A Peek At My Email

I don’t post these emails because I like reading about myself on my blog. I’ve already read them and expressed my gratefulness to those who took the time to write me and to the Father for the way some of these things find their way into the world to encourage his people. I post these so that others who are struggling with similar things might find their way to the same resources that may be helpful to them.

From Germany: I read the book The Call of the Wild Geese in German. (Elsewhere in the world it is, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore). I am very grateful to you for this book, which is hotly debated in Germany. Everyone makes their own decisions. It was an adventure for me and I got involved in trusting God to say: “Father, do you?” This trust that God, my heavenly Father, provides and cares for me every day. I have experienced much of what was described in your book in different church structures. I am 69 years old and have been traveling with Jesus for 20 years. This book has brought me out of my depression and pain, towards the light, towards His (God’s) love. Thank you very much.

From Latvia: I am reading your book He Loves Me. I have a big problem. With my mind I understand that God is Love, that He loves me so much that He gave me His Son Jesus. But I feel like He is distant, cold, passive, One who doesn’t want me in His presence. In my deepest part I am afraid to fall into His hands because I can’t live up to His standarts. Can you help me, please?! Is God really that nice as you describe Him? I want to know Him clearly.

My response to her:

Actually, he is way better than I can possibly describe him. Shame keeps us from him, making us feel unworthy of his presence. Religion feeds our shame as well, but Jesus took our shame away at the cross. Fall into his hands and find out just how gracious he is and how knowing him will transform you in ways you never imagined.  It’s a journey. It takes some time to get comfortable in his reality, but it is a journey well worth taking.

From Pennsylvania: “I came back to Lifestream and stumbled onto The Jesus Lens. Thank you for following the vision to record this. I am reading scripture in a whole new way and journaling more “a-ha” moments than I can recall. I’ve shared this with friends in hopes that it opens the door to future Holy Spirit guided conversations.”

From a friend I recently visited in Oklahoma and who attended a workshop Arnita and I did for A Language of Healing in a Polarized Nation:

I did something today that was out of my range just a bit but I felt like you guys encouraged us to do.  Which is I spoke to a total stranger  today who is not in my “in-group”.  I have been beyond upset over the recent shooting in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery.  I’ve been sick at my stomach over this killing.  So I signed up to #IRunWith Maud today at our park, and when I was done there was an African American woman in the parking lot waiting for someone. I just went up to her, keeping our social distance, and I said hello and I just needed to say I am so sorry for the shooting of this young man in Georgia.  She just opened right up and although I couldn’t control my emotions, she didn’t seem to think I was weird or anything.  We had a sweet little conversation and her husband came back from his run and he was very warm and gracious just like his wife.  It was a simple moment but I just had to tell you both because you encouraged us to do this when you were here in February and I wanted to encourage you in what you are doing. You are having an impact and it’s not a small thing.  One person to another person, depolarization will happen.

I love that so much. One person, one conversation at a time, the world can become a more generous place. Most people want to find their way into a different way of communicating and caring about each other across our differences. And, if you happen across one of those occasional people who love the polarization, just excuse yourself and move on.

For those of you who are interested, next Tuesday (May 19) at 2:00 pm PDT,  I’ll be discussing the racial divide that has formed over the Artery killing in Georgia with my co-authors Arnita Taylor and Bob Prater on Language of Healing Live! We are doing a series of these conversations moderated by people who have a stake in the issues that divide us and will lead a dialog with the authors and a panel in the Zoom Room. Next week’s Live! will be hosted by Gil Michel of South Bend, IN.  We will stream live on The Language of Healing Discussion Facebook Group, and on my Facebook Author Page if you want to join us. And yes, the recording will be available afterwards as well.

I am praying that all of you are finding a way to lean into Jesus through these very strange times to set your heart at rest in his care for you, and to show you a way through it that will allow his glory to unfold.

Language of Healing Goes Live!

God was opening what could have been some incredible doors for A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation before the pandemic shut everything down. People were planning book groups, we had an opening to get this message onto college campuses, and we were asked to do workshops in churches and communities to help people explore a more generous way. So, since those opportunities are on hold and people are limited in building new relationships especially with people in their out-groups, we are taking the message on-line in a series of live conversations to explore a language of healing. Starting this Tuesday, we’ll begin an every-other-week schedule of inviting fifteen people into a conversation about some specific aspect of this book and stream it live as we do.

We have a list of guest-moderators who will put us through our paces as we explore various aspects or applications of the book. Language of Healing Live will begin at 2:00 pm Pacific Daylight Time this Tuesday, May 5.  People will be able to watch the recorded version after. Watch this page and my Facebook Author page for details as to how you can listen in live.

Our first topic will be aimed specifically at people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties and the challenges they face in navigating a polarized world. Kyle Rice of Blue Sheep Media will be our moderator and all three authors—Bob, Arnita and I—will help answer their questions. We are still looking for a few young people to join us in the Zoom room, so if you’re between the ages of 15 and 39 and who have read the book, please let me know if you’d like to apply to be on our panel.

A few other notes:

  • The Jesus Story just posted video #7 as we talk about The journey of Abraham to begin a process of redemption for fallen humanity.
  • I’ll be a guest Monday morning in a live conversation for “Grieving Parents Sharing Hope Together.” The topic will be Anger and Grief and I’ll be hosted by Laura Deihl who helps families deal with death. We will go live at 11 am PDT/2 pm EDT. You can get more information at their website, and find the show at http://www.youtube.com/gpshope.
  • Finally, tomorrow (May 1) I will air a unique podcast at The God Journey, with a woman who cheated on her husband and found the grace to own up to it and walk out of that betrayal to a journey of hope and healing for herself and the marriage. It’s a beautiful picture of how God can reach into our darkest moments and bring redemption and lead us to compassion for others. You won’t want to miss it.

Finally:

I was listening to a podcast the other day and heard this nugget:  “Love does not require agreement; it only requires understanding.” Understanding someone else is where compassion grows. You don’t have to see things the same way to care about people especially those who are still groping in the darkness.

It’s Rarely the Words…

During a trip on the East coast in 2016, I was asked to meet with a couple whose twenty-something daughter had been recently killed in a car crash. A friend of a friend asked if I could give them some time, so I met them for lunch during a free moment in my schedule. I never know what to say to people who are experiencing such loss, and though I felt like God was in the time we had, I was left to wonder just how helpful it was to them. This weekend, four years later, I received this email:

You may not remember me, but I will never forget you. I knew one day I needed to email you and thank you for taking the time to share some love with my husband and me. We were connected through a friend of a friend and met you at a restaurant on a rainy day. Our daughter had been killed in a catastrophic car accident about six months prior, and I was clinging with all I had to Jesus, my only hope. I can’t say I remember what you said that day, but it’s like the saying, “You may not remember what someone said, but you can remember how they made you feel.” You made us feel loved. You shared God’s love, and especially meaningful to me, showed my husband that men can talk about feelings and God’s love in a real way.

Much has happened since that day. Of particular note, about a month after our meeting, a woman in my Bible study suggested we study He Loves Me. You had told me it was your favorite book you ever wrote. I loved the book and bought several copies to share with friends and family. God has been so real, so good, and so over-the-top caring that he has literally blown me away!!!!! There is no doubt I would never be the person I am today without him, and I am grateful beyond words. Now I have occasionally been asked to speak to other bereaved parents. While challenging, I am willing because I want them to know God is there; he is the key and their way through the valley.

I am a little embarrassed I have not written in so long. For a while, my old laptop lost email, the only place I had your address. Since then, I have never had quite the words. I was moved today and decided there never are just the right words, just write. All I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for being “Jesus with skin on.” You are part of a raw but beautiful story. God is creating a beautiful tapestry, and I am grateful beyond words for him and his love and grateful for your threads in it.

I was deeply touched by her email this weekend, but it was more than an encouragement to me; I also hope it is an encouragement to some of you.

  • Maybe you’re in a tragedy and barely holding on to your faith. God is bigger than your pain and can triumph over any adversity.
  • Maybe you have a friend going through a painful time, and you shy away because you don’t know what to say to them. Call anyway! Words are not what matter most. 
  • Maybe you don’t know how to talk about your hurt and grief with honesty and authenticity (Yes, I’m talking to you, men.)—hang out with someone who does.
  • Maybe you are groping to find where —keep looking for all the ways he is pouring his love into your heart. 
  • Maybe you have been a thread in someone else’s tapestry, and they never got back to you. Jesus knows; let him tell you what it meant to him. 
  • Maybe someone was a thread in your tapestry, and you never got around to thanking them. Four years, or a decade or two, isn’t too late. 

You will never regret pouring a bit of his love into the world. Every drop of it pushes back against the anger and judgment that tries to rule the day.

Zooming Through the Pandemic

We certainly live in interesting times. We are experiencing a worldwide event that will shape our planet in ways we can’t even conceive yet. This pandemic has sent most of us to our homes, restricted our travel and extended family time, and put many jobs and businesses in jeopardy. The economic fall-out from this pandemic may last for decades to come.

Going into this season, I thought that self-isolation might be a time of rest for me. Not able to travel and being home here with Sara would give me time to rest and see what’s next for me. But almost immediately, other opportunities began to open up through Zoom. I had become familiar with it while we were writing A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation with Bob and Arnita, but had not had time to explore all it could do. When my grandchildren’s schools were closed, I discussed doing a workshop for them, helping them learn to appreciate and interpret the Scriptures. Before we could even start, I couldn’t be in the same room with them, so I turned to Zoom for The Jesus Story. Now we have quite a few other families going through that conversation with us. 

That helped me explore it even more, mainly because I had to use it for ongoing episodes of The God Journey. I know it’s not a perfect platform. Still, it has opened new doors for communicating with people around the world, not only for podcasts but also just to help and encourage individuals on their journeys like I did when personal visits were allowed. Now groups are asking me to meet with them on Zoom so they can ask questions and process their own journeys. We even started to experiment with an After-Show for The God Journey so that listeners could interact about a recent podcast. We had almost forty people join the last one. I am more engaged with more people than before the pandemic. Who would have thought?

Here are some of the conversations I’ve had recently that you can participate in if you like:

  • A FaceBook Live event with Rod Tucker, a pastor in an urban setting in Michigan, looking to help a group of people live and love in a needy part of town.
  • A podcast with The Fields Brothers about the transitions in my life that happened as God unhooked me from religious obligation and drew me into a greater connection with him.
  • Last week’s podcast at The God Journey was called Why Won’t God Love Me? It was a conversation I had with someone in the UK who had little sense of God’s love for them, even though they saw him love others through them. Many people related to his struggle, and last Sunday afternoon, I hosted my second God Journey After-Show. We had over 35 people join us from all over the world to share their observations and experiences. You can listen to that After-Show here.
  • And, The Jesus Story #6 aired this week, covering the Creation and Fall of humanity.

I’m sure your life has changed, too, and will continue to in ways you cannot yet conceive. I am asked a lot how I see this pandemic shaping the church or if it portends the end of this age. I don’t have a clue, and honestly, I don’t even find myself curious. The best way to be ready for anything is simply to follow the nudges he has for you today and to love the people he puts in your path. I find myself increasingly suspicious of those who prophesy apocalyptic outcomes from this pandemic with such certainty, especially when it fits so neatly into their desired outcomes. We just don’t know. Rather than try to figure it out, perhaps we could just let it unfold, finding our comfort in the God who is with us, rather than any imagined outcome we’d prefer.

God has got this. He’s got you. He’s been through this before and knows how best to help us through it. I find it far better to draw close to him each day, follow him as best I see him, and err on the side of loving others as I am loved by him. His glory will unfold even out of pain and tragedy. He continues to bring order out of the chaos of a broken world. If you start expecting a specific outcome, though, you may miss what he’s actually doing.

I pray that you, too, will find greater freedom in this season. Look for the unique ways Jesus might be guiding you in this season where your regular routines have been disrupted. 

You just might discover him in new and profound ways.

The Jesus Story #5 – The Story that Leads Us to Jesus

After talking through the life of Jesus, and how the early followers discovered what it means to let the Risen Christ live in them, we start looking back at the Bible story that leads to Jesus’ coming. This is a long story of God seeking to win people to himself as they continue to get lost in their own ambitions and would turn away from him. This video looks at the theme of that story and God seeks to win a people into his love, and the geography in which he placed them so that their only safety would be in learning to trust him.

The Jesus Story is an adaption of The Jesus Lens for my grandchildren (ages 9-15) and anyone else that cares to look over my shoulder.  I want to give them an appreciation for the Bible, that has been the most valuable book I know to help me learn to live inside the Father through the work of Jesus.   There will be thirteen episodes in this season as we cover the whole story of Scripture, which is really a story about Jesus.

You can join us live if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture or follow each new video as they appear on The Jesus Story Page here on Lifestream.

(If you don’t see the video above, please click here.)

Print Out Ancient Middle Eastern Map Before Watching the Video

Embracing Your Own Resurrection

I am a bit saddened this morning by all those who will celebrate the fact of the Resurrection today as if it guarantees them the hope, light, and joy they want. But so many will miss the reality of the Resurrection in their own lives.

The fact of the Resurrection did nothing for the soldiers who saw it, the Pharisees who sought to cover it up with lies and persecution, or the people throughout Jerusalem who did not yet know what happened there.

The fact of the Resurrection mattered only to a dozen or so that day, and five hundred more who saw him later and let the Resurrected Christ begin to take shape in him.

The Resurrection is a doorway that allows us to know God in the safety of his love and forgiveness, and it only has power when we let his hope seep into the cracks of our hopelessness, let his truth disrupt our illusions, and let his priorities overrun ours.

Stepping through that doorway is our choice, and it isn’t made in one prayer, but a thousand moments of standing at the threshold of God’s reality and choosing to follow him instead of grasping for our own wisdom and comforts.

That’s why the Resurrection is still a scandal. We can celebrate the fact of it today and miss its reality. Embracing the Resurrection risks everything as it seeks to overturn the darkness in us, most of which we are unaware.

But there is no other way to celebrate the Resurrection. There is no pure joy to be had in pleasing our own affections every day; it is found on the other side of the upheaval of all of our agendas and finding our wings inside God’s desires for us.

Don’t just stand at the door and rejoice that it’s there; take the risk to come inside and let the Resurrection have its work in you. Of course, you don’t know what it will mean for you, but this is the only adventure that matters and the reward is Life as it was always meant to be lived.

“Jesus Christ, Risen Lord, take my hand today and lead me to your Life. I want to see you and follow you one day at a time until my heart finds its glory in you.”

COVID-19 Finds Its Way to Kenya

Can you imagine the changes the world has undergone in the last three weeks. How unthinkable this would have been if someone told you even two months ago that so many of us would be locked up in our homes and when we do venture out it would be with masks and gloves. Our health care workers and first responders risk their lives every day to help others through this tragedy.

I hope you’re finding ways to get through this season. I just heard from Michael, our contact in Kenya, and the virus is drawing near to Pokot. It is already in neighboring Uganda and is causing fear to spread in the region. Here is what Michael wrote a couple of days ago:

Greetings in the most powerful name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are so grateful for the article Why I Don’t Go to Church Anymore. I believe this is the time where this teaching is needed more than any other, and everybody is requesting Swahili and English copies. This evening, we are going to deliver some hard copies to more than 500 leaders who are requesting it. This is amazing.

The North Pokot work is well and they are planting different type of crops and irrigating it all. However, because rumors that the coronavirus is going to sweep all people especially those who are congested like they are, they are afraid. Some have prepared to start fighting it as if it was an animal, armed with traditional spears. Some of the old men who still believe in tradition started preparing rituals. However, our coaches are doing extra work to educate and teach them that sanitizer could help prevent its spread and that they need to put their trust in God.

The coaches especially those who trained in the health department, have told them about the importance of social distance, cleanliness even among the community, and washing hands regularly by using soap. But they don’t have soap. Every household needs two soap dispensers and a container of fresh water to wash hands.  This is the report we have got from our supervisor. These things are highly needed now. Anything God can provide through you in these areas will help greatly. As soon as God provides the item Thomas and I will  go there and help the situation.

This issue have affected countrywide, it has also affected feeding because people has been minimized movement, for working and many families are starving. Our country has tried our level best to use all resources that they may be having but still the need is overwhelmed, but we trust God for everything. We understand what is happening around the globe especially USA and the burden which you have worldwide.

We are already seeing in the U.S. how the toll of this virus is worse for those who are most vulnerable. Those with many resources have options and those with little do not. We sent $20,000 to Kenya to help them in this crisis, but it will take more.  If you have some extra to help them, please send it along.  As always, every dollar you send us gets to Kenya, and all contributions are tax-deductible in the US. We do not take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Donation Page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320, or phone us at (805) 498-7774. All contributions are tax-deductible for those in the U.S.

If you’re stretched in this season, please pray for them as you do for your own needs. This is a tough time for so many people and yet we can also put our trust in God who is faithful and a certain refuge in uncertain times.

Thank you for your concern and your prayers.

 

 

The Jesus Story #4 – Learning to Live in Jesus

After Jesus’s resurrection, his new followers had to learn how to live in this new kingdom with Jesus on the inside instead of the outside. A number of those wrote letters to help explain it to others and those have been saved for us in the part of the New Testament between Acts and Revelation. These letters are a treasure map to help you learn how to move from obligation to rules  and rituals into a growing relationship with how Jesus wants to reveal himself to you and through you.

The Jesus Story is an adaption of The Jesus Lens for my grandchildren (ages 9-15) and anyone else that cares to look over my shoulder.  I want to give them an appreciation for the Bible, that has been the most valuable book I know to help me learn to live inside the Father through the work of Jesus.   There will be thirteen episodes in this season as we cover the whole story of Scripture, which is really a story about Jesus.

You can join us live if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture or follow each new video as they appear on The Jesus Story Page here on Lifestream.

(If you don’t see the video above, please click here.)

The Pews Are Empty Again Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Visible Becomes Invisible Again

As Jesus’s body ascends to the Father, the disciples could no longer see him as they did before. But it wasn’t long until they discovered that Jesus had come to live in them by his Spirit and now they would be the vessels through whom Jesus would make himself known in the world.  Then the message spread throughout the known world and invited us all into a new adventure, learning to walk with Jesus.

The Jesus Story is an adaption of The Jesus Lens for my grandchildren (ages 9-15) and anyone else that cares to look over my shoulder.  I want to give them an appreciation for the Bible, that has been the most valuable book I know to help me learn to live inside the Father through the work of Jesus.   There will be thirteen episodes in this season as we cover the whole story of Scripture, which is really a story about Jesus.

You can join us live if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture or follow each new video as they appear on The Jesus Story Page here on Lifestream.

(If you don’t see the video above, please click here.)

When the Invisible Became Visible

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory…”

Reading about Jesus in The Gospels can help you learn to recognize the voice and the work of the Risen Jesus as he draws you into a relationship with him today. That’s the theme of the second episode of The Jesus Story, now available online.

The Jesus Story is an adaption of The Jesus Lens for my grandchildren (ages 9-15) and anyone else that cares to look over my shoulder.  I want to give them an appreciation for the Bible, that has been the most valuable book I know to help me learn to live inside the Father through the work of Jesus.   There will be thirteen episodes in this season as we cover the whole story of Scripture, which is really a story about Jesus.

You can join us live if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture or follow each new video as they appear on The Jesus Story Page here on Lifestream.

(If you don’t see the video above, please click here.)

 

The Scripture as a Treasure Map

Well, we did it! We got through the first session of what we are now calling The Jesus Story. It is a simplification of The Jesus Lens, helping my grandchildren (ages 9-15) have an appreciation for the value of the Bible and some tools to help them enjoy it for the rest of their lives.  We are just letting a lot of other people look over our shoulder and find a way to apply it in their own family.

Yes, we already changed the title because the whole book is about Jesus—who he is, why he came, and how he wants to connect us with the Father. This first lesson compares the Bible to a treasure map, with Jesus as the treasure.  We will be taping these live at 11:00 am Pacific Daylight time on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. You can join us if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture:  The Jesus Story.

(For those of you seeing this on our mailing list, click link here.)

This and all future videos will be listed on The Jesus Story Page, as they are completed. I hope it helps a lot of kids find great value in a book that will help them discover the true treasure—a growing relationship with the Risen Jesus.

The Scripture Story

Beginning this Thursday, my daughter Julie and I will be offering a twice-a-week online class about The Story of Scripture. Originally designed as a brief course for my grandkids during the pandemic, we also decided to make it available to other interested families. This class will explore the story that runs through all of Scripture and how it connects us with the Living Jesus as he makes himself known in each of our hearts today. It is an adaptation of the material Wayne taught in The Jesus Lens, which is available for free on this website and takes the view that Scripture is a progressive revelation of who God is and how we can engage him and his unfolding purpose in the world.

No you won’t see Julie on camera, most likely, though I’ve offered to split the sessions with her. She is doing all the behind-the-scenes work, though, and I’m really grateful to be on another project with her. My grandkids are 15, 12, and 9 and I’ll be working to help engage them with this incredible story, but I also suspect adults who haven’t taken the time to work through the full Jesus Lens will find it helpful as well. While The Jesus Lens directly addresses those who have experienced a real disconnect from Scripture because of “teachers” who have abused them with the Bible, we will not be addressing that here. We will be starting fresh to uncover the treasures and mysteries this book contains that can help people recognize the voice of Jesus in their own life today.

The classes will be about twenty minutes long and start at 11:00 am Pacific Daylight Time, Thursday, March 26. They will continue on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for 13 sessions. For those who can’t join us live, the videos will be available afterwards for you to share with your kids when it’s convenient for you. If you’re interested in further details, please join The Scripture Story Facebook Group to get updated announcements and the link to the live feed.

The video instruction will still be available after we record, if you can’t join us live. Also, we will provide a place at Lifestream.org to contain the full class and handouts as we progress, so you’ll be able to watch it ten years from now if you can wait until then.

This is an experiment. I’ve not done on-line teaching before, nor tried to scale this down for young ages. After the twenty-minute video lesson, I’m hoping you’ll spend some extra time helping your own children by answering questions or sharing with them what you think of the lesson. Julie and I did a brief podcast about this which you can listen to here.  It can give you more details and ideas.

Of course, we reserve the right to cancel this whole thing if it turns out to be not very helpful. I feel like a little kid standing on the high dive about to jump in for the first time, and I still want the freedom to walk back down the ladder if I need to.  🙂

Social Distancing

I’ve had a lot of people worried about us out here in California, the land of fruits and nuts, especially hearing the news that we are now under a “stay at home” order by our state. I recorded a podcast on the pandemic on Tuesday and when it aired today, it was already a bit out of date, but the observations we talk about there are still important. People want to know how Sara and I are doing.  There’s nothing new we were asked to do last night that Sara and I haven’t already been doing, given that her allergies make her high risk.  We only go out for trips of necessity and that sparingly. We have all we need at this point and are physically fine. We miss some of the regular activities that have been part of the rhythm of our lives, but this is the most crucial circumstances our world has faced since World War II.  I know it doesn’t look like it yet to some people, but this is bigger than 9/11.  How we respond in this moment as individuals and as a nation will define us for centuries to come.

Unfortunately, this is going to hurt for a while. People are getting sick, and some will die. Businesses will be lost and bankruptcies will multiply. Don’t think just because you’re a Christian or “have faith in God”, you will be exempt from the consequences of this. Jesus reminded us that it rains on the just and the unjust. Anyone telling you that we still need to gather in our “churches” because that’s the safest place to be is lying to you.  There’s just no way around it. But these moments can overwhelm us or they can define us as resilient people that can rise above the challenges, mitigate the spread of this virus every way we can, and ride it out until the sun dawns again. This is one of those moments where we’re being called to “All Hands On Deck!”

I hope we have the national fortitude to respect what’s happening here and in these critical times not just think about ourselves, but be mindful that we’re part of a larger community. Each of us has a choice. Will I live by the creed of “everyone for themselves”, hoarding toilet paper, pulling out of my investments, stocking up on ammunition, or go attending “church” meetings to help spread the virus. Or, will I live out of generosity for people around me, either helping with finances if you have extra or connecting with those who might feel exceptionally lonely as they are no longer able to access their social gatherings.

In talking with a friend of mine yesterday, who also happens to pastor the local Presbyterian fellowship, he mentioned that they’ve changed the terminology a bit. We are being told by our public health people to not be with more than ten people, to stay in our homes and limit trips to necessary ones only, and to stay six feet away from others when we are out. But he said they are not calling that “social distancing,” but “physical distancing”, because that’s all we’re being asked to do. We don’t have to socially isolate. Through phone calls, FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom you can maintain all your social friendships and encourage others in the process. They are using the term, “Physical Distancing, with Social Interaction.”  I’m using that, too, because it reminds me to stay outward in my focus even as I remain separated physically.

I love that. I wish our government would have used it because I know people already hunkering down in the loneliness of their own homes and feeling pretty isolated. Let’s maintain social interaction, and perhaps all the more in these days. Think of five people you can connect with each day just to check in on them. You can’t watch that many Netflix shows anyway.  And if you’re lonely, call someone or arrange a video chat.  This is the time to be alone physically, but not socially.  Let others brighten your day.

He also shared with me the words of Martin Luther that expressed his approach to dealing with the Black Death that was ravaging Europe. Timely advice even today.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Luther’s Works Volume 43, pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Eric Hess

Words of wisdom from a few centuries ago. This is how Sara and I are living it and hope you are, too. This is not a time for fear, but for deeper trust in Father’s presence with us and his provision for us regardless of what circumstances dish out.

The book cover of IN SEASON superimposed over a grape vineyard.

Let me make a few other announcements while I’ve got you here… First, In Season, which is a farmer’s view of John 15 and what it means to grow in fruitfulness and fulfillment in his kingdom, is now available in audio. I do the reading myself, so when you get tired of watching a ton of video, let me read to you. You can also get four of my other books here.

Also, I did a last-minute appearance on The Vince Coakley Show in Charlotte, NC today and will post the link here when the podcast is up.  We talked about the pandemic, Rodney Howard Brown’s assertion that people who stay away from his “church” during this time are “pansies”, and how we can live more generously in this season.

Finally, I’m thinking with my daughter about making this season of being homebound fruitful for my grandkids; we decided to put together a class about The Story of Scripture for her kids. Since we’ll be doing this via the web, we’re also checking to see if there will be other kids interested in joining. Of course, adults can tune in, too. We’re still working out details for this, but keep your eyes on this space and we’ll announce here when we get it set up.

Let’s take this time on, one day at a time, fearlessly with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. No matter what life dishes out, he is greater and we are completely safe in his love.

 

 

 

 

Grounded!

A week ago, who could have imagined all the changes our country would make to help stem the spread of the coronavirus? California has now closed all bars and pubs and is limiting any public events to fifty people or less. Doctors are recommending we limit contact to even fewer—as much as our work might require, and with close family and friends.
Consequently, Sara and I have been praying about and rethinking all of my (our) travel. We have decided to postpone all future trips until our nation gets a handle on this virus. That may not be a momentous decision since I’m hearing that domestic air travel is likely to end soon anyway. Whatever the case, I don’t want to be the cause of spreading the virus especially by getting people together over a broad geographical area. Also, Sara and I are in the age demographic that has been asked to stay close to home. Fortunately, that doesn’t affect our daily walk with the dogs, when we can get them in between the now-frequent and much-needed rainstorms flowing into our state.

I’m sorry for the inconvenience this causes for those who have planned to join me in various locations. I’m thinking of you, Michigan and Wichita, and probably even Europe in June. However, since we are all being asked to make sacrifices, we feel it important to do our part as well. I will reschedule those trips as soon as we are cleared to travel again.

These are undoubtedly challenging times, and no doubt will try us as a society in ways we cannot foresee in weeks and months ahead. We’ve already seen problems created by panic buying of groceries and goods, even though the supply line to restock stores has not been impacted at all. This is not the time for fear to drive our selfishness, but for measured action for ourselves, and generosity toward others. My prayer is that you will find God a safe and powerful refuge through the health and economic challenges you may face and that you find generous ways to reach out to others impacted as well, especially those on the margins of society. Look for ways to live kindly, generously, and without fear. God will do some amazing things in this season and hopefully adjust some of the skewed priorities we fall into in the routines of life.

I also have some new writing and audio projects that I’ve wanted to tinker with, so I’m excited to make use of the added time at home. I also get to have more time with Sara, which is fantastic. Fortunately, we still have phones, FaceTime, and Skype to stay in touch with others. Even a conversation with someone you love can provide a welcomed distraction from all the decisions that need to be made in these strange times.

There’s a wooden placard on the wall above our fireplace that contains the words of an old hymn.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
     how vast beyond all measure…

Those are really the best words of that hymn since it imagines the cross in a way I don’t anymore, but those words are a treasure. His love for you is deep. Even a world in chaos is not outside his grace and work. He knows where you are today, he knows what you fear and knows how to comfort your heart and hold you during these difficult times. Keep in mind, this is just a coronavirus. They have come and gone before and will again. As a society, we are making some changes to keep as many people safe as possible. There will be hardship, but hardship isn’t always a bad thing, especially as it reshapes our hearts to be more in line with his. He’s got you even in this. So, embrace what change is coming and, most importantly, embrace Jesus in it, and you’ll find in the end, your heart will more freely belong to him.

How Deep Our Faith

I was talking to a friend across the country Friday about California’s ban on gatherings of more than 250 people while they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus in our state. He said he know of a pastor who was already defying that order. He was going to have services as usual this Sunday morning claiming, “Church is the safest place for anyone to be!”

There is so much wrong with that statement. First, seeing the church as his building denies the power of the new covenant where each of us is a temple in which God dwells. Second, thinking that a gathering of Christians will be exempt from the potential to spread the virus is tragically absurd. Third, ignoring the opportunity to serve the health workers and the elderly in his community is uncaring and irresponsible. Finally, if he really thinks an institutional gathering of Christians is safe from harm, he’s never known the pain of betrayal, gossip, and judgment of religious people thrive in such environments.

The safest place to be right now is in Father’s hands, and that doesn’t mean some of his followers won’t be affected by this pandemic, but that he in them will keep them at peace and guide them through whatever challenges come. To equate that with a Sunday morning service that must go on against all wisdom not to is irresponsible.

I suspect there’s a dependency issue involved here. Someone’s either afraid that to cancel a service might expose the fact that people aren’t as dependent on it or him as he would like them to believe. People like him know the habit is critical to sustaining rituals. If services are canceled for a month or more, people might realize they are as dependent on it as they thought. Or perhaps he’s concerned that without a gathering they can’t take an offering and he is willing to put his whole congregation at risk to make sure he collects the money he needs. Oh, sure, people can phone in an offering, but we all know that what really puts it over the top are the “guilt dollars” given because people have an offering plate in front of their faces and knows others are watching. Of course, no pastor would ever admit either of those, even to himself. I didn’t when I was there. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that the people need the gathering or my sermon to cope with the current crisis.

If going to your congregation for the past twenty years hasn’t prepared you to spend some time at home in the quiet and know God is with you, then I’d question its value. If it hasn’t connected you to people you can call for encouragement and support when you need it, then it isn’t a family.

The changes in our culture over the last forty-eight hours would have been unthinkable a week ago. The amount of money being given up by sports teams, entertainment venues, the travel industry, and others as a way to protect the health of our nation is inspiring. This is a time to care for each other, not hoard a six-year supply of toilet paper, or keep meeting in ways that can spread the virus to greater numbers of people. This is a time to give up what makes me comfortable or happy to protect others.

I suspect the next few weeks will really test some people. What is life without sports on TV, a concert, little league, or a church service? If I’m using those places to hide from my own emptiness, it will be exposed now. Times of uncertainty and trouble are when we find out just how deep our faith runs. That’s a good use of times like this. If you find uncertainty upsets you, or that you have to fill every moment with activity to keep your fears at bay either from the virus or the financial ramifications of it, this will be a great time for you to get to know him better. What does it mean for you to rest in his presence and discover that Jesus is enough to hold your heart regardless of what is going on around you? He can navigate you through anything this world can throw at you.

Maybe this is where you find out that your faith is vested in the congregation you attend, or is vicariously lived through an author you admire. Those things will do you little good now. Take advantage of your social distancing from others, to draw near to him. And while you’re doing that, you can be aware of others and encourage them by phone or FaceTime. And, if you have extra resources, this is a time to be generous with people you know who will lose their income during this season.

On Friday, I also got a text from someone else out east: “I guess those who have celebrated body expressions in a more organic way outside the building type of gathering are lookin’ less goofy now, huh? 😉”

I don’t think he was gloating, but many of us have talked about how ineffective our big-box Christianity would be in a time of crisis or persecution. It’s why the earliest brothers and sisters met in homes and caves. For the first 300 years of its existence, Jesus’ church never thought of a building as a place to try to contain this living, breathing organism of the church. God was alive among them, and their close friendships of love and concern expressed his life among them powerfully enough.

If your relationship with Christ is defined by smoke-and-gold-dust worship experiences or corporate rituals in large groups of people, it may be time for you to discover that none of that is essential. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5, “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love.” Everything else is fluff.

Don’t let anyone convince you that meeting in a large building these days with other Christians is safer for you or your community than giving it up for a short time so we can flatten out the growth curve of the virus. But don’t that that needs to diminish your faith or your fellowship.

In times like this, faith can deepen, and love can grow in surprising ways.

Living in Uncertain Times

What a difference twenty-four hours can make. Last night as I watched at my grandson’s little league game, the coronavirus was still a distant concern. Then, the president spoke, and suddenly major league and college sports teams were postponing their schedules. Cruise lines were canceling their trips; Broadway and Disneyland are closing. Now, it seems, we are taking this seriously.

Of course, the idea is not to stop the spread, which now encircles the globe. Rather, officials want to slow its growth, so that we’ll have enough medical resources to help with those contracting the virus. Scientists have talked about the danger of a pandemic in this highly-mobile world, and it has finally come. Fortunately, this one does not yet appear to be as virulent as worst-case scenarios have imagined, but now we see that it is going to dramatically affect most of our lives.

I’m still not certain at this point what travel I’ll be able to take in the next few weeks or months. Some of us had been planning a gathering in Europe, which may have to be postponed. Time will tell, for sure. I’m all for being cautious and prudent, not only for myself but for people around me that my carelessness might put at additional risk. The best counsel I’ve heard to date came this morning in a conversation with a friend in Ireland. The UK is recommending that if you have a cough or a fever, self-isolate for at least seven days. It may turn out to be nothing, but that’s when you are the most contagious to others, whether you have the coronavirus or the cold or flu. Loving others enough to take that precaution seems minimal at best.

Who knows where all this might lead, other than God himself. John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation hint at plagues that will wipe out one-third of humans on the planet. This virus isn’t near that potent, but it does make me think, “What if?” Is this a birth pang of the Last Day? My heart leaps at the thought. Yes, it would mean a rough ride ahead, but isn’t this what our hearts have longed for—the consummation of this age and a kingdom to come fulfills all God has desired for his creation? Oh, that it is!

I know many people are afraid or at least find the uncertainty of it all disturbing. I am not among them. A long time ago, Jesus began to teach me how little control I had over my own life. I used to find my security in trying to control people and events around me; my inability to do so would cause great anxiety or fear. But ever-so-slowly, Jesus began to invite me into an ever-deepening security in his love and trust in his plans for the world that has allowed me to grow increasingly at rest in times of uncertainty. (Here’s a podcast Brad and I did back in 2009 if you want to taste a bit in the middle of that process.)

Faith is this: our whole life is in his hands—every breath—and he can enfold any circumstance into his purpose in the world. He promised each of us grace enough for each day and told us to look to the birds as encouragement because they live anxiety-free in the Father’s care. So, whether or not my planned trips come off right now or not, how much of a crisis this virus becomes is not in my control. My life is not wrapped up in the stock market curve or in my knowledge of the future. My joy is to wake up on this day, listen for his nudges, and follow his footprints. However he chooses to lead me, fear is not my friend. It will only wrap me into knots and make me respond in ways that will be destructive to me and others around me.

This is the adventure of walking with him, uncertain of what the next circumstance might bring. I’m actually learning to love this, not the tragedies in the world, but the freedom to lean into him through them. Yesterday, someone wrote this about a recent exchange I had with them during a podcast interview, “(He) has a willingness to be profoundly honest about his journey, and this wonderful lilies-and-the-sparrows trust about him which has helped me spiritually exhale more than once over the last month. For a person who’s been so successful in his career (he co-wrote The Shack, for instance), he’s also one of the most generous I’ve met when it comes to his time and his attention.” Man, that is not the Wayne of twenty years ago, but if that’s how my life encourages others right now, I’m overwhelmingly grateful.

You’ve got to know that this freedom has come through a lot of disappointment about what I wanted for my life. I’ve spent hours in fruitless prayers trying to get God to change my circumstances when he was more concerned about changing me in them. I’ve had close friends betray me and lie about me simply to get their own way. I’ve encountered circumstances that have challenged me to the core and drove me more deeply into trusting his care.

All the while, this has become one of my favorite portions of Scripture in times of extremity:

Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. (I Peter 3:22 – 4:2, in The Message)

No, Jesus hasn’t had the last word about everything in my life, or this world. Not yet. I’ve been cheated, shunned, blamed, excluded, and insulted unfairly by people who have taken out their brokenness on me. Right now, it seems that they have had the last word. (By the way, I’ve done my share of that to others, and though I’ve tried to own those moments I’m aware of by apologizing to people, I’m sure there’s more I haven’t yet seen.) In any case, he will get the last word on all of it, and I can only imagine all the healing that will bring into his world.

And I love knowing he has been through everything I’m going through and more. I love Peter’s counsel here. I can see any suffering as an opportunity to let go of more of my plans and to embrace his purpose in the world. Who wouldn’t want to wake up every day free to do what he wants rather than be tyrannized by our own desires? And truthfully, today is no more uncertain than any other day you’ve lived; you’re just more aware of it.  

So, if you find yourself anxious in these times, this may be the best time to have him teach you how to deepen your rest in his love. Every plan we have that is a day out, a week out, or even a year out, may be turned on its head with the next twist of this crisis. This is not the time to grit our teeth and get through the next rush of anxiety, or to beg Jesus to take it away. This is the time to call out to Jesus. Ask him to help you see where fear has a hold to hook its tentacles in you. Live one day at a time and see where grace makes itself known to you. Spend less time trying to get him to change your circumstances and more time leaning into his love so that trust overwhelms fear.

If those who live loved can be fully at rest in seasons of uncertainty, then we can be a rock for others who have no such place to deal with their fear. That’s where God’s glory shines most brightly—when people respond differently than circumstances might dictate.

After all, our circumstances don’t get the last word, Jesus does.

Leaning into His Love

For those of you in and around central Michigan, I’m headed there at the end of the month if the planes are still flying. But what I really wanted to share was this:
A close friend from across the country wrote me a note last week. His adult son had been a bit down lately. In a phone call the dad had encouraged him, “to resist the unhealthy urge to isolate and prayerfully focus on Jesus (who is) with him in the present. Pay attention to his love, how he is loving you today and the things and people he is putting on your heart today.”
 
The next day when he returned to his apartment after work, he saw a package on his doorstep. When he opened it he found a cheap, used copy of He Loves Me. And when he picked it up he found a sticky note pictured above on the inside back cover. It read:
“Ask God every day to reveal the depth of your love for me, and teach me to trust you more.”
Not only is that great counsel, but it’s also pretty cool how God put his fingerprints on that for this young man.
Remember, the awareness of Father’s love is not something we can achieve; it’s a reality we relax into. He can show you too. Just ask him, “Father, how are you making your love known to me today?”
And if you don’t have access to a cheap, used copy, you can get a fresh one here.

Changing the World You Live In

My dad said he read the book, and he loved it, but he also added, “You’re going to have a tough time getting people to read this book.”

A few days later, I got this note from a friend in Washington, “(This is) one of the most important books I have seen in a long, long time—very close to the heart of God.”

A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation has been quite an adventure. It has opened the door to conversations I never expected to have with families who are dealing with gender or sexual identity issues, communities polarized over a racial divide, and those that have the ear of some pretty influential people. I don’t know yet where this little book will end up, but the conversations I’ve enjoyed over the past few months have made it all worth it.

People’s responses to it have been amazing, as the quote in the picture above that coauthor Bob Prater heard from someone. Even those who have been suspicious of its message, thinking it is just the invitation to make nice, have become engaged with the conversation. “I’ve never even heard of this perspective before,” is something I hear often. 

The language of healing is a robust conversation that can recognize our differences and still care about the perspectives of others. During my recent trip to Oklahoma, I got to share in a workshop with coauthor Arnita Taylor as we walked people through the ways to speak this language of healing that will allow us to live with conviction and generosity in the world.

I also met with two men who are influential in black churches throughout the US. They say one of their greatest needs is to help reconcile the polarity in their communities. These men were talking to me before they’d even read the book. 

And, next year Tulsa, OK, will be dealing with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre that occurred in 1921. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” Some of the key players in helping the community deal with this horrific tragedy are reading the book now. It will be interesting to see where that goes.

The greatest joy, however, is hearing how it has changed the way people think and interact with people around them. I got this email earlier this week:

My husband and I finished listening to the audiobook this afternoon. We absolutely loved it. It took us quite a bit of time to get through the book because we would pause for conversation and provide our own examples. It was also meaningful to talk about our hopes and dreams as the material lends itself to living a transformed life in relationship with others. We find this very exciting. We felt as though we were right there, listening to conversations between the three of you. It was truly delightful!

When I was in Richmond a few weeks before, one of the families I visited asked a black pastor from a downtown church to join us. He told us how discouraged he had been that the white community would ever have any compassion for him. He said he couldn’t remember the last time a white man had invited him out to lunch, and here he was sitting with a group of us. He was really touched by the gesture and the things we shared from the book, even though he hadn’t read it yet. It restored his hope, he said.

Last week in Edmond, OK, I met a young man who had been apprehended by the police as he was walking to the store when he was eighteen years old. They thought he had just robbed another store in the area. When the police officer found out the young man he had in custody did not match the description, he angrily uncuffed him and shoved him in the gutter before driving off. Can you imagine what that might do to a young man?

We can do better. I hope this book at least gets people to reconsider how their biases and prejudices shape their unfair responses to people. Then we hope they will invite people into their lives that are different than them. It can’t hurt to reach across whatever aisle we have in our world to find out those on the other side are a lot more like you than they are different. They’ve just had some experiences that have led them to different conclusions than the one you have.

This book can change every engagement you have with other people in the world. Working on it, has for me.  It was never meant to change Washington, DC or the news media. Remember, the world changes one conversation at a time.

Compassion and courage can change the world. Maybe not the whole world, but at least the world you live in. 

What If There Really Is Something More?

I’m finishing up in Oklahoma City today and then headed up to Tulsa tomorrow. Arnita Taylor, one of my coauthors came up from Dallas, and we presented some of our material from A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation (now available in audio) with a very engaged group last night.

One of the exercises we did last night was to call to mind the most polarizing person in our lives and then shared how they make us feel when we’re with them. It was eye-opening. Not one positive thing comes from the polarizing people in our lives and many disgusting things do. So, why wouldn’t we want to find a better way to relate to people than to join the polarization parade in our world?

We are continuing that training this morning and I’m really looking forward to it. But the bulk of this trip has been in conversations with people who have either been abused, maligned, or excluded by religious leaders or church systems or have spent a lifetime trying to maintain, sustain, locate, create, or facilitate a living expression of the church to varying degrees of emptiness. It has given us a lot of opportunities to talk through some of the themes from my book Finding Church. We seem to have this human need to make human versions of church and then be frustrated when they come apart at the seams. I get it. We’re only trying to do our part so that we can discover the reality of authenticity, community, and shared wisdom that the Scriptures describe when they talk about the church.

But, Scripture is not talking about the church humanity builds, but the one Jesus is building in the world.  He doesn’t build as we do. Whenever we try to help him we come up with human facsimiles of something like “church,” but it isn’t the same thing. It’s like kids making mudpies. It may look like a pie, but it doesn’t taste like one.  (Insert one of my favorite podcasts here: It’s Not Chocolate.)

I know people love the story of So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I do, too. Imagine a first-century apostle walking through the corridors of our “churches” today and what they would think of how we have twisted the reality of a church into a human institution, and why we are so surprised when it rips us apart.  And yet, we keep feeling there is another tweak we can make that will guarantee the depth of life through human effort when only Jesus can produce it by his Spirit.

So I wrote Finding Church for those who want to go on a different journey. I poured everything I’ve learned into this book so that people who are hungry for something more, might be able to go on a bit of a different journey. Instead of trying to locate or to manufacture a ‘church’ with disappointing results, they could pursue Jesus instead and discover that community is a gift God gives. When we relax into that process, we will find that “something more” that our heart seeks. Far from disappointing us, we’ll be free to engage others as part of his body that wraps around us and extends across the whole world.

It works. I was touched by this email I received a few weeks ago from someone who is finding some freedom on this journey:

I am now working my way through Finding Church and can’t tell you how grateful I am that you put these thoughts and insights on paper!  It has been as if you are reading my mind!  When one is embroiled in the process of hungering for something more and experiencing that restlessness that says “something is wrong”, the blowback from other Christians can be staggering…as you have shared from your own experience.  I find it is a lonely and alienating experience.  At times I have felt myself to be a little crazy in refusing what many other quarters are suggesting is sufficient!

It was not until I read your words that have so mirrored my own thoughts that I began to really get traction in what the Lord was doing in my heart…thank you for blazing the trail in this arena and giving such as myself hope and direction and renewed confidence in following the heart of Jesus.  I now know what it is I feel so alienated about and have hope that as I begin to look in other quarters, the Lord will bring the right people into my path…it seems it is all in what you look for… sadly too many of us have not been looking for what Jesus has always been looking for!  I can’t wait to finish the book!  Again, thank you for your courage and for all you have endured to carve out this trail… it makes it infinitely more accessible for those of us who follow!!!

I love it when people begin to see a different reality and find their traction on a better journey. The transition is rarely easy, we have to risk the false comfort of our own efforts to begin to see his fingerprints on the church Jesus is building.

And no, people around you won’t make it easy. I got this email from Europe a week ago from someone just starting out on this part of her journey.  A young woman felt the need to leave her ‘church’ because it had become so guilt-ridden and abusive. Her friends, however, couldn’t understand her decision and kept trying to convince her that she should stay:

It struck me that the system is never questioned, only the human being. There must be something wrong with me when I leave the church—not the church. That concerns me. But it also shows how wrong and sick the whole system is. I am glad that I have now dared to take the step and hope that I can also let go of the inner structures soon. I regularly meet with friends to have fellowship, to talk, to pray, to read the Bible. It feels so much freer and better. But I’m longing for more from God. To understand his word more and to find instruction in it. To experience him more and more in my everyday life and to find my personal path with him.

Something more!  That’s what the hungry heart seeks.  Inside, they know what it would mean to have people in their lives who are authentic, humble, and growing to know Jesus. They long for the connections that let people explore who God is without having others try to force them to do it their way.  That’s why I wrote Finding Church, to encourage people to stop looking for an ‘it’ to join, instead of Jesus to follow. Do the first, and you’ll be frustrated endlessly; do the latter and you’ll find fulfillment and joy on this journey.

I’ll let the last words in Finding Church make the point here:

Wherever you find an act of self-sacrificing love, a group of people who care for one another with generosity and compassion, you’ll find his church.

Whenever you engage a conversation that illuminates the work of Jesus in your life, you’ll find his church.

However you can relax into the reality of his working, rather than trying to accomplish his work on your own, you’ll find his church.

How do you find his church? By drawing to him and seeing where love leads you. Every morning I ask him, “Whom are you asking me to love today?” Then I live with heart and eyes wide open to the people I cross paths with and those he places on my heart to contact.

Follow him there and in the end you won’t have to find his church.  He’ll make sure she finds you.

 

Abandon Your Agenda and Embrace His

I was invited this week to appear on Joseph Warren’s podcast, The Broken Catholic, where he asked me to share some of my story. We had a great conversation about what it means to find our way into a meaningful and transformational life with Jesus.  We talk about how we can align our hearts to make it easier to recognize how Father is making himself known.

Here’s the link if you want to hear it. Yes, the website is a bit more self-promotional than I love, but different strokes for different folks, right? I hope it doesn’t discourage you from taking it in if you’d like.

Also, the second half of my conversation with Richard Hanes of Richmond, VA aired yesterday.  We talk about how that whenever something God is doing gets big enough it is commandeered by humanity as a way to attempt to control him, (which always fails) or to profit from it (which works for some). When that happens, those who are still hungry for God and not just “revival” are vilified by those who want to maintain the illusion.

I’ve had a great day in Enid, OK, today, though it has been full-on in fairly intense conversations from 7:00 this morning until almost 9:00 tonight. The only “alone-time” I had today was for two miles of a four-mile walk. But I’ve enjoyed the things we are talking about and the hunger and experience many of these people have had that has opened up a rich conversation.  So, I went to bed last night really grateful for the doors God has opened here and with prayers that God works beyond our religious inhibitions to find the reality of his gift—Christ in us, the hope of glory!”

Some Possibilities in Europe

I’ll be in Europe this summer from May 15 until June 8. Some of that is personal, and some of that is available for whatever Father might have in mind.  I’ll be in the north of Europe and I have some free time between May 28 and June 2. So, if Father has something on your heart to bring some people together around living-loved or relational community and want me to join you, please let me know so we can begin to pray about it.

Also, from June 3-10 a group of believers from throughout Europe will be gathering in Sweden for a week of relaxation and fellowship. My friends from Ireland are hosting this event and a bunch of them will be joining us.  We will be in Örsa, Sweden at the Trunna Hostel and Conference Centre. Örsa is situated to the north of the city of Mora close to Lake Siljan, a beautiful part of Sweden and very popular as a holiday destination. The surrounding county of Dalarna has much to offer and is a haven for hikers and sightseers and anyone who loves the great outdoors.   It is also regarded as the cultural and historical heart of Sweden.  You can find pictures of the Trunna center at: www.trunna.se.

If you’d like to join us there, or have something else in mind for the weekend before, please let me know.

Facilitating the Conversations That Matter

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog about The Power of a Conversation. I would say that the vast majority of us have been more impacted by a meaningful conversation than listening to a lecture. I know many people see lectures as more fit for teaching, but honestly I do more effective teaching in conversations these days than I can ever fit into a presentation.

Tomorrow, I’m off for a two-week a swing through Oklahoma, featuring a wide set of conversations, some about the depth of living loved, and others about how to love well in the world.  With my latest book out, I now have a set of three books covering the best of what it means to live in the Father’s love—growing in it personally (He Loves Me), finding mutual relationships to stimulate our spiritual growth and to serve others (Finding Church), and how to live with a generous heart in a broken world (A Language of Healing for a Polarized World, which recently became available in audio.)

I received a lot of email about my post regarding conversations. This was one of my favorite because the writer asks a question many of us struggle with:

We’ve been out of the institutional church now since reading Finding Church roughly two years ago and love following the Father this way. We’ve seen such great fruit in our family’s life, as well as with teens (I’m a high school teacher), as we have them over on Fridays for an informal small group/Bible study.

We’ve also occasionally invited others (adults and families) over to our house to simply gather and we have enjoyed it.  Yet, we find it so hard not to rely on a “worship time” or a “Teaching Time.”  What I wish we could experience are the gatherings that I’ve heard you speak of: people coming together when you’re in town at a house or somewhere, but you don’t do a ‘teaching’ and yet all sorts of Spirit-inspired conversations go on amongst the people there.

We find that when we have others over, people don’t typically discuss spiritual or life issues with each other without being encouraged to do so.  Things just stay in the “how are you doing?” and “what’s going with you guys these days?” subjects.  Admittedly, even writing it makes me feel a little silly: how can I expect people to have meaningful, God-journey-related conversations without facilitating them?  But once I start facilitating, somehow it feels like I am manufacturing an event, which I have done all my life.  I suppose what inspired me about your stories of gatherings is that the Spirit seemed to simply move without some teacher-person managing it all.

Do you have any insights for me of where my wife and I might be able to see/do things differently in this?

Here’s how I answered him, if you’re having similar struggles.

I love your hunger and your honesty here.  These are great questions. I love them. But, honestly, they are not easy to answer. You already know there’s a way to do it that is life-giving and invites people in to a quality conversation, and there’s an artificial way of doing it that either intimidates people or causes them to check out.  The difference between those two is affected both by the person wanting to facilitate it and the people he’s hoping will join that conversation.  You don’t really know until you try and then it’s obvious that the offer falls flat, or it didn’t.

I struggled for a long time with this, especially when I was a pastor. When Sara and I would go out with people, we could talk sports, weather, kids, and everyone would be quite animated, but when Jesus stuff came up (if it did) the conversation got awkward and stilted.  It seemed that conversation was reserved for “church” meetings or home groups, not the fodder of normal conversation.  Still, I think this is worth working through.

The first thing I’d suggest you think about is that people have to be on a Jesus journey to have a lively conversation about it. It can’t be just a religious journey that is compartmentalized into a few hours a week. The more they have a sense of their own trajectory or growing edge, and are exploring their life and circumstances with an eye to what God is doing in them or through them, the easier this will all be to fall into the course of regular conversation. People who have a sense of God in their daily life, are seeking to hear his voice and grow in his ways, are very easy to talk to. Those whose lives are immersed in circumstances without a thought as to God’s part with them, will struggle in this conversation. I don’t look for this kind of robust conversation with people like that. I look for ways to share something from my own life that might encourage them or get them thinking, but hopefully not in a manipulative way or one that expects them to respond in a certain way.

The best conversations start spontaneously out of people sharing a meal together. It’s usually triggered when someone dares to get real and shares something from their own journey that’s meaningful and perhaps even vulnerable. It may be a request for help or prayer, or just something that’s really been weighing on them. It can also happen when someone shares an insight they had, or read something that really made them think. Then other people tag on to it and the conversation begins to go down some deeper paths. I love that best. But notice, even then, someone had the wherewithal to have something on their heart and take the risk to share it. I don’t mind being that person if it doesn’t come from someone else.

This is pretty easy when I travel, because people come ready for that kind of a conversation. They’ve read things I’ve written or heard me say things on podcasts they want to discuss or with questions they have about it. That happens whether I’m in a group or one-on-one.

Finding your way into it with more spontaneous encounters takes some doing and some sensitivity to other people in the room.  What are they ready for?  What do the relationships allow?  That’s why it may be a bit easier to facilitate a recurring group to discuss a book or do a Bible study together.  But even in those gatherings, it’s usually the vulnerable sharing that opens the door to something deeper.  And even in our past home groups, we got to the place where the conversation around the table was deeper and more relational than the study we started later. That’s when we stopped doing the study and let the better conversations around the table continue.

Let me encourage you to talk to Jesus about this, not for a plan to implement every time, but for something that might be on your heart for the next conversation you’re in.  It may be a question to ask, or a vulnerable thing you’re going through, or something you read that inspired you. At our last Christmas dinner I had a wild thought just as we were sitting down to dinner. I made a bit of a game of it, but I said no one could leave the table until they shared an experience from the past year that made them a better person. This was my kids and grandkids, so everybody was ready to jump in. I doubt I could do that at any dinner group.  But it opened up the best sharing time we’ve ever had around the table, which also included young children. Later, everyone told me after how much they appreciated it.  I did it on a whim, hoping to have a better dialog around our table. You can bet I’ll be thinking that way again next time we get together with something entirely different. I want it to be a blessing to them, not something that feels forced.

That’s why it’s important that people have some relationship first. I think people who want to intentionally share some of their journey together in a regular way, really spend the first few weeks becoming friends, if they aren’t already. Many start having meetings that tend down a religious road of sharing knowledge, rather than a relational one sharing questions and struggles. If they don’t know each other well, then the first thing is to really let people share something from their lives that isn’t too spiritual, but helps others appreciate who they are as a person.  Some may go deeper there, but it isn’t necessary to force that.  As they get closer, they will be more involved in each other’s lives and questions will flow more readily. And I think it helps if people don’t meet EVERY week. That seems to be our default, but it may be too often. When people feel obligated to attend, or not enough life has passed for there to be fresh insights and struggles, they can grow stale quickly.  Some of the best relationships I have don’t try to cross paths every week or two. Some go months between connection, but when we do, there’s no end of things to talk about.

I hope that helps. There’s no magic formula here, just people who desire rich conversations, and are sensitive to when they become forced or artificial.

The Audio Book is Now Available

We’ve had some interesting developments with A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. For one, the audio book was released yesterday, so those of you who would prefer to have someone read it for you, here it is!  Bob Prater, Arnita Taylor, and I read our own words in the book, which really draws people into the conversation in a unique way. You can download it from Audible or Amazon.

I have loved how my work on this book has shifted so many things in my heart.  I see the fruit of it every week, including my last week in Richmond, VA. So many times this book allowed me to have conversations with parents dealing with an LGBTQ son or daughter, encouraging an African American pastor who had all but given up hope that any white people would ever care about him, and with many others simply how to live more generously in the world as God’s followers. We are called to love, not get caught up in treating people as political enemies because they hold to different views there.

Monday in Washington, DC, I met with an executive of Christian colleges and universities, whose enthusiasm for this book surprised me. She said that during the 2016 elections, animosity and fear tore apart many campuses across various interest groups. She said there was significant concern that it might repeat again this election cycle and she was excited about this book and perhaps Bob’s, Arnita’s, and my availability to help with training and consultation for administrators and student leadership groups.  So, who knows where this roller coaster might take us.

I’m home now only for a week before heading out to make a run through Oklahoma at the end of the month. Come join me if you’re close by.  I’m actually going to hold more of a workshop on Saturday, Feb 29 in Tulsa about How Will God’s Glory Fill the Earth? It combines some of the stuff from He Loves Me, with the transformations in my heart that have come from A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation.  We’ll also be doing some of that in Edmond on Feb 25-26.  Check out the Travel Schedule if you’re close enough to join us.

I Love How This Book Encourages So Many

One of the great joys I have every day is opening my email. Yes, there is lots of pain in there as people are struggling with the brokenness of the world and how much religious obligation has twisted their view of God and themselves. But there’s also lots of joy in it as people have been encouraged to take the road less traveled, away from the dictates of a religion to a vibrant connection with God and a growing trust in his love for the Father.

I’ve gotten two recently from those who have been especially touched by what we affectionately call The Jake Book—So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I realize between the lines here are also some of those great seasons of pain and frustration trying to fit their spiritual passion into a religious box that is far too small to contain it. But when people let me know that the gravity of life and freedom in Jesus has become more powerful than the pull of obligation, it makes my heart happy.  Here are two examples:

I cannot identify one particular thing that led me down the path of this journey that my wife and I are currently on with Jesus, but I do wish to acknowledge that a book that you wrote, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore? played a significant part in turning my life around. I was looking through a bunch of discounted books at a local bookstore a number of years ago and the title caught my eye. I have not been the same since I read it, mostly because it served as an encouragement to explore my questions about Church congregations and ministry as one serving as a clergy person, specifically as a chaplain for a Church-based retirement community and now as a hospice chaplain for a secular organization. I was a pastor for 15 years before entering the chaplaincy and did not find the pastorate to be something that encouraged my relationship with Christ. I found that I had to look beyond the “organized church” to find that.

I am thankful for your encouragement on this journey which has not been particularly easy, but has made my 60’s the best part of my life so far. I have been recovering from surgery this week and enjoyed listening to The Jesus Lens which has encouraged me to return to Scripture in a new way. I wish you well on your trip to Richmond this week.

And I sure agree with him that the 60s have been the best part of my life so far. That’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “from glory to ever-increasing glory…” he’s transforming us. There are lots of struggles in this journey, even in your 60s, but the freedom within and the growing connection to Jesus makes each decade better than the last.

And then, there’s  this one:

After 5 years in the church, I began to be worn out by the sermons of submission to the pastor, which makes them dependent on the pastor and not on God. They carry out activities, which not only have nothing to do with the Lord’s work but keeps them away from true communion with Him.

When I read your book, it was like a breath of fresh air. I realized that I was not crazy, and that freed me from doubts I had. Your book not only shed light on some of the shortcomings of the institution in which I have been for five years now but it also allows me to understand some of the mistakes I make in my quest for fellowship with Father. For example, John says to Jake: “Until you find out how to trust God for every detail of your life, you will constantly seek to control others for the things you think you need.”

This book is like a double-edged knife for me. It reveals the imperfections of the institution and of the men, but it also allows me to see the slags in me and to ask the Lord Jesus to show me what to do. God knows why He allowed your book to come into my hands. I am very grateful for that. It’s a blessing for me.

I am 70 years old and I arrived at Christianity in 1988, 31 years ago. It is true that all things have become new. The character of John impresses me, which child of God would not be like him? He reminds me of what our Lord said to Nicodemus in John 3: 8: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the noise, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with every man who is born of the Spirit.”

What a superb lesson of faith in God, who creates in us the will and the doing, also creates the circumstances and the situations; and He will put the words useful in our mouth for the one to whom he sends us. For me, I will wish to be a John whom God sends where He wants. I’d also like to have a John who would appear in my life when God knows I need him.

Your book is good for me and I thank God for allowing this.

And I love what he wrote about not just seeing the abuses of others that have reflected poorly in human institutions, but those things in us that contributed to it all.  In the end, his church is not an institution to be managed, but a growing family in the earth to be enjoyed.