Saturday, December 18, 2010



December 18, 2010

          We must have resembled a scene out of the Beverly Hillbillies. Our minivan was packed front to back, floor to ceiling, with furniture, boxes, and suitcases. More boxes were strapped to the luggage rack on top. A fake fichus tree took up the passenger seat next to me blocking my view to right. The only thing missing was Granny sitting in her rocking chair on top. We were in the midst of a cross-town move from north to south Phoenix, a move we were attempting to undertake all by ourselves.

          My wife, Babs, was following me in our station wagon, equally packed with various belongings. Upon arriving at our new abode Babs parked her car, hopped out and began calling out directions in order to assist me in backing into our new driveway. I had temporarily stopped in the middle of the street awaiting Babs’ directions when, in perfect timing, our new neighbors (you know, the ones with whom we’d really like to leave a good first impression) backed out of their own driveway and pulled up directly behind me not realizing what we were attempting to do. Instantly Babs sprang into action running up to the driver’s window of our neighbors’ car in order to explain to them that we were trying to back our over-stuffed van into our driveway. In her excitement, however, her unfortunate choice of words conveyed an entirely different scenario.

          “You’d better get out of the way,” she shouted loud enough for everyone up and down the street to hear. “My husband can’t see very well—he’s loaded!”

          As I desperately tried to conceal myself with the leaves of a fake tree I watched in the rear-view mirror as our new neighbors abruptly turned around and sped off in the opposite direction. I can imagine them muttering to themselves something like, “There goes the neighborhood!”

          The memory of this embarrassing moment came to mind when I read a description of another move, one with eternal consequences.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” – John 1:14 (The Message).

I love the contemporary wording of this famous verse because it paints a profound picture of the incarnation of Christ. God left behind the “ivory towers” of heaven and moved into the blighted neighborhood of planet earth. He is Emmanuel, “God with us,” not somewhere out there looking down on us from a distance, but living with us in our messed-up world, right in our own “hood.” Yet for those of us who have accepted Christ as Lord, the incarnation is even closer. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit the Word continues to become flesh and blood, living out His life in and through us.

          Yes, the miracle of the incarnation of Christ is a daily occurrence, and as we move about our neighborhoods at work or play, the “flesh and blood” of Jesus is revealed for the world to see. It is a wonderful blessing to let our neighbors see Jesus in us. But at times, due to other items we might have packed for the journey, our living demonstration of Christ could be a little embarrassing. While Babs and I were unpacking from a more recent move, this one accomplished through the aid of professional movers, we were amused to discover that they had carefully wrapped up one of our trash baskets, still filled with trash!

          Is there any baggage other than Jesus we carry around that might be a little less desirable to exhibit? When others look at us do they see the Lord or are we so jam-packed full of worldly possessions that He remains hidden from view? Do some of the things we treasure actually cover the incarnated “flesh and blood” of Christ with trash? It is one thing to ask the Lord to dwell in our hearts, to take up residence in the neighborhood of our lives; it is quite another thing to allow Him to renovate the premises, tossing out items that get in the way of His ministry, bringing in new furniture with which He is more comfortable.

“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these:  anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:8-14.

There is yet another chapter to this story of the continuing incarnation of Christ. The Word has become flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood of planet earth. The Word daily incarnates Himself in the flesh and blood of His followers. And the Word compels His followers to move out into their neighborhoods carrying Jesus with them as they go. In so doing our neighborhoods are once again invaded with the flesh and blood of Christ.

          It is the aim of the simple church movement to leave behind the steepled, stained glass towers of the institutional church and move into the sin-blighted neighborhoods that surround us. As we do so we carry with us the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love of the Lord. Through our Christ-like actions the flesh and blood of the Lord is again incarnated into planet earth, and those who are touched by our love will proclaim, “The Word has become flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood!” So we take Jesus with us and have church everywhere we go, at home, at school, at work, at the local coffee shop, even at the pub down the street. Even now I can see the devil reversing course and high-tailing it away from us. Even now I can here him muttering to himself as he glares at us in his rear-view mirror, “There goes the neighborhood!”

          As we celebrate this very special season let us not only praise God for becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood of planet earth and taking up residence in our hearts, let us also ask Him to help us find ways to continue His incarnation through us into our own neighborhoods. Thank you, heavenly Father, for Emmanuel, “God with us,” Christ in us, Christ through us, and, we pray, into our neighbors as well.

Bill, a child of God, and part of His continuing incarnation

Saturday, November 20, 2010


“This is where it starts to get fun,” I said while munching on a bite of energy bar, “and a whole lot more difficult.”

          We had already been hiking for two hours and covered three miles with an elevation gain of over a thousand feet. Although I was already somewhat exhausted and light-headed from the altitude, I had no idea just how difficult this endeavor would prove to be. My nephew, Rich, and I were enjoying a day trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area just south of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. We were attempting to climb to the summit of Mt. Toll. It wasn’t supposed to be all that challenging, or so we thought, just a few hours of mild adventure hiking in this beautiful wilderness. Mt. Toll had always intrigued me due to its distinctive shape (steep, rugged, with sheer cliffs on two sides) and its location directly on the continental divide. I had always anticipated that the view from the summit must be spectacular, hoping one day to see it for myself.

          Stopping for lunch at Blue Lake, a picturesque alpine gem still partially frozen over in early July, we planned our route ahead and rested up for the most grueling part of our climb. We were already sitting at timberline, just above 11,000 feet. But our goal was almost 2,000 feet higher! Across the lake Mt. Toll rose above us like an armed sentry, rigid, unyielding, and equipped to repel any intruder. Its east face resembled a steeply sloped pyramid that had been sheered off leaving a near vertical precipice a thousand feet high. Our strategy was to climb to the base of the summit pyramid and then traverse around to the southern slope which was a longer trek, but far less steep and much less dangerous. What we didn’t count on was snow. The slopes above timberline were still buried in it. Apparently a harsh winter had made for a late snow melt. Adding to our difficulties, from this point on there would be no trail. We would have to blaze our own pathway scrambling over rocks, picking our way through patches of thick brush, and crossing perilous snowfields. Progress would be slow, hard fought, and even more exhausting.

          By mid afternoon we had made our way to the base of the summit pyramid. We decided to head toward a rock chimney which was filled with snow and ice. If we could negotiate our way up the chimney we could save a great deal of time. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize how steep the chimney truly was. After a few steps onto the ice we realized how dangerous of a predicament we were in. Without ice axes or rope we were at the mercy of the snow and ice. One slip and we could slide for a thousand feet only to be stopped by some jagged rocks, or worse, fall off a cliff. Reluctantly we worked our way back down losing valuable time in the process.

          Returning to the route we had originally planned we soon discovered that it was also covered with snow and ice. This time of year a snowfield can be quite dangerous. With repeated daily freezing and thawing, the surface might look stable but could be hiding deep holes and cracks underneath waiting for the unwary hiker to fall in and break a limb. Unfortunately, the snow covered the entire southern slope almost to the summit. The only way forward from here was to climb up the steep, rocky ridge in between the snowfield to the left and the sheer cliff to the right. It was already 4:30 pm. I had originally said that wherever we were on the mountain, by 5:00 pm we needed to turn around and head back down. Perhaps we can extend that deadline to six o’clock and still make it down the mountain before it gets too dark, I thought. But we had no idea what still lay ahead for us.

          The ridge was perilously steep and we were forced to use our hands as well as our feet to maneuver our way upward. This was not exactly the kind of adventure we were expecting. However, once we got started we realized it was actually less dangerous to continue climbing than it would be to go back down. Inch by inch, hand over hand, gasping for breath in the rarified air, we engineered our way up the final thousand feet to the summit.

          The view from the top was indeed spectacular. To the east we could see all the way to downtown Denver and beyond. To the west we could see all the way to the setting sun. The setting sun!? Pulling my watch out of my pocket I gasped with unbelief at what it showed. It was 7:30 pm. We had maybe an hour and a half of daylight remaining.

          “Let’s take a few pictures and get out of here!” I shouted above the wind which was blowing furiously at 13,000 feet. “We’ve got to get back down to the lake and find our trail before nine. Otherwise, we might be spending the night on this mountain.”

          I knew that with darkness would come freezing temperatures, and the higher on the mountain we were, the colder it would get. With our light jackets we were ill equipped to bivouac for the night. We had to lose altitude, and fast! Our cell phones were useful only for taking pictures. We were some thirty miles away from anyplace with a decent signal assuring that calling for help would be futile. Everyone else that had been on the trails below had long since gone home. Other than God, we were the only ones left on the mountain.

          By nightfall we were still a few hundred feet above the lake and a good mile away from the start of the trail. Rich fumbled around in his pack and eventually pulled out a flashlight which was sorely in need of fresh batteries. Still, it gave us some degree of illumination and allowed us to move on. The terrain was a glacial moraine, piles of rocks that were dumped by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age. Every step was treacherous. After reaching lake level we still had to traverse around the lake and find a way to ford the outlet stream on the far side. Swollen by snowmelt, the stream resembled more of a river than a creek. Finding a way across proved to be tricky and quite time consuming.

          At last we arrived on the east side of Blue Lake near where we had eaten lunch many hours before. Unfortunately, with no moon and in pitch darkness, everything looked entirely different. With one dim flashlight we were unable to find the trail. Above timberline there is no way to blaze the trails. About every fifty yards or so, someone had piled up a small mound of rocks to mark the path. Okay, so we were in the middle of the Rocky Mountains looking for a pile of rocks, in the dark! For nearly an hour we crisscrossed the landscape hunting for a small pile of rocks, searching for the pathway that would lead us back to our car and home. Although I had been praying silently all the way down the mountain, in desperation I now called out to God with my full voice.

          “Father, we need to find the trail. I know our families are worried sick about us and we’re still much too high up to think about spending the night. Please, Lord, help us find the way home!”

          Within two minutes of my prayer we were back on the trail rejoicing in our merciful Father. We still had three miles of trail to hike in the dark, however, before we would get back to the trailhead where our car was parked. Holding the flashlight as high as I could above my head I was able to cast a dim light on the trail beneath our feet as well as see a short distance ahead. If I kept the light too low on our feet we would often wander off the trail. If I shined the light too far ahead we would often trip over rocks and tree roots. For two more hours we stumbled our way down the trail finally reaching our car by about 1:30 in the morning. We had been hiking for nearly fifteen hours. Exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe how we were feeling! We walked through the door of the home where we were staying in Colorado at 2:30 am to find our wives still anxiously waiting up for us. Yes, we were in trouble (I doubt if Rich and I will ever be allowed to go on another hike together), but thank God we were safe!

          So what’s the point in my sharing this tale with you? I believe that God often speaks to us in our circumstances and I have definitely heard His voice over this experience. No, He didn’t speak to me about being better prepared or turning back before it gets too late. Those lessons were obvious. The message was all about faith, and I learned that faith is spelled r-i-s-k! God usually has a much higher goal in mind for us than we imagine. Often that goal will involve getting off the beaten path, moving away from the well worn trail that previous generations of Christ followers have carved out of the mountainside. Venturing off the established trail forces us to place our trust in God and not just rely on doing things the same way everyone else has done in the past. Without listening to God this is suicide. But if we are in tune with His Spirit, we will hear when He says “This is the way; climb up this slope.” “Go back; this way is too dangerous.” “Be careful; a trap lies here just below the surface.” “Don’t give up now; you have almost reached your goal.” “Hurry; you are running out of time.” “Talk to me; I can see what you cannot.” “Don’t be afraid of what lies ahead; my light will lead you home.”

“We live by faith, not by sight.” – 2Corinthians 5:7. If only that could be true every moment of every day! I have at least discovered what the Psalmist meant when he wrote:  “Your word is a lamp to my feet (to keep me from stumbling) and a light for my path (to keep me from straying off the trail).” – Psalm 119:111.

Where would living by faith lead you? What summit would God have you reach for if you were willing to risk stepping off the familiar path? Remember, His goal for your life is likely much higher than you realize. Perhaps He has already been hinting at some new direction for your life but you have delayed stepping out for fear of the risks involved. Yes, blazing a new trail can be a lot more difficult, but it also can be a lot more fun. For my wife Babs and me, venturing off the established trail has meant walking away from the traditional church and becoming simple-church missionaries. It has been an adventure filled with many dangers, including physical (during our first year “off road” Babs was diagnosed with breast cancer), financial (most of our income no longer comes through ministry), and relational (we have experienced the loss of some Christian friends who have turned their backs on us and others who are convinced we have strayed from the faith). Yet I can honestly say it has been the most exciting, rewarding, and faith-building time of our lives—not to mention going beyond exhaustion! And through it all, thank God, He has kept us safe!

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” – Romans 15:20. This Scripture has become a lot more meaningful to me these days. Being a trailblazer puts one in good company. The Apostle Paul knew more than most what it means to walk away from the established trail. But Jesus knows better than anyone. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”  – Luke 9:23-24. The way of the cross is the way of faith, and the way of faith requires risking it all, even facing the terror that may be waiting for us on the mountain.

Bill, a child of God hiking off the established trail

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


September 25, 2010

“We’re at ten centimeters!” Babs blurted out excitedly. “The doctor has been called in and they say this may take anytime between five minutes and two hours.”
I drew in a quick cleansing breath and attempted to gather my thoughts. My wife and I had driven 650 miles from our home in Northern California to Vancouver, Washington in order to be with our daughter as she gave birth to her first child, our third grandchild. Because the baby was past due and our daughter is rather petite, her doctor had decided to try and speed up the process. We had been with Trisha in the hospital since mid morning watching her slowly progress over the course of several hours from light, early labor to more productive and intense contractions. It was now mid afternoon and the last examination by the nurse measured her cervix at five centimeters, just halfway to delivery. Sensing this might go on for quite some time I decided to take the elevator down to the parking lot and retrieve a book from our car. Stepping off the elevator on my way back up to our daughter’s room I bumped into Babs bursting with excitement over the news that Trisha had progressed from five to ten centimeters in less than an hour.
“Perhaps this isn’t going to be such a long ordeal after all,” I replied sinking into a comfortable position in a chair in the waiting room and opening my book to the page I had previously marked.
We had barely become settled when Babs received a message on her phone. The message came in the form of a picture taken by our son-in-law, Alex—a picture of Trisha cuddling a brand new baby. Apparently, our daughter had chosen to deliver her child in five minutes rather than wait the two hours we were told it might take. With a squeal of delight Babs raced to the delivery room with her husband close on her heels. Unfortunately, we were kept out of our daughter’s room for an agonizingly long time while little Ava Michelle received her first meal and her mom received the care she needed.
While the minutes dragged on, my thoughts travelled back in time to another delivery room some twenty eight years earlier. Trisha is our second child and she came into the world in a lightning fast, one hour delivery including a frantic rush to the hospital and a desperate call to her doctor who just barely arrived in time. Somehow, the last twenty eight years has seemingly gone by just as fast.
At last the door to the delivery room opened and we were allowed to view the fruit of Trisha’s womb. I cannot possibly describe to you the joy that comes from holding your daughter’s daughter. There is something deeply satisfying about being a grandparent, about realizing your own fruitfulness has given birth to a new generation, and about the hope that even more fruit may lead to more distant generations in the future. Twenty nine years ago a seed of love was planted which God graciously, miraculously caused to bear fruit. Now, thanks to the planting of another “love seed,” that same fruit is bearing more fruit which, in turn, has the potential of bearing even more fruit. It is an unfathomable wonder of God’s miraculous creation, and an indescribable blessing to be a part of it.
“Be fruitful and multiply…” – Genesis 1:28. This was the first commandment our heavenly Father ever gave to mankind and I am beginning to understand the reason He gave it such a high priority. After all, God is a grandfather, several billion times over, and therefore is well acquainted with the thrill of watching His creation bear fruit. I can also, although in an infinitesimally small way, begin to comprehend the joy He must have felt when He watched Mary give birth to His only begotten Son, and the unbearable pain He must have felt when He allowed His Son to be crucified. Yet in so doing, our heavenly Father planted a seed of love which gave birth to a movement which, in turn, has given birth to countless generations who all bear the name of His Son. How thrilled He must be over each individual who is born again into His family!
“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” This is a command which has never been revoked, although it has taken on a much more spiritual dimension. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:19. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” – John 15:16. In reality this is still the same command mankind first heard back in the Garden of Eden. And wonder of wonders, it is to be implemented in the same manner, by planting seeds of love and asking the Father to bless them that they might bear fruit.
New births are conceived through intimacy and spiritual births are no different. Intimacy with God’s Son is absolutely essential if we ever want to bear fruit. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5. Intimacy with Christ will fill us with “love seeds” which we are to sow everywhere we go and with everyone we meet.
What, exactly, do I mean by “love seeds”? Seeds of love are sown by doing acts of kindness. Over the years we have learned to bless people by being generous tippers, calling waitresses and bank tellers by name, complementing others when they are serving us, and offering to pray for their needs. Whenever possible we try to meet the needs of others in a physical or financial way making sure they know we are doing so in the name of Christ. We inquire about their health and that of their family members. We let them know we genuinely care about them. Do seeds of love always bear fruit? As our Lord taught us, the soil is not always conducive to bearing fruit. But we are learning to be prolific in scattering our seeds. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” – 2Corinthians 9:6.
When our seeds of love fall on good soil, people fall in love with Jesus, disciples are made, churches are started, our Father’s family multiplies, and the kingdom of God expands. Sometimes a new birth will happen quickly. Other times we may spend years laboring in the delivery room. Though I much prefer the more rapid deliveries, any new birth in Christ is a miracle from Father God. Words cannot express the joy of witnessing seeds of love we have sown bearing fruit, of watching new babes in Christ being born. But greater still is the thrill we feel when these “love children” begin to sow their own seeds of love and a new generation of Christians is born.
Around fifty years ago a seed of love from Christ, planted by my parents, found good soil in my heart and God’s love was reborn in me. Around twenty years ago that seed of love was replanted in our daughter, Trisha. It is our hope and prayer that this seed will again find good soil in little Ava Michelle and, in turn, be replanted in her children. But the Lord has also blessed us with many spiritual children and we pray that they, too, will be fruitful and multiply generation after generation after generation until the day we all stand before our heavenly Father and see for the first time the spiritual family that has been born from the love seeds we have planted. That day will truly be an unfathomable wonder of God’s miraculous grace, and an indescribable blessing for those of us who will be a part of it.

Bill, a child of God sowing seeds of love

Saturday, July 24, 2010


July 1, 2010

“Come on everyone, it’s time to sing!” announced one of the leaders of the simple church.
Suddenly the place was filled with commotion as kids emerged from throughout the house and made a beeline for the family room. Eagerly I retrieved my guitar from its case in an adjoining room, checked the tuning, and prepared for what I hoped would be some inspirational worship. To my horror I soon realized I wasn’t the only one readying an instrument to play. We were visiting one of our house churches in the Central Valley of California, a mixed race group comprised mostly of two families, each with an impressive herd of young, active, and noisy children. I was hoping that a few minutes of quality worship and praise would help to corral the young ones and focus our attention on the Lord. However, what transpired resembled more chaos than choir, more warfare than worship, more mayhem than music, more pandemonium than praise.
While I had been pulling my guitar out of its case the group’s leaders had been distributing their own instruments. Noisemakers of all sorts were hastily retrieved from a box by tiny, eager hands. Maracas, ratchets, tambourines, and wood blocks were quickly claimed and pressed into service. One child brought out a junior version of a trap set and began banging with all his might on the drums and cymbals. Another child placed the strap of a department store electric guitar over his shoulder and plugged the instrument into a nearby amplifier. As he cranked up the volume it soon became apparent that he knew no chords; he was just enthusiastically strumming the open strings. As each kid tested out their chosen instrument the decibel level rose to a deafening roar, roughly akin to an explosion in a ball-bearing factory.
While the praise leader counted off the beat for the first song I was praying for a miracle. Sadly, my plea was drowned out by the beginning of world war three, commencing with the shock and awe of an instrumental introduction that will live in infamy. Little hands everywhere sprung into action making as much noise as possible. My own guitar and voice were completely overwhelmed by the chaotic clamor. A quick glance at my wife, Babs, revealed her panicked attempt to find a way to politely cover her throbbing ears. You’ve got to be kidding! I thought to myself. How can anyone call this worship? How can you present this deafening din to the Lord and claim that we’re honoring Him?
But then I caught a glimpse of the faces of the children. They were singing their hearts outs, totally enraptured in praise to their heavenly Father. Suddenly it dawned on me that the only real sour notes were coming from my attitude. Who was I to pass judgment on their ecstatic worship? Indeed, they were playing to a much higher audience than me, one who is much more able to look past the imperfections of our feeble attempts at worship and graciously judge the hearts of the performers. For years we had been wrestling with how to involve children more in our simple churches. Now the answer was shouting back at me through the agency of these children’s unorthodox yet heartfelt praise.
For generations the church has practiced segregation according to age. While adult worship was taking place in the “sanctuary,” we committed the children to the basement where they could do their thing without disturbing our “more genuine” worship upstairs. This arrangement allowed adults to pursue uninterrupted, quality praise and worship with professional musicians, resulting in a church service that was more dignified, reverent, and “worshipful.” But what have we taught the children? And what have we missed by their absence?
In children’s church our kids learn that worship means playing games, singing fun songs together, hearing a Bible story, and eating yummy snacks. They are encouraged to ask questions and everyone is urged to take an active role in worship. When they graduate to junior church the games get more sophisticated and the songs change to reflect the appropriate age. The Bible story may be a bit longer but the pattern remains essentially the same. On through high school our kids experience roughly the same thing. Worship involves games (Come to youth group this week and bring your Super Soakers!), age appropriate songs, a Bible time when everyone is free to ask questions and make comments, and food (Bring your favorite toppings and we’ll make our own pizzas!).
Tragically, when our kids graduate from high school, they are thrust into adult worship where they are forced to sit still in rows facing forward while the professionals do all the worshipping on stage. The play time is done away with, the interaction is missing, the Bible story has morphed into a thirty minute monologue, the worship becomes more subdued (we shouldn’t upset all the old folks) and snacks are relegated to coffee and doughnuts in the foyer before the service begins (except for that tiny sliver of a cracker and thimble full of grape juice we ironically refer as the Lord’s supper). Is it any wonder that 92% of children who grow up attending Sunday school leave church when they leave their parents’ home?
On the way home from our boisterous house church worship adventure I recalled a T-shirt I once saw when I was a professional musician employed by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. In large letters across the front of the shirt the message read: “It’s Okay, I’m with the Band!” For a musician the humor lies in the fact that this saying is a well known excuse for gaining access to the stage area in order to hobnob with the celebrity performers. I found myself wishing we had those t-shirts to hand out to all the children who frequent our simple church gatherings.
One of the most often asked questions regarding simple church is, “But what do you do with the children?” The answer is we let them on stage with all the other performers, meaning they are an integral part of what we do. We play games with them, interact with them, eat a meal with them, and sing with them. While we are enjoying a potluck meal together we ask everyone to share any “God sightings” they have witnessed since we last met. Our children love talking about experiences in which they believe God was actively involved. Some of our most deeply touching worship gatherings have occurred when the Lord has spoken to us through a child. As many others have often said, God doesn’t give children a junior Holy Spirit.
When it comes time to sing we often hand out noise makers to the kids. The music may not be as aesthetically pleasing (to our ears anyway) as it would be if only the adults took part in the praise time but it is a wonderful blessing to see entire families, young and old alike, worshipping the Lord together. And yes, we often sing children’s choruses—complete with all the motions. It’s amazing to see how much fun adults can have remembering the songs they used to sing in children’s church. Yes, I agree with those who argue that God deserves our very best, including when it comes to our worship. But do we honestly think, when surrounded by the heavenly host and all the music heaven has to offer, that God is all that impressed with our Sunday morning stage productions? As others have well said, God is not so much concerned with the state of our art as He is with the state of our heart! From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise…” – Psalm 8:2.
So what do we do when the discussion gets too deep or becomes inappropriate for the little ones? We have another room where they can play with toys, watch a Christian video, or listen to a Bible story from one of the adults. But our aim is to involve them as much as possible in all we do in our gatherings. When one of our more lively kids gets a little out of hand he or she quickly learns that they have many parents in our church family and all adults are to be given respect. Younger or more inexperienced parents receive good advice and practical demonstrations of effective disciplinary procedures. Our children learn that they are free to ask questions and that their opinions are highly regarded. Perhaps most importantly, these children are growing up observing their parents passionately worshipping their heavenly Father and earnestly praying for one another. I can only imagine the spiritual dividends this will bring later in their lives.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.’” – Matthew 18:1-5.
“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” – Mark 10:13-16.
I can just see Jesus, after discovering that His disciples were preventing the children from “disrupting” His ministry, saying to one and all, “Let the kids come up here on stage with me. It’s okay; they’re with the band!”

Bill, a child of God thrilled to be in His band

Monday, April 05, 2010


April 4, 2010

Friday was awful; Sunday was awesome. But in between there was Saturday. I was thinking today how absolutely brutal the day after the crucifixion must have been for Christ’s disciples. They were in between the death and the resurrection, in between the agony and the ecstasy, in between the horror of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb, in between the knowledge that all was lost and the realization that everything was gained, in between the sting of death and the victory of life, in between the curse of Adam and the blessing of Christ, in between the tyranny of the grave and the freedom of grace, in between the horror of hell and the hope of heaven.
Fortunately, Christ’s original followers only had to endure one day in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Believers today all live on the other side of Sunday. We know about the glory of the empty tomb, the victory of life, the blessing of Christ, the freedom of grace, and the hope of heaven. We know that “…Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” – 1Corinthians 15:20. We know that God “…has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” – 1Peter 1:3-4. We know that “…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…” – Ephesians 2:4-5.
So if we know all this, why do we still live as though death was this all powerful enemy to be loathed and feared? Why do we still waste so much time and energy complaining about the state of the world, the state of our finances, the state of our health, and acting like we’re on our way to a funeral? Why do we so often find ourselves devoid of the joy of the Lord? Why do we so often act as though we were stuck in Saturday?
When Jesus gathered with His disciples on the night He was arrested He knew that their faith in Him was about to be shaken to its core. They were about to experience the worst two days of their lives. Not only would they witness the agony of His death on Friday, they would also experience the total absence of Christ on Saturday. For the first time in three years they would be completely removed from His presence. They were about to live through the “in between.” So He prayed to His Father on their behalf saying: “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.” – John 17:13.
If Jesus’ final requests included an immeasurable amount of joy for His followers why do we so often allow the things of this world to rob us of His joy? Can financial stress, unemployment, poor health, sour relationships, failing businesses, political turmoil, or shattered dreams compare to the riches of eternity with Christ in heaven? “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” – Habakkuk 3:17-18. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4.
The answer to the Saturday blues is to keep your focus on Sunday. Whenever you find yourself in between your dilemma and His solution, in between your defeat and His victory, in between your sorrow and His joy, in between Good Friday and Easter, imagine yourself among the women who went to a tomb early one morning to anoint death but were instead surprised by life. Listen as they were told by two angels, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” – Luke 24:5-6. Imagine what it was like to have one incredible dawn obliterate the worst day of your life. Imagine having the darkness of your Saturday eclipsed by the brightness of His Sunday. And then realize that we are already living in Sunday!

Bill, a child of God rejoicing in Sunday


March 28, 2010

“Never purchase a diamond after it has already been fixed in its setting,” explained the white-haired jeweler as he stared at me over his thick reading glasses. “You must examine it outside its setting, under a bright light, under a magnifying glass. Come; let me show you what to look for.”
The aged proprietor of the best known jewelry store in my hometown led me over to a counter and motioned for me to sit down on a high wooden stool. It was late summer and after several weeks of visiting my family and working summer jobs I would soon be returning to Arizona State University to resume my music studies. But before I made the trek back to school I had one monumental, life-changing task to accomplish. I had made the decision to pick up an engagement ring for my future bride. Because I knew almost nothing about purchasing a diamond ring I was advised to seek out the counsel of a certified gemologist.
The grizzled old gentleman sat down on a squeaky, well-worn stool on the opposite side of the counter from me. After unlocking a display case he reached in and produced several solitary diamonds placing them on top of the counter on a black velvet cloth. After schooling me about the color, the carat weight, and the clarity of the stones he talked about how the stones were cut.
“When a diamond is cut properly it will cast a perfect shadow; no light can penetrate,” he explained as he invited me to look through a large magnifying glass at a stone he was holding with a pair of locking tweezers. To emphasize his point he placed a clean sheet of white paper under the stone and slowly rotated the diamond under a bright light. The experienced jeweler was correct. At every angle the diamond cast a perfect shadow; no light was able to pass through it. “No matter which way I hold it this stone will perfectly reflect the light,” he proclaimed admiringly. “The many facets in the stone act like tiny mirrors bouncing the light back toward the source and radiating it in manifold directions. When a stone is cut right, its brilliance will be enhanced. Just look at how the lustrous beauty of this stone is brought to life and magnified under the light!”
I was hooked. The old man proved not only to be an experienced gemologist but a pretty good salesman as well. Forty years later my wife still wears the same diamond and all the wear and tear of four decades worth of washing dishes, sorting dirty laundry, changing diapers, cooking and cleaning, raising three kids and keeping a husband in line has not been able to dim its brilliance.
The distant memory of the time I bought that ring popped back into my mind the other day when I read this verse of Scripture. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” – 1Peter 4:10. It was the phrase, “the manifold grace of God,” that triggered the memory of how a diamond is cut. Just like a multi-faceted diamond is cut to be a perfect reflection of the light, the Church is also designed to be a perfect reflection of Christ. But I wonder how well we live up to our design. Are we actually enhancing the brilliance of our Maker or do we cast imperfect shadows across the landscape of our neighborhoods?
We Christians have a habit of gathering together with those who look, think, and act just like ourselves. Not only does this lead to ethnic, economic, political, and philosophical segregation, but this tendency also gives rise to denominationalism. We usually prefer fellowshipping with those who possess the same ministering gifts we exhibit. Consequently we see churches who display an overabundance of one or two particular spiritual gifts. Those who are gifted as teachers will congregate in a church which emphasizes Bible study. Others possessing shepherding gifts will be drawn toward churches which have an emphasis on reaching out to the poor in their community. Others who have a passion for reaching the lost will search for a church with a strong evangelistic program. Those who employ the so called “charismatic gifts” will gather in charismatic churches.
It’s not that any of these emphases are wrong. Indeed they are all a part of the manifold grace of God. But that’s the problem; they’re just a part of His grace. By themselves these groups cast imperfect reflections of Christ. From one direction they may look terrific. But rotate them just a little and their luster fades. This is what happens when we allow imperfect stone-cutters (meaning human) to chisel away at the body of Christ and attempt to make it into our own image. Instead of mere humans doing the cutting, we need to place our trust in the Master Gemologist. Only He can cut the stone in such a way as to provide the greatest brilliance. Only He can bring together every facet of His manifold grace in a way that brings glory to Him no matter which way the stone is turned. Only He can place each stone in the proper setting in order to enhance the beauty of the whole piece of jewelry.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” – 1Peter 2:4-6.
I am sickened by the fact that throughout the history of the church human stone-cutters have broken up the kingdom of God into thousands of imperfect stones none of which comes anywhere close to perfectly reflecting the glory of our Cornerstone. We may see tiny glimpses of His grace here and there, but just think how glorious it would be if we all surrendered our hammers and chisels and allowed Christ to do the cutting! How much of our human programs, pride, and prejudices would have to be cut away before we became a stone which perfectly reflected the brilliance of the source of our light? What would have to be chipped away before those outside the kingdom would be able to look at us, from any angle, and see a perfect reflection of the manifold grace of God?
I don’t believe the simple-church movement has all the answers to these questions, but I love the concept of simply following Christ into the harvest field and allowing Him to gather together the people He chooses, organically, rather than directing people into an already existing group which may or may not be the proper setting to display their gifting. I continue to marvel at the individuals God has gathered together in our various simple churches. The church at table number two amazes me the most right now. At a local coffee shop on Tuesday evenings in our home town you are likely to see around ten very different individuals crowding around a corner booth sharing food, reading Scripture, and praying for one another. Included in this group is an African American, an Asian, two older white men, two Hispanics (one of whom speaks almost no English), an older woman of mixed race, and two unwed mothers in their early twenties.
There is no way any human stone-cutter could have come up with such a gem. Only God could have brought together this diverse of a group. I am so glad we gave up trying to be just a men’s accountability group and allowed Christ to shape us into His own image. Because we gave over our hammer and chisel to the Master stone-cutter, the glory of God shines forth from that restaurant every Tuesday evening. All we do is show up and ask God who He wants us to shine upon that evening. To our amazement He keeps bringing us into contact with individuals we never would have imagined gathering together into a church. As God continues to polish this gem the light has begun to radiate outward. Additional gatherings have sprung up and more ministries are about to be birthed.
I have a feeling God isn’t finished shaping this gemstone. But after all we are a “living stone” and as long as we are willing our Master Gemologist will continue to cut away what doesn’t belong and polish what does. He does so in order that we might not absorb any of His glory but rather mirror it back to a world lost in darkness. He does so in order that the beauty of our stone might be enhanced and the light of Christ might be magnified. He does so in order to help us become a greater reflection of the manifold grace of God.

Bill, a child of God and a steward of His manifold grace

Saturday, March 06, 2010


March 5, 2010

“Keep your eyes on those green hills that stretch on forever, Frank,” I said over the rhythmical hissing of his ventilator and the incessant beeping of his heart monitor. “You’re going to be dancing across those hills very soon.”
These were the last words I ever spoke to my friend. I’m not entirely sure that he heard them since he had been fairly comatose for the past several days. But I’m guessing that he did and that it helped him focus on what lay ahead for his spirit. Frank had been imprisoned in a wheel chair for years with progressively deteriorating muscle movement that was gradually, day by day, siphoning the life from him. Now, that life had been almost completely drained from his body. Burdened by a lifetime of muscular dystrophy and years of battling other various ailments, Frank’s body had all but shut down. His kidneys were failing, his lungs were filling with fluid, his extremities were swelling up and he was virtually unresponsive to any verbal stimulation. His ventilator was the only thing keeping him alive. At 78 years of age Frank had lived a long time for someone with his degree of disabilities. But all the signs were pointing to the unmistakable fact that his earthly struggles were coming to an end.
Earlier that day, in conference with a consortium of doctors and hospital staff, his wife had agreed to remove Frank from his respirator. The decision was based upon Frank’s request written beforehand due to the likelihood he would eventually end up in such a condition. Frank’s wishes were clear; he didn’t want to be left imprisoned in a helpless body kept alive only by means of artificial life support. So, late on a chilly February evening, his wife and four other close friends gathered in his hospital room to say goodbye to a brother in Christ and usher him into eternity.
When earlier that week I had heard about the possibility of this happening I was uncertain as to God’s will in the matter. Was this really Frank’s time to go? Did God want to heal this man and allow him to linger in our presence a little while longer? But then, two nights before his departure, I had a dream which I believe came from the Lord.
In my dream I was carrying an aging dog in a cage to the vet in order to have him put to sleep. The veterinary clinic seemed to be out in the country, in the middle of nowhere. Stepping out of the car with the cage in hand I noticed the surrounding countryside. I was completely surrounded by rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. This dog would love to be set free here, I thought to myself. He could run all over these hills exploring every gopher hole and rabbit burrow and have the time of his life free from any restraints. But then I noticed there were no fences anywhere in sight. What if he got lost and couldn’t find his way back? No, I better keep him in the cage.
At this point in my dream I woke up thinking how stupid it was to keep the dog caged up for his protection when he was headed for his demise anyway. Realizing this dream might be a message of some sort from the Lord I asked Him what it meant. “Open the cage and let him go free.” The words popped into my mind in such a way that I had no doubt they were of divine origin. The next day I shared the dream and its message with Nancy, Frank’s wife, and shared it again the next evening with Frank and the others who were gathered in his room to say farewell. It is difficult to describe in words the peace that came over us as we let the message of the dream minister to our grieving souls.
The dream brought with it a surreal sense of joyous celebration in the midst of the sadness of saying goodbye to a friend. Just two years earlier we had witnessed Frank placing his trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior so we had no doubt as to what was in store for our brother. So we anointed him with oil, read Scriptures which spoke of heaven and the resurrection, sang Amazing Grace, and prayed. As we did so the attending nursing staff increased the flow of his drugs while simultaneously decreasing the flow of his ventilator. Slowly, peacefully, Frank’s body was allowed to take its rest. After about two hours of traveling through this process the door to the cage swung gently open and Frank’s spirit was set free. I am convinced God sent the dream to bring comfort to us all, including Frank as he drifted off to sleep in a morphine haze with visions of rolling green hills on his mind, only to awaken with the realization that the dream had become a reality.
During our farewell gathering, the divine presence in that hospital room was overwhelming. I got the sense that we were on one side of the great divide lifting up our brother’s spirit and passing it off to a host of waiting angels on the other side who joyously, triumphantly, carried him off to his reward. It reminded me of a relay race in which we were passing off the “baton” from one existence to another, from the hand of man, to the hand God. It gives one a whole new meaning for the phrase, “passing on,” and makes one wonder why those who belong to the Lord would ever look upon death with such fear and loathing.
“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1Corinthians 15:53-57.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” – 1Timothy 4:7-8.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’” – Revelation 14:13.
I believe it is vital to make certain that you are “in the Lord,” that you are involved in the great relay race. And it is also important to gather around you those who are helping to prepare you for the baton exchange; those who will help you mature in Christ, who will partner with you in ministry, bear with you through life’s failures and triumphs, and support you in your heartaches and struggles. Then we can look forward to the baton exchange with joyful anticipation rather than fear and dread. For unless the Lord returns beforehand, there will come a time for each one of us when the Lord says, “Open up the cage and set his spirit free.” When that happens to you, I pray that you will awaken to find that your greatest dream has become a reality!
Bon-voyage, brother Frank. Enjoy dancing across those green hills!

Bill, a child of God, grieving and rejoicing at the same time

Thursday, December 24, 2009


December 24, 2009

There are times when I get so upset at him I feel like twisting his elongated body into a pretzel, and last night was one of those times. I had just returned from a thoroughly exhausting day of Christmas shopping, a task which rates near the very top of my list of most loathsome activities (somewhere between paying taxes and being boiled in hot oil). I had stashed my packages in a closet out of site from inquiring eyes and settled down for a relaxing dinner. A few minutes later when I returned to the closet to begin wrapping the presents, I discovered a sickening mess. Jaba, our pet miniature Dachshund, had managed to find the stash and tear into a box of chocolates. I honestly wanted to murder the gluttonous beast. It was the perfect exclamation point on an absolutely horrendous day. Fortunately for his sake, my wife Babs came to the rescue of the thieving mutt and carried him away from my fury.
Today, he is once again sitting at my feet whining for attention as if nothing had happened the previous evening. He is without doubt the most loving animal I have ever known. He insists on being next to Babs or me constantly. Not content to merely be in the same room or even on the same couch, he will press into us making sure his fur is rubbing against us. I am convinced he would crawl under our skin if he could. Though his pandering for attention is sometimes a little unnerving, his loving nature makes it pretty difficult to stay upset at him for any length of time.
His continual thirst for intimacy with Babs and me is a marvelous image of how our relationship should be with Christ. Even though I’m quite certain there are many times during each day when our less than holy actions are exasperating to our Lord, He will never refuse our thirst for intimacy with Him. After all, He is the one who continually pursues intimacy with us. “We love because he first loved us.” – 1John 4:19. He has gone to the greatest length possible, even death on a cross, to open up a pathway to our hearts. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” – John 3:16. Christmastime is the season when we celebrate how our heavenly Father pressed in so close to us that He actually did crawl into our skin.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” – Matthew 1:22-23.
For many people this is the most stressful time of the year. This year it doesn’t help that we are in a period of extreme economical distress and our society seems to be more divided than it has been in decades. Around the world Christians as a whole are experiencing more persecution right now than we have seen since the first century. Many will celebrate Christmas while hiding in darkened rooms for fear of reprisal from an oppressive government or zealous religious fanatics. Yet even in the midst of such trauma, the peace of Christmas is still available to those who are determined to press into Jesus, those who persist in demanding an intimate relationship with Christ.
I recommend you take a hint from our wayward little pooch and insist on pressing into your Master. Don’t let anything get in your way, not even your many indiscretions. I am confident that He will accept your offer of love and allow you to experience the peace and warmth that comes from intimacy with Him. This season is not about the perfect gifts, the best decorations, the tastiest food, or the warmest gatherings. It’s all about Jesus!
May you experience the full measure of His peace and joy this season even as you press into Him!

Bill and Babs, children of God learning to press into Him