Encouragement

Finding My Peace in Him

“God wants to wean us from depending on earthly circumstances for peace.”

I read that statement yesterday in a little book I found on my desk the other day. I don’t even remember who sent it to me or when. It is called On Being Led by the Spirit written by David Morsey.  This simple book contains a lot of profound counsel on shifting our attention away from the distractions of this world to help us discern better the voice of the Spirit. The one I quote above got me musing on many things yesterday as I was preparing to fly to Virginia today and then hop over to Maryland the following weekend.  (If you want to catch up with me there, you can see my Travel Page for details.)

So often, we pray for peaceful circumstances or for a peaceful feeling to fill us from nowhere and are disappointed when those prayers aren’t answered.  What God has in mind is drawing us so close to him that he holds our hearts at rest no matter what we’re facing. We are never alone and never without a way through the worst that life can throw at us. And, when he becomes our peace, no circumstance can steal it.

That got me thinking about some other things throughout the day yesterday:

  • If I look for peace in my circumstances, I will not have his peace when bad times come.
  • If I look for him to provide the circumstantial outcomes I desire, I will fall victim to any deception that comforts me rather than seeing what better options he has in mind.
  • If I look for his wisdom in what I already know, how can I grow to know him better?  
  • If I look for validation from what others think of me, I am owned by anyone willing to lie about me. 
  • If I am concerned with appearances, I won’t be able to see what’s true.
  • If I only love people I deem worthy of it, I won’t love the people who need it most.
All this reminded me of a quote I read from Henri J. M Nouwen recently:

There is no such thing as the right place, the right job, the right calling or ministry. I can be happy or unhappy in all situations. I am sure of it, because I have been. I have felt distraught and joyful in situations of abundance as well as poverty, in situations of popularity and anonymity, in situations of success and failure. The difference was never based on the situation itself, but always on my state of mind and heart. When I knew I was walking with God, I always felt happy and at peace. When I was entangled in my own complaints and emotional needs, I always felt restless and divided.

The abundant life is not having all we want in this age, but in having him regardless of what this age throws at us—the peace that is incomprehensible given the challenges I might be in, the joy that runs deeper than my preferences, and the courage that comes from a greater source than our own strength. And what a great field of learning this gives me. When I don’t have peace, I can ask him to teach me how to find my refuge in him. When my best wisdom fails me, I can ask him to show me his. When I’m fearful or angry, I can learn how to lean into his goodness and know that I’m safe no matter what might come.  

Can you imagine what a people like that would offer the world?

 

I Don’t Believe You

Four times in a brief conversation, he looked me in the eye and angrily stated, “I don’t believe you.”

This came from a close friend, one with whom I’ve walked for many years. He was asking me some direct questions, and I was answering them honestly. However, he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, and instead of letting that shift his assumptions, he chose to double down on his false accusations. At one point, he even said, “God has told me not to trust anything you say.” There it was, the God card, used to trump the relationship. A friendship can’t exist where words are not trusted.

Admittedly, this man had been engaged in gossip about me by others who intended to destroy our relationship and get their own way with him. I knew it had been going on, but I did not want to join that game to fight it.  I hoped our years of relationship would have counted for something. They haven’t yet, but still, I wasn’t going to repeatedly answer ridiculous allegations for someone who no longer cared what was true.

It’s incredible how people can express love and respect for you in one breath and call you a liar with their next.  I believe in you; I just don’t believe you. 

I’ve been down this road before; so has Jesus.  I know this will be hard to hear for some, but the essence of the Gospel is not that we believe in him. That’s easy to do. Many profess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, who will not believe him when he seeks to reveal his truth to them. Professing belief in Christ will not lead you to his fullness. We only get there by believing him when he shows us what’s true, especially when it’s something we don’t want to be true.

That’s what is going on with Peter in the story Matthew tells (Matthew 16). Jesus asked him who people said that he was and then asked Peter what he thought.  His resounding affirmation of who Christ was, “the Son of the Living God,” is one of his greatest moments, and Jesus is thrilled with his answer. He tells Peter that he is a rock, and on that rock, he would build his church.  Peter believes in him. When Jesus went on, however, to say he was headed to Jerusalem to be delivered over to the leaders of the city where he would suffer at their hands and die, Peter would have none of it. He discounts the very words of the one he just proclaimed to be God’s Son.

Of course, Peter couldn’t see the necessity of his friend’s death in Jerusalem and wanted to prevent it. In Peter’s response, however, Jesus hears the voice of Satan and rebukes him. “You are only looking out for your own interests, not God’s.”  It is one thing to believe in Jesus and quite another to believe him when his interests run counter to ours.

I have often caught myself arguing with thoughts in my head that I had to admit later were God’s leading. When he invites us into his reality, it will challenge our own comfort and the false conclusions others have sown in our hearts. This is the crux of faith, not a doctrinal stand about the nature of Christ, but learning to believe him when he nudges us into his reality is the essence of discipleship. What good is it to believe in him if we don’t believe him when he speaks?

He wants to show you what’s real and not real about the circumstances you swim in, the lies you’ve been convinced of, and the selfish motives you are serving to your own hurt. Following him at moments like that is what will lead you into the joy and power of his kingdom.  If we choose not to see or believe him when his reality conflicts with our own preferences, we aren’t following him. We’re just following our inclinations and signing his name to it.

It’s time for a new generation of men and women not just to profess a belief in him but actually to learn to follow even in the most challenging thing he might ask of us. Those who help transform the world know his love enough to recognize his voice and trust his intentions toward them enough to follow him even when we prefer not to. People who pray at his leading even when it is counter to their interests, and follow him even when it’s not their preference, become agents of his glory in a broken world. Discovering what he wants you to know, no matter how uncomfortable, is the way to live. Everything else is just a smokescreen, even our most passionate confessions.

The most significant transformations in my life have often come after the most painful obediences where I was being nudged to act in ways my flesh resisted. In time, however, when I could enjoy the fruit of my following, I was so grateful I’d taken the road he invited me down. When I expressed my gratitude to him for all that followed, I’ve heard him say things like, “I simply showed you what was true, and you dared to believe me.”

That daring to believe him rarely comes easily, but I have never regretted it. This is what believing him means.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

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Many of my previous blogs and articles like this have been compiled into a 365-day devotional to encourage your heart into the greater realities of living loved and recognizing his ways. You can order your copy of  Live Loved Free Full here.

Why Are You So Afraid?

Most days, I get an email from someone reading Live Loved Free Full, telling me how much the reflection of that day was perfectly tailored to a specific circumstance in their life, or it was just the encouragement they needed for that day. The other day someone said it was their favorite from all the books I’ve written. To be honest, Sara and I are reading it too, and appreciate the space it draws us into with Jesus. Here’s a reflection that touched us back from September 11, and is particularly appropriate for the trying times we live in:

Looking to him instead of focusing on our circumstances alone is a constant challenge but it is the way to Life. We are never alone, never without his care to walk with us through those things that seek to overwhelm us. With eyes on him, he will not only comfort us but also give us the wisdom and courage we need to negotiate what’s before us and see his glory unfold in it.

I’m deeply touched by the email I get from this book and appreciate those of you who take the time to write and let me know.  If you don’t have your copy yet, now may be the time to order your copy of Live Loved Free Full.

And while you’re at it, this beautiful book makes an excellent Christmas present for someone you love who might be able to use the same daily encouragement. They may end up thanking you all year long.

Order your copies here.  

What Do You See?

I got an email a few days ago with this picture in it and this comment:  “It is difficult to understand how anyone would consider its life as less than a butterfly.”

I smiled when I read that. Several years ago, I would have seen this as less than a butterfly, especially if it were eating the plants in our backyard. I would have regarded it as a pest, having no idea it was a Monarch butterfly in the making.  I probably would have killed it so it wouldn’t destroy Sara’s plants. I know better now because of this woman. I met her many years ago in upstate Wisconsin on a trip there. She raised butterflies and brought some over so we could watch them crawl out of their chrysalis. I had never seen that before, and it was wondrous.

Since then, Sara and I have had a butterfly garden of our own where we’ve watched many caterpillars like this one feed off our plants until they crawl off to form a chrysalis and, after a few days, emerge as the butterfly you see below. When I see one of these devouring our milkweed plants, I see a butterfly in process. It makes my heart as happy to see one of these yellow, black, and white striped caterpillars knowing that a new butterfly is in the world.

I love what she said about seeing the butterfly in the caterpillar. What if we did that for ourselves? What if we saw the incorruptible and immortal being that God is bringing into existence? We can look beyond the limitations and foibles of the day to realize what we already are in him. His transformation may not yet be evident on the outside, but the DNA is already there. A caterpillar is a butterfly in process. The people I know who live with the most contentment on this journey have grown comfortable with the process of Jesus’ transformation. He continually takes people who are twisted up in the appetites of this world and the lies of religious performance and untangles them so that they can become all that he created them to be. We yearn to emerge in all the beauty God has put in us, and when we see ourselves fall short of that glory, we can grow easily frustrated with ourselves or God. What if we already saw the butterfly in the caterpillar?

Instead of wishing to be a butterfly, we might enjoy being a caterpillar and doing what caterpillars do as his process of growing us and shaping us. That’s fun for him too. He doesn’t just enjoy you when you’re a full-fledged butterfly but delights in the butterfly already inside you. We are not going to be sons and daughters of God someday; we already are! That would help us with others, too. How much more carefully would we treat others around us if we didn’t see how far short they fell of butterfly beauty today and embraced with them the process they are in of being transformed into his glory?

My friend concluded a subsequent email this way:  “It is a lovely process, isn’t it? I grin from ear to ear as I grow in recognition of how I get to participate in the unfolding. He is so awesome despite very challenging times when I am being stretched to the limit emotionally.”

Selah!

Trust him to see you through the process. Learn to enjoy every bit of it because I suspect he does. And maybe in some sense, all of our life here is caterpillar time and only at the Resurrection of all things will we become in form what we’ve always been in his heart.

Only the Hungry

Living Loved – Fall 2021

Note: this is a copy of my infrequent newsletter, sent out Wednesday.

When I returned from Australia a couple of decades ago, having heard a powerful narrative about what happened between a Father and a Son on a cross that secured our freedom to embrace a loving Father, I still wasn’t sure if it was true. I hadn’t heard this story before even though I’d been in supposedly Bible-believing environments all my life.  But I came back to explore that story with God, the Scriptures, and significant people in my life to see if those things were so.

I’ll never forget one of those conversations. As I shared what I was learning with a close friend, he just kept nodding and saying “Yes, yes.” None of what I said was new to him. When I was done, he looked at me, “Wayne, this is marvelous. I have believed these things for a long time and know they are true.”

I was shocked! How? “Why haven’t you ever talked to me about this?” I asked him.

“I tried many times,” he said, “but you just wouldn’t listen.”  I had no reason to doubt him, but as I have thought through the many times we were together, I can’t recall one time where the atonement or cross had even come up. Any such talk had sailed right over my head and I had missed it. I guess I was so distracted by other things that I wasn’t available to hear then what would so profoundly shape my life years later.

Jesus knew that, too. He told a parable about a man who hosted a great banquet, telling his servant to go invite his friends to come. What he got back were excuses of people too busy to come. They all had great excuses, but they would still miss the banquet. Saddened, he told his servant to go to the highways and byways and invite anyone—the poor, the sick, the lame—so that the feast would be full.  Then, Jesus made a painful conclusion, those who are too busy with life will miss out on the wonder of his kingdom. Ouch!  I’m grateful Jesus is patient enough to invite us again and again and I’m glad I was finally in a place to hear it.

Sara and I notice that, too.  When God puts someone on our hearts to get with someone, we usually invite them to dinner. At first, they are usually very excited, but they have so many commitments and distractions that they are never free to come. For some, I know they are missing out on a gift God wants to give them but they are too driven by circumstance to see it. And busyness isn’t the only way to miss his entreaties, as with my story above, my heart was not available when the truth comes knocking. When I talk to people I often make a comment or pose a question that will open a door to something I sense God wants them to know. Often, people completely miss the invitation. Even when I circle back, their minds are so distracted, or their course so certain, they aren’t available to hear it.

Back in the day when I was a pastor, I spent ninety percent of my energy trying to motivate the complacent. How could I engage them with God’s life, our programs, his truth? People were too busy and too distracted. It was exhausting and often disappointing because people thought they already had what they needed and weren’t hungry enough to let God teach them how to really follow him. In contrast, over the past twenty-five years, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time with people who are hungry for something more real in their life, and it has been a joy. You can’t force-feed someone the life of Jesus. You can offer it, but if they don’t rise to the invitation, you’ll discover that your time is better invested in those who are already hungry. Jesus knew that. He said he wasn’t seeking ninety-nine percent who didn’t know they were sick, but for the one percent who were looking for help.

Spiritual hunger is a great gift; complacency a killjoy. When I’m trying to help someone see a better path, and they are too mired in their illusions to recognize the opportunity, it makes my heart hurt. I know they are looking for answers, but unfortunately, it’s in all the wrong places. It’s like sitting down to dinner with a friend, knowing there’s a $100,000 check for him under the placemat. You can’t tell him it’s there though, you can only try to get him to look. You make all kinds of suggestions and hints, even suggesting he flip over his placemat, but he waves me off as if the idea is nonsense or too much trouble to move all that’s sitting on top of it.

It’s because he doesn’t know and he’s not hungry enough for what might be out there to realize the opportunity before him.  I think I know a bit of how that feels to God. You can point people down a different path that will bring the wisdom and fullness they are seeking, but it isn’t down the road they want to go down. Or, they start down it and are soon distracted by “the worries of this life of the deceitfulness of riches” to stay the course.

He constantly circles back, however, to nudge us toward the life that really is life. Hunger, especially for spiritual reality, will help you be in a place to recognize those moments. Without it, you won’t grow. Cultivating a hunger for the presence and wisdom of Jesus is going to be especially critical in these coming days of shifting tides, both with the delusion leading people astray and with a fresh breath of the Spirit to cause the light of God’s glory to rise inside the darkness.

How do we maintain a hungry heart? Here are a few ideas that help me.

  • First of all, keep learning the joy of living loved. Resting in his love makes you most available to the light Jesus wants to give you.
  • Maintain a growth-mindedness. At your best, you’re only seeing a small slice of all that is true or even what’s going on in your circumstances. You can live confidently in what you think he’s shown you, but continue through life like you’re on a treasure hunt looking for the next insight or leading the Spirit has for you. The best God gives us on any day is enough light to take the next step. Don’t fall for the false comfort of thinking you have it all figured out or you’ll end up forcing your way rather than seeing his.
  • Be flexible to the opportunities God puts in front of you to learn something new or love someone new. We can fill our schedules so full, there’s no room for the spontaneous to find it’s way in and God is often in the spontaneous opportunities we walk past every day.
  • Stay real about your brokenness. The world and religious environments force us to act better than we know we are. When we lose sight of our weaknesses, we’ll bluff our way through life instead of open ourselves to truth that transforms.
  • Don’t make pronouncements about the future, “I will never talk to that person again.” Or, “I’m never going back to that church.” All you really know is where God wants to guide you today, you have no idea how the future unfolds or what circumstances might change.
  • Maintain flexibility. If the thing you are seeking God about doesn’t happen, ask him what you might be missing. Look beyond your expectations and preferences.
  • Embrace discomfort. It is the environment of those who are learning. Don’t ignore his nudge just because it might lead to awkward moments and vulnerable places.

One of the best things you can do is to spend time with others who are hungry. That’s one of the wonderful fruits I experience by spending time with hungry people, not only are they open to what God is doing, but also their hunger nurtures my own. Here are some ways to recognize hungry people:

  • They don’t find their answers in an agenda, program, or schedule, but by learning sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit. 
  • They don’t throw pat answers at you that will depend on your performance. 
  • They won’t interrupt you when you talk, and their response will show you that you’ve really be heard.
  • They hold the truth lightly, knowing they haven’t reached a destination, but are still discovering fresh realities to further sharpen their view of God’s heart.
  • They are real, as honest about their struggles and weakness as they are their joys and insights.

There’s no better time to let the light of the glory of God provoke your tastebuds and stir your heart to draw near.

 


Quickies from Lifestream

 

A Redemption Story You Have to Hear
If you haven’t yet treated yourself to my new limited-series podcast, called My Friend Luis, listen to the first 30 minutes and you’ll know if this is for you or not. This is an amazing story that keeps unfolding in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Personal Enrichment and Christmas Ideas
I hear almost every day from someone reading Live Loved Free Full and finding it had the right encouragement for the challenges they are confronting. I’m so grateful this book is in the world and that it is helping people have a thought every day that invites them into the security of Father’s affection, rather than toiling in the distractions of the world or the performance treadmill of religion. If you don’t have your copy you can order it from us. It has an inspiring thought for every day.  And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. It is tough to give this book traction in a world so captive to animosity and division, but if just a few people on the planet would shift the way they think and live, they would see some amazing fruit in their relationships. All of these would make great Christmas gifts, too, for people you love.  And don’t forget my friend Tessa’s story, Out of the Shadows. This would make a great gift for the young woman in your life sorting out her identity in the world.

On the Road Again
I am getting to travel some again as I navigate through the ups and downs of the pandemic. This week, I’m off to Michigan with future trips planned to Alaska, Virginia, Florida, and Tennessee. I don’t know how much longer I will be traveling with such frequency so I’m looking to make the most of every opportunity to help others discover the joy of living loved. God has also given me a new framework to help people sort out their own spiritual journey to find the fullness of life God wants to give them even in the brokenness of the world we live in.  I’m excited about the opportunities Father is giving me to share it face-to-face with people. If you’d like to be notified when I’m coming to your area you can sign up on our email list and include your address.

Guesting on Other Podcasts

Appearing on someone else’s podcast always gives me a chance to reflect on the longer trajectory of my journey. If you’re interested I recently did a two-parter on The Daron Earlewine Podcast (Part 1 is Seeing What God Sees, and Part 2 is Learning to Speak a Language of Healing), and I also did the This is Not Church Podcast.

You Won’t Want you to Miss…
The Beauty of Selflessness (podcast)
Sweeter Outcomes (podcast)
Navigating Toxic Relationships (blog)


This newsletter is sent out periodically on an irregular schedule whenever I want to share something with a wider audience and update people on what’s going on around Lifestream. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox, you can sign up here.  You can also check A Breath of Fresh Air if you want to receive a brief encouragement from some of my writings three times weekly.  Also, include your address if you want to get travel notifications if my travels twithin 200 miles of where you live.

Finding the Fulfilling Path

Tomorrow morning, I fly out for a weekend in Wichita and Kansas City to spend time with people in various stages of their journeys. It has been a long time since I’ve had this kind of weekend, and even though we’re in the midst of a fresh surge in COVID, we’re going to be careful not to become a spreader event.

I’m not only excited to be with the people Father has in mind for me, but I’m going to be sharing with others something that has been percolating in my heart for almost a year. I’ve not shared it yet with any group of people, because I want to see how it lives first.

In my working with people, however, I find people of faith whose spiritual journey is often marked with frustration and futility. Try as they might, they can’t seem to find that flow into the fruitfulness and fulfillment that Jesus promised us. They constantly bounce from one circumstance to the next, or one convention to the next, hoping to find a key to unlock their relationship with God. I meet others, however, who have found the “unforced rhythms of grace” that allow them to navigate the greatest challenges with confidence and rest in God’s activity that continues to bear fruit for them.

What is the difference? Some would suggest circumstance, but that isn’t true. I know a lot of empty people whose circumstances are not at all challenging, and others quite fulfilled in heart even while struggling with great pain or loss.  No, it isn’t circumstantial. I’ve come to see the difference between those who believe in Jesus as a doctrine they cling to, and those who simply believe what Jesus shows them each day as they navigate the twists and turns of life.  Life in him was always meant to be a relationship where it is less about believing the right doctrine, and more about believing the next thing Jesus whispers into their hearts.  That’s where life is, in actually following him.  

It seems to me, the most fulfilled people I know have come to rest in how deeply loved they are, enough to draw them into knowing him more fully. As they know him more fully, their trust in him grows. Where trust grows, they recognize more quickly the insight Jesus gives them and are more willing to follow him even when it seems risky or it doesn’t seem to make sense.  Where they recognize his nudging and trust his work and wisdom more than their own, they follow those insights and that’s where they find joy and fruitfulness

This is an amazing process, how embracing his love leads to a greater desire to know him, which in turn encourages us to trust him, which makes us more sensitive to his ways and more willing to follow. By living in the world the way God sees it and not the way our natural mind tends to, we will find all his promises are true.  I know this process well from both sides. For the first forty-two years of my journey, I was mostly frustrated that the things God seemed to promise in Scripture were rarely true in my experience. For the last twenty-eight years, it has been finding how living loved actually transforms me from inside so that I can discover God’s goodness even in the midst of a very broken world. This has helped me put new language to the work that has been going on in my heart and so many others I see finding the freedom to follow the Living Christ.

I’m going to be sharing about this process this weekend, and in most places, I go in months ahead. It’s not a new teaching, but a framework to help people recognize how living loved transforms us from the inside out. I hope to help people learn how to cooperate with his process rather than unknowingly resist it.  Yes, it will eventually find its way to a recording, or to unpacking at The God Journey. As with most things, however, I want to explore sharing it with some groups first to see what communicates well and what gets in the way of people finding their way into a transformational journey.

Part of this sharing involves a flow chart to help people recognize where they have the choice to lean into the work God is doing or to resort to their own comfort or wisdom and miss his leading.  I am looking for someone who does digital animation to help me put this chart into a video as I explain it.  I’m hoping I have someone out there who has such gifts so that we could do this together. I’m thinking like the simple and powerful drawings in the Bible Project, that you can see here.  Who knows, I may even see if those folks would help with this.

In any case, Jesus promised us an abundance of life and fullness of joy. If that’s something you’re still seeking to discover in your own journey, don’t give up. It is a process and most of our religious teaching to that end doesn’t serve any of us well.  This is a living relationship that Jesus is always inviting you into.  He wants nothing more than for you to come along and know what it is to be at rest in his love no matter what circumstances encompass you.  Only he can do something like that.

Start with What Is

Yes, that’s me above still on vacation, now with just our three grandkids.  They do keep us hopping and playing, which is good for the soul. Every time I get the chance to ski, I dread jumping into the cold water, wondering if I still have what it takes to get up on the skis, drop one, and get my back foot into the slalom ski without crashing into the water.

None of it comes easy these days, but there is a moment when my back foot settles into the single ski, and everything seems is as it should be in the universe. I peel out across the wake, slicing through the glassy water, exhilarated to be alive in the Creation.  I love that moment when it all comes together, and everything else fades away. God made us for joy, to fully embrace those moments when we feel most alive, whether that’s at the end of a ski rope, admiring the flowers growing in your garden, tucking a grandkid into bed, or wiggling your toes in the warm sand of a beach.

Don’t miss the joys of life, especially when you go through your darker days. God made the world for us to enjoy, and even though it has been marred by human brokenness, there is always joy to be had and a kingdom unfolding around you. I thought of all that this morning on my morning walk with Zoey through the woods, and here’s where I found God directing my thoughts:

As much as God wants us to embrace joy, his kingdom is not a fairy tale. It emerges not from our wish list but the devastating ruins of a broken Creation.

Who doesn’t face horrible circumstances and destructive ambitions in day-to-day life? We forget that because most serve their own image of being above the ravages of life, and thus, we think we’re the only ones who are confronted with horrific circumstances or dark temptations. And yet, we are all in the midst of them at some point, or soon will be again. Life has many painful seasons.

It is also true that everyone one of us has dreams we wish God would fulfill. What if I had enough money not to worry about paying the bills? Or, how easy would life be if my child wasn’t battling cancer? Or, I would love to work with people that weren’t so given to gossip and tearing each other apart?

Many of our prayers arise out of our desires for life as we wish it were. And, because most of our wish-list is truly not in our best interest, nor is it grounded in the ways Father works to reveal his glory, we are endlessly frustrated that he won’t give us the things we pray for most ardently. That’s where accusations against God’s existence or his love begin, or where doubt takes root, wondering if it is my fault for not having enough faith or if he is punishing me for something I’ve done wrong.

Don’t look to your fantasies and ask him to serve them if you want to see Father at work in you. Instead, hold the reality of your circumstances up to God’s gaze and see how he reveals himself in their midst.  You are not the victim of any circumstances, no matter how much you may have been wronged. You are a citizen of a higher kingdom that can transform any circumstance into a place where God can reveal his glory. Ponder your challenges with him over days and weeks if need be, even inviting two or three other sensitive Jesus-followers into your story and see what he reveals.

Ask him to show you how he sees your circumstance and what path he is cutting for you to get through it and, in the process, make you a freer person and a better lover of the world. If there’s a miracle to be had that changes the circumstance, you’ll find it there. If not, you’ll find grace sufficient not only to endure but also to move on in joy.

When you start with what is, you can find your way into what God wants it to be. His kingdom is not the fulfillment of our fantasies or the path that brings us the most ease. Often his path will challenge us to the core, but where a willing heart locks on to the will of God, anything can happen, and great joy can come even in the most painful stretches of our journeys.

 


As a side note, no, I’m not posting as many blogs these days. That’s partly because of the nature of my life and at the moment and some other roads God has invited me down, and partly because I’ve provided my best encouragements over the last twenty years into a new devotional called Live Loved Free Full. I’m hoping its brief daily thoughts can help you focus your heart on the things that matter most inside Father’s love.

If you want to stay up with what is occurring in my life and heart these days, check out The God Journey’s most recent episodes. I’ve never been more excited about what God is doing in our world, even as circumstances grow darker around us. God is raising up people from all over the world, grounded in his love and willing to follow however he leads them.

If you stopped listening to The God Journey because you got the gist of the things Brad and I talked about over the years, I understand.  We never intended people to listen forever.  But Brad has gone on to other things God asked of him, and Kyle Rice of Wyoming has become a regular co-host. His perspective as a mid-thirties husband and father and his experience and training in youth and mental health have provided some fresh fodder for us to explore.

Here are some of the recent ones I don’t think you’ll want to miss:

 

 

Navigating Toxic Relationships

Have you ever been in an exchange with an angry friend or relative who kept twisting everything you said until you begin to wonder if you are out of your mind? And I don’t mean over a conversation or two, but over years berating you with angry accusations that don’t make any sense or seem wildly out of proportion. And the more you try to reach out to understand what they are saying, the more convoluted their stories become.

There’s a term for it—gaslighting. According to Wikipedia, gaslighting is “a tactic in which a person or entity, to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality… It is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.” It is a form of abuse, even though it isn’t always done intentionally. It can result from jealousy or unresolved trauma in someone’s past that seeks to control others as a coping mechanism for their fears and insecurity. They can be quite persuasive, especially when drawing others into their story to validate their anger. Their gossip is a dark cancerous mass that can metastasize through a family, workplace, or even congregation and destroy longstanding relationships.

Here’s how one friend recently described such a person he had to deal with:

They take absolutely no ownership for the harm and chaos they create. They are always the victim with the emotional maturity of a five-year old. Repentance is for everyone else who wronged them; they never need it.  And forgiveness is out of the question since they perceive every wrong as fresh every day.

Imagined wrongs are the landscape of their souls. They collect grievances like a miser stacking a hoard of coins which they polish and caress every day. They have a Groundhog Day existence, but unlike Bill Murray in the movie, they do not grow or gain insight. They fester and fling anger and rage with considerable skill.

It is a miserable way to live. They can only be helped when their desire for a better life outweighs their sense of victimhood. That is rare because they only seek out people who will justify their sense of injury.

Honestly, my heart goes out to people like that, even when I’m the victim and especially when they can’t see it in themselves. Blaming others, even falsely, medicates their fear and anger—the source of which they may no longer even remember. Many are destructive by default, not by choice, and delude themselves into thinking they have all the facts. Unfortunately, since most others are reticent to challenge their delusions for fear they might become the next target, the emotionally broken person often ends taking control of a group and leave destroyed relationships in their wake.

How do you know if someone around you has turned toxic? Anyone can be misinformed, jump to the wrong conclusions, or need to work out an offense with some honest and tender conversation. Good relationships are hard work. Who hasn’t had a misunderstanding or made a mistake that needed to be talked out so the relationship could heal? Toxicity, however, is measured over a long period of time with unfair expectations or unrelenting accusations and no desire to seek a solution.

Toxic people are always on the attack or act offended. Their complaints, however, are often petty and ignore the possibility that some of them may be simple misunderstandings or a lack of sensitivity on the other’s part. They have no interest in listening to another point of view. They’ve already made up their mind and prefer to be offended rather than resolve their conflict. They think they know you better than you know yourself, and if you disagree with them, they won’t believe you.  Eventually, they will make up stories to justify their unsatisfied anger as their contempt grows. When confronted with the truth, they get angrier, make more often-contradictory accusations, and cut you off entirely until they launch their next assault. They won’t seek out a gracious environment to discover what’s true. Apologies fall on deaf ears, and they never offer any of their own.

If you’re currently in the crosshairs of someone else’s rage, I’m so sorry.  The enemy loves dividing relationships. In these polarized political times, toxic relationships seem to be spreading along with the virus. I get emails every week from those suffering torturous behaviors from parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and even brothers and sisters in the faith. One man wrote me last week, “I find myself often identifying with a fictitious character that is Bathsheeba’s older brother and Uriah’s closest friend who has been invited to celebrate the wedding of my sister and King David.  How?” (For those that don’t remember, Bathsheeba was the woman David had an affair with, and Uriah was her husband he had killed in battle when his wife got pregnant.)  That is a mess!

I’ve been going through some of this for a while with some people I deeply love, and it’s painful. But I’ve been here before, and here’s some of what I’ve learned that may help you navigate these waters:

First, invite God into this journey with you. You cannot stand up to relentless assault alone, and he has unlimited ways for you to negotiate their hostility and keep it from destroying your heart. Jesus can let you know how to engage in redemptive ways when possible and when to withdraw when it’s not. Believe whatever insights he gives you, and have a close brother or sister along to help you see the difference between the wisdom of his Spirit and your own fleshy reactions.

Second, recognize toxic people for who they are, and don’t take on their anger in reaction. I know that’s easier said than done, but bitterness will only destroy you. Pray for them, realizing they are broken people who don’t have the tools to deal with disappointments or disagreements in conventional ways. Jealousy often drives their need to punish you, so give up trying to fix them until their hearts soften. It will help to see them as victims of their own pain and repeatedly pray, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”  They truly don’t. Love, especially when you’re unfairly treated, is where the kingdom unfurls her glory. But learn what his love looks like; it rarely means becoming a doormat for your abuser.

Third, don’t drink their toxic brew.  Even though none of us are perfect, and most people will look for ways they might have been insensitive, miscommunicated, or contributed to someone else’s pain, toxic people are not doing the same. They don’t want reconciliation, only capitulation. They can only accuse, never reflect. Avoid angry, accusing voices, not only for yourself but also when they are doing it about others. Remember who the accuser is, and when he uses their voice, don’t let his blows land in your heart. Even accusations built on half-truths are still lies at the end of the day, as Adam and Eve found out in a Garden. While Jesus invited us to be peace-makers, he also warned of the hostility his followers would garner, especially from the self-righteous.

Fourth, avoid the desire to argue with them or to justify yourself in their eyes. They will only twist your words into another set of accusations anyway. They are not listening because they don’t care about the relationship, only their need to feel validated. Your desire for their approval and your concern about what others think of you are the levers they will use to attempt to control you. When you care what other people think of you, you are owned by anyone willing to lie about you. When you are secure enough in God’s view of you, none of it will work. Even if all the world believes something false about you, it still doesn’t define you. Jesus gets the last word on everything. It may not come until the end of the age, but you still don’t have to defend yourself. Learn the joy of not having to have the last word or trying to prove you’re right. It’s a marvelous freedom!

Fifth, give toxic people a wide berth. You don’t have to be with people who yell at you with rage, especially when you know what they are saying is untrue. You don’t have to hang out in the orbit of people who gossip about others.  That may even mean taking a break from close family who get caught in destructive patterns of relationship. Just because you are related to them doesn’t mean you have to give them repeated access to your heart. Sometimes you honor people by letting them live without you in the consequences of their false reality. Let them know you love them and will be overjoyed when more grace-filled days appear.

Sixth, love them however you can, and sometimes you have to do it from a distance, just as the father does in the parable of the prodigal. Chasing people trapped in lies will only prolong their pain because they’ll only get more defensive. Sometimes you have to love someone enough to let them go until they are ready for a change in their own heart. Jesus made room for the fact that you can extend your peace to someone, and they can reject it. (Matthew 10) He told his followers when that happens, they are free to move on and invest their hearts where grace, peace, and truth reign.

Seventh, keep your heart tender for reconciliation. I know this isn’t easy, and I am not talking about ‘forgive and forget.’ Real reconciliation involves a reckoning for the past in an environment of honesty, humility, mutual forgiveness, and tenderness. When toxic people have a change of heart, it will be obvious. Waiting for that moment with an open heart is not something we can do on our own; it is a work of his Spirit. So, ask him to show you.

Of course, this is made more complicated if the toxic person is a parent you still live with or even your spouse. If you have a toxic parent, talk to another trusted adult about your struggle and let them help you see how to deal with it. Young people shouldn’t have to grow up in that kind of fear or abuse. If it’s your spouse, you have to make clear that their behavior is a threat to the future of your relationship and seek out the help of a counselor or more experienced couple.  

One of the resources that has helped shape my heart in dealing with these kinds of people is M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie, which was also the title of a book he published in 1983. The book makes a case for how evil distorts humanity and suggests ways to help people be liberated from it. While I don’t agree his remedy is the only way to deal with it, he identifies a certain kind of person who can never seem to have an open, honest discussion to resolve differences. Instead, they have to control every conversation no matter how much they have to diminish others. I’ve met half a dozen of these over my lifetime, and his insights have helped me recognize their behaviors and learn how to respond to their attempts to take control.  

Dr. Peck came to recognize the dilemma by working with deeply dysfunctional families where chaos reigns. So often, the people he was seeing seemed normal, though under a lot of stress. After some investigating, he often found one person—a parent or sibling—who was the common denominator for all the pain. Interestingly enough, they would refuse to come to counseling, or if they did, they were certain they were not a part of the problem. These were often religious people, who could present themselves outwardly as gracious and caring, but who controlled everyone else in their orbit by punishing those who didn’t do what they wanted. Everyone else was wrong; they were always right.

He called them ‘people of the lie’ because they thrive in dishonesty and making up stories to fit the narrative they want to be true to justify their actions. When their lies are confronted, they respond in anger to keep others from daring to be the focus of the wrath. These are not people making mistakes in moments of weakness, but a consistent and oppressive way they navigate life to the destruction of others.

Dr. Peck credits some of that to evil motives that intend to get their own way no matter who they have to destroy. Those people do exist. I’ve met a few of them. But in my life, these people have been less motivated by a desire to destroy as they are by deep insecurity and fear that demands they control every outcome to survive their day. Most of the time, I don’t think they even know how much they lie to others because they are so dishonest with themselves. They can’t bear to be wrong about anything, “Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection.”

They have little regard for the feelings of others and rarely allow for the possibility of misunderstanding what someone else said or meant. The more you try to reason with them, the more you are caught up in their “lies and twisted motives and distorted communication.” They will exhaust you with their need to be right. “They attack others instead of facing their own failures.” They continually act hurt, and yet their stories make little sense.  If anyone dares to confront their dishonesty, they will scorch the battlefield to protect their own image. They are dismissive of any apology that does not capitulate completely to their conclusions. You can’t reconcile with such people because there’s no room for honesty, tenderness, and vulnerability that lets the truth be revealed.

If you know someone like this, give up the need to earn their love. Until something fundamentally changes inside them, they are incapable of a real, honest relationship. You have to take some distance from their control, especially if they are in your family. Keep interactions calm and cordial when you’re together, but refuse to be swept up in their need to gossip about others to make themselves feel better. If they are gossiping to you now, they will soon be gossiping about you to someone else. Excuse yourself by simply saying, “I’m sorry, this is not a conversation I want to be in. Can we talk about something else?”

And, if in reading this, you realize that you may be one of those leaking toxicity into the world, these words from Charles K. Robinson may open a doorway for you to find a Father whose capable of setting you free:

I know you. I have created you. I have loved you from your mother’s womb. You have fled—as you know—from my love, but I love you nevertheless and not-the-less however far you flee. It is I who sustains your very power of fleeing, And I will never finally let you go.

I accept you as you are. You are forgiven. I know all your sufferings. I have always known them! Far beyond your understanding, when you suffer, I suffer. I also know all the little tricks by which you try to hide the ugliness you have made of your life from yourself and others. But you are beautiful. You are beautiful more deeply within than you can see.

You are beautiful because you yourself, in the unique person that only you are, reflect already something of the beauty of my holiness in a way which shall never end. You are beautiful also because I, and I alone see the beauty you shall become. Through the transforming power of my love which is made perfect in weakness you shall become perfectly beautiful. You shall become perfectly beautiful in a uniquely irreplaceable way, which neither you nor I will work on alone, for we shall work it out together.”

All Jesus asked us to do was receive his love and share it with others. Everything else plays into our enemy’s hand.

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 choose to set my heart on the reality that he does.

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 to 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.

______________________

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.

_______________________________

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.