Ever Wanted to Read the Divine Comedy?

This isn’t for everyone, I’ll admit that at the outset.

For years, I’ve wanted to read The Divine Comedy by Dante. It is one of the classics of Christian literature, a poem about Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, told in one hundred short cantos (short poetic chapters). Come with Dante as he descends into hell and then goes through purgatory, and ascends into heaven. I don’t even believe in purgatory, but I’ve wanted to understand this story because it sorts through the ancient view of hell, sacramental Christianity, and a lot of ancient mythology.

The problem is, these cantos are very difficult to understand with many historical and mythological references that I don’t have time to chase down. However, Baylor University Honors College has just begun a study of The Divine Comedy, called 100 Days of Dante. It is billed as the world’s largest reading group (no, not impressed by that) and covers three cantos each week along with a 7-10 minute reflection by a professor about what’s going on in the poem. It is and started last week and will continue until Easter. Sign up with your email and each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they will send you a link to read the assigned Canto online as well as a link to a brief reflection on what Dante is communicating to the reader.  You don’t even have to buy the book.

I have tried it for a week and a half and I am loving it!  So, if you want an intellectual challenge this fall, and want to walk through the Divine Comedy with me, join in.  Yes, you do have a bit of catching up to do, but it won’t take long and it may be worth it. Each day they send the email, I read the assigned canto trying to grasp what I can, and then read a synopsis and an analysis on LitCharts.com. That really helps. Finally, I listen to the reflections offered by a college professor who loves this story.  This is really well done and worth your time if you’ve ever wanted to explore this classic piece of Christian literature.

As I said, it is not for everybody, but for those who have wanted to read this classic, this is probably the best way to do it.  Now, if someone will only do 100 days of Paradise Lost by Milton. Again, more poetry.

Wherever He Asks…

It isn’t easy to know how much travel to do these days negotiating around COVID. Being vaccinated, I’m not worried about myself, but I don’t want to be the cause of others spreading it around. But I do have some travel taking shape this fall as long as it seems prudent to do so.  Lectures and seminars are not the most fruitful thing I do when I travel. I find it far more effective to simply hang out with people who are processing their own journeys and want to have some conversation about God’s love and what he is doing in the world, even in these troubled times.

Even though I’ll do more of a seminar to help a wider group of people hear some things that seem to be on God’s heart these days, it’s the conversations around those seminars that I find most engaging. And, I also get whatever else is on my heart into those exchanges. If you want to hear how that can sort out, you can hear a bit about my most recent trip in the first part of this podcast.

So, when I go somewhere, we try to leave maximum space for Father’s spontaneous connections. If you’d like to know when I will be in your area, please sign up for Travel Notifications (and include your city and state), so I can let you know by email or keep an eye on my Travel Page, which is harder to remember.

Over this fall, I a planning trips to—

If you’re near these areas and want to plan something of your own for others in your area, please let me know. I can often stay on a bit longer since I’m already in the area if Father opens other doors.

If you’re not in any of these locations, you may ask, “Just how do you get Wayne Jacobsen to come for a visit?” It really isn’t all that complicated. It all begins with an invitation. The invite allows us to hold the opportunity together in prayer and see if this is in his heart. If he wants it to be, he’ll make the way clear on your side and mine. I don’t schedule far in advance, especially for U.S. travel, since opportunities arise where a situation requires me to respond quickly to be of most help.  So, a lot of my trips come together at the last moment.

I don’t travel for my own amusement and don’t say yes to every invitation. I look for God’s nudge that comes in giving me a time to go and purpose in the going. I also look for Sara’s confirmation for me to be gone. We ponder and pray until it seems good to us and good to the Holy Spirit to go. I travel at my own expense, so no one needs to worry about how much it would cost. If people inviting me can and want to help with my expenses, that is certainly a blessing, but it is not expected. God has so many ways to pay for whatever it is he wants to do.

If I come, I come to serve what Father might already be doing in an area, not for anything I would prefer.  So if you have some people who would like to explore specific themes from my books or podcasts, it helps me know that. My favorite weekends are just hanging out somewhere that allows people they know to come and have conversations that matter with people who care. However, if people want to host gatherings for others to join in and for people in a region to connect with each other, I’m happy to do that as well.  That usually works best by setting aside a few hours in the morning and afternoon or the afternoon and evening with a meal break. We can keep that very simple with people bringing in picnic lunches or grabbing fast food nearby. Often we just go out for a meal in smaller groups to get to know each other.  The venue is not important. I’ve gathered with people in homes, parks, corporate offices, warehouses, restaurants, coffee houses, community rooms, even congregational buildings.

If you have such a thing on your heart, especially where there are people freshly sorting out how to live loved, or how the church Jesus is building takes expression in the world, let me know.  Often the best invitations come from people who have never done anything like this before or don’t even think I’ll take it seriously, but sense somehow that God might want it. Truly, it never hurts to ask. Who knows what God might do?

And, of course, it never hurts to mention chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream somewhere in the invitation.

A Gifted Woman In Tragic Circumstances

I’ve introduced you to Jenny Rowbury before*. Though I’ve never met her in person, our hearts have been connected through her parents and her poetry. Jenny is an incredible woman.  A vivacious and creative person, Jenny was struck down with a rare disease that has left her bed-ridden and in constant pain for over sixteen years. In spite of that, however, she continues to engage the Father’s love and her tragedy in profound and playful ways. The combination is transformative. I’ve shared her poetry before because she is a powerful example of endurance in what you know, even if your prayers are disappointed. She’s a living testimony to the fact that while prayer may not always change our circumstances it can hold our heart in his presence while he shapes us.

She is releasing a new book of her poetry this week — We are Winter People.  There’s a video launch party set for this Wednesday, September 8 at 7:30 pm London time, which is 11:30 am Pacific Daylight Time.  This launch coincides with fundraising for her to have surgery in the U.S., which is not available in her country. I will be reading her poem, Gethsemane, which is one of my favorites for heronline book launch.

If you can watch that on Wednesday, please do.  I’m sure the video will be up long after the live show. I’m also encouraging my friends to buy her book; you won’t be disappointed. The poems are powerful and moving and I’ve found them encouraging to my own relationship with God. And if you can help her with raise the money necessary to have the surgery she needs in the U.S., please contribute to her fundraising page, which is gofundme.com/savejenny.

Jenny Rowbory was born in 1986 in Ashford, Middlesex, and currently lives in Wales. During her first year at university in 2004, she became ill with a virus that caused severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord), causing Jenny to become bed-bound and acutely ill for the last sixteen and a half years. In May 2015, after genetic testing, Jenny was also diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. This genetic disorder causes the body to produce faulty collagen. The biggest problem for Jenny is that the faulty collagen causes the ligaments and connective tissue in her neck to be lax, which means that it can’t support the spine or skull. So the vertebrae and skull move around and subluxate (subluxation is like dislocation) and blood flow is severely reduced, causing increasing numbness. Jenny had to have an operation in January 2020 to try to fuse her neck in place to save her life, as well as a decompression surgery for Chiari Malformation. Unfortunately, the fusion surgery was not a success .

The only neurosurgeon in the world who specializes in fusion (and fusion revision) surgeries and invasive bolt traction testing to determine the correct fusion position for highly complex Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome patients, is in the USA. Jenny is clinging to life by the skin of her teeth and has been trying to hang on for over a year while trying to fundraise enough money for the three surgeries that this neurosurgeon has said Jenny needs to have hope of staying alive and regaining some sort of quality of life. The money raised by the sales of We Are The Winter People will go directly towards this goal of getting Jenny to America to have the life-saving surgeries she desperately needs.

If you can help her, please purchase her wonderful book of poetry, or give to her gofundme page.

______________

Here is what I wrote about Jenny’s poetry almost a decade ago:

Allow me to introduce to you a young poet, in the midst of an overwhelming challenge who has produced an amazing collection of poetry for all fellow-travelers in this life of living loved. How do you do find God’s love in the midst of excruciating pain and incomprehensible need?

I met Jenny through a book she sent to me when I was near her home in Suffolk England. In it she had written a personal note:

“You don’t know me but I just wanted to say thank you to you. I’ve read So you Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, listened to the Transition series and sometimes manage to listen to The God Journey podcast. They are great and have set me off on a journey and anew way of thinking. It’s like discovering the truth that was actually already there in your heart, but hadn’t quite realized it yet. Anyway, this is just a small token of my gratitude.”

The book was titled Rainbows In My Eyes and you’ll have to read the poem called “The Rainbow Bird” to understand it, but that one alone is worth getting this anthology. And you can find out more about it and Jenny on her website www.jkrowbory.co.uk.

Jenny RowboryThe story behind the poems is as tragic as the poems are triumphant. During her first year at university in 2004, she became ill with a virus that caused severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis: inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. M.E. affects all bodily systems, causing Jenny to be bed-bound and unable to sit up because of strain on her cardiovascular system. 

Though deeply touched by her story, I was not prepared for the poetry within. Most books I receive with a tragic backstory like this one usually do not contain writing of this caliber or with this depth of insight. I am recommending the book to you, not out of compassion for Jenny’s condition, though I’m deeply touched by her need and now pray for her regularly, but because in her poetry she captures the God I know and the honest place of dealing with suffering in the face of a loving and all-powerful God. She is both playful with God and gut-wrenchingly honest. You’ll find in her words language to help deal with your own challenges and desire to engage the Abba Father.

To give you a taste of some of her poetry, I’ve included three of her shorter ones here

Can’t You Be A Magician, God?
© Copyright 2009 by Jennifer Karen Rowbory – Used by Permission
Can’t you be a magician, God,
if only for one day?
Forget about being wise and good
and do exactly what I say.

Can’t our prayers be spells, God,
if only for one day?
The right words in the right order
and bingo! We’ll have our way.

Make me better now, Lord
please no more delay.
I want to force your hand, Lord,
to make my illness go away.

Held
© Copyright 2009 by Jennifer Karen Rowbory – Used by Permission
Pinned here
I kick and scream
try to punch my way out.
But your arms are too strong.

Pinned here
I sulk and ignore you,
try to freeze you out.
But you are too patient.

Pinned here
I spit and abuse you,
try to provoke you.
But your love is too great.

Pinned here I cry,
break your heart with my pain.
But you will not let me go.

Pinned here,
too exhausted to wrestle any more.
In the stillness I see
I’m in an embrace not a headlock.

Christmas
© Copyright 2009 by Jennifer Karen Rowbory – Used by Permission
You are my treasure,
my pearl beyond price.
I forsake all my riches,
my wealth in heaven,
to come and seek you out.

Can You Help Us Save a School in Kenya?

Since we completed our major project in West Pokot over a year ago, those tribes continue to find their way forward with the resources we gave them. It is such an amazing story of redemption and hard work on their side and generosity on the part of so many of you. We raised over a million dollars to help them transition from a nomadic, diseased community to settled villages with water, education, health care, small businesses, and agricultural farms to supply food.

Our team at Lifestream has been overwhelmed with the generosity of this audience that has helped so many in Kenya. Still today, checks come in monthly from some of you that have allowed us to help with medical needs and other emergencies among our friends there.  I am so grateful for all that you have given, as are they.

We have another need today.  Over the years, we have also helped Forkland School, a project in a slum-like area near Michael and his wife, our primary contacts in Kenya who have been instrumental in distributing funds for the needs of others in Kenya.  Almost fourteen years ago, Michael’s wife began Forkland School in the aftermath of the post-election violence that left so many children without parents and with no way to get an education. She began to educate children in their own neighborhood who had no other resources and has now grown to over ninety students. It is a labor of love and transforming that community with students going on to college and other endeavors.

In 2018, we helped them when flooding caused their sewage system to flow into their cistern and contaminate their water source. We were able to dig them a new well that hit an aquifer so vast and pure that they could start a company to sell bottled water to support the school and provide water for that impoverished community. Now, they have come to us in an emergency. Yet again, the Ministry of Education has changed regulations, now requiring private schools like theirs to have plumbed restrooms and at least an acre of land for a playground. The school currently only has outhouses and sits on 1/8 of an acre. They will be closed by the government in October unless they can rectify these two things.  

When Michael showed his wife the new regulations, she broke out in tears and started praying that “the God who has been faithful in this entire project would not leave us and this community of his people which, has become a hope for the hopeless. After prayer, she called the headteacher and all the school children to pray for three days without eating lunch, to ask God’s guidance and provisions.  My wife told me and your family that you had become the elder brother more than our physical parents and friends. She is asking you to join us in prayer because right now, we don’t have any capacity of raising money for the land.” Fortunately, their facility, other than the lack of restrooms, passed inspection and an acre of ground is available to them immediately adjacent to the school.

Will you help me help them?  Would you mind praying with me for them? They can’t imagine closing the school and condemning their students to a life of poverty.  And if you can give, any gift, large or small, will help. You can see Michael and his wife (at right) in the above photo. The Forkland School buildings are in the background. The man in the tie is the headteacher at the school, and the man in the red shirt is the one selling the property. They have asked if we could find the $24,000 to buy the land, and they will take care of the restrooms and other expenses. The community has offered to mobilize and make the bricks necessary to fence the property as well as construct it. They also have some money from the water enterprise to buy cement, concrete, and other fencing materials.”

As always, every dollar you send us gets to the people in Kenya, and all contributions are tax-deductible in the US. We do not take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Donation Page at Lifestream. Just designate “Kenya” in the “Note” of your donation, or email us and let us know your gift is for Kenya.  You can either donate with a credit card there or mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or, if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

Just last week, I was asked twice about the people in Kenya. I’m blown away that so many of you continue to hold them in your heart and are grateful to God for how he has allowed us to be a conduit for his blessing and provision to the people in Kenya.

 

Where Love Can’t Be Savored

Living in the freedom of God’s love will make you a better lover of people, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be able to recognize that love.

Instead, some will accuse you of not loving them because you don’t cater to their destructive whims. God knows this well as he lived it himself. Jesus was the perfect embodiment of God’s love to a broken world, and it got him killed by those that wanted to manipulate him and his gifts for their own ends. Love can be freely given, but it will be missed if it doesn’t find a resting place in one being loved.

Since I wrote the blog about Navigating Toxic Relationships, I heard from many of you who are doing exactly that. Friends, family, co-workers, or even a religious leader can become toxic when you become the focus of their unresolved issues or feel they are losing control over their own lives.  They will falsely accuse you and then refuse to talk it through by cutting you off or throwing a tantrum. This is all the more painful when you deeply care for the person involved. I’m always a champion for staying in a relationship as long as you have the grace to endure the cost, hoping and praying for God’s light to win over the lies and anger. However, people caught in such toxicity need to recognize that any attempts to reach out to their attacker will only cause them greater pain and anguish. Loving someone like that from up close can actually drive them further into their pain and delusion.

That’s when it’s best to love from afar as the father does in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There was nothing he could say to his son that would turn his heart toward home, so he gave his son the distance to savor the consequences of his false conclusions until he came to the end of himself.  Then, he could embrace the affection his father had always had for him.

My heart goes out to those of you suffering through a toxic relationship and wondering every day if you’re doing the right thing in seeking a way to love them. After my blog, one person recommended a book I have found helpful.  It’s called 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life by Bill Eddy. The subtitle is: “Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities.”  His research led him to conclude that ten percent of people are High Conflict Personalities, which are dangerous to engage. They create chaos in pools of relationships by fixating on a Target of Blame to focus their anger and fears.  They will weaponize other relationships you have to seek to marginalize you as the one with “issues.” While they treat everyone else with kindness, they will gossip and attack their victim relentlessly.

You can detect a High Conflict Personality by their persistent anger and gossip, always blaming someone else for whatever goes wrong, and will refuse to have a reasoned conversation to resolve their concerns. He recommends doing everything you can not to become their Target of Blame, and if you do, not confronting them for it will only escalate their anger.  It’s best, he suggests, to stay away from such the person targeting you. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but it is fruitless to try to love someone up close who perceives that love as a threat. When that happens, you need to withdraw for their good as well as your own.

I know that is hard to do, but you’re not responsible for those who cannot receive love from you. There’s no one better to share this with than God, whose love is also missed by those who are so locked in their pain they cannot see his love. You can love them from afar and hold them in your heart to see if they can come to the end of themselves and be open again to love. Most of these High Conflict Personalities are reacting to unresolved pain and trauma in their own lives. Targeting others is only a really bad coping mechanism to alleviate their own fear or pain.  By taking yourself out of the way, they will more quickly come to see that the problem is not the person they are blaming but the brokenness in their own soul. They merit our compassion, not our judgment. At the same time, however, we can recognize our limitations in our ability to express love to them.

Here are some of my highlights from that book I found helpful:

You can trust 80 to 90 percent of people to be who they say they are; to do what they say they’ll do; and to follow most of the social rules that help us live together. But the people we’re concerned with are the 10 percent—the one person in ten—who has a Target of Blame and a personality disorder. These are the people who are so fixated on their Targets that they can’t let go, can’t stop themselves, can’t change and therefore can ruin lives—including yours.

It’s the combination of someone having a high-conflict personality (people who have Targets of Blame) and a personality disorder (those who never reflect on their own behavior nor try to change it) that creates a human being who can ruin your life. That combination is the subject we’ll explore together.

There are five types of people who can ruin your life. They can ruin your reputation, your self-esteem, or your career. They can destroy your finances, your physical health, or your sanity. Some of them will kill you, if you give them the opportunity. They usually do this by focusing on Targets of Blame, whom they mercilessly attack—verbally, emotionally, financially, reputationally, litigiously, and sometimes violently—often for months or years, even if the initial conflict was minor. Their Targets of Blame are usually someone close (a coworker, neighbor, friend, partner, or family member) or someone in a position of authority.

The author breaks these High Conflict Personalities (HCP) into five types:

  • Narcissistic HCPs: They often seem very charming at first but believe they are hugely superior to others. They insult, humiliate, mislead, and lack empathy for their Targets of Blame. They also demand constant undeserved respect and attention from everyone.
  • Borderline HCPs: They often start out extremely friendly—but they can suddenly and unpredictably shift into being extremely angry. When this shift occurs, they may seek revenge for minor or nonexistent slights. They may launch vicious attacks against their Targets of Blame that involve physical violence, verbal abuse, legal action, or attempts to destroy their Targets’ reputations.
  • Antisocial (or Sociopathic) HCPs: They can be extremely charismatic—but their charm is a cover for their drive to dominate others through lying, stealing, publicly humiliating people, physically injuring them, and—in extreme cases—murdering them. They want what they want and they want it now. If you stand in their way, they will push you aside, or destroy your reputation, or even kill you to get what they want. They lack remorse, and some enjoy hurting people. In this regard, they are different from the other personalities who will ruin your life, but don’t harm you on purpose. Antisocial HCPs are driven by a need for dominance, and may ruin your life just to give themselves a sense of control over someone. They will talk fast and lie to your face so convincingly that you will second-guess your own instincts. Antisocial HCPs are remorseless and are said to have no conscience. 
  • Paranoid HCPs: They are deeply suspicious and constantly fear betrayal. Because they imagine conspiracies against them, they will launch preemptive attacks against their Targets of Blame, hoping to harm them first.
  • Histrionic HCPs: They can have very dramatic and exciting personalities. They often tell wild and extreme stories (which are sometimes totally false). Over time, they can be very harmful and emotionally draining to those around them, especially their Targets of Blame.

Not every bump in a relationship ought to be blamed on these things. Only ten percent of people are high conflict personalities, and they usually have only one or two Targets of Blame.  Fortunately, this isn’t an everyday occurrence, nor does everyone become a Target of Blame. Just keep your eyes open and remember that you cannot force someone to be loved. Sometimes loving well is giving someone the distance to come to the end of themselves and turn from their destructive ways to embrace the love they already have.

 

Finding the Fulfilling Path

Tomorrow morning, I fly out for a weekend in Wichita and Kansas City to spend time with people in various stages of their journeys. It has been a long time since I’ve had this kind of weekend, and even though we’re in the midst of a fresh surge in COVID, we’re going to be careful not to become a spreader event.

I’m not only excited to be with the people Father has in mind for me, but I’m going to be sharing with others something that has been percolating in my heart for almost a year. I’ve not shared it yet with any group of people, because I want to see how it lives first.

In my working with people, however, I find people of faith whose spiritual journey is often marked with frustration and futility. Try as they might, they can’t seem to find that flow into the fruitfulness and fulfillment that Jesus promised us. They constantly bounce from one circumstance to the next, or one convention to the next, hoping to find a key to unlock their relationship with God. I meet others, however, who have found the “unforced rhythms of grace” that allow them to navigate the greatest challenges with confidence and rest in God’s activity that continues to bear fruit for them.

What is the difference? Some would suggest circumstance, but that isn’t true. I know a lot of empty people whose circumstances are not at all challenging, and others quite fulfilled in heart even while struggling with great pain or loss.  No, it isn’t circumstantial. I’ve come to see the difference between those who believe in Jesus as a doctrine they cling to, and those who simply believe what Jesus shows them each day as they navigate the twists and turns of life.  Life in him was always meant to be a relationship where it is less about believing the right doctrine, and more about believing the next thing Jesus whispers into their hearts.  That’s where life is, in actually following him.  

It seems to me, the most fulfilled people I know have come to rest in how deeply loved they are, enough to draw them into knowing him more fully. As they know him more fully, their trust in him grows. Where trust grows, they recognize more quickly the insight Jesus gives them and are more willing to follow him even when it seems risky or it doesn’t seem to make sense.  Where they recognize his nudging and trust his work and wisdom more than their own, they follow those insights and that’s where they find joy and fruitfulness

This is an amazing process, how embracing his love leads to a greater desire to know him, which in turn encourages us to trust him, which makes us more sensitive to his ways and more willing to follow. By living in the world the way God sees it and not the way our natural mind tends to, we will find all his promises are true.  I know this process well from both sides. For the first forty-two years of my journey, I was mostly frustrated that the things God seemed to promise in Scripture were rarely true in my experience. For the last twenty-eight years, it has been finding how living loved actually transforms me from inside so that I can discover God’s goodness even in the midst of a very broken world. This has helped me put new language to the work that has been going on in my heart and so many others I see finding the freedom to follow the Living Christ.

I’m going to be sharing about this process this weekend, and in most places, I go in months ahead. It’s not a new teaching, but a framework to help people recognize how living loved transforms us from the inside out. I hope to help people learn how to cooperate with his process rather than unknowingly resist it.  Yes, it will eventually find its way to a recording, or to unpacking at The God Journey. As with most things, however, I want to explore sharing it with some groups first to see what communicates well and what gets in the way of people finding their way into a transformational journey.

Part of this sharing involves a flow chart to help people recognize where they have the choice to lean into the work God is doing or to resort to their own comfort or wisdom and miss his leading.  I am looking for someone who does digital animation to help me put this chart into a video as I explain it.  I’m hoping I have someone out there who has such gifts so that we could do this together. I’m thinking like the simple and powerful drawings in the Bible Project, that you can see here.  Who knows, I may even see if those folks would help with this.

In any case, Jesus promised us an abundance of life and fullness of joy. If that’s something you’re still seeking to discover in your own journey, don’t give up. It is a process and most of our religious teaching to that end doesn’t serve any of us well.  This is a living relationship that Jesus is always inviting you into.  He wants nothing more than for you to come along and know what it is to be at rest in his love no matter what circumstances encompass you.  Only he can do something like that.

Start with What Is

Yes, that’s me above still on vacation, now with just our three grandkids.  They do keep us hopping and playing, which is good for the soul. Every time I get the chance to ski, I dread jumping into the cold water, wondering if I still have what it takes to get up on the skis, drop one, and get my back foot into the slalom ski without crashing into the water.

None of it comes easy these days, but there is a moment when my back foot settles into the single ski, and everything seems is as it should be in the universe. I peel out across the wake, slicing through the glassy water, exhilarated to be alive in the Creation.  I love that moment when it all comes together, and everything else fades away. God made us for joy, to fully embrace those moments when we feel most alive, whether that’s at the end of a ski rope, admiring the flowers growing in your garden, tucking a grandkid into bed, or wiggling your toes in the warm sand of a beach.

Don’t miss the joys of life, especially when you go through your darker days. God made the world for us to enjoy, and even though it has been marred by human brokenness, there is always joy to be had and a kingdom unfolding around you. I thought of all that this morning on my morning walk with Zoey through the woods, and here’s where I found God directing my thoughts:

As much as God wants us to embrace joy, his kingdom is not a fairy tale. It emerges not from our wish list but the devastating ruins of a broken Creation.

Who doesn’t face horrible circumstances and destructive ambitions in day-to-day life? We forget that because most serve their own image of being above the ravages of life, and thus, we think we’re the only ones who are confronted with horrific circumstances or dark temptations. And yet, we are all in the midst of them at some point, or soon will be again. Life has many painful seasons.

It is also true that everyone one of us has dreams we wish God would fulfill. What if I had enough money not to worry about paying the bills? Or, how easy would life be if my child wasn’t battling cancer? Or, I would love to work with people that weren’t so given to gossip and tearing each other apart?

Many of our prayers arise out of our desires for life as we wish it were. And, because most of our wish-list is truly not in our best interest, nor is it grounded in the ways Father works to reveal his glory, we are endlessly frustrated that he won’t give us the things we pray for most ardently. That’s where accusations against God’s existence or his love begin, or where doubt takes root, wondering if it is my fault for not having enough faith or if he is punishing me for something I’ve done wrong.

Don’t look to your fantasies and ask him to serve them if you want to see Father at work in you. Instead, hold the reality of your circumstances up to God’s gaze and see how he reveals himself in their midst.  You are not the victim of any circumstances, no matter how much you may have been wronged. You are a citizen of a higher kingdom that can transform any circumstance into a place where God can reveal his glory. Ponder your challenges with him over days and weeks if need be, even inviting two or three other sensitive Jesus-followers into your story and see what he reveals.

Ask him to show you how he sees your circumstance and what path he is cutting for you to get through it and, in the process, make you a freer person and a better lover of the world. If there’s a miracle to be had that changes the circumstance, you’ll find it there. If not, you’ll find grace sufficient not only to endure but also to move on in joy.

When you start with what is, you can find your way into what God wants it to be. His kingdom is not the fulfillment of our fantasies or the path that brings us the most ease. Often his path will challenge us to the core, but where a willing heart locks on to the will of God, anything can happen, and great joy can come even in the most painful stretches of our journeys.

 


As a side note, no, I’m not posting as many blogs these days. That’s partly because of the nature of my life and at the moment and some other roads God has invited me down, and partly because I’ve provided my best encouragements over the last twenty years into a new devotional called Live Loved Free Full. I’m hoping its brief daily thoughts can help you focus your heart on the things that matter most inside Father’s love.

If you want to stay up with what is occurring in my life and heart these days, check out The God Journey’s most recent episodes. I’ve never been more excited about what God is doing in our world, even as circumstances grow darker around us. God is raising up people from all over the world, grounded in his love and willing to follow however he leads them.

If you stopped listening to The God Journey because you got the gist of the things Brad and I talked about over the years, I understand.  We never intended people to listen forever.  But Brad has gone on to other things God asked of him, and Kyle Rice of Wyoming has become a regular co-host. His perspective as a mid-thirties husband and father and his experience and training in youth and mental health have provided some fresh fodder for us to explore.

Here are some of the recent ones I don’t think you’ll want to miss:

 

 

Navigating Toxic Relationships

Have you ever been in an exchange with an angry friend or relative who kept twisting everything you said until you begin to wonder if you are out of your mind? And I don’t mean over a conversation or two, but over years berating you with angry accusations that don’t make any sense or seem wildly out of proportion. And the more you try to reach out to understand what they are saying, the more convoluted their stories become.

There’s a term for it—gaslighting. According to Wikipedia, gaslighting is “a tactic in which a person or entity, to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality… It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.” It is a form of abuse, even though it isn’t always done intentionally. It can result from jealousy or unresolved trauma in someone’s past that seeks to control others as a coping mechanism for their fears and insecurity. They can be quite persuasive, especially when drawing others into their story to validate their anger. Their gossip is a dark cancerous mass that can metastasize through a family, workplace, or even congregation and destroy longstanding relationships.

Here’s how one friend recently described such a person he had to deal with:

They take absolutely no ownership for the harm and chaos they create. They are always the victim with the emotional maturity of a five-year old. Repentance is for everyone else who wronged them; they never need it.  And forgiveness is out of the question since they perceive every wrong as fresh every day.

Imagined wrongs are the landscape of their souls. They collect grievances like a miser stacking a hoard of coins which they polish and caress every day. They have a Groundhog Day existence, but unlike Bill Murray in the movie, they do not grow or gain insight. They fester and fling anger and rage with considerable skill.

It is a miserable way to live. They can only be helped when their desire for a better life outweighs their sense of victimhood. That is rare because they only seek out people who will justify their sense of injury.

Honestly, my heart goes out to people like that, even when I’m the victim and especially when they can’t see it in themselves. Blaming others, even falsely, medicates their fear and anger—the source of which they may no longer even remember. Many are destructive by default, not by choice, and delude themselves into thinking they have all the facts. Unfortunately, since most others are reticent to challenge their delusions for fear they might become the next target, the emotionally broken person often ends taking control of a group and leave destroyed relationships in their wake.

How do you know if someone around you has turned toxic? Anyone can be misinformed, jump to the wrong conclusions, or need to work out an offense with some honest and tender conversation. Good relationships are hard work. Who hasn’t had a misunderstanding or made a mistake that needed to be talked out so the relationship could heal? Toxicity, however, is measured over a long period of time with unfair expectations or unrelenting accusations and no desire to seek a solution.

Toxic people are always on the attack or act offended. Their complaints, however, are often petty and ignore the possibility that some of them may be simple misunderstandings or a lack of sensitivity on the other’s part. They have no interest in listening to another point of view. They’ve already made up their mind and prefer to be offended rather than resolve their conflict. They think they know you better than you know yourself, and if you disagree with them, they won’t believe you.  Eventually, they will make up stories to justify their unsatisfied anger as their contempt grows. When confronted with the truth, they get angrier, make more often-contradictory accusations, and cut you off entirely until they launch their next assault. They won’t seek out a gracious environment to discover what’s true. Apologies fall on deaf ears, and they never offer any of their own.

If you’re currently in the crosshairs of someone else’s rage, I’m so sorry.  The enemy loves dividing relationships. In these polarized political times, toxic relationships seem to be spreading along with the virus. I get emails every week from those suffering torturous behaviors from parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and even brothers and sisters in the faith. One man wrote me last week, “I find myself often identifying with a fictitious character that is Bathsheeba’s older brother and Uriah’s closest friend who has been invited to celebrate the wedding of my sister and King David.  How?” (For those that don’t remember, Bathsheeba was the woman David had an affair with, and Uriah was her husband he had killed in battle when his wife got pregnant.)  That is a mess!

I’ve been going through some of this for a while with some people I deeply love, and it’s painful. But I’ve been here before, and here’s some of what I’ve learned that may help you navigate these waters:

First, invite God into this journey with you. You cannot stand up to relentless assault alone, and he has unlimited ways for you to negotiate their hostility and keep it from destroying your heart. Jesus can let you know how to engage in redemptive ways when possible and when to withdraw when it’s not. Believe whatever insights he gives you, and have a close brother or sister along to help you see the difference between the wisdom of his Spirit and your own fleshy reactions.

Second, recognize toxic people for who they are, and don’t take on their anger in reaction. I know that’s easier said than done, but bitterness will only destroy you. Pray for them, realizing they are broken people who don’t have the tools to deal with disappointments or disagreements in conventional ways. Jealousy often drives their need to punish you, so give up trying to fix them until their hearts soften. It will help to see them as victims of their own pain and repeatedly pray, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”  They truly don’t. Love, especially when you’re unfairly treated, is where the kingdom unfurls her glory. But learn what his love looks like; it rarely means becoming a doormat for your abuser.

Third, don’t drink their toxic brew.  Even though none of us are perfect, and most people will look for ways they might have been insensitive, miscommunicated, or contributed to someone else’s pain, toxic people are not doing the same. They don’t want reconciliation, only capitulation. They can only accuse, never reflect. Avoid angry, accusing voices, not only for yourself but also when they are doing it about others. Remember who the accuser is, and when he uses their voice, don’t let his blows land in your heart. Even accusations built on half-truths are still lies at the end of the day, as Adam and Eve found out in a Garden. While Jesus invited us to be peace-makers, he also warned of the hostility his followers would garner, especially from the self-righteous.

Fourth, avoid the desire to argue with them or to justify yourself in their eyes. They will only twist your words into another set of accusations anyway. They are not listening because they don’t care about the relationship, only their need to feel validated. Your desire for their approval and your concern about what others think of you are the levers they will use to attempt to control you. When you care what other people think of you, you are owned by anyone willing to lie about you. When you are secure enough in God’s view of you, none of it will work. Even if all the world believes something false about you, it still doesn’t define you. Jesus gets the last word on everything. It may not come until the end of the age, but you still don’t have to defend yourself. Learn the joy of not having to have the last word or trying to prove you’re right. It’s a marvelous freedom!

Fifth, give toxic people a wide berth. You don’t have to be with people who yell at you with rage, especially when you know what they are saying is untrue. You don’t have to hang out in the orbit of people who gossip about others.  That may even mean taking a break from close family who get caught in destructive patterns of relationship. Just because you are related to them doesn’t mean you have to give them repeated access to your heart. Sometimes you honor people by letting them live without you in the consequences of their false reality. Let them know you love them and will be overjoyed when more grace-filled days appear.

Sixth, love them however you can, and sometimes you have to do it from a distance, just as the father does in the parable of the prodigal. Chasing people trapped in lies will only prolong their pain because they’ll only get more defensive. Sometimes you have to love someone enough to let them go until they are ready for a change in their own heart. Jesus made room for the fact that you can extend your peace to someone, and they can reject it. (Matthew 10) He told his followers when that happens, they are free to move on and invest their hearts where grace, peace, and truth reign.

Seventh, keep your heart tender for reconciliation. I know this isn’t easy, and I am not talking about ‘forgive and forget.’ Real reconciliation involves a reckoning for the past in an environment of honesty, humility, mutual forgiveness, and tenderness. When toxic people have a change of heart, it will be obvious. Waiting for that moment with an open heart is not something we can do on our own; it is a work of his Spirit. So, ask him to show you.

Of course, this is made more complicated if the toxic person is a parent you still live with or even your spouse. If you have a toxic parent, talk to another trusted adult about your struggle and let them help you see how to deal with it. Young people shouldn’t have to grow up in that kind of fear or abuse. If it’s your spouse, you have to make clear that their behavior is a threat to the future of your relationship and seek out the help of a counselor or more experienced couple.  

One of the resources that has helped shape my heart in dealing with these kinds of people is M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie, which was also the title of a book he published in 1983. The book makes a case for how evil distorts humanity and suggests ways to help people be liberated from it. While I don’t agree his remedy is the only way to deal with it, he identifies a certain kind of person who can never seem to have an open, honest discussion to resolve differences. Instead, they have to control every conversation no matter how much they have to diminish others. I’ve met half a dozen of these over my lifetime, and his insights have helped me recognize their behaviors and learn how to respond to their attempts to take control.  

Dr. Peck came to recognize the dilemma by working with deeply dysfunctional families where chaos reigns. So often, the people he was seeing seemed normal, though under a lot of stress. After some investigating, he often found one person—a parent or sibling—who was the common denominator for all the pain. Interestingly enough, they would refuse to come to counseling, or if they did, they were certain they were not a part of the problem. These were often religious people, who could present themselves outwardly as gracious and caring, but who controlled everyone else in their orbit by punishing those who didn’t do what they wanted. Everyone else was wrong; they were always right.

He called them ‘people of the lie’ because they thrive in dishonesty and making up stories to fit the narrative they want to be true to justify their actions. When their lies are confronted, they respond in anger to keep others from daring to be the focus of the wrath. These are not people making mistakes in moments of weakness, but a consistent and oppressive way they navigate life to the destruction of others.

Dr. Peck credits some of that to evil motives that intend to get their own way no matter who they have to destroy. Those people do exist. I’ve met a few of them. But in my life, these people have been less motivated by a desire to destroy as they are by deep insecurity and fear that demands they control every outcome to survive their day. Most of the time, I don’t think they even know how much they lie to others because they are so dishonest with themselves. They can’t bear to be wrong about anything, “Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection.”

They have little regard for the feelings of others and rarely allow for the possibility of misunderstanding what someone else said or meant. The more you try to reason with them, the more you are caught up in their “lies and twisted motives and distorted communication.” They will exhaust you with their need to be right. “They attack others instead of facing their own failures.” They continually act hurt, and yet their stories make little sense.  If anyone dares to confront their dishonesty, they will scorch the battlefield to protect their own image. They are dismissive of any apology that does not capitulate completely to their conclusions. You can’t reconcile with such people because there’s no room for honesty, tenderness, and vulnerability that lets the truth be revealed.

If you know someone like this, give up the need to earn their love. Until something fundamentally changes inside them, they are incapable of a real, honest relationship. You have to take some distance from their control, especially if they are in your family. Keep interactions calm and cordial when you’re together, but refuse to be swept up in their need to gossip about others to make themselves feel better. If they are gossiping to you now, they will soon be gossiping about you to someone else. Excuse yourself by simply saying, “I’m sorry, this is not a conversation I want to be in. Can we talk about something else?”

And, if in reading this, you realize that you may be one of those leaking toxicity into the world, these words from Charles K. Robinson may open a doorway for you to find a Father whose capable of setting you free:

I know you. I have created you. I have loved you from your mother’s womb. You have fled—as you know—from my love, but I love you nevertheless and not-the-less however far you flee. It is I who sustains your very power of fleeing, And I will never finally let you go.

I accept you as you are. You are forgiven. I know all your sufferings. I have always known them! Far beyond your understanding, when you suffer, I suffer. I also know all the little tricks by which you try to hide the ugliness you have made of your life from yourself and others. But you are beautiful. You are beautiful more deeply within than you can see.

You are beautiful because you yourself, in the unique person that only you are, reflect already something of the beauty of my holiness in a way which shall never end. You are beautiful also because I, and I alone see the beauty you shall become. Through the transforming power of my love which is made perfect in weakness you shall become perfectly beautiful. You shall become perfectly beautiful in a uniquely irreplaceable way, which neither you nor I will work on alone, for we shall work it out together.”

All Jesus asked us to do was receive his love and share it with others. Everything else plays into our enemy’s hand.

He is Always There

I sat with a man recently who has walked with God for over fifty years. I’ve seen him go through amazing adventures with God, help countless others find faith in the storms of life, and stay true to him in times of great suffering.

But a medical emergency threatened all of that. He looked at me with pain-filled eyes, “God has completely forsaken me. He no longer speaks to me. Nothing he said has come true.” How could this man, of all the men I’ve known, fall into such despair and hopelessness?  Because he felt he had a promise from God that such a tragedy would never befall him. When it did, he had no place to center his heart.

Expectations.

Nothing will devour our trust in God faster than expecting him to do what we want him to do or even what we think love would require him to do when we hurt.

And yet, the Scriptures are full of encouragement that God works through all kinds of suffering. He hasn’t promised to fix all our pain or make life convenient. That’s the danger of reading the Bible like a promise box, pulling out our preferred passages, and expecting God to do what we want.

What happens when he doesn’t do what we expect? He’s not our fairy godmother, you know, turning our rats into horses, our rags into princess dresses, or our pumpkins into chariots. This world can turn cruel in an instant, and our faith in God does not mean we are immune from the consequences of living in a broken world.  Many saints have been shipwrecked on disappointed expectations about how God should work instead of tuning in to how he is.

As Jesus demonstrated on the cross, it is human to be so overwhelmed by despair and disappointment that we feel abandoned by God. He thought God had forsaken him, too, but he hadn’t. God was still there holding him when Jesus could no longer see it.  At such moments it is easy to default to the belief that God isn’t there, or if he is, he doesn’t care about me. Then, we can turn on ourselves, thinking we’ve not done enough or aren’t loveable enough for God to intervene on our behalf.

None of those options are helpful roads to go down. He didn’t promise to prevent trouble from coming to our door; he promised that we’d never be alone in it and that he would make a way through it for his higher purpose.

When overwhelming pain finds me on this journey, I no longer default to questioning his love. I used to all the time. I’d rail at God for not being faithful to his promises or his love.  Doing so wore me out and never brought me closer to recognizing him with me. He still was, though, and I could look back years later and see how. Now when trouble hits, I stake my confidence on the fact that his love is the only constant in the universe. I may not be able to see how he loves me at the moment, but I choose to set my heart on the reality that he does.

I’ve seen people go through the darkest of circumstances and stay faithful to God’s love in it. Yes, they had questions. Yes, they struggled to hold on to that hope, but I’ve never seen that hope disappointed. God is always with us, even in the dark. It may take years to see, as we look back on how God worked through our trials. This is why our trust in his character has to be stronger than our confidence in the assumptions we make about him abandoning us.

Paul even talked about his own “despairing of life” in some horrible circumstance (2 Corinthians 1), but he knew God would comfort him in it, and the overflow of that would be to comfort others in dire need as well. Perhaps that is what’s most valuable about fellowship—being able to encourage the broken heart, to keep leaning into the reality of his love.

For those of you listening to the new add-on episodes to My Friend Luis, Terror in the Mountains is a case in point. That night, overwhelmed by his dad’s heart attack, exhausted by trying to help him, alone in the dark, and besieged by coyotes, he screamed desperate prayers to a God he wasn’t sure even existed. He wanted God to heal his father, to save him from the coyotes, and to eliminate the fear taking over his mind. God was working in other ways for greater purposes.

Even though God speaks to his heart throughout the night and keeps him from killing himself to end the pain, Luis couldn’t see that until years later. He felt completely abandoned on the worst night of his life. Why didn’t God intervene in a more obvious way? I’m sure I’m not qualified to answer that question. I do know this; Luis looks back now and knows with certainty that God saved his life that night and provided what he needed to triumph over the most unimaginable tragedy. That is now bringing hope to thousands all over the world.

Every week, I talk to people giving up on God’s love because their pain is unbearable or because God doesn’t deliver them from it the way they think he should. They expect him to take away the suffering and forgot to find him inside of it. He promised us a “fellowship of his suffering” as palpable as the “joy of his resurrection.” (Philippians 3) Even Jesus dealt with overwhelming pain inside this broken Creation.

I suspect that’s what we’re all looking for, a connection with him when we are in excruciating pain or circumstances we don’t understand. That’s where trust matters most. It’s hardest to learn that when the pressure is on, so it’s something we might want to contemplate in more relaxed seasons of life.

Cultivate what it means to lean into his love there, then a flood of great waters will not shake you. You’ll be able to find him in your pain and help others to as well.

Because he is always there, at work for our good, even when we can’t see him.

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.

Raphael Returns

I can’t wait to share this part of the story with you.

If you haven’t yet listened to the My Friend Luis podcast, now might be a good time to get started. When we finished those twelve episodes, Luis and I thought we had told an amazing story of redemption and God’s intervention in the life of a young boy in Mexico and how it came to greater fruition in his adult life.  We had no idea that this story wasn’t yet finished and that the best was yet to come.

As the original podcast aired, Luis came to me and asked if he could tell me a story he had never told anyone else. It took most of that day and two subsequent Saturday mornings for the whole story to spill out as he described the tragedy of his father’s death and the terrors he suffered that night as a fourteen-year-old boy alone on a dangerous mountain. His emotions were still as raw as if these events had happened the night before.  Obviously, I didn’t record those sessions and was initially glad that this came out after the podcast was finished. I was not sure this story was appropriate for a wider audience though I was incredibly honored that he would let me walk with him through such a painful story.

But when Luis’ childhood friend, Raphael, showed up in the middle of that with insights that illuminated this event in Luis’ larger story, that’s when we knew that this story had to be shared. Luis had not seen him in thirty-five years since the night he helped Luis escape from the drug cartel that you can hear about in Episode 5. He is the stranger Luis met in the mountains near his home as a young boy who was either a very gifted human, a fabrication of Luis’ imagination, or most probably an angel who has appeared to Luis in human form to give him wisdom and help him through a time of need.  On Good Friday night this year, Raphael surprised Luis by walking up behind him as he was walking to his car near midnight. Their conversation provided Luis with great clarity and encouragement.  

We’ve waited three months to make sure that the re-telling of the story of his father’s death and its aftermath would be part of a healing process and not prolong his pain. That part of the story is not easy to hear, and listener discretion is advised since there are graphic descriptions of violence, death, and attempted suicide. But how God got a terrified teenager through such a harrowing ordeal, even though Luis had no idea who it was helping him, is well-worth hearing.

Yes, these engagements with Raphael are among the strangest things I’ve ever heard, but there’s no denying that Luis and I are witnessing amazing healing and the unfolding of God’s glory in the darkness.  I’m excited that we can now complete this story.

We’ve completed the recording and are now editing these podcasts to be released on the dates below:

Episode 13 – Terror in the Mountains
July 13

When his dad suffers a heart attack in the mountains with darkness closing in and a pack of coyotes on the prowl, Luis has to find a way to rescue his dad.

 

Episode 14 –  Jumping to the Wrong Conclusion
July 20

Due to an unfortunate mix-up and Luis’ inability to talk, instead of comforting him after his terrible ordeal, his family turns on him calling him a coward and blaming him for his father’s death.

 

Episode 15 – Raphael Returns
July 27

 Thirty-five years later, on a Good Friday night, Raphael appears to Luis with comfort and wisdom to bring healing to the guilt and anguish Luis suffered from his father’s death.

If you haven’t heard the previous episodes yet, you might want to go on a serious binge in the next couple of weeks. You can download it at iTunes or your favorite podcast provider. Just search on “My Friend Luis” or go to the Subscribe page.  This is a story of great grace in the midst of great pain and a God that can heal the deepest wounds of the human heart and set us free to live in his glory.

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.

__________

*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

It’s Time to Take Wing, Again!

I doubt few people enjoyed the COVID stay-at-home orders more than I did. After twenty-five years of constant travel, it was a joy to be home with Sara for such a prolonged period as well as to work on some projects that were on my heart—the My Friend Luis podcast, a new daily devotional Live Loved Free Full, the A Breath of Fresh Air encouragements, and The Jesus Story, an adaptation of The Jesus Lens for kids. I’ve had numerous incredible engagements via Zoom with individuals and small groups for prayer, discovery, and insight into Father’s work in the world.  It has been both a restful and a fruitful season, and my heart has been re-shaped in so many ways and re-staged for what’s ahead.

The God Journey continued to allow me to explore many of the themes that continue to grow in my heart and mind—helping people live loved, recognizing and responding to Father’s work in their own hearts to overturn their illusions so they can more freely walk in his love and discover the joy of laying down their lives in a hostile world.

Now, I sense it’s time to take wing again, literally, traveling to places where God wants me to encourage his people to lean into his glory. As we come to rely on his love, it will allow us to see the truth of what’s going on inside of us and around us so that we can be part of his unfolding glory in the world and love well those he’s inviting us to engage.  So, this fall, I’ll begin traveling for a season as I sense God leading me to serve his purpose in the world.

In the last few months, I’ve sensed a freshening wind of the Spirit to help a new generation experience the joy of living outside the bondage of religious obligation and shame, to discover how to be sensitive to God’s Spirit and direction in the real circumstances of everyday life. I want to continue to have conversations that matter with people who care, whether that be in homes, outdoors, retreat centers, fellowship halls, or other places we can gather. I don’t do a lot of that by teaching seminars but by hanging out over a few days with people who want to explore what it means to walk alongside the Risen Christ.

God’s glory is rising again in those who wish to live untainted by religious obligation and free to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. While this will engage a younger generation, I’m also excited about exploring how more seasoned saints can be cheerleaders in this process by encouraging younger ones without seeking to control or monetize what God is doing. How can we be in tune with God’s work in the world and embrace the divine community God is stitching together around us?

I have a host of pre-COVID invitations, but I’m laying those aside to see what fresh direction God has for days to come. So, don’t assume I’ll follow up on an old invitation. If you even have an inkling that God might want to put something together where you live, please get in touch with me so we can pray and listen. Some of the places God wants me to go involve younger people who have never planned this kind of thing before and might be afraid to do it. Be courageous, and see what God might do.

What does it take for me to come? Not much! We simply need a shared sense that God has something in mind where you are, a place to hang out with people for a few days, and a pocket of people there who want to explore together what it means to live in love, at rest, and at play in the Father’s presence as we follow his leading. I have always traveled at my own expense, so finances are never an issue. If people inviting me can help share in those expenses, that’s always a bonus. If not, Father has other ways to provide for what he wants to do.

I have a few things to take care of at home this summer, but toward the end of August and beyond, I’m going to see where Father wants to take me.  First, I’m going to circle back to a few invitations I had to cancel when the pandemic hit and see if there’s still a desire for me to come.  I’m looking at you, Michigan, Wichita, Miami, and Oklahoma City.  Beyond that, I already have fresh invitations to Virginia and Maryland when I start traveling again.

If you’re in those areas, or someplace altogether different, with a desire on your heart to get some people together and explore the life lived in love and at the pleasure and power of his Spirit, let me know. And, if you want to connect with me if I’m ever in your area, you can sign up for Travel Notifications here. You’ll receive an email if I’m coming within a couple of hundred miles of where you live.

The people I’ve met around the world have greatly enriched my life and my journey. I learn so much from other people’s stories and the struggles they have endured. I’m looking forward to seeing what this next chapter looks like and how God’s glory will continue to rise in the world.

Out of the Shadows is now Available

Out of the Shadows, the first book in the Velieri Uprising, was written by someone I know since she was fourteen.  I love this story and what it sets up for the future books in this series.  I’ve been so excited to have people I know finally read this book.

Here’s what I wrote as an endorsement for this book:

One of the most beautiful, deeply-layered stories I’ve ever read. Out of The Shadows will hold you spellbound from first the page, and leave you craving for more after the last one. Tessa van Wade has created an iconic woman in Willow who has to discover her identity to fulfill her destiny.

I’m already deep into the second installment as I’m helping Tessa work through this amazing story Father has put on her heart. As good as the first one is, the second one has spoken some amazing clarity into some painful situations I’m dealing with right now.  If you like a thrilling adventure that expands what God is doing in your own heart and mind, you won’t want to miss this.

If you’re still undecided, You can see the book trailer here and read more below.

Out of the Shadows

You are not who you think you are.

A seemingly ordinary existence is shattered when Willow is assaulted and left for dead near her San Francisco home. It is not a random attack, as she soon discovers. The stranger who rescues her tells her she’s part of a hidden race of people whose oppressive government is on the verge of a violent uprising. Against her will, she is drawn into a maze of deception and conspiracy, which defies everything she has ever known. As she attempts to separate fact from fiction, she becomes too entrenched to retreat. Her only hope is to discover the truth before it is too late.

“I’ve always been intrigued by human capabilities. The amount that we can accomplish is limitless as long as we have the time, but a hundred years go by in a flash and many of us don’t even get that long. So suppose you took time away? How much could we do spiritually, emotionally, physically, monetarily, or even with relationships? I examined a limitless life where we aren’t chasing time,” says Van Wade of her novel.

About The Author Tessa Van Wade  

Tessa Van Wade (also known as Tessa Sandberg) is a long-term resident of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the owner of The Fit Xchange, a boutique personal training gym and fitness center in Kona. Tessa’s writing aims to ignite the imagination and open discussion around topics like female empowerment, self-identity, and acceptance. Learn more at https://thevelieriuprising.com.

 

Any Questions for Luis?

Putting My Friend Luis together as a podcast has truly been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. However, my friendship with Luis is the greater gift here. We continue to share God’s life together as we walk with each other through the twists and turns of life. Doing so continues to open up new vistas in my own God Journey.

Sharing it with the world and interacting with those who that story has touched makes me so grateful God dropped this serendipitous experience into my life. Here’s an example I received in the last week:

By the way, I loved the “My Friend Luis” podcast!  I’m listening again with my husband now because I want to start giving to him and we make those decision together. I believe all that Luis went through and how God was there for him because I know in so many ways God was there for me growing up through all the difficulties I endured until the day I met him!

My husband and I are realizing how extremely different and difficult people’s lives are in Mexico from ours here in the U.S.  While we think we have it bad at times, there is absolutely no comparison! We can become so rigid in our religious and political beliefs of what we think is “right” but this has helped us discover that what we think is right may not be right at all in God’s eyes.  It’s like you’ve mentioned before, when you start getting to know God’s character, you start seeing things differently.  I keep telling my hubby we aren’t from this kingdom, remember!  God can and will do whatever he wants, and I’m so very grateful for that.

For those of you who have already heard the podcast, I know you’re anxiously awaiting a future update, especially because Raphael returned to meet with Luis one evening in April. Unfortunately, we had completed the podcast by then, so it wasn’t part of the original story. However, we will do at least two additional podcasts to do justice to this new part of the story since it isn’t only about Raphael’s return but also why he returned.

We have tried to record, but the timing has just not been right. Before his appearance, Luis came over one day to share a harrowing experience from his childhood that he did not include in the original story. I’d never heard it before, and we have spent hours processing it and the incredible pain it has been to Luis’ journey. To help Luis work through that pain is why Raphael returned. The painful part isn’t ready to be shared yet, but we’re hopeful it will be in the next few weeks. With that context, you’ll see how Raphael’s return has brought a new climax to the My Friend Luis Story. It will be worth the wait.

In the meantime, Luis and I want to share some of our experiences making and releasing this story. So, for those who have listened to it, if you have any observations from listening to our story or questions you would like to pose to either of us, please email them to me. We will record that podcast soon and would love to include your thoughts or questions for him or me. We’ll try to work in as many as we can.

On a personal note, tomorrow Sara and I will begin the two-day drive home from Denver, where we’ve been spending some wonderful time with our son. It has been a welcome respite in the midst of some difficult circumstances and the challenging direction God seems to be asking of us. His ways are always right, even though they are rarely easy.

A Divine Wink?

I had an interesting experience the other day that still leaves me tickled and touched.

The photo above was taken in the men’s restroom at a gas station off of the Wheeler Ridge exit of Hwy 99. I was returning from a trip to visit my dad in the hospital shortly after he had a fractured hip repaired with a number of other things on my plate.  Driving back I was reflecting on my dad’s pain at nearly 96 and what might be the best options moving forward. I stopped at that exit to get some gas and make a visit to the restroom.

There in front of me at chest height was the plumbing fixture you see above. The letters seemed to jump off the metal, “Arek.”  I’ve never seen that name anywhere except in a book written by a long-time friend of mine. I’ve been coaching her on the manuscript and the publishing process because I think she has a gift and her book is a great read. Some people say it’s Bourne Identity meets Hunger Games. It’s the story of a young woman discovering that who she thinks she is and who she really is are vastly different realities and it takes her on a  roller-coaster ride of conflict as she fights for her life.

The lead male character is named Arek. He’s a mysterious presence, to say the least, and in the early part of the book seems to live in the shadows. Here I am in the middle of nowhere, stopping for a quick break and right in front of me, at THAT urinal is the unique name of THAT character. I’ve only known Arek in the pages of a book, seeing his name out here in the wild was a weird moment. It made me smile and almost laugh out loud, which is something I don’t recommend in a public restroom.

Wow!  Just wow!  For the next few miles, it was all I could think about. How could that have happened? I suspected it was God’s way of letting me know that he was pleased by the help I was giving this childhood friend of my daughter’s and that this might all be part of a bigger plan than I was aware. I love moments like that when God plays on the fringes of my journey. He’s done it in song lyrics playing in the background at a store, or in a random comment overheard from a passerby, or even in a line in a novel or article. Each seems like divine confirmation that I’m on the right track, like the occasional tree mark on a mountain trail or a cairn beside it. And I suspect he was signaling that not only for this young woman I’ve been helping but also for my father’s situation as well. I sensed his pleasure and my heart was warmed by a divine wink, “I love you, Kid.  Keep going down this road.”

I know Jesus said it was an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign. I never seek signs anymore because it proved a fruitless pastime. But that doesn’t mean he won’t wink at us from time to time to let us know we’re right where he wants us to be.  I’m sure I’ve missed a million of these for every one I have noticed. When I see them though I pause to take note and enjoy how God can be so playful in such subtle ways. I don’t chalk them up to mere coincidence, not when they are that dramatic.

The book with Arek and Willow in it will be released on June 15. It’s called Out of the Shadows and is the first of a three-part trilogy that I think many of you will enjoy, especially if you like mysteries and intense action. The author is Tessa Van Wade. She’ll be on a podcast soon so you can meet her. You’ll love the passion that fills her heart and how this story can help you walk out of the shadows of lies and illusions and embrace the true identity Father sees in you.  I’ll be sharing more about it up the road, but I do hope you get to meet Tessa, at least virtually and enjoy this amazing story that’s spilling out of her heart. You can see a trailer for the book here and pre-order it from Amazon here.

 

Meet Me in the Middle

A couple of weeks ago on The God Journey, Kyle and I briefly discussed Tyler Perry’s invitation on the most recent Academy Awards TV broadcast:

“I refuse to hate someone because they’re Mexican or because they are black or white. Or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they’re a police officer or because they’re Asian. I would hope we would refuse hate. And I want to take this humanitarian award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle. Because that’s where healing, where conversation, where change happens. It happens in the middle. Anyone who wants to meet me in the middle to refuse hate and blanket judgment, this one is for you, too,”

In response to our discussion, I got this email:  “I was just thinking earlier this week about how hard it is to be in the middle.  That is one of the main reasons I have had to quit Facebook. Maybe in a future podcast, you and Kyle can give some tips on how to survive being in the middle without getting ripped to shreds.  For now, I am quietly sitting on the sidelines licking my wounds.”

My heart goes out to this man. Political dialogue on social media these days is a blood sport where bullies rule the day and where thoughtful conversation is almost always hijacked by political agendas with an air of superiority.  I am convinced, however, that most people want to meet in the middle where character matters and mutual respect wins the day, which is why I helped with A Langauge of Healing for a Polarized Nation.

Maybe Kyle and I will come back to this someday, but to answer his request, here’s how I find a way to lean into the middle as freely as I can.

  • Realize everything in the media is skewed toward fear. It attracts eyeballs and advertisers who find fearful people an easy sell. I don’t let it in.  Things are never as dire as the media wants us to believe. Regardless of what is going on in the news and wherever fear tries to find its way in, I reflect on the fact that God is bigger than any agenda humanity tries to exert and that his purpose is unfolding in our world behind the scenes. I know that in the end, Jesus gets the last word on everyone and everything (I Peter 3:22 MSG)
  • I rarely take in more than 30 minutes of news and commentary per day, and that includes days with “breaking stories.” Glance and move on; don’t wallow in the fear or hysteria the media works to foment. If you don’t have resources that can give you a good overview in that amount of time, find better ones.  And even then, I only believe about 70% of what I hear. I try to distinguish between facts I’m being given and the interpretation of those facts to manipulate my behavior. I try to recognize their bias and adjust accordingly.
  • I intentionally go to websites and read articles that do not agree with my point of view. I always benefit from hearing what the other side is actually saying, and it keeps the algorithms from serving me up a soup of my own biases.
  • I limit my input from one-sided think tanks, commentators, advocacy groups, and overtly biased media. If you think your side has all the facts and worthy ideas, you are part of the problem. We all have convictions about what is right and wrong, but these sources all have one purpose—to manipulate you so they can advance their agenda by exaggerating their perspective. It’s not so hard to see once you are aware of it. Hold fast to your convictions, but don’t let them be used to give you cause to hate or to fear those who don’t share them.
  • I have good friends on the opposing sides of every issue to keep me honest. They are people who can talk about different points of view with respect and graciousness.
  • I converse with people I don’t know on my social media the same way you would talk to them in person. I treat them with dignity and respect until they prove themselves toxic and destructive. Then, I no longer engage them and either block or delete their comments.
  • This may be the most important one. Take in at least an hour of beauty and peace every day. Go for a walk. Sit in a garden. Celebrate a friendship with someone that refreshes your spirit.

I love this perspective that Eugene Peterson offers his Introduction to Nahum in The Message:

The stage of history is large. Larger-than-life figures appear on this stage from time to time, swaggering about, brandishing weapons and money, terrorizing and bullying. These figures are not, as they suppose themselves to be, at the center of the stage — not, in fact, anywhere near the center. But they make a lot of noise and are able to call attention to themselves. They often manage to get a significant number of people watching and even admiring: big nations, huge armies, important people. At any given moment a few superpower nations and their rulers dominate the daily news. Every century a few of these names are left carved on its park benches, marking rather futile, and in retrospect pitiable, attempts at immortality. The danger is that the noise of these pretenders to power will distract us from what is going on quietly at the center of the stage in the person and action of God. God’s characteristic way of working is in quietness and through prayer.

This is what makes my heart soar even in trouble times. What is God doing at the center of the stage?

If we stay grounded in that reality, we’ll learn to live generously in a world that needs it so badly.

You Are Not Who You Think You Are

You’ll want to read this.  No, not this blog, the new novel I want to tell you about.

Out of the Shadows will debut in less than a month, and it will change the way you look at the world. It’s been described as a cross between Bourne Identity and Hunger Games and while those comparisons give you an idea of the mystery thrill ride it is, it doesn’t do justice to the depth of meaning you’ll find in this story. Willow is a young woman who is beginning to discover that she is not what she grew up thinking herself to be, and she holds a pivotal place in the future of the world.

I’m rarely this excited about a new book, and all the more because it was written by someone I’ve known since her childhood. Tessa van Wade was the daughter of a family I grew close to when she was four years old. I’ve watched her grow up alongside my daughter as a young woman, wife, and mother and more recently have watched her bloom as an author and someone with a powerful journey into the love and life of Jesus.

Here is what is on the back cover:

You are not who you think you are.

A seemingly ordinary existence is shattered when Willow is assaulted and left for dead near her San Francisco home. It is not a random attack, as she soon discovers. The stranger who rescues her tells her she’s part of a hidden race of people whose oppressive government is on the verge of a violent uprising.

Against her will, she is drawn into a maze of deception and conspiracy, which defies everything she has ever known. As she attempts to separate fact from fiction, she becomes too entrenched to retreat.

Her only hope is to discover the truth before it is too late.

You’ll find it is not only true of Willow but you too, and that’s what makes the adventure of this book so amazing.  If you’ve read enough, you can pre-order it here from Amazon or here from Blue Sheep Media.

Out of the Shadows by Tessa Van Wade, published by Blue Sheep Media
Release date: June 8, 2021. • Paperback  • 272 pages

Here’s a brief endorsement I wrote for the cover of Tessa’s book:

One of the most beautiful, deeply-layered stories I’ve ever read.
Out of The Shadows will hold you spellbound from first the page, and leave you craving for more after the last one.
Tessa van Wade has created an iconic woman in Willow who has to discover her identity to fulfill her destiny. 

Wayne Jacobsen, author of He Loves Me, Live Loved Free Full, and co-author of The Shack.

Wait!  There’s more.

Tessa is looking for avid readers who are connected on social media to join her Launch Team. So, if you’d like to read a pre-release copy of the book and help her make it available to your world, please follow these two easy steps.  (1) fill out this Google form and (2) click this link Out of the Shadows Launch Team | Facebook and answer the questions there.  That’s it.

Embracing God’s Playfulness

Spring Newsletter 2021

Playfulness is not the first thing people think of when they think of the Creator of the universe. Our religious interpretations of him often paint him as an austere, angry, or even terrifying presence. Such views help keep the people fearful instead of faithful, which makes them easier to manipulate.

But how can that be an accurate portrayal of the God who made giraffes and hummingbirds, octopi and penguins, even sex, not have a pretty vibrant sense of humor?

Isn’t the playfulness of joy and laughter one of our most treasured human experiences? It draws our attention when children are shrieking with delight or when a conversation erupts in laughter. Wouldn’t these things be closer to the innocence of Creation than the despair and fear our more adult anxieties drag us into?

If you’ve been reading my blog of late or listening to the podcasts, you’ll recognize that Romans 8:19-21 had been close to my heart these days.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

While contemplating this Scripture, having recently visited the burn scar of a large wildfire, I sensed his Spirit whisper in my heart, “It’s time.”  My whole being shook with what I assumed was the same eager expectation the creation experiences. It’s time for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed on the earth. I don’t have a clue if this is that final, end-of-days revelation of his children. Still, I did sense in the wasteland of our virus-devastated, politically divided, and depression-rampant culture he wants to reveal himself more graphically in those who have come to rest in his love and express the joy of his delight.

Can you imagine how much a playful heart would stand out in this season of high anxiety and despair?  And by playful, I don’t mean frivolous or flippant, but one who has found a different source of life that transcends the events surrounding them. You know the kind, one who remains lighthearted even in the face of stress and expresses the kind of humor helpful in opening doors to people weighed down by the world.

Truly, God is the most playful presence I’ve ever encountered. Oh, there are times when he is somber and severe, that’s true. Truth can hurt. Jesus sweated great drops of blood in Gethsemane, and Paul reminded many of those who came to faith during his first missionary journey that it is through suffering that we often enter the kingdom. But that doesn’t discount the power of play, especially in our relationship with God and in times of extremity.

As a dad with his young son or daughter, God is playful, too. Some of the funniest thoughts I’ve ever had have come from him. I’ve often laughed out loud at an observation that completely flips how I am looking at a situation. Jesus often played with his disciples, whether it was calming a storm that scared them or telling them how easy it is to ignore the log stuck in their own eye while trying to plucking out a speck of sawdust in someone else’s. I love his playfulness with the Syrophoenician woman who reminded him that even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table.

People who are playful with God don’t trivialize him. It’s all the more glorious when it’s with the Transcendent God of the universe. It keeps us lighthearted even in the midst of struggle and brings the laughter that is a medicine for the heart. People who know God this way don’t fall into the perfectionist tone of an expert, but even though they haven’t figured it all out, they are confident in the One who does.

We took a lot of criticism for how playful Papa was in The Shack. Many complained that we didn’t give God his reverence, especially when he spills the pancake batter or tells Mack that he’s “messing with him.” Playfulness was Papa’s doorway into Mack’s great sadness. He wasn’t making light of his pain but finding a way through it to transform his heart and to unmask the lies of darkness that held him captive.

Sadly, so much of religion teaches us the opposite. Instead of lightheartedness, it weighs us down with shame and fear. Instead of helping us learn to rest in God’s work, it pushes us to try harder and do more for God. No wonder religion is so exhausting and so unfruitful. Learning to play with our Father is where we hear him best and are most free to respond to his desires for us. I suspect Father’s playfulness has a lot to do with keeping our hearts at rest in him, especially when circumstances can be so challenging around us. Lightness is not the way to avoid our pain but to transit through it to greater transformation and fruitfulness on the other side.

I’m convinced that this is the revelation of God in his children for which creation eagerly awaits. As you come to rest in his love, you too will discover how playful this God can be and why childlikeness is the attribute Jesus identified as most helpful to us in exploring his kingdom. If you haven’t discovered that yet, talk to him about it. Ask him to teach you and lean into those spaces where you can stake your trust in his love and how that can set you at rest in him.

As important as this is for all of us, I sense God is wanting to breathe this reality into a new generation of younger men and women who have been disillusioned and disappointed by religion and have yet to know how real and wonderful God is. He’s calling to them even now and those who respond will become a contagion for his love.

I am excited to see what the coming weeks and months might bring as God reveals himself in his creation. As I’ve begun sharing this, I have heard from so many others that say they have had similar insights about God making himself known through love, rest, and play.  This is not our work to do; it is his work in us.  Yield to him as best you see and watch what he will unfold.

Lifestream Updates

My Friend Luis
If you’re not listening yet to our newest limited-series podcast about my friendship with a man who came to America over the wall when he was twenty-one, you might want to jump in. Raphael is a recurring character in Luis’s childhood who seems to be an angel taking care of Luis through some horrendous circumstances. Just as I put the finishing touches on the last episode, Raphael returned and spent some time with Luis. He hadn’t seen him in over 30 years and what they share becomes the perfect conclusion to our podcast. So, we’re going to have to add an episode or two to our original plan to tell this part of the story.

Live Loved Free Full
Do you want some encouragement each day to lean into more relational space with God so that you can connect with his heart and learn to live in his love? Wayne wrote his latest book for you. It’s a daily devotional with 365 reflections to help tune your heart to Father’s frequency and allow your perception of him to grow.  If you haven’t got your copy, you can get it here.

Don’t Miss These
The trajectory of my heart has been shifting over the past couple of months, and if you want to know what that’s looking like, don’t miss these episodes of The God Journey:

Future Travel
I am in Amarillo, TX today as my first trip since the pandemic started. I meet with a college today and with Christ-followers tomorrow.  I’m not sure how fast or how soon I’ll plan other travel. I do have a couple of make-up trips for some that were canceled; then we’ll see what God has from there. If you’re hoping to put something together as this pandemic seems to wind down, please let me know.

Embracing the Winds of Change

For those of you following this new story-telling podcast, episode 10 dropped this morning. This begins yet another transition in our story and sets up for what were to be the final two podcasts in this series.

However…

This story has taken yet another turn. I finished my part of editing the final podcast on the morning of Good Friday. I was well into the contentment of having finished a project that had been on my heart for some time. and had taken a lot of time to assemble.

Good Friday night, Raphael returns. Yes, THAT Raphael—the stranger, and most likely an angelic presence, who showed up in Luis’ life as a five-year-old boy searching the mountains for his family’s lost cow that we talk about in Episode 3.  They met many times over the next few years as Raphael cared for Luis when he was being abused in his own family. The same Raphael that returned when Luis was in his young teens and rescued him from the back of a trailer where he was being held as bait to lure Captain Herrera into an ambush.  Luis had not seen him since that night when he was fifteen years old.

Until a few weeks ago. As Luis was locking up a church building after a meeting with the youth and a prayer vigil that followed, to his utter shock he felt Raphael’s presence again and heard footsteps behind him. He turned around to see his old friend, who had not aged a day.  The things they talked about were incredibly timely and put some finishing touches on the story that we can’t leave out. So, there will be at least another episode, maybe two.

If you’re not in this story yet, you might want to be. You won’t want to miss this ending, nor any of it really. I’ve heard and been part of some amazing stories in my life, but this one has transformed my heart in some incredible ways.  You can hear all the episodes at MyFriendLuis.com, or subscribe to it through your favorite podcast provider.

So many people are already listening in and the conversations and emails I’ve received about it are heart-warming as well.  I love how it is touching so many people and helping them see Father’s work in their own life. Here are just two of them I’ve received in the last few days:

“I have soo enjoyed the My Friend Luis series.  The production is so well done and very encouraging. The story is a reminder of the reality of how God is here with us – right now and very present – not somewhere up in the sky and far away. It also serves as a reminder of God’s kindness, his faithfulness, his compassion, his realness, and his love in the life of one of his lambs that was so in need of love—his love.  The whole thing is just so encouraging. I can’t help but grin from ear to ear when I tell others about it. Thank you for taking the time in putting this together and for sharing it!”

*                                *                                *

“This is by far the best or near best you have put together. The story is riveting, compelling, raw, inviting, and full of drama. Hollywood would be eclipsed by this story. I have listened to them all as they have been released and have become immersed in the story. This has to be the backbone of a book!!! if so I would buy it. It is truly amazing! I found myself stopping, grabbing tissue as my own heart’s emotion inflamed within me, “God, you are good, very good.” This is a stunning story of calling and provision. Well done, very well done!”

The First Moment of Freedom

Sara and I are reading through my new devotional each day.  Yes, it is a bit weird reading my own book and even stranger to be touched by it and freshly encouraged to draw into that space that makes my life more fruitful.

This one especially touched my heart the other day.

April 15 – The First Moment of Freedom

Some have labored for months or years under the oppressive burden of trying to earn God’s approval, trying to please abusive leadership or failing the expectations others have held for them.

The moment God’s love works its way past all those things and captures them in his sheer delight is a moment that knows no equal in creation.

Once people discover just how much he loves them, and that love is motive enough to allow God to do everything in their life that he wants to accomplish, you can see the weight lift from their shoulders. You can see in their eyes the renewed hope of enjoying again their relationship with Father.

Sometimes it is an immediate realization, at others a slow awakening until that wonderful moment when the penny drops.

Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you.
Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives…

2 Corinthians 3:1–3 (MSG)

I’ve tasted of this many times in my own journey when some new glimpse of him opens a wider door in my heart. I’ve also been graced to be with quite a few people at the very moment some broken place in their life or thinking gives way to the recognition that they are loved no matter what. It’s a moment! I love being in those moments with people, but I am also increasingly aware that I cannot orchestrate them in my time frame, and neither can they.

This is the work of his Spirit, who is constantly arranging things in our heart to give us such a moment. It’s so easy to unwittingly resist that work as we drill down in our guilt or press ourselves to try harder or do more. All we can do is tell him that we desire that revelation in ourselves or in someone we’re with and leave our hearts as open as possible so we can see what the Spirit is doing to bring God alive in us.

If you’re struggling in one of those seasons where his love seems distant, I am praying for you even as I’m writing this. God wants you to have such freedom even more than you want it for yourself. I know it doesn’t feel like that sometimes, but it is still true. Ask him to help you relax into that reality and let his Spirit sort it out in you.

 


The excerpt is taken from Live Loved Free Full, my new devotional that gives you a thought every day to help invite your heart and mind into more relational space where you can see better how he is at work in you.   You can order your copy here, or view a video about it here.

It’s Time!

The last few months have been a strange time for me. As I was working on the new My Friend Luis podcast, I kept getting insight from the Spirit, signaling there was something ahead he wanted me to be ready for. These insights came in nudges from within, dreams and visions from other people, and specific Scripture passages that would leap off the page into my heart when I was reading. While these inklings were encouraging, they were far from specific. However, the inspiration within and the growth curve it has sent me on is nothing like I’ve experienced before.  I’ve shared some of that on my podcast, especially some insights about prayer that are reshaping my life in so many ways. It started with the Embracing His Glory insights and has continued on about praying with a different perspective and with others that feels like a jig-saw puzzle fitting together.

Last week Sara and I were in the Sierra Mountains with my 95-year-old Dad to celebrate Easter. Earlier that week, my daughter and grandkids came up for a few days, and we took a walk through the burn scar of the Creek wildfire. Over the next few days, I had this nagging thought in my heart that there was something God wanted me to see there, that I had missed. I talk more about that in a video on my Facebook page that I posted yesterday. It was recorded on Good Friday as I re-visited that area to share with you what I felt God was speaking to my heart.  If you missed that video, you could view it here.

I talk more about this experience in the podcast that will air this Friday morning at The God Journey, called “Settled in His Spirit.”  Kyle and I talk about it in the first 12 minutes or so. Simply, as I contemplated what I had seen in the aftermath of the wildfire, my heart was drawn to Romans 8:18-21:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

As I was thinking of this passage on my walk in the woods with my dog, Zoey, I was surprisingly surrounded by a rising sense of Presence.  Then, I heard two words in my mind: “It’s time.”  I knew instantly that the voice was referring to this passage. It is time for the children of God to be revealed. My body literally quaked. I’m not sure what all this means, but I am confident something is stirring. Every person I’ve shared this moment with sense has either already had something similar on the heart or felt affirmation when they heard it.

I’m not offering this as some kind of prophecy. I don’t know that it has any end-of-the-world overtones to it. But I do sense the undercurrent of those who have been learning to live at rest in his love over the past few years will soon become more evident than the religious voices that so easily disfigure the face of God to the world around us. Now, I’m not looking for that to change in the media or Christianity Today to do a story on it because I don’t think this is about new books, markets, and viral internet posts, but simply a stitching together of people loving selflessly those who cross their paths. God will make himself more evident to others, and we’ll see that over the next few months and years.

I honestly know nothing more than that, but my heart has an expectancy about God’s work in our world that it hasn’t had in a while.  I feel no angst to make anything happen or think some book or project from me will turn some tide here. As things begin to unfold, the usual suspects will try to market it for their own gain or try to systematize it to put it under their control. I can tell you now, avoid such people and such activities.

This is a work of the Spirit that will have the breath of Father in it. It won’t be in our control, though we can yield to his flow when we sense it. What is most important now is to keep learning what it means for you to be at rest in his love and to learn how he wants to play with you in the Father’s working. This rises out of that reality, not the somber, terrifying tones of human effort.  All he asks of us is to present a willing heart, to keep our eye on him, and to be ready when he nudges us into the next opportunity.  That will involve some prayer and watching, but the fun kind, not the laborious kind.

And for those who are touched by what I share in the video, or you have questions about it, Kyle and I will be hosting a God Journey After-Show this coming Sunday at 10:00 am Pacific Daylight Time. If you want to join us, email me for a Zoom link to that session. We’ll let in as many as we think we can manage, but it will also stream live on The God Journey Facebook Page for those who want to watch.

Please hear my heart here. I sense something stirring and am just putting it out there to see if others have similar insights. If God is in this, let’s see what he unfolds over the next few months and years.

_______________________________

As a side note, during our time at Shaver Lake, a local radio station played an interview recorded with my dad a few weeks before about his experiences in World War II. You can find it here, along with photos from that era. 

 

 

Father’s Fingerprints

I’ve not been posting much here or anywhere else lately because most of my time these days is spent talking to people and stitching together My Friend Luis. For those of you who have missed this, it is a new, twelve-episode, story-telling podcast of one of my closest friends and how God has worked in his heart, and the friendship we share. I have two more episodes to finish up on my end. For you, episode six dropped today.  It has touched me deeply, and I am blessed by everyone who has written me about this story and how it has touched them too.  I’m so glad I could share it in this way.

Episode six completes the story that began in Episode One, the night Luis, as a twenty-one-year-old kid, tried to cross the border from Tijuana into the United States. This is the pay-off, and there’s so much that happens that night that has Father’s fingers all over it. It’s one of the best stories I’ve ever heard of God winning someone into his love. I don’t want you to miss it.

There’s a lot of that in this story, as it’s often easier to see looking back over a long story. My friend, Bob Prater, spends a lot of his days listening to people’s stories. He invites people out to breakfast or lunch with him, many he’s just meeting for the first time.  When they sit down, he often asks them, “Tell me your story, and don’t leave anything out.”  What a gift!

How many people are dying to tell their story to someone who will listen and care, and how rarely do they get the chance with someone who is not rushed?

I asked him one time what he’s looking for as they share. “I look for God’s fingerprints on their story, even if they haven’t recognized them yet.  I liked to connect the dots.”

Some of the emails I’ve received from those of you already listening to My Friend Luis are how his story helps you connect the dots in your own story.  I love that. There’s never been a moment in your life where God was not making himself known to you in ways that invite you into his love. Often we miss those moments because we are distracted by the world or our own guilt or pain. It’s so easy to ignore his approach or write off those serendipitous moments as mere coincidence.  It often takes the compassionate eye of someone else to help us see the thread of God’s love stitched into our lives.

But it is there, whether you see it yet or not. I pray we all come to see more clearly his fingerprints, not only in Luis’ story but, even more importantly, in your own. Once you begin to see that, anything can happen.

My Friend Luis can be found at most places you get your podcasts, or you can listen to it directly from the website.

My Friend Luis Episode 3

Episode 3 of My Friend Luis dropped this morning. This is one of my favorite episodes of the story of the friendship Luis and I have shared, and it sets up a lot that’s still to come. One incredible story told over twelve episodes in an immersive format. What it shows about God and his ability to walk with us, even when we’re unaware at times, makes this story so compelling.

Here’s what some people have written me about My Friend Luis.

“It was a real treat to hear the first episode of My Friend Louis. We listened like we were in a movie. We were both disappointed to actually reach our destination before it ended. We wanted to keep it going. You guys did a fantastic job with this.” — Jeff

“You cannot listen to his story without being impacted on how unfair the world is and how lucky some of us are.” —Dwight

“Loved this!!! Can’t wait to hear the next one!” — Harvey

“I heard two voices in my head while I was listening. The first voice said: “It’s his own fault, he tried to come here illegally and suffered the consequences. This is the voice I used to believe was God’s (standing up for justice). The second voice said: “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased and love dearly.”  This is the voice I now know is Father’s and the voice of grace, which his true justice. I can’t wait for the rest of the story and see God unfolding through it!” — Isaac

“I am just captivated by this story! Now I think I see why Wayne was excited about 2021… This is much more than a podcast! I’m sending the website link to friends and family.” — Jack

“Oh, love it!  It’s going to be a great story … Planning on listening with my sisters. Didn’t realize it was going to be so professionally done!”  — Jaq

“I am so looking forward to hearing his whole story! Maybe people would have different perspectives, hearing the life of someone who comes from a country where there’s a lot of corruption and seems like surviving is a daily struggle! Wayne, so glad you’re sharing Luis’s story with us.”  — Nellie

You can listen to My Friend Luis on the website, or subscribe from your favorite podcast feed.

For Your Consideration

First an announcement…

I love hearing from so many of you how Live Loved Free Full is helping encourage your journey. Thanks for letting me know. Blue Sheep Media is providing quantity discounts for those who want extra copies to give to others. You can get ten copies for $150.00 or twenty copies for $300.00. You can order here. Also, anything you can do to help get the word out about this book on social media—posting favorite quotes, your own recommendation, or even linking to the trailer, helps more than you know.  You’re welcome to send (or post) a photo of a particularly meaningful entry to a friend, which is a great way to give the message away. I’m also willing to do interviews with podcasters or Zoom in to a meet-the-author session with people you think might be interested. Just contact me.

And now something for your consideration…

Many of you know that for the past 13 years we have worked with some people in the upper reaches of Kenya to help them in a brutal time of need. Part of that included working with four tribes who were dying of disease and starvation due to a prolonged drought among some nomadic tribal people who could no longer sustain their way of life. Over five years we helped them get water, food, medicine, education, hygiene, and build a sustainable economy. We brought that project in for a successful landing last summer with gratitude in our hearts for those of you who gave so much to help them.  We also left our friends in Kitale with three money-generating enterprises to help with future needs.

Now, two smaller tribes have come into the area who are in the same condition as when we first connected with the other tribes in North Pokot. Men, women and children are starving without any access to food. No government program or NGOs are offering to help. Though we feel we have done what Father asked us to do in that region, our hearts are still touched by the need in these two villages, Namorui and Kase.  So, I’m wondering if there is an individual or any group of people who read this blog and feel a tug on your heart to invest your heart and soul to help these people find food for the moment and a future of hope. We drilled two wells for them this past fall, but they need food relief immediately and they want to begin an agricultural enterprise like we did for the other tribes.  $16,800 is needed for food relief over the next six months and it would take another $50,000 to build agricultural projects near their two wells.

These new tribes have already been introduced to Jesus through the coaches we had working with the other tribes in the area.  The photo above was taken this weekend as they are praying for God to provide food for them. They have nothing. If you want to be part of something that is life-changing for people on the other side of the world, please contact me.