Search Results for: Friends and friends of friends

Friends and Friends of Friends - Living in the Relational Church - Part 11

Friends and Friends of Friends: Living in the Relational Church – Part 11

By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • September 2007

Since I first wrote The Naked Church twenty years ago now, I have searched for a definition of the church that encompasses her majesty and yet explains in simplicity who she is and how she functions in the world. At first I thought that could be answered in structural ways as I moved from the mechanics of large institutions into more relational structures, like cell groups, home groups, and house churches.

But it didn’t work out that way, for which I am incredibly grateful. Defining the church structurally has two problems. First, the life of the church is found in the affection and cooperation of people who are living in Christ. No structure guarantees that reality. In fact, smaller groups who practice performance-based religion are even more dangerous than larger ones who do. Second, these definitions were inherently divisive – excluding brothers and sisters who met in different structures and inculcating a false sense of superiority in those who think they have finally recaptured ‘the secret’ of New Testament church life.

All the while, my relationships never reflected the reality of the definition for which I groped. I had close fellowship with brothers and sisters who gathered in a variety of expressions, all the way from large institutional gatherings to those who just live relationally alongside others. I wanted a definition that transcends all the structural ways we tend to see church.

This summer, however, I stumbled upon a definition that expresses the life of the church better than any I’ve yet run across. It crystallized in my thinking at a worldwide gathering of believers this summer and it has grown on me more ever since. Its application to a variety of settings seems to bear witness to its clarity as well as practicality. What is that definition? Simply I am coming to see the beauty of the church of Jesus Christ emerge in this day as “friends, and friends of friends.”

Now, I realize that needs a bit of explanation, so let me try.

An Example In Ireland

Those who read my blog or listen to The God Journey know I was part of an incredible gathering of believers this past June in Ireland. It was hosted by a number of people who have been living relationally around Dublin for almost 30 years. They were in the midst of forming a congregation in the 80s when God made it clear he hadn’t asked them to do so. They stopped meeting regularly, but continued to share the life of Jesus together as friends living alongside each other. They rarely all get together for a meeting, though it would also be rare if on any given day a number of them weren’t together in one way or another – sharing their journeys and helping each other.

This summer God brought together people from all over the world who are learning to live relationally in his family for a week of sharing life. People came from 10 different countries including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and other countries in Europe. Most of those who came did not know each other beforehand, and many had never even been to Ireland before.

We spent the week together, beginning with a picnic on a Sunday in a field and ended in the same field the following Saturday with a barbecue. Nothing was planned beyond the meal for both of those occasions and the rest of the week we did not gather as a large group except to take a bus tour of that part of Ireland. But throughout the week in various homes and other venues pockets of people got together for meals, recreation, and conversation. By the end of the week we were blown away by all Father had accomplished without planning or scheduling any ‘ministry’ times. Friendships blossomed, deep issues discussed, insights shared and questions answered. We prayed together, cried together, and laughed together all the while watching Jesus emerge among us. Significant time was spent helping individuals through rough spots on the road through prayer and counsel. Friends and friends of friends could be together for a week and Jesus could accomplish all he wanted through that simple reality.

Most of those who gathered during this week, I had previously met in my travels. Watching friends of mine meet and enjoy other friends of mine was an absolute delight. I was blessed at how simply a web of connections expanded to encompass other people and how so many reported that they had time with were just the people they needed to know and could already see ways God might connect them in the future.

At one level, none of this surprised me. Most of my life is spent with friends and friends of friends that the Spirit is knitting together. I had similar times this summer in smaller groups whether it was on the beach at Lake Tahoe, in an old fellowship hall in Stratford, Ontario, or in a home in Naarden in the Netherlands. So many of the tasks Jesus asks me to do these days couldn’t be done without a network of other people, each supplying their part. My life has become an endless sea of relationships, some long-term, others just for a season. But I am convinced that the environment of growing friendships is where family flourishes, not in the rigid routine of an institution.

What amazed me in Ireland was that these same dynamics were visible on a larger scale with such diverse people. This is where I have been told it cannot work. People say friendships are fine for getting together locally, but it will not allow the body of Christ to function on a global scale. They are wrong. I’m convinced it’s the only way it can function globally. Institutions constantly fight over control, doctrine and money. But where Jesus builds friendships there is no end to the assets and resources he can bring together to accomplish his purpose. Nothing is wasted in political struggles or maintaining machinery. All the dynamics of body life in the New Testament apply better in growing friendships than they do in all our attempts at group building.

Jesus-Style Friendships

I know of no managed system large or small that can guarantee real community will emerge when it is implemented. Body life does not grow out of any management system, but out of the quality of a growing friendship with Jesus, linked together by people sharing that friendship with others. Even if you are part of a large institution, your quality of life in it will be found far more in the friendships you cultivate and how they stimulate you to live more deeply in Christ, than anything the corporate meeting alone can produce. Read the Gospels again and you will see just how much of Jesus’ mission was fulfilled in simple friendships, whether he was befriending weary fishermen returning in an empty boat, a greedy tax collector over lunch, or Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. He was persistently accused of being the friend of sinners, and enjoying their company. At the end of his life, he clearly stated to those early disciples that what he wanted from them was not the obedience of slaves, but the affection of friends (John 15:15).

Perhaps friendships may sound like too casual a word to describe the wonder of our connections to him and to each other, but that’s only because we look at friendship in human terms. Most friendships are built on a delicate balance of mutual benefit. As long as people provide something for us, we consider them friends. When they no longer do so, we move on. Because of that most of us have only known very shallow friendships that can be as fickle as the weather. And too many of us have tasted the bitter pain of betrayal when a good friend decides they have more to gain by leaving us out.

Thus, many of us shy away from deep friendships thinking we can protect ourselves from future disappointments. That is why we find it easier to trust the managed relationships of institutions than to risk the spontaneity of real and growing friendships. But that is to our loss.

Friendships as Jesus viewed them were not the what-can-I-get-out-of-you style of relationship, but the willingness to lay down our life for someone else. Until you know how he does that for you, you will never know how to do it for others. But once you’ve tasted it in him, you can’t wait to give it away.

That’s why real friendships don’t grow out of institutional rules and guidelines, but out of people connecting in a real way with Jesus and then with others. As we grow in the freedom of not needing to exploit others or be exploited by them we can begin to taste what real friendships are all about. These friendships are the building blocks of the New Testament community.

This is the kind of friendship I have shared with those who gathered in Ireland and the friendship that grew between others that week. I am convinced that this is how the bride takes shape in the world as the Spirit connects the body through affectionate and caring friendships. Friends and friends of friends, living, sharing and tasking alongside each other as each contributes what the Lord gives them. This is our engagement with the Body of Christ and will open the door to all the ways in which Jesus wants us to share his life together.

Growing Friendships

Obviously joining a group and becoming part of a growing circle of friends are two very different things. Most of us only know the former and the latter can seem threatening at first because there isn’t any place you can go to sign up for a real friendship. We can’t orchestrate them. They emerge as we recognize and invest time in those Father is asking us to walk alongside in a given season. Thus they begin the only place they can begin, not with others but with him!

First, learn to be friends with Jesus. He is the only source of life. Body life is the fruit of our walk with him not the means to gain it. Let your relationship with him grow. If you don’t know others with a similar passion, just lean in close to him and keep your eyes open. He may want you to himself for a time so that you will only be dependent on him. Eventually he will connect you with others.

Second, pursue friendships with those God puts in your path. The building blocks of body life are not found in groups, believe it or not. Jesus specifically pointed to the value of twos and threes coming together in him. Small conversations are where we truly get to know each other and recognize the life of Jesus in one other. Sitting in a meeting won’t do that. I’ve even been to home groups that have been meeting for prayer and Bible study for over 20 years who are not friends. They claimed to be the church, but there was no affection among them and no understanding of what it means to share life together. They were just committed to their weekly meetings.

Find ways to share a meal, an evening or an outing together. When you cross paths in a store don’t rush on with your day. Hang back if only for a moment and enjoy each other’s company. Relationships grow best in small conversations. Trying to form groups is a poor substitute for that, and often a structured way of trying to build friendships unwittingly subverts the process itself. Friendships flourish only in real conversations where people are growing to know and care about each other under Father’s love.

Now, watch the connections grow. Out of these twos and threes a marvelous network of friendships will emerge. As some of my friends get to know other of my friends the body takes shape around me. This web of interconnected friendships offers unlimited possibilities as to the ways the Spirit might connect us and show them how to cooperate together in doing what he asks. Gatherings of various groups will take shape, not because they are trying to have a New Testament meeting, but because they want to learn together, work together or in some other way express God’s work in the world. People who live like this learn to value every connection God gives them.

Those who played a part in facilitating what happened in Ireland and other places I go are those who have invested years in growing friendships. They aren’t trying to manage groups or form structured networks, but have simply let Jesus connect them to others and made time for those friendships to grow. And they have generously shared those friendships with their other friends.

That’s how the church takes shape locally, regionally and globally. I love seeing some of my dear friends become friends themselves. When I was in the U.K. this summer, I met a young couple that had just immigrated to the UK from South Africa. They knew a couple I’d spent some time with when I was there, who in turn knew an elderly couple living near them outside London. That couple connected them with some friends hosting my visit this summer. They came down to join us the weekend I was there. A week later I found myself sitting in Ireland with the couple from South Africa who started it all and the couple from London that passed it on. What a fun family – friends and friends of friends finding fellowship and life together, helping each other on the journey.

Do you hear the clicking of the Spirit’s needles as he knits the family together?

The Wider Family

What a joy it is to watch the church take shape not as the result of the vision of some man, or group of people scheming to create an organization to contain it, but seeing it as a reality than transcends all of our attempts to control it. Thus the church takes expression through millions of simple acts of friendship in response to Jesus’ leading and the wonderful fruit that flows from doing so. No human could ever control it and in the end there is no all-encompassing institution to be managed, financed, fought over or divided.

Expressions of the wider family are in his hands alone as we respond to him. That’s the church he is building. It permeates everything and ever place and no matter how we gather in groups with other believers, those moments of twos and threes, and eight and tens are the most important. It is where relationships grow, where people truly share their journey, and where we’ll find ways to do together what he might ask of us

As I sat in Ireland I couldn’t help but wonder how many other pools of interconnected friendships fill our globe. How easy it is for the Spirit to connect them when he is ready. Only two people have to cross paths for separate bits of the family to find each other. It is such joy to meet people who have no desire to manage God’s working – to pressure others with their pet doctrines or need to organize them for any desired outcome (or income). Living loved and sharing that love is really more than enough to give expression to this incredible family. Isn’t that what Jesus told us? (John 13:34-35)

A Fruitful Life Together

Seeing the family as an ever-expanding fellowship of friends, and friends of friends helps see the church as she really is. It also allows us to appreciate the organic growth that happens through friendship, rather than the imposition of any structured model that forces people into friendships that haven’t grown naturally and most likely won’t grow in that environment either. This view fulfills so much of what the New Testament teaches and demonstrates about the life of the church.

It keeps the focus on relationship. Instead of trying to build a corporate life on doctrine, programs, rituals or structures, people are focused on their friendship with Jesus and finding others who share that same friendship. The more your friendships grow the more involvement you have in the family. And those that have a hard time connecting relationally, can be befriended and helped by those who have found freedom to do so.

It is not meeting-focused, but relationally lived. Sharing life in the body of Christ does not happen by attending a meeting, but by growing in friendship with Jesus and our spiritual siblings. Of course the body will get together in a variety of ways as it celebrates those friendships. But it will do so as people want to be together with a specific purpose in mind, not just to follow an artificial routine. Until then our focus can be where Jesus put it – on connections of twos and threes as our friendships grow. And when our gatherings happen out of friendship they won’t be a static program put on by a few to entertain the others. lsbl.sept

It answers the dilemma of how much structure we need. We won’t want structures to attempt to manage friendships, because that will only prevent people from dealing with their differences and growing in the process. The structures we can embrace are those that facilitate what God is doing among a specific group for a specific season. We won’t need to start ministries or perpetuate groups for their own sake, but simply learn how to care about each other, stimulate each other to grow in him and do together whatever he asks us to do.

It resolves conflict without the appeal to power. Institutions have to provide clear decision-making authority, creating an environment based on who holds the power to make decisions others have to follow. Friends sort out conflicts not by deciding who is in charge, but through honesty and openness looking for God’s highest good and no one assuming they will know that for others. But a connection of relationships in agreement will have far more meaningful impact on others than any council making rules.

It can give proper place to the weaker believer. One of the Scriptures that always bothered me as a manager of an institution was Romans 14-15 where Paul talks about the stronger giving way to the weaker. There is absolutely no application of that in an institutional setting. Instead the stronger must take control over the weaker or chaos will result. In a family of relationships, however, those weaker in faith can be loved, extended the grace to be where they are in the journey and encouraged to move on to greater freedom, all in the context of friendship.

It allows leaders to truly be servants, helping others to grow rather than maintaining machinery. It also prevents those who are immature from aspiring to false leadership while hiding behind their personal charisma, eloquence or intellectual knowledge as a way to lord over others. True elders will simply be those a bit further down the road helping others find friendships as well.

It allows for wider connections, both in meeting new people and cooperating together in various efforts. When we think of the church as a specific institution who share a specific location, ritual or doctrine, we cut ourselves off from other relationships that God might want to arrange for interconnecting his family or touching the world.

The Power of Connections

I’ve been blessed over the last few years to be part of some amazing connections with individuals and networks of friends that God brought together for a specific season. The Ireland gathering was like that. It was a specific event whose ongoing fruit will only be measued by the friendships it produced. Almost everything I do now brings together friends in Christ each doing their part and results in something far more wonderful than any of us could accomplish alone. Perhaps the most amazing has been my experience with a new book a friend of mine wrote.

After unsuccessfully approaching on his behalf a number of publishers to print The Shack, we finally concluded that this was something God wanted us to do together. When we started pursing that direction we had so many missing pieces. But over the days and weeks, through friends and friends of friends we connected with people who could help us put it together.

Our biggest concern was how to get it out as broadly as we thought God wanted. Imagine our shock at selling out the first printing of 11,000 copies within four months of putting it on a web site, and talking to our friends about it. As friends passed it on to their friends the book just took off. Without one advertisement and without being in any bookstore, it spread like wildfire. Today some influential members of the national media have it in hand and the stories of how it has touched lives – especially those who have suffered great tragedy – continue to melt our hearts. We have been contacted by major book chains and distributors that we had no access to when we began. And we have turned down two top-tier Christian publishers who had rejected the book a year ago and now wanted to take it over.

I could tell you so many more stories of the simple joy and fruitfulness of people connecting with each other. Almost every where I travel now one of the great results is people who live in the same area who didn’t know each other before, get to meet each other. I get email long after I’ve returned home of the friendships that have grown and how people can now walk alongside some others as Jesus directs.

I could tell you of people in foreign countries living a life of expanding friendships that is giving great testimony to the reality of Jesus in the most brutal circumstances by simply loving and forgiving as they have found it in him. I do believe this is what he meant when he said the world would come to know him by the love we share one for another.

If you want to be part of that, just remember, the joy of living as friends, and friends of friends, does not come out of a desperate attempt to find friends for yourself, but by simply being a friend to whomever Father allows to cross your path. No, you cannot befriend everyone, but you can take the time to invest in those Jesus asks you to, whether they be a believer yet or not. And when you take the risk to cultivate that friendship, you’ll never know where it might lead.


Living Loved is published periodically by Lifestream Ministries and is sent free of charge to anyone who requests it. For those with email we recommend our web-based version so that we can hold down costs and get it to you much more quickly. This is especially important for international subscribers.

© Copyright 2013 Lifestream Ministries

Permission is hereby granted to anyone wishing to make copies for free distribution.

DOWNLOAD VERSION: PDF (115 KB)

Previous Issue of Living Loved                 Next Issue of Living Loved

Articles in Chronological Order | Articles by Content

More Friends, and Friends of Friends

I love how Father intersects people. Just a few moments ago I received this from a man named Sam, with whom I’ve corresponded in the past. He’s preparing to leave for Uganda to help with the thousands of Kenyans fleeing the country into Uganda. Here’s what he wrote:

I wanted to let you know that I am about to leave for Jinja, Uganda. The situation in Kenya is already affecting Uganda with thousands crossing over into Uganda. Food and fuel has doubled in less than a few days in Uganda. A pastor friend of mine in Mombassa says that food and water are becoming scarce. The stability of Kenya has grave impact on most of eastern Africa. I would ask that you pray for me and our team already in Uganda. I will be teaching young pastors and businessmen on forgiveness and on various relationship issues. I am going with an organization called Next Generation Ministries whose emphasis is on relationships.

I am certain while I am there I will be able to meet some the Kenyans and I will give you a report if you like. Many organizations like yours are sending money and aid which is greatly needed. This situation appears to be such that unless God intervenes Kenya and much of eastern Africa could be devastated. It is times like these that I wonder about how effective we have been at communicating the real gospel. I am re-reading you book He Loves Me and I hope I can communicate His love as well as you do in the book. At 55 years old and 30 years in ministry, I am just now beginning to walk in his presence and feel his love. Thank you for who you are and your work.

More opportunities to pray and perhaps another door to get some funds on the field where they will most impact our brothers and sisters….

Friends, and Friends of Friends (continued)

I appreciate the way the Internet allows people to interact with things I write. Others add some great observations to this process. I’ve received some emails since the release of the new BodyLife and its lead article about Friends and Friends of Friends. It’s interesting that these both focused on fear and control as the reason we won’t trust Jesus to connect us the way he always desired to do.

This came from a long-time friend that has continued to look in a number of places to find some form of effective church life in a number of institutions:

I don’t know where to begin….was so impressed by what you had to say in the new newsletter. I have struggled with this issue for years and like you it was in front of us the whole time. Can’t tell you what a release I felt (and my wife as well). It is so hard to move away from the institution and the hold it can have on you. I recently watched a documentary on the Catholic Church in its attempts to deal with the sexuality of both male and female clergy, and the conclusion was simply that it was all done and justified on the basis of control, no matter what and that it will never change. It almost appears that the institution will do anything to keep people from fellowship with Jesus and with one another because of its fear of losing control even though lives will be destroyed. I can’t thank you enough for taking such a courageous stand.

And this came from a newer friend who has only recently left the institutional he served in for years. He was recently invited back to attend a ‘Defending the Faith’ class so he would know better how to “evangelize” young believers.

Why can’t we love people well enough that we just share our life with them in relationship instead of treating them as a project for coercion? You know why? It is because of fear. We are afraid we won’t know what to say. We are afraid that our not having an answer to their question will render them to eternal damnation. We are afraid we will say something wrong which make them walk away from Christ and they won’t ever pass that way again. We are afraid that a lot of their salvation is based on what I do.

But perfect love cast out all fear. If it really was about loving the people that Father puts in front of us each day, there is no fear of what to say, or what the results will be. I feel for those coercion projects that will soon be the victims of a new group of graduates from the “Defending the Faith” class. But then Father can make good of that too.

it’s amazing what Father uses. It really is! I’m grateful for how many times he’s used my immature ramblings to touch someone’s life and draw them closer to him. But like many of you, I’d much prefer Jesus flow out of my life because of how I’m responding to him, not in spite of it.

Farewell Kevin… And Thank You

The world is a bit poorer today, at the same time more of what I treasure has found his way into eternity.

I found out this morning that my good friend from Australia, Kevin Smith, passed away peacefully on Sunday morning. I knew he had not been well and had endured great suffering and pain over the last few months. Those closest to him are relieved that his suffering is finally over and that he has begun the greatest adventure for which he was created—eternity with the Father he loved so much. My heart and prayers go out to his wife Val, his three kids and their spouses, and all the grandkids.

Over the past 24 years, I got to have so many long, deep, healing conversations with Kevin—in my home, in his, in Ireland, Singapore even on Skype calls. I got to introduce him to so many of my friends around the world. I first met him and Val in the summer of 1995 when asked to teach at a Servant School he’d helped organize in the bush outside of Melbourne, Australia. He and his then-21-year-old daughter picked Sara and me up at the airport to drive us out to Camp Weekaway. The conversation I heard between that father and daughter let me know we were in for a special time. It was our first time in Australia and we were deeply hurting at the time having just been betrayed by a close friend and forced out of a group of people we dearly loved. Those few days were life-changing. It’s where we began to see the cross in a different light, that I wrote about in He Loves Me, and talked at length about in Transitions, and where we got to experience the reality of a community of brothers and sisters that we had been trying so hard to produce, without success, by our own efforts at home.

Those ten days in Australia changed the course of our lives in so many ways. I have always been grateful that God allowed our lives to intersect then and continue to over the years that followed.  He was a treasure in so many ways—his smile, deep laugh, his wisdom, generosity, and graciousness communicated the Father’s nature to me better than anything else ever has. When people ask me what books have most shaped my life and theology, my answer is that it was never books. What has most shaped my life and thoughts on this journey are the people God brought across my path at just the right time and who invested so much in my heart and life. And I don’t mean I got to hear them speak; I got to spend time with these people in their homes, on long walks, in deep conversations and in frivolous moments of joking and laughter. They allowed me to see God in real life and Kevin was one of those. He never took himself too seriously or never tried to impress me with his spiritual depth. He just lived an authentic life and made room for others to walk alongside him.

Kevin Smith having a yarn in Ireland

The sheer gravity of his character and passion for God permanently altered the trajectory of my life. When I spent a few days with Kevin my trust in Father grew in ways that surprised me. He simply lived at rest in the Father’s care through times of great abundance and in times of great need or pain. He was willing to follow God’s leading even at great personal risk financially and otherwise. So much of how I live in the world today, I can trace back to my friendship with Kevin and what he showed me about what life in God looks like.

Even how I travel now is the fruit of our relationship. I know that what people need to see to catch this life for themselves is not a speaker on a stage talking about the love of God, but an example in their homes and over meals of our common humanity and the amazing Father that can make sense of our lives. I know that frivolous moments of laughter or making buttermilk biscuits are every bit as significant as the deep conversations. That’s what Kevin showed me and I still treasure every moment we’ve had together.

As I have reflected this morning on my gratefulness to God for allowing Kevin in my life, I was reminded of some of the things he said to me, that I still share with others:

  • He was the first person I ever heard use the word “Father” without the article in front of it. It captured me because I never call my father ‘The dad’. Father became such an endearing term to me.
  • After asking me how many of our policies in the church I’d been a part of were based on our fears of people falling through the cracks, of the wrong people getting in leadership, or of people not seriously following Jesus and I answered about ninety percent, “So, you know well the church that fear can build, but you’ve yet to discover the church that grows from trusting him.”
  • “We loved The Naked Church when we read it, but we also realized that what you don’t know yet is that Jesus didn’t leave us with a system to implement, but with his Spirit to follow.”
  • When asked by someone if he believed in the infallibility of the Bible, he hesitated briefly then answered,  “I believe in the infallibility of the God of the Bible.”
  • When I was complaining about one of our politicians, “Well, we know he lies, but we don’t know that he’s a liar.”
  • In a classroom in Singapore discussing Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers. “Is unity really our calling?  Who was Jesus asking to produce this unity, us or his Father?”
  • When asked about his children not growing up in Sunday school. “I think they may give our children just enough of God’s things to inoculate them against the reality of knowing him.”
  • “Let’s make a pact to use the term church only the way God uses it, not for humanity’s faltering institutions, but for the living, breathing family that thrives in the earth.”

I’m sure there are so many more that will come to mind over the days to come. I am so grateful that Father allowed us to have a friendship over the years.

Kevin Smith in Australia

Fortunately, you can still spend some time with Kevin if you’d like. Over the years I did five podcasts with Kevin and was always touched by the power and simplicity of his words as well as his life.  You can listen to them here. Take a weekend sometime and listen to all five of them back-to-back. It will enrich your journey in ways you can’t imagine.

Most of all, I will miss knowing you’re in this world, Kevin. I realize you are face-to-face with Father now and how I wish we could have one more Skype call so that I could know what you know now. But that will await another day. Thank you, Kevin, for being you! For sharing your life so freely with so many of us and enriching this world with the fragrance of Father.

Farewell, my friend.  Enjoy what’s next!

With Prayers for Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton

Let me make a few comments about the tragic shootings last week in Gilroy, CA, and the two weekend shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Our community suffered a mass shooting only nine months ago where eleven young people and a sheriff’s deputy were killed in a country-western club, hosting a college night.  I’ve been asked to assist our community with planning some gatherings around the first anniversary to help our community heal. Being behind the scenes has taught me a lot about mass shootings and what goes on in a community that deals with this kind of horror.

It’s hard enough having a child die by disease or accident, but there the anger and helplessness that comes from a senseless murder is a deeper wound. To think someone is so depraved that murdering innocent people will somehow satisfy their twisted soul is impossible to comprehend. It’s maddening to think that a choice to go back-to-school shopping at a Wal-Mart, or dance at a club, should end someone’s life. Grief, anger, and frustration can mix in a toxic brew. The people who lost loved ones need our prayers and, if you know them, our support as they try to make sense of something that is entirely senseless. To be the victim of another person’s abject selfishness is so brutal.

The first victims from a shooting like these are only the tip of the iceberg. Grief experts know that in the next few years more people will die of suicide because of these shootings than died in the shootings themselves. And that isn’t just among the families and friends of the victims, but first responders, medical people, and others who were swept up in the tragedy itself and its aftermath.  Stay close to anyone who has suffered grief, not just for a next week or two, but for two to three years. Make sure they have an outlet to deal with their pain and the senselessness of it all.

Do NOT push a community on to resilience. I saw on an NBC news report last night a headline about El Paso Resilience. Don’t use the term so quickly after a tragedy. It is offensive to the people who matter.  Outsiders love to talk about the resilience of a community to respond to such tragedies, but those who’ve suffered loss from these evil shootings see it as minimizing their pain so you can get back to your life. The news vans are going to pick up and leave as the funerals end, and media people want to believe the community is healing as they head off to the next one. Grief is a two to three year process at best.

Some have tried to put the term ‘resilience’ on our community after only nine months and the response from the victims’ families have been clear. They mostly worry that their children, friends, and parents have died in vain and that people will soon forget them. “Resilience” is only a term for those only tangentially touched by the tragedy, it doesn’t ease the pain of those who touched it personally. It is often an excuse for people to ease their conscience as they get back to their lives and leave the survivors even more isolated in their grief.

My heart goes out to those communities today who have been touched by violence, and not just the three most recent, but those still healing from their own mass murders. Now is the time for our national leaders to move beyond the partisan rhetoric that seeks to use these tragedies for whatever political agendas they have and find bipartisan solutions that can stem the tide of mass shootings by misguided young people.

If you are concerned that someone you know is angry and detached enough to act out in violence speak up! If you are one of those that fantasizes about inflicting violence on innocents as a way to get revenge for how unfair life has been to you, go seek out an older adult who can help you find what you need not to waste your life with such wanton destruction. It’s no way to end your life or theirs.

The Joys and Pain of Collaboration

I owe you an apology. For the past few months, I’ve been talking about a book I was working on with a friend from France. I told you we were hopeful for a September release, and now that isn’t going to happen. It is now quite unlikely at this point that you will ever get to see the manuscript I was working on with her. For reasons I still don’t understand, her family has pulled out of the collaboration and cut off communication with me.

I told you a few weeks ago that I was on a familiar road collaborating on a new book, though I hoped this one had a better outcome. Well, it didn’t. Unfortunately, that uncharted road quickly became a road with which I’m all too familiar. It’s hard to talk about these things and protect people I love, but I’m already getting a lot of questions I want to try and answer.

One week after I finished working on the manuscript, the author wrote me to say how incredibly grateful she was, especially thanking me for the last line, which I gave her from another novel I was writing. It fit so perfect in her story. She compared me to a diamond maker who brought the brilliance of a story she created. After I sent the approved manuscript to the editor, however, I got a disturbing email. It contained suspicions about my ulterior motives. Her tone had shifted dramatically as she told me in subsequent emails that she wanted control of everything in France and would not follow through on any of her assurances over the past eight months.

Collaboration is always a risk, and all the more so here because of the geographical distance and the language barriers. When I was hesitant, she repeatedly assured me that God was in this and that she would honor our work together. I thought the beauty in her story was worth the risk. I have a seven-year friendship with her and her family, a deep love for them, and eight incredible months working on this book with her. I am confused but not devastated.

Of the dozens of collaborations I’ve worked on, only two have gone off-track and ended valued friendships. Interestingly enough, however, they have all followed the same pattern. Other voices get involved who wanted to profit from the collaboration. They start by making accusations about my motives, then assert whatever control they can to take over the project. Finally, no matter how much they have said in the past, they now have a fresh word from God telling them not to continue. Of course, there is no way to discuss anything after that, which is why people pull that trump card. The reason it rings so hollow with me is that people who hear from God are more grace-filled and apologetic, especially when it’s a complete change of their prior assurances. Finally, they cut off any further communication and raise the drawbridge on the friendship by telling me not to contact them directly.

So, I’m there again and I don’t have the foggiest idea why. This is an abrupt end to what had been a delightful season in my life. I only wanted to help a friend get her wonderful story more widely read in the world, and gave her the best I had to help make that happen. However, she has now decided to revert to her original story and discard all I had done to help re-write it and get it published here in the States. It makes me sad to know there’s a beautiful manuscript in the world that you may never see. I still feel God was in this process, and that somehow fear and darkness have cut in to send it sideways.

People are already asking me why I do this when it can turn so hurtful in the end? I’m crazy, I guess. I believe in the power of collaboration. Everything is better when multiple people bring their various insights to give a more rounded picture of God. Scripture teaches that God gives gifts so that through the whole of the body, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” I think the enemy freaks out where brothers and sisters collaborate in love and sacrifice. I don’t think God intended for any of us to go it alone. I know what The Shack would have been like if Brad and I hadn’t put sixteen months into the re-telling of that story, and I know you would never have heard of it if we hadn’t.

My friends are also asking why I don’t get people under contract at the start, to guarantee they will follow through, before spending so much of my time and money on a project. The answer is simple. I don’t know how to collaborate without shared tenderness, honesty, and faithfulness. I thought we had that here until we didn’t. I have no idea at the beginning how any collaboration will turn out and what will be fair for everyone. I just figure if people keep walking together in agreement, we will get to see what Father has in mind. The results can be fantastic.

The other reason I don’t make contracts at the start is that they don’t work either. I have signed agreements with people and companies who violate them every day. The only way to enforce a contract is to be willing to sue dishonest people. I’m not that guy. I learned a long time ago if someone doesn’t respect their word, they won’t honor their signature either unless threatened to do so.

Will I stop collaborating? No. I’m pretty sure it’s in Father’s heart. I try to be careful to do it where it is a blessing, not when people end up despising me. I don’t enjoy being used, or having my word tied to someone else’s capriciousness. What I don’t know is how people will change in the process, especially when I’ve finished what I said I would do.

For now, I’ve switched tracks. Before this newest book came into my life, I was already working with those two delightful people pictured above on a book tentatively titled The Language of Healing: Creating Safe Environments to Talk about Race, Politics, Sexuality, and Religion. With me in that photo is Arnita Taylor, a mom to two sons, a former staff pastor, a leadership coach, and an encourager I met last year in Dallas, Texas. The other guy is Bob Prater, a father of three, also a former pastor, long-time friend, podcaster, and an encourager to marginalized people in Bakersfield, California. I can tell you my life has been deeply and permanently changed for the better by these people and the process of collaborating with them.

We’ve been working on this book for almost 18 months. We had all the pieces in place, but it wasn’t reading as smoothly as any of us hoped. Both of them were able to come to my home this past weekend, and in long, exhausting, laughter-filled days, we went through every word of the manuscript and made it read so much better. We are all thrilled with how it has turned out and hope to release it early in November this year.

Here are three paragraphs from the Introduction to whet your appetite:

This is a book for those who are tired of being spun by politicians and media and having their personal relationships destroyed by differences over religion, race, sexuality and politics. It’s for those who want to find ways to communicate and cooperate beyond our most deeply-rooted differences, realizing that in the shared spaces of our society we have more to gain through mutual understanding than the politics of polarization.

The hope is that everyone who reads this will gain a little more awareness about themselves. You don’t have to agree with everything here, but if you can at least acknowledge the validity of varying perspectives and communicate about them more generously, you can help repair the rip in our societal fabric. Just maybe something you read will encourage you to more harmony and peace with your family, colleagues, and friends. Even better, you may learn something here that will give you the insight to solve a problem or repair a broken relationship.

We all win if you take one of the chapter topics to explore more deeply. We all win if your level of understanding increases even slightly. We all win if you take this book into a book club and have your own conversation about differences in our culture. We all win when these chapters are used as discussion starters in college classrooms or used in high school civics. We all win if you learn to listen better to people who see the world differently than you do.

No, we haven’t signed any contracts yet. Given our time this weekend and the depth of love we have for each other, I’d be surprised if this one goes sideways. I know, I’ve been surprised before!

So, we’ll see what happens. I guess you’re in this with me, too.

Kenya:  Amazing News and Tragic Need

I’m in SF at the moment, on my way home from a beautiful weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh, PA, but I couldn’t wait to share with you an amazing joy among our friends in Kenya, and some new people in Pokot, hungry for food and for God. This is an emergency need, and if you could help us, we would be most grateful.

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about Forkland School, in a poor section of Bungoma, Kenya. It not only educates children who would have no other opportunity, but it also helps care for the impoverished community around it. We support that school at $1000 per month.

I asked you for help because their water system had been contaminated in a recent flood with their sewage system. The children were getting sick, and the health department closed the school. It also affected the nearby community who also use that well.  Because of your generosity, we were able to send them $30,000 to drill a new well. They just completed it and here’s what they wrote:

On behalf of Forkland community and school, God has brought a great transformation. People are now getting clean water, and this water has become a very big blessings to the entire region. People can walk in from a far distance and draw water. The Kenya Bureau of Standard has recommended that this water in future be used to produce mineral water, because the company drilled deep and found pure water at 340 feet deep.   The flow is very high and can produce 10,000 liters per hour. This is the great blessing. May our Father in heaven be glorified for this. We send our gratitude to those who stood with us in giving their resources to help this community and the school. Since the community started drinking clean water there is no more complaints of typhoid and other diseases. Our children are safe.

We rejoice, too. Everything we do in Kenya, we look to make self-sustaining instead of breeding further dependency. The people there are creative and energetic, wanting to be part of the solution to their own needs; they just lack the resources to do so. We haven’t known how the school could become self-sustaining since it is an outreach to that community. Now they are going to be able to bottle this water and sell it as some of the purest water in Kenya, sanctioned by the government and it will provide resources not only for Forkland School but also for other needs in the area.

As soon as that need was met, however, another need has emerged in North Pokot.  I’ll let them tell you about it.

Right now in Kenya, some of the region like Turkana, extreme North Pokot, and other area are suffering from drought and hunger, pray for us since many of the families are starving. Thank you for what you have send each month, but the problem we are seeing here has gotten worse. While we were there distributing food, a lot of people came from a far village. Every place, people were waiting for the food in bad condition.

We decided to serve those who are totally affected especially the old aged, but people came in multitude where we could not able to control and we had to leave brother Michael and the team there to calm the remaining people who did not get the food. The committee as requested if it is possible to get 350 bags of maize and 100 bags of beans to serve them for a while since they have to walk a long distance, and they speak in their language ” that God is full of mercy and compassion” to them. Some they have taken about three days and even a week just drinking water and boiling the roots to have something in their stomachs.

In this area, the World Food Programme and some NGOs have not yet reached them. They are just now heading to Baringo and Turkana. If possible, they can get food and return to their home to feed their children who are starving. The cost of food is ksh 1,812,500 Kenya shillings (about $18,000 U.S.) We are praying for God’s provision. The need here is too much and you have done a lot till we feel sorry to inform you.

Brother Michael is still in North Pokot and it seems the need there is overwhelming since yesterday he talked in the night that the villagers are in dilemma of what to do.  According to him and the committee, the situation is growing worse since the villagers told them that they can’t go without anything to feed their children.

It is maddening to me that the rest of the world, including the Kenyan government, are ignoring the needs of these people. But people are dying today because they do not have any food. This is a different group of people from those we’ve already been helping in North Pokot. For whatever reason, God has allowed this need to fall on us, and we cannot turn away.

The only place for these people to find food right now is from the generosity of people who listen to The God Journey and read these pages at Lifestream. Generosity is sometimes the only possibility to make up for inequity in a broken and self-centered world. I am asking those of you with any extra resource to help us, please. If you can and this need tugs at your heart, please help them. I have no idea yet if we’re going to initiate a new project here and support these villages further. I am hoping the UN or some other NGO will come along at some point. But as long as we have resources here, we are not going to let children or their parents die of hunger on the other side of the world.

If there ever was a time you wanted to genuinely help poor people, without anyone else siphoning off money for administrative fees or other costs, this is it. All contributions are tax-deductible in the US.  And as always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya.  We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Donation Page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

Thank you on behalf of the people of Pokot for your gifts and prayers on their behalf.

Upcoming Travel and Kenya Update

It’s been such a joy to be home for the last three and a half months to catch up with family and to advance the work on three books I’m currently pushing down the road—a novel called The City, written by a mom in France that unpacks the kingdom of God in a lovely way, a book about interpersonal relationships called The Language of Healing, and a novel set in the Civil War era by the man who presided over our wedding ceremony almost 44 years ago, called (tentatively) Lucien’s Crossing. But my toe is healing and it seems Father has some other adventures awaiting me elsewhere in the world.

At the end of this month I’ll be in the Atlanta area for ten days, then at the end of February in Eureka, CA.  After that I’ll make a quick trip to Tulsa, OK the first weekend of March and then Morgantown, WV, and Pittsburgh, PA at the end of it.  I may be teaching a DTS in Italy in late April and perhaps go to Norway and elsewhere in Europe thereafter. I’m also hoping to get to hang out with some Jesus-loving biker-types in Southern Illinois, but haven’t found a date for that yet.  Later this year I plan on getting back to Kenya to check on things there as we wind down our projects there and hope we’ve given them the tools to move ahead with a growing trust in Father’s provision for them.

Speaking of Kenya, we heard from them the other day with a new emergency. Some of our friends there began a school in a part of Kitale that was settled by displaced people from the tribal violence following the disputed election in 2008. It is an area of extreme need, where many of the adults are hopeless about job prospects and addicted to alcohol. Since school is not compulsory in Kenya, nor is it free, our friends started a school in a church building to educate the children and give them a way out of the hopeless cycle around them. Supporting the school was first picked up by some friends in Virginia for a couple of years, and then it has been part of our monthly support of $10,000 to help with all the needs in Kenya, including our special outreach to Pokot.

Recently torrential flooding there caused the sewage of the school to mingle with their water supply, causing sickness among staff and students. It took them a while to figure out the cause and now the local government wants to shut down the school if they don’t get a new water supply. Drilling a well there will cost $32,000. They have temporarily been transporting drinking water to the school, but wondered if we might help. We advanced them the money in hopes that some of you would join us in keeping that school afloat. If you’d like to help us please.

The needs here are ongoing as is our support for them. If you’d like to join us, you can direct it through Lifestream as contributions are tax-deductible in the U.S. As always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya. We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees. If you would like to be part of this to support these brothers and sisters and see the gospel grow in this part of Africa, please see our Sharing With the World page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1 • Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

And for those following our saga in Kenya, they sent us a detailed year-end report. here are some excerpts from it:

Greetings in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, Living Loved Care Centre staff and the children, and also from the  coaches, schools, dispensary staff and the entire villages in Pokot as well as the Forkland School.

We appreciate your help in the Kitale area:

  • Gas station, which continues to buy food and pay the staff at the Living Loved Care Centre.
  • Grain enterprise, which helps us maintain the center, and educate the children in nearby schools, as well as help those go to college and university.
  • Forkland School, thanks you for helping them repair the facility when it was destroyed by wind and rain, and now we have a challenge with clean water. You can pray and advice us what to do since we are about to open the school, although the children were there.
Utensil stand to keep kitchen supplies clean

We thank you for supporting us in Pokot now for 3 years 7 months, and it has remain with 1 years 7 months, so the village will be sustainable, probably in July 2020.  There we are seeing villages transformed, helping them know that, although they are in rural areas filled with hardship, God loves them and he has a great purpose in their lives. Our coaches have done great things by teaching the villagers how to meet their challenges. Every village, which we are currently working with, now has water and we are making progress in other areas as well:

Education: Many families now understand the importance of taking their children to school and to keep their compound clean compared to the first time.

Outhouses for each home in Pokot

Hygiene/Health: As I flash back 3 years back, there were so many cases of malaria, typhoid and cholera and helping them with medicine was very expensive. Now, we have constructed 450 latrines with dozen of utensils stands to help the villages clean and hence reduce of the diseases causing micro-organism. Right now almost each household have utensil stands made of available materials and we are praying that in 17 months each household will have at least one  latrine. This is so amazing, as the saying goes better to prevent than cure. Thank to all those who stood with this community for purchasing iron sheets, cement, nails, polythene, and provide tools to build them.

Children enjoying the new crops they are raising

Micro-financing: This program has helped over 400 families start a business to be able to feed their families and run their home affairs.

Agriculture: We nw have farms raising sweet potatoes, cassava, corn, and other vegetables to help feed all the people.

Food donation: Thank you for supporting the aged and the breast-feeding moms on a monthly basis. The monthly amount here has been reduced due to the agricultural projects, which have greatly boosted food security in each village.

In my trip there later this year, we are hoping to make the necessary arrangements that will bring an end to our regular support there over the next few years and ensure that there will be sustainability beyond our involvement. Our desire was not to create programs there dependent upon ongoing support from us here, but for them to have the tools to go forward and trust Father’s provision for the future. We’ve had some great instruction by others who have done this by helping tap the creativity and industriousness of the people there. This will not be easy, of course, and I appreciate your prayers for me and them as we move forward.

It has been a joy to watch these people respond so joyously and so diligently to the opportunities now before them. The reports we get of their responsiveness to Jesus as well as their hard work to better their condition, are incredible. Who would have thought that our little corner of the web could have touched so many people so far away. And it’s all been through relationships that God orchestrated, and not our attempts to try to find a project like this. It’s what love led us to do.

The people of Pokot

She is Everywhere and She Is Glorious!

While on vacation in the Sierras a couple of weeks ago we connected with old friends we used to camp with in that area. The wife shared with us some pictures (one of which you can see above, and another further below) that she had taken on a trail we used to hike together. In fact, it was this trail over Potter’s Pass east of Huntington Lake that inspired the theme illustration I use in Finding Church

What if the church of Jesus Christ is more like wildflowers strewn across an alpine meadow than a walled garden with manicured hedges? Wouldn’t that change everything?

Maybe that’s why people get so frustrated trying to find his church, but they are looking at institutions, or home groups of like-minded people instead of simply loving the people God is bringing into their lives. The church Jesus is building is everywhere!  She is not a place or an institution; she is a real, living creation, and if we look for the people who express his reality around us, we’ll find his fingerprints at work.  The following is an adaptation from Finding Church

I realize such a seemingly amorphous view of the church will make many nervous, especially those who think it their God-given duty to manage a group of people on his behalf. The church takes her expression in relationships we have with others who are also following him—local friendships as well as international connections that he knits together.

We’ll first see it reflected in conversations where Jesus makes himself known. Some of those conversations will grow into more enduring friendships that become part of the fabric of our lives as we serve, encourage, and grow together. These friendships will lead to others, and out of that network of friends and friends of friends, God will have all the resources he needs to invite us to agreement in prayer and collaborative actions to fulfill his purposes around us.

Can it really be that simple? This is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to people seeing the church for who she really is. It’s too simple, they think, or too easy. So, they put their trust in the vast array of discordant institutions instead of the present work of Jesus. As we’ll see, finding those connections is difficult only because it is far easier than we dare to believe. In fact, you probably have those growing connections with people, even in the congregation you attend or have attended. I’m only suggesting that your interaction with them expresses more freely the life of the church than sitting in a pew watching the staged activity up front.

Admittedly this discussion about church is not easy to have. Most people want simple, clear answers to heavily nuanced realities. It would be easier to say that all religious institutions are bad, and smaller, more informal groups are good, except that it isn’t true. If we just had an organization that represented the one, true church led by the right people then we would know who is in and who is out, except that every group who has ever tried it has ended up arrogant and abusive in trying to keep it pure.

So, we are going to have to make a distinction in our minds between the church that humanity has attempted to build for two thousand years, and the community of the new creation that Jesus is building. They are not the same, though they can gloriously overlap on occasion. It’s just that our conformity-based structures cannot produce the internal transformation necessary for his church to take shape among us.

And as much as we have to see how our congregational doctrines, rituals, and structures can fail us, I’m not saying they are evil. This isn’t a matter of whether these are good or bad, but how we use them. If they enhance our growing relationship with God, great! It’s when they become a substitute for the relationship we lack that they are problematic.

I agree with the theology of the historic creeds and reading them inspires me. It is not our mental assent that’s important, however, but living inside the truth they espouse. Likewise, ritual can open our hearts into a wider world and help us reflect on him, or it can become meaningless repetition that only makes us feel more distant from the Living God. I’m not against structure, which is incredibly valuable whenever it gives shape to what Jesus is doing among a group of people. Everything I do has structure, from the books I publish, to the travel I arrange, to our work in Africa with orphans and widows. Structure is essential to coordinate people to accomplish specific tasks, but history shows us that no group structure can successfully reflect the life of Jesus’ church for very long. It happens subtly but, over time, people end up serving the structure. They become dependent on it, instead of following him.

In the end, however, no creed, ritual, or structure can contain the church Jesus is building. And strangely enough, neither do any of those things exclude the possibility of his church taking shape among them. Because the church finds expression wherever people are learning to live alongside Jesus in the new creation, it can appear almost anywhere at any moment.

The church isn’t something we can plant or build; we can only recognize it and make room in our hearts when she appears.

This book contains everything I believe about the church Jesus is building. I hope it is helping people get their eyes off the failed attempts of humanity’s doing, and see how Jesus is marvelously putting his church together through the interconnected friendships of people who are growing to know him. Whether or not that ever coalesces into a weekly meeting isn’t what’s important. It’s learning to be loved and to love others the same way. He has everything he needs to bring that family into fullness and life. It’s always been his job, not ours. And, I don’t have to participate in anything that is morally broken, condemning, or bound to obligation just because others call it “a church.”

I love being able to celebrate her reality wherever she takes shape around me, and I find her more breathtaking than any wildflower vista, whether it be in a conversation, a growing friendship, or a weekly gathering of people wanting to follow him.  Our task is only to recognize her when she’s there, and cooperate with his working however he may ask us to do so. There we will find community enough, mission enough, and discipleship enough!

You can get Finding Church in print, e-book or audio. For those who want the printed version for yourself or to give away to others, we are selling them from now through the month of September at a 25% discount ($7.99 per book, plus shipping).  For international destinations, please email our office for a price quote, since the online calculator is often wrong.

This weekend I get to wander in his meadow in western Canada (Calgary, AB and Kelowna, BC) to  see how his church is taking shape among people there.  I’m looking forward to it.

 

A Christian and a Muslim Walk Into Common Ground

I was asked this week to appear again on the podcast, “A Christian and Muslim Walk Into a Studio“, hosted by Bob Prater and Emad Meerza. Bob is a long time friend, and I’m really enjoying building a new friendship with Emad.  This time I put them through their paces walking them through the Eight Proven Guidelines for Civic Engagement that I used to utilize in my BridgeBuilder trainings years ago:

#1:  You can’t compel people to change their worldview.

#2:  No one should be asked to participate in a society biased against themselves.

#3:  Vilifying those who disagree with you says more about you than it does about them.

#4:  Making room at the table for divergent views does not validate those views.

#5:  You best protect your civic freedoms by protecting those of people who disagree with you.

#6:  If you do not include all the stakeholders you cannot fix the problem.

#7:  Cooperation cannot require compromise of our deepest convictions.

#8:  The best solutions arise from seeking highest possible consensus.

I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.  You can watch the video of our conversation here, or find it on iTunes if you want the audio version. Just search, “A Christian and a Muslim Walk into a Studio.”

There’s also a new episode of The God Journey up today, called Breaking Up With God, which has Brad and I seeking our own common ground about those who are losing their faith in God.

Additionally Bob, Arnita, and I have already sorted through two of our chapters for the collaborative book, The Language of Healing, and am thrilled with where that might lead.

Interesting times…

No wonder some call him Jehovah Tdsnikki.

Retreat, Surgery, Storytelling, and Bridgebuilding

Now that Beyond Sundays is out, what’s next?  I get asked that a lot.  Before I tell you, let me remind you that today is the last day to order Beyond Sundays at a $2.00 discount as part of our pre-publication special.  If you haven’t gotten in on it, you can do so here. You will also find links there to get the e-book version if you prefer.  It’s only $5.99.

Now, what’s next? Well, February turned out to be absolutely nuts!

This weekend twenty people from our God Journey Israel Tour (see picture above) a year ago are having a reunion out here in Brad and my homes.  So, for the next few days we’re going to get to celebrate those relationships again and give them some space to grow. We’ve got people flying in from Canada and all over the U.S. We’re sorry some of our international trip mates couldn’t join us, but are looking forward to a great time renewing our friendships. It’s amazing what ten days in bus will do to cultivate some lifelong friendships.

Then, Sara is having surgery again.  I know. It makes me sad, too.  She’s been through so much in the last two years, but now she needs a cyst removed from the back of her knee and hopefully that will alleviate the pain in her leg enough to avoid a knee replacement. She’s having it on Valentine’s Day, too. Though we don’t celebrate it for the holiday Hallmark wants it to be, it is happens to be the anniversary of the night I first met Sara sitting across from me at a homecoming banquet 46 years ago!  So it’s a day for us! I think we’ll celebrate the night before.

And then there’s this:

I’ll be telling part of the story of our early dating and a near disaster that almost sidetracked it at a Storyteller’s Night here in Ventura County. It’s a new thing sponsored by our local Gannett newspaper and I felt drawn to participate as a way to meet others in the storyteller community where I live. I just had my second coaching this morning and excited to tell the story of how Sara proposed to me nine days after our first date. Though in her defense, it was an accident.  And, unfortunately neither of us knew that for another six months. If you’re local and want to join me on February 21, you can get tickets here. It’s at a comedy club with six other storytellers.

Then,  I’m off for a quick weekend in Phoenix and gathering with lots of others who are on this journey…   Saturday afternoon is the time for our larger conversation if you want to join us. We’ll be meeting at 1:00 in the afternoon, taking a dinner break and re-convening at 7:00 for more time in the evening.  You are welcome at either or both.

But I know when people are asking what’s next, they often mean what book project. I have begun work on a novel called The Healing, that’s been in my heart for a long time. I thought I was going to put in on hold for another book that seemed to be crowding the novel out of my heart. However, on my recent trip those books came together as one book. The plot of the story I wanted to tell fit perfectly with the content I wanted to write helping people discovery how to synch their heart with the way God works in the world.  I am so excited as to how those tow are coming together.

However, God seems to be opening some doors again in the work I used to do with BridgeBuilders, helping mediate disputes over political and social issues. I’ve been asked to do a TEDx event at Abilene Christian University to address the increasing polarizing political discourse in our nation. It’s called “Differences Don’t Have to Divide Us” on March 23.  In addition, I’ll also be staying in Texas for a few days surrounding the TEDx event, first in Dallas/Ft. Worth, and after in the Abilene/Sweetwater area, though those gatherings have yet to be sorted out.

You can get information about the TEDx event here if you’re in the area and want to attend. The vitriol and name-calling going on in our country is not only tearing apart the fabric of our culture, but it is leading to government paralysis and decisions that only serve one side of an argument and are quickly overturned after a new election. Historically, our best decisions have been made in the collaboration of reasonable Americans who may see the issue differently but who both have a greater commitment to the common good than using government to serve their preferences or special interests.  Now both major parties put party loyalty over the good of the country and society is becoming unraveled.

At the same time I’ve been asked to collaborate on a book called The Language of Healing, along with a good friend and possibly the former mayor of a large western city.  It will deal similarly with how we can lower the adversarial rhetoric dominating our national politic, and rebuild a common ground that serves a wider interest than the narrow-margin political victories our representatives, media, and lobbyists have fostered.  There is a better way to govern, and a better way to talk to our friends and neighbors about our political and social differences. Why do people think that obnoxiousness will endear people to their point of view, or think that anyone who disagrees with them is stupid or a bad American. Mutual respect across our differences will not only help us listen better to the concerns of our fellow-citizens, but also lead to more enduring solutions to the desperate issues facing our country.

I find it interesting that both the similarly themed book opportunity and TEDx speech have converged at this time. I’m not sure where it will lead, but I’m going to follow Jesus down this trail until I see what he might have in mind.

So the next few months won’t be boring…

 

 

A New Challenge for our Friends in Kenya

Last year it was too much rain that caused diseases to run rampant, and you helped us buy medicines to keep people alive. This year there is no rain and the people in Pokot are starving.  Here is our report from Michael:

Dear brother Wayne,

Greetings in the most powerful name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I am sorry for what is taking place here countrywide. The drought has affected people and their animals almost everywhere. We thank you for the monthly support, but the need is greater than we can bear.

This week we managed to receive the donation of clothes with the contribution of 20 bags more, but the situation here is becoming extremely worse and we came with over 20 volunteers to serve the villagers who are suffering with hunger.

So we have discussed with our coaches to ask you if we may have one emergency for this year 2017. We have distributed for over than 300 families and other more families are here who have walked over 30km from the different villages, and they are now camped here in our school. According to our estimate we need the emergency of 150 bags of maize for Ksh 480,000 and 50 bags of beans for Ksh 300,000 and Ksh 20, 000 for fuel, all total is Ksh 800,000, which is $8000.00 US.

Because of this situation that it is here we decided to distribute the food in the night.  I Michael and the team w are still camping here but Thomas has travel today to Kitale to share with churches and he will write to you. If you can pray and see in this emergency issue it will help us to serve the remaining families, it has been difficult for us to go and leave people camped here, so we cooked here for them every day.

Cooking for the people in Pokot

So I am coming to the readers of this sight once again. I am always amazed at the response that we get from those of you who have partnered with us in this corner of the world. If you don’t know our ongoing story here, you can check out this blog from last year.  If you have it on your heart to help these Kenyan people suffering under such a huge strain, you can direct it through Lifestream as contributions are tax-deductible in the US.  As always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya.  We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees.

If you would like to be part of this to support these brothers and sisters and see the gospel grow in this part of Africa, please see our Sharing With the World page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

Thank you in advance for your gifts and prayers.

The Shack Movie: Caught Between Reality and Fiction

“Missy was murdered right here.”

The conclusion came with a wave of grief and sorrow I was not anticipating.  It felt as if I stood on holy ground amidst the wooden boards of the dilapidated shack with shards of light piercing the semi-darkness from cracks in the walls. The hole in my heart was so vast I felt loss and lost.

I was so disoriented for a few moments that I’d forgotten all this was fiction. There was no Missy and she had not been murdered. She was part of a story I’d helped to write and in fact this setting was the first chapter I’d rewritten after the prolonged insistence of the original author to help him rework his manuscript. I’d been drawn back to that moment and the setting was exactly as I had imagined it.

No, I wasn’t dreaming I was on the movie set for the film adaptation of this story in July of 2015.  Brad, who had also helped on the rewrite and was now a producer on the film, was showing me the shack set, built out of old barn wood alongside a lake in British Columbia.  We were alone as we walked across he porch and inside the shack.  I took it in, eerily familiar on a visceral level, though I’d only been here in my own imagination.  Seeing it in reality was disorienting, disturbing the line between reality and fiction.

Brad watched me take it in and so he was already looking at me when I turned to him.  “Where?” I mouthed. Any noise seemed so inappropriate here.

Knowing what I was asking he nodded to the floor not far in front of me.  Until that moment I had been on a set.  In the next, my heart plunged into the depths of sorrow as I felt the loss of an innocent little girl to the tortured heart of her killer. My heart began to break with sorrow.

And then reason slowly began to take over.  “Wait a minute. No one died here. This is a movie set.” Like waking from a vivid dream each thought sought to break the hold of my emotional reaction and remind me that this was a simple convention in a fictional story. It took some time, but reason finally won out and I was once again back on a movie set, though still surprised at the emotions it hat provoked. It’s what others had experienced reading the book, that blurring between a fictional story and the reality of our own pain.

That’s what The Shack was designed to do, to carry the pain of its readers before God in a way that would allow him reveal himself as more good and loving than any of us would dare to believe amidst the tortured brokenness of the world we traverse. It seems far easier for us to blame God for our pain than to let him show us a greater reality beyond it and the immense love he holds for his creation.

I wanted to stay there as long as I could and soak in the moment, but we had to move on.  The film crew was elsewhere and we didn’t want to miss the day’s shoot. As we walked back to the car I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder to take it in. There stood the shack just like we’d imagined it as a crew around it was winterizing it for tomorrow’s shoot. I can’t wait to see what comes from it all.

There’s a mild antipathy inherent in any film production between the film company that wants to creatively adapt the story to a visual medium and those that worked on or enjoyed the book and want to see it stay faithful to the original story. I hear an ominous concern from many readers who love the book so much, fearful they will be disappointed if the film doesn’t live up to their imagination.  They want my assurance that the story is in good hands.

There is much to be done before we’ll know for sure so we’ll have to see what comes of it.  It will be different—a movie and a book have to accomplish different things.  But having been on the set for a couple of days and meeting some of those involved in this adaptation, I came away wonderfully hopeful.  Hearing words that are so meaningful to me in the mouths of actors touches a deep place in my heart, listening to so many who were touched by the book, and seeing the scenes come to life with such beauty, was exhilarating.  And there was something indefinable in the air and I suspect more is at work here than the human hands touching it.

In the end it will be a beautiful movie and I am hopeful that it will unfold God’s reality in a way that will touch many more people who haven’t yet read the book.


Wayne on the set while the Shack was being prepped for winter in July 2015

I wrote the above right after I returned from the set but was not allowed to post it at the time because of restrictions from the studio.  I can now.  Two days before Christmas I got to take my family to a special screening and see the entire finished movie. It was my first time to see it color corrected, with all the special effects and the music. Wow!  It is simply amazing, and my family thought so too. It was weird to watch people in the the theater cry or laugh to some of the words I wrote and the scenes I helped create. But the main messages of this movie that I wanted to convey are fully intact within it.  There is so much here as to how God can touch the lives of people.

And, yes, the controversy is beginning to rage once again by those who think we want the world to believe that God is a woman or that we got some detail of the Trinity not quite right. Unfortunately they miss the greater story—that God is capable of walking into the depths of our most painful disappointments and despair, win us into his love, and walk us out into reality and freedom.  It’s all about relationship. It’s what God desired before the Creation and what heals the restlessness and brokenness in our own souls. That comes through wonderfully clear in the movie. It’s not a perfect movie and there are bits that I would change if I had the power, but what is here is a faithful depiction of the story we worked on and some visuals that are amazing. I was touched at a heart level many times and I knew what was coming.

But you don’t have to take my word for this alone.  The studio has been running trial screenings in various markets. They’ve come away very encouraged by the audience reaction. Two of the statements audience I’ve heard repeated are: “The Passion shows us what, The Shack shows us why!” and, “Finally Hollywood gets it right!” Honestly, I think they did here.

Two of my friends got to attend two of those screenings, one in Atlanta and one in Colorado Springs.  I had no idea until they wrote me to share their perspectives:

From Colorado Springs:  We were privileged to attend the preview showing of The Shack last week. So well done, and moving. Several unexpected moments of revelation and exhortation throughout.

From Atlanta:  All I can say is, WOW! Brad – you did an awesome job fighting for keeping the integrity of the book with Hollywood. Not that I have it all memorized, but it seemed like the majority of it was kept intact. As an actor and Christ-follower, I have a high (and maybe even a super sensitive) BS meter when it comes to “Christian” movies — and that could be because of the acting or the writing or cheese-factor I see in most of those flicks. That meter didn’t go off one iota in The Shack. The directing was great. The acting was even better. And this is something I feel I can tell others to go see. I’m excited to see where this will go! Unfortunately, my wife didn’t get to goodie to a prior commitment so I took a friend with me who had never read the book.  He is going through a painful season in his life. He absolutely loved it. I asked if he had a favorite part and he mentioned the portion with Mack and “Wisdom” was his favorite.

It’s only a few weeks now until the movie will be out for everyone to see.  March 3 can’t get here soon enough for me, but I do have to run off to Jordan and Israel first. We’re still planning on hosting a showing here in Thousand Oaks, CA either on February 25 if we can get permission to do it a week before the release, or March 4 if we can’t. Hopefully we’ll nail that down in the next week so people can begin to buy tickets. If you’re interested sign up here.

You can follow what’s going on with the movie and view the trailer here or follow it on Facebook here.

Handling the Truth

By Wayne Jacobsen Part 12 in a continuing series on The Phenomenon of the Dones.  

When did truth become more important than love?

When I grew up in Christianity I was taught that you had to believe the truth to be saved. Of course loving each other was encouraged, but certainly not with the same passion. So living to doctrine and defending it when challenged was more important than loving others, even though Jesus specifically told us to do the latter. In fact he said our capacity to love would win the world, not our eloquence with the truth.

In fact, truth without love more often destroys people than helps people. Those who explore theology alone and don’t mine the depths of God’s love and character can’t help but be a bit obnoxious. For them it is all about believing the right thing and what they miss is a process of transformation. They are often angry, manipulative and judgmental. On what basis, then, has truth set them free? Are they more gentle, loving, and kind to others who are lost? In my experience? No.

That may be why Jesus and Paul both told us love was more important because they knew that without love people would not be able to discover truth. I’m convinced that truth can travel without love. You speak the truth without it and little good it does. But love can’t travel without the truth. Love always seeks what’s true and then graciously draws people toward the light. We never need to choose love at the expense of truth when we appreciate that love is the most important part of truth and the environment in which people are freest to discover what’s true.

Unfortunately, however, for two thousand years Christians have staked their identity on being right. Battles over doctrine, even down to insignificant minutia, have divided us into innumerable factions, each one believing they have more truth than the others. So that instead of learning to love each other beyond our differences, every difference is a test of who is right and who is wrong. We get sucked into the same game the world plays of having to convince those who disagree with us of how wrong they are.

I see the fallout from that every day in my FaceBook feed, especially as people try to convince their friends that the truth they see is the truth everyone needs to believe. And the more insecure someone is the more they are drawn into the battle over truth instead of learning how to love. We expend far more energy trying to prove someone wrong than we do helping them discover how loved they are.

Often we do it without even thinking. Recently I asked for some input on a book cover design. I got over 300 responses and the majority registered their preference as if it was the only right option. People who didn’t see it the same way were wrong, not just seeing it differently. When we no longer separate preference from fact, we express ourselves in way that is off-putting to others, and closes more doors than it opens.

Nowhere is this more evident today than in the argument about whether or not someone must go to a local congregation to be a Christian. Every one fights for their point of view convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. One seeks validation of their faith experience, the other demands compliance and both divide the body of Christ not on the basis of Truth, but on personal preference. Much of the angst I’ve seen in those “done” with religious institutions is the need to convince those who meet in those systems that what they are doing is wrong and hurtful, or those inside try to convince those outside that they can’t be part of Jesus’ church without being a committed member of a local institution.

And as I’ve observed over the years, some of those who most ardently defended local congregations when they were leading them are the most damming now that they are on the outside.

If you live by right or wrong, you will condemn others to validate yourself. A lot of that dialog stems from insecurity—people who need the affirmation of others to validate their own conclusions. Both misunderstand the nature of truth and how God wins us into it. Of course this conflict is exacerbated by social media platforms because arrogant, polarizing commentary generates more response than graceful ones. We care more about being right on an issue that we do about being right with each other.

“Truth cannot be compromised,” is the motto of both sides of any conflict and while true enough on the face of it, it doesn’t recognized how much of what we fight for is not truth itself, but only our view of it. How often have you ardently defended something you found out later was based on misunderstanding or misinformation? One of the joys of this journey is discovering that God’s wisdom far exceeds ours on everything and we are constantly growing to understand what’s true and what are only fabrications of our desires. That’s why Jesus wanted us to know that Truth was not the perfect alignment of our doctrinal ducks, but our connection to a Person who is Truth itself. By believing him we believe in all truth, even the parts we don’t know yet, or still have confused.

That’s why one of the telltale signs of someone growing in truth is humility. Knowing they see dimly into God’s reality allows them to hold it lightly and not seek to force it on others.

Their tone expresses that this is the best they see it today, not this is the only way a real child of God can see it. When you hear that kind of language, back away. This is someone who knows doctrine better than they know him. Find those who can discuss difference of opinion graciously, knowing that love, not judgment, is the best way to help people discover truth and that growing in truth has more to do with learning to depend on him rather than amassing intellectual knowledge alone.

None of this is to say, of course, that truth is not important, only that most of our truth isn’t truth with a capital T, but simply our own conclusions based on the comfort it gives us at the time. I’m all for getting our theology straight; I’m not a relativist. I don’t believe everyone gets to decide what’s true. What’s true in the universe is how God designed it to work and created us to live in it. Where we embrace that reality, we get to live freely even in a broken world not immune from its pain, but also not overwhelmed by it. There are only a precious few big-ticket items that provide the basis of life in Christ, and none of them are essential to be loved because love opens the door to truth.

One of Jesus’ most oft-quoted statements is, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” (John 8:32). Mostly those words are misapplied as if he’s referring to the right set of beliefs and is used to justify people forcing their point of view on others. What if, however, he was not only telling us what truth could do, but how to share it with others? It is valuable when it sets people free, and disastrous when it seeks to manipulate people to do what we think best.

The ways of the world are all built on lies—lies about God, about ourselves, about success and failure, about what we value and how we engage others. Believe the lies and you become imprisoned by them in long, slow death spiral. Truth is the bright light that penetrates the darkness. Our tendency is not to run to it, but shield our eyes and stay in the false comfort of those lies. Love is what makes the light inviting instead of repelling.

When I read the Gospels, I am increasingly aware of how careful Jesus was with the truth. The truth is powerful stuff. It can blow up someone’s entire world. That’s a great thing when they are ready for it, but it can be horribly destructive if they are not. That’s why he was so mindful how, when, and to whom he shared truth. He sometimes couched it in stories so people who weren’t ready to receive it wouldn’t understand it.

If you’ve ever tried to convince someone that something is true when they don’t want to hear it you know how impossible it is. When Jesus spoke clearly, he was talking to those who were curious. Even then he didn’t talk about truth as a set of theological concepts to believe, but the truth that allows you to see past the lies that ensnare us and set you free to embrace God’s realty. The only time he confronted people with truth they weren’t ready for was when their actions were doing great damage to others and, even then he wasn’t heard. There’s nothing more glorious than truth that brings freedom and nothing more destructive than beating others up with truth we think they should hear.

Fifteen years ago I was riding in a car with my dad when he asked me a question. “Do you enjoy what you’re doing now?” Five years earlier I had been a pastor of a growing congregation in the central part of California. Through a painful set of circumstances I got separated from that group and he wasn’t sure how content I was with the consulting, writing and traveling. I thought he was really asking if I missed being a pastor.

I thought about it for a moment and realized that I had moved from being a leader of a conformity-based system to a brother alongside people seeking to find their freedom in Christ. “Well, Dad I used to walk around with a set of keys making sure everyone was locked into their cells. For the past five years I’ve been wandering those same hallways but this time unlocking the prisons that hold people captive.”

“That does sound good,” he responded.

It is! And this isn’t about whether people frequent a congregation or not. This is about feeling I had the responsibility to conform people to what I thought was best for them instead of freeing them to live in an affection-based relationship with God and letting him change them. I’ve never regretted that choice. And I’ve seen far more fruit rise from helping them live free than I ever did from trying to get them to believe my conclusions or meet my expectations.

I don’t try to convince anyone of anything anymore. I talk to hungry people about God’s reality as I best understand it. When they are ready for it, they respond in ways that liberates and fulfills. When they aren’t, I measure my words more carefully seeking a way to love them rather than try to set them straight. Only the Spirit can prepare them for the truth he wants to breathe into their lives. The more I try to convince them, the more I push them away from the light I want them to see. Instead I want to treat them in a way that will invite them into the orbit of his love where they will be better prepared to see through their deception and embrace what’s true.

That’s why love is the more excellent way.  Without it, truth won’t find it’s way in the world.

__________________

This is part 11 in a series on The Phenomenon of the Dones by Wayne Jacobsen who is the author of Finding Church and host of a podcast at TheGodJourney.com.  You can read the first half here and subsequent parts below:

If you’d like to subscribe to this blog and receive future posts by email you can sign up at the top of the right-hand column of our home page.

Spirituality and Sexuality

Recently Brad and I did a couple of podcasts on the issues of sexuality in our spiritual journeys, Let’s Talk Sex, and No Need to Hide, and discovered just how separated people keep their sexuality from their spirituality. That’s mostly due to the fact that religion attaches so much shame to our sexual appetites and brokenness. And yet many are longing to have that conversation in the gracious space where they no longer have to hide, or doubt, or condemn themselves.

We need more conversation in this area not less and most of that with the Father who loves us. Sexuality is his gift after all, and it is no surprise that the brokenness of this world and the work of the enemy would seek to destroy us by the very thing that touches the deepest part of our soul, our identity, and our connection with another human being. They turn it against us, warping it in ways that damages our souls and becomes a source of great pain and frustration, even inside of a marriage.

God does not think sex disgusting and only he can untwist the way our sexuality gets compromised and exploited by the world we live in. Like so much of the creation, we use it for our own amusements instead of his purposes and in the end get hurt more than we ever dreamed.

In that vain, I want to recommend a new book to you. It’s called unashamed, and yes the lack of caps is intentional. The subtitle is, “candid conversations about dating, love, nakedness and faith” and was written by Tracy Levinson and Anne-Marie Coffee. It takes a fresh look at dating for a new generation of young women.

I got a chance to read a prepublication copy of this book and wrote the following endorsement for the final version:

Unashamed is the conversation every parent wants to have with their daughter, but often finds it too difficult. Frankly and humorously, Tracy Levinson flips over all the rocks that young women would do well to explore to understand themselves, their sexuality, and the choices that will build a better future. Thoughtful, caring, and biblically sound, she walks a glorious line to uphold a young woman’s purity in God’s eyes even as they struggle with temptation and failure. You’ll want your daughter to read this book, and perhaps even join her.

Tracy hopes to encourage you as she shares her grace-infused insight, wisdom, laughter and liberating truth. It’s written for young women, and people in their lives who adore them which can include moms, dads, brothers, grandparents, boyfriends, and church leaders. Tracy candidly explores pivotal questions asked by this millennial generation and draws from her own journey and conversations with her daughters. Some of the questions she tackles include: What if I have already been involved sexually, how do I get a redo? What are the things that bug you about dating in the Christian culture? What does it mean to guard my heart and does it pertain to dating?

This is what Tracy says about her book, “My hope is to help as many women and girls as possible by empowering them to choose wisdom, love and peace, as opposed to making decisions from fear, shame or condemnation.” You may not come to all the same conclusions Tracy does, but your daughters will be all the stronger for you exploring this book with them.

You can order the book at Amazon.com, or from her web page TracyLevinson.com.

If you have daughters you care about and don’t know how to tackle this subject, this is the perfect book for you.  You will thank me.

And the Winner Is….

Actually there is no winner. Over three hundred of you offered your thoughts and suggestions to me through Facebook, email, and blog comments to my recent post about book cover designs for The Phenomenon of the Dones. Thank you all for your help. It is greatly appreciated. My artist on this project commented how amazing it was to have so many readers care so deeply about the cover and offer us their input. Some even sent their own cover designs. It is incredibly inspiring to see so many people offer their input and ideas.

So which direction are we going? That was tough. The problem for me was not that there are good covers and bad covers, but that all of them resonated with me for different reasons, and all of had things about them I’d want to tweak. That’s what comps are for, to begin the process and find a cover that is both attractive, inviting, and conveys the heart of what’s inside.

Option 3, the staircase climbing out of the basement, had significantly more votes than the other two options. Though I love that cover, it is a bit more “institutional-looking” than I like, and way more formal. I can see how it really speaks to the journey of someone coming out of a more institutional environment and into greater light, life, and freedom. What I didn’t like about it was that it made the journey of the “Dones” more preferable than those who are still in more traditional congregations growing in the same life, freedom and passions as those who are no longer there.

I loved the mystery of the second one, but not the overly sinister look of it. Some compared it to a Stephen King feature. What I liked was the open door outward, which really gets to the issue of the so-called “Dones” and the feel of those inside who are missing their friends and relatives who no longer attend. As I said, I hope this e-book will encourage a conversation among all God’s children whether they go or not about what God seems to be doing with the breakdown we’re all experiencing with the traditional congregation no longer being the soul source of community, discipleship, and engagement with the world.

So we have reworked Option #2 to a softer image. You can see a larger version of it below.

donescoversingle

The danger of course of letting others give input is that some won’t like it or will have other ideas. In the end, of course, there is no right answer, obviously. Book covers like book reading is a matter of preference and there really isn’t a right or wrong.

Now I’ve got to get to writing the rest of it!

Bubble Gum Alley and a Meeting with John

Those of you that have read So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore will recognize the above photo. It was taken in San Luis Obispo, CA where the first chapter of the book was set. John disappears down this alleyway as Jake goes looking for him.  We were there awhile back and thought I’d post a picture of it. In case you didn’t believe it, people have been sticking their gum (and other things) to this wall for multiple decades. It is a bit creepy to be sure.

I am incredibly grateful at how this little book has touched lives around the world. I get email every week from people who found this story pivotal in their own journey. One of the more unique ones came in last week from Pooja and I wanted to share a bit of it with you.

I do not know where to begin thanking Jesus for your books and your life. I was born and raised Hindu and changed to Christianity at the age of nineteen. Thereafter for 18 years I was the most “faithful and committed Christian” that you could hope to find. My husband and I served our congregation in any which way that we could. He was both the deacon and the treasurer and I would not miss any opportunity to sing, teach or pray. However the spiritual emptiness that built inside of me caused me great depression and made me question my belief in Jesus.

To make a long story really short, I was on my way to agnosticism/atheism when the Lord met me in my closet in my home (My testimony starting from Hinduism leading up to this point is recorded in my book, And Then There Was Jesus.). Following this moment there was a very painful exodus from my church/community. The Holy Spirit kept on leading me to be like the apostle John. I felt like it meant taking a break from all religious activities and just spending the time to love and get to know the person of Jesus better and to start writing about Him.

I really doubted this inner voice. It was against everything I had been taught and whenever I missed my church friends the doubts would creep in. One day I prayed to the Lord to validate the thought that he wanted me to be like John and you cannot imagine my shock when I found your book So You Don’t Go to Church Anymore! Your book sits by my bed and reading it one time has not been enough. Whenever doubts creep in I go to different sections of this book and read it randomly and feel peace! You are an example of what God can do with just one person who follows their inner convictions no matter what the cost. I cannot say thank you enough!

Thank you, Pooja, for taking the time to write and let me know. I am honored that this book would be such a source of confirmation in your own journey and pray he will continue to lead you onward in his life.

The Dones, Free Books, and the Future of Lifestream

The last issue of Living Loved, has just been posted at Lifestream.org. We published this newsletter for over twenty years, first as a mail-out publication and then as a web-based magazine. Technology, however, has continued to move forward and now what we used to do in Living Loved we now do on my blog and my podcast at TheGodJourney.com. I post articles there, talk about the latest news at Lifestream, and read or post letters from folks who have been touched by various things we do here. It had been three years since our last newsletter, so we thought it time to bring it to an end. However, I will continue to write articles and post them in the archives though they will show up in my blog first.

In this issue you’ll find my mini-book, on the Phenomenon of the Dones, or at least part 1 of it. This is drawn from a number of blog articles I did over the past year combined in one place. I’ve still got a number of articles I will add to this and it will eventually be a free e-book for people to download and read.  Also in our the Lifestream News section you can find out about how to get free books, how the movies are coming along, how to get Wayne to visit your area, and lots of other details about Lifestream.

Our good-bye is bittersweet.  Some of my best articles I wrote for this publication over the years including Why House Church Isn’t the Answer, Signposts on the Journey, The Deepest Freedom,The Nut Test, Friends and Friends of Friends, the series on The Relatinal Church and many more.  You can still find all of them in the archives, either chronologically or by topic.

 

Kenya Update: New Wells and Food for Widows

It has been awhile since I’ve updated people on Kenya. While I don’t talk about it much, I have spent about a quarter of my time this year just working out what we can do in Pokot and what God wants us to do. I don’t want readers of the blog to feel badgered by their need, but it is something I have lived with every day this year. I don’t feel like I have a lot of wisdom here, and Lifestream certainly is not a missions organization, even though 85% of our budget last year went into Kenya. This is a labor of love, because God related us to some people in Kenya who stumbled upon some other people in greater need than they were and had hearts to love and care for them. We are just following the nudges God gives us and the wisdom he has provided through more experienced people to help the brothers and sisters in West Pokot, one of three impoverished counties in the north of Kenya and a prime target for terrorist groups fomenting unrest in the region. By God’s grace we’ve been able to help one of these counties whose nomadic economy melted down in a prolonged drought. We have brought food, water, medicine, education and the Gospel into this region through our friends from further south in Kenya who are sacrificing their own needs to help with those who have even less. (If you want to read the whole story, click here.)

In the last month we have drilled two new wells, bringing water as close as we can to each of the villages. We are not planning on drilling any more. But we have helped to train a team of four coaches who can help the villages work for their own solutions to these ongoing needs by using readily-available, local, low-tech resources to address the most significant need in their village. The hope is that in five years they can address those needs themselves by utilizing 50% of their won sweat equity and 50% outside resource. We’ve committed one million dollars to this effort over the next 7 years, when our involvement in Kenya will end.  So every thing we do has to be with an eye to sustainability after that time. We have already been given a gift of $500,000 toward this goal and are confident Father will provide the remaining through people who want to share with these people.  We are using that money to increase their health, education, and micro-financed loans to create enterprises that will generate jobs and resource for these communities.  

So we have drilled three new wells, have trained coaches and are providing for them while they work with the villages, and also provide food directly to widows and breast-feeding moms who have no resource at this point.  In the pictures below you can see some of this taking place.  This is a recent report from the front lines:  

We arrived well in Kitale and everything in the ground is well, starting from water, businesses, dispensary and the school. The villagers are happy to be involved in their development through the committees and our coaching team who were so committed to see that the lives of our Brothers and sisters are transformed from one form to another.

The villagers and the committees are happy to start the business, as well as getting water in the nearby place. On loans we have covered around 18 people who are now doing business of different type, that is one group and eight people. Regarding the food donation we purchase it and take it to the food committees to give it to the old aged and breastfeeding mom, everyone were having a smile to receive food, it is our prayers that by helping them with soft loans the issues of food donation will be reducing gradually with time till we will just remain with very week old aged people. So we shall make sure every months we do it, so that we can complete every at least to start something for the living.

The poor are being served, the widows and nursing moms can eat, and water is flowing in the region. I am grateful for all of these things, and that what is going on physically is also reflected in what is going on spiritually. Into these parched souls the gospel of grace is also nourishing their hearts. They have responded with open hearts to the gospel as it is being demonstrated and proclaimed among them. The bulk of this work has been done by the brothers and sisters I met in Kenya a few years ago. While this entire process has exhausted me at times, in others it causes my heart to explode with gratefulness to God that he positioned us to help people in great need. 

Obviously there are continuing needs here. If your heart is moved to help us, please see our Sharing With the World page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560-1 Newbury Rd #313 • Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

 

A new well for people who have beenwalking 26 km one way to get water

 

Rigging up the delivery system for the new water

 

The children rejoice when the well struck water

 

Food is being distributed to the elderly and nursing moms who have no resource

 

Seminars and Visits

wayne_seminars_and_visitsWhile my books, articles and audio resources are designed to encourage and help equip you to live this journey, we know that there is often no substitute for a face-to-face relationship. Although I cannot get to every group that would like me to come, I do try to go where God sends me knowing that there is nothing like a personal connection to help people move find greater life and freedom in Christ.

The opportunities I treasure most is to have a weekend among a group of people who are disillusioned with organized religion, but still passionate for God. Sometimes these people have recently spilled out of a painful experience and sometimes they’re just freshly sorting out what it means to live as God’s people in the earth. I enjoy spending a few days with such groups, hanging out in someone’s home and seeing what Father will do to help people sort out the pain of the past or recover their passion for his ongoing work in them. Wayne has done this for groups as small as half a dozen and as large as 40 or 50. It may not look like teaching, but it such groups the most extraordinary learning opportunity imagineable.

Wayne also shares with home groups, churches, universities and home groups on themes of spiritual intimacy, relational life with other believers, our families and the world. Themes for these workshops or seminars can be drawn from any of Wayne’s books or teaching audios:

  •     The Transforming Power of the Cross (See Crosswalk Below)
  •     A Relationship With Father Like You’ve Never Imagined
  •     Relational Church–Living Together as God’s Family
  •     Letting God Grow Your Trust
  •     How to Follow God’s Leading
  •     Healing Broken Relationships
  •     Relational Life Between a Husband and a Wife
  •     Letting Go: How to Build a Lifelong Friendship with Your Children

While I am happy to come alongside a group for a brief period of time to share insights and listen to God together with those who want to discover vital expressions of relational Christianity, I do not look for any formality to that relationship, other than the friendship God gives. He does not provide any ‘covering’ or ongoing supervision for any group of people, believing that is Jesus’ place as the Head of his church.


If you would like to make arrangements for Wayne to visit with you or your group…

Please know that I do not come among a group of people as an expert, but as a brother. I don’t have a plan to sell or a model to implement. What I do is help people sort out what God is doing among them, helping them connect with him enough to know. In this kind of situation, I do far less ‘speaking’ than I do conversing as we discover together God’s magnificence and what he might be doing among you folks. If I come, you are welcome to pick, probe and question to your heart’s content, take what seems to make sense for you and set aside the rest. He is the Lord of his church after all, and our whole focus must be on learning to trust him to build his way instead of our trying to build something for him.

For that, it seems to work best if we just ‘hang out’ together with folks who want to, asking questions, sharing insights and looking to him. Of course if you feel more comfortable scheduling some specific meeting times, or planning a workshop with a specific content, I’ll be happy to work with that. But I find in the simply dialogue of sharing our journey’s together as people have time to that weekend, we’ll cover all we need to cover.

How much does it cost to have me come? I get that question a lot. I do not charge anyone when I come on a trip like this. If anyone feels impressed to give anything that would help cover travel expenses and my time in being there, that is always a blessing. But I go where I sense God is calling me without any thought as to how we pay for it. As long as he asks me to do this he will find ways to pay our expenses and cover my time for being there. If you can help with those expenses we’re always grateful, but I know God has other ways to provide for such things. Thus you do not need to make any financial commitment when inviting Wayne, just a willilngness to pray together about God’s timing and his provision.

We do respond to direct invitations, and if you sense God wants to put this together, it helps greatly if you can give us some suggested dates for that. We cannot always accommodate specific dates, but they are always helpful to the conversation. The way we figure it here, we will know when we both know and that will help make God’s timing clear. If you’d like to contact me about a proposed visit you can contact me.

Lifestream SuperDisc

LifeStream SuperDisc – Living Free and Transformed

This one CD includes all of the audio teaching collections from the following categories: Our Friendship with God, Growing in Trust & Freedom, The Life of the Church and Lessons From the Vineyard. It also contains the new Transition [above] recordings. This CD is in MP3 format. Though it will not play in a CD player, it can be used on your computer to listen to the teachings or make your own CDs.

Merry Christmas from Wayne and Sara

Sara and I receive lots of Christmas cards and greetings from people all over the world and they overwhelm us with the joy of our connection to a vast and rich pool of friends who share many of our passions.  I’m deeply blessed by all the people I know and love in the world.  We havent sent out our own cards or family newsletter in years.  For one, most of my life is already public and two, it only adds to a to-do list that is already too long at year’s end. 

But I enjoy reading the ones that are sent to us as long as you remember that Christmas newsletters like Facebook postings only include the highlights, as perhaps they should.  But real life goes on beneath the milestones in our children’s lives, the birth and growth of grandchildren, and new opportunities at work.  I’ve read many a newsletter, celebrating the high moments, but knowing that life was much more difficult for them than any would think reading it.  Life is filled with challenge and pain for all of us.  While they may not be appropriate in a newsletter, I am concerned that as others read them they thing others’ lives are awesome, while theirs is difficult and painful.  Don’t forget, everyone knows pain, times of doubt, rear, and struggles that at times push them to their limits.  They are not going to put that in a newsletter so don’t think the newsletter defines their lives.  

In this last year Sara and I have known absolute bliss and times of searing pain.  We’ve known God’s wisdom, and we’ve stood amidst perplexing circumstances horribly uncertain of what’s next.  We’ve laughed hard with good friends and we’ve cried as people we love endure excruciating pain.  We got to go to Israel with forty people who became an expression of God’s family not just for those ten days, but in growing friendships since.  We came back to be with my parents through challenges to my mom’s health, then her passing, then to help Dad in his life now in the valley of the shadow of her death.  

I blew up Finding Church in February and had to rewrite it past summer.  And now Sara has been busy shipping them all over the world.  The response has been overwhelming, both with those who love it and those who consider it a grave threat to what they think is the “real church.”  

We’ve seen people we love find new dimensions of grace, we’ve watched others nearly give up in the struggle. We’ve enjoyed our children, grandchildren, extended family, and friends in the passages of life.  We’ve celebrated when new layers of revelation open up a wider vista for a friend, groaned in prayer as others go through deeper pain and challenge.  We’ve deepened old friendships and began new ones.  We have been with people in the pain of coming away from abusive religious systems, who struggle to believe their is a God who loves them, even at their most broken.  We’ve sat in dark moments with those overwhelmed by disappointment or fear.  

As a complete surprise to us we got involved with a 120,000 people straving to death in the upper reaches of Kenya and through your generosity were able to send over half a million dollars for relief,  provision, medical needs, education, and to drill four wells to provide life-giving water.  Half a million dollars!  I can’t even imagine how God was able to put that kind of resource in our hands just by making a few invitations on my blog or podcast! We sent it all to Kenya, even more thatn we took in and have listened to the stories as those we helped have been opening to Jesus because their gods had failed them. We’ve seen our Kenyan friends rush to their aid out of their own poverty and heard how blessed they were that we entrusted the money to them without sending a white guy over to administrate the funds because we didn’t trust them.  They don’t think that has ever been done before.  They have grown tremendously in their capacity to live beyond themselves and be a blessing to others when their needs are great as well.

But mostly this year has been like every other year, another opportunity for grace to unfold in our lives and the challenge to keep embracing his reality when life beckons you so many different directions.  We’ve grown in love and gratefulness for a Father who is with us through whatever comes our way and has the words that lead us to life.  Our prayer is that this season you will know the reality of “God with you!”  You are not alone, not matter what circumstances argue to the contrary and no matter how dark the night feels.  You are deeply loved by the creator of the universe, and in that increadle truth Sara and I pray that you will have a blessed Christmas season, and the fullest of joys in the year ahead.  Thank you for all the love and friendship you’ve extended towards us in large ways and small ones. Thanks for being on the journey of Life and by doing so give encouragement to ours. 

 

Helping Expand His Church In the World

I love the way his church grows in the world.  On a recent trip to Kentucky and upstate Ohio, someone from Cincinnati figured out I was probably passing through Cincinnati as I made my way up from Lexington. He wrote to say there were some people in Cincinnati that would be interested in meeting with me if I had time for lunch passing through, or even an evening if I could stay.  Over a few days I began to feel that this might be something in Father’s heart about that and contacted the people who had invited me to Ohio to see if they had anything planned my first evening there.  They didn’t and said they’d be happy to share one of their nights if it looked like something was happening in Cincinnati.  

So, instead of passing through, I spent an unplanned night in Cincinnati.  What’s more that time allowed me to connect with someone I’ve known but never met south of Cincinnati, to meet a businessman in Cincinnati that I worked with years ago from a group in Las Vegas, NV, and to have an evening with those who wanted me to stay over.  They also encouraged me to invite any other folks who have read or listened to my things in the area.  So on very short notice I sent an email to those on my Travel Notification list for that area.  My hosts planned an evening meal around a campfire and perhaps 12-15 people showed up.  From the first connections it was obvious that this was a special night for people to connect with each other.  I was surprised at the depth and honestly that people shared some of their struggles on this journey with complete strangers, but one said later that the environment felt so safe she plunged right in.  Others obviously felt the same, and the connections that were made that night still reverberate on Facebook.  I love that.  When people discover they are not alone in their hunger, with people who live near them, some amazing things can happen.

I went to bed that evening grateful for what those people got to experience that evening and overwhelmed by the generosity of a family that would let me and strangers from the Internet gather in their home that evening, and for a brother in Ohio who was anxious for me to get up there but was willing to delay that a bit to bless others.  On the verge of sleep I felt nudged to share with the host home the next morning that their generosity had expanded Jesus church in the world.  It didn’t take much, just a willingness to ask and provide a place for others to gather.  I love that.  I also got to tell the man who picked me up the next morning that his generosity to give up one of the nights I was going to be with them also expanded his church in the world.  Later we found out that there’s a couple I’ve long corresponded with living 22 minutes from them out in the Amish country of Millersburg, OH.  

I am convinced that one of the most important reasons Jesus asks me to travel around a bit is to help people who otherwise wouldn’t know each other, begin friendships that help knit his famly together.  Often the most important thing someone takes away from a gathering I’m in is a relationship that soon grows into a friendsip.  I get that email from people all the time and I watch those connections grow on Facebook from places I’ve been in the past.  

I love the simplicity of how relationships can grow if people will be true to the nudgings in their heart and live with a hospitable heart toward others.  That’s really all that’s needed for people to connect, for hearts growing in Jesus to be knitted to other hearts.  And his church grows in the world.  It is really that simple. 

Connections and Conversations

I awake this morning to finish my time in Lexington, KY and head to Cincinnati, OH, for an all-too-brief one day visit.  But this was a late add-on.  I’d intended to go straight to Millersburg, OH today, but God opened some doors in Cincinnati and the people in Millersburg were generous enough to give up one of their days so I could hang out in Cincinnati.  I am very much looking forward to the connections there.  

This is my second time in Lexington and what I appreciate is how much deeper the conversations go with those I met the first time around about a year ago.  It seems when I arrive somewhere for the first time the conversations seem to revolve around issues about theology, church, and Scriptural understandings.  Only later do the conversations turn to life—how people are sorting out their own journey and how they are engaging God in doing so.  Yes, I’ve been with lots of new people this trip, too, but the conversations that have come with those I met previous are a delight.  I enjoy seeing growth in people’s lives as well as fleshing out their story more.

These four days have been a whirlwind.  We started out with day-long open event for whomever wanted to join us and we used the building of a local congregation and some of their people joined in.  Over the days that followed I have been with old friends from my college days, shared for a few hours about marriage with a group of young marrieds at an Alliance fellowship, shared with a seminary class about Finding Church and The Shack, helped a good friend with a novel he’s writing about the civil war, spent some time with an Army Ranger who has just returned from Afghanistan, a young wife whose thirteen-year old sister just passed away in a tragic accident, and three other gatherings with people as well as numerous other lunches and dinners with various people who’ve wanted to hang out together.  I’ve been in so many different conversations the past few days that have enriched my life, and hopefully theirs.  

Yesterday afternoon I met with a judge and some of the young men he meets with weekly at the local Panera.  It started a few months ago as he had lunch with a man in his twenties and shared with him how at 30 he everything about his life looked successful on the outside, but he was dying inside.  An older man somehow recognized it, connected with him, and helped him find a better journey. The young man he was with obviously wanted the same engagement. So the judge sent an email to half a dozen young men, explaining where he’d been at at 30 and offered to get together to start a group if others would find the same time to be helpful to them. Well, they jumped on it.  Too many of us live in isolation, either needing encouragement or having encouragement to offer and not finding space to do it in. These have found that space.  They just get together after work on Tuesdays at Panera to talk about their journeys and to encourage each other.  I love those times.  

But now it is on to Cincinnati.  Recording a podcast this mornign for a friend, having lunch with someone I met years ago in Las Vegas, and then heading to an evening of fellowship and sharing with people I’ve never met, but who have been reading some of my things.  I am amazed at the life I get to live and the people God lets me know.  It is really worth crawling out of our comfort zones and connecting with people who are on a marvelous journey of learning to live in the Father’s affection.  Ask God to connect you, too to people around you that you can either encourage or be encouraged by.  Hopefully you’ll discover both, even with the same people.  Befriend them and let the relationship take its course.  That’s how his church grows in the world.  

 

 

Rejoicing With Our Friends in Kenya

Since I’ve come to see the church as an expanding set of relationships that share the life and love of Jesus, Sara and I have put all our eggs into the relational basket.  Instead of building things, we’ve connected with people and watched as he continues to knit together friends and friends of friends throughout the world.  I’ve simply trusted that all God wants to do in my life will grow out of the simple relationships he has given me with others.  I’m really amazed how far-reaching God’s work through relationships can go.  This has been a big affirmation of what God can do out of those relationships.  

I’ve been told so many times that if we don’t have large mission organizations, we wouldn’t be able to respond to the needs of the world.  But I’ve tried to get many to help us in the last couple of weeks with provision and wells in that region and have discovered that most are not looking for opportunities to help.  They are already overrun with them.  What they want is money to do projects they already want to do.  I also have so many emails from peope who’ve worked in the field or on staff with those organizations only to see how much money gets sucked up in fundraising and administration and how much they are hamstrung from really helping people by rules and demands from the home office.  

Who knew that eight years ago when we got involved with people in Kenya, that they would eventually come across a forgotten group of 120,000 tribesman in the northern reaches of Kenya that would need to be rescued from a severe drought?  And who knew that I knew enough people who would give over $62,000.00 in two weeks to bring food, water, and medicine to those people?  And who knew that our Kenyan brothers and sisters would be moved with compassion for these people and would want to return to build classrooms, a pharmacy, and dig some wells to help them build a more hopeful future for them and their children?  And who knew that at the time they connected, these people in Pokot would be fully disillusioned with praying and sacrificing to their ancestors who have not helped them from beyond the grave and would be open to finding a God who loves them? And who knew that I knew a man in Texas who would have the ability and the compassion to give $135,000.00 on short notice to fund those classrooms, pharmacy, and wells?  

I guess God did!

By the time I was able to relay the news to our friend in Kenya, they had already gone to bed and did not know of this gift last night.  This morning I received this email from Michael after they awakened.  

My brother since we left North Pokot, our intercessors team, all over IGEM territory, East and Central Africa, they have been praying, fasting and interceding towards our brothers and sisters in this region and even, the pastors who got the bicycles are among the team who are interceding for the Lord’s visitation to this region, since the Lord created the world, they have never seen, the miracles as the Lord did through medication, food, water and other things. So we appreciate God, through Lifestream for opening the heart to the oppressed community.  Many white missionaries, there are thousand in Kenya, but none who cares to reach the place like this.  This is amazing God and since I visit myself, I was really touched and even because of this region, even I forgotten to present Forkland school the slum where I have ministered the whole of my life but in order to present the need of brothers and sisters in this region.

So my Brother what is happening, is that the Lord has answered the prayers of our brothers and sisters in this region, because it will bring a shame to the god of Mountain Kadam and Mudeo, from now they will believe the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac and it will remain the live testimony and God be Glorified forever. The time I read this email, I was shocked….for what the Lord is doing, this is God’s provision, and the Holy Spirit convict me to read Isaiah 42:7-8-12, Jeremiah 29:10-11-12-13. These are the verses which I believe the Lord will be glorified to every creature.

Concerning yesterday, since I had to prepare the volunteers to go, you know what I shared with them?   That everybody needs to go to prayer and search the answer from God and provision and in the morning before I checked the Mail one volunteer rang to me and said, “My Brother Michael, the Lord has confirmed that he has provided all necessary need for this people, and not very long God will give us a surprise answer.”  After I got the message , I prayed and check the Mail, and I jumped out and immediately Thomas called that his wife has delivered a child in the night.  We came together in the office to lift the name of Jesus higher.  This is God’s doing, and Thomas called her daughter Sarah, for this kind of great love.

The geologist will be travelling from Nairobi, along with his team and the machine for detecting water underground, I thank God that, he will confirm. And the process needs to start soon as possible you will be informed.  About the school and dispensary, this work need to be started very quickly, I have again called the engineer this evening to tell them what the Lord has done and he has already communicated with the volunteer to arrange the trip next week as well as planning to purchase materials, ready for work, soon as the money indicate, so Brother the work will be well and every step you will be informed by writing and picture, for any step I would be consulting you along with Thomas for the better team work.   Send our greetings and appreciation to the brother who gave this support.

My heart is overwhelmed at this unfolding story and how God has brought so many things together for just “such a time as this.”  This is why my heart wants to keep encouraging people inside a relationship of affection with this Father, to connect with others in love, and participate together in the ways he works in the world.  I can’t wait to see how this story continues to unfold in days to come. I’ll keep you posted.