Encouragement

The Gift of Sight in the Valley of Pain

Two nights ago, I sat among giants.

Five people, each of them, had come face-to-face with a conflict between their consciences and the system of power that held the keys to their salary and advancement. And they each chose to follow their nudging consciences growing deep within them. For three of them, it was a recent experience.

And it cost them—relationships with “friends” and family, reputation, salary, and immediate fulfillment of their ministry aspirations. They were threatened by people they had previously admired, ambushed by those who could easily use deceit as a weapon, and rejected by those who had previously affirmed them.

Their choices led to dark days of pain and agony. Falsely accused and isolated, they second-guessed their consciences and questioned the God who had not intervened on their behalf against those acting in unGodly ways.

But in those long days of darkness, their hearts grew. They began to see the difference between human power and God’s authority. They came to see the full fury of a religious system more obsessed with power than truth and healing, even for their own people. They

When they saw through the illusion of power and how far it would take them off course from the passion, they hold for Jesus and his people. They discovered that grief and disappointment can lead them into a rich vein of God’s wisdom and that enduring the affliction of others would only increase their compassion for the broken and wounded.

Some were still in the throes of that process, but I was touched by each person’s heart and honored to hold their stories and honor their choices. Two were black men who expressed the added pain and exploitation of the racial realities behind the choices of white leaders who had exalted them and then turned on them. One was a woman with little power to resist the manipulations of the men who decided her fate. Their added powerlessness multiplied their pain and negated their attempts to be treated graciously.

And yet, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of their desire to choose authenticity over expedience and truth over comfort.

I heard the exact words reverberating in my mind that Jesus spoke to the disciples one afternoon in Matthew 13, “To you it has been given to know the secrets and mysteries of the kingdom…” Others would have to content themselves with parables they didn’t understand because they choose the illusions of reputation and power over the pathway that leads to life.

I’ve been honored to meet many such people throughout the last thirty years of my journey. Each time, I’m reminded of Jesus’s words,

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.

I know it doesn’t feel like joy, which I suppose is why he said, “Count yourselves blessed.” At the time, it doesn’t feel like a blessing. However, being lied about, insulted, or excluded by those you love is not the end of your journey; it’s the trailhead into a journey for which your heart has truly hungered.

Follow your conscience beyond the wall of illusion, and you will find the rich, fulfilling reward of a life well-lived that will be worth whatever price you had to pay to get there.

And all of heaven applauds.

Glad That’s Over!

What a crazy weekend! We packed up 47 years of married life and had to find a place for those things in an 1100 square foot apartment, a 330 sq ft motor home, and even after we gave loads of stuff away we still needed to rent some storage bays. Thanks to the help of some dear friends, we got it all buttoned up and hit the road in our “Living Loved” RV at 2:30 on Tuesday! (Yes, we were both exhausted when we took that photo minutes ahead of hitting the road.)

It took us a while to get out of LA traffic, navigating around five accidents, but we finally arrived in Barstow. It’s a trip across the desert today to Flagstaff, AZ. We are on our way.

Our hearts are full and our future uncertain. First, we’ve got to get to a retreat this weekend in Colorado, and then our schedule is wide open. We will spend a week or so in the Denver area to see our son, head north to Wyoming to see Jess and Kyle, and then perhaps turn eastward through Iowa and into the Midwest. The reason we are posting our location is so that people in the area can contact us if they want to connect as we go through their area.

I’ve begun sharing short videos of my thoughts and reflections on Reels on my Instagram feed from time to time. If you’re not linked up there, you might want to be at: “wayneatlifestream”. They also cross post to my FB Author Page.

And, yes, we are overwhelmed with email from the Redeeming Love podcasts at The God Journey. We will get them answered, but give me some time. Sara and I have been deeply touched by your love and compassion, as well as supportive comments. It’s not easy to go public with some of the things we’ve been through, and yes some people are already weaponizing this story make judgments against us. It still amazes me that people can hear that story and not have compassio for what Sara went through, regardless of what you may not like about me.

In the last gathering of The Jake Colsen Book Club, we discussed how love and honesty are a threat to those living in the darkness. It’s why so many feel the need to hide their story or lie to family and friends just to maintain their relationships. In the long run, it just isn’t worth it. Any friendship you have to lie to keep isn’t truly a friendship. You can view that conversation here.

Our hearts are overwhelmed with so many of you who have also suffered from traumtizing events that went unrecognized or untreated for far too long. So many have told us how little patience their Christian friends have to hold their story and their healing, growing weary of hearing about pain from “so many years ago.”  “Can’t you just forgive, and forget?” they are often asked. They don’t understand that traumatic abuse—whether it be sexual, emotional, physical or neglect—twists something in the brain that changes the way they see life in the present. Without processing those past events in a safe and secure environment, their brains won’t heal. Having someone walk with them in their darkness is one of the greatest gifts they can be given.

Even if you haven’t suffered trauma, learn about it. There are amazing resources available to help you understand your own trauma, or hold the trauma of your spouse, friends, or even strangers who need a safe place to explore their healing.

Here are some of them:

And if you don’t care enough to learn about trauma, please don’t try to help someone struggling with it and certainly don’t put them off by your impatience. I’ve listeend to Sara process her struggle over and over again, as she gains greater footing in Father’s freedom with each re-telling until it no longer impacts the way she lives today. For those who have no tenderness and only want to make accusations, you have no idea how you how you are working against God’s desire to bring them into healing and freedom. What they need is your love, mercy, and support.

And for those of you struggling with dark places in your past, don’t ever give up finding a path to healing. Father has one for you. Trauma is something that happened to you in the past; it doesn’t have to own your present or your future. Our hearts are wtih you in your struggle that you will find all the healing God has for you and supportive voices to walk with you.

Well, time to move on today. I’m going to miss those “office days” of yore, but for now there are more important things on the front burner.

When God Seems Boring…

I had this email exchange a few months back with a friend in Nigeria who hit a dry patch in his journey. I’m sure he’s not alone in this struggle or his questions, so I thought I’d share that conversation here:

I’m going through a crisis in my life right now, and I would have to admit that it’s tearing me apart and turning my world upside down. I have never felt so lost.

In the past, I used to wonder why people didn’t just have a relationship with God and why they always said he wasn’t conversing with them. I would usually respond, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Just sit there and read the Bible. That’s what relationship with him is.”

Recently I started to discover that reading the Bible and spending time in God’s presence may not be what relationship with Jesus is all about. I used to feel like he doesn’t love me anymore because of my past mistakes. But recently I’m learning to trust his love for me. I’m handing my weaknesses over to him so he can help me with his strength. Thanks to your series Embracing His Glory, I’m learning to see how powerless I am towards sin and how deeply I need his hand to transform me to the person he desires.

I’m not proud of my decline in my relationship with him. In the past few weeks, my quiet time has been of less interest to me.  Sometimes I get back on my feet and so enjoy it. Other times, I just fall asleep from beginning to end. I feel God’s sadness, trust me, and I’m so angry at myself for making him feel that way.

When I was 16, I would always carry my Bible and buy new notes and write down whatever God was teaching me. I always looked forward to my quiet time and would read the Bible every day. Unfortunately, my parents became so legalistic you would wonder if they were modern Pharisees. They loved God, but they feared him more. Initially I wasn’t affected by this new turn they had taken, but it later did. They brought in rules that began to kill my relationship with him. Rather than something I enjoyed, my quiet time became something I had to do to earn God’s blessings or  to be safe.

That lifestyle haunts me now. So when I sit for my quiet time to read the Scriptures, it’s a rule for me, not something I love and enjoy anymore. I told God I just want him back in my life. Why do I find it difficult to enjoy my time with God? Why do I find it difficult to spend time with the Bible and just pause to listen to him at his feet?

My response:

A lot of things could contribute to this. Keep this in mind, though—God invites us to walk with him out of endearment, not obligation. It sounds like your devotional times became an obligation, and that will always kill them. God wants to walk with you through life, not become an obligation to be satisfied three times a day.

As I read this, it sounded like you ended up with a relationship with your Bible and your quiet time, and those aren’t as exciting now. Perhaps, God has let those dry up so that you could lean into a relationship with him that is close and endearing. Don’t think something is wrong because those times have grown tedious. It doesn’t mean God is boring; it just means you’ve outgrown the form you’d been using. It’s just like going to grade school. It was challenging when you were there, but you would be bored if you went back today. That doesn’t make it wrong, just that you’ve grown beyond it.

I suspect God is stirring something new in you, He’s inviting you into a different journey, and you’re still trying to resurrect the old journey, or at least feel bad that it doesn’t happen the same way. Loving God isn’t complicated. Inviting Jesus to walk with us isn’t fulfilled by doing something three times daily. The Bible is a magnificent resource for discovering who God is and how his purpose unfolds in the Creation. But Jesus left us his Spirit to guide us into all truth, not a book. I think all of this is shifting in you, which may be disorienting for a season. This could be God’s doing to set you free to enjoy him, rather than his life in you being a chore.

Relax. Enjoy what you see of him each day. Read the Scriptures as he draws you to them. Speak to him all the time about your joys, worries, concerns, and need for insight. Watch as his truth surface in you, even at times you’d least expect it.

He responded to my email a few days later:

Oh my God! This cleared the doubt I had left in my heart. Wow!

The day I sent that email to you, I spoke with a friend and she was going through the same struggle that I was. So, I shared your response with her and she felt God had just confirmed what we are learning in the last few days through your words.

It was only a few days ago that I sat to read the Bible very early in morning and I whispered these words in my heart to God: “Father, I’m tired of everything. I know the Bible so well, but I don’t know you as I desire to. I’m so far from who you are. Please help me to behold you as you really are.” As soon as I had whispered that to him, something happened. It’s as if everything in the Bible was pointing to Jesus. I sat to read John, not hoping for anything at all: I just wanted to behold Jesus, though I didn’t know how.

Honestly, I remember hearing you on your podcast correcting someone who referred to the Bible as the ‘Word of God.’ You gently told him, “Scripture holds God’s words, but only Jesus is the Word of God.” I disagreed with you. How could Scripture not be the Word of God? Now, some years later, here I am, crossing my legs with a sigh: “Wayne is correct.”

Even my walk with Jesus didn’t begin that way and yet it only took a few years before I found myself depending on the Bible for almost everything. It was my guide. If I didn’t read it for three days, I would feel so bad. I would feel that I hadn’t touched God’s word for a while. I know it’s healthy to read the Scriptures as God unveils himself, but that wasn’t the case then.

Since my friend and I are on a similar journey, this is about the two of us. She and I are starting to follow Jesus anew, this time as the Word of God, the One God is speaking to us. More important, we are so grateful to find that Father confirms the truth of himself that he is unveiling to us. We are glad to know we aren’t going crazy.

When God seems boring, I’m sure it isn’t him at all. He’s incredibly endearing, hilarious, insightful, and gracious. Every day with him is an adventure, and when he seems boring to me, it usually means I’ve lost sight of him and am just mindlessly going through the motions of superficial, religious activities. It’s one thing to read He Loves Me and be touched by it, and quite another to spend the day with Sara and me and discover who I am. God wants us to know him; the Bible is a poor substitute for that knowing.

If you, too, are hungry for him, keep looking for him. Scripture won’t be enough. Church attendance won’t be enough. Even fellowship with good friends won’t be enough. He wants you to know him, see him, and feel him surge in your heart as you negotiate your day.

As someone told me a couple of weeks ago, “It’s not your piety he loves; it’s you!”

And if you want help sorting out how the Scriptures fit more effectively into a relational journey, you can check out the free video series, The Jesus Lens.

The Unintended Consequences of Well-Meaning Prayers

(First, a personal note:  It finally caught up to me. I’m blaming my visit to Disneyland last week to celebrate a granddaughter’s graduation from middle school though I don’t know for sure if that’s where I got it. But early Monday morning, I came down with symptoms of COVID-19, and a test later that day confirmed it. I’m doing OK for the most part, except for an extremely painful sore throat and being forced into quarantine away from those I love.)

If you’ve been listening to the podcasts at The God Journey, you’ll know that the last three months have been quite a ride—from the brink of despair to the heights of great joy. If you’re missing that story, you can hear the first two of seven podcasts under the label: “Redeeming Love.” It’s the story of the enemy’s attempts to destroy our marriage to God’s victory over a trauma we didn’t even realize Sara had in her past. The first one aired on July 8, titled, The Unforeseen Circumstances, and the second is called What Sara Faced. The rest will follow on subsequent Fridays.

At the lowest point in this story, a close friend of mine saw how much pain I was in and held it with me. That night in a dream, he saw Jesus sitting on a park bench, so he went and sat with him. He then asked Jesus if there was anything he could do to take my pain away.

Jesus turned toward him and answered, “I can’t take his pain away without taking away his love for Sara.”

He shared that with me the next day, and I immediately knew it was a prayer I didn’t want Jesus to answer. If I were in excruciating pain because of my love, I would rather endure the pain than lose the love. And it made me think of other prayers I have prayed, not realizing the result I wanted may be at the expense of some greater good I wanted even more.

We want pain to go away; Jesus wants love to triumph. We rarely recognize the cost involved in the things we ask of him. While we seek comfort, he’s drawing us into the truth that will be our ultimate joy. That’s why if you only seek comfort in this broken world, don’t expect that it will lead you to God’s fullness. Some of his greatest gifts reveal themselves in our moments of pain and vulnerability.

Fortunately,  Jesus didn’t take my pain away and instead used it to re-shape my heart with what I needed to walk a different road he was asking of me. You can hear that in the podcasts as well. All of that has led Sara and me to far more spacious places of freedom and love than I could ever have imagined.

Paul was right, “momentary, light affliction” can work in us “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). No, it didn’t feel light or momentary at the time, but given what it has produced and who it helped rescue from the darkness overwhelming her heart, it seems so now. Who would have thought that those days of agony would bring such incredible healing and redemption?

I will never view prayer quite the same way again.

On an unrelated note, the next gathering of the Jake Colsen Book Club will be held Sunday, July 24 at 1:00 pm PDT. You’ll have to work that out in your time zone. We will cover Chapter 4 on why accountability is a horrible tool for discipleship and transformation. You can get a link to the Zoom Room by emailing Wayne and asking for it.

 

 

Love Seasoned over a Lifetime

A good friend of mine, Jack Gray, passed away last week. That’s him with his wife Margaret alongside Sara and me when we first met them in 2004. Many have heard me talk about Jack over the years. He was born in Scotland, served as a missionary surgeon in the Congo at the time of the revolution, and then lived out much of the rest of his life in New Zealand. I had numerous opportunities to correspond with him as well as visit him twice.

Though I came to know Jack late in his life, his life, character, and passion deeply inspired the trajectory of my own journey. He was a man of profound wisdom, gracious generosity, and a joyful spirit that touched many worldwide. I miss knowing he is in the world, but grateful that he has reached the gateway for the most incredible adventure any of us could take—an eternity in the presence of the Jesus he loved and a reuniting with his beloved wife. He was a remarkable gift, and it is all the better for having had him among us.

Advancing age tests the mettle of a person. Some grow more loving and tender, while others become more fearful and angry. When Dave Coleman was a hospice chaplain, he told me it was his experience that 80% of Christians were afraid or anxious about facing death. I have had three close friends and “older brothers” pass away in the last eighteen months. In their 80s and 90s, they were all men whom Father’s love had sweetened over many, many decades. It’s impressive to see what living at rest in the love of Jesus does to someone’s character over time and how it is reflected with such tenderness and confidence at the end of their days.

Jack turned ninety-nine this past February. He recorded this video a couple of weeks before he died last week. It reveals those things most in his heart as the veil between this life and the next grew thinner.

JackGray.mov

(If the video doesn’t play, click on this link: https://vimeo.com/727491540)

After his days in Africa, Jack began to find his rest in the Father’s love. He was expelled from the country during the revolution and told me he was home in Scotland in deep depression because he had failed God. “How had you failed God?” I asked, incredulous at the thought. He said because God sent him there, his faith was not strong enough to stop the revolution that got him expelled. In time, he came to see how that thinking was wrong in so many ways and thus began his encounter with a Father’s love that transformed him over a lifetime.

Jack was one of the heroes of the faith, and his life touched many people as a surgeon, hospital administrator, friend, and passionate follower of Jesus.

I have another video I’d like to share. It came to me on the same day that Jack’s did. This is from Ukraine and it’s by a man whose family I met and whose fellowship I enjoyed when I was in Kenya in 2019. Here’s that video, which shows how they are coping with this conflict by serving others. I hope these days of war and torment will spark a similar journey in them to discover a Father bigger than their expectations and a love more significant than their unanswered questions. I pray they, too, will be able to grasp how wide and deep the Father’s love is for them even in such horrific days.

God can hold us in any storm and help us endure the most excruciating trial until his glory comes—whether in this life or as we pass on to the next.

_______________

If you want to listen to two podcasts that I recorded with Jack Gray, you can do so from our archives at The God Journey.

If you want to help Misha and his team in Ukraine, you can pray for them and help by raising funds as they coordinate relief efforts for travel, housing, food, and basic necessities. You can help them at the Reliant fund:  https://reliant.org/ukraine.relief.fund

 

 

Where Love Thrives

Love can only thrive where truth reigns.

Thirty-five years ago, Sara and I had some friends over for dinner. At the end of the evening, as we walked with them to their car, the husband pulled me aside to tell me something. “Do you know that you talked about yourself all night and what you’re excited about but never once asked about what I’m doing?”

I was embarrassed beyond words, but fortunately, I didn’t retreat to my defenses. I thought through the night and realized to my horror that he was right. I told him he was right and how sorry I was to be so focused on myself.

As painful as it was to hear, his comments were a wonderful gift to me and changed my awareness of others in every conversation I’ve had since. He didn’t have to tell me that, and he took a great risk in doing so. He could have just let the relationship whither in my selfishness, but he loved me enough to tell me the truth and let me see his disappointment. It not only gave me the opportunity to change but deepened our relationship.

Many Christians I’ve met over the years fall into the mistaken notion that in relationships “nice is better than honest” and are afraid to be genuine for fear of whatever backlash may result. There’s often good reason for that in a conformity-based culture where those in authority respond in abusive and hurtful ways toward anyone who dares to disagree with them. Perhaps that’s why so many people are always saying what they think the other person wants to hear instead of being honest.

Without genuineness and vulnerability, however, relationships stay superficial and become fraught with tension. You’ll find yourself avoiding people you haven’t been honest with, perhaps even blaming them for your fear of what truth might uncover. And it’s true that not everyone is worthy of your honesty or deserves access to your heart especially if they crush it with their own selfishness.

But the real power of relationships and the environment that nurtures them comes where people are vulnerable and genuine. Brokenness and fear grow in the darkness, healing and joy do so in the light. That’s why Paul wrote, “… speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Growth only happens where what’s true can be expressed in gracious and tender affection.  I know that’s almost a lost art in the 21st Century, but it’s worth recovering. Affection will die when people care more about ‘getting along’ than they do engaging in honest conversations.

So, it behooves us all to learn to be genuine in our engagements with people, and for us to learn how to be a soft place for the vulnerability of others. Sure, it’s a risk, every time, but without it, you’ll never discover the depth, beauty, and power that arises from being heart-felt relationships. You can start in small ways with people you trust to hold your honesty well, even if they may not see eye-to-eye with you. That way you can discover who is safe for such conversations, and I suspect there are far more of those than your fears want you to believe.

IN OTHER NEWS…

The Jake Colsen Book Club

The next meeting of the Jake Colsen Book Club to explore the content of So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore will meet this Saturday, July 2, at 1:00 pm PDT.  The third chapter deals with Christian education and how it indoctrinates us into behavioral conformity as the process for discipleship when it is precisely the opposite of that. Growing in the life of Jesus is a transformational reality inside his affection, which explains why our attempts at self-effort conformity always fall short.

We stream these live on my Facebook Author Page for those who don’t want to be in the Zoom discussion. If you want to be in the conversation, please email me one week before each session, and I’ll send you the link you need to join us. There will always be reminders on my blog a few days before our scheduled time. You can subscribe to the blog at the top right of my blog pages.

The links change with every session and you have to get the current link by emailing me before the Zoom session begins.  You’re welcome to join us for all the sessions or only for the chapters that most interest you. You’ll need to sign up each time to have a spot in the Zoom room.

 

Kenya

Some of the children and their new dormitories at Forkland School

Three months ago 300 children were suddenly abandoned at the Forkland School we have supported for many years. It is an impoverished community with lots of drug and alcohol abuse. We helped them when a flood ruined their cistern by digging them a new well. Gratefully, it hit a huge water source that enabled them to supply the community with free water as well as bottle it for resale to support the school.

A few months back, we helped them buy the land next door, which the state required them to do to keep caring for the number of students they had. Then a couple of months ago these children were abandoned on their doorstep. We helped feed them for a few months before they were required to build dormitories. Due to the generosity of one man, we built dormitories and a dining hall for their use.

However, expenses for the care, feeding, and education of those children total about $6500 per month.  We did not want to get caught in an ongoing expense here, so we appealed to them to look for a more effective solution. They presented us with a proposal to add $75,000 to the grain enterprise we set up with those we work with in the area as a way to generate that revenue every month going forward. We could use some help to offset that cost to help these orphaned children have a hope and future.

As always, every dollar you send us gets to the people in Kenya, and all contributions are tax-deductible in the US. We do not take out any administrative or money transfer feesPlease see our Donation Page at Lifestream. Just designate “Kenya” in the “Note” of your donation, or email us and let us know your gift is for Kenya. You can also Venmo contributions to @LifestreamMinistries (or use the QR Code at left). Finally, we also still take checks mailed to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or, if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

 

Let Me Read to You

People are constantly asking me if any of my books are available in audio format. Many of them are and, except for The Shack, I’m the one doing the reading. So, if you want me to read one of my books to you, you can order from the links below:

 

 

The Revelational Adventure

Every day I wake up to the amazing adventure of walking with God through whatever might unfold in my day. Sometimes that is full of joy and wonder; at other times, it’s an unforeseen calamity that challenges me to the core of my being. Following him, as best I see him each day, is the only way I know to navigate life. Keeping an eye out for his fingerprints in what’s happening around me, recognizing his impulse in my heart, or discovering a new thought playing with my mind, opens doors into options I’d never considered before and sets my heart at rest in events I don’t control.

So, it pains me when people talk of following God as a painful chore to keep from getting into trouble with him. That’s not how Christ lived, nor does it fit the character of the Father he described to us. He wants his joy to be in us so our joy can be full. Our God lives to his pleasure, and he wants to show us how we can live in the fullness of ours when it is untwisted from the lies of darkness. This is a journey into the life that really is life, unraveling the chaos and brokenness of this fallen world and giving us access to a life of love, rest, and play inside a growing friendship with the God who created you. It is the best way to live even through life’s worst moments.

I no longer have to sort out “the big picture” or try to “wrap my head around some strategy.” I can simply seek and follow, one step at a time, and find myself coming out in more spacious places of his grace and wisdom. That’s the revelational adventure—learning to recognize what new insight he’s giving me and believing his ways are valid.

Over the past few weeks, Kyle and I have been talking about this process on The God Journey podcast. We don’t explore this subject every week, but we are painting a picture of what it means to follow him. Even when he asks us to “lay down our lives,” it is for our joy as much as his. Selfishness is a barrier to living free, but only he can show us how our sacrifice can fit into his purpose of bringing light into the world.

Following the slightest nudge he gives us carries us into the life of his Spirit blowing all around us. Without that, we are pulled by the gravity of chaos into the weeds of frustration, hopelessness, and misery. When you feel the darkness spreading its clutches over you, remember that God has a way for you to rise out of it and catch the wind, just like a kite soaring skyward. This is the transformation that living loved offers us. Don’t miss it.

If you want a further explanation of how we can live more attuned to him, here are the first four podcasts we’ve done as part of this series.

  • Transformation #1:  Windblown – Recognizing how the chaos of this age is constantly trying to drag us into the darkness while his Spirit keeps inviting us to live above the chaos going on around us with the lightness of his joy and power.
  • Transformation #2: Reveal – This journey does not begin with doing what we think is best for God but in his revelation to our hearts of his love, wisdom, and strength. “What is God showing me today of himself?” “What wisdom is he putting in my way to guide me today?” or “Who is he giving me to love today?” become the most critical questions to pose to him each day as we sensitize our hearts to how he might answer them.
  • Transformation #3: Ponder – When we think God reveals something to us, how can we know it’s him? Pondering the growing revelations with him, Scripture, other brothers and sisters, and seeing how they sort out in our circumstances, is an important part of the process of internal transformation. Pondering anchors his revelation in our hearts and minds, helps us discern what’s real and not real, and lets us see the possibilities he holds in his heart.
  • Transformation #4: Believe – As we affirm what God is revealing to us, he is winning us into his trust. Believing what he shows us and becoming convinced of his character toward us is what lifts us into the reality of his life that he wants for us. Believing is not another religious work he demands of us; it’s the fruit of recognizing him in our lives and growing to know that his ways are always best for us.

We are drawing a chart as we unpack this journey and you can see it below. Father, Son, and Spirit are in the upper left, and we are at the lower left as we’ve been twisted by the brokenness of this age. We have no hope of untwisting ourselves enough to soar in his Spirit, so God initiates that process with us by revealing himself to us in bits and pieces as we look to him throughout our days. Belief takes root in our hearts as we recognize what he is showing us and ponder it. That’s what allows us to catch the wind of the Spirit as he draws us into his reality and the promises of glory, purpose, truth, fruitfulness, fulfillment, etc.

Without that, the gravity of our brokenness will continue to hold us in the weeds, where darkness, futility, fear, anger, frustration, and scarcity define our lives. God wants to lift us out of the weeds and draws us into the unfolding revelation of his Spirit. That comes from hearing and believing what he shows us is true. It can really be that simple.

There’s so much more we will add here in the weeks ahead on the podcast. I know charts can make things appear to be too mechanical for something genuinely organic. So, please don’t get lost in the diagram or try to implement it with human effort. Let it help you imagine what’s going on in your heart and mind as God makes himself known and then invites us on an adventure with him that will allow you to live in the flow of the Spirit instead of being shipwrecked by our demands and struggles. God knows what’s best for us in every situation and wants to help us recognize what he’s revealing in our hearts, and then we’ll be free to believe him enough to watch his glory unfold in us. Learning to live in this freedom is a lifetime process that starts slowly as it finds traction in how we think. Then, look out.

 

We will continue to explore other facets of this revelational adventure in the weeks ahead. Since you’ve heard it over the years, I know some of you don’t regularly check in with the God Journey much anymore. But you might want to check back in for these episodes. I’m excited to see how this framework has encouraged others to a more relational approach to their faith. It also expresses well how I am learning to follow him. I hope it helps you too. This approach is also finding its way into the sequel I’m writing to So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore.

 

Life at Father’s Pace

Three years ago, in the woods of western Virginia, I heard a man say, “Life moves at the speed of relationships.”  I immediately resonated with that. My life has traveled mainly at the speed of achievement. Get that book done, that podcast produced, or that trip scheduled. Of course, I made time for relationships around that, but I moved at a breakneck speed throughout most of my life. Though I’ve been comfortable with it, I know not everyone around me has.

A few weeks ago,  as I happened to be pulling some weeds in Sara’s garden, I hurriedly reached for a weed that was just a tad out of reach. I didn’t realize that, however, until I lost my balance in the reach and had to move my foot to keep from falling. When I did, I stepped on one of her flowers and crushed it. Internally, I felt like I had crushed something in Sara’s heart. No, I didn’t mean to, and indeed, Sara wouldn’t have compared that flower to her heart, but that’s what I felt when I looked down at the dying iris.

“You need to slow down.” The words crossed my mind instantly. The message was clear to me. My rapid pace is crushing something in Sara. Since then, “Life moves at the speed of Sara” has become part of my vocabulary. And it applies to everything I do, from driving to preparing dinner to my conversations with her and others. At first, it felt painful. I even do it when Sara isn’t with me because I want to practice for when she is.

And you know what I’ve discovered? I actually like living at a slower pace. I trip on stairs less often, make fewer mistakes, and am more attuned to what’s happening around me or someone else might be feeling near me. Dare I say it? It’s made me more sensitive to God’s ebb and flow in my life. Who would have thought?\

Last week on the podcast, Kyle and I discussed how we can run so fast through life that we don’t allow Jesus to catch up with us. I’ve long thought people who keep busy all the time are running from something inside, afraid some pain or loneliness might catch up with them. I know I did some of that in my younger days.

Then last week, as I prayed with some people, this subject came up again. Someone expressed it this way, “Maybe we could live at the speed of Father.”

Ding! Ding! Ding!  

Jesus did. He only did the things he saw the Father doing or said the things he heard the Father saying. (John 5:19)

That thought has wandered to many places in my thinking. I’ve had so many people tell me they don’t ever hear or see God, and I’ve been through seasons of that myself. But could that be because we tend to move ahead of him, racing through life? We beg him to do what we want instead of slowing our pace to recognize what he’s already doing? To see someone, you must be behind them, moving at their pace. Maybe the next time someone tells me they can’t see God, I might remind them that they might slow down and let him get ahead of them. You can’t follow from the front. Maybe that’s what it means to wait on God; it’s allowing him to catch up to us and move in front so we can see him and embrace his work.

I’m going to be exploring this for some time. Is that why we’re told to wait upon the Lord? It’s not an exercise in patience but a reality. Our human tendency is to race about in fear and anxiety, which puts us way ahead of God’s pace. That’s why he seems so slow to us or so hidden. He’s not on that frequency. His work is much more deliberate, incubated in love, not fear, in trust, not anxiety. He’s also doing real work inside while we try to plater cosmetic fixes on the outside.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this will change me.

Remember the poem I ran on this blog a couple of weeks ago, Allowing My Past Catch up to Me? Maybe it’s not just the traumas of our pasts that we’re outrunning; perhaps it’s also the love of God, or maybe the treasure of his wisdom. If we don’t slow down to the Father’s pace, we will keep missing the incredible roads he wants to invite us down. Is that why he speaks in a whisper and sows his fingerprints so subtly into our days. Slowing down enough to recognize him is part of learning to navigate our lives at his pace instead of the frantic anxiety of our flesh.

That’s why we’re told to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10, or to find those “unforced rhythms of grace.” (Luke 11, The Message) Slow down; take a deep breath now and then and learn to quiet the pace of your mind and heart. Then, it won’t be so difficult to know what he is doing in you.

That’s where I’m growing right now, and I already love its fruit growing in my heart.

____________________

The Jake Colsen Book Club

We began our Jake Colsen Book Club last weekend to explore the content of So You Don’t Want to Go To Church AnymoreYou can see the recording of that conversation here. We’ll be covering chapter 2 on Saturday, June 18, at 4 pm PDT. We will bounce them around so that people in different parts of the world can join us. The first one was weighted toward Europe and Africa; the second toward Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.

We stream them live on my Facebook Author Page for those who don’t want to be in the Zoom discussion. If you want to be in the conversation, please email me one week before each session, and I’ll send you a link to join us. There will always be reminders on my a few days before our scheduled time. You can subscribe to the blog at the top right of my blog pages. The Jake Colsen Book Club will use a different link each time, and you’re welcome to join us for all the sessions or only for the chapters that most interest you.

When Serving Turns to Exploitation

I’m going to lift a quote from an email I wrote to my webmaster the other day about some changes being made for one of the platforms we use to get out information.

“It seems all these platforms start to serve a need people have, then end up exploiting people to fill a need they have.”

As soon as I typed it, I realized how ubiquitous that is to almost everything human, from business to bureaucracy, websites, and even religious institutions.

Almost all start to address a critical need. Facebook, at its beginning, provided a unique tool to keep family, friends, former classmates, and colleagues updated on each other’s personal lives. It was great to see pictures of grandkids, college roommates, and vistas from all over the world. Then, they monetized it, and instead of serving me the things I want to see and read, they twisted it with all kinds of algorithms, advertising, and hoops to jump through that don’t serve me well; they serve Facebook.

I’ve noticed that with websites as well. I’ll be reading something I’m interested in, and almost immediately, a pop-up window will obscure my reading and beg me to sign up for their newsletter or offer me a free “gift” if I give them my email address. We’ve been blessed not to do that at Lifestream or The God Journey because we haven’t needed to monetize it. We offer our content free and figure if people want to sign up for notifications or download a free audio or book, they can do it without harvesting their data for our purposes.

Monetizing the kingdom alters its nature and its message.

Hasn’t that happened in religious institutions? Many start with a genuine desire to serve people. Over time, however, the success of the program becomes more important than helping people with their needs. The mission shifts. It’s no longer what we can give to you; it is what we need from you for the ministry to survive. Instead of feeling served, you feel exploited, even if “for your own good,” as some say.

“That’s just sound business practice,” others might argue.

Precisely. That is my point. Mammon or kingdom. Only if you trust Father to provide for you can you give as freely to others as he has given to you.

The Gospel is a gift!  It’s always a gift. When it ceases to be a gift, it ceases to be the Gospel. Monetizing it changes its nature. I wrote an article about this years ago, mentioning the power of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has altered the lives of millions of people. Why does it stay so pure to its mission? Because it has remained free. It is a decentralized organization that continues to inspire those who’ve been helped to willingly help others without cost. There are no membership dues, no staff to pay, and no books to purchase. It’s people helping people—willingly, graciously, and freely.

I wonder what the life of Jesus would look like today if the Gospel had never been organized and monetized for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many.

 

 

What Is He Showing You?

My friend, Luis, shared with me a dream he had where he and Jesus were sitting on a park bench. Jesus asked him why Jonah did what he did. After Luis offered some of his thoughts, he finally turned the question back to Jesus. “Because he made it about himself.”

Those words have reverberated in my heart ever since, at just the right moments.  In the difficult circumstance in which I find myself now, it is so easy to crash into the weeds of my grief and sorrow that are so self-focused. I hear his thought cross my mind when I do, “Don’t make it about yourself.”

Those words are like an updraft I talked about in our last podcast, Transformation 1: Windblown. The chaos of a fallen creation and the self-centeredness of our flesh are the gravity that draws us into darkness. I can feel it now in my sorrow. There’s an agony and distress that holds space for God’s work in my life and in the life of those I love, and there’s self-focused anguish that drives me into despair and overwhelming pain.  “Don’t make it about yourself” have been words of life that lift me from the darkness of hopelessness and bear me upward into the realm of his Spirit.

And what’s even stranger. While I need those words about not making it about myself, I can see circumstances where Jesus would be speaking just the opposite to someone else. That would be especially true for those who hide their inner pain by serving everyone else around them.  Jesus might say to them, “Don’t focus on others just now; we need to focus on you.” He may be wanting them to learn self-compassion for him to heal wounds they’ve long neglected.

That’s why following principles, even Godly ones, is not the same as following Jesus. It’s easy to sort through many principles, find the one we like, and implement it hoping it will fix our pain. However, until we know what he’s doing in us and follow him, we become the victims of our own limited wisdom. As we recognize the nudges that draw us into his work rather than fall victim to our wisdom, we can soar above the weeds into the wind of his Spirit. (For more on that analogy, listen to the podcast linked  above.)

Throughout most of my life, I was told that if I followed Jesus, he would bless me. Of course, that’s true, but most of us assumed or were taught that his blessing would fix all of our challenging circumstances, meet our needs, and answer our unselfish prayers. It doesn’t take long to figure out he doesn’t work that way, and that mistake can lead us to doubt his character or question our performance.—two terrible outcomes for the journey he invites us down.

Following Jesus does not save us from the chaos of a broken creation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that the sun and rain come upon the just and the unjust. He also told us not to consider those who died in the tower’s collapse at Siloam were any more deserving of death than those who escaped. God’s goodness and the world’s chaos fall on those who follow him and those who don’t. His blessing allows us to navigate the chaos that would allow his glory to be more fully formed in us and make us more compassionate for hurting people.

Live by the Spirit, and you can soar with him through the most brutal events life can hurl you. Fight for your way, and you’ll crash into the weeds, angry and disillusioned.

I was with a friend recently going through a stressful time with challenges and uncertainties in his circumstances. As I often do, I asked them what Jesus was showing him?

As most respond, he told me he was praying the answer would show up and trying to apply some Scriptural lessons he had learned.

“But what is Jesus revealing to you about this particular circumstance and how he wants you to go through it?” I asked again.

“I haven’t heard anything from him,” he answered awkwardly.

It’s a conversation I have too frequently. At the heart of the Gospel is this reality: God is coming to find you and invite you into a relationship with him to reveal his glory to you and then through you. That’s the trajectory of a transforming life. Somehow, we’ve traded the incredible adventure of following his ever-present direction for desperate prayers that often go unanswered or cling to our own best wisdom as we apply the Scriptures we think will work for us. On our best day, those won’t be enough.

We need insight from him that shows us a way through the chaos to the life he has for us. It reminds me of something someone said on a podcast with me about dealing with darkness. When the night begins to surround us, it’s easy to chase after the light hoping to catch it.  Think of trying to do that with a sunset. You can pursue the sun westward all you want, but you’ll never catch it. The fastest way through the darkness is to turn east and run toward the rising sun you can’t see yet. Jesus is the only one that can show you how to do that.

So, when the world’s chaos crashes against you with all its fury, don’t think “escape at all costs.” Instead, look to the One who wants to deliver you from its clutches and shape the trajectory of your life through it to his greater glory.

Find that thought he’s giving you that draws you out of the chaos and follow it to the rising sun in the eastern sky.

Kenya, and the Beauty of Silence

I almost want to apologize for the picture at the top of this blog. I know these pictures are used gratuitously to make people feel guilty and give to overseas mission outreaches. I’ve never done that, and that’s not why I use it here. This is one of the orphans we are helping at the Forkland School, one of 300 abandoned there by parents who could no longer care for them due to alcoholism and the deepening drought. It’s a heart-breaker for sure, and I wanted you to hold in your heart a bit of that pain with me. Whether you are able to express generosity here through some excess finances or prayer, both are needed.

We were able to send some money along to help them at this time, though they will need more. The need is ongoing, and they are requesting another well in Bungoma that will help that community get through this drought. but there is joy and gratefulness because of those who were able to help them. You can watch this video of Michael celebrating with the children. (43 seconds)

And I thought I’d leave you with this quote I had in my inbox the other day that I find significant.

The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand) and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action.

Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification. One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier. We don’t need to straighten others out.

Source: Richard J. Foster, Seeking the Kingdom

We waste so much time making sure someone doesn’t say anything bad about us. It wastes so much time trying to correct the manipulation and lies of others. These are far better left in Jesus’ hands and we get on with just living as authentic a life as we can and don’t worry about those who seek to be destructive. As Dallas Willard said toward the end of his life, “I am learning the discipline of not always having to have the last word.” It’s a great freedom. Let Jesus have the last word and invite him to shape this in your heart; he’s the only one who can.

Finally, if you want to help the children in Kenya, we are still collecting money to send their way. As always, every dollar you send us gets to the people in Kenya, and all contributions are tax-deductible in the US. We do not take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Donation Page at Lifestream. Just designate “Kenya” in the “Note” of your donation, or email us and let us know your gift is for Kenya. You can also Venmo contributions to @LifestreamMinistries or mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or, if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

Not Everyone Has to Understand You

In interacting with some people about my last post on All Heaven Applauds, I realized I had left out something that’s incredibly important that will help you deal with people who lie about you to discredit you.  I’ve added it to the original post, but I also wanted to call attention to it here as well for those who already read the original post.

After learning to forgive, this may be the toughest one. Just remember, these are not things you can do on your own, but as we take our pain and grief to Father, he can teach us how to genuinely walk in these realties. It will take time to find real freedom here, just continue to give him access to your heart and your feelings as his love overwhelms the pain and leads you to the joy he has for you in spite of it.

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

When you have the freedom to embrace the love of people who truly care about you, you’ll worry less about the judgments of those who do not.

The Call of the Bride

“Listen! My beloved!
Behold, he is coming,
Climbing on the mountains,
Leaping on the hills!”
Song of Songs 2:8 

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
Revelation 22:17

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Psalm. 24:7 

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
Revelation 22:17

Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the mountains sing together for joy
Before the LORD;

For he is coming to judge the earth;
He will judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:7-9)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” (Rev. 22:17)

“And his winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” (Rev. 22:17)

Jesus said, “Look, I am coming soon! ” (Revelation 22:12)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” (Revelation 22:17)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20)

And the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; and the one who wishes to take the water of life without cost. (Revelation. 22:17)  

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
Revelation 22:17

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” 

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

“You Won’t Find Me Here”

I love how God works to invite us into his reality, even over the course of years of frustration and pain. I get emails like this because something I wrote or said plays into it, but I am more excited about how Father finds us and draws us into his life, even if it takes years.

I’m 57 years old writing from Australia. Two years ago my wife bumped into an old friend with whom I had shared many hours of conversation about our disillusionment and eventual exit out of the institutional church. Many years had gone by since last seeing this friend and she invited him over. We talked at length and he left me a copy of your book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I had long stopped reading any Christian material for reasons which will become clearer later, My faith was intact, but events of the past had left me disillusioned, suspicious, and very cynical. I also observed that it was a fictional story and I felt indifferent about it at best.

Soon after, on a Sunday night in August 2019, I went to bed and started to read. I was intrigued, the conversations were not what I was expecting. I was being drawn in as familiar insights and conclusions I had come to myself out of deep frustration years ago were being plainly identified and openly discussed. We had been involved in some Pentecostal churches including a split, starting a new one with fellow survivors and I had also started theological college training. Life was meant to come together here with a sense of purpose and meaning, In reality, it led to total disappointment, Something in all of this felt wrong, God was missing! The contrived efforts to hide or ignore this were hard to watch. It felt hollow and empty, and I grew increasingly disillusioned with all of it.

I dreaded Sundays and it took me days to recover. I questioned how do people keep doing this and not ask “is this it?” And here I am training to be a part of this! I had been craving a deeper relationship with God, but by the mid-nineties, I was so depressed and mentally drained I left my theological degree 2/3rd’s through. Further adding to the confusion was this thought about my church, so loud and persistent it was almost audible. It was simply “you won’t find me here”. I found this both puzzling and disturbing as I had neither the confidence nor the courage to understand this because I thought it had to be wrong. If this was God then I can’t do it anymore, I had to move on for the sake of my family and sanity. Feeling an outcast and shattered that this was where the journey ended, I shoved my faith in the basement of my mind and walked away, I was done

Fast Forward to 2019, and a family crisis that involved false accusations against me just as I began to read your book. In a matter of seconds, I had gone from looking at spiritual issues I had tucked away for years, to a sudden explosion of conflict, and the realization that my life might be over. Everything unraveled; I went into shock physically shaking, my mind dissolved into chaos. I felt utter despair.

Then, other thoughts came. You know what’s going on here. Look at what you were reading. This is no coincidence; it’s a counter move, an attack. It felt evil, but I so did not want to go there, no way! Next, I became suddenly aware of this intense feeling of the presence of God physically around me. I knew it was him, I recognized it immediately, it was unmistakable and that seriously pissed me off too! like it just added to the torment.

The next day the accusation was withdrawn, but my mind had exploded and I was numb. I hated the idea of making this a spiritual issue, all that familiar cringe-worthy religious terminology made me want to reach for a bucket, I had been there 25 years ago and that road led to pain and disappointment. God’s Spirit though was undeniably and tangibly on me now. Why? And what’s so important about that book?

I returned to the book and read on. What unfolded through the pages had taken so many things I had known and suspected to be true, and it all clicked perfectly into place. I just kept repeating over and over “I knew this!” God had been telling me all those years ago as I recalled the words “you won’t find me here”.

Your book opened and validated something birthed in my spirit 25 years ago that God had begun, but my mind had no self-belief or confidence that I could possibly be hearing God correctly. Institutionally and culturally conditioned from my earliest years the frustration and disappointment of not finding intimacy with God were inevitable. They won’t give intimacy because they can’t! It was such a relief to know I had heard right! Unfortunately, it took me 25 years to find out.

So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore opened up the possibility that God can be known outside of the narrow religious framework I had known since a child. I realized I had always found it hard to trust God, particularly as “Father”. Due to my disfigured image of him, I really didn’t believe he could love me. The doorway into living loved and actually relaxing in the Father’s affection where trust is built on the truth of his character healed a deep emptiness I’d always carried. Realizing God is love, that it flows from him and is not contingent upon my or anyone’s approval lifted a huge weight off me.

Then it got even better. because it’s his love that drives transformation not the straight jacket of religious conformity. I found by resting in His presence I knew He was no longer a distant abstract concept – this was a game-changer.

That presence of the Spirit I felt that night has never left. It’s still tangibly here now as I write. While the last 2 1/2 years have been amazing, they have also been painfully challenging since I needed lots of healing. I spend a lot of time just sitting in His presence soaking Him up, sometimes saying very little, words often get in the way. I had always been an analytical thinker, but this was different. It was like the background landscape of my mind was being redrawn and colored in differently, making some old familiar thoughts look stupid. It’s generated a whole new stream of dialogue as the truth of love, trust, acceptance and no separation took hold. This felt relational, someone who was there even in the pain, not an abstract concept or distant angry deity.

I wanted to tell you that I’m so appreciative of what God does through you Wayne, it’s like you help people find the connection point that eludes them, then step back out of the way and let God do His thing. The significance of this cannot be underestimated, the airwaves, the internet, are awash with all kinds of truth peddlers, many using similar relational language, but much of it appears to be a cosmetic makeover of a well-run system underneath. I know attending a gathering is not the issue, but many people have been blinded by the veil of religion oblivious to the God who is right in front of them. It takes a lot of honest courage to break the persuasive bonds of religion, particularly when it’s subtle and appears logically true with historical tradition and numbers on their side.

Even 25 years ago I wondered how many believers on life support would survive if the machine were turned off. It is why your books, Lifestream and The God Journey continue to be such an important resource. Finding the beginning of the trail and starting down the path often lacks any outside assurance or validation, with so few cheerleaders. Thanks again Wayne, I read He Loves Me, Finding Church, and Beyond Sundays, All incredibly helpful, but also critical in reaching those like myself who just needed to find the connection or even the permission to believe the voice of dissatisfaction, just maybe the Father drawing them to himself.

The God Journey podcast, past, and present, has been such an encouragement, I have loved the conversations you’ve had with Kyle over the last year, particularly the subterranean move that’s going around the world giving an increasing sense that God is up to something quite different and possibly unprecedented. This is not just thanks from us but also an encouragement that what you do continues to make a significant real difference around the world.

Two and a half years down the trail the connection is real and just keeps growing regardless of circumstances.

I thought his story might encourage many of you, too.  Yes, there is lots of pain behind his story—years of frustration and disillusionment.

Of course, I don’t think my book did all of that. In stories like this, I’m convinced that something I wrote or said only serves to tap a deep well that has already been bubbling up unseen for some, and it isn’t going to be denied. Any number of other books or conversations could have been the catalyst for Father to satisfy that hunger. It’s significant, too, that the offer of a book also coincided with a crisis, which opened the door to some fresh thinking.  That is often true for many people. Sometimes we get stuck in comfortable, though fruitless, patterns, and only when life deals us a severe blow are we disoriented enough to look over where Jesus has been all along.

Then, the glory comes. In the midst of pain and crisis—Presence! If this man’s life is like mine, I doubt that’s the first time Father has made himself known. It’s just that our heart and head weren’t in a space to be able to recognize him and respond, especially if we’ve been shackled by the lies of religious performance.  But now, a different journey unfolds where we can walk with him through the things that concern us and find what we’ve always been seeking.

I hate that it took twenty-five years for this man, but it may be a reminder to us to not give up on our hunger because we’ve been disappointed in the short run. Can you hold your hunger to know him long enough for him to do the work to fulfill it?  For most of us, it won’t take twenty-five years, especially if we stay on the hunt—always watching to see where Father’s fingerprints are making his presence known. But even when it takes that long, the fruit of it is no less sweet as you can read above. We may think that’s a lot of wasted time, but I suspect that Father was working all along to prepare a heart ready to know him.

Even in a paralyzing crisis, he could recognize the challenge of darkness to distract him yet again from the work of Jesus. But this time, it didn’t succeed. He saw the threat alongside a new door that was opening and chose the door instead. I love that!

God wants us all to find him in his fullness. If what you’re doing isn’t working, consider that you may not be looking yet where he actually is.  Keep your heart open.  He’ll win this in you, too!

Watch What God Will Do

One of the reasons I post stuff like my It’s Time video or the blog on Joyfully Sober is to listen to what else the Spirit of God is whispering in people’s hearts around the world.

Paul indicated that the best any one of us sees is like looking through a dimmed mirror (I Corinthians 13:12-13. We get glimpses of his work and heart, seeing in part but never the complete picture. The Church, on the other hand, “is the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23) When we add our glimpses alongside those of others, we’ll have a fuller picture of his work in us.

Of course, by “the Church,” Paul wasn’t talking about our institutions, denominations, or even religious leaders, but those children who are in touch with his heart and who follow the voice of the Shepherd. I love listening alongside the many others I’m related to worldwide.

After posting my latest blog, I received three emails within two days with a similar theme—recognizing his work and embracing it rather than getting him to bless ours.

From Darlene:

Looking forward to all that Abba has in store for us this day…year and as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed one day through all that is happening, I asked, “How do we move forward, what is it we’re to do, how do we live in this time?” I heard Him say, “stay calm, and carry on, and stand back and see the salvation of the Lord”.

From Sylvia:

Your blog post, Joyfully Sober, resonated so deeply with me. We first met over a decade ago in Alaska. Since then, my husband and I have lived in Denmark for 5 years, and now in Colorado. We bought a home where shortly after a wildfire roared through, devastating over one-third of our neighborhood. It surrounded our house, coming within only a few feet of destroying it, but our home was preserved. Daily, as I meet with the Lord, I look out charred trees on the mountainside, wondering what new life might be growing under the blackened earth. What are those seeds… and how are they like the kingdom God is revealing in his sons and daughters?

So, today I’ve read and re-read your message. It has stirred up a new sense of joy within me, seeing that this is the work of glory that God is revealing across the Body of Christ. The “whatever-it-takes” prayers. I also admit that since this pandemic began, I’ve felt a sense of disturbed exasperation with church leaders who just want things to “return to normal”… as soon as possible. Can’t they see in this the wonderful cleansing, subterranean work of the Spirit?!

“Be patient, Sylvia, hold space for the coming of the Lord, for he is indeed coming.”

And you are right to say there’s no hurry. The wilderness experience creates within us a new, slower sense of time. A quietness and indifference. A spacious place where we’ve made room to be able to receive God’s seeds.

I want to give you a warning before sharing this last one. Do not try this at home. Robin is the man who wrote me the original question I posted in my previous blog. As God was leading Robin through this process he describes, this was not Robin presuming to do something outlandish by his reasoning. It is the opposite of that, and it turned out disastrous when others tried to follow his insight without the same leading. Here’s the story he told me:

We live and farm in South Australia on 400mm (15 inches) of rainfall; our summers are dry and hot. We grow one crop per year—cereals, canola, and pulses.

About eight years ago, soon after we stepped out of the institutional church, Father clearly told me while I was harvesting canola to plant all our canola stubble to sorghum. Sorghum is never grown in our area; it is a crop of high rainfall areas.

Obediently we sowed on one paddock, though not all we were supposed to. Our farm advisor thought we were crazy, but he let us buy the seed with convincing. We only received a small amount of rainfall that summer, yet the sorghum flourished (see picture above). Cars, farm advisors, and photographers regularly stopped and walked out into our field.

After several months, it was getting close to harvest, and we were impatient because we wanted to prepare the ground before the opening rains to plant wheat. When we thought it was ready to harvest, we took the combine to the paddock, where we heard Father say, “No, it’s not time.” Thinking I knew better, I reaped about a ton anyway. In Australia, our grain moisture has to be 12% or under but this measured 25%. So, we bagged it and left the combine. The next day, the grain was filled with worms and was useless, even to feed the cattle.

We left it for a week and tried again, only to hear Father say, “No, it’s not time.” The grain measured 20%. A couple of days later, I jumped in the combine to harvest when I got a phone call from a brother. He felt Father telling him to ring me and say, “No, it’s not time.”

By this time, we were getting anxious because winter rains were forecast, and it was getting close to the time to sow wheat. To hurry up the process, we sprayed the sorghum with a chemical to hurry the drying process. After a week, we tried again, again Fathers spoke, “No, it’s not time.” By this time, the moisture had gone to 30%, the highest it had ever read.

The very next day, Father spoke again, “It’s time.” It would have been impossible for the moisture to come down in that time, but when we measured it, it was under 12%. We harvested the paddock on the last acre, the opening rains started, and it has been wet from then on.

So that’s my story. I think Father is showing me that there is a great harvest coming, but he alone will do it. It will not be as before; it will be done through intimacy with Him in obedience, faith, and trust.

The time of us doing it with our own agendas needs to be over. It doesn’t produce the Father’s harvest and is often counterproductive. Perhaps this will be the harvest of the last times, where our certainty is Jesus. He alone will build His church. He has and is preparing her for the days to come

By the way, many farmers in our area and beyond tried planting sorghum in the following years, they all failed.

Hence you can see my interest when you heard “It is time.”

I love that story on so many levels—God speaking, the risk in following, the amazement of others, the attempts to take control in his own strength, and in the end, God having his way. I even like that it didn’t work when others tried the same thing in their own strength. And for what purpose was all this? Would God go to such lengths to help someone learn that listening to God is the way to live? I think so, and he does it so playfully, too.

The hardest thing for us to do in our painful circumstances is to “stand by and see the salvation of God.” We are too busy trying to fix things on our own or getting God to fix them our way. Instead, he wants us to listen, see his way forward, and trust him in the unfolding.

And trusting is not just waiting or presuming; trusting is believing what we’ve heard from him.

Joyfully Sober

(Note: This is a copy of newsletter I sent out quarterly-ish out to my email list. If you you’re not on it and want to be you can sign up here.) 

First, I want to express my gratefulness for the rain that has fallen on Southern California this month. We’ve been in a severe drought and have had almost eight inches of rain in December, half of that yesterday. Our average rainfall is about thirteen inches per year. So, this has been a bit much for some locales, but we’ve needed this water desperately, and it’s a joy to sit here and type, watching the rain continue to fall. It is spectacular!

Now, let me share a question I received a few weeks ago. Today seems like a good day to answer it. This was from Robin:

A few months ago, you received “It has started.”

Have you seen or heard any more from Father about this? I know my Spirit is waiting for a move from Father, don’t know what it is or what it will look like, knowing Him it will be something that is not what we thought. Have seen Him prepare and place the same thing in people’s hearts all around the world, they are sitting under rocks, unseen.

Some are growing impatient and moving on or going with their own agendas thinking that’s it. So I am curious to hear what you are hearing.

I’m sure he is referring to a video from last April, from a recent burn scar in the Sierras with my grandkids. That devastation I witnessed stirred in my heart over the next couple of days. As I held those emotions before God one day, I sensed him saying, “It’s time.” Immediately my mind filled with the words of Romans 8. Paul writes about the Creation and its eager expectation for God to be revealed through the glory of his children so that it could be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into its own freedom and glory.

Yes, Robin, I have heard and seen so much more that excites my heart. It has begun, and like a tiny seed planted in a dark void, it will continue to grow in ways that won’t draw attention to itself. I see it in my times with Father, and I hear it reverberate in almost every conversation I have. There’s a hunger rising and with it a freshening wind of spiritual insight. God has prepared many people over many decades for this season. I also see it growing in the hearts of young people, even though they may not know it’s Jesus at work in them yet. I recently talked about this on a podcast a The God Journey. If you missed it, you can hear it here.

It may only be a stirring in our hearts at this point, like yeast spreading through the bread dough. It will not look like the revivals of the past because it will not be in the hands of any one person or spring up in any location. You won’t read about it in the Christian media or see it in flashy Sunday gatherings. His work is hidden now, as it has to be so that would-be leaders won’t try to take possession of it or attempt to market or manage it for their own gain. You won’t find by looking to someone else to show you the way but by looking inward at the seed of his glory growing in you. Lean into that reality and ask him to show you how. Hold that space before him for weeks, months if need be. There’s no hurry here, just the sweet invitation to come closer and connect with his heartbeat that is growing inside you.

So, yes, it is time! God’s glory is growing in the earth so that people can know who he really is by the way we demonstrate his reality to others. As 2022 begins, I find my heart is growing joyfully sober. There’s a seriousness growing in my heart, and I find myself praying a lot of whatever-it-takes prayers. You know the ones—”Whatever it takes, God, I want to know you as you are and be transformed into your image.”  In recent years, God’s name has been disfigured, not so much by his enemies by those who claim to be his followers while only seeking glory, power, or comfort. Their selfishness, anger, fear, and greed have made people turn away, disgusted by their perception of God. It is time for God to show himself once again as the most endearing presence in the universe, and that, through lives, transformed to reflect that glory in their daily interactions.

That’s how Jesus encouraged us to face troubled times by being sober and vigilant, but don’t read fear or anguish into that. Those awaiting the bridegroom do so with joy and anticipation. Joyfully sober. We are on the precipice of something fresh God is seeding into the world. If this isn’t the end of the age, this is one of those seasons that foretell it. There is trouble afoot; great anger and hatred rule humanity, and severe days of reckoning may well be at hand. But against that void, the light of God’s character will shine even brighter as he reflects himself in you. Even in the most painful circumstances and moments of great stress, Jesus’ reality will put a song in your heart and wisdom to our course.

That’s the conversation I want to be in over this next season. I want to find ways to encourage that process and equip hungry hearts to live more securely in his love, more at rest in his work, and more at play with his wisdom. I have no idea of what’s to come, just a growing desire to wake up in him each morning and see what he allows to unfold in my heart. Yesterday morning, I outlined what may be my next book in a couple of hours. It’s a guide to help people understand how Jesus works in us so that we can ride the wind of the Spirit in the truth of what God speaks to us.

So, blessed New Year, everyone! This is a good time to lean into your heart and see how Jesus is making himself known to you and how he wants to take shape in you. None of that will come by human effort, but as you simply make space in your heart for what he reveals to you and believe him as he transforms you with his glory. He will show you what it means for you to become one with the love he wants to reveal to you and pour through you to refresh the hearts of others.

Jesus told us that such days call us to be sober and vigilant, but that isn’t with fear and anxiety. Sober, yes, but joyfully so! God is on the move. The wind has freshened; the fog is lifting, new adventures await.

A Distant Fire

I got this email a couple of weeks ago from Jack, a good friend in South Carolina. He describes so well what religious obligation can do to destroy the great adventure of engaging the transcendent God of the universe and learning to follow him through the brokenness of this age.

Life in him is full of wonder, mystery, and adventure rather than simply settling into a stagnant routine that no longer quickens the hart.

Kyle Rice and I discuss this email on today’s episode of The God Journey – Recovering Mystery. I knew some of you would like to have it in print as well:

As much I have tried to live inside the Christian faith with the rule of scripture and abundance of obligation, I have touched upon a most unsettling truth. I wonder if I lost something early on in my childhood that stopped me from seeing the mystery in things? Perhaps it was in the growing up that plowed over my sense of mystery. Perhaps it was the becoming a man, that part of being sure of oneself, left off no room for wonder. Maybe it has been the rush to be right.

I don’t know why I lost my sense of wonder. Of great mystery of and in life and in things in particular but, like the dull and faded paint job on an old, old house, there was something once beautiful and today, it has faded. There seems to be a way to control oneself in the course of “normal Christian life” and to that end, tame the Lion of Judah. Maybe it has been covered up in the preaching and teaching of principles and keys of the Christian life. All those good but still left off in the mystery I am realizing that every principle and keys seems shallow, ill fitting, clumsy and useless. I wonder if those that have the most to lose in this “wonder” are those who have paid the most into the formulaic principles of Christianity; those whose needs and egos to control were fashioned in the halls of established religion. Mostly, and most assuredly the doctrines of being Right. Establishment, Creeds, Observation of days and events, Doctrines, rituals, sanctimony and sanctuary and so many more building blocks to dull the heart and blind the soul to the wonder found in the mystery of Christ. We can’t have mystery in the normal Christian faith.

Perhaps they believe in no more mystery and wonder beyond the Incarnation. If we never encounter the mystery of the fellowship with Jesus. We will put other things in that space. Religious things, principles, obligations, appeasements and the likes. Mostly because those who are so called teachers do not know or have not known the expression of life found in a real, living relationship with Jesus- the mystery of falling in love with him. After all the time, I am finding little else but empty cans of beans and burnt marshmallows. Today, I do smell smoke but, from a distant fire. The fire of the Creator of the universe who fashioned us for life and for the love of it gave us the only remedy for it—Jesus Christ.

The wonder and mystery of this for me, is the beginning of all things new. My hearts desire is to know him in the way and ways he wants to reveal himself to me. No formula. No keys. No principles. Just Him. I have the Spirit of Christ in me. Surely this is enough. Finally, I have started to see this—the Mystery that has been kept secret from before the foundation of the world…..what a treasure this is!

Treasure indeed!  When the possibility of what Jesus might show you today or where he might lead you no longer sparks wonder and awe in your heart, it’s time to pause and ask him to help you recapture the mystery of Christ in you the Hope of Glory. (Colossians 1:27)

When Spiritual Panic Creeps In

‘Tis the season to be panicked….”

OK, not really, but that’s how it feels for many people. Meeting all the expectations for a meaningful holiday season, navigating the toxic people in your family, or marking the passing of another year without the changes you had hoped to see in your life, can draw our minds into some pretty dark space.

I get that email often. “I am overwhelmed by all life is hurling at me. My prayers don’t work and I’m wondering if God even cares about me. I don’t know how to fix it. Help!” You can hear it even through their email—the breathlessness of their exhaustion and the fear that they will not make it much longer. Spiritual panic is being overwhelmed by challenging circumstances and not being certain that God is there to help you.

Finding peace during turmoil is not about praying the right prayers or trying to figure it all out in your head. The harder you try, the more panicked you’ll become.  At times like that, I find it helpful to remind myself to do what Jesus asked of Nicodemus in John 3. He told him he needed to be born again, and he wasn’t talking about walking down the Roman Road and punching his get-out-of-hell-free card. He meant Nicodemus needed to discard all the religious conclusions he’d made about God and himself and let the Spirit take the opportunity to carry him into a new way of living.

We can’t do this on our own. We’re like that little child in the picture above. When his hand slides under ours all we need to do is take hold. That’s what we offer—a willing heart for the Spirit’s work to unfold in us. The simple prayer is, “Will you lead me into the Father’s life?” And that’s not a once-in-a-lifetime prayer to secure our salvation but a daily prayer that helps us be open to his work instead of trying to fix things on our own.

That’s it.

Then, let him teach you how to rest in his care for you. He will accomplish this in his time and his way. You can’t fix what’s wrong with your life; you can only relax into the reality that he can. I know that’s hard to do in human terms, but he will help you learn to settle into his love. You don’t have to “have faith” in the specific outcomes you want. All you have to do is remember that you are not alone, the God of the universe deeply loves you, and that he wants to hold you in his love and guide you through the situations that confront you. He is your way through the challenges you face.

So, when life seems to get away from you, slow down. Take a deep breath. Stop looking way down the road with your worries and fears. Ask yourself if you have enough for today. Jesus told us that grace is given in daily doses, which is why worrying about our imagined futures is so debilitating. Today, he is with us. When we put ourselves into the future we’re afraid of, we are alone there. The human mind can’t imagine what form grace might take in our worst fears.

When you feel lost and shattered, remember you are not lost to him. He knows where you are and is already inviting you into a freer space. Stay inside this day and follow whatever nudge he seems to place on your heart. You don’t have to figure it all out. You don’t have to contrive a strategy. Just follow as you see the way and, where you don’t, simply occupy a space of love and goodness toward others until his direction appears.

In his incredibly insightful booklet, David Morsey in On Being Led by the Spirit, wrote this:

Trust the Lord to work out His purposes with our life, in spite of your fluctuating feelings and human inadequacy, to make the right decisions. Put your whole life in his hands and ask Him to work out His will in spite of you. That is your ultimate safeguard.

I know how scary that prospect can be because everyone else encourages us to put our trust in them and their resources.  Most of them will invite us to trust in some principle or program. Even if it’s a spiritual program, that doesn’t mean it will connect you with his Spirit.

God wants you to be secure in his love and at rest in his work. Learn the joy of that, and no circumstance or set of circumstances will ever threaten you again. And, if you need help, you might ask God if there’s someone around you who can encourage you in these things, even if you haven’t met them yet. Look for someone who is at peace themselves and not building anything they want to hook you into.

Please don’t focus on the uncertainty of what you don’t know; focus instead on the certainty of who he is. Let him bring the light to you as you’re learning to follow. The reason that can seem so difficult is that it’s far simpler than we dare to believe. Learning his ways is not a road map to memorize but an inner reality to follow. It is far better explored than explained, so we can take it one day at a time.  He has all the resources you need to find the simplicity of living as his beloved child.

Because that’s exactly who you are.

___________

One final note… Kyle and Wayne process their time last weekend with a group of twenty- and thirty-year-olds in the mountains of Colorado on today’s edition of The God Journey. In the process, they talk about what they all learned about holding space inside the Father’s work, a wonderful lesson for all of us.

He Reveals; We Respond

I was a guest on a podcast yesterday recorded by two South Africans, one still in his home country, and the other recently moved to Holland.  What a delighful conversation. They asked me questions about my journey that pulled things out of me in ways I had never shared before. I saw some of my past journey in new ways, which both surprised and blessed me. I ‘ll let you know when it is posted online.

One bit of the conversation we stumbled into was how I help people find the trailhead when they’ve grown exhausted or disillusioned with the religious performance treadmill so embedded in our institutional approach to the religion we call Christianity. I was taught that God’s blessing was the reward for our diligent effort to believe the doctrines and abide by the rituals and ethics that Scripture teaches us.  I found myself responding this way:

For a long time, what I taught was human effort. We know more truth than we live, so we always feel the compulsion to try harder. But what the new covenant says at it its heart is that this is a transformation fed by his revelation not by our performance. It begins with God revealing; it doesn’t begin with us seeking.  That’s true as much when we come in the door as it is in how I live my life today. This is not Wayne seeking from God what Wayne wants but asking God each day, “What do you want to reveal to me, and who do you want me to love today?

Everything about life in Jesus is summed up in this—he reveals and we respond, not we achieve and he rewards.

To cease striving in our own self-effort we have to believe that God loves us enough to guide our journey into his glory. That’s the challenge. We fear nothing will happen if we are not putting in our best effort. Until we stopy, however, we won’t let God have the lead in this dance. Remember, no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him, and that desire. you have to know him is that drawing.

The journey doesn’t begin as we try to implement someone’s well-meaning discipleship program; it begins with him showing us something about himself that will help us navigate the day that spreads out before us. Following him is where life begins. Each day, we are on a treasure hunt for his glory as he is revealing it on that day, not trying to convince a reluctant God who would rather withhold his glory until we earn it.

If that’s not real to you, simply ask him to show you. He wants this for you more than you want it for yourself.

___________

For your thoughts and prayers:  Thursday, I’m off to Colorado to join some twenty and thirty somethings in the mountains above Colorado Springs. His Spirit is stirring in a younger generation to be agents of his glory in this broken world. I’m looking forward, along with Kyle, to see what God shows us about that work and how some of us in my age-bracket can come alongside that work and encourage them as God reveals himself. I’m sure we’ll have more to share afterwards.

 

The Changes His Love Brings

I receive some of the most amazing emails in my inbox, detailing people’s stories and how intersecting some of my books or podcasts has helped affirm what the Spirit had already been speaking into their hearts.  I don’t always get to meet those who write them, though. On my most recent trip, I got to visit with Celia Layman right near where I took that picture above. She wrote me a couple of years ago about the transformation in her life that began with someone telling her about He Loves Me.

The trajectory her life has taken, and how it has helped her navigate these difficult days encouraged me and I think she might inspire you as well.

I can still picture the bench near an indoor climbing wall in Charlottesville, Virginia where I was sitting with a friend when she shared with me about a book she was reading. She began to tell me how learning to “live loved” had changed the way in which she lived each day. My interest was immediately piqued and got my own copy of He Loves Me!

Your writing has helped me to find my own voice as I have processed my own journey out of religious obligation and outward performance to learning how to live under the cover of His wings. Reading So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore a few years ago gave me a clear understanding of why I was so restless in my church. Not long after, God led our family to a new faith community that is “far more centered on relationship than religion” and where “those who act as leaders are true servants” (p.185). I read Beyond Sundays this past summer along with several other books by other authors. Your book deepened my understanding that the church “cannot be contained or managed in any human organization” (p. 21).

I have also been listening much more regularly to The God Journey podcasts and I really enjoy your Lifestream blog posts. Sometimes it really does seem like your perspective on politics, church, and Scripture and the overlap of these three is the only public voice with which I can wholeheartedly identify.

I also began to be mindful of the people whom God has placed in my life who are cynical at best when it comes to their concept of American “Christianity”. I began to want to see my “in-group” through their eyes. So, this past summer when I heard about the soon-to-be-released A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, I could not wait to get my copy. It has helped me to develop a clearer understanding of why the world often has a negative perception of Christians. And gave me the concepts and words I needed to be able to express why it is so important that we seek to have a growth mindset.

I believe that our trust cannot be placed in an earthly leader or agenda. Any leader will fall terribly short of promises made, policies proposed, and slogans pitched. When we let our hope rest in these, we will be gravely disappointed. Even beyond that, when we look towards earthly leaders for Light, our vision dims. Then we can no longer see our responsibility to walk with justice, mercy, and humility while abiding in peace, resting in strength, and sharing love… as we change the world… one life at a time, especially in a time as uncertain as this.

This book prepared me on two levels. One, to have space for an even deeper compassion for those who have suffered mistreatment and inequality. It prepared me to hear their desperate cries for help and not look away or justify. Two, it prepared me to have patient and calm discussions with white people who do not yet see the depth of the racial issues we face, as well as to listen with compassion to my friends of color who need a safe place to be seen and heard. Thank you for all you have done to address these issues head-on from a place of both grace and truth.

Yet throughout this time, I sensed that God had been preparing me for this challenge and that some pruning that took place during the quarantine period had freed me emotionally and relationally in ways that I can now see as I look back on the summer. Even with meeting new people with facial coverings and working under heightened stress, I sensed an undergirding strength and a new space in which to engage brand new people beyond the surface level and I found myself ready to listen and pick up on cues that the conversation would take a spiritual turn.

In one conversation, a co-worker casually said that her family were not “church people”. I told her that I was not a “church person” either and that we had found a loosely structured faith community that is authentic and that we were done with traditional church. That got her attention and she shared about her husband growing up as a Baptist preacher’s son and the negative impact that his growing up years had on him. She listened as I told her about how I’ve discovered a relationship with God that is totally separate from religion. I shared about your books (mainly He Loves Me and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore). She was very open. From then on, our conversations always cut right through superficial talk as time allowed.

The Embracing His Glory episodes have been a balm for my spirit this summer. #6 deeply resonated with me and I have listened to it at least 4 times… the parts about being able to hold temporal things at bay and being a bridge from the seen world to the unseen world encouraged and challenged me!

Your work allowed me to keep up with the social and political issues of these times without being overtaken by the clamor of a media-driven culture. Your perspective helps me guard against the pull to get caught up in a swirl of spins and emotional rhetoric. It reminds me of the danger of getting caught in an undertow that wants to pull me down and keep me entangled in darkness beneath the surface. I don’t want to live down there where I can’t breathe. Thank you for helping me to be able to be present for those I care most about!

Your work has helped me to be intentional about living above the fray and to not give too much of my time and attention away to issues I am powerless to change. I do have a vision of how I can positively impact my tiny corner of the world during these difficult times.

I anticipate the day when you will be able to travel and share in person… maybe here in Virginia one day!

I love stories of transformation and am greatly encouraged that some of the resources at Lifestream.org and TheGodJourney.com were part of helping her see what Father wanted her to see.  And who would have thought two years later her anticipation would come true as we sat down one afternoon together in the Shenandoah Valley to celebrate what God has done in both our lives.

I love the family that Jesus is knitting together around the whole world and how Jesus is taking shape in his people.

Finding My Peace in Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Don’t Believe You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 20:30-31

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

Why Are You So Afraid?

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

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

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

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

Order your copies here.  

What Do You See?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selah!

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

Only the Hungry

Living Loved – Fall 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Quickies from Lifestream

 

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

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

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

Guesting on Other Podcasts

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

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


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