Encouragement

He is Always There

I sat with a man recently who has walked with God for over fifty years. I’ve seen him go through amazing adventures with God, help countless others find faith in the storms of life, and stay true to him in times of great suffering.

But a medical emergency threatened all of that. He looked at me with pain-filled eyes, “God has completely forsaken me. He no longer speaks to me. Nothing he said has come true.” How could this man, of all the men I’ve known, fall into such despair and hopelessness?  Because he felt he had a promise from God that such a tragedy would never befall him. When it did, he had no place to center his heart.

Expectations.

Nothing will devour our trust in God faster than expecting him to do what we want him to do or even what we think love would require him to do when we hurt.

And yet, the Scriptures are full of encouragement that God works through all kinds of suffering. He hasn’t promised to fix all our pain or make life convenient. That’s the danger of reading the Bible like a promise box, pulling out our preferred passages, and expecting God to do what we want.

What happens when he doesn’t do what we expect? He’s not our fairy godmother, you know, turning our rats into horses, our rags into princess dresses, or our pumpkins into chariots. This world can turn cruel in an instant, and our faith in God does not mean we are immune from the consequences of living in a broken world.  Many saints have been shipwrecked on disappointed expectations about how God should work instead of tuning in to how he is.

As Jesus demonstrated on the cross, it is human to be so overwhelmed by despair and disappointment that we feel abandoned by God. He thought God had forsaken him, too, but he hadn’t. God was still there holding him when Jesus could no longer see it.  At such moments it is easy to default to the belief that God isn’t there, or if he is, he doesn’t care about me. Then, we can turn on ourselves, thinking we’ve not done enough or aren’t loveable enough for God to intervene on our behalf.

None of those options are helpful roads to go down. He didn’t promise to prevent trouble from coming to our door; he promised that we’d never be alone in it and that he would make a way through it for his higher purpose.

When overwhelming pain finds me on this journey, I no longer default to questioning his love. I used to all the time. I’d rail at God for not being faithful to his promises or his love.  Doing so wore me out and never brought me closer to recognizing him with me. He still was, though, and I could look back years later and see how. Now when trouble hits, I stake my confidence on the fact that his love is the only constant in the universe. I may not be able to see how he loves me at the moment, but I chose to set my heart on the reality that he is.

I’ve seen people go through the darkest of circumstances and stay faithful to God’s love in it. Yes, they had questions. Yes, they struggled to hold on to that hope, but I’ve never seen that hope disappointed. God is always with us, even in the dark. It may take years to see, as we look back on how God worked through our trials. This is why our trust in his character has to be stronger than our confidence in the assumptions we make about him abandoning us.

Paul even talked about his own “despairing of life” in some horrible circumstance (2 Corinthians 1), but he knew God would comfort him in it, and the overflow of that would be to comfort others in dire need as well. Perhaps that is what’s most valuable about fellowship—being able to encourage the broken heart, to keep leaning into the reality of his love.

For those of you listening to the new add-on episodes to My Friend Luis, Terror in the Mountains is a case in point. That night, overwhelmed by his dad’s heart attack, exhausted by trying to help him, alone in the dark, and besieged by coyotes, he screamed desperate prayers to a God he wasn’t sure even existed. He wanted God to heal his father, to save him from the coyotes, and to eliminate the fear taking over his mind. God was working in other ways for greater purposes.

Even though God speaks to his heart throughout the night and keeps him from killing himself to end the pain, Luis couldn’t see that until years later. He felt completely abandoned on the worst night of his life. Why didn’t God intervene in a more obvious way? I’m sure I’m not qualified to answer that question. I do know this; Luis looks back now and knows with certainty that God saved his life that night and provided what he needed triumph over the most unimaginable tragedy. That is now bringing hope to thousands all over the world.

Every week, I talk to people giving up on God’s love because their pain is unbearable or because God doesn’t deliver them from it the way they think he should. They expect him to take away the suffering and forgot to find him inside of it. He promised us a “fellowship of his suffering” as palpable as the “joy of his resurrection.” (Philippians 3) Even Jesus dealt with overwhelming pain inside this broken Creation.

I suspect that’s what we’re all looking for, a connection with him when we are in excruciating pain or circumstances we don’t understand. That’s where trust matters most. It’s hardest to learn that when the pressure is on, so it’s something we might want to contemplate in more relaxed seasons of life.

Cultivate what it means to lean into his love there, then a flood of great waters will not shake you. You’ll be able to find him in your pain and help others to as well.

Because he is always there, at work for our good, even when we can’t see him.

The Rising Tide…

For the past six months, a dozen of us from around the world have met on Zoom every couple of weeks to seek to listen to God’s heart about the turmoil in the world and to agree with him in prayer for what he wants to do in the world. This bi-weekly touchstone has shaped my journey in some incredible ways this spring and summer. It was here that I first began to discover how to gaze with God into the needs around my life instead of just holding them in my hands gazing at him. It was here that we were reminded of the power of love, rest, and play in being sensitive to the unfolding work of God. And it was here that we heard a fresh call of God going out to people in their 20s and 30s in the night to invite them to know him, even though many of them don’t know what it is yet.

Last time, we sensed a strong going out from God’s heart to support those following his ways. That has been the focus of my prayers over the last few days, and it has drawn me back to a favorite passage from the Old Testament.

For the eyes of the LORD roam throughout the earth so that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.

Most people know 2 Chronicles 7:14 well about repenting and praying so God can heal the land, but this one from 2 Chronicles 16:9 doesn’t get as much play. For some reason, we prefer Scriptures that pressure us to do more instead of recognizing what our Father is already doing in the earth. The last few years have been difficult for those seeking to follow the voice of the Shepherd, instead of getting lost in the clamor of the world, the demands of religious performance, or chasing political answers to relational problems.

Following Jesus isn’t easy when your family judges you, when good friends can’t understand why you’re not doing what they want you to, or when religious leaders try to talk you back under their authority. Sometimes you can feel isolated as if no one sees the things you see or feels the things you feel. It’s easy to be afraid and second-guess what he might be asking of you. I get those emails every day. And yet, I know that thousands of people around the planet are deeply engaged with a community inside the godhead that is stirring some inexplicable passions in their hearts. I get those emails, too. I’ve never been more hopeful that the tide is turning and God arising.

For those who are hearing the voice of the Shepherd, drawing them to live and love in ways that others around them can’t see, please know you are not alone. He sees you. The eyes of the Lord search through the earth for those who are willing to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, especially in these difficult days. Blessed are you who see and follow, who are willing to risk your own comfort to let God’s light be known in the world. All of heaven supports your quest, and I am convinced you will see more of that in more practical ways in days to come. Watch what this Father will do to confirm his word in you, to connect you with others who share your passion, and to encourage your heart in tough times.

The way that verse from 2 Chronicles 16 is written shows that this wasn’t a one-time act of God but the nature of his character throughout history. He is always seeking those who surrender their lives to his purpose to strongly support them in their struggles to live in that reality. Don’t get lost on the word “completely” here. I’ve heard this verse used to condemn people for not doing enough and to manipulate them to work harder for God. Many think that if God doesn’t strongly support them, it proves they are not “completely” his. Don’t get lost there. “Completely his” does not refer to perfection. We all have moments of weaknesses and where we fall short even of our own hopes. David was a man after God’s heart, even though he failed miserably in his lust for Bathsheba. Peter was surely willing to die for Jesus that night even though his fears got the better of him watching what they were doing to Jesus.

“Completely” doesn’t mean “perfect”; it means “fully.” Your heart can be “fully his” even though you still struggle in living out the reality of that. “Fully” is expressed in prayers like this: “Jesus, I want to follow you wherever you go. I want to know you in the core of my being, no matter what it takes.  I want all my life to be lost in you and for you to take shape in me.”  That’s it.  Look deeply in your heart; you know if your heart belongs to him. If it does, take hope. You are not alone. God is with you and will strongly support you in the challenges you face. Be encouraged; the tide is turning.

And if your heart does not belong to him?  Well, that can change in an instant. Find some time to be alone with him and surrender your heart to him. It’s a simple choice and one that will significantly alter the trajectory of your life for the better.

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A few other items:

A new episode of My Friend Luis airs today. It’s the “rest of the story,” as newscaster Paul Harvey used to say. Originally designed to be a 12-episode podcast, a key part of this story emerged only after we had finished the story we meant to tell. But this part cannot be left out and will air in three episodes over the next three weeks. Shockingly, Raphael returns in 2021 to put some incredible finishing touches on the story.

It looks like it’s time to travel again, as God wills. Planning is in the process for trips to Kansas, Michigan, Virginia, and Florida. If you have something on your heart in those places, let me know. If you’ve got some people somewhere else you’d like me to visit, also get in touch. And if you’d like to be notified when I’m coming to your area, you can sign up on our Travel Notifications email list and include your address <http://eepurl.com/bJ43Ar>.

Also, Kyle Rice, my current co-host at The God Journey, and I have been talking about planning a retreat this winter for twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, who want to connect with each other and explore what it means to be part of a new generation of people living untainted by religion and at rest in Father’s unfolding purpose. We’ve started a Facebook page to help us plan that. If you’re in your 20s or 30s and are interested, you can connect with us here.  If you’re not in that age group, please don’t feel left out.  There can be other opportunities as well.

It’s Time!

The last few months have been a strange time for me. As I was working on the new My Friend Luis podcast, I kept getting insight from the Spirit, signaling there was something ahead he wanted me to be ready for. These insights came in nudges from within, dreams and visions from other people, and specific Scripture passages that would leap off the page into my heart when I was reading. While these inklings were encouraging, they were far from specific. However, the inspiration within and the growth curve it has sent me on is nothing like I’ve experienced before.  I’ve shared some of that on my podcast, especially some insights about prayer that are reshaping my life in so many ways. It started with the Embracing His Glory insights and has continued on about praying with a different perspective and with others that feels like a jig-saw puzzle fitting together.

Last week Sara and I were in the Sierra Mountains with my 95-year-old Dad to celebrate Easter. Earlier that week, my daughter and grandkids came up for a few days, and we took a walk through the burn scar of the Creek wildfire. Over the next few days, I had this nagging thought in my heart that there was something God wanted me to see there, that I had missed. I talk more about that in a video on my Facebook page that I posted yesterday. It was recorded on Good Friday as I re-visited that area to share with you what I felt God was speaking to my heart.  If you missed that video, you could view it here.

I talk more about this experience in the podcast that will air this Friday morning at The God Journey, called “Settled in His Spirit.”  Kyle and I talk about it in the first 12 minutes or so. Simply, as I contemplated what I had seen in the aftermath of the wildfire, my heart was drawn to Romans 8:18-21:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

As I was thinking of this passage on my walk in the woods with my dog, Zoey, I was surprisingly surrounded by a rising sense of Presence.  Then, I heard two words in my mind: “It’s time.”  I knew instantly that the voice was referring to this passage. It is time for the children of God to be revealed. My body literally quaked. I’m not sure what all this means, but I am confident something is stirring. Every person I’ve shared this moment with sense has either already had something similar on the heart or felt affirmation when they heard it.

I’m not offering this as some kind of prophecy. I don’t know that it has any end-of-the-world overtones to it. But I do sense the undercurrent of those who have been learning to live at rest in his love over the past few years will soon become more evident than the religious voices that so easily disfigure the face of God to the world around us. Now, I’m not looking for that to change in the media or Christianity Today to do a story on it because I don’t think this is about new books, markets, and viral internet posts, but simply a stitching together of people loving selflessly those who cross their paths. God will make himself more evident to others, and we’ll see that over the next few months and years.

I honestly know nothing more than that, but my heart has an expectancy about God’s work in our world that it hasn’t had in a while.  I feel no angst to make anything happen or think some book or project from me will turn some tide here. As things begin to unfold, the usual suspects will try to market it for their own gain or try to systematize it to put it under their control. I can tell you now, avoid such people and such activities.

This is a work of the Spirit that will have the breath of Father in it. It won’t be in our control, though we can yield to his flow when we sense it. What is most important now is to keep learning what it means for you to be at rest in his love and to learn how he wants to play with you in the Father’s working. This rises out of that reality, not the somber, terrifying tones of human effort.  All he asks of us is to present a willing heart, to keep our eye on him, and to be ready when he nudges us into the next opportunity.  That will involve some prayer and watching, but the fun kind, not the laborious kind.

And for those who are touched by what I share in the video, or you have questions about it, Kyle and I will be hosting a God Journey After-Show this coming Sunday at 10:00 am Pacific Daylight Time. If you want to join us, email me for a Zoom link to that session. We’ll let in as many as we think we can manage, but it will also stream live on The God Journey Facebook Page for those who want to watch.

Please hear my heart here. I sense something stirring and am just putting it out there to see if others have similar insights. If God is in this, let’s see what he unfolds over the next few months and years.

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As a side note, during our time at Shaver Lake, a local radio station played an interview recorded with my dad a few weeks before about his experiences in World War II. You can find it here, along with photos from that era. 

 

 

What About Ananias and Sapphira?

The trajectory of Scripture takes humanity from seeing the Creator of heaven and earth as an angry, demanding deity to encountering him as a loving Father who seeks to rescue his children from the ravages of sin and shame. Knowing that will help you work through those moments in Scripture that have often been preached as if God is vindictive.

I get this question a lot from people who read He Loves Me, or even Live Loved Free Full. The latest came a couple of weeks ago:

Wayne, how do you handle people who say God is still angry and to be feared in the  New Testament. What about the story of Ananias and Sapphira facing swift judgment in the New Testament in the time of the New Commandment? (Acts 5:1-10)

My response:  

To answer your question, I think we make too much of an angry “Old Testament” God.  The overwhelming theme of the Old Testament is that God is gracious and “slow to anger,” “his lovingkindness is better than life” and “his love endures forever.”  That’s the message. When God is depicted as angry and vengeful by the OT writers, I suspect they were projecting their shame on God’s activity and interpret it as anger.

How do I know that?  Because Jesus was the exact representation of God’s nature, and he didn’t come among us as an angry, offended deity.  He came to love, to forgive, to heal, and to set free. That’s not to say he didn’t have those moments when he is also correcting some injustice, but we still tend to put more anger to his sternness than was likely there.

Even when Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16) is crushed, many see that as an angry God who lost control, rather than the surgical removal of a rebellious influence in the camp that would lead Israel astray if left unchecked.  Through Christ, I tend to see God that way now, not as an angry deity striking out against those who displease him, but a surgeon having to take extraordinary measures to keep the story of redemption alive in a fallen world.

And to the specific New Testament story you ask about, I don’t detect anger at Ananias and Sapphira in that account. For those who don’t know the story, this husband and wife claimed they sold some property and were giving all of the proceeds to help others. The truth, however, was that they kept some for themselves and when they presented their offering to Peter he told them that in doing so they had lied to the Holy Spirit, not just their brothers and sisters.  They were trying to buy spiritual status with money. God’s resolution for that was to end their lives and bring them home. I don’t think that mistake meant they lost their salvation or that he was punishing them, but simply that their influence among the early church would be more detrimental than helpful. This is a unique situation, of course, that we don’t see repeated. So it wasn’t just a matter of being deceptive, or so many more people would be dying today. Something else was going on that isn’t fully explained in the text. Of course, fear spread after that, but fear may not have been the response God wanted. We cannot be perfected in fear, but only in love. (I John 4:20)

In Jesus’s day, the Pharisees thought God far angrier and punitive than they found in Christ, which is why they rejected him as the Son of God. Those who see God as vengeful work hard to keep him at bay but never discover the transforming power of his love that sets us free to walk righteously without fear. Scripture takes us on that journey, from the Creation of the world until it is all summed up at the end of this age. In that story, we discover that God is not the angry deity that needs to be appeased by our good behavior. In many ways, that’s the story I grew up with, and I now believe it was a bit off the mark.  Shame-based people saw him that way in the Old Testament, but God sets that to the right in the New so that we no longer have to be afraid of him but can rest in his love. He has always been the gracious Father inviting his wayward children home to his love and care even when we couldn’t see it.

I know when I write like this people ask, “What about those who use the idea of a loving God to live wayward and indulgent lives?”  To them, love is only a concept, not a reality. Those who know him will want to be like him. If there’s no desire to be like him, I doubt they have ever experienced his love.  Real love will change us far more than any fear of him ever could.

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Some notes of interest:

  • If you want help exploring this redemption story in the Scriptures, I have lots of resources to help people engage the Scriptures through the revelation of Jesus. It helps us understand the story in the way it was intended for us.
  • My new book Live Loved Free Full can help your mind bathe in these realities every day. The emails I get from people reading it warm my heart. It seems to be doing what I hoped it would do in the world.
  • And, if you haven’t started listening to My Friend Luis, give it a try. It is a great story of redemption in the most desperate of circumstances.

A Dad and His Son

January 22 

The father and son in the photo are obviously delighted with each other and the photo perfectly captures the joy, wonder, and affection that God wants to share with his children.

“I’m a long way from that,” Glenn admitted after I had a chance to let the picture sink in, “but I know he is calling me to be just like that little boy.”

I know what he meant because I’d been down that road. Learning to be so at peace in the Father’s presence, so secure in his care, and so ready to enjoy the day with him, was a long journey for me.

“That’s me!” Glenn finally said. “The little boy there! I was two years old.” My head shot up in surprise. I had not even considered that this was a family photo. “My father died of a heart condition within two months of that picture. I have no memory of him, only this picture. Now I want to know my heavenly Father with the same simplicity and joy.”

No this isn’t the relationship God asks of us, but the one he had already been at work to produce in us. “We know love,” John wrote, “only because he loved us first.”

 

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
1 John 4:16 (NIV)

 

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. Since all pre-orders have been shipped, we will only do this until this Friday, January 22. You’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or here from Amazon or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

In the Eyes of a Son

January 21

“Everything God is calling me to right now seems wrapped up in this picture,” Glenn told me as he laid the black and white photograph of father and son on the table.

This was the first time I had been in Glenn and Elaine’s home. We sat down for breakfast a few hours earlier and hadn’t yet moved from the table. We were talking about the awesome relationship that God extends to each of us through his son.

The photo was carefully framed and matted, an obvious treasure. I could see why immediately—I was captured by the interplay of this father and son standing beside a sapling birch tree that had already lost its leaves for winter. The clothes they wore spoke of a previous generation.

The delight of a father looking down at his son and the obvious pride of a two-year-old looking back was captured perfectly by the photographer. The connection between this father and son was profound. As Glenn cradled it in his hands, he told me he is just beginning to see his relationship with God in the same way. So should we all.

But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do
what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
John 1:10–12 (MSG)

 

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. Since all pre-orders have been shipped, we will only do this until this Friday, January 22. You’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or here from Amazon or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

Affection or Adoration?

January 20  

What do you think? Would I rather sit on the couch with my children while they tell me what an incredibly awesome father I am, repeating the same words again and again so I am sure to get the message; or would I rather take a walk with them, talking about their joys and fears?

The latter, of course. Far more than their praise, I’d rather have my children’s presence. I want to be with them in their laughter and to comfort them in their tears. Why would it be any different with God?

The fact is, you can praise someone you don’t love, holding him at a distance, feeling left out and alone. However, I don’t think you can love him and not also be completely overwhelmed by how worthy he is of your praise.

Just make sure your adoration never displaces affection. Give him all the adoration and praise he deserves. Just don’t be confused that to him your praise means more than your love.

 

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:14–15 (NIV)

 

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. Since all pre-orders have been shipped, we will only do this until this Friday, January 22. You’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or here from Amazon or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

Do You Love Me?

January 19 

It makes more sense to me now, why Jesus asked Peter the question he did after the resurrection: “Do you love me?” He didn’t want to know if Peter adored him, feared him, or was ready to serve him in the face of any conceivable threat.

He just wanted to know he had Peter’s love. Having that, he knew everything else would fall into place. Lacking that, nothing else would matter.

If the cross accomplished its purpose, even this one—who had betrayed him so painfully—would find his way back into his love. After all, Peter never stopped loving him, but simply let his fears overwhelm him when the pressure was on.

His failure did not disprove his love. Jesus knew that. For the moment, Peter didn’t. But he would soon enough and then he would be free to live out the rest of his days with growing affection for his resurrected friend.

Don’t think your mistakes prove your lack of love. Find a love bigger than your failures and you’ll find a life that grows increasingly free from wanting to go your own way.

 

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17–19 (NIV)

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. Since all pre-orders have been shipped, we will only do this until this Friday, January 22. You’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or here from Amazon or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.  After many hassles with their IT department, you can finally order the hardback at Amazon.

We Are All Beautiful in His Eyes

January 18 

Though our flesh can be seduced by the adoration of others, our Father doesn’t share the same ego. I know many people who sacrifice the affection of their family for their success in the workplace, but God isn’t wired that way. I think he would treasure affection over adoration any day of the week. He is the God of love, remember?

Nyssa’s brokenness didn’t diminish her father’s affection. If anything, her brokenness made her more endearing. We have the tendency to diminish our worship when we are aware of our own failures and weaknesses.

Don’t great crowds of adoration always push the so-called “beautiful people” and the “power people” to the front while shunning those deemed “lesser” to the back? But in a father’s lap, there are no greater and lesser. Parents delight equally in their children and only see points of brokenness as cracks into which more love can be poured.

Can we dare to believe that our Father sees us the same way Jim sees his daughter Nyssa? I can assure you he loves you far more than that.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

 

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. Since all pre-orders have been shipped, we will only do this until January 24. You’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

He Has Chosen You

January 17

Nyssa was adopted into her family. Her parents first laid eyes on her when she was eleven days old and knew her entire condition before they threw wide the doors of their home and invited her in.

Jim told me he was initially reticent to adopt a child with so many special needs. But the moment he first laid eyes on Nyssa, all that changed. “As soon as I had her in my arms,” he said, “she looked up at me and sighed. My heart just melted, and I knew I had to say ‘Yes.’”

She was chosen in the same way Father has chosen you. He was fully aware of all the brokenness he would love you through.

Her father reminded me that she couldn’t even crawl into her own father’s lap that morning. If her father hadn’t scooped down and picked her up, she would never have been there. I’m certain our plight is similar. Who of us can really claim to crawl into God’s lap by our own power? He is our only source, and there would be no intimacy if he did not make it happen.

Perhaps the most we do is just lift our arms to him in surrender and desire. But our place on his lap is all his doing.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed youso that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

John 15:16 (NIV)

 

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. If you pre-ordered a copy it is already in the mail to you. We will do one more week here and after that you’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

A Girl and Her Daddy!

January 16 

“Majesty, worship his Majesty . . .” The familiar words rolled off my lips as I sat among a group of believers from all over the western United States who had gathered to share their experiences in relational church. It was Sunday morning and we were just beginning with a chance to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. I felt unsettled.

Sitting next to me that morning was a three-and-a-half-year-old girl, cradled in the arms of her father, Jim. Nyssa struggles against the complications of Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a genetic muscle disorder that has caused severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and disfigured fingers. She is fed through a tube in her stomach and the disorder renders her unable to talk, walk, or play like other children. In fact, she can only lay cuddled in her father’s arms, cooing and slobbering. The connection between her and her father and the love and adoration that beamed from his face as he whispered to her and jiggled her in his arms was mesmerizing.

That’s what I want! The words sailed through my mind so quietly I almost missed them. I had to stop a minute and ask not only what I had heard, but where it had come from. Certainly, this wasn’t my thought. After a few moments of meditation, however, I recognized Father’s voice in it and suddenly it dawned on me why my heart had been so unsettled that morning.

We were exalting God, joining the great throng of angelic beings that surround the throne with praise and adoration to God. He was just wanting us to enjoy a moment in his lap, like that father and daughter; with an intimacy that no moment of adoration could rival.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:12–13 (NIV)

 

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. If you pre-ordered a copy it is already in the mail to you. We will do one more week here and after that you’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

The Fatherless Epidemic

January 15

“I think my dad hates me,” she said through her sniffles, choking back the sob that hung in her throat. Then she detailed the fight they’d had the night before. Her dad was upset about the provocative way she often dressed, and she was certain he had no respect for her choices.

I walked her back through the conversation, a surrogate dad who suggested that her father’s fears were less about judging her than they were about trying to protect her from men with less than honorable intentions.

“So, you think my dad doesn’t hate me?” she asked at the end.

“Nicole, I have no idea. He’s your dad, but I would be surprised if he didn’t love you very much. However, can I ask how things are with your heavenly dad?”

Her twisted face told me my question had confused her. A moment passed. “Do you mean God?”

I nodded. “I grew up in church,” she said. “I hate him.”

I smiled as I looked at Nicole and whispered to her as if sharing the most incredible of secrets: “As wrong as you might be about your earthly dad, I can tell you you’re dead wrong about your heavenly One.”

Her eyes lit up. “What do you mean?”

“Nicole, you have a father who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.”

The hope that we all have a Father who knows us completely but loves us extravagantly is all but lost in our day. It might be time to uncover it again.

 

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

John 4:9 (NIV)

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. If you pre-ordered a copy it is already in the mail to you. We will do one more week here and after that you’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

Where to Begin?

January 14 

What do you think? Do you want a relationship with God based on fear or the endearment of his own character and love?

If you don’t know how to do that, find someone who does and ask him or her if they will help you. Don’t look for someone to tell you exactly what to do, but who will instead help you see God’s fingerprints in your own journey and the realities his Spirit is offering to invite you farther down that path.

Let them share their journey with you, but don’t try to copy theirs. Instead, learn to listen in your heart as God shows you how he wants to make himself known to you. Then watch how he does that. Share your journey with them and let them help you lean into those things that seem genuine and recognize those things that smell of self-effort.

Try not to get discouraged when it doesn’t happen quickly or as easily as you might hope. Look for others who have a similar hunger. Please don’t give up, because learning to find your footing on a journey with him does take a while. This life is not like going to Disneyland; it is a real engagement with the Maker of heaven and earth.

Knowing him starts in small ways and over time grows to become the most valuable part of your life.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went awayand sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:45–46

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. If you pre-ordered a copy it is already in the mail to you. We will do one more week here and after that you’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

The Most Engaging Invitation

January 13 

Far from being the kill-joy that religion makes God out to be, or the excuse for our injustices to others, God becomes a valued companion in this journey called life. When you know who this amazing God is, “Be holy as I am holy” is not the most onerous command in Scripture, but the most engaging invitation. When you know him, you will want to be like him.

And if you want to be like him, it’s great to know he has provided everything for that to happen. There’s no way I could do that on my own. All I have to do is learn to live in his love, and he’s the one who teaches us that, too.

Now, I know some of you reading this are frustrated that your relationship with God doesn’t feel like that. Despite your prayers, Bible reading, church attendance, and trying to be good, God still feels like a distant deity rarely involved in real circumstances of daily existence. I lived a long time there myself, so I understand. The five things I’ve described above are the fruit of a long trajectory in learning how to live in his love. It doesn’t happen overnight, with a snap of the fingers or an ecstatic Jesus encounter.

Learning how to lean into his reality and recognize his fingerprint around us is a lifelong quest, perhaps the greatest adventure our humanity offers. Our appetites can betray us, our intellect often deceives us, and the world so easily distracts us with its amusements and its fears. Cultivating the inner life to become increasingly sensitive to the ways Jesus makes himself known does take some focus and participation from us.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which  has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:13-14

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. If you pre-ordered a copy it is already in the mail to you. We will do one more week here and after that you’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

Three More Reasons

January 12 

Let’s continue yesterday’s reading with three reasons that you might want to follow God that don’t include fear of the afterlife.

The third reason for me is because navigating successfully through a broken Creation is beyond my best resources and wisdom. Self-indulgence leads to the corruption and injustice that not only diminishes my life, but it also stains our world and harms others. How do you navigate circumstances you can’t control that seem unjust? How do sickness and tragedy make sense inside God’s love and his ultimate purpose to redeem the world back to himself?

Without his active input in my life, I only consider how things affect me, and that’s a painful way to live in this universe. He has a way of causing the sufferings of this world to fold into a larger plan of our transformation and his redemption. I wouldn’t want to live without it. He has given me insight to make decisions I wouldn’t otherwise have made, and though he often invites me down more difficult roads, they always bear better fruit over time.

Fourth, I am powerless to resist my destructive appetites and desires if he does not give me the wisdom to untangle them, the strength to refuse them, and the fullness to displace what they prey on in my twisted soul.

Without him, I’m adrift in a world of indulgence; with him, I can learn to say no to those things that add more pain in the world and yes to a path that leaves more grace in it.

Fifth, because I want to be part of something bigger than myself and my own existence. God not only created this planet but now moves it to its ultimate redemption. By showing us what it truly means to be loved and to love, I can become part of that unfolding purpose and encourage others on that path as well.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles  the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Colossians 2:27

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This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. If you pre-ordered a copy it is already in the mail to you. We will do one more week here and after that you’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.

Two Fearless Reasons to Follow God

January 11 

Some Christians tell me that people will not serve God unless we terrify them with the possibility of hell. I disagree. I can think of five great reasons anyone would want to follow God that have nothing to do with fear. Let’s look at two of them today and three more tomorrow.

First, because God is the most engaging presence in the universe. He is full of life, laughter, joy, and wisdom more precious than wealth. Far and away he is the best friend I have. Oh, I don’t always understand what he’s up to, but I know in time he’ll show me what I need to know.

I’d rather talk over things with Father, Jesus, and the Spirit more than anyone else in my life, and I love the conversations I have with others. If you haven’t experienced him this way, I’m sure I got a bit of an eye roll there, but honestly the things he adds to my life fill it with wonder and wisdom.

Second, because this world makes no sense without him. All that is real is not visible. I see his glory in the Creation and his hand in the seeming coincidences of life—meeting a person at just the right moment or having an insight drop into my heart from a conversation, a sentence in a book, or a song lyric.

Even failures or the betrayal of others turns out to have meaning in the larger scheme of things that he understands so well. A seemingly silly choice in one moment will open opportunities down the road I would never have foreseen.

I sensed his calling to me at a very young age. Inside his reality, I find the courage and resources that hold me through life’s most painful seasons.

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled
to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Hebrews 10:22

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it can reach those who pre-ordered it for the first of the year.  You can get it on 3-book if you like at any of your e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.  You can order your hardback copy from us.

What If?

January 10 

I sat on a deck in the High Sierras surrounded by pine and cedar trees with a young man who did not grow up with any kind of spiritual influence in his life. He and his fiancée had asked me to marry them, so we were talking about what kind of involvement they wanted from God in their wedding and their marriage.

“I know nothing about him,” the young man answered.

I paused a moment thoughtfully, then pointed to the beauty of the forest all around us. “What if there is a God who made all of this, who loves you more than anyone else you’ve ever known, and he wants to walk with you as you explore your life in his Creation?”

He looked up at me and smiled, his eyes misted with tears. “I would love that.”

Who wouldn’t?

If you don’t know him that way, ask him to show you. Resist any expectation as to what that has to look like and watch what he does.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I John 3:1

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it can reach those who pre-ordered it for the first of the year.  You can get it on 3-book if you like at any of your e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.  You can order your hardback copy from us.

God, the Rescuer

January 9 

Many people misunderstand the Old Testament—they conclude that God is the executioner in the redemption story. Stories like Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Canaan’s Conquest are enough to convince people that God is a terrifying presence out to destroy in anger the world he created.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are times God intervenes in human history in ways that hold severe consequences for those who resist him, but if you look at the whole story, you’ll see he is always the rescuer. His judgment is like the surgeon’s scalpel—it sets things right in a broken world.

Sin is the destroyer, not God. Using our self-preferring nature and preying on our limited knowledge, it draws us into the darkness like captives. Because we go so willingly, we see God’s actions against the darkness as actions against us. But God wants to break through the bondage and draw us back into his light and his healing.

Salvation, according to Jesus, does not come to those who try to appease an angry deity with their offerings or sacrificial needs. Salvation is found inside an affectionate relationship with the Creator of all. It is less about fixing our circumstances than it is about rescuing us from the lies of darkness.

Unfortunately, too many people confuse God himself with the religion we’ve created in his name. That makes it difficult for them to connect with him. People in relative ease often keep God at a distance. They take in just enough Christianity to soothe their conscience and to satisfy their fears about the afterlife, but they don’t want too much of him because he might intrude on their pleasures.

Other people, caught in tragic circumstances or deep pain, call out to him, seeking relief by promising God they will do anything he wants. Neither of these will lead to a long and satisfying connection with him.

Do you need to be rescued? Ask him and let him do it however he decides is best.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”
Psalm 91:14

 

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  You can order your hardback copy here. SPECIAL NOTE:  Our books are in and will be on the way to you as soon as we can catch-up on our pre-orders.

Artwork above is taken from A Man Like No Other: The Illustrated Life of Jesus by Wayne Jacobsen, Brad Cummings, and Murry Whitman.

A More Compelling Reason

January 8 

So, back to our question of a couple of days ago: Would you want to follow God if there were no hell? Fear of hell was just about the only reason people got saved when I was young. No one wanted to jump through all those religious hoops unless the consequences of not doing were far worse.

Whatever hell turns out to be, it is the place where sin devours its prey. As tragic as that might be, the fear of it was never meant to be our motivation for following God. If we’re going to sustain a journey in him, we need a more compelling reason than fear. And our friends and family need to hear an invitation that inspires them to consider God’s reality better than this: “You’re a horrible person and God is going to torment you if you don’t repent.”

That’s what engages the Stockholm syndrome, rather than a real journey of love and affection. Besides, I’m not convinced fearing hell will be enough to save anyone. Oh, it might hold them in check for a few months at a time, but when the fear fades, as it always does, they will be back to their old self-destructive ways.

God’s love for you is the only source of salvation and the only motivation that will untwist all sin wrecks in this world and the one to come. Taste that, and you’ll follow him to the end of the world.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;  blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here. SPECIAL NOTE:  our books should be arriving today and we will get out as many as we can this weekend.

Artwork above is taken from A Man Like No Other: The Illustrated Life of Jesus by Wayne Jacobsen, Brad Cummings, and Murry Whitman.

Fear or Shame Won’t Help

January 7

In the early days of my journey, fear and shame were constant if unwelcome companions. I was constantly afraid I wasn’t doing enough for God to like me, and I was ashamed of my sinful desires. My shortcomings and failures were always before me since he commanded us to be as holy as he was.

However, that was not the relationship God had in mind for me, and it is not the relationship that would help know him or experience all he had for me.

Jesus didn’t seem to live with his Father that way, and he was perfect. He called his Father “our Father,” so that we could share in that relationship as well, and through it be transformed. So, instead of focusing his followers on their failures, he invited them to focus on his joy. He told them everything, “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

No one I knew in my young days lived that way. To us, God was a demanding deity, and we lived every day under threats, obligations, and a constant demand for perfect performance. Jesus pointed us down a different road because those who live like that cannot experience his fullness, and they won’t effectively share his love in the world.

Fear and shame will not produce the work of God in us. Jesus showed us his Father was not a terrifying presence in the world, but the most endearing. Love is the coin of his realm, not fear and shame.

 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . .
Romans 8:1

 

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here.

 

Why Follow After God?

January 6 

“Would you follow God if there was no hell?”

Someone asked me that a few years ago, and my immediate reaction was, “Of course I would.”

If he had asked me that when I was younger, I doubt I would have answered with such certainty. Back then, my relationship with God was more confused. We would have said God was loving, but only for those who did everything he wanted. But whoever did that?

His holiness was his most terrifying feature, and the best reason I was given to follow him was my fear of the consequences if I didn’t. Threatened with eternity in flames was all the motivation I needed to do everything I thought required to stay in his good graces. More than anything, I wanted God to like me, protect me, and bless me.

Looking back now, I realize I was not in an endearing relationship with my Creator as a beloved son. I was caught in the Stockholm syndrome with God; like the victim of a kidnapping, I sought to ingratiate myself to the one I feared, confusing that with love.

For the past twenty-five years, however, I’ve come to rely on his love. It has made all the difference. God never wanted our indentured servitude but to share his life with his grateful children.

 

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Romans 8:15 (NASRE)

 

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here.

 

Who Is He Really?

January 5 

Scripture paints two seemingly contradictory portraits of God. As the holy God, he is shown to be unapproachable in his purity, willing to mete out unspeakable torment on his Son, and ready to consign the unrepentant to eternal agony in hell. He is also portrayed as a tender Father, so loving that the most wayward sinner could run to his side in absolute safety and find forgiveness and mercy.

If you cannot resolve these images into a coherent view of God, you will end up playing the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not game. Like the schizophrenic child of an abusive father, you’ll never be certain which God you’ll meet on a given day—the one who wants to scoop you up in his arms with laughter, or the one who ignores or punishes you for reasons you don’t understand.

Here is why so few believers ever discover the depths of friendship God has offered to them. They see God’s holiness as a contradiction to his tenderness. Unable to reconcile the two, fear wins out, and intimacy with him is forfeit. Vacillating between loving him and fearing him will keep you from ever learning to trust him.

You cannot love what you fear, and you will not fear what you love.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.

Romans 8:15 (NIV)

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here.

 

A Father Like No Other

January 4 – A Father Like No Other

God’s desire for you since the first day of Creation was to invite you past your fear of him, so you can discover what it means to love him. He offers you an intimate friendship that will transform you as he becomes the all-consuming passion of your life.

He will be the voice that steers you through every situation, the peace that sets your heart at rest in trouble, and the power that holds you up in the storm. He wants to be closer than your dearest friend and more faithful than any human being.

I know it sounds too good to be true. How can mere humans enjoy such a friendship with the Almighty God who created all that we see with a word? Do I dare think that he would know and care about the details of my life? Isn’t it presumptuous to even imagine that this God would take delight in me, even though I still struggle with the failures of flesh?

It would be if it were your idea. It was his, however, long before you even considered it. He’s the one who offered to be your loving Father—loving you and caring for you in ways no earthly father ever could.

He knows you better than you know yourself; he loves you more than anyone ever has; he knows that when you relax into that reality, you will discover that all of your fears, including your fear of him, will be destroyed.

But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18 (NIV)

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here.

 

There’s No Fear in Love

January 3 – There’s No Fear in Love

Fear and love cannot exist side by side in the human heart. Though the Psalmist tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it is only the beginning.

John discovered that perfect love casts out fear and that true wisdom is gained inside of your growing confidence in his affection. If you don’t love God, you would be well served to fear him. Once, however, you learn what it really means to love him, you will never need to fear him again.

As you grow secure in his love, you will come to know who God is. And knowing him, you will want to be like him. Discover that, and your calamities will never again drive you to question God’s concern for you or whether you’ve done enough to merit his affection.

Instead of fearing he has turned his back on you, you will be able to rest in his love in the moments you need him most.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . .

1 John 4:18 (NIV)

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here.

Settle for No Substitutes

January 2 – Settle for No Substitutes

Isn’t the record of most of our lives littered with significant periods where we wandered away from his love, seeking other things to carry our spiritual life? 

Devoid of his presence, we are hounded by fear, guilt, and the delusion that we can earn that love by just trying harder. So easily, we find ourselves living with love-substitutes. We double our efforts to be responsible, committed, or disciplined. But these efforts don’t produce love; they can only flow out of it.

If the Lord’s love seems distant for you, let him draw you back to himself. Find a quiet place and wait in silence before him. He will rekindle your affection. Don’t try to go on without it. God never intended you to live even one day outside the wonder of his love. And don’t make the mistake of trying to earn it, either. 

You can’t earn points with someone who is no longer keeping score. Jesus already filled out your card with maximum points. You don’t have to earn what he has already freely given; you simply get to receive it.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

1 John 3:1 (NIV)

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This reflection is taken from Wayne Jacobsen’s new book, Live Loved Free Full. Since the delivery of the print edition was delayed due to COVID issues in production, we are posting daily here until it is available.  The e-book is already out on Kindle if you prefer that version.  If you haven’t pre-ordered your hardback copy yet, you can do so here.