Saturday, February 28, 2009


February 28, 2009

“Are we all done wrapping presents now?” asked my very weary son, Travis. “I just want to go to bed and sleep ‘til noon.” Our usual late-night, marathon, Christmas Eve, gift-wrapping session was nearing completion and we were all showing signs of being overcome with stress and fatigue.
“We have just one more thing to do,” I replied with a sigh. “We still have to put your sister’s gift together.”
“Wonderful!” answered Travis with all the enthusiasm of a convicted murderer being led to the gallows. “Knowing our history in putting stuff like this together we’re probably going to be up all night.”
“No way,” I responded with feigned confidence. “We’re only dealing with a bookcase. How hard could it be? We should have this finished in a couple of hours, tops.” Inwardly I was filled with dread at having to face another set of confusing instructions. Travis was right. We both had a well deserved reputation for taking the apparently simple and transforming it into the extremely complex. Our manifold struggles in putting anything together, no matter how simple the instructions, were the stuff of legend. One only had to mention the toy oven, or the miniature shopping cart, or the Daisy Big Wheel tricycle to send thoughts of sheer panic racing through our minds. Would this be another in a long and inglorious list of assembly misadventures?
With feelings of resignation and foreboding we ambled into the garage and began collecting our tools. “Don’t forget the chain saw and sledge hammer,” I mentioned with a chuckle trying to cheer up my dejected son. Travis’ silence told me he was in no mood to tolerate my attempts at humor. Standing in front of a large cardboard box I read aloud the simple, yet dreaded notice that sent a fresh wave of terror cascading through our minds. Some assembly required. No tools needed.
“We’re doomed!” groaned Travis. “Why don’t we just stick a bow on the box and go to bed?”
“We’d just have to put the thing together tomorrow,” I answered. “Besides, you know how much your sister wants something on which to display her sculptures. This is one of the few things she passionately asked for this year. Let’s give this our best shot and see if we can get it done tonight. Just think of how surprised she will be when she sees this behind the tree tomorrow morning.”
Reluctantly, Travis began tearing into the box. In a couple of minutes we were standing in front of a pile of nicely stained wooden boards and one sheet of paper covered in tiny print. “Hand me the instructions and let’s find out how to proceed,” I requested. Step One: Stand the unit on end and swing the side pieces outward. As I slowly read the instructions out loud Travis carefully performed the actions indicated. As he swung the side boards of the bookcase outward we were surprised to hear a rhythmic “plop, plop, plop.” One by one all three shelves of the unit fell into place on already fixed hinges. In one step, in less than a minute, the entire bookcase was fully assembled.
Travis looked at me and triumphantly proclaimed, “Looks good to me!”
“I’m satisfied,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders in astonishment. “Let’s stick a bow on it; this baby’s finished!” As we carried our trophy into the house and placed it behind the Christmas tree, we congratulated ourselves on our meteoric ascension to becoming perhaps the world’s greatest assembly engineers. “Look at this!” we bragged. “And it was done in record time!” Of course, inwardly, we both knew our success was actually due to the expertise of the original design engineer who had made our task a slam dunk. For once in our lives we had stumbled upon an assembly project that was simply wonderful.

“Welcome to the Source; please come in,” politely beckoned the voice on the other side of the door. Ross, Mike, and I (three veteran church planters) walked into the living room of the small condominium and sat down on a comfortable leather couch. A young woman was playing some soft, meditative music on a keyboard. It allowed us to catch our breath from the long commute and open up our hearts to whatever God was about to do in, around, through, and to us that evening. It was eight o’clock on a Friday night and the three of us were taking a break from a weekend, organic church conference in the LA area in order to visit a group of Christians who had been meeting together regularly for a little over a year. Somehow we sensed the evening would be transformational for us. Through a Bay Area connection we had been invited to share our hearts in this gathering of faithful Christ followers.
As the worshippers began to arrive, we initially harbored feelings of being out of place. They were predominately Asian (about two dozen in total) and almost all were still in their twenties. Yet as their sincere, passionate worship began to fill the room we completely lost sight of our differences and were caught up in the glory of the presence of God. As Ross later commented, they truly know how to use heartfelt worship to woo the Holy Spirit. God graciously and miraculously responded to their courting. A young man played the guitar and led the worship connecting the hearts of everyone to the heart of our Father. After a while some individuals began sharing passages of Scripture in between the worship songs. Others shared what they felt the Lord was saying to us.
The worship lasted for well over an hour and grew steadily more intense. Eventually, one of us was asked to share for a few minutes about what we were learning concerning organic church planting. Then a young man sat down in the center of the room and led a Bible study on being a child of God. After this we were divided into two groups. Those who were in need of ministry (prayer, healing, counseling, etc.) were told to remain downstairs while those who were interested in learning more about how to plant organic churches were directed to escort us to an upstairs bedroom. In this smaller venue we shared for a couple of hours about following the Lord into the harvest, searching for the “person of peace,” and planting simple churches. They listened intently asking many questions. It seemed that the only thing they had been lacking in their fellowship was expertise in turning their outreach adventures into opportunities for planting churches. When the Spirit revealed this lack to them a few days earlier they were led to invite us to join them that evening in order to provide what they were missing.
We closed our part of the gathering by offering a prayer of blessing over them and their ministry. Then it was their turn to pray for us. For an additional hour they gathered around us, laid their hands upon us, and lifted us up before the throne of God. The passion and zeal spewing forth in their prayers was consistent with what was evident in their worship. These young believers define sincerity. Finally, around one o’clock in the morning, we managed to tear ourselves away from their loving fellowship and head back to our hotel still aglow with the presence of the Spirit.
Since that evening when we gathered with the Source we have been attempting to unpack what we experienced. The worship was among the most intense and awe-inspiring I have ever witnessed. The supernatural presence of God was powerfully evident. There was no order of worship yet the assembly flowed seamlessly from one focus to the next. The leadership structure appeared to be flat. Many different people took turns ministering to the group, sharing as God had gifted them. They spoke often of how the Lord had been leading them out of the comfort of their homes and into the surrounding streets and bars to witness and bless others. And the love of God was abundantly flowing from person to person.
In short, they were practicing what we preach. They were engaged in doing what we have been espousing for years, though I’m guessing few if any of them had ever heard the terms simple church or organic church. I personally have been on this journey nearly six years while the Source has been in existence only a little over one year. To the best of my knowledge they have not read any books about house churches nor have they attended any seminars or conferences regarding our movement. They have simply sought passionately after the heart of God, listened intently to His voice, and obeyed faithfully what they heard. This is truly a supernatural phenomenon, an immaculate conception born not of a denomination’s will but birthed from the womb of the Holy Spirit.
What is God trying to show us through these remarkable Christian servants? It would seem that planting vibrant, missional churches is far less complicated than most people, including many within the organic church movement, have imagined. But isn’t this what Scripture teaches us? “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. “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 and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21.
Somehow we have managed to make church planting so impossibly complicated that it takes a team of enormously talented, seminary-trained professionals to pull it off backed up by a denominationally sponsored church planting organization. Most traditional church plants require about eighteen months of planning, demographical research, targeted marketing, resource gathering and an exhaustive volume of labor-intensive ground work. The church planter is expected to compose a comprehensive project proposal complete with power-point presentation and then raise hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some cases millions) to fund the first two years. The fact that a great many of these church plants fail in the first few years should come as no surprise. Truly we have a well deserved reputation for taking the simple and transforming it into the extremely complex. Is there a better way?
To the weary and faint of heart, to those who shudder at the very thought of being involved in planting a new church, to those whose history of attempting anything for God is less than stellar, I have good news. Though the task ahead appears daunting, you might be surprised to learn how simple the assembly truly is.
I suggest you carefully read and follow the proven instructions. Step one: continuously, diligently, passionately, seek God’s heart; listen intently to His voice; obey faithfully what you hear. Then just stand back and be amazed as everything falls into place. Although we might be tempted to take some of the credit for any success, everyone around us will know the glory goes to the original Design Engineer. Church planting is meant to be a supernatural phenomenon, a Spirit-empowered strategy toward impacting our surrounding communities and advancing the kingdom, a vitally necessary tactic which is open to all, experienced professional or novice child of God, who would truly yield themselves to the Lord of the harvest. And best of all, it can be simply wonderful.

Bill, a child of God simply following His directions

Saturday, February 14, 2009


February 13, 2009

"Is there anything I can do?" he pleaded as he met me at the front door of his home.
The distressing look in his eyes testified to a high level of frustration. His normally effervescent countenance was hidden beneath a mask of anxiety. I knew immediately something had gone terribly wrong. He was one of my more gifted piano students, a ten year old boy normally high on excess energy and consumed by a strong desire to master the instrument. For a couple of years I had been traveling to his home in a neighboring city and giving music lessons to his entire family. His parents, who were home-schooling their kids, had been graciously employing me as a piano teacher in order to help support my ministry and pad the meager income of a church planter. In the process I had grown to love them all and thoroughly enjoyed watching them progress in their musical skills. So it was with deep disappointment that I discovered the reason behind this boy's request. He was wearing a t-shirt, the right sleeve of which hung limp, lifeless and empty. Lifting up his shirt he revealed his missing right arm, imprisoned in a sling.
"I broke my collar bone," he said glumly. "I was running in church and slipped and fell. The doctor says I may have to wear the sling for six weeks. I can only raise my arm about four inches before it starts to hurt.” As he spoke he lifted his arm slightly and grimaced with pain. “How can I play the piano with only one hand? Is there anything I can do?”
"Of course there are things we can do," I answered reassuringly. "We can do our scales and exercises with only one hand. Just think how strong and coordinated your left hand will be after six weeks of getting all the attention."
His half-hearted attempt at a smile told me he could see through my false enthusiasm. Scales and exercises are far more drudgery than joy for most musicians. They are the means to an end, necessary evils on the way toward the goal of making music. But with the ability to make music temporarily withheld, the motive for the grunt work was all but nonexistent.
“Why don’t we sit down at the piano and discover what we can still do?” I offered trying to sound as positive as I could. Reluctantly, the boy plopped down on the piano bench and began working through some scales, but it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it. After watching him labor dispassionately for a few minutes over some one-handed keyboard calisthenics, I decided on a different approach.
"Let's have some fun together!" I announced. We had previously learned some simple, three-note chords and I surmised that now was the perfect opportunity to put that knowledge into action. After reviewing and numbering the chords, I explained to my wounded protégé that I would call out a number and he was to play the corresponding chord in rhythm and continue playing it until I called out a different number. Intrigued by the new approach to his piano lesson the boy’s demeanor seemed to improve slightly.
Once we had a few practice measures behind us I began playing some simple melodies over his left-handed accompaniment. The room was filled with the sounds of “Jingle Bells,” “Ode to Joy,” “It’s A Small World After All,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The results by any standard were crude, but my intentions were rewarded with a huge smile and a giggle from my student as he realized what we were able to accomplish together. I provided the right-hand melody, he provided the left-hand chords. Together we were making music. Did it sound all that great? Not really, but it impressed my student enough to keep him practicing while he only had use of one arm. Could I have played the music better all by myself? Of course, but that wasn't the point. My aim, my joy was in enabling him to become successful in spite of his brokenness. Since that day I have taught all my piano students using this same method realizing that partnering together motivates them toward greater achievement.

We stand before our Master in a state of sin and brokenness, our souls imprisoned by a sling of frustration. We have tried to do great things for Him only to slip, fall, and fail. Everything we have taken upon ourselves to accomplish for Him seems to have fallen far short of perfection. In our hearts we know there is something missing; something has gone terribly wrong.
"Is there anything I can do?" we plead, searching for an answer to our desire for significance and longing to be whole.
“Of course there is," answers the Master Teacher. “You can always read and study Scripture and draw near to Me through prayer and meditation. Just think how much closer the two of us will become! Prayer and Bible study aren’t just the means to an end; they are not just the way to become better equipped to serve. Intimacy with Me is the end; it is your primary goal!”
“But I want to accomplish something truly great for You,” we whine.
“Nothing done in My name is insignificant in God’s eyes,” He replies. “But now that you have discovered how difficult success is without allowing Me to work through you, let's have some fun together. I will call out a direction; you follow and continue following until I call out a different direction. Listen carefully to My instruction and obey what you hear. Over your accompaniment I will play the sweet melody of my will. Together, we will make beautiful music and accomplish more than you can dream."

What's the message? Ministry is not for soloists. Not only does it require a group of committed, faithful believers partnering together to advance the kingdom, it also requires the hands of the Master Teacher. Without Him we are broken, handicapped, powerless, and hopeless. We might as well try to serve Him with one hand. But when we join in a love duet with Him, allowing Him to lead, He "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us." – Ephesians 3:20. Will the results bring critical acclaim? Perhaps not in this world, however all of heaven may very well erupt in thunderous applause. Could He do it better all by Himself? Of course, but that isn't the point. His aim, His joy is in enabling us to become successful in spite of our brokenness. He knows that partnering together will motivate us toward greater achievement.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:12-13. “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5.
Let's not be discouraged over our inabilities, for it is when we admit our brokenness that Christ says to us, "Let's have some fun together!" "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me." – 2Corinthians 12:9.
So He composes the music as we play. He leads, we follow. He plays the right hand; we accompany His melody with our left. It is a blessed partnership bringing satisfying significance and sweet success for us, and for Him, an opportunity to display His grace and power. What a thrill it is to play alongside the greatest musician of all time! What a blessing it is to be in concert with the Almighty! Together, we have a love duet of eternal joy. Together, we can make some awesome music!

Bill, a child of God in the midst of a love duet