Saturday, July 26, 2008


July 25, 2008

I checked my watch as we walked up to the front door of their house and rang the doorbell. It was precisely two o’clock. For once in our lives my wife and I were right on schedule. As we greeted our friends and entered their home I silently thanked God for the lighter than normal freeway traffic which contributed to our punctuality. I certainly did not want to offend these people by being late to their party. For the past several months we had been experiencing a growing friendship with this Hispanic family having enjoyed doing church in their home on several occasions. Now they had invited us to their two-year-old son’s birthday party. We rejoiced at how we were being accepted into their family. However, we were about to receive a timely lesson in Latin American culture.
Babs and I were obviously the first people to arrive at the party. Our friends were still busy with a myriad of last-minute preparations. Dad was in the backyard trying to light a barbecue grill while keeping a watchful eye on Pedro, the birthday boy, who was far too hyped up to keep out of trouble. Mom and grandma were in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on an amazing feast. By the quantity of the food they were preparing I ascertained they were expecting quite a crowd. After asking what we could do to help, Babs and I were soon busy cutting up fruit, setting up chairs, fussing over a finicky grill, and helping to coral a little boy. We were so caught up in our labors we lost track of the time. When the charcoal finally looked like it was getting hot enough to cook the meat, I stole a glance at my watch. It was now three o’clock and we were still the only guests present.
We decided to go ahead and put the meat on the grill figuring the other guests would show up at any moment. But after most of the beef and chicken had been cooked to perfection no one else had arrived to enjoy the feast. By four o’clock we were hungry enough to forgo waiting another minute and opted to fill our plates and enjoy the fruit of our labor. The food was delicious and the fellowship was sweet as we leisurely ate our fill of rice, beans, salad, fruit, chicken and beef. Would we be the only ones who bothered to come to their party? Our friends began to wonder what they were going to do with all the leftover food.
By five o’clock we decided to let Pedro open up the birthday present we had brought and soon we were engrossed in watching him play with a new toy helicopter complete with lifelike sounds and flashing lights. Since we had promised some other friends we would stop by to see them sometime late that afternoon, Babs and I began to wonder if we should be preparing to leave. We hated to make our exit without seeing all the other guests, but we had already spent most of the afternoon with our friends. Then, nearly four hours after the party was scheduled to begin, the other invited guests began to arrive. Within a few minutes another twenty people had crowded into our friends’ home and spread out into their backyard.
As far as I can tell not a word was spoken about the tardiness of these late-arriving guests. They were all welcomed with great enthusiasm and accepted into our fellowship. Babs and I shook our heads and marveled at a culture that placed so little value on punctuality. Yet as I have been pondering this event I have begun to realize they simply have different priorities than our own culture. Whereas most of us in this country live under the tyranny of the almighty clock, these people have refused to bow to its rule. Instead, they place family above schedules. Reunions with family and friends are too important to be rushed and much too treasured to be highly programmed.
Even though many of us can get frustrated at the Hispanic culture’s apparent lack of concern for time schedules, their approach is not necessarily wrong; it’s just different. Indeed, it may even be healthier. Taking a siesta in the middle of the afternoon is an excellent way to reduce stress and refusing to cram too many activities into too short a time frame may actually lead to fewer strokes and heart attacks. I wonder what would happen in our society if all clocks suddenly ceased to function and we were forced to tell time simply by the position of the sun. I’m guessing those of us who are too highly programmed by the clock would quickly go insane.
We are obsessed with time. It has become our most treasured commodity. We are hopelessly addicted to it. Our modern world has blessed us with a myriad of time-saving gadgets, yet we never seem to have enough time. The more we save, the more we crave. Time wakes us up in the morning and dictates when we work. It rules over our labor, our eating, our sleeping, and our playtime (if it graciously allows us any). Time even dictates how we worship God (Sunday morning, 11:00 to 12:15 sharp—just enough time to catch the brunch menu at a local restaurant). For some of us, time has become our God. We wear its image on our wrists, display it on our appliances, and decorate our homes with it. We gladly submit to its rule over our lives allowing ourselves to be enslaved by its ever-present sovereignty. Our worse nightmares involve traffic jams, red lights, slow-speed internet, and having to take a number. Our personal version of hell involves having to spend time in the dreaded waiting room. And we live in constant fear of the inevitable day when the unthinkable will happen, the day we finally run out of time.
Is there a way out of our slavery to time? Is there a way to ease our addiction to the clock? Has anyone heard of a “time-aholics anonymous” organization? Unfortunately we live in a world that is ruled by time. Sunrise follows sunset; four seasons follow one after the other in the same sequence year after year; our bodies grow old and deteriorate. It is impossible in this life to escape the boundaries of time. But rather than bow down to this false god we can place our trust in the One who created time, the One who is Himself timeless, the One who “is the same yesterday and today and forever,” the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come,” the One who has invited us to spend all eternity with Him. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11-14.
Fortunately we worship a God whose timing is always perfect. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” – Romans 5:6. “So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” – Galatians 4:3-4. Because God has a perfect track record when it comes to punctuality, we can trust Him to always show up at just the right time, to answer our prayers at just the right time, to give us direction at just the right time, to be our provider at just the right time, to share with us His grace and mercy at just the right time, and to take us home at just the right time. He will never arrive too early nor too late.
His timing is impeccable, even during those times when He keeps us waiting and we are tempted to cry out, “When, Lord?” “When will I ever get that promotion?” “When will I find that perfect job?” “When will I find that perfect mate?” “When will this illness be healed?” “When will this ministry bear fruit?” “When will my prayers be answered?” The answer to every “when” question is always the same: Right on schedule! You see, He is not all that concerned with what we consider to be the right time. He places our spiritual growth above our personal schedules. Preparing us for an eternity with Him is much too important to be rushed and much too treasured to be left up to our own timing.
Rather than worrying over whether God is accommodating Himself to our own time schedule we should be concerned about whether we are accommodating ourselves to His. Are we promptly keeping our appointment with the Lord, spending time every day in God’s Word and in prayer? Are we constantly alert for opportunities to minister and witness to others? Are we continually listening to His voice to know how and when to respond to such opportunities? Have we promptly accepted God’s invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb? “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when…he spoke through David…‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” – Hebrews 4:7. “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” – Romans 13:11-12.
One day soon our Lord will return and the false god of time will be forever vanquished. I have no idea when that will be but we can all rest assured it will happen at just the right time. Our Lord will arrive right on schedule. Until then I recommend we follow the lead of David, the Psalmist, who even in the midst of one of his worse trials, when it seemed like everyone had abandoned him and time was about to run out on his life, was able to proclaim the following: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands…” – Psalm 31:14-15.

Bill, a child of God, at just the right time

Friday, July 18, 2008


July 18, 2008

I must admit it caught me totally by surprise. I certainly was not prepared to be struck by a message from the Lord while watching a television program. But when my guard was down, God’s rebuke slapped me in my face and sent me reeling into a period of heart-wrenching repentance. Now, after reflecting on the Lord’s corrective for a few days, He has asked me to pass it along to all of you. Trust me, I’d rather be writing about something else entirely, but I’m under obligation (not to mention under conviction) to obey my “Editor-in-Chief.” Warning: This message might hurt; read no further unless you do so with an open heart and a spirit of submission.
The program I was watching took place in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and involved a community of Amish people. I was intrigued by their simple way of life and how they have denied themselves most of our modern-day conveniences such as electric appliances, farm machinery, and automobiles. They live today as though they were stuck in the early nineteenth century. Yet as I became more involved in the story I couldn’t help but notice a rather glaring contradiction. The characters portrayed on the television screen appeared to be fiercely proud of their humble way of life. At times they came across as being condescending, even judgmental, toward those who didn’t follow their austere lifestyle.
Look at that, I thought to myself, in the same way most people take pride in what they possess, these people take pride in what they don’t have. They are just as hung up over possessions as the rest of us.
“Exactly,” I heard the Holy Spirit saying, “just like those in the institutional church and those in the simple church movement. Both are guilty of the same pride.”
The shock wave from what I had just heard nearly knocked me off of my recliner and propelled me into a prolonged period of deep introspection and intense repentance. For the last five years I have been advocating a return to the simple church structure portrayed in the New Testament. In so doing I have often been frank about pointing out the faults in the institutional church. At times I’m sure my ranting has seemed judgmental toward those who practice their faith in large buildings, with large gatherings of people, involving large programs, directed by large numbers of paid staff, supported by large organizational structures, requiring large budgets. In turn, those of us in the simple church movement meet in homes, restaurants, or parks, keep our gatherings purposely small, devise only those programs (loosely organized) that the Holy Spirit expressly tells us to do, have almost no paid staff, very little structure, and no real budgets. Yet in much the same way that many in the institutional church take pride in what they have, I’m afraid many of us in the simple church movement have taken pride in what we don’t have. Obviously, any such pride is sin.
In the process of railing against church buildings which seem to dominate the ministry of the institutional church and promoting our concept of meeting anywhere the Spirit leads us, we have been guilty of making buildings the issue. But it’s not about buildings; it’s about Jesus! In the process of speaking out against large, formal gatherings of believers and advocating meeting in small, intimate fellowships, we have been guilty of making numbers the issue. But it’s not about numbers; it’s about Jesus! In the process of arguing against the need for a hierarchy of paid professional clergy and championing the “priesthood of all believers,” we have been guilty of making structure the issue. But it’s not about church structure; it’s about Jesus!
In the process of complaining about denominationalism which divides the body of Christ into thousands of different names and instead promoting a return to the simple unity of an organism directed by one Head, we are dangerously close to creating another, albeit leaderless, denomination. But it’s not about the name under which we gather; it’s about Jesus! And in the process of pointing out the lack of stewardship involved in spending huge amounts of money to keep the institutional church programs running and advocating instead a pay-as-the-need-arises-as-the-Spirit-directs stewardship we have been guilty of making money the issue. But it’s not about money; it’s about Jesus! God, please forgive us for taking the spotlight away from your Son! “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” – 1Corinthians 1:31.
Not that it’s wrong to point out the flaws in the body of Christ, for they are legion, nor is it necessarily wrong to champion our way of doing church. But we need to do so in a spirit of humility realizing no one of us has a full grasp of complete truth. In our zeal to obey the Lord we must be very careful not to pass judgment on others nor appear condescending to those who may believe differently. And we must listen very carefully, not only to what the Lord is telling us, but how and to whom He wants us to share what we’re hearing.
While it’s true that all over the world the Lord is speaking to countless believers and leading them out of the institutional church into a more organic expression of their faith, He is not telling everyone to do so. I suspect He desires some people to remain in their denominational structures and traditional churches and promote reforms from within. Whether you are being directed to leave the more traditional forms of church and follow the Lord into the harvest field, or to remain and help people learn how to listen to the Lord and obey what they hear, or to (as I suspect is part of my calling) stay close to the door and help people make the transition to simple church, we are all accountable to the same Lord.
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – Romans 14:4. “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat…So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” – Romans 14:10, 12. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food [or buildings, or structures, or numbers, or money].” – Romans 14:19-20.
For the sake of unity within the body of Christ we need to repent of our pride, whether it’s pride in what we have or in what we don’t have, pride in how large our ministry is or how small, and let Jesus be the Head of His church. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:5-7.
Above all, let’s continue to keep our ears and eyes open for a message from the Lord…even if it comes through the television…even if it exposes our own pride…even if it hurts!

Bill, a child of God, pride exposed

Friday, July 11, 2008


July 11, 2008

His face was pale, his voice strained and pleading. He bore the terror of a father who ached to hold his son yet feared he might never again do so. "I took my eyes off him for only a few seconds," he explained fighting back tears, "and he just disappeared. Please, help me find my little boy; he's only six-years-old." Then he added the words that heightened our concern and increased the intensity level of our search efforts. "He's 'special ed!'"
It was July 4th and I had once again volunteered to help patrol the crowd during the annual celebration at Central Park in San Ramon, California. As a chaplain for the police department I welcomed this yearly opportunity to get out amongst the people in our community. Although the event always left me exhausted and limping from painful, blistered feet, I truly enjoyed walking the park, meeting new people, letting them know about our chaplain program, and ministering in any way I could.
I was resting at the police information booth in the middle of the park when the anxious father arrived with his heartfelt plea for help. Immediately our event team sprang into action. Word was sent to our mobile dispatch unit and within seconds portable radios were crackling the boy's description to teams of uniformed officers throughout the park. An announcement was made over the PA system at a temporary stage where a local band was entertaining the celebrative crowd. We were doing all we possibly could to find the boy. My role now was to wait in the booth with the agonizing father, ministering to him and hoping for a happy ending to this otherwise festive occasion.
Compounding our anxiety was the size of the crowd, estimated at around 30,000, and the time of day, just a few minutes before dark. The lights in the park had been left off in anticipation of the fireworks display scheduled to begin shortly. It was easy to understand how a small boy, prone to wander and easily distracted, could be lured away from his father by all the surrounding sights and sounds of family picnics, carnival rides, food booths, and screaming children. Finding him in broad daylight would be difficult enough. After dark, amidst the chaos of a fireworks display, it would be next to impossible.
The father took a seat on a folding chair in our booth but his eyes would not rest as he constantly surveyed the passing throng of people, hoping for a glimpse of his son. In his arms he clutched two other small children, a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. His grip on them was firm and secure. Though one had strayed these two would not leave his embrace. We offered to help hold his kids but no one was about to pry them from his hands.
Prompted by the Spirit I offered to pray for the lost boy. The father's response was enthusiastically positive, and my prayer seemed to calm him somewhat. About ten minutes after we prayed and just before the start of the fireworks, the desperate search came to a joyful conclusion, and a relieved and grateful father was reunited with his wayward son. Incredibly, despite all the anxiety he had caused his father and the enormous search effort his wanderings had generated, the little boy was totally unaware he was lost.
"Next time you're in a large crowd," I gently lectured the father, "agree on a place to gather if you get separated from each other. And make sure your children know they can approach any uniformed officer and ask for help." With words of deep gratitude for all we had done the man walked off to join the celebration still clinging tightly to his younger children with his lost son, now found, perched proudly on his shoulders.
Having had several days to ponder this incident I am intrigued by the spiritual parallels. Like this lost little boy we, too, are prone to wander away from our heavenly Father being easily distracted by the sights and sounds of an alluring world. Like this little boy we also have a loving Father who is deeply concerned for us and will not rest until all His children are safely by His side. Our Father has also enlisted the help of an army of determined rescuers (the Church) and sent them throughout a sinful, chaotic world to search for lost children and bring them home. Yet incredibly, despite all the anxiety they have caused their Father in heaven and the enormous search effort their wanderings have generated, most people remain totally unaware that they are lost. And the world just keeps growing darker!
Fortunately, there is ample cause to hope for a joyful conclusion to this desperate search. Our Father has graciously arranged for a place for us to gather in the event we get separated from Him—the cross of Jesus Christ. "For God was pleased...through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all making peace through his blood shed on the cross." – Colossians 1:19-20.
However, we dare not wait for the lost ones to find their own way home. Rarely will they wander into the dispatch center (church assembly) looking to be found. The call has been issued. It is time for God’s people to spring into action. It is up to us to leave our comfortable surroundings, pour into the surrounding communities, and diligently search for the lost. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” – Luke 19:10. “…As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” – John 20:21. Leading this world-wide search and rescue mission is the "Good Shepherd." "Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home." – Luke 15:4-6.
Perhaps the greatest cause for rejoicing lies in the strength of our Father's hold on us once we are firmly in His grasp. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." – John 10:27-29.
Isn't it wonderful to know no matter how dark and enticing the world becomes, we have a Father who will not turn away from us even for a second? Despite the chaos and confusion surrounding us, we remain safe and secure in His grip! If only we could find more of the lost ones and lead them home! If only we could place more of them in the Father’s powerful hands! If only more of us would have ears to hear the desperate cry of a Father longing for a wayward child! If only more of His search and rescue team would leave the comfortable confines of their homes and church gatherings and answer His call to “seek and to save what is lost!” If only we could witness more happy endings!

Bill, a child of God searching for what is lost

Friday, July 04, 2008


July 4, 2008

The following is a devotional thought from our Living Hope Update exactly six years ago. It brings back memories and rekindles emotions from a particularly tragic time in our nation’s history, a time filled with fear and anxiety. It also serves as a reminder of where our focus should really be as we celebrate our country’s birthday. I came across it as I was preparing to once again volunteer as a police chaplain for our local 4th of July celebration. I pray that it will once again bring a blessing to you.

Whoosh! Pow! "Oooo...aaaah!"
I love watching fireworks; I always have. I remember as a child how hard it was to wait all day for darkness to arrive so we could go to the park, find the best vantage point, and watch the local fireworks display. The sparkling flashes of light, the brilliant colors against a dark sky, the loud noises of exploding rockets, the growing clouds of smoke, the excited spectators with heads lifted upward "ooo-ing" and "aaah-ing" at each new display; I enthusiastically absorbed it all with wonder and awe. I especially enjoyed the "grand finale" when the entire sky would erupt with a profusion of exploding colors accompanied by a patriotic, musical fanfare blaring from loudspeakers and the triumphant cheers of the jubilant crowd. What a wonderful way to celebrate our Independence Day and rejoice in the freedoms we have in this country!
So when I was asked this week to once again help out with the local 4th of July celebration I eagerly agreed. It was another opportunity to be involved in this magnificent holiday tradition. As a volunteer police chaplain I would be part of the uniformed force patrolling the crowd of thirty to forty thousand revelers. I had drawn similar duty for the past two years so I knew pretty much what to expect. The routine was the same, but this year...this year something was different. This was the first 4th of July after the tragic events of September 11th.
Amidst the looming threat of terrorism the atmosphere at the police department pre-event briefing was less jovial and more intense. For the first time ever I was asked to say a prayer before the briefing began. And for the first time ever in my 3 year history as a police chaplain, I decided to wear body armor under my uniform. The body armor is bulky, makes it look like you've gained 30 lbs., and is extremely uncomfortable to wear especially in hot weather. In the past I had declined to use such protection, believing it not to be worth the hassle. This year, safety won out over comfort.
As I walked amongst the noisy throng of joyful celebrants gathered to rejoice on the anniversary of the birth of our freedom, I began to reflect on the limits which infringe upon that freedom and upon my own growing uneasiness. It's true we have been set free from the tyranny of unjust rule and given the privilege of self-government. We have also been largely set free from slavery, racial discrimination, and class warfare and given the privilege of self-determination. And, like no other nation on earth, we have been set free from poverty and given the joys of material abundance. But we have yet to be set free from fear—fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of the past, fear of sorrow and loss, fear of the consequences of our sins, and fear of death and judgment. Only in the Kingdom of God does such freedom exist, and only our reigning King, Jesus Christ, can offer it to us. "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." – John 8:36.
Freedom in Christ, now that's something to really celebrate. And we do every time the church gathers together. Even so we understand that our freedom is still limited in this life. We remain hemmed in by a limited lifespan, limited knowledge, limited vision, and limitations brought about by our persistent sinful nature. But a day is coming (and possibly very soon) when our long wait will be over and our ultimate freedom will finally be realized. It will be the greatest "Independence Day" ever and all creation will celebrate—all, that is, who belong to Christ. The sky will darken and we will see the most magnificent "fireworks" display in history.
"I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke." – Acts 2:19. "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man...The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken...They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." – Matthew 24:27-30.
Whoosh! Pow! "Oooo...aaah!" How's that for a pyrotechnic extravaganza! There's no need to worry about finding the best vantage point because we'll all have a front row seat for this one. But wait, there's more. Don't forget about the blaring musical fanfare and the shouts of triumph. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God..." – 1Thessaloninas 4:16. Just think of it: No more tyranny, slavery, warfare, or poverty; no more terror, sorrow, death or tears; and no more need to wear body armor! It is the ultimate "grand finale!" But it will only be the beginning of this eternal celebration of true freedom! So keep looking upward, my friends, with wonder and awe and get ready to start "ooo-ing" and "aaah-ing." Happy Independence Day!

Bill, a child of God, free indeed