Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lessons in Humilty

A few days ago, we attended our grandson, Dominic’s pre-school Christmas program. Some of Dominic’s classmates rang bells to the tune of a familiar Christmas carol. Not wanting to miss the perfect timing to ring his bell, one little guy got so overly excited that when his moment finally arrived, he hit himself in the head with his bell! Bamboozled by the incident, he held one hand to his throbbing forehead while unsuccessfully attempting to get back into rhythm with his bell in the other hand. Poor little fella!

Lessons in humility start early, don’t they? But, why do they have to be so stinkin’ painful? Could it be because of the critical importance of humility in our relationship with God and with others?

Humility can be defined as, "A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a humble opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God's sake."

Humility is said to be the foundation of our spiritual life and inferior only to faith. However, humility is considered the leading virtue inasmuch as it removes the obstacles to faith. It removes pride and makes a man subject to and a fit recipient of grace. According to the words of St. James, God resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble, (James 4:6).

A humble person recognizes their total dependence on God.

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority.
He has accepted God's estimate of his own life:
In himself, nothing; In God, everything.
He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him
and he has stopped caring.
-- A.W. Tozer



You know what struck me most about the little bell ringer? I’m not sure that he gave one thought to the 250 hundred people witnessing his blunder. It seemed that his only concern was ringing his bell! Oh, to be so humble that we are more concerned about using our gifts for the Glory of our King than what others might think of our performance!

Therefore anyone who humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, (Matthew 18:4).

God’s richest blessings to you as you seek to glorify Him throughout this new year!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Gift - how good do I have to be in order to receive it?

A few days ago, I over-heard a young mother threatening her misbehaving child with this old familiar standby, “Santa’s not going to bring you any presents if you don’t behave!” While it may be a common coercion, my heart immediately cringed.

Ponder, if you would, the meaning of the lyrics to this familiar Christmas tune:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!


By instilling such beliefs, we are communicating the exact opposite of the unconditional love proclaimed in the Gospel message of Christ’s birth. Without even realizing it we are breeding a performance based mentality. Constantly standing in fear that maybe their efforts are not “good enough,” the child begins to wonder, “How good do I have to be in order to obtain these gifts? Is it even possible?”

The unfathomable gift of God’s Son, Jesus, was given to us to take away our sins, no holds barred. He doesn’t withhold His forgiveness from us when we are “bad” or “naughty” nor do we have to “get our act together” before we can receive the precious Gift that Father God has to offer!

“Due to God’s favor
you have been saved through faith,
and this is not due to anything you yourselves have done,
rather, it is God’s gift to you.
You weren’t saved by your actions,
and so no one can boast,”
Ephesians 2:8-9.

Pursuing a righteous standing before God through our own merit is a futile effort. No matter how hard we try, we cannot contribute to our salvation. It is a free gift! It is through our faith in Jesus that we stand before God as being worthy, yet even this faith is not something we can muster-up; rather it is a precious gift from our Creator and Redeemer, Christ Jesus!

How can we help our children come to recognize the immeasurable worth of such an unfathomable gift? How do we communicate to them that their worth is not measured by how well they perform?
Could it be that if our focus was on being living sacrifices to the Christ child rather than on assigning happiness to consumer goods and character labels to behavior, then our children would come to realize that they have already received the greatest gift? Rather than being frenzied with trying to be “acceptable,” could it be that their behavior would then naturally reflect the realization that they are unconditionally loved for who and what God created them to be? How desperately our children need to see the truth of the Gospel message lived out.

The message of Jesus is based upon
being loved as a sinner
rather than perfecting our performance in order to be worthy.

May you and those you love rest in this peace as you celebrate the birth of our Savior! Christ Jesus, thank You for sacrificing Your life that we may be considered worthy in our Father’s eyes. May all that we say and do in Your name, truly honor and bring glory to You!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Baby Who Doesn't Cry and other common Christmas myths

The air is filled with merry little jingles about good ol’ St Nick. Mailboxes are stuffed with images of Father Christmas and frazzled parents wait in line with little ones anxious to make their wishes known to Santa.

This is also the time of year for many to be in a tizzy about “putting Christ back in Christmas” and ousting Mr. Claus. Many Christian congregations, homes and town squares are certain to pull out their nativity scenes to proclaim, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” Moms and dads will soon be dashing for the best seats to “aww” over their child’s special role in this year’s Christmas pageant.

Like many parents, I was very concerned about the disconcerting focus on Santa. I didn’t want to be deceptive or want Jake to conclude that celebrating Jesus’ birth is a time to get something based on his behavior! Consequently, I told him early on that Santa was not real and repeatedly exposed him to the “truth” about Christ’s birth. While I meant well, I unknowingly continued to deceive Jake by teaching him the traditional Christmas story as it is often told:

“About 2000 years ago Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem. With Mary riding a donkey, they frantically scoured the city for a place to deliver the baby who was making his way into the world! Because there were no vacancies at the hotels, baby Jesus was born in a stable on the evening of December 25th. Upon this joyous occasion, the angels sang to the shepherds and they all joined three kings in a barn to worship a newborn who doesn’t cry.”

Where do we get such a distorted picture of Christ’s birth
and why are we passing it on as truth?
A careful look at Scripture quickly exposes our traditional Christmas myths!



Mary rode a donkey into Bethlehem having contractions. –.With other modes of transportation available, picturing her on a donkey is only an assumption since Scripture does not say. “While they were there [in Bethlehem], the time came for the baby to be born” (Luke 2:6). We don’t know how long Mary was in Bethlehem before she went into labor.

Having no vacancies, Innkeepers turned Mary away – In this account the word kataluma is unfortunately translated as “inn.” Luke offers a more accurate picture in his description of the kataluma where Jesus and His disciples shared the Passover meal before His death. This “upper room” was a large furnished “guest room” commonly found in a private Jewish home. Jewish tradition would have it that Joseph and Mary went to his ancestral home rather than a pandocheion (inn) [Luke 10:34]. However, the family’s kataluma was already full.

Jesus was born in a stable in December. – We assume that placing Jesus in a feeding trough means that He was born in a barn; however animals were kept in the lower level of the Jewish home at night for protection. This main part of the house is where baby Jesus came into the world most likely in the month of September.

Having no clothes for poor Baby Jesus, He was wrapped in ripped-up cloths. – “Swaddling clothes” were the standard baby garments of the culture.

Angels were singing in the fields and were present at the birth of the Christ Child – We are told that angels praised God after announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, however there is no indication that they sang. There is also no record of angels being present at the birth of Jesus. In fact, Luke 2:15 says that they returned to heaven after appearing to the shepherds.

Three kings from the orient came to visit baby Jesus on camels. – Although they were not kings, star-gazing priests from the East came to see Jesus. While these men typically traveled in large groups rather than threesomes, there is no indication of how they arrived. If we want to assume the regal mode, it was horses and chariots, not camels! Regardless, it is clear that these visitors didn’t come until after Jesus was a paidion (toddler) and no longer a brephos (infant) (Matthew 2: 11).

I could go on and on with examples of common misrepresentation of this glorious event.

Some may feel that all the details aren’t that important.
Unfortunately, however, many are revolted by those who proclaim to know Christ,
yet who fail to know the facts about what they so adamantly profess to believe!



Multitudes of teens become disillusioned with the faith of their parents while many new and life-long believers also become disheartened. In seeking truth for themselves, they come to realize that those whom they trusted and those who claim to have a hold on “truth” are scripturally illiterate! Sadly, they recognize that, smirking in the shadows, people of various beliefs, including many atheists, know Scripture better than most who assert their Christianity!

Before we can rightly profess truth… we need to know what truth is! Before mocking those of various beliefs and criticizing the disenchanted ones who turn away, we need to make sure that what we believe is truly based on Scripture!

We should make a point of keeping the Christ child at the center of celebrating His birth. However, if Jesus is truly the reason for our celebration, then let’s honor Him by telling the story according to His Word rather than the deception of tradition!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, December 8, 2011

BERRY FARM BAKERY

Some of my fondest childhood memories are standing next to Momma’s side while helping her in the kitchen. As young as I can remember, she patiently gave me little jobs that would fulfill my curiosity and keep me learning. Even now it is rare for me to be in the kitchen without reflecting upon those precious memories. Although she doesn’t cook much these days, at 85 years of age Momma still enjoys rolling out the finest egg noodles that I’ve ever eaten!


I do miss those days with Momma and often wish that they could be recaptured, however I’ve been learning new baking tips from my dear friend, Rhoda Plank. I love to bake and Rhoda doesn’t mind having me “tag along” in her new bakery,


BERRY FARM BAKERY

2974 County Highway P32.

(a quarter mile off of highway 169 east of Redding)

OPEN

Friday & Saturday from 8AM – 7 PM.


While my friendship with Rhoda is my most precious treasure there, I’m not sure I can adequately prepare you for the wonderful surprises in store for you if you should decide to visit Berry Farm Bakery. One of several things which makes Rhoda’s bakery unique is that her savory treats are baked in a four level wood-burning oven! I feel welcomed by the aroma of the burning wood even before I open the door to the bakery! Yet, aside from Rhoda’s smile, nothing compares to the hospitable fragrance of her freshly baked delicacies. The minute I open the bakery door, I’m transported into a whole new delightful world!


I’ve never tasted anything which Rhoda baked that wasn’t sensational. In fact, she is known for miles around for her raised donuts. One day when I was there, a couple came all the way from St. Joe to purchase them!


Not only will you find scrumptious refreshment at Berry Farm Bakery, Rhoda’s prices are so reasonable that I’m not sure how she makes any profit! Check this out!


PIE: LRG. – $6.00 / MED. – $4.50 / SM. - $2.00 / SINGLE SERVE - $1.25

CINNAMON ROLLS: LRG. - $3.00 / SM. $1.50

CARMEL NUT ROLLS: $3.00

BREAD: WHEAT or WHITE - $2.00 / CHEESE or JALAPENO - $3.50

BARS: 6 PIECES - $2.00 / 3 PIECES - $1.00

CAKE: LRG. - $5.00 / $2.50

COOKIES: 1 DOZEN - $2.25 / ½ DOZEN - $1.15

DONUTS: 1 DOZEN - $3.00 / ½ DOZEN - $1.50


Rhoda will receive special orders at the bakery or you may contact her at 641.344.1620. She’d be glad to fulfill your baking needs for a special occasion and is always willing to consider adding items to her list of tasty products!


It is such a joy for me to spend the day baking and sharing with my friend. I’m sure you’d also be blessed to meet her and to experience the bliss of savoring her delicious baked goods.


Whole-Heartedly,

Bonnie

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prayer & Healing - Beware of False Advertising

I’ve never heard anyone explain their understanding of prayer and healing quite like my husband, Gary. I asked him to share his thoughts on this issue with you. While they may differ from what many of us have believed, it seems that his insights are worthy of prayerful consideration!


A few weeks ago, a huge class-action lawsuit was filed against a major corporation for misrepresentation of some of its products--"false advertising." Even if that company eventually is found “not guilty” of the grievances brought against it, its reliability has been seriously challenged and there will be a long road of damage control ahead. Many former customers will never be won back.


It seems to me that a similar situation has developed regarding God. Those who claim to speak for our Lord often misrepresent Him. While there may be no lawsuit, many have turned their backs to the One who has been falsely presented. What is even worse is that the honor and integrity of our Creator and King has been unnecessarily soiled.


Recently, I have been re-evaluating my prayer-life and how I perceive God, especially in the area of "healing." As a young boy I was intrigued, yet puzzled by the religious "faith-healers" I heard on the radio and whom my friends in other denominations raved about. In our denomination, the "gift of healing" was never mentioned. We were encouraged to pray for ourselves and others who were ill; we were reminded that modern medicine was a miraculous gift from God, but certainly were not directed to a "faith healer." Whenever I read the New Testament accounts of Jesus and His disciples proclaiming miraculous healing, however, questions continued to stir in the back of my mind:


• Are some Christians truly gifted healers?

• Does God always desire to heal?

• Does lack of faith prevent healing?

• If healing is always related to faith, how much faith is needed?

• When there is no healing, who is at fault?

• What roll does modern medicine play in the context of “faith healing?”


When these and other connected questions are answered with different and even contradictory firmness by Christians of various backgrounds, the result is often confusion, disappointment, frustration and even intense guilt and shame. Adamant responses by well-intentioned Christians who have not thoroughly and personally searched through the ways of God, is certainly not honoring to the Lord whom they desire to represent. While I claim no special insights into the ways of God, beyond what He has revealed in His Word and the evidence of personal experience, many years of studying these things perhaps affords me an opportunity to share a few thoughts along with a few cautions.


• While prayer is vital in the life of a child of God, nowhere in the Bible are God's people ever instructed to pray for healing, either for themselves or for others. Even James 5 which connects healing and prayer does not specifically command "prayer for healing."

• God certainly does heal in miraculous ways. Even today people of faith, gifted by the Holy Spirit, are often used by Him to pronounce healing.

• While it may be beyond our understanding, God does not always desire to heal. In the case of the apostle Paul, for example, God's strength was made more evident because of Paul's infirmity.

• Often it is people of greatest faith who are not healed when afflicted, for reasons which ultimately glorify God.

• While illness and adversity are sometimes “from the hand” of Satan, it is God Himself who does the assigning (see Job 1:8,12). Satan is never able to thwart the plans of God who always remains in control.

• While Jesus rebukes an illness in Luke 4:38, I find no Scriptural evidence for an “evil spirit” of any illness that needs to be driven out.

• Professional healthcare may have a place; however, Scripture never identifies the care provided by medical professionals as miraculous. In fact, while doctors at the time were quite advanced and doing amazing things, no direction is ever given to seek their help.


I understand that many faithful Christians hold views different from these. However, I also realize the importance of brothers and sisters in Christ sharing their views with one another in order to come to deeper insights into God's ways. I am definitely eager to visit with others about such things. My specific concern in this article, though, is that we learn from one another to be cautious about how we represent and seek to honor our Great Physician. Only then can the world see our God and Savior for Who He truly is.


Whole-Heartedly,

Gary Jaeckle

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gossip – How Do We Respond To That Which God Hates? Part 2 The Responsibility of the Receiver

This is a continuation of my conversation with “Sally” from last week’s article and the final part of my series on gossip.

Me: Sally, Father has given me an assignment in this situation, too, but it isn’t this family, it is you. He says that the one who speaks negatively about others does so because he/she is so full of him/herself that he/she is without restraint (Proverbs 10:18)! I’m concerned because there are consequences for this, Sally.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure”
(Psalms101:5)!

“The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment” (Proverbs 10:21)!

Sally: (Tearfully) I can see that I’ve been resistant to do what God desires because of issues in my own heart. I really need to spend some time alone with Him about this.

Me: Sally, do you realize that my response to what you’ve shared is out of love for you and this family? Love is the answer, my friend. While gossip is an outlet for hatred, it is love that covers all transgressions (Proverbs 10:12). Our greatest motivation for not putting others in bad light is our obedience to the Law of Christ – we must love others as we want to be loved (James 4:11).

If I were to participate in gossiping about this family, I would be making an alliance with Satan rather than God, by adding sin to sin (Isaiah 30:1). Instead, gossip is a vile sin which needs to be exposed (Ephesians 5:11). I am unwilling to go to the family which you are referring to because that is your assignment; not mine. Besides, while his/her intentions may be good, even the one who repeats hurtful gossip back to the one being condemned, rather than confronting the slanderer, participates in gossip. The one originally speaking the gossip should be corrected and encouraged to be reconciled with the one whom they are gossiping about.

The most compelling lesson about uncovering sin in someone else's life occurred when a group of puffed-up religious rulers shoved an adulterous woman at the feet of Jesus while he was teaching in the temple courts:

"The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?' This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:3-7).

Having our own flaws illuminated makes shaming someone else much less appealing. One by one they dropped their rocks and slithered away.

Is our ultimate goal to help restore prodigals into a redemptive relationship with Jesus, or do we have a hidden agenda to elevate ourselves by condemning those around us?

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gossip - How Do We Respond to that Which God Hates? - Part 1 - The Responsibility of the Gossiper

When someone shares with us a “bit of news” about another we must first consider whether or not the gossiper claims to be a follower of Christ:

• Expecting a non-believer to imitate the love of Jesus is futile. However, we do have to be careful not to get drawn into the sin of gossip with them. “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence” (Psalms 39:1).
• Those who call themselves children of God however must be held to the righteousness of Christ. “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

The golden rule here is to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; … Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4: 5-6).

A few years ago, “Sally” came to me about a family in our fellowship whom she believed was sinning against God. While “Sally” may have been genuinely concerned, I could tell by her tone and body language that her heart was also critical toward them. I believe that my response to her “compassionate gossiping” answers many of the questions often asked about how to respond in such a situation:

Me: Sally, have you addressed your concerns with this family?

Sally: No, I could never do that!

Me: Why do you believe that it is necessary for me to know about this? What are you wanting me to do with this information?

Sally: I don’t know. Something needs to be done and I thought you could help.

Me: Sally, until you shared it with me, it could very well be that no one else knew about what God has shown you regarding this family. He has shown you because He wants you to be His partner in this! Rather than gossiping or thinking negatively about them, He has given you the honor to do something to help them!

Sally: Me? What can I do?

Me: Let’s read Matthew 18:15-17 and see what Father suggests:

"If your fellow believer sins against you, go and tell him in private what he did wrong. If he listens to you, you have helped that person to be your brother or sister again. But if he refuses to listen, go to him again and take one or two other people with you. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him like a person who does not believe in God."

Sally, we must speak first to the one about whom we are concerned before mentioning our concern to anyone else. Otherwise we “grieve the holy spirit with our slander”
(Ephesians 4:30).

Sally: But it isn’t that they have sinned against me.

Me: Let’s read Galatians 6:1-3.

"If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."
Would you say that both examples encourage straightforward, but loving dialogue about ungodly behavior?


Sally: Yes, but I don’t think I could ever address them about this!

(Knowing this would reveal Sally’s true heart, I proceeded)

Me: Sally, since you are so concerned, let’s pray right now about this family. Why don’t you start!

Sally: I’m so upset with them that I can’t even pray for them!


Me: So what is the real reason why you shared this with me?

Sally: I guess I really need to think about that; don’t I?

Me: Sally, It isn’t uncommon to discover that this type of “assignment” is as much about ourselves as it is about others. Completing this work will not only benefit this family, but you, as well. Do you realize that one of Satan’s chief goals is to bring division among God’s family? By harboring resentment, sitting in judgment of and thinking and speaking negatively about others we fall into the devil’s scheme. You have a decision to make, Sally. Whose team do you want to be on in this situation, God’s or Satan’s?

Sally: I’ve never heard it put quite like that! This conversation sure hasn’t unfolded the way that I thought it would. I came here hoping you could do something about this family; instead, my own sin is being exposed. Ouch!

Next week I will focus on the responsibility of the one receiving the gossip.

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It Isn’t Gossip If It’s True! Or Is It?

When addressing someone who is gossiping, a classic response is, “I’m not gossiping. It’s true!” This common misconception calls for a clear understanding of what “gossip” truly means. Gossip is defined as “Idle, or malicious talk about others.”

Gossip exists whenever we talk about others
in less than a favorable way.



Its antonym, “slander” means “malicious talk; to spread damaging information; to defame; to speak ill of.” “Devil” comes from the Greek word "diabollos" which means a slanderer, or accuser, and directly refers to Satan. Speaking critically about another is functioning as a cohort to the “slanderer/accuser” (Rev. 12:10)!

Do we not realize that it is an evil spirit of pride
which broadcasts negative “news” about others?
It is a self-righteous hypocrite who speaks words of destruction.


Such talk affects not only our relationship with others, but more importantly with Father! Jesus tells this story:

“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer to himself: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income."

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).


Notice that the prayers of the self-righteous Pharisee were ultimately to himself. Father will not even listen to such perversion!

We must realize that arrogant, boastful, slanderous gossips are in the same league as murderers and those practicing other depraved behaviors! According to Romans 1:28-32, although we may know God’s righteous decrees, those who do such things deserve death and will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matthew 12:36)!


Do you ever wonder if the one who is gossiping to you also gossips about you? It’s foolish to think that they don’t! On the other hand, if a person shares words of love and kindness about others, we can believe that they have a trustworthy heart! “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Prov. 11:13).

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Gossip often masquerades as “concern” for others,
but any person who is genuinely concerned,
will follow God’s Word (Mathew 18:15-20)
and will privately and lovingly address the person
at the source to express his/her concern.



It is “a perverse man (who) stirs up dissension, and a gossip (who) separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28)! I’m convinced that as children of the Most High God, His Spirit prompts us when we are or another person is gossiping. Any hint of disrespect will set off an alarm indicating that the information being shared could tarnish the character, name or reputation of another person!

Gossip is a seething disease of corruption and is used to verbally abuse those whom we are called to love, encourage and forgive! “With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor” (Proverbs 11:9)! No wonder it is equal to murder in Father’s eyes!

How do we break the damaging cycle of gossip? I’ll address that next week.

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is Your Vision as Good as You Think?

Of all the types of injuries that I witnessed in 20+ years of practice as a trauma nurse, I’d have to say that a penetrating wound to the eye is one of the most disturbing. I can’t even begin to describe the fear this injury creates for the patient and the challenge it presents to the nurse! The pain is typically excruciating and the patient often doesn’t want anyone to even come close to it! For the inexperienced nurse, however, the first reaction is to do anything to remove the foreign body in order to relieve the patient. It must be learned that this can lead to further damage and possibly permanent complications!

Recently, Gary and I felt led by the Lord to confront a brother and sister about some issues in their lives that were hurting our relationship with them. While the issues have been long standing, we realized that we needed to wait on the Lord for His timing, His direction and His purification in us lest we’d create more injury to and potentially permanent complications in our relationship with them. We certainly don’t want that!

While it may be very uncomfortable to be affected by sin and faults in others,
trying to address that before dealing with our own hearts
is not only hypocritical, it can be disastrous!
In our flesh, we all tend to look upon the sins and faults of others,
while overlooking our own.



However, we are warned strongly about this:

How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Luke 6:42).

I’ve been in more conversations than I want to count in which one minute the talking head is building him/herself up and the next minute he/she is chopping someone else down. This simply breaks my heart and I can only listen for so long before I am compelled to intervene!

“There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Although we may never commit murder or molest a child, this does not make us any less guilty. Do we not realize that whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10)!



In the old days when we were more tribal, the only way to remove someone from our lives was by murdering them. Legally it was by exile or execution. Now we can ostracize them without it looking bad on us. In fact, we can make it look downright righteous. – David Hayward

Until we come to realize that being a sinner is a type of “species” that we are born into and not something we do, we will never have the love and compassion toward others which God desires for us to have. If we don’t get this, we really don’t understand what Jesus accomplished on our behalf! We are all guilty! We all come from the same “genus,” known as sinners, who deserve eternity in hell (Romans 6:23)!

I will never forget the day when this truth first pierced my heart. Previously, I was aware of my sin and that those sins hurt me, others and most importantly God. However, I just couldn’t grasp that I had done anything which deserved eternal punishment! One day, seemingly out of the blue, this truth hit me like a ton of bricks: The reason that I sin is that my bloodline is a “species” which is infected with sin. It is not what I do, but what I am that makes me a sinner. It is my nature; which must be put to death!

Some might say, “Well, I do my best to follow the 10 Commandments! At least I haven’t molested a child! At least I haven’t murdered! Those people deserve to go straight to hell!” To this we must respond, “No matter how virtuous we may try to live, when we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags to Father (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). I have nothing worthwhile to offer Him, and neither do you!”

Very few of us can say that we come anywhere near to being as dedicated to Jesus as the Apostle Paul, yet, even he realized this great truth... “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--and I am the worst of them all” (1Timothy 1:15)!

The infection experienced by those in the effected “species” is systemic, disturbing every cell in our body, including our vision! Patching-up the spiritual eye with self-effort will not help. The infection will remain! Instead, the whole being must be put to death and buried! The only way to effectively nurse someone else who’s suffering a penetrating wound to the eye is to be given new eyes!

This is such a serious issue that I plan to address it in a series. “Keep your eyes peeled” for a continuation in my next article.

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 27, 2011

COUNT IT ALL JOY!

This past summer was the first year for strawberries from our very own strawberry patch! Last year I pampered the new crowns with diligent weeding, manure tea application and water. I trained the vines to stay in their proper row and placed hay between each strip for weed control and easier picking. I was so excited when they began to produce blossoms, but…as directed, I painstakingly plucked each one of them! I’ve read that this makes for stronger plants and better production. While, at the time, I would have much rather allowed them to develop into fruit, it was truly worth the wait. Before the season was over this year, I picked more than eleven gallons of berries from only thirty strawberry plants!

Once they were done producing, we mowed the strawberry plants to just above the crowns. Oh my goodness! My flourishing plants were now leafless, ugly stubs! It looked like they’d never bear fruit again! I know it sounds disastrous, but it is my understanding that this stimulates growth and produces hardier plants for next year’s crop. I went out yesterday to make sure that they were weed free and to protect them with more hay for the coming frigid weather. As I had learned, amazingly the foliage is already full and very healthy looking!

As I reflect upon the severe treatment which these strawberry plants endured in order to produce such a “bumper crop” and vibrant looking plants for next year,

I’m reminded of how Father works in the lives of His children,
“He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”

(John 15:2)!

We tend to think that when the Master Gardener prunes, He only cuts off the sinful “deadwood” in our lives. However, according to John 15:12, He also prunes that which is full of life! I’m reminded of times in my life when it was not obvious sin that Father was dealing with, but He was trimming around my prayer and study life and cutting into my ministry to others. Although I was producing fruit, there were still imperfections which needed purification even in those areas. The pruning which Jesus spoke of in John 15 has to do with trimming away weaknesses in order that we might be as fruitful as He desires. While our punishment was completed at the cross, we can rightly consider pruning as discipline from our Father. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

How can we expect pruning to manifest in our lives? The Master Gardener uses physical, emotional, mental and spiritual trials in order to promote fruitfulness. These trials are not only absolutely essential for our spiritual growth, but “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). While God chose us for eternal life, there is far more to being a Christian than receiving a ticket into heaven. “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...” (John 15:16) and love is the lasting fruit (John15:17)!

When it feels as though every beautiful blossom has been plucked from your life and every life-bearing leaf has been mowed down, “consider it pure joy, my brother… because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James: 1:2-3). While it may feel as though you will never again produce anything worthwhile, remember this, “trials have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). Through these trials you will learn to love like you’ve never loved before!

Sometimes it is disheartening because the older I get, the more sin-filled imperfections I see in myself and with diminishing energy, the pruning seems more wearisome. Yet, I’m assured that the righteous, “will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock…” (Ps 92:14-15).

How should I respond then to the precious pruning from my Father’s hand?
I shall consider it pure joy!




Suffering Is Not A Stepping-Stone

Several time over the past years I’ve had people say that they detect lots of pain in our congregation. With the best of intentions they say that they also sense that this pain will pass and the church will move into its destiny of a great and wonderful future. I used to cling to those kinds of promises because the pain we were experiencing as a congregation is so intense. Like them, I considered the suffering a stepping-stone to a greater and easier life and ministry.

After years and years of this kind of delusional thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that pain and suffering are a fact of life. They are not things to be avoided, but recognized and understood. We must make peace with this reality. In biblical language, we so desire to wear the crown without the cross. True life actually bears the imprint of the cross. The cross permeates all of life. And the crown is thorny.

Even yesterday, I encouraged the community to begin to discern that meaningful life and true ministry is already happening in the midst of their suffering, that our community is being true and doing the work in the midst of the trials and tribulations. We must rid our minds of the universally pervasive illusion that once the problems and obstacles are past, then we’ll move into our glory. Not so. Our glory is in the cross, not after it.

Yes, their is pain and suffering. We don’t deny it. And we don’t deny it because we believe that it is through our obvious weakness that the truest life and work is being accomplished. To some, this is the aroma of death. To others, to those who can discern, it is the aroma of life.

This painting is one I did years ago and is called “The Narrow Way”.
- David Hayward

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Go For It! Show Your Ignorance!

One of my all time favorite T.V. programs is the comedy, Little Rascals! Based upon real life, the majority of the children were poor and the gang was often at odds with snobbish "rich kids" and overbearing adults. The Church can learn a great deal from the adventures that Our Gang faced and how Spanky and Friends responded to their “adversaries.”

Stymie was “a slick-tongued con-artist who was always self-assured, nonchalant, and ready with a sly comment as well as clever ideas to solve the problems he faced.” In Bargain Day, Stymie and Wheezer decided that they would be door-to-door salesmen. Prior to hitting the streets, Wheezer warns Stymie, “Now listen, dumbbell; when somebody comes to the door, don't you show your ignorance!” With a sly smile, Stymie replies, “Uh-uhhh, brutha; I ain't gonna show my ignorance to noooo-body!” Stymie and Wheezer eventually end up at the house of a rich but lonely girl, Shirley. The conversation goes something like this:

Shirley: What's your name?
Stymie: My name is Styyyyyyymie.
Shirley: Oh; your daddy's our chauffeur.
Stymie: Nuh-uh; my daddy ain't no chauffeur! My daddy's just a crap-shootiiiin' fool!

Professing believers in Jesus often get nervous when others ask questions about faith and the Bible. Sadly, in all our efforts to not “show our ignorance,” like Stymie, we make a worse impression in our attempts to prove that we have the “right” answers. And, like Wheezer, we tend to stifle those who might blow the pretense that “true” children of God have it all figured out.

I know that I don’t have all the answers; consequently I don’t leave many things unquestioned. Yet, I’ve discovered that others often get real fidgety when I question the status quo in the Church. Sometimes, they even get downright aggressive! It took me a long time to understand why my questions stir such a fuss. I’ve come to understand that asking questions tends to interfere with the comfort zones of those who:

1) believe that they have it all figured out. While they might give lip service to not having all the right answers, in reality they often fear that their “sales pitch” will be ruined if their fa├žade is exposed.
2) are afraid that what they’ve always believed and trusted in may be unfounded. I know a number of people who willingly admit that they are afraid to ask questions because they know that if the answer to the first one is baseless, all else will come crumbling down around it and “that’s just too scary!”

I understand the fear. I’ve been there. And, I’ve discovered that a spirit of questioning and investigation is rarely appreciated and, sadly, too often squelched or thrust out. Who wants that! Yet, I came to a place where I was confronting this reality; if the Product whom I say that I believe in and have been trying to “sell” to others can’t stand on His own, I’d better start looking for a new “Product”! I came to realize that while we must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15), the answers that I’d always given weren’t working for me any more!



Yes, questions can feel like a very dangerous thing. However, there is freedom for us and others when we are being authentic. Not only do we not have to fumble all over ourselves and others in an effort to hide our ignorance, others are much more comfortable around us if we sincerely admit that we are just as ignorant as the next guy about many things! We must realize that, no less than Spanky and friends, our adversaries are not flesh and blood, rather the spirits of this world, especially pride. We must ask Father to show us our true hearts, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” Or… am I not Christ’s servant because I’m still trying to please men (Galatians 1:10)?

The Bereans earned their favorable reputation of loyalty because they “received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” Because of their noble approach, many others came to the knowledge of the truth and were saved (Acts 17:10-12). “Bereans” love truth so much that they are willing to investigate Scripture to determine what is truly accurate. “Bereans” do not automatically hold to traditions that have been taught nor are they swayed by public opinion. “Bereans” are not afraid to question their presuppositions to receive understanding in light of truth. “Bereans” are willing to change when they’ve been convicted that their views vary from the Truth. In essence, “Bereans” are not afraid to have their ignorance of God’s Word exposed! I admire this approach so much that we named our border collie, “Berea!”

Through the years it hasn’t been uncommon for my son, Jake or I to occasionally look at the other and jokingly say, “I ain't gonna show my ignorance to noooo-body!” However, with all sincerity, I’ve encouraged him as I’m encouraging you. Go for it! Show your ignorance! Ask the questions! Truth has no fear of investigation! Sincerely searching for the whole-hearted life leaves no option!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 13, 2011

All For the Master’s Glory

Two weeks ago we spent over a week with my brother, Art. He owns Belgian horses which he uses to work his corn field and huge garden, as well as pulling logs for building and heating purposes. Aside from some finishing touches, he and his horses, Maude and Maggie had just completed a big, well-designed barn to shelter them and some of his other critter friends. I marveled as I considered that one man and two horses could possibly accomplish such a considerable endeavor.

We timed our visit so that we could help Art and his wife, Marcia, get ready for an annual fall event. The Spoon River Scenic drive in Lewistown, Illinois comes around every first and second weekend in October. Art demonstrates using his draft horses and saw mill, while in a log cabin; Marcia sells pies which she bakes on a wood-burning cook stove. This historical reenacting takes place on their property, Marigold Meadow, and more activity from times gone by is added to the event each year. Visitors come from miles away throughout the day not only to enjoy the demonstrations and eat delicious pie, but also to visit their petting zoo and photograph all the old farming equipment, horse buggy and log cabin. On Saturday evening many return for a knee slappin’ Bluegrass show while sitting around a cozy fire.

While the entire event is enjoyable, my heart is drawn to the draft horses and their master. Art seems to know everything about Maude and Maggie and it is obvious that they want to do everything within their power to please him. They know and listen to his voice for direction. In response to his commands, their massive muscles strain and their harnesses clatter as they plow their way through the rich Illinois soil. Art’s body bounces and sways to the rhythm of Maude and Maggie’s labor while he closely monitors them for any signs of distress. I could watch and listen for hours! The power they generate as they work in unison is majestically astounding! And….it’s all for their master’s glory!

Art Jones with Maude & Maggie


Although I’ve observed this splendor before, this time it was inspirational! As I considered the near perfect union between two horses and their master, the power that is generated as they lovingly respond to one another and the incredible work that is accomplished through their laboring together, the Spirit of God filled my heart with a deeper awareness that Father desires such relationships with and among His children.

While appreciating the beauty of Art, Maude and Maggie working together, I was reminded that Father:
• knows the number of hairs on my head!
• watches my every move!
• never asks me to do more than I can endure!
• longs for me to be able to identify His voice and to respond out of loving obedience.
• desires that I labor together with my spiritual brothers and sisters in love.
• determines to accomplish the incomprehensible using His power through His children.

All for the Master’s glory!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why We Left the Institutional Church and What Are We Seeking Now? (Part2)

This is part two of last week’s article regarding why the Holy Spirit is leading people out of the institutional church and what it is that He is leading them to.



Why would the Spirit be driving them out?



2. Relationships!



According to the results of Barna’s survey,




those being led out “are seeking an authentic encounter with the living God and a deep and fulfilling relationship with His people,”
neither of which is often experienced in a weekly gathering of believers.




It was never Father’s intention for His people to live in isolation from one another, going busily about their worldly activities only to unite in an artificial ceremonial setting on a weekly basis to “worship” Him and shake hands with one another!



What is it that Father is leading His people to?



It is Father’s desire that His people:


• live a community life according to the values of His Kingdom through supernatural power.

• live by the conviction that they experience Jesus and His Spirit in the midst of daily living.

• would offer their bodies as living sacrifices to Him as their spiritual act of worship [Romans 12:1].

• live with the understanding that “religion that God accepts as pure and fautless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distrees and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” [James 1:27].

• live out the reality that community life is not centered on one man but that each member is a functioning "priest" (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) under the headship of Christ, directed by His Spirit.

• recognize and encourage the gifts and abilities that each member of the community has to offer.

• realize that His spiritual family is relational, spontaneous and organic which does not need a higher level of organization, bureaucracy, programs and rituals to express itself.

• live a mainly communal life of transparency and accountability, rather than a purely private and individualistic lifestyle.

• face the joys and trials of life together, as family, rejoicing, encouraging, supporting and rebuking one another in love.

• share their resources with others, rather than seeking to store up treasures for oneself.



Gary & I believe that Father is preparing us for a spiritual family that is willing to live out Kingdom life according to that mentioned above. We desire to participate in a community of believers who are free from the deceptive trap of trying to maintain buildings and pay wages. We seek to participate in a community of believers who are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources in order to bring those in need into their community (as Father directs) to be a part of their family, trusting that Father will provide just the right resources, at just the right time, for just the right growth, at just the right speed as He has perfectly planned. We do not seek to be a part of an organization that is recognized for its captivating logo, skill to legally beg for money, prestigious board members or perfect mission statement and bylaws. Instead, we long to be a part of a close-knit “family” which would be recognized by those around them as followers of Jesus simply by their deep love for one another. Rather than participating in an organization which has knowingly or unknowingly committed its actions and words to the conspiracy of the governments of this world through non-profit incorporations, it is our desire to be a part of a community that freely expresses itself as the Spirit of our Father leads, even in the face of poverty and persecution!



If the Lord has placed a similar vision on your heart, please let us know. If you have questions or would like to hear more, we’d love to visit with you.


Whole-Heartedly,

Bonnie

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why We Left the Institutional Church and What Are We Seeking Now? (Part1)

Knowing that Gary and I have been out of the institutional church nearly five years, it isn’t uncommon for people to ask us, “Why did you leave” and “What is it that you believe you are being led to?” I hope that this and next week’s article will succinctly answer those questions for others who may be wondering.


You’ve heard me share the statistics before that at least one million people are leaving the institutional church every year. According to the surveys, they are leaving, not because they lost their faith, but often in order to sustain their faith. It seems that it is the Spirit of God driving them out of the religious edifices and the organizations connected to them!


According to George Barna’s surveys published in 2005,


30% of committed believers in America no longer attend traditional religious congregations.
If the trend continues, in 20 years,
70% of committed believers in America
will no longer be a part of these congregations!

These statistics should be a wake-up call for groups attempting to maintain traditional religious practices, programs, buildings, etc! What would be the purpose of vainly hanging on to a vision for the next 20 years, if year after year the most committed members leave?

Why would the Spirit be driving them out?

1. Truth!

The Spirit of God is leading His people to understand that Jesus meant it when He declared that there would be no religious “high place” or edifice where His people will worship Him!

Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews
Yet a time is coming and has now come
when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the spirit and in truth,
for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the spirit and in truth

[John 4:21-24].

The Spirit of God is revealing that His presence cannot be encapsulated or represented in any physical or manmade entity! In fact, God’s people are realizing that maintaining a building with all its religious trappings for the purpose of worshiping Him is idolatry! “When Stephen proclaimed, ‘the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands’ (Acts 7:48), he chose the Greek adjective cheiropoieton, ‘made with hands,’ used by Hellenistic Jews to condemn idolatry.

Father is so adamant about this idolatrous practice of building a place to worship Him that He continues to rebuke the Jewish Sanhedrin through Stephen, quoting the prophet Isaiah,

“Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Has not my hand made all these things?
You stubborn lot, your minds and hearing are uncircumcised!
You always resist the Holy Spirit!
This is what your ancestors did, and you are doing exactly the same thing!
- Acts 7:49-50

This assertion is what got Stephen stoned to death!

Followers of Jesus are being awakened to the reality that He never commanded them to show up at a religious edifice on a weekly basis, for the early believers had no specifically designated “church” buildings in which to gather! Out of fear of persecution, many of the Jewish Christians were ceasing to meet in one another’s homes and returning to Judaism instead. Consequently, in Hebrews 10:25 they were encouraged to remain faithful to Jesus and His Kingdom of believers by continuing to meet in one another’s homes in light of potential persecution!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RECOGNIZING THE FACE OF JESUS

I’m guessing that my son Jake was around 8 years old when my niece, Kelly invited him & me to attend a children’s festival with her. While we had fun going from booth to booth sampling food, collecting free trinkets and learning about available new and improved resources, there was one booth which specifically lingers in my memory even today. This booth was set-up by a local opthmalogist who presented the challenge to identify a variety of animals by only seeing their eyes. The person who was able to correctly distinguish the most won a few free trinkets and a free eye exam. Although there were people of all ages and levels of intelligence attending this booth, at 8 years of age, Jake won the contest! Amazingly, he was able to identify every single animal represented on their chart!

How was it that at such a young age Jake was able to accomplish such a challenge? He had read and studied most anything he could get his hands on regarding animals. He not only knew their physical characteristics, he learned about their ways of communicating, breeding habits, common habitats, etc. Why would such a young boy go to such great lengths to learn all of these details? Because he had such a great love and appreciation for animals!


Longing to see the face of Jesus, I’ve often heard people say that it is difficult to believe in someone whom they can not catch sight of.

Could it be that we tend to look in the wrong places?
Could it be that He is sitting right in front of us and we don’t recognize Him?



A few months ago, a sister in Jesus shared this poem with me which she had written:


The blind heart recognizes Me not, Yet they have looked upon My face of Love. What do you see when you look at Me?
Do you see My face?
Are you unsure? Yes? Maybe?
Do you need more time to consider?
Then, perhaps you have never truly seen
The Face of My children.
I Am right here, right now, in My children's every face.
Look upon My Face with the eyes of your heart
And you will see the Beauty of My Love
In every face of My Beloved.
Have you seen the face of Love?



Author, Kathy Marie Huff



I know exactly what Kat is expressing! I've looked around a room at my brothers and sisters in Jesus and was filled with so much joy that I felt like I would burst! I recall another time while beholding all their precious faces that all I could do was cry. I was filled with so much love that the tears just flowed. I’ve looked around a room seeing faces of brothers and sisters from various nationalities and have been filled with awe at the beauty of the Body Christ! I’ve expereinced all of this within the last year or so. My Lord is showing me that seeing Jesus isn’t a someday, “when we get to heaven,” thing. We can fervently behold Him now!




I had this image come to me in a dream one night. It had the strangest affect on me. The boy Jesus was very calm and confident. Quietly content but also strangely sad. There was a strength in his demeanor. His eyes were gentle but determined at the same time. If you look closely, you can see that the image of the cross is already in view. It was as if he knew what awaited him, faced it with courage, and would not look to the right or left. I will not forget this image. - David Hayward


We are instructed to "speak to one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord" [Ephes. 5:19]. Yet, when God’s people sing spiritual songs, they are typically directed to stand, facing the “middle-man” behind the pulpit while giving little thought of the face of Christ which is all around them. We could radicalize our intimacy with Jesus overnight by simply rearranging our Christian gatherings so that we can gaze upon their faces as we encourage our brothers and sisters while singing praises to Jesus. In doing so we are truly beholding the very face of Christ!

Look at this passage and notice what is said. It speaks of "we" (plural) yet of one (singular) unveiled face."

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting like a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,
just as from the Lord, the Spirit

[2 Cor. 3:18].



It seems that at 8 years of age, Jake had a handle on something which most of us do not. If we intensely study the physical characteristics, ways of communicating, breeding habits and common habitats, of Him whom we claim to love and appreciate, we will come to recognize His unveiled face!

We are His dwelling place!
We are His body!
We are His mouth piece!

We don’t speak and sing to an invisible entity! Christ lives in us, the hope of glory [Col.1:27]!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, September 15, 2011

DWELLING IN COMMUNITY IN HIS IMAGE

Oh how sweet it is to be “home!” For days I’ve been experiencing many “simple things,” as if for the first time. It seems that I can’t inhale the refreshing air deeply enough into my pollution-filled lungs! I’m captivated by the beauty of all the trees and wild flowers around our twenty acres! I could sit for hours and listen to the multitude of birds singing! The taste of a big, juicy, grilled hamburger is delectable! The peace and quiet of our little country home is like music to my over-stimulated ears and mind! And…..it is so nice to spend some time alone! Yet, in many ways, I miss the Philippines.

I’ve become more aware that in the “western world” almost all of us have so much more fresh food, pure water, material possessions and space than we could ever truly need. Striving to be financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually independent, westerners frantically go hither and yon in order to keep up with its culture’s expectations of a “successful” family life. Even within the Christian circle, the underlying attitude is, “I don’t really need God. I can take care of myself. Thank you very much!” This earthly kingdom development shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. After all, independence was a primary founding principle of America.

In the Philippines, it isn’t uncommon to find hundreds of families packed like sardines in squatter areas along the river. The water reeks with human and animal waste. The homes are tiny, one-room shanties made from scavenged “building supplies” with the outside wall of one often being the inside wall of another! The majority of people are not even sure where the next meal is going to come from. There are blessings, however, to living under such stark conditions! Unlike those who are more westernized, I’ve noticed that the members of these communities are typically very aware of how desperately they need one another and their Creator!

We must realize that the Kingdom of God is not built upon self-reliance! Our Creator has dwelt in perfect unity with His Son since before the creation of this universe. In declaring that, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), God announced that He created humanity “in His image” for the revelation of this intimate relationship. Just prior to His ultimate sacrifice, Jesus prayed for the joining together of His people that would demonstrate, throughout the entire universe, the kind of unity which He enjoyed with His Father (John 17:21-22)!

“God is glorified when He is properly reflected;
by dwelling in unity,
we rightly image our communal Maker.”

- unknown author

The testimony of the early church demonstrates that community was the natural result of the Spirit’s influence upon God’s people (Acts 2:42-47). The intimacy which developed among the believing communities was a result of the deep awareness of their need for one another.

In our unwillingness to set aside our daily activities, many of which have little if any eternal value, in order to live out this calling, are we not being disobedient to our Lord? Obedience to this calling of unity (Eph 4:3) requires that the citizens of God’s Kingdom be deeply involved in the lives of one another! Rather than meeting weekly for an hour or occasionally visiting in one another’s homes, we must be engaged in a battle for deep and abiding relationships within the body! Are we truly willing to die to self in order to live this out?

"Among the plastic saints of our times,
Jesus has to do all the dying,
and all we want to hear is another sermon about his dying."
- A.W. Tozer (emphasis mine)

However, according to God’s Word, “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires,” [Gal. 5:24, Jer]!


The cross is a symbol of the necessity of death. When the bible says that Jesus died, it was all of him who died, not just the weaker parts. All. There wasn’t a golden nugget of goodness that was protected and preserved from death. Even his righteousness died. Death is total.

This means that we are all invited to this total denial of self. At the root of our beings, the core of our minds, is this constant never-ending drive to protect the self which fuels all that we think and do. Until we recognize this and allow the cross entry into even the basest elements of our selves, into our homes where we are most comfortable, secure and desiring, we will never know freedom and the beauty and power of a resurrected life.
– David Hayward

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed” [Romans 12:1-2, Phi]!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Church's Involvement in Eliminating Sexual Exploitation in the Philippines

This is a continuation of last week’s article in which I shared a portion of a summary of our visits with many regarding our concerns and questions regarding sexual exploitation in the Philippines.

As indicated in previous articles, education is a challenging issue in the Philippines. Not only are many unable to afford education, even those who struggle through the expense of higher education still have difficulty obtaining jobs. There are just not enough jobs to go around!
While we did visit a wonderful “alternative” Christ centered school, unfortunately, we were not able to visit with leaders involved in the home school movement there; however cooperative home-schooling certainly seems to be a viable answer. Although I need to do more research in this regard, adults within a house to house community could be trained to educate the children within that community at least through the primary grades.

Livelihood is an issue in the Philippines and as the economy crumbles globally the issue is increasing. Learning a self-sustaining lifestyle is becoming more and more important for every culture, including the Philippines.
Of all the wonderful characteristics of Filipinos, their excitement to learn is one of my favorites! It seemed that every time I got my knitting needles out, someone wanted to learn. If I began talking about organic gardening/farming, those around me were all ears and even requested to be taught more. In sharing the organic products that I make, there was always an interest in learning how! People eager to learn excite me!

As our Amish friends demonstrate, with only primary education, the ability to grow their own food and learning a trade, a person can have their needs met without higher education and the destructive effects of “prestigious professions.” Not only are most Filipinos very capable of being entrepreneurs of small businesses selling produce, meat, homemade items, welding, etc., exchanging these skills within a house to house community would certainly make it possible for God’s people to be self-sustaining!

**I may write more on this later, for now I’ll simply share that many Filipino farmers are very interested in going organic. However, because there is always a lower yield in the first few years of transitioning, they fear not being able to sustain their family’s needs due to lowered income during those initial years. How can we help? A farmer only needs approximately $200.00 per year to uphold their family’s requirements as they make this transition!

Where would some locations be for establishing a house to house community – a place where:
• women/men and children could come live with that community and experience community/family life?
• there is enough property to build if there are not already buildings?
• a self-sustaining lifestyle through organic gardening, raising livestock, etc could be demonstrated and lived out?

Property in the Philippines is available in many prime areas. It is not expensive and building is very reasonable. However, knowing God’s leading regarding where He wants to establish such a community is still in question.

I recognize that a few days in some places and a few weeks in others does not give one a full picture of what is happening among God’s Kingdom people there. My goal in this article is not to make any assumptions of what that full pictures is, but only to report what I witnessed during our short stay. I realize that we are only scratching the surface of obtaining answers to our questions.

We witnessed that Father is moving swiftly making disciples among the young Filipino men and women. This next generation of Filipinos is being greatly affected by the biblical concept of organic life outside the institutional church structure. Unrefined church life in the Philippines is growing! We sense that God has great plans for His people in the Philippines. Cebu seems to be where He is beginning His work in order to infiltrate the entire nation! It is exciting to have witnessed and been a part of His glorious plan!

As we pray for our family there, we continue to seek Father’s will regarding these things:

• Are we done there? OR….
• Is there more He wants to teach us there?
• Are there ways that He desires to use us there?
Yet, we also love our family and friends in the states and recognize the great needs here, as well.
• Are we to use here what He taught us there? How, where and with whom?

What joy and excitement there is in living our daily lives for His glory and resting in His presence as we watch His perfect plan to unfold!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Church’s Involvement in Eliminating Sexual Exploitation in the Philippines

Unlike my trip to the Philippines this past winter, our recent trip was not intended to focus on ministering to prostituted women. Instead, we set out to find answers to a few questions which we had posed to several Filipino contacts in hopes of finding some leads to eliminating the problem of sexual exploitation. I’ve referred to some of the responses that we received in previous articles. Although there is still much of the Philippines which we have not visited, we spent two months traveling in Cebu, Luzon and Bantayan Islands. In this and my next article, I’ll share a summary of our visits with many people regarding our concerns and questions.

What’s the institutional church’s involvement in ministering to sex workers on the streets and in the bars?
According to many, including directors of several private ministries focused on these men and women, the institutional “church” seems to have its ears, eyes and hearts closed to these people. In the few instances when their members have attempted to reach out to these precious hearts, their efforts have been met with much resistance from within the institutional church setting. Allowing these people to be a part of their organization has been quite controversial in most instances!

Are there ministries reaching out to the men who are buying sex in the Philippines?
At this point in our research we are not aware of any such ministries!

Is there any preventative ministry being done with the little girls on the streets selling roses and the boys selling cigs/Viagra, etc?
Again, at this point in our research we are not aware of any such ministries!

We'd like to know more about what is happening there with the “house church movement” and where that is happening. Are there any “house churches” living in community that you are aware of?
We visited extensively with 5 regional “house church leaders” and stayed in the homes of three; two in Luzon and one in Cebu. With no intention to be critical, the reality is that, not unlike the US, we found that house to house fellowships are talked and written about more than practiced! Three of the four “leaders” in Luzon not only did not invite us to a fellowship, but never once mentioned that their region even had one! A fellowship in Luzon gathers weekly, but seems to have minimal contact with one another otherwise. The only fellowship that seems to even come close to living out the daily life together described in the New Testament is where we spent most of our time, in Cebu.

It concerns us that in the US and in the Philippines there are people labeled as “leaders” in the “house church movement”, yet most are not living out New Testament fellowship! It is also a concern that there are “leaders” who are attempting to convince pastors and others to come out of the institution, yet are not living examples of what they are calling them out to!

Are there any house to house communities that you are familiar with that are currently reaching out to those in prostitution or to the men who are buying women? What about reaching out to the “at risk” children? If not...is there even interest in doing so?
Considering that there seems to be few “active” house to house fellowships formed, the answer is pretty obvious! However, the fellowship in Cebu seems to be open to the Lord’s leading regarding these issues. In fact, they have already taken in widows and orphans who would otherwise be at risk.

We'd like to visit some of the provinces (rural areas) and get a good feel for what life is like there and how preventive ministry might be accomplished in those places.
We had opportunities to stay in five provinces: Benguet, Cebu, Laguna, Pampanga and Quezon. While there is minimal preventative ministry being done through several NGOs, again we witnessed the institutional church and house to house fellowships doing very little.

Stay tuned for further report and summary in next week’s article


Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, August 25, 2011

BROKEN FOR HIS GLORY

Fri, Aug 12 – What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community, and no community not lived in praise of God. – T.S. Eliot

“Seed had to die for the unity of the loaf. Only in this way could it bear fruit. In the same way each individual must give himself up, must die to himself, if he wants to follow Christ on His way. Then the grain must be crushed and milled if it is to be turned into bread. Our self-will undergoes the same for community. It must be broken if one is to belong to the community of the Supper and to the service of communal work. Furthermore: The grains had to be brought together into one flour and one loaf. Not one of them could preserve itself as it was or keep what it had. No grain could remain for itself. Every grain had given itself and its whole strength into the bread. In the same way the grapes must be pressed for the wine. Every grape gives all its strength and all its juice into the uniform wine. In it no grape can keep anything for itself. Only in this way does wine come into being. Grapes or grains that remain whole are only fit for the pigs or muck heap. They have nothing to do with bread and wine. If they kept back strength and body for themselves they lost everything. And they remained lost. In this we have the most powerful picture of community. That is how Christ presented it to those who were with him at the Supper. But to continue: This whole loaf is broken as Christ let his body be broken. That means for us that the stubbornness of self-will is broken and that we must be ready in community to suffer and die.” Andreas Ehrenpreis, an early Hutterite leader.

Tues, Aug 16 – We are back at Molong’s. We ended up staying an extra day at the resort because I was too sick to travel. Two days of being in bed and having diarrhea is not what I had in mind, but….. God does know how to get me to “Be Still!”  Otherwise our stay was blessed. We are thankful for Molong’s suggestion that we go and his friend who owns the resort who helped with the expenses. Father is still revealing His will to us even now. We are not planning to extend our stay here another two months. So we will be heading back to the States in six days. Thank you so much for your prayers! We are so blessed to have such a faithful family in Jesus!

Wed, Aug 17 – Since returning from our resort trip we have had many long conversations with Molong. We’ve gotten past dreaming of community life together to more serious conversations about living that out which are not always easy, but necessary. We’ve had fun with Albert learning how to shop in the markets and cooking Filipino together with him and Molong. Gary & Albert worked together to make screens for the guest room. When activities slow down for Lisa, she & I visit together while knitting. She’s already completed several small projects! I completed Jinky’s shoulder bag and presented it to her! It’s always fun interacting with the children. Last night they enjoyed being entertained with Gary & Molong’s dancing!

Thurs., Aug 18 - Molong was called to visit a 72 yr. old friend on Mactan Island who had kidney failure. Gary & I had the honor of going along to pray for him! He & his wife welcomed us into his home with a warm smile and were anxious for us to pray for his healing! Before we prayed, however he shared personal stories of his spiritual journey. He has observed many who were sick be healed in Jesus’ name, prayed over the dead and watched the power of God raise them and even encountered angels! However, he is very frustrated and confused that in praying for his own healing, “God does not answer!” So here we are in the presence of this mighty man of God and he wants us to pray for him! I feel so weak, but know that our God is not! As Gary began to pray, I felt led to kneel in front of this precious man and place my hand on the area of his right kidney. At one point in the prayer there was a “fullness of the Spirit” in the room. At the same time, it seemed as though I could feel a “filling” in the area of his right kidney under my hand. May God be glorified in His perfect plan for the life of this servant!

A family member of this man is a manager of an ocean front resort. His son drove us there and dropped us off to spend the rest of the afternoon! We were waited on with drinks and a fine lunch! It seems that we’ve been doing more “resorting” than anything else these days! It makes me feel like I’m being “too luxurious!” But… God must have a plan for the connections we are making and the places He is leading us too. I must learn to rest in His wisdom. Mine never has worked very well!

Fri., Aug 19 – Just out of curiosity, Gary, Molong & I jumped on the motor cycle to look at an empty lot on the beach not far from Molong’s home. What a beautiful view!

Frederick (10 yrs old) has become a precious friend to us. He visits Molong’s often, but today Gary & I walked with Frederick to his home. He was excited to show us where he lives. We took the “short-cut” which was a very muddy, buggy path! At one point we stopped at a community pump and Frederick pumped as we washed the mud off our feet!

We were welcomed into his home by his mother and grandparents. We visited for a short time while sipping on orange soda before heading back to Molong’s!

This weekend is Fiesta in Molong’s Barangay (village). This is an annual event which each village holds for celebrating and honoring their village saint. There are carnivals, games, food, music, etc. Last night the “parade” came past his house which included floats with statues of the honored saint. People walking in front of and behind the float were carrying lighted candles as they chanted & prayed to their saint. Many of the homes also had lit candles and statues of the saint in their yards. It was one of the most eerie events I think I’ve ever witnessed! As the night goes on, the celebration becomes more licentious.

The kids didn’t have school today because of Fiesta, but it was rainy so they all huddled into the hut and watched movies.

Sat. Aug 20. - We were greeted at the brkfst table with cards from all the children! As we read each one aloud, the children waited with excitement for us to finally read their special hade-made card. We are so blessed to have such precious little friends!

We went into the city to run an errand and to meet up with Oliver and his family for lunch. It seems like any time a person travels any place here, they spend ¾ of the day traveling to get there and back and ¼ of the day doing whatever they needed to do. I’m still adjusting to this!

Realizing that I can’t take fresh mangoes home with me - a group of us had fun making mango shakes last night. Then in our creativeness, we advanced to mango- avocado shakes. I don’t know how I’m going to survive without fresh mangoes when I get home! 

Molong & Lisa presented us with a beautiful hand-made card last night. The time for us to return to the states is becoming more real! We’re going to miss everyone so much!

Sun., Aug 21 – More typhoons! We had so much rain today! Everything was flooded! But… we made our way through the water-filled streets with a real estate friend of Molong’s to go see yet another piece of property. While seeking the Lord’s wisdom, it is fun to look and consider!

Family and friends began to come early in the day to spend time with us before we leave. We are reminded of what a blessing it has been to fellowship with such precious brothers and sisters!

We had a flat tire on the way to the airport, but made our flight on time! Thank you for your continued prayers! We’ll be back in the states soon!

Although many pieces have already fallen into place, it’ll be some time before I’ll be able to have a fuller understanding of the Lord’s purpose in our trip. There’s been so much that I don’t even know where to begin in evaluating all the wonderful opportunities and precious connections we’ve made.

There are many ways in which we can see how God in His wisdom has brought us to “the right place at the right time!” Yet, trying to explain that clearly will be a challenge! For now, I’ll simply say that we are seeing how He continues to break us and prepare us for Kingdom living! Empty us of everything that is not of You, Lord Jesus!

We can not express how thankful we are for all your prayers, support and encouragement! We have been blessed to have you on this journey with us! We’ll keep you posted regarding the unfolding of God’s plan for us as we see His directing.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

KINGDOM WORK IN THE PHILIPPINES

Fri. Aug 5 – Ben & Buyon picked Albert, Gary & I up early this morning to visit Project Mercy Farms up in the mountains. We stopped by to see the children at the school and had a wonderful opportunity to share with them. Buyon shared that there is an organization who rescues children off the streets and out of harmful home situations. They are brought to Project Mercy for education and Buyon then attempts to find them strong Christian homes. As a former furniture manufacturer, Ben developed a relationship with a couple who designs furniture for Neiman Marcus. He is American and she is Filipino. They own property in the mountains and recently offered a retreat site with farmland to Project Mercy to use. They are just beginning to make plans for this property and Ben is starting to plant trial organic plots. The view is breath-taking!

There are beautiful flower farms on the mountains. Some of the flowers are sold in the city markets, however the majority of them are used in the worship temples in the mountains (high places) where they are sacrificed to idols. The temples are in caves and child prostitution is a part of the worship practices. Cebu is known to be the center for this type of worship. Although I’ve yet to research this cult (Moncado), my understanding is that they worship El Ninyo – “Little Jesus” who performs miracles. My assumption is that they have sexual intercourse with a child as an expression of their desire to be close to/intimate with the “Christ Child.” There is an annual celebration (Sinulog) in Cebu the 3rd Sunday in January for which people from all around travel to Cebu to be a part of these sad and heart-wrenching practices. Child prostitution is at its peak at this time. Christians believe that there is a curse on the males in the Philippines because of this “little boy”! The strong Catholic practices and the worship of “momma Mary” and resulting matriarchy also is thought to have a strong spiritual affect on the men. It is believed that if Cebu changes it will affect the entire nation. I must learn more!

Sat. Aug 6 – Oliver came to visit with us this morn. We had lunch with Arlene (a young disciple) and five of her friends whom she recently made disciples of Jesus. They’ve come today to be baptized in the ocean! As we ate, Arlene shared with us how she made them disciples. What a powerful example of the work of Jesus! Some of the girls shared with us their desire to be followers of Jesus. We all went to a beach hut as a family and shared in the celebration! What an honor to be a part of the baptisms! How wonderful for the children of the community to see such an example of Kingdom life! What an exciting day!

Sun Aug 7 – Jennie, another young disciple shared that she made two disciples last week, her brother and a workmate. Molong encouraged her to bring them so that they could be baptized. She said, “I already did it!” PTL! A few weeks ago, Albert made and baptized three disciples! God is truly at work among these young people and it is so exciting! What a joy it is to have them return to the community hub and share their stories!

Shirley and Oliver came today and we discussed establishing legal organizations to do Kingdom work. Praying for God’s wisdom.

Extended (Kingdom of God) family came for the rest of the day. Annie had fun singing songs and playing games with the children. Helen, a new believer came with Annie and shared how Annie made her a disciple and baptized her! God is so good!

Mon. Aug 8 – We rode motorcycles up into the mountains as far as we could and then walked the rest of the way to see Albert and Lisa’s family and to baptize Grandma! Grandma is 81 years old. Her grandson, Albert has been sharing with her about Jesus. She now realizes that she is a Chosen one of God and desires to follow Jesus! I had the honor of assisting Albert with her baptism! Because we had no body of water in which to baptize her, we used a 55 gallon drum of rain water! With the drum standing in an upright position, we placed a chair in front of it. Grandma stepped up on the chair and we helped her into the drum. Albert prayed over her and we dunked her down into the water. When she arose I kissed her forehead. We both cried while holding each other! Our hearts were immediately connected! I must learn Cebuano so I can visit with Grandma! I sat on her front porch and attempted to communicate with words. We weren’t very successful at that, but there was no question for either of us that our hearts are connected! What a precious women and how blessed I am to have her as a new family member!

Albert, Gary & I went for a long walk around the “block”. As we walked along, we saw several 4 Sale signs and we dreamed about living close by one another.

Albert, Gary & I worked together to make a huge taco salad. It was a big hit! I had fun teaching Albert. He’s excited to have a new recipe!

Wed. morning Gary & I leave for four days to be alone on an island. We must spend some focused time seeking Father's wisdom regarding His plan for us here in the Philippines. We may not have computer access, but covet your continued prayers.

Tues, Aug 9 – I misdated yesterday. We are not leaving for the island retreat until tomorrow, Wed. Today was laundry day and getting packed to leave for the island tomorrow.

We learned that the house next to Molong’s will likely be available this winter. Interesting! And…. there “just happens to be” a beautiful open field next door of about 5 + acres! It already has a few fruit trees. It is certainly large enough to grow organic produce for the entire community and to sell, grow herbs for making and selling organic products, grazing milking goats and chickens. Praying for God’s miraculous provision!

I finished up some knitting projects that I’m making as gifts while visiting with family. It rained really hard and about 20 of us were nestled in the hut watching it rain, laughing, singing songs and sharing. What fun!

Wed., Aug 10 – Molong shared that he dreamed that the three of us were facing the open field next to his property praying over it.

Our bus ride from Liloan, Cebu early this morning to the Hagnaya Pier (northern Cebu) was around 2.5 hours. Our ferry ride across the Visayan Sea to Bantayan Island was approx. 1.25 hours. We are staying in a little hut at Ogtong Cave Resort which will be our home for 4 days and 4 nights. No time was wasted before we headed for a walk along the white beach. I can’t resist picking up the beautiful sea shells and stopping to admire every little sea creature visible! We ate a very late lunch while facing the beauty of the sea. For some reason, I’m exhausted! Today was a rare instance when I actually took a nap! Gary sat at the ocean’s edge talking to Father. He shared that he was asking, “What about America? What about our own community? What about our own family?” He was led to read Mark 6:1-8 – vs. 4 reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘Only in His hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

Thurs, Aug 11 – Gary swam this morning while I wrote some and read Art Gish’s book, Living in Community – one of the best ever written! There was a rat running through our hut while I was trying to focus on writing! We walked about two miles to exchange some money and get some exercise. When we returned the tide was out so we walked along the beach. We sat on the water’s edge and shared hearts while watching the fishermen activities with the sun setting in the background! I think I have a new addiction – mango shakes!

Gish’s chapter on The Organized Community confirms my heart’s longing to see a Christian community that trusts upon the Lord’s provision and timing without connecting itself with the governments of this world. The Church has for too long sought the ways of the world, forming legal organizations in order to obtain funds and material possessions. Can we not trust our King enough to wait upon Him to bring resources according to His perfect timing and plan? Can we not give without expecting something in return? Can we not trust our brothers and sisters enough to not expect them to register with an earthly government before we will entrust them with our giving? It is often asked, “What if we find someone handling such things unfaithfully?” Do we need the world’s government to monitor such things? What will we do; turn them over to the world’s government to deal with them or deal with them ourselves according to God’s Word (1 Cor. 6:1-8)? Can Father not use such situations for the glory of His Kingdom? What a glorious reflection of His Kingdom in heaven for His people to function likewise on earth!