Tuesday, February 28, 2006

[subversive underground] WEAKNESS

[sent on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006, to the faithful subscribers of the subversive underground]

WEAKNESS by Keith Giles

In my own life, I’ve had more than one opportunity to embrace my own weakness in search of Christ’s power within.

My first discovery of this truth was early in my Christian walk, and to be honest, I didn’t really understand it completely at the beginning. Not the way I do now.

I was a Junior in High School and I had fallen in love with a beautiful, red-headed girl from Houston, Texas. She was a Senior, and I really wanted to see her graduate at the end of the school year. The only problems were that I lived in El Paso, several hundred miles away, and my semester finals were one week after she would actually walk the aisle and take her diploma.

I was undaunted. For weeks I prayed that God would open the doors for me to get down to Houston one week earlier than my semester finals in order to watch her graduate from High School.

My plan was simple. First, I would begin to mow lawns and wash cars, and do odd jobs, for the members of my church in order to raise money for a plane ticket to Houston. By the end of the school year I was sure to have the few hundred dollars necessary to purchase a ticket.

Secondly, I discovered that I would need a special waiver from my principal allowing me to take my semester finals with our Senior class, which were one week earlier than everyone else’s final exams, because I was only a Junior.

For weeks I held fast to the scripture verse from Philipians that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I repeated it all the time. I reminded God of that verse every time I prayed, and God even reciprocated by inserting the verse into the strangest places and from the most unlikely mouths, as the weeks wore on.

I was certain that I could do this seemingly impossible thing, because God was going to help me.

However, with only three weeks left before the end of the semester, I had raised no funds whatsoever. Not one person in my church had called to hire me to do a single thing. I had no money for travel expenses. What’s more, I still had to convince my principal that I should be allowed to take my finals a week early along with the Seniors.

Then, an astounding thing happened. I gave up.

I remember lying on my bed, praying to God, with tears of frustration and disappointment streaming down my teenaged face. “I give up God. I’ve tried God. You know how I’ve tried. I thought I could do all things through Christ who strengthens me, but I have to admit I can’t do it. So, if you want me to go to Houston, God, you’ll have to make it happen because I can’t.”

I had no idea what those words did as they reverberated through the walls of the Kingdom of God. “I can’t do it, God,” I said. “It’s up to you”.

Two days later my miracle came. I answered the phone and my youth pastor was telling me that he was leaving El Paso and moving away. Before I could lament my condition any further, he asked me if I’d like to help him move down to his new house in Houston.

I couldn’t believe it. Here God had provided a way for me to travel to Houston and it hadn’t cost me anything at all. Of course, I said yes.

But the matter of the waiver from my principal was still hanging over my head. The next day I went to my counselor and received the waiver that my principal needed to sign in order to be allowed to take my finals a week early. I saw him talking in the hallway between classes to the associate principal and made my way towards him, practicing my speech under my breath about why he needed to allow me this special favor.

As I stood before him, waiting patiently for him to finish his conversation with his associate, he suddenly reached out in mid-sentence and took the slip of paper out of my hand. Before I knew it, without even having looked at me twice, he had scribbled his name on the line and handed me back the paper.

For a moment I stood frozen in place. I couldn’t really believe what had just happened. All that I had strived for and failed at, God had sewn up in a matter of hours, and I had not done a single thing to make any of it happen.

Later that night, I took out my Bible and I re-read those words in Philipians. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” Suddenly they made a different kind of sense to me than before. It wasn’t that God was waiting to bless what I wanted, or to strengthen my efforts, it was that God was the one through whom all things should be done, for His glory and in His strength.

His power, not mine. His wisdom, not mine. His strength, my weakness.

I wish I could say that every day afterwards I operated on this divine principal of weakness, but I did not. It would take many more trials and tests of my faith before I would really begin to get it.

So, after taking my finals with the Seniors, helping my youth pastor pack up the moving van, and driving hundreds of miles towards the lights of Houston, Texas I discovered something else about the amazing power of weakness and depending on God’s strength.

The house that my youth pastor was living in was across the street from the red-headed girl’s house. I kid you not.

For that one summer, I enjoyed the leisure of God’s amazing grace to me, expressed in His kindness to me at refusing to give me what I wanted the way I wanted it.

Praise God that he didn’t allow anyone to hire me for odd jobs. Praise God that I wasn’t allowed the pleasure of persuading my principal for special consideration. Praise God that I didn’t have to travel to Houston alone, book a hotel room and rent a car in order to see my girlfriend graduate from High School.

Praise God for my amazing weakness. Praise God for His amazing strength in the face of my inability.

There’s a popular bumper sticker I remember from several years ago that read, “God Is My Co-Pilot”. The truth, I was soon to learn, was that if God isn’t the pilot, you’re on the wrong airplane.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

[subversive underground] BRINGING JESUS

[sent on 2/13/06 to the faithful subscribers of the underground newsletter, now approximately 56 people strong]


As I've been learning more about how to love and serve the poor that God
puts in my path, I've discovered a new struggle and challenge.

Earlier on, I had to learn that serving the poor isn't about curing them as
much as it is about getting to know them, learning to love them, and then
being changed profoudly in the process.

At the same time, I learned that it's more about sharing than about giving.
Anyone can write a check or drop a bill in an open hand, but it takes more
than that to fulfill what God's after from us- the sharing of what we have
with those who are in need. Sharing is not the same as giving. Sharing
requires a more intimate relationship with those who are in poverty. It
involves risk, it costs more, and it produces an inner fruit that giving
never touches.

Now I'm struggling with something new.

I became aware of it when I began to notice the young, twenty-year old guys,
begging for money at the off-ramp where I catch the 5 fwy on my way to work
each morning.

My first thought was, "These guys should just hang a sign around their necks
that says, 'Need Money For Heroin', or something." Unlike the older men who
I'd seen around town, these younger guys were more obviously homeless
because of a substance abuse issue. The more traditionally "homeless" are
those who suffer from mental illness, or perhaps have an addiction to
something more socially acceptable like alcohol. These guys, quite
obviously, could easily get a job somewhere and earn a living, or at least
function within society where someone with mental illness, or another sort
of handicap, could not.

I was finding it hard to have compassion on these guys.

That was until a good friend of mine shared a testimony with me of a young,
Christian man who was now homeless, on the streets, and addicted to heroin.

This guy's story was heart-breaking. He had come from a Christian home, had
attended a Christian University, lead small groups, played in the worship
team, and lead others to Jesus in his early walk. Now he was sleeping on the
park bench and hustling money from people at gas stations for cash to score
more heroin.

As my friend shared with me this guy's story, I was softened. My heart began
to ache for this young man. How could we reach him? How could we love him
back into the family of God again?

Then, a week later, I was sitting in line to get gas at a local station and
there they were...two young men pan-handling for cash. I knew what they
were doing. I knew they were just like that young man trapped by addiction
and separated from their families, friends, and hope.

My heart began to beat faster. Do I give them money if they come over to my
window? Do I confront them? Do I engage them in dialog?

More importantly, I wondered, how do I bring Jesus to them?

That's what I really, deep down, wanted to know. How do I bring Jesus to

Because what they need, really, is Jesus. Not money. Not a place to sleep.
Not a hug. Not even just freedom from Heroin or Meth. They need Jesus.

And that's when I realized, we all need Jesus.

I need Him. You need Him. Those young men, addicted to heroin and begging
for cash to score a high need Him.

Now the distance between myself and these young men seems so much less
significant. Or important.

A few weeks later, having breakfast with my friend David Ruis, I asked him
about this. I asked how I can bring Jesus to these people.

David is much further down the road than I am on this journey of faith,
especially when it comes to loving and serving the poor in light of the
Gospel of Jesus.

David's answer was simply, "I think it still comes through relationship".

Of course, I kind of knew this already. I know that a relationship with the
poor, with the broken, with the lost and the forgotten, is really what Jesus
is trying to get us to embrace. Maybe I was expecting something more
metaphysical? I don't know.

Part of me does want to ask these young men if they're willing to ask Jesus
for help. I'm fascinated by how often Jesus would ask those blind, lame, and
leperous what they wanted him to do for them. The answer seemed so obvious,
and yet Jesus almost always asked them first what it was they wanted.

I think it's because sometimes the blind don't want to see. Sometimes those
who are lame and crippled don't want to have their condition taken away.
They take comfort from their handicap. They make a living on their
infirmity, even if it's not "Life", it's a living, and it allows them to
keep their addiction.

I keep reading the passage in Acts where Peter says to the beggar at the
Gate called Beautiful, "Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have I
give to you. In the name of Jesus, take your mat, rise up, and walk."

Inside me I yearn to have that sort of faith. I yearn to bring Jesus to
those so helpless and broken in this way. I want to see some of these come
to Jesus in such a dynamic and miraculous display of God's power.

Maybe that is part of what God is calling me to explore? I don't want to
talk myself out of the possibility that God is after that in the lives of
these people.

But even so, the question is whether or not I'm willing to love these people
should the miracle take more than a moment.

A miraculous solution, with the power of God breaking through at the sound
of the name of Jesus, is much more exciting and glamorous. It also involves
less commitment and it costs me nothing other than the temporary risk of
looking stupid should my prayer fail to produce.

David shared with me how he has started to develop a friendship with a young
man who begs at a stoplight near his house. How their conversations have
turned to more than a few folded dollar bills or a shared smile, and how he
now goes out of his way to park his car and walk over to talk with this
young man.

I marvel at this sort of miracle. How someone can share so much, and yet so
little, and bring the Kingdom of God, even Jesus Himself, to a lonely,
forgotten, and addicted person on the side of the freeway.

You know what I just realized?

Wherever we go we bring Jesus. The only question is whether we will go into
those places where He is needed and allow Him to love others through us.

If we never step out, we'll never know.


Monday, February 13, 2006

[subversive underground] FOOD

[the following was sent to the faithful subscribers of the subversive underground newsletter on Febuary 6th, 2006]


Hey you subversives,

Just wanted to give you some food for thought.

1) My blog is updated today with an article on POVERTY AND RELATIONSHIPS.
Check it out:

2) INVISIBLE CHILDREN: An amazing article on Vanity Fair that explores the
genocide in Africa and how it's affecting children, all in the name of
Jesus. You must read this.

Childhood's End
For 19 years, Joseph Kony has been enslaving, torturing, raping, and
murdering Ugandan children, many of whom have become soldiers for his
"Lord's Resistance Army," going on to torture, rape, and kill other
children. The author exposes the vicious insanity˜and cynical
politics˜behind one of Africa's greatest nightmares


3) BONO'S SERMON: This is an amazing...and I can't stress this
enough..."AMAZING" sermon by U2's frontman, Bono as he delivered the keynote
address for the National Prayer Breakfast in front of President Bush,
Members of Congress and the Senate, and national religious leaders last
Your mouth will fall open. You will cry. You will cheer. You must read this.


UPDATE: I'm working tonight and later this week on my book project. Chapter
one is a look at Paul the Apostle and his revelation that God's Grace is
sufficient, even in our suffering, and that there is true power in weakness.

I'll show it to you (and only you guys) when I'm done.
Later this week.
(This keeps me accountable, btw. If I know you guys are expecting this, I'll
actually sit down and write it. Thanks for being my "carrot" as I attempt to
complete this book project).

More later this week on "Bringing Jesus To The Poor", "Fasting And Sharing",
and a brand new podcast sermon link on "Worship and Justice".

Until then...



Monday, February 06, 2006

[subversive underground] JOY

[originally sent to the faithful subversive underground list on Feb 3rd, 2006]

JOY by Keith Giles

Last night we hosted our very first official meeting of our new house church, "The Mission".

Two weeks ago our house was full of the curious and the searching as we explained our vision, how we got to this place, and answered questions about what this might look like.

That interest meeting had been sweet. We had spontaneously, seamlessly, shifted from talking about how to do house church into actually acting it out in the middle of the meeting. The sense of the Holy Spirit's leading and presence made our ministry to one another effortless and natural.

I sat back and marveled.

Last night, as Wendy and I prepared to receive our first guests there was a sense of uncertainty in the air. Our meeting time was six o'clock in the evening. At 6:05 there was no one in our home but Wendy's sister Felicia, our own two boys, and two boys from the neighborhood who were playing together while we made coffee and heated up a dish for our dinner together.

We were wondering about whether or not we'd just have to do this ourselves or not.

Then the first person showed up. About six minutes later, another showed up. And then another. And then four more. And then....

Soon our house was just brimming with people. There was laughter and there were warm hugs of welcome. We shared stories of the week, some people brought gifts, everyone brought a dish to share, and the sound of our fellowship resonated throughout the house.

After a prayer of blessing over the food we all got a plate and started to sample the various dishes.

Even as we sat to eat, more people kept coming in. Before long we had another wave of people who also came to take a plate, find a seat and begin to share with the rest of us.

After a while I passed around a loaf of bread and a glass of juice. Everyone took a bit of bread, dipped it in the glass, and passed it to the next person. In this way, in the midst of the fellowship, we celebrated the "Communion" of both the saints and the Lord with us, remembering the Lord's death until He comes again.

I read an excerpt from Tertullian's "Apology" dated in the 3rd century that explained how the early church gathered together in homes to share a meal, offer money to the poor, sing a song from their heart and pray to God together. It was amazing to read about how this was exactly what we were doing, even in the same order as they did, without intending to.

After a bit more time for people to finish their meal one of our members who played guitar took my old Applause out of the case and tried to tune it in the other room. Soon he returned to play some worship songs for us.

I was in tears watching the little toddlers, the elementary children, the teenagers, and even my own sons, begin to join in the worship with the rest of us. We all worshipped together, as one Body. Young and old alike.

After a few songs some of us began to offer spontaneous prayers to God. We sang another song together, and then some of us prayed a little more.

Some of us began to share what God had been showing us during the week, as we'd been asked to do at the interest meeting two weeks previously.

One person shared a song from a Cd that had ministered to her and it blessed us all as well. One person shared about how God had prompted her to pray for her unbelieving, and sometimes abusive, boss at work whose leg had been injured. Still another person shared an encouraging word to another in the group. Even the childen got involved, reciting memory verses to the group, with applause following.

I was especially blessed when a young boy who is in Jr. High asked for prayer from the adults so he could draw nearer to God. We also prayed for his younger brother who was having trouble sleeping at night.

Everyone gathered around these two young men, laying hands on them, and praying for them from the heart. It was sweet.

After this we shared some more, and then at 8:30pm we prayed to dismiss, but with the assurance that everyone was free to stay as long as they liked, but we had to have a stopping point "officially" so that those with children, or those who needed to get home, could do so.

Most stayed after 8:30pm.

Some even stayed to talk and pray and share until 10:30pm.

I am in heaven.

This is just so much more robust and sweet and rich and wonderful than anything else I've ever done in my life before with the name "Church" on it.

My favorite part of this sort of meeting is that, even though Wendy and I are the pastors and founders of this house church, we're just as much the followers as everone else is. And everyone here is also the leader, as the Holy Spirit leads and as we respond according to our gifting.

It takes so much pressure off of me to make things work or to keep people entertained. I'm not the one in charge of this church; God is! In fact, we just invite the Holy Spirit to come and we expect Him to show up and then...get this...we actually allow Him to lead the meeting the way He wants to.

Some of us are still working through the old model of waiting for the leader to spout out information. But I know in time that we'll all loose the "spectator sport" tendencies so ingrained in us and begin to actually embrace the priesthood of the Believer, ministering to each other and receiving ministry at the same time.

I can understand now why so many people who have done church this way say they can never go back to the old way of doing church.

I can never go back.

Only one more week until we meet again!

I can't wait!


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

HERE AND NOW by Keith Giles

[originally sent to those faithful few in the underground on Jan. 27, 2006]

[subversive underground] HERE AND NOW
by Keith Giles

At the core of the ministry of Jesus is the Gospel of The Kingdom. Nearly every single parable of Jesus is designed to explain a particular facet of the Kingdom. His Sermon on the Mount declares the values of this Kingdom. His teachings are intended to show us how to live within the Kingdom, and His life was a blueprint for us to follow as we ourselves enter the Kingdom and learn from Him.

This new order that both John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah came to announce is a counter-cultural, and therefore counter-intuitive, system of life.

What we must keep in mind, as we begin to explore the concepts found in the Gospel of the Kingdom, is that this new system of life is God’s system. It is not one way of living, but in truth it is the way of living. Even as these new ways of thinking and living and being confound our minds and defy our logic and reason, we must constantly strive to remind ourselves that it is not God’s system that is unrealistic, but it is our own pattern of thinking and living that needs to be reformed and renewed.

When Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20) this is a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural statement. In the world you and I live in every day, it most certainly is not the poor who are blessed, and neither do we associate great spiritual gain with poverty. In fact, in modern times the mega church and the splendor of the televangelist franchise would suggest to all of us that it is the rich and the successful who is most likely to inherit the kingdom of God. Is Jesus mistaken, or are we the ones who have misplaced our priorities? I suspect it’s the latter and not the former.

It’s fascinating to me that if we read the most famous sermon Jesus ever preached we will see a version of reality that most of us who proudly call ourselves His followers would find surprisingly alien.

Most of us live with a practical version of the Beatitudes that go something like, “Blessed are the popular for they will be promoted. Blessed are the investors for they will inherit a secure retirement. Blessed are those who are strong, who are entertaining, who are physically beautiful and strong, for they will receive all that they hope or desire.”

The words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount seem to be for another world and another place, not for the actual world you and I live in and deal with every single day. It’s because of this apparent disconnect that most Christians dismiss the wisdom of Jesus as something for the age to come. “When we get to Heaven things will be the way Jesus describes them,” we tell ourselves. But for the here and now, it’s survival of the fittest and every man for himself.

Nothing could be further from the truth, or more blasphemous to the life and ministry of Jesus.

When Jesus came to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, it was for today. It was intended for the here and now of life, not for some mystical afterlife beyond the grave.

What Jesus was proclaiming was that we could live today under the rule and reign of Almighty God, as we will one day when the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of Heaven. Instead of waiting to have this quality of life, Jesus was presenting an alternative system of living whereby we could reap the benefits of a God-Ruled Universe right now.

This is why so many people followed Jesus. This is why his message, his Gospel, was so compelling, and therefore so dangerous, to those who held spiritual power over the masses.

Most of modern Christianity has assumed that the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed had something to do with his death on the cross and the promise of eternal life after we die. This is what we’ve all been taught in Sunday School and through sermon after sermon all through our lives.

Most of us would define “The Gospel” as a spiritual transaction whereby we who are sinners receive a ticket to heaven when we die because of the death of Jesus upon the cross in our place. Yet, if we take this definition of the Gospel and apply it to the scriptures, we can easily see that this was not what Jesus or his disciples had in mind when they went around proclaiming the Gospel.

Even before we examine specific scriptures, those of us who have even a basic knowledge of the disciples can agree that, even as Jesus described his imminent arrest, torture and crucifixion to his closest friends and followers, there constant response to this was confusion, denial or flat out dismissal. If this were a central part of the Gospel as Jesus was proclaiming it to them, and as they themselves were proclaiming, it would seem logical that they would be able to grasp it. But this is not the case.

When we look at passages where Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding area to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense that what they were sharing with the community had anything to do with a guy who was going to die very soon for their sins and, once he did that, if they repeated a careful prayer, then they could go to heaven when they died. Obviously, whatever it was that the disciples went out preaching, it wasn’t anything to do with a subject they exhibited zero understanding of or agreement with.

So, what was it that the disciples went out preaching? It was simply the Gospel of the Kingdom. The same message that we see Jesus publicly proclaiming over and over again in the Gospels. Here are just a few examples from Scripture:

“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matt 9:35)

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom..” (Matt 4:23)

In my own spiritual journey, from a nine year old convert in a small Texas town, to a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel pastoring others in their walk with Jesus, I have to confess that most of my progress has assumed the more popular Gospel of Salvation and not the actual Gospel that Jesus himself actually preached while he was here in the flesh.

It was only a few years ago, as I was doing my first interview for a brand-new online column on American Spirituality called “Subversive” that I quite literally had my little spiritual paradigm re-arranged forever.

I was interviewing a gentleman named Todd Hunter. Some of you may know him as the former National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, others as an emerging church-planting coach with Allelon Ministries, and perhaps others of you as the President of ALPHA Ministries here in the U.S. To me, he was someone I had heard preach at various times on Sunday mornings when our main pastor was out of town or sick. He was a practical and real-world teacher of the scriptures, and someone I respected in the arena of modern church development.

At one point in the interview, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the single biggest problem or challenge in American Christianity today. I suppose I expected him to cite apathy, or a lack of humility, or perhaps a lack of observable spiritual conviction among the Western Church. But what he said in response to this inquiry literally rocked my world and I have never been the same since.

Here is an excerpt from the interview with Todd Hunter that day.

“I think America is largely inoculated against the Gospel now, against what it believes the Gospel is all about,” said Hunter. “I don’t believe the Gospel is about saying a prayer and then when you die you get to go to heaven. I think the true Gospel is about the in-breaking of the kingdom into your life today. The Gospel is not, ‘Jesus paid the price for my sins so I go to heaven when I die,’ or at least it’s not the Gospel that Jesus announced. The Gospel that Jesus announced is the good news of the present availability of the kingdom through Him. When we only think of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice, then His life and teaching and modeling just totally go out the window. Discipleship then becomes optional,” Hunter argued. “But, if the Gospel is the good news that you can enter the kingdom and receive a different kind of life now, then you’ve got a basis for discipleship, or ‘follower-ship.’

(the full interview, in two parts, appeared originally on RelevantMagazine.com and is now available online at my blog: http://subversive1.blogspot.com/)

To be honest, I had two more follow-up interviews with Mr. Hunter after this first one just to make sure I could get my head around what he was trying to say.

It was this single concept, the Gospel of the Kingdom, that radically influenced the most significant spiritual re-education of my life in every area of my personal theology. From this point, I began to realize that I had lived most of my Christian life trying to follow Jesus without my cross. Discipleship to Jesus began to be my primary focus. I began to develop a fascination for Jesus himself that I never knew before. Who was he? What did he really teach? Why did he do things the way he did? How could I actually deny myself daily, take up my cross, and allow Jesus to be my teacher and my Lord.

It was along this newfound path of discipleship to Jesus that I discovered this hidden concept of weakness and humility as a source of spiritual strength.

I hope we can discover together a dynamic spiritual principle that has been embedded in the Word of God all along, and yet somehow we seem to have overlooked it all this time.

In our modern culture, obsessed with growth and wealth and popularity, we have lost sight of the simple, quiet and humble path that Jesus himself modeled for us, and that Paul the Apostle later discovered as the source of true spiritual power.

I hope that you will find yourself at the heart of God’s magnificent plan to change the world and advance His Kingdom. The amazing thing about the power of weakness is that it opens up the playing field for all of us to participate with the Spirit of God as He transforms lives and does the impossible in our midst.

You are the man or woman that God is looking for. You have a specific calling, gifting and destiny to radically influence the world you live in as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God. Regardless of your education, ability, status or wealth, God is longing to work hand in hand with you to change the world.

All that you have to do is to trust in His power, embrace your own weakness and inability, and develop a radical posture of total obedience to the Holy Spirit of God.