Encouragement

A Peek At My Email

I don’t post these emails because I like reading about myself on my blog. I’ve already read them and expressed my gratefulness to those who took the time to write me and to the Father for the way some of these things find their way into the world to encourage his people. I post these so that others who are struggling with similar things might find their way to the same resources that may be helpful to them.

From Germany: I read the book The Call of the Wild Geese in German. (Elsewhere in the world it is, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore). I am very grateful to you for this book, which is hotly debated in Germany. Everyone makes their own decisions. It was an adventure for me and I got involved in trusting God to say: “Father, do you?” This trust that God, my heavenly Father, provides and cares for me every day. I have experienced much of what was described in your book in different church structures. I am 69 years old and have been traveling with Jesus for 20 years. This book has brought me out of my depression and pain, towards the light, towards His (God’s) love. Thank you very much.

From Latvia: I am reading your book He Loves Me. I have a big problem. With my mind I understand that God is Love, that He loves me so much that He gave me His Son Jesus. But I feel like He is distant, cold, passive, One who doesn’t want me in His presence. In my deepest part I am afraid to fall into His hands because I can’t live up to His standarts. Can you help me, please?! Is God really that nice as you describe Him? I want to know Him clearly.

My response to her:

Actually, he is way better than I can possibly describe him. Shame keeps us from him, making us feel unworthy of his presence. Religion feeds our shame as well, but Jesus took our shame away at the cross. Fall into his hands and find out just how gracious he is and how knowing him will transform you in ways you never imagined.  It’s a journey. It takes some time to get comfortable in his reality, but it is a journey well worth taking.

From Pennsylvania: “I came back to Lifestream and stumbled onto The Jesus Lens. Thank you for following the vision to record this. I am reading scripture in a whole new way and journaling more “a-ha” moments than I can recall. I’ve shared this with friends in hopes that it opens the door to future Holy Spirit guided conversations.”

From a friend I recently visited in Oklahoma and who attended a workshop Arnita and I did for A Language of Healing in a Polarized Nation:

I did something today that was out of my range just a bit but I felt like you guys encouraged us to do.  Which is I spoke to a total stranger  today who is not in my “in-group”.  I have been beyond upset over the recent shooting in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery.  I’ve been sick at my stomach over this killing.  So I signed up to #IRunWith Maud today at our park, and when I was done there was an African American woman in the parking lot waiting for someone. I just went up to her, keeping our social distance, and I said hello and I just needed to say I am so sorry for the shooting of this young man in Georgia.  She just opened right up and although I couldn’t control my emotions, she didn’t seem to think I was weird or anything.  We had a sweet little conversation and her husband came back from his run and he was very warm and gracious just like his wife.  It was a simple moment but I just had to tell you both because you encouraged us to do this when you were here in February and I wanted to encourage you in what you are doing. You are having an impact and it’s not a small thing.  One person to another person, depolarization will happen.

I love that so much. One person, one conversation at a time, the world can become a more generous place. Most people want to find their way into a different way of communicating and caring about each other across our differences. And, if you happen across one of those occasional people who love the polarization, just excuse yourself and move on.

For those of you who are interested, next Tuesday (May 19) at 2:00 pm PDT,  I’ll be discussing the racial divide that has formed over the Artery killing in Georgia with my co-authors Arnita Taylor and Bob Prater on Language of Healing Live! We are doing a series of these conversations moderated by people who have a stake in the issues that divide us and will lead a dialog with the authors and a panel in the Zoom Room. Next week’s Live! will be hosted by Gil Michel of South Bend, IN.  We will stream live on The Language of Healing Discussion Facebook Group, and on my Facebook Author Page if you want to join us. And yes, the recording will be available afterwards as well.

I am praying that all of you are finding a way to lean into Jesus through these very strange times to set your heart at rest in his care for you, and to show you a way through it that will allow his glory to unfold.

It’s Rarely the Words…

During a trip on the East coast in 2016, I was asked to meet with a couple whose twenty-something daughter had been recently killed in a car crash. A friend of a friend asked if I could give them some time, so I met them for lunch during a free moment in my schedule. I never know what to say to people who are experiencing such loss, and though I felt like God was in the time we had, I was left to wonder just how helpful it was to them. This weekend, four years later, I received this email:

You may not remember me, but I will never forget you. I knew one day I needed to email you and thank you for taking the time to share some love with my husband and me. We were connected through a friend of a friend and met you at a restaurant on a rainy day. Our daughter had been killed in a catastrophic car accident about six months prior, and I was clinging with all I had to Jesus, my only hope. I can’t say I remember what you said that day, but it’s like the saying, “You may not remember what someone said, but you can remember how they made you feel.” You made us feel loved. You shared God’s love, and especially meaningful to me, showed my husband that men can talk about feelings and God’s love in a real way.

Much has happened since that day. Of particular note, about a month after our meeting, a woman in my Bible study suggested we study He Loves Me. You had told me it was your favorite book you ever wrote. I loved the book and bought several copies to share with friends and family. God has been so real, so good, and so over-the-top caring that he has literally blown me away!!!!! There is no doubt I would never be the person I am today without him, and I am grateful beyond words. Now I have occasionally been asked to speak to other bereaved parents. While challenging, I am willing because I want them to know God is there; he is the key and their way through the valley.

I am a little embarrassed I have not written in so long. For a while, my old laptop lost email, the only place I had your address. Since then, I have never had quite the words. I was moved today and decided there never are just the right words, just write. All I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for being “Jesus with skin on.” You are part of a raw but beautiful story. God is creating a beautiful tapestry, and I am grateful beyond words for him and his love and grateful for your threads in it.

I was deeply touched by her email this weekend, but it was more than an encouragement to me; I also hope it is an encouragement to some of you.

  • Maybe you’re in a tragedy and barely holding on to your faith. God is bigger than your pain and can triumph over any adversity.
  • Maybe you have a friend going through a painful time, and you shy away because you don’t know what to say to them. Call anyway! Words are not what matter most. 
  • Maybe you don’t know how to talk about your hurt and grief with honesty and authenticity (Yes, I’m talking to you, men.)—hang out with someone who does.
  • Maybe you are groping to find where —keep looking for all the ways he is pouring his love into your heart. 
  • Maybe you have been a thread in someone else’s tapestry, and they never got back to you. Jesus knows; let him tell you what it meant to him. 
  • Maybe someone was a thread in your tapestry, and you never got around to thanking them. Four years, or a decade or two, isn’t too late. 

You will never regret pouring a bit of his love into the world. Every drop of it pushes back against the anger and judgment that tries to rule the day.

Embracing Your Own Resurrection

I am a bit saddened this morning by all those who will celebrate the fact of the Resurrection today as if it guarantees them the hope, light, and joy they want. But so many will miss the reality of the Resurrection in their own lives.

The fact of the Resurrection did nothing for the soldiers who saw it, the Pharisees who sought to cover it up with lies and persecution, or the people throughout Jerusalem who did not yet know what happened there.

The fact of the Resurrection mattered only to a dozen or so that day, and five hundred more who saw him later and let the Resurrected Christ begin to take shape in him.

The Resurrection is a doorway that allows us to know God in the safety of his love and forgiveness, and it only has power when we let his hope seep into the cracks of our hopelessness, let his truth disrupt our illusions, and let his priorities overrun ours.

Stepping through that doorway is our choice, and it isn’t made in one prayer, but a thousand moments of standing at the threshold of God’s reality and choosing to follow him instead of grasping for our own wisdom and comforts.

That’s why the Resurrection is still a scandal. We can celebrate the fact of it today and miss its reality. Embracing the Resurrection risks everything as it seeks to overturn the darkness in us, most of which we are unaware.

But there is no other way to celebrate the Resurrection. There is no pure joy to be had in pleasing our own affections every day; it is found on the other side of the upheaval of all of our agendas and finding our wings inside God’s desires for us.

Don’t just stand at the door and rejoice that it’s there; take the risk to come inside and let the Resurrection have its work in you. Of course, you don’t know what it will mean for you, but this is the only adventure that matters and the reward is Life as it was always meant to be lived.

“Jesus Christ, Risen Lord, take my hand today and lead me to your Life. I want to see you and follow you one day at a time until my heart finds its glory in you.”

I Love How This Book Encourages So Many

One of the great joys I have every day is opening my email. Yes, there is lots of pain in there as people are struggling with the brokenness of the world and how much religious obligation has twisted their view of God and themselves. But there’s also lots of joy in it as people have been encouraged to take the road less traveled, away from the dictates of a religion to a vibrant connection with God and a growing trust in his love for the Father.

I’ve gotten two recently from those who have been especially touched by what we affectionately call The Jake Book—So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I realize between the lines here are also some of those great seasons of pain and frustration trying to fit their spiritual passion into a religious box that is far too small to contain it. But when people let me know that the gravity of life and freedom in Jesus has become more powerful than the pull of obligation, it makes my heart happy.  Here are two examples:

I cannot identify one particular thing that led me down the path of this journey that my wife and I are currently on with Jesus, but I do wish to acknowledge that a book that you wrote, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore? played a significant part in turning my life around. I was looking through a bunch of discounted books at a local bookstore a number of years ago and the title caught my eye. I have not been the same since I read it, mostly because it served as an encouragement to explore my questions about Church congregations and ministry as one serving as a clergy person, specifically as a chaplain for a Church-based retirement community and now as a hospice chaplain for a secular organization. I was a pastor for 15 years before entering the chaplaincy and did not find the pastorate to be something that encouraged my relationship with Christ. I found that I had to look beyond the “organized church” to find that.

I am thankful for your encouragement on this journey which has not been particularly easy, but has made my 60’s the best part of my life so far. I have been recovering from surgery this week and enjoyed listening to The Jesus Lens which has encouraged me to return to Scripture in a new way. I wish you well on your trip to Richmond this week.

And I sure agree with him that the 60s have been the best part of my life so far. That’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “from glory to ever-increasing glory…” he’s transforming us. There are lots of struggles in this journey, even in your 60s, but the freedom within and the growing connection to Jesus makes each decade better than the last.

And then, there’s  this one:

After 5 years in the church, I began to be worn out by the sermons of submission to the pastor, which makes them dependent on the pastor and not on God. They carry out activities, which not only have nothing to do with the Lord’s work but keeps them away from true communion with Him.

When I read your book, it was like a breath of fresh air. I realized that I was not crazy, and that freed me from doubts I had. Your book not only shed light on some of the shortcomings of the institution in which I have been for five years now but it also allows me to understand some of the mistakes I make in my quest for fellowship with Father. For example, John says to Jake: “Until you find out how to trust God for every detail of your life, you will constantly seek to control others for the things you think you need.”

This book is like a double-edged knife for me. It reveals the imperfections of the institution and of the men, but it also allows me to see the slags in me and to ask the Lord Jesus to show me what to do. God knows why He allowed your book to come into my hands. I am very grateful for that. It’s a blessing for me.

I am 70 years old and I arrived at Christianity in 1988, 31 years ago. It is true that all things have become new. The character of John impresses me, which child of God would not be like him? He reminds me of what our Lord said to Nicodemus in John 3: 8: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the noise, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with every man who is born of the Spirit.”

What a superb lesson of faith in God, who creates in us the will and the doing, also creates the circumstances and the situations; and He will put the words useful in our mouth for the one to whom he sends us. For me, I will wish to be a John whom God sends where He wants. I’d also like to have a John who would appear in my life when God knows I need him.

Your book is good for me and I thank God for allowing this.

And I love what he wrote about not just seeing the abuses of others that have reflected poorly in human institutions, but those things in us that contributed to it all.  In the end, his church is not an institution to be managed, but a growing family in the earth to be enjoyed.

 

 

 

O Holy Night

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas carol. Sara and I listened to it as we got ready to go to bed last night. I reveled in my favorite lyric from it: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Ever since Eden’s Fall, the hardest belief for many to sustain, especially in times of struggle and failure is that they are worthy of God’s love and affection. So often we are overwhelmed by failure and feel so alone in our struggles that it seems sometimes as if no one cares, and too often God most of all. But that’s the illusion that pushes our world into the darkness.

Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

God is not ever inactive toward us—unrecognized perhaps, but never uninvolved and he is always working to beckon us out of the darkness and into the joy of his light. What Sara and I want those three precious children in the picture above to know more than anything else is that they are beloved children of a gracious Father. They are worthy of his love, no matter what struggle they go through, whatever mistake they make, and in spite of every whisper of darkness into their ears.

It’s what we want everyone to know. He appeared in our world because we were worthy of love and to prove it he would spend his own life to rescue us from all that darkness twists or destroys in us. He came to redeem us because we were worth it to him.

You!  You are worth everything to him. What I love about the lyric above is that we come to know that worth when he appears. That’s when it all makes sense, and that’s not just about his coming 2000 years ago, but how he wants to make himself known to you today. When you behold him then your soul knows its worth. We are deeply loved and deeply cherished simply for who we are.

If you need a reminder of that, steal away for some alone-time over the next couple of days. Find a quiet place and ask him to reveal himself to you. Wait in the quiet until his reality begins to bubble up in your soul. We used to sing an old chorus, “There is none like you. No one else can touch my heart like you do. I could search for all eternity long and find, there is none like you.” It is such a rich chorus to sing to God.

But if you could for just a moment, imagine God singing those words to you. Read (or sing) them again and this time put those words onto God’s lips toward you. That’s just as true. And when you come to know that, your soul too will feel its worth. Then every night can be a holy night!

With love to all of you and hopes that in this Christmas season and throughout the year ahead, you will know how precious you are to him,

Wayne & Sara

The Moments That Bring Transformation

Winter 2019-2020 Newsletter
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Do you know those moments when a nudge in your heart contradicts what you would
choose to do? Those are the moments on which your transformation hangs.  

I can think of many occasions when the voice of the Spirit whispered through my illusion, to invite me on a better path.

  • At the betrayal of a close friend: I have more to teach you if you walk away than if you stay.
  • When people I loved were spreading lies about me: Don’t worry about what they think; it only matters that you’re following me.
  • In the struggle to find a means of provision after I lost my salary: Keep doing what I’ve asked of you; I’ll take care of you.
  • In contemplating a file full of notes on a new structure for church life: Jesus didn’t leave you with a system to implement, but a voice to follow.
  • After flying home with a newly recorded teaching series whose sales just might provide some income we desperately needed: I want you to give it away.

Each time the nudges on my heart were the opposite of what I wanted to do. Looking back on those moments today brings back all the emotions I felt then. Jesus was cutting through my agenda, showing me a different reality I could follow. None of them were easy, but all of them, in the end, opened up taking me on roads I have cherished ever since. I can’t imagine what my life would be today if I hadn’t believed him and followed anyway. Though costly, each was part of his transforming work in my life.

Truth be told, I have probably missed more of those invitations than I’ve heard throughout my life because the paths the Spirit invites me down rarely look better than the illusions I already hold. I think I know best how to protect my interests and keep my fears at bay. But he isn’t concerned about the same things I am; he’s more interested in my ultimate freedom, and that can only be found by living in what is real, not in my pretensions.

Illusions look comforting, but they are a trap of the worst kind. And we all have them. Science tells us that the human capacity for cognitive dissonance is nearly a superpower. We can make ourselves believe anything as long as we think we will benefit from it, either financially or holding some fear at bay. Illusions give us comfort, false though they be and are often built on our fears: the fear that people I love won’t understand, the fear that God won’t be enough, the fear that others aren’t doing it the same way, the fear that I’ll look foolish, or so many others.

When Jesus’ brothers were trying to convince him to go up to Jerusalem at the feast and become well known, Jesus saw the trap. Being well known is not the same as living his life in the Father’s purpose. He knew that people were out to kill him there. “(The world) is against me because I expose the evils behind their pretensions.” (John 7:6. The Message)

Evil works behind our pretensions. So much of our spiritual growth is not learning new teachings, but listening when Jesus is showing us what’s ultimately real. We mostly make judgments by what we can see with our eyes; he can show us the unseen realities that shape life in this world more than we know. Only by believing him when he reveals something, can we escape the illusions that hold us captive.

That’s why Jesus said that we could know the truth, and the truth would set us free. Eugene Peterson translated that a bit differently, “Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” (John 8:32) By truth, John wasn’t talking about a set of principles or doctrine to learn, but what is real inside God. When we know that, we can face any situation more aware of the best way for us to navigate through it for the glory of his kingdom, not by trying to save ourselves.

Yes, his truth will set me free, but it almost always messes with me first. When Jesus opens up a new reality to me, I almost always cringe. Viscerally my reaction is usually, “I hope that isn’t true.” When I hear him, I am so aware of the cost and the risk to my ideas of what is best for me.

That’s the moment where choice matters most. If we stay with our comforting illusions, we miss the opportunity for transformation and to see his hand in ways we’d never imagine. By staying “safe,” we avoid growing in trust and our ability to recognize God’s purpose unfolding in the circumstances around us. After a few days, we won’t even remember what Jesus showed us and miss out on a new adventure. We are still loved there but also still captive.

His Spirit in us will continue to invite us out of those soul-crushing illusions to show us the life that really is life. That’s the moment in which transformation comes. By believing him, we’ll be able to see how empty our illusions are and learn how to trust him.

A few times in my life, I’ve been on the other side of this process. Talking to someone caught in a painful dilemma, God gave me an insight that would help them see better. When I share it with them, I see the same cringing in their countenance that I often feel. But here’s the choice: cringe and follow, or cringe and retreat to my false securities. Most will stay in the imagined safety of their own illusions, too afraid to take a risk. It hurts when I see it. In doing what they think is best, they’ve chosen more pain and frustration when they feel God isn’t cooperating with their plan.

But for those who hunger for truth, I will eventually see that sparkle in their eye in that “Ah-ha” moment. A better way stretches before them, as scary as it might be, they will take it because they care more about truth than they do their self-interest. When they go down that road in spite of their fears, they will find the path to life abundant in him.

All he asks you to do is to dare to believe him when he exposes your pretensions and invites you down the road less traveled.

This is where transformation happens and where we touch the reality of a kingdom so much bigger than ourselves.

If you want some resources for this journey, check out He Loves Me, Transitions, and Engage.

Publishing News

My latest book, The Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation: Creating safe environments for conversations about race, politics, sexuality, and religion. was released in November by Blue Sheep Media. Written with coauthors Arnita Taylor and Bob Prater, this is a very different book for me. It is not written primarily to a Christian audience, even though I hope fellow lovers of Jesus will want to learn how to live more generously in a world torn apart by political agendas and manipulated by people who get rich off the divisiveness of our country.  If you haven’t completed your Christmas list, consider giving this unique book. We also all three of us recorded the audio version and it should be out in the next couple of weeks. Keep up with the details on my blog or at ALanguageofHealing.com.


Also, since I’ve been home most of December, I’m finally making the audio version of In Season, and I am really enjoying it. This is my current book on the Father’s vineyard and how God brings us along a journey to make us fulfilled in his life and those more fruitful in the kingdom. It should be available at your favorite audio outlets in mid-January.

2020 Travel 

I’m just beginning to contemplate what my travels might look like in 2020. I am planning on being in Oklahoma early in the year, and perhaps Michigan. I’m also considering invitations to upstate New York, Virginia, Georgia, and a return trip to Florida. I may also be able to get that trip into Kenya this summer that I had to postpone last year. If you have anything on your heart near these locations or to someplace else, now would be the time to let me know.

Return to Israel?  

Over the past year, I’ve had a number of people encourage me to do another Israel trip. I’d be happy to consider that if there are enough people who want to go. I’m looking at early February in 2021 since the weather is not nearly so hot and it is far less crowded at the places we want to visit. Our first two trips also helped people from all over the world to get to know others on a similar journey. Those relationships have continued in the years that followed. Cost is usually around $4000 per person if you want to start saving up. Please email us if you are interested.

Thanks for Your Help in Kenya

This year we moved one year closer to helping the tribal groups in North Pokot build a sustainable way to live into the future. We are supposed to complete that in July of this coming year. We had a horrible set-back with horrible flooding ten days ago that killed many and wiped out some villages, but many of you responded with nearly $50,000 in emergency aid in only three days. We also had to help build a new well for a group of people in Forkland this summer, whose existing water supply was contaminated by their sewage. That well hit a major supply of pure water, which they are now able to bottle and sell. In 2020 we are going to help them expand that capability with some warehouse space at the cost of $25,000, which will provide them enough income

Sheep Among Wolves

I have just heard about this incredible story about how God is moving in one of the darkest and most radicalized corners of our world—Iran. Muslim-background Iranians are leading a quiet but mass exodus out of Islam and learning some simple and unique ways to make Jesus’ kingdom known in the world. The Iranian awakening is a rapidly-reproducing discipleship movement that owns no property or buildings, has no central leadership, and is predominantly led by women. This is their story and it would appear that the Church in the west has much to learn from them.

Watch Movie Here:  Sheep Among Wolves (1:53)

Here is how it begins: The first thing in Iran, we know what country we are serving. We are serving the Islamic Republic of Iran. We know that if they get us, the first thing they will do to us as a woman is rape us and then they will beat us, and ultimately they will kill us. This is the decision we have made that we want to offer our bodies as sacrifices—because I have this thought when I wake up that when I leave that door I might not come back. I have talked to my husband and we have made an agreement that this is the decision of our lives so if we leave that door and don’t come back, we accept the consequences of what happens.   

 

Merry Christmas from Us to You!  

Finally, Merry Christmas from the two of us. What an amazing year this has been, so many wonderful connections and amazing conversations! Watching God’s glory continue to unfold in people’s lives is such a joy and an honor. I’ve watched him rescue people out of the darkness, transform them from the enemy’s deceptions, and change the way they live and love in the world. I am so blessed by the people God has allowed me to know.

We Don’t Always Want What We Want

I am traveling through the south of Florida at the moment, having spent the weekend in Miami, and now headed up to the Sarasota/Tampa area for the weekend. Yesterday, I had an amazing lunch conversation reconnecting with someone I’d visited several years ago. He’d come here to plant house churches and ended up discovering that the church was more wild and wonderful than that could contain as well. He, too, is learning that life moves at the speed of relationships.

While we were eating, I sat facing the wall pictured above. We were in a restaurant called Ford’s Garage that commemorates the life of Henry Ford, who had a summer home near here, which just happened to be right next door to a summer home for Thomas Edison. Can you imagine the conversations they must have had together? Oh, to have been a fly on that wall…

Anyway, I was taken with this quote of Henry Ford’s: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He had dreamed up something so much better, what people didn’t even know they wanted, and his automobile has taken over the world.

I wonder how many of our prayers sound like that to God. We are asking him for the thing we think we want when he has things in mind for us that are more wonderful than we can even conceive. Most of my prayers used to ask God to do things that would make me comfortable or happy, and he had things in mind that would radically change the way I think and live in the world. I’m so glad God did not answer most of my prayers the way I wanted him to. His ideas have proved to be so much better and higher than mine.

It made me think of my favorite line from the movie, Bruce Almighty. “Since when does anyone have a clue about what they want?” So true! We think we do, but then God works in other ways.

I’ve long thought that’s what Ephesians 3:20 is talking about. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” 

It doesn’t mean if I’m asking him for a three-bedroom house, he wants to give me a five-bedroom one. It merely means that what we want now is rarely what we would really want if we could see our lives through God’s eyes. We want comfort, ease, and a pain-free existence, he wants to invite us into the adventure of a lifetime that transcends all of those things to embrace his reality in a way that changes how we live in a broken world.

As I’ve continued on this journey, I am much more aware that what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I really wanted. Almost twenty years ago, I found myself saying to a friend, “Over the past few years, God has defied to the nth degree every expectation and desire I had for my life.”

“Is that a good thing?” he asked me.

I found myself answering, “It’s the best thing!” And it has been, though it often takes the added perspective of two or three years to pass so I can look back and see that what he was doing was far better than what I had in mind. It has led me on a path to The Deepest Freedom—freedom from the tyranny of my own best wisdom or my desires.

I’m glad that Jesus said the Father knows what we need even before we ask him. I’m relieved by that because I’m sure many of my prayers don’t make much sense to him. Now, if we could just relax and trust that in the present, we would be so much more at peace.

So, Why God?

This is a copy of our quarterly newsletter sent out earlier this month. If you didn’t get one and would like to stay in touch with what’s going on around Lifestream you can sign up here.

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

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

If they’d asked me that forty years before, however, I doubt I would have answered with such certainty. Back then, my relationship with God was more confusing. We talked about God being a loving Father, but only for those who did everything he wanted. His holiness was his most terrifying feature, and the best reason I was given to follow him was my fear of the consequences if I didn’t. Threatened with eternity in flames was all the motivation I needed to try and do everything I thought he required to stay in his good graces.

I wanted more than anything for God to like me and bless me by keeping me from harm. Looking back now, I realize I was not in an endearing relationship with my Creator as a beloved child; I was caught in the Stockholm Syndrome with God. Like the victim of a kidnapping, I sought to ingratiate myself to the one I feared more than I loved.

Even worse, I could never be sure if I’d done enough. Fear and shame were constant if unwelcome companions. I was always aware of my shortcomings and failures, and everyone else’s around me since the standard he commanded is that we would be as holy as he was. If that’s who he is, who wants to be like that?

That, however, is not the relationship God had in mind for us, and it is not the relationship that will transform us into his image.

Jesus didn’t seem to live with his Father that way, but he was perfect. And he did call his Father, “our Father,” and told us these things so that our joy might be in him and that would make his joy complete. No one I knew, however, lived that way. To us, God was a demanding deity, and we lived every day under threats, obligations, and a constant demand for perfect performance.

People who live with God this way cannot experience the fullness of life in him and cannot effectively share his love in the world. Fear cannot produce it. Jesus showed us he was not the most terrifying presence in the world, but the most endearing. Love was the capital of his kingdom, not obligation and guilt.

So, back to our original question. Would you follow God if there were no hell? Fear of hell was just about the only reason people got saved when I was young. No one wants to jump through all those religious hoops unless the consequences of not doing so are dire. Whatever hell is, I don’t doubt its existence, where finally sin devours its prey. I’m just not convinced fearing will be enough to save you.

Receiving his love is salvation from all sin wrecks in this world, and in the one to come.

We need a more compelling reason to invite our children, friends, and even strangers to consider God’s reality better than, “You’re a horrible person and God is out to get you if you don’t repent.”

God is not the executioner in the redemption story; he’s the rescuer. Sin is leading us to destruction. Our self-preferring natures pull us into the darkness. But salvation, according to the new covenant, does not come to people looking to appease an angry deity, but to those who engage an affectionate relationship with the Creator of all.

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

People caught in tragic circumstances, or deep pain often call out to him, seeking relief by promising God they will do anything he wants if he’ll just help them. Especially when he doesn’t answer them the way they hoped, they begin to doubt his existence or doubt his love.

Neither of these leads to a satisfying connection with him. That’s why only a few people engage God regularly, making him part of the decisions they make and how they treat the people around them.

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 spiritual influence at all. “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?

So, why God? Why follow him instead of just living life the best we can and doing what makes us happy?

Here are five great reasons for wanting to know God that have nothing to do with fearing hell:

First, because God himself is the most engaging presence in the universe, full of life, laughter, joy, and wisdom more precious than wealth or any other friendship. 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.

Second, because this world makes no sense without him. All that is real is not visible. I have sensed his fingerprints in the Creation and his presence in the seeming coincidences of life—meeting a person at just the right time or having wisdom drop in my heart from a conversation, sentence in a book, or a song lyric. I’ve sensed his calling to me from a very young age, and inside him, I find the courage and meaning that makes my life complete.

Third, because navigating successfully through a broken creation is beyond our best resources and wisdom. Self-indulgence leads to the corruption and injustice that stains our world and harms people I love. 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 plan of our transformation and his redemption that is spectacular. I wouldn’t want to live without it.

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

Far from being the kill-joy 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 fearsome 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. 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 people will read this, frustrated that their relationship with God doesn’t feel like that. Despite their prayers, Bible reading, church attendance, and trying to be good, God still feels like a distant deity rarely involved in real circumstances of their 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 fingerprints about 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.

If you don’t know how to do that, find someone who does and ask if he or she will help you. Don’t look for a miracle cure, but someone who can help you see God’s fingerprints in your own journey and the realities his Spirit is offering you to take you further down that path.

Try not to get discouraged when it doesn’t happen quickly or as easily as you might hope. Ask God to connect you to a person or two with a similar hunger. Please don’t give up, because it 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.

If you want some resources for this journey, check out He Loves Me, Transitions, and Engage.

Upcoming Travel

My planned trip to Kenya this July had to be postponed due to road construction in the areas I needed to visit. So, I’m getting extra time this summer to be home, give attention to the projects God has put before me, and to take some vacation. This fall I am contemplating trips to Atlanta, GA, Damascus, VA,  Michigan, and Florida may be on tap for this fall. You can keep checking my Travel Schedule, or if you’d like to be notified if I’m planning to visit your area, you can sign up on our email list and include your address.
In Case You Missed it…

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

Podcasts at TheGodJourney.com:

Wayne’s blog at Lifestream.org

Water In the Desert

We are so grateful for those of you who joined us in helping out our Kenyan friends this spring. First, a school for orphans and impoverished children that we support had their water cistern compromised during a flood where their sewage spilled into their water supply. This cistern not only served the school but the nearby community that has no source of water. The government was ready to close down the school. Thanks to many of you, we were able to help them drill a new well. And even that turned out better than we hoped. During drilling, they tapped into an unknown water source with water so plentiful and pure that government inspectors recommended they bottle and sell it. So, we also helped them build a bottling plant, and soon the future needs of the school will be met by their own enterprise.

Also, our friends in Pokot suddenly were confronted with a new tribe of people that heard about their food and water and came a long way to seek help. Enough of you gave to help them bridge the four months they needed to until a future harvest. They were effusively grateful for the generosity, so many of you showed to help them at such a critical time. I’m continually amazed by the impact this website and podcast have had on a desperate corner of the world.

Do You Want to Be a John?

If you haven’t read So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, you may not get the reference, nor the wonder of the comment. For those that haven’t, that story is about a frustrated staff pastor meeting someone he thinks might be John, Jesus’ disciple, still living in the 21st century.  Do you remember when Jesus told Peter that if John were to live until he came again and that it should not matter to Peter’s journey? Now, Jesus didn’t say he would live that long, but we thought that an excellent idea for a story. What if a first-century apostle were still living today? What would he think of what we’ve done to Jesus’ kingdom in the 2000 years since?  That story has been read well over half a million times in the 14 years it’s been out. This is a story we never thought would go beyond a website.  

Anyway, I was in Europe over the last couple of weeks, starting in Norway, then taking on a YWAM class on the east coast of Italy, before ending my trip with two stops in Switzerland. Except for my time in Switzerland, all the people I met on this trip were new to me. What a trip it was, too! I am blown away by the people I get to know in my travels. Wherever I go I meet some of the most compelling people who are sorting out what it means to live loved and responsive to Jesus rather than just working Christianity as a system of thought. I love that. I love the conversations I get into and the things we discover together. I never know where those conversations will lead and almost always see something new about this God I love in the process.

I also meet some of the most courageous people on the planet when I travel, those that have more passion for a relationship with God than they have experience at it. Despite incredible struggles and doubts, they continue to open their heart to recognize the connection God wants to have with them. Yes, they are frustrated that it seems to be beyond their reach, and yet they continue to ask, seek, and knock on the door. I know it isn’t easy. I know it can lead to years of frustration when the desire is not immediately fulfilled the way we hope.

For humanity to connect with the transcendent God is no small task. Everything broken about this world seeks to diminish his voice, obscure his reality, and make us feel all alone in the universe. Look at all Father has done, including the cross, to make that connection. So, it doesn’t surprise me when it isn’t easy or doesn’t happen quickly especially for those who have known significant trauma in their lives or been captive in legalistic systems as a substitute for knowing him. It isn’t easy for us to learn to give up trying to make happen by our own efforts what only he can do by his Spirit. And he will do it, even if it takes most of our lives. 

One man told me on this trip that he wondered if this kind of relationship is only available to specific people like the men and women of God in the Old Testament. “If that’s true,” I told him, “then traveling the world and telling others they can have it, too, would be the cruelest thing I could do.” He agreed. I don’t travel, though, because of my need for income, or to satiate my ego. I wouldn’t do what I do if it weren’t to help others experience the same reality in him that I do. If it isn’t real for all, even the “least” of them, by however we choose to measure it, then it isn’t real for me either. That’s what the new covenant was for, to help every person find that connection with the God who loves them more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.  

And that brings me to why I wrote this blog. I had a brief conversation in Switzerland that was repeated in an email when I got home:  “You may remember when I said that ten years ago I always wanted to have someone like John by my side to answer all my questions. Today, I want to be someone like John, encouraging and helping others to discover and live in the heavenly Father’s love.” I love that. In essence, that’s the simplicity of the Gospel. Find your reality in him, and then find a way to help others discover that reality as well. 

I remember when we were writing that book, that I yearned to be someone like John, too. We wrote way above our heads when we sculpted out that character and put the best things in his mouth that we’ve ever heard or thought. Even Sara would recognize how beyond me John was when I was writing for him. When she would get home, she would make the observation that I’d been working on that book again. When I asked how she knew, she would respond, “Because you’re always a better person when you’ve spent the afternoon with John.” It was our little joke, but she was right. Writing for John was aspirational. 

Who doesn’t want to be a voice that opens a door in the heart of those who are endeavoring to discover what is true about God? Who wouldn’t want to be the cheerleader rooting on those who are about to give up in the misery of a difficult life? Who wouldn’t want to be a friend who can help others recognize the fingerprints of God in their heart?  

Yes, in the early days we want a John who can help us recognize how Father makes himself known to us. As we grow, however, we can become that John for others. We need so many people who can help others learn to recognize God at work in them. We do that by asking God to give us away to those who want to know him, by looking for those who are struggling in their faith and befriending them, by walking with God, not just for the wisdom we need, but for the wisdom others might need as well. 

It’s a noble aspiration—to find God with increasing fullness and to help others find him too.  

The Power of a Good Question

A few years ago I was teaching 800 Kenyan pastors in a hornet-infested barn about the love of God. After sharing a bit of my story and laying the groundwork for living loved, I asked them what questions they might have about God’s love that we could tackle in the next view days.

Immediately the room went visibly tense. The atmosphere grew fearful and deathly quiet. It felt as if they had been threatened and all 800 glared at me with a panicked look on their face. I knew no one was going to ask a question. So, I pushed pause. I told them we were going to take a break and they could get to know the people around them. I then went to the person who had invited me and asked him what had just happened in there.

“They don’t believe you,” he said. Then he told me that the last American speaker that came through paused at one point to see if anyone had any questions. Someone dared to ask one and immediately the speaker chewed him out to silence any other potential questioners. “How dare you ask a question! I’ve explained everything to you need to know and if you don’t get it by now it’s because rebellion is in your heart.”

Ahh.  Now I understood.  As we gathered back together, I assured them that I really wanted them to ask questions, that we needed to learn together, in their time, not listen to me lecture. I promised not to get angry or defensive, but to create a safe place for us to explore God’s love together. Tentatively at first, they began to respond and their hungry questions took us to some amazing places I would not have thought to take them on my own.

Asking questions is a critical component of spiritual growth. If we can’t ask what we need to ask or struggle openly with the thoughts and questions that plague our minds, how will we ever come to know the reality of the life and love that God holds for us? In Scripture, God often asks questions to stir our thinking. In the Gospels, Jesus responded openly and warmly to the truth-seeking questions that were asked of him. Of course, some asked questions out of malice or seeking to trap him in some way, but Jesus was still patient with them. He didn’t always give them the answer they wanted, but neither did he demean them.

There is nothing more important to your own personal discipleship than having the freedom to ask the questions you need to ask. Too many of us wait for someone to tell us what we should know, instead of looking honestly at our circumstances and asking the questions that will help us discover God’s reality inside us. I met a man in New Zealand whose entire discipleship came about just by asking questions. The man who led him to Christ didn’t give him a set of lessons to teach him to follow God. He just told his newfound friend to ask whatever question he wanted and he would try to answer it as best he could, or that they would find the answer together. Brilliant! That man grew up in a deep and sincere faith. That’s a great way to teach someone, inside their own questions and their own experiences. That’s how his Spirit works in us.

I’m thinking about this because I had lunch with a couple in their sixties who had attended a two-year Bible school in Florida a few years back. On the opening day of class, they were told questions wouldn’t be allowed through their course of study. They would be told what they needed to know and they did not allow students to ask questions of their instructors. I was dumbfounded. How could any school, especially one based on the life of Jesus, not allow people to explore openly? As horrible as that might be for people in their 50s and 60s, it’s especially horrible for students in their teens and twenties who think they are going to teach that stuff to others.

Most of the meetings I’m in these days give a maximum amount of opportunity for people to ask questions, explore the frustrations of their own journey, and really learn what it means to know him and follow him. The kingdom of God can withstand any the honesty of our struggles and the questions we need to ask. It’s hard enough to get Christians to ask questions to begin with. Most of us have been taught there’s a right answer to everything and if you don’t know it already, it’s because you’re not paying attention. Some hesitate to ask something difficult, concerned that I’ll get angry with them. I’ve even offered some groups $100 if someone makes me angry or I get defensive. I want them to know that any meeting I’m in is a safe place to discover and grow. Most of the best questions I’ve been asked came from people who were reticent to ask it because they thought no one else would care about the answer. Almost always everyone does. Don’t we appreciate the person who’s willing to ask the question everyone else wants to ask, but are too afraid to do so?

If you can’t ask questions and struggle with what someone is trying to teach you about God, then you’re not in an environment where the kingdom unfolds. If someone gets angry when you question them, or dare to disagree with them, they are not leaders who can help you discover God’s reality. And if you’re afraid to ask God any question that’s in your heart, you have yet to discover just how loving and gracious he is and how much he wants to help you understand how to live in him.

Yes, there is a difference between asking God questions and questioning God’s character or wisdom. There’s a way to ask questions with humility that will open your heart to see in a fresh way what he wants to show you, and there’s a way to challenge him defiantly that will blind you to what he wants to show you. I’ve done both. He can handle our defiance with a love that understands our pain, but until it gives way to humble surrender, we will not hear his gentle response. How can you surrender when you are angry or disappointed with him?  Only one thing sets my heart at rest, to embrace his affection for me and to mistrust my conclusions about him outside that love. That can take some time, but it will open some amazing doors in your own spiritual journey.

Betrayal Is Not the End of the Road

My good friend in Tulsa, Tom Mohn, says that betrayal is one of those amazing things God uses to shape his life in us. I know it doesn’t feel like it. It more likely feels like the end of the road when someone you love, and who you thought loved you, decides his own word is meaningless, and you are of less value to him than what he can gain by lying to you or lying about you. Most often it takes both.

I’ve gone through this with three different people in my life and it is the absolute worst. The first time cost me everything—my involvement with a congregation I’d helped to plant, my salary, my health insurance, my reputation in a community, and countless friendships I treasured—and this was all two weeks before Christmas in 1994. I wasn’t offered a dime of severance pay, just an avalanche of lies about my family.

I wish I’d known Tom back then and had seen more hope in what was going on, but those days were the darkest Sara and I have every experienced. We thought we were following Jesus in it all, but we weren’t sure. Maybe we were as independent and rebellious as others said we were. I remember telling God if we were, then shout it from the rooftops. Let everyone know including me, because I only wanted to follow him even if I was proved wrong.

I know Jesus said that such times are an amazing blessing in our lives, but to get there you really have to think with a deeper mindset than your own physical comfort.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.  (Matthew 5:10-12, The Message)

I know that sounds like crazy talk. It did when my dad read those words to me a few weeks into my betrayal. But, I began to let them sink into my heart and began to count myself blessed even when it didn’t feel like it. I found a way to rejoice in the fact that people had lied about me and thrown me out because I was seeking to follow him. And it became true that going through that betrayal opened some incredible doors that Sara and I have treasured for the last quarter century. The betrayal of our close friends drove us deeper into God and our freedom from a human-centered view of ‘church’ allowed us to begin to taste the Church that Jesus is building in the world.

So, now I do know that betrayal is not the end of the road. It hurts, most certainly. And unfortunately, it is a common theme in human history and the biblical record. Abel knew it, so did Joseph, David, Jeremiah, Paul, and many others including, of course, Jesus himself. No, that doesn’t justify the acts of the betrayer, but I prefer to leave them in Jesus’ hands, where they are best served. I don’t know what goes on inside someone that allows them to make those kinds of choices, nor the consequences they suffer for putting money, power, fame, sex, or the illusion of safety above love and friendship. I do know how living a lie warps you from the inside in some horrible ways and it makes my heart hurt for them.

A number of years ago I had someone else steal a significant amount of money from me by not honoring an agreement we had made together. Even reminding him of our agreement only provoked his anger. In the aftermath of that encounter Jesus told me to let it go and he would make up whatever I had lost. Fortunately, I did and he proved faithful in all he promised me, and more.  I am so grateful I followed him rather than demanding what was rightfully mine.

So, if you’ve been betrayed by someone, invite Jesus into that pain. He understands. He’s been through everything you’re going through and much more!  He is able to work beyond the failures of others and to continue to let grace have its unfolding work in our hearts. Betrayal may close some doors, but it also opens us to other opportunities we might have missed otherwise. Getting through betrayal with Jesus also changes something deep inside us so we are tuned more compassionately to the needs of others and the value of being a faithful friend.

This all comes up because I was interviewed a few weeks ago by Jon DeWall of Liminal Space. He does a podcast about life transition and wanted to hear my story of betrayal and how Sara and I managed to get through it alongside Jesus. It dropped last week and I wanted to let you know it was available if you wanted to listen to it.  You can find it on their website or these podcasts outlets:  iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

Even if you don’t listen, when you find yourself being betrayed by someone close to you, just remember Jesus has a way to walk you through the pain and into wider pastures than you ever thought possible.

The Real Power of the Incarnation

[This is a copy of our December 2018 Email Blast. If you’re not on our list you can sign up here. And if you include your name and address you’ll also receive email notification if Wayne is traveling in your area.]

The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.

(Psalm 118:14)

What do you think the Psalmist meant when he wrote that? Did he mean the Lord was his get-out-of-hell-free card to secure his final destiny? No, he didn’t.

When a desperate, young mother is trapped by the abusiveness of her husband and the needs of her children, is a get-out-of-hell-free card the salvation she needs? Of course not. What she needs is a friend to come alongside her and show her the way through that situation to safety and life. Anyone who does that for her is her salvation.

“The Lord is my salvation,” is not just a statement of our eternal destiny; it is our hope in this broken age that he has a way through whatever life can throw at us and whatever sin seeks to destroy in us, and he can teach us how to follow him into that freedom.

Nothing has distracted Christians more from the true mission of Christ in the world than the misunderstanding that he only came to determine whether we go to heaven or hell. He didn’t. He came to rescue us from perishing in the bondage and deception of this evil age and show us the path to true life and freedom. In doing so, he also showed us how to give that same journey to others.

For us, that means that we are not alone in anything life hurls at us and that every resource of wisdom and power in our Father is available to us at any moment of the day. That’s the kingdom of God, and Jesus came into the world to invite us into that reality every day that we live.

How do we tap that resource? Is praying for an answer enough? Would that it was. I’m sure you know countless people, like I do, who have sought God desperately at moments of need and been hopelessly disappointed by his seeming inactivity on their behalf. I’m sure it’s happened for you, too. Where did we get the idea that we would just call out to God and he’d wave his magic wand to turn all our pumpkins into chariots?

Honestly, I’m sure I’d just use that power to get me into even more trouble because if I just use it even to satisfy my best intentions it would only destroy me. Jesus offered us something so much better than a fairy-godmother in the sky.

He offered us a different way to live, inside a relationship with him and his Father by the power of the Spirit that would open the door into the realm in which our Father dwells. By embracing him there we would begin to see everything differently and he would begin to change us from the inside, away from our self-focused bias to embrace the highest purpose God holds for his Creation. In that relationship, he would teach us how to walk in this age as lights of another kingdom. In other words, he didn’t offer us answers for our problems, but the opportunity to live inside a different reality that would save us from the destruction of this age and bring his wisdom and love to bear on others.

The kingdom of God is here! All the wisdom and power of God is at your disposal, as you come to know him and learn to follow him. That relationship will challenge everything you think you know to be true. It will unmask your deceptions, expose your selfish ambitions, and invite you down pathways you’d never consider without him. But with him, they will lead to unimaginable depths of discovery and freedom.

If just praying about our needs doesn’t make that happen, what will? We find his way by actually following him. There really is no substitute for that. That’s why Jesus came. We don’t celebrate the Incarnation by attending another Christmas pageant or putting another string of lights on the tree. We celebrate it by leaning into the reality he paid so much to give us. His Incarnation was the example of how Father wanted to walk alongside us. His death on the cross obliterated the sin and shame that made us too fearful and too intimidated to sit at his feet and learn his ways. His resurrection empowered us to share the same relationship with him that Jesus had.

Salvation is found in following him, in this life, and yes to life beyond as well. There’s nothing sadder to me than someone desperately wanting God’s help in their life, but just waiting for God to fix it. He’s inviting them to follow him, to recognize what’s really true about the circumstance they are in and respond not out of the flesh but in the reality of his kingdom. Isn’t it amazing that we find more comfort in trying to find an answer in the right book or seminar, when the Spirit of God dwells in us to guide us into truth and to empower us with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead?

He wants you to know him, to see into the reality of how God regards you and the situation you’re in, then you’ll know how to follow him.  That’s all the salvation you will ever need. He can take you through anything and change you in the process to be more like him and to think more like he thinks.

That’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1-2) Jesus opened a door for us to see and experience what is really true in the universe by knowing him. Unfortunately, we spend too much time focused on things below, on our own abilities or lack of them, and on our own wisdom, thinking it is his. Or we put too much stock in religious principles and rituals that have the appearance of spirituality, but don’t help us recognize the truth of what’s going on around us.

Ask him to let you see reality through his eyes. Spend time with him, so that you know what touches his heart and how he thinks in situations. Talk with others who are also learning to follow him and let them share what they see. Be aware that what he sees will almost always be very different from what you see. His path will most likely invite you out of your comfort zone and preferred outcomes to follow him. But remember he is your salvation and there’s no safer place to be than in him.

Yes, you’ll find yourself resisting the truth like I do the first time I see it. His ways are rarely the way I’d naturally think. As we embrace his growing revelation, however, we’ll see how following him is the only way forward. Celebrate this Christmas with a prolonged gaze into the reality of our Father’s kingdom. Draw near to him and ask him to make himself known to you and pause enough to recognize the nudging of passion or wisdom he puts on your heart. Follow him as best you see him each day and watch what will unfold in your life.

This is the great adventure. You don’t have to have all the answers or all the power, you only have to follow the one who does.

Wayne and Sara with their children and grandchildren on the beach… This is how Christmas looks in Southern California.

Wayne was a Guest on Liminal Space

I was a recent guest on the Liminal Spaces Podcast called Life through Transitions Podcast. I had a great time talking with host Jon DeWaal about how God can use something as painful as betrayal to open a wider door in his kingdom.

Do You Want to Help Us In Kenya?
If you have some year-end giving to do and unsure where to send it, would you please consider our brothers and sisters in Kenya?  You can read more about what’s going on there in my recent article, The Craziest Thing I’ve Been Asked to Do. If you’d like to help as we finish up there, you can do so on our Online Giving Page.

Travel Notes for 2019

I’m currently sorting through some of my travel schedule for 2019, which at this point will include Atlanta, Eureka, Italy, and Kenya, and might include West Virginia and Southern Illinois. We’re still working on some of the early parts of the year. I’ll be in Italy at a Discipleship Training School from April 29 – May 3.  I’ve got some time on either side of that week to be elsewhere in Europe while I’m out that way. If you’d like to host something when I’m in the area, please let me know.  You can keep up with my Travel Schedule here, and if you’d like to be notified if I’m planning to visit your area, you can sign up on our email list and include your address <http://eepurl.com/bJ43Ar>.

In Cased you Missed it…

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

Podcasts at TheGodJourney.com:

Wayne’s blog at Lifestream.org

Thanksgiving in the Midst of Pain

No one should have to bury their twenty-one-year-old daughter. It’s just not right, especially when she was murdered in a senseless act by a broken man who somehow thought shooting up a local bar and grill would do something for his pain. Yesterday, Sara and I attended her funeral just to be with our community in the midst of its pain and to pray. We didn’t know Noel, or any of the other 11 victims of that mass shooting, but a good friend of ours was one of Noel’s best friends, and we wanted to support her and her family.

Our community has been through so much over the last two weeks. The shooting happened on a Wednesday night at 11:20 pm. The next day two wildfires broke out on either side of Thousand Oaks and by 3:00 am on Friday many residents were told to evacuate their homes in advance of the fire. Fortunately, only three people were killed in these fires, but over 1000 homes and businesses burned. In Northern California they are dealing with a fire that destroyed 6,000 buildings, killed almost a hundred, with a thousand more missing. Sara and I have personally escaped unscathed from these twin tragedies, but know many who have not.

And now, it’s Thanksgiving. This holiday always centers around the images of home and family, expressing gratefulness for the bounty of blessings they’ve enjoyed in the last year. But not everyone had a good year. Some had their houses burned or their child murdered.  Others have been through divorce, or cancer, or being laid off from their job. What if you have been abused by someone you love or abandoned by your family? Where do you find your Thanksgiving then?

Pain—and this world can deal it out in some horrible ways—can make us question the goodness and beauty of Creation and the One who made it. But Paul expressed a different point of view in his trials, which were many and vast, from shipwrecks to beatings, he wrote in II Corinthians 4:7-9:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

No matter what circumstances brought to Paul, he knew of an inner refuge that could carry him through it and in the process seed the ground for greater joys to come. If we look for joy only in our circumstances, our sense of security will rise and fall with capricious tides of life. We’ll then see God as the one who must fix all our circumstances to make us happy, or be disappointed with him when he doesn’t. But if our pain can remind us to look deeper, to find a God who is bigger than the most atrocious things life can deal out to us, then we can find joy and thanksgiving no matter what goes on around us.

My heroes of the Old Testament include Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three children of Israel living in the Babylonian exile. They were threatened with being burned alive if they wouldn’t bow down to a golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had built. They refused. They were given another chance to comply and refused again, uncertain how things would turn out:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Their trust in God was not attached to the outcome of their circumstances. I know wonderful people whose homes were spared in the fires, and wonderful people whose homes were burned right across the street or next door to those who were spared. Our temporal blessings, even survival, is not proof of God’s favor or his judgment. These children of Israel could trust God whether or not he delivered them from their persecution and pain. There is always something more than what is right in front of us. Tuning into that reality gives us cause for thanksgiving no matter how bleak circumstances might appear.

So where do we find gratefulness in times of crisis? Here’s where I find it:

I am grateful that he is always with me, even if my feelings try to tell me otherwise.

I am grateful he has given me life, breath, and subsistence to get through this day.

I am thankful that I have a Father who loves me more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.

I am thankful there’s nothing I can do to make him love me one bit less or one bit more than he already does.

I am thankful that every breath I take is in his hands.

I am grateful that Jesus has a way to navigate me through anything life can throw at me, including when others treat me unfairly.

I am grateful that all my hopes and dreams don’t have to be satisfied on this side of eternity.

I am grateful that nothing in this world, or the actions of any person, can keep me from the life and freedom he has for me.

I am grateful that Jesus will get the last word on every one and everything in this world. He hasn’t yet, but he will.

I am grateful he is bigger than any injustice, calamity, lie, or failure.

I am grateful that there’s always a way for me to encourage and be helpful to others who are going through difficult times.

I am grateful for friendships that love through anything, and don’t assume the worst of motives in moments of pain.

And, I am grateful that beauty and joy will once again rise from the ashes of my calamities and lead me to peace.

So, whether you find yourself on this Thanksgiving in abundant circumstances or in painful ones, there are real reasons to be thankful.  And, finding our way to a place of thankfulness is often the first step to finding our way beyond the pain and into his reality of life and peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, with Zoey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________

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

Finding God in the Darkest Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking In the Fog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I answered her:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet My Friend, Tom

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

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

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

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

Learning to Live Loved

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

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

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

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

Learning to Live Loved: Part One

Learning to Live Loved: Part Two

When Spring Arrives Overnight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Learning the Pace of Father’s Vineyard

I always tell people if they are only going to read one book of mine, I hope it’s He Loves Me. That material is what began an incredible process in my heart that continues to this day. I used to be motivated in my walk with God out of the fear that I couldn’t be enough for him and often compensated for that by trying hard to be more spiritual than anyone around me. No, that never turns out well. Then in a new season of my life brought on by a tragic betrayal, God invited me on a bit of a different journey—learning to live in the reality of his affection, which has transformed me more I could ever imagine.

But I meet many others who tell me that In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness is their favorite book an that material is dear to my heart as well. These are the lessons of the vineyard I grew up in as a child. I am not amazed that when Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the process of growth and fruitfulness that he would take them to a vineyard and explain to them why they are just like branches on a vine. There’s a reason for that. Spiritual growth is organic, not academic.

A few weeks ago, in the dead of a Canadian winter, I came across this post on Facebook from a lady who went with our group to Israel last year. I wanted to share her thoughts in case any of you are looking for something to read and haven’t sampled this one yet.  Her note means all the more because it comes from a good friend who came to Christ not so long ago. I appreciate her heart and her gracious words:

The beauty of winter for me is the comforts of my home. I am by nature a home body and winter is when I love my home the most. The fireplace, cooking in my kitchen, and a great book are the makings of a perfect day.

Especially a great book!

I just finished In Season by our dear friend Wayne Jacobsen. I know everyone is probably reading Beyond Sundays, but as I looked at all the books available to read next it was In Season that Father pressed into my heart.

Wayne, I loved this book so much! My copy is now plastered with comments, hi-lites and underlining throughout. I actually chuckled at how many times I wrote YES or FANTASTIC or drew a heart somewhere on a page that touched my heart. Typically I read books as if running a marathon, anxious to reach the finish line. Not this book though. I took my time as I was often drawn into deep contemplation and prayer. Meaningful prayer actually. With this book I have discovered the beauty, restoration and transformation of remaining on the vine no matter the season and in doing so we can and will be the most fruitful of branches if we surrender to the season and Jesus. Prune away Father!!

If you have not yet read this amazing book I highly recommend you do so.

And Wayne, you remain such a gift in my life and your wisdom and writings have powerfully moved me into deeper relationship and intimacy with Father. My sincerest gratitude and appreciation.

Thanks, Barb. I’m deeply touched.  Of all the seasons in the vineyard, winter has become my favorite. It’s where everything in our life slows down enough that God can trim off our excess activity and teach us to relax again in his work. Everything pruned off a grapevine, was fruitful in the previous season, but if the farmer doesn’t narrow the focus there will be no fruit in the next. We get so busy, even where we’ve been a blessing in the past, that we miss what God wants to do in us now.

So if you haven’t picked this one up yet, now might be a good time. And we’ll take $2.00 off the price as well.  You can order it here for the next little while for $9.99.

 

Who Did Jesus Die For?

Good Friday and Easter weekend are upon us.

And I returned home just in time from my ten days in Texas.  This was one of those wild trips where I met so many people and experienced so many awesome opportunities.  I did a video interview about my view of the church, and a future podcast interview with Tracy Levinson, who wrote a wonderful book, Unashamed, and appeared with Brad and I on three previous podcasts: UnashamedTaking Shame out of Sexuality and Mutually Shared Selfishness. I also got to meet her husband, Bruce, and they graciously loaned their car to me for a week after I lost my driver’s license at LAX somewhere after I cleared security and was unable to rent one.

I also visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library, celebrated my birthday too many times with old friends and new, did my TEDx talk at ACU (which won’t appear online for a couple of months), and along the way watching God do some deep work in the hearts of very specific people. In addition, God may have found us a co-author to help with a new book I’ve been contemplating with a good friend of mine, called The Language of Healing, in contrast to the rhetoric of animosity and vitriol we see in our country and too many family relationships.  It was a fruitful trip indeed in so many ways. I always come away from such trips reminded that it’s friendships that make us rich.

After I returned, Sara and I spent an evening with a couple who have asked us to help them understand better how we live this journey. They are originally from Mexico and one doesn’t speak English very well. Because it was Easter week, we talked about the death of Christ and what it accomplished in God’s plan of salvation. They had never heard a non-appeasement based view of the cross before and it was a joy to watch their faces light up, and wrestle with the questions it triggered.  At the heart of that for me is always, Who did Jesus die for?

I grew up believing that Jesus died to satisfy God’s need for justice. God was so offended at the sin of humanity that to save us he had to exact our punishment on the most innocent human being who had ever lived. By tormenting his own Son to death, he was relieved of his anger and offense for our sins. If that saves us from the punishment we deserve, that’s still a good story, but it leaves us with a distorted view of God. It paints him as a Deity only sated by bloodlust.  That’s how many teach it, but honestly it so distorts what Scripture says and what God did.

That view has Jesus dying for God, when Scripture is clear that Jesus died for us. Those who teach appeasement, do so from Old Testament passages that see the Suffering Servant in incomplete terms. A fuller view of the cross can be seen in the New Testament by those who have been transformed by it and saw that it wasn’t truly about punishment, but curing humanity from the destructiveness of sin. They saw the cross as the basis of forgiveness, reconciliation, and opening the door to a relaxed relationship with the God who has always loved us.

Our relationship with God was not broken from his side. It was broken from ours. We’re the ones who sinned and fled into the darkness afraid of what God might do to us. But from the beginning he was at work from his side to restore the friendship he had lost and redeem us from the devastating effects of sin. As the deceived Creation we were estranged from God by our sin and shame. Jesus’ sacrifice was to reverse all of that. by becoming sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21) he was able to hold our sin before God as his consuming love “condemned sin in the likeness of sinful flesh.” (Romans 8:4)

Jesus didn’t die to satisfy God’s need to punish sin; he died so that sin might be destroyed in him.  Then, we could be restored to the relationship God had always wanted with us. The cross was about reconciliation not punishment. Sin needed to be destroyed, not humanity punished.

I love talking about this stuff with people who never heard of it before. As our friends said when they left that night, “This changes everything !”  Indeed, it does. And in ways they can’t even imagine yet. Now they will see God not as an angry deity needing to exact punishment, and one still needing to be appeased by our sacrifices or offerings today. Instead, they will see him as a loving Father rescuing his children from their helplessness (Matthew 9 and Romans 5) to sin’s power. They will know God is not one to be appeased, but one who holds great affection for his children. It’s a story that has changed my life and launched Sara and I on a new trajectory some 24 years ago.  If you’d like to hear more, I did over eight hours of teaching on this in Transition, which is available on this website for free. Also, Brad and I did a recent podcast on Does God Need to Be Appeased?

All the false deities humans projected out of their own shame were all angry godfs that needed to be appeased by sacrifices from their subjects. But the One, True God, is not like any of the false gods we contrived. He is not the one who needed a sacrifice; he was the one who would be the sacrifice to win back his lost children. I see God’s wrath consuming our sin at the cross not as punishment, but as the chemotherapy a master oncologist would use to destroy the cancer of sin and set us free. Only Jesus as perfect humanity could endure the costly the cure for our sin, and endure the process where the chemotherapy of wrath would destroy the cancer of sin. And when he did his blood now holds all the power we need to destroy sin and shame and re-engage us God himself. When we accept his death as our own, his blood cleanses us so that we are no longer loath ourselves, but come joyfully to the love of a tender Father where our sin is forgiven and unraveled, as we learn to live in his reality and the freedom he brings.
It’s a great story, ones worth celebrating.  Blessed Easter, everyone!

Wayne Jacobsen Needs to Disappear

Now, don’t take that headline too literally!

I’m not. But I do hope it makes a point.

Before I get to that point, however, let me tell you how overwhelmingly grateful I am for those of you who recommend my books, websites, or podcast to others. Since we don’t do advertising here, word-of-mouth is the only way my books get passed along to new people they might encourage. Without that I’d keep writing to the same audience. Thank you for quoting them, reviewing them, or recommending them to others. Your willingness to pass it on makes a big difference in whether a book or podcast finds its way to those who will benefit from it. Didn’t most of you first hear of something that deeply touched you from someone else it had touched first?

However, the things I have written and said over the last twenty years were designed to help people discover a life in Jesus that is rich with his presence, and flows in love through them to others near them. I realize that God has given me a gift to put into words what he has already been showing others. Though they may not have found the words to verbalize it yet, they recognize what he’s been saying to them in words I’ve written. I’ve heard that over and over and I want you to know how much that has encouraged me—to know that some of the things on my heart have been woven into the fabric of Jesus’ family all over the world.

What I most hope for, however, is that those things become such a part of someone else’s journey that they no longer remember where they came from and share what they have learned in their own words, as part of their own story. Share as if Jesus had shown it to you because he most assuredly has. It may have been through the words of another, but when people actually begin to live beyond true principles and connect with him, they will incarnate his truth in their own story and not merely quote others.

That’s what I mean by Wayne Jacobsen needs to disappear. When people are excited about what they are discovering, it’s easy to refer over and over again to the person whose words or encouragement have helped them see it. “Wayne Jacobsen said…”, or Dallas Willard, or Brennan Manning.  It can be anybody, really. People who are not already partial to your story will grow weary of hearing that same name repeated again and again and will eventually be distracted from what you’re actually saying because they wonder if you’ve been brainwashed by some new guru. I’ve seen that look in someone’s eye as I’m being introduced to them. They are sick of hearing my name and we haven’t even met yet!

Now, I get why people do it. Some are not wanting to take credit for someone else’s thoughts. Others are blessed to find someone outside themselves to validate what they are learning.  “This is not just my crazy idea, I read it in Beyond Sundays.” Others are simply encouraging their friends to resources that were helpful to them. Unfortunately it often has the opposite effect of making it look like you’re just excited about another author as you chase down the latest fad. Wouldn’t it be better if you took the things you’re learning from Jesus and just shared it as part of your story? Don’t worry about crediting to me, even if you’re using my words. If they have resonated with his Spirit in you, maybe they were not my words to begin with.

I heard someone last week repeat a sentence I’ve often used without a hint of awareness that they were quoting me. They had obviously forgotten where it came from and had become part of them. I love that. Who it came through was no longer important; the truth it expressed was. I don’t need the credit and I’d much prefer that people see the truth as coming from Jesus, not from me. When your story makes someone else hungry and they are curious about the resources that have helped you, that’s a good time to recommend a book or author.

And let’s be clear here. I’m not talking about people taking other people’s words and plagiarizing them to craft books or sermons without attributing the source. I’ve had my words, stolen by others only to build their own empire. When you claim someone’s work as you’re own you’re only being advancing the kingdom of darkness with your own vanity and dishonesty.

But I hope my larger point is not lost. When something true about Jesus takes root in your heart, share it freely with others. The power is in what’s true, not who originally put it to words. Perhaps this is what John the Baptist felt when his own disciples warned him that Jesus was becoming more popular than he was. John’s response must have shocked them. He wasn’t threatened at all for he saw himself only as the friend of the groom, not the groom himself.  “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3)

I love it when my input into the life of another person disappears into a deeper relationship with Jesus himself. I love it when they share about the cross or the nature of Jesus in their own words and with their own illustrations. That draws the attention back to Jesus to whom this kingdom belongs. He’s the one who wants to take shape in you. Discipleship is not a matter of following the wisdom or principles that someone else teaches, but of recognizing his work in you and following him as he loves the world through you. Don’t be in a hurry. This takes some time to see with our hearts into his world and his way of doing things. Letting him show you, however, is one of the greatest adventures of being human.

The fellowship I have with him is what I want everyone to experience and what I hope they pass on in their conversations with others.

Worthy of His Disappointment?

It was a short exchange, but hopefully a fruitful one. A man had written me about the hope of getting together some time. In his email he expressed some thoughts about a previous blog that gave me pause.

When you ask the question, “Are you worthy of Love?”, I had to think about it.

Until Papa wagged “her” finger (in THE SHACK) and said, “I am especially fond of that one”, I would have said that God was disappointed with me… He did die for me, so mentally, I get the gist of John 3:16. (But) I am worthy of his disappointment. (Emphasis mine.)

My response: I’m not sure how you meant, “…worthy of his disappointment.” For God to be disappointed he would have to have expectations of you that you could meet by your own strength. And yet he knows we were “helpless” in sin.

Wouldn’t it be great to know that God was never disappointed in you? Of course, he’s been disappointed in choices you’ve made and things you’ve done, just as you have been with your girls. But never disappointed in YOU as his child.

That’s the key, I think….

Then he wrote back:

Your email gave me reason to pause and think.

My comment about being “…worthy of his disappointment” comes from being raised that we are basically bad in the sight of God… From that “programming” I realize that it is my expectation to disappoint him.

Being helpless in my sin is such a different way of thinking.

While it would be GREAT to know that God was never disappointed in me, I have to get that to my heart. Mentally I can get that I am loved, not a disappointment, etc. I think that mental knowing causes obligation, where really knowing in your heart causes peace and rest and a returned affection.

So what really caused me to think was that I HAVE been disappointed in my girls as people… NOT just in the choices they made. My religious upbringing caused the expectation that you could not “sin” if you just tried hard enough. Therefore if you do, then you “meant to”…

I am this same way with the few relationships in my life that have gone sideways. I have a relationship where a church friend lied to me to get me to join him in work. Then he continued to lie, cheat, and steal from me. I had higher expectations of him, so I hold him responsible and I am VERY disappointed with him as a person. Forgiveness is very hard here. I have a similar issue with (a relative). She isn’t a nice person to me. Again, I realize that I have higher expectations of her. I don’t think of either of them as being “helpless in their sin”, but mean people who purposefully hurt me. I AM very dissapointed in them… not their actions.

Over the past several years of thinking what it means to live loved, I really do see other people differently than I used to. Maybe I just realized that I have different expectations of them. I have started to apply this to my daughters. It may need to extend further.

This is a great journey to explore for him, for his daughters, and for everyone else around him. Religion has pounded into our heads for so long that we are a constant disappointment to God. He is offended and angry with our sins and mistakes. Only Jesus’ death made us bearable to him. But none of that is true. God sees us as powerless against the brokenness of this age and the brokenness of our own souls.

The process of healing and freedom begins when we realize we are a treasure to God. Our failures don’t make us a stench in his nostrils, but the victims of a tragic fall, even more endearing because of the darkness of our struggle. That’s why he came to rescue us, not so that he could love us, but because he already did.

I know some see that as making an excuse for sin, as if God doesn’t care. Oh, he cares. He sees the destruction of sin in each of us individually and in the larger human experience. He abhors the pain and suffering we cause each other by our self-indulgent ways and the unintentional fruit of our coping mechanisms. But he also knows the only way out is to return to his love. People who are loved well by the Father will find increasing freedom from sin’s tentacles and become a reflection of his love and healing in the world toward others.

If God is disappointed in YOU, then you have to find your way out. If he was never disappointed in you, then you have a Father to run to and a process to engage that will set you increasingly free to live as the beloved son or daughter of a gracious Father, because that’s exactly who you are!

So in your listening to the breath of the Spirit today, see if you hear something like, “I know you’ve been through some rough waters and made some hurtful choices.  I am disappointed for the pain it has caused you and others, but I have never been disappointed in you as my child. I’ve held you in my heart every day, waiting for you to turn and embrace my love.”