The past 2 years our family has been invited to do a concert at this excellent venue in Frankfort, Illinois. We do 99% Christmas songs in newer and some in more traditional fashion, read hrough the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible, share poems and a bit about the orgins of Christian Christmas traditions.Ami, Brach and Joby (“The Unfortunate”) do a set, and two of Wendi and my daughters (Ami and Rebecca) join as well as two of my grandsons, singing along with Wendi and I.Curt, brilliant family poet, reads through the Christmas story as well as a couple of his own wonderful holiday poems. All in all, it’s a special evening focused on our Lord’s birth.The staff and audience are always amazing and sweet, the coffee is great… and we have a lot of fun.Last night God put the first snow of the season on the ground and the beauty of it all was quite nice.How blessed I am by my Lord,, my family and the family of God… whew!I posted a few pics as well as a demo of a Christmas song I wrote here: http://gkaiser.posterous.com/“Grace upon grace” indeed. -Glenn
Many years ago over a couple of winters I read through the Russian activist/author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s lengthy and important volume “The Gulag Archipelago” which chronicled his and many other’s horrific in-country exile in some of the worst Siberian concentration camps of Soviet Russia.I’m a slow reader and especially so when I care about the material, major points are being made and of course, when the book(s) are thick.In “Gulag” he commented on the deep and sincere spirituality, connections with God and one another inmates experienced while condemned (in many cases) to die in the midst of sub-freezing weather, slow starvation, torture and the ever-present spectre of death in the camps.He wrote specifically of the various Christian groups who had been enemies, who had preached against one another by name, who had been in competition with one another… until they were thrown together like rats in the worst of conditions staring the worst sort of misery in the face.The warmth came in waves, over time, through nursing the sick, sharing the meager food they could scrounge, in prayer and Bible-focused gatherings. God was present and the many differences and old, often thin, trifling disagreements meant nothing in such a time and place.Solzhenitsyn eventually wrote how horrible it was when after a number of them survived and were released that within a very short time the old nastiness, vitriol and strife between otherwise Christian pastors and leaders returned just as before. The warmth of deep love, compassion and friendship they’d experienced in the camps dried up as they returned to normal life outside the Gulag.Each and all of us are capable of love. Any true follower of Jesus is in fact commanded to love in a number of verses of Scripture.How quickly God’s agape love evaporates- not in Himself but among you and I… when circumstances change. In fact often when they change for the better!It seems to me getting what we want is often not the best place for spiritual growth, not even for brothers and sisters growing together in unity. So often it’s the wartime, “foxhole” experience that brings people closer to things that matter and in the process, our focus is so sharpened that the dogmas, the personal pettiness and desire to control is jettisoned… as it should have been prior to the shared pain.But as Proverbs tells us “A brother is born for adversity” -when we find a genuine friend in Christ who themselves are truly Following Jesus and His Word in the midst of the trial, fellowship like that sustains us. It carries us through the darkest of times.Isolation in the camps only happened when guards threw someone into an isolation cell. Otherwise, they were forced into overcrowded, bug-infested huts where disease ran rampant, the occasional rat or field mouse was a life-saving meal and a painful Siberian wind blew through the holes day and night.As Solzhenitsyn wrote of spring, warmth and sunshine and the health and life it brought, I could only wonder at the contrast and imagine what these poor souls felt.When those who survived the cruel years and who happened to be set “free” (or at least comparatively so being back in everyday Soviet society) they found work, places to stay and other things difficult to find. They were not so sure family or old friends had truly been- or would now choose to be- friends. In some cases family members or “friends” had either been coerced or out of fear, reported things that had put them in the prison camps in the first place. The KGB was alive and well though so many of these men and women were half-dead when they were released.But it seems to me what was worse, was the temptation and embracing of the old, thick walls of suspicion and harsh judgment of Christian to Christian many succumbed to.Isolation might mean personal quiet time with God. It can mean a “prayer closet” experience with Father, Son and Spirit. Such is wonderful refreshing and life-giving.Isolation can also mean we separate ourselves from godly friends who love us and encourage us to love Jesus, His Word and one another more… sometimes more than we want to.If we don’t have such friends, do we have any true friends at all?What does it take to bring people to a place of realization, of understanding of what true fellowship, genuine, forgiving, loving koinonia in Christ truly IS? What might it cost you or I?The communion of saints in the camps reveals something that causes me to wonder.Thank God we don’t all have to experience the horrors of a Gulag or a Chilean mine disaster to experience and appreciate it.
Tonight I had dinner in a large room full of people who began this long journey of discipleship with us at JPUSA in the 1970’s. Singles, spouses, children and family members shared stories, looked at a long stream of black and white pictures and swapped jokes and trivia related to our shared community life and mission.We laughed, enjoyed fellowship, sang a number of old but not forgotten songs that rarely are sung these days.At the end of the night those who wished to do so prayed.As I thought about whether I should lift a prayer up aloud or not, I found myself simply thanking God for His incredible grace in the experience of serving for so many years with these incredible friends. Yes, saints.Well, I actually prayed thanking God that I was blessed in not only being able to read about saints, but to actually live with so many!Biblically speaking, all Christ-followers are truly saints through faith in Jesus, nothing more or less.Christians celebrate the “known” names, those many famous ones either in terms of them being mentioned in the Bible or throughout church history.Many churches display plaques, photos or paintings in order to help congregations remember and on occasion visitors inquire about who this or that person was. Whoever they were, they were part of the local church family, the life, mission and loving service of the Lord among those people in that place. They are remembered. People need reminders, though of course God never forgets His children and their service in Christ.Yet there is a very real blessing in being part of a local congregation with the same core of committed people serving- as imperfectly as we do and have.It is a unique and encouraging witness in a world that increasingly seems fragmented, disconnected, distanced from one another except for online social networks or the rare face-to-face meeting where anything of depth is actually shared.Perhaps like myself, those reading this have visited local churches around the world and from time to time have realized some of the people have actually served the Lord together for many decades. There is a closeness as a result of all the shared struggles, exchange of forgiveness and living out their faith as a group as opposed to being closed individuals living apart though in the same local church.Perhaps you are blessed in sharing a part of such an intimate fellowship. If you do, you know the cost and in truth, how amazing such a long-term shared walk is in our times.Celebrate!Or perhaps seek God honestly about what you are willing to do about that depth of shared call and mission with others where God has placed you.Saints. I’m so blessed by so many- right in my own house!-Glenn
Seeing Wendi and I fly home Thursday, I expect this will be my last update on our current tour in Germany.As per my Twitter/Facebook posts, the Creative Arts Europe Arts Session was just plain amazing! Jim and Anne Mills and staff did an exceptional job and the worship, workshops and final evening share time was blessed with truly beautiful displays of art, photography, dance, film, music, comedy and more. And then came the cool music/singalong/dance celebration at the end… just a riot of fun.I can’t say enough about the kind interaction, the fellowship and encouragement of so many Christians coming together for those days of teaching and the potential of what both is and can be as a result.Wendi and I then went on to link with our longtime friends Carsten and Judith Turner, and Wieland Eberlie who have all been involved in Rez and/or GKB and myself solo tours for a number of years. We had another packed and kind experience at Cellarium in Knittlingen and then on to Calvary Chapel (Bible College) in Siegen where we linked up with more great friends (again) and a quite large crowd, especially for a Monday night!In each place people shared past and present grace where God was working in their lives. In each place a number of old friends came to say hello and encourage us.Today we went on to Wetzlar and ERF radio where Wendi and I took turns sharing a bit of our lives, about REZ, family and JPUSA experiences and ministry. Ingrid (our fine interview person and show host) had a great list of questions and we trust the edited show will encourage people throughout Germany, maybe even beyond.Tonight we met the kind producer and sweet host of tomorrow’s tv filming (again at ERF Wetzlar) talking over details for the taping. Funny that we still call it that as most everything is digital (no tape) these days.But I will do 3 acoustic blues songs, jam a bit with them on another and share brief bits of my life and about the JPUSA community.We go to Frankfurt on Thursday for the flight to Chicago.The next day I have a morning scheduling meeting and then Wendi and I are off to Cornerstone Farm and this year’s opening sessions of Project 12, our Bible/Discipleship school within the JPUSA community.The weather is starting to turn a little cool, here in Germany there are small signs of autumn in some of the trees… and our favorite time of year begins :)As usual Carsten and Judith have taken incredible care of us and we will be happy to come back for the GKB tour here during the last half of October and into November- Carsten is the tour promoter so we know it will be a great one.So- thank you for visiting my blog and double thanks for those of you who pray for us in all our journeys!Gratefully,-Glenn
The title of this blog is comprised of the beginning of a line from the Who’s hit song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The conclusion of that line was “…same as the old boss.”Years ago a brilliant cartoonist named Walt came up with a line in his Pogo newspaper comic strip- “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”I often quote Buckaroo Banzai (crazy, silly movie somewhat worth seeing:)- “Where ever you go, there you are.”Then I fondly recall Jean Vanier’s brilliant one-word reply when asked what the biggest problem he had with living in community: “Myself.”I recently find myself reading through and interacting with a couple blogs regarding the state of the church.I believe it fully true to say few commenting on the issues in both blogs have traveled and heard the issues I have from all sorts of local and denominational congregations over much of the world these past 38 years. And I hear it from those in leadership/supposed leadership positions and equally from those not in any sort of influential position, the everyday congregant.Both threads have garnered very honest, good and in my view, well-thought out points related to doing church differently, escaping the institutionalized- read that ungodly/dysfunctional- church and just not looking back.Forgive me if I pop the balloon, but none of this is new.I have called off and on, for a reformation among Christians for most of my life. I think the Holy Spirit continually calls for it in MY life!So- coming from what might be considered a huge small group or living in intentional Christian community which is much like a large gathering of small groups who worship, study, serve and play amongst ourselves and also interact serving those throughout our neighborhood and in fact, many places throughout our nation and world… I can say with complete sincerity there ain’t no structure nor leader, group of leaders nor gathering of those banishing the term (leader) who live sinless lives. NOBODY gets it right all the time.While I truly appreciate people looking for a genuine experience with God and/or authentic Christian community and/or who think the term Christian should be dumped and/or who struggle with hardcore right-wing politics or gay bashing or (fill-in-the-blanks), the idea that ANY structure or lack of one will solve what ails us is chasing windmills in their dreams…I’m not saying don’t try to do church or your Christian life, missions or personal or group discipleship a fresh way- not at all! I’m saying full-on knuckleheads and rather mature, godly Christ-followers exist in every and all places, structures, forms, intentionally organized or disorganized local fellowships! Is this rocket science? Not at all.From countless conversations at all levels of Christ-seeking gatherings I have heard the cries, and I truly mean from both leadership and non-leadership spheres.What I worry about a great deal is the sometimes tragic fall and extended misery of the person who seeks something (even “THE CHURCH of ALL CHURCHES!!!”, that is, landing in their own concept of doing it RIGHT) and still find the emperor (often themselves, at times, others alongside them) sits as naked as can be. I worry about the crash of those who never plant themselves and face their own personal baggage.It’s just so clear from my own experience and as I read through both Testaments that human nature is what God says it is.By the way, Bono and others have long ago distanced themselves from “typical” church involvement… this just isn’t anything new!Meanwhile I do believe too many work too hard in their focus on either institution X, Y or Z, just as some do small group or house church, emergent or emerging church X, Y or Z. Don’t we get it? As a dear friend recently wrote in one of the blogs I mentioned, it’s about character and fruit. Yes, it always HAS been!The problem is that we can spend forever debating how to somehow cooperate with the Holy Spirit/foster (or both) biblical, godly change in ourselves (first… please!!!) and others (make disciples, not merely converts), while someone must explain to me how one or two hours per week of ANY style are going to accomplish such a task?We give God, His Word, His mature people so little time. We expect this or that or a different form to do the trick. I just don’t buy it and have never seen it.What I HAVE seen over and over are individuals, families and large portions of all sorts of local gatherings of Christ followers (and I do mean followers…) with character, fruit and gifts that put myself and most of us to shame. There just isn’t a biblical template (read that, denomination, independent typical church, house church, whatever sort you care to name) or mold commanded in the scriptures. Why not? Apparently we care a great deal more about it than God does.Let me ask a few questions that may help sharpen our focus a bit:-IS the Lord adding people who are coming to saving faith in Jesus daily, weekly, monthly, ever- in your Christ-following gathering?-ARE you (any/all of you) directly involved in teaching people of all varieties to obey whatever Jesus has commanded you/us/all, that is, are disciples of Jesus Christ being made in your chosen Christ-focused group?-DO you sincerely find growth in yourself regarding: a greater desire for fellowship with Father, Son, Spirit, His Book, confession of sin, communion (Lord’s Supper), and deepening prayer and authentic worship?If not, you need to seek God for some personal changes and pray, graciously encourage and model change within your chosen assembly -regardless the style or form of church.If the answer to these three questions is more on the positive side, carry on and don’t fret too much over the shape of the transport- you/your local family of Christ-followers are doing a great deal right whether you realize it or not.
I’ve been studying for an upcoming sermon and came across some very good, balanced blogs and other articles online that caused me to think about authority… again :)Extremes in the charismatic/pentecostal movement, emergent and institutional church in general were all covered and responded to in my online searching.At the end of my little web journey the memory of a bumper sticker most of us have seen flashed in my mind: “Question Authority”. What came to me was the thought whoever came up with that got it mostly right. They should have said “Question ALL Authority”. That includes me questioning my own.As I see it the lion’s share of dysfunction and outright bloody battles among all people, people groups and you-name-the-Christian-group-cuz-all-of-us-share-this-one-folks… gets to the issue of authority. Who has it, who wants it, who should get it and why?The problem is we all question “his… hers… them… theirs” but not “mine”.In the end we each want our way. To be fair and gracious there are times most any of us really ARE seeking the mind, will and plan of God in the issue, and sometimes honestly fight for justice. Some hills are worth dying on, but not very many.The older I get the more I realize this isn’t automatically just about a flaky, spiritually liberal Christianity or always about fear, being “liked”, job security or being safe. Sure, at times it’s about any or all of these, but there are those battles younger Christians will just about die (and kill others) for… and there is often no parallel of either Jesus nor any of His followers in the New Testament screaming, splitting or dying over the same things we are.Who gets their way? How, why, and what does it really matter in the end? Will it matter in five years? Ten years? What sort of witness to those around us is it? What example to new believers are we setting? In these matters have been guilty often. I expect all reading this have been.IS there ever “a time to be silent”, to pray, to just let it go and “lose”? And exactly what is one losing in the particular case?As I age I am increasingly asking myself if a given issue is worth speaking, writing or singing about? Why or why not? Should I approach this person or this group, or just pray long and hard for them? What IS the Spirit actually leading me to do or not do in a given situation? What DID Jesus say or do about such a topic?We see this patient, loving God in the flesh Whom we find (on occasion in the Gospel account) wringing His hands over the blunders of His people, The Church, local and at large, regardless of form, style or “feel”.Then the thought comes to me in the midst of my own lamenting and repenting of sin, the sins of others, the sins of this or that local church, “stream” of churches, denomination or Church at large: I’m happy to conclude that throughout the history of the embarrassing, foolish, sometimes truly disgusting story of what has been or still is truly WRONG with us, God will survive the church.To be sure, He always has and always will in each and every generation and incarnation of the church. He not only survives but flourishes- people come to saving faith and biblical discipleship regardless of our worst blunders.Praise GOD for His power, His truth, HIS authority regardless of the mess we often make with ours.What we must remember with genuine humility is that the church is not ME, but US… each and every one who trusts and follows Jesus Christ. When one suffers, all suffer. There are both meat and bones in each of us and every form of church- and if you aren’t ready to face this fact just stick around long enough and you will!God’s faithfulness, not merely our own -is key. God help us bow to His authority, to do the best we can each day with our best ability to understand and apply His Word (Bible) in our thinking, communicating, prayers and service. May God help us honor Him in our relationships to walk with deepening love and humility throughout the various local and larger church communities- whether they seem (at the time) to us a swamp -or- green pasture!God is constant. The church (that’s YOU and ME, not merely THEM) must change.
A few days ago I had a blast fellowshipping with a pastor friend of mine and we got to talking about how important and powerful Jesus’ words are in John chapter 17. The topic was (and is) unity- between ourselves and God, within the Trinity, between one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.I was reminded of a bit of study and writing I’d done a short time ago, and thought I had put down comments on a large portion of the chapter. Upon looking through my files, I found and then did a final edit on my thoughts, but it turned out I had only focused on one verse in John 17.But oh how pregnant with meaning this verse proves to be!Jesus prays in John 17.17 “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.”I have pondered and quoted this verse for many years but perhaps it’s time I comment on some of what by my understanding are the implications of His prayer.First we must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus deeply loves His disciples, that He fully knows He is about to leave their world, that they will be tempted, hated, persecuted and some martyred for their faith in Him.Consider that Jesus prays perfect prayers, completely within the desire and will of the Father, and that He not only knows what Abba wants but what His disciples need in order to do God’s will. It is both clear and safe to conclude Jesus knows they will need both the Holy Spirit and what He calls truth. We shall see this as we consider this part of His prayer in depth.The term “sanctify” refers to God’s own nature- pure, undefiled, absolutely holy!The Greek word translated into English “holy” in the view of a number of scholars is not fully possible to understand, but all agree it has to do with the essential character and attitude of God.Here, Jesus prays the Father will do something for them: to give, transmit, impart His core nature of separateness, of being different and apart from others only as God and His Own people can be. That they would be “set apart’ for intimate, genuine, transforming relationship with Him. They are then always “in contrast” with those who do notfollow Jesus.Jesus goes on to proclaim to the Father in prayer what Father, Son and Spirit already know, namely the way of God’s sanctifying His disciples. Part of the process is not only in Paul’s Old Testament quote- God commands His people to “BE holy for I am holy” -but that through Jesus, the perfect sacrificial Lamb they are and shall be holy, set apart from the rest of the world.The true Christian lives in both the “now” as well as the “not yet”. We are and shall be made holy by the grace and actual moving of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of holiness) in our life.In John 14.6 Jesus says He himself is the way, the truth and the life. He is God the Son, Truth Incarnate.Jesus is the Word made flesh, therefore we are literally sanctified through Christ the Living Word. John chapter one tells us He is the Living Word in human form. All the Father desires as revealed in The Bible Jesus is and does. He is Perfectly Perfect, without flaw. Note though, only Jesus alone is what we might term “fully, entirely sanctified”.Further, it not only is but Shall Be that as we listen (Greek: “disciple” is a listener and learner) and apply God’s Word in daily choices, decisions and relationships we shall become more like the Lord- holy.The sanctification of the believer happens by God’s power and grace through Jesus. It is also accomplished via our knowledge and application of His will which He reveals to us in His Word, that is, The Bible which is the Word of God.Our heavenly Father’s actions are always consistent with His character: holy, pure, righteous. He calls His children to be like Him in this way, in our daily practice. Holiness, sanctification, is not only given us by God through Jesus Christ, it is our daily practice just as it is His.The Bible’s apostle Paul illuminates several of these truths:Ephesians 421 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.Though no one but God knows all Truth absolutely, Jesus is stating as fact the essentiality for His followers to really know and apply God’s Word to our lives. He clearly, plainly states God’s Word IS truth, not whim, mere concept, perspective or mythology but actual truth.So we understand Jesus is praying that the nature of God would be deposited in us via Father, Son and Holy Spirit Whom Jesus had just referred to as “the Spirit of truth”. This, too is consistent in that the Spirit Who is God, imparts holiness and truth. The Spirit also brought us the Scriptures (“God-breathed”) which are true, indeed a revelation of God’s thoughts in written form.Part of the holy nature of God is revealed in this: He cannot and does not lie. He interacts relationally in utter truthfulness and with complete integrity always. Holy and True is Who He is.Our heavenly Father calls us- His children, to be LIKE Him, holy and faithful and true in all our thoughts, words, actions and relationships for this is precisely Who and how He is.