Living on the Edges

Sean Kennedy, an author, and friend from the UK, wrote me about my most recent podcast with Mary, a new believer finding her legs on a relational journey against the religious voices that want to draw her into the captivity of guilt and obligation. He wrote about living on the edges in a way I hadn’t heard before, and it made a lot of sense to me. With his permission, let me share it with you:

A couple of things Mary said reminded me that the only place we can truly walk in freedom is on the edge. Jesus was hugely relational and yet at the same time an edge person. He was always working relationally, but he did so outside the institutions or at least on the edge of them. He taught in the synagogue occasionally and ate with the teachers of the law. But mostly he taught outside the synagogue in the homes and villages and fields where the ordinary people lived and worked. He was critical of power, yet when invited he met and ate and talked with the powerful. He also hung out on the edge with the sick, the foreigner, the sinner and those society disapproved of. His position on the edge helped him see things as they really were. Wayne and Kyle you have become edge guys. You’ve done your time on the inside of the institution, to see that it is usually an unhealthy dysfunctional place to be.  What I think is incredible is that Mary is managing so early to stay on the edge and not get sucked in.

When we are sucked into the center of an institution there we are in many ways at our most blind. Only when we live and work on the edge can we see more clearly. By all means go to a congregation if Jesus leads you, but stay on the edge with one foot inside it and one on the outside. On the inside we risk getting infected by groupthink and all sorts of religious oughts, shoulds and musts and becoming slaves of the institution. Only on the edge can we have a wider perspective.

We can see more clearly what is going on both the inside (good and bad) and on the outside. Only on the edge can we also see God’s invitations coming from surprising and interesting new directions. Amazingly I think Mary is somehow realizing this and resisting the temptations of being an insider. It is so tempting when we are invited in to become a member of the institution – and especially when we have a particular talent the institution recognizes in us. It’s not necessarily wrong, and may be an important part of our journey so long as we realize it is only for a season. It can become dangerous when we settle down and make the institution our home. And when we do spend a season on the inside it is especially important we make friends both with those on the edge of it and those on the outside of it so they can help us see what is wrong about the inside. Only then can we become a positive force for change whether it be on the inside or outside.)

I love his thoughts here. The people I see thriving in their relationship with God in these tumultuous times are those who aren’t committed to a specific kind of groupthink but are learning to follow the voice of the Shepherd. No one or no group has it all right. That’s as true of spiritual truth as it is cultural engagement. If you can’t see the strengths and weaknesses of whatever group you consider yourself a part of, you probably don’t spend enough time with people who think differently. That’s also true if you never see validity in the concerns of those outside your group. None of us knows all we need to know; thus, seeing others who disagree with us as evil will only lead us astray. That’s how the world seeks to manipulate us, even that worldly spirit among followers of Christ.

The truth is we’re all a bit flawed, and Jesus is still taking shape in us. Humility will go a long way to help us discern truth from lies. If you are not seeing Jesus point out the illusions in your journey from time to time, it might be because you’re not listening. You seek comfort in people telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to know. Only by hearing the voice of our Shepherd can we know what’s real and what isn’t.

The people living most redemptively in the world live on the edges, as Sean described. Isn’t that why Jesus challenged his disciples to be in the world and not of it? One thing that will help you do that is to live on the edges of groups with whom you identify. Don’t get in the center where it’s easy to be blinded; keep others outside of it in your eye line. When you have compassion for them, too, you are in a better position to discern what is true. God’s way may not be the one that I think serves me best. We are citizens of a kingdom that transcends politics, ethnicity, theology, and personal preference.

This reminds me of a story about Joshua on his way to Jericho in Joshua 5. He came upon a mighty man with a drawn sword standing in his path. Startled, Joshua challenges him most likely with all the hubris of a man on a mission for God, “Are you for us or our enemies?” 

“Neither,” the man replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”  

It’s a silly question to ask God or his hosts if they are on our side in whatever battle we’ve engaged. It’s far more important for us to be on his. Even if we think our struggle is as clear-cut as the battle Joshua was about to engage in, we dare not think our side is always right, or we’ll end up mired in human thinking.

Jesus told his followers to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. That warning has never been more timely. There’s no way we can do that without an attentive ear to our Shepherd and a more expansive view of the world than what any media can feed us.

A Difficult Day Ahead

Today I say my final goodbye to Dave Coleman, a close friend for over thirty years. I wrote about him and our work together in a previous blog when he passed away. His family has asked me to facilitate the celebration of his life at a memorial service today, and I have no idea how I’m going to get through it.

Death is only painful on this side of the door. On the other side, Dave has already discovered what it means to be face-to-face with Jesus, and he is enjoying the reality of what we can only glimpse from the shadowlands here that we live in. On this side, those who knew him will miss him deeply, his smile, wisdom, and tenderness. I already do. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this service.

In preparing my remarks, I remembered the last email I got from Dave. It showed up late this fall quite unexpectedly one morning and it was simply a prayer—a profound one at that! He had been walking with me through a harrowing situation that involved some people I love deeply.

Here’s what he wrote:

 May the Father, who is rich in mercy, speak kindly to your heart and comfort you with the thought that the only way out of this is to lay it at the foot of the cross…. with the prayer, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Do not allow your accusers to stifle in any way your message of God’s love. Just allow this experience to increase your urgency and your compassion and above all to deepen your dependency on His grace.

Dave had known many similar experiences in his own life. The path he commends here is one he has walked many times. Forgive from the depth of your heart, but also don’t let your accusers prevail. Get to the cross and the power Jesus demonstrated there. Forgive like he forgave and then let the pain and loss only invite you deeper into grace and to the great need for more of it in the world.

Amen, Dave. Amen 

Seven Attributes of God’s Glory

The Incarnation did not end when Jesus ascended from planet earth after his resurrection. He was only its beginning.

His work on the cross was to begin a new creation—where men and women become so transformed by his love that they reflect his glory in the world—God with us. Don’t just celebrate the first Incarnation without discovering how he wants to take shape in you today. Now, that’s how the world will know who God is because they see his character reflected in how you treat people around you. God still wants the word to be revealed in human flesh and continually seeks those who will allow his glory to grow in them and who will share it freely with anyone around them.

We can be ambassadors of his glory, a flock that draws eyes heavenward as our lives proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to those in captivity, healing to those broken by a fallen world, and justice for the oppressed. That was his mission, and he gave it to us. His hope for the church was to make her a living community of redeemed humanity sharing his love together in ways that people would behold the true nature of God. What we call church often falls so short of this invitation because, in the end, it attempts to encase God’s glory in human institutions, which cannot reflect it. They get caught in the same priorities all institutions do—conformity, money, and influence. It’s no wonder they are often known for indulgent leadership, division, gossip, and manipulation.

What Jesus calls the church, however, is something entirely different. She is his bride, and she is taking shape in people called out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation who have chosen a narrower road of drawing close to him, listening to his heartbeat, and following him wherever he leads.

That’s why Paul writes:

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.  Ephesians 1:20-23 (The Message)

It is not enough to believe in Christian doctrine or observe its rituals. We have the opportunity to live deeply in Christ and find the love and faith in him that transforms us into his image. As this new year starts, I am most excited by the growing hunger I see in young and old alike, people who are learning to love what God loves. They find their priorities shifting in ways not everyone around them appreciates, even some of their Christian friends and family. That’s why it’s a narrower road. It won’t appeal to the crowds who seek their comfort more than his glory. It is for those who cannot deny the ever-growing impulse in their heart to follow his invitation into a different way of living.

Here are seven attributes I see growing in people around me who are on this journey:

  • They have an unrelenting pursuit to know what’s true, even when it challenges the broken places in their own life.
  • They are playful in the Father’s love and tender toward others around them, even those they perceive to be their enemy.
  • Finding their well-being in him, they do not need to manipulate others for their own gain.
  • They are content with obscurity, finding a conversation way more fruitful than a seat on the stage or likes on their social media post.
  • They are learning to interact with God throughout the day—not just praying to him but following his nudges as well.
  • They find their confidence in God’s character, not by hoping he will change their circumstances for their desires.
  • They are learning to rest in the Father’s work, coming alongside him rather than trusting in human effort.

In reading these, don’t think you can hear them and try to apply them to your life. They don’t work that way. These are fruits of a growing fullness in your own relationship with Jesus. Let that flourish and you’ll see these and other attributes growing from there. I write them here so that when you recognize them in you, lean into them even when it challenges your comfort. In the long run, you’ll find no greater joy than letting Jesus take shape in the person he created you to be.

Arise, shine, for Jesus wants his glory to shine in you.

Watch What God Will Do

One of the reasons I post stuff like my It’s Time video or the blog on Joyfully Sober is to listen to what else the Spirit of God is whispering in people’s hearts around the world.

Paul indicated that the best any one of us sees is like looking through a dimmed mirror (I Corinthians 13:12-13. We get glimpses of his work and heart, seeing in part but never the complete picture. The Church, on the other hand, “is the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23) When we add our glimpses alongside those of others, we’ll have a fuller picture of his work in us.

Of course, by “the Church,” Paul wasn’t talking about our institutions, denominations, or even religious leaders, but those children who are in touch with his heart and who follow the voice of the Shepherd. I love listening alongside the many others I’m related to worldwide.

After posting my latest blog, I received three emails within two days with a similar theme—recognizing his work and embracing it rather than getting him to bless ours.

From Darlene:

Looking forward to all that Abba has in store for us this day…year and as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed one day through all that is happening, I asked, “How do we move forward, what is it we’re to do, how do we live in this time?” I heard Him say, “stay calm, and carry on, and stand back and see the salvation of the Lord”.

From Sylvia:

Your blog post, Joyfully Sober, resonated so deeply with me. We first met over a decade ago in Alaska. Since then, my husband and I have lived in Denmark for 5 years, and now in Colorado. We bought a home where shortly after a wildfire roared through, devastating over one-third of our neighborhood. It surrounded our house, coming within only a few feet of destroying it, but our home was preserved. Daily, as I meet with the Lord, I look out charred trees on the mountainside, wondering what new life might be growing under the blackened earth. What are those seeds… and how are they like the kingdom God is revealing in his sons and daughters?

So, today I’ve read and re-read your message. It has stirred up a new sense of joy within me, seeing that this is the work of glory that God is revealing across the Body of Christ. The “whatever-it-takes” prayers. I also admit that since this pandemic began, I’ve felt a sense of disturbed exasperation with church leaders who just want things to “return to normal”… as soon as possible. Can’t they see in this the wonderful cleansing, subterranean work of the Spirit?!

“Be patient, Sylvia, hold space for the coming of the Lord, for he is indeed coming.”

And you are right to say there’s no hurry. The wilderness experience creates within us a new, slower sense of time. A quietness and indifference. A spacious place where we’ve made room to be able to receive God’s seeds.

I want to give you a warning before sharing this last one. Do not try this at home. Robin is the man who wrote me the original question I posted in my previous blog. As God was leading Robin through this process he describes, this was not Robin presuming to do something outlandish by his reasoning. It is the opposite of that, and it turned out disastrous when others tried to follow his insight without the same leading. Here’s the story he told me:

We live and farm in South Australia on 400mm (15 inches) of rainfall; our summers are dry and hot. We grow one crop per year—cereals, canola, and pulses.

About eight years ago, soon after we stepped out of the institutional church, Father clearly told me while I was harvesting canola to plant all our canola stubble to sorghum. Sorghum is never grown in our area; it is a crop of high rainfall areas.

Obediently we sowed on one paddock, though not all we were supposed to. Our farm advisor thought we were crazy, but he let us buy the seed with convincing. We only received a small amount of rainfall that summer, yet the sorghum flourished (see picture above). Cars, farm advisors, and photographers regularly stopped and walked out into our field.

After several months, it was getting close to harvest, and we were impatient because we wanted to prepare the ground before the opening rains to plant wheat. When we thought it was ready to harvest, we took the combine to the paddock, where we heard Father say, “No, it’s not time.” Thinking I knew better, I reaped about a ton anyway. In Australia, our grain moisture has to be 12% or under but this measured 25%. So, we bagged it and left the combine. The next day, the grain was filled with worms and was useless, even to feed the cattle.

We left it for a week and tried again, only to hear Father say, “No, it’s not time.” The grain measured 20%. A couple of days later, I jumped in the combine to harvest when I got a phone call from a brother. He felt Father telling him to ring me and say, “No, it’s not time.”

By this time, we were getting anxious because winter rains were forecast, and it was getting close to the time to sow wheat. To hurry up the process, we sprayed the sorghum with a chemical to hurry the drying process. After a week, we tried again, again Fathers spoke, “No, it’s not time.” By this time, the moisture had gone to 30%, the highest it had ever read.

The very next day, Father spoke again, “It’s time.” It would have been impossible for the moisture to come down in that time, but when we measured it, it was under 12%. We harvested the paddock on the last acre, the opening rains started, and it has been wet from then on.

So that’s my story. I think Father is showing me that there is a great harvest coming, but he alone will do it. It will not be as before; it will be done through intimacy with Him in obedience, faith, and trust.

The time of us doing it with our own agendas needs to be over. It doesn’t produce the Father’s harvest and is often counterproductive. Perhaps this will be the harvest of the last times, where our certainty is Jesus. He alone will build His church. He has and is preparing her for the days to come

By the way, many farmers in our area and beyond tried planting sorghum in the following years, they all failed.

Hence you can see my interest when you heard “It is time.”

I love that story on so many levels—God speaking, the risk in following, the amazement of others, the attempts to take control in his own strength, and in the end, God having his way. I even like that it didn’t work when others tried the same thing in their own strength. And for what purpose was all this? Would God go to such lengths to help someone learn that listening to God is the way to live? I think so, and he does it so playfully, too.

The hardest thing for us to do in our painful circumstances is to “stand by and see the salvation of God.” We are too busy trying to fix things on our own or getting God to fix them our way. Instead, he wants us to listen, see his way forward, and trust him in the unfolding.

And trusting is not just waiting or presuming; trusting is believing what we’ve heard from him.

Joyfully Sober

(Note: This is a copy of newsletter I sent out quarterly-ish out to my email list. If you you’re not on it and want to be you can sign up here.) 

First, I want to express my gratefulness for the rain that has fallen on Southern California this month. We’ve been in a severe drought and have had almost eight inches of rain in December, half of that yesterday. Our average rainfall is about thirteen inches per year. So, this has been a bit much for some locales, but we’ve needed this water desperately, and it’s a joy to sit here and type, watching the rain continue to fall. It is spectacular!

Now, let me share a question I received a few weeks ago. Today seems like a good day to answer it. This was from Robin:

A few months ago, you received “It has started.”

Have you seen or heard any more from Father about this? I know my Spirit is waiting for a move from Father, don’t know what it is or what it will look like, knowing Him it will be something that is not what we thought. Have seen Him prepare and place the same thing in people’s hearts all around the world, they are sitting under rocks, unseen.

Some are growing impatient and moving on or going with their own agendas thinking that’s it. So I am curious to hear what you are hearing.

I’m sure he is referring to a video from last April, from a recent burn scar in the Sierras with my grandkids. That devastation I witnessed stirred in my heart over the next couple of days. As I held those emotions before God one day, I sensed him saying, “It’s time.” Immediately my mind filled with the words of Romans 8. Paul writes about the Creation and its eager expectation for God to be revealed through the glory of his children so that it could be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into its own freedom and glory.

Yes, Robin, I have heard and seen so much more that excites my heart. It has begun, and like a tiny seed planted in a dark void, it will continue to grow in ways that won’t draw attention to itself. I see it in my times with Father, and I hear it reverberate in almost every conversation I have. There’s a hunger rising and with it a freshening wind of spiritual insight. God has prepared many people over many decades for this season. I also see it growing in the hearts of young people, even though they may not know it’s Jesus at work in them yet. I recently talked about this on a podcast a The God Journey. If you missed it, you can hear it here.

It may only be a stirring in our hearts at this point, like yeast spreading through the bread dough. It will not look like the revivals of the past because it will not be in the hands of any one person or spring up in any location. You won’t read about it in the Christian media or see it in flashy Sunday gatherings. His work is hidden now, as it has to be so that would-be leaders won’t try to take possession of it or attempt to market or manage it for their own gain. You won’t find by looking to someone else to show you the way but by looking inward at the seed of his glory growing in you. Lean into that reality and ask him to show you how. Hold that space before him for weeks, months if need be. There’s no hurry here, just the sweet invitation to come closer and connect with his heartbeat that is growing inside you.

So, yes, it is time! God’s glory is growing in the earth so that people can know who he really is by the way we demonstrate his reality to others. As 2022 begins, I find my heart is growing joyfully sober. There’s a seriousness growing in my heart, and I find myself praying a lot of whatever-it-takes prayers. You know the ones—”Whatever it takes, God, I want to know you as you are and be transformed into your image.”  In recent years, God’s name has been disfigured, not so much by his enemies by those who claim to be his followers while only seeking glory, power, or comfort. Their selfishness, anger, fear, and greed have made people turn away, disgusted by their perception of God. It is time for God to show himself once again as the most endearing presence in the universe, and that, through lives, transformed to reflect that glory in their daily interactions.

That’s how Jesus encouraged us to face troubled times by being sober and vigilant, but don’t read fear or anguish into that. Those awaiting the bridegroom do so with joy and anticipation. Joyfully sober. We are on the precipice of something fresh God is seeding into the world. If this isn’t the end of the age, this is one of those seasons that foretell it. There is trouble afoot; great anger and hatred rule humanity, and severe days of reckoning may well be at hand. But against that void, the light of God’s character will shine even brighter as he reflects himself in you. Even in the most painful circumstances and moments of great stress, Jesus’ reality will put a song in your heart and wisdom to our course.

That’s the conversation I want to be in over this next season. I want to find ways to encourage that process and equip hungry hearts to live more securely in his love, more at rest in his work, and more at play with his wisdom. I have no idea of what’s to come, just a growing desire to wake up in him each morning and see what he allows to unfold in my heart. Yesterday morning, I outlined what may be my next book in a couple of hours. It’s a guide to help people understand how Jesus works in us so that we can ride the wind of the Spirit in the truth of what God speaks to us.

So, blessed New Year, everyone! This is a good time to lean into your heart and see how Jesus is making himself known to you and how he wants to take shape in you. None of that will come by human effort, but as you simply make space in your heart for what he reveals to you and believe him as he transforms you with his glory. He will show you what it means for you to become one with the love he wants to reveal to you and pour through you to refresh the hearts of others.

Jesus told us that such days call us to be sober and vigilant, but that isn’t with fear and anxiety. Sober, yes, but joyfully so! God is on the move. The wind has freshened; the fog is lifting, new adventures await.

A Distant Fire

I got this email a couple of weeks ago from Jack, a good friend in South Carolina. He describes so well what religious obligation can do to destroy the great adventure of engaging the transcendent God of the universe and learning to follow him through the brokenness of this age.

Life in him is full of wonder, mystery, and adventure rather than simply settling into a stagnant routine that no longer quickens the hart.

Kyle Rice and I discuss this email on today’s episode of The God Journey – Recovering Mystery. I knew some of you would like to have it in print as well:

As much I have tried to live inside the Christian faith with the rule of scripture and abundance of obligation, I have touched upon a most unsettling truth. I wonder if I lost something early on in my childhood that stopped me from seeing the mystery in things? Perhaps it was in the growing up that plowed over my sense of mystery. Perhaps it was the becoming a man, that part of being sure of oneself, left off no room for wonder. Maybe it has been the rush to be right.

I don’t know why I lost my sense of wonder. Of great mystery of and in life and in things in particular but, like the dull and faded paint job on an old, old house, there was something once beautiful and today, it has faded. There seems to be a way to control oneself in the course of “normal Christian life” and to that end, tame the Lion of Judah. Maybe it has been covered up in the preaching and teaching of principles and keys of the Christian life. All those good but still left off in the mystery I am realizing that every principle and keys seems shallow, ill fitting, clumsy and useless. I wonder if those that have the most to lose in this “wonder” are those who have paid the most into the formulaic principles of Christianity; those whose needs and egos to control were fashioned in the halls of established religion. Mostly, and most assuredly the doctrines of being Right. Establishment, Creeds, Observation of days and events, Doctrines, rituals, sanctimony and sanctuary and so many more building blocks to dull the heart and blind the soul to the wonder found in the mystery of Christ. We can’t have mystery in the normal Christian faith.

Perhaps they believe in no more mystery and wonder beyond the Incarnation. If we never encounter the mystery of the fellowship with Jesus. We will put other things in that space. Religious things, principles, obligations, appeasements and the likes. Mostly because those who are so called teachers do not know or have not known the expression of life found in a real, living relationship with Jesus- the mystery of falling in love with him. After all the time, I am finding little else but empty cans of beans and burnt marshmallows. Today, I do smell smoke but, from a distant fire. The fire of the Creator of the universe who fashioned us for life and for the love of it gave us the only remedy for it—Jesus Christ.

The wonder and mystery of this for me, is the beginning of all things new. My hearts desire is to know him in the way and ways he wants to reveal himself to me. No formula. No keys. No principles. Just Him. I have the Spirit of Christ in me. Surely this is enough. Finally, I have started to see this—the Mystery that has been kept secret from before the foundation of the world…..what a treasure this is!

Treasure indeed!  When the possibility of what Jesus might show you today or where he might lead you no longer sparks wonder and awe in your heart, it’s time to pause and ask him to help you recapture the mystery of Christ in you the Hope of Glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Best Use of The Jesus Story

Two things happened yesterday, almost back to back.

First, I read the following email from Chelsea, a friend in Idaho:

If you remember my 7-year-old son was very much struggling with going to church, and it’s become clear these past few weeks that I will be staying home with him and having intentional one-on-one time on Sunday mornings. I am using The Jesus Story videos, but a bit differently. I’m not having him watch them, but am watching them myself and then using it as a guide to teach each lesson to my son.

Today was the first one, and we went on a “treasure hunt” in the house to find treasure and drew treasure maps and connected it to the bible being a treasure map to Jesus. It went so well, and I used your examples and visuals but just made it in real life. I got a book set out and explained the books of the Bible as you did with the most important books being the four about Jesus. My son just really understood and was engaged more than ever, and I’m looking forward to doing this each week for the next little bit.  Thought you might enjoy hearing how your series is being used with a younger child.

That’s the best use of The Jesus Story I’ve ever heard. I’d much rather have a child go on a treasure hunt with mom than watching a video of me and my grandkids. I love that she’s using those videos and tools to find a way to incarnate the life of that series in her own home.  Well done, Chelsea!  I hope your example will inspire others.

For those who don’t remember, I recorded The Jesus Story during the early days of the pandemic to give my grandkids a survey of the Bible and hopefully a love for it when they didn’t have much else going on. Through the wonders of Zoom, I gave them a kid-sized package of The Jesus Lens, which I recorded to help adults explore how the Scriptures can be the most important resource they have for sorting out the life of the Spirit in their own lives.

The second thing that happened yesterday is I was on a Zoom call with a mother in her young 40s when she shared how Scripture had been so weaponized against her that she rarely reads it.  As sad as that makes me, I get it. Many think it’s a dull, antiquated book that’s no longer relevant today. Others cringe at the thought of reading it since they have felt obligated to do so and found very little life in it. Religious leaders have weaponized it to bash people with guilt and obligation or misinterpreted it as a rule book for conforming people to their religious systems even if they have to disfigure the Gospel to do it.

It’s such a tragedy too!  The Scripture is still the most fantastic resource in my spiritual journey.  I want it to become one in yours too. Everything I believe about God unfolds in its pages. But you’ve got to read it as the story it is—of God unfolding himself in human history, not as if he dictated each word.  That’s not what inspired means. Not everything it says about him is true, especially in the earlier stories. It tells the story of a people coming to recognize who God is, and sometimes their view of him was wrong or incomplete. However, when Jesus appeared, he showed us exactly what his Father is like and how to make sense of those Old Testament stories.

Also, every day when I read it, no matter where I’m reading, I know I’ll find some clue that helps me realize something Jesus has been speaking to me, checks the motives in my heart that might steer me after my own desires instead of his, or it will confirm a path he already has me on. I’m always excited to see what the Scriptures might unveil to my heart on a given day. No, it cannot replace his Spirit as the one who guides me into all truth but it certainly helps me recognize when I’m being led by his Spirit and when I’m being seduced by my own brokenness.

That’s why a major theme in my life and on this website is to help people reclaim the wonder and power of Scripture. If you haven’t checked out The Jesus Story or The Jesus Lens, you might want to spend some time with them. It may take a bit of effort to move Scripture out of the guilt and obligation side of your life so that it can become the treasure map God intended to help reveal his wisdom and character to aid you on your journey.

When Spiritual Panic Creeps In

‘Tis the season to be panicked….”

OK, not really, but that’s how it feels for many people. Meeting all the expectations for a meaningful holiday season, navigating the toxic people in your family, or marking the passing of another year without the changes you had hoped to see in your life, can draw our minds into some pretty dark space.

I get that email often. “I am overwhelmed by all life is hurling at me. My prayers don’t work and I’m wondering if God even cares about me. I don’t know how to fix it. Help!” You can hear it even through their email—the breathlessness of their exhaustion and the fear that they will not make it much longer. Spiritual panic is being overwhelmed by challenging circumstances and not being certain that God is there to help you.

Finding peace during turmoil is not about praying the right prayers or trying to figure it all out in your head. The harder you try, the more panicked you’ll become.  At times like that, I find it helpful to remind myself to do what Jesus asked of Nicodemus in John 3. He told him he needed to be born again, and he wasn’t talking about walking down the Roman Road and punching his get-out-of-hell-free card. He meant Nicodemus needed to discard all the religious conclusions he’d made about God and himself and let the Spirit take the opportunity to carry him into a new way of living.

We can’t do this on our own. We’re like that little child in the picture above. When his hand slides under ours all we need to do is take hold. That’s what we offer—a willing heart for the Spirit’s work to unfold in us. The simple prayer is, “Will you lead me into the Father’s life?” And that’s not a once-in-a-lifetime prayer to secure our salvation but a daily prayer that helps us be open to his work instead of trying to fix things on our own.

That’s it.

Then, let him teach you how to rest in his care for you. He will accomplish this in his time and his way. You can’t fix what’s wrong with your life; you can only relax into the reality that he can. I know that’s hard to do in human terms, but he will help you learn to settle into his love. You don’t have to “have faith” in the specific outcomes you want. All you have to do is remember that you are not alone, the God of the universe deeply loves you, and that he wants to hold you in his love and guide you through the situations that confront you. He is your way through the challenges you face.

So, when life seems to get away from you, slow down. Take a deep breath. Stop looking way down the road with your worries and fears. Ask yourself if you have enough for today. Jesus told us that grace is given in daily doses, which is why worrying about our imagined futures is so debilitating. Today, he is with us. When we put ourselves into the future we’re afraid of, we are alone there. The human mind can’t imagine what form grace might take in our worst fears.

When you feel lost and shattered, remember you are not lost to him. He knows where you are and is already inviting you into a freer space. Stay inside this day and follow whatever nudge he seems to place on your heart. You don’t have to figure it all out. You don’t have to contrive a strategy. Just follow as you see the way and, where you don’t, simply occupy a space of love and goodness toward others until his direction appears.

In his incredibly insightful booklet, David Morsey in On Being Led by the Spirit, wrote this:

Trust the Lord to work out His purposes with our life, in spite of your fluctuating feelings and human inadequacy, to make the right decisions. Put your whole life in his hands and ask Him to work out His will in spite of you. That is your ultimate safeguard.

I know how scary that prospect can be because everyone else encourages us to put our trust in them and their resources.  Most of them will invite us to trust in some principle or program. Even if it’s a spiritual program, that doesn’t mean it will connect you with his Spirit.

God wants you to be secure in his love and at rest in his work. Learn the joy of that, and no circumstance or set of circumstances will ever threaten you again. And, if you need help, you might ask God if there’s someone around you who can encourage you in these things, even if you haven’t met them yet. Look for someone who is at peace themselves and not building anything they want to hook you into.

Please don’t focus on the uncertainty of what you don’t know; focus instead on the certainty of who he is. Let him bring the light to you as you’re learning to follow. The reason that can seem so difficult is that it’s far simpler than we dare to believe. Learning his ways is not a road map to memorize but an inner reality to follow. It is far better explored than explained, so we can take it one day at a time.  He has all the resources you need to find the simplicity of living as his beloved child.

Because that’s exactly who you are.

___________

One final note… Kyle and Wayne process their time last weekend with a group of twenty- and thirty-year-olds in the mountains of Colorado on today’s edition of The God Journey. In the process, they talk about what they all learned about holding space inside the Father’s work, a wonderful lesson for all of us.

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 German.

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 at 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 that 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.