Friday, June 29, 2007


June 29, 2007

“We have a need for someone who lives nearby to provide housing for one of our guests,” announced Tony Dale, one of the facilitators for the regional house church conference which had begun that evening.
I looked around expecting others to volunteer. No one did. Eventually, after a prompting by the Holy Spirit, I raised my hand. Thus began an inspirational and thoroughly enjoyable, six-day adventure into the heart of God and His will for His servants. I had been regularly praying for some time that God would provide ministry opportunities for me outside my normal sphere of influence and that I would be alert when such occasions arose, but the Lord’s answer and His timing caught me by surprise. Since the last of our children had left our home months ago we had plenty of room for an overnight guest.
“He can stay with us,” I offered as I moved forward to meet the man in need of a night’s lodging, wondering why someone would register for a three-day conference without a place to stay. When I discovered he was traveling totally by faith, trusting in God to provide, my curiosity was turned into admiration.
Greg is an unassuming, free-spirited, youthful-looking, middle aged man with a passion to serve others and a deep personal faith in God. What started out to be one night’s stay turned into an entire weekend as the Lord knit our hearts together and our relationship blossomed into Christian love. On Monday Greg was unable to get a flight home and he ended up staying in our home until Thursday afternoon. The extra time together proved to be a blessing as we learned more about this simple man whom God was using in mighty ways.
He is given to wearing colorful, loose-fitting tunics, normal clothing for the central African nations where he ministers. Yet aside from his clothing there is nothing about the man that would cause you to take a second notice. He has no seminary degree, carries no titles, owns few earthly belongings, and commands no widespread following, at least in this country. He has a small heating and air-conditioning business headquartered in Indiana which doesn’t come close to meeting his personal needs. What little profit he gains from this, if any, is immediately turned over to his mission concerns.
He has been divorced by his wife, disfellowshipped from his home church, and generally ignored by the Christian community in this country. He works for no sending unit other than the Holy Spirit and serves under no official covering other than the body of Christ. He is in most respects a truly ordinary man, yet God is using him in a remarkable way to transform at least four countries in the heart of the Dark Continent. Just three years ago he was approached by a missionary in his home church and told he had gifts which the Lord could use in Africa. After receiving confirmation from God, Greg stepped out on faith and traveled to the nation of Burundi where he began a teaching ministry.
About two years ago, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, he began to work with a native evangelist with whom he started a house church. Soon the one church became three, grew to seven, then fourteen, then twenty, then forty. The growth overwhelmed Greg and his ministry partners and they scrambled to train pastors fast enough to keep up with the demand for more churches. In some cases churches were multiplying in their first week of existence! Just this year they have expanded into three additional countries planting new churches in Rwanda, the Congo, and Tanzania. To date he can count over three hundred churches which have begun in a little over two years, although he admits he doesn’t really know for sure. These new churches are growing and reproducing so rapidly they cannot keep track and so he has given up trying to do an accurate accounting. It is precisely at this point, when a movement is experiencing rapid expansion, growing exponentially in a manner impossible to quantify, that we can call this a true church planting movement.
Thousands have been won to the Lord and testimonies abound regarding miraculous healings and demonic deliverances. It is significant to note that not long ago this region of Africa was embroiled in a devastating genocidal war which took the lives of millions of people while the world, for the most part, stood by and watched in relative apathy. But God is not indifferent to the cries of these hurting people. What man seems unable or unwilling to accomplish, God is doing by dramatically transforming these countries from the inside out by first changing the hearts of the people.
“But that is Africa,” I hear you saying. “God won’t act in the same way toward us in this country. Besides, Greg is a very special individual who the Lord is using in a unique and powerful way under extraordinary circumstances.”
Excuse me, but here is where you’ve got it all wrong. There is nothing special about Greg. He is a very ordinary man, but he had ears to hear the heart of God weeping for Africa and he had the faith and courage to answer the call. I ask you, does God not also weep for this country? Does His heart not ache for those who are lost no matter where they may live, whether in the lap of luxury or the pit of poverty, in the relative peace of the western world or in the throes of tribal warfare? Would it surprise you to learn that I have felt the heart of God weeping for Northern California? And that I am far from alone in this feeling?
“Then why has He not poured out His power on this region for revival?” you ask. “Why do we not see hundreds of churches being planted in the Bay Area and Northern California?”
Maybe it is not so much due to God’s favor on one area or lack of the same on another, but rather because not enough of His children have answered the call to the mission field right here. In actuality we are beginning to see many new churches planted throughout this region. God’s power is already being poured out in many areas of Northern California although we are not yet seeing the exponential growth of His kingdom which Greg is experiencing in Central Africa. But I believe such growth is on the way. Over and over the Spirit keeps telling me, “Urgency, urgency, urgency!”
Perhaps God is unwilling to wait for expansion to take place using the traditional models of church planting—researching the need, engaging in a demographical study of the area, recruiting church planters, assessing and training those recruits, preparing a detailed strategy, raising the necessary funds, sending in an advance team to scout out facilities and make contacts, producing a marketing campaign. The traditional approach can take up to two years and cost half a million dollars. It would appear God may have a better plan—choose an ordinary individual, someone who looks less than qualified, bless them with the necessary gifts, speak into their hearts, give them a burden for a particular region, lead them to the methods used in the New Testament for planting churches (Mt. 9:35-10:20, Mk. 6:6-13, Lk. 9:1-9, Lk. 10:1-20), and let them know all the resources they need are waiting for them in the harvest.
God’s plan removes the excuse so many of us have used in the past. “The Lord chooses those rare individuals who are especially qualified, gifted, called, and trained to send to the mission fields,” we conveniently rationalize. “The rest of us are given the task of providing the funds for their needs and praying for their success.” But what if the Lord intends to call us all into His ministry? All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations... -- Mt. 28:18-19. Notice this command is based upon the Lord’s authority and our obedience. Nowhere is this qualified to apply to just a few specially gifted individuals. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. – Phil. 2:13. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. – Phil. 4:13.
What if His strategy is to qualify and empower those who are called, rather than call those who already appear to be qualified and especially gifted? Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. – 1Cor. 1:26-29.
If history is any indication God seems to delight in calling those who are the least likely candidates to accomplish His mission. Just ask Gideon whose clan was the weakest in his tribe and he was the least in his family. Just ask David who was the youngest and smallest of all his brothers. Just ask the twelve disciples who were all uneducated, ordinary men (with the exception of Judas, that is, who was the only one of the twelve who appeared to be qualified in human terms). How can we possibly claim that God’s methods are any different today than they have been for the last four millennia? All of which brings us down to you.
It is my conviction that everyone who is reading these words has been called into a specific ministry by their heavenly Father. The question is not whether you have been called, but where, and to whom? Whether you feel qualified or not makes little difference to God, nor is He overly concerned about your past nor worried about your apparent lack of talent. Your heritage doesn’t matter. Your family tree doesn’t matter. Your birth order doesn’t matter. Your denomination doesn’t matter. Your home church doesn’t matter. Your IQ doesn’t matter. Your financial resources don’t matter. The only thing that really matters is your willingness to follow where He leads. All it takes is the courage to lay aside the assessment which has been placed upon you by yourself and others, and listen to what the Lord is telling you.
As I have learned this week from Greg, God is wonderfully capable of taking the ordinary and using it to create the extraordinary. What do you suppose He desires to create through you?
Lord, grant us ears to hear and the faith to obey!

Bill, just an ordinary child of God preparing for the extraordinary

Friday, June 22, 2007


June 22, 2007

It had been a particularly dismal Sunday. Our traditional new church plant had been in decline almost from the beginning. Without any denominational backing, very limited support, only a small handful of committed members, and no real home of our own, we had little chance of success. For the past two years we had been meeting in another church facility on Sunday evenings. Though we ministered to many people who came to our services and found what they needed at the time, they typically chose to move on to what they deemed a “real” church with all the programs, bells and whistles that come with a well established, much larger congregation. With little means to attract new visitors our numbers had been steadily plummeting.
But this Sunday evening brought out fewer than a dozen people and my own tithe check comprised the vast majority of the offering. I had finally had enough. Our vision, which I was convinced had been received from God, was to be a church-planting church. We wouldn’t have to worry about passing the dreaded “two-hundred attendance barrier” which plagued most congregations and stifled their growth. Long before we reached that boundary we would farm out several of our families to begin a new church in another neighborhood. It was a strategy I had been dreaming of for years, but one which looked like it would never materialize. What could we do with so few numbers?
In a state of despair and bitter disappointment following our evening church service I drove up the hill behind our home to a parking lot which overlooked the valley. Alone in the darkness I wept, grieving for the loss of a dream, the death of a ministry, my failure as a church planter, my inability to provide for my family, and for how God had seemingly abandoned his servant. I can’t do this any more, Father, I prayed. It is far too difficult for me and I haven’t the strength to go on. The numbers just aren’t there, and apparently neither are you. I feel so alone. I am so sorry that I have failed you. And then, in a statement that I would never forget, one that would come back to haunt me, I cried out loud, “Lord, I’m tired. I just want to go home.”
The very next morning I was startled by a phone call from the Contra Costa Sheriff’s dispatch center requesting my services as a police chaplain. This was the first call out I had received in several months and I was not at all thrilled about the interruption to my continued wallowing in the pit of depression. An elderly woman suffering from muscular dystrophy was being abused by her adult daughter who had been living in her home. Apparently this had gone on for quite some time as the woman was reluctant to ask for help fearing she would never be able to see her grandchildren again. In desperation she had picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1 and then changed her mind and hung up. This had triggered an automatic welfare check response from the local police who, upon arriving at the scene and assessing the problem, had called for a chaplain.
At the home I was briefed on the situation by a police officer and introduced to the despondent woman. She invited me into her kitchen where we sat down facing each other across a small wooden table. I began by asking her what I could do to help. The very first words out of her mouth nearly knocked me off my chair.
“Chaplain,” she began, wiping her eyes with a soggy tissue, “I’m tired. I just want to go home.”
The fact that this call out was so unusual and came within hours of my exact same heart cry left no doubt in my mind that this was a divinely instituted appointment. Still in shock over the woman’s choice of words I somehow managed to minister to her pressing needs and in the process, felt strangely comforted. Later, back at my own home I was drawn to a study of the prophet Elijah. He is looked upon as perhaps the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets and afforded the honor of representing all such prophets on the Mount of Transfiguration along with Moses and Christ. Yet almost his entire ministry was spent in relative obscurity. He lived for a long time alone in the wilderness after which he was sent to minister to one widow woman and her son. For three and a half years he labored to a congregation of ravens and two people.
On the top of Mt Carmel he was at last able to have his moment in the limelight. 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah were slaughtered there in a dramatic, fiery contest in which Elijah was gloriously triumphant. Perhaps he thought all would now change in Israel and he would be afforded the respect due to a prophet of the Lord. Maybe he envisioned a life of ease preaching in palaces and dining on royal delicacies. However, one encounter with Jezebel sent all his dreams crashing to earth. With a death sentence hanging over his head Elijah fled to the desert where he sat under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He may as well have said, “Lord, I’m tired. I just want to go home.”
Strengthened by an angel’s provision he ran further into the desert for forty days and nights until he reached the mountain of God. In a fit of despair and bitter disappointment Elijah complained to God in a whining tantrum that sounded eerily similar to my own hilltop rant. God’s answer to his discouraged prophet had always been somewhat difficult for me to comprehend, until I found myself standing in Elijah’s sandals.
What are you doing here, Elijah? – 1Kings 19:9.
When Elijah repeated his list of complaints God also repeated His question, not in the whirlwind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a gentle whisper. What are you doing here, Elijah? – 1Kings 19:13.
The implication of what the Lord was saying finally began to dawn upon me. God had not told Elijah to run away to this remote mountaintop. Why had he done so? There were still many tasks left which God had called the prophet to complete, but they couldn’t be accomplished on the mountain of despair. Oh, and by the way, he wasn’t alone in his calling. Seven thousand others were still allied with him in his battle against false gods.
The Lord seemed to be saying to me, “What are you doing here, Bill? I didn’t call you to the mountain of despair. I still have many tasks remaining for you to finish, but you can’t accomplish them on this mountain.”
I also learned that success has nothing to do with numbers, nor does it imply recognition and invitations to speak at conventions and mega churches. Success in God’s eyes is simply listening to His voice and obeying what you hear. Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. - 1Samuel 15:22. Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it. – Luke 11:28.
A few weeks after my encounter with God through a desperate woman’s cry for help, I again whined to Him complaining about the vision I believed He had given us for being a church-planting church. “How can we plant churches with only a dozen people?” I inquired of the Lord.
“Reproduce what you have!” I clearly heard Him answer.
Once again I was forced to rework my idea of success. The vision I had received from God was still valid, but the strategy was clouded with years of doing church in the traditional format, striving for greater and greater numbers. In obedience to God we moved our small group back into our home and began a four-year process of reprogramming ourselves, learning how to be the church 24/7 rather than just do church once a week, learning how to obey God’s voice and be faithful in ministering to the one rather than preach to the hundreds. Oh, and by the way, we are certainly not alone in our calling. Millions across this country are following the Lord’s direction into similar ministries.
By God’s grace we have finally realized our vision of being a church-planting church, several times over. I am convinced there are many more daughter churches on the way soon to spring up all over Northern California and beyond. Will these all be small group fellowships? Probably, but God doesn’t seem to be much impressed with numbers. Does this mean God is calling everyone to accept and implement the house-church model? No, it simply means He is calling everyone to listen to His voice and obey what He is specifically speaking to each individual. I do, however, believe the Lord would have us not be overly concerned with numbers. Such an emphasis is too easily born of pride rather than an honest desire to see the kingdom of God advance. If only we would be as obsessed with hearing God’s voice as we seem to be with achieving a larger attendance!
Tragically, the body of Christ is filled with discouraged servants weary of the struggle for greater numbers. Before you would ascend the mountain of despair heed this lesson from a couple of enlightened mountain climbers. As Elijah and I would both readily testify success is all about hearing His gentle whisper and doing what He says, not in building a larger following; it’s all about obedience, not numbers.

Bill, a child of God striving to listen and obey

Friday, June 15, 2007


June 15, 2007

The message came via an early morning email a few days ago.
[We] went by and saw my Dad last night; he seems to be in pretty bad shape. I get the impression from him that he is giving up. [He] keeps asking for someone to cut the cords. He realized I was there but what he was saying did not make any sense. My mom said that he was alright Sunday after the operation, but when his blood pressure dropped [he] started to talk almost like you are part of a strange dream he is having. We had Kurtis [grandson] come sing him happy birthday last night as his 70th birthday is today. Just thought I would let you know.
The letter was signed by a close personal friend and frequent attendee of our home church gathering. His father had been battling the cumulative effects of advanced sugar diabetes. His kidneys were failing requiring him to undergo dialysis treatments three times a week, his eyesight was becoming increasingly impaired, and poor circulation had led to stubborn infections on his feet. A few weeks earlier he had suffered the loss of the big toe on his right foot. Now surgeons had just removed his left leg below the knee. I can’t imagine how devastating it must feel to experience your body being dismantled piece by piece and be helpless to do anything in your defense. The fact that this man had given up the fight was no surprise.
For years we had been praying for Walt, not just for his physical healing but also for his spiritual rebirth. To the best of our knowledge Walt had never asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. So when I heard of his deteriorating condition I felt compelled by the Spirit to visit him in the hospital. Throughout that day I prayed that God would give him more time and give me an opportunity to share with him the good news of Jesus Christ.
It was early evening by the time I was able to make it to the hospital where he lay in the intensive care ward. While finding my way through the maze of corridors looking for his room my soul began to be deluged with doubts. It has been years since I have been in his presence; will he even recognize me? Will he be conscious enough to carry on a conversation with me? Will he be able to comprehend what I say? After rejecting Christ for seventy years will he be receptive to the Gospel? Despite my misgivings I surrendered to the Spirit’s leading and upon finding his room took a deep breath and entered.
The room was small even for hospital standards with the main source of light coming from a single window through which the setting sun bathed the cubicle in a warm orange glow. Walt and I were alone save for a Mylar balloon dancing on its string proudly proclaiming, “Happy Birthday.” I was surprised to see no medical tubes or IV’s attached to his body. The instant I walked in his eyes lit up in recognition.
“Hi Walt, I’m Pastor Bill Hoffman,” I began, hoping he would remember me.
“Yes, Bill,” he answered forcefully, “I know who you are. Come on in.”
“How are you doing, Walt,” I asked as I approached his bedside thankful that he seemed awake and alert.
“Oh, I’m not doing so good, Bill,” he responded. “I’m not doing good at all!” Then, after a prolonged sigh, he added, “All I ever wanted was to make it to seventy.”
“Well, you made it,” I announced, sounding like a TV game show host. “Congratulations and happy birthday! But perhaps it’s time to set another goal,” I mused searching for a way to cheer him up. “Seventy-five sounds like a nice number.” Judging from his lack of response I gathered he was in no mood for levity. I opted for another approach. “I’ve sent your name out on our email prayer-chain and people, most of whom you don’t even know, from all over the country are praying for you. Plus, you’ve got a lot of family members who love you very much and are looking forward to seeing you break out of this joint and go back home.”
“That’s nice to hear, thank you,” he said appearing grateful yet less than enthusiastic.
“Walt, if you don’t make it out of this hospital bed, if this is your time to go and meet God, are you okay with that?” I asked, probing for some insight into his relationship with the Lord. “Do you believe God will accept you?”
“I don’t know, Bill,” he answered. “I don’t know.”
“I can help you know,” I proclaimed. Then I proceeded to explain to him what Jesus had done for us by dying in our place and opening up the way into heaven for all those who accept Him as their Lord and Savior. “If you believe in Him you just need to invite Jesus to come into your life…and He will come!”
At this point Walt interrupted me and cried out, “I believe!” “Jesus, come into my life! Jesus, come into my life! Jesus, come into my life!”
As I prayed with him he continued to cry out, “Jesus, come into my life!” Then, after assuring him that he was indeed a citizen of heaven, I anointed him with oil and prayed for his healing. I left the hospital rejoicing in having been given a front-row seat for a miracle from God.
The next morning I learned that Walt had been moved out of ICU and into a regular room. The crisis was over and his physical condition had much improved. I praise God for his salvation and for his resurgent health. The Almighty has shown amazing mercy for an old man who has lived his entire life outside of Christ. How sad it is, however, that Walt may have so little time left to enjoy his new life. And how sad that his own goal for his life was so limited! God’s goal for Walt far surpasses seventy years, or even seventy-five. Indeed, God has eternity in mind for this wounded, weary new saint.
Is Walt so much different than many of us? Haven’t we all placed limits on what God desires for our lives? We limit our good works thinking God can’t really use someone as ungifted and untalented as we appear to be. Yet God’s Word proclaims: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Eph. 2:10. We limit our witness thinking we are unqualified, unschooled, and ill-prepared to share our faith. Yet God’s Word doesn’t make witnessing an elective activity (Mt. 28:18-20). We limit our Christian growth by paying scant attention to the Word, relying instead on paid professionals to spoon-feed us our weekly rations from the Bible. Yet through Christ we all have equal access to the Father (He. 10:19-22).
We limit our giving (and therefore our receiving) by hording the many blessings God deals out to us. Yet God’s Word says: Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. – Lk. 6:38. We limit our worship by having too many inhibitions, being too self-conscious to allow our heart to be caught up in a passionate embrace of our amazing Lord, or by being too critical of how others might be expressing their love for God. Yet God’s Word advocates a worship that is heartfelt and Spirit-led (Jn. 4:23-24). We limit our relationship with the Lord by cramming our lives so full of less-important matters that we have no time left to pursue the God who proclaims: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. – Jer. 31:3.
We limit our ministries by failing to trust the Holy Spirit to lead relying instead on our seminary training and the latest books on the market. Nor do we believe God actually moves in power today as He once did in the past. Yet God’s Word tells us: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church… - Eph. 3:20-21. We limit how God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love is shown to others by refusing to believe God actually cares for them in the same way He cares about those who are more like us. And we limit His love for us by refusing to accept that He really cares that much about someone so seemingly insignificant, so obviously unworthy. Yet God’s Word proclaims: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – Jn. 3:16. Yes, we have a nasty habit of placing human boundaries around how we believe God chooses to bless us. Yet God’s Word says: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – 1Cor. 2:9.
Why would we ever think of limiting God when he promises to freely give us: Life to the full (Jn. 10:10); love that never fails (Ps. 107:1); joy that lasts forever (Is. 35:10); peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7); mercies that never end (Lam. 3:22); hope that does not disappoint (Ro. 5:5); power that is incomparably great (Eph. 1:19); grace greater than our sin (Ro. 5:20); glory that never fades (2Cor. 3:18); treasure that never spoils (Mt. 6:19-20); riches without reservation (Phil. 4:19); righteousness without stain (Eph. 5:27); holiness without blemish (Col 1:22); flesh that never ages (1Cor. 15:53); a body that never dies (Jn. 11:25-26); a world without darkness (Rev. 22:5); a Father who will never forsake us (He. 13:5); a Savior who will never leave us (Mt. 28:20); the Spirit without partiality (Acts 2:17-18); every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:3); and the ever-popular, “all things” (Ro. 8:32).
You can put all these blessings together and file them under the category: Life without limit! This is God’s goal for us. Why should we settle for less? Why on earth (or in heaven for that matter) would anyone ever want to place a limit on what God has freely given us in Christ Jesus?

Bill, a child of God without limit

Friday, June 08, 2007



They are among the most courageous and faithful Christian servants in the history of the Church, though rarely are they given much praise. With few possessions and scarce companions they thrust themselves into a vast wilderness answering the call of God to carry the good news about Jesus Christ to unreached people groups. Trusting in the Spirit’s guidance they valiantly created a new road into the heart of unexplored territory blazing their way by carving crosses into the trees to mark the route for others to follow. As they traveled northward they established small mission stations one day’s journey apart. These outposts of light became the strategic centers for reaching into the surrounding darkness of paganism and spreading the glory of God.
No, I am not talking about some foreign mission venture in a distant land. This pioneering evangelistic move of God took place right here in California over two centuries ago. You can still follow the journey of these intrepid missionaries. The road they built is called “El Camino Real,” “The King’s Highway.” U. S. Highway 101 traces the same route first established by these Christian explorers. Of the twenty-one mission stations they established up and down the coast most are still standing today, proud monuments to the manner in which this state was settled. Their names still appear on contemporary maps and their history is studied by every elementary student in the state all of whom are required to construct models of the missionaries’ architectural handiwork. The amount of influence these early evangelists managed to instill upon our contemporary culture is staggering. Yet it could have been so much more.
One of the best preserved of these mission stations is in the tiny community of San Miguel on the Central California coast. Our daughter Tiffany and her family reside there and we have often driven by the sight of the ancient structures thinking that one day we would like to take a closer look. A few weeks ago we finally took the opportunity to do so.
Mission San Miguel was founded in 1797 and was the sixteenth mission to be established in California. Construction on the main sanctuary didn’t begin until 1816 and was finished two years later. Its adobe walls are six feet thick and forty feet high. In its time it must have been a magnificent structure for even today it remains an impressive edifice and a marvelous example of mission architecture. In 1836 the property passed into the hands of the United States government. During recent years great efforts have been undertaken to restore and preserve the site. Tragically, in December of 2003, a powerful earthquake severely damaged much of the facility. Since then the sanctuary has been closed to the public and deemed unsafe. Huge cracks are visible in the walls and one side is propped up by wooden braces. Large areas of white plaster have fallen to the ground exposing the dull-grey, decaying adobe bricks.
We were disappointed at not being able to tour through the sanctuary but were fascinated at the rest of the buildings. The primitive existence of these faithful Christian servants and the hardships they willingly endured for the sake of the Gospel is on exhibit for all to see. In one place a portion of the trunk of an ancient oak tree is displayed with a scar clearly visible outlining a cross. Woodcutters had taken down the tree unaware that hidden inside its bark lay the remnants of one of the trail blazes cut into its flesh over two centuries earlier. The bark had long since grown over the scar obscuring its existence until the axe brought it back into view.
As I examined this amazing preservation of our history I couldn’t help but wonder why this great evangelistic venture ceased moving forward. Why did “The King’s Highway” come to a stop in the Bay Area and proceed no further north? Why did the work to establish mission stations in this wilderness come to an end? History books speak of the westward expansion of the United States and the accompanying geo-political changes in the territory as being the primary reason. However, I would like to advance another theory.
I believe somewhere along the line of church outposts, at some point along “The King’s Highway,” the original purpose of advancing the kingdom of God into a region yet to be reached with the Gospel changed. The zeal for evangelism which was so much a part of the motivation of the early missionaries transformed into a zeal for creating grandiose buildings. Although much of the architecture is similar throughout all of the California missions each one displays its own unique character. I wonder if, instead of competing against the devil for the souls of men, the later mission workers found themselves competing against each other to see who could construct the most magnificent buildings. Perhaps this great movement of God died away, not so much due to outward pressures, but inward vanity. Each station became a mission which had lost its mission. Therefore the Lord allowed these incredible edifices to fall into disrepair and this great missionary movement stopped moving.
The crumbling walls of Mission San Miguel are a testimony to what can, and will, happen when the Church loses sight of its primary purpose. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. – Lk. 19:10. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. – Jn. 20:21. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. – Mt. 28:19-20.
Sadly, much of the body of Christ in western culture has forgotten its mission. In denominational churches and independent gatherings, in mega churches and one-room country chapels, in magnificent cathedrals and simple house churches, there is a common tendency to turn inward, to focus on ministering to ourselves rather than reaching out to the dark world which surrounds us. Rather than fighting against our real enemy we have sparred with each other giving rise to a spirit of envy and competition. No matter how diligently we prop up our churches with man-made programs the plaster continues to fall from our white-washed façades and huge cracks are opening up in our walls through which our members are escaping to find meaning and purpose for their lives. We have become obsessed with preserving monuments to the past rather than creating new ways to promote the Gospel to reach our post-modern culture. We have become missions that lost their mission.
In front of the Mission San Miguel there is sign advertising the need to raise funds to repair the damage caused by the earthquake. The thermometer painted on the sign reaches toward a goal of fifteen million dollars. The red marking on the thermometer calibrating how much has been donated to date rises only to the one million dollar level. As a lover of history there is a part of me that longs to see them reach their goal. Yet as a child of God I realize there are more pressing causes vastly more worthy of our support. The task of evangelizing this dark territory is far from complete. In fact, we are nearly as pagan now as were the native civilizations the original missionaries were sent to reach. Those funds could kick-start a new evangelistic movement and help give birth to many more mission stations.
I am heartened to know that a small church still meets in a part of the mission left undamaged. The mission has also recently been used to facilitate a unity gathering of the surrounding Christian churches. As long as there is life there is still hope that one day the mission will recapture its original purpose. Though hidden beneath two centuries of growth the cross was still present in that ancient oak. Yes, the church in this land is cracked and in danger of collapse; yet even though we may have tragically lost sight of our mission, Christ has not abandoned His Church. I just pray we get the message before He sends the tremors of an earthquake or the axe of the woodcutter to adjust our focus.
I can’t help but long for the days of those courageous missionaries. Where are the daring souls who are willing to lay aside the comforts of home and risk their lives to answer the call of God? Where are the intrepid pioneer evangelists who are anxious to carve out a new road in this dark wilderness giving their all to travel “The King’s Highway?” Where are the heroic and faithful soldiers of the cross committed to following the Spirit into enemy territory and blazing the trail for others to follow? Where are the lionhearted warriors of righteousness planting new communities of believers in the midst of this moral wasteland? Where are the modern day mission builders dedicated to taking up the cause others have abandoned and continuing the mission to carry the light of the Gospel into the surrounding darkness? And where are the local gatherings of believers eager to commission, support, and send out the missionaries of the current age?
Praise God, they still exist! Even now God is calling them into the wilderness to plant new mission stations. Even now He is empowering them to accomplish His purpose. Even now “The King’s Highway” is being built. Even now He is creating missions that have not forgotten their mission, their walls strong and sturdy; their crosses clearly visible; their focus squarely on their King. Even now the mission campaign begun over two centuries ago is continuing—and history continues to be made!

Bill, a child of God still on mission

Friday, June 01, 2007


June 1, 2007

The fact that my wife and I love to travel is no secret. Usually when we are on the road we are in a hurry to get somewhere. Push the speed limit; forget the pit-stops; just get there on time! So it is not often that we get the opportunity to explore the countryside as we rush to our intended destination. But when we have the time we love to take the little side trips which lie in wait for the patient, curious, nature-loving, thrill-seeking traveler. Natural wonders, intriguing historical sites, state parks, antique shops, glorious sunsets, and cheesy tourist traps have all beckoned us to abandon the highway and loiter along the back-roads.
However, when it comes to ministry I have always preferred a straight-line, pedal-to-the-metal, achieve-the-goal-as-soon-as-possible approach. Now, after thirty years in the ministry, I am beginning to understand that God is often much more intent on taking the scenic route. As I look back on all the twists and turns of my life in Christian service I can see the hand of God, my Tour Guide, inviting me to slow down and explore all the interesting sites along the way. Whenever I have felt I had a handle on the next direction in my ministry I would charge forward, exceeding the speed limit, refusing to make a pit-stop, rushing to accomplish the objective. Then, suddenly, the Tour Guide would put up a road-block and escort me on a frustrating detour taking me away from my goals and onto a winding, narrow, dusty trail through the wilderness. As soon as I was allowed to find my way back to the highway I would once again put everything in high gear in a vain attempt to make up for lost time only to suffer another frustrating delay from a new construction zone a few miles down the road.
What’s the message here? I believe God has been showing me that He is far more concerned about the traveler than the destination. His focus is on the weary wanderer, not the fulfillment of our goals. With this in mind, the journey becomes His tool for shaping His pilgrims into the man or woman He desires. He will take us on any detour, lead us down any scenic byway, and guide us through any off-road adventure that will accomplish His purpose.
Serving the Lord is not about building a local church, creating a new ministry, advancing one’s own agenda, or even reaching the lost. And it certainly isn’t about following the same pathway as every other servant. It is all about building a relationship with the Tour Guide. He is rarely in a hurry and He loves taking the scenic route. Only by prayerfully, faithfully, diligently following where He leads will we ever be able to accomplish the mission He has mapped out for each one of us. …let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus… - He. 12:1-2.
I believe this is a good time to describe the road we are currently following in this ministry. I’m asking you to ease off on the gas pedal, roll down the windows, breathe in the fresh air and take a little side excursion with me. Allow me to show you the scenic route where our Tour Guide is leading us.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. – Is. 43:18-19. This is the passage of Scripture which began our one-day, regional house church gathering two weeks ago. After a time of prayer we asked those present to share what the Lord had been pouring into their hearts and what they believed the Lord was anxious for us to hear. Where was He leading us in this ministry? The above passage was read followed by several others. Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you. – Joshua 3:5. Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. – Is. 40:31.
The feeling seemed to be unanimous that God was about to do something huge in this area, that a fresh wave of God’s Spirit would soon be poured out in overwhelming abundance, that a powerful revival was on its way. We all realized the need to wait on the Lord for direction and guidance. One member of our gathering described a vision she had seen of “waves of God’s glory coming toward Earth,” but also cautioned about an enormous upheaval in the kingdom as God’s people transition from an inward, local-church focus to a more kingdom mindset.
Another participant reminded us that God has no grandchildren. Every child of God has equal access to the Father and is called into an intimate personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the tendency in most traditional congregations is for the pastoral staff to fulfill the role of spiritual fathering prompting the members to allow the professionals to do the work of relating to God on their behalf. This results in propagating spiritual grandchildren rather than raising mature children for God. The pathway the Lord is leading us on must encourage everyone to form their own deep personal relationship with the heavenly Father, without any go-betweens.
There was much discussion on how to reach out into our communities. Simple churches, like many legacy churches, can easily become ingrown and self-absorbed. We were led to study the four passages in the Gospels which deal directly with the apostolic calling, Matthew 9:35-10:20, Mark 6:6-13, Luke 9:1-6, and 10:1-20. As we read these Scriptures we wrote down the following words and phrases through which we felt the Lord was trying to communicate specifically to us:

1. “Compassion” (Mt. 9:36). This must be our motive for reaching out to others. The closer we draw to the Lord the more we can feel Him grieving for Northern California.
2. “Ask the Lord” (Mt. 9:38, Lk. 10:2). This is the only resource we need. Everything we require for the journey is waiting for us in the harvest, including the workers who will partner with us. Asking God for the souls of the lost is part of this request. But be careful, in praying this prayer God may lead you on a detour through the scenic route.
3. “Lost sheep” (Mt. 10:6). This is our focus. It is not our aim to draw people away from legacy churches, although this will likely happen as God calls those He has chosen to be a part of this special ministry. Our mission must be primarily to reach the lost.
4. “Sheep among wolves” (Mt. 10:16, Lk. 10:3). This mission is not for the feint of heart. We must stick close to the Shepherd.
5. “Given what to say” (Mt. 10:19). There are no modern blueprints for how to do this ministry, nor can there be. Every location, every situation will require different approaches. Again, we must rely on the Lord every step of the journey.
6. “The Kingdom” (Mt. 10:7, Lk. 9:2, Lk. 10:9). This is our message. It is not about building our own empires, championing our favorite doctrines, or lobbying for our favorite social concerns. It is not about drawing denominational boundaries between groups of God’s children, encouraging other believers to join us rather than some other gathering, or pointing our fingers at all the flaws we happen to see in the traditional church. It is about advancing the kingdom of heaven on the King’s terms, in the King’s power, and for the King’s glory!
7. “Sent them…where He was about to go” (Lk. 10:1). In recent months God has been raising up an increasing number of believers who are feeling called into the simple church ministry in this area. I’m guessing the same is happening elsewhere as well. He also seems to be calling out those who appear to be apostolically gifted in order to plant networks of simple churches throughout Northern California. The Lord strongly spoke to us through this verse suggesting that He is raising us up to help prepare the way for a powerful visitation from Him.

If this last point is true it is likely that there are many others who are now or soon will be receiving a similar calling. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. – Lk. 10:2. Perhaps the Spirit is speaking to you as you read this. Is there a signpost in the road up ahead that says, “Detour,” or “Exit Here for a Scenic Drive?” If so, please slow down, turn off the highway, and follow our Tour Guide. The task ahead of us is daunting, but the views on this scenic route are incredible! Please contact us and let us know how we might encourage each other along the journey.

Bill, a child of God enjoying the view