Letting God’s Plans Unfold

Many of you know we are trying to make a movie of the story of Jake and John in So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. We announced two years ago that we were going to make an opportunity for people to give towards this as a way to have some “passion” money alongside the investment money. I’m grateful for the many of you who responded. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive enough to begin production right away. My producer has been looking elsewhere for the necessary funds, which has been made all the more difficult by Amazon and Netflix scooping up the independent projects to create their own original content. It has changed the available money for making small, independent films.

Interestingly enough, on my recent trip east a couple of people asked me about the movie and where we are in the process. After catching one of them up, they simply commented, “I think the time is now.”

Honestly, I have no sense of that. Converting this story into a movie has always been a long-shot in my mind, as much as I’d love to see it done. I do what I can to help it along, but I know many projects get as far as we have that don’t make it into final production. Getting the right people and the money to the starting line at the same time is quite an endeavor.

So, I was surprised when my producer wanted to talk this week. He told me that he had a recent conversation with another filmmaker who was also asking about this project. At the end of it, that friend said to my producer, “Relax. This will get done. Projects like this have their own time.”

“The time is now,” my producer found himself answering, to his own surprise.

When he told me that, I told him the conversation I had the previous week and he said, “I’m bursting out with goose bumps all over here.”

I love how God’s work gently unfolds in our lives. I’ve come to trust it over my own plotting and scheming. I know the frustration of asking God to give me wisdom about something I wanted to do and then feel as if he’s gone silent. Looking back, I now see that I was asking God to give me a strategy so I could work toward the outcome I desired. God didn’t go silent; he just didn’t have an answer for that. So, when he didn’t say what I wanted to hear it was easy to make up a process in my own head and attach his name to it. That is a futile road, for sure. When he didn’t honor my process, I felt even more abandoned.

But now, I’ve been won in to different space, knowing that God’s will for us unfolds in the circumstances of life. We want a strategy to implement; he wants a relationship where he will walk with us. I’m convinced that the best way for God NOT to get me where he wants me in six months, is to tell me. I’ll actually try to get there for him and mess it all up. But if I’ll just follow him today, and again tomorrow, six months from now I’ll be right where he wants me to be. Almost everything I’m involved in now was not part of my planning, but I wouldn’t trade how God has fulfilled the passions he put in me for anything I’d envisioned in the past. I love being in the moment with him, free to respond to the opportunities that come, rather than trying to claw my way to the destination I desire.

Even the cover art (see picture above), which was a gift from someone I didn’t even know, who lived in Chicago at the time, conveys that same reality. Some people thought the book didn’t offer enough “how-tos” at the end, but it wasn’t meant to. The invitation was to an adventure with him down the road less traveled, rather than a new methodology to try and create his church in our image.

I meet too many young people who are trying to strategize a new way of doing ministry. It’s an exhausting road with little real kingdom fruit. I encourage them to draw close to the Master and let him guide them through the circumstances that come their way. Rather than trying to impose our will, we get to flow with his as it winds through the circumstances and opportunities of life. Then we’ll find ourselves being fruitful in ways we’d never imagined and watch him open doors we could never have contrived. It’s slower this way, to be sure, but it is a more joyful and fruitful way to live.

Part of that phone call with my producer this week was to let me know he thinks he’s found a path to get us to that elusive starting line. A fortuitous experience working with another film crew has opened up some new options. I can’t say more than that now, but it will still take people with passion, both on the casting and production side as well as the money side. But this looks far more hopeful than it looked a few months ago.

For those of you interested in the movie, we made a video two years ago to let people know what we were doing. You can view it here:

The budget is currently estimated at $2 million. While we have had, and will continue to have, conversations with both conventional movie and private investors, we also want to include people who have a passion for the story. That will give us a seat at the table to help protect its message. So we’ve come up with the idea of raising funds through Lifestream. Not only will that give you a tax-deductible receipt, but give Lifestream a stake in the movie. If it generates a profit, our share of return will go to help fund our various projects around the world.

Click here to SEE LOOKBOOK Click the button here to view a copy of our Lookbook. In the industry it’s a representation of the movie we want to make and a feel for how it will look.

If you’d like to be involved with us financially, please scroll down to the bottom of this page for giving and reward options.

A Man Who Touched Many Lives

I just found out that Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, and numerous other books passed into eternity today. I was touched by many of his books, but even more by his example as a man deeply committed to the truths of God, while remaining a generous and compassionate man in the world.

I had an opportunity to spend some time with Eugene back in the 1980s, and I can truthfully say this: I’ve never met a more genuine man who lived everything he wrote about. I also got to spend some more time with him at his home in Montana after The Shack was published, grateful that his very generous words about that book helped it find credibility with those who weren’t sure what to think of the story. When he wanted some copies of that book, I offered to send him a case for free in appreciation for his endorsement. He refused, wanting to pay for them, telling me he always wanted to support the people he believed in.

I love so many things about The Message and how he expressed in today’s language the power and truths of the Scriptures. It’s a translation I often quote and his expression of “learning the unforced rhythms of grace” is about as good as language gets. One of the funniest stories I ever read was his opening illustration in his study on Jonah, Under the Unpredictable Plant.  As funny as that story was, it ended with this disheartening caveat: “The people who ordained me and took responsibility for my work were interested in financial reports, attendance graphs, program planning. But they were not interested in me.”

My favorite story about him came from a friend who invited him to come and teach at his denomination’s annual convention:

Eugene asked him how many people they were expecting. My friend responded, “Around five thousand.”

Eugene hesitated, finally concluding this wasn’t an invitation he thought he could accept.

My friend was a bit incensed that Eugene didn’t consider that a significant enough audience and let that frustration spill out in a question.  “Just how many people does it take to get Eugene Peterson to speak?”

“I’m sorry,” Eugene answered, “you misunderstand me. I have discovered I’m most effective in a group of twenty-five people or less. If you can get a group of that size together, I’d love to come.”

My friend was shocked and couldn’t understand his answer. I do. The most effective learning environment for everyone is in a group that size.

I am so grateful for this man’s life, his wisdom, and most of all the depth of his character. He will be missed here, no doubt, but he now has presence in the fullness of Christ for all eternity. Well done, Eugene. You’ve enriched the world by your presence here.

And I’d love to know what he knows now.

Seeing How God Works

Fall Newsletter from Lifestream

For most of my life I’ve tried to do God’s work, instead of doing mine.  And, honestly, I wasn’t very good at it. That didn’t keep me from trying, however.  That’s why in recent years I’ve come to love the prayer Paul prayed for the Colossians and to make it my own every day:

“Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works…  As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. (Colossians 1:9-11 MSG)

That’s what I want.  I want my mind and spirit to be so attuned to God’s will that I can acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which he works. I wish someone had taught me that when I was younger. When we don’t have any understanding of how God works, we’ll spend all our energies trying to be God to others. Even on our best days, that will only make a mess of things.

  • When I was a pastor, I thought it was my responsibility to build the church, when Jesus said he would take care of it. (Matthew 16)
  • In sharing Christ, I thought I was supposed to bring the conviction of God, when Jesus said that was the Spirit’s job. (John 16)
  • I thought the body of Christ was called to walk in unity, when Jesus asked his Father to bring us there. (John 17)
  • I assumed it was my responsibility to be better for God, instead of coming to the end of my human efforts and learning to trust his power. (John 15, Philippians 2)
  • I don’t have to figure out the times and seasons of his return, because that is in the hands of the Father. (Acts 1)

Learning how God works changes everything! He’s not a projection of our better selves, but Wholly Other, who thinks and acts in ways that confound my natural mind. When we think we know best, for ourselves or others, we usually end up working against him rather than with him.

Jesus asked me to love others like he’s loving me, to proclaim with my life and words the reality of Christ, and to help those who want, to know the God I know. It has become a major focus of my walk now to see what God is doing and how he’s working, especially when he isn’t acting in the way I think he should. When he’s not doing what I think is best, what is he doing? That’s where we learn how different, and how much better his ways really are. It is so much easier to live inside what he asks of me today, when I see, if even just in glimpses, how he is working in people and situations around me.

It helps me be more patient, because I realize God is not in the hurry that I am. It makes me softer toward marginalized and hurting people, because I know he doesn’t always wave his magic wand and fix everyone’s need instantaneously, and more often he wants me to be his gift to them. I’m not so settled on my ease and comfort because I know there isn’t any tragedy that he can’t work in for incredible good. And when I’ve given up trying to change me, I give up trying to change others around me as well.

I’m still learning to take my cues from what Father is already doing. Ask him to show you in the very circumstances you’re in right now. Instead of giving into anxiety and trying to fix them yourself, ask him to show you what he is doing. When you know what he’s doing, then you’ll know how you can respond in trust and be part of what he’s doing.  It’s more fun than trying to do his job, that’s for sure!

 

A Huge Harvest in Pokot

Progress continues in Kenya, and I’m always blessed by those who help us. In the last couple of months, the pumps in the Living Loved Petrol Station (see picture above) that we built to support the orphanage, died after eight years. They were only meant to last five.  We had to replace them at a cost of $24,000. They are learning now to set funds aside each month to replace them at the end of the next cycle.

The four agricultural projects in Pokot have branched out to five and the produce has been prolific. You can’t imagine the joy and awe of people who have been nomadic throughout their history, to be able to grow their own food! They are euphoric, and grew so much that they had new expenses as to how to dry and store the produce for future months.  And thanks to so many of you who have continued to send in your gifts to help. We’re 2.5 years into a 5-year plan to help them gain some measure of sufficiency.  Even the local government has taken notice of these agricultural projects and are helping out as well.  If you have extra to help in this process, it will always help. As always, every dime you give us ends up in Kenya. We take nothing for administrative or financial transfer fees.

 

Travel to Year’s End and 2019

I head to San Diego County this weekend, and then after a brief trip through Wisconsin, Tennessee, and South Carolina, I’m returning home for year-ending (at least as far as travel goes) minor surgery on an old broken toe. I need a bone chip removed, which is working its way into a joint, but it will put me on injured reserve for the rest of the year. So, I’m going to be staying close to home through the holidays.

As far as 2019, I’m already praying about possible trips to: Northern California, Georgia, West Virginia, West Texas, Upstate New York/Toronto, Kenya, and Southern Florida. If you have anything on your heart, now is the time to let me know.

So, during the rest of this year I’ll be able to give some time to the three book projects that have captured my attention.

  • Lucien’s Crossing, my friend’s delightful tale of two boys, one a slave, the other the master’s son, growing up in the pre-Civil War south, through the Civil War itself, and then in its aftermath in New York City. It is an occasionally humorous, and always gripping adventure story where religion and faith hang in the background of our views of war and racism.
  • The Language of Healing, with co-authors Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. Three common Americans look at the vitriol in our political and personal conversations and how to move away from the politics of polarization to have conversations about important matters in ways that bring healing rather than division.
  • The Healing, a novel I began in 2005 about how the gift of God draws us out of religious performance and into a way of living that is real and transformative.

 

A Man Like No Other, by Wayne JacobsenChristmas Shopping

As you consider gifts for friends and family this year, keep in mind the books and audio available in the Lifestream Store. Especially, A Man Like No Other is an excellent gift for people as it re-tells the life of Jesus without all the religious stuff we have added to him.  It’s book of paintings done my award-winning artist, Murry Whiteman with text by myself and Brad Cummings. It’s not a children’s book per se, but I know families who use it for a devotional because the pictures draw the kids in and the text often provokes lots of questions.  As a special, we are reducing the normal sale price by $5.00 until Christmas Day.  (As always with international  orders, please email the office for a quote. Shipping rates are always off for those orders.)

 

Discussing Community on Confronting Normal Podcast

Wayne was in Kelowna, BC recently at the invitation of the two young moms that host, Confronting Normal, a podcast that helps us rethink what “normal” spiritual life might look like. While there I recorded a two-part interview that is now available on their podcast. They asked some great questions and we processed some wonderful things together. If you’d like to listen to them you can get Part One here, and Part Two here.

 

In Case You Missed It… 

Here are some of the podcasts and blogs that have generated a lot of interest over the last couple of months.

Podcasts at TheGodJourney.com:

Wayne’s blog at Lifestream.org

My Ukrainian Adventure

My oldest brother, Rod, went to college with such a passion to be a missionary to the Soviet Union that he double-majored in Russian and in Biblical Studies. When the iron curtain finally fell, my brother was so hampered by his battle with multiple sclerosis that he was unable to go. He eventually died in 1999, just short of his 49th birthday, after years of praying for the people of the former Soviet Union. So, when I get invited there I make every effort to go in his honor and to love the people he carried in his heart and his prayers for so long. I was in Russia seven years ago and spent the past weekend in Ukraine.

In addition to the Ukrainians that joined us, we were also enriched to have people from Israel, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Moldova, and such rich people they were, too. The hardest part of traveling is how connected I become to people even after only three or four days together.  Leaving is always difficult, not knowing if I’ll ever get to see any of them again. This weekend, I was enriched by their faith, played out in the difficulty of a country transitioning out of Soviet domination, while still at war with Russia on their eastern flank. I was amazed at their hunger for the real things of God and the price so many had paid to follow their heart instead of the religious conventions of others.

Since this was only a five-day trip for me, I spoke through the stupor of a persistent jet lag that never allowed me to get a full night’s sleep. Often I lay awake at crazy hours and used it to pray for the day ahead. But each time I helped facilitate a discussion, my mind was graciously alert and my heart alive with passion for how I might be able to help or encourage them. The first good night’s sleep I’ve had in over a week came last night after I returned home to my own bed. Surprisingly I slept through the night and woke up wonderfully refreshed this morning.

It is never easy to be with people whose language I don’t share. While there were people who would translate for me in personal conversations, I felt like I missed so much depth in the stories they were telling me. I felt like I’m just scratching the surface of who they are and what they’ve been through. And, of course, translating takes extra time, which means we don’t always get to the heart of a matter before someone else comes along and the conversation shifts yet again. Even so, I found my heart touched by their love for God and each other and their desire for a deep and vibrant walk with the living God.

The picture above is of some time around the fire our last night at the camp. Even though I could hardly stay awake as we sang and shared, this picture brings back such rich memories of my time there, the people I met, and the stories I heard of faith and courage.

On Sunday afternoon after the conference had ended, some people took me around the city of Kiev to show me the sights—World War II memorial, where the army gunned down protestors of the government five years ago, a delightful chocolate shop, and a seemingly endless stream of religious buildings with golden, onion-shaped copulas, like the picture below.

Isn’t it tragic, that we call buildings like these “churches”, and few people would use that same term to describe the people in the picture at the top of the page? If anything, however, the picture at the top is a far more accurate characterization of the reality of the church in the world. It speaks of people, shared life, relationships, and following God together the best we can.

Like most people, I find the ornate, opulent, religious structures of Europe fascinating in their beauty and architecture. I just cringe when anyone calls them a church, or thinks they represent God in some special way. They don’t. If anything, they represent skewed priorities of religious leaders who put opulence over people and power over love. That most were built on the terrified backs of peasants trying to curry favor with God or alleviate their guilt makes it all the worse.

Remember, Stephen was stoned for saying, “… the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.” That reality still makes people nervous today, and makes it difficult to justify the incredible wealth we have (and still do) put into buildings. And yet, if you want to find God, you would be better off looking for him in the people around you than in any building, as impressive as it may be.

With special thanks to my hosts and all the people I got to meet in Ukraine.

 


On an unrelated note, the first of a two-part interview I did with the ladies of Confronting Normal has just released.  It’s about community and you can find it here. This is how they described it:

Community is a complicated topic. It’s a conversation laced with many layers, a wide variety of interpretations and definitions, and typically, it comes accompanied with a ton of painful baggage and unmet expectations.

But in this episode, Cindy and Renae get the rare opportunity to sit down face-to-face with author, speaker and fellow podcaster, Wayne Jacobsen, as they explore this important conversation from the comforts of Cindy’s living room – a fitting location for such a relational topic. Together, the trio share openly and honestly about the struggle and beauty that is community. In the end, they consider that perhaps community should really just be called … friendship.

From Canada to Kiev

I just got back from Canada and am getting ready to head out to Kiev. This will be the strangest trip I’ve ever taken to Europe. I had a friend a few years back go to Russia for three days and I thought, who would fly that far for three days?  A few years later, I am doing the same thing. God has a rich sense of humor! I looked for other opportunities in Europe and nothing seemed to fit. Though I had a lot of friends in Europe I could have visited, nothing seemed to have the breath of Father on it. So, I am going to Kiev to meet with brothers and sisters who are wanting to help others grow in relationship with Father and be catalysts for community in their locales, and returning home after three days.  And, I suspect there’s something going on here at home that God wants me back for.

He Loves Me and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore have been available in Russian for over a decade. They have really resonated with some hungry hearts there. I got to go to Russia seven years ago, and now I’ll be spending time in Ukraine, which is at war with Russia.  Other than the long flights both ways, I am looking forward to seeing what God is doing among our brothers and sisters there.

I had a great time in Canada last week. Starting in Calgary staying with some good friends and a return visit to a community there who really look to help others live in Father’s love. This time there was a lot of focus on the content from In Season, which has really had an impact on a number of lives there.

Then it was on to Kelowna, BC for more connections there at the invitation of Cindy and Renae, the co-hosts of Confronting Normal, a podcast about discovering what true normal is, not simply trusting the scripts we’ve been given. I taped two podcasts with them as well as being part of some gatherings that brought the community together. We had a Friday night discussion about, “What is the Church?” on a back patio, a gathering to talk about Beyond Sundays in a video studio (sorry, it wasn’t taped), and a morning conversation on the beach about raising children in Father’s affection.  We even got in a late Sunday round of golf at one of the most spectacular golf courses I’ve ever had the blessing to play. What a great time with lots of deep conversation and plenty of laughter too. I love that God has room for both—the seriously engaging, and the hilariously freeing.

There were a few ninja photographers there who sent me a lot of pictures I can share with you, if you’re interested….  Above you’ll see us on the beach for our discussion of parenting in a relational way.

Me with Renae (left) and Cindy (right) the hosts of Confronting Normal on the lakeshore

Our evening discussion about the nature of the Church in the world

Talking about Beyond Sundays

What a way to finish—great fellowship, good golfing, and spectacular views

I am grateful that God allows me to engage the people I get to be with all over the world, and the experiences we have together. So many people are exploring a different journey than conventional religion would dictate and finding Father to be all he said he is. And, oh yes, I made biscuits, 3 times.

Just this morning, I received a note from someone I met on this trip.  “I wanted to add my thanks to everyone else’s for taking the time to come and pour into us and our brothers and sisters here. We so enjoyed our “hang time” with you and a friend of mine was so impressed with your heart to make yourself available to chat, and to serve people right where they were at. She mentioned how much this was in contrast to the ‘big speaker-names out there’.  So we bless you and Sara, for serving the Kingdom at large – both at home and abroad; your sacrifice of time, energy and finances doesn’t go unnoticed!”

Invariably when I post something like this, people always ask, “How do we get Wayne Jacobsen to come where we are?” It all begins with an invitation, and then some prayer to discern God’s purpose or timing in it. When Sara and I and those inviting me sense that it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit, then I go. I do not charge for my coming and pay for all my own travel. If those inviting me can help offset those expenses, then great, but I have no expectation that they do so. Father always has a way to provide for what he desires.

If You Do Not Enjoy Him, You Will Not Long Follow Him

If you know my wife, Sara, you know there are two things she loves other than family: gardens and dogs. The picture above is of her garden, in which she spends countless hours creating a beautiful space in the world. She’s also one of the most conscientious dog lovers on the planet. Whenever a new pup comes into our home I shake my head and tell her she has won the dog lottery. You wouldn’t get more love and care from anyone else on the planet. If you ever visit our home, believe me you will want Sara to treat you like a dog! It’s a high honor here.

Occasionally those two loves come into conflict as they did a couple of years ago. We’d just gotten Zoey, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix that was eight weeks old. I immediately left on a trip and when I returned I was writing in my study when I saw some dirt shoot across one of the walkways in Sara’s garden. I looked more closely to see that the new pup was inside one of the hedgerows digging up some freshly planted flowers. Sara was in the back of the garden, seemingly oblivious to the problem in the front.  I felt bad for the new puppy because I knew what was coming—a firm scolding and a swat on the rear-end. Teaching our new dogs to respect the garden has always been a steep learning curve.

As I walked outside and into the garden, I stood looking down at Zoey. She sat in a large hole with dirt and shreds of flowers thrown everywhere around her. She looked up with a dirty face, huffing and puffing, grinning with delight.

“Babe,” I called out to Sara in the back of the garden. “Do you know what’s going on over here?”

“With Zoey?” she responded without even getting up or turning around.

“Yeah, with Zoey.”

“I do.” She didn’t seem concerned in the least.

“What do you know?” I couldn’t believe she wasn’t on top of this.

“She’s digging up my flowers.”  So, she knew!  This made no sense.

By this time, I had come to where she was working and asked her what was going on. “Why aren’t you training her?”

“I was thinking how none of my dogs ever come out to the garden with me when I work here and I wondered if it’s because I get on them for playing in the garden.  I’m trying something new with Zoey.  I want her to enjoy my garden and me in it, so this year she gets to do whatever she wants out here. Next year I’ll teach her how to be in the garden.”

As Sara said all this, I was hearing a voice greater than hers. Wouldn’t that be God’s heart? Would he want us to enjoy him, and by doing that learn how to live in the fullness of his life and joy.

But religion taught us God was easily angered and most often disappointed in us. Even though the Westminster Catechism stated that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” most Christians I met growing up didn’t seem to enjoy God. They feared him. They tried to obey him. Sometimes, they even resented him. I was never taught as a young man how to enjoy God and the life he has given us on this planet, even through its difficulties and pain. It’s only been in the last couple of decades that I’ve learned to enjoy God and his work in me; to want to be in his garden every day.

It’s clear to me that if people don’t learn to enjoy God they will not long follow him. They will manage his presence in their life, more in fear than endearment, obligation rather than joy. I know when I got saved people immediately started telling me the theology I had to believe, the rituals I had to observe, and the rules I had to follow. It did not lead me to enjoy God or participate in his work in the world. Maybe if we taught people to enjoy God first, they would follow him with joy to the ends of the earth.

It worked on Zoey. Now, whenever Sara goes to her garden a ninety-pound lab follows right behind, her tail wagging enthusiastically. She hasn’t dug up anything over the last couple of years and when I watch them in the garden together, I know that Sara got what she wanted most—a beautiful garden and a friend to share it with.

That’s why Jesus came to live among us, “so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be full.” Father never wanted the resentful obedience of fearful slaves, but a joyful relationship with his beloved children inside his creation. Learn to enjoy God, and everything he wants to do in and through you will come to pass.

It is his pleasure to share his kingdom with us, even if we do make a mess now and then!

___________________

If you’d like to learn more about enjoying Father’s love, you might try He Loves Me. I will not write a more significant book than this one. The content of that book was what helped me learn to live in the affection of the Father, rather than trying to appease him by my performance.  We also have a Spanish version of this book that we give away for just the cost of postage. Email our office for details. 

She is Everywhere and She Is Glorious!

While on vacation in the Sierras a couple of weeks ago we connected with old friends we used to camp with in that area. The wife shared with us some pictures (one of which you can see above, and another further below) that she had taken on a trail we used to hike together. In fact, it was this trail over Potter’s Pass east of Huntington Lake that inspired the theme illustration I use in Finding Church

What if the church of Jesus Christ is more like wildflowers strewn across an alpine meadow than a walled garden with manicured hedges? Wouldn’t that change everything?

Maybe that’s why people get so frustrated trying to find his church, but they are looking at institutions, or home groups of like-minded people instead of simply loving the people God is bringing into their lives. The church Jesus is building is everywhere!  She is not a place or an institution; she is a real, living creation, and if we look for the people who express his reality around us, we’ll find his fingerprints at work.  The following is an adaptation from Finding Church

I realize such a seemingly amorphous view of the church will make many nervous, especially those who think it their God-given duty to manage a group of people on his behalf. The church takes her expression in relationships we have with others who are also following him—local friendships as well as international connections that he knits together.

We’ll first see it reflected in conversations where Jesus makes himself known. Some of those conversations will grow into more enduring friendships that become part of the fabric of our lives as we serve, encourage, and grow together. These friendships will lead to others, and out of that network of friends and friends of friends, God will have all the resources he needs to invite us to agreement in prayer and collaborative actions to fulfill his purposes around us.

Can it really be that simple? This is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to people seeing the church for who she really is. It’s too simple, they think, or too easy. So, they put their trust in the vast array of discordant institutions instead of the present work of Jesus. As we’ll see, finding those connections is difficult only because it is far easier than we dare to believe. In fact, you probably have those growing connections with people, even in the congregation you attend or have attended. I’m only suggesting that your interaction with them expresses more freely the life of the church than sitting in a pew watching the staged activity up front.

Admittedly this discussion about church is not easy to have. Most people want simple, clear answers to heavily nuanced realities. It would be easier to say that all religious institutions are bad, and smaller, more informal groups are good, except that it isn’t true. If we just had an organization that represented the one, true church led by the right people then we would know who is in and who is out, except that every group who has ever tried it has ended up arrogant and abusive in trying to keep it pure.

So, we are going to have to make a distinction in our minds between the church that humanity has attempted to build for two thousand years, and the community of the new creation that Jesus is building. They are not the same, though they can gloriously overlap on occasion. It’s just that our conformity-based structures cannot produce the internal transformation necessary for his church to take shape among us.

And as much as we have to see how our congregational doctrines, rituals, and structures can fail us, I’m not saying they are evil. This isn’t a matter of whether these are good or bad, but how we use them. If they enhance our growing relationship with God, great! It’s when they become a substitute for the relationship we lack that they are problematic.

I agree with the theology of the historic creeds and reading them inspires me. It is not our mental assent that’s important, however, but living inside the truth they espouse. Likewise, ritual can open our hearts into a wider world and help us reflect on him, or it can become meaningless repetition that only makes us feel more distant from the Living God. I’m not against structure, which is incredibly valuable whenever it gives shape to what Jesus is doing among a group of people. Everything I do has structure, from the books I publish, to the travel I arrange, to our work in Africa with orphans and widows. Structure is essential to coordinate people to accomplish specific tasks, but history shows us that no group structure can successfully reflect the life of Jesus’ church for very long. It happens subtly but, over time, people end up serving the structure. They become dependent on it, instead of following him.

In the end, however, no creed, ritual, or structure can contain the church Jesus is building. And strangely enough, neither do any of those things exclude the possibility of his church taking shape among them. Because the church finds expression wherever people are learning to live alongside Jesus in the new creation, it can appear almost anywhere at any moment.

The church isn’t something we can plant or build; we can only recognize it and make room in our hearts when she appears.

This book contains everything I believe about the church Jesus is building. I hope it is helping people get their eyes off the failed attempts of humanity’s doing, and see how Jesus is marvelously putting his church together through the interconnected friendships of people who are growing to know him. Whether or not that ever coalesces into a weekly meeting isn’t what’s important. It’s learning to be loved and to love others the same way. He has everything he needs to bring that family into fullness and life. It’s always been his job, not ours. And, I don’t have to participate in anything that is morally broken, condemning, or bound to obligation just because others call it “a church.”

I love being able to celebrate her reality wherever she takes shape around me, and I find her more breathtaking than any wildflower vista, whether it be in a conversation, a growing friendship, or a weekly gathering of people wanting to follow him.  Our task is only to recognize her when she’s there, and cooperate with his working however he may ask us to do so. There we will find community enough, mission enough, and discipleship enough!

You can get Finding Church in print, e-book or audio. For those who want the printed version for yourself or to give away to others, we are selling them from now through the month of September at a 25% discount ($7.99 per book, plus shipping).  For international destinations, please email our office for a price quote, since the online calculator is often wrong.

This weekend I get to wander in his meadow in western Canada (Calgary, AB and Kelowna, BC) to  see how his church is taking shape among people there.  I’m looking forward to it.

 

Finding God in the Darkest Moments

A great follow up to my blog post yesterday about Walking In the Fog is the podcast we posted today at The GodJourney.com: Finding Grace in Desperate Times. Even if you don’t listen to the podcast regularly anymore, this is one not to miss.

It’s a conversation with a friend I’ve known for almost 30 years and the life he is now facing with his wife suffering from Alzheimer’s. I love knowing people who are able to find God’s reality in the most despicable tragedies life can throw at them. Would that God would fix them all so no one has to face them, but that’s not the way he works in the brokenness of the world we live in. It’s how he makes himself known in our sufferings that furthers his work in us and in the world.

And to my great surprise, I heard from the woman who wrote the email that spawned Thursday’s blog. That email was nearly three years old and since I’d removed the name from it then, I’d forgotten who sent it to me. But the person who did recognized it and wrote me:

I remember this woman. It took me back to the time I wrote it and sent it off to you.

He has led us into wider space. It is all that you describe and more. He has led my husband and me into space and relationships that we were unable to comprehend at the time. It brings us incredible peace and joy to live simply step by step following him… He calms the storm every time. Sometimes I find myself giggling afterward, saying to him, “How did you do that?” The wonder of it all leaves me speechless and in awe.

Learning to trust him in the fog sets you up for a lifetime of joy, because your relationship with him becomes unhinged from the circumstances you’re in. As Paul said, he knew contentment in times of great abundance, and contentment in times of paralyzing need.  (Philippians 4:11ff). Why?  Because it’s not what’s going on around us, but what’s going on inside of us that matters.

It’s about him, and having him is all we really need!

Walking In the Fog

Earlier this week I was asked to explain one of the most difficult Scriptural passages from Paul’s writings and they wanted me to tell them what Paul was thinking.  To be honest, I don’t know. And to be even more honest, I don’t really care at this point in my journey.

I picked this up from a dear friend in New Zealand, “When Scripture says something important, it is very clear. When things are not clear, they are not important,” at least for me, on this day. The Age of Enlightenment has left humanity with the angst that everything has a logical explanation we can logically figure out, so much so that any explanations will do, even those that are just made up.  Nowhere is that more true than with Scripture… and life!

We get frustrated at the inexplicable, fear the uncertain, and feel lost when our plans go off-track. We want to figure everything out in air-tight explanations that give us the illusion that we can control our own lives. If that’s your passion, you’re not going to find it easy to follow Jesus. I understand why you want those things. Me too! But our Father’s plans and purposes supersede our logic and understanding at times. He wants us to walk in the security of the light we have, not the frustration of light we don’t have yet.

I got this email a couple of years ago, but I’ve been waiting for the right time to share it. This may be it:

I am experiencing disorientation! When others ask me to explain myself, I don’t have the language to make sense of where I find myself on the journey. My heart gets it, at least part of it, but I just don’t have the words. My head seems to be whirling with condemnation especially as it applies to taking responsibility to fill up the discomfort I have with not doing something. I don’t know how to express it really, other than to say, “doing something” doesn’t seem to be the answer to trusting God’s ability to move me.

My nagging thoughts are to take responsibility and just do something… anything as long as it fills up the paralyzing space. I feel like I’m in a dense fog. I am not afraid, I just don’t see anything. So I am going to wait for the fog to lift and trust that it will. There are voices calling out to me, but it just doesn’t sound like Jesus, so I am going to wait and trust. I have made so many mistakes! I hear the pastor’s voice, “Are you sure about this?” I have decided to wait and trust anyway.

Somehow, I believe wonderful things can happen while you are surrounded by fog. Today I seem to be sitting on a great big boulder blind as a bat.

I love this email, because he expresses what so much of us experience in the early days of this journey. Our hearts are drawing us into his reality, and our head, and often our friends, are trying to pull us back into human logic and reasoning. More damage has been done to Jesus’ kingdom by those who feel the need to “just do something” to fill up the guilt of feeling like we’re not doing enough. Waiting and trusting seem so futile, but there is no place where we’re strengthened to resist the urge to do on our own or to figure out on our own what makes us most comfortable instead of what makes us most alive.

Wonderful things do happen in the fog. Most of our lives are lived in the fog, with enough light and grace for this day, not for all the uncertainties and inexplicable concerns that lie ahead.  The longer I walk this journey, the more comfortable I get not knowing what’s ahead. Everything doesn’t need an explanation. I don’t need a five-year plan to follow. It is enough that he is with me in the fog and knows those things I do not. He will share them with me when I truly need them, not necessarily when I want them.

Yes, there are confident days on this journey and there are disorienting ones.  Fortunately, the disorienting ones will grow less over time, not because you can see farther but because you know you’re with him. You don’t owe other people an explanation that will make sense in their context.  You can simply say, “I feel like God is doing something a bit different in me and I’m going to follow him a bit and see where it leads.  I hope you can love me through this time, because my love for you hasn’t changed at all.” It is time to learn to trust God’s voice more than you trust your pastor’s or that of any other human being.  It’s about being his and not belonging to other people for whatever they desire.

The real joy and freedom of this journey is to grow comfortable in the fog knowing you are not alone.  All our long-term strategic plans were ours anyway and they only provided a false sense of security. How often did they pan out the way we thought?  Learning to follow him comes back to a day to day reality (“Give us this day, our daily bread”).  What is he asking of me today?  Do I have enough today?  What is he showing me about himself today? We seem to always seek principles or a strategic plan to govern us instead of letting his heart and wisdom fold into ours.

Maybe it isn’t about the fog lifting, but you becoming comfortable in the fog because he is with you and there is a much better way to explore his life than having all the answers you want. God is in the fog, in those moments when we most feel alone. And it is in the quiet of our inactivity that he draws us into his work. That has been my experience and it has opened me up into a larger world where there is no condemnation and now ever-lessening fears because I am learning to follow him not my own wisdom and conclusions.

Life is a journey.  Embrace him today in whatever life brings, knowing that he has enough grace and wisdom to lead you to life one day at a time. Soon you’ll find yourself in a wider space where the voices of accusation and those that demand an explanation fade away in the distance.

 

 

“You Do Know You Can’t Do This Without Jesus, Right?”

I spent last weekend at a camp in Maine, talking with people about a life in Jesus that is more than following religious doctrines or routines. Not all were impressed with my resume when I arrived. One person spoke out in an early meeting about how much she hated The Shack, even though she’d never read it. She said she had many friends who were following it instead of the Bible and it turned her off.

It would turn me off, too. Anyone who replaces the Bible with a work of fiction has some serious issues. But since I didn’t know any of her friends, to know if it was true and she hadn’t read the book, there wasn’t much I could do to help her. To her credit though, having been challenged by a friend, she came to listen to one session. Then came back for another, and then yet another. By the end she told someone, “Perhaps I need to get acquainted with the gospel again.” Both she and her husband gave me a big hug when we finished up on Sunday.  I love it when people are open to listen and not stay hunkered down in their bunker. So cool!

The friend that invited me to come and share at this camp told me a story that I don’t recall hearing before. A friend of mine (who you’ll hear from in an upcoming podcast) had recently moved to the area. He had heard about a Bible study he and another friend were helping to lead in a local church. Their study was on Obedience and they were going through all the action words of Scripture to help spur people on to a more serious relationship with Jesus. In the middle of the study the friend who had recently moved to the area leaned over to one of them and whispered under his breath, “You do know you can’t do any of this without Jesus, don’t you?”

And that’s how they found a new trailhead. That simple question worked its way down to their heart of hearts where two men began to realize how much effort they had been putting into a Christian walk that was exhausting, empty, and fruitless. They had bought into the idea that the Christian life is something they could do if they just worked hard enough. That question started them on a new journey where they would let Jesus live his life through them. That was a decade ago and their lives have been transformed. I met them early on and it was great to reconnect with them this past week.

Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15). Even Paul said if anyone could boast about the flesh, he far more, and yet since he engaged Christ he put absolutely no confidence in his flesh (Philippians 3). We cannot live this life on our own, no matter how dedicated and radical we think we are. We can do lots of religious stuff, wearing ourselves to exhaustion. Many have tried and when they come up empty on the other side they begin to question whether or not God even exists. That’s not surprising because he doesn’t exist on the other side of our own efforts. He thrives where we cease from our own labors and let him make himself known in us.

I know it isn’t easy and it can be a disorienting process, especially in the first few years. It’s the opposite of what many of us have been taught. The hardest thing we’ll learn is to let Jesus do in us all that we cannot do on our own. He even has to teach us that. Christ in you! That’s the hope of your glory, not how wise or good you can be.

So, if you’re trying to do this on your own this would be a good time to stop. If you’re trying to build a relationship with God, this would be a good time to stop and ask him to show you how he is building one with you. And if you need some encouragement sorting through that, check out the Engage videos on this website. I made them a few years ago to help people relax into the relationship God desires with you, even more than you desire it for yourself.

You do know you can’t live this life without him, right?

It’s Love, Not Fear that Will Change the World

Today I’m on my way to Maine to spend some time with people at a camp in Maine, and then I’ll make my way down to Reading, MA before I return home. As I go, I thought I’d leave you with an email exchange I had recently….

It always saddens me how much religion uses hell and God’s wrath to keep people in constant fear that they are not doing enough to keep God at bay. The Gospel is not how terrifying God is that we need to cower in fear, but how endearing he is and if we knew that we would want to come running to him at every moment, even our worst ones.

I got this question the other day: “So is God’s wrath resting on a person until they accept Jesus? What is God’s wrath?”

Here’s how I answered her:

God’s wrath is the consuming fire of his love that seeks to destroy the power of sin and rescue us into his love. Does it rest on an unrepentant sinner?  Absolutely, in the desire to redeem them and burn out the sin that is destroying them.  But when they come to Christ, he has already taken all that for us, so we are no longer objects of wrath, but children of God and part of his family.  Now his work in us removes our shame and invites us in deeper…

That’s why God’s wrath is still coming at the end of the age, to consume sin and create a new heaven and new earth.  But don’t look at it as his hateful anger; it’s not. It is the depths his love to purify. It’s the mother bear coming out of the woods to protect there cubs.  We’re the cubs. We can be rescued by that wrath if we want to be…

Her response gave me a chuckle.  “That’s the most life-giving  description of God’s wrath I’ve ever heard.” Who would think understanding God’s wrath would be life giving?  By why wouldn’t it be? It is that part of his love that is consuming the reality of sin so he can rescue us into his life.

What’s scary is that we can’t survive that cleansing power. It’s just too strong. That’s what Jesus did for us.

Why are so many religious teachers fixated on wrath—painting God as an angry and demanding deity as the motivation for people to come to him? They see his wrath as the source of his retributive anger that seeks to punish man’s failure as the way to vindicate his justice. They keep people afraid of God hoping that will motivate them to live more righteously. However, that thinking can only backfire. Fear cannot transform us, it will only exhaust us as it seeks to trigger our own efforts to be better for God. Only love can transform us.

Wherever anyone or anything is provoking fear in you to get you to serve God better, you have to reject it. It will not serve your desire to know him.  Love is the most powerful force in the universe allowing us to be drawn into God’s nature before fear and shame can drive us out. It allows us to hold our sin and failures before God until he transforms the roots of it from within and we become free enough to embrace his life.

So, wherever you can put more love into the world and remove whatever fear you can, especially as it relates to God’s character and his demeanor toward humanity.

I tell a story in He Loves Me and on Transitions #4 that illustrates my view of wrath:

He Loves Me by Wayne JacobsenIt was the most poignant picture of wrath I’ve witnessed. I had taken my family camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains to escape the heat of our home on the valley floor and to soak in some rest and relaxation. I was hunkered down in a lounge chair deeply engrossed in a novel. My wife, Sara, was coming to join me when suddenly we heard screams of pain from our two-year-old son, Andy.

He’d been playing in the dirt not far from our campsite. As I looked up he was stomping his feet and waving his hands wildly. Swirling around him were flying insects, backlit by the sun; Sara immediately recognized them as bees. Somehow he had stumbled into their nest in the ground and they were attacking him relentlessly.

Before I could extricate myself from the reclining chair, Sara was rushing to the sounds of his screams. Even though she is allergic to bee stings and got stung for her efforts, she angrily swatted at the bees as she scooped up her son to run with him to safety. When I got to them she was stroking his head with comfort even as she was panting from the overload of adrenaline still coursing through her veins. Soon she reacted to the venom and we took her to the hospital for treatment.

If you want a picture of God’s wrath, I can think of none better. She was as angry as I’ve ever seen her, but the anger wasn’t directed at Andy nor did it seek his punishment. She simply risked herself to rescue someone she loved so deeply.

That’s what God’s wrath is like. He sees the evil that mars his creation and destroys the people he loves, and he must be rid of it. His wrath consumes evil and wickedness and as such does not exist as the opposite of his love, but as an expression of that love. He must protect and set free the object of his affection.

I’m sure when my son first saw Mom running at him, eyes blazing with anger, he thought he was in trouble. Even though he didn’t know what he’d done wrong, he was already recoiling from her as she approached. Only after she had swept him to safety did he realize he was not the focus of it, but its beneficiary.

Our shame-consciousness does the same thing toward God. Whenever we see God acting to consume sin, we internalize the anger against ourselves. But that isn’t where the wrath is primarily directed. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men . . . ” (Romans 1:18)

It’s not people God seeks to destroy but the sin that destroys his people. In that sense God’s wrath is far more curative than it is punitive. Its primary purpose is not to hurt us, but to heal and to redeem us.

Meet My Friend, Tom

Nope, sorry, no new podcast today at The God Journey today.  We’re still on hiatus but hope to have some new episodes up soon. In the meantime…

I often get asked what podcasts I listen to and here’s a new one that I would recommend. Tom Mohn is a seasoned brother on this journey who has not only had an interesting life indeed, but he also lives the life he proclaims.  I call him the Forrest Gump of evangelicalism, having crossed paths with so many household names and been on the edges of some of the most extraordinary events of our time.  What I appreciate about him most is that he has managed to keep putting the kingdom above his own notoriety or visibility. Tom has a grasp of a life of grace and growing engagement with God that is contagious. I hope you catch some of what he has.  You can find out more about him and his teachings at his website.

He was our guest on one of the most impactful podcasts from our earliest days at The God Journey, called The Things God Uses.  If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen.  It’s a powerful example of watching God take the difficult things in our life and turning them into transformative moments.  He’s done some other podcasts with us, too, that you can find in our archive.  A few years ago I recommended a book he’d written about his journey called Good Morning Brother Pilgrim, but I’m sure he meant it for sister pilgrims as well. I recommended it back in 2014, and still would today… unreservedly. You can also order it from his website.

Recently he started a podcast where he shares some of the more formative moments in his journey and how God’s Spirit has continued to invite him to come deeper into the life and love of Jesus. I’ve listened to every one with delight. It’s called Good Morning, Fellow Pilgrim.  You can also find it on iTunes. In his deep and dulcet tone, Tom unpacks his journey with lessons that will encourage and inspire yours as well. They are short, well-thought out out and exalt Father’s work in the world. He’s a reservoir of wisdom and insight and I hope you take advantage of it. I’m sure you’ll be touched.

We Have Returned!

You people are the best!

No, not those in the photo, although they are pretty awesome, but I’m talking about you—the people who read this blog.

Sara and I just returned from a ten-day vacation in the Caribbean we got to share with our kids and grandkids. We had such wonderful time and a what a great opportunity to relax with our family. Since I was not going to be off the grid mostly, I asked that people hold their emails until I returned since I would be off the grid during my stay.  And. You. Did.  I received the fewest emails ever in a ten-day stretch and just had a few to reply to this morning as we are settling back in. I was deeply touched and grateful to all of you who resisted the urge to write me during that time.

And what a vacation it was, too!  It couldn’t have gone better. I got my relax on with some golf, reading, beach time, snorkeling, swimming with the grandkids, walking with Sara, and best of all, the great conversations that come from spending so much time together. It’s a vacation I’ll remember for a long time. I’m thankful our family was able to get away together.

My vacation read this year was Grant by Ron Chernow.  He’s a great historian and I’ve read other works of his about some of our former presidents. Now that I’m helping a friend with a civil war-era novel, I was really looking forward to getting into this book. It has not disappointed! However, I had some other books to finish up first, so didn’t get to it until until well into our time there. Thus, I’m only half way the 1,024-page read but am finding it fascinating. History really does give us context for our own lives and interactions with others, and reminds us of horrible times people endured in our nations history.

I’m amazed at two things so far: the pettiness of generals and politicians even in war time. While young men are dying on the battlefield, they are squabbling over who can get the most power. When a field general showed great promise in war tactics, they would pull him from the field and bury him in paperwork somewhere, because those above him were afraid he’d outshine them and they would get reassigned. At times, as they did with Grant, they would make up rumors of being drunk on the battlefield, simply to discredit it him.

The other thing that amazed me is how so many of the generals on both sides of the conflict had been friends before. They knew each other each other well from having been at West Point together and many fought side by side in the Mexican War.  Now they are pitted against each other. How horrible that must of been! In fact, when the Confederate forces surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, three of those surrendering had been in Grant’s own wedding party well before the war.  How easily “an issue” can pit good friends against each other as mortal enemies.

It amazes me how we expect that people will be honest, treat us fairly, and that we will be rewarded on our merits. We are always so shocked when people don’t turn out to be who they present themselves to be, or we are confronted with circumstances we don’t deserve. The Bible is full of that, too. We should know better. Life is unfair; people will treat you horribly just out of petty jealousies and personal greed; and not all sacrifices are well-rewarded, at least in this life. It reminds me to keep setting my heart in a better kingdom with a Father who is not only incredibly loving and tender, but honest and fair. Not all will be settled in this age the way we think best. He won’t always do what we want, but he will never fail us. Even through the brokenness of this age he can guide us, setting us ever more free from the tyranny of our own desires, to find a greater freedom in the knowing of him.

Next week I am leaving for a brief trip to New England. I’m doing a retreat at a campsite in Winthrop, ME the weekend of July 13-15, then hanging on for a few days with friends in Maine before heading south to Reading, MA for a few days.  You can get details and contact info here if you’re in the area and want to join in while I’m there.

The Beginning of My Pharisectomy

Today, Sara and I leave on a ten-day vacation with our kids and grandchildren. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and having a break from our normal lives. However, that does mean our offices will be closed until Monday, July 2. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but we’re a two-horse operation here and both horses will be gone! However, we will have someone handling book and audio orders for us during that time. If you can hold everything else until we return that will be a gift to us. We tend to come back from such things with inboxes way too full.  So, if you can hold your emails until we return, we would be grateful.

As we go, let me share an email with you I received recently. I love hearing how people who have been schooled in religious performance come alive in the reality of the Father’s love. Pharisectomy is a fun word I first heard a number of years ago in Alaska, from a then seventy-two year-old woman.  What a great way to express having your inner Pharisee cut out so you can discover in every deepening ways just how loved you are.  Unfortunately this is not an easy or quick operation. I’ve been on mine for 24 years now, and find there are still traces of that inner Pharisee running around in there that crop up at the strangest moments. I’m glad to recognize them, though and asking him to keep peeling back the layers that sets me ever-more free to live more freely in the world as his child.

Here’s the letter:

Because I grew up as a missionary kid, I knew all the verses that God is love, but I never believed it for myself.  Although I have the best loving and caring parents they were missionaries, growing up in boarding schools I lived unloved as a child. I tried to win God’s favor and the favor of people for my whole life.

I married a pastor from a conservative denomination, and I got worn out and frustrated by all the “dead works” in the name of for God, Then I read He Loves Me! That was my biggest gift at the age of 50. For the first time I GOT IT!!!!   I am a much loved child!!!!!!!

I have since read that book ten times, as it started my “Pharisectomy”.  Every time I read it, it reveals a new Truth and expose new layers of misconceptions. Your book reveals so much Truth – it sets me free from my prison of performance and wrong perceptions. But so many wrong  perceptions was set in cement in my head over 50 years – it takes time to be “unset” out of hard cement, then be replaced by Truth, and then to live it practically. Fortunately the Holy Spirit is there to do it.

I received In Season the day before the April holiday. What a revelation to me! I have always believed that you bear fruit throughout every year.  I never understood the four seasons that lead to fruitfulness. I also thought the Great Commission was more important than the Great Commandment. I was experiencing a harsh, hot summer at my work place, but then you helped me to embrace my summer and stop praying “Rescue me,” but rather: “Let your name be glorified. Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

My biggest struggle was and still is to trust God, due to misconceptions and bad experiences growing up poor and now struggling although we are “working for the Lord.” Your book Beyond Sundays exposed so many lies I believed about ministry and church and missions. It helped me ignore the guilt and shame that haunted me and to let me enjoy my winter. And let God prune me.

Thank you for the revelations that set me free at an age of 50. I was a full blown Pharisee and my pharisectomy has not been easy, but its wonderful and the best thing that could ever happen to me. God used you mightily in my life. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Letting go of the guilt and shame that makes you feel unworthy of Father’s love is a valuable lesson for all of us. The spiral of unworthiness is debilitating, and every circumstance will seem to prove the deception. Knowing you have always been worthy of a Father’s love, not because of your performance, but because you are his child, will continue to set you free in ways you can’t imagine.  Ask him. Believe him. He’s really good at this stuff!

___________________________________

And if you missed my TEDx talk on “Differences Do Not Make Us Enemies,” you can view it here.

Finding Our Way to a More Generous Conversation

Are you as tired of all the rancor in our national dialog as I am? Do you know most of it is contrived to fan the flames of fear or advance someone’s agenda? We can’t seem to simply disagree anymore; we have to vilify our opponents in the hope of garnering enough support to force our desires on the other half of the citizenry. And many Christian groups just play along, fomenting the hostility they hope will give them an advantage in forcing their way of life on others. Is this what our founders foresaw when they spoke of, “a more perfect union”?

Of course not! Maybe if we just stopped and listened long enough to those who disagree with us we would see them as fellow-citizens with similar hopes and fears to our own. Then we might actually respect each other in spite of our differences and together seek the kinds of solutions that would be in the best interests of all of us, not just a few of us.

No, that isn’t possible with every issue, but I promise you we could find a lot more common ground than our current process allows.  It can be done. I’ve helped people do exactly that across some of our major cultural controversies and explain how on this video taken from a TEDx presentation from last March in Abilene, Texas. It finally dropped this weekend and is now available.  You can view the embedded version below or if you have trouble with it, view the video here.

Finding common ground with people who have different worldviews than ours, is really a matter of applying the so-called Golden Rule to our relationships:  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  Who to you want to exclude as an “other”?  Liberals? Conservatives? The GLBTQ community? The poor? The undocumented immigrant? When Jesus said “other”, didn’t he mean all others? If we will respect the freedom of others as much as we want them to respect ours, we will find our way into more graceful conversations, and the chance to work together toward more enduring solutions to the problems our society faces.

More than ever we need a courageous group of people willing to turn the tide of our national animosity and lead the way into those conversations that heal our divide and offer respect to our fellow human beings. If you find yourself in agreement with what I say here, please help me get the word out. I’m not selling anything here, just hopeful that there is a more excellent way than the one we’ve chosen. If you want more resources, please see my BridgeBuilders website.

Share it however you can with whomever you can and see if we can’t have an impact on turning the tide of animosity in our country (and I suspect in others as well). Starting in our own relationships of family and friends as well as in your social media feeds. Encourage people turn down the anger and really listen to others.  You’ll find there are more of us who want fairness and compassion in our society, rather than animosity and arrogance. The future of our republic just might be at stake.

Learning to Live Loved

I’m finishing up my two weeks on the east coast this weekend Raleigh, NC with an amazing group of people who have been through a lot of pain, but are still finding their way into what it means to escape the clutches of religion and embrace a life in the Father’s love.  So excited to be here with them and share together what Father’s been teaching all of us.

If you’re in the area and want to join us on Saturday night, we’re still have openings.  You can get the info here. Then, I finish up Sunday morning with some people who are engaged in a ministry that uses horses to help troubled kids. Later that afternoon I catch the big bird home.

Twice in the last week, I’ve had people mention how much an interview I did in 2015 really touched them.  Here’s what one wrote me a few days ago:

These two 40-minite pieces are packed with more relevant and badly needed Truth than almost anything you’ve written. Those two piece makes it clear: the bottom line reality is that simple: learning to live loved ! That simple sentence says it all. The American church has lost that Truth.  (Emphasis theirs)
So for those who may have missed them, or didn’t even realize they were there, you can watch below.  I’m grateful to Dan Madison and Jeff Herr who put this together. The interview is in two parts.  Enjoy!

Learning to Live Loved: Part One

Learning to Live Loved: Part Two

Is He Really That Good?

How do we know for sure whether God is loving and gracious, or cold and distant?

I understand that you had some input on the story-line of the book the Shack. I have read the book and watched the movie. Do you think that is who God really is? It just seems too good to be true on so many levels. I know some people struggle with the Old Testament God versus the gracious Jesus. However, for me even Jesus seems a little cold and distant in ways when I read about Him in the gospels. Nothing really like the Jesus in the Shack. I’m not sure how to change my mind about the religious beliefs I’ve had for so many years. I still have a hard time believing that God is that good.

I love The Shack, and, yes I did help in the collaboration that produced the book and movie.  Is that who he really is?  That’s the best the three of us—Paul Young, Brad Cummings, and myself—could come up with, but I’m sure it falls way short of expressing all that he is. I keep discovering in my growing relationship with him that he is more loving, more gracious, more patient, and more powerful than I can conceive.

If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read He Loves Me. I published that book almost a decade before I got involved with The Shack, and it is a great way to explore the theology behind our collaboration. You’ll find some phrases pulled directly from that book became part of Mack’s story as well. I don’t know where you’re getting “cold and distant” in the Gospels, but when I see him with Peter and John, the woman at the well, Zaccheus, Mary of Magdala, Nicodemus and others, I’m touched by his tenderness and patience as he invites them into the transformed life of following him.

At the same time, please be assured that knowing who he is doesn’t come from making conclusions out of reading books or even the Gospels. I value the Scriptures, but they alone can’t teach us who he is.  Look how many different conclusions various traditions come up with about God from reading the same book?  Some see him as a demanding deity, always disappointed in the failures of humanity. Others see him as an amorphous blob, uninvolved in humanity’s story. I see him as a gracious Father, rescuing his children from brokenness and transforming us over time to take on his glory.

How do we know for sure who he is? He is his own person and he has presence in the universe. He wants to show you and in fact has been doing so since before you were born. Unfortunately we find it too easy to block him out in pursuit of our own ambitions or trying to manage our own pain. But whoever turns back toward him, he will begin to make himself known again. Ask him to show you. It is this revelation of Christ that gives us confidence in his nature, and sets us free. The Scriptures show us how we can open our hearts to him, but they invite us to follow him.  As we do, we can then check back what we’re learning to make sure we are still inside what Scripture revealed of his purpose and nature.

Jesus wants to show himself to you. But don’t expect a blinding light from the closet. Let him soak into your consciousness as you simply look for his fingerprints in your life. What is he saying to you in your worst moments? In your best? What is his demeanor toward you even when you fail? What is he nudging you toward or warning you to back away from? These are all knowable, though it takes some time to let that relationship develop. God knows how hard it is to see that through the religious lens you’ve been given. And he’ll be patient to show you. This is a big deal, letting the God of the universe soak into our consciousness where we grow increasingly aware of God-With-Us!

So, to answer your question, the Jesus I know is way better than the one we wrote about in The Shack, and at the same time he is marvelously consistent with what I read in the Gospels as well.

Ask him. Watch every day for the little ways he seeps into your consciousness. Be patient. He’s really good at this.

Off to Virginia, North Carolina, and Maine (Eventually)!

After an awesome month at home, I’ll be headed out this week to Virginia and North Carolina.  I so enjoy the people I get to meet when I travel and realize how precious it is to get to spend so much time with people on this incredible journey of learning to live loved, and learning to let Jesus take shape in them as they engage the world.

This past Saturday afternoon, I was in one of those conversations in my home with a group of people who had previously not met each other.  What a joy it is to plumb the depths of so many topics and issues that help us live as Jesus’ disciples in the earth!  These are teaching sessions in the best sense, not people listening to lectures, but taking part in a conversation that is as illuminating as it is encouraging, where people can speak freely about the questions and struggles of their own journey without feeling judged.  It was a rich and rewarding afternoon to be sure.

This coming weekend I will be in Norfolk, VA, and Richmond, VA.  After that I’m going to find my way down to Raleigh to hang out with some people I barely got to meet last time I was there. They wanted to know if I’d come back for more conversations.  I’m excited about that.  If you are in that area and want to join us, please see my Travel Page for all the contact details. Since most of our meetings are in homes, I don’t publish those addresses online. Also it helps for the homeowners to know how many people are coming. In Raleigh, our open time for others is Saturday afternoon and evening.

After that, I’ll be taking a vacation with my whole family. Sara and I are really looking forward to ten days with our kids and grandkids.  After that, I’ll turn up in Winthrop, ME in mid-July, where I’ve been asked to anchor a retreat of campers at a Christian campground there.  It’s open to anyone who wants to come for the weekend of July 13-15. I’ll be sharing on Friday night, Saturday morning and evening, and Sunday morning as well as hanging around for conversation all through the day.  You can get more information on the campground here. Come join us if you’re nearby. I can remain in New England a bit longer, so if anything is in your heart that direction, please get in touch with me as soon as possible.

After that, I’m till not certain where the wind will blow. I am considering opportunities in Kelowna, BC and Calgary, AB.  Hey, I like hanging with Canadians, too!

I enjoy traveling the way I do. I don’t plan long in advance, nor do I have to fit in a bunch of conferences where I speak at people for an hour or so. I get to be with people as the Spirit seems to arrange things and so often find myself just at the right time with people who need what he’s given me to share.  I am always amazed at how he times those things and let’s us know how to fit into his plans. Honestly, it’s freaky sometimes.

And for those of you who want to be notified if I’m planning a trip to your area, you can always sign up for Travel Updates on our email list by including your name and address. That way you’ll get an email if something is coming together near where you live.

Conflicted Thoughts on a Day of Remembrance

Last November I was in Belgium amidst the cemeteries of the fallen in World War I. They were everywhere, in the middle of farms, along riverbanks. These men, mostly from England and Canada, were buried on the battlefields where their young lives ended. It was especially touching to me because my own father fought and was wounded in Europe, but in the Second World War, where so many of his friends died.

On this Memorial Day I am reminded of so many feelings I had standing in those cemeteries and looking at the thousands of graves of so many men whose lives ended at an all-too-early age. It was eerie and sobering.

hold in my heart great honor for those who have gone to war to protect the freedom of others. While our military has not always been used for just and moral purposes, that does not diminish in my heart the service of those who have risked their lives or lost them in the service to country. War has taken way too many young people, often because of some pathological despot, who wants to dominate the world or at least protect their own authority. And I count among them too the innocents who’ve been slaughtered in those conflicts, even today. I think of the children dying in Syria, who will never grow up and have a chance to know love, marriage, friendships, and creativity in God’s world.

I’m am frustrated at the political leaders who sacrificed young men and women merely to protect their political careers. As the The Vietnam Series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novice revealed how Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all knew that war was unjust and unwinnable but continued to send young men from my generation into its caldron because they didn’t want to be the first American President to lose a war. They lied to the American people every day about it.

While the US still does much good in the world, I am still gravely aware of the moral authority our country has lost in the world over my lifetime. Yes, the world is more complicated, but it doesn’t help that we have used our might, not always to help others, but to further our own interests.  Our foreign policy has the stench of arrogance, and it has cost us severely. We force our will on others, instead of engaging with allies in genuine coalitions. I travel enough to know that our reputation in the world has suffered and few look on us now as a beacon of morality, generosity, and humility.

And I’m completely dismayed that so many have fallen for the drumbbeat of “America First,” failing to see how it only angers other nations. Yes, our government needs to look out for our best interests, but one of those interests has to be our generosity to the “least of these.” How can we who have so much be otherwise in the world?

I grew up a Christian nationalist, my passion for America tightly tied to my perception of the kingdom. It isn’t anymore. I’m not sure when or how it changed. I’m sure in part it came from having my illusion unmasked that our country is no longer a “beacon on the hill” of morality and hope. It is woefully corrupt and paralyzed by selfish interest rather than fighting for a common good. But I also hope it is also from the love of an expanding heart that no longer stops at the contrived borders humanity has drawn. I know there’s no way to erase them, but we can look beyond them. I wasn’t born here because I was special or deserving, and those born in more desperate cultures are no less humanity than me.

The children of war-torn Syria, cartel-infested regions of Mexico, or the drought-riddled plains of West Pokot, hold no less value than my own grandchildren. Those of us who live in the  affluence and relative safety of the West, are invested with a greater responsibility to find ways to share it with those who lack.

So while I honor today the memory of those who gave their lives in service to their country, I’m aware that honoring their memory is more than pausing by a flag or a parade, but working for a better country and a better world where despots have no opportunity to subdue people under them.

Oh, and here’s the famous poem written in those Flanders fields I was walked in a few months ago.  It’s why poppies are such a poignant symbol on this day. It is also an appeal to the living, to ensure that their lives were not given in vain.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1872 – 1918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

A Christian and a Muslim Walk Into Common Ground

I was asked this week to appear again on the podcast, “A Christian and Muslim Walk Into a Studio“, hosted by Bob Prater and Emad Meerza. Bob is a long time friend, and I’m really enjoying building a new friendship with Emad.  This time I put them through their paces walking them through the Eight Proven Guidelines for Civic Engagement that I used to utilize in my BridgeBuilder trainings years ago:

#1:  You can’t compel people to change their worldview.

#2:  No one should be asked to participate in a society biased against themselves.

#3:  Vilifying those who disagree with you says more about you than it does about them.

#4:  Making room at the table for divergent views does not validate those views.

#5:  You best protect your civic freedoms by protecting those of people who disagree with you.

#6:  If you do not include all the stakeholders you cannot fix the problem.

#7:  Cooperation cannot require compromise of our deepest convictions.

#8:  The best solutions arise from seeking highest possible consensus.

I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.  You can watch the video of our conversation here, or find it on iTunes if you want the audio version. Just search, “A Christian and a Muslim Walk into a Studio.”

There’s also a new episode of The God Journey up today, called Breaking Up With God, which has Brad and I seeking our own common ground about those who are losing their faith in God.

Additionally Bob, Arnita, and I have already sorted through two of our chapters for the collaborative book, The Language of Healing, and am thrilled with where that might lead.

Interesting times…

No wonder some call him Jehovah Tdsnikki.

A New Farm in North Pokot

The last few weeks have been crazy and I’ve not had much time to update this page. And it looks like that might continue for awhile. I’m just back from nearly two weeks in New York, and after a day at home, a quick trip to Orange County, CA to share about He Loves Me with high school students who study the book throughout their junior year. What a great, and I’ll admit, challenging time!  This week I’ve been asked back to tape my third episode of A Christian and a Muslim Walk Into a Studio with my friends Bob and Emad in Bakersfield.

Then, next week an old and dear friend comes to town to get my help on his Civil War era novel about two kids coming of age, that has fascinated me for the past three years.  (I can’t wait until you can read it!)  And if you would like to meet Bob and Ellen Stamps, we’re having an open get-together at our home in Thousand Oaks, CA on Saturday May 26.  Write me for details if you have an interest in joining us. Then, I’m off to Virginia and Raleigh, NC in early June. After that I’m looking at trips to Maine, and perhaps western Canada.

Yes, I know it all looks out of control, but this seems to be where grace has led me. Unfortunately it doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. But that’s OK. I’m enjoying the conversations I’m in every day and the life I see growing in others. When I see God write his unfolding story in a life, that is far more fun than doing my own. I love writing, but I love how he writes most of all.

The purpose of this blog, however, is to update you on our work in North Pokot. It still amazes me every time I tell the tale, and people seem to ask me about it almost everywhere I go. Who would have thought that God would ask us to help 120,000 tribal people in North Pokot build a sustainable economy when their nomadic way of life was destroyed by a five-year drought when no one else would?  Who knew that we had so many people so willing to give freely to help them discover a new way of living? There are no other NGOs (non-government charities) in the area and very little government help, though that is growing. Who would have thought that my audience from my writing and podcasting could have such a profound impact on a small corner of the world. I am overwhelmingly grateful for all those who have helped.

We are now in the beginning of our third year of a five-year (Lord willing) process to help these tribes deal with their most basic needs:  water, food, education, wellness, and micro-finance. Our coaches have helped the people of Pokot to seek alternatives for their own needs and then combine 50% of their sweat equity with resource from us.  The hope is that at the end of this process they will have enough sustainable resource to take care of their own needs. We are making tremendous progress and have just now committed to our fourth and final agricultural project. Now each of the four tribes will be able to use water from the wells we drilled not only for themselves and their livestock, but also to grow their own vegetables.  The other three projects are producing amazing crops to feed the people. (See picture above.)

The fourth is in Kalmeri village. When they heard the others were growing their own food, they wanted to as well. A rumor had come to them that if they acquired solar panels from the county government, Lifestream would build a farm for them, too. That’s not really how it works, but they went en masse to the county government to request solar panels for their village.  After some deliberations the county gave them the solar array they needed. We had hoped to space these projects out over the course of a year, but we have almost been doing one per month at a cost of $34,000 each in addition to the regular money we send each month to help these tribes make their transition.

This is even more amazing when you realize that not too many years ago these tribes were at war with each other over land and cattle, each trying to scratch out their own existence. They often fought and stole each other’s cattle.  The reports we get back now are just amazing, of building a new life, cooperating with each other, and finding the light of the Gospel to guide them.  How awesome is that?

And to watch these children in the farm makes it all worthwhile.

If there ever was a time you wanted to genuinely help poor people, without anyone else siphoning off money for administrative fees or other benefits, this is it. All contributions are tax-deductible in the US.  And as always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya.  We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Sharing With the World page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

Thank you again on behalf of the people of Pokot for your gifts and prayers on their behalf.

When Spring Arrives Overnight

May 3 does seem a bit late for spring to arrive. But we were in upstate New York after a brutal winter. Four days before we were watching snow flurries.  A day before Sara and I had taken a walk and commented on the dark, grey trees that lined the horizon. It was May, and there was not even a hint of green among the trees.

The next morning, however, as we drove Sara to the airport to begin her journey home, we were amazed how spring had arrived overnight. All the trees had popped and the, fresh green leaves of new growth shaded the country side in a beautiful shade of spring.  The rest of my time there, I got to watch spring wash over a region that had waited way too long for its arrival.

It reminded of an email I’d received a few months ago, of another spring arriving on a desperate soul.

About a year ago, I was struggling with a profound sense of feeling spiritually dead. We were attending a small “Bible believing” church and I was bored with the preaching and even more burned out from “serving.” I figured it was from a prideful heart and not “being in the Word enough” so I began diligently reading the Bible which led to questions, which led to searching and eventually back to Jesus. He guided me toward a number of resources out there, which of course I was told not to trust because these people didn’t have “sound doctrine”.  It’s a cliché but the only way I can describe it was escaping the matrix.

My husband and I were in agony about “leaving the church” and our pastor gave us the warning about following sinful desires of our heart, but we bravely and as quietly as we could stopped going. After that I found your ministry and wow! What a joy it was for us! My husband found himself saying, “I actually find myself loving people again.” I feel as if like you, we went through a pharisectomy. We very much miss the friends and community that was the best byproduct of our Sundays, but we are becoming more intentional about loving people in our neighborhood and really loving our children.

I know not all Christians experience the conservative legalism we did and God doesn’t have a prescription for His church.  Who knows where the Spirit will lead us, but I’m actually happy again and I used to think being happy meant I was somehow being sinful. When I ponder on God, I no longer feel this terrible conflict or confusion about His character, I only feel His affection and freedom.

What a story! I love to hear when people awaken out of the dreary despair of religious performance. Starting your pharisectomy is a lot like waking up to spring. To hear she’s “finding myself loving people again” and to “actually be happy again,” fills my heart with joy.

Of course we know that spring doesn’t really arrive overnight. Long before those trees burst into color on May 3, the sap was already running to the far corners of each branch and stem. One day, we could finally see it, but the process had been going on for a long time. I love that the Spirit was already drawing her into those realities before she and her husband found their way there and that anything I said had only helped affirm what God had already put in their hearts.

So if you find yourself today stuck in your own winter of your own spiritual discontent, don’t give up hope. The hunger Father has placed in you is doing its work. Just because you can’t see it yet, doesn’t mean he isn’t stirring things deep within your soul. One day it will pop out and your pursuit and patience will all be worth it.  This is in his hands more than yours. Ask him to help you relax in the moment as your own spring approaches. (If you want more detail about this process, it is the theme of my book about the vineyard:  In Season:).

It’s never easy to push away from religious performance, especially when others warn us not to and our friends no longer trust us. But it’s the road worth taking and you’ll never regret finding love and joy again.  If we could only learn to lean out of those things that make us restless, exhausted, anxious, or obligated to someone else’s expectations, and lean into those things that express love, hope, rest, and joy, we would find the journey far more engaging.

The sudden burst of spring, took my breath away. Hearing stories like this lady’s does, too. Can you imagine what it will be like when we awaken from this corrupt age into the full glory of what it means to be God’s children in a new heaven and a new earth?

 

 

 

Down an Uncertain Path

My last blog talked about restarting BridgeBuilders.  This has been a weird time for me. I sense at times God’s prodding to journey a bit down a road I thought had been long abandoned. To be honest, however, I’m a bit reluctant to open all this up again in this season of my journey.  In response to that blog posting, a lady I know sent me the following email.

Just finished listening to your latest podcast about the “revival” of Bridge Builders, and I am so grateful that God is giving you platforms to share a peacemaker’s message.  My heart has been heavy for so long watching the way we are tearing one another apart.   Knowing how afraid we all are (and have been, probably since 9-11), it is understandable that our “fight-or-flight” system stays triggered all the time.  We no longer use our prefrontal cortex, spiraling downward into animalistic, survival behaviors.  Everyone who is different from us–or thinks differently–is the “enemy”, which must be destroyed.

Someone has to speak a calming message; Someone has to get us to take a collective breath; Someone has to tell us there is a better way.

I know you have just reached that “now-I-get-to-rest” milestone of turning 65 (belated happy birthday!), and it would be completely understandable if you chose to walk away from the doors which seem to be opening, inviting you to step in.  But, thank you for being willing to press on a little longer.  Thank you for being willing to be the peacemaker our world so desperately needs right now.  I am praying that God will give you great strength and wisdom, and will give you a “megaphone” to speak Shalom to us all.

Honestly, this touched me deeply me when I read it and yet I heard the breath of the Spirit in it as well. At the time I got it I was in Dallas to see if God was bringing together a team to write a book about peacemaking across the significant differences that divide our culture. (See picture above and video below.) So the timing wasn’t lost on me, and I shared it with the team knowing this was also for them. We don’t need Someone speaking a calming message, but many someones!  I have also been amazed by the number of people I heard from who want to learn this as well and be a voice in their own community. I may have to do a retreat some day to help others carry this passion as well. Jesus did give us the ministry of reconciliation after all.

I’ve spent the day today in another city in Texas to help a university deal with an issue that is dividing their community. I’m amazed at how easy it is to slide into this part of my life again. It’s really weird.  Because when I look from a distance all this seems overwhelming. When I actually sit down with people I have a clarity of sight that gets some wonderful responses, and I come away with new insights I’d never contemplated before.  The pathway is uncertain, but my Companion on it is not. And your prayers and encouragement do comfort and inspire me.

Now, back to the book. I’m pretty sure all three of us who came together in Dallas were blown away by our time these past three days. Our hearts were in sync and the lessons God has taught each of us in our journeys are so similar, even though our circumstances have been so different.  We found ourselves making points for each other as if we’d been through all of this before. Weird. I was with Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor, both of whom have some incredible stories of God’s work in their lives and carry a passion for encouraging people to reach across their comfort zones to speak words of peace in the earth. The project we outlined went far better than I could have hoped. This seems to have the breath of his Spirit upon it.  Though, of course, that remains to be seen.

I know a lot of people can’t imagine how you bring three people together and start to write a book, so here’s small sample to give you the flavor of our time together:

Now t I start my flight home. My first flight is already late, but fortunately I have lots of space before my second flight out of DFW.

Differences Do Not Make Us Enemies

Many of you know I spent twenty-five years as a consultant and mediator in helping groups at odds with each other to stake out the common ground. What began in public education with conflicts over issues of religious liberty, expanded into some wide-ranging areas where I found ways to help people with differing agendas work together beyond their deepest differences. I started a service called BridgeBuilders to help make myself available. What started out as a passion, turned into a tent-making opportunity as I left pastoring, and then into a peacemaking vocation as I worked across the U.S. and even on some issues in Washington, DC.

I was fully unqualified to do it. I got involved simply as a parent volunteer in my own child’s public school. Serving there, I was referred to other committees in the district dealing with complicated issues and discovered I could help people find mutually-satisfying resolutions. My district began to invite me to help in difficult arenas helping resolve the concerns of religious parents in an increasingly diverse school environment.  Then, they began to refer me to other districts, then to education groups, finally I found myself speaking at education conventions and helping resolve tensions in Washington, DC.  God not only gave me favor with people I worked with, but he also provided a wealth of resources and connections to help people find a common good greater than their own agenda.

This was not about helping people compromise, but to create an environment where a consensus could emerge that diverse parties could embrace wholeheartedly. I came to appreciate the civic value of embracing other people’s stories, even when their conclusions didn’t fit my own. I discovered it fit theirs, and I became a richer person for understanding their point of view. And I got to be in numerous rooms where angry, polarized people began to discover a way to listen to each other and craft policies that were fair to each other, not use government power to get their way at the expense of others. Peacemaking is nothing more than giving other peoples’ consciences the same respect we want for our own

In the aftermath of all things related to The Shack, however, I no longer had time to keep up with BridgeBuilders and let it go. Over those years, however, I have been deeply troubled by the growing animosity and fear in our national dialog. It seemed everyone profited more by tearing our social fabric apart rather than working for a greater common good and that our political parties lost the will to seek national good above party interests.  In 2014, the well-known Pew Research Center released a report called Political Polarization in the American Republic that documents the growing discord in our nation. It concluded that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life.” This was before the 2016 election and the attempts of the Russians to further polarize us. Today 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. Pew further found that, “partisan animosity has increased substantially over the same period. In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

Then last summer I sensed a change in the wind. A year ago I was approached about doing something on BridgeBuilders for a TEDx talk at Abilene Christian University. In November I was contacted about helping write a book tentatively titled, The Language of Healing, to help people discover a different way of communicating, especially with people who don’t share their point of view. We had a third person involved, a former mayor of a large California city, but in the end she had to bow out. We asked God for another person who could offer a woman’s perspective as well as one from a different ethnic group. Two weeks ago while I was in Dallas, just such a person walked into one of our conversations. I loved how she talked about God, the struggles in our culture to truly understand each other, and how she handled some of the conversation about the racial divide in America. That has started a conversation to explore adding her to our team and this week we are flying out to Dallas to see if we can find a way to write this book together.

In the meantime my TEDx talk, Differences Don’t Make Us Enemies, was well-received and even motivated two students to approach me afterwards about an internship with BridgeBuilders. I explained to them that BridgeBuilders is nothing more than me, but that I appreciated their enthusiasm. I was also approached by a university executive that wanted to talk to me and pursue the possibility about helping their staff navigate a controversial issue, which I will also be doing next week.

I have no idea where any of this will lead. I do however feel led once again to follow the rabbit trail and see if it leads anywhere.  I’ve resurrected and updated our BridgeBuilders website. You’re invited to come take a look, and pass it on if you feel others you know might benefit from the information there. Helping our culture re-discover the common ground is more of an uphill climb than it was 25 years ago when God first nudged me this direction. The animosity is much greater in our culture and there are so many who profit from stoking the fires of animosity.  Our politicians have no interest in solving our problems, only enhancing their party’s power. The media know that conflict sells far better than reasonable people struggling for broad-based solutions. Advocacy groups raise funds by raising fears that anyone who disagrees with them is out to destroy the America they hold dear. From the halls of Congress, the offices of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, and the studios of newsrooms our political rhetoric has sunk to all-time lows.

But I also sense that a significant number of Americans are tired of the polarization and paralysis of our leaders. My observation is that 10-12% on either end of the political spectrum value the animosity and conflict but that the vast majority of Americans are sick and tired of it. Unfortunately our culture does not yet provide a venue for reasonable people to come together and find the common ground solutions that can ensure progress on immigration, black lives matter, the deficit, health care, or school safety. We can’t even mention them in social media without unleashing a torrent of angry opinions on both sides of those issues.

To find the common ground we don’t have to change the way people think about the issues, we only have to change the conversation. Instead of seeking the government’s power to take my side over my neighbor’s, we instead look for government to be an honest broker of a common good. We can show respect to those who disagree with us, listen carefully to their concerns and ideas, and look for policies that not only address my concerns, but theirs as well. To me that’s the hard work of a democratic republic and one desperately needed in our time.

I have no illusions that this conversation will begin in the halls of Washington, DC or in our statehouses. They will begin in our families and among our friends. If we can talk to each other more open-heartedly, there’s no telling how we can change the course of America and help advance the ideal of a “more perfect union,” at least more perfect than it has been in previous generations.

Is It Summer Already?

No, I’m not talking about the physical calendar, but my spiritual one. (And the photo above is certainly not summer. I just couldn’t resist sharing this family photo from a chilly hike up a mountain near Boulder, Colorado!  We were all there to welcome my son’s new dog into the family and to visit him in his new surroundings. Any day spent with the people in this photo brings me great joy.  I don’t take for granted the love this family shares and how being together is laughter-filled and drama-free.)

But, back to summer!

In my last blog I talked about my book In Season. Well, a few years ago, I was resting through a delicious and lengthy winter season where God was cutting back so much of the activity surrounding my life and letting me settle into some new graces he was sowing in my heart. Then, I came through a short spring season of watching God renew some of his promise in my heart and giving me a peek at where we might be going next.  Now, it seems I’ve arrived in the full-on drama of summer where increased activity and the pressure of the enemy’s ploys, help what’s going on inside us to mature the harvest. Here’s where the grapes grow softer and sweeter.  So, it’s a crazy time and I’m hoping it doesn’t last long. I would love to get through harvest and find my way back to winter’s rest. It’s my favorite season. But the timing really isn’t up to me, is it? And I do trust the one whose hand it’s in.

So, let me give you some updates for those of you interested in what’s going on around here:

Upcoming Travel

This week I head back to Dallas. This time it isn’t for wider conversations about the journey, but for three of us to see about writing a book together that will speak into the anger and vitriol of our national dialog and open doors for people to find language that helps bring healing, instead of that which causes hurt. Also, as a result of my TEDx talk a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been asked to advise a university out there about some of their policies that are causing great conflict.  So, back I go for a brief trip.

Then Sara and I will be headed to upstate NY. After that I’ll be speaking at a Christian high school in Orange County and having an evening for folks in the area to get together. After that I’ll be on the east Coast, in Virginia, for early June.

In addition, I’m currently in conversations about future travel to West Virginia, the Kiev, Ukraine, British Columbia, and a return to North Carolina, but as you know I don’t schedule these things too far out because I learned years ago that a hardened schedule makes it difficult to catch the wind of the Spirit when something more propitious crosses my path that can’t be delayed.  You can see all my scheduled travel on my Travel Page. If you’d like to be notified when I’m coming to your area you can sign up on our email list and include your address.

More Audio 

For those who don’t get enough audio of me, (and that’s hard to believe), I’ve been a guest on the following podcasts recently:

The Vince Coakley Show has begun a semi-weekly series on Beyond Sundays as part of their Faith-Focus Fridays. When available, I’ll be on for ten minutes at 11:05 Eastern Daylight Time, 8:05 Pacific on Friday mornings. You can listen in live by punching the “Listen” button on their website.  You can listen to the first one on their podcast. Faith focus Friday starts at 32:55.

Fearless Questions with Jeff Blackburn, invited me on to talk about Beyond Sundays as well.  This is how they set it up:  “When nearly half of Americans who consider themselves Christians only operate outside of the institutional church…it’s worth talking about why. Wayne Jacobsen returns to help us navigate this phenomenon.”

Confronting Normal with Cindy and Renae where they had a lot of questions of teaching children to live loved if they aren’t part of a Sunday school class. Here’s a quote they featured on their website: “I think a lot of (parenting) is being sensitive to what God is doing and aware that you’ve got a little child here who is hopefully learning to find Jesus as a real presence in the universe and not just the end of a theological construct.”

We Didn’t Talk About It.  This site just posted an audio version of the story I told for the Ventura County Storytellers Project last March. It’s about the earliest days of Sara’s and my relationship. You can see the video version here.

The TEDx talk. I know many of you are waiting for the video of my TEDx talk at Abilene Christian University last month, entitled “Differences Do Not Make Us Enemies.”  It will still be another four-to-six weeks until those videos go up. I’m sorry it is taking so long, but I will let you know on this blog when it does. (If you’re not subscribed to this blog, you can do so in the box at the top right of this page.)

New Books

I’ve got three projects I’m involved with now. One is drawn from my days working with BridgeBuilders called The Language of Healing, which I talked about above in my return to Dallas.

I’ve also begun work on a new novel that I’ve been carrying in my heart since before The Shack. It is a bit of a supernatural story of transformation, but in a very different context.  And this one will take a while, but I am loving every moment I get to work on it.

Finally, I’m still helping my friend on Lucien’s Crossing, a novel about two boys, one a plantation owner’s son, and the other a slave, and their relationship as children, through adolescence, the War, and into adulthood. I am so excited about my friend’s work on this book. It is one of my favorite reads ever and I can’t wait to share it with all of you some day.