non-believers who behave this way. Not at all:

“…not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1 Cor. 5:10)

Somehow Christians in America have gotten this backwards. They refuse to associate with “worldly” people who don’t act Christian, but have a very high tolerance for people within the Church who don’t act like Jesus.

But it’s not our tolerance for this behavior that has led us to this unsettling situation. It’s our definition of who a Christian really is.

When Constantine showed up and helped to end the persecution of Christians with the edict of Milan in 313, many (but not all) Christians hailed him as a hero, and even welcomed his influence in the affairs of the church. Possibly this was because Constantine granted their leaders tax exemptions and put many of them on the Roman payroll, perhaps?

At any rate, Constantine did what no Emperor had ever done before – he influenced the church to codify a statement of orthodoxy – a set of core beliefs – that defined what “true” Christianity was all about.
 
Before this the early church disagreed on a number of doctrinal points, and even freely dis-fellowshipped themselves from those who taught heresy (as they defined it). But, until Constantine officially declared what made Christians “Christian” the only criteria was a simple faith in Christ and a sincere desire to put His teachings into practice. Granted, some might disagree with you on a few points of doctrine, but they wouldn’t have killed you for it. We have Constantine to thank for that eventual practice.

Fast forward a few hundred years and nothing much has changed. Pastors and churches are still exempt from taxes, they are still useful to propagate the policies of the Empire, and Christianity is still defined as an agreement with a set of core doctrines.

This is why you can now call yourself a Christian and disobey Christ’s command to care for the orphan and the widow. Because if you have agreed with the Statement of Faith (the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the Resurrection, etc.) then you are absolutely a Christian, and your actions are not taken into account.

Of course, this is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ words that:
 
“they will know that you are my disciples (followers) if you love one another” (John 13:35)
 
and
 
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21)
 
and
 
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” (John 14:23-24).

So, basically, as long as you take a new believer’s class or agree with a detailed “Statement of Faith” you’ll be considered a Christian by almost every Church in America today. In spite of the fact that you may not follow Jesus, obey Jesus, or have any intention of learning what Jesus commanded His followers to do.

For the record, if you can turn away someone in need who comes to you begging for help, you might not be a Christian. Or, as the Apostle John asks,
 
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17)

Christians in America desperately need to redefine themselves as people who are doing their best to put the words of Jesus into action. Otherwise, we’ll be left with a Church that looks and acts nothing like Jesus.

-kg

[END PART ONE]

Monday, August 20, 2012

THE FLAME

"Focus on the flame, not the burning stick."

For a long time now I've been very aware of my need to die to myself, take up my cross daily, and follow Jesus. It's the foundation for the Christian life, it's essential for discipleship, and it's the core of the Gospel message that Jesus came and died to bring us.

But lately I've been focused mostly on my side of this equation instead of on the entire process. Mainly, what I've been missing is the perspective of the exchange that takes place.

When I die to myself it's not merely a death of my will or pride, it's the catalyst for a chemical reaction whereby my life is lost so that the life of Christ can fill me up and replace my selfishness with his sacrificial love for others.

What's been missing is the emphasis on the life of Christ being formed in me. This is what the phrase above, which God spoke to my heart last week, means: Focus on the flame (the power of Christ), not the burning stick (your death to self).

What I need most is the life of Christ. I don't receive it by holding on to my life but by letting go of it. "

"Whoever find his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew 10:39)

What I need most is for Jesus to release those rivers of living water within me so that I can enjoy His kind of life and not this empty version of life without Him.


“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

If my focus is only on my own death, or emptiness, I might miss the gift that comes from the exchange.

Even in this process of dying to myself, my focus has been on me, and ironically, this is the very thing that the process is intended to change about me - my own selfishness.

Let me keep my eyes and my attention on Christ alone who is my life and my hope.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4)

-kg

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Once (But Not Always) Saved

There should be no argument among Christians that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. Simply put, you can't have salvation without having Jesus.

However, many Christians emphasize that salvation is a gift from God, but you can't have that gift without also having Christ. In other words, the gift metaphor works up to a point – it’s free and you didn’t deserve it – but it breaks down when you try to push the metaphor any further, and some people have done just that. They suggest that it’s possible for someone to have the gift of salvation apart from having an ongoing relationship with Christ. That’s not true, according to scripture, and it’s dangerous to teach people this lie.

Dallas Willard sometimes refers to these sorts of Christians as “Vampire Christians” because the only want enough of Jesus’ blood to get them out of hell, but they don’t have any intention whatsoever of actually obeying Jesus or following His teachings in their daily life. This kind of faith isn’t true faith at all, and anyone who embraces this shouldn’t call themselves a Christian. Why? Because a Christian by definition is follower of Jesus. Those who hope to say a prayer and invoke its power like a magic incantation to escape judgment are the same who will stand before Christ on that Day and hear the bone-chilling words, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” from the mouth of the Jesus they refused to follow.

The fact that I would even have to write an article to correct this error is evidence enough that the Church in America is under a delusion. She needs to wake up and return to the Truth.

As long as my kidney is in me it has life. If you take it out of me it has no life. The life is in me, not in my kidney. 

If we are in Christ we have life. Without Christ we have no life in us. If you leave Christ, you leave salvation behind.

For years I believed, and taught others to believe, that once someone said that magic “sinner’s prayer” they were forever, eternally, saved. In fact, one could stray off into sin, convert to Hinduism, or any other faith, and live completely contrary to the will of God, apart from Jesus, and still wind up in the eternal presence of Jesus simply because of that one magic prayer. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Not even close.

Over and over again, Jesus and His Apostles warn us to keep the faith, to remain in Christ, to avoid temptation, to repent daily, and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Why? Because following Jesus is a daily decision.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” - John 15:4-5

 The statement that Jesus makes is to His disciples, not to the average bystander. He's warning them that they could possibly become detached from Himself. As Paul alludes to when he returns to this same metaphor of vine and branches being grafted in:

“You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they (the unbelieving Jews) were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” – Romans 11: 19-21Paul's point is that the Jews were cut off from the Vine (Salvation in Christ) because of unbelief. He warns us that just because we have been grafted into the Vine, we can still be cut off from Christ if we also cease to trust in Christ.

So, if we remain in Christ we have life. What happens if we don’t remain in Christ?

“If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” – John 15:6

Jesus echoes this by sharing four different Parables in Matthew 24 and 25, all of which emphasize this same essential truth: The Master expects that his servants will bear fruit and remain faithful to him while he is away. When he returns he will reward the faithful and punish the unfaithful. The punishment? The same that Jesus outlines in John 15:6 and elsewhere - to be cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping an gnashing of teeth.

So, if we put our faith in some bumper sticker slogan and think that we are safe just because we’re in the household of God and are counted among his servants, we're in for an unwelcome surprise.

Jesus warns us many times in the Gospels to be like the wise man who hears his words and puts them into practice. He warns us to remain in Him or we'll be cast out. He warns us to be faithful servants who demonstrate their love through simple obedience to their Lord.

Again, this is not about doing works to be saved, but about being saved people who respond in obedience and who are transformed by the undeserved Grace of God into humble, willing servants of Christ.

As James and Paul say:

“You believe in god? Good! Even the demons believe and they shake with fear.“ - James 2:19

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


So, in summary, whoever is in Christ has life, and that’s why staying close to Him and learning from Him and listening to Him and talking to Him and worshipping Him is so important.

“And this is the testimony: god has given us eternal life, and this life is in his son. Whoever has the son has life; whoever does not have the son of god does not have life.” - 1 john 5:11-12

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3-4

Life is in Christ, not in you. We have the gift of life in Christ and nowhere else.

Seek His face. Cling to Jesus. For He is the Chosen one and if we are found in Him, we will be saved because of Him.


-kg


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Are You American or Christian?

The Church today is more American than Christian. We are largely unable to divorce our faith from our nationalism. This, to me, is very troubling because it means that we are unable to understand Jesus and His teachings apart from our own cultural context.

Those who follow Jesus know that the solution to society's problems will  never be found in politics. If we hope to change the hearts of men and women by laws and policies then we are both mistaken and misguided.

Jesus commands us to pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, not to a flag or a nation. I'm not saying it's a sin to love your country, or to vote, but I am saying that once we blur the lines between what Jesus is all about and our national pride we might have a problem. A big problem.

We are commanded by our Lord to seek first the Kingdom of God and to trust in Him alone – not the laws of our land, or our political parties.

It disturbs me that so many Christians I know are more acquainted with politics than they are with the Word of God or following Jesus in their daily life.

To try and help American Christians understand how this Americanized Christianity can blind us I have often tried to ask followers of Jesus to realize a few basic truths. The first being that the vast majority of our brothers and sisters on the Earth are not living in America.

This means that many of them are following Jesus in nations like Korea, Russia, China, and other countries with radically different political ideologies. So, if someone comes to Christ in China, for example, does that mean that they also – upon receiving Jesus – suddenly become a Capitalist? Of course not. The decision to surrender your life to Jesus and follow His teachings and example does not make you an American. We have to try to conceptualize - and practice - our faith apart from our patriotism.

So, we must realize that someone can be a Christian without pledging allegiance to the flag, or that nation for which it stands.

Even more importantly, we must strive to see Jesus apart from our cultural, political and nationalistic filters. This means our posture towards the poor and the outcast should be informed by our Lord Jesus, not by our political worldview.

Our hope is in the power of the Gospel to change hearts. It is not in the power of politics to legislate morality. If we’re not careful, we will end up succeeding in our quest for power and we will have only created another oppressive Theocracy like the one our founding fathers came here to avoid.

At best, if we succeed in creating the perfect Government we will still have failed to obey Jesus and make disciples of all nations.

The Governments of this planet are of this world, they are not of God. Our allegiance is to Jesus alone. His Kingdom is our only true homeland.

Are you an American, or are you a Christian?

 If you think you can be both, I urge you to carefully reconcile the widely divergent philosophies of Christ and those found in our Constitution.

Americans have the right to be treated equally and to pursue happiness. Christians have only the right to share in the sufferings of Christ, give up their individual identity, and love and serve others as Jesus did.

Americans have the opportunity to vote and chose their leaders. Christians have only One leader, and owe their allegiance to only one, true Holy Nation- the Kingdom of God.

Ask yourself: “Which of Jesus’ teachings were the basis for the American Government?” Was it turning the other cheek? Or loving your neighbor? Or doing good to those who hate you? Or blessing those who curse you? Maybe it was the Sermon on the Mount or the Great Commission? No, it was none of those things. Therefore, America is not a Christian Nation and it was not founded upon the teachings of Jesus.

There is only one Holy Nation on this Earth and it is us.

 “…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)

 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…” (1 Peter 2:9)

 Who is he talking to? To the Church. We are the Israelites who are now called “a holy priesthood” and“a holy nation”. Not just Jews, but anyone who is in Christ! As it says in Revelation 5:9-10:

“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Would you give up being an American to follow Jesus?


-kg




Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Remain In Me

Jesus uses a series of parables (starting in Matthew 24: 45 and running through the end of Matthew 25) to teach his disciples a very sobering lesson.

First, he moves from a discussion about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD into a parable that is then repeated three more times to drive home the point.

Jesus uses the Parable of the Virgins to warn us to keep watch and always be prepared for the Lord’s return (Matt. 25:1-13). Next he uses the Parable of the Gold Talents to warn us to love God (the greatest commandment) and bear fruit (Matt. 25:14-30). Finally, he closes out the series of parables with the Sheep and the Goats illustration to warn us to love others (the second greatest commandment) as we love ourselves (Matt. 25:31-46).

All of these parables follow a basic pattern: The Master is away. He expects his servants to be waiting for him, and to bear fruit, and to obey His commands so that when He returns the faithful servants will be rewarded and the unfaithful servants will be “cast into outer darkness.”

The bottom line is that Jesus expects his disciples to obey him. Over and over again he said that those who love him will obey him and that those who do not love him will not obey him, (John 14:15; 14:21-24; 15:10; 15:14).

Looking specifically at the Parable of the Gold Talents, we see that the emphasis is on bearing fruit. The three servants are each given a treasure of silver and are all expected to bring their master some return on his investment. It bears emphasis that this is not a parable about “talent” or skill and ability, but about being faithful to obey our Lord in all things. (The word "talent" is a measure of weight and currency, much like the English "pound"). If this parable were about our abilities and talents (i.e. - to play guitar or yodel or juggle Frisbees) it would make the end of the parable quite cruel for those who failed to use said talent for the Kingdom ( i.e. - being cast into outer darkness for not yodeling for Jesus).

The simple point is that we’ve all been given a treasure and God expects us to be good stewards of the treasure we’ve been entrusted with. More than about simply “winning souls”, (since not everyone has the gift of evangelism; see 1 Cor. 12:27-31), the parable instead urges us to bear fruit for the King. How do we do that? We remain in Christ:

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” – John 15:4

“The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” – 1 John 3:24

Our emphasis then should be on remaining in Christ, not on “bearing fruit.” If we remain in Christ then we will bear fruit because He will make us into the kinds of people who naturally bear good fruit.

-kg

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Sacrilegious Jesus

Sacrilegious; Adj. - “Gross irreverence toward a hallowed person, place, or thing.”

It occurs to me that Jesus, the Messiah, was profoundly sacrilegious. He healed on the Sabbath, picked grain on the Sabbath, and defied the Jewish High Priest and the ruling religious class on an almost daily basis.

This is part of what confounded the Jewish leaders of his day. They were looking for a Messiah who would fit into their program, a star quarterback they could draft who would take their team to the Super Bowl.

Instead, what they got was an outlaw who wore his own uniform, played by his own rules and had the audacity to expect them to join his team. Of course, they were scandalized by this sort of take charge Messiah. They couldn’t accept that the Chosen One might kick things off by correcting them publicly, pointing out their flaws, their pride and their errors in front of everyone. How could he be so cruel? Why would he expose their inconsistencies that way?

Even worse, this back water Rabbi from Nazareth recruited his disciples from among the peasant class rather than selecting the children of the wealthiest and most intelligent in Jerusalem. Instead of choosing to teach the sons of priests and governors, he selected a revolutionary extremist, a tax collector, some smelly fishermen, and a few random Gallileans of no fame or lineage. This is why his ministry required the support of outsiders like women, and prostitutes, and other tax collectors. It was really shameful, to be honest.

But what really rubbed the Pharisees the wrong way was his constant breaking of the Sabbath. In fact, it almost seemed to be intentional on his part to work miracles on the very day that he should be at home resting. What’s more, when confronted about this he had the audacity to suggest that the reason he was breaking the Sabbath was because God was also at work on the Sabbath. So, if God doesn’t rest on the Sabbath why should he? (John 5:17)

What makes the sacrilegious actions of Jesus so profound is that his irreverence wasn’t towards God, but instead pointed out the hypocrisy of men and the emptiness of tradition and religion itself.

Jesus wanted people to come to himself, not to a temple. He wanted people to spend time with him, not a book of rules. Jesus wanted people to look to him for answers, not to religious leaders.

Jesus didn’t ever play church. He spent most of his time among the poor and the broken, the outcast and the weak. When he did go to the Temple it was to point out the hypocrisy of the religious charlatans and to call people to follow Him and to enter the Kingdom of God in humility.

Sacrilegious people do not care for pretense. They do not care about faux religiousity. They roll their eyes at the pomp and circumstance of religious show and have no patience for a sermon and a song.

Like Jesus, the sacrilegious person is only interested in cutting through the nonsense to get to the heart of the matter. Spare the flowery speeches and the platitudes, just show them what’s real and cut to the chase.

Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, or to validate an existing one. He came to announce that the Kingdom of God had come and that, through submission to Himself, anyone could live in it right away.

Jesus cuts to the chase by simply saying, “Repent (think differently) because the Kingdom of God is within you.”

Submission to His Kingship in your actual life on a daily basis is all that matters. The rest is just religiosity.

Seems we could use a dose of good old fashioned sacrilege today.

-kg

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” – (John 5:39-40)
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – (John 4:23-24)

Friday, August 03, 2012

Reader Review: "The Power of Weakness"


Over on Facebook Kimberly Otero Reece posted the following review:

""The Power of Weakness" by Keith Giles is an amazing book and one I highly recommend.

Having experienced one of the most difficult things I have ever faced in my life over the past ten months and feeling as if I needed to be strong and plaster a smile on my face each and every day, I was shocked and amazed simply reading chapter one.

Keith then goes on to name those in the Bible that God has used despite their weakness!
I was blessed and now I am re-reading "The Power of Weakness" again, slower this time, hoping I can read without tears.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9"

**
The theme of this ebook is that God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people. In fact, the more ordinary the better.

What blesses me most about this is the fact that I almost didn't publish this book. After writing it about 3 years ago and putting it on the back burner, I only decided to publish it as an ebook on Amazon after a friend suggested I try out their Kindle Express publishing plan.

Reading this review really blesses me. I'm thrilled that God has used this little ebook to bless Kimberly, and many others.

If you haven't downloaded the book at Amazon yet you can do so here>

Let me know if you've read the book and if it was a blessing to you.