The Last Leg of a Beautiful Trip

As Sara and I turn toward home, our hearts are filled with joy from this time together, and the countless conversations we’ve had with people from all over the U.S. We even had people fly in or drive great distances to be with us for some of our gatherings. There were also many spontaneous opportunities to connect with people that I hope were as enriching to them as they were for us.
For those keeping track of our dog Zoey, she is in the seventh week of her recovery from ACL surgery in Florida. She continues to progress wonderfully and now walks two miles daily with us. The only challenge has been keeping our puppy away as she aches to play with her best friend.  We are grateful for how all of this turned out.
We are in the Denver area this week to spend time with our son and make some personal connections with those who want to meet with us. We have traveled almost 6,000 miles in the RV since we left our home in California on April 1. We will be headed back home on Monday and are ready to see what next chapter God will write with Sara and me. Thanks for all of your love, prayers, encouragement, and support.
One of my favorite conversations was with fifty or so people in a state-run rehab facility in Maryland who were transitioning back into society from serving prison terms. All had read or watched THE SHACK, and some had read HE LOVES ME. They were ready to talk the moment I sat down. I was impressed with the incredible hunger in the room and the thoughts they invited me to wrestle through with them.
Many shared how they had a jaded view of God based on things that had happened to them and on things they’d heard about God from other Christians. But THE SHACK’S portrayal of God had them considering new possibilities. The questions were passionate and kind, and I left there deeply touched by the opportunity to be with them. Many wanted to know a God who would love them in their failures and make a home in them so they could find their life in him. I pray that God is revealing himself and his love to them.
Also, during this trip, we raised over $70,000 from people on my blogs and podcast to help people in Kenya regain their water supply after devastating floods had wiped it out. We restored the wells in time to save the corn crop that was already growing. For those who gave to help them, I hope you hear their gratefulness resound in your heart. You saved some lives that no one else in Kenya seems to be able to help these tribes in North Pokot.  Thank you so much.
One of our team in Kenya sent this note and the following video:
Hi brother Wayne, our team arrived here Wednesday last week and we have been working tirelessly day and night to make sure the community has received all the items. People here in Kenya volunteered two trucks to carry the donations. We have served over 600 households with food and supplies. This is the great work and it has given us the new experience again to interact, to share the word and to impress there life .
The irrigation program has been restored and protected for future emergency.  The maize plantations were withering and we thank all the supporters for making the irrigation system running. We are grateful for their  great support and ask God to bless them abundantly.

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Chapter 6: Following the Lamb

Note: This is the sixth in a series of letters written for those who are alive in Jesus at the end of the age. Once complete, I’ll combine them into a book. You can access the previous chapters here.  If you are not already subscribed to this blog and want to make sure you don’t miss any, you can add your name here.

“I don’t hear you talk a lot about obedience, and that’s all I heard growing up. If I’m not obedient to God, he won’t bless me. I’ve heard so many things God expects of me that I just can’t do it all. How important do you think obedience is to God?
Lael, single, ski instructor and trail guide in the Rockies

Lael,

I’m so glad to hear you’re still out on the Colorado trails, taking in that beauty every day. Does it ever get old?

I love your question; obeying Jesus is more for our benefit than for his. The reason you don’t hear me use that word a lot is because it is so weighted with religious expectations that people miss the real invitation. Many see obedience like a child doing what they are told, often against their will, or even with hostility. Others, like you, think of it as obeying all the Scriptures, and are overwhelmed by how far short they fall.

Obedience to Jesus isn’t like either of those things, which is why I use different terminology. I talk about learning to rest in his love and about following him, which is obedience by a better name.

Let me illustrate through one of the most engaging days I’ve ever experienced. It happened on a visit to the home of C.S. Lewis, called The Kilns in Oxford, England. A couple of friends took me there, as I was doing a seminar in nearby Wales. A young, American student living in the home was to be our guide. When we arrived, however, she said she was happy to do the tour, but if we could wait thirty minutes, we would be in for a treat. We had no idea what she meant, but we were intrigued enough to take her up on the offer.

She ushered us in to Lewis’s library and told us to make ourselves comfortable. We gawked wide-eyed at his books and the desk where he wrote. Eventually, two men came into the house and entered the study. After a brief introduction of first names, the older of the two men started telling us about the house, but in surprisingly intimate terms. He talked of conversations with Lewis and shared anecdotes of their relationship, which was warm and humorous.

It took me a while to work out who he was but when I did, I gasped. This was Walter Hooper, Lewis’s secretary in his later years, and the editor of his posthumous works; I had read many of his books about Lewis. For the next hour and a half, we walked the house and grounds with him. It was the tour of a lifetime, not just of the home but into the mind and manner of Lewis himself, from someone who knew him well and had spent much time with him.

Following Jesus in this world is much like following Walter Hooper around The Kilns, only way better. Jesus doesn’t just know God; he is God. He partnered in the creation of the world and knows exactly how it functions and how the life of his Father finds its way into the chaos of its brokenness to redeem us out of it. Who wouldn’t want to follow him?

 

Wherever He Goes

“They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” (Revelation 14:4)

From the first time I heard those words at a very young age, they captured me. For reasons I couldn’t explain, they caused my heart to soar with the thrill of adventure. What would it be like to follow the Lamb wherever he goes?

As I grew older, however, and became more schooled in the performance demands of Christianity, the words became less inviting and more ominous. Instead of following Jesus, I learned to obey the Scriptures, thinking them the same thing. And while I tried to do that, it took a long time for me to realize I was trying to apply the interpretations of the Bible by those who saw it as a rule book to appease God. The thrill of adventure vanished as I became a rule-keeper instead of a Jesus-follower. I felt constrained by admonitions such as, “love your enemies,” “die daily,” and “lay down your life.” It seemed God always wanted the worst thing for me, and trying to do that on my own was fraught with frustration and failure.

Even still, wanting to ingratiate myself to Jesus in my late teens, I gave Jesus a global “yes,” telling him I would follow him—even if I didn’t like it, even if it cost me my life, even though no one went with me. Of course, I mostly failed, but I would repent and try harder the next time, aspiring to be the most radical Christian I knew. Unfortunately, it often led me to think better of myself than I merited, and to looking down on those who weren’t working as hard.

My first real surrender to him was over my career. At eighteen, I wanted to be an air traffic controller, but I had moments where I felt “called to ministry,” words I wouldn’t use in that context today. During my senior year of high school, through an extraordinary circumstance, God confirmed to me that he wanted me to teach the Scriptures. So, with some disappointment I went off to earn a Bible degree, and afterwards went into pastoral ministry.

Following him at this stage often came with regret and fear as to what he might ask of me. After all, the words about following the Lamb wherever he goes comes from the book of Revelation, for many, the most terrifying book in the New Testament. John is describing the 144,000 whom God puts his seal on before the tribulation of the last days. There are 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. Who are they? I’m not sure, to be honest. Some say they are redeemed Israelites; others say they are a metaphor for those who will be saved at the end. I’m not sure either of those is correct, especially since Revelation 7 describes another multitude in white robes too numerous to count who come out of the great tribulation as well.

Many have tried to turn this 144,000 into a special class of Christian; I’m making no such claim here. God knows who they are, and what role they will have in the end, but how John describes them is how I want to live:

“These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” (Revelation 14:4-5)

“Defiled by women,” is an unfortunate interpretation of those words. Women don’t defile men, and I don’t think the encouragement here is only for males. He may be addressing certain people who in the last day are virgins, but it’s a strange conclusion that God’s gift of sexuality, properly embraced, defiles someone. The appeal here is most likely for sexual purity.

“No lie was found in their mouths.” I love that. The most painful conflicts I’ve had have come from people who don’t know what’s true or refuse to live in it. They lie under pressure and spread misinformation to gain leverage over others. We’ll talk about the passion for truth in a future chapter.

But the gold here is found in this simple expression: “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” I love the simplicity of those words. They don’t have to get everything right, they are not perfect, gifted, specially anointed, or powerful people. They just follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Simple? In concept, yes. I only need to see him in my life and follow what he reveals. But simple isn’t always easy.

An Exquisite Invitation

Admittedly, up until my early forties, most of my obedience was out of obligation or fear. That’s not all bad. Doing what I thought pleased him kept me from paying the price for some of my selfish desires. However, it did not make me perfect, and, more importantly, it did not endear me to him. The constant struggle for obedience frustrated me since my aspiration to follow was greater than my capacity to do so.

Looking back now, I realize that trying to follow Jesus out of fear won’t take us far. We will not follow someone for long that we don’t love and admire, and with whom we feel safe. You may get a few things right living like that, but you won’t follow him wherever he goes because you won’t be close enough to him to see where he’s going.

In my early forties that began to change for me. In another decisive moment, the betrayal of a close friend opened another door for me. Jesus invited me not to fight for my position. “I have more to teach you if you walk away than if you stay,” were the words that kept stirring in my mind. I tried to argue around them, wondering what I still needed to learn. I thought I had it all figured out. Little did I know how far off the mark I was. Rote obedience to our concept of God’s expectations does not invite us into kingdom life. Over time, following him down that road changed my life in ways that answered the deepest hunger of my heart and made following him the greatest adventure of my life.

As I weathered the anger of betrayal and the fear of how I would provide for my family, I began to learn the most important lesson of my life—obedience was not the way to gain his love and favor; I already had it. The essence of the Gospel and the fruit of Jesus’s Incarnation demonstrated that I am loved even in my brokenness. Following the Lamb wherever he goes was not a command at all, but an exquisite invitation into an extraordinary way to live.

In these days, Jesus is wooing his bride back to himself, waking her from slumber, drawing her into his love so that she can discover the joy of walking alongside him through joy and pain. If Jesus is in the periphery of your vision, now is the time to set your focus on him.

Where to Begin

If you want to follow Jesus wherever he goes, you will want to first learn to relax deeply into his Father’s love. That took years for me, but as I did, I became more aware of his presence. I could sense his affection for me and recognize more consistently his care and the insights he offered.

Now, I had Someone to follow who cared about me and invited me into his story of redemption not only for me but also for the world around me. Even when he invited me down difficult roads, trusting in his love made it possible for me to follow, knowing he had resources beyond mine and would care for me even when situations didn’t turn out as I hoped. He always had another path that would invite me deeper into his way of thinking.

Rarely, if ever, did he demand me to do anything. He offered me opportunities to follow him. When I did, wonderful things happened even when it meant a more difficult path than I would have chosen. When I ignored his invitations, thinking I already knew best, circumstances usually got worse, were hurtful to others, or led to unresolvable pain.

As I become more attuned to his heart, I find him a steady presence to navigate the chaos of a fallen world. There’s no way my marriage with Sara would have survived her trauma if he had not walked us through it by preparing us in advance, holding our hearts when the darkness came, and lighting a path that drew us back together in a way that made her trauma our trauma, so we could walk a healing path together.

While he is willing to guide us at times like this, he also wants us to learn how to make wise and wonderful decisions inside his love. He doesn’t want to micromanage us. He cares about what we think, and the choices we would make. He responds to our concerns and questions, though often slower and more subtly than we might hope for and with insights that will challenge us into his truth. It is like looking through a darkened mirror most days but keep looking for him and you’ll see his fingerprints and sense his nudges.

In the joy of walking with him, however, I am always aware that this is not a friendship between equals. He is God after all, with all the wisdom and strength I need to make sense of life. He knows the best way to traverse every stage of my journey as he unravels the darkness with the wonder of his glory. I don’t want to convince him to do things my way anymore; I want him to make his way clear enough for me to follow.

You will find no greater purpose or no better path to wholehearted living than you will partnering with him in his unfolding purpose for you. It will perfectly dovetail with the better side of your personality and the hungers that lie deep in your soul. That’s why describing it as obedience doesn’t do it justice. It’s a journey inside all that is right and true about the universe and will make you part of the world’s redemption instead of adding to its misery.

His desire is not to order us about so he will look good, or to enlist our free labor for his benefit. My most profound moments of sensing his will and following him have all come as invitations, not demands. While this has surprised me many times, it really shouldn’t have. What kind of bridegroom would boss his bride around, and what bride would willingly endure it?

Tenderly and graciously, he invites his bride into his heart. To coerce her would be to violate her nature, as would trying to gain power over her through threats or intimidation. That’s why his predominant image at the end of the age is a Lamb, not a roaring lion, as we’ll see in the next chapter.

If you’ve lost the thread of following Jesus, perhaps distracted by the shiny things of the world, or worn out on a religious obligation that never seemed fruitful, maybe you never got the chance to learn how to truly follow him. Like me, you may have been chasing a set of rules instead of experiencing a depth of love that you will want to follow to the end of your days. It’s not too late.

 

Volunteering Freely

In the chapters to come, Lael, I will unpack some things that have helped me follow, even through my darkest days, with an ever-growing sense of adventure. It’s no different than someone having you alongside them, guiding them to the best alpine lakes. You’re not there to control ever detail but to give them options and keep them safe.

We’ll see that following him is not endlessly seeking a “word from God;” it is walking alongside the One who knows you best and loves you most, interacting with him as circumstances come your way. The best place to start is by asking him to show you a love so deep that following him becomes your delight.

He’ll invite you to process your doubts and struggles with him and release a divine creativity he has instilled in you to touch the world with his beauty. Cared for by him, you’ll have the space not to live self-focused, but to be more aware of others around you, and how you might lighten their load. He’s not going to ask you anything that is not inside his love for you and his ability to protect and provide for you through whatever happens.

Who wouldn’t want a guide like that to help them negotiate the illusions and challenges of this fallen world and embrace the beauty of his kingdom coming? When you find him as engaging as I do, you too will find yourself wanting to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This is how we were meant to live and the fruitfulness of doing so bears its own rewards. That’s what David saw about a future where, “Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power.” (Psalm 110:3)

If you want to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, dive into his love and you will joyfully follow him to the ends of the earth.

 

_________________________

You can access previous chapters here. Stay Tuned for Chapter 7 

 

Chapter 6: Following the Lamb Read More »

Seeing God as He Really Is

Some in the religious establishment have so disfigured God that people see him as a demanding tyrant who orchestrates horrible tragedies to punish or train them. They don’t know God as a loving Father or Jesus as a gracious Redeemer who is not manipulating the chaos of darkness to torment them into obedience; Father and Son are reaching into the chaos with a love so profound and rich that it can rescue us from any tragedy life has dealt us.

That came home to me in the last couple of days as I’ve had conversations with sixty or so people who are in various stages of fighting for freedom and sobriety against horrendous trauma in their lives. I am humbled by their struggle and admire so much the courage it takes to confront their brokenness and learn to rely on Jesus to do what they are powerless to solve on their own.

One of these conversations happened in a state-run rehab facility, where the people had read The Shack or watched the movie and wanted to discuss how Father intersects with their own journeys. The questions were poignant, their observations astute, and their passion to find what’s true was evident in their comments. Many of them had had religious experiences that turned them off to God.  It was an incredible joy to talk with them  in such starkly honest terms about who God is and how he wanted to be involved in their lives.

And that’s just the last two days. Throughout this trip, our personal connections have been rich, and the joy I feel watching Sara share from her trauma story warms my heart in ways you can’t imagine. What a trip we have had! We think back on so many conversations and so many old friendships rekindled, and new ones begun. After our weekend in Pennsylvania, it will be time to turn this ship westward and home to California.

Though we took our time getting out to the east coast, we are going to take a quick and direct route home. It is time to get back to our life there. So, with apologies to those in Iowa and South Dakota, who hoped we would come through those states, we are taking a more southerly route home. Here’s how that route looks now:

We are not planning a lot of big gatherings after Lexington, KY. The rest of the trip will be more about personal connections with those who desire it. . But we will take time in these areas to connect with people who may desire it. We’re still finalizing what this might look like, so if you’re interested in connecting, please email Wayne as soon as possible.  

 

 

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Holding on to Love

Sara and I are making a big turn up the east coast this week and begin our journey westward on Monday, with stops in Lexington and Louisville this weekend. From there, it looks like we’re going to go through St. Louis and Kansas City to visit our son in Denver.  If you’re along that way and want to connect with us, please get in touch.

For those concerned about our dog Zoey, she had her four-week, post surgery check-up for her ACL, and it is healing well.  We still have not gotten biopsy results back. Crazy!

Here are two videos you might enjoy:

Here are some thoughts from a conversation last night, many of you might find helpful:

“Lose track of his love and you’ll get lost in the darkness; hold on to his love and he will light you a path through it. ”

And, water returns to the tribes in North Pokot:

Thanks to all who have helped us with the need in Kenya. We’re getting close to the total that will help meet their needs for water and relief in this time of crisis. You can read my blog about the current need.

And it is not too late if you still want to help us. We still need about $10,000, if you have some extra. Again, every dime you give goes straight to Kenya; we take nothing out for administrative or financial fees.

God has been so good to us on this journey, with so many conversations and journeys to share, whether it’s people coming to a meeting or a chance encounter getting a haircut, we’re having a lot of fun coming alongside others and helping them see how Jesus might be leading them, What a delight to wander across the U.S. and see what doors Father opens, and what cinnamon rolls we can find!

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A Day of Rich Celebration

We woke up today in Richmond, VA after a beautiful two days in Charlottesville, VA, with long-time friends, the kind of people you just enjoy hanging out with.

We also woke up today celebrating forty-nine years as a married couple, and we will be having lunch today with the man who officiated at that ceremony. He has remained a close friend ever since and we’re excited to get some time with him and his wife today.

Yes, it’s hard to believe we have had this long together, and to think it almost ended in tragedy two years ago. We are grateful for every year we’ve had together, knowing just how much of that is a gift of God, not an achievement of ours.

People have been incredibly supportive through our trauma story, have celebrated with us our coming back together, and have cheered us on as we build a totally new life together. Every time I look at Sara I am giddy with delight that this turned out the way it did and in awe of her courage to take on the darkness and find Jesus inside of it. We had a less than one percent chance of surviving the trauma in our marriage and somehow Jesus navigated us into that space.

Everyone’s story is different and the way Jesus wants to work in us is unique to our story and our person. If your takeaway from our story of the last two years is what awesome people Wayne and Sara are, then you have missed the point. We simply followed him as best we could. The plot line of our story is not how good we are but how great God is that he could redeem us from so great a tragedy and lead us through it to a renewed relationship of deep love and affection.

Truly, he saved us!  And he wants to do the same for everyone reading this. The outcomes may be different, but the grace he has to lead us through the storm and into the safety of his heart is available to everyone.

On an unrelated note, we have received about $60,000 thus far for the $79,000 need our friends are facing in Kenya. They are about to lose everything—their water, crops, and life itself. You can read my blog about the current need. I am so grateful for the way so many of you have responded and so quickly to this need. Your generosity overwhelms us with joy and gratitude on this day as well.

And it is not too late if you still want to help us.

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Help Desperately Needed in Kenya

I don’t have time for long explanations with our current travel schedule, but our friends in Kenya once again find themselves in dire straits. For those who don’t know, a few years back we helped rescue over 200,000 people in Pokot who were dying from a drought and had no fresh water. We not only sent them relief but also dug wells and started agricultural projects to feed them and they responded to the Gospel of God’s love that was shared with them.

Now, they are dying. This last month, devastating floods have crushed Kenya, leading to over 230 deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced families. The people we have served in North Pokot have lost so much in this flooding and there is no government aid or U.N. assistance in that area. They are truly a forgotten people, and they are dying because they are drinking the flood waters to try and stay alive, which contains typhoid and cholera.  I have received a desperate  request for $79,000 for immediate relief of food, water and bedding supplies, as well as to repair the damage to their solar pumps and wells.  (You can read the details in the letter from Michael I am posting below or from his video from one of the agricultural projects.)

This is a grave need that merits an immediate response. Would you please consider helping them? While climate extremes are mostly an inconvenience for us, this is a life and death for their part of the world. Please pray for them and if you can help us reach this amount of money, I will be incredibly grateful. As always, every dime you give goes directly to them. We take nothing out for financial transfer fees or administration.

If you can help us raise this $79,000 to rescue these tribes in North Pokot, 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 also Venmo contributions to “@LifestreamMinistries” 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.

Thank you for considering this urgent request.

 

Letter from Michael: 

Dear brother Wayne greetings once more , last week we had a trip to Northern parts of Kenya , where we accompany with my wife , Thomas and solar installer experts.

Our journey was very sad and difficult, to reach the brothers and sisters whom we have worked with them for long time, this journey also gives us an opportunity to meet face to face with some people whom we have missed them so much in this three villages .

In North Pokot area the people in this village has become really part of our families, yes Kenya we have many tribes and communities who have been passing through challenges like this, e .g Baringo, Turkana and others. But this tribe God has put strongly in our life.

When we consider our first trip and how it has brought the great change, from nomadic life, which they could not be able to stay in one place together. But because of the compassionate heart for the people whom we were connected through Lifestream Ministries, we could not manage to make this great impact.

We started in small scale but now it has affected the entire region, not only physically but also spiritually transformation . This people they love God , through this empowerment they can now understand who is really GOD, because the time you invited me to join the team in Israel, you can remember we sat in king David hotel down and you allowed me to share the needs which is affecting us whether in the ministry or in the community, I shared from the depth of my heart about North Pokot people and there greatest challenge and prayer—it was water, school, hospital, sanitation/hygiene, and food,

So we have done our part, also you have done your part and this is the true gospel, since when Jesus was in this planet, he preached the gospel, feed the hungry, he healed the sick and had a compassion to the people. So he handed over this mandate to the church, this is why when the drought was in Jerusalem Paul and other disciples were to take the donation of relief to the elders to help the need over there, here in North Pokot, we have done the same the time of need you not ceased hold your hands but always you have poured love towards our brothers and sisters here in Kenya.

We don’t take it for granted and manipulate the generousity of our brothers and sisters and create a room for dependancy, this is what we taught people to work and leave under there means in sustainable.

We thank God for your wisdom, how you supported us for training under GHIN , accompanied by the three coached from the community, what we learned over there it is self-sustainability, through soft loans and to extend to one another as a group, and also protection of any project through the community itself.

In the training we learned also how the coaches we work together and help the community to choose the committee in every four groups in food, education, wellness and micro- soft loans and water , this is the knowledge which we imparted to the people and since we install the community projects , things were moving very well and for us we have easier work , instead of going and visit every village to know the challenges, but the coaches and the committee they have been doing this work , and it has become part of there work in the villages but not us , it is not our project it is there project, they work tirelessly to grow there food, harvest and distribute to every household. This reduced food relief and dependancy, through your advice and knowledge they are no longer need us more because they are able to do agricultural for themselves.

But in our side we just give them advice and take the great challenge as climate change and natural calamity just to share with you on there behave, this is why since we install irrigation project it has taken some years back without coming to you for arising urgent need in those places, but what happened this year starting from Ngetut where the team help to restore irrigation and also what has happened recently to other three places, it is disheartening after the destrustruction of irrigation system , sorry for long information, but it good for you to understand and the team over there, that the seed they planted, they didn’t plant in the rock but in good soil.

Last week, we thanked the coaches and the committee, for the great work which they have done in the farm. They have expanded the farm—they started with 5 acres, but after realizing the important of enough food supplies , some areas like Karameri, they have expanded up to 20 acres. We were amazed to to see this expansion work of agriculture. My wife and Thomas were so encouraged to see for the history from nomadic life to relief, then agriculture and self-sustainable, this is why in the budget the coaches and committee request if the team over there can have the compassion to stand with them for a while and help them with the relief for two months and to restore irrigation system into functioning, this will be great help at this time of flood which doesn’t happened often in this region, it comes and hit strongly goes for another many years.

And remember those strong rain can not produce anything but just destruction, but we were advised by the expert how we are going to make a permanent solution and protection forever.

The phone we have received today from the coaches, that many people has camped in raised place with the challenge of food and beddings , in the farm and irrigation the community may have great challenge and the lost the crops because of lack of irrigation, so the coaches and the committee are requesting that if support for food can not be available, and if they can get water restored they can drink and eat bush fruit. So the greatest need here is water restoration to help with drinking and irrigation to help with the crop growing.

Brother Wayne, we request you again the team to help in this hard time, so that we may save agriculture plantation and lives.

Coaches has told us that we have some people who are drinking water from the flood which is very risky, they can be caught up from cholera and typhoid, Thomas has been receiving many calls asking when will we go to visit them .

We have ask the experts how long will it take to restore the all systems and said it will take one week. We will stay with them until they complete the work, since it is urgent.

Pray for us for these needs:

  1. Food relief, blanket, mattress and utensils $45,100
  2. Restoration irrigation system $34,230

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Sara’s Story of Hope and Healing

Sara and I are in Charlotte, NC. The first day we got here, Vince Coakley asked me to be on his radio show. He hosts a Transformation Tuesday segment, and wanted us to share our story. Unfortunately, Sara had a conflicting appointment, so I went to the studio alone. We had a great conversation. (It begins at 31:40.)

That evening, Sara and I had been asked to share with The Barn Brothers, a group that normally meets in a barn south of Charlotte. The barn is currently being refurbished, however, so they met in a furniture store. (see picture above). I’ve shared in a lot of different venues, but this was a first for me.

Normally, it’s a men’s meeting but for this night they opened it up so anyone could come. They wanted us to share our story there, too.  Sara and I talked about The Deepest Love in the Darkest Place, the title of a new book we are working on. We hope our story encourages people to embrace God in their pain, not try to run from it or get it fixed first.  In the utter darkness of our experience two years ago, Sara and I discovered a deep place in Father’s love that held us through the storm and launched us on a trajectory of healing. Sara was amazing! It was the best I’ve ever heard her share, so clear, so deliberate, so full of hope for others. I admire her so much for the way she tells her story and how much she cares for the people she’s talking to. And people hung on her every word. Tears flowed, stories found their way to the surface of deep trauma and people were grateful for Sara telling this story.

If it wasn’t for Sara’s insistence, we wouldn’t be sharing any of this. I would have hidden this all away in my heart, except that she wanted to give hope to others in the same way others had encouraged her. Yes, it was recorded, and you can watch and listen here. This story goes way beyond Sara and me; it is also about God’s redemption in the world and how his heart breaks for us when we feel lost in the darkness. He’s not there to judge our faults, but to hold our hearts and point the way forward.

After telling our story last night, we focused on three encouragements for those who came:

  1. Risk the darkness. When something dark emerges in your life, whether it be trauma, a false belief being uncovered, or an entangling sin, don’t run from it or push it aside. Invite God into the darkness. You will find him a comforting presence and a guide to move forward.
  2. When darkness pushes you into fear, anxiety, or despair, ask Jesus how to move you back to a comforted place in his care. You cannot make positive changes outside the window of tolerance when you feel panicky or terrified. Instead, lean into his heart where you can be comforted first and then see what he wants to do from there.
  3. Be a soothing, safe presence for others who find themselves struggling with darkness. They don’t need our shame or condemnation; they have that in mega-doses. What they need is a caring heart and a listening ear.

Here are some texts sent to us this morning:

  • “What an amazing evening last night! Your redemption story is by far the most remarkable one I have ever seen.”
  • I believe lives were changed and encouraged. Sooo much courage from you both. What an example of true love, how to love someone unconditionally. My heart was challenged in a good way.”
  • “This is the most significant and impactful message of the Team Jacobsen mission, built on the foundation of the messages from prior decades.”
  • “Last night was deep, powerful and I think, like Sara’s amazing grace chains breaking, a lot of other chains broke last night too. Let’s keep taking ground…”

I love how Jesus walked us through the trauma and the darkness that surrounded it, rescued our relationship, and now we are able to encourage others when trauma comes knocking in their lives. I have learned more about God and how he works with broken humanity in the last two years than my previous sixty plus.

We finished last night with Isaiah 61, the declaration of the New Covenant—God’s desire to have us understand better how Jesus heals the broken-hearted, sets the oppressed free, opens blind eyes to his truth, and proclaims the year of God’s favor. No wonder that was the first text Jesus preached, according to Luke 4.

To Jesus and his Father, our salvation wasn’t primarily about the after-life, but about being saved today from all the places darkness seeks to own us. That’s the Gospel.

And for those concerned about Zoey, she is now two weeks out from her surgery. We took her to the vet today to have her stitches removed from her two surgeries, and all looks well. She is thrilled to have the cone-head off and to be able to begin to walk a little bit outside. She’s been such a good sport, but we’re excited to get her out of her caged quarters and join the family again. Mandy, the seven-month-old pup, was able to sleep next to her again, which delights her little heart.

So, all is well. We’re having some wonderful personal connections here as well. We have a few more days here in Charlotte before heading north to Roanoke, Charlottesville, Richmond, Baltimore, and Lancaster County, PA.  The journey continues…

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Chapter 5: The Tender Call

Note: This is the fifth in a series of letters written for the Bride of Christ who are alive at the end of the age. Once complete, I’ll combine them into a book. You can start with Chapter 1 here. If you are not already subscribed to this blog and want to make sure you don’t miss any, you can add your name here.

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I’m not sure I know what you mean by the bride. Are you referring to Israel, as some suggest, or to the church, and if so which church? I want to be part of her, whoever and wherever she is, but I’ll admit that my spiritual hunger has been almost nonexistent lately.  How can I make sure I’m included?

— Miguel, 34-year-old pharmaceutical representative in Alabama

Miguel,

I love your questions and I love that your heart yearns to be part of what God is doing to make her ready. 

Jesus is calling her, a drawing across time and space to every human heart, awakening whatever passion there might be for Jesus and his presence with them. You sense it first in the heart even if you can’t recognize the source or know what exactly you’re feeling. Soon, new passions become more important to you than the dead ones that have preoccupied your attention without leading you to life. The bride is stirring, even out of great darkness and disillusionment—and she is everywhere! 

Don’t worry about being left out, Miguel, it is not in God’s nature to do so for anyone who desires him. I taste that passion in your note to me. 

So, who is this bride? There are differences of opinion on that question. In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as God’s bride, rescued out of great anguish and darkness and then invited into his light and joy. Restoring her to health and beauty, God takes her as his wife, the delight of his heart. 

The metaphor of romance and marriage are often used to express not only the depth and closeness of the relationship God wanted with Israel, but also the festive joy and celebration that such a union would evoke. Sadly, as powerful and inviting as that might sound, Israel was never able to sustain that relationship for any significant length of time. Thus, she repeatedly fell back into the slavery of her own fears and appetites and became the adulteress woman, and God the forsaken husband. 

The lure of promiscuous sex and the promised security of the false gods of the civilizations that surrounded them, tripped them up again and again. Instead of enjoying God they found these images overlapping as twisted expressions of sex were incorporated into their idol worship. She proved faithless to the one who was completely faithful to her, even though he always invited her to return to him where all would be forgiven. 

In the New Testament two things shift inside this metaphor. First, the bride now includes the followers of Jesus in his Church where distinctions between Jew and Greek, and male and female no longer have meaning. Secondly, Jesus is specifically identified as the bridegroom, and all human history culminates in a marriage celebration between Jesus and his bride as all things are made new. 

I see the bride as all of God’s people across time who embrace him as the lover of their souls and follow him with delight and joy. And notice that there’s only one bride, not many. In this metaphor, we are not brides individually; we are the bride collectively. It’s not just individual redemption he is after, but as the Spirit transforms us, he is also knitting together the hearts and minds of diverse people from every group on the planet. They will come to act as one, not because they are loyal to the same leadership structure but because they manifest his glory in the world and to the  powers beyond it. (Ephesians 3:10-11)

One of the joys of responding to his call is to recognize that same Spirit in others whose paths you cross. You’ll find an instant camaraderie with them, not because you believe all the same things, but because you recognize the nature of Jesus in them. They are easy people to be around, with an infectious spirit—graciously authentic, even in weakness, and tender with love and kindness.  

So, where is that bride? She is scattered to the four corners of the earth. When I pray for his bride, I do not imagine a specific person or group of people. I don’t think of her as the religious institutions we call churches either, but as something far less defined by human convention. She is a living, breathing, entity that is being shaped even as you read this. 

I’m not sure who comprises this bride, but Paul told us that the foundation of God’s work in the earth is that “The Lord knows those who are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19) I don’t even begin to try to figure out who they are. If he knows, I don’t have to and all our human attempts to define those who are in with God and those who are out are woefully misguided and horribly inaccurate. I find his people in all sorts of places. 

Of course, I see her most easily among those who have allowed the Father’s love to shape their lives over multiple decades and through painful circumstances. In every generation, you will find people who have discovered such a depth of love inside of God that they have learned to follow him, often in conflict with their own self-interest, and it will often cost them dearly—reputation, position, money, friends, and family.  

The bride does not flourish in environments of manipulation and conformity and thus, she will follow him outside of the conventional paths others demand. Thus, they are often rejected and lied about by those who find their unwavering loyalty to Jesus threatening to their attempts to control them. Though they are viewed with suspicion, their pain only invites them deeper into the love that heals all wounds. 

Instead of becoming defensive or bitter, they are marked by tenderness and humility and a deep wisdom that easily admits that they haven’t figured everything out. They will point the way to him without taking his place by telling people what they should do. Since they find their joy in him, they are unconcerned about legacies or building a following, and are mostly unknown, often tucked away in hidden places where their strength and wisdom can be an encouragement to others in the last days.  

If you want to be part of his bride, you are on a similar trajectory even if you don’t know it yet, or it has barely begun. The call to the bride is a tender, repeated invitation to draw near to the One who loves you and offers you his light and courage. No matter how many fits and starts you’ve had in that journey, his heart is always open to you. 

To the uninformed, it may be a fascination with the transcendent. They have sensed his presence though they don’t know its source or may have misidentified it. Their heart is touched in ways they can’t explain but they taste his love and insights that will draw them, if they don’t get sidetracked by the wiles of darkness. 

To those who have been crushed by the powers of darkness through extreme suffering or pain, it is often a deep but certain drawing into the warmth of his light and the safety of his love. My heart goes out to those of you who have been traumatized by abuse or abandonment or suffered through great loss or sickness that may have sapped your will to live. 

The damage done to your soul may make it difficult to see him and thus, you may feel abandoned by Jesus. But he is right there with you; he always has been. You are his beloved even if everything in you argues to the contrary. Your pain is not his doing, and he has a path for healing and restoration that will overcome the darkness set on destroying you. When you find him in the midst of your pain, you’ll not only find your pathway to freedom, you’ll also be a gift to others who’ve endured similar pain. 

For the religiously disillusioned, his call is an invitation back to first love—not how much you loved God but how free you felt inside his love at the beginning. Do you remember those early days before religious performance spoiled it? That’s not a blanket condemnation of those engaged in religious expressions, it’s simply a recognition that the routines of such systems often distract from him. If you find a meaningful engagement with Jesus in the rituals of your congregation, be grateful; many others have not. They continue the course in drudgery, hoping there is some salvation in the effort. Don’t blame Jesus or yourself for its failures, return to his love. Jesus is wanting to hold you again in his arms, caress you with his tenderness, and to show you that conformity to religious principles is not the path to the intimacy you seek.  

To the religiously abused, whose hunger for Jesus was hijacked and exploited by insecure leader-types who saw your beauty and your gifts and wanted to use you to build their own kingdom, it’s a drawing of your spiritual eyes back to him. Even though your abusers claimed to do it in his name, they were not acting on his behalf. You became a cog in their vision, rather than a disciple ready to recognize and follow the voice of the Shepherd. You were so hungry for him, but it all came to such disappointment. 

You were born in freedom but raised in captivity under the lie that God wanted to use your works. No wonder things felt dead and lifeless. You came to believe things about him that were not worthy of him. He agonized over every lie you were told and now wants to rekindle your hunger and sate it with his genuine presence. He wants to love you into a way of living that will lead to his increasing glory finding a home in you. He is ready to fulfill those longings that ignited your heart as he teaches you how to walk in his love and listen to his voice. 

To the wayward bride who lost track of the Jesus you once pursued when your passion was overrun by the worries of this life or the pursuit of wealth, his call is a drawing back to simpler times. You got so busy with work, responsibilities, and family activities, that he would have shared with you had you not forgotten him. The pleasure of the world’s amusements and the illusion of freedom quickly faded and now you keep busy to mask a growing sense of emptiness. Did I miss something back there? 

Yes, you did, but though you may have lost sight of him, he has not lost sight of you. He has never done anything to harm or hurt you and is that voice in the back of your head inviting you to turn back to him. He knows that you will never be satisfied with anything less than a gracious relationship with the God who made you. He waits eagerly for your desire to pick up the friendship again. 

Who can be part of this amazing bride? Anybody who wants to. Jesus is not exclusive or looking for a special kind of person. We are all special to him, all you have to do is hear respond to his tender call.  

Take a pause now and then and listen for him. You will find Jesus in the quiet moments; busyness and feeling of guilt will be your greatest enemies. You will not hear his call in the angry, shaming, try-harder voices of false preachers or prophets. His call is not harsh or condemning; it is a soft and tender entreaty to come home. He makes no threats or ultimatums. He is not angry or disappointed in you. He knows how easily we all get distracted and that the only path home is a soft and secure invitation into the safest place in the universe—his kind and caring heart for you.

Even in the depths of Israel’s rejection of him, he reminded Isaiah how to speak to his people: 

Comfort, comfort
my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . (Isaiah 40:1-2)

Let me suggest some of what it might sound like today: 

My beloved Bride, there is none like you. You are my delight, and I long for the day we can reconnect and you can know my heart as well as I know yours. Nothing you have done is a bridge too far; we can find our way back from this. It doesn’t matter to me how you got lost, or what mistakes you made, I don’t need your shame and I don’t want your guilt; I only want you. 

When you’re ready to come home, I’ll be waiting right here. Don’t try to fix yourself up first; I will restore your beauty and your innocence. Let our love for each other write a new chapter on your heart—one filled with love and kindness. I don’t want to use you or control you; I simply want to share all my goodness and glory with you and show you how to live in the fullness of my joy. 

His voice will be the one that comforts you in your fears, forgives your mistakes, and sets you at rest in the deepest chambers of your heart. Learn to listen to that tender voice and home in on it, like a plane following the landing lights to the runway. 

Even amid worries, regrets, and fears, lean toward his kindness. You will not long follow what you fear, and fear will never draw you to his love. 

Come away, my beloved.

Do you hear him? Like the lover to his beloved in Song of Songs?

As we’ll see in chapters ahead, that invitation both draws you away from those things that spoil his love and blind your eyes to his reality and it will draw you to a way of living that lets his love write the next chapter of your life. 

No longer victims of darkness; we can spend the rest of our days dancing with him in the fields of his delight.   

_________________________

You can access previous chapters here. or Continue to Chapter 6.

 

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The Deepest Love in the Darkest Place

It doesn’t matter how dark it is around you, how alone you feel, or how lost you think you are, God’s love is able to find you.  I have experienced the deepest expressions of his love in the darkest places I’ve ever endured.

In our worst moments, he is there, maybe not in ways we could recognize at the time, nor doing the things we’d prefer him to do. But there nonetheless to do a work far greater than the one we are looking for. I heard Fr. Gregory Boyle, of Homeboy Industries, say on a podcast recently, “If you don’t allow your troubles to shake our faith, they will shape it instead.” I can vouch for that.

In my younger days, difficulties always shook my faith. Since I was one of his, I thought God owed me a pain-free existence and immediate deliverance from all my affliction. Every trial or difficulty challenged our relationship. Either I was at fault for not doing enough, or he let down his side of the bargain. Difficulties led to weeks of personal frustration and struggle.

I now know we are all born into a broken world and were created to endure suffering with him. By finding him inside our pain, we would come to know him as he really is and find his life growing inside of us. In the darkest moment of Sara’s trauma, he was there. In my most excruciating season of loss, rejection, and disorientation, he was there. He wasn’t watching as a detached observer, he was with us inside of it and gave us the critical insight and courage to find our way through it. In doing so, he left us freer, wiser, and more tender.

Next week in Fort Mill, SC, Sara and I are going to be sharing some of our story and how God rescued us in the best of all possible ways from the worst situation we’ve ever been in. We’re calling it, The Deepest Love in the Darkest Place. Even at the moment we might feel most forsaken, as Jesus did on the cross, our Father is doing everything he can to find his way into our heart and open our eyes to his presence.

If we can stop blaming ourselves or God for causing them, our darkest moments become a portal into the wonder and beauty of God’s power and wisdom. Ask him to teach you. The next time you feel overwhelmed, turn to him and ask him to make himself known in the darkness.  Don’t look for him to fix the darkness first; he wants to engage you at your lowest place so that you will know how deeply loved you are and that he has to lead you into his kingdom of light even there.

For those following our transcontinental trip, we are now in Anniston, AL, for the next few days. Sunday we’ll been in Atlanta and then it is on to Charlotte, NC.  We’ve added some new stops along the way—Roanoke, VA, Charlottesville, VA, York, PA, and Lexington, KY, with a possible stop in Louisville, KY, after that. You can see all the stops we have planned here.

Zoey is now a week beyond her surgery for a torn ACL, and is doing very well, though she has a bit of cabin fever from being so contained. We do not have results on her biopsy yet. Mandy, the seven-month old retriever pup, is really missing getting to hang closely with Zoey, but she’s adapting too.

Sara joins me on the podcast for this Friday at The God Journey, as we talk about the Four Degrees of Love, in our walk with God and in our marriage to each other. It’s drawn from a devotional on The Love of God written by Bernard of Clairvaux back in the 1100s.  Thne, Kyle is back the week after!

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Good News for Zoey

Many of you were touched by the blog yesterday, and have written to express your love and prayers for us and for Zoey. Thank you. (That’s her above a few days before she tore her ACL.) I hate posting another blog so soon, but so many of you did not see the update I added yesterday after it was sent out, so I thought I’d take a brief moment to update.

Two hours after this posted, we got word from Zoey’s surgeon. Her surgery lasted four hours to repair her ACL and to take a biopsy on the other leg. The surgeon was very surprised when she went to do the biopsy. She did not see any signs of cancer on her bone. It was hard as it should be, so is all but certain that her right leg is NOT cancerous. The day before she was upwards of 80% certain she had cancer and we were just hoping it wasn’t the aggressive kind. She said it didn’t present that way and she is very hopeful that we would get a negative result on the biopsy.

We just heard from the vet while I was finishing this. Zoey had a good night and is doing well on the pain meds. They are going to switch her from IV to oral today and we hope to be able to get her back tomorrow. Both her back legs will be in some pain, so we’ll have to be very careful with her. But we can’t wait to see her again.

We couldn’t be more grateful, and staying in the Pensacola area has opened the door to connect with some dear family friends we have not seen in 25 years who “just happen” to be visiting in the area here. Also, we have had more time to spend with a couple we met here last week and whose friendship we have come to enjoy.

Shortly into our prognosis meeting with the veterinarian on the day before her surgery, she paused mid-sentence and her eyes looked at our dog. “Zoey is a really good dog.”  She was preaching to the choir.

We’ve had seven dogs before Zoey, but this dog is unique among them.  She is a huge dog with a tender heart and an empathetic soul. She has been the perfect dog to get Sara through the unveiling of her trauma and the healing for it. Sara often just lays beside Zoey and follows her breathing pattern, which is deep and soothing, a valuable space for healing. Many people who’ve never had a dog, after meeting Zoey,  tell us they would have had one if it as like her. For Sara, this dog is a treasure and it will be joy to have her back again, even if a bit battered by surgery.

All has worked out well, except for those in South Georgia we were going to visit next week.  We do feel bad for them. We’ll be going straight from Atlanta to Charlotte, then heading north into Virginia. You can see our projected schedule here. 

We are humbled a bit by all of this. We know dozens of families going through really intense physical needs with spouses or families, including cancer. Every time we hold Zoey, we think of all those others and pray for what you’re going through as well. Ours is just a dog—beloved though she is. Our hearts really go out to those who are facing uncertain or disheartening medical conditions yourselves and pray that God will hold you close to his heart and show you the way forward through whatever you’re facing.

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