Saturday, September 29, 2007


September 28, 2007

“Wow!” I declared out loud as I stared in surprise at one of the lenses from my eyeglasses which had just fallen out of their frames. With one lens resting on my desktop and the other still residing in its proper abode on my face, my office took on a rather disjointed, cartoon-like appearance. It took several seconds for the reality of what had just happened to sink in. My cheap, drug-store, reading glasses had just broken. On closer examination, through squinting eyes, I discovered that the frame surrounding the one lens had completely snapped in two.
My initial reaction was frustration over the interruption this all caused to my morning quiet time in God’s Word. But then I remembered how passionately I had prayed a few minutes earlier for God to speak to me. Although I hadn’t really heard the Lord’s voice I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a message in the timing of the demise of my glasses. As I tried to temporarily repair them with a small piece of black electrical tape I thought about what the sudden breakage might mean. Was something wrong with my vision for the ministry to which I have felt led by God? After a few minutes of vain attempts to restore my eyepiece I gave up and announced to my wife that I needed to go to the store to purchase another pair of reading glasses.
“Babs, do you suppose God is telling me my vision is broken?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied with a slight laugh, “I think He’s telling you to trust in His vision for our ministry.”
I doubt if Babs would claim to be a prophet but those words she spoke carried with them the ring of divine truth. After a trip to the drug store to purchase a new pair of glasses, one with a slightly higher magnification rating (Don’t you just love getting older and experiencing certain body parts growing steadily weaker?), I began to meditate upon God’s message to me.
My thoughts carried me back over a dozen years ago to when I first caught the vision of church planting. We were ministering in a small church in Petaluma, California (North Bay area) which had a small building and a limited amount of space to expand. Rather than throwing all our resources toward increasing the size of the existing congregation I believed God was revealing to us that we could reach more people more rapidly by planting other churches in areas more conducive to growth. I was ecstatic when the little church adopted the vision and succeeded in giving birth to two new congregations in just a few years, both of which quickly grew larger than the size of their parent organization.
When the opportunity to pastor a church in the East Bay city of Dublin arose I jumped at the chance believing that this community, given its higher population density and easy access to two major freeways, comprised a much better mission field in which to continue the vision of kingdom expansion by new church planting. Unfortunately, the extremely high cost of real estate, a growing anti-institutional-church sentiment, and an elder board highly skeptical of my vision, all combined to bring the concept to a halt. In shame and brokenness I was forced to resign my pastorate. The vision lay in pieces, broken seemingly beyond repair.
A few months later, even though other churches had expressed a desire to hire me as their pastor, I believed I heard the Lord calling me to stay in the East Bay area and start a new church. Once again we cast a vision for being a church-planting congregation and enthusiastically began working toward our launch date. Unfortunately, our own denominational church planting organization refused to fund our effort which left us having to raise all our own support. Unable to find any adequate space to house our church we ended up holding services in another church facility on Sunday evenings. Predictably, our new church never really got off the ground.
One Sunday evening after fewer than a dozen people gathered for worship and our own tithing check comprised most of the offering, I found myself crying out to God in despair.
“What’s wrong, Lord?” I whined. “What has happened to the vision you gave us to be a church-planting church? Why did you lead us to start up a new church only to see it collapse? How am I supposed to provide for my family with so little income? How can we reproduce ourselves with so few people?”
It was at this point that I clearly heard the Lord answer His whining servant, not in an audible voice, but in words which were engraved upon my troubled mind and burned into my aching heart.
“Reproduce what you have!”
Those four words have changed the entire direction of our ministry. With so few people we didn’t need to worry about finding a building to meet our needs. We just moved our worship into our home. Rather than sitting in rows facing forward we began sitting in a circle facing each other in our living room. Rather than listening to me spout off what I was hearing the Lord teach me, we began listening to each other share what the Lord was speaking into all of our hearts. Rather than having me pray for the needs of the congregation, we began praying for each other, ministering to each other, and encouraging each other as we strove to follow Jesus together. And I began teaching music lessons to provide for my family.
For awhile we thought we had discovered a new phenomenon, a brand new way to do church. However, a study of the book of Acts revealed that this new way was really just a return to the way it all began. Before too long we began to discover others who were traveling this same path. Then we learned that the house church movement was occurring world-wide in a sovereign move of the Almighty as He was drawing vast numbers of His children out of the institutional church and placing them in the midst of the harvest.
It has taken us over four years to pry ourselves loose from most of the traditions with which we grew up in the church. Compounding our journey was the fact that my ministerial training took place during the height of the church growth movement where the major emphasis was upon growing larger and larger congregations. Now we understand that the best way to grow large is to become small. Smaller, simpler organisms reproduce far more effectively and rapidly than larger, more complex ones. It takes on average one to two million dollars, eighteen months of preparation time, and a team of seminary-trained, specially qualified individuals to launch a new institutional church plant. Simple churches can reproduce in a matter of days or weeks, meet almost anywhere, get started with a bare minimum of resources, and require no professional clergy to operate.
In the last four months I know of at least ten new churches that have been planted in the Bay Area among just our own network of church planters. Several more are in the womb waiting to come forth in the near future. As I type these words I am still pumped up over having attended the first gathering of a new church plant earlier this evening in the city of San Ramon a few miles north of our home. We gathered in the home of one of my piano students, a family I never would have met had I not been cast out into the harvest field and forced to make a living by teaching music lessons. People are being won to the Lord, lives are being transformed, and the kingdom of God is advancing in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region once thought unreachable. God is opening doors of access into new people groups whom we never would have been able to reach had we remained an institutional church and continued attempting to attract these people into our traditional worship services.
So was my original vision completely off the mark? Not entirely. It was just slightly impaired. I caught on to the principle of kingdom expansion through planting church-planting churches. I was just looking at the vision through the lens of the institutional church. Although I’m certain God will continue to use the institutional church to further His cause, as He has done so well throughout the history of the church, His vision for the ministry that He has placed before Babs and me lies outside the walls of the traditions with which we grew up. Indeed, the Lord’s vision for our ministry is far more powerful, with a much higher degree of magnification, than our wildest dreams.
Is there a message here for all of us? I hope so. There will likely be many times in our lives when it seems like our dreams have broken apart and lie shattered before us. This is especially hard to take when we are convinced those dreams have come from the Lord. It may not mean that our vision is totally bogus, but rather just impaired by looking through the wrong lens. We might do well during such times to ask ourselves if we have been observing our vision through the lenses of our own culture, traditions, and experiences. The truth is God may have to break those lenses in order for us to see clearly. As I know by experience, such occurrences can be extremely painful. But it may not mean that the vision itself is broken. The Lord may simply be removing what was preventing us from seeing Him clearly and inviting us to trust in His vision.
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” –Jeremiah 29:13. It would be good to ask ourselves what we are really seeking. Is it success, fame, prestige, wealth, peer approval? Or are we truly seeking the Lord?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” – Hebrews 12:2.
I am reminded of the eighth century Irish poem which was translated by Mary E. Byrne, versified by Eleanor H. Hull, and made into a popular hymn.
“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart—Nought be all else to me save that Thou art: Thou my best thought, by day or by night—waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”
As long as our eyes are fixed on Him our vision will never be impaired.

Bill, a child of God trusting in His vision

Saturday, September 22, 2007


September 21, 2007

“You’re doing drugs, aren’t you?” asked Flo with a tone of compassion rather than accusation. “Don’t try to deny it because I’ve been around and I know the signs.”
The young waitress just stared back at her through dilated, bloodshot eyes waiting for the expected pronouncement of her termination.
“Don’t worry,” Flo continued, “I’m not going to fire you or turn you in to the police. I’m just concerned about you and I know that whatever your problems are this is not the answer. Jesus is the answer! We need to change your work schedule so you can be here on Tuesday nights. Then you can go to church with me.”
Feeling somewhat relieved, the drug-addicted waitress responded by asking,
“Where is your church located?”
As her face erupted into a huge smile Flo pointed over to a booth in the corner of the restaurant and proudly proclaimed, “Table number two!”
This is just one of the amazing scenes which are being played out week after week in this unusual setting for a church, a local coffee shop. Flo is the exceptional night manager who has become deeply involved in the lives of those who work under her, mothering those who seem to have lost their way. In addition, she is also evolving into an effective pastor for our unique gathering which meets in her restaurant every Tuesday evening.
When we first met Flo during a gathering of our men’s accountability group a few weeks ago, we had no intention of planting a church at the sight. We had been meeting in the same place for over seven years and had never once thought of planting a church there. We were just a small group of guys gathering together to pray for one another and encourage each other in our walk with Jesus. But the Lord of the harvest, the Head of the church, had another agenda in mind.
In response to our asking if she had a need for which we could pray, Flo began to open up her life to us, and the Lord began to transform our men’s accountability group into the most unique, non-traditional, unconventional church I have ever been a part of. Since we meet during business hours the staff is unable to gather together all at the same time. So individually or in groups of two or three they sit down at “table number two” and share their lives with us and pray with us while others cover their stations for them. Flo is the director of this weekly, Tuesday night drama informing the others when it is their turn to have church and joining us throughout the evening as she is able.
We have attempted to stay after they close down the coffee shop at 10:00 pm in order to gather the entire crew for a few minutes of combined prayer but so far circumstances have prevented it. We are not really concerned about how this is all playing out since it is definitely being orchestrated by the Lord and He certainly knows how to lead His church. We are just in awe over how this has all transpired and are continually amazed at how God is transforming lives before our eyes. We will soon be planting another church in the home of the cook and hopefully reaching out to many other families he is connected with who are in desperate need of help. Like Flo mentioned to the hurting waitress, Jesus is the answer for all these people. What a different story it would be if we had been content to follow our own agenda and remain focused on being a men’s accountability group. But this is not the only amazing story of church planting coming from the harvest in this area.
In a few days we will hold our first gathering of a new house church being planted in San Ramon, the next city to the north of our hometown, Dublin, California. The family is Singaporean and is connected to us through their daughter who is taking piano lessons from me. In response to their questions I have spent some time sharing with them about simple church and they are excited about getting one started. Since I travel to their home for their daughter’s lessons it seemed only natural to begin the church in their home rather than insist they come to the gathering which meets in our own home on Sunday evenings. They already have a list of families they are inviting to our first gathering and we are all excited about what the Lord has in store for us. But don’t go away; we have another story from the harvest.
Danny and Edie Mileto, a couple who had been attending our Sunday evening gathering until we sent them out to plant a church in their own home, have also seen the Lord leading in amazing ways. Danny has been doing simple church in his workplace, a large high-tech company here in Dublin. Almost every weekday their lunchroom is transformed into a worship center as different groups of employees gather for prayer and Bible study. A young girl named Candice was led to the Lord in Danny’s office and was then asked if she would want to gather some of her friends and family to do church in her home. Less than one month ago a new church was planted in Candice’s home in Hayward. At their first meeting two people came to the Lord and they are planning for a baptismal service where at least four new converts will be buried with Christ. Are you catching the fever yet? But hold on, I’ve got yet another story from the harvest. This one will have you shaking your head for some time.
Ross Rohde, a personal friend and an apostolic partner of mine, shared a room with me at a recent simple church conference in a hotel in downtown Dallas. He had been asked to address the assembly and share some of the stories from the church planting movement he was involved in as a missionary in Spain. Ross, however, preferred to tell about what the Lord has been doing recently in the Bay Area. Due to a mix-up he was inadvertently left off the program until the final session on Monday morning. As a part of the conference the hotel provided a catered buffet breakfast for us each morning. On this last morning Ross took up a conversation with one of the waiters who happened to be from El Salvador, speaking to him in Spanish while filling up his plate with scrambled eggs and pastries. During their conversation Ross led the man to the Lord and then asked if he would like to gather a few of his friends together in his home and begin a church. The man responded affirmatively and enthusiastically. Ross then explained that he lived in California and wouldn’t be able to help him get a church started, but he knew who could. He then introduced the new believer to a house church leader from Dallas who also spoke Spanish and, just like that, in a matter of fifteen minutes, a new church was planted.

A few minutes later when Ross was speaking to the conference audience he was able to share not just what the Lord had been doing in the last few weeks in the Bay Area, but what the Lord had just accomplished less than an hour earlier right there in that very room! It was another example of how God’s timing is perfect as the Lord of the harvest added an exclamation point to Ross’s message.
So why are all of these breakthroughs happening all of a sudden? Beyond the fact that God just sovereignly seems to be moving, I have at least two ideas. First of all we have been faithfully and regularly petitioning the Lord of the harvest for workers.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Luke 10:2.
It is fascinating to me that Christ had previously sent out the twelve in Luke, chapter nine. Now, one chapter later, He appointed seventy-two and sent them out into the harvest as well. Any church growth expert would hail that as a significant increase. Yet the first thing Jesus tells these new recruits to do is to pray for more workers. Apparently the harvest was far larger than any of his disciples realized at the time. I believe that is still the case. Even though we have seen a striking decline in church attendance and a scarcity of new converts in this country there is nothing wrong with the harvest. It is plentiful and it is ripe. The problem lies in the lack of harvesters.
Ever since we have been praying the harvesters’ prayer, workers are springing up everywhere, in coffee shops, in office buildings, in homes, and in convention centers. Many of those we had been working on for quite some time believing they would be perfect for the harvest have fallen by the wayside, while the Lord is bringing us His personal recruits, people we have never met before, individuals who have not been steeped in the traditions of the institutional church, ones who are willing to learn and are eager to be used by God. We have concluded that the Lord of the harvest is far better than us when it comes to judging those who are best suited for this ministry.
The other factor which I believe has contributed to the sudden increase in new church plants lies in the direction of our focus. For years our goal was to grow our home gathering to the point where it would be obvious we needed to split off and start another group. We would then commission a few of our members and send them out to plant the next church in another home. Unfortunately, in over four years of doing simple church we were only able to send out one family, and that happened just earlier this year. It’s not that this concept is terribly wrong, it’s just terribly slow. Meanwhile, the harvest is ripe and waiting.
These days we are not asking people to join the group which meets in our home. When we discover someone interested in doing simple church, or when we lead someone to the Lord, our first instinct is to plant a new church in their home. We ask them to gather together their family and friends, especially those who are not yet Christians or who don’t attend church anywhere else, and we proceed to help them plant a church in the surroundings they know best, where Jesus can make the biggest difference, in their homes and workplaces. The results have been incredible. But why should we be surprised? This is exactly how Jesus taught us to do it.
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves…When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house…” – Luke 10:3-7.
We are now always on the lookout for “a man of peace.” It will be someone who is genuinely interested in our message, who invites us into their world, and who is connected to a group of people and able to bring them together. It could be someone who lives in the neighborhood, a co-worker, or even the night manager at a local coffee shop. But when we find them we know they will be the key to opening the door to another simple church plant. The Lord has taught us that if you want to reap a harvest, you need to be out in the harvest field.
For centuries the church has operated within the template that says, “If you build it they will come.” Create a better program, preach a better sermon, build a better facility, put together a better praise team, take up a better offering, offer a better children’s ministry. It has all been done in order to attract the masses to us. In years past this might have worked fairly well. But in these days there are far too many other attractions out there with which we are in competition. Perhaps it is time we return to the way the church originally began to spread, to the first three centuries of its existence when it multiplied faster than it ever has since, to a movement that is outward focused rather than inward, sending out rather than gathering in, missional rather than attractional.
I find it interesting that the Lord never commanded us to plant churches. His command is to “make disciples,” but that mission carries with it an outward thrust.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” – Matthew 28:19.
Jesus said, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” – Matthew 16:18.

We are learning that when you follow the Lord into the harvest seeking the “man of peace,” and when you find that individual and begin to disciple him, Jesus is amazingly adept at building His church around him. The Lord will do so in spite of our bumbling mistakes, without our careful strategizing, in ways we would never have imagined, gathering people we never could have reached on our own, and in a manner which directs all the glory to Him.
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain…” – Mark 4:26-28.
I wish I could say these new churches have come about due to our cleverness, but I’m afraid we had very little to do with it. I’d write a book about it but the definitive volume has already been authored by the Holy Spirit some two thousand years ago. One truth we have discovered is that the Lord of the harvest does not exclusively reside within the stained glass cathedrals and cushioned seat sanctuaries of our community houses of worship. Nor does He solely inhabit the couches and dinner tables of our home churches. After all we are talking about the One who turned an ancient well into a classroom, transformed a nondescript hill into a sanctuary, and commandeered a smelly fishing boat to use as a pulpit.
If you have ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart that is open to His leading, you might just find the Lord having lunch with some of your co-workers, or standing in the buffet line at a convention center, or hanging out with the staff at a local coffee shop, perhaps even sitting at table number two.

Bill, a child of God sent out into His harvest field

Saturday, September 15, 2007


September 14, 2007

Two centuries ago it was one of the most dangerous occupations known to man. Going to sea had always been a risky venture. Ever since the first brave souls dared to cross a body of water in a crudely constructed canoe, seafarers have been at the mercy of the elements, the knowledge of the shipbuilder, and the skill of the pilot. But in the 1800’s, when trade routes were opened to exotic ports around the world and ships began to travel great distances, the risks were multiplied.
As sails were replaced with steam and wooden hulls were replaced with steel, lack of design experience coupled with the rush to build vessels with larger and larger cargo capacities led to an increasing nightmare of maritime disasters. By mid-century shipwrecks had doubled. According to the International Maritime Organization ship casualties rose to catastrophic numbers in the late 19th century. In the year 1873-4, around just the coastline of the United Kingdom, 411 ships sank, with the loss of 506 lives. Between 1867 and 1882, loss of life in British vessels alone (excluding fishing vessels) totaled 33,427 crew members and 5,987 passengers. The number of ships lost during that period rose to 16,393. Official inquiries into the cause of such losses determined a major factor was overloading the cargo holds. Incredible as it may seem, it was against the law for a seafarer to refuse to work on a ship, even if they deemed it to be less than seaworthy.
Incensed by the tragic loss of life and property, Samuel Plimsoll, a member of the British Parliament and a coal dealer by trade, began a battle for the reform of merchant shipping laws. Lined up against him was a powerful lobby of ship owners. Undaunted by the opposition, Plimsoll doggedly continued his fight which eventually led to the United Kingdom Merchant Shipping Act of 1876. In this law, load lines, markings on the hull of a ship designating how low in the water it could safely ride, became compulsory, although the official position of the line wasn’t set until 1894.
The line itself consisted of a circle with a horizontal line drawn through the middle. Other nations quickly adopted the marking since it was required in order to enter any of the lucrative trading ports in the vast British Empire. Though the exact position of the line varied from country to country, its existence dramatically reduced the occurrences of shipwrecks and saved countless lives. Today, load lines are governed by an international convention which has set universal standards. Port authorities around the world carefully monitor the ships using their harbors to make sure they comply. Over 130 years after they were first adopted, load lines are still commonly referred to as “Plimsoll Lines” in honor of the man who fought so hard to bring them into existence.
I was prompted to do the above research into maritime history after an unusual call-out I received in my position as a volunteer police chaplain for the City of San Ramon. The call came at 4:15 am (about two hours after I had crawled into bed) requesting my presence to help calm down a man who was suffering an emotional break down. Rushing to the address I was given, I prayed for God’s help not knowing what I was getting myself into.
Lord, I’m not sure how much help I can be to someone at this hour of the morning but this man needs you and I am your representative called into service to make a difference. I’m asking you to send your Spirit ahead of me and fill this home with your peace. Help me to say and do the things which will bring healing to this situation. Please, Lord, I am in desperate need of your assistance on this one since I don’t have a clue as to what to do.
After being briefed by an officer at the scene I was led into the home and introduced to the man’s wife who was holding a child in each arm, an 18 month old set of twins.
“Please,” she begged, “my husband can’t stop crying. He’s been like this for hours. Can you help him?”
She pointed up the stairs to the master bedroom. I cautiously walked up the stairs and slowly entered the room. A man who looked to be in his early thirties sat on the edge of the bed in his night clothes. His head was resting in his hands cushioned by a wad of soggy tissues. A light from the adjoining bathroom illumined his red face and blood shot eyes. The minute he saw me he burst into tears sobbing uncontrollably. After a few moments he quieted down enough for me to introduce myself and ask permission to sit beside him on the bed. He nodded his head affirmatively.
From the officer I had learned that the man had been working a string of eighteen hour days preparing for the opening of a new restaurant in the community. He was obviously exhausted, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
“I just want to be with my kids,” he wailed over and over again.
“They’re downstairs right now,” I replied, “and they are enjoying some special attention from my police friends.”
Please, Lord, I prayed silently, how can I help this guy?
After getting him a glass of water I asked if he belonged to a local community of faith. He answered in the negative. Prompted by the Spirit I asked if I might pray for him. He responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Following the prayer I remembered the illustration of the “Plimsoll Line,” a tool I had used in counseling before. Feeling led by the Spirit I shared about the load line and its use in shipping.
“We all have our own emotional ‘Plimsoll lines,’” I explained. “When we try to pile too much into our lives our ‘ship’ becomes unstable. Cumulative stress has a way of overflowing our cargo holds. In the normally calm waters of our home port we may be able to stay afloat. But when the wind blows and the seas become turbulent we are in grave danger of capsizing. The solution is simple. You need to off load some of your cargo before you experience a shipwreck.”
Pausing to let the words settle in, I continued. “What you are experiencing is a common problem in this culture. Men seem to be particularly prone to taking on more than they can safely carry. When this happens to me I have a safe harbor I can visit to unload my burdens, a place where I know loving hands are waiting to lift my anxieties and refill my cargo holds with unbelievable peace. That harbor is called Jesus Christ. He has issued the invitation for all to enter his safe harbor.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30.
After a few more minutes of sharing the Gospel I prayed with the man as he transferred the contents of his overburdened cargo hold to the waiting arms of Jesus. For the first time since I had entered the room that night his tears stopped flowing and I silently praised God for leading me to take the initiative to usher him into the kingdom. I’m guessing he will need many more trips to the “safe harbor” of the Lord before he is completely healed. But now he has a free pass from the “Port Authority” and an open invitation to return anytime.
As I was researching the origins of the “Plimsoll Line” I couldn’t help but compare ourselves to those 19th century ship owners who, despite being told they were seriously overloading their vessels, continued to cram as much as they could into their cargo holds endangering life and property. Like them, we are in severe danger of being shipwrecked. Like them, we have a Savior who worked tirelessly to free us from our own greed. Our Savior, however, lost his life in the battle yet the mark he left behind, the sign of the cross, when applied to the hull of our ship, is the guarantee of a safe voyage across the seas of eternity. It is my earnest prayer that you are able to transfer the contents of your overloaded cargo holds to the waiting arms of Jesus before your life becomes shipwrecked.
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” – Psalm 68:19.

Bill, a child of God, burden lifted

Friday, September 07, 2007


September 7, 2007

“Chuck is in an active state of dying!” The pronouncement was given by the Hospice worker ministering at his bedside. My wife, Babs, was relaying the news by phone to me which she had just received from Chuck’s family. “They really want you to be with them if you can break away from your gathering,” she added.
The message, though not totally unexpected, gave rise to a jumbled mosaic of emotions filling up my mind. Profound sadness over Chuck’s passing was mixed with disappointment over the Lord’s refusal to bring about his healing for which I had so fervently been praying. Then there was my frustration over the dreadful timing of it all. The news had arrived on Tuesday evening while we were gathered at a local coffee shop with our men’s accountability group. Over the past several weeks the Lord had expanded our group into a simple church by adding the night manager, the cook, and another kitchen helper. Great things were happening and lives were being transformed before our eyes. I longed to spend more time with them and experience more of what the Lord was doing in that restaurant.
But the bulk of my frustration was aimed at what had been scheduled for the following afternoon. Chuck’s grown daughter, Allison, had recently come to the Lord and we were planning to have her baptism in the family pool where Chuck would be able to watch from his bed. Now it looked like our plans would be postponed indefinitely.
“Of course I’ll go,” I responded over the phone with a heavy sigh. “Don’t wait up for me; this could be a late night. And please pray for me,” I added. “I’m really struggling with this one.”
One of the men from our group graciously offered to drive me to Chuck’s home which gave me some time to silently chastise God over His lousy timing. “Excuse me, Lord,” I prayed, “But I don’t understand why this is happening tonight. It bums me out that you’re not willing to heal this man, but why must he be taken tonight? Don’t you realize how important tomorrow’s baptism is? Father, there is supposed to be many people in attendance including those who do not yet know you. This would be a tremendous witnessing opportunity. I can’t believe you would allow Chuck to die tonight and ruin tomorrow’s ceremony. Your timing couldn’t be worse!”
My whining rant was cut short by our arrival at Chuck’s home and my need to stow away my anger at the Divine in order to effectively pastor a hurting family. I was met at the door by his wife, Anita, who led me back to his room. I had sat by his bedside many times over the last year praying for his healing and attempting to help Chuck make sense of his failing health. He was suffering from atypical Parkinson’s disease. Instead of his muscles moving uncontrollably, they were frozen stiff as though stuck in some invisible body cast. The disease had long since taken his voice and Chuck would laboriously try to communicate through an electronic keypad. Forty years ago he had been a decorated helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. Now, thanks probably to his exposure to “agent orange,” he had been reduced to a barely breathing stick-figure, a prisoner of war in his own body. A urine bag filled with blood told us that Chuck’s organs were shutting down. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness. It was obvious this man was in his final hours of earthly life.
Anita leaned over his lifeless body and pried open his eyelids. “Look who’s here, honey,” she announced. “It’s Pastor Bill.”
I could see his eyes moving to record who was present with him in the room. That activity told me Chuck was still reasonably aware of his surroundings. I reached out and held his leathery, boney hand and spoke a few words of cheer to my ailing friend.
“God is with you, Chuck,” I mentioned talking over a huge lump in my throat. “He will never leave you and He will never let you out of His hands. That’s His promise, and God has never, ever broken a single promise!”
“Let’s read some Scripture,” I suggested motioning to the brother who had accompanied me and calling out a few references for him to find in His Bible. After the Scriptures were read I offered a final prayer for my friend and his grieving family and said my goodbyes fully expecting that to be the last time I talked to Chuck in this life. God, however, was not about to start fulfilling my expectations over the timing of Chuck’s passing.
The next morning the phone rang in my office and I braced myself for the bad news.
“Pastor Bill, this is Anita. You won’t believe what has happened! Chuck has rallied. He woke up this morning, asked for his electronic keyboard and typed out messages of love for his daughter and me. Then he indicated he wanted to be put in his wheelchair. Bill, he wants the baptism to go on. Can you still come this afternoon?”
“Absolutely; let’s do it!” I responded overjoyed at the sudden turn of events.
When I arrived at their home the family room was already filled with guests. Chuck was sitting up in his wheelchair fully alert and looking better than I had seen him in several months. Alli and I were dressed in our swimming suits prepared for a baptismal service. Everyone else was decked out in their Sunday best. The incongruity of our attire made for some gentle humor and ushered in a relaxed atmosphere for what was taking place. In a surreal setting that only the Master Playwright could stage, we gathered around a pool table with Chuck sitting to my right and Alli to my left, the dying yet about-to-enter-into-eternal-life man on one side and the newly born yet about-to-be-dying-with-Christ woman on the other.
Since I knew I would be speaking to those outside the Christian faith, I silently prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide my words and then boldly began to share my heart. I talked about the Old Covenant and how all serious covenants in ancient times were initiated by an oath-swearing ceremony. Then I explained the New Covenant in Christ and described baptism as the New Covenant oath-swearing ceremony.
“Jesus swore the oath at the cross,” I explained. “We swear the oath at our baptism. Being immersed into Christ symbolizes the death and burial of our old self and the birth of our new life in Him, a life that will live forever with Jesus.” “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” – Romans 6:3-5.
“Almost exactly one year ago we immersed Chuck into Christ in the Stanislaus River, wheelchair and all,” I reminded the people present. “Now that was a baptism to remember! But that was the day Chuck died. No matter what happens to his earthly body now, Chuck will live on for all eternity with his beloved Lord, without disabilities, without pain, without sickness, without frustrations, without worries, without tears, and without death.” “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelations 21:4. “And now,” I added, pointing to Alli, “his daughter one day will be joining him. Because Anita was also baptized at the same time as Chuck, this entire family will be spending eternity together.”
“I don’t know why God has allowed my friend to succumb to this illness,” I continued. “Our prayers for a miracle were left seemingly unanswered, until today. It is a miracle that Chuck is able to be alert enough to enjoy this ceremony and only God could have brought this event together in such perfect timing. No, I don’t know all that is going through the mind of God in letting Chuck suffer so. But I know his illness has led directly to the salvation of his entire family. When Chuck is finally released from his deteriorating body, he will leave behind a legacy of life. Only God knows how vast that legacy will be.”
Following the baptism Chuck and his family and friends posed for pictures. Amazingly, Chuck had the energy to give us a “thumbs up” signal for each photograph. I’m certain those pictures will become a family treasure. They are lasting evidence of the day God decided to miraculously bless one of His faithful soldiers by lifting him off of his deathbed to enjoy the new birth of his daughter. It was a day that reminded us all of how loving and merciful God truly is, and how perfect is His timing—always! Thirty hours later an honor guard of heavenly angels swooped down to free this disease-shackled old soldier from his bodily prison and escort him up to the waiting arms of his Commander-in-Chief. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15.
In the days following this incredible, divine chain of events, I have been meditating on God’s perfect timing. I have been duly convicted to repent of my shameful whining at the Almighty. Though I don’t always understand His ways I have hopefully learned not to complain about His timing. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2. I dearly wish this bit of wisdom from Solomon weren’t true. Unfortunately, ever since the day sin entered our world, death has lurked at the end of every life waiting to pounce upon our dreams and enforce its grisly will upon us. However the good news, which Solomon in all his wisdom couldn’t decipher, is that God would send us a Champion to do away with death. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” – 1Corinthians 15:22. Life and death came together at Alli’s baptism to create an unforgettable picture of God’s grace. Life and death also came together at the cross to give us an enduring, unshakeable hope that faith in Him leads to everlasting life. “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.” – John 3:16.
We may not have any say over the circumstances and timing of our own demise, but we can influence the type of legacy we leave behind. While we are still breathing and enjoying our earthly life, now is the time to ask ourselves, “Will mine be a legacy of life?”

Bill, a child of God building a legacy of life