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!


Thursday, September 22, 2011


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]!


Thursday, September 15, 2011


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… 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]!


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!


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 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