Search Results for: The call of the shepherd

Lifestream Classic: The Call of the Shepherd

Before there was Jesus Calling, I wrote this article about the kinds of things the Shepherd whispers to help people who had lost a sense of his voice, to find their way back to him.  Written in 2004 as part of a quarterly newsletter we used to send out, I was reminded of it in a conversation last week, so went back and sought it out.

As I read it again, I thought it might be worth sharing with those of you who haven’t seen it.  I hope it encourages you and helps tune your heart to hear the words he is always speaking to your heart.

Here’s how it starts:

Do you remember the first day you knew that I loved you? Do you remember how clean you felt and how light your heart was? The air seemed clearer, the colors of my creation brighter. You felt as if you had stumbled out of a dark, dirty cave and plunged headlong into a clean, cool stream. You drank in the reality of my presence and splashed with delight in my goodness.

In that moment nothing else mattered. You knew at the very core of your being that I was real, that I had great affection for you. Even in the face of dire circumstances, you were convinced that there was nothing we couldn’t walk through together. My love not only overwhelmed you, it also overflowed you with grace for others, even those who had wronged you. You woke up every morning in eager anticipation of what I’d show you that day. You delighted yourself in me as I delighted myself in you and each day became an adventure together.

Wouldn’t you like to come back to that space?  That’s not just where I wanted you to start. It was where I wanted you to live every day.

Read the rest here.

 

 

The Call of the Shepherd

The Call of the Shepherd

As put into words by Wayne Jacobsen 

BodyLife • May 2004

[I appreciate that the form of this piece can lend itself to misinterpretation. By putting it in the first person I am not claiming to quote Jesus directly or giving a prophecy. I simply wrote down as best I could the voice that rings in my heart. Much of the language here is drawn from Scripture (cf. Ezekiel 34, Micah 5, Matthew 9:35-38,11:25-30, John 10) as it speaks of God’s heart for his people.]

Do you remember the first day you knew that I loved you? Do you remember how clean you felt and how light your heart was? The air seemed clearer, the colors of my creation brighter. You felt as if you had stumbled out of a dark, dirty cave and plunged headlong into a clean, cool stream. You drank in the reality of my presence and splashed with delight in my goodness.

In that moment nothing else mattered. You knew at the very core of your being that I was real, that I had great affection for you. Even in the face of dire circumstances, you were convinced that there was nothing we couldn’t walk through together. My love not only overwhelmed you, it also overflowed you with grace for others, even those who had wronged you. You woke up every morning in eager anticipation of what I’d show you that day. You delighted yourself in me as I delighted myself in you and each day became an adventure together.

Wouldn’t you like to come back to that space? That’s not just where I wanted you to start. It was where I wanted you to live every day.

Harassed and Helpless

I know things got complicated. I didn’t fix everything you wanted me to fix and I know that shook your confidence in me. Others told you that you weren’t working hard enough so you concluded that the success of our relationship was hinged on your effort and wisdom. When anything went wrong you either blamed me for not loving you or yourself for not trying hard enough. Both were dead ends and the life we shared eventually faded into confusion and guilt.

But I never gave up on you. I knew your best efforts would not be enough, which is why I already satisfied in myself everything you thought the Father might require of you. Your righteousness is in me and guilt never has a place in our relationship. And I know I disappointed your expectations, but that was only because I had better things in mind for you. I work through times of pain as well as times of joy.

I know you thought I had lost sight of you, but I never had. It was you who lost sight of me. I know right where you are and every place you have wandered because I followed you there. I have continued to call your name and invite you into the life that really is life. But so many other things drowned out my voice, activities you thought would bring me closer to you and the busyness you got caught in hoping to hide your emptiness. Even when I tried to scoop you up in my arms, you recoiled, not recognizing my hand and I held back, letting you have the distance you thought you needed.

I’m still here ready for you to fall into my arms. I want you to see through the illusion of your own efforts to produce my work in your life, or in the lives of others. I will teach you how to trust my purpose in you so that even times of trouble will not destroy our friendship. Come, my Beloved, let me wash over you again like a cool fountain, cleansing all that has hurt and confused you. Let us start anew and I will show you just how much I love you and that all I ever wanted from you was you!

A Shepherd Like No Other

Did I not tell you that I would take care of you – that I would lead you into safe pastures and refresh you with living water? Did I not tell you that I had rejected the shepherds who wanted to use my flock for their own purpose battering and plundering them for their own gain?

You need no other shepherd but me. I will lead you into rich pastures and watch over you so that you will never need to be afraid again. I am not going to exploit you, for I am the shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. I did not run in the face of my own death, but embraced the shame because I wanted to open the way for us to be together.

No one on this planet ever has or ever will love you like I do. The great lie is that I cannot be trusted with your life. Oh, but I can! I will take care of you and teach you to follow me so that you can know the fullness of my life. I will hold you close to my heart as we walk through the days ahead. Even in the face of pain and death, I will ensure that nothing will take you out of my hand. I will draw you to myself, wipe every tear from your eyes and through it all transform you into the person I created you to be.

I know you haven’t always seen that, nor yielded to me so that I could do it. You wandered in places where you got hurt and sought out easy answers that could not work. I have not been the source of your pain, but the one who has offered you healing. All the while I wanted to teach you how I work. I do not put band-aids over your life so it will look better but seek to heal you at the deepest places. It is not something that you can do, but it is something that you can thwart if you won’t let me teach you how to yield to my wisdom and power. You have nothing to fear. Your entire life is in my hands and my hands are sure.

No More Strangers

My sheep know my voice. I call you by name and point the way for you to go, but you have found the voice of strangers to be more certain than my own. Those who take turns pretending to be the shepherd have destroyed your confidence in my ability to lead you. Wanting you to be dependent on them, they told you to follow them because they knew what would be best for you.

Many of them even meant well, but the end result was always the same. They could not lead you to life because life is only in me. They had no way of knowing where I wanted to lead you and they were blinded to my working by their own plans to do what they thought were great things for me.

And you followed them, only to be abused and exploited. It was their vision they served and not mine. Yes, I saw your pain when they turned on you for asking honest questions and cut you off when you sought to follow me instead of them. I know how deeply it hurts to be betrayed by those you thought loved you. I never wanted you to trust them more than me. I never asked you to follow any man or woman. They’re the ones who asked you to do that.

I know many of you thought they were helping you, but in the end they only led you astray. They bullied you with their imagined authority and bloodied you with guilt and calls to loyalty. But you knew better, didn’t you? Often I warned you and your heart was unsettled in the things they told you. You overrode my warnings because you didn’t think yourself mature enough to question people like them. At such times you were looking to yourself and not to me. I am strong enough to lead you in my life, even beyond your doubts and insecurities.

Anyone who knows me will teach you to follow me. They will not use you to build their ministry or to line their pockets. They will give freely, always pointing you to the only shepherd that matters – me! They will encourage you to trust my love for you and will teach you to follow me even when you’re uncertain. They know it is better for you to learn to follow me and make a mistake than think yourself secure in any program they could devise.

Are you tired of listening to the voice of strangers? I want to teach you how to know my voice again. I have others that will help you learn but listen only to those that point you to me, not the ones who would gather you to themselves. You can trust me to make clear to you everything that I want you to know and everything that I call you to do. If you don’t hear my voice in what others say do not feel any obligation to follow their counsel or their instruction. You are only truly safe in me.

Listen

Can you hear me calling you in the deepest chambers of your heart and mind? I am not loud and boisterous. I will not compete with the clamor of the world nor the busyness of your agenda. I gently call you by name, hold you close to my heart and invite you to follow me.

If my voice seems only to drift by for a moment and then fades into the harried pace of life, it is because your ears are better tuned to other things. I only seem more distant when you trust your own wisdom instead of mine. Often I have shown you the way I want you to go but instead of simply following, you looked at the challenges that stood in your way and convinced yourself that it wasn’t me at all. I do not take the path of least resistance, but neither do I send you where I will not go with you. One day you will know that your safety is not in pleasant circumstances, but in being with me.

If you have forgotten how to listen, just ask me and I will show you. It is not as hard as you think. I simply want you to draw near to me and once again let your heart be mine alone. The more you grow in knowing my love for you, the easier it will be to recognize my gentle prodding. I am greater than any doubt that troubles you or any voice that seeks to steer you another way. I will help you recognize my presence in all you do. I will show you how to live as a father or mother, child or student, employer or employee, neighbor or friend. Don’t separate me to a separate spiritual part of your life, I want to make all of your life spiritual and all of it full in me.

You Won’t Be Alone

I know that the closer you follow me the lonelier it seems. You even think at times that I have abandoned you and you withdraw into your own fears. But even there I am with you, calling you outside yourself to come into the freedom of being my child and to join your hearts with others in my flock who live for no other.

You’ve been called arrogant, independent and unsubmitted, not by those who knew my heart, but by those who wanted you to conform to their way of doing things. They can’t see the body beyond their own way of organizing. If you only knew how many people I have scattered all over the world, you would know that you’re not alone.

Some of those live just down the block from you or work alongside you. I know that you don’t know them yet but you do understand the passion that courses through their veins and their desire to connect with people who share it. I am the shepherd of all my sheep and I am not only inviting you to follow me as an individual, I am gathering my flock together from the ends of the earth – not in human systems devouring your time and energy, but in the joy of healthy friendships. No man will own it and no system will replicate what I am building between my people. Resist the temptation to follow models devised by men that will always fail.

I will knit you into relationships with people near you and even some far away so that you can enjoy the richness of my flock. Don’t try to make it happen on your own. Just live with your eye on me everyday and soon you will find people around you who follow the same Shepherd you follow.

But first I want your heart to be mine. If you try to use others in the body to get what you do not find in me, it will only ruin the relationships. I want to teach you how to share my life together, each one receiving from my hand and sharing freely with the others without demanding anything in return. As you love that way you will find that life among my people is not cumbersome, but of great joy. You will go away from encounters more aware of who I am and less focused on your needs and weaknesses.

Wherever I Lead

What do I need from you? I need a willing heart that will simply follow me wherever I choose to take you. I don’t need great talent, great wisdom or great abilities, just a yielded life willing to learn how to trust me beyond your wisdom and your fears.

I want you to abandon your agenda, for it will only distract you from what I want to do in you. Even the best of intentions can lead you to desire the wrong things and following the wrong path. If you only knew the plans I have for you with a future and a hope that far outweighs your own agenda, you would abandon yours in an instant.

Don’t try to save yourself for you will only get in deeper trouble. Stop. Take a deep breath and yield to my arms. Pause before me and listen until you hear that voice that says, “This is the way I want you to go.” Don’t worry about whether or not it makes sense to you. I’ve been here before and you have not. I know the way through your doubts and pain to greater transformation and freedom.

Wake up each day and lay your agenda aside. Live in the moment looking for my hand and listening to my voice. Don’t live in the past by copying what you’ve done before. Don’t try to secure the future with programs and models that only offer false security.

Lay down even your dreams for ministry. You have confused your dreams with mine and trying to fulfill them in your own effort will only frustrate you. If they are only your dreams you won’t want them and those that are mine I will bring to pass in a way that you cannot even imagine yet. Most of what you call ministry has more to do with human aspiration than it does the life of my kingdom. Your pursuit of ministry instead of me will be a barrier not a blessing. Let me teach you all over again, how much I love the broken-hearted, the wounded and the oppressed and how I set them free.

To The Heights

I can keep following you and rescuing you out of all the places you get stuck, or you can turn around and follow me and I will lead you to the heights of my glory. I am the way to Father’s fullness and I want nothing more than to take you there.

Let me scoop you up in my arms and carry you along as I show you the wonders of my Father’s kingdom. Tune your ears to my voice and look to me in everything you do. There is no situation that I can’t lead you through and no promise that I cannot fulfill in you. Trust my voice more than your own and yield to my hand as I shape you into the person I created you to be.

There is nothing you can do to earn this. It is beyond your ability, but it is not beyond mine. I am able to make you stand and establish you in my gospel. I am able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times you will have all that you need. I am able to guard all that you have entrusted to me and able to help you at your weakest moment. And I am able to keep you from falling and present you before God’s glorious presence, without fault and with great joy! (Rom. 14:4; 16:25-26, 2 Cor. 9:8, 2 Tim 1:12, Heb. 5:2; Jude 24-25)

I am calling my flock back to me from all the places it has been scattered. I will take you to the heights of my glory, where you can delight in the greenest of pastures and drink the purest water. You will never need to be afraid again for you will know how much I love you and how safe you are in my hand. There is no God beside me, and no life apart from mine.

Come, my Beloved, your time is now. Draw near to me. Take my hand and I will show you all that I hold in my heart for you and you will discover the unmitigated joy of living in my rest.


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BodyLife 2004 – The Shepherd’s Call

A new issue of our flagship publication, BodyLife, was posted on May 10, 2004. The lead article is entitled The Shepherd’s Call. Because this is a bit different, I’m creating this space on the blog for others to comment on the article. I’m not necessarily looking for a string of compliments here like, “Great article”. I’m looking for a place for people to interact with its content, whether positive or negative and I’ll join that conversation with my own thoughts when I can. Just hit the ‘feedback’ button to read other people’s comments or add your own.

The Shepherd Is at Work

Yes, Sara and I are reading my new devotional book together, and though it feels a bit weird, we are enjoying how God is freshening in our hearts those realities he’s been inviting us to embrace for over twenty-five years.  This is from June 26, a reminder that following him is the only way to discover what our hearts long for most.  We are so easily distracted by the manipulations of others or the lure of following another human rather than him. Following him is the way to fullness and the church he is gathering from all over the world.

I know that the closer you follow me the *lonelier it seems.

You even think at times that I abandoned you and you withdrew into your fears. But even there, I am with you, calling you outside of yourself to come into the freedom of being my child and to join your heart with others in my flock that live for no other.

You’ve been called arrogant, independent, and unsubmitted, not by those who knew my heart, but by those who wanted you to conform to their way of doing things. They can’t see my flock beyond their own way of organizing it. If you only knew how many people I have scattered all over the world, you would rejoice that you’re not alone.

Some of those live just down the block from you or work alongside you. I know that you don’t know them yet, but you do understand the passion that courses through their veins and their desire to connect with people who share it.

I am the shepherd of all my sheep and I am not only inviting you to follow me as an individual, I am gathering my flock together from the ends of the earth—not in human systems devouring your time and energy, but in the joy of healthy friendships.

No man will own it and no system will replicate what I am building between my people. Resist the temptation to follow models devised by men that will always fail.

They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
John 10:16 (NIV)

 

Taken from The Call of the Shepherd, a blog Wayne wrote in May of 2004 as if giving voice to Jesus’ heart for his church. You can read the whole thing here.

Get your copy of Live Loved Free Full.

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*Interestingly enough, I had this quote in my inbox yesterday from The Daily Dig about loneliness and the work of God on earth.  Though I’m not feeling lonely these days, I know for others who have yet to connect with people who are leaning into the life of the Shepherd, there can be some lonely moments. Hopefully, this will encourage you.  I love it.  And I’m going to have to dig in and read The Brothers Karamazov someday.  I have yet to do it.

Believe to the End

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If everyone abandons you and even drives you away by force, then when you are left alone fall on the earth and kiss it, water it with your tears, and it will bring forth fruit even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude. Believe to the end, even if all people went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness. And if two of you are gathered together – then there is a whole world, a world of living love. Embrace each other tenderly and praise God, for, if only in you two, his truth has been fulfilled.

Source: The Brothers Karamazov

One Flock And One Shepherd

I know this blog has been relatively quiet this fall.  That’s because I’m spending the bulk of my time working on my next book, Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More?   This book is bringing together so many threads that have been dear to my heart  over the past 40 years.  It’s the stuff I wish someone had told me when I was twenty, before I ran off trying to create manmade versions of a reality that can only exist in him.  Right now, it’s got nineteen chapters, and I’ve jsut completed chapter six. It’s called “First Place In Everything,” and I’m going to include some excerpts below because I just can’t wait until it’s all done.  I’m now working on seven and hope to make a major dent in it before I head out to Ft. Worth, Texas for the weekend.  That will probably be my last out-of-state trip this year, though it looks like I may be headed for a few days in San Diego in November.  

I love the time I’m getting to write this fall, but interestingly enough I find myself missing the conversations that

So, here is a couple of excerpts from Chapter 6:  

Now the mystery is revealed.  He is fashioning a new society under Jesus himself, not only in his work on the cross that sets us free but also by engaging our lives every day so that we can learn to live the way God always meant us to live.  Only he can show us the way to live without the debilitating effects of shame, and without the need to put our desires above those of others.  By living freely in him we discover who God really made us to be and can live in a way that reflects his character to others around us.  As he is, so we get to be in the world.

…So when Paul declares that as the firstborn of the new creation, Jesus would get first place in all things, he meant that as the defining reality of the church. The church does not exist where people fight for power or where we focus on our programs, doctrines, and activities and reduce Jesus to a figurehead.  The church takes expression in the world as people who are learning to relate to and follow him, and share that journey by the laying down of their lives for a greater kingdom, instead of seeking their own gain. 
Where Jesus is the focus, where his word is the motivation, where his voice is obeyed, the church takes shape.  If it’s God’s stated goal to bring all things together under one head, why haven’t our Christian institutions been a part of that process?  Perhaps Jesus said it best,  “There shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16).  The reason we don’t have one flock today is because we have hundreds of thousands of would-be shepherds leading people to follow their mission, vision, or program.  Unless Jesus is supreme in all things, we will divide the body based on human preferences and desires.
That’s why the institutional answers here are not easy.  Once we institutionalize God’s work, a host of factors come into play that make it difficult to let Jesus have first place.  There is no system humanity can design that can’t immediately be taken advantage of by those who seek to lead it, and those who seek to benefit from it either from its income or its program.   Letting Jesus have first place in everything can only begin in one place—the human heart.
It’s the space where God’s purpose unfolds in the hearts of willing children who are discovering what it means to live in him.  We give him first place by actually following the Lamb wherever he goes.  And “the church” follows him not by following leaders who figure out what he wants and tells the rest of us what to do, but where each person is learning to follow him as the expression of the new creation. That begins inside a relationship where people are learning to live in his love, be shaped by it, and then live in that world loving others as well. 
Letting him have first place isn’t a decision you can make once for the rest of your life.  It is a continuous challenge in a hundred decisions made day after day as you learn how differently his desires are from your own. The new creation is not some sort of spiritual Disneyland where your every dream comes true.  It’s where Jesus’ every word and desire comes true. You grow into the freedom of wanting his will most of all and learning to live inside it with him in joy and thankfulness.

Shepherd Questions

I got some questions the other day from a reader on the role of shepherding in the body. I know others have similar questions to his, so I thought I’d post our exchange here in case it will help other sort through these issues.

I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on something I’ve heard you make reference to, and seek a bit more clarification. I have heard you make reference to Ezekiel 34 in connection to who is to “shepherd the people” in the New Covenant. That the solution to the “bad shepherds” was not to replace them with “good shepherds”, but to do away with that whole system, and that God Himself would be the Shepherd to His people; that “my servant David” (i.e. the Messiah) would be the shepherd to the sheep. Obviously Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy, Who professes to be the True Shepherd.

My question is this: There do seem to be passages that assign a “shepherding role” to key leaders in the Body of Christ. Jesus, when comforting Peter after the denials, tells Him to “feed my lambs, care for my sheep, feed my sheep” (the task of a shepherd), and then we have Peter’s instructions to his fellow-elders, “Be shepherds of Gods flock that is under your care…” (1Peter 5:2), and in Eph 4:11, where it is said that Jesus gave some to be “pastors” is the same word used of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd”.

So while in one sense, it seems we are all sheep to Christ our Sole-Shepherd, in another sense, it seems the Scriptures do indicate that certain members of God’s flock share in the role of “shepherd”; that certain “elders” are “under-shepherds” to the Chief Shepherd; that Jesus does raise up certain individuals to be “shepherds” for the sake of the flock.

Can you offer any additional clarification? Is not this Chief-Shepherd/Under-shepherd paradigm what the typical Church System would claim to emulate? And if we do have “good shepherds” caring for the flock after all, how does this reconcile with Ezek 34?

Here’s how I tried to answer those issues in a 100 words or less: I agree with what you write here. I think the problem for me comes in how we’ve applied that over 2000 years, so that the idea of shepherding people no longer carries the sense of reflecting Jesus’ care in other lives, but in managing them as a wholly ‘other’—the clergy/laity distinction. I know some of that terminology is used in verb form (shepherding as opposed to shepherds in I Peter 5), but there is a marked contrast from the Old Testament to the New as to how the word shepherd is applied to human leaders. No human being, except Jesus is designated as a shepherd in the New Testament. Jesus became the Good Shepherd for all the sheep, promising we’d be one flock with one shepherd.

But I also see that there is a recognition that there are more mature brothers and sisters in this journey who have the calling and equipping to spend a significant part of their time coming alongside younger brothers and sisters helping them get this journey. But to describe that as being an under-shepherd moves away from biblical language and is grossly misunderstood semantically in our day. Shepherds often have a sense of ownership about sheep—‘my sheep’. They are threatened by ‘sheep stealing’ in the body and often treat the ‘sheep’ as different from themselves. None of that would have been in Paul or Peter’s mouths. So I do see this as a semantic problem in part, and also a management problem. To describe institutional leadership in this language definitely corrupts it, putting the emphasis on leading the ‘thing’, not equipping and caring for lives.

But, yes, I agree that there are elders and other gifts in the body who are a great help to equip, release, strengthen, rebuke, and facilitate the life of the body. I just think if we don’t keep the Shepherd definition attached clearly to Jesus alone, others start co-opting his place in the lives of others. This is most often with the best of intentions, but it is no less destructive when people start to follow another human, rather than Jesus…

We Already Have a Shepherd! Leadership in the Relational Church – Part 8

sheep_0We Already Have a Shepherd! Leadership in the Relational Church – Part 8

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • December 2002

What did Jesus have in mind when he spoke of leadership among the incredible community of the Body of Christ?

By Wayne Jacobsen in collaboration with Kevin Smith, a good friend from Australia. This article grew out of a conversation that began during a trip there.

Here is the best definition I’ve ever heard of spiritual leadership: If you were going to be caught in your worst failure, who would you want to catch you?

If you really want to experience the fullness of life in Jesus, wouldn’t you want someone who would treat you as gently as Jesus treated the woman at the well while offering you the truth in a way that you could understand and follow into God’s freedom?

I have not heard a simpler statement that summarizes the way Jesus lived and what he taught his disciples about leadership in his church. Even Paul’s lists of qualifications in Timothy and Titus point out those who had walked with Jesus long enough to be transformed by him in a way that could be clearly seen in their families, in the community and their freedom to live the truth and thus be able to help others in the way Jesus would.

Perhaps the question I’m most asked in my travels is, “How do you see leadership functioning among people who embrace relational Christianity?” The question itself points out two significant problems with our perception of church. First, it is so dependent on the leadership of men and women that many cannot imagine how to function without it. That is tragic, because if our dependency isn’t in Christ we will never discover the power and simplicity of body life.

Second, our perception of leadership is so imbedded in managing or controlling institutions, that we cannot recognize it without titles and positions. Jesus said leadership in his kingdom would not need either and would serve an entirely different function than it does in the world. Unfortunately we’ve allowed ourselves to be squeezed into the world’s mold on this one.

If you can, set aside all your preconceived notions of human leadership and read the New Testament again with a fresh eye. The leadership of Father’s family is clearly placed in the hands of Jesus as its Head, and the Spirit as the one who joins us together and sets us in the body as he desires. Human leadership is not the main focus of Christ’s body. Jesus hardly mentions it and most of the letters don’t reference it at all.

But there were leaders in the early church, people protest, and I wholeheartedly agree. The important question is, just what kind of leaders were they?

Not So With You!

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

Clearly Jesus warned his disciples that in God’s reality leadership serves a different function than it does in the world because it is not based on management. Yet many books on Christian leadership today are so easily adapted to the business world. That alone should make us stop and question.

Jesus didn’t view leadership as the power to command, but the passion to serve people as they sort out what it means to live as God’s children. In the last decade my understanding of leadership has changed completely. I used to see it in terms of power – thinking leadership was defined by influence, institutional power or the value of their giftedness.

That’s not so in God. Those who have helped me most to grow in Father’s love, surprisingly enough, don’t hold positions of power but simply loved me enough to point out the way to God’s heart and then let me decide if I wanted to follow it. In fact, those I meet now who are most transformed by Father’s character disdain the power of the institutions I thought so essential to the kingdom. They reject anything that doesn’t reflect the childlike freedom to walk together focused on doing what pleases our Father.

The first person I ever met like that shocked me. Whenever he opened his mouth, wisdom poured out in the simplest terms. He knew more about God than I’d ever hope to and his calm spirit mirrored the nature of Jesus that I’d read about in the Gospels.

He had been a pastor for a number of years, but left during a brutal congregational fight rather than resort to their tactics to secure his place. For the next 15 years he hung wallpaper, which I thought he was doing just to pay the bills until he could find another ministry position. I was wrong! But I really didn’t realize how wrong until one day when I told him we were considering him as a future elder and eventually as full-time staff.

To my absolute shock, he listened for a while and then shook his head. “I’m just not interested,” he said. When I pressed him as to why he just smiled and told me that I would understand some day.

I think now that I know what he means. Those who most effectively function in leadership in this body don’t need titles, salaries or positions of authority. In fact, those things will only distract from God’s calling. Those who have been shaped by Christ’s life know there is an inherent conflict between spiritual authority and institutional power. Unfortunately, most people in the institution don’t understand this truth, and they continue to be hurt by those who act as leaders and fail to recognize true leadership God has so generously scattered throughout his body. Perhaps we need to think differently.

Transformed Lives Not Credentials

I’ll never forget the first time I saw ‘Rev. Wayne Jacobsen’ pressed on an office door. Even with my vocational mindset of ministry 27 years ago it was a shock. I was 22 with a BA in Bible and two weeks experience in marriage. How was I supposed to be a leader among the body of Christ? It would be laughable now if it were not so tragic. Even though God used that time in my life in spite of how deeply I misunderstood him, I realize now how little my life at that point reflected God’s priorities.

Though I couldn’t recognize it at the time I know now that I was driven less by a desire to serve others as I was to satiate my ego by trading on my speaking ability and proving my worth by influencing as many people as possible. What’s even stranger is that people did so without even questioning whether this is what God wanted.

Today people qualify for leadership based on their university degrees, eloquence, Biblical knowledge or their ability to draw a crowd, manage a vision or manipulate people to help them achieve their goals. If they draw a salary from a religious institution or hold a title we believe them to be leaders even if their lives don’t reflect his life.

Will that ever change? Not on this side of eternity! We have spawned an entire industry of seminaries and institutional positions to ‘prepare’ people to lead our religious institutions. They come out with $30,000.00 of debt and the need to find a career to justify that expense. All the while they have never even had the time to be transformed by the life of Christ and to demonstrate it in their personal life. No wonder there is so much failure and error among those who seek to lead in the Body of Christ.

Mostly well-intentioned men and women get into ‘the ministry’ for all the right reasons and then stay for all the wrong ones. The New Testament recognizes leadership by the evidence of a transformed life that lives in vital, daily, dynamic, relational connection with the head. People could tell they had been with Jesus. It didn’t matter what gifts they possessed or lacked, only that their character had been transformed to such an extent that they began to treat others the way Jesus would – with the same mix of truth and tenderness.

That’s why it is so important that every believer be thoroughly acquainted with the Jesus of the Bible, because the only way we can recognize Godly leadership among us is when people reflect his glory, his truth and his demeanor in the way they live.

Supplements not Substitutes

The body of Christ can only be healthy where every member in it is growing in relationship to Jesus and learning to live in his view of reality. He is the Head so that he “might come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18) That can happen only as every believer experiences the depth of friendship that Jesus wants with each of us.

Unfortunately leadership in our day doesn’t always help people live in that reality but often offers a substitute for it – and people like it that way. Like the children of Israel, many prefer to keep God at arm’s length expecting so-called leaders to deal with God for them so that they can follow only when they think it best.

For two thousand years this view of leadership has stripped God’s people of their confidence in his ability to work in them and has made them dependent upon clergy and institutions for their spiritual life. Isn’t it amazing that every religious system creates a local, holy-man guru who becomes the resident expert on things spiritual? Neither Jesus nor Paul ever envisioned the role we have ascribed to vocational pastors, priests and ‘workers’ today who supplant Jesus’ place among his people. These gifts Jesus spread over a far wider group of people who help others put their dependence on Christ, not themselves, their programs or their books!

The early apostles never saw it as a threat to their place in the body to say things like, “You have no need for anyone to teach you.” “You have an anointing from the Holy One to know truth and error.” They wanted Jesus’ followers to learn to trust him and hear from him directly as they lived in mutual relationship with each other.

They were not discounting the importance of teaching or counsel, but only putting it in its proper place. Whatever gift we have in the body, it is only to supplement his working in people, not to become a substitute for it. At best the touch of a leader is only temporary, helping people along the way, then quickly returning to the more enduring place of brother or sister.

Leadership in the body simply happens as Jesus expresses himself by the Holy Spirit through a submitted life. Sadly the star syndrome in the church often means that we elevate and give glory to the messengers rather than to the rightful ruler.

No one can take Jesus’ place in the body. That’s why Paul told people not to listen to anyone who distorted the gospel of Jesus (Gal. 1) nor to follow anyone purporting to know God’s will for others. (Col. 2) Those who have Jesus’ heart for the body will always be wary of others growing dependent upon anyone but the Lord himself. They would never rob a brother or sister of the joy of learning how to live freely in daily submission to Christ alone.

To Serve Not to Manage

One popular teacher a couple of decades ago defined spiritual leadership as the ability “to motivate people to do what they wouldn’t otherwise freely chose to do.” That’s manipulation not leadership. While it may be true of drill sergeants in basic training or advertising executives designing commercials, it is the opposite of what God has in mind for his children.

Virtually everyone today gives lip service to the biblical ideal of servant leadership, but most don’t realize that as long as you try to get people to do what you think is best for them you act as their master, not their servant. You are not serving them; they are serving you.

If anyone had the right to be served you’d think it would be Jesus, who is after all the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But even he didn’t take advantage of his position (when he certainly could have) but instead concerned himself with helping others to settle down at home in his Father’s life.

We can barely talk of leadership today without using the language of management. We see leadership as those who by power, influence or anointing compel others to act. Our religious systems take people who have a heart for God and turn them into program managers who make people conform to their program and think it is loving to do so. Those who get to the top of any institutional process hold great power over people and derive great personal benefit from it as well.

When Jesus lived in the flesh, he didn’t treat power the way others did and it drove his disciples nuts. Rather than gather power, he emptied himself of it. He knew that the way to help people into the Father’s life was not to direct them there, but to let them see his Father’s reality and help them learn to live in it. He knew compelling people would never work so he always gave them the freedom to choose. Likewise the early disciples had the grace to tell people the truth, and then let them go so they would be free to choose as their conscience directed.

Any Godly leader will do the same. He won’t create power centers of influence, money or programs that can be managed or exploited, but will release the body to do as God leads them.

Function Not Identity

Beware of anyone who finds their identity in the body based on a role of leadership or a title of ministry. As clearly as Jesus told us anything, he told his followers not to depend on such nonsense, for it is based on a false view of our Father’s family. “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” (Matt. 23:8.10)

The primary relationship for each member of the body is to be connected to the Head, then to share his life with each other as brother and sister. No greater identity is needed than to be sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, and anything God asks us to do to help others will not alter that simple identity. The fact that our culture has built body life around ‘leaders’ and ‘nonleaders’ robs the body of the freedom to share God’s life together.

Those who seek credibility in their degrees, their prowess with the original languages of Scripture, or some kind of ‘extra’ anointing not available to other believers, demonstrate by doing so how little of God’s nature they truly understand. Whatever elevates you above others destroys the value of anything God wants to share through you.

So, what do leaders do? Scripture gives us three functions for leadership:

To Facilitate Not Control: Leading in the body is as simple as initiating, at God’s leading, actions and activities and inviting others to come along and share in that experience. Leadership doesn’t seek to control an event or make sure it happens the way they think best, but acts as a catalyst to allow others to express what God has revealed to them. That happens as simply as someone leading out in a chorus, inviting people over for fellowship, or planning an outreach activity. A gift of leadership can get the ball rolling and see if others will pick it up and run with it.

To Equip Not to Perform: Instead of taking center-stage in the body with their gifts, true leaders crawl behind the scenes to help others grow in the life of Jesus and discover how God wants to express himself through them. Since this is best accomplished by example, they will live open lives before others as they help others learn how to connect with God in a meaningful way. They never exploit people’s shame or try to hold them accountable, but free them from shame so that they can engage in a transforming relationship with God. (Anyone who does this knows it happens best in smaller groups where there is a real exchange of dialog rather than in large-scale seminars.) As people become free in God’s life, they will know how to relate to others and that will allow the body to reflect a fuller picture of who Jesus is to the world around them.

To Watch Over Not Police: While not trying to manage the body, leaders will look beyond themselves to help the body live in wholeness. They will seek out those who exploit the body for their own gain and deal with them honestly and lovingly. They will help young believers learn to discern between true and false believers and point them back to Jesus when they are distracted.

One Flock With One Shepherd

When God exposed the false shepherds in Ezekiel 34, he didn’t say he would get rid of the false shepherds and find better ones. He said he would remove the false shepherds and shepherd them himself. He would lead them to safe pastures and protect them from harm so that they would never be afraid or abused again.

With that instruction, why do we have so many people today who insist on being shepherds? That’s not what I Peter 5 is about. Peter tells those called as elders to lead like Jesus did, not by compulsion, not for money, nor to lord over the flock, but simply by being an example of Christ’s life to others.

Those who try to act on his behalf in this way are put in an untenable position. Eugene Peterson described it in his translation of Psalm 14:3 as “Sheep taking turns pretending to be the shepherd.” It gives false teachers a platform to deceive and manipulate people and corners well-meaning people into roles that distort the reality of God’s family.

Why do we think that we need leaders to follow when we have the Leader himself? In John 10 Jesus said he was the only shepherd and those who follow him “shall become one flock with one shepherd.” Why is the body of Christ so weakened and divided today? Because we march to a thousand shepherds, each claiming the mantle of Christ and each leading people to what they think is best.

How do you live this reality practically? If you find yourself weighed down by someone who wants to be your shepherd, take some distance. While you may benefit from some of God’s work in them, living your spirituality through them will only rob you. Don’t think you have to dismantle their organizations, just live in the freedom God gives you.

When God does bring someone near whom he has shaped by his life, listen and watch them without becoming dependent on them. Don’t be so paranoid of falling prey to false leadership that you miss the gifts of wonderful people God has put near you.

And if you’re one of those God has freed from the desire to rule over others, it may be time for you to step up. Don’t think for a moment that God led you outside the power structures to be isolated. He did it to free you from its clutches so you could serve people in a greater way into a fuller life in him.

We will be one flock when we embrace one shepherd. Only when we all learn how to live in him and follow him will we realize the joy and the power of the unity that he desires for his church. Any one who leads in this family, will want nothing less.


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Lifestream #3: How can I live in increasingly trusting Jesus?

One of the greatest freedoms of learning to live loved by the Father is that you’ll find yourself increasingly trusting him. Confident of his love for you, you won’t have to trust your own wisdom or efforts but learn to cooperate with his. He’ll show where your efforts got you off in the weeds and how relying on him changes the course of a circumstance in some surprisingly helpful ways.

Faith or trust is not something you can manufacture on our own. Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of your faith, help it grow by winning you into his reality and inviting you to a growing reliance on his wisdom and power. Every sin and struggle results from trying to grasp for ourselves that which God is not giving us. Why do we do those things? Because we don’t know that he loves us enough to take care of us and provide us with what is good. As our awareness of his love grows, so will our freedom from those things that do us harm.

You will trust someone to the degree that you know they love you. That’s how our faith in Father grows. Circumstances that used to create anxiety and fear will no longer have the same impact on you. Confident that you are loved, you will know his rest even in the most painful of circumstances. We are not alone, and we are not abandoned to our own wisdom or strength. Our peace is not in the certainty of the outcome we want, but knowing that we are his and that he will be sufficient no matter what happens. Now, we’re free to cooperate with him as he guides us through life.

The undercurrent to a lot of my writing is how our trust will grow quite naturally out of learning to live in his love. Here are some resources to help you explore this part of your journey with him:

Key Articles 

Podcasts

Audio/Video 

Wayne’s Books

 

For a Deeper Dive

Use the search windows at the top of Lifestream,org and TheGodJourney.com for “faith” and “trust”.  Also, many have written us to say that the articles of the Living Loved Newsletter in chronological order gave them a picture of how God led Wayne through those transformative years when he was just learning how real faith develops in us.
 


More Lifestream Features

Lifestream 1 - How Can I Live Every Day in Father's Love?
Lifestream 2 - Where Will I Find the Church Jesus is Building?
Lifestream 3 - How Can My Freedom to Trust Jesus Grow?
Lifestream 4 - How Do You Find Such Encouragement in the Bible?
Lifestream 5 - How Can I Live More Generously in a Broken World?

Living Loved Articles

The following articles are from our flagship publication, Living Loved. They have been organized by content, so you can read those that most apply to where you are in the journey. You can also view these articles in Chronological Order if you prefer. Some articles have been listed in more than one space. We hope these articles comfort, encourage and challenge you to the fullness of what it means to live in the joy of being God’s kid in the world!

Categories

Frequently Viewed Articles

Living the Journey

When you’re unsure about the path God has put before you, or you’re not living up to the expectations and demands of others around you…

  •  The Narrow Road – Learning to live in the love of the Father is not the result of one grand commitment, but the fruit of a long series of choices that leans away from the world’s way and listens to the gentle nudges of the Spirit as to how to live differently. (December 2012)
  •  The Power of Living In Love – Has Jesus called us to live by strategic planning, or by the unfolding consequences of simply loving others in the same way we are loved by him? (June 2008)
  •  Bait and Switch – How Christianity traded the invitation into an intimate relationship to God into the rituals and rules of religion, and how we can find our way back. (May 2009)
  •  Windblown: What Life in Him Looks Like – Living in the fullness of Christ is not a matter of embracing theology ritual, or ethics but to engage him by the Spirit and follow him wherever he leads. (February 2007)
  •  Breaking Free – A real-life demonstration of what it means to break free of religious obligation and break into the relationship God has always desired for us. (November 2004)
  •  The Call of the Shepherd – Finding safety and purpose in the presence of Jesus and the courage to follow his voice wherever he leads us. (May 2004)
  •  What Is God Asking Of You? – Learning to recognize Jesus’ voice in our lives and having the focus and courage to follow him in the simplest things he asks of us will turn our spiritual stagnation into life and fulfillment. This article also includes ‘That Lot’ in Fairlie, an amazing story of a group of believers in New Zealand. (September 2004)
  •  Living in Two Worlds – Eternal life is not just our distant hope. It is also our present possession and keeping focused on it will help us live in the world without being captured by it. (February 2004)
  •  The Nut Test – Learning the difference between relationship and religion and what relational Christianity looks like. (September 1997)
  •  The Joy of Letting Go – If we grab for security on our own terms, we’ll always find ourselves falling short of the passion in our hearts for God. Here’s how to let go and see God’s hand transform your life. (April 2002)
  •  Signposts On the Journey – What markers can help us determine if the voice you’re hearing is really Father’s? (May 1999)
  •  What’s In it For Me? – How the pursuit of our own self-interest leads us far afield of God’s best work in our lives. (May 1997)
  •  Painting Outside the Lines – What God is doing today in the lives of his people, may not always fit between the lines of our religious institutions. (November 1998)
  •  Why Settle for Anything Less? – How God’s love can be our only motivation, and why we always find cheap substitutes for that incredible gift. (April 1996)
  •  It’s So Worth It! – Many who start out on the journey of relational life with God, get lost or discouraged in the process. Don’t let that happen to you. (September 2002)
  •  Sexual Struggles on the Relational Journey – Dealing with sexual temptations and failures in the context of our spiritual growth, and finding fulfillment in the gift of sexuality as God gave it to us. (April 2005)

Intimacy With God

When you feel your spiritual growth has stagnated or your just hungry to know him better and follow him more closely…

Knowing Him Better

When you wonder why he seems so far away, or whether you’ll ever be good enough to have the relationship with him you’ve always wanted…

  •  Snapshots of Father’s Love – Two recent experiences brought some fresh images of God’s Fatherhood into my own life. Hopefully they will touch you in a similar way. (July 2000)
  •  The Father’s Delight – Learning to live in the love of the Father. (November 1996)
  •  The Hen and Her Chicks – The magnificent work of God at the cross that forever secured our redemption in him and our relationship with him. (November 1999)
  •  Rekindling Passion – God has called us to live every day in an all-consuming passionate love for him. Here’s how we lose it from time to time and how we can recapture it. (January 1999)
  •  Every Day, Every Moment – A call to a daily relationship with the Risen Christ that can transform our lives with his glory. (May 1998)
  •  The Businessman and the Beggar – Why our pursuit of trying to earn God’s favor must end before we’ll ever be able to experience the reality of his life in us. (March 1998)

Growing in Trust

When it is so hard to trust what God is doing in your life, or even whether he cares enough about you to attend to the details of your life…

  •  Welcome Home! – The invitation God makes for us to be related to him and why our trust in him is so critical to that process. (July 1997)
  •  Why Are You So Afraid? – Learning to fix our eyes on Jesus, not the circumstances that assail us, and our own inabilities to do much about them. (November 1997)
  •  Getting on Father’s Page – Instead of inviting God to bless our work and show up where we are, maybe it would be better for us to live everyday where he is. (September 1998)
  •  What’s In it For Me? – How the pursuit of our own self-interest leads us far afield of God’s best work in our lives. (May 1997)
  •  By Every Word – Intimacy with God can only be lived out as we learn to listen and follow his voice through the ups and downs of everyday living. (July 1998)

The Importance of Living Free

When you doubt the freedom that Christ has brought to you or find yourself using it for your own agenda instead of letting it transform you…

  •  How Do I… ? – Whenever we are frustrated that God is not opening doors for us it might be a sign that we’re focused on the wrong doors. The kingdom grows in our heart through the organic reality of living loved and following him, not by finding the right strategy. (March 2010)
  •  Reveling in the Freedom to Follow – Jesus invited people to come and follow him. So why does religion do more to discourage people from that than freeing them to follow him and discover the life in him that he wants for each of us. (July 2006)
  •  Feasting on the Tree of Life – Until we truly die to the right to decide what is good and not good for our own lives, we’ll never find ourselves basking in the absolute joy of life as Father always meant us to know it. (August 2005)
  •  To Be Free of God??!!?!? – Enjoying the freedom of becoming absolutely dependent upon God, and why we resist it so. (September 1996)
  •  Freedom is Only the Beginning – Two recent experiences brought some fresh images of God’s Fatherhood into my own life. Hopefully they will touch you in a similar way. (May 2000)
  •  The Deepest Freedom – Finding freedom from legalism, religious obligation and the expectations of others is only the beginning. The tyranny of Self is what most keeps us from the joy of walking in Father’s life. (January 2001)
  •  Thriving Outside the Box – If freedom only gets you out of religious obligation and not into Father’s life at a whole new level, it will be your ruin, not your release. (October 2003)

Religion Versus Relationship

When you wonder why the way we do church life today isn’t fulfilling the deepest hungers of your heart…

  •  Tree Town – A Parable For Our Times – A young man finds a book and makes all the wrong conclusions, until he discovers the key that unlocks the mystery. (November 2005)
  •  The Third Road – Why walking in religion can’t take us to the heights of God’s joy and how the road to relationship not only leads us to righteousness, but to healthy body life as well. (June 2002)
  •  The Nut Test – Learning the difference between relationship and religion and what relational Christianity looks like. (September 1997)
  •  Painting Outside the Lines – What God is doing today in the lives of his people, may not always fit between the lines of our religious institutions. (November 1998)
  •  The Same Old Story – What God is doing to set people free from the tethers religion imposes on us and to soar to the heights of what it means to participate with him in his work in our world. (January 2000)
  •  Daisy Petal Christianity – God doesn’t ever want you to doubt again the immense depth of his love for you; nor for you to miss how to respond to it in a life-changing way. (March 1999)

New Testament Church Life

When you’re hungry to find authentic BodyLife that allows believers to grow in love and freedom without being manipulated or abused…

Relationships with Other Believers

When you’re concerned about how to relate to other believers the way Jesus wants you to…

  •  The Real Question – How might we respond to the conflict between those who attend traditional congregations and those who look for more relational expressions of church life, that builds up the family, rather than further fragmenting it. (March 2006)
  •  In Exactly the Same Way – The secret to loving like God loves, is to know how much you are loved by him. (March 2000)
  •  What About Him? – Competition and how it affects our relationships with other believers. (January 1997)
  •  Going to the Root – A summarization of a book that just might change forever how you view the church of Jesus Christ. (June 1996)
  •  Sharing the Journey – An excerpt from Wayne’s newest book, co-written with his brother Clay, this chapter shows how pooling our wisdom can add great joy and wisdom to the journey. (July 2003)
  •  The Language of Community – Highlighted excerpts from So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, focus on the kind of things we can say to others to encourage them on the journey of living deeply in Christ. (September 2006)

Relational Church Series

When you hungry to find alternative ways to look at the body Jesus is building and find a way to participate in it that will spur you on to the heights of living in Jesus. Many of these articles are also available in Tamil.

Current Events and Trends

  • Going to the Root – A summarization of a book that just might change forever how you view the church of Jesus Christ. (June 1996)
  • Lessons from the Rubble – Thoughts on the terrorist attacks, their implications in our culture and how they can spur us on to every greater depths of relationship with Jesus. (November 2001)
  • The Most Exciting Days in History – A look at God’s working in our day and how we can appreciate it, written by Kevin Smith a friend from Australia. (January 1998)
  • Once In A Lifetime… – A trip to the Holy Land and lessons on trusting God with our lives. (March 1997)

The Rising Tide…

For the past six months, a dozen of us from around the world have met on Zoom every couple of weeks to seek to listen to God’s heart about the turmoil in the world and to agree with him in prayer for what he wants to do in the world. This bi-weekly touchstone has shaped my journey in some incredible ways this spring and summer. It was here that I first began to discover how to gaze with God into the needs around my life instead of just holding them in my hands gazing at him. It was here that we were reminded of the power of love, rest, and play in being sensitive to the unfolding work of God. And it was here that we heard a fresh call of God going out to people in their 20s and 30s in the night to invite them to know him, even though many of them don’t know what it is yet.

Last time, we sensed a strong going out from God’s heart to support those following his ways. That has been the focus of my prayers over the last few days, and it has drawn me back to a favorite passage from the Old Testament.

For the eyes of the LORD roam throughout the earth so that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.

Most people know 2 Chronicles 7:14 well about repenting and praying so God can heal the land, but this one from 2 Chronicles 16:9 doesn’t get as much play. For some reason, we prefer Scriptures that pressure us to do more instead of recognizing what our Father is already doing in the earth. The last few years have been difficult for those seeking to follow the voice of the Shepherd, instead of getting lost in the clamor of the world, the demands of religious performance, or chasing political answers to relational problems.

Following Jesus isn’t easy when your family judges you, when good friends can’t understand why you’re not doing what they want you to, or when religious leaders try to talk you back under their authority. Sometimes you can feel isolated as if no one sees the things you see or feels the things you feel. It’s easy to be afraid and second-guess what he might be asking of you. I get those emails every day. And yet, I know that thousands of people around the planet are deeply engaged with a community inside the godhead that is stirring some inexplicable passions in their hearts. I get those emails, too. I’ve never been more hopeful that the tide is turning and God arising.

For those who are hearing the voice of the Shepherd, drawing them to live and love in ways that others around them can’t see, please know you are not alone. He sees you. The eyes of the Lord search through the earth for those who are willing to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, especially in these difficult days. Blessed are you who see and follow, who are willing to risk your own comfort to let God’s light be known in the world. All of heaven supports your quest, and I am convinced you will see more of that in more practical ways in days to come. Watch what this Father will do to confirm his word in you, to connect you with others who share your passion, and to encourage your heart in tough times.

The way that verse from 2 Chronicles 16 is written shows that this wasn’t a one-time act of God but the nature of his character throughout history. He is always seeking those who surrender their lives to his purpose to strongly support them in their struggles to live in that reality. Don’t get lost on the word “completely” here. I’ve heard this verse used to condemn people for not doing enough and to manipulate them to work harder for God. Many think that if God doesn’t strongly support them, it proves they are not “completely” his. Don’t get lost there. “Completely his” does not refer to perfection. We all have moments of weaknesses and where we fall short even of our own hopes. David was a man after God’s heart, even though he failed miserably in his lust for Bathsheba. Peter was surely willing to die for Jesus that night even though his fears got the better of him watching what they were doing to Jesus.

“Completely” doesn’t mean “perfect”; it means “fully.” Your heart can be “fully his” even though you still struggle in living out the reality of that. “Fully” is expressed in prayers like this: “Jesus, I want to follow you wherever you go. I want to know you in the core of my being, no matter what it takes.  I want all my life to be lost in you and for you to take shape in me.”  That’s it.  Look deeply in your heart; you know if your heart belongs to him. If it does, take hope. You are not alone. God is with you and will strongly support you in the challenges you face. Be encouraged; the tide is turning.

And if your heart does not belong to him?  Well, that can change in an instant. Find some time to be alone with him and surrender your heart to him. It’s a simple choice and one that will significantly alter the trajectory of your life for the better.

______________________

A few other items:

A new episode of My Friend Luis airs today. It’s the “rest of the story,” as newscaster Paul Harvey used to say. Originally designed to be a 12-episode podcast, a key part of this story emerged only after we had finished the story we meant to tell. But this part cannot be left out and will air in three episodes over the next three weeks. Shockingly, Raphael returns in 2021 to put some incredible finishing touches on the story.

It looks like it’s time to travel again, as God wills. Planning is in the process for trips to Kansas, Michigan, Virginia, and Florida. If you have something on your heart in those places, let me know. If you’ve got some people somewhere else you’d like me to visit, also get in touch. And if you’d like to be notified when I’m coming to your area, you can sign up on our Travel Notifications email list and include your address <http://eepurl.com/bJ43Ar>.

Also, Kyle Rice, my current co-host at The God Journey, and I have been talking about planning a retreat this winter for twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, who want to connect with each other and explore what it means to be part of a new generation of people living untainted by religion and at rest in Father’s unfolding purpose. We’ve started a Facebook page to help us plan that. If you’re in your 20s or 30s and are interested, you can connect with us here.  If you’re not in that age group, please don’t feel left out.  There can be other opportunities as well.

Lifestream #2: Where will I find the church Jesus is building?

Hint: His church is so much bigger than most people believe.

Many of us were taught that the church meets in buildings every Sunday (or Saturday) morning, and if you want to be part of his church, you must attend one and be committed to its program. And yet, many of those programs never deliver on the promises they make. Instead of rich, open, and honest community, many institutions gather around a charismatic personality or worn-out traditions. They can be riddled with expectations, pretense, gossip, and performance dynamics that will exhaust the most conscientious followers of Christ.

His church is not a meeting in a specific building or submitting to a pastor whose vision you’re supposed to serve. His church permeates the entire globe as the family of people learning to follow him by loving well. Of course, some of those go to Sunday morning institutions, but many of them do not. They are not lone rangers but those who have learned that the church’s wealth is experienced in a growing network of friendships with other Christ-followers who are willing to go and do whatever he asks of them.

You’ll find that church not by seeking out a group of like-minded people, or those that share your same preferences. You’ll find it by loving the next person God puts in front of you and seeing where those relationships lead you. Remember, it is the Spirit’s responsibility to place you in the family exactly as he desires. It’s far more about friends and friends of friends than it is about going to a meeting.

Wayne has provided a host of resources to help you think of Jesus church as he sees her, and that will help you discover her life with greater ease.

Wayne’s Books

Key Articles

Wayne’s Podcasts

For a Deeper Dive

Read through the Relational Church Series listed at the bottom of this page. You can also use the search windows at the top of Lifestream,org and TheGodJourney.com  for topics that specifically interest you such as, “leadership,” “church,” “tithing,” “abuse,” “relational Christianity,” etc.
 


More Lifestream Features

Lifestream 1 - How Can I Live Every Day in Father's Love?
Lifestream 2 - Where Will I Find the Church Jesus is Building?
Lifestream 3 - How Can My Freedom to Trust Jesus Grow?
Lifestream 4 - How Do You Find Such Encouragement in the Bible?
Lifestream 5 - How Can I Live More Generously in a Broken World?

The Pews Are Empty Again Today

“This pandemic makes Beyond Sundays even more relevant and applicable!!!”

That text came from a friend a couple of weeks ago when congregations were forced to cancel their Sunday services all across the country to flatten the proliferation of the coronavirus. This Sunday, once again, the pews were empty and on Palm Sunday at that. Even worse for some, they will still be empty next week for what many consider to be the most important Sunday of the year—Easter!

Some have even tried to continue their meetings in defiance of government orders and have been arrested for it. A pastor in my hometown was on the news this morning because he was requiring his congregation to come for communion this afternoon. He said we can’t let them call liquor stores essential and churches nonessential. I know it’s challenging in this season to give up things we all enjoy, but underneath the anguish of so many pastors seems to be a quest for publicity, a concern that people will get out of the habit of attending, or the fear that without offerings their congregation cannot survive.

A liquor store is not more essential than the Church, but gatherings in buildings are not essential to the life of the Church. She lives and breathes by the power of the Spirit, connecting us to him and each other in a billion different networks of relationships. I thought everyone knew that. I’m genuinely amazed that those religious leaders fear she cannot survive without the structures we’ve built around her.

For the most part now, people “attend” their congregation online, as many have begun streaming the staged elements of their service. These are the same groups who have said for years that you can’t do “church” online—you have to be present in the building. Now they talk about their Internet feed just like they do a regular church service. Even stranger, they conduct the same service to an empty auditorium as if the people were never critical to the event, after all. And how stuck they are in an old form that doesn’t change even when all the circumstances around it have. Wouldn’t these times call for a more creative way to celebrate the life of the church in a time of chaos? How would this understanding of the church ever survive a day of real persecution if it can’t stomach a few weeks of not meeting? It’s an excellent time to reconsider how we view the church of Jesus Christ.

Leaders from Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals put out a statement a couple of weeks ago about canceling Sunday services. “It is not a question of mere expediency. The gathered worship service is central to the church’s identity, and therefore, cancellation seems to trample on more than tradition. It can feel like a threat to the church’s existence.”

I find that statement so unbiblical. As far as we know, Jesus never gathered with his disciples in any kind of “worship service”, nor did he teach them to do so. The early church connected in caves and homes, and conversations in marketplaces and temple courtyards. Where two or three gathered in his name were just as powerful, maybe more so, than 25 or 5000. How, then, has this “service”, which has no precedent in Scripture, become so essential that some leaders can’t imagine the church surviving without it?

Have we lost sight of the Risen Christ and his ability to sustain his church in such desperate times without the weekly service? If so, then these times can serve us well to remember that our sustenance does not come in a service or even a good sermon but from our connection to the Head. He has his church well in hand, and with or without Sunday services, he can lead us and equip us. We could better serve not by worrying about the survival of our congregations but by serving our fellow citizens in a society racked with fear at the possible health and economic impact of this pandemic.

I hope we can all ask if we have made more of the Sunday service than Jesus would? I have no problem with those who find the weekly connection with a congregation to be helpful in their journey. However, if you have become dependent on it to maintain your relationship with God or your connection with others, maybe it is time to rethink some things.

Our hardened religious structures have never looked more naked. The church is about relationships, not with a pastor who doesn’t know you through a video screen where he can’t see you. It is friendships with others who know you, care for you, and can share your journey with compassion, insight, and encouragement.

Not everyone, however, is fearful that these times will diminish the power of the church. Many are seeing an opportunity for God to shift some remarkably skewed priorities:

I received this last week from Michael, our contact for the work in Kenya:

This small article you wrote for some years back Why I Don’t Go to the Church Anymore, is being fulfilled. Across Africa and the world, those who believe the church is institutional buildings and altars are confused in this time of testing with the coronavirus. The pandemic has shaken the world. Your article is really the lesson that is needed for such time of this. Thomas and I have sent more copies to encourage the believers across east Africa, especially those who undergoing self- quarantine due to being locked down.

And this morning I woke up to this in my inbox:

Beyond Sundays by Wayne JacobsenBeyond Sundays seems even more prophetic in these days, as we are all locked out of the church as we know it. We face lockdown and isolation in the midst of the threat of this virus that has engulfed our world. Your book continues to be a source of inspiration and blessing. Written almost for these days, as God’s people, we find ourselves constrained in our homes and out of church. Church as we know it is unable to meet (and) your book keeps coming back as a fresh reminder His Kingdom is more than just church meetings ‘alone’ and the ‘structures’ we build. God is breathing fresh life, hope, and encouragement; something new is happening in His Kingdom, in the world, and the communities where we live.

What I have discovered in the last twenty-five years of living beyond Sundays myself, is that Jesus is an every-hour, everyday companion and the church is a constant reality of interconnected relationships, not a place to meet. Those who live in him can benefit from the teachings of others but are not dependent on them. Their relationship with God thrives as much in the world or locked down in their own homes as it does at a gathering on a Sunday morning.

His church is alive and well today and can shine with greater glory during this pandemic by letting Jesus take shape in his people as they demonstrate more concern for others than they are worried about their own institutions. If you don’t know that, maybe now is the time to discover it. his church can thrive in our communion with him and in our conversations with others even if we can’t meet in the way we’ve always done it.

If your spiritual life is hampered by not attending a Sunday service, maybe this is a good time to lean into him and discover again that he is the Shepherd of his sheep, and that he has all you need. If you feel isolated, think of some people to call every day as a way to encourage them, and especially think of those people who can use it most today. Seasons like this offer a great opportunity for us to take stock of our own journey and let God invite us to deeper places of love and trust.

Maybe now we can more clearly see the difference between the Church Jesus has been building in the world and the one that humanity has been making in its own image. I wrote Finding Church to help people consider that possibility if that’s a stretch for you. .

Yes, they do overlap at times, but at others their priorities seem to diverge significantly.  Knowing the difference will help you discover her beauty in ways you may not have considered, especially in days like these.

The Focused Life

Over the past few weeks I have been recording the audio version of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process for Fruitfulness, and then this weekend it was time to prune the four grapevines I have in my back yard. And it just so happens that I’ve been undergoing a bit of pruning in my spiritual life as well.  So, I have been freshly reminded of how much I love those stories from the vineyard, and how much I appreciate the Father’s engagement in helping us find our fulfillment in him so that his fruitfulness can take hold in a transformed heart.

Except for some snowy scenes at Christmas time, winter seems to be the most unpopular season. Spiritually, however, I’ve come to appreciate it deeply. At no other time does the farmer have so much influence on his vine’s fruitfulness. In the slowing cold of winter, the Master can cut off all the extraneous branches to focus our lives on the few things he wants us to do well, rather than being driven by the demands of our circumstances.

Having read these passages recently, I wanted to share them again with you from In Season:

The slowed days of winter fly in the face of our frenetic pace of life. This is the gardener leading his vineyards to rest in the same way the shepherd takes his sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. There they lie down to rest. The waters that nurse them are quiet, not raging. If we learned this well enough, perhaps the expression “to be busy for God” would be an oxymoron. It is the world that invites us to busyness. Take it from one who used to find most of his identity in a crammed schedule, proving by activity his worth to God. It is a fool’s trap that has made busyness a coveted merit badge in the kingdom of God.

God doesn’t want our busyness; he wants our trust. Having our trust, he knows we will respond to him and his ways as life unfolds before us.

When we are drawn away from our busyness then we’re free to submit to God’s reshaping of how we live our days, more focused on him and less manipulated by the illusions around us:

Pruning is God’s invitation to lay down those things that no longer need to take up our time and energy and move on to new things that will inspire us and help others. Through it, God resets our focus so that we can concentrate on what he wants us to do. Better to do one thing fruitfully than a lot of things that only turn out to be empty foliage.

I know people like that. In fact, I’ve been like that myself. Externally I looked productive, busily rushing from one meeting to another or jumping from one project to the next. Leaves everywhere! How intoxicating busyness can be. But I couldn’t find the fruit. My spiritual life was so diluted by my myriad of activities that none of them were bearing anything more than paltry, unripened fruit.

Busyness is not the goal of a conscientious believer; fruitfulness is. Not every request that comes my way is God’s will for me to accept. Good opportunities are not necessarily godly ones. Expectations pushed on us by others are not the directions Jesus invites us to follow.

Paul wrote to Titus that, “The grace of God teaches us to say no.” That means we can say no to the worldly passions that destroy us and no to the opportunities that overwhelm us.

Notice that it’s not fear that teaches us to say no, but grace. Because we can trust God and know that he will lead us into the fullness of joy, we are free to say no even to the things that we desire, whether good or bad.

Jesus said no to the enemy’s temptations, knowing that God’s way was better. He didn’t rush to Lazarus’ side when he first heard he was sick. He stayed two days longer to finish what he was doing before he joined the friends he deeply loved. Given Paul’s explanations in his epistles, he didn’t rush to churches that desired him to come either. He followed God’s agenda instead.

Recognizing that we are branches on his vine will free us to focus on the few things that God has really called us to do. That’s the only way to be fruitful. Draw near to God and let him show you what his plans are. His grace will teach you to say no to those that aren’t.

We hope to have the audio out in a month or so.  We’ll let you know here…

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 12

This is the last posting of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but also with his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan, July 31, 2019 (96 days after first email):

This has been a series of awful days as far as the devastation of grief is concerned. The reality of Lynn being dead is so horrific. I am quickly losing hope and lacking any reason to have it. God is silent. I am all alone in this world. People respond, “Oh, Alan, you’re not alone.” But I realized the other day that I do not know anyone in Lynn’s and my peer group that has ever lost a spouse. Many of them have lost a parent or friend but no spouses. I’m glad for them. I would not wish this on anyone. But at the end of the day, no one knows what to say.

Hope is non-existent.

I have been listening to some of your messages online trying to convince myself that God is not punishing me. Then my mind goes to all the ways I was unfaithful to the precious gifts God gave me. I never committed adultery with another woman, but in my position as a part-time disc jockey at a big country music station, I had myriad opportunities to flirt with women who called in to my show and flirted with me. I have done and thought and fantasized things that said, “Father God, I do not appreciate this precious woman.” Things that I looked at online were a disgrace to my wife.

So, here I am. Harvest time for Alan. Wife dead. God knows all of these things, and I feel that I am reaping corruption that comes from sowing to the flesh.

Your message is “living loved.” How can he “interact with me as His beloved,” and sit by in silence as my wife dies? Knowing He could have healed her in this realm with a breath or a word or a thought and yet when I poured my heart out in prayer, when Lynn poured hers out in prayer, He essentially said, “No.” How is that love at any level? Are we as believers – as his children – only to expect that he’ll be there to help us pick up the pieces when life crashes, but not to intervene to keep things from shattering?

Why did the apostles say to pray? We have a God, a Father. Isn’t there some benefit associated with that that unbelievers do not have? God let Lynn die. He took her. Yes, she is blessed beyond measure and likely not even aware of my pain. But he could have healed her here; he didn’t. I’m left in an avalanche of empty, lonely searing pain. I try to pray for others who are going through battles with cancer, and I wonder what is the use?

The other day I was listening to a teaching and how God delivered Israel from Egypt after 400 years of bondage. 400 years! What about those who lived and died and essentially had their cries for freedom ignored during all those years? At the end of the day, God is sovereign and will do what He wants when He wants, and we are best served by living with no expectation of answered prayer. We can only hope that we don’t end up too broken. My mistake was having too much hope and faith.

Paul went through tribulation. The apostles died horrific deaths. Where is the hope, the evidence in this life that having a Heavenly Father is even real? When does my mourning turn to joy? When will He give me gladness for sorrow? Lynn loved God and trusted Him, and I am confident even in her pain and death, she never had these cynicisms that I have. Her heart was never tainted with what she didn’t understand nor with the questions that I had. She often told me in frustration to trust God when I would be at a crossroads. But, it seems that we are just to shut up and try to be obedient and never get our hopes up even though we are supposed to have faith to please Him.

Wishing I could tell her “Happy Birthday” again in this life,

My response

I know, Alan, and my heart breaks for you this morning.

The first year of grief is always the most painful—first birthday, first anniversary, first holidays, first vacation, all the things you do the first time without her will feel hollow and horrible. Grief comes in waves. That’s why you’ll have good days, where you think you might be getting beyond it, and then WHAM! A special day, a memory, a place you both thought special, or a random rush of pain will cross your path, and the grief rushes back in. Take hope in this, the painful days will, in time, grow less intense and less often, and the better days of celebrating the love you shared will grow more frequent, sweeter, and more prolonged.

The only way through this is through it. Great wisdom, eh? As much as you might want to run from it, embrace it. One person said when the darkness overwhelms you don’t chase the sunset because you’ll never catch it. The fastest way to the light is to head toward the sunrise, away from the setting sun and the light will yet appear again, sooner if you head east than if you chase it hopelessly to the west.

How I wish you could just grieve on the days that seem so dark and invite your loving Father into that grief! Instead, what you believe about God takes you to a different place. Instead of having God as a comforting presence inside your pain, you beat yourself up for every bad thing you’ve ever done or mistakes you’ve ever made. Do you really think God would kill your wife to punish you for something you did wrong? Do you really think God would say, “You looked at another woman years ago, so I gave your wife cancer?”

Is that how you interpret sowing and reaping, that reaping is God giving you a penalty for some weakness or failure? Can you appreciate that when your mind goes into that dark hole, it will seem as if God is silent, even when he is not? His beckoning to you with great compassion is drowned out by the way you view him.

I can assure you the God who loves you was not silent through any of this. Unheard, maybe, because some things you’ve believed about him made it difficult to sense what he was saying to you, especially in the crisis you were in. In the flood of great waters, we can lose sight of who he is because we are so focused on our disappointment or feeling betrayed. I’ve tried to reflect some of what he has been speaking to you in my words through these many emails, and you have recognized that at times. He has been there with you. My words have just been imperfect reflections of the deeper love and wisdom in his heart for you. That’s why I struggle so against religious thinking that puts God on the other side of our pain, as the cause of it whether it be through punishment or “allowing it” through a lack of concern. I reject both of those.

You were not the cause of Lynn’s cancer; this is not punishment from him. Jesus took all of that for us. If he’s still punishing you for your mistakes or imperfections, then Christ died in vain. Sowing and reaping are not about punishment for past actions, but the simple consequences we face for the choices we make. Sow generosity, reap generosity. Sow indulgence, reap emptiness and pain.

I pray you can come to see God as the one who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will. I want you to see Jesus as the loving Shepherd teaching us to live in the increasing freedom of the Father’s reality and growing us out of the places we got stuck and twisted. None of our failures surprise him, and none of them cut us off from his love. All of us can go back in our lives and pick out every mistake, bad thought, sinful action, or indulgence and think any of them exclude us from his love and care, but it still isn’t true. He’s the only one that can shape the trajectory of our lives and draw us out of the darkness and into the light. We won’t hear him do that if he’s condemning us for the darkness.

He celebrates our progress toward the light, not holding our past mistakes against us. How could we grow if he did? Ask him to help you let go of the past, not the good parts, but the mistakes and failures. You are his child—today! He is the rescuer in your story. No, that rescue did not include Lynn’s healing in this world to our great disappointment, but she has it now in another. And now he wants to rescue you through the grief and reveal himself to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Don’t stay in the past, focused on your failures. Wake up every morning in the fresh mercy of a loving Father. Follow him each day in the simple things he nudges your heart towards. He will lead you beyond the grief to all that he still has planned for you in your days on this earth. Let who he really is sink in past your disillusionment with him. You are being dis-illusioned. You had illusions about God that were never going to serve you well. He wants you to know him as he really is, and that is far better than either of us could conceive.

So, lean into love, Alan. It will be there for you every day. He’s closer than we know. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart to what is true of him, and for the God of all comfort to hold you in those moments you despair of life, just like Paul did (2 Corinthians 1).

I’m praying, too, Alan. I think you’re making significant progress, but I know that may be tough to see from where you sit, especially today.

———————————————————–

This is the last blog I’m going to do in this series. Alan and I have continued to be in touch, and I see signs of new life springing up in him as he continues to move forward. What’s more important is that he does, too. Here are a couple of snippets he sent me toward the end of August.

… I had a cool moment yesterday as I was going through some of her CDs and found the original one where I first heard you. You were in Wisconsin talking about living loved, and it is terrific. I’m listening to it multiple times, which seems to be a habit I’ve developed of late – listening to teachings that minister to me over and over.

… I am in a weird place. I am still grieving hard for my sweet bride. But I feel like God is putting me back together. A friend spoke to me and said that they felt like God was showing them that I am like a big tree that has had the bark blown off, and that has been nearly obliterated. But there is still a deep root. And that root is springing forth new life, and the tree will grow again. I don’t know, but I am thankful more and more for Lynn and her strong, steadfast faith.

If there’s a significant development here that extends the story, I will add it in a future blog. But I think Alan is finding his footing again and it will just take time for the grief of Lynn’s passing to be overwhelmed by the new creation that will continue to spring up in Alan’s journey. I want to thank “Alan” for giving me permission to share his emails, and thus his vulnerability and pain, with all of us. There were some raw moments in there that were real, and I know they resonated with many of you as you sort out God’s goodness in the face of him not doing what you thought love, or your theological convictions, would compel him to do. Our best intentions and misguided expectations can so easily block out our ability to sense his presence and see his fingerprints unfold in our days.

Every week my inbox is full of people facing horrible tragedies, and it is also filled with lots of stories of people who have been through those tragedies and come out on the other side more alive in Christ than ever and more transformed to embrace who God really is. Finding our security in his love, especially when the foundations of our lives are shaken, is quite a process. Pain has a way of dulling our spiritual senses, but God’s Spirit is even better at helping us embrace reality and find that God is bigger than our disappointments in him.

Dave Coleman, my co-author on So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, often tells me that he thinks 90% of Christians live with an undercurrent of anger towards God for not answering their prayers. Many have lost children, spouses, marriages, businesses, or friends in sickness, accidents, betrayal, or just unforeseen circumstances that sidetrack our joys or hopes.

The only absolute reality is that we are deeply loved by the God who made us and he wants to be inside the most brutal moments of our lives with us, helping us resolve our pain and draw closer to him. To do that, it will help if we lean on him at such times and not push him away by our false judgments about him or his motives toward us. He can handle our honesty, our disappointments, and our fears and walk us out to a place of freedom. That’s not a given, however. Brutal times can make us defensive, bitter, and isolated, or they can open our hearts to compassion, humility, and transformation.

I don’t believe God causes sickness and disease or withholds healing to make us better people, to punish us for our past mistakes, or to teach us much-needed lessons. He doesn’t have to. This broken Creation causes pain enough for all of us in various seasons. How we navigate them inside his care is way more important than trying to figure out why they happen, or why he doesn’t fix them the way we want.

I have been overwhelmed with email, blog comments, and FB postings that many of you have shared as this story has touched something in your own journey. I do think we’d be better off if we talked openly about these things—prayer, healing, death, disappointments. And our own mortality. Growth comes in such exchanges.

On this side of the Resurrection, we are all mortal. Until Jesus comes again, you and everyone you know will die. That’s how we get from this realm into the next. Death is so excruciating for those it leaves behind because of the vacuum it creates when their love and presence departs.

We forget, however, that for those who die in Christ, it is just the beginning of the greatest adventure ever into the unrestrained depths of God’s love!

Are You Worthy of Love? 

If you gave this question serous consideration, we probably need to talk.

The saddest words I hear from people are those that wonder if they are worthy of God’s love. That question is predicated on the biggest lie to find it’s way into God’s creation—that love can be earned.

It can’t.

Nothing disproves that lie better than the coming of Christ into our world that we celebrate at this Christmas season. He didn’t come to redeem people the Father was disgusted with, but those he loved. Even on the night Christ was born, the shepherds heard the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Pleased?  Really? With all the brokenness in the world? Sin was rampant, Humanity was ever at war with itself and his own people were under Roman captivity and lost in their legalism. How could God be pleased with humankind?

Luke certainly didn’t mean God was pleased with the brokenness in his creation, but that he was pleased with humanity in spite of it. God’s love is not so fickle as to come and go based on how good we are. Love is love, even at our most broken, no less than you would have for your children. Our struggle in the darkness only endears us to him as his compassion seeks to rescue and redeem us.

We are all worthy of love because of the place we hold in Father’s heart. No failure, or broken place changes that. The prodigal son was loved as much when he was wasting his father’s money as he was when he returned home. It’s just that he wasn’t living in that love. He didn’t believe it and though he thought he had good evidence for his conclusion, they were based on the lie. Even when he returns home he considers himself  “not worthy” to be called a son.

But he was worthy simply because of the value he held in his father’s heart. The joy of the Gospel is not in getting God to love us, but to relax into the reality of the love he already has for us. Those who grew up abused or neglected have a hard time embracing that. The rejection of their parents seemed proof that they were so flawed as to be unworthy of love. But that is just part of the lie.

Those who grow up in religious settings, who think their performance can endear them to God, fall victim to the same lie. You can’t earn what you already have. You are loved, no less today than when the Father conceived you in his heart before you were born.

That’s the Gospel. Believe it or not, the Creator of the universe is your loving Father. You have the choice to run to that love and embrace it, or hide outside of it as long as you want. Love offers a door; it doesn’t force it’s way.

He loves you as much as any other person on the planet. For those who don’t know that in the deepest part of your soul, Sara and I are praying that Father will reveal that to you and you will find the freedom to joyfully embrace how deeply he delights in you. That’s where this journey of faith truly begins.

And what a Christmas miracle that is!

Notes For the New Year:

Wayne’s Latest Book Is Almost Here

Beyond Sundays, Wayne’s newest book, will be available early in 2018. It will cost $12.00 and we’ll begin taking pre-orders in early January.  It will also be available by e-book as soon as we can get that done.

This is an adaptation of blogs postings Wayne has written over the last year about the current dilemma of people leaving the traditional congregation and the opportunity it affords for the whole church to celebrate all the ways that Father is at work among his people and how he is preparing the bride for the return of his Son.

 

Travel Dates for Early in 2018

  • Jacksonville, FL- January 18
  • Raleigh, NC – January 19-22
  • Greensboro, NC – January 23-24
  • Charlotte, NC – January 25-29
  • Phoenix, AZ- February
  • Abilene, Tx – March 22-25

If you’re in these areas and still want to plan something, we do have some available time. Or if you just want to join us, please see our Travel Page, where details will be posted when we have them. If you’d like to be notified when I’m coming to your area you can sign up on our email list and include your address.

Kenya Update

Thanks to the generosity of so many of you, we have given just under $200,000 this year to the people in Kenya with orphan children and to help the people in Pokot establish a sustainable future. We put in two agricultural projects so they can grow their own food, and have helped with hospital staff, medicine, food, education and micro-finance loans to help create enterprise. Get more information here.

Staying Up With Lifestream

If you did not receive this by email yesterday or today, then you re not signed up for our blog or our mailing list. If you’d like to be, you can do so here. Include your address details if you want to receive Travel Updates when I’m planning a trip to your area. If you’re not signed up to get my blogs or the podcasts straight to your inbox, you can go to those home pages and submit your email address in the appropriate are.

To the Saints Scattered…

By Wayne Jacobsen, the final chapter of a book he’s writing about The Phenomenon of the Dones

To the followers of Jesus scattered throughout the world, no longer attached to a specific congregation or denomination: Greetings from one of your kind and from Jesus himself. I pray this letter finds you growing in the affection of our Father, in the trust of his Son, and the wisdom and gentleness of his Spirit.

I know the way has not been easy. It never is for pioneers who move outside an established status quo in search of greater vitality and authenticity. I know most of you didn’t plan to get here; you simply followed the hunger of your heart and his drawing of your conscience until you found yourself outside the circles you used to frequent and for a while found so helpful. Some of you got pushed out for asking the wrong questions, others just stopped going wearied by the politics or how guilt and fear were used to keep people in line.

I have spent the last twenty years among those who have taken their liberty from Christianity-as-a-religion and yet continued to pursue a life in Christ as vibrant as the one he passed on to his disciples. Their journey beyond Sunday morning Christianity only confirmed their choice.  The people I admire most in this world are those that follow their spiritual hunger, even when it takes them beyond the comfort of their friends and family. Religion is built on approval needs, and when someone diverges from that conformity, they meet a host of well-intentioned, if not particularly sensitive, people trying to convince them they are wrong.

Jesus knows how painful your journey is better than anyone else. It is a road he walked as well. It is so easy to sing with great passion, “Though none go with me, still I will follow,” and far more difficult to actually do it. When you do, however, I’ve no doubt it brings great joy to him knowing the risk you took to follow him down an uncertain path. Live in that joy as you keep going even if the road is more difficult than you imagined. Your pursuit will reward you in ways you maybe can’t see yet, and fulfill the deepest hungers with his reality, his love, and his freedom.

I realize many of you need no encouragement from me. You have come to know Jesus and learned to follow him apart from the religious conventions of our culture and are finding yourselves increasingly at rest in his provision and being fruitful for him where he has placed you. You have discovered that there is still a church in the world to connect with relationally that doesn’t need the political gamesmanship or the mind-numbing routines of religion. I have met many of you around the world and have been inspired by your courage to take the road less traveled and your resilience in the face of challenge, opposition and false accusations.

Others of you are either new to the journey, or haven’t settled into it yet.  Here’s what I’ve learned this far into my journey:

 

Finding A New Trailhead

The early days of living outside our systems of religious performance can be quite painful, depending on the reason you left and if you have some supportive voices around you.  Initially, you’ll feel great relief to be out of the situation that helped you make such a difficult decision. You may have hoped others would have shared in your journey and either come with you or been sympathetic to how God was leading you.  Most people, however, find themselves outside alone where three critical challenges await, all of which also hold some great opportunities for growth.

Overcoming Guilt. For a while you’ll feel like you’ve lost your moorings, and your emotions will not be in synch with what you know to be true. You may know attendance at a congregation is not a requirement of our Lord Jesus, but you believed it for so long and may have looked down on others who didn’t come as regularly as you did that you’ll feel guilty when you’re not there and defensive if people ask you about it.

Guilt is the acquired baggage of religious obligation. While we know that there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ, it’s amazing how much of our Christian experience has been driven by avoiding guilt and the disapproving glances of our fellow believers. It travels mostly unseen as long as you serve it, but when you stop it rears its ugly head. Now you’ll confront it head-on, almost every day and it will test what you know about God, yourself, and what it means to follow him.  This is a great time to see Jesus destroy the power guilt and fear hold over you.

You’ll be tempted to do something to sate the guilt, or attack the systems others might enjoy in order to justify your own experience. Resist those urges. This is an important time to find your way to the cross and discover the ways of thinking that create the guilt and condemnation you feel. As you lean more deeply into the Father’s love and his wisdom you’ll find over time the guilt will lessen as will your need to tear others down to feel good about his work in you.

Dealing with Loneliness. If you were heavily involved in your local congregation you may have given it 8-10 hours per week and it gave you the illusion that you were part of something larger than yourself. Even if friendships weren’t as close as you hoped, you felt like you belonged and that masked the loneliness that comes to the fore when you find yourself more isolated. Out of sight, out of mind is how most congregations work.  People will miss your contributions more than they’ll miss you.

Now you wonder if anyone was really a friend and does anyone care about you now. That is multiplied if you suffer the sting of judgment that comes if some of your closest friends and family begin top question your salvation, or at least view you as a reclamation project to get you back on the straight and narrow.  It may even cause you to doubt you’re making the right choices.

That disappointment grows when new friendships or connections don’t happen as fast as you hoped.  Again, the temptation is to do something to fix the problem. Some seek out another congregation, try to find a house church near them or even start their own.  But the answer to your loneliness is not “out there” somewhere. It is not in a group you can find, a program you can institute, or a new guru to follow. You’re not looking for a better way to do church, but a better way to embrace his reality. You will find loneliness first satisfied in him and then it will spill into the relationships he will bring across your path.

You may not see it yet and you may even feel as if he has abandoned you, but he has not. He has not led you this far to forsake you and he has not begun a work in you that he will not complete. This is the time to let your relationship with him deepen so you won’t use others to fill the place only he can fill. This is a great season to learn how to seek him, to listen to him, and to follow him and as you do he will swallow up your loneliness in a vibrant communion with him and then you’re ready for more healthy relationships in which true community can grow.

Losing Your Anger. Departing a congregation is often laced with anger—at disappointed expectations, betrayal by people you thought loved you, or finally seeing through some of the false things you were taught to keep you loyal and contributing your time and resources. You’ll want to blame people for lying to you or about you, and strike out against organized religion in general falling prey to an us-versus-them dichotomy that will prove destructive over time.

This is all very natural to justify an extremely difficult decision you had to make and to navigate the self-doubt you will invariably experience. But you’ll want to let it bleed out as soon as you can, which may still take months. Hopefully you can find a safe person who has been down this road before you to vent your pain without it overwhelming those who don’t understand it and will only judge you for it.

In God’s heart this journey is not about fixing “the church”, but drawing you into a deeper relationship with him and letting love over time still the anger of your heart and replace it with joy in his provision and compassion for others, even those who hurt you.  This all may take years, so don’t be hard on yourself if the emotions persist. Just keep leaning into him and let his love win you out of feeling like someone else’s victim.  No, life isn’t fair and people’s failures will make your life more difficult, but he has a way to navigate you through all of that and give you the life that really is life.  And keep in mind that your failures add difficulty to others as well.

Growing in him is a journey, its vitality will ebb and flow at times and there will be seasons where you’ll get distracted, but when he makes you aware guiltlessly lean back his direction.

A real relationship with him doesn’t try to get from him what you want, but to receive what he wants to give you each day. Keep engaging him and don’t pitch a tent anywhere thinking you’ve arrived. Our destination is not in this temporal age. Avoid simply falling into the routines of life and miss how this kingdom yearns to take shape in you and through you find more space in the world.

If you have other believers around you who are on this journey, seek for their help in learning how to ignore guilt, satisfy your loneliness inside of Jesus, and to help you discover how to follow him as a real presence in your life.  As you overcome these three challenges and you will find yourself on a very different journey.

 

Settling into a Different Journey

Now you find yourself on a very different journey. Instead of meeting the expectations of the institution you belonged to, you may find yourself adrift without them.  It was so easy when your security came from regular attendance, following the rules, speaking the party line and gaining the approval from others for your diligent efforts. Without those you’ll need to give attention to your connection with God himself. You will want to learn how to recognize his fingerprints in your day, and his words in the recesses of your thoughts.

Don’t look for quick fixes here or rush the process. You cannot learn it in a book; you have to let it unfold in the reality of your circumstances. His curriculum is not in a workbook somewhere, or a university course; it is in the events, emotions, and thoughts of daily life as he comes alongside you to show you what’s real and what is an illusion as you engage with his Spirit and the Scriptures.

Here are three things I use to keep my course:

Relational. If you’re new to this journey and still disoriented by the change from performance-based Christianity, to an affectionate relationship with The Father, Jesus, and the Spirit, take all the time you need.  Learn to let the Father enjoy your presence, and for you to enjoy his.  If you need space from “religious voices” that seek to promote guilt and fear, take some distance from them.  Jesus will show you who you are free to love, and what relationships draw you out of his affection and back into performance.

Eugene Peterson called it, “the unforced rhythms of grace.” Religious obligation and activity can so easily distract us from the purity and simplicity of how Jesus expresses himself to us. God already knows you and now wants you to know him. Jesus died to grant us full and confident access to him. It is not quick and it is not easy to learn how to live in that reality. He has to reshape internally the ways you were taught to live—twisted by indulging your desires, haunted by the insecurities of not knowing you were loved, exploited by the selfishness of others, or manipulated by the lies and fears of religious obligation.

Now he will teach you how to rest in his love, how your growing trust in his desires for you and his purpose in this age will change the way you navigate the world, and how your growing dependence on the power of his Spirit living in you will draw your eyes away from what’s temporal to that which is eternal.  Everything God wants to do in you, and all he wants to do through you will grow naturally out of your engagements with him and the people he brings into your life.

If you can find them, spend time with others who stimulate awareness in your own life. Don’t be discouraged if this takes some time or if that initially happens across great distances. Social media and blogs comments might be a good place to connect as well, even if you can’t be face-to-face. Beware the cheap fix of on-line networks or getting an identity from following a popular author or teacher. That may comfort you with a false security that it will soon evaporate.

In time, you’ll begin to meet people around you on a similar trajectory.  Jesus is inviting an increasing number of people back to himself and creating a people who will follow the Lamb wherever he goes. You’ll find those faster, however, if you’re just looking for growing friendships with those already around you, not by finding or building a group of like-minded people. Keep your eyes open for a hungry seeker at work, an open-hearted neighbor, someone you meet randomly, or connect with at another gathering or mission outreach. Fellowship grows from friendships a lot easier than friendship grows from meetings.

Truth-full. Don’t just throw out the illusions without rethinking where God’s truth lies. De-constructing the false messages of religion that feed performance and destroy community is a painful process. Not everyone survives it with a passion for truth. Once you find out some of the things you were taught aren’t true, it’s easy to throw out everything or just hold on to those things that you find personally comforting. Many have taken this course into the theological weeds and gotten lost in the skepticism about God and his truth.

Truth will often disturb us before it sets us free. Scripture underlines how hungering for truth is the most important component to grasping it. Don’t seek voices who say what you want to be true, ask the Father to reveal his truth to you.  Search your heart, search the Scriptures, and interact with others in conversation and through books and articles in a way that will help you re-construct an understanding of who God truly is and his purpose in the world. God didn’t bring you out of religious performance to leave you drifting on the winds of circumstance, but to draw you into a relationship that is not only intimate but transforming.

You won’t have all the answers and you’ll lose your need to convince others that you see it better than they do. You’ll learn to walk with him in the truth that is sometimes challenging and painful, but it will always draws your heart more closely to him.  Don’t expect this truth to be as much measured by principles you can follow, but in learning to discern in your unfolding day which decisions leads to life and which leads to death.  This is where he always wanted to write his will, not in precepts to follow, but learning to sense the pleasure of the Spirit in the direction he desires for us and the restlessness of Spirit when he’s drawing us away from our own selfishness. That’s how you learn to walk with him.

Purposeful. When you are part of a religious program everything is provided for you.  You have fellowship because you sit in a congregation, worship because you sing, and engage spread the kingdom because your congregation gives to overseas missions.  But those are simply shadows of a greater reality. To embrace those realities now you will need to make some intentional choices to follow his leadings, embrace his purpose in circumstances around you, and to live focused more on others than yourself.

It is easy for all of us to drift into complacency regarding spiritual realities. Life takes so much out of us just to complete our job responsibilities and care for our families. It also distracts us with too many entertainment options that it’s easy to end up coasting spiritually into emptiness. Growing in him and flowing with his purpose won’t happen by accident, but it also won’t happen by human ingenuity.  I realize that sounds like a contradiction. What you will want to do is to learn to live in the moment, with a growing trust in Spirit’s ability to lead and guide you. Being intentional is not doing what we prefer or even think best, but to see where love leads us and where his Spirit nudges us.

When you stop serving someone else’s vision it will be easier to recognize his leading. Let him grow your capacity to love so that you’ll have a heart of compassion for the broken, and be a champion of justice for the oppressed. Confront evil where it exploits the innocent, quickly repair broken relationships where possible with forgiveness and honesty, and treat others the way you want them to treat you.

Walking by the Spirit comes with a suspicious eye toward our own human effort, but an intentional eye on the Father and flowing with his activity in the world.

 

Helping Others Find Their Journey

The time is coming when all that you’ve discovered will not just be valuable for you, but will overflow from you to so many others who are hungering for the same realities that lie beyond the walls of their own experience. Jesus designed his kingdom to work that way. As freely as you receive, you look for ways to freely give to others. As you find more relaxed footing in your relationship with him look for ways to be a blessing to others.

I’m convinced this is what it means to pastor the flock of God. It doesn’t require a degree or a job managing an institution; it is simply the ability and desire to help others connect with Jesus and encourage them as they learn to follow him. God works through the simplest people who have sincere hearts, not the highly talented or those who seek influence. Sharing your life freely is not a task you have to do, but one that will flow out of your heart naturally as you make yourself available to him:

Live lovingly. What I enjoy most about this journey is that all the obligations and expectations I lived under were replaced with a sense of endearment. I don’t follow God because I’m afraid of him, but because I want what he wants for me. I don’t do what I do in fear that he will punish me but because I want to share in the work he is doing around me. Obligation was replaced with joy and though I can’t stop and love everyone I pass on a given day, I’ve always got an eye out for the person God wants me to engage or to serve in some way.

Live freely.  There will be no end of well-meaning people who will want to push their preferences and expectations on you. You can be gracious as you politely say, “No, thank you.”  Embrace what God gives you, and turn from those things others want to force on you. Life is too short to let people manipulate you even with the best of their religious intentions. You are to live to him, free from the tyranny of your own spiritual ambitions, and free from others’ as well.

Live generously. Keep an eye out for the needs and welfare of others, sharing whatever you might have to be a blessing in someone else’s life. Build friendships and share those friendships with others by connecting people who will be blessed to know each other. This is how his church grows in the world. Don’t just love those who can love you back, but take time with people who do not yet have any capacity for love, so that they can see him in you.

Live genuinely. No one needs you to pretend to be someone you’re not or further down the road than you are. We best help people when we let them look into the reality of our lives to see both where God has shaped his life in us and where we still struggle. Impress people with your honesty not by pretending to be further down the road than you really are. Sharing your own doubts and failures are as important as telling others how God makes himself known to you. None of us has it all together and authenticity laced with humility creates the vulnerable environment where the best conversations happen. It will free you to love and to honesty without the need to fix others or make them part of your agenda.

Live justly. Life is inherently unfair and it is somehow in the nature of powerful people to exploit others for their own gain and notoriety. The kingdom comes to bind up the brokenhearted, to free the oppressed, and to help the poor and downtrodden. Keep an eye out for those whom the culture exploits and be a champion for compassion and justice. Don’t make conformity the currency of relationship, but care and concern. You cannot love all the people in the world, so love well those God puts before you each day.

 

In Christ Alone

Jesus is doing an amazing thing in our day; he is taking his church back. He’s calling people from every corner of this world to find him as their sole allegiance.  Some of those are inside traditional congregations, and many others he is inviting outside to teach them another way to live and grow.

The truth be told, we are all part of the saints scattered, even those who regularly attended a local congregation. The saints have been scattered for a long time, divided by institutions, doctrines, leaders, and programs each believing their way is the best. For those of us who have moved beyond Sunday gatherings as the focus of our faith, we need to take care that we guard our hearts to explore the wonder of the whole body of Christ as she is in the world. Almost every group that has splintered off of Christian institutions in the past have gone on to create their own, looking down on those who didn’t live it the same way they did.

It would seem the courage it takes to leave religious obligation easily bends toward pride and an air of superiority if we’re not careful. Yes, our institutional systems can be deeply flawed as they try to express God’s reality in the world, but that doesn’t mean we need to condemn them or think less of those who attend them.  Our world is touched for the better by many of those congregations. Though it may not be the best way for your hungers to be met, resist the desire to reject others who see it differently. Don’t think your path is their path or that those not on it can’t know and follow the God you’re growing to know. He has many sheep and he does not lead all on the same path.

Always keep in mind that it is Jesus’ desire to reconcile all things to himself, and thus all of us to each other. This is the unity he prayed for with such passion. That we would all be one, as he and the Father are one. We have too long looked for that to come from our institutions or our agreed-upon doctrines, but that approach has failed us spectacularly. The unity Jesus prayed for can only come through transformed lives as we let God’s kind of love permeate our own hearts and free us to live with increasing selflessness and generosity in a world that knows too little of either.

Give yourself to what leads to authentic unity. Remember this is his work not yours, so be patient and don’t think you will have to compromise his work in you to love others who are on a different journey. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart, and encourage others to follow theirs as well.  While you will often be judged maliciously, don’t resolve your pain by judging back. Bring those accusations to God and leave them there. If he is not asking you to change, don’t let others press you towards it.

Let all kinds of people into your life to see what loving them might do. Those who criticize how you live your life, may not be against the Jesus we love and seek to follow. Don’t exalt yourself because God has given you more to see, use it as a way to serve others so that they will have a chance to see it, too.

This is the trajectory he invites all his children on and if it has taken you outside the walls of institutionalism it was not to separate you from his people, but to draw you more deeply into the life that truly is life and to free you to share that love without any borders. His purpose was not to leave you isolated and scattered in the world, but increasingly transformed by love so that he can knit you into the fabric of his church as she is taking shape around the world today.

And she is taking shape in ways most people miss. Wherever I travel in the world I meet people who are really learning to live a journey in Christ that is transforming them from the need to serve themselves and to a more generous heart for others. These are the stories that thrill my soul and give me hope. They are being led by Jesus often in direct contradiction to their own self-interest. Soon they will be knit together by his Spirit in ways we cannot yet conceive, but will speak of his glory far more than our own ingenuity.

Let’s take care that we do not exalt anything above Christ and Christ alone, the hope of glory for every individual.  Don’t give people a reason to be distracted by your pet doctrines, cute terminology, a specific program that may have been useful for you but may not be for them. Focus on him and his reality and watch him reveal himself in almost every relationship you have. Don’t fragment his family because you want to make a name for yourself, to brand an identity, or to carve off a market share for your ministry.

Share freely as God cares for you. Yearn for the day when we will be truly one flock with one Shepherd. As long as we have other humans between us and our compassionate High Priest, we will continue to live splintered into discordant factions. The world is not surprised by such

But imagine what it would think if they really saw the followers of Christ loving each other deeply, from the heart. There he will be revealed in ways that will draw the most calloused sinner to recognize who he is. And then we won’t be scattered anymore, but one body permeating every corner of our world with the life and love of Jesus.

__________________

This is the final chapter in a series called 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. It will eventually be made into a book for people to read more easily.

These chapters will be combined into an  e-book for future reference in the near future.

Revisiting The Nashville Statement

A few of weeks ago I posted a blog about The Nashville Statement, and got a host of feedback from people, both those who loved what I wrote and those who thought I’d committed the unpardonable sin. It sad how angry Christians can get just by reading a different point of view. Here’s some of what I learned in the ensuing conversation on that blog, by email and on my Facebook Page:

1. Most people really get it, at least those on my blog and Facebook feeds. There’s a growing number of people who are accepting the fact that we are living in a post-Christian culture and we will not impact it by trying to force our morality on people who don’t know the God we know. Attempting to do so in a pluralistic society only makes you look arrogant and weakens your voice. This is why even people who agree with your moral stands grow weary of your need to tell everyone else how to live their lives. We are looking for better language and approaches to help people discover who God is so that they will want to follow his ways.

2. Those who put morals first have little appreciation how arrogant their tactics appear and how that destroys any opportunity to impact the culture. Most of them think as long as you’re speaking truth you cannot be guilty of arrogance. However, Merriam Webster defines arrogance as, “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner.” I don’t know a better definition of what I read in The Statement and what I hear from many of the so-called Bible teachers behind it. Their air of superiority makes me cringe, even though I’m in agreement with much of what they believe.

Truth can be spoken with gentleness and humility that opens doors, or with superiority that closes them. That’s why the more truth you think you know, the more humility you will need to let Jesus cultivate in your heart. There is more written in Scripture against arrogance than there are sexual sins, and that arrogance is a major deterrent to effective communication. Though Jesus had all truth he was never accused of arrogance, because humility and compassion set his course as he engaged people. And it probably helped that he didn’t write columns for the Jerusalem Post or Lifestream for that matter.

3. There is a great divide in evangelicalism between those who think we need more Law to bring people to repentance, and those think Jesus superseded that approach in his Incarnation. Is it by guilt or by goodness that the Spirit leads the lost to repentance? The problem is so many of them were won by guilt, but that only worked because they had a religious upbringing. Those without it won’t find guilt a helpful course to finding God.

They are also divided on whether human effort can conform to God’s standards, or whether God does the transforming as we invite him to live in us. I know those behind the Nashville Statement would claim only God has the power to change hearts, but their demands for other people’s compliance with their morality would suggest otherwise.

4. People really hate being within 500 feet of the ‘P’ word. And yet so much of the public perception of Christianity is more analogous to how Jesus saw the Pharisees rather than how the crowds saw Jesus. I see much of that in me in my first forty years and have even joked about needing a Pharisectomy because I was more concerned about people following the rules than knowing him.

Some even accused me of name-calling those they consider to be great theologians. I wrote (very carefully I might add) that “it seems that the Pharisees met….” I admit it’s a small distinction but nonetheless a critical one. I don’t know how these people treat others around them, but many are known beyond their borders as those who care more about rules than people. Being a Pharisee in the first century wasn’t a pejorative, except to Jesus. They were the best-read theologians of the day, the rule makers and the busybodies who made sure others followed them as well under penalty of death. They were proud of their station and even young Saul aspired to be a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” What I meant by correlating their actions to those of the Pharisees was that they seem to demonstrate more concern for sexual rules than they do for love and compassion of those Jesus saw as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

5. For too many the Statement has already become what I said it would—a litmus test. If you’re not wearing the “Nashville” pin on your lapel, some will accuse you of being soft on morality. They seem incapable of understanding that you can be committed to the moral claims of Scripture and at the same time not want to use civic law to discriminate against those who do not yet know the God we know.

6. People who categorically state the Bible teaches anything about being transgendered aren’t being honest with the fact that it never mentions it. There’s one verse about not wearing clothing of the opposite gender in Deuteronomy, but that is a very different application and one that is alongside other instructions God gave Israel that we don’t follow today. I realize many prefer a simpler world where everyone falls in line with what makes them comfortable, but it ignores the deep struggle and suffering that goes on in the transgendered soul. The conclusions made in The Statement are at best an extrapolation of Scripture and must be held suspect while showing compassion for those who for whatever reason in deep conflict with their anatomical gender.

7. Where is the compassion among evangelicals for people who, through no fault of their own, struggle with affections and desires outside of Scripture’s moral window. If the New Testament is true, none of us have the power to change ourselves without the redemptive power of Jesus at work in us. It’s the love and goodness of God that begins to make inroads into our hearts so that we begin to care about his will and his power to change our rebel hearts. People will beat a path to your door when you show them you care. If you treat people with contempt you become an impediment to the Gospel finding its way to them.

8. The best comment I received about this wondered if the reason conservative Protestants are so enamored with civic law, is because they refused to write a book of common order to spell out their view of morality as previous groups had done. Instead, they substituted civic law as their vehicle of morality and have had a painful time adjusting to their loss of influence as societies became more secular. They see civic law as their moral code and are frustrated when it no longer reflects their preferences in matters of sexuality and gender identity. They seem unable to understand that when you enforce theological views with the penalty of the state you become an oppressor and an advocate for discrimination.

That’s how Christianity lost its hold on the public debate as the wider culture concluded that freedom of conscience took precedence over theological demands, especially if those violating those demands weren’t a detriment to society and weren’t otherwise infringing on the rights of others. Thus, gay marriage and transgendered issues are being resolved as a freedom of conscience issue by the culture rather than a theological one, as they should by a secular state. Christianity always loses its vitality when it is enforced under the penalty of law. The life of God is freely given and can only be freely received.

9. Some have suggested that The Nashville Statement was not intended as a volley in the culture wars, but to draw a line of theological purity to exclude those pastors, authors, and denominations that advocate for the theological acceptance of homosexuality. That may be true, but the way they released it in the secular press would argue otherwise, and the fact that they did not host a wider conversation but stuck to a very narrow segment of evangelicalism would undermine that hope. The controversy it caused, as much by its process as its conclusions, shows that no one can in selective isolation compose an edict and have any hope that it will clear the air or bring the church together. The age of presumed gatekeepers has long since vanished.

10. As a culture we are losing our appreciation for nuance and assume that people can fit into one of two pre-determined camps. In our last election, we could either vote for the party who wanted to give amnesty to all undocumented aliens, or to the one who wanted to deport them all. No one was willing to negotiate the difficult space between those two extremes and find a more nuanced and just solution tailored to the circumstances of different people. The same is true of sexuality. You have to push biblical morality on everyone or the authenticity of your faith is suspect. Conversely people think your fidelity to Scripture will make it impossible for you to love those who don’t believe it. I reject both extremes. It is possible to disagree on moral issues and still be able to treat each other with compassion and respect, by protect the freedom of everyone’s right of conscience.

I hope we find a different conversation, both within Christianity about matters of morality and with the world in a way that opens the door for people to discover the Gospel, not slams it shut in their face before they ever have a chance to know how deeply loved they are by God.

Do You Need Covering?

 

By Wayne Jacobsen, a new chapter for the book he’s writing on The Phenomenon of the Dones

Perhaps no teaching has been used more to subjugate the will of one human to another than that of spiritual covering. Under the guise of spiritual authority, people are actually instructed to obey a religious leader even at the cost of not following Jesus himself.

I don’t hear much talk of it stateside any more, though I know it’s here, but it came up often in my recent trip through South Africa. Spiritual covering is the idea that as a believer you need something or someone above you to protect you from deception and error. Some traditions teach that your local pastor or congregation is your covering. As long as you follow their teachings and submit critical decisions to them, they will keep you from slipping off the narrow way. Others claim they are covered by a denomination or denominational executive, or even the Pope himself.

It assumes God only works through hierarchical leadership structures and if you don’t follow them you are not following Christ. If you have a covering God will protect and bless you. If you do not, you are in rebellion and not only can the enemy deceive you but also God will not care for you.

Those who teach this false doctrine use it to exploit people and demand their unquestioned obedience. Those who believe it are paralyzed by fear, especially when the Spirit inside is trying to warn them away from leaders who are exploiting them, or a teaching that manipulates them. It confuses people when what God reveals in them runs counter to the desires of their leaders. In those moments they will find it easier to believe they must be wrong and defer to the alleged anointing, education, or charisma of the leader. It’s no wonder we have so many weak and confused Christians who are dependent on someone else to tell them what to believe or do.

It’s amazing how much traction this doctrine has gained over the centuries especially when it has absolutely no biblical support! Chalk that up to the fact that those teaching it are beneficiaries of it, whether to sate their ego or garner their income. Nothing in Scripture is written that tells us we are safer following a human leader than we are following Jesus himself by the Spirit. In fact much is written that argues against the very idea.

The only place in Scripture where covering is mentioned is Adam and Eve using fig leaves after the fall. Their shame sought a covering to hide from God and each other. So why does their first reaction to sin become our model for safety, especially when it’s God they were hiding from? And that’s exactly what happens under covering theology. It puts someone or something between you and God to protect yourself from him and surrender your allegiance to another flawed human being. Not surprisingly it also fragments the body of Christ as we divide up into separate fiefdoms of covering.

The only other Scripture I’ve heard quoted in the defense of covering is Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” The first part of this verse is intentionally translated to over-hype ecclesiastical authority. The early followers didn’t have institutional structures or those managing them that people had to submit to unquestioningly. They had relationships with more mature followers and this verse encouraged them to yield to their wisdom as they learned to follow God themselves. These leaders didn’t tell people what to do, but taught them to engage God and to follow him.

The second part of this verse is often twisted to teach that believers are accountable to human leaders when the clear meaning of the verse is that the leaders are accountable to God for what they teach and how they treat his people. Jesus never intended that those who lead in his kingdom would get between him and his people. The glory of the new covenant is that “all will know him, from the least to the greatest” and that they will be able to follow him because he will write his ways on their hearts and minds. (Hebrews 8) True leaders equip people to know Christ and to follow him, not get people to follow them instead.

In Finding Church, I wrote of a friend from Australia who drew a great distinction between elders in the first century church and what elders became in the second generation. Ignatius, a disciple of John the apostle, helped make that twist. Prior to Ignatius elders were seen as guardians of a gift—“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Every believer was a temple in which Christ dwelled, and elders guarded that gift from anyone trying to subjugate his followers to their own desires or vision.   But as the early believers began to form hierarchical pyramids of authority, Ignatius demanded loyalty to leaders as guardians of right faith and practice. Thus, in one generation leadership had changed from those who equip others to follow the Spirit within, to those who would conform them to rules and doctrine from without. Instead of serving people’s spiritual journeys, they became policemen to compel people to do what they think best.

This covering theology may well have been one those “doctrines of demons” Paul warned us to reject. For under the guise of protecting people from Satan’s deception, they take them captive to their own will or wisdom. People are taught to trust some other person’s “anointing” or academic training. But it simply doesn’t work. I’ve never met a pastor or other leader who got caught in a sexual affair or misusing ministry funds who wasn’t under a designated covering of some sort.

Wasn’t it Lucifer’s goal in the garden to separate the first humans from God getting them to trust their own ways instead of his and cover up in their shame? Wasn’t this what Israel expressed when they ran from God’s presence, encouraging Moses to listen for them promising they would obey him instead? And wasn’t this why Samuel warned Israel that their desire for a king was a rejection of God and would backfire on them in ways they couldn’t imagine?

We have a long history of wanting to put someone or something between God and us in the misguided fear that God can’t lead us personally. And didn’t those choices always inure to the detriment of humanity, as their designated leaders would end up serving their own interests rather than God’s? It gives away responsibility for what’s true to someone who is usually vested in our response to it. Some of the dearest people I know get their agenda and God’s confused quite easily and all the more so when their livelihood depends on it.

The Incarnation of Jesus invited each of us inside a relationship with him where he would be our shepherd. He said that his sheep would know his voice and that he will lead them into safe pasture so they would never need to be afraid again. The work of Jesus puts our trust in him, not religious leaders. Because he conquered sin and shame on the cross we each have the opportunity to know him, not trust someone else to tell us what he’s like. Any need for a covering was removed as we are given full and free access to God.

Can you imagine what would have happened if Jesus would have submitted to the “spiritual covering” of his day? The Pharisees would have silenced him and separated him from the very people he came to rescue. Unfortunately the religious leaders of his day were among those who had most lost touch with God and his nature.

That’s why Jesus didn’t tell us he would send us a book to guide us, a religious structure to protect us, or spiritual leaders to control us. He said he would leave us with his Spirit who “would guide us into all truth.” The reality of the New Testament community is that God lives in us all by the Spirit and thus has access to every heart and mind and that those who know him would recognize that voice and follow him.

Though Paul told Timothy to appoint elders in Ephesus that could encourage people with sound doctrine, he did not intend for those elders to supplant Jesus or to infringe on his relationship with them. When they did, John wrote to Ephesus again many years later, to let them know that the elders had become the problem demanding allegiance to them over their obedience to Christ. He had to remind them that they each had an anointing from the Holy One so they could discern between what’s true and what’s not.

So, no, you do not need a covering to protect you spiritually. In fact it will have the opposite effect if it convinces you that you cannot trust his Spirit within you to be your protection and guide. Does that mean, then, you’re on your own then and if a bit theologically naïve, you are at risk? If the Holy Spirit dwells in you how could you be? He is able to keep you safe in the arms of the Father against any lie that would deceive you whether it comes from the evil one or from the best-intentioned religious leader.

Haven’t you heard a teacher say something that had all the biblical prooftexts one could want, but left you restless inside, questioning whether something was amiss even if you couldn’t identify it? Like a teaching on spiritual covering perhaps? That’s his Spirit helping you discern what’s true and what’s false. When religious leaders teach you to trust them instead of the Spirit’s compass within you, you’ll get very confused as to how Jesus wants to lead you. Your allegiance belongs only to him, not to people or organizations who claim to speak for him.

But won’t that lead to chaos and error when everyone does what is right in their own eyes? To the degree that people follow self instead of Jesus, it will. We all know people who claim to be led by the Spirit who do horribly self-serving and destructive things in his name. We might think it helpful if more mature brothers or sisters could rein that in with command authority, but Scripture gives no place for that to happen and history gives us no example where that authority was not soon corrupted to take people’s eyes off of Jesus.

Jesus warned his disciples that they would not “lord over” others as demonstrated in the worldly structures around them (Mark 10:42-45). His leaders would be servants, not commanders. They help people come to know Christ and teach them how to follow him. History teaches us that whenever humans draw his authority to themselves they will almost always end up using it in self-serving ways. They will make decisions for the good of the institution that employs them rather than the individual they were called to serve.

So how do we respond to spiritual authority? It is helpful to separate institutional authority from spiritual authority. They are not the same thing. If you are part of an institutional system then yield to its way of keeping order or you’ll only be a destructive source of division and chaos. When you can no longer follow along or feel it is compromising your own life with God, then you need to leave and see what else he has for you. Just because someone has authority in a system, does not mean they have authority from God.

God’s authority comes through the power of an indestructible life, their integrity and the authenticity with which they live. They are not playing a role, but have simply learned to live in growing trust of God’s love and can encourage others to do the same. Authority doesn’t come from a vocation, academic training, or a place on the flow chart. They are people you respect not only for their insight and wisdom but also the tenderness and compassion with which they treat people. They do not marshal people to build their own kingdom, but build up others so they can follow Christ with greater freedom and joy. When you are near someone at rest in God’s goodness and though their insight may challenge you, you’ll find them the safest people to be around in your struggles, failures, or questions. Give their words weight, but resist the urge to grow dependent on them instead of letting them help you learn to listen to God’s Spirit in you.

No person is meant to be a covering between you and God. Anyone who seeks to tell you what to do on God’s behalf proves by doing so that they are not acting in his authority. True leaders will speak the truth as they see it in love and entrust it to the Spirit and your conscience to convince you of what’s true. They don’t exploit people or demand their loyalty. They simply serve you, as Jesus grows bigger in your heart.

I know people reading this will fear that people following Jesus will become arrogant and independent, but I don’t find that to be true of people who are looking to follow Jesus. This is a family after all, not a free-for-all. They realize that Truth exists apart from their own preferences or best wisdom. Anyone seeking to follow Jesus as he makes himself known within them will soon realize that they navigate in uncertain space. As Paul says we all see through a darkened mirror as we seek to discern his ways.

Perhaps that’s why we want the security of the pseudo-confidence of anyone who claims to know it all or some doctrinal structure to protect us. But they are only an illusion. No one hears God perfectly, interprets Scripture with complete accuracy, or knows your heart like God does, which always makes me suspicious of those who proclaim certainty and speak as if their words are proclamations straight from God.

So where is our safety net, if there is no spiritual covering? Why it is in him, of course! God the Father watches over you, Jesus walks with you and his Spirit dwells in you. Having any other spiritual covering is an act of distrust in his ability to care for you. If we are wanting to follow his ways he will let our hearts resonate with those things that are true and make us restless in those things that are false. In time circumstances and whether or not we are finding his fullness within will help us learn where we are listening to him and where we are dressing up our own desires in God-language. If it doesn’t become evident to us, it will become evident to those around us.

That’s why learning to listen to him incubates a spirit of humility and openness. Those growing in Christ do not become independent or anarchist. Learning to follow Jesus is a life-long journey, separating his desires from our own and his way of doing things from their own ways and they will find themselves drawn into those spaces where they can test between what is true and what is false.

Always look for what his Spirit is revealing to you to be consistent with the character of Scripture. Always treat most suspiciously those leadings that perfectly dovetail with your own desires and whims. God’s ways are higher than ours and mostly his insights will challenge our conventional and preferred thoughts to lead us more deeply into his reality. Truth will almost always challenge us before our surrender to it will set us free.

Of course anyone who willingly walks alone on this journey and without the wisdom and counsel of others is a fool. Find some other men and women you can share with and let their thoughts and insights help you discern how the Spirit is leading you, or whether you’re just reacting to last night’s pizza. Your friends won’t always get it right, but they will help you find your blind spots. Be most careful when they are trying to talk you out of a difficult obedience, and most open when they help you see how pride or dishonesty is slipping in as our flesh tries to masquerade as his Spirit

And in the big-ticket items of theology or direction, find some others who are a bit further down the track than you. There are elders, teachers, prophets, and apostles who are gifts to help us know God better and learn his ways, just know that the real ones don’t carry the title on their business cards and are not building an institution in their name. Almost at every stage God where God has shifted my thinking he put me alongside some older men and women who could encourage his work in me and provide warnings when I was being sidetracked. Those who are wise, gently honest, and without the need to control your response are great gifts. We need more of these genuine elders scattered in the body of Christ who are courageous enough to walk alongside others and encourage their growth without controlling them.

We also have opportunity to think alongside men and women who have lived before us by the writings they’ve left that have endured the test of time. Interact with their thoughts and see how they might apply to your own journey, especially those who have lived thrived in faith through dark and desperate times.

In these days of disintegrating institutions Jesus is calling the church back to himself. As long as you are cowering beneath any kind of human contrived covering, you’ll ignore him in deference to them. He has made a way for you to be deeply connected to him and he is more certain than any covering humanity can devise. Put your trust in him and look to follow him each day as best you see him.

I’ve heard some people who when asked what spiritual covering they are under will respond that Jesus is the only covering they need. I get what they mean by that, but perhaps it is better said that Jesus came to do away with any need for covering at all. Now we can with unveiled faces behold him and in doing so be transformed by him.

There’s no good reason for anyone else to stand in the way of that.

_________

This is part 19 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. It will eventually be made into a book for people to read more easily.

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.

When Scripture Terrifies Me

I realize a lot of well-meaning people think that fear will endear people to God. They pull out any passage that can be interpreted to terrify people, thinking that fear will lead people to holiness. Well-meaning perhaps, but horribly ignorant of the Gospel itself.  Jesus taught us that only love leads to holiness. Fear will not draw people to God. It will either draw them away from him, or it will make them so focused on their failures that they can’t find mercy and grace when they need it most.

The entire Bible story was written to draw people out of their fear and feelings of condemnation when they think of God, to see him as a loving Father drawing them into his love and his reality.  Look at Jesus. When he was among us he was not terrifying people with his power, but reaching out to them “as harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” I am so sick of religious teachers twisting that story by pulling out those moments where God has to intrude into human history to preserve a line of salvation and concluding that they define his nature. His actions are still one intent on rescue, not destruction.

A few days ago I received an email from Germany written by a young woman who finds some of the more ominous passages in Scripture undermines her freedom to trust God’s love.  Here’s what she wrote:

I emailed you last year shortly after reading your book He Loves Me the first time. I love your book! Since I read it,  I am trying to change my perspective and “live loved”. I really want to live my life for God and do His will without fear.  But I have a problem with different fears since I am a child. Right now, I am seeing a therapist for it (he`s not a Christian) and we are working on it. I think God is working on me, too. I realize His love especially through brothers and sisters that I meet and circumstances. However, there are still great fears in me  because of passages in the Bible that I do not understand. They really disturb me and make it harder for me to believe in a loving Father.

The passages I am talking about are where God hardens the heart of Pharaoh, Romans 9, the story of Annanias and Sapphira, God trying to kill Moses, God saying he loves Jacob but hates Esau, the fate of Judas, the passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus warns that not everyone calling on His name will be saved, and some passages in Hebrews. Reading all these passages create a fear in me that God may choose to harden my heart as well, or suddenly punish me one day or make me “an object of his wrath — prepared for destruction” (Romans 9) – for I know that there are still dark sides in my heart, that I am far from perfect, and not obedient all the time. I really fear that I might get lost or loose my faith one day, that God chooses to do so because of my sins & doubts.

In this regard, I thought about Judas a lot. Did he ever had a chance? Was he meant to get lost since the day of his birth?  And finally, how do I know I am a “real believer” and do not have to fear Jesus warnings in Matthew 7?

I am often telling myself Bible verses that speak of Gods love and that I do not have a Spirit of fear. I also think of your words that fear never does make anyone holy. I talked to some Christian friends about my fears and they said that we will never understand God completely and that I just have to trust & obey him. They said that “nobody can take me out of His hand”, but I wonder, is that true? What about my doubts and sins – can they not take me out of His hand?  I am really trying to learn to trust God but whenever I think of those passages I feel discouraged and fearful. These fears make me doubt God and in the end, I do not only feel awful because of my fears, but also because of my doubts, which in turn increase the fear again that God leaves me/hardens me because of my doubts, and thus, this becomes an endless circle.

I am telling God about my struggles often and ask Him often to give me a trustful, fear-free heart, but obviously, it does not happen yet. I am telling myself that He is still working on me but sometimes I fail to believe that.  How can I loose my doubts and fears and trust God whole-heartedly, knowing that He will not leave me?

It’s easy to understand why these passages cause such concern. It’s just like the alcoholic father who comes home and beats his wife and kids.  He may only do it every few months, but if he does it at all, his family will live on pins and needles always afraid when he comes home that this might be the angry dad. I hate that religion has made our God look like that and creates an environment where people have to either totally trust God or be terrified of him. It isn’t honest and it causes paralyzing fear in people God simply wants to invite to know him better as he teaches them how to live in his love and grow in their trust.

Here’s what I wrote back to this young woman.  Perhaps it will be helpful to others of you as well:

There are many more passages (even in the Old Testament) about God’s “lovingkindness is better than life”, where his faithfulness is great, and where his love endures forever.  You’re pulling out the most extreme circumstances and applying them in ways they were not meant to. Of course it would take a while to drill down into all of those stories and explain what’s really going on there as a loving Father is trying to keep creation from falling into complete darkness and preserving his work of redemption in the world. His actions in these moments are like a surgeon removing a cancer that will spread, than an abusive dad blowing up in his anger. I recorded a video series (8 hours +) to help people work through all of this.  I know that is a lot of time, but it is at least free.  It’s called The Jesus Lens and seeks to help people interpret passages like these through the eyes of Jesus.  It will help, but I realize it will take some time.

Part of the problem may be that you feel as if you must trust God whole-heartedly and never have doubt.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  But it is also unrealistic.  God wins us into ever-deepening layers of trust as we grow more secure in his love. Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith, because we can’t do it on our own.  We all have doubts and God does not reject us for it.  Instead he wants to be invited into our doubts, where we can pray, “What is it about your love God, that if I understood it, I would not have this doubt.”  This is a journey out of fear and doubt into love and trust.  It is a lifetime journey. You can relax in this process as he teaches you.  Look at Jesus’ patience with the disciples when they kept misunderstanding what he was about.  He gently kept inviting them in closer so they could relax in his love.

Don’t try to completely trust him.  Just trust him today as much as you can. Be honest about your doubts and know that he sees you as his beloved daughter and he wants to teach you how to respond to his love and grow in trust.

I don’t believe Judas was condemned at birth.  God might have known the choices he mad,e but he was not forced int to hem. Scripture makes clear that God always responds to the slightest attempts to look to him and follow him.  Focus on those passages that demonstrate his magnificent love.  Those that provoke fear, ignore for a time. Ask God to show you what’s really going on there in his time. But know that his perfect love casts out fear.  Fear will not serve you today in any way God wants access to your life.  Fear drives us from him not toward him.  He doesn’t need it.  You don’t need it.  Your heart is his or you wouldn’t write the things you write here.

How will you know?  Look to him. Watch how Jesus treats the people around him, especially those who are struggling to believe him. Listen to your own heart as his Spirit lets you know how the Father feels about you. You don’t have to trust what others say, or sort through competing conclusions from Scripture. Simply knowing him will make it absolutely clear to you.

I pray you will have the freedom to relax in his love. Walk in it where you see it today. Let the passages you do understand shape your heart, and put those you don’t understand on a shelf until God makes them clear to you.  Do so again tomorrow and you’ll find your freedom growing.

Joining the Revolution?

So you think that if God wants a person to do something unconventional — revolutionary if you will, that He will make it beyond clear what that person is supposed to do? Will he at least make the next step clear, like he did for Abraham? Does God give a person knowledge only for them to live in and function in the institution, but with frustration? That doesn’t make sense. Is God waiting for the individual to have enough guts to step out? What is this God of ours up to? Patience I suppose is the answer, but there is a fear that if I wait too long I might miss what God is up to. What do you think? I need to be real. I need to be truthful. I need to admit my flaws. I need to teach God’s word and encourage, shepherd, and coach His people. I need to hate religion. I need to be emotionally healthy. I need to provide a healthy environment for my family. Problem is, from what I see – most of these things can’t happen in full time ministry. I am discerning enough to figure out the problem – am I innovative enough for a solution? My question to you is – do you think that I should wait on God for the solution, or is he waiting for me? Should I join the revolution?

Joining the Revolution?

Let me just make some comments that may be helpful. This is not a revolution. God is inviting people to know him better and love him in environments that encourage their pursuit, not discourage or demean it. In other words, there is no bandwagon to jump on here, no rebellion needed against the system or those who unwittingly or intentionally manage it. The call is simply to live free. The system may eventually expel you. God may ask you to leave it, but if he does it will most likely be as quietly as possible without destroying others. If you haven’t read Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards, this would be a good time! It will help.

Hating religion is OK! I think Jesus did too, actually, and certainly Paul came to do so. We all need to be real and be truthful, admitting our flaws and embracing his grace. But we need to do all that in the way he asked us to do everything else–in love.

I am concerned, however, over your feeling the need to shepherd or coach people. He is more than able to do that himself. That was the fix in Ezekiel 34. God wasn’t going to get rid of the bad shepherds and look for good one, but to shepherd his own people. I know you probably already know this but if ministry rises from need in us it really isn’t ministry because it doesn’t have to do with him and them, but with us. That’s the wrong place to start no matter how you look at it. I know those are hard words to hear, but it is truly the only place from which ministry springs. If God wants to use you to help people discover who he is, he has more ways to to do that than you’d believe.

Yes you do need a healthy environment for you and for your family. And Father will provide it, you just watch. You’re quite discerning to realize that most of those things can’t happen in the environment most people call “full time ministry”. As someone said, “He who takes the shekels wears the shackles.” I watch so many pastors go through it. The money and the job descriptions often end up owning them. They are afraid to follow God because they don’t see him as their source, only their vocation. As long as they do they will make compromises to fit in as best they can and the result is that it is destructive to them and the family pays a huge price for that.

But if God wants you to be free full-time to love his people, he’ll provide a way for you to do that. You won’t have to beg, borrow or steal. You’ll just find that he is an incredible provider while you live in him. That provision can come in a million different ways, including picking up odd jobs or tent-making at times. The call to trust God for provision every day is the very thing that ought to discourage almost everyone from ‘full-time ministry.’ If we can’t trust him for that, then we’ll only turn his people into resources for our own living and then we cannot truly minister to them in freedom.

Whether you leave or stay is less important today than that you find peace in your relationship with him and the freedom to live authentically right where you are. That’s a process and only he can do it. You can wait on him, but I don’t think he is waiting on you. This Father is always working. We don’t always see it, but he is. Let him lead you, doing only what you’re convinced he’s telling you to do. Don’t fear what men will think or say. (Yes, I know this is far easier said than done.) And don’t try to force yourself into a place where you’re not welcome. He will make his work clear in you each day, but I think that is far more in little steps, than in huge decisions we struggle with. Following every day will resolve those bigger issues, in a far more healthy way than if we knew now and tried to force it to happen.

You sound as if you’re right where Father wants you, asking the right questions, struggling with the right realities. To the degree that you can, relax. (Also easier said than done!), let him carry you through this to whatever place he has for you and your family. If you just jump from this fire on you’re own, you might well end up in another one and have to learn this same lesson again.

International Translations

international

A guide to translations of Lifestream books, articles, and audio

Chinese

Dutch

French

German

Translations from Glory World Medien:

  • Finding Church in German from Glory World Medien as Die Gemeinschaft der Neuen Schöpfung (The Community of the New Creation)
  • Authentic Relationships – Authentische Beziehungen
  • So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore, retitled as Der Schrei der Wildgänse (The Call of the Wild Geese) Order from Glory World Publishers
  • He Loves Me – Geliebt!
  • In Season –  Zu Seiner Zeit

Other articles in German:

Italian

Portuguese

Russian

South Korean

Spanish

Swahili

Tamil

Leadership Conversation

An email discussion with a brother in South Africa

S.V., South Africa

How do you fit the scriptures about elders and deacons into the relational church? I understand the Greek words, especially regarding deacons and the fact that elders should be seen more as the older Christians. In the Vineyard we believed in John Wimber’s words that “an elder is an elder to the degree that he elds”, so we have never had elders, but worked with a management team. I still feel though that what Paul said to Timothy and Titus about elders and deacons, needs explanation within the new context.

Wayne: I wonder if we have a new context if the meanings will be obvious. Most assume that what Paul meant in Titus and Timothy was to appoint elders that look like what we call elders today. We appoint people who then ‘manage’ the body of Christ and its programs. I wonder if in the decentralized church environment of Ephesus and Crete it simply meant for them to point out people they recognized as elders based on the soundness of their doctrine and the demonstration of God’s working in their lives. Perhaps many were claiming to be elders who were not and the sheep were being confused. Could Paul have been saying, “Point out those you consider to be elders…” In other words, help identify those whose life and instruction are square with God’s work. Notice he doesn’t assign them the task of managing the body of Christ, but simply to help others learn how to live the life.

“Deacons” may be a bit different because it seems these had specific tasks, but again they seem centered in people care not filling communion cups or vacuuming the ‘sanctuary.’ They seem to take some specific responsibility in looking after folks who were in need who were left out of the simple loving one another of body life.

The appointment of deacons in Acts, looks very “institutionalized” as well – should the need have arisen to appoint people to oversee the distribution and the tables if everyone was operating in their gifts? Is it possible that this may have been the first instance of institutionalism in the first church?

That’s what some think, though Scripture doesn’t say and I think it is a slippery slope indeed for us to consider what examples from Scripture are positive and which are negative if the text itself doesn’t say. A bit of organization doesn’t bother me. Even a home group has to agree on a time and place to get together and have some sense of how they will meet. I think the greater concern is whether or not our structure overruns our life… I honestly don’t know what to make of the Acts bit. Did they resort to a ‘managed’ response when the encouragement to “love and serve one another” might have been a better answer? It seems like that to me. But any of us who have ever encouraged “one anothering” know how few people really pick up on it. Most believers persist in living self-centered lives and not connecting in a vital way with other believers. Perhaps if someone is doing something “on behalf of the body” rather than just as an individual believer they need to qualify as a deacon.

Where does the buck stop and what is the role of the leader?

Wayne: There are really two questions here. Where does the buck stop spiritually? That clearly lies at Jesus’ feet. Where does the buck stop with our institutional needs for management? That can vary with how the group is set up. I like to see as minimum of maintenance functions as possible. The body doesn’t do its work through programs, but through people free to do what God has asked them to do. To do that we have to have to decentralize and let people operate out of growing relationships and love for each other. It would almost mean no salaries, no huge building expenses, no programming decisions that affect wide groups of people. It would mean we would have the absolute minimum of structure that we would need to accomplish what Jesus asks us to do. The bulk of our time and attention would be helping people come to know Jesus and helping them learn how to live with him and live with others as his body.

How do we make decisions in the corporate context?

Wayne: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this one. All of our decision-making models are inherited from the political or business worldfrom autocratic, to leadership teams, to democracy. I don’t think ANY of those suffice. Ultimately we would want Jesus to make the decisions and realize that we best recognize that by hearing from people who are listening to him. In some sense, that invites the body as a whole to sort out the decisions together. This is only possible in smaller groupings. It would mean younger believers would respect older believers at such moments not so they can defer. What do we hear God saying? If the group makes a mistake they can fall back and reconsider. This way everyone learns and everyone grows.

How do we understand the fact that the gifts from the people were laid at the feet of the apostles and they did the distribution; wouldn’t the relational model require that people give to people as they perceive need or as the Holy Spirit directs?

Wayne: As far as we know that was simply how they handled it in the early days of Christianity in Jerusalem. It doesn’t seem to have become a model for the whole church. Later when Paul takes an offering for the saints starving in Palestine, he just asked people to lay aside something commensurate with their income and collect it on the first day of each week until he or his reps could get by to collect it. I don’t know that we can extrapolate a principle from either of these actions. Collecting money always means pooling power. Whenever we pool power it will in time divide brothers and sisters who want to fight over what should be done with it and where it should go. We use it to build institutions that eventually trade dependence on God for its own survival.

It seems the early church fell victim to that as well, which is why Paul had to right half the New Testament encouraging believers not to trade God’s life for another religion. Can people be trusted to give out of their passion to follow God’s voice in their life? That seems scary doesn’t it? But the real question might be, is Jesus able to provide through his body for whatever he wants to accomplish. Of course he is. The reason we are afraid of that is because we’re not sure he’ll pay for what we want to do in the amount we want to have to do it with.

There are two values in this. First we will no longer look at people for our resource, only God. Second, people will participate much more from the heart when God calls them to be involved in something. It means our focus has to be not on teaching people how to tithe, but how to live in God. One of our great struggles early in this process was to trust that to God. We couldn’t decentralize the way God was leading us because we didn’t know how the bills would get paid and whether the “pastors” would get equal pay. We would not trust the chaos of the body, or so we thought. Ultimately we weren’t trusting Jesus to do what he needed to do.

Paying a salary to anyone seems to distort that process and in time distort their calling as well. Instead of listening to God, they have to give in to the political pressure of those who control the purse strings. For the last seven years Sara and I have lived by what God has provided sometimes through the generous giving of people in his body and sometime through tent-making enterprises. It means we need to depend on him every day to see HOW he is providing for us. It is definitely not as easy as making the salary I used to make, but the freedom to follow God’s voice without people trying to shape you into THEIR image is so worth it. The advantage is no one is “supporting” us who doesn’t support us. What God gives to us through is people come from folks who are passionate about what he is doing in us, not because they are trying to pay some legalistic bill and want their money’s worth in return.

Do you see these things as problems in the first church that are now being corrected – I do not believe that the structure in the first church, was necessarily the correct one for all time – nor do I believe that we will ever evolve the perfect structure this side of eternity – we are working with the “already and the not yet” model of the Kingdom amongst us. I believe that the wine is perfect, but the wineskin will always be flawed.

Wayne: Agreed, Brother! I think our focus on a structure at all takes us away from the relational dynamic that is so powerful. I think Jesus’ body will always be a bit of a mess, because love is messy love is the only currency of this realm. Let us learn to follow him instead, freeing people to live as the body of Christ with their time and resources and let’s just see what he is willing to do. I honestly think our pursuit should not be how do we implement the right structure, but how do we eliminate those structure elements that distract from his life among us rather than nourish it. That’s not to say structure is evil. It isn’t. It is neutral&emdash;but can be used in ways that tear apart the central community and freedom of God’s people. We will always have structure because that is intrinsic to this age, but keeping that as minimally as possible seemed to be what our early brothers and sisters strove to do…

Can we fit the Sunday service into the model, and if we can, what is the goal and the format – we stopped to worship with a worship team leading, but most of us miss it, so we would like to do it again without re-creating the place of safety and deception that the performance often creates for consumer Christians.

I agree that our ‘worship’ dynamics today are mostly performance or entertainment dynamics. That doesn’t mean people are trying to perform, but that our “up front” sense of worship leading is all about how well people feel entertained. That’s sad. Can the larger-group gathering fit into relational church? Not really. Instead of letting people live as the body it treats them as spectators of a performance. But listen to me carefully here. Because I do see a place for gatherings where people are trained how to live as the church. But I think we have to be intentional about telling people, “This isn’t church!” This is a gathering of believers designed to train you how to live as the church. It might include praise and singing similar to how we do it today, but it would also engage teaching that would genuinely train, equip and free people to live as the body in more relational settings. Ideally I think someone would only participate in such a thing for a year or two while discovering more life-giving ways to gather with believers. As they found themselves being joined to others for more relational engagement, their need for the training time would decrease. Thus the large group would be more like a university, training people and sending them out, not trying to hold on to them every Sunday morning for 40 or 50 years.

WOW, it turned out to be quite a few questions – please don’t feel that you have to answer them yourself – you can maybe just direct me to a particular article or teaching so that I can glean

Wayne: Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of great resources out there on this kind of stuff. That may be good. We all need to learn to follow the Shepherd not simply adapt someone else’s model that we might think will work for us. I used to be frustrated that Jesus didn’t map out a clearer church structure for his disciples to implement. Now I see the great wisdom in that. He wanted people to follow him, not a model. But that is always a challenge… For all of us.

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Coming To the End

At 4:35 pm Monday afternoon, I wrote the final sentence in my new book, Finding Church:  What If There Really Is Something More?  That’s always a wonderful moment, akin to a builder turning the last screw in the dream house he’s been building for his family, or a trucker turning off the freeway toward home at the end of a cross-country trip.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  Part of what helped me get to the end was the cheerleading of a friend who said he had the sense that “this message is a modern version of what Christ was doing while he was here in human form, fighting for the freedom of his beloved.”  Gracious words, given that he hadn’t read it yet, but I hope that’s true and I’m blessed not to be the only voice in that fight.  I do hope, however, that for many for whom the term “church” conjures up images of pain, arrogance, or bondage, might look elsewhere to the church that Jesus is building that is filled with love, life, and grace.  

If you’ve been following this odyessy you know I was close to this point four months ago before I blew it all up on the advice of a good friend and first editor I ever had.  I love how it has come back together and hope now we’ve find the form that will best convey this material.  But even then I had yet to work on the final chapter.  Though I had some notes there, I was never sure how this book would end.  On this reformatting I kept wondering and it didn’t become clear to me until early on Saturday morning as I began to approach it.  I had no idea how to give a final summation given the fact that this journey is still unfolding for me and that I have great hope that God is still percolating something amazing beneath the surface of our world and that the church will yet take expression in ways more profound than any of us see at this point.  Finally I knew how to end it in the only way this book could end, in a chapter titled, “To Be Continued”. 

Here are a few excerpts:  

No, this is not a promise for a sequel called Finding Church Too!  I am simply acknowledging that this book speaks into a story that is far from complete.  Though Jesus is building his church in the world she is not yet all that she needs to be to bring this age to its conclusion and to be presented before him as his spotless bride.  He is still building his church though in ways that mostly go unnoticed and unnamed. 

And while I’m filled with anticipation at what might yet lie down the road, I have no idea what she will look like in the end as people are untangled from obligation to human systems and become more preoccupied with him and his kingdom.   What will it look like as we learn to love one another from the heart and care about each other the way God cares for us? The tastes I’ve had locally and internationally of this family when people are focused on him and generous with each other have fulfilled every desire I’ve had to experience his church in the world.  My heart yearns to see more of his children find their way into that reality and when they do, what will we look like then?  I told you upfront that I wasn’t an expert with all of the answers and now that we’ve arrived at the final chapter, hopefully you’re convinced. If you have more questions than answers, you are not alone.  I do too.  I want to keep learning how I can more effectively engage this church Jesus is building and I anticipate that to be a life-long adventure.  But to be honest, if I died tomorrow I could truthfully say that I’ve been able to participate freely in the incredible beauty and power of his church that I always hoped was possible. 

Finding church is not a matter of locating a group you like and joining it.   I hope many of you arrive at the end of this book as exhilarated as I am by the possibilities of finding a more vibrant church experience than you have found to date.  If you’ve wondered why you never seemed to fit freely into the human models we’ve created, perhaps now you understand why.  You weren’t rebellious or independent; you just had a seed of life in your heart that refused to settle for an illusion when something real beckoned you onward.

Finding church is not a matter of simply joining a Christian group, but actually embracing him and inside of him discovering how to live and think with others in the new creation.  We can’t describe her in intellectual terms and then implement our own strategies to fulfill it.  The church has to be experienced alongside others who are being transformed by him.  You don’t control that, and neither do I. We can only make ourselves available to him and see how he links us together. 

I hope this book is continued in a broader conversation of men and women worldwide who are passionate about Jesus and his kingdom that are willing to look past our differences to the common unity we have by virtue of the fact that we are children of the same Father.  It won’t be about the best way to do church, or to which one you belong, but how can we all belong more fully to Christ.  How can he be our shepherd and lead us to greater freedom from our own agendas so that we can truly be one as Father, Son, and Spirit are one?  How can we encourage each other on that path, and how might he connect us in conversations and collaborations of generosity and graciousness that will make him visible in the world…

Sharing my joy with friends I’ve been near over the last couple of days at finally completing this book, illicited the same question:  “So when will it be ready to read?”  So before I get those emails, I’ll answer as best I know.  I’m going to spend the next month polishing up the entire work. While I’ve already cut about 15,000 words from it, I want to streamline it a bit more and hoping find another 5,000. For those of you who don’t write, that may not make much sense. Why cut out something I might want to read?  I am not cutting it to leave things out; I’m cutting out the extraneous matter to make what’s most important stand out.  And believe me, there’s always extraneous matter.  If I was with a real publisher it would take another 12 months to get it ready for publication. But since I’m doing this one on my own I’m hopeful to get through editing, lay-out and cover design by early September and release the book in late September. That’s all best-case scenario.  If I have to blow it up again, it will take even longer.  But I’m hopeful that I won’t need to.  

Thanks to so many of you who have been an encouragement throughout this process.  I

The Church In the New Creation

I get lots of email asking how the new book is coming along, so I thought it best that I answer here. For those who don’t know I’m writing a book called Finding Church:  What If There Really Is Something More?  I had hoped to have the rough draft done before I depart next week for Israel, but it isn’t going to happen.  I’ve got about 80% of the book done and have three chapters left to write.  On a personal level, I am thrilled with how this book is turning out, though it has been a harder write than I anticipated.  There is so much on my heart here and finding a way to say it that is clear, compelling and accessible has been a challenge.  But I enjoy that kind of challenge.  Days spent home writing are some of my favorite days, so don’t feel badly for me.  

am working on the pinnacle chapter now:  “Unity Without Conformity” that pains a picture of what his church looks like in the world as she takes shape, but also how she fulfills her mission by demonstrating God’s character and being on the cusp of where the new creation confronts the brokenness of the old.  It will be one of my favorites and help people appreciate why Jesus wants to make himself known through the church that is not built by human hands or ingenuity.   

After I finish the rough draft, I’m going to go back through and tighten it all up.  It is about 20% longer than I want it to be, so that means cut, cut, cut.  And while it’s always hard to throw out paragraphs or stories that I spent so much time crafting, I learned a long time ago that writing is a discipline.  You can’t say everything you want to say and keep people engaged, and cutting forces you to do better writing.  I learned that while I was a Contributing Editor at Leadership Journal years ago.  No matter how long an article was, they always wanted me to take another pass and cut 20% out, because it forces you to write a better piece.  So I was not surprised to discover that this book as I’m coming to its end is about 20% longer than it needs to be.  I’m actually looking forward to cutting it back about and shaping the writing to be more focuse and more disciplined.   My theme verse at times like this is Ecclesiastes 6:11 “The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?”

I’ll continue to work on that when I get back from Israel and hope to have the book completed by late spring and hopefully out this summer.  Who knows?  It’s a journey and I’ll get to the end when I get to the end.  There’s an excitement in my heart that continues to bubble up through this process and I’m looking forward to getting it done just to engage the conversations it will spawn, both with pepole who will resonate with it, and with those who will find it threatening.  I can already see that in this season of my life I want to be involved in the conversations that help people recognize how Jesus’ church is already taking shape in the world and to spend time with those who have a heart to facilitate its life where they live, and have no desire to build a kingdom for themselves.  

On next week’s podcast, I’ll also be reading the rough draft of the second chapter for those who want to hear it.  I did the first chapter a few months ago.  You can find it here if you missed it.   For those who want to get a taste of what I’m working on, I am including an excerpt below to give you a taste:

A number of years ago I was invited to speak at a black, inner-city fellowship near Boston.  As I joined their meeting for the evening I was struck at how passive the people were even as the pastor railed at them for not being as faithful in attendance as she wanted them to be.  We went through all the motions. We sang.  I spoke, they listened, and while those times are not valueless, they are not what church life is all about.

The next morning I met two young men from that congregation for breakfast at their request.  As we ate they shared their stories and their spiritual hungers, which were not being met where they were. They talked about the community they lived in and their desire to see a display of Jesus’ life available to them. We laughed, we cried, and we prayed unaware that others were listening to us.

After a couple of hours of conversation two ladies in their seventies suddenly appeared at the end of our table with tears in their eyes.  “You don’t know how long we have been praying for God to touch some young men in this community who have a passion to share God’s life in such a desperate place.  We have enjoyed listening to you three for the past couple of hours and know this is part of the answer to what we’ve been praying.”  We all knew we were in a moment bigger than any of us and for that moment the church had taken shape in a restaurant in Roxbury, Massachusetts and was far more soul-shaping than the meeting we’d had the previous night.

If you’ve ever had a taste of authentic fellowship you’re a marked person. Nothing religious will ever satisfy you again.  You’ll know that it can appear where you least expect it and it will capture your heart in a way no obligation can.  You won’t see it as a meeting you can organize or invite others to, but as real and growing relationships with others on this amazing journey.  Nothing we can do, even with the best of intentions, can produce or maintain it. 

Though we see its reflection in fits and starts now, I don’t think any of us can yet conceive of what his church will yet look like when thousands upon thousands of people freely live in the reality of Jesus’ love and respond to the voice of the Shepherd simultaneously and spontaneously around the world, without the need to encase it in human institutions.  

 

The Church Jesus is Building

By Wayne Jacobsen
Living Loved • Winter 2011

“What do you think the church is going to look like ten years from now?” I get asked that question almost everywhere I go. People assume that my travels and correspondence give me a wider view of God’s work in the world. And while it may be a bit broader than some, in the grand scheme of things, I interact with a very small slice of Jesus’ followers and even that is a very specific subset drawn by the content of my books and websites.

Nonetheless I find it a fascinating question mostly for what it says about us. Our religious training has put our focus in the wrong place, asking the wrong questions, and leaving people feeling adrift when they have no need to be. No one can answer it with any degree of certainty and the question itself assumes a standardized answer that ignores Jesus’ immense creativity in the world across differing cultures and local realities.

The question does admit, however, that we are in a time of transition, where the old congregational forms based on centuries of worn-out methodologies and compromised hierarchies no longer work. People are leaving their congregations in droves. Certainly many of those have abandoned God either believing he isn’t real, or not worth knowing if he’s the demanding busybody religion often presents him to be. But a significant number are leaving because their congregations were having a negative influence on their desire to know God and find real community. The reasons are numerous–empty rituals, irrelevant programs, messages provoking guilt or demanding performance, misplaced priorities, authoritarian leadership, superficial relationships, or simply the inability to honest friendships sharing a journey of spiritual growth.

It’s easy to point fingers at those leaving. But even if you love the traditional congregation, you might want to look beyond it and ask why do we spend so much energy propping up a system that alienates so many wonderful people, instead of concluding that the people must not be wonderful because it no longer works for them.

Scattered?

For those who have given up on the congregation they were a part of, what do you do now? If you found your identity in a task you did for God or group you used to belong to, finding yourself outside of it can be incredibly disorienting. Even if your mind knows better, your emotions are still tied to the approval you received by being visible and active in a local fellowship. The same people who used to love and applaud you, now look down on you for “forsaking the assembly” and question your relationship with God.

Many feel like scattered sheep battling the guilt of their inactivity rather than using the time to deepen their own relationship with the Shepherd. Some seek another group of like-minded believers or try to start one of their own. If they do, they find themselves relapsing into that same feeling of superiority that comes from being in a group that is more committed to Biblical principals than the one you left, or at least thinks they are. But soon you realize that even a house church or an organic group can be as empty, or as abusive, as the congregation you left.

All the while, the question that nags you is, “What should the church look like?” The underlying premise is that if you just knew what it is supposed to look like you would know where to look or how to form one. That’s why so many end up in the unending struggle to find the right church model to copy. In doing so they never realize that their own pursuit is keeping them from the very reality they desire.

If your connection to Jesus is growing, you are not scattered at all. You are simply finding that the voices of religious performance no longer hold the same weight and you are no longer getting the same validation you became accustomed to. Your passion to live inside his affection is drawing you to a greater gathering of believers tha you cannot yet see. Don’t be afraid. You are not alone. Jesus is building a people in the earth who can live as his body in these days. You won’t miss out. You are simply transitioning from religious obligation to a relational reality, and no one I’ve met on this journey has ever regretted the cost to do so.

So while I am not able to answer the question directly, I want us to look at how we can embrace the church Jesus is building in the world. I won’t pretend my observations are complete or authoritative. They are simply the way I see it at this vantage point of my journey. Admittedly these thoughts have also been shaped by insights I’ve gained over the past fifteen years by tasting real community at home and in distant countries, and sitting at the tables of brothers and sisters around the world who have wrestled with these same questions, many of whom have lived outside the distractions of religious performance longer than me.

He Is Shaping A Bride

Jesus is building his church with the same passion that he has demonstrated through the ages. It may be hard for some to see, because they have used the term “church” to describe buildings and institutions, and thus have failed to recognize the church as she really is. Even if you attend a so-called church meeting, the church is not the meeting you attend or the organization that sponsors it; it is the network of Jesus-centered friendships that you enjoy in those institutions and beyond them.

He builds that church by first shaping people who can walk with him. I am thrilled with the stories I hear of people who are breaking out of religious molds and learning to live in the reality of the Father’s affection. This draws them out of religious performance and obligation, which relies on human effort and ingenuity. They are learning to follow him instead of finding security in a specific group, doctrine, tradition, or ritual.

The words of Isaiah may even be more timely for the religious contrivances we have designed today:

“Who talked you into the pursuit of this nonsense, forgetting you ever knew me? Because I don’t yell and make a scene do you think I don’t exist? I’ll go over, detail by detail, all your ‘righteous’ attempts at religion, and expose the absurdity of it all…. They’re smoke, nothing but smoke.” – Isaiah 57:11-13, The Message.

There’s no doubt Jesus is exposing the absurdity of our religious self-effort. None of our activities matter if they are not drawing us into a meaningful relationship with him, where each one learns to hear his voice and follow him. As well intentioned as it may be, our work for him may be the greatest obstacle to actually knowing him. The New Testament is clear: the only thing more dangerous than unrighteousness is self-righteousness.

And let’s not blame the institutions. Religion is not something we get from them; it is what those institutions provide to satisfy our fleshy inclinations. I know many who have left religious systems but are still living in religious ways of thinking. And I also know those who attend a local congregation, but they are not caught in the performance trap. Instead they are learning to love God and the people around them. They may have to ignore the guilt-inducing messages, or the manipulative tactics of those who seek to lead, but because they are free on the inside they can still be there to love beyond it all.

The church Jesus is shaping is one not driven to performance by fear, shame, or guilt. She doesn’t respond to obligation or ritual or the absence of them. She is learning to live at the pleasure of the Head and that makes her radiant with his glory wherever she appears on the planet.

Living at Home

Our old religious inclinations tell us that what we need for a vibrant spiritual life is “out there” somewhere. Find the right group, movement, author, plan, or revival or you’re going to miss out on what God is doing in the last days. That simply isn’t true. Jesus told us not to buy into the notion that the kingdom of God was somewhere else. “The kingdom is within you!”

We all know how to live in our fears or anxieties. We know how to conform to the world’s demands or religion’s dictates. What Jesus wants us to teach us is to live at home in his Father, the same way Jesus lived in him. This is not a theology to subscribe to, but a way to live all day, every day. Living in Christ has absolutely nothing to do with where you are on Sunday morning at 10:00 and everything to do with following him through each day. Jesus did not come to create sacred space for us in religious services, or even in our daily quiet times. He made all of life sacred by coming to live in us and becoming a part of every thing we do.

This is not as complicated as many fear. The reason people have trouble discovering this reality is because they don’t believe it is as simple as it really is. Living in communion with him is what he shapes in a wiling heart as we learn to relax in his love. Right where you are he can show you how to live at home in the Father, confident in his love, and at peace even in times of trouble

The loneliness some feel when they find themselves outside religious systems is really not a cry for more people; it is a drawing to God that we have tried to fill with other people. If you are not at rest in God’s love for you, no amount of human contact will fill that void; it can only mask it. Let your loneliness draw you into a greater depth of relationship with him and then a new way of relating to others emerges.

Resist the Urge

It’s often been said that the greatest enemy of the best is the good. It often is. The greatest distraction to being a part of what God is doing in the world is to be focused on human efforts, especially what we try to do for him. Nothing disrupts God’s work around us more than when the arm of flesh asserts itself to try to do for God what we think God cannot do for himself.

When we feel unattached, unproductive, or insignificant this growing urge will prod us to “at least do something,” as if misguided activity is preferable to a quiet, listening heart. If that doesn’t spring from our own flesh, then it will from someone’s near us. Many of our fellowship groups, Bible studies, and outreach efforts have begun with the perceived guilt that we are not doing enough for God. More time-consuming and irrelevant religious activities have been generated from that distorted impulse than any other. Authors manipulate it to sell books, and would-be leaders exploit it to get us to embrace their programs and contribute to their income.

The fruitfulness of God rises out of rest not anxiety, out of the gentle nudge of his Spirit not the vision of a charismatic leader. In truth, God is not asking us to do anything for him. He’s already doing the best stuff in the world and as we learn to live inside of him he will invite us to be part of what he’s already doing. One of the things I notice about the life of Jesus is that he rarely created the environment, or planned meetings for other people. He simply joined them in the environments in which he found them.

When we get so involved with our own planning we easily miss the moments Jesus puts right in front of us. They are always far simpler and yet more magnificent than what we conjure up. At the beginning they never look as flashy as our plans or appear to be as far reaching. Usually he’s just inviting us to love someone. We have no idea how simple acts of obedience can snowball into consequences we never considered.

As long as you have any confidence in your flesh’s ability to work for God, you will confuse the urge to be productive with the nudging of the Spirit. And the more capable you are in your own efforts and intellect the greater danger you’re in of substituting the arm of the flesh for the breath of the Spirit.

Being part of his church happens by simply loving the people God puts before you each day.

A Different Kind of Gathering

God’s voice isn’t in the passion to create new church movements, nor is it in the cry for revolution. Those appeal to our own self-need for significance by belonging to the most cutting-edge group. God’s invitation comes from within–that deep drawing into the Shepherd’s care, and learning to love as he loves, to think as he thinks.

What the church will become in ten years isn’t going to be unveiled in the next ecumenical conclave in Geneva or Hong Kong, nor in the latest how-to book on church life. What the church becomes in the next ten years will be the fruit of millions of simple decisions made each day by people like you who are learning to live loved by the Father. There is no model to copy, no method to implement.

The early church focused on Jesus and its life was merely the visible expression of how people who are alive in Jesus treat each other. It was not perfect, but it was full of life because their life was in him, not each other. The church was the joyful network of relationships that living in him spawned and its visibility in the world came simply from doing together those things he put on their hearts.

The church of Jesus gathers like a family, not with orchestrated meetings, but a celebration of relationship and sharing with each other. With the Father’s love as the source of church life, not it’s objective, a new range of possibilities as to how the church might gather will become clear. I already see God connecting in unique ways brothers and sisters across this world who live unencumbered by religious performance and seek simply to love as they have been loved. They are less concerned with getting church right than they are seeing Jesus reveal himself. Connections happen easily among such people as a friend of one quickly becomes a friend of others, and the body grows!

What will happen as that continues to spread? I don’t know and don’t need to know. I do expect, however, that this church will take more more visible expression over the next ten years than we can conceive. The forms that takes will uniquely fit the locale and the season of God’s working, but in the end may not be all that different from ones we have already known. I’m sure it will involve meals together with lots of laughter and at times tears, insightful sharing, caring about each other, and listening to God together.

In the end, what forms that takes is far less significant than having authentic, caring friendships that put Jesus first. What we can do is learn to live in him and open our hearts to the connections he wants to make with us.

 

Live Connected

Being part of his church happens by simply loving the people God puts before you each day. Be intentional about cultivating friendships, especially with new people. Some will be temporary; others will connect at a far deeper level. In our human nature we mostly gravitate to people we already know who make us happy. Those relationships, however, are still focused on our needs whether it is to combat our loneliness or find an audience for our gifts, and won’t lead us to the authentic friendships that radiate Jesus.

When you know you are loved by God, you own’t have to use others to get what you want. Then watch what happens out of those relationships. You won’t have to look far and wide for people of like mind. You won’t need to find a group that believes what you do. Just take an interest in the people around you and let the results of that caring bear fruit over time. Some relationships may not go far at all. Others may be only a fruitful moment while others will become deep and enduring friendships.

Simply loving those around us will open whatever other doors Jesus needs to build his church. I am convinced that everything God wants done in the world can happen as the simple extension of growing friendships. That will provide fellowship enough, outreach enough, and work enough to let God’s life flow to the world. He said so himself. If we will simply love others like he loves us the whole world will come to know him. (John 13:34-35) Because we don’t believe that the world can be touched through simple, loving relationship we keep creating machines that we hope can do it for us.

I am often accused of being anti-structure. I’m not. I’m against structure as a substitute for relationship. I’m all for structure that facilitates whatever God asks us to do together. There is a huge difference. Over the past few years I’ve been part of some international efforts that have had widespread impact just because some friends cooperated together and God has continued to open some amazing doors.

Out of friendship we’ve been able to send over $100,000.00 overseas to help with relief in Kenya without overhead costs or administrative fees. I’m grateful for that, but I am also well aware that the best way the gospel spreads in the earth is by each one of us just loving the next person God puts in front of us.

If you don’t know how to do that, ask for help from others who do. But be careful of those who try to herd you into their program or draw you into their vision. I’ll probably share more about this in the next issue, but real elders in the family don’t gather people to their vision, but help equip and free others to the vision God has for them.
And above all, relax. Building the church is Jesus’ assignment, ours is to learn to live loved by the Father and then to love others in the same way. When we focus on our task, it is far easier for him to do his!


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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.

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

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