Church Life

Relationships that Thrive

Great relationships are some of the best treasures we get to enjoy in this world of chaos—those where you can laugh together or cry together while deeply caring for each other wherever our journey takes us, especially when they are seeing something differently than I am.

Not all relationships are fantastic, however. Some can be downright toxic and destructive. One sociologist identified emotionally abusive people as those with low self-esteem “who wish to control others rather than engage in mutually respectful relationships that require consideration, empathy, compassion, and kindness,” These people seek to “undermine and overpower” others “regardless of the damage to their target.”

Yes, these people need love too, especially to help encourage them to freedom when they are open to it. But these are unhealthy relationships and require great emotional capacity and confidence in God’s inner work to endure their destructive ways and not internalize their accusations.

One of the things that amazes me about relationships is how quickly people give up on them when they feel hurt and make conclusions that may only be based on their fears. I’m nuts about relational repair because any good relationship will need to overcome the obstacles of human weakness, mistakes, and misunderstandings.

The best relationships in my life have some common elements that make them so incredibly wonderful:

          • Authenticity – the freedom not to measure words or pretend to get along. You won’t be rejected by being true to yourself or honest about your feelings with them.
          • Room for vulnerability – it’s okay to show weakness or be honest about our struggles because it won’t be used against you in gossip or accusations.
          • Play – You can walk through deep water together and find time to relax and breathe by not taking ourselves or each other too seriously. Life is painful enough without also enjoying moments of laughter and joy, even through difficulties.
          • Support – the willingness to help each other in practical and meaningful ways as the need arises. And,
          • Tenderness – always gentle in speech, with grace to forgive mistakes and forebear with each other’s weaknesses.


When you find friends like this, don’t let misunderstanding or distance rob you of it. Invite the difficult conversations and take on the relational repair that will help you listen to the other, own what you need to own, apologize whenever needed, and restore the friendship to celebrate another day.

And even more than looking for these qualities, ask Jesus to grow them in your heart. Someone always needs to take the lead in restoring old relationships or forging new ones. When you can offer someone the gift of authenticity and the space to explore their journey without manipulating it, you lay the foundation for a friendship that can last a lifetime.

Where might God ask you to sow some seeds into others to see what God does? Relationships don’t just happen in a vacuum; they take some intentionality and a willingness to interrupt the routines of your life enough to open the door to others around you. Jesus wants to lead you as he knits his family together, but you’ll want to participate with him if you want your relationships to grow.

That doesn’t mean every relationship you desire will work out, but enough will to enrich your life and theirs.

Where to from here? 

Sara and I are on an RV trip through the mid part of the country. Here are the plans for our upcoming days…

Columbia, MO – September 21

Sara and I finished up in Independence, MO, last night and are moving on today to Columbia, MO, today to meet with some couples at our RV park for a picnic and some conversation beginning at 4 p.m. If you want to join in, email me. Bring yard chairs and a picnic or fast food lunch. Email me for details.

Eureka, MO – September 23 

Another gathering is on Saturday afternoon, beginning at 1:30 . We’re encouraging people to bring a yard chair to sit on. If people want to grab dinner somewhere nearby at dinnertime, we will conclude with that. Email me for details.

Little Rock, AR – September 30-October 1

This is going to be a special weekend but without a lot of planning. Sara and I will be staying in the country on some private property with our RV and dogs, and we’ll hang out over the weekend. There is a planned event at 5 p.m. on Sunday that brings a local community of brothers and sisters together.

But we are also making time to hang out on Saturday and Sunday during the day to share the life of Jesus. If you want to join us, grab a place nearby, bring a yard chair, and be ready to go with the flow. We will do some walking and some sitting around to share this journey together and set up times for such via email. So write me if you plan on joining us for two days of sharing life in a relaxed and unstructured way.

Austin, TX – October 6-7

Two gatherings here.

  • Friday night, October 6, 6:00 p.m.
    You’re welcome to come a little early if you can. For planning purposes, please let us know you are coming by texting or calling Clyde at 512-789-4515 or Ralph at 512-415-2271, and they will give you the address.
  • Saturday, October 7, 4:00 p.m.
    Saturday gathering (including food) starts at the Eason house. Here’s the link to the Eventbrite link if you are interested in joining us. Space is limited here, so RSVP early if you want to come. 

Wimberly, TX – October 11

More details to come, but a Wednesday night gathering is in the works. Email me for details.

San Antonio, TX –  TBD

More details to come, but a gathering sometime that week is in the planning stages. Email me for details.

More to come as we head north through Texas and across the I-40 corridor to California.

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Pretense Is No Refuge

This is what I struggle with most for those who claim to follow Christ and yet have no compassion for those who have wandered through difficult places. In an email last week, a former pastor who has battled alcohol addiction for decades added this comment at the end of the email:

You also have no idea how much your acceptance and compassion for my addiction was received. I have only shared with two nonaddicts outside of family in 30 plus years of recovery as I learned most do not take it well.  Thank you for helping me in my listening journey.

Here’s what I wrote him back:

It saddens me that those who claim to follow Jesus can’t hold each other’s pain and weakness with love and compassion. That means they are either unaware of their own or they don’t know how to be compassionate to themselves. Pretense is their refuge, and that’s a pretty sad place to live.

I understand his reluctance to share that story with people who aren’t ready to hold it. That’s just wise. But I’m glad he shared it with me, and I could appreciate the courage it took to face his addiction and let God walk him into freedom. It wasn’t an easy road; it rarely is.

His struggle with addiction does not diminish him in the least as a follower of Jesus; it just makes his story all the more extraordinary. I’m sorry that he had to go through such deep waters, but who wouldn’t want to celebrate the fruit of that journey with him?

Compassion is what God pours into our brokenness. When you struggle, drink fully of his compassion, and then you’ll be able to naturally share that same compassion with others without having to manufacture it.


If you want to join us for the next Jake Colsen Book Club gathering, it will be held this Saturday, April 22, at 1:30 pm PDT. We will stream it live on my Facebook Author Page, but if you want to be part of the conversation, you can get a link to the Zoom Room by emailing Wayne and asking for it.

And the following day, we’ll have another conversation about Wrestling with Trauma on Sunday, April 23, at 10:30 am PDT. Among other things, we will explore what it means to let go of the hurtful things that have happened to us and the process God uses to help us find out how. Sara shared that in a recent podcast if you haven’t heard it. To join us, please email me for the Zoom link. We’ll limit it to the first twelve who request a link.

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All Heaven Applauds

Have you ever been the victim of a well-placed lie? Did it cost you valuable relationships because someone spread rumors about you that others believed were true? 

If you have, you’re not alone. Treachery and deceit are an ever-present undercurrent of the human story. Some people think nothing of fabricating stories, exaggerating details, and spreading rumors to get what they want. I know many people who have been shattered by it, and once a lie takes hold, there’s no way to dislodge it from people who need the lie to be true.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. The Bible is full of stories where lying and deception are tools to grasp power, hide jealousy, steal, or aggrieve themselves of some perceived injustice. They care little for the lives and relationships they damage in the process as long as they get the outcome they want. 

I get emails like the one below almost every week. This one is from a couple who were recently excluded from the congregation they had been a key part of for decades. To cover up his own failures, the pastor spread lies about them. I know many of you will be able to relate to their story.

We are definitely on a new adventure while still trying to heal from a devastating church break.  We lost so many friends and were shunned/excommunicated from those we thought of as family.  Because we live in a small town, we are constantly confronted with people from our old congregation, so we can only avoid the inevitable for so long.  Today, while at a coffee shop with my homeschooler, the wife of one of the elders who has played a huge role in the division at the church and in the attack on my husband tapped me on the shoulder and asked me how I was with a big smile.  

Of course, being caught off guard, I said “fine.” I felt physically nauseous. I just don’t know how to process this.  I feel like she was the “bigger person” in coming up to me.  Folks who have not experienced this type of betrayal have all kinds of advice for us and have told us that we just need to forgive and move on.  I’m tired of pretending like sin did not happen.  It did.  When I got in the car, I just started to cry.  It feels like we’ve been through something traumatic and people purposefully ignore it because they don’t want to be involved or they don’t want to think less of the pastor/leadership. I know something like this does not compare to physically losing a family member, etc. but it kind of feels like I lost a child or my husband and all people want to talk to me about is the weather, refusing to acknowledge this loss.

There’s nothing more painful than being the sacrificial victim your “friends” used to protect themselves. I’ve seen it too many times and have felt that sting myself. And there’s nothing more condescendingly painful than when those who spread lies about you approach you in that faked-up, lovey-dovey way so they can avoid any acknowledgment of the hurt they either caused or supported. I had a former colleague who was especially good at that. “Let’s just pretend we love each other after I stabbed you in the back.

Unfortunately, that is the nature of our religious landscape, and it can do far more damage in small-town America, where you can’t hide from your persecutors. I wish I had an easy answer for people like this, but I don’t know that there is one. The pain you feel from people’s judgments and their pretenses are not personal, though admittedly it feels like it is. Those on the side of abuse want “things” to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Their smiles might be genuine to them, but they will always appear fake because it comes by denying what they did. And, yes, it is incredibly difficult for those whose lives were upended and reputations destroyed by that abuse to find a way forward with people who won’t acknowledge it.

If you’re looking to follow Jesus, you are constantly swimming upstream, which rarely leads to blissful, calm circumstances. Religious people are the worst at shooting their wounded after they’ve done the wounding. But that doesn’t mean you have to be their victim or join the charade to look loving. I encourage people to find a way into the gentle honesty Jesus can give us for people who have wronged us. That doesn’t come easily, but over time Jesus can heal the darkness.

How do you get there?

First, realize that God is still inviting you on a journey that is still full of his life. Though you had dreams destroyed or relationships altered, he has unlimited options to take you on a journey that will absorb the pain and use it to make you more dependent on him and more compassionate toward others. Stewing in bitterness will not help.

Second, find a way to count it as joy. Yes, this is tough, but it is precisely what Jesus told us to do when we find ourselves the victim of deceit and betrayal:

“Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort, and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Matthew 5:11-12 MSG) 

Those are the words of One who endured lying and exclusion in far worse ways than we ever will. Someone gave me that Scripture after the first time a good friend lied about me to separate me from a fellowship I’d served for fifteen years. Standing up for what’s true will often cost you dearly with those only looking for comfort.

Why does heaven applaud? Because you got your guts ripped out? Of course not. Heaven applauds when truth wins out over expedience when people would rather do what’s right than compromise their hearts to maintain an image. You’ll find freedom when you can live for something more significant than doing what comes easy.

Third, realize that when you are sacrificed on the altar of someone’s anger or jealousy, God will be opening new doors to be at work in you and to make you a safe place for others. Those who have healed in betrayal will be far less dangerous in the world, and they will be an oasis to those who will find themselves in it one day.

Fourth, lean into forgiveness. This is hard and will only truly come when you know that you are not their victim. The prayer Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” is the goal. It’s the most amazing prayer in Scripture. Jesus prayed it over those who lied about him to win his execution and now mocked him in the midst of his pain. Surely they knew what they were doing, didn’t they? Jesus looks deeper. They had no idea why they were doing such things. Why were they so afraid that they had to kill God’s Son to satisfy it? That, they didn’t know. The people that lie about us know that they are lying, but they often don’t understand what insecurity, trauma, or jealousy is at work to make them do it. When you love enough not to second-guess their motives, you will find the freedom to pray this prayer and mean it.

Fifth, find comfort in being misunderstood. If you want to walk this journey, you can’t correct everyone’s lies. This is hard because religion taught us we are validated by other people’s perceptions of us. That’s a lie too! You don’t have to try to convince people of what’s true. Doing so, will drive you nuts. People who traffic in falsehoods are not interested in understanding you or accurately representing your motives. They enjoy their attempts to diminish you and you’ll only give them more ammunition to twist into false accusations. Find your peace in the fact that God knows the truth and that he will eventually get the last word on every lie.  The misunderstandings of others are part of their journey. There may be a time to confront, but God will show you when and how, even though the outcomes will rarely be what you hope.

You don’t have to rush any of this. Let the pain work in your heart. Let the tears flow. His grace is at work in our sobs and grief, dislodging your spirit from the tyranny of self and inviting you so much deeper into his love and life. Let God show you how to walk through those moments and how he wants to rearrange your heart in the process. Let him destroy your need for the affirmation of others, and you’ll be a better gift in his hands for others. Embrace the pain and rejection, but most importantly, embrace him in it. He will bring healing to you in so many ways, and then you’ll know how to love others well and be an oasis for the pain that fills the world.

You have lost much, but there is so much more to gain. And, yes, it does take a while, but as the healing begins to set you free, you’ll find words to offer those who were part of the pain. You won’t have to ignore it or deflect from it. In his time, you’ll find the grace to smile and small talk again, knowing you are no longer their victim. And you will see ways to be gently honest in a way that invites them to life instead of using them to salve your wounds. By then, it won’t be about you anymore; it will be about them and finding a way to love them in their lostness.

Gentle honesty can look like, “It’s good to see you again, but you know our hearts still grieve over some of the things you were a part of. I hope we get a chance to let Jesus bring healing there someday.” At the right time, with the right heart, that can open doors for someone else to recognize how they passed on pain. But be warned, it may also make them angry, but at least they won’t be pretending anymore.

It’s not easy living in love in a world where treachery gets people exactly what they think they want. Just remember, it’s only temporary. One day Jesus will get the last word on everyone and every event. He doesn’t have it yet, but the truth will win out in the end.

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Seven Attributes of God’s Glory

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

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

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

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

That’s why Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“This Book Has Been My Friend”

I’ll let Lauren handle my blogging duties today. I’ve gotten many emails like this over the past nearly-twenty years that “The Jake Story” started to appear in the world. Dave Coleman and I started releasing chapters over twenty years ago at No one knew who was writing it at the time, but the story seemed to capture what so many others were experiencing.

I just finished reading your book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I have never read a book that has explained a past situation of so many layers and depth and put clear biblical thoughts and explanations to it. I could relate to everything in that book from a past church situation my husband and I went through eight years ago. Thankfully and painfully, we have been changed ever since.

This book has been my “friend” and God has provided me a lot of clarity and encouragement through this book. Thank you for having the boldness to write it.

I believe we are on the same journey.

It sure sounds like we are. I’m always blessed to hear that something I’ve written has magnified in someone else’s heart what the Spirit of God was revealing in them. I’m so grateful that this little story keeps finding its way into people’s hearts and how much it encourages them to the “better things” God has placed in their hearts.

A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of the national discord through the recent election, someone mentioned to me that we could use a “John” to invite us again to those things of first importance.

So, I went back and read that opening scene and excerpted part of it below if you’d like to as well. It began with an angry group of people arguing about God and religion on a public street. As they grew increasingly hostile and threatening to each other, a stranger walked into the center of the fight and floated a different perspective into the crowd:

“You really have no idea what Jesus was like, do you?”

The words slipped off the man’s lips as gently as the breeze wafted through the trees overhead and in stark contrast to the heated argument that swirled around him. They were so softly spoken that I read them on his lips as much as heard what he said. But their impact was not lost on the crowd. The noisy clamor subsided quickly as tension-filled faces gave way to puzzled expressions. “Who said that?” was the unspoken question that filled the eyes of each one as they scanned the others around them.

“What do you know about it, old man?” One of them finally spoke up, his mockery dripping off of each word until the disapproving gaze of the crowd silenced him. He laughed it off and looked away embarrassed, grateful that their eyes had swung back to the stranger. But he was in no hurry to speak. The resulting silence hung in the air, far beyond the point of awkwardness. A few nervous glances and shrugs shot throughout the crowd, but no one spoke and no one left. During this time the man scanned the crowd pausing to hold each person’s gaze for a brief second. When he caught my eye, everything inside seemed to melt. I looked away instantly.

After what seemed an insufferably long time he spoke again. “He was nothing special to look at. He could walk down this street today and not one of you would even notice him. In fact he had the kind of face you would shy away from, certain he wouldn’t fit in with your crowd.

“But he was as gentle a man as one would ever know. He could silence detractors without ever raising his voice. He never bullied his way; never drew attention to himself nor did he ever pretend to like what vexed his soul. He was real, to the very core of his being.

“And at the core of that being was love.” The stranger paused and shook his head. “Wow! Did he love!” His eyes looked far past the crowd now, seeming to peer across the depths of time and space. “We didn’t even know what love was until we saw it in him. It was everyone, too, even those who hated him, who wouldn’t extend to him the simplest of courtesies. He still cared for them, hoping somehow they would find a way out of their self-inflicted souls to recognize who stood among them.”

“And with all that love, he was completely honest. Yet even when his actions or words exposed people’s darkest motives, they didn’t feel shamed. They felt safe with him. His words conveyed not even a hint of judgment, simply an entreaty to come to God and be freed by him. There was no one you would trust more quickly with your deepest secrets. If someone were going to catch you at your worst moments you’d want it to be him.

“He wasted no time mocking others, nor their religious trappings.” He glanced at those who had just done so. “If he had something to say to them, he’d say it and move on and you would know you’d been loved more than anyone had ever loved you before.” Here the man stopped, his eyes closed and mouth clenched as if choking back tears that would melt him in an instant if he gave in to them.

“I’m not talking about mamby-pamby sentimentalism either. He loved, really loved. It didn’t matter if you were Pharisee or prostitute, disciple or blind beggar, Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile. His love held itself out for any to embrace. Most did, too, when they saw him. Though so few ended up following him for those few moments his presence passed through their life, they tasted something they could never deny even years later. Somehow he seemed to know everything about you, but loved deeply all that was true about who he made you to be.”

He paused and scanned the crowd. In the last couple of moments perhaps as many as 30 people had stopped to listen, their gaze firmly on the man and their mouths suspended open in bewilderment. I can record his words here, but am bereft of an adequate description of their impact. No one within earshot could deny their power or their authenticity. They rang from the very depths of this man’s soul.

“And when he hung there from that filthy cross,” the man’s eyes looked up into the trees that towered over us, “that love still poured down—on mocker and disillusioned friend alike. As he approached the dark chamber of death, wearied by his battle with sin, there was no finer moment in all the world. His anguish became the conduit for his life to be given to you. This was no madman. This was God’s Son, poured out to the last breath, so that we could live free.

“If I were you,” he said sweeping his index finger across those who’d started the whole discussion “I would waste far less time ragging on religion and find out just how much he really loves you.”

You can pick up the rest of the story in the book. If you haven’t read it, it’s thirteen fictional conversations between this man on the street and the one observing him in the crowd, who is frustrated with his own lifeless faith.  Who is this stranger on the street, and what does he know about Jesus?

The answers change the trajectory of his entire life and open doors he would never have imagined.

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The Passion that Has Motivated My Journey

Last week I got into a bit of an email exchange with someone reading the first book I published so very long ago:

Tim: I’m reading the Naked church it’s probably an old unedited version because I printed it free off of one of your sites, and it’s in a three-ring binder large print. But it’s really hitting home where I’m at today and the people that I am encountering. I just wanted to say I’m glad you wrote it

Me: I still love much that is in that book. It’s just that so many illustrations in it are incredibly dated. But the lessons and passions in it were vital in my journey and still are! Thank you for taking the time to let me know how it is touching you.

Tim: I feel you did a fine job of stripping down the egos of title hungry men. I remember gaining a lot of insight into this years ago. It’s actually caused me to question all authority. I no longer respect the authority I once did as I see it all as a plot for power and control over others.

Me: Sadly, it often is, especially if they are building an institution or a “following” off of it. Look for those who are simply serving another person, helping them find the life in Jesus that’s real and abiding.

Tim: Easier said than done. The love of many has grown ice-cold.

Me: True, but the Spirit knows, and he can show you when you might need someone. But for the most part, you won’t. The Spirit in you will guide you.

Tim: I know that’s true I’ve been going solo for several years. But even if I die, I may never find the true expression of the church.

Me: Don’t think of a “thing;” think of the people around you that you could share the life of Jesus with. It isn’t an organization, and it’s not because people believe exactly the same things, but it is people in various stages of this journey learning to love each other and let Jesus take expression in them.

This exchange caused me to go back and retake a look at this book, reliving that part of my journey. The version of The Naked Churchon the left was the original cover published in 1987. I loved the stark black and white against the purple and red. The paragraph below reads, “Are you confused? Burned out? Devastated by the state of the church? The simple truth of God’s Word can restore your faith in Christ.” Yes, I would say that differently today, as you’ll note on the third book cover.

So, why are there three book covers here? Well, my first book sold rather poorly, but the publisher felt like perhaps the title had been too negative to connect with its audience. It was republished two years later as A Passion for God’s Presence. It was the same book inside, with a more positive approach on the outside. It didn’t sell much better, though both of those books found their way into the hands of some pretty amazing people all over the world, who have continued to share this journey with me. 

After my journey took a significant turn in the mid-1990s, I kept getting requests for the book since it was then out of print. So, I went through it again, revised it, and republished it under the original title with a purple cover. In the original book, a lot of my answers were systemic in nature. But having lived through the implosion of that system, I knew its frailties all the better. To republish it, I needed to tell more of the story, update some of its references, and offer a different set of answers that I was only beginning to live. 

Over the last few days, I read through it yet again, and my heart was touched by the same motives that caused me to write it the first time. I’m still that guy—still hungry for God’s reality, still willing to take the road less traveled, and I can say unequivocally that it has been worth every pain I’ve suffered in this journey. I have found God to be as real as I always hoped he might be, and relationships with others around the world that express what I always hoped church life could be. It all turned out so very different than I had imagined, but far more exciting and transformative than I could have conceived back then. That’s why I don’t recommend this book anymore unless people want to understand my journey better. No, I’m not going to rewrite it yet again. It will remain as a snapshot in time. Finding Church does a much better job unpacking how I see the church clothed in his glory and how others can find her too. 

But I still love the primary illustration of that book. It is drawn from Jesus’ words to the Laodicean church: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked,” I combined that with the Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the Emperor is duped into buying imaginary clothes. He’s told that only people who are unfit for the jobs can’t see them. So, of course, the Emperor thinks he must be incompetent and pretends to admire them. So does everyone else, afraid they’d be exposed as unfit for their service. Eventually, he parades naked through the capital, convinced he’s wearing the most exquisite clothes. 

Let’s pick up from what I wrote over 33 years ago: 

In the middle of the Emperor’s parade, a little child whispered what had been evident to everyone else: “But he hasn’t got anything on.”

The awkward moment that followed was brief. The townspeople knew he was right. The Emperor knew he was right. In a split second, they had to choose between the illusion they had embraced and the reality that would set them free.

Rather than ask for a real coat, however, in which he could cover his nakedness, the Emperor only pulled his imaginary robes about him and continued the pretense. For the Emperor to accept his nakedness, he had to admit to having been swindled. He couldn’t do that.

I can imagine the townspeople quickly scanning the crowd to see if anyone else would own up to what they all saw so clearly. If anyone had been brave enough, they might all have jumped in. But the risk of being thought stupid by their neighbors was too overwhelming. The moment of revelation passed quickly, and soon they were again applauding the illusion.

And I love the passions in this original book. As misguided as my answers might have been, I find those same hungers are alive in my heart today. These are the motivations that invited me away from everything I had ever known and into a kingdom that has fascinated me ever since. 

Here’s one last excerpt from that book:

Anyone who does not gush with admiration for church institutions and activities today is accused of being arrogant, rebellious, or judgmental. That’s our modern equivalent of being stupid or unfit. So, even though our Christian experience feels empty, we think we’re the only ones to feel that way. To admit this is unthinkable, so we rationalize those nagging thoughts that tell us this can’t be what God had in mind. After all, there is always more to be gained by exploiting a system than there is by exposing it.

Today we are so impressed by our own efforts that through endless hours of talk shows and endless pages of fund-raising letters, we congratulate ourselves: “Look how much we’re doing for Jesus!” When we believe this thought, the trap is fully sprung. Our visions of a powerful and relevant church, with love enough for all and selfless sacrifice for God’s kingdom, are filed away under the heading “Too Idealistic.” We settle for the status quo as if it were all God intended—like a baby crocodile born in the zoo pond.

I’m outside the pond now and enjoying the wild where Jesus is ever-more real, and life makes so much more sense, both in the fallen world where I live and in the Kingdom, which has overrun it all. Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled. Don’t be frightened when others reject the conclusions you come to and seek to exclude you from their company. Jesus is the Head of his Church and gathers his sheep how he sees fit when they are willing to follow him, however he might lead them. She’s growing in the world with immense beauty, infiltrating every nook and cranny of the world without drawing attention to herself. 

Stop making excuses. Follow the hungers God has put in your heart, even if it appears you’re going it alone for awhile.

In time, you’ll find yourself living in the increasing fulfillment of his glory.

You’ll never regret it.

The Passion that Has Motivated My Journey Read More »

The Pews Are Empty Again Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pews Are Empty Again Today Read More »

How Deep Our Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Deep Our Faith Read More »

Sometimes It’s Right in Front of Us

I received an email last week from a friend in Israel. He mentioned how much he and his wife were learning to relax in Father’s love and care, but then added a hunger that had gone unfulfilled in their hearts:

During this time, the Lord taught us a lot and fed us with his love. We still have not found a group that we could call our home. We continue to pray for it. I have never felt such an acute need for simple communication and friendship.

I took note of his hope that some group would become home for them. I understand that hunger since we’ve all been schooled in the idea that we all need a fellowship we can call home, but it isn’t true.  So, I wrote back, “I don’t know that you need to be looking for a group to call your home. Let Father, Son, and Spirit be your home, and then you’ll be free to love others without needing anything in return. In time, some of those you love will love in return, and then you’ll find people who can enjoy the simple joy of friendship. Finding fellowship is a process to follow, not a group to find.”

Not everyone is ready to listen to something like that. Thankfully, he was, and it drew his heart to a work God had done before in them:

Thank you for writing me that my home is in the Father. Something inside me clicked and everything I have worried about lately finally came together as a puzzle in my head.

When my wife and I received an update in His love, our life became a daily adventure in Him. Every day, I got up and the first thought that arose in my head was “More.” I felt like a child who was circling behind the hands of the Father, and who is so happy and filled that he said again and again, “More!” In our life,     new people constantly appeared with whom we shared our path. We started spending more time with our children, having breakfast every Saturday, and spending time.

But at the same time, pressure was growing in the church we attended. We did not fit into the system and it spat us out. Unfortunately, then I did not understand many things that the Father revealed to us. I was not ready. We understood that Father called us to go out, but we were not ready to remain without a church in the way we’d known it. We were afraid for the children, afraid that they would not have friends. And besides, I thought that we needed to find a church with good, correct, deep, Christ-centered teaching.

In our new congregation, the meetings fell on Friday evening and immediately killed our dinner time and reading the Torah. It turned out that on Saturdays they had a youth ministry and we no longer had breakfasts with children. In addition, we were loaded with various ministries and endless conferences and seminars. And we are always in a hurry somewhere, but at the same time we had almost no close relations with anyone. More recently, we gathered with people at our home. We all had fun and joy, chatting, eating and studying the Bible together.

Because of my studies, we decided to stop the group for a while. I also stopped conducting classes in the children’s ministry. And now every Friday, I try to sit out the ministry. The only thing that inspired me is communication with my old friend.

After what you wrote to me, I realized that such a life we had before. We just let the Father fill every day and shared this love with others. But then we wanted to find or create a group and everything began to die. A thought came to me to stop coming to these church meetings. Just live filled with Him and loving those who are near. I will not make any quick decisions. I will ask the Father to show me if He really wants it.

He already had what he was looking for, but it didn’t count because it wasn’t the specific kind of group he was looking for. There are so many ways Father can connect us with his family. You can find that connection in a congregation if you’re not too worn out by the program, or you can find it elsewhere as you learn to live in his love.

Sometimes what we want is right in front of us; it’s just not in the package we were expecting.


If you need help finding the church Jesus is building in the world, that’s why I wrote Finding Church. We often look for her in all the wrong places and get frustrated when we feel alone and isolated. She is all over the world, growing in his glory. She just doesn’t always look the way we think she should.

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Let’s Stop Living by Our Labels

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Eureka, and someone read this portion of my book, Beyond Sundays, to me. They wanted to make some comments from it and ask me some questions. As they read it, I was reminded of how much I like this passage and how much it fits my heart.

Any title you wear be it pastor, best-selling author, or Done will do more to separate you from others than it will help you recognize the incredible family that Jesus is building. Claiming a label works against his prayer that his Father would make us one. The community of the new creation levels our humanity—from hierarchy and from our narcissistic notions of being in a better group than others. We are all sons and daughters of a gracious Father and that’s all the identity we need. (Matt. 23:5-12)

But once again, we risk being divided into “innies” and “outies” and falling into the false dichotomy our flesh so craves. Whether you go to “a church” or whether you don’t is a distinction without a difference. What matters is whether people are following Jesus and being transformed by his love. What I hope comes out of this study of the so-called “Dones” is those inside and those out recognize that the church is bigger than most of us would dare to believe and that his church takes expression wherever people engage each other with his love and purpose.

For those who claim that attendance at a local congregation is mandatory to be part of his church I hope they reconsider that false idea. Being part of his family is about following him not belonging to an institution. Over the last twenty years, I’ve found incredible followers of Jesus both inside them and outside. I hope this research draws all those into a conversation where “in” or “out” becomes less important than loving and affirming his kingdom however it takes shape in the world. But it will take a significant number of voices across the Christian landscape to fight for a better conversation than those we usually have.

I am convinced that people who truly know Jesus will want to reach across this divide, not exacerbate it. We don’t need identifying labels, especially ones that make us feel superior to others in the family. When Jesus becomes more important to us than finding identity in any particular tribe of it, then the conversations that most express his kingdom will grow in the world. Instead of demanding that others conform to our view of the church we will recognize her in the most surprising places as we find connection and fellowship with those who know the Jesus we know, even if they don’t follow the rituals we follow.

Then we won’t need labels to divide us. Brother, sister, and fellow saint will be more than enough identity for each of us and loving each other in a mutual celebration of Jesus himself will allow his church to flourish where we live.

Recently, I was in a conversation where every question or comment was about the church. People were looking for a model or at least validation for how they were doing ‘it.’ Something happened over the last couple of centuries that has made us more preoccupied with how we’re doing church than how we are following Jesus. I remember that trap well myself; it’s how religion has become more important than Jesus to so many of us. I paused to ask them how often Jesus used the word “church” (2 times) in the Gospels and contrasted it with how many times Jesus mentions his “kingdom” (121 times). Maybe if we were more preoccupied with his kingdom coming than we are about how we do church, we would see more of both.

Last week, I was in the Tulsa area with people who varied widely in their view of “church” and their participation in it. And you know what? It didn’t matter. What we shared in common—our belief in him, our desire to love in the world, and our desire to get to know each other—was more than enough. His church is a lovely family growing in the world—one that lives by love, not labels. If you want to be part of his kingdom, don’t look to the labels you wear or those others do, but for the fragrance of Father flowing from their lives.

Anyone who finds more identity in their institutional affiliation or lack of it, their doctrine or lack of it, their ritual or lack of it, proves by doing so that they have yet to find their identity and validation in Jesus and their relationship with him. Can you imagine what we would demonstrate to the world if we were lovers of Jesus and each other, first and only? Isn’t that what he asked of us in John 13:34-35? By that, he said, the whole world would come to know we are his followers.

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