Dave Coleman Is on the Incredible Journey

For those of you reading Live Loved Free Full, on November 30, you read an exchange I had with Dave Coleman that graciously changed the trajectory of my life. Dave passed from this life and began the incredible journey for which we are all destined on that same morning. I love the way Father does stuff like that. It just seemed another wink from him and his joy in the relationship we shared together. I will miss him more than I can say here even as he delights in face-to-face communion with Father, Son, and Spirit.

Dave Coleman was the wisest man I’ve ever known, not in spouting of platitudes or presenting spell-binding lectures. With a mere sentence or a provocative question, Dave could cut through a situation and reduce it to the simple choices I faced inside of it. He gave of it freely to anyone who would seek him out and he enriched the lives of so many who would come by his home and revel in his wisdom. Dave would always point down the road that leads to life without ever pressuring anyone to believe him or take it. He was gracious and loving even when people didn’t see things the way he did. He didn’t just talk about love; he lived it in his kindness, his wisdom, and in his graciousness. He pastored a Lutheran church for awhile, volunteered as a hospice chaplain and taught the life of Jesus at rehab centers.

He was my closest friend over the last thirty years, walking me through conflicts and betrayals I endured as well as affirming and celebrating what God was revealing to me. I wouldn’t be doing anything I’m doing in the world today without this man’s influence and kindness to me.

Of all the men and women I have met, this is one of God’s most authentic followers. Was I walked away from our first meeting, these words penetrated my thoughts, “This is one in whom there is no guile.”  That’s what Jesus said about Nathanael in John 1. Having known him for thirty-plus years, I can tell you how true that was. He was authentic to the core and never sought to exploit someone for his own gain. He rarely occupied the limelight and was often despised by those who could not manipulate him to their ends or control the life and grace that flowed from his tongue and heart. He and his wife, Donna, have known betrayal as well as the tragic loss of two of their children—one in a tragic accident and one to leukemia. Rather than grow bitter from these things, they grew more tender and compassionate for others in need.

He was a second dad to me in this season of my life. Whenever Sara and I had couldn’t resolve complications in our marriage, how to raise our children, negotiate conflicts with friends or family, he and Donna were there to comfort us and help us see down better roads. And he was always a cheerleader for the work of unfolding grace in my heart, especially when others would lie about me or seek to deter me from Jesus’s leading.

Once, while I was still pastoring, I offered him an opportunity to be an elder in our congregation and the possibility of a full-time position. I thought I was offering him the moon. I was shocked when he declined it immediately. Asking him to explain. “I really can’t,” he said. “But someday, you’ll know.” Fifteen years later, when offered an elder position in a local fellowship that I found myself declining, I had to smile when I remembered his words.  Yes, I get it now.

He was the first to tell me that most human love is merely the mutual accommodation of self-need. People will “love” you only as long as you give them what they want. When you can’t or won’t, they will cut you off. Jesus taught us love is not about getting what we want from others but having affection enough for them to lay down of our lives for their benefit, without thought of what it will cost us.

Dave was my coauthor of So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, and the one who came up with that provocative title. Soon, I’m going to read that book for the first time soon to relive the experience of writing it with him.  That November 30 entry in Live Loved Free Full, is about the time Dave dropped this bomb in my heart: “I’ve learned that whenever my personal well-being is hinged on the response of another person, I will manipulate them.”

I knew that was radioactive when I first heard it. Dave was talking about a sermon I had preached, but I knew if I let that truth into my heart, it would change everything about how I treat Sara, my children, family, friends, and anyone I would meet. That reality is still changing me, and the freedom of learning to anchor my well-being in Christ alone set me increasingly free to love others.

If you’ve been touched by anything God has done through my life, you can be grateful to God that he put this man in m life. Certainly, God has reached out to me through others, but no one has had a more profound impact on the trajectory of my journey.

It delights me to know he is at rest after suffering a long health decline. I look forward to the day when we will sit again in the coming kingdom and celebrate all the grace that we both experienced at the hand of our God and Father. My heart goes out to his family, who will miss him far more than I will. May God’s comfort eventually turn all their grief into the joy of having known this man and been enriched by his time on this planet.

If you want to partake of some of Dave’s wisdom in his seven appearances on The God Journey podcast.  You can find those episodes in our Guest Archive. Especially appropriate might by his reflections on death that we recorded nine years ago. I talked to him a few days before his death, I can assure you that he lived to the end everything he believed and stared down death at rest in the Father’s care.

 

It’s Not About Boxing

Yes, Luis does look fierce in the ring as he trains them to recognize and deflect any attack.  This is him helping a local gym of MMA hopefuls perfect their boxing technique.

Most of the time, he’s with far younger kids in the corner of an abandoned church parking lot. I’ll be honest; I don’t like boxing. I never have. But Luis was a Golden Glove boxer in his youth, and kids seek him out to teach them boxing. And for him, it isn’t really about boxing. It’s about using the skills he has to incarnate the reality of Jesus among kids from troubled backgrounds, many of them prime targets for the gangs to recruit. He has almost 150 of them now in two different cities in my county.

And, he does all of this for free.  He cleans houses by day with his wife, and in the late afternoon, finds his way to a corner of a parking lot and works with a few of them at a time. You should see what happens between them. These kids enjoy being with Luis even more than the boxing. Some come who are not even training. Others just hang out there, calling these moments with Luis the only safe place in their life.

I hear from people worldwide enjoying the My Friend Luis story as to how God found this abused boy growing up in Mexico and, over the trajectory of his life, drew Luis into his love.  Now, he lives that love not only among his family and friends but with a growing group of young boys and girls who are drawn to God’s work in his life.

It started with some friends of his daughters who found out Luis had been a Golden Glove boxer in Mexico in his late teens. They wondered if he would teach them some boxing techniques, and he offered to do so. In the time he spends with them, he teaches them character—to be honest, kind, and respectful, staying away from the gangs that prey on them, and in all of that, discovering how much God loves them.

Boxing lessons allow him to be with them as he gives them the wisdom to navigate the challenges of their lives. He’s often texting them through the day and held numerous Zoom sessions throughout the early days of the pandemic.

Paulo Coelho, the author of The Alchemist (which is a fantastic read, by the way), said. “Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.”  That’s exactly what Luis does with these young kids. His love for them is infectious and has garnered the attention and support of the police departments in both communities where he works with them. There is a ministry in the making here that is rescuing some incredible kids from going down some dark roads.

A friend of mine from Ohio listened to the My Friend Luis podcast with his family traveling for vacation this summer.  At the end of the podcast, they felt moved to help Luis find and lease a small space so he could  gather with these kids year-round.  We are currently looking for that as the weather turns more difficult to be outside.  Many others have sent donations to help free Luis’ time to be with these kids. Lifestream started a fund to support Luis and Maria in their work with these kids. Luis is calling it Fighting Chance of Ventura County.

I share all this for two reasons. First, to encourage all of us to celebrate the exquisite beauty of how God wants us to give meaning to love for those he’s placed near us.

Secondly, to invite any of you looking for year-end opportunities to share your resources with things God is doing in the world, to consider this new ministry.  Luis has not asked for this. He is content to clean houses and work with kids as he has the opportunity, but I see a life that Father wants to free up to have even more impact in this corner of the world. We are helping him form his own nonprofit to see how far God might take this. In the meantime, we are happy to have Fighting Chance of Ventura County as an outreach locally of Lifestream.

If you’d like to join us in helping this embryonic gift of God grow in the world, we’d love to have your help.  You donate to Luis’ work here, and either send a one-time gift or set up recurring support for this if that’s on your heart.  He has rescued so many kids from a trajectory that could have easily led to dropping out of schools and getting involved with gangs. Some of his kids have been murdered for trying to leave their gang, but he persists with courage and passion.

Thank you for considering this with me.

 

He Reveals; We Respond

I was a guest on a podcast yesterday recorded by two South Africans, one still in his home country, and the other recently moved to Holland.  What a delighful conversation. They asked me questions about my journey that pulled things out of me in ways I had never shared before. I saw some of my past journey in new ways, which both surprised and blessed me. I ‘ll let you know when it is posted online.

One bit of the conversation we stumbled into was how I help people find the trailhead when they’ve grown exhausted or disillusioned with the religious performance treadmill so embedded in our institutional approach to the religion we call Christianity. I was taught that God’s blessing was the reward for our diligent effort to believe the doctrines and abide by the rituals and ethics that Scripture teaches us.  I found myself responding this way:

For a long time, what I taught was human effort. We know more truth than we live, so we always feel the compulsion to try harder. But what the new covenant says at it its heart is that this is a transformation fed by his revelation not by our performance. It begins with God revealing; it doesn’t begin with us seeking.  That’s true as much when we come in the door as it is in how I live my life today. This is not Wayne seeking from God what Wayne wants but asking God each day, “What do you want to reveal to me, and who do you want me to love today?

Everything about life in Jesus is summed up in this—he reveals and we respond, not we achieve and he rewards.

To cease striving in our own self-effort we have to believe that God loves us enough to guide our journey into his glory. That’s the challenge. We fear nothing will happen if we are not putting in our best effort. Until we stopy, however, we won’t let God have the lead in this dance. Remember, no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him, and that desire. you have to know him is that drawing.

The journey doesn’t begin as we try to implement someone’s well-meaning discipleship program; it begins with him showing us something about himself that will help us navigate the day that spreads out before us. Following him is where life begins. Each day, we are on a treasure hunt for his glory as he is revealing it on that day, not trying to convince a reluctant God who would rather withhold his glory until we earn it.

If that’s not real to you, simply ask him to show you. He wants this for you more than you want it for yourself.

___________

For your thoughts and prayers:  Thursday, I’m off to Colorado to join some twenty and thirty somethings in the mountains above Colorado Springs. His Spirit is stirring in a younger generation to be agents of his glory in this broken world. I’m looking forward, along with Kyle, to see what God shows us about that work and how some of us in my age-bracket can come alongside that work and encourage them as God reveals himself. I’m sure we’ll have more to share afterwards.

 

A Compass for Your Heart

I just received word that my new devotional, Live Loved Free Full, has just been released in German.  I’m so happy to let my readers there know it is now available in their language.

It’s called “Loved Throughout the Year, with the subtitle “365 impulses to live loved, free, and fulfilled”.  The Publisher is Glory World Medien, which has published many of my titles for Germany.  You can view their Facebook page here or order the book on Amazon in Germany.

It also allows me to remind others that this would make an excellent Christmas gift for family and friends if you’re still looking for some ideas. And, we don’t have any supply chain issues to delay shipment. You can order as many as you like.

Almost every day, I get an email from someone saying the day’s entry was written especially for them, or it opened doors to some insight they desperately needed. That’s what I hoped for when we put this book out. It is so easy for us to be seduced by the world’s demands or retreat into the rigors of religious performance as we go about our day. It’s easy to forget that Jesus invited us into a different journey. Let the Father’s love wash over your heart today and gain his perspective on the circumstances that confront you. Each day’s entry is designed to help draw your heart into a more relational space to think through your day alongside the Father, Son, and Spirit so that we can lean into their perspectives of our life and the world around us.

It’s like resetting the compass of your heart so you can navigate your life inside his reality instead of the illusions the world presses on us. “Setting our minds on things above,” is what Paul invited us to do. That’s where life, freedom, and love abide.

And not surprisingly, I received an email from someone who felt today’s reading, November 24, was particularly powerful. I haven’t read it yet myself, but I’m going to copy it below for you.

 

 

 

 

So Sweet to Be Home

When you travel as I do, you don’t always get to choose your ride!  I found this old truck on a Christmas Tree farm, just out the front door from the home I was staying in near Orlando. No, we didn’t take a ride in it; we just had some fun with it.

I got home early this morning from ten days in Florida after a long flight home, from Miami to Chicago to LA and then a car ride home to Thousand Oaks.  What a long day it was too! I started that morning with the folks at Hope4Life in a delightful breakfast that was part communion service, part debriefing my time there, part question/answer session, and part dance-a-thon. I got to the airport around 2:00, and it was a long flight home—delayed flights, misplaced luggage, mega-traffic congestion of cars at LAX. It just kept going until I hit the pillow after midnight here, which was 3:00 am on Florida time.  So, I am recovering today.

But I’m also reflecting. This trip began a week ago Thursday with a dinner in an artisan pizza place with two dear brothers. It unfolded the next day a men’s Bible study that Zooms out to India and Kenya as well. Then it was off to a late breakfast with some of those men, and finally, a group of couples got together that night to talk about living loved. Saturday was a chance to take a small group through Transformational Love, that new framework I’ve been playing with, and then to lunch with some of those folks, including a family I know well from Maine who just happened to be in the area on vacation, and their twenty-four-year-old daughter heard on the podcast I was there.

From there, I went north to New Port Richey and hung out with a family I could only spend a few hours with two years before.  The next day I shared with their congregation about Transformational Love.  Tuesday was off to Clermont and a whole new set of people, many of whom deeply engaged in helping the poor and downtrodden find help and hope. We carried on conversations around a campfire in the woods, on my four-mile walks in the morning, and finished at an Italian restaurant where we’re talking through that framework again.  On Thursday, I found myself with an old friend as he drove me north to St. Augustine for another fire-pit conversation and then the next day down to Miami for a weekend with those at Hope4Life, a ministry helping people discover the power of love to heal the broken places in our souls.

My life is so rich because of the people I know and the opportunities I have to come alongside part of their journey and see if there are ways I might be able to encourage them or help them process God’s work in them. In that, I am always encouraged as well and receive wisdom from others. I can’t believe I get to do this, that so many people will go to such trouble to prepare places for me to come and open the door for others to gather with us, and that people open their hearts so widely to me and God’s work in their hearts. I am grateful to all of you who made this trip through Florida such a blessed time.

The hard part, however, is in the departing. It seems I’m constantly leaving people God connects my heart to, even if only for a few days or an evening. Looking back over this trip, I smile at the old friendships I got to jump into again and the new friendships that took root. It’s never easy to leave, except in knowing that each day I’m getting closer to going home to Sara.

For sixteen months of this pandemic, Sara and I got to be together every day. She gives up a lot in my going, and it is always good to get back home to Sara’s presence and some much-needed rest and refreshing this week.  We got some grandkids coming to overnight with us tomorrow, and, of course, there will be Thanksgiving later in the week.  My life is rich and full in so many ways, even though it is not without its tragedies and challenges.

“Set your mind on things above,” Paul wrote in Ephesians. There is always much to complain and be frustrated about, but there’s even more to be grateful for when you see his hand guiding you through life, and you savor the people he’s put in your life with whom you can share in his love.  I hope all of you have a week filled with opportunities for thanksgiving, whether or not it’s a holiday in your country this week.  It is good for our hearts to focus on those things that bring us joy, not those that seek to pull us down.

The Changes His Love Brings

I receive some of the most amazing emails in my inbox, detailing people’s stories and how intersecting some of my books or podcasts has helped affirm what the Spirit had already been speaking into their hearts.  I don’t always get to meet those who write them, though. On my most recent trip, I got to visit with Celia Layman right near where I took that picture above. She wrote me a couple of years ago about the transformation in her life that began with someone telling her about He Loves Me.

The trajectory her life has taken, and how it has helped her navigate these difficult days encouraged me and I think she might inspire you as well.

I can still picture the bench near an indoor climbing wall in Charlottesville, Virginia where I was sitting with a friend when she shared with me about a book she was reading. She began to tell me how learning to “live loved” had changed the way in which she lived each day. My interest was immediately piqued and got my own copy of He Loves Me!

Your writing has helped me to find my own voice as I have processed my own journey out of religious obligation and outward performance to learning how to live under the cover of His wings. Reading So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore a few years ago gave me a clear understanding of why I was so restless in my church. Not long after, God led our family to a new faith community that is “far more centered on relationship than religion” and where “those who act as leaders are true servants” (p.185). I read Beyond Sundays this past summer along with several other books by other authors. Your book deepened my understanding that the church “cannot be contained or managed in any human organization” (p. 21).

I have also been listening much more regularly to The God Journey podcasts and I really enjoy your Lifestream blog posts. Sometimes it really does seem like your perspective on politics, church, and Scripture and the overlap of these three is the only public voice with which I can wholeheartedly identify.

I also began to be mindful of the people whom God has placed in my life who are cynical at best when it comes to their concept of American “Christianity”. I began to want to see my “in-group” through their eyes. So, this past summer when I heard about the soon-to-be-released A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, I could not wait to get my copy. It has helped me to develop a clearer understanding of why the world often has a negative perception of Christians. And gave me the concepts and words I needed to be able to express why it is so important that we seek to have a growth mindset.

I believe that our trust cannot be placed in an earthly leader or agenda. Any leader will fall terribly short of promises made, policies proposed, and slogans pitched. When we let our hope rest in these, we will be gravely disappointed. Even beyond that, when we look towards earthly leaders for Light, our vision dims. Then we can no longer see our responsibility to walk with justice, mercy, and humility while abiding in peace, resting in strength, and sharing love… as we change the world… one life at a time, especially in a time as uncertain as this.

This book prepared me on two levels. One, to have space for an even deeper compassion for those who have suffered mistreatment and inequality. It prepared me to hear their desperate cries for help and not look away or justify. Two, it prepared me to have patient and calm discussions with white people who do not yet see the depth of the racial issues we face, as well as to listen with compassion to my friends of color who need a safe place to be seen and heard. Thank you for all you have done to address these issues head-on from a place of both grace and truth.

Yet throughout this time, I sensed that God had been preparing me for this challenge and that some pruning that took place during the quarantine period had freed me emotionally and relationally in ways that I can now see as I look back on the summer. Even with meeting new people with facial coverings and working under heightened stress, I sensed an undergirding strength and a new space in which to engage brand new people beyond the surface level and I found myself ready to listen and pick up on cues that the conversation would take a spiritual turn.

In one conversation, a co-worker casually said that her family were not “church people”. I told her that I was not a “church person” either and that we had found a loosely structured faith community that is authentic and that we were done with traditional church. That got her attention and she shared about her husband growing up as a Baptist preacher’s son and the negative impact that his growing up years had on him. She listened as I told her about how I’ve discovered a relationship with God that is totally separate from religion. I shared about your books (mainly He Loves Me and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore). She was very open. From then on, our conversations always cut right through superficial talk as time allowed.

The Embracing His Glory episodes have been a balm for my spirit this summer. #6 deeply resonated with me and I have listened to it at least 4 times… the parts about being able to hold temporal things at bay and being a bridge from the seen world to the unseen world encouraged and challenged me!

Your work allowed me to keep up with the social and political issues of these times without being overtaken by the clamor of a media-driven culture. Your perspective helps me guard against the pull to get caught up in a swirl of spins and emotional rhetoric. It reminds me of the danger of getting caught in an undertow that wants to pull me down and keep me entangled in darkness beneath the surface. I don’t want to live down there where I can’t breathe. Thank you for helping me to be able to be present for those I care most about!

Your work has helped me to be intentional about living above the fray and to not give too much of my time and attention away to issues I am powerless to change. I do have a vision of how I can positively impact my tiny corner of the world during these difficult times.

I anticipate the day when you will be able to travel and share in person… maybe here in Virginia one day!

I love stories of transformation and am greatly encouraged that some of the resources at Lifestream.org and TheGodJourney.com were part of helping her see what Father wanted her to see.  And who would have thought two years later her anticipation would come true as we sat down one afternoon together in the Shenandoah Valley to celebrate what God has done in both our lives.

I love the family that Jesus is knitting together around the whole world and how Jesus is taking shape in his people.

Can Institutions Be Redemptive?

I got this email from a young seminarian who feels called to work within the Methodist church, even beyond the split many anticipate in the next few months. I’m sure others of you would be interested in this exchange:

One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because of your view concerning institutions and the challenges they pose in faithfully advancing the life of Christ in the earth.  I am studying for an M.Div. degree at United Theological Seminary, a United Methodist school.  As you probably know, the United Methodists are not exactly united, and are anticipating a split at next year’s General Conference.   After that, there will be a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, composed of the congregations that make up the traditionalist wing of the denomination.  This is a minority of the Methodist congregations in the United States.  But it is the vast majority of the churches in South America, Asia, and Africa.  I anticipate being ordained in that denomination.

Initially, I was excited about the formation of a movement that could take the powerful legacy of John Wesley and early Methodism and bring it forward into the context of the 21st century.  However, after observing the ongoing hostility between the various wings of the existing UMC, and the role that politics plays among much of the leadership, I am aware of the possibility that we are going to just end up with another conservative evangelical denomination that is unable to fully shine forth the love of Jesus to a world that is in desperate need of it.

However, I feel called to be where I am, and God has me in the Methodist church for a purpose.  So I’d like to ask you, do you have any hope that large institutions can be redemptive? Is it possible that they can make the need for their own survival secondary to the work of the Gospel? I realize that there is a lot of evidence that would say that the answer to that question is “No.  Once an institution is created, its primary concern is to protect and advance its institutional existence.”  But if they cannot be used fully by Christ, are all of our current denominations and formal ministry networks doomed to failure?  If we cannot create Christ-filled institutions, how do we create large scale works to advance the Kingdom?  Christian schools and colleges, afterschool programs, day care centers, medical clinics, etc. would all seem to require a consolidation of people and resources into a formal organization to implement and sustain their functions.  How do we proceed to enter into large-scale societal challenges otherwise?  I am curious what your thoughts are concerning this.

In short, I don’t believe “institutions can be redemptive.” Jesus didn’t invest the reality of his kingdom in an institution but in people who can incarnate God’slove and life for others to see. Institutions aren’t inherently Christian or nonChristian. They are simply structures that can provide an environment in which the kingdom might flourish in people’s hearts, or it can hinder that work. An institution’s priorities are to perpetuate itself, and in time that will inevitably conflict with the priorities of his kingdom. Almost all of them eventually succumb to the delusions of power, wealth, and self-survival, which causes the impact of the kingdom to diminish. You cannot put the bride in a box and hope the box will reflect her glory.

Remember, John Wesley didn’t start Methodism. It was just him on a horse and the people God had given him to touch, encourage, and disciple. He kept his class meetings all inside the Anglican Church, believing that if his work ever became its own institution, that’s when it would begin to die. Institutions, of necessity, are concerned about temporal affairs, which quickly supplant more eternal concerns. The kingdom cannot be contained in an institution because the priorities of an institution and the priorities of Jesus’kingdom are opposites.

That doesn’t mean institutions can’t be helpful to the kingdom. They can offer connections, opportunities for cooperation, and places for people to gather. How well it represents Jesus, however, has to do with the character and passion of those involved. If enough of them have a heart for God and his kingdom, they can provide a useful structure.  But that mostly goes in cycles, doesn’t it?  For a time, it might be terrific, then other people come in who want to fight over power or money or policies, and the character of Christ is soon lost. Then others might come later and provoke renewal back to the original intent.

So if God is calling you there, by all means, share your life and heart freely. With a well-tuned ear to the Spirit, serve where you can reflect the kingdom and pray you’ll recognize when staying in the institution will compromise the core of your relationship with Christ.  There are no easy answers here except to follow Christ as he guides you, whether that means you end up inside or outside of the structure itself in any given season of your life.

I address this in more detail in my book Finding Church, which identifies eight characteristics of the New Creation that can help us see if the thing we’re involved in reflects the kingdom’s priorities or the sweat of human effort. Beyond Sundays will also be a helpful read to realize that the church of Jesus Christ is larger than any institution can ever reflect, and we ought to look for the bride in the meaningful connections and collaborations Jesus will give us with other believers, whether or not they are in the same institution we are.

As far as how do we cooperate on big-ticket items,  that’s easy. As Jesus calls people to collaborate together and respond to him, some extraordinary things can happen. Our little podcast put almost $2.5 million into Kenya. It started with a few orphanages after the tribal violence, then grew into helping four starving nomadic tribes develop resources for water, food, hygiene, education, and business to become self-supporting.  And they came to Jesus in it all because God connected a man in Kenya with the life-giving resources he found at Lifestream. Our growing friendship took it from there. We didn’t make an institution out of it; we just did what God asked us in that season.  Many people gave to help, and we sent the money along for real transformation.  We didn’t create any ongoing dependencies but taught them to learn to rely on God to carry them forward.

Jesus is building his church in the world, and she is resplendent in his life and glory. It may overlap the institutions that humanity builds at times, but none of them contain her of themselves. We cannot create the perfect institution or movement to contain his glory. It always gets tainted by those who think their institution is the same as his church.

Learn to celebrate his church wherever she takes shape around you in the relationships and opportunities to serve that he will invite you into. Just be careful to avoid the idea that any institution can represent him well in the world. TThat’snot what he had in mind, or he would have given us an institution to steward on his behalf. The church Jesus modeled was not a weekly meeting and a hierarchical structure. It was a group of men and women learning to be loved by God and, in turn, loving each other, the world around them, and even their enemies. That spread all over the world the first time before we structured it to death, and it’s how she’ll still spread in the world today.

To explore this further, see the God Journey podcast The Church Jesus Modeled, and watch for its follow-up on December 19, Do All Institutions Fail.

I’m at the airport now, headed for a ten-day swing throughout Florida, except for the panhandle.  If you want to visit with me, here’s my schedule.

Transformational Love

If God’s love could only comfort us in our weakness and could not transform us to live in his glory, it would not be enough. Thankfully, learning to live in his love puts us in the place to see our world through his eyes. Love and truth coupled together is what fuels his transformation in us and helps us navigate this fallen world in his joy and peace.

I grew up believing that the Bible showed us the way to live. We needed to study it, interpret it, and apply it to our lives. Doing so would allow us to live in God’s glory. Only later did I find that process doesn’t work. While it pressures us to act better, it ultimately collapses because our freedom doesn’t come from within. We will either end up blaming God for not doing his part or shaming ourselves for not trying hard enough.

The Bible was meant to introduce us to Jesus and to show us God’s reality that will make sense of the universe and our lives in it. Jesus is the one who prepared the way for us to be at home in his Father’s love and sent his Spirit to guide us into all God’s truth. Our participation in the relationship that Father, Son, and Spirit share together will slowly transform us by showing us what is real and not real in the circumstances we face and the thoughts we have. Transformational love is how God invites us into his freedom and equips us to be agents of his glory in a broken world.

That does not diminish my appreciation for the Bible. It  does show us God’s reality and wisdom but unless he is working that out inside us there is no way to follow all the truth it reveals. Jesus said that we don’t live by bread alone but by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Paul in Galatians 3 points out that God doesn’t work in us by human effort but by “believing what we hear.” Instead of conforming our lives to a set of expectations, we actually get to live inside his love and learn to recognize how he reveals himself in us. As we believe what he shows us we’ll discover what it is to live in his life.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a better way to help people understand how this process happens and how to cooperate with God to bring lasting change in their lives.  I had the chance to share some of this with a group near Baltimore last weekend and ended up using a towel and some paper plates scattered about the floor.  I had never tried it this way before and just as I was getting started a little dog came in and started scrunching up my towel.  That’s when I realized there was a better way to use that towel and we all had a good laugh at the dog’s contribution.

I’m not sure the best way to share this with a wider audience just yet. I don’t know if there’s a book here, a video series, or if we can talk about it on the podcast. I’m excited for the opportunities to explore this process with people to see if it helps them understand how God transforms us without turning it in to some kind of formula. I hope it helps them relax enough into the process that they can participate more freely with him.  If we do, we’ll find our trust growing as will our capacity and awareness to love others. That’s where we will find all the joy, peace, abundance, and fulfillment that Jesus promised us. The few times I have shared it I was grateful that it spawned just the kind of encouragement and conversation that I hoped for.

Later this month, I’m going to share it with a group in Bradenton, FL, New Port Richey, and in Miami, FL and perhaps it will come up in other places I visit as well.   You can hear me talk about this a bit in the video below, which I prepared as a promo for that conversation with Hope4Life in Miami.

If you can’t play the video file, click here.

If you want to join us, please see their announcement below.  At the bottom right is a Zoom ID number if you want to join me live that day.

I haven’t been this excited about a resource to help people since Embracing His Glory, and this does involve a further extension of that material.

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Other Notes of Interest

For those in their 20s and 30s there’s still space available for you to join Kyle and me December 3-5 in Westcliffe, CO for a gathering to celebrate and pray for what God is doing in this age group. We are looking forward to encouraging each other and listening to God together to see how he’s engaging a new generation. You  can get all the details here or register here.

Also, for those interested, I had a great conversation with the guys at Next Level Method Podcast that was recorded this past September. It dropped today. You can hear it on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or watch it on YouTube.

 

 

A Grateful Heart

I just got back from Virginia and Maryland and leave next week for a swing through Florida. I look back with profound gratefulness at every moment on this trip and the conversations I had with so many people, some enduring great hardship and struggle, others responding to Jesus’ invitation to come closer and to follow him in uncharted waters. I loved all of it and had many spontaneous encounters that weren’t on the schedule when I left.  My heart is full, and I’m humbled by the journey Jesus allows me to walk. Here’s one person’s response to that trip:

What a wonderful time of fellowship and newly established friendships I experienced yesterday!  I can’t stop thinking about the ‘uniqueness and specialness’ of our time together as well as the ‘uniqueness and specialness’ of each one who came.  I missed you all as soon as I departed.

Me too! What a joy it was to meet so many people in various places on this journey, all looking for the real meaning of love as God sees it and finding a transformative journey in knowing and following him.  That quote above was the opening paragraph of an email I got yesterday. I often get emails like that after I’ve been somewhere, and every one of them is appreciated. This is the first time, however, that I got to peek at a thank you note to one of my host couples. I’m not going to say which city she joined me in, because what she writes could have applied to all the places I visited and the people who invited me.  Here’s what she wrote to the people who facilitated my time at one location on this trip:

Thank you for opening up your home and creating such a warm and welcoming environment.  Thank you also for the time and money spent on food preparations. Everything—and every means every—was perfect!  There is nothing like being on the receiving end of your generosity and kindness.  I don’t know if you realize just how much of a difference that you make in the lives of people (just by being wonderful, faithful, kind, loving you) but it is significant.  On numerous occasions, people mentioned just how much they appreciated the interest that you take in them. You are gems to many and God is loving many people through you.

These things don’t happen if there aren’t people on the other end who have it on their hearts to invite me and who will prepare a place for people to connect. I am always amazed when anyone takes the risk of inviting me and seeing what Father might do in my coming. It’s so brave. I don’t just hold meetings; I also open my hearts to the spontaneous encounters God might give me along the way. I never go to speak and then hide in my room the rest of the day. I watch for what else God might be doing and who might want my help processing their journey. So, that means they need to be a bit flexible, too, whenever God creates new opportunities alongside the ones they had planned. I’m always grateful for the people who host me and provide for my needs while they open the door to others. It’s a beautiful symphony when it all comes together.

She finished her email with this:

Wayne, thank you for taking and making the time to visit with us. It was so good to connect with you in person. What a delight!  I so appreciated the transparency and vulnerability so many shared regarding the difficult circumstances you and others are facing. It takes courage to ‘pull the drapes back’—and yet, right from the start—drapes were pulled back. I loved it. It was precious, it was unique, and it was special.  The conversations and discussions were rich and deep.  The entire day was perfect!  I appreciate you—your authenticity, genuineness, and down-to-earthness – as well as your willingness to “explore” the kingdom with others.

It amazes me how quickly sharing can go deep in rooms like that. I heard very tender stories of people going through tough challenges but looking to Father’s hand to lead them through it in his love. That isn’t easy, nor is it to share that with a roomful of strangers. These conversations that matter also enlighten and inspire my journey as well. I’m dumbfounded as well as thankful that God allows me to have these kinds of time with people. I did a seminar on A Language of Healing in Suffolk, The Shack with the recovery community near Baltimore, Finding Church in Baltimore and Harrisonburg, and He Loves Me and Live Loved Free Full all over the place. I found myself in a few places sharing the new framework I think Father has given me to help people understand the nature of the journey that God invites us into. This time, it involved a stack of paper plates, a towel, and a discerning dog as I played it out on the floor. I love seeing those “Aha” moments in people’s eyes when something clicks in their hearts that makes more sense of what Father is already doing in them.

Finally, I had so many on this trip telling me to take their gratitude back to Sara for the price she pays when I go. My presence anywhere is as much a gift from her as it is from me, and we are both touched when people recognize it.

I was supposed to hop on a jet this afternoon for a conversation about race at a community college in Texas. Due to a COVID assault on one of the participants, however, it had to be postponed. I’ll miss being there this week because that is one of the healthiest conversations about race I see any major institution risking today. It has avoided both the cliffs offered by the left and the right that do more to obscure the problem than seek the solutions that will help us all. Fortunately, we’ll get back to that at a later date.

For now, I get to reflect on all Jesus did on this last trip and hold in my heart those I met going through a painful stretch of the journey, I also find my heart growing in expectancy for what will unfold at home this week and in my trip to Florida next week.

And don’t you love it when someone takes the time to write a note like this one?

Finding My Peace in Him

“God wants to wean us from depending on earthly circumstances for peace.”

I read that statement yesterday in a little book I found on my desk the other day. I don’t even remember who sent it to me or when. It is called On Being Led by the Spirit written by David Morsey.  This simple booklet contains a lot of profound counsel on shifting our attention away from the distractions of this world to help us discern better the voice of the Spirit. The one I quote above got me musing on many things yesterday as I was preparing to fly to Virginia today and then hop over to Maryland the following weekend.  (If you want to catch up with me there, you can see my Travel Page for details.)

So often, we pray for peaceful circumstances or for a peaceful feeling to fill us from nowhere and are disappointed when those prayers aren’t answered.  What God has in mind is drawing us so close to him that he holds our hearts at rest no matter what we’re facing. We are never alone and never without a way through the worst that life can throw at us. And, when he becomes our peace, no circumstance can steal it.

That got me thinking about some other things throughout the day yesterday:

  • If I look for peace in my circumstances, I will not have his peace when bad times come.
  • If I look for him to provide the circumstantial outcomes I desire, I will fall victim to any deception that comforts me rather than seeing what better options he has in mind.
  • If I look for his wisdom in what I already know, how can I grow to know him better?  
  • If I look for validation from what others think of me, I am owned by anyone willing to lie about me. 
  • If I am concerned with appearances, I won’t be able to see what’s true.
  • If I only love people I deem worthy of it, I won’t love the people who need it most.
All this reminded me of a quote I read from Henri J. M Nouwen recently:

There is no such thing as the right place, the right job, the right calling or ministry. I can be happy or unhappy in all situations. I am sure of it, because I have been. I have felt distraught and joyful in situations of abundance as well as poverty, in situations of popularity and anonymity, in situations of success and failure. The difference was never based on the situation itself, but always on my state of mind and heart. When I knew I was walking with God, I always felt happy and at peace. When I was entangled in my own complaints and emotional needs, I always felt restless and divided.

The abundant life is not having all we want in this age, but in having him regardless of what this age throws at us—the peace that is incomprehensible given the challenges I might be in, the joy that runs deeper than my preferences, and the courage that comes from a greater source than our own strength. And what a great field of learning this gives me. When I don’t have peace, I can ask him to teach me how to find my refuge in him. When my best wisdom fails me, I can ask him to show me his. When I’m fearful or angry, I can learn how to lean into his goodness and know that I’m safe no matter what might come.  

Can you imagine what a people like that would offer the world?

 

I Don’t Believe You

Four times in a brief conversation, he looked me in the eye and angrily stated, “I don’t believe you.”

This came from a close friend, one with whom I’ve walked for many years. He was asking me some direct questions, and I was answering them honestly. However, he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, and instead of letting that shift his assumptions, he chose to double down on his false accusations. At one point, he even said, “God has told me not to trust anything you say.” There it was, the God card, used to trump the relationship. A friendship can’t exist where words are not trusted.

Admittedly, this man had been engaged in gossip about me by others who intended to destroy our relationship and get their own way with him. I knew it had been going on, but I did not want to join that game to fight it.  I hoped our years of relationship would have counted for something. They haven’t yet, but still, I wasn’t going to repeatedly answer ridiculous allegations for someone who no longer cared what was true.

It’s incredible how people can express love and respect for you in one breath and call you a liar with their next.  I believe in you; I just don’t believe you. 

I’ve been down this road before; so has Jesus.  I know this will be hard to hear for some, but the essence of the Gospel is not that we believe in him. That’s easy to do. Many profess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, who will not believe him when he seeks to reveal his truth to them. Professing belief in Christ will not lead you to his fullness. We only get there by believing him when he shows us what’s true, especially when it’s something we don’t want to be true.

That’s what is going on with Peter in the story Matthew tells (Matthew 16). Jesus asked him who people said that he was and then asked Peter what he thought.  His resounding affirmation of who Christ was, “the Son of the Living God,” is one of his greatest moments, and Jesus is thrilled with his answer. He tells Peter that he is a rock, and on that rock, he would build his church.  Peter believes in him. When Jesus went on, however, to say he was headed to Jerusalem to be delivered over to the leaders of the city where he would suffer at their hands and die, Peter would have none of it. He discounts the very words of the one he just proclaimed to be God’s Son.

Of course, Peter couldn’t see the necessity of his friend’s death in Jerusalem and wanted to prevent it. In Peter’s response, however, Jesus hears the voice of Satan and rebukes him. “You are only looking out for your own interests, not God’s.”  It is one thing to believe in Jesus and quite another to believe him when his interests run counter to ours.

I have often caught myself arguing with thoughts in my head that I had to admit later were God’s leading. When he invites us into his reality, it will challenge our own comfort and the false conclusions others have sown in our hearts. This is the crux of faith, not a doctrinal stand about the nature of Christ, but learning to believe him when he nudges us into his reality is the essence of discipleship. What good is it to believe in him if we don’t believe him when he speaks?

He wants to show you what’s real and not real about the circumstances you swim in, the lies you’ve been convinced of, and the selfish motives you are serving to your own hurt. Following him at moments like that is what will lead you into the joy and power of his kingdom.  If we choose not to see or believe him when his reality conflicts with our own preferences, we aren’t following him. We’re just following our inclinations and signing his name to it.

It’s time for a new generation of men and women not just to profess a belief in him but actually to learn to follow even in the most challenging thing he might ask of us. Those who help transform the world know his love enough to recognize his voice and trust his intentions toward them enough to follow him even when we prefer not to. People who pray at his leading even when it is counter to their interests, and follow him even when it’s not their preference, become agents of his glory in a broken world. Discovering what he wants you to know, no matter how uncomfortable, is the way to live. Everything else is just a smokescreen, even our most passionate confessions.

The most significant transformations in my life have often come after the most painful obediences where I was being nudged to act in ways my flesh resisted. In time, however, when I could enjoy the fruit of my following, I was so grateful I’d taken the road he invited me down. When I expressed my gratitude to him for all that followed, I’ve heard him say things like, “I simply showed you what was true, and you dared to believe me.”

That daring to believe him rarely comes easily, but I have never regretted it. This is what believing him means.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

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Many of my previous blogs and articles like this have been compiled into a 365-day devotional to encourage your heart into the greater realities of living loved and recognizing his ways. You can order your copy of  Live Loved Free Full here.

Why Are You So Afraid?

Most days, I get an email from someone reading Live Loved Free Full, telling me how much the reflection of that day was perfectly tailored to a specific circumstance in their life, or it was just the encouragement they needed for that day. The other day someone said it was their favorite from all the books I’ve written. To be honest, Sara and I are reading it too, and appreciate the space it draws us into with Jesus. Here’s a reflection that touched us back from September 11, and is particularly appropriate for the trying times we live in:

Looking to him instead of focusing on our circumstances alone is a constant challenge but it is the way to Life. We are never alone, never without his care to walk with us through those things that seek to overwhelm us. With eyes on him, he will not only comfort us but also give us the wisdom and courage we need to negotiate what’s before us and see his glory unfold in it.

I’m deeply touched by the email I get from this book and appreciate those of you who take the time to write and let me know.  If you don’t have your copy yet, now may be the time to order your copy of Live Loved Free Full.

And while you’re at it, this beautiful book makes an excellent Christmas present for someone you love who might be able to use the same daily encouragement. They may end up thanking you all year long.

Order your copies here.  

Alaska, Virginia, and Maryland

I used to get frustrated when things didn’t work out the way I had planned. Not anymore. I’ve seen God open up so many other opportunities when original plans go awry that now I find myself a bit excited when something doesn’t work out the way I thought it would. I find myself excited to see what else he might have in mind that wasn’t yet in my field of vision. Whether its at home or out on a trip somewhere else, I know his purpose continues to unfold and it fascinates me how else he will make use of that time.

Especially in this age of COVID, travel planning is a bit of a challenge.  I was supposed to leave Thursday to spend this coming weekend in Alaska with people who are freshly considering the difference between the church humans build and the one in which Jesus is breathing his life. I was really excited to be with them, but I’ve been waved off by my hosts. The home I was to stay in is battling COVID and the pandemic has gone wild in Alaska.  Hospitals having to refuse patients for lack of space and there was even a call out this morning for health workers to come to Alaska and help with the overwhelming onslaught of cases.

So, that has shifted my plans accordingly. I will be going to Alaska eventually, just not now.  It looks like I’ll have some extra time at home before heading to Norfolk, VA on October 21 for that weekend, then spend some time Richmond, VA in the early part of the week and finish that trip in Sykesville, MD the following weekend.  I still have a few days in the middle of the week available if anything is on someone’s heart between Richmond and Sykesville.  Just let me know.

Sara and I are on a brief getaway, so my Travel Page has not been updated to reflect this opportunities, but they will be by the end of the week. After that, I’ll be going to Amarillo, TX in early November and then to Florida just before Thanksgiving.  Then, on December 3-5 Kyle Rice and I will be holding The God Journey Gathering for 20 and 30-somethings near Colorado Springs.

 

What Do You See?

I got an email a few days ago with this picture in it and this comment:  “It is difficult to understand how anyone would consider its life as less than a butterfly.”

I smiled when I read that. Several years ago, I would have seen this as less than a butterfly, especially if it were eating the plants in our backyard. I would have regarded it as a pest, having no idea it was a Monarch butterfly in the making.  I probably would have killed it so it wouldn’t destroy Sara’s plants. I know better now because of this woman. I met her many years ago in upstate Wisconsin on a trip there. She raised butterflies and brought some over so we could watch them crawl out of their chrysalis. I had never seen that before, and it was wondrous.

Since then, Sara and I have had a butterfly garden of our own where we’ve watched many caterpillars like this one feed off our plants until they crawl off to form a chrysalis and, after a few days, emerge as the butterfly you see below. When I see one of these devouring our milkweed plants, I see a butterfly in process. It makes my heart as happy to see one of these yellow, black, and white striped caterpillars knowing that a new butterfly is in the world.

I love what she said about seeing the butterfly in the caterpillar. What if we did that for ourselves? What if we saw the incorruptible and immortal being that God is bringing into existence? We can look beyond the limitations and foibles of the day to realize what we already are in him. His transformation may not yet be evident on the outside, but the DNA is already there. A caterpillar is a butterfly in process. The people I know who live with the most contentment on this journey have grown comfortable with the process of Jesus’ transformation. He continually takes people who are twisted up in the appetites of this world and the lies of religious performance and untangles them so that they can become all that he created them to be. We yearn to emerge in all the beauty God has put in us, and when we see ourselves fall short of that glory, we can grow easily frustrated with ourselves or God. What if we already saw the butterfly in the caterpillar?

Instead of wishing to be a butterfly, we might enjoy being a caterpillar and doing what caterpillars do as his process of growing us and shaping us. That’s fun for him too. He doesn’t just enjoy you when you’re a full-fledged butterfly but delights in the butterfly already inside you. We are not going to be sons and daughters of God someday; we already are! That would help us with others, too. How much more carefully would we treat others around us if we didn’t see how far short they fell of butterfly beauty today and embraced with them the process they are in of being transformed into his glory?

My friend concluded a subsequent email this way:  “It is a lovely process, isn’t it? I grin from ear to ear as I grow in recognition of how I get to participate in the unfolding. He is so awesome despite very challenging times when I am being stretched to the limit emotionally.”

Selah!

Trust him to see you through the process. Learn to enjoy every bit of it because I suspect he does. And maybe in some sense, all of our life here is caterpillar time and only at the Resurrection of all things will we become in form what we’ve always been in his heart.

Only the Hungry

Living Loved – Fall 2021

Note: this is a copy of my infrequent newsletter, sent out Wednesday.

When I returned from Australia a couple of decades ago, having heard a powerful narrative about what happened between a Father and a Son on a cross that secured our freedom to embrace a loving Father, I still wasn’t sure if it was true. I hadn’t heard this story before even though I’d been in supposedly Bible-believing environments all my life.  But I came back to explore that story with God, the Scriptures, and significant people in my life to see if those things were so.

I’ll never forget one of those conversations. As I shared what I was learning with a close friend, he just kept nodding and saying “Yes, yes.” None of what I said was new to him. When I was done, he looked at me, “Wayne, this is marvelous. I have believed these things for a long time and know they are true.”

I was shocked! How? “Why haven’t you ever talked to me about this?” I asked him.

“I tried many times,” he said, “but you just wouldn’t listen.”  I had no reason to doubt him, but as I have thought through the many times we were together, I can’t recall one time where the atonement or cross had even come up. Any such talk had sailed right over my head and I had missed it. I guess I was so distracted by other things that I wasn’t available to hear then what would so profoundly shape my life years later.

Jesus knew that, too. He told a parable about a man who hosted a great banquet, telling his servant to go invite his friends to come. What he got back were excuses of people too busy to come. They all had great excuses, but they would still miss the banquet. Saddened, he told his servant to go to the highways and byways and invite anyone—the poor, the sick, the lame—so that the feast would be full.  Then, Jesus made a painful conclusion, those who are too busy with life will miss out on the wonder of his kingdom. Ouch!  I’m grateful Jesus is patient enough to invite us again and again and I’m glad I was finally in a place to hear it.

Sara and I notice that, too.  When God puts someone on our hearts to get with someone, we usually invite them to dinner. At first, they are usually very excited, but they have so many commitments and distractions that they are never free to come. For some, I know they are missing out on a gift God wants to give them but they are too driven by circumstance to see it. And busyness isn’t the only way to miss his entreaties, as with my story above, my heart was not available when the truth comes knocking. When I talk to people I often make a comment or pose a question that will open a door to something I sense God wants them to know. Often, people completely miss the invitation. Even when I circle back, their minds are so distracted, or their course so certain, they aren’t available to hear it.

Back in the day when I was a pastor, I spent ninety percent of my energy trying to motivate the complacent. How could I engage them with God’s life, our programs, his truth? People were too busy and too distracted. It was exhausting and often disappointing because people thought they already had what they needed and weren’t hungry enough to let God teach them how to really follow him. In contrast, over the past twenty-five years, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time with people who are hungry for something more real in their life, and it has been a joy. You can’t force-feed someone the life of Jesus. You can offer it, but if they don’t rise to the invitation, you’ll discover that your time is better invested in those who are already hungry. Jesus knew that. He said he wasn’t seeking ninety-nine percent who didn’t know they were sick, but for the one percent who were looking for help.

Spiritual hunger is a great gift; complacency a killjoy. When I’m trying to help someone see a better path, and they are too mired in their illusions to recognize the opportunity, it makes my heart hurt. I know they are looking for answers, but unfortunately, it’s in all the wrong places. It’s like sitting down to dinner with a friend, knowing there’s a $100,000 check for him under the placemat. You can’t tell him it’s there though, you can only try to get him to look. You make all kinds of suggestions and hints, even suggesting he flip over his placemat, but he waves me off as if the idea is nonsense or too much trouble to move all that’s sitting on top of it.

It’s because he doesn’t know and he’s not hungry enough for what might be out there to realize the opportunity before him.  I think I know a bit of how that feels to God. You can point people down a different path that will bring the wisdom and fullness they are seeking, but it isn’t down the road they want to go down. Or, they start down it and are soon distracted by “the worries of this life of the deceitfulness of riches” to stay the course.

He constantly circles back, however, to nudge us toward the life that really is life. Hunger, especially for spiritual reality, will help you be in a place to recognize those moments. Without it, you won’t grow. Cultivating a hunger for the presence and wisdom of Jesus is going to be especially critical in these coming days of shifting tides, both with the delusion leading people astray and with a fresh breath of the Spirit to cause the light of God’s glory to rise inside the darkness.

How do we maintain a hungry heart? Here are a few ideas that help me.

  • First of all, keep learning the joy of living loved. Resting in his love makes you most available to the light Jesus wants to give you.
  • Maintain a growth-mindedness. At your best, you’re only seeing a small slice of all that is true or even what’s going on in your circumstances. You can live confidently in what you think he’s shown you, but continue through life like you’re on a treasure hunt looking for the next insight or leading the Spirit has for you. The best God gives us on any day is enough light to take the next step. Don’t fall for the false comfort of thinking you have it all figured out or you’ll end up forcing your way rather than seeing his.
  • Be flexible to the opportunities God puts in front of you to learn something new or love someone new. We can fill our schedules so full, there’s no room for the spontaneous to find it’s way in and God is often in the spontaneous opportunities we walk past every day.
  • Stay real about your brokenness. The world and religious environments force us to act better than we know we are. When we lose sight of our weaknesses, we’ll bluff our way through life instead of open ourselves to truth that transforms.
  • Don’t make pronouncements about the future, “I will never talk to that person again.” Or, “I’m never going back to that church.” All you really know is where God wants to guide you today, you have no idea how the future unfolds or what circumstances might change.
  • Maintain flexibility. If the thing you are seeking God about doesn’t happen, ask him what you might be missing. Look beyond your expectations and preferences.
  • Embrace discomfort. It is the environment of those who are learning. Don’t ignore his nudge just because it might lead to awkward moments and vulnerable places.

One of the best things you can do is to spend time with others who are hungry. That’s one of the wonderful fruits I experience by spending time with hungry people, not only are they open to what God is doing, but also their hunger nurtures my own. Here are some ways to recognize hungry people:

  • They don’t find their answers in an agenda, program, or schedule, but by learning sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit. 
  • They don’t throw pat answers at you that will depend on your performance. 
  • They won’t interrupt you when you talk, and their response will show you that you’ve really be heard.
  • They hold the truth lightly, knowing they haven’t reached a destination, but are still discovering fresh realities to further sharpen their view of God’s heart.
  • They are real, as honest about their struggles and weakness as they are their joys and insights.

There’s no better time to let the light of the glory of God provoke your tastebuds and stir your heart to draw near.

 


Quickies from Lifestream

 

A Redemption Story You Have to Hear
If you haven’t yet treated yourself to my new limited-series podcast, called My Friend Luis, listen to the first 30 minutes and you’ll know if this is for you or not. This is an amazing story that keeps unfolding in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Personal Enrichment and Christmas Ideas
I hear almost every day from someone reading Live Loved Free Full and finding it had the right encouragement for the challenges they are confronting. I’m so grateful this book is in the world and that it is helping people have a thought every day that invites them into the security of Father’s affection, rather than toiling in the distractions of the world or the performance treadmill of religion. If you don’t have your copy you can order it from us. It has an inspiring thought for every day.  And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. It is tough to give this book traction in a world so captive to animosity and division, but if just a few people on the planet would shift the way they think and live, they would see some amazing fruit in their relationships. All of these would make great Christmas gifts, too, for people you love.  And don’t forget my friend Tessa’s story, Out of the Shadows. This would make a great gift for the young woman in your life sorting out her identity in the world.

On the Road Again
I am getting to travel some again as I navigate through the ups and downs of the pandemic. This week, I’m off to Michigan with future trips planned to Alaska, Virginia, Florida, and Tennessee. I don’t know how much longer I will be traveling with such frequency so I’m looking to make the most of every opportunity to help others discover the joy of living loved. God has also given me a new framework to help people sort out their own spiritual journey to find the fullness of life God wants to give them even in the brokenness of the world we live in.  I’m excited about the opportunities Father is giving me to share it face-to-face with people. If you’d like to be notified when I’m coming to your area you can sign up on our email list and include your address.

Guesting on Other Podcasts

Appearing on someone else’s podcast always gives me a chance to reflect on the longer trajectory of my journey. If you’re interested I recently did a two-parter on The Daron Earlewine Podcast (Part 1 is Seeing What God Sees, and Part 2 is Learning to Speak a Language of Healing), and I also did the This is Not Church Podcast.

You Won’t Want you to Miss…
The Beauty of Selflessness (podcast)
Sweeter Outcomes (podcast)
Navigating Toxic Relationships (blog)


This newsletter is sent out periodically on an irregular schedule whenever I want to share something with a wider audience and update people on what’s going on around Lifestream. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox, you can sign up here.  You can also check A Breath of Fresh Air if you want to receive a brief encouragement from some of my writings three times weekly.  Also, include your address if you want to get travel notifications if my travels twithin 200 miles of where you live.

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.