Saturday, October 20, 2007


October 19, 2007

A mid-winter thaw had mercifully provided my brothers and me the opportunity to escape the boring confines of our small Idaho home and explore the brown, barren, and dormant landscape of our back yard. With months of pent-up, house-bound energy we traversed every square inch of our briefly recovered freedom relishing our expanded universe and thoroughly enjoying our premature prison break. A leafless patch of twisted raspberry vines revealed a treasure of lost and forgotten toys, wayward playthings abandoned over the summer when they became hidden amidst the thick foliage and sharp thorns. Various balls, miniature army-men, and rusted toy trucks were now in plain sight and easily retrieved with the help of some well placed swings with a broom handle. Along with a few faded and badly weathered toys, our salvage expedition also netted something new, a small, dirty-white ball of cotton. The broom handle had inadvertently knocked it from its perch high atop one of the lifeless vines.
"It's a cocoon!" shouted one of my brothers as we all studied the furry package with youthful amazement. "I wonder what's inside. Maybe it's a butterfly. Wow, let's go show dad." Awash in childish wonder we took our newly discovered treasure to dad.
"Can we keep it, daddy?" we all asked unable to contain our excitement.
With dad's help we found an empty Mason jar, placed the cocoon inside along with a few twigs, screwed on the lid, and poked some holes in the metal cap using a nail and a hammer. "Whatever it is," explained dad, "it will need air to breathe."
For weeks our morning routine included carefully examining the jar to see if any changes were apparent. We could only imagine what was taking place inside that cocoon. What would eventually emerge? Our curiosity made the wait almost unbearable. Finally one morning we awoke to discover a gorgeous white moth sitting on a twig beside the opened cocoon. But now that the mystery was revealed what should we do with it? How could we keep this beautiful creature contained in such a small place?
"This moth was not meant to be imprisoned in this jar," said dad. "God created it to fly, to find other moths, and to make baby caterpillars that will, in turn, spin their own cocoons and continue the cycle of life. Leaving it in the jar would prevent it from fulfilling God's purpose for its existence. We have to let it go."
Sadly, we took the jar back outside and stood by the raspberry patch now budding to life with the warmth of spring. With great ceremony we unscrewed the lid and let the moth go free. For several minutes we watched in awe and wonder as it soared and fluttered about in its new found freedom. As we watched this miracle of nature we began to realize how wrong we were to keep it cooped up in a jar. Dad was right; God created it to fly.
It was a simple, childhood lesson in life, one I’m sure most of us learned and long ago filed away somewhere deep in our memory banks. But it has been a lesson largely forgotten; a lesson which applies to another living organism we tend to keep enclosed for our own enjoyment. Upon discovering this amazing creature we quickly incarcerate it in our manmade containers, shut it up securely to make sure the creature is well controlled, and keep careful watch over it to see what might emerge. Like a cocoon in a jar we have imprisoned the body of Christ, the Church, in our own culture and tradition. Upon showing our tightly held treasure to God we have asked with childish wonder, "Can we keep it, Daddy?"
Over the centuries God has sent us many reformers to try and break His Church free from its restraints, but we have branded them as heretics and tossed them aside. In desperation He has helped us poke holes in the lid of our "jar" so He could breathe His Spirit into the Church for revival. But we have persisted in encasing this fragile creature in our own stained glass prisons, our own ideas of worship, our own management structures, and our own culture. How could we keep this beautiful creation contained in such a small place? Do we truly comprehend the power, beauty, and awesome potential that lies "cocooned" inside the Church?
I firmly believe a new era is dawning upon the Church in this country. The long lifeless winter of apathy and spiritual regression in our culture is coming to an end. Even now the soil is thawing and spring is budding out across this land. With the smell of revival already wafting through the air I believe God is urging us to remove the lid of our own cultural understanding of the Church and allow His Spirit to split open our cocoons of immaturity. After all, God created us, the body of Christ, to fly—to join with other Christians; to bear the fruit of new believers, new ministries, and new churches who will, in turn, grow and mature and bear fruit. Leaving the Church inside the jar will prevent it from fulfilling God's purpose for its existence. We have to let it go!
So what does that mean and what will a “free church” look like? I’m not sure we have the full picture yet. But I believe the past few days have given me a glimpse of where the Spirit is taking us in this new, unbounded, expanded universe of experiencing Church outside the jar. Allow me to share briefly from my personal itinerary.
Late last week I met with Carlos, the cook from a restaurant where we have a simple church gathering, and his brother, Ernesto. Together we purchased a few bags of groceries and headed to the home of a young Hispanic widow in a nearby community. The woman’s husband had drunk himself to death several months ago leaving her behind to care for three young children. Since she speaks almost no English she is obviously having a difficult time making ends meet. With Carlos as our interpreter we ministered to this needy family sharing what we had—food, prayers, and the love of Jesus. They now know there is a Father in Heaven who loves them more than they can possibly imagine, a Father who also has other children close by who are aware of their needs and are willing to help. We left with an open door to return and perhaps plant a church in this new outpost of the kingdom.
Last Sunday evening we had our own gathering in our home, our original foray into the concept of “simple church.” This group has recently sent out a church planting team which has, in turn, given birth to three other churches. Tuesday evening found us down at a local coffee shop praying and sharing Jesus with the waitresses and other workers. This gathering is where we met Carlos, the cook, who is leading us to other families in need of our ministry. Wednesday evening we were back at our home hosting a gathering of church planters who are seeking how to plant “simple churches” around the East Bay area. The Holy Spirit is actually the facilitator and trainer for this meeting as we share how He has been leading us in our individual ministries. We pray for one another and encourage each other to follow the Lord into the harvest listening to Him and obeying what we hear.
On Thursday evening my wife, Babs, and I met with Carlos’ extended family in their home in San Pablo, a small suburb about thirty miles north of our hometown. This was the first gathering of a new house church and another open door into the Hispanic community. The night was filled with music and laughter as we played our guitars and sang songs from two different cultures. We are learning that prayer transcends every ethnicity and binds together people from vastly different backgrounds. We brought with us several rebuilt computers which were donated to us to share with needy families. Carlos is connected to many other families who are in need and will help us distribute these computers to those who could truly use them.
Then on Friday evening Babs and I traveled a few minutes north to the community of San Ramon to meet with Kevin and Kylie Goh, new friends of ours from Singapore, and a few of their friends. This is the second time we have gathered together here for church and the spiritual atmosphere has greatly intensified. People are beginning to share openly about their various needs and the Lord’s presence was obvious. The evening was capped by a season of powerful, Spirit-directed prayer.
What is it that is taking place in each of these gatherings? We have listened to the Father’s call, kicked our way out of our cocoon, and allowed Him to remove the lid from our “jar.” The Spirit has breathed life into His Church and the body of Christ has been set free. Now we are able to fly out into the harvest field, join with the Spirit, and give birth to new ministries, just as we were created to do.
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free..." – Galatians 5:1. "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?" – Isaiah 43:18-19. "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." – Matthew 9:17.
I invite you to join me in asking Christ to remove the lids from our “jars.” Our old man-made containers have imprisoned us for far too long. We have to let go of His Church. It is time to kick our way out of our cocoons and allow the Lord to set us free. Together, let's watch in awe and wonder as the Spirit enables us to soar in our new found freedom, to become what we were meant to be all along—a high-flying, Spirit-directed, ministry-birthing, soul-saving, rapidly reproducing organism filled with the breath of the Almighty and free to follow the Lord wherever He leads.

Bill, a child of God, outside the jar


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