Saturday, July 18, 2009


July 18, 2009

The email request was forwarded to us by Ross, a close associate in the local simple church movement. One of his acquaintances from Philadelphia was in need of housing for up to three months while the man worked at a temporary job near our home. The job market in his hometown had dried up and this position had become available, but he needed a place to stay while in California. “I’m not twisting your arms,” Ross wrote, “just making you aware of a need.” The request mentioned that the young man’s family might come out a few weeks later, something we took as meaning only a for a brief visit.
After praying about the matter both my wife and I concluded that the Lord wanted us to offer our home to this brother in need. Since our children had all grown up and left home we should have no problem housing one more body. A day after we responded to his email saying we would love to have him stay with us, he replied that we were an answer to prayer! Then he added the bombshell that has transformed our lives over the past several months. Not only would he be staying with us but his entire family would soon be arriving to stay as well including their four children ages three through fifteen. Oh, and one more thing, his wife was nine months pregnant with their fifth child. Suddenly our empty-nest, shrunken family of two grew into a community of nine individuals all sharing the same space.
So how have we all managed to survive? Extremely well, thank you! I must admit when David and Heidi and their five kids moved into our home I spent a few anxious moments (okay, make that days) asking the Lord why He wanted to destroy the peace and quiet (not to mention the house and yard) of two of His more seasoned servants. “What have we done to deserve this?” I whined. “Instead of being able to focus on building our simple church ministry we’re forced to concentrate on entertaining a houseful of strangers.”
But of course, God knew exactly what He was doing. Not only was He providing housing for some of His needy children, He was educating a couple of weary, over-burdened servants about trusting Him and sharing kingdom resources, and He was enlightening us on the blessings which flow when we simply obey what He tells us to do.
Thirteen years ago when we first moved into our present home we were amazed at how all the pieces to the puzzle came together to allow us to live in a dwelling large enough for our own family of five plus room for others to visit. Looking back at it now I realize that was the only time in our family’s history where we could actually qualify to purchase such a home. After we had moved in we gathered our family in a circle in our living room and dedicated the house to God.
“We recognize this has all come from you, Lord,” we prayed. “So we pledge to you that whenever you have a need for this home we will open our doors to your request. This house belongs to you, to your kingdom. Just help us to be good stewards of your home.”
Over the years we have held hundreds of Bible studies in our home, sheltered abused wives and pregnant teenagers, housed many traveling missionaries, counseled many weary pilgrims, held a wedding in our backyard, hosted many organic church leadership meetings, and for the last six years we have used our home for our simple church gathering every Sunday evening. Yet I’m quite certain God still has in store many more opportunities for this home to be used. So Babs and I were not at all surprised when the request came last March to open our home to someone else in need. We were, however, a little overwhelmed at the magnitude of the request once we learned how many would be staying with us. But God always showers us with blessings when we are obedient to His call. And this time the blessings have been manifold.
David and Heidi were hosting a simple church in their home in Philadelphia so when the Spirit seemed to be moving them to California for a season they looked for a network of simple churches with which to connect. They were also looking to learn what the Lord is doing in this corner of world in terms of organic church so they might apply the lessons to their own ministry. They have been overjoyed at what they have witnessed happening around here. At times we found ourselves attending a different gathering nearly every evening. David and Heidi have been profuse in their gratitude over all they have learned in the past three months. But the benefits have been flowing in both directions as they have also proven to be a blessing to us in our ministry.
For years I have been praying the Luke 10:2b prayer. “…Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Even more specifically I have been praying for apostolically minded people to partner with me in the harvest in this area. I just never expected the answer to my prayer would come from three thousand miles away and be temporarily living in my own home. David and Heidi have prayed with us, strategized with us, prayer-walked with us, traveled with us around Northern CA as we visited various house churches, and attended various conferences with us. They have proven in every way to be partners with us in ministry. Had we not been obedient to God about taking in these “strangers” we would not have received the blessing of experiencing the answer to our prayers.
“…I was a stranger and you invited me in…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:35, 40.
Aside from the blessings to our ministry, there have been the blessings that come from sharing with others the resources with which God has blessed us. Heidi has proven to be an excellent cook and has prepared most of our meals over the past two months. The children are amazingly well behaved and a delight to be with. Even the baby has been marvelously well behaved and hardly ever fusses. In addition, the extra finances they have provided for us in return for their room and board have gone a long way to boost an overly stretched budget. As for our various house churches, the addition of this new family with five kids has been a source of great encouragement to us all and enabled us to connect with and better relate to other young families who have young children.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38.
Perhaps the greatest blessing we have received is just the rich Christian fellowship we have enjoyed continually. Whether we are sitting down to a meal together, cleaning up the house together, relaxing together after a hard day’s work at our separate jobs, or traveling together to another simple church gathering, everyday has become another church experience. In fact, we have enjoyed almost continuous church since they have arrived.
I’m not advocating a communal lifestyle, but I do think we citizens of the kingdom need to move toward a more intimate fellowship with other Christians. For the most part we in this culture have learned to put on our Sunday-go-to-meeting facades when we gather together and seldom really explore the heart issues that lie cleverly concealed within each of us. Yet transparency in our relationships is essential before we can truly learn how to best minister to and pray for one another. Nine people living together in close quarters are going to learn all kinds of things about each other, some of which we’d just as soon not know. It’s fairly difficult not to air your dirty laundry when it’s lined up in piles awaiting your turn with the washing machine. But such intimacy has brought about a deep-rooted friendship which would not be possible otherwise. And out of this friendship we are seeing each other grow in our relationship with the Lord, and watching in stunning amazement as He causes the kingdom to grow through our collective ministry.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13.
This weekend David and Heidi and their family are moving out of our home to their own rented house about a mile away. I find myself struggling with two opposing emotions. It will be nice to enjoy a little privacy accompanied by some peace and quiet for a change. But on the other hand I will truly miss connecting with this family on an intimate basis every day. It is surprisingly difficult to have them leave our home even though I know in my heart our close friendship will not diminish. However, they need to start developing their own ministry and indeed are already connecting with their new neighbors. And Babs and I have an empty home ready for the next ministry assignments, in other words, guests. We have no idea when the next “strangers” will appear in need of a place to stay, but our ears are attuned to the Master of the house and we are busy preparing the guest rooms.

Bill, a child of God and a steward of His home

Sunday, July 12, 2009


July 12, 2009

He was adopted into our family last April and has been a source of near constant irritation ever since. You think I would have learned after previous such adoptions led to heartache and frustration. But no, I had to try it one more time.
“We just can’t put up with him anymore,” my daughter explained over the phone. “With a six-year-old son and a daughter entering the ‘terrible twos’ I don’t need another little one following me around the house vying for my attention. After he dug up my strawberry plants for the second time we came to the decision that he needs to go. I feel sorry for the little guy but I never really bonded with him. Would you and mom consider taking him in? At least that way the kids would get to see him occasionally when we come to visit you. I know they will miss him terribly.”
Reluctantly, against my better judgment, we agreed to the exchange and our family added one new member. I’m speaking of a ten-month old puppy, a reddish-brown, miniature dachshund named “Jabba” (as in “Jabba the Hut”). My grandson, a Star Wars fan, named him. He is two feet long not counting his tail but stands only eight inches high at the shoulders. His out-of-proportion body looks as though someone dropped a heavy weight on his back and his four legs all telescoped in on themselves. I admit that his comical appearance adds to his cuteness factor. Unfortunately, we also have to deal with the nuisance factor.
On his first evening with us he managed to poop in our living room, tear into the trash cans in four different rooms, and escape outside the front door which precipitated a ten-minute chase through the neighborhood. Once he was finally captured he decided to whimper all night until my wife, Babs, finally gave up and slept with him downstairs on our couch. Jabba’s first night with us left me wondering why my daughter took so long to get rid of the incorrigible beast. I pictured her in her home laughing fiendishly at the thought of pawning off her worst nightmare onto her unsuspecting parents.
A few days later Jabba managed to ingest something toxic in our backyard which forced us to rush him to the emergency vet hospital. A few hours and $1,600 later he seemed to be fully recovered. My nerves and our family budget, however, are still suffering from the shock. Meanwhile, the unruly border has shredded our patio screen door, chewed up multiple socks and shoes, vomited on our bedroom floor, and bitten my finger. To top it all off he seems to have an insatiable appetite devouring anything in sight he is able to chew up and swallow.
So why do we still persist in keeping him around? I’ll admit there certainly have been times when I asked myself that question. The only answer I can come up with is, unlike my daughter, Babs and I have both bonded with the little guy. There is a definite tug on your heartstrings when you arrive home to find him absolutely beside himself with joy at your arrival. He whines for us when we’re gone, waits for us expectantly until we return, and lavishes unabashed love upon us when we’re reunited. He begs to jump into our laps, rests at our feet, and insists on being continually in our presence. Being totally attuned to our voices he runs to us when he is called and wags his tail at the touch of our hands. Along with all of the aggravation he has brought into our lives he has also brought an unfailing source of love.
Last night as I fumed in anger over the second time in a matter of hours Jabba managed to get into the bathroom trash my thoughts turned to another Master who is forced to continually deal with a bunch of unruly, undisciplined, incorrigible adopted members to His family. How does God manage to put up with us? We consistently stick our noses into all sorts of garbage even though we’ve been scolded time after time when we do so. We also have a tendency to chew on things not meant for our consumption and to swallow toxic beliefs and unhealthy doctrines which has cost God dearly. And when someone leaves a door open anywhere we are prone to wander away from home.
We have pooped all over God’s creation and the foulest language frequently gets spewed from our mouths. Our lives are spiritually out-of-proportion, long on worldliness, short on godliness. Our appetites for sin are seemingly insatiable. When we don’t get our way we whine. When another family member from another pack gets too close we bark. And when things go wrong in our lives we blame God and lash out at the hand that feeds us. So why does God still persist in keeping us around? He certainly has far more patience with me than I exhibit with Jabba. The question of God’s unfailing grace is all the more puzzling when we consider the extravagant price which was paid for our adoption. Adding Jabba to our family cost us nothing up front. That certainly wasn’t the case when God added us to His family.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” – 1Peter 1:18-19.
I’m not saying that we are merely pets in God’s eyes kept around for His amusement. Indeed, we are highly treasured by Him and adopted into His family as children and full heirs. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” – Romans 8:15-17.
Our Master purchased us and accepted us into His family knowing ahead of time how unruly we would prove to be. Realizing this makes me desire to be as unashamedly loving toward God as our new puppy is toward us. Unlike Jabba we have many ways in which we can express our love to the Master. We have the privilege of communicating with Him directly, although we don’t often avail ourselves of the opportunity. Sometimes I picture Satan laughing fiendishly at how God gave up so much for a pack of rebellious, sin-prone, spiritually ungainly, too often ungrateful humans. But then Satan never bonded with us. For some inexplicable reason, God has.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1John 4:10.
Could it be that God’s primary motive for lavishing His love upon us is to elicit our love in return? Why else would He put up with so much abuse from His adopted children? Yet how well are we actually returning His love? Are we beside ourselves with joy when we come into His presence? Do we yearn for Him, wait expectantly for Him, and shower Him with unabashed love when we are united with Him? Do we beg Him to allow us to sit in His lap or rest at His feet? Do we insist on being continually in His presence? Are we attuned to His voice and run to Him when He calls? Do we lift our hands to Him in praise when His Spirit touches our heart? Along with all the aggravation and grief we cause the Almighty do we also bring to Him an unfailing source of love?
When Jesus was asked which is the most important commandment, is it any wonder He answered with the command to love the Lord? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30. We spend so much time and effort attempting to obey all the other commands and directives found in God’s Word and yet we fail to come close to accomplishing His highest request. We try so hard and fail so miserably at keeping our behavior in line with Scripture. I wonder why we don’t put forth as much effort at simply loving God.
To be sure, Jabba’s actions are nowhere close to being disciplined. But his love has found a way into our hearts. I hate to be chastised by a four-legged, recalcitrant beast, so I figured I would pass along this canine candor to you. May we all learn to exhibit as much unrestrained, unabashed love for our Master as Jabba displays toward his.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? – Psalm 42:1-2.

Bill, a child of God panting for His Master

Friday, July 03, 2009


July 3rd, 2009

“My boss is really out to get me,” “Sam” revealed at one of our simple church gatherings. “She is demanding the impossible and making me stay later and later to do work I detest. She ridicules me in front of the other workers. She never has anything good to say about me, yet she has praise for other employees even though their numbers are no better than mine. She is forcing me to work harder than anyone else and punishing me when I don’t live up to her expectations—which happens nearly every day. I can’t stand going to work; I dread getting up in the morning because I know I will have to face that woman. I would give anything to be able to quit, but there is no other job available.”
After pausing to choke off some tears he continued. “How am I supposed to react to her when everything within me wants to confront her but I am afraid of losing my job?”
“Have you been praying for her,” I asked. “Have you asked God what you might be able to do to bless her?”
For awhile Sam was speechless. Then, reluctantly, he revealed he hadn’t prayed for her at all. “I’m sorry,” he confessed, “but I’m finding it very difficult to think about asking God to bless this hurtful woman.”
“I’m going to challenge you not only to begin praying for her everyday, but also to tell her you are doing so,” I responded. “And when you tell her, ask her if there is anything specific you can bring before God on her behalf.”
I wasn’t sure how Sam would react to my challenge. He was a relatively new Christian who was personally experiencing a severe financial meltdown. The likelihood of bankruptcy loomed in the near future along with the certainty of losing his home. After being without work for over a year he had finally landed a job with a major bank in a nearby community. Though he wasn’t making nearly the income he had been accustomed to as a mortgage broker, at least the bank was providing a little something for himself, his wife, and their two young children. At last something positive was beginning to happen. But then he was stationed at a branch where the manager seemed to be doing everything possible to discourage him and make him want to quit. I prayed that Sam would have the courage to speak and that God would break up the hard ground and allow the love of Christ to soak into his difficult boss.
A few days later at another simple church meeting Sam had a rather surprising report.
“Bill, guess what?” he gushed excitedly. “I told my manager we would be praying for her at our gathering tonight and asked if there was anything specific she wanted us to pray for. I didn’t want to do it. I fought against doing it all day, but I knew God was prompting me to act. Finally, she stopped by my desk to grill me about how poorly I was doing and as she turned to leave, the Spirit told me now was the time. After I spoke she seemed a little stunned, but she mentioned that I could pray for her son who was having a job interview the next day. Then, after walking away a few steps, she turned around and said, ‘I believe in it, you know. I believe in prayer.’”
“That was awesome!” I replied. “Now, whenever you talk to her, ask how her son is doing and if there is anything else she would like you to pray about.”
Over the next couple of weeks Sam not only was able to talk to his boss frequently about prayer, but he began to notice a rather drastic change in her attitude toward him. The daily episodes of berating began to subside. One day she opened up to him and explained that her own supervisor was treating her unreasonably, demanding the impossible from her branch, and she was having a great deal of difficulty handling it. Gradually, my friend’s attitude toward her began to change from anger and resentment to empathy and compassion. Others in the bank have begun approaching him with their own personal problems and opportunities are opening up to witness to them about His Lord and even to explain what simple church is all about. And, wonder of wonders, God has actually been blessing him with better numbers.
In the span of about three weeks, my friend’s attitude about work has completely changed. Now he actually looks forward to getting up in the morning and going to the bank. What has made such a dramatic difference in such a short time? He has come to understand that he doesn’t work for the bank, nor does he labor for an unscrupulous manager. In reality, he works for the Lord and is under the management of the Holy Sprit. He may receive his paycheck from an earthly institution but his primary employment originates from heaven.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24.
Awhile back this same friend designed a fabric bracelet consisting of yarn in military camouflaged colors tied together with thousands of knots. He and I as well as a few others in our simple church circle are now wearing these “commando bands” on our wrists to remind ourselves that we are members of an elite corps of special forces, dropped off behind enemy lines, and charged with the mission of bringing down opposition strongholds and rescuing those who have been held hostage by the devil. No matter who we are, no matter what we may be doing, no matter where we may find ourselves, we are on mission for our Commander and Chief 24/7. The inspiration comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy which amounts to his last words written shortly before his martyrdom. “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” – 2Timothy 2:3-4.
Being on mission continually for Jesus means we are always on the lookout for opportunities to bless people, to be a witness for the faith, to share the love of Christ, and to expand the kingdom. Whether we are a banker, a music teacher, a student, or a homemaker, as Christians we have enlisted in the Lord’s army and He commands our primary allegiance. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” – Colossians 4:5.
Being on mission with Christ 24/7 makes all the difference in life. Whether you love your job or hate it, the Lord has you there for a reason, and it’s not just to receive a paycheck. Whether you love your neighborhood or hate it, the Lord has you there for a reason, and it’s not just to complain to your neighbors about their loud parties and the unkempt appearance of their homes. Whether you love your school or hate it, the Lord has you there for a reason, and it’s not just to get good grades and receive an education.
We all need to maintain communication with our headquarters and rapidly obey any command we are given. We need to be prepared to act at a moment’s notice, ready and eager to follow our King into battle. Underneath our humble, unsuspecting exteriors we are warriors, battle-hardened, Spirit-gifted, Bible-trained, armed and dangerous. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” – 2Corinthians 10:4. And we are prepared not only to fight for our King, but to die for Him as well. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23. “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.
Once the current skirmish is finished we return to our worldly identity as bankers, music teachers, homemakers, mild-mannered earthlings, not necessarily incognito, but just blending into the natural camouflage of life, patrolling whatever sphere of influence in which the Lord has us stationed. But always we are on mission, waiting—waiting for the next opportunity to strike, even if striking means simply to ask an unreasonable boss how we might pray for her—waiting for the that triumphal day when the war is over, the victory is won, the Kingdom of our Lord is established, and all His soldiers will be called home.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” – Revelation 11:15. “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” – Revelation 17:14.

Bill, a child of God on mission