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the God that gives life to the dead

I’ve been slowly combing through the book of Romans in the last few days, and it’s incredible to see once again the vibrant life that can be found in the Word of God.  A particular phrase from Romans 4 stands out to me this evening:

“–the God who gives life to the dead, and calls things that are not as though they are.” from Romans 4:17.

That is the God that I serve.  The God who gives life to the dead, and calls things that are not as though they are.  Wow.

We get used to a certain reality.  We get used to seeing sin and its effects ruling and ruining our world, nation, city, neighborhood, family, and our own lives.  The Brett Dennen song says “there ain’t no reason things are this way, that’s how they’ve always been and they intend to stay, I can’t explain it, why we live this way, we do it every day.”  

We are used to what the bible calls death.  Sin (read: rebellion against God and his ways) always leads to death.  From the bible’s account of the Fall of Man until present day, we find that we always choose our own way — a way of death.  Our actions betray our hearts; anxious hearts that struggle but fail to trust that God is good, that he is in control, and that his way is best.  We always choose our own rule over God’s rule; our own ideas over his mandates; our own way over his way; the tree of knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life.  

And this choice always leads us to death.  Physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally, you name it-ally.  Sin always leads to separation from God.  And separation from God shows up as brokenness, self-centeredness… hell.  Death.  This is the life that we live apart from Jesus.  One that is spiritually dead, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, we were “dead in our transgressions and sins.”  (eph 2:1)

But a few verses later, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.” (eph 2:4-5).  

Why do I rejoice when I think about the God that gives life to the dead?  Because that’s what he’s done to me.  Not only do I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that Christians will be resurrected in the last day, but also I believe that what Jesus has done for me has already brought my heart from death into life.  

He truly makes all things new.  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  God has not only given us an example in Jesus, but he has become our Savior.  He has not only forgive our sins with his death on the Cross, but he has liberated us from the grip of sin’s power in our lives by the indwelling of his Spirit.  

God looks at hearts gripped by the disease and effects of sin.  He sees lives ruined by the influence of a sinful, fallen nature.  And he speaks life into those dead hearts.  He call things that are not as though they were — and then they come into reality.  

The God whose spoken word brought the universe into existence, has spoken into my soul, “Be alive in me,” and my heart can’t help but start beating.  

Praise be to the God who truly gives life to the dead (past, present, and future), and calls things that are not as though they were.

Confession: I Went to a Joel Osteen Event

Well, I’ve got a lot on my mind I suppose.  Ever since I heard Joel Osteen speak the other night at the Valley View Casino Center, my mind has been a bit busy processing the whole experience.  Through some mixture of luck and providence, my friend happened to meet Osteen downtown before the event.  When Osteen heard we were planting a church in San Diego, he graciously offered free tickets to the event.  For this I am thankful, and even though I didn’t speak to Joel, I was able to meet his wife and thank them for the tickets.

There are a few reasons I never thought I’d go to a Joel Osteen event.

1.  I like having ‘Christian street-cred’ as it were.  I guess this is more of a confession than something I’m proud of.  I’m part of that generation that identifies with others through shared consumer experiences (gaming systems, ipods, clothes, books, music genres).  We tend to get along with others who’ve bought the same stuff as us.  Groups that consume certain things usually don’t like groups that consume other things.  (Metal heads think artsy folk lovers suck at life; mac users question the character of PC users; etc).

All that being said, I know that my social points in this culture tend to go up or down depending on which concerts I go to or which books I’m reading, or how many people liked my last status on facebook.  It’s ‘cool’ in young Christianity to have read every Donald Miller book, to be disillusioned with the Church, to be at odds with the Republican party, to own at least two pairs of Tom’s shoes, and most of all: to abhor T.V. Evangelists.

That being said, with the risk of losing my ‘cool’ points, why would I ever go to see the TV preacher with probably the biggest following in the world?  Well, hopefully it’s because I’m finally seeing ‘cool’ as illusory, fleeting, cheap and… well, uncool.  But it probably had something to do with free tickets.

In all honesty, I think Christians need to be able to interact with spheres within Christianity that are different than they’re own.  We may not agree with everybody, but at least we can learn from each other.  I went to hear Joel Osteen last night, knowing that I disagree with much of his ministry and knowing that I would lose ‘cool’ points, because I believe it’s important to listen to others so you know where they’re coming from… and possible even to see which areas of their heart/teaching have not yet been gripped by the Gospel.

2.  When you’re watching Osteen on T.V., you can change channels… this is not the case in person.

3.  The main reason is because the Gospel is about more than just my personal finances and dreams.  The Jesus I serve called his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross every day, and follow him.  He preached that if we spent our lives on what our foolish hearts want, we’ll lose our lives.  Conversely, if we are to spend our lives (labor, recreation, family, free time, effort, energy, treasure) on Jesus, that’s when we’ll find what it truly means to be alive.

The prosperity Gospel is so appealing because it’s laced with truths from Scripture.  The truth is, God does love us.  The truth is, God does want the best for our life.  The truth is that God does have joy for us and a special plan for our lives.  The breakdown of the prosperity doctrine is the assumption that WE know what’s best for our lives now.  It’s the idea that God’s greatest purpose and joy is to help US reach our OWN dreams and desires for our lives.  The prosperity Gospel fails because it assumes that the Gospel is ALL about ME.

I guess I just believe that the Gospel might actually be God’s story instead of our own.  His dream might be better than my own.  My money actually might be his, not my own.

The truth in Scripture is that God does bless his followers.  I think where Osteen tends to go wrong in his teaching is assuming what God’s blessing will look like : usually more money, better health, or success in your field of work.  There are many examples in Scripture of God blessing people monetarily, healthwise, and in their jobs.  Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Naaman, even some guy named Jabez.  But Scripture also teaches us that blessings come in other forms.

Actually, the new testament encourages believers to rejoice especially in their sufferings.  In the new testament, there were both people who sold everything they owned for the sake of the kingdom, and people who kept the homes and land they owned as resources for the kingdom.  Their were Christians in courtrooms and high places, and their were Christians being persecuted and martyred.  Who was God blessing then?  Who is God blessing now?

Has God blessed the Christian in the U.S. that now has enough money to pay for his mortgage and the two cars and new boat, or has he blessed the Christian in southern India who fears for his life in the next outburst of violence against the Way?  Which of these has God blessed more?  Who am I to say?  More importantly, who am I to tell God the manner in which he may bless me?  How arrogant is it for me to assume I know what I need more than God knows?

Am I preaching a Gospel of poverty?  I hope not.  I hope I am not making the point that we should seek out suffering and persecution… and that we should run off and leave all that we’ve known like that guy from Into The Wild, simply to die in the woods alone.  What I’m saying is that it is time that the church began to believe that it’s real treasure lies in Christ.  Paul says in Philippians 3 that whatever he once counted as gain, he now counts as loss.  But that’s not the end.  He’s able to count it all loss because he’s found something of greater value. “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…”

Whether I have much or little, let me be content in the fact that I know Christ, and that he has made me thoroughly loved and acceptable to God.  Let this be the source of my utmost joy – in sickness or pain, in riches or poverty, in failure or success.  “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

Ephesians begins with the claim that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.  Blessed: past tense.  Many times the prosperity Gospel is to preoccupied with the “next blessing” God will drop in our lives that it fails to emphasize the treasure that has already been given to us in Christ.  We’ve already been given more than this entire world could ever offer… and yet we so often overlook that in search of  “a blessing.”

God, let us once again find joy in YOU, not just in the gifts you give us.

God does love you, want to bless you, and lead you in his plan for your life.  But take Jesus at his word:

“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6 in the sermon on the mount).

I’m ending this because it’s turning into more of a rant than a blog.  I hope one day that it can be said of me : “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (phil 4)

Mission: God’s Burden and Our Blessing (part 2)

Frank walked up, a homeless man, 49 years old, with grey whiskers intermittently longer and shorter across the span of his face.  There was whiskey on his breath, and he rolled along all that he owned in a suitcase.  Our group was talking about the ways in which we envisioned restoration in downtown San Diego when Frank requested prayer for his family back in New Jersey.  I pulled Frank aside and prayed with him as the group continued to talk.  Afterward, Vince asked if Frank needed anything, to which he responded, “Yeah, there is one thing.”

Immediately, I thought, “Oh great, another homeless person asking for money,”  but what Frank asked was quite different.  “At one time I was saved,”  he said, “but I fell away.  I want to know if I am saved now even if I fall back into the things I am doing.” 

What followed was amazing.  Vince and Alex and myself talked to Frank about Jesus.  We talked about the nature of salvation, the beauty of Grace, and the power of God to change Frank’s life even now.  With tears in his eyes, like a man who’s been given a second chance, he asked for prayer.  We prayed for Frank, then led Frank in prayer, and then prayed once again for the Holy Spirit to absolutely and completely fill him.  We also wished him a happy 50th birthday tomorrow, and asked him what he’s doing to get off the streets.  He said he was going to San Diego Rescue Mission tomorrow to see if he could find aid.  We promised to call our contact with that ministry to ask if they would make room for Frank and SDRM. 

It was such a powerful moment, and it was such a vivid reminder of God’s Grace, even in mission.  Here I was overwhelmed with how the message would reach those around me, and God reminds me that the mission is right in front of my face… and even more, the mission came to me.  I was on God’s mission, but God’s mission was way bigger than I could manipulate or control or manufacture.  He will always accomplish his purposes, and it is such a blessing to be a part of what he’s doing in San Diego and in the world.

 The mission of God: God’s burden, our blessing.

Mission: God’s Burden and our Blessing (part 1)

Today, Anchor Gaslamp (the church where I pastor) met together at the Keating Hotel in downtown. Vince, one of the founding pastors, preached a great message on our identity in Christ as believers.  Today we focused on the missionary/ambassador aspect of the identity that God has given us in Christ.  And today, God reminded me that the burden of mission is God’s, but the blessing of mission is ours.

The concepts of mission, I am familiar with.  I have preached sermons about Jonah.  I have taught “bible study in a bag.”  I have been on mission trips to Kenya and India and Costa Rica.  But today, God reminded me of the heart of mission.  We have an identity of missionaries and ambassadors of God’s truth; we have the commission to go into all the world and make disciples; and we have all of this because our God is a missionary God. 

Ever since Creation, when God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, enjoying unbroken relationship, our God has longed to be close to his creation.  But when Adam and Eve chose their own way instead of God’s, just as we try to create our own identity outside of God every day, that relationship between God and humanity was broken… and remains broken today.

But God has always had a redemptive plan, and throughout the course of history has moved closer and closer to the hearts of those he has created.  As you read through the bible, you see God’s grace from beginning to end.  God is with Adam and Eve in the garden.  God is in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that leads his people out of slavery.  God is in the tabernacle, in the middle of the camp, with Israel in the wilderness.  God is in the temple, in the middle of the city of God, in the middle of the country made of the people he called out to show his ways to the world.  God is in Jesus, who comes to live and dwell among us (The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.)  When Jesus is on earth, God is with us.

But then when Jesus leaves, and ascends to the Father, our options have changed.  God is no longer just “with us,” but as those who follow Jesus, God is now in us.  No longer are we only able to be AROUND God, but we can know that he resides WITHIN us… that we are his tabernacle, his temple, as it were.   “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you.”

The progression is God’s grace overcoming Humanity’s brokenness and rebellion.  A God who pursues his people.  A God who is in the universe, in the garden, the tabernacle, the temple, the Savior, and now in the Saved.  The God who is above all creation, and yet dwells in the hearts of his creatures that open their lives to his way. 

We talked about reaching out to those who don’t yet believe.  We talked about being on mission at work, in free time, in rest, and in sleep.  We talked about mission as an identity and not merely an activity.  And I was reminded yet again of all the ways I have fallen short of proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel.  All the ways in which I have fallen short of proclaiming the truth of Jesus’ message. 

During Communion, I looked at Nick and Vince, and I told them how much communion was reminding me of my need for the gospel.  The sermon reminded me of my need to have the truth proclaimed to me, and my need to continually share God’s message with those around me.  But the beauty of it was not only in my need, but in God’s provision for me in Christ.  My need for the Gospel is met by God’s provision of Grace, ultimately expressed in Christ on the Cross.  I began to cry as I thought about all the people that need to hear the truth of God’s message, overwhelmed by God’s grace and yet filled with hope; knowing that mission is God’s idea, not mine.  Knowing that disciples making disciples is his only plan… using broken humanity to preach the message of reconciliation is God’s plan… his only plan… there is no plan B.  And my God always accomplishes his purposes.  The Burden of Mission is God’s, but the Blessing of Mission is Ours.  God will accomplish his ulitmate purposes, and I am blessed because I have the opportunity to be a part of God’s purposes. 

You may be thinking, “I’m glad Kenny had some sort of ‘mental conversion,’ and was once again in awe of God’s grace (in an intellectual sort of way).”  But the story gets better.  God took the time to bring the message to life.

After the gathering, our church walked to Horton Plaza for a hermeneutical prayer walk.  We walked in silence, praying about ways in which the Holy Spirit might have us bring the message and ministry of reconciliation to downtown San Diego (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).  At the end of our prayer walk, we stood in a circle in front of the mall, and talked about what God was telling us. 

That’s when Frank walked up…

(contintued in the next blog)

‘Sentness’ : Knowing that God has placed you where you are

All this talk about mission.  God’s mission.  Our mission in San Diego.  God’s big picture.  But sometimes we can get so caught up the in lingo and not know where the rubber meets the road.  Or maybe we have a hard time believing that God actually has given us a mission in the first place.

I know I have struggled with this before, but more and more God is showing me the reality of his mission in my life, in this city.  Often we relegate mission to the confines of an overseas mission trip, or to missionaries who go to another land to share the Gospel of Jesus.  But God has called all of us to mission, and he’s called us all to be missionaries — whether in our land or in lands unknown.  We (followers of Jesus) are all missionaries.  We are all sent.

I was reading some of Jesus’ parting words with his disciples in the book of John a few days ago.  This passage really hit me:

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify[b] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

As Jesus is praying over the twelve, these are some of the words he prays.  He wants them to live with joy.  He knows that the world will hate them because they are so radically different.  But in the face of the world’s opposition to the gospel, he doesn’t pray for them to be delivered from the world, but rather delivered from the evil one as they are SENT INTO the world.

Often Christian groups, tend to turn inward.  Many call it the “these-four-walls” mentality.  Some have resigned to huddle together and wait for Jesus to come back.  But Jesus’ desire for us is that we would take the joy of serving him INTO the world to which we’ve been sent.  Just as Jesus was sent from God, he sends us into the world.  His prayer for Christians is not that they would be taken out of the suffering, brokenness, and pain that are in the world — but that we would live with joy in the midst of a hurting world — missionaries sent with the message of reconciliation to all those around us.  Our co-workers, neighbors, families and friends.

And I believe that being sent into our world means more than attending a weekly Sunday meeting.  It means more than being a good person.  Those are all great goals, but I believe God has so much more to say about how we live our lives than can be contained on Sundays or can be taught with good moral lessons.  God’s Word is light and life, and Jesus has the power and desire to speak into every arena of our lives.  As a church, let’s not confine God to a few hours on a Sunday morning or a mid-week meeting.  Let us constantly ask the questions, “How can I follow Jesus in this situation?,” or “How can I be an ambassador of God’s grace with the people in my life?”

The challenge for my heart is to truly believe that God has sent me to where I am for his purpose and for my good.  If I’m sent, and if I’m called to be a missionary, a messenger of truth, then I have questions to ask.  Did God put me where I am on accident?  Or has he sent me to the people in my everyday life.  Has he sent me to my co-workers, roommates, and daily faces on the street?

More and more I believe he has… and more and more I’m trying to live like he has.  I have been sent into my world, my sphere of influence, to give God glory; to demonstrate and declare the kingdom of God.

May God lead us in our quest to live our lives completely for him.

Jonah 1 and the Mission of God

I’m really digging the current series we’re teaching at Anchor Gaslamp.  Vince and I have been co-teaching last Sunday and today and we’ve made it through the first two chapters of Jonah.  It’s amazing how God’s Word can have so much value packed into such a small book.

Jonah was one of few Old Testament prophets actually called to a nation other than Israel.  He was called to preach to Nineveh, a cruel city with a history of barbarism.  Through the book of Jonah, we see part of God’s heart for the nations — that all people would come to know him and love him.

Also in the book of Jonah, we see so much of the struggles that happen in our own hearts as believers who God has called to live our lives on his mission.  Last Sunday, Vince and I preached that “We are Jonah,” drawing several parallels from the first chapter of Jonah into our everyday lives.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah.  The word of the Lord comes to us.  God gave Jonah a mission, an objective.  God calls us to a mission, a way of life.  Jonah runs from God’s call to mission.  Often we run from God’s mission for us — maybe not outwardly as Jonah ran from the Lord, but definitely inwardly we often rebel against God’s will.  But God pursued Jonah (with a storm and a fish) for his own purposes and for Jonah’s good.  God pursues us for his own purposes and for our good.

One of the other points we talked about was how Jonah’s actions affected those around him.  There were important consequences for Jonah’s disobedience and obedience to God’s Word.  When he runs from God’s call, the storm rocks not only him, but also everyone who is in the boat with him.  However, as soon as he confesses his sin and is tossed overboard, the sea calms and those around him see a bit of the glory of the true God.  Like Jonah, our rebellion against God affects those around us negatively.  But also like Jonah, our obedience to God’s way of doing things will greatly affect those around us in a positive way — and will lead them to experiencing God.

My prayer for Anchor Gaslamp during this series is that we could begin to see more clearly the mission that God has given us in the city of San Diego.  That we could begin to see the mission field that God has called us to in our relationships, families, and neighborhoods.  Also, that once we see God’s mission, we can identify the idols in our hearts that keep us from obeying God’s call… whether that be materialism, sense of security, fear of rejection, selfish desires, etc.  Anything that is causing us to “flee toward Tarshish” instead of sail directly “toward Nineveh” with the truth of God’s Word.

I’m excited to see what God is doing in our hearts and lives in the next few months.  Maybe I’ll post about the Jonah 2 teaching next.

Costa Rica Coming Up!

Greetings dear friends and family-

I am writing this update from downtown San Diego, where I have been working for the last 8 months as one of the pastors of Anchor Gaslamp Church and as a barista at a local coffee shop.  As you remember, last year I was blessed with the opportunity to serve several months in overseas missions to Kenya and India.  I was able to minister in the slums surrounding Nairobi and the leper colonies of Delhi.  Many of you were the ones who made it possible for me to go, and I thank God for using you to send me!  There are many people on the other side of the world who are forever changed because of your willingness to support the mission.

I write today because I have been afforded another opportunity to lead a short-term mission trip this summer.  I will be leading a group of about 20 high school students on a 2-week mission to Costa Rica.  Once again, this trip will be through the Adventures in Missions (AIM) organization that sends hundreds of teens, young adults, and adults out on missions across the world every year.  During this trip, our team will be serving a church in San Jose with VBS programs, youth ministry, and evangelism.     I am so excited for the opportunity to lead these students as they are exposed to the great need of the world for the good news of Jesus Christ!

I am thankful for this opportunity to serve the kingdom in overseas ministry.  Also, because of my leadership history with AIM and the short nature of the trip, AIM will be covering most of my trip costs.  This is a HUGE blessing!  My only expenses are the in-country flight to leader training in Georgia ($650), the wages I will lose from being away from work for 3 weeks total ($720), and medications/small miscellaneous expenses (?).

Although all Christians are called to be on mission wherever we live, it is often said of overseas ministry that, “some go by going, but others go by sending.” Not only is this trip an opportunity for me to go minister, it is an opportunity for you to serve the kingdom by sending me.  If you are able, I humbly ask for your prayers and financial support for this trip to Costa Rica.  Partner with me in sharing the gospel with those in Costa Rica that need to hear it.

In Christ,

Kenny Liles

I am able to receive donations either of these addresses:

My address:

Kenny Liles

P.O. Box 1481

Poway, CA 92074

If you need a tax write-off, send your donation to:

Adventures in Missions

ATTN: Kenny Liles Support Account

6000 Wellspring Trail

Gainesville, GA 30506