Grace and Father’s Discipline

A question I was asked this morning in my email, is one I think many believers have. If you want to look over my shoulder, here it is.

I’ve been struggling with how God’s discipline fits into the grace based relationship we have with Him. I know His discipline is a sign of His favor and love towards His children and I know all that God allows into our lives will be for our good whether it’s painful or pleasant. But I still find myself afraid of His discipline. Also, I was wondering since we are “justified in His sight” how can God then still convict us of sin? And if Jesus took our punishment for us why do we still get “scourged and disciplined?” About a year ago I got into a debate with someone because I was telling them that God isn’t scary and they said “Well, what about His discipline?” I gave them an answer and yet I have been struggling with the question ever since.

This would take a few thousand words to answer completely, and I don’t think I can pull that off just now….

Suffice it to say that Father’s discipline for his children is not retribution or punishment like we often think of it. Father’s discipline is training. He doesn’t add to our pain to make a point, he tries to help us learn how to bend to his ways. I think of it like the vines I used to tie in my father’s vineyard. We’d have to bring them up to the wire and gently wrap them. But you could hear the canes struggle to get there against their desire to be unrestricted. Now, I know they don’t feel pain, but training them to bear fruit does stress them, especially where they are unyielding. So his discipline is usually unpleasant for us, but it is in hopes of transforming us more into his image, not in punishing us for our failures. There’s a huge difference there.

I used to fear God’s discipline too, but I don’t any more. The only reason I was afraid of his discipline is because I was afraid of him. I thought of God in religious ways that were unworthy of him. As God has shaken those out of my life, I find myself with joy yielding to his training. I want to be more like him. And I know that he knows how weak I am, how easily I am lured by the flesh, and he doesn’t hate me for it, but wants to work in me to displace the power of sin. Just because I stand fully justified before him, doesn’t mean both of us aren’t aware of those things in my life that serve Wayne instead of the Father I love. We are justified so that the relationship is not impaired by those failures and he can come alongside us in our struggle against our own selfishness and teach us day by day how to live more freely in him. This is one of the greatest joys of redemption. We actually get to live in him as he transform us into his image.

Father’s discipline is not something we need to fear, but something we can embrace because we’re confident in who he is and what he wants to do in us. I love when Hebrews tells us to endure all hardship as discipline. He’s not saying it all is, or that God is creating difficult times for us, but that if we treat it like discipline we will know how to respond to him in it. Then our difficulties will actually work to transform us (Seep Romans 5 here) to be more like him and this freer to live in the world with his joy. There’s more about this in my book, In My Father’s Vineyard , especially the sections on summer and winter if you have it.

Ask God to show you how much he loves you and then you won’t fear his discipline but be blessed by it. That is the point of the Hebrews 12 passage, isn’t it?

The Futility of Any Religious System, Part II

Steve’s comment to my last blog incited some further thoughts this weekend. He wrote:

Is it because mankind, every since eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, has been rather sold out to religion, depending on the functions of the soul, knowledge of laws and will worship driven by emotion, to get to the god that he imagines as being like himself? Only when He is a new creature, born of God’s own Spirit does what you are saying become obvious and even then our soul, influenced by spiritual enemies, continues to play tricks on us trying to lead us away from walking daily in the Spirit of God. In falling back to depending on our souls do we deceive ourselves?

I think you strike to the root of why we find comfort in religious systems. They allow us the illusion of control, just as the tree in the Garden of Eden did. They also allow us to fashion God in our own image and make us comfortable in how we live it. The only problem is they don’t work. People that are honest about that get ostracized and many more go along pretending, thinking they must be the problem, not the system. Either way people end up frustrated.

Religious systems also are great for controlling others, if you’re at the top. We have inherited an unspoken ethos from institutional religion that if we are not protected by tradition, obligation, ritual or leaders we will fall into error. But what happens when our traditions, obligations, rituals and/or leaders fall into error? It only took the Galatians a decade to fall away from the simplicity and power of God leading them to embrace all four of those things. And they left the Galatians dead spiritually, because none of those things can create the life that really is life.

But perhaps the major surface reason we have an expanding array of models to implement is that this is the best way to sell your ideas in the world, and to the body of Christ. Quick-fix, how-to books are the bane of our culture. It doesn’t matter if they don’t work. It only matters that people think they will long enough to buy the book or enroll in the course. And when they don’t work they can be blamed for not implementing it exactly right.

I can’t tell you how many people have told me over the years that I need to fashion a replicatable model for church life, create a new term for it, and write the book. That’s the way to make a living from writing and be significant in whatever movement I choose to land. What’s more, I know they’re right. But I’ve implemented all of my models and found out that while they could create an illusion of life over which I had a measure of control, they were useless in bearing the fruit of the kingdom. While it would sell well, it wouldn’t serve Jesus’ work in the world.

I used to get angry at those who marketed their latest religious systems. I thought it was righteous indignation, until Jesus made it clear I was only jealous that others got to do what I couldn’t. I don’t any more. What Sara and I have come to live in the last five years is better than any financial security I’d achieve by selling a boatload of books. I’d rather walk around with keys that set people free to live in God’s reality than lock them into prison cells of obligation and ritual. I’d rather live out where the waters flow deep, where God makes himself known in a variety of ways as suits his purpose among a group of people, than shape them with a cookie-cutter that divides and wounds the body of Christ. And I’d rather be an unknown whisper in someone’s ear to follow to the fullest what God has put in their heart than to speak at the largest convention of so-called church experts.

This is life, not a job! This is reality, not an excuse for books sales! This is his kingdom, not a tool to build my own.

The Futility of Any Religious System

Sara and I just returned from Pismo Beach (left), our special get-away spot on the California Coast. It was only three days, but it was the only all-alone time we’ve been able to find this summer and Sara goes back to work on Monday. So it was a bit late and way too short, but we had three uninterrupted days together, which were awesome! I’m now putting the finishing touches on a new BodyLife that will be out Monday if all goes well.

On Tuesday night our Galatians group stumbled across a wonderful quote. In answer to the question of what purpose the law had if it was unable to make us perfect, Paul answered:

“It’s purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.”(Galatians 3:21 – The Message)

Most people read Galatians, thinking Judaism was the problem. I think Eugene Peterson gets it exactly right through out his whole translation. Judaism wasn’t the problem, religion was. Any system of rules and obligations will not produce the life of God because it depends on human response, not God’s action in response to his promise

So why isn’t that obvious to everyone?

In our day religious systems proliferate like horny rats. People just get out of one and start looking for another. When that one disappoints yet again they look for another. And seemingly there is no end of people willing to devise them thinking that they have finally stumbled on the system that will better all other systems. I’ve been on that road. It’s crazy. Paul is right, not one of them can create the life of God.

I love the conclusion one brother made in an email that will appear in the new issue of BodyLife:

“I’m seeing that it’s not about house church, liquid church, emerging church, simple church, organic church, relational church, 24/7 prayer, worship, intercession, warfare, the Bible, prophecy, healing, deliverance, revival, etc. It’s about Him and Him alone!

It’s not that some of those things can’t be useful tools to help us see God’s hand working in our lives, but as a methodology to recapture New Testament community they are destined to fail. The law was meant to end our dependence on any religious system. If God’s own didn’t work, what hope do we have of implementing our own, as well thought out as they might be? As Kevin Smith from Australia likes to say, “Jesus didn’t leave us with a system, but with his Spirit. When that becomes obvious to us we’ll be ready to live as the church instead of trying to build an unreasonable facsimile thereof.

Quotes from John Eldredge

After posting my last blog, I ran across some quotes via Rob Lane’s blog. They are both taken from John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead and are worth repeating here:

“Church is not a building. Church is not an event that takes place on Sundays . . . when Scripture talks about church, it means community. The little fellowships of the heart that are outposts of the kingdom. A shared life. They worship together, eat together, pray for one another, go on quests together. They hang out together, in each other’s homes.”

“A true community is something you’ll have to fight for. You’ll have to fight to get one, and you’ll have to fight to keep it afloat…. You want this thing to work. You need this thing to work. You can’t ditch it and jump back on the cruise ship. This is the church.”

What a great reminder. If we don’t take community seriously, it just isn’t going to happen. We cannot produce it by our own strength, but neither can we sit passively by and hope it shows up for us. We cooperate with God’s working in us as we build look for ways to experience the vitality and joy of New Testament community.

The Endurance of Authentic Friendships

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time around my parents home due to my dad’s surgery. That put me near a whole group of people that Sara and I used to fellowship with when we first got out of college and in the years that followed. And even though a lot of that fellowship was around institutional machinery that I wouldn’t put the same time and effort in today, we all marveled at the relationships we had found with each other during those years.

Thirty years later we can pick up with those people exactly where we left off. The connection in Christ, compassion for each other and desire to share God’s life has survived the distance and miles that grew between us. What a joy it was to connect with these relationships again and share where the journey has taken us.

One of the things that many of them shared is that they no longer had relationships like these. Even though many of them are still a part of that same institution, and helping with leading in it, it has grown and changed over time. Many of them no longer connect with each other because they are too worn out with the program. When I asked if new people coming found their way into the kind of relationships we had back then, I was told it was just too big for that. One of the couples even reminded me how we’d been discouraged from the fellowship times we spent together because they weren’t part of the sanctioned program.

We certainly miss something when helping people build authentic relationships is lost to preserving an institution. People always hope one will spawn the other, but it never does. The priorities of an institution will eventually run counter to the priorities of family. Sara and I have been grateful that wherever we have been God has helped us build enduring friendships with brothers and sisters. We look back over our lives and celebrate the heritage of deep friendships that we have enjoyed at every stage of our journey. Some span 30 years, others ten; still others have only begun in the last couple of years.

But these kind of relationships offer the truest joy of sharing life in Father’s family. The time you invest today in building relationships with others on this journey will be fruit you can feast on over a lifetime. If our life together doesn’t build those kinds of friendships, what good is it? We have to remember not to get so caught up in the affairs of this world that we don’t take time to intentionally build friendships with people God puts in our paths.

Living With God Instead of Doing For Him

Our Galatians group was together last night after a long time of missing each other with various trips, commitments and surgeries over the summer. It was good to be together again. Picking up in Galatians 3 last night we came across this jewel:

”The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God has for you. Galatians 3:11-12 (The MESSAGE)

People who take it upon themselves to do something for God will find themselves often working against his very purpose in their own lives. What we seek to do for him is usually based on our agenda or our best wisdom. Paul offers us something so much different here. Instead of trying to do what we think God wants, let’s live by embracing what God arranges for us each day. God is in the simplest, most immediate details of our life, inviting us to him and wanting to show us how to live free in the midst of life as it comes at us.

God will put things in our path today. By entering into his work we will find the fruitfulness of the kingdom. But if we are too set on our agenda, we’ll walk right over the things that God is doing and never even know it.

The Pause that Refreshes!

A few months ago a wonderful brother of mine, Dave Aldrich, a graphic artist from Massachusetts sent me the picture below that he had taken recently, embellished by a brief verse he had written. Seeing it on my desktop over the last few weeks has reminded me over and over again to push away from the things that scream for my attention and allow my thoughts and mind to focus on my Incredible Father, tell him how much he means to me and listen for anything that might be on his heart for me. Even if it is just a moment turning away from my computer when I’m in the office, a pause when I take the garbage can out to the street, or some quiet minutes in the car before I turn on the radio or CD, I have been wonderfully refreshed in my awareness of God’s presence.

It also reminds me to take those longer periods of hiking in the woods or sitting in the back yard with my Bible and being still enough to know that He is God! The busyness of this world and its endless chores just needs to be put aside now and then so that we can steal away to the quiet where God so simply and freely makes himself known.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psa. 46:10

Letting God’s Voice Sink In

This morning as I was reading through some email that had gathered over the weekend, I came across this bit of insight. The brother who wrote it is going through a difficult time finding the freedom in body life that he is looking for. In the midst of that he shared this incredible picture:

Have you ever skipped stones across a lake? You know, the nice flat ones that take two, three, or sometimes four bounces before they sink? Sometimes I think listening to the Lord is like that. It takes a couple of tries before it finally “sinks in.”

Maybe that’s what God is doing with me. It seems He is always speaking but I’m not really listening.

Or, we’re listening but, as you say it just takes time for us to see him clearly. I find this is often true of how God makes his direction known to me. I see bits and pieces of things over time, but the understanding of it all escapes me. As I just keep going down the journey with him suddenly all the pieces fall in place, or in your words, the stone finally sinks in. That’s the moment of clarity when we can step forward confident in God’s direction.

Many will say that’s when God spoke to them, but he was speaking all along. It’s just that it may take us a bit to focus in as well as it may take God a bit to bring all the pieces into place. Either way, he is committed to making his word clear to us as we continue to walk with him.

And I am all the more blessed by God’s amazing patience and graciousness.

The Simple Power of Body Life

It’s always a wonderful reminder for me to spend some time among some people who meet in a conventional setting and yet live the life of the kingdom. I’ve been with my dad and mom over the last week helping them through my Dad’s open-heart surgery and some of his recovery. (He is doing incredibly well, by the way and it was a real blessing to see him get back his sense of humor and a lot of his strength before Sara and I had to head home.)

They are part of a more traditional congregation at least in the forms they use. That group of believers is almost a fourth of the population of the mountain community in which they reside. Though they do a lot of things in conventional ways, including Sunday services and vacation Bible schools, I love most the relational life they share together. During their Sunday gatherings they provide plenty of open time for people to share what they are learning, where they need prayer and how God has moved in their lives.

What I like most is how much they care for each other all week long. When my dad had surgery there must have been 25 people in the waiting room with my mom. Throughout the week they continued to show up at the hospital and at their home offering whatever assistance we needed. These weren’t people assigned to ‘hospital visitation’, but those with whom my parents have become good friends since moving to the area 12 years ago. Watching my parents brighten up whenever someone came through the door was demonstration enough of the relationships they share.

The congregation has a heart that goes far beyond their own program or needs. When a local child needed a special restroom the local school district had no funds to provide, instead of suing the district they got together and built the restroom for them. The man they call their pastor is unconventional to say the least. He was a construction contractor among that fellowship before he agreed to take his present task. He’s not on any kind of power trip, except to see God’s power change lives. He doesn’t lord over people, but serves them with all God has given him. Little of his time goes to maintaining the institutional machine. During the week you’re more likely to find him serving the community by intervening in the practical needs of others, most of which don’t attend the congregation and aren’t even believers yet. He’ll crawl into just about any situation with anyone and see what God will do to touch people. And he is a blessing to the wider body of Christ. Over the past few months he has helped crisis pregnancy centers throughout California get fitted with MRI equipment.

Whether they are walking together through a medical crisis, intervening with an alcoholic, sending people and money to help build up the church in an impoverished city in Mexico or serving each other or their community in some other practical way, they continually demonstrate the heart of Jesus by serving those in need and loving the people God puts in their path. For those of us who enjoy more relational forms of church life, it is good to remember that God shows up in all kinds of places. He is far less concerned with the form we use than whether or not we reflect his heart for others. I know many home groups that could learn a lot from their outward focus and willingness to serve others, as God would give them away without thinking what’s in it for them. Now that’s body life! And whether you find it in a group like this or with two or three over a cup of coffee, it’s worth celebrating. Unfortunately, it’s all too rare these days!

Don’t Give Up In the Middle of the Story!

What a difference a few weeks can make. Here’s a bit of an exchange I had with a brother from back east. God had been doing a work in his heart that was drawing him closer to his Father, but at the same time he found himself increasingly isolated from the friends he used to share congregational life with. He was feeling lonely and desperate for fellowship.

In April he wrote me sharing how lonely he felt:

Your response to my statements regarding loneliness and intensity are no surprise. I admit that I have always struggled with insecurity. I probably over compensate resulting in the intensity thing. I was an only child and adopted and have always battled feelings of rejection. A lot of all of this is probably just plain old self pity. I always have to come back to the promises of my Father. I must admit a certain amount of envy of those who seem to have close relationships.

I hope that I can come to a place of balance in this security thing. On the one hand I am so afraid of developing relationships because I don’t want to get hurt and on the other hand I often push way too hard trying to achieve them. I seem to go from one extreme to the other. I have many weaknesses and behave very foolishly at times. I glad He doesn’t reject weak and foolish people.

At the time I wrote him back:

God wants to be your first relationship, the one that meets all other needs for it. You may be focusing so much on a godly man in your area that you are missing the other points of relationship he is giving you just now. I love what he is doing in your family and would encourage you just to enjoy that for now. When you least expect it (and I also think when we stop looking for it on our terms), you’ll find the relationships you’re looking for. We really can work too hard and unintentionally subvert the thing we desire. God knows what you need and more importantly how he is going to provide for it. But first, I think he wants to be enough for you. If you never met another believer with your hunger for as long as you lived, his presence would be enough for you.

I’m praying that God will sort this out in you. You’ve not been outside that long, Bro, though I’m sure you’ve felt like an ‘outsider’ for a long time. But God will bring about the relationship he desires when he is ready. Don’t think connecting to someone thousands of miles away, or getting linked to a ‘network’ is going to resolve all of that. I meet scores of lonely people in ‘networks’, because man’s kind of networking doesn’t work either.

It’s amazing what has happened sense. Over the last few days I’ve watched with joy as more of the story has unfolded. God has connected him with some wonderful people in his region of the country and is now bringing those connections closer:

Remember how I said a few weeks ago that Father might connect me with someone right across the street. We’ll, the connections are getting closer. Today, by e-mail, I met another dear brother. He lives ten miles away in the city where my old (traditional fellowship) is.

It only demonstrates how great Father is at taking care of His own. His faithfulness is so awesome and so much greater than ours. I am seeing that it is His faithfulness that is the basis of the new covenant, not ours. We wouldn’t have even a mustard seed of faith if not for His marvelous gift. So why struggle to try to work up faith or anything for that matter…. I am somewhat overwhelmed by His goodness to me of late. I can’t think of anything or anyone that I would rather be overwhelmed by. His presence is slowly consuming me, a Fire that burns but does not destroy. I just sit in awe at His feet and see how awesome He really is. Who could not love, with all of their being, a God like Him. I struggle trying to find Him for so many years and He was there all the time. It is so awesome that He permits us to be part of the process of revealing Himself to others, to use us as His loving arms and as His feet to go into all the world. As they see our devoted love to Him and to one another more and more will come and eat at His table.

Four months later and so much has changed. From the despair of loneliness to overwhelming gratefulness at that which God has provided. Sometimes it can really help for us to remember that on any given day we’re in the middle of a story. The last chapter has yet been written. The story will still unfold and God will have incredible things ahead that we can’t quite see today. In this process you’ll find yourself dying to your own agenda so that you can embrace God’s way of doing things. That’s where the life and joy of this kingdom reside, not in getting our wants fulfilled our way.

So, keep leaning into Jesus. Let him be enough for you and watch what he will unfold in his time.

In unrelated developments, we were able to bring my dad, home from the hospital today. He is continuing to heal in textbook fashion and for that we are grateful to God and those who have held him in your prayers. His story is still unfolding as well.

Look for Someone to Encourage Today

I received this email the other day, which the writer wanted me to pass along to you as an encouragement. It’s amazing what God does in lives as they turn toward him:

I’m not really sure why I’m emailing you, but I suppose it’s because I’m so grateful for this website. I’ve been going through quite an amazing time with the Lord for the past six weeks. I can see how my life has changed, how I have changed. Some great things have happened (a job promotion- answered prayers with hours and rate of pay at least) and my beliefs have been challenged by a new housemate, but I’m also sure God has a purpose in that.

I’ve been reading your book The Naked Church, which is probably why I’m emailing, because I’m so glad and incredibly grateful that I’m not alone in wanting more from my life with Jesus than I feel the institutional church can offer. I have close friends in a similar situation, one of whom I believe you met in Victoria (Australia) last year.

I think what I want to say is that through these recent times I’ve become more aware of Jesus in my life and that I love so much that He is my rock. There is so much chaos in the world and even in peoples everyday lives (which I identified in my new house mate) and I’m glad to have the stability of God in my life because I think life would be horrendous without Him. Anyway, maybe you could share this with people through your website, just as an example or an encouragement. I just really wanted to share this.

So, be encouraged. God wants to work in the reality of your daily life. But also, look to encourage others. This is not an advertisement to send me more encouragement. I get lots of it in the course of a week. But perhaps you could think of someone else around your life that could really use some encouragement and give them a call, pay them a visit, or write them a note. Hebrews 13:3 admonishes us to look for ways to encourage each other daily so that we will not be hardened by sin’s deceit! It’s one of the most important things we do as God’s family in sorting out life in this age.

Following God’s Voice

I’m spending this week in the hospital with my Dad through his open-heart surgery to replace a valve and do a double bypass and his recovery. I appreciate deeply those of you who have held my family in prayer during this time. His recovery is progressing well. As I’ve sat with my father I’ve been reading an out-of-print book by John Beaumont, entitled God in my Dreams. In it he tells a story of God telling him to lead out in singing in the Spirit among a congregation of people of which he was a co-pastor. He didn’t do it, concerned that they had never done it before and that the elders wouldn’t approve.

The next day he told his co-pastor and his wife what he’d been through that night. His co-pastor responded:

“John, you can’t do that. The elders won’t receive it. You’ll split the church.”

(John’s comment:) How we need to learn that if obeying God splits the church, then it is already split even though the cracks may have been masterfully and beautifully papered over. It is already split between those who are willing to obey God unconditionally and unreservedly and those who for their own ends have imposed a limit on the recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

I hesitate to retell the story because we all know people who are so self-focused that they would use such encouragement to be over their pet theologies and agendas, and swear God had told them to do so. But that danger notwithstanding, I am convinced that it is more important to encourage people who do listen to Jesus to follow him, even if the consequences might be painful for them. It also points out that our religious systems have created environments where obeying God is far less important than having the approval of others by fitting into their expectations. How quickly we blame the person whose actions expose our division than deal honestly and compassionately with the division among us. We love the security of fitting in more than we do following the Lamb wherever he goes. I think that’s why our systems continue to harden over time and why people caught in them end up spiritually stagnant even though they are hungry for him.

We experience the life of God, however, by following him wherever he might lead us. John continues his comments in the book:

I was able to tell my co-pastor that I hadn’t thought it was a good idea either! That was obvious since I hadn’t obeyed that clear, strong word from the Holy Spirit to me. But I was also able to indicate that (later) that Sunday night I had made an irrevocable and non-negotiable commitment to live from then on responding to the Holy Spirit no matter what He required of me, whether or not I understood what the consequences would be or even whether I liked the thought of what was being asked of me. Little wonder that we walk a different path today! Little wonder, too, that we feel far more fulfilled and blessed than we ever have in all of our life before.

Amen! Follow him wherever he leads you and don’t talk yourself out of it just because other brothers and sisters won’t understand. A few hours after reading this story, one of the people who came to visit my dad in the hospital surprised me by telling me she had left a congregation three years ago that she had been a part of over 25 years. She loved it and had always been one of the most committed people there. But God told her that her allegiance to the group was becoming a substitute for her life in him. Few folks in that congregation have understood or affirmed her choice, and she hasn’t tried to explain it to them beyond, “This is something God asked me to do.” She also said she has never found such freedom in God’s life and such incredible connections with her family and friends. And she would be just as ready to go back or go anywhere else God would ask her to do.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are called to live by “every word that comes from God,” not by pleasing even well-meaning brothers and sisters.

Help With the Journey

Last weekend Sara and I spent four days with a wonderful group of believers around Youngstown, Ohio. That’s them above at or Saturday night barbeque. They are two years on a journey of discovering relational life together. They gather weekly in various homes to share God’s life and also have a Wednesday night Bible study for those interested. We hung around a retreat center together for the weekend and were joined at various times from some folks further north near Lake Erie and some from the Pittsburgh area. What a weekend!

We talked through something you’ll be reading more about on this website in coming months. There is a block on my website reserved for The Journey and The Story, . I’ve just begun to post some things there to help people see God’s working in their own life to move them closer to him and prepare them more effective participation in the life of his body and in living out their mission in the earth. In my own life and in others I’ve connected with in recent years I am recognizing a progression of God’s work in growing us up and setting us free. They are not steps but simply things we need to ‘get’ to learn to live relationally with God, other believers and the world.

By growing daily in the reality and depth of Father’s affection for you you will find yourself growing to trust him and his purpose sorting out in the experiences of your life. As you grow to trust him you’ll find yourself embracing true freedom and knowing what it is to live free of guilt and condemnation, free of other people’s expectations, and free of your own agenda for your life. This growing freedom will allow you to discover how the Body of Christ can share God’s life together, freely without trying to make others provide for you what you’re not finding in him. Body life can now be a place for people to grow in Christ and encourage each other without manipulating or judging each other. As we learn to share life among the body we’ll also find our hearts spilling over with God’s love for the word and we’ll find ourselves incarnating that love quite naturally as we live simply in God’s reality in events around us.

This is an amazing process and there is progression here that is quite helpful. In other words people who aren’t growing confident in Father’s affection will never know what real trust or freedom is. People who aren’t growing in God’s freedom will only see the body as a place to manipulate others with their own need, ‘theology’ or agenda. But these are not steps of achievement. I see them more as an ascending spiral. We’ll continue to discover more of each of these areas as we grow up in him and will not complete any one of them before moving on to the next. In that sense, we’ll grow in them together.

For each of these five areas I will be providing some of the lessons God’s taught me in sorting out each of these areas in my own life. I’ll also include resources from Lifestream that will help you work through these specific areas to greater life him.

Also, let me add an unrelated postscript here. If you would like to see the incredible beauty of New Zealand, I’ve posted some of our favorite New Zealand Pictures, . It really is a magnificent country as you will see!

Keeping Reality Straight

I have been reading Richard John Neuhaus’ Death on a Friday Afternoon about the seven statements Jesus made on the cross. I was so encouraged by his perspective on what is to live in the real world. Here he tells us how easily we mistake the real world where God dwells for the false world that occupies so much of our attention.

As we come out of a movie theater and shake our heads to clear our minds of another world where we lived for a time in suspended disbelief, as we reorient ourselves to reality, so we leave our (spiritual) contemplation… where for a time another world seemed possible, believable, even real.  But we tell ourselves, the real world is a world elsewhere.  It is the world of deadlines to be met, of appointments to be kept, of taxes to be paid, of children to be educated.  From here, from this moment at the cross, it is a distant country.  “Father forgive them, for they have forgotten the way home. They are misplaced in the real world.”  Here, here at the cross is the real world.”  (p. 5-6)

It is so easy to mistake the distractions of this world for reality itself, when it is only an illusion. The real world is in Father’s heart, where we’ve been invited to be at home in him in everything we do and in every circumstance that confronts us. There is no greater reality than our life in him, and his life in us. We do well to keep that in focus every day, or else the distractions and chores of living in this world will define or reality and diminish our awareness of him in all of life.

Toward the end of the book he reminds us again that when we live in God’s reality it permeates all that we do. It is just as spiritual to work on your car or decorate your house as it is to pray, gather with other believers or share his life with someone who is lost. When we live as his, his glory shines through our lives no matter what we might be doing at any given moment.

The Christian life is about living to the glory of God.  It is not a driven, frenetic sweated interminable quest for saving souls.  It is doing for his glory what God has given us to do.  As with the Olympic runner in the film "Chariots of Fire", it is giving God pleasure in what we do well.  Souls are saved by saved souls who live out their salvation by thinking and living differently, with a martyr’s resolve, in a world marked by falsehood, baseness, injustice, impurity, ugliness and mediocrity. (p. 180)

I’m convinced we best demonstrate God’s life when we are least aware of it. When we are trying too hard we are only acting and the world sees it instantly even if we don’t. They are not looking for actors on a stage, but people who live God’s reality in the simplicity of their lives. When we live deeply in him throughout each day he makes himself known in ways that will even surprise us. And it won’t be fake or artificial because it comes from reality not pretense.

Simplifying the Questions – One More Thing!

This was too good to pass up! Shortly after I posted the latest blog, a friend from New Zealand sent me this quote from one of John’s books:

This reminds me of something from one of John’s books, the guy who said “I used to have a problem – I couldn’t hear God. Now I have a worse problem – I JUST HEARD HIM!”

Funny. Very funny. I’ve been there, how about you?:

Simplifying the Questions

Over the last few days I keep thinking of one more tidbit from our conversation with John and Mary Beaumont in Christchurch, New Zealand. This has really been an encouragement to me as I’m freshly evaluating some of the things I feel like God is doing in my own life right now.

John said that once you’ve said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, it needs to count for the whole of our lives. We need not ever wrestle again with whether or not we’ll do what he wants. Once that is decided the only question that remains in everything we consider is simply this, "Is this what he wants?" And if he does, why would we want anything else?

I clutter my journey in Christ with way too many questions. Does this make sense to me? What would be the ramifcations? What will other people think? Does it make financial sense? What principle should guide me here? Answering all of those questions can be cumbersome indeed and many of them will lead me opposite of the way he would want.

We are loved by a Father whose ways are so much higher than ours and whose thoughts go way beyond anything we could ask or ever imagine. Why would we ever think that we could reason out his ways? All we’re really doing is reasoning out an excuse to do what we think is best.

Now when I find myself caught up in an internal argument, I’m pretty certain that’s because one of Jesus’ thoughts is rolling around in there. How do I know? Because I rarely argue with me. I like my thoughts. It’s his thoughts that are so different from the way I would naturally think.

I am finding great rest in recent days simply asking, "Is this what you’re saying?" Or, "Is this what you want?" If I am certain of that, then the other questions that offer such a wearying wrestling match become moot.

I don’t know about you, but I find one question much easier to deal with than an entire checklist of them!

[As an aside, I’ve just added an article of John’ Beaumont’s that comes from a previous book of his that is now out of print. It is entitled the Jetty and the Raft.]

Thinking Outside the Box

I attended a local consultation over the last two days regarding community transformation. The promotional material said it was “a roundtable gathering of Christian leaders looking at church outside the walls.” I didn’t really expect them to mean it. But one of the questions we sorted through on the first day was, “What is the problem with church as we know it?”

We were given some interesting statistics to ponder. This from a book By Reggie McNeal titled The Present Future

The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off of the work, money and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80% of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older), or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.”

Or this:

“From 1990-2001 the number of people with no religious preference has doubled.”

Or this:

In research done by Thorn Rainer regarding those who are born again in America, he came up with the following percentages:

Those born before 1946 (Builders) – 65%

Those born between 1946 and 1964 (Boomers) – 35%

Those born between 1965 and 1976 (Busters) = 15%

those born between 1976-1994 (Bridgers) – 4%

Or this:

David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates that there are already 112 million ‘out-of-church Christians’ around the world – 5% of all who call themselves ‘Christians’. He expects this number to double by 2025. “

This kind of information is coming from all over. I received this quote in a letter from an institutional bunch:

New Zealand author Alan Jamieson in his book, A Churchless Faith, has been studying this phenomenon for years. To his surprise, it is not the ‘normal churchgoers’ who are leaving the church: 94% of the Christians he has interviewed who are currently without a church were in positions of leadership or responsibility, such as deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers – and 40% of them were once in full-time ministry. And the vast majority of these did not leave as an act of abandoning their faith, but precisely because they wanted to preserve it and saw the religious system as a detriment to their spiritual growth. Many people who cannot conceive of anything other than the traditional church-oriented Christianity, the movement is unsettling or even frightening. It may well be one of the most exciting developments in recent years.

So what are we to make of all of this? At least a number of people are seeing the irrelevance of institutional Christianity as it as evolved into this century. Of course most of these studies hope to encourage Christian institutions to reform the box so that those who’ve left will come back in.

In the end, that’s where our discussion ended after two days. People trapped in the box just cannot see outside it long enough to know that there are some incredible ways to live out this Christian experience without wasting so much time, energy and resources on the machinery our culture has come to equate with Christianity?

For the most part, I am convinced the box is a deterrent not only to growing in intimacy with Christ but also in engaging the culture with the reality of who Christ is rather than the baggage of Christianity. But I was also reminded that there are a lot of people who really love Jesus and are seeking to follow him who are still in that box. They are trying to make the most of it, not realizing, that it is getting the best of them.

At the same time, I know some who would quote the statistics above as proof of a world-wide movement of people seeing through the frailties of the box and are abandoning it for a greater relationship with God and with other believers. They point to this information as proof that they are right and others caught up in the system are wrong. That would be a mistake. People coming to be part of a movement will only create another box in time and still miss the relationship Jesus wants most with them.

Wouldn’t it be better if we got our eyes off of systems and hope about movements and fix them squarely on Jesus? Do what he tells you to do. Follow where he tells you to go and encourage others to do the same. Then we’ll simply be the church in our day, with a variety of expressions as God shows us how to share his life together and how to make his love known in the world.

When Organized Religion Gets You Down

Except for the stupid spam proliferating on the Internet like rats, nothing more fun than opening my email every day. Here are two back-to-back emails that I opened this afternoon. I get many emails like the first one. There is great angst out there about how organized religion thwarts people’s attempts to know the living God. I understand it. It used to make me so angry and I wanted to do something to show it up.

I’m still very much bothered by what I see in the assembly of God, and of late, I sometimes feel like Nehemiah beholding Jerusalem – how its walls are in ruins, and its gates are burnt! For a while, I was resting in the revelation that my fellowship is with Abba and Christ Jesus, that this is in Christ Jesus, and it is the Holy Spirit who makes it real to me, so none can take it away from me. But slowly, I just can’t help becoming discouraged by the fact that the assemblies today have gone so far away from God’s desire for His people.

But in the end that is God’s job, not ours. In the second email you’ll notice the freedom that comes from getting our eyes off the failures of others and onto the life of Jesus flowing through us. The man who wrote the second, wrote me one much like the first a few weeks before.:

Thank you for the fast shipment of the books I ordered. I have already started reading The Naked Church, , while my wife is excited and looking forward to reading He Loves Me!

Through reading some of the things on your site, I already feel released from the frustration of the current church situation. I now have a better frame of reference as to what and who the church really is. I am sure that as I pray to the Father to continue to open my eyes to Him that I will really begin to see some of the things that He sees. I am also sure that He will continue to put others around me that share my desperation.

I desperately want a intimate relationship with God, but I know I must be willing to pay the price of not allowing myself to get in the way. Even though I feel that I have been shutting myself off from God in certain ways, I have never before seen the fields of opportunities that are awaiting me in my life with Jesus as I am now seeing. I have learned a couple of things this summer that have completely shifted my paradigm.

The first is what I stated before about what and who the church of God really is. It is only able to come into a state of being with Jesus as the focal point. Praise God! The second lesson that I have been showed is that when I am helping or being a blessing to someone, they are being even more of a blessing to me. This allows me to use the gifts that God has imparted to me through His grace and love. I am starting to feel at last that even I can be used by God. How awesome is that? It amazes me to think that He chooses to use me despite myself. He does not need me to do anything for Him, but He chooses to use me for my benefit. Wow, what an awesome, caring, and loving God we serve!

What do we do when organized religion gets us down? Get our eyes back on Jesus and the life he’s asked us to live. There’s nothing better we can do, even for those captured in religion, than to sort out in our own life what it means to live free. Then they might see in us something worth seeking. They are like kangaroos born in the zoo. They think they’re free, because they just don’t know better. They have no idea what life in Jesus is really all about. You can scream at them until you’re blue in the face, but the security of the status quo will win over the uncertainty of the unknown.

But what would happen if a mob of free kangaroos came bounding by in the open fields, chasing up the hill in the glory for which God made kangaroos. Then it just might do what all the words in the world won’t do…

Response to Lucy – Butterfly Story Revisited

[Stuart and George, I appreciated what you both added to this to clarify my remarks. Thanks!]


Obviously you’ve seen people deeply hurt by the religious sytems of our day. As have most of us who hang out here. I am so sorry for that, and sorry someone wasn’t around to provide the help her or she might have needed. And I agree that is an important part of what God asks us to do.

But I can’t help but thinking you misunderstood what I wrote.

No one said to leave anyone in bondage.

No one said not to help.

No one said to stay sileint.

My goodness, how can you read this blog and think I’d ever encourage people to be silent? The point of the story was to help people learn to live free, not try to push them into it by our own strength. You cannot force someone into freedom, but you can stand alongside them, hold their hand and cheer them on in the struggle. I have also seen people badgered into leaving the religious system and ended up on the outside hurt and bitter. They never seemed able to soar in the life of Jesus, because no one ever let them learn how to trust God for themselves.

That is the part we cannot do for others. We can talk to them about it, help them see the choices clearly and encourage them however we can, but we cannot trust for them. That’s what they will have to find in Jesus if they want to know the joy of his life.

And he has that for everyone!

Be Careful How You Help That Butterfly!

One of the few lists I subscribe to on the Internet is the Daily Dig, from the Bruderhof communities. It offers a thought-provoking quote every day and most of them are incredible. I got this one a few days ago. I know it is an old illustration, but one worth repeating.

One day as a small opening appeared on a cocoon, a man sat for several hours watching the butterfly struggle to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening was nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings. Then the butterfly would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were allowed to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could be. We could never fly.

No where does this apply more clearly than it does with people breaking free of religious obligation to live freely in God’s life. You can’t badger people into it. You cannot drag them out on your own or you will damage them and God’s work in them. They’ll never learn to soar in God’s grace if they don’t embrace the struggle themselves and learn to rely on God as he frees them. That’s the only way out.

There is a huge difference between encouraging someone as God leads them on the journey, and taking over the journey for them. If we can’t remember that we’ll find our best intentions to help other will only be destructive to them. Cheer them on, don’t push them ahead.

Thriving Outside the Box

Sara and I are home from New Zealand after two incredible weeks traveling throughout the country and meeting with brothers and sisters. (Oh yes, Sara got to see penguins too!) If you haven’t read the blogs of our conversations and the incredible story of a group of in Fairlie, you might want to read up below.

We were blessed by the number of believers we found thriving outside the box. Many were former leaders in the congregations they attended—pastors, elders, deacons and the like. Some left at God’s leading to find him outside the religious institutions of the day, others were left out when the groups they were part of embraced priorities they could no longer follow. Some walked out alone, others with brothers and sisters who shared their passion. All experienced rejection from other well-intentioned believers that they couldn’t possibly be following God if they didn’t end up committed to a local congregation.

These are supposed to whither up and die without attending a regular service or being under the ‘covering’ of an institution. Remarkably, however, they not only thrive outside but have come to see that their time fulfilling religious obligations actually robbed them of the relationship with God they desired most.

Our two-week trip crystallized some observations I’ve had about similar folks I’ve met all over the world:

  • Most didn’t leave the system because of hurt (though the process is often painful), but because God kept leading them toward something deeper and more spiritually vital. All weren’t failures in the system. Most were incredibly successful in it, but over time found conflict between the spiritual life they wanted and what they had to do to feed the system.
  • People inside the system often seem to be less gracious to those outside than those outside are to those inside. Most folks thriving outside traditional congregations don’t look down on those who participate in them as lesser brothers or sisters. They will encourage others to draw life from Jesus wherever he leads them. However, those inside often accuse those who are not committed to such institutions as independent, rebellious and unsubmitted, when that is rarely true.
  • An important part of the journey seems to be in laying down our reputations, former friendships and ministry dreams to follow God where he asks us to go. Others may not understand. It has cost many their income and security, but I’ve not met too many who ever regretted it.
  • Those who live free of regular institutions seem to have more in depth fellowship with other Christians than those who wear themselves out with religious activities that rarely include the opportunity for real, honest and open fellowship.
  • People thriving in Jesus outside of the religious systems are the easiest folks to fellowship with. There is an instant camaraderie, compassion and willingness to live their lives openly with other brothers or sisters.

Two of the brothers we met with in New Zealand have done a fair amount of writing and we are blessed to help make those available to you. Jack Gray (right) has allowed us to post three of his booklets that encourage people to live outside the bondage of religious obligation and embrace the fullness of his life. I think you’ll find his insights to be of great encouragement and help to you no matter where God is leading you to fellowship with others.

John Beaumont (left) has just released a new book entitled, A God-Filled Nobody, which Lifestream will help distribute in the states. Click on the link above to find a description, excerpts and order information. He felt called to tell his life’s story as an encouragement to other brothers and sisters who also desire to know God as he is.

There is nothing more important than all of us following God as best we sense him leading us and find exactly how he is placing us in the body and not simply going through the motions with a status quo that doesn’t serve all of God’s kids.

Fairlie Follow-up

We are finally back in the states, catching up on book orders and email and trying to get over a severe case of jet lag.
On our last day in New Zealand, we headed back into Christchurch to spend some brief moments with John and Mary Beaumont. They filled in a few wonderful details of the Fairlie story. They said after the disposed of the building (see previous blog), they found some amazing doors open in the community. One man from the village was talking to one of the former leaders. He said, “I feel like I can really talk to you now.”

By removing the baggage from the gospel that had alienated so many people they found a new openness to share the Gospel with others. Is it no wonder that Jesus didn’t build anything to join, require any religious activities, or load people down with burdens. Instead he took heavy burdens off people and simply invited them into a relationship with his incredible Father.

One last quip from John Beaumont. He was quoting something he’d read years ago in one of Charles Spurgeon’s writings from the 1800s. He said for some people to talk in public is so intimidating that it is a huge cross for them. There are others for whom being silent is a huge cross for them to bear. Both should take up their cross!

Early next week I’ll have details on ordering John’s book and I’ll also include some writings from Jack Gray. It’s great to be home. Blessings on you all!

‘That Lot’ in Fairlie

Let me tell you an incredible story!

Fairlie is a small farming village in the center of New Zealand’s South Island. For the last two years I had heard about some believers whom God led to give up the religious structure they had become part of to live as the body of Christ together in this region of the world. It was 1986 and some of its leaders felt like God was asking them to give up the structures that constrained their life together, which included not only the institution but also the building where they met. After weeks of praying together and considering this leading, the people unanimously agreed that this is what God was saying to them.

They agreed to lay it all down and let God lead them. The building they used was quite old and after donating all the furnishings that were worth anything to the denomination’s district they were leaving, the offered the building to the fire brigade to burn as a training exercise. (I told you this was an incredible story!)

The neighbors objected, however, to torching the large structure so close to their homes, so in the end they had to dismantle it. They took some of the remaining furnishings, like the offering bags, out to the country and burnt them. Then one day some of the brothers descended on the building with chain saws. As they walked in that day to the main meeting room they asked where they should begin. They all looked at each other and in the same moment said,, “The pulpit!” With relish the sawed it in half, kept going across the stage and eventually dismantled the entire building and hauled it away to the trash heap.

Sara and I laughed and shook our heads in awe as we heard that story on Tuesday night while meeting with about two dozen or more of these people. They had not done these things frivolously or in rage at ‘the system.’ They had simply felt those things were an offense to God and he wanted them to destroy them. They never said anyone else should do the same, they simply went on and learned how to be the body of Christ without all the trappings of institutionalism.

In the nearly twenty years since they have thrived in God’s life together as his people in this community. It has not been easy, nor has it been without challenge, but many of them talked of how their relationship with God really began to grow when they removed the crutch the institution had become. Not having everything planned out for them anymore, they had to listen to God and do the things he put on their heart. Now they are people who live at peace with God, in fellowship with each other and available to unbelievers in ways they never had when they were so busy maintaining their structure. Even the children from those days have continued on with the simplicity of living in God and loving each other in the process. What joyful simplicity and what an incredible life they’ve gone on to share together!

They are also affectionately known in these parts as ‘that lot.’ The whole community knows about the congregation that dismantled its building and stopped meeting every week on a regular basis. They also know they have lived on as passionate believers. Without all the machinery to maintain, they have been more available to help care for the families and neighbors.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24-25

As long as we hold tightly to the things we think we must preserve, we’ll miss the incredible doors God would put before us every day as we simply live in him and follow his ways. True life is found in giving up, not in holding on, as we follow wherever God leads us.

A Burning Passion

One last bit from my conversation in Christchurch with Sara, John and Mary Beaumont, and David and Nina Rice:

We need young people to get to know God as a consuming fire that captures the whole of their being and instills in them a passion for him that takes them far beyond anything we’ve ever seen or done. That’s what had taken our hearts at a young age. God wanted to make himself known to every one with such a burning reality that everything else in our lives takes a back seat to him and his reality.

Unbelievers and the Kingdom

More from my conversation in Christchurch with Sara, John and Mary Beaumont, and David and Nina Rice:

We have a mistaken notion of how the Christian life begins. It doesn’t begin when we say a sinner’s prayer, but when we give our lives to him and begin the marvelous journey of learning to trust him instead of ourselves.

And the reason the world is often not interested in knowing Christ, is because they see all the baggage we carry with it. When we tell them they just need Christ, they look behind at all the other baggage we’re holding. They know we will soon load them up with things like church attendance, religious activities, tithing and good works and they are not interested. We think they’ve rejected him, when in fact they’ve only seen through our baggage. If we don’t live in Christ alone we’ll never know if people really are seeing him or all the other baggage we carry. We only need to invite them to him, and let him lead them into the fullness of his life. I’m convinced that will be with a lot less baggage than most believers carry today.