Friday, January 27, 2006

[subversive underground] BBQ WAFFLES?

[orginally sent to the subscribers of the underground newsletter on Jan 24th, 2006]

By Keith Giles

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had….There was no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”- Acts 4:32-35

As I read about the early church in the book of Acts I am amazed at their simple devotion to one another, to the poor, and especially to Jesus.

Reading about how “there was no needy person found among them” I am humbled and inspired. As I see their eagerness to share, not just to give an offering, but to take what is their own and give it away to others who are truly in need, I long to know this kind of “koinonia” or “Agape Community”.

How did they do it?

As someone who has been involved in ministry and on staff at various kinds of churches over the last sixteen years, I know first-hand the frustration of reading the book of Acts and then trying every possible program and gimmick available to duplicate this kind of simple Christian life within the congregation I’m helping to pastor.

Anyone who’s ever tried to lead a group of believers, or to pastor a church knows the pain of this same frustration. We attend seminars taught by high-powered business executives turned church consultant gurus. We buy their books, their tapes, and we try every possible way to produce the fruit we see in the book of Acts within our own church body.

What happens is, we get larger churches, we get happier churches, we get culturally-relevant churches, we get hip and cool and slick, but the one thing we don’t get is more like the people we read about in the book of Acts.

Why is that?

Here’s my oversimplified explanation. Let’s pretend that what the early Christians in Acts were great at was making waffles. They made the best waffles known to man. Their waffles were legendary. We read about those amazing waffles and we determine to make waffles like they did. So, we go to the successful culinary experts in our modern world and we ask them for advice. They tell us to buy the biggest Barbecue Grill we can find, the one with dual propane tanks and the built-in meat thermometer. They tell us to get the complete serving dish set, all the chrome cooking utensils and even a chefs hat and matching apron. We buy it all and we even put a cross on it to make it holy. Next we start trying to grill up some waffles, and of course, those waffles are lousy. No one wants our waffles and we can’t understand why.

Why won’t we accept the fact that, unless we start trying to make waffles the way the early church did, we’ll never ever be any good at making waffles?

Very simply put, I feel very strongly that if we don’t do what they did, we’ll never get what they got.

That’s why we’re starting “the mission”, so that we can begin to learn from The Holy Spirit how to actually love, and share, and give, and live out our faith the same way the early church did for over 300 years.

Even the big business executives agree-“The systems you currently have are perfectly designed to give you the results you are now getting” (Peter Senge).

If we want different results than what we’re getting, it means we’re going to have to completely change the system we’re using.

I’ll be mixing up the batter in the kitchen, please don’t forget to bring the syrup.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”- Acts 2:44-47

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

[subversive underground] STEP ONE

[originally sent to the faithful subscribers of the underground on Friday, Jan 20th, 2006]

STEP ONE by Keith Giles

Last night we hosted our first interest meeting for our new house church, "The Mission".

It was a sweet time.

I had been praying all week that God would bring the people He wanted, as He promises in 1 Cor 12, and God had been showing me that the one person who desperately needed to be at this, and all future meetings, was the Holy Spirit. In fact, we should always leave an open seat for Him, invite Him, expect Him to show up, and to let Him lead the meetings exactly as He desires.

Last night we got a taste of that.

First, we had around 12 people who had RSVP'd to attend, and only one did not make it out of that group. Then, we had two people show up who were complete surprises, but very welcome nonetheless.

As Wendy and I began to share our vision, our heart, our calling into this new house church model, the Spirit began to move throughout the room. Several people even stopped to say out loud how they could sense the Holy Spirit among us during the meeting. The conversations and the responses were all very natural, organic and encouraging.

I had started off explaining how, in a "real meeting", we would all be leaders and we'd also all be followers. I explained how each of us should expect to come and to share with the whole group what God had been saying to us during the week, or share a testimony or a scripture, or anything that the Holy Spirit might be prompting.

Before I knew it, we were all doing it on the spot. As people shared ideas, or thoughts, or testimonies, I sat back and realized that this interest meeting was turning into a living example of what we were being called to do together in harmony.

So, after we ended in a time of prayer, I realized that, no matter who God calls to this church, no matter how big or how small, the best thing is that this is His church. He will build His church and He will accomplish what He desires.

I know that God's heart is much bigger than mine when it comes to the lost, the least, the forgotten. I'm praying that God would do something so astounding among us that no man could ever take credit for it.

Honestly, I feel like once this thing gets rolling we'll all be holding on for dear life as God takes us on a full-blast adventure into a Spirit-led community of dynamic interaction and discipleship.

Starting February 2nd, at 6pm, the Mission begins.

I can't wait.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

[subversive underground] PRACTICE

(originally sent to the subversive underground email list on Friday, June 13th, 200)

[subversive underground] PRACTICE
by Keith Giles

My last transmission generated the most response I’ve ever received before so I thought I’d write a little more on the subject.

First, I culled my responses to several of you into a single draft and posted it on the main blog here:

Go check that out for more on the issue of the American Poor, our Biblical Mandate to care for the poor (complete with scriptural references), and the difference between “Our Poor” and the “Real Poor” we see in Third World Countries.

I’d love to hear your reactions to these assertions, ideas, etc. on the main blog so if you do read this, please leave a comment there.

As I’ve continued to think about this subject, and to dialog with some of you, I’ve realized that there are a few things I’ve never written about or talked about much.

One thing I’ve learned is that serving the poor isn’t about curing hunger or making poverty history. I honestly don’t believe it’s possible (sorry Bono) and I know that we can’t hope to compete with or even to equal what all the various non-profits do in the area of food, shelter, counseling, community development and all the rest that goes with healing and helping those trapped in poverty.

That does not mean we don’t support organizations and initiatives aimed at relieving poverty or providing food to the hungry, it just means that our goal shouldn’t be to eradicate poverty forever or something so “out there” that we can’t get a handle on what’s really important.

What I do think it’s about, for you and I, is touching and knowing our poor.

I know that something changed in me when I stopped seeing the poor as “The Poor” and started thinking of them as Mike and his wife and kids.

There’s a family in the motel where we started our Compassion Ministry that has become very dear to us. As we began to befriend them, to eat with them, to laugh and to cry with them, suddenly we didn’t think of the poor as a large, faceless group of dirty beggars.

Suddenly they were our friends. The poor became a man and a wife with two small children. Their problems became our own challenges. Their needs became something we prayed specifically about. Their struggle began to intertwine with our own daily struggle.

Soon, I began to be changed, and I think that’s a major part of what serving the poor is all about.

When we start out serving the poor, we believe that we’re there to fix them. We have Jesus, we have jobs, we have wisdom and great ideas. We believe that these people will benefit from an association with us.

After a while, if we really see them, and if we really befriend them, what starts to happen is that they change us. We become the one’s who receive the benefit. They teach us things about life, about love, about courage, about dignity and humility and sharing that we could never have learned or experienced in any other way.

Isaiah affirms this concept. Chapter 58, verse 6 begins with God instructing us on the purpose and process of true fasting. He says, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away your own flesh and blood? THEN YOUR LIGHT WILL BREAK FORTH LIKE THE DAWN, AND YOUR HEALING WILL QUICKLYAPPEAR.”

I’m sure noticed that last part, especially since I made it all caps. Do you see this? It’s when we care for the poor that our healing comes. It’s when we help those around us in need that our light breaks forth.

See that? We’re the ones who get blessed when we show mercy and compassion.

Now, that’s not to say we should only help others because we’re looking for the kick-back. I think God, who looks at the heart, might actually withhold our blessing if we only serve the poor around us because we’re hoping for a new car or raise at work. Still, the principle is clear. When we bless others, we’re the ones who get blessed.

And the blessings, I believe, are not material. They’re even better than that. They’re eternal. They are spiritual.

One Sunday afternoon we invited Mike and his family over to our house for lunch. We sat around the table and ate a wonderful chicken dinner. Afterwards our kids played together in the large backyard while the adults sat in the living room and shared some coffee.

Lunch turned into an afternoon visit, and then it turned into a pizza dinner, and then it turned into a movie night with everyone back in the living room.

At one point, I was playing in my boys room with my sons and Mike’s son who was about 3 years old at the time. As we sat on the carpet and played with Legos, this little boy suddenly sat up, looked around and said, “This is a house” and then went back to building his robot.

I couldn’t breathe. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that this little boy had never been inside someone’s house before.

I looked around the room where my sons sleep and realized it was larger than the entire room at the motel where his whole family slept.

In my heart that afternoon, someone rearranged the furniture and I don’t ever want to put it back again.

I could go on. There have been times when I have gone out to serve the poor and to help people in need, but when I come home I realize that I am the one who was more blessed.

That’s part of why I sometimes feel guilty afterwards. I can sense that I’ve taken from them much more than I’ve given to them. I always feel that I could have done more, no matter how massive the gift or the service may have been. I always know deep inside that I have gone home the better off for it all, while they sleep in their motel beds much the same as they were before I came.

So, serving others, caring for the poor around us, isn’t about feeding every single hungry person in our city. It’s not about changing the face of poverty forever. It’s more about engaging others, serving them and learning to see with different eyes.

I love the scripture where Jesus washes his disciples feet. It says that he wanted to show them the fullness of his love, and so he put on the clothes of a slave and performed the most personally degrading service possible by washing their feet.

Afterwards, Jesus puts his regular clothes back on and sits down. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asks. “Now that I have washed your feet, you also should was one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He ends by saying, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13)

Do we get this? We are not blessed because we know something. We are only blessed when we do the things we know.

We cannot know that God has commanded us to have an open-hand to the poor and then expect that we will be blessed or that we will grow in Christ because we have the understanding. We have to put the words of Jesus into action if we hope to reap the benefits.

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6)


Friday, January 13, 2006

[subversive underground] POVERTY LIGHT

[the following article was sent out on the subversive underground on jan. 9th, 2006 to the subscribers of the e-newsletter]

POVERTY LIGHT by Keith Giles

The other day I happened upon an article on MSN entitled "Poverty Now Comes With A Color TV".

If you'd like to read the entire article, (because I'm about to spend a lot of time ripping it apart), it's here:

Basically, it's one of those articles that puts forth the assertion that since the "poor" in America have luxuries the rest of the nations don't have, they're not really poor.

The underlying innuendo of those sorts of articles and commentaries is that these "American Poor" aren't really poor at all and therefore they should just get a job and stop leeching off the welfare system.

It really makes me angry.

Here's a sample from the story itself:
"Census data find an ever-growing material prosperity, with formerly high-dollar luxury items now commonplace in even poor households."

"In terms of the items people have ... it amazes me the number of people who
are at or near the poverty line that have color TVs, cable, washer, dryer,
microwave," says Michael Cosgrove, an economist at the University of Dallas
in Irving, Texas. That's not to ignore the hardships of poverty, he adds,
"but the conveniences they have are in fact pretty good."

Ok, I've worked first-hand with the poor in Orange County, California, which is incidentially one of the top 10 economies in the entire world, and I've got a different perspective on poverty in the U.S.

Most of the poor I work with live in motels. Most of them have jobs, or a source of steady income. In fact, for Orange County, 80% of the homeless have a job. They work at Taco Bell, or at the local Grocery Store, or cleaning toilets in large corporations, but they can't afford the monthly rent here, along with a security deposit and the last month's rent. They can barely buy food for their children and they're lucky to have a motel room to shelter themselves in.

Think about it. Those in the motel have access to cable tv, refrigerators, microwave ovens, swimming pools, and heck, they even have a maid who comes in every day to change the sheets and provide new towels. Doesn't that sound great? How can we really call them poor?

Because they are.

I've been in these motel rooms. I've seen whole families crammed into a single room, sleeping on floors because they can't all fit on the bed. Kids toys piled up in the corner near the air conditioner, which usually leaks and barely works.

I've prayed with pregnant moms who have no insurance and no idea how they'll feed their baby once it comes.

I've stood in the rooms of the elderly who are barely able to pay their rent, (about $275 a week), and who weep with joy when you give them a small box of macaroni and cheese or a loaf of bread because it means they'll have something to eat.

These people strive for dignity and survival every day, working their guts out, trying to save their money, trying to get ahead so maybe they can get into an apartment one day, so their children will have a safe place to play.

I once walked through one of these motels in the middle of the night, trying to help a guy who needed a place to sleep for the night. I passed drug dealers, prostitutes, and drunks, on my way to the guy's room, wondering if I'd make it back to my car without getting stabbed or robbed.

And this is where hundreds of families raise their children in Orange County.

But, look, they've got cable TV! They've got air conditioning! Shouldn't that make it all better?

No. It doesn't.

I recently came across a very large report commissioned and published by the County of Orange in 2004. It was a county-wide assessment of the economy, housing, education, crime, etc. in Orange County. Here's some of what I learned from this report:

*A minimum wage earner in Orange County must work 112 hours a week to afford a fair market one bedroom apartment.

*Orange County is one of the top 5 wealthiest places in the world to live.

*Orange County households average $1.39 per household in charitable giving.

*There are approximately 35,000 homeless people in Orange County.

*70% of these are families with children.

So, when I read articles like the one published by MSN that suggest that the poor in America aren't "really" poor, it pushes a button in me. This is insulting and misleading journalism.

The truth is, we don't have to travel to Ethiopa or India to find the poor. We can get in our cars and drive five minutes in either direction and find someone who is living in poverty, who doesn't know the Gospel, and who desperately needs the love of Jesus.

The real question is, will the people who are called by His name step out of their comfort zones and make a difference?

The poor are all around us. As Jesus promised us, "The poor you will always have with you."

Are they not poor because they have cable tv and air conditioning?

I'm tired of hearing the argument that since the poor in America have it so much better than those in other countries who are "really poor" that must mean that they're not actually poor or that we don't need to take responsibility to help our own people.

If Katrina didn't pull back the covers for us and reveal the true depth of poverty in this nation, nothing will I guess.

I just know that I wouldn't and couldn't live in the places that these people have to live every day. I don't have the courage.


Monday, January 09, 2006


[originally sent to the subscribers of the subversive underground newsletter the week of Jan 1st, 2006]

SUCCESS AND FAILURE by keith giles

While we prepare to launch our new house church adventure here in our community, I realize that part of the process involves a new way of thinking about success and failure.

One morning, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in our den, drinking my cup of coffee, and trying to think clearly about how we’d start our house church here, what it might look like, how we might begin.

There are various ways for us to start. We’ve tentatively picked a date later this month where we’ll invite a few friends over to our house and explain our vision to them. Some will come to support us, to hear our plan, some to pray for us, others may actually decide that they also want to take a turn at being church in this way and come with us when we have our first meetings in February.

Still, there is an element of missional life surrounding our calling here in this specific house and in this exact neighborhood. Already we are making friends with the children in this community. As these kids get to befriend our own two sons, we are slowly getting to know their families. It’s actually kind of cool that, to this point, it’s mainly been our boys who have been living the missional life here, as we coach them and play off of their lead.

As I was thinking about this house church ministry, I began to wonder about how we’d know if we were being successful or not. At first I thought success might be a house full of people meeting every week here in our den, praying, worshiping, serving others and getting to know one another. Honestly, that’s what I think I’d want to be able to show to another pastor down the road if I was ever asked, “How are things going with that house church?”

Then I realized that this was a very traditional church way of measuring success. Bigger must be better, right? Growth must signal the favor of God on something, and if it’s not large then maybe something’s wrong with you.

I’ve made a conscious choice to reject this sort of measuring stick. Yes, healthy things grow, but growth doesn’t always have to be outward. Sometimes a tree grows faster and larger beneath the ground, as roots are spreading and nourishment is flowing into the trunk, limbs and branches. Growth can be measured by how deep a single person is growing in their relationship with Jesus, or in their understanding of the Gospel.

So, it was then I realized that success for us, in this house church ministry, was simply about following through with everything that God had been saying to us to this point.

As long as everyone in this community around us knows that we love them and that God loves them, no matter what, we’ll be successful. Even if only one or two people attended a weekly meeting in our home, we’ll be successful. In fact, even if no one came to our weekly meetings, we’d still be a success as long as the people in our cul-de-sac knew that we actually cared for them because we had demonstrated the love of Jesus in tangible ways.

Early in the process of our responding to the call to start this house church, I had a conversation with a friendn of mine about what we were doing. He told me he was disappointed that we would leave the traditional church to do this because we had so much potential. That and he was pretty sure that once we started this thing we'd quickly fall on our faces and fail to do what we hoped to do.

I can remember my response, mostly because it was unrehearsed and seemed to come from somewhere other than my own brain. I said, "For us, to decide not to do this just because it looks difficult, or because we're afraid, THAT would be true failure to us. And if in ten years we've got the same five people sitting in our living room, living out this vision together, sharing life and giving all of our tithe to the poor, serving others and enjoying community, then for me that would be success."

This new definition of success demands a longer term vision for us than how things look a year from now, or how many people we have coming and contributing to our house church. In this new definition of success, all that matters is that we are following through with our calling to love God, love others and to express the love of Jesus in our everyday lives.

Sure, I would love to speak at a conference a year from now and tell the inspiring story of how we touched a hundred lives, outgrew our living room, spawned three new groups out of our first group, and established lasting ministry in the community around us.

Maybe one day I will get to share that story, or maybe I’ll simply be able to tell the story of how our family shared life with a few of the families on our street and allowed the Holy Spirit to direct us as we showed the love of Jesus to them.

Either way, this is God’s project, not ours. He will direct us and lead us. He will be the one who builds this church here in our home. We’re only the hosts and the servants who open the front door, and our own lives, to invite those He calls inside.



Tuesday, January 03, 2006


[originally sent to the subscribers of the subversive underground newsletter on Jan 1, 2006]

WELCOME TO NEXT by Keith Giles

What is it about New Years that makes us take on new hope?

The concept of our lives taking on a clean slate status is almost redeeming in a way.

Because we've reset the calendar, everything about our lives now seems to hum with possibility and an intangible glow of "newness".

Our minds whisper to us, 'what's next'?

My oldest son, Dylan, woke up this morning and said, "I don't feel any different today". Maybe it's because he doesn't have any regrets?

I do feel a little different. I feel a little cleaner. A little more potent than I did yesterday.

Why? Because what stretches before me is a brand new year. A chance to try this all over again, and maybe this time, to get it right.

2005 was probably one of the most challenging and difficult years my family has ever had to face. Sure, we'd been out of work before, we'd already endured the process of moving out of our home with no clue about where we'd end up next, we'd been through a miscarriage before, and we'd had our fair share of lean months where our survival depended mainly on the gererosity of God's people.

But never all in the same year. Never all at once.

I know that God puts us through these tough times to prepare us for life. I know that if He didn't steer us into these areas of difficulty, we'd never go there on our own, and we'd also never learn what it means to walk by faith, trusting Him when He's all we have to hang on to.

So, I wonder if 2006 is the year we get to take things a little easier, or if it's the year that we get to put all this new faith into practice, tackling even bigger challenges and walking even longer through the valley of the shadow.

2005 sits behind us. Like a giant encyclopedia volume of our life. It's packed full of memories, events, stories, tears, laughter and facts. Now, it's closed shut. At our feet sits a blank sheet. Page one on a large, empty ream of white, clean paper.

What adventures await us? What tests will we endure? What surprises does God have in store for us this year?

Welcome to the great wide open.

Let's find out.



[this was originally sent to the subscribers of the subversive underground newsletter on Dec.21st, 2005]


As I’ve been reading on the early church, I’ve come across a great saying used by the church fathers and I’d like to make it my own.

The phrase, “Conversatio Morem” can be translated two different ways, depending on the context. The first way is, “Death To The Status Quo”. I must say, I love this. It embodies the counter-cultural aspect of Christian discipleship that I long to embody and to inspire in others. If I ever have a tattoo, it will be of this statement.

The second way to translate this is, “Constant Conversion”. Again, I resonate with this sentiment very much. After studying the writings of Peter, James and Paul I see that they’re idea of salvation was very much a process. They all speak of “being saved” and seem to understand that following Jesus involves a gradual, daily transformation into someone who is like our Lord, and closer to someone who is fit for Heaven.

Our modern understanding of salvation seems to be much more about a single day or event in our lives where we went forward, said a prayer and maybe even filled out a little card. After that we can, and often do, live out the rest of our lives any way we want. If we get into trouble, or need some advice or a miracle, maybe then we will pray and ask God’s help, but mainly our lives after this sort of “conversion” are our own.

Paul, Peter and James see salvation as a lifelong process. All through the book of 1 Peter we see the famous disciple speaking of salvation as something which is occuring to us, or that we are in the process of receiving every day. "For you ARE RECEIVING the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9, etc.) Peter doesn't see salvation as something you take possession of until the day you’re actually at the Judgment Seat of Christ and it is then He saves you, in that day.

Paul especially sees salvation as being tied to our worship and our worship as being tied to our being living sacrifices (Romans 12). He also is pretty clear that “..your life is not your own; You were bought with a price.” (1 Cor 6:19-20) We, of course, have the hope and the promise of salvation, but just like The Gospel, it’s about a daily, ongoing submission to Jesus.

I’m trying now to get my head around a daily, “constant conversion”. The Kingdom is about following Jesus, and Jesus said we can’t even begin to follow Him unless we daily take up our crosses and die to ourselves. (Luke 9:23)

Somehow, looking at my own walk with Jesus as an ongoing conversion helps me to maintain this counter-cultural mindset in my own life. Now, I understand now that "Death to the Status Quo" is really a personal cry for revolution in my own soul. It is my status quo that needs to be put to death.

Instead of seeing salvation as that day I came forward at the Lighthouse Freewill Baptist Church in Eagle Pass, Texas at the age of 9, now I see it as a daily surrender to Jesus. I walk the aisle every morning. I bend the knee every sunrise and give Him my heart, over, and over again.

Conversatio Morem!