Friday, February 24, 2017

SHACK THEOLOGY 101



Full Disclosure: I have never read the book, “The Shack” nor have I seen [or plan to see] the new film coming out that is based on this book.

You’ve no doubt seen memes like this one [see above] posted online by your friends on Facebook, usually warning you that this book, and the film, contains heretical doctrines and ideas about God.

Again, having never actually read the book myself, I can only respond to this list, but I feel the need to respond nonetheless.

Honestly, I agree with about half of these statements. So, from where I stand, a book or a film that shared these ideas would not only not offend me, it would probably make me stand up and cheer.

Here are the doctrines I don’t agree with:

2. “God is limited by His love and cannot practice Justice” – God is not limited by anything other than Himself. He can do whatever He wants, as long as it doesn’t contradict His nature. So, for example, God cannot hate His children. Why? Because God’s nature is Love. God is love. So He cannot hate His children. But that doesn’t mean He cannot practice Justice. Justice just means “making things right”, and trust me: God is absolutely devoted 100% to making things right.

7. “God submits to human wishes and choices” – God is the absolute ruler and King of the Universe. He does not “submit” to anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

8. “Justice will never take place because of love.” – If Justice is “making things right” then Love is how and why Justice will absolutely take place.

11. “Jesus is constantly being transformed along with us.” – Not sure how to respond to this one. Really wonky. Maybe an example from the book that illustrates this might help? At any rate, I disagree with this idea.

13. “The Bible is not true because it reduces God to paper.” – I disagree with this because the Bible being “true” is not dependent upon whether or not it is written in paper. But, I will say that God did not become a book. The Word was made flesh and came to dwell among us – and then within us by His Holy Spirit. So, I might modify this one to say: “The Bible is not God. God is not the Bible. God is bigger than your Bible. He can be heard and experienced outside of reading the Bible.”

NOW, here’s what I agree with on this list, and why:

1.”God the Father was crucified with Jesus.” – This comes down to how you understand the crucifixion. If you’re a believer in the Substitutionary Atonement Theory, then you’re going to disagree with that statement. But, if you’re someone who accepts the “Christus Victor” view of the crucifixion, then you might not have such a problem. For example: Where was God when Jesus was on the cross? Was He in Heaven awaiting the payment in blood so He could excuse His wrath against mankind? Or, was “God in Christ reconciling the World to Himself?” [2 Cor. 5:19]

If you’re curious about this view I’d recommend watching this video clip from Brian Zahnd which offers an excellent explanation:


3. “God forgave all of humanity, whether they repent or not.” – Now, where would anyone get such a crazy idea as that? Oh, wait a minute:

“…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” [2 Cor. 5:19]

Oh, yeah.

4. “All hierarchical structures are evil.” – I wouldn’t say they are all “evil”, but I will say that they are all man-made. [see point #6]

5. “God will never judge people for their sins.” – So, I do believe that God [specifically Jesus] will judge mankind for their sins. This is what Jesus refers to in Matthew 25 when He sits on the seat of Judgment and separates the sheep from the goats. But I would modify the statement to suggest that God’s judgment might take the form of allowing people to suffer the fruit of their own decisions. This gets into a discussion about different views of Hell and suffering, so we’ll cover that in #9 below.

6. “The Godhead has no hierarchical structure, just a circle of unity.” – I kinda agree with this. There are plenty of verses that suggest that the Father exalts the Son to the highest place, and the Son says that the Father is greater than Him, and the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son which in turn gives glory to the Father and around and around it goes. 

So, yes, there are verses where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I”, but then there are verses that say the Father exalts the Son to the highest place [see Phil. 2:9; Acts 2:33; Eph. 1:21].

And we also see plenty of verses that speak to the equality of the Son and the Father and the Spirit. For example where Jesus says that He and the Father are one, and that if you have seen Him you have seen the Father, and also where other New Testament verses say that Jesus was “the exact representation of the Father” and 

“For in him [Jesus] dwells all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form.” [Col. 2:9]

So, I don’t think it’s really heretical to suggest that the Godhead has no hierarchical structure but has a more circular/mutual submission to one another model where each one exalts the other in loving humility.  

9. “There is no such thing as eternal judgement or torment in hell.” – These are 2 separate ideas. I personally reject the doctrine of eternal suffering – as did the majority of early Christians in the first few hundred years of Christianity.

[see more here] “What About Hell?”

However, even those who reject eternal suffering usually embrace either “Anihilationism” or “Universalism” which, classically, both embrace the idea that there is a period of torment or punishment for those who reject Christ. The difference of opinion is only about how long that might last and what the purpose of that punishment might be.

10. “It doesn’t matter which way you get to God, Jesus is walking with all people in their different journeys.” –Yes! My friend John Fischer has a great song that points this out saying: “Jesus is the only way to Heaven, but there’s more than one way to Jesus.”

 I think it boils down to this: God is the judge, not us. He is the one who will decide who does or does not end up in His Kingdom. All we can be certain of is that: A) God is fair and just and B) God will always do the most loving thing possible.

So, however God judges those outside of the Christian faith, we can trust that His decision will be loving, fair and just. Outside of that, it’s not our job to worry about that.

Here's a little 5 Minute Video I made about this subject:

12.”Everyone will make it to heaven.” – This is Universalism and it was the majority Christian doctrine for the first few hundred years of Christianity. True. Check it out here: “What Should We Believe About Hell?”

Now, I’m not saying I personally embrace this doctrine, but I can tell you that it’s just as “Biblical” – if not more so – than the more popular doctrine of “eternal suffering”. [Again, please see those links above for more info].


 So, in conclusion: I'd say that we should all keep in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. Just like "The Chronicles of Narnia" or "The Lord of the Rings" or "Bruce Almighty".

Many Christians are pretty upset that "The Shack" portrays God as a black woman [which wasn't even on this list]. But if you're someone who is upset about that portrayal, I'd have to ask you: "Are you upset when God is portrayed as a Lion, or as a Sheep?" If not, then why are you upset when God is portrayed as a human being who is - according to Scripture - actually created in the image of God?

After all of this, I almost want to watch this stupid film now, or perhaps even read the book. 

What do you think? If you've read the book or seen the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts, or just hear what you think about my reactions to that list above.

Blessings!

Keith



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Only Leadership Can Save Us?



I subscribe to George Barna’s research reports. A few of the recent surveys have dealt with the growing political divide between Christians in America.

Honestly, I could probably write a blog each day just trying to process all the different results of these surveys [which is why so far I have not commented on them very often here on my blog]. It’s just too overwhelming to respond to each and every little detail.

But in this case I had to make an exception.

The most recent report examines the widening ideology gap between Christians in America. In the summary at the bottom of the report, George Barna himself weighs in and declares that there is simple fix to the political gaps between American Christians, saying:

 “Unfortunately, the survey shows that we have more than a minor gap dividing the various factions in our country. We have a canyon of epic proportions that seems to be widening each year…That gap has emerged due to an absence of strong, visionary leadership…and the gap is only going to be eliminated by the presence of strong, visionary leadership.”

This is where I had to stop and shake my head. 

Really? People disagree on political issues because of a lack of “strong, visionary leadership”?

Perhaps if your goal is total indoctrination of the populace you might look at differences of opinions as failures of top-down authority structures to adequately police the thoughts of their minions.

Is that what Barna believes the clergy is designed to accomplish? Are our leaders failing to maintain control of everyone’s uniformity of thought?

If you see Christianity as primarily about having the right information about God, then I suppose I can understand a reaction like this. To Barna, too many people have a disagreement about which information is correct about God. This is a problem caused by a failure of information brokers [pastors] to pass along the information to those under their authority [those in the pew].

In this paradigm, the problem can only be solved by better leaders who are more successful at indoctrinating their flock so that everyone agrees with one another [or, more accurately, with Barna].

He does go on to say: 

“That leadership does not have to come from the White House; in fact, it may be more compelling if it comes from local and state leaders. But the inescapable reality is that unless strong leaders consistently promote a common vision and introduce ways of incorporating that vision into every activity and measurement being undertaken, the hyper-partisanship that has fragmented our national unity and discourse will continue to expand.”

Whoa. It’s worse than I thought.

Barna apparently wasn’t really even thinking about Christian leaders when he spoke of a failure of leadership to align the Church in America. He was looking to political leaders to do the job.

Seriously?

So, Jesus has passed the keys of the Kingdom to Mayors, Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Presidents?

Christians in America should look to politicians for guidance about spiritual issues? Churches should elect political gurus to learn more about how Jesus would want them to respond to issues like same-sex marriage, transgender rights, abortion, or even whether or not capitalism is preferable to socialism?

I doubt that.

Besides, doesn’t this seem like a “Chicken or the Egg” scenario to you? I mean, if American Christians are already confused and divided about all these issues – because of bad leadership – then how will they know if they are electing good leaders?

I do agree with Mr. Barna about one thing: American Christians are certainly divided over politics. His own research confirms this.

Where we disagree is this: I don’t think the solution is to get everyone to agree.

That’s right. Agreement is not necessary for unity. Not in the Body of Christ, anyway.

When the Christians in Corinth were divided over which Apostle they preferred, Paul reminded them to focus on Jesus. [See 1 Cor. 1]

When the Roman Christians were divided over whether it was sinful to eat meat sacrificed to idols, Paul told them to make up their own individual minds and get back to seeking Christ together and encouraging one another as the family of God. [See Rom. 14]

As Paul reminded the Galatians: “…we are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal. 3:28]

That means we are only one when we are focused on Christ. If we make Jesus the central focus, we have unity.

But if we make politics, or theology, or doctrine, or anything else the focus, we have division.

I also agree with Barna on one other thing: Our only hope is devotion to our leader.

He and I just seem to disagree about who that Leader happens to be.

-kg

**
My book “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” is available now at Amazon on Kindle and Paperback.








Tuesday, February 21, 2017

LET'S PRAY ONE MORE TIME



I couldn't be more proud of our house church family. A few weeks ago, all on their own, they took the initiative to reach out to the people living in the Tent City that has built up along the Santa Ana River next to Angel's Stadium.

One brother, David, bought a case of emergency thermal blankets from Amazon to pass out to the people there. Another sister helped coordinate the time to meet - about an hour before our Sunday gathering - and suddenly we had a little team of people ready and willing to go and serve.

That morning there were six of us standing on the sidewalk and praying for God to lead us to the people He wanted us to minister to.

Right off the bat we got to pray for a couple who eagerly accepted the blankets and a handful of batteries. We even got to pray for them as they faced the uncertainty about where they might go next, as the County of Orange had recently brought in large rocks to store for flood control purposes [and coincidentally to displace everyone living there along the river bed].


Our next tent was "Louis" who was cheerful and smiling, even though he had been hit by a car trying to cross the street a few days earlier. We got to lay hands on him and to pray for him, which he gladly received. He let us know he had just been reading the Gospel of John before we arrived. It was still sitting there beside his lawn chair on a box.

Soon, we were praying for "Christopher" who received prayer for employment. When we finished he said, "I know prayer works. I used to walk with the Holy Spirit for about 3 years, but then I messed up so I know He's not very happy with me right now."

Wendy spoke up first and said, "I think we need to pray again."

So, once more, we all laid our hands on Chris and reminded him that God will never leave or forsake his children. We reminded Chris that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We reminded him that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ - not death, or life, or height or depth, or the present or the future, not angels or demons...nothing.

As we prayed for Chris I could sense his body relax. When we said "amen" I saw a look of relief and peace in his face. "Thank you," he said quietly. I knew those words of truth had penetrated his heart and exposed the lies of the enemy.

"God hasn't forgotten you, Chris," Wendy said. "He still loves you so much," another sister said to him.

"Thank you," Chris said again.

We all need reminding sometimes, I think. We need to remember that God is for us, not against us. We need to accept that He has accepted us, and that His love endures forever, and that His mercies are new every morning.

If you know someone who needs reminding of that, please share this post with them. They might need it more than you think.

Peace,
Keith
**

"Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you." - Ps. 63:3


Friday, February 17, 2017

GOD IS NOT A REPUBLICAN OR A DEMOCRAT [OR AMERICAN]



One of the hardest things for Christians in America to understand is that God does not love them more than He loves people in other nations.

God's love for Iranians and for Koreans and everyone else on the planet is equally the same. [Which is to say "Ginormously gargantuan beyond imagination"].

There's an excellent example in the Bible of when others made a similar mistake in assuming that God was on the side of their nation.

Joshua, as he was preparing to go to battle against the pagans of Jericho, encountered a soldier he did not recognize. Little did he realize at the moment that he was standing in front of the Captain of the Angelic Host. [See Joshua 5:13-15]

Quickly he confronted the soldier and asked, "Are you with us, [the people of God] or with them [those ungodly pagans over there]?"

Now, to most of us, the answer should be simple: God is, of course, on the side of those who worship Him. Right?

Wrong.

The answer the Captain of the Lord's Army gives should give us pause. He says, "Neither."

Neither?

Wait a minute. Why isn't God on the side of those who worship Him? 

Answer: Because God does not follow us. We follow Him.

The real question we should ask is not, "Is God on our side?" but "Are we on God's side?"

There's a big difference.

If we identify ourselves as "Americans" and then assume that God is on our side, we forget that God also loves China, and South Africa, and Norway, etc. That means that God doesn't take sides. 

But we do.

So, are we on God's side, or are we on the side of our nation?

The truth is, we cannot chose both sides at once. Why? Because America fights for American values and American interests and American prosperity. 

God's priority is to bring everyone and everything under the authority of Christ. [See Ps.110:1; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35; Heb. 1:13]

Our allegiance is to Christ and His eternal kingdom.

So, let me ask you: "Are you with Christ, or with your nation?"

Choose wisely.

-kg

My book "Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb" is available now on Amazon.




Thursday, February 16, 2017

NOTHING GOOD IN ME? [THINK AGAIN]





Many of you are aware that our family and our house church have been serving at a motel locally for the last 17 years or so.

Our ministry is largely to those people who live in the motel because they cannot afford to live in an apartment or purchase a home in Orange County, California where affordable housing is hard to come by.

We also minister to a lot of people who are actually homeless and either sleep outside, or in their vehicle, or in a local shelter whenever they can find a vacancy.

Last month I happened to see a witnessing tract that one of the people at the motel church had picked up during the week at one of the Christian shelters or ministries to the homeless.

I picked it up and flipped through it and what I saw really angered me. In fact, I decided to confiscate the tract and later tossed into the trash can.

Why? Because this "Good News" was anything but. As an example, near the end it said this:

"You are filthy, disgusting, hateful and offensive to God. If you are not a Christian, this is how He sees you."

Really? Is that what Jesus tells us? Is that how the Apostles share the Good News of the Kingdom with people?

What about the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus shares to let us know that the Father is longing for us to return and eager to welcome us with open arms?

What about the declaration from the mouth of Jesus that "God so loved the world..."?

Even for those who are far away from God, He does not see them as filthy or disgusting or hateful people. He sees people made in His own image whom He longs to draw nearer to Himself.

As Paul reminded the pagan Athenians: "[God] is actually not far from each one of us. For, 'In Him we live and move and have our being.'" [Acts 17:27-28]

That means those who are near and those who are far away both remain in His presence and are surrounded by His enduring love.

Then, later in the week, I listened to a worship song that said, "There is nothing good in me" and I had to stop and ask, "Is that true?"

Maybe before I came to Christ it could be said that there was nothing good in me, but now that I am in Christ, there IS something - or SOMEONE - very good in me: Jesus!

Jesus tells us that "I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." [John 14:20]

He also says:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." [John 14:23]

And later Jesus says:

"Remain in me and I will remain in you." [John 15:4]

So, we should never say: "There is nothing good in me" ever again as long as we are in Christ.

There is someone good in me - and in you - and His name is Jesus.

Rest in His goodness. Trust in His transformational presence. Rely on Him to make you like Jesus.

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." [1 John 4:16]

God's view of you is better than you think it is. He sees you as someone worth dying for. That means everyone around you is loved by God as well.

Don't buy the lie that God hates you, or is disgusted by you. Stop talking as if Jesus does not live inside you by His Holy Spirit. 

There is SO MUCH good in you if you are in Christ and He is in you!

Do you believe it?

-kg



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

JOHN FISCHER'S PODCAST INTERVIEW: KEITH GILES



John Fischer has been one of my inspirations for years now. His column at the back of CCM Magazine kept my subscription going for years after I had stopped reading the rest of the magazine.

Then his books challenged me to rethink what it means to follow Jesus, and later I was overjoyed to meet him in person and discover more about his life, ministry and sincere dedication to Christ and His Kingdom.

So, it is my high honor and great privilege to share this conversation between John and myself about my new book "Jesus Untangled:Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb".

I hope you're blessed by what we talk about. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you haven't picked up a copy of the book yet, you can do that at Amazon.

Blessings,
Keith


Monday, February 13, 2017

DO I SUPPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION?



Over the weekend a friend on Facebook questioned me about this issue of illegal immigration and the refugee crisis.

My original post was a link to an article that highlighted the inevitable clash between churches that offer amnesty or sanctuary to those fearing deportation, and the Immigration Enforcement Agencies that are tasked with finding, arresting and deporting these people.

His question was this:

"I am curious to hear your defense of someone illegally entering a foreign nation, and following that up with repeatedly violating multiple other laws of that nation while simultaneously illegally receiving a variety of monetary benefits...Surely you aren't going to argue that the mere "existence" of immigration laws represents an "unjust law" that - as a believer - can be morally ignored? I'm just trying to establish a 'baseline' for your argument, here. Where does 'just enforcement' begin, in your view? Or is there no such thing?"

It's a fair question and one that that I myself have wrestled with over the years as someone who has tried to reconcile my faith with everything else in my life. 


In the past, I might have tried to do exactly what he asked me to do: Justify the legality of immigration laws in our country, or seek to directly balance the words of Jesus with American immigration policy.

But that's not what I do anymore. I have a different perspective now. 

Here's how I answered my friend:

"Do I need to justify prostitution to care for a prostitute? Is it 'anti-criminal justice' to serve in prison ministry? Am I pro-drug use if I serve someone who is addicted to drugs?

"No. We show mercy and grace and the love of Jesus to everyone."
See, we don't need to limit our ministry to those who are "righteous" and "law-abiding". In fact, to do so would be completely pointless. 


If someone is already "good" then who needs Jesus?

And Jesus was quick to point out that it was only those who were sick who need a physician, and it's only those who admit they are blind that receive healing for their blindness.

The greatest blindness, of course, is not recognizing our own blind spots. If we fail to see ourselves in the outcast, and the poor, and the broken, then we also fail to see Jesus in them as well.

"Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done it unto me," Jesus reminds us. 

So, we really only love Jesus as much as we love the people around us who are poor, and weak, and hungry, and thirsty, and naked and in prison.

What's more, we are reminded in the New Testament that we ourselves are equally in need of Jesus and His mercy and grace and healing as anyone - and everyone - else we see:

"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?....And that is what some of you were." [1 Cor. 6:9-11]

We forget that we are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners saved by the same grace. We are all people who are dearly loved of God and in need of His endless mercy.

Refugees and illegal immigrants are people, just like you and me. They love their families. They want to live in peace. They are running from war and oppression and poverty and looking to find a new life here - just the way we would if it was our family - our children - who were starving and dying and in need of safety.


Regardless of what the laws might say, we are answerable to a higher authority. Jesus, our glorious eternal King, commands us to treat everyone - especially the weakest among us - as if they were Him. 

It's not our job to work out who is most deserving of His mercy. That's way above our pay grade. Our job is to love everyone we see and to recognize that our King commands us to be extravagant with our love. 

So, do I support illegal immigration? No, I don't. But I do support loving everyone around me. If those people happen to be illegal immigrants, or refugees, or Muslims, or anything else, my job is to love them as much as I love Jesus.

If you're following Jesus, it's your job too.

Peace,
-kg

**
My new book, "Jesus Untangled:Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb" is available now on Amazon. 

ORDER HERE