A little over 11 years ago, my wife Wendy and I responded to a calling that, at first, sounded impossible: To start a church that gives everything away.
That idea came after we had accepted the Lord’s calling to leave the church we had helped to start only 3 years previously, to plant a brand-new church here in Orange County, CA.
The first idea was exhilarating. The second idea seemed impossible.
“How will I support my family?” I wondered.
The idea of a church that gives everything away – keeping nothing for rent, or donuts, or sound systems or staff, or pastoral salaries – was exactly what the first century Christians did with their money. But to do this in Orange County, in 2006, seemed a little….insane.
But, we were convinced that this was indeed what God was calling us to do. So, we took that huge step and did exactly that.
Early on, even before we started our house church, a dear old woman named Ethel gave us a word from the Lord which greatly encouraged us. Even though she had no idea that we were leaving to start a house church, the Lord had shown her a picture of a house with eleven windows one morning as she was praying for us. When she asked the Lord about it, He said, “I’m going to bless this family with eleven windows of opportunity.”
That word propelled us forward with even more joy and expectation for what God might be calling us to do. So, we took that huge step and quit our jobs at the church in Tustin to start a church that gives everything away to the poor.
We called it “The Mission” and our conviction was that we were all missionaries with a unique and personal mission to glorify Jesus in our corner of the world.
It took an entire year for me to find a full-time job to support our family. But it was worth it!
We loved taking every single penny placed in the offering basket at the back of the room and using it to buy groceries for our new friends who lived in the motel in Santa Ana, just down the road.
We loved giving away money to single moms who were in need, or struggling families who needed help with rent, or homeless old men who needed a place to sleep at night.
We also loved the people that found us and decided to call our little fellowship “home.”
They, of course, made it home for us, too. Their insights, their honesty, their compassion, their laughter, and their unique gifts were what made gathering together so sweet for everyone.
We also loved that every single person – young or old, male or female – was free to share from their own experience of Christ. Discipleship for us was our every moment of life, every breath we took, every day we lived our lives and went to work and drove the freeways and interacted with people around us.
From the very beginning every assumption we had about what church was supposed to be, or what leadership looked like, or what following Jesus was all about, was totally challenged and transformed from the inside out.
For the record:
I was not the senior pastor of this church. Jesus was.
I did not set the agenda. Jesus did.
I did not lead the gatherings or take control of the meeting. Jesus did.
I did not do all of the talking, or teaching, or speaking. The Body of Christ did, as directed by the Holy Spirit within them.
In fact, there were many gatherings when I was not even present, and often if I was present I would intentionally leave the room [especially in the beginning] and would not return until I heard everyone else sharing freely what the Lord had given them to share.
We took very seriously the idea that we could have a meeting WITH Jesus and not just have a meeting ABOUT Jesus.
We also believed that being the Church was more important than going to Church.
We especially loved inviting people to join our fellowship. That meant the poor, the homeless, the outcasts, the misfits, gay or straight people – even at times Muslims and unbelievers of all kinds – were all welcome in our homes and at our table.
We also loved bringing free groceries to our friends who lived at the motel in Santa Ana one Saturday every month, and sharing breakfast and the Gospel of Christ with them one Sunday each month.
We loved praying with our friends who lived in Tent City, just about a mile down the road from my house, in the shadow of Angel Stadium, and learning to receive love as much as we shared love with those dear people who had nothing but left to give but love.
One morning I was praying and reflecting on all that God had done to that point through our House Church, and I was reminded of that word about the House of Eleven Windows. God whispered to me: “How many windows are in your house?”As I mentally began to count them I realized: Our house had eleven windows! What’s more: Our friend Ethel had never seen or been inside this house.
So, God’s word for us was specifically about this house – the one we were living in and hosting house church in.
But that wasn’t all.
We also started to get to know our neighbors. Right away we started hosting Kids Club in our home and invited all the kids from the neighborhood to join us during the summer. We hosted Pancake Breakfasts in our driveway on July 4th and invited all of our neighbors to come and get to know one another – which was such a blast that everyone insisted we do it every year – so we did.
We also started inviting our next door neighbors (who were Hindu and Catholic) over for dinner, and then for our Passover Seder celebration, and then just for fun.
Our two sons also started taking out the garbage cans every week for our elderly neighbors on the other side of us, causing another young man on our street to volunteer to take them in every morning after they were emptied.
We discovered the natural presence of Christ in every conversation, and in every smile. Sometimes we prayed for our neighbors when they were going through a divorce. Other times we held their hands as the ambulance pulled away from their house with their loved ones inside.
One night we had an angel at our door – literally “Angelica” – who had run away from a girl’s home and had nowhere to go.
I could tell you so many more stories. But the main thing I have to tell you is this: those “eleven windows of opportunity” were about more than we first believed.
Our first clue came about 8 months ago when things at the Motel Church began winding down. Then God closed the door. Next, the Tent City was removed by the city. Then, one by one, people in our house church began coming to us with tears of joy, and sadness, to let us know that God was calling them to leave and start another expression of His Kingdom somewhere else.
We prayed with them. We encouraged them. We let them know how proud we were. And then we sent them out.
That’s when I realized that all of this started eleven years ago, and that God’s word for us about “eleven windows” was about how long we had to serve.
Last week, I took a job on Idaho. We leave at the end of this month.
My final gathering with our house church will be this Sunday. After eleven years, our windows of opportunity here in this house, and in California, are coming to a close.
A few days ago, as I was driving home after dropping off another load of books and clothes to the Salvation Army, I felt the Lord whisper to me: “Mission accomplished” and I just lost it.
Tears rolled down my face as an endless flood of faces, and people, and memories began to flash through my mind. I saw all the people we touched, all the lives we blessed, all the experiences that changed us, and all the wonder of Christ expressed through each person who called this gathering their home. It was almost too much to bear; almost too wonderful to take in at once.
I felt my Abba Father wrap his arms around my shoulders and weep with me for the joy, and the breathtaking beauty of it all.
“Mission accomplished,” he said.
And I knew it was true.
WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT OUR HOUSE CHURCH HERE>
OUR “MISSION” TO BE THE CHURCH EXPLAINED HERE>
Keith Giles new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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