Saturday, March 21, 2009


March 21st, 2009

“I’m hearing the words, ‘build up, build up.’” “I think that’s from a verse of Scripture.” The young woman looked up from her prayer posture and waited for an acknowledgment from me.
“Yes, I believe I remember reading that somewhere in the Bible,” I responded. Being somewhat new to the concept of receiving a “word of knowledge” from God I was both skeptical and curious as to what she believed she was hearing. As she closed her eyes and continued her prayer for me, my mind began exploring what those words might mean. After nearly two years of exploration God is still teaching me their full impact.
I was praying with a young couple from Minnesota when I first heard those words. We were attending a house church conference in Denver a couple of years ago and they had earnestly requested that I pray for them and their ministry. When they offered to return the favor and pray for me I gladly accepted welcoming all the help I could get. For four years my wife and I had been transitioning toward a simpler, more organic concept of doing church but we had struggled at how to multiply our ministry beyond our own weekly home gathering. The words, “build up, build up,” resonated in my spirit and somehow I knew God was attempting to communicate with me.
Upon returning home, however, I quickly became immersed in trying to earn a living and grow a ministry. Spending time searching for the Scripture verse containing the words which were pronounced over me in Denver was relegated to a lesser priority. A few months later while I was reading in the Old Testament during my morning quiet time I came across the very words in a passage from the book of Isaiah.
“Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.” – Isaiah 62:10.
Immediately my mind was transported back to that prayer time in Denver. “What are you trying to tell me?” I asked the Lord, feeling certain now that He was intent on downloading something of prime importance into my spirit. “Speak, Lord; your servant is listening,” I prayed, imitating Samuel’s response when he first heard God talking to him. Immediately, profound thoughts began pouring into my mind, thoughts I’m convinced came from the Spirit of God. What follows is some of what I have learned as I have listened to the Lord speaking into my heart through this Scripture.
“Pass through the gates!” We need to get out of our house and into the community. God has people on whom He is working scattered all around us. He will show us with whom He wants us to connect. “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, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” – Luke 10:5-7. We must open our eyes, our hearts, and see the people through His eyes. When we find the “people of peace” we are not to insist that they attend our own home group. Instead, we are to gather their friends and family around them in their homes and build a new church there. We are to bring them to Christ, disciple them, build them up, show them how to do the same with others, and then release them into the harvest.
“Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway!” Our ministry is to build a highway, a two-way thoroughfare, for the people to come to Jesus, and for Jesus to come to them, a highway reaching out into the world far beyond our home. There are many souls who will never be reached through the traditional church. We must prepare a way for them. In actuality, Jesus is the way. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6. We need to be building up Jesus in the eyes of those we encounter. But in another sense, Jesus is also in the process of building up His church as a highway through whom others will be able to find their way to Him. To be sure, He is building us in ways which many of us find unfamiliar as to how we’ve always experienced church in the past. But since He is the head of the church, He is also the architect of these retrofit blueprints. “…I will build my church…” – Matthew 16:18. We are a part of His holy construction project. As we seek to build up Jesus, He is working to build up a highway through us. We must let Him do His work in us, even though the demolition of our old ways of doing church may be painful.
“Remove the stones.” We need to take away the barriers that stand in the way of people coming to Jesus and engaging in effective ministries. The following are just a few of the “stones” which our Construction Foreman has informed us are in need of removal: Racial, economic, and gender discrimination which bar far too many people from full participation in the body of Christ; the complicated structures found in institutional churches which prevent them from being easily reproduced; concentrating on church growth rather than kingdom growth; focusing all our energies upon one weekly event in one central location rather than ministering house to house, 24/7; spending too many resources on buildings and salaries rather than on ministering to peoples’ needs; and the separation between paid clergy and the rest of the body of Christ which enables most of the church to be apathetic pew-sitters.
We also have “stones” and “potholes” in our own lives, barriers which may be preventing people from clearly hearing our message and finding Jesus through our ministry. Our Foreman will show us the stones which need to be removed and the holes which need to be filled in our daily lives. I’m guessing that improving these individual highways will require a lifetime construction project.
“Raise a banner for the nations.” Our ministry must reach beyond our own ethnicity. In the Bay Area we are surrounded by people from many different cultures. God loves them all and so must we. We need to discover ways of building up the highway cross-culturally. “…his banner over me is love.” – Song of Songs 2:4. The banner of love can build a bridge across the widest cultural chasm.
Our ministry has changed dramatically since we began the construction on this new highway. At present we have seen four additional churches spring up along the highway as we have “passed through the gate” of our home and reached out into the surrounding communities. Each of these has brought us face to face with different cultures. So far we have seen at least eight people find their way to Jesus through this new highway, despite the constant construction. We have learned to expect the unexpected and be ready at a moment’s notice, as the Spirit directs, to take the highway into new territory. Each time this has occurred we have experienced our own faith being built up as well. But I was overwhelmed a few weeks ago when our Construction Foreman sent us a mind-blowing re-affirmation of the highway blueprints.
We were meeting with our Hispanic gathering in San Pablo, about an hour’s drive north of our home. This church was started in the home of the cook from a restaurant in our hometown of Dublin. A few days after I had begun receiving our construction plans for the highway while meditating on the passage from Isaiah, the Lord planted a unique church in this coffee shop around the night manager. She introduced us to the cook who, in turn, invited us to his home. Now we were regularly doing church with him and his extended family. As we had often done in the past, we asked those who had gathered if they had any questions about what they were reading in their personal Bible study. After the host and his wife admitted they hadn’t taken the time to read the Bible since our last visit, the wife’s mother began thumbing through her Spanish Bible. This is a woman who speaks almost no English, who only recently began reading God’s Word because we were able to give her a Spanish translation Bible. Everything we spoke during our gathering had to be interpreted to her in her own language, and everything she said had to be translated to us in English.
Through her daughter’s interpretation the woman said she had encountered a passage of Scripture she found hard to understand. She opened her Bible to the book of Isaiah and began to read. When her daughter told me the reference I nearly fell off my chair. She had just read Isaiah 62:10. Of all the Scriptures in the Bible she had picked the very one which had indirectly led us to their home.
“What does this mean?” she asked through her daughter. “What is the highway?” “What are the stones?”
After regaining my composure I explained to the group the significance of the verse and what it had meant to our ministry. “The highway is being built up to provide a way for you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors, to find their way to God through Jesus Christ,” I explained. And then, choking up with emotion, I told them, “Because the Holy Spirit placed that verse of Scripture on your heart and prompted you to share it with us, I believe He is telling us something. He is saying that this highway goes through your house. In fact, it goes through you, all of you. That is the Lord’s plan and He is in the process of building that highway even as we speak. Each one of you must ask yourself what is standing in the way of the highway going through you. What stones need to be removed in order for Christ to use you as a highway to reach others?”
This family was overwhelmed at what I shared with them that evening. But they have begun to ask the Lord how they are to proceed and we are starting to see the telltale signs of construction work commencing in their lives. I am anxious to see how the Lord brings this construction project to fruition.
Perhaps there is an even larger application for this revelation which was given to me nearly two years ago and since has made such a profound difference in our ministry. In a wider sense, all of us who follow Christ have been called to build up a highway to reach out to others with the message of His grace and mercy. The blueprints for these highways may not always include planting simple, organic churches. Our Construction Foreman will likely design a highway specifically geared for us and those who He wants to reach through us.
Regardless of what the plans reveal, there is a construction zone ahead. The blueprints will likely require some demolition of old behaviors, filling in some gaping potholes of unrighteousness with more fertile soil, and possibly even some detours around unfruitful ways of doing church which used to occupy our time. My advice is to listen carefully to the Architect of the highway and diligently follow His plans. As in all construction projects it’s bound to get a little messy. However, once you see the highway being used and people are finding their way to Jesus through you, it will be well worth all the hard work and sacrifice.
In the Old Testament Isaiah prophesied about the construction of this highway as a prelude to the Lord’s coming. “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” – Isaiah 40:3. Two thousand years ago John the Baptist came with this same message preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. Today we are hearing the same cry. “Build up, build up the highway!” The Lord is coming. Let the construction begin!

Bill, a child of God building up the highway

Saturday, March 14, 2009


March 14, 2009

As soon as I turned the car onto my home street my heart sank. The entire neighborhood was dark. No houselights, no porch lights, no streetlamps; only the faint flicker of a candle emanating from a few windows gave any indication that the community was inhabited. Oh no! I thought to myself. There go my evening’s plans down the drain. I had rushed home from giving my last piano lesson in order to catch my favorite show on television. A two-hour, double-header episode was scheduled which I had looked forward to watching for days. In the show the fate of the entire nation had been hanging in the balance for the last week. Now I would likely never find out what happened. My mood was hovering somewhere between anger and depression. Not even any moonlight was visible to cheer my gloom.
An eerie, thick blackness had descended upon our small community as though every house had been draped in a death shroud. The power had obviously gone out. But why was it only affecting our small neighborhood? The rest of the city was ablaze in light. Just beyond our backyard fence everyone seemed to be enjoying all the power they desired. The same was true one block to the east and one block to the west. Only a few dozen homes, including my own, were suffering from the outage. What have we done to be cursed like this? I wondered.
As I pulled into our driveway I noticed that our house, at least our living room anyway, seemed to be filled with light. Once inside I discovered why. My wife, Babs, had used the darkness as an excuse to light nearly every candle we owned. I lost count at sixty. She has always had a fondness for candles but this was a bit overwhelming.
“Why don’t we light our gas fireplace and extinguish a few of these candles,” I suggested. “I think it might be a little safer.”
“There’s nothing to do but read,” she replied. “We need all this light to see the print. But we can go ahead and light a fire in addition to all the candles and that will brighten up the room even more.”
I gave up trying to convince her of the impending danger with so many flames burning all at once and soon settled onto our couch with a good book. It was difficult for me to concentrate on reading, however. I kept wondering what had happened to knock out our power. Why were only a few houses involved in the outage? And why was it taking so long to restore our electricity? Every clock in our home was stuck on 4:45 pm. I finally gave up and went to bed around 11:30 with still no power available. Finally, at 3:15 am, the lights came on again startling us both out of our slumber. After adjusting our bedroom clocks and resetting our alarms to make certain we would wake up at the proper time in the morning, we turned the lights off and once again climbed into bed. But I found it difficult to go back to sleep.
I was curious if God might be trying to tell me something. The circumstances surrounding the power outage and a house filled with candles were unique enough to cause my spiritual ears to perk up. During the remainder of that evening and the next day I sensed that God was indeed attempting to communicate. I don’t think He caused the electrical outage, although as yet I haven’t discovered the reason behind it nor why it took over ten hours to restore. But I do believe the Lord was using the events of that evening to pass along some hints at what might be in store for us in the near term and how the body of Christ should respond. In turn, I am passing these along to you as well.
I am afraid that this region (perhaps the entire country) is in for a prolonged period of intense darkness. Indeed it has already begun and will likely last far longer than most are predicting. The darkness includes our present economic crisis but is probably not limited to financial matters. Just as our power outage only affected our small neighborhood, this darkness will affect some segments of our society far worse than others. It will even threaten the demise of many churches. However, this is not a time for the church to cower in fear or limit its ministries. Neither is it a time for hording our resources while others nearby are suffering in the darkness. It is a time, rather, for us to prepare to take advantage of every opportunity to reach out to those who are being swept away in the gathering storm. Against the black backdrop of intensifying darkness the church has a unique opportunity to shine ever more brightly.
During our blackout Babs had ingeniously placed a dozen small candles on each of two cooking sheets and set them out on TV trays in our living room. Together they added a great deal of light to the room. As I was extinguishing the blazing inferno before retiring that evening I noticed that several candles from each tray had burned completely down while others had barely lost half an inch off their height. There seemed to be no reason for the disparity. Was this the result of some obscure law of thermodynamics or was there another message hidden here?
In meditating upon this oddity I was reminded of how brightly lit one room of our house was with all sixty candles burning at once. Yet the rest of the house was in total darkness. When I needed to use the bathroom, however, I could take one candle with me and have plenty of light. Likewise, Babs was able to take two candles with her into the kitchen and have enough light to grill a couple of cheese sandwiches for our dinner. Were we wasting some of the candles by placing them all together in one room? Were we exhibiting poor stewardship of our existing light?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16.
During times of adversity it is the nature of Christians to huddle together for mutual warmth and fellowship. It is essential for us to gather regularly in order to practice all the “one another” ministries we read about in Scripture. But at this present time of impending crisis God is also calling us out of our comfortable, well-lit church gatherings in order to penetrate the darkness, to take the light of Jesus into the surrounding communities and dispel the stormy night of economic hardships, despair, faithlessness, lawlessness, hopelessness, and sin which blacken the world outside the walls of the kingdom. It’s not that we Christians are hiding our lights under a bowl, but rather that we are corralling all the lights in one room.
I believe many churches will not survive the coming darkness. They will likely be the ones which expend all or the vast majority of their resources in the process of illuminating that which is already well lit. They will simply succumb to their own poor stewardship of the light and burn themselves up shining on each other. I also believe there are many pastors, as well as other gifted Christ followers, who have been called to penetrate the darkness with their light but are instead being held captive behind the stained glass of their churches. It is high time we release these “called out ones” into the sin-stained, spiritually dark world which surrounds us before they burn themselves up in a ministry where they don’t belong.
Every church community and every believer needs to reassess their stewardship and ask the Head of the church where He would have them distribute their resources. I’m not advocating that we close the doors to our houses of worship. We just need to follow the Lord of the harvest into the darkness and shine the light of Jesus upon those who are truly in need. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light…” – 1John 2:9-10. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” – 1John 3:17-18. There are many people in various segments of our society right now who are hurting terribly. Their plight will only become more desperate as the darkness intensifies. As we shine the light of Jesus upon them their hearts will be opened to the Gospel and the kingdom of God will increase.
“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” – Isaiah 9:2. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…” – Ephesians 5:8. “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. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:11-12.
Open your eyes and look around you. The world is growing increasingly darker, suffering from a spiritual power outage. God has given you the light of Christ. What will you do with it? Will you place your candle next to scores of others who are shining brightly and burn yourself up giving light to that which is already well lit, all the while cursing the darkness outside? Or will you use your light to penetrate the darkness and dispel it?

Bill, a child of God penetrating the darkness