Encouragement

Learning the Pace of Father’s Vineyard

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

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

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

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

Especially a great book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who Did Jesus Die For?

Good Friday and Easter weekend are upon us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Jacobsen Needs to Disappear

Now, don’t take that headline too literally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worthy of His Disappointment?

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the key, I think….

Then he wrote back:

Your email gave me reason to pause and think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weaponized Love

No, you can’t really!  The title above should be the oxymoron of all oxymorons.

There’s nothing about real love that can be made into a weapon. But that doesn’t keep people from trying, especially scared parents and religious people.

They turn their twisted view of love into a weapon. When you’ve done enough, especially the things they think you should do, they will love you. When you don’t, they will not only withhold affection from you, they’ll resort to whatever means they have at their disposal to get you to change. They’ll give you the cold shoulder or disapproving glance. They will gossip about you with other family members. That will rant and rave until you conform to their desires. They will should all over you thinking that increasing levels of obnoxiousness will endear you to their point of view.

Sadly, sometimes it even works. Some people would rather give in to the manipulations of those they care about, than continue to endure their contempt or disdain. But even when people meet those expectations, love doesn’t grow. Resentment does. Feeling forced into change is not really change, and the never feel loved by doing so. They just get the money off of their backs.

That’s because true love cannot be weaponized. Why do religious people do it? Because they have been taught God does. He loves us all, sure, but he only gives his love to those who have earned it. If you think that’s true, you will do all you can to get in his good graces. And, when he doesn’t respond the way you think he should, you can still blame yourself for not having done “enough” to qualify for his love. It’s a horribly frustrating place to live and it will wear you out trying to do so. That’s why those people turn it on others thinking they are doing God a favor.

But God’s love cannot be weaponized. It’s never the incentive to change; it is the environment in which healing happens. Every sin and broken place in our lives is caused by us living as if we are not loved by the Creator. But we are! Deliciously! Extravagantly! Overwhelmingly. We just don’t know it.

He never uses his love as a reward because it is always there for us. It doesn’t rise and fall with our performance. We can ignore it, even reject it, but we’ll be no less loved. He knows that his love is the starting place to follow him out of the darkness and into his light and freedom.

So, don’t think someone is loving you when they are manipulating you to do what they think is best to earn their affection. That’s not love, at least not God’s kind. And don’t tell someone you love them when you withhold your affection to get them to do what you want. Neither express the reality of his love and will only confuse people with what love really is.

God’s love can’t be used as a weapon; it is a reality that pulsates through the universe. You are deeply loved by the God who created you, no matter how lost you feel. If you don’t know that, ask him to show you.  Oh, and stop trying to earn it; it will only confuse you, too.

I Believe In a Redeemer

A good friend sent me this story the other day….

At the time he was manager of the campus radio station at Oral Roberts University and a seminar speaker on campus in the late 1960s. One of the best sermons he ever heard happened one morning in chapel from Campus Chaplain, Tommy Tyson:

Brother Tyson got up and read from 1 Cor. 1:30-31. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

Then he said this: “I do not believe in redemption, I do not believe in healing, I do not believe in deliverance, I do not believe in salvation.”

As he said his the student body and faculty present gasped. He let a few moments pass before finishing, “Here’s what I believe. I believe in a Redeemer, a Healer, a Deliverer, a Savior and much, much more!”

Never settle for theologies apart from the person of Jesus Christ! Wayne, I never forgot that moment.

I love that!

It gave me goose bumps to read it.

Whenever we separate the Gospel from our relationship to the Living Christ, we are left with empty doctrine, true though it be! The purpose of the Incarnation was not to start a Christian religion with finely-tuned doctrine and rituals, but to unveil a mystery—”Christ in you, the hope of glory!”

Get to know him and watch his glory unfold. Don’t settle for substitutes.

Truth Has Its Time

Among those things I know now, that I wish I’d known when I was twenty-two and fresh out of college with my Bible degree, is that you cannot convince someone that something is true if they are not ready to hear of it.

Somehow I got the idea that “ministry” was about knowing the truth and convincing others to believe it, too.There were two problems with that. Much of the “truth” I had then, didn’t turn out to be so true at all. And, all of the time spent trying to argue people into my ideas, even those that turned out to be true, were as fruitless as trying to get my grapevines to produce grapes in February.

Truth has its time, and as I look back over my life at the start of a new year, I have a deep appreciation for the trajectory of revelation and transformation in the human heart. These are not things we control, but I love watching how the Holy Spirit begins to unravel our false ideas from the inside and prepare us for those moments when the Truth clarifies in our heart and we find ourselves able to take a step forward in embracing his love or finding a way to share it with others. I’ve had a lot of joy over the past few years watching this process in my own life as well as watching it in others as well.

I was reminded of this by a recent email I received:

I have just finished listening to Finding Church for the 4th time yesterday in the past 2 months (I have a long drive to work!)

  • 30 years ago the old me would have thought it weird.
  • 20 years ago I would have tried to understand what you were saying.
  • 10 years ago I would have wished it was true.
  • 8 years ago I would have not thought it clear enough as I looked for the 10 steps.
  • But now I see.  It is just by loving the one in front of you and seeing how God touches them through the interaction. It is learning that you are loved and sharing that love with others.

I laughed when I read it. Thirty years ago I probably would have declared those ideas heresy. Twenty years ago I would have been intrigued with the hope, but thought them too idealistic to work. Ten years ago, I was already seeing that reality live out in my life and the lives of others around me and my view of his church was changing. Today, I can’t think of the church any other way and with that has come a deep appreciation for the church Jesus is building in the world in spite of all that we humans have done to craft her in our own image. And when I think about ten years from now, my heart leaps with the anticipation of what I might yet learn about him and his work in the world.

Truth has its time. We don’t so much learn it in a classroom as it unfolds in us out of our growing relationship to God. Growth and transformation are a process that takes time. It would be nice to recognize truth out of the clear blue and just embrace it, but it rarely works that way. Mostly truth works its way into our heart over time as God wins us more deeply into his affection for us. Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told the disciples he would send them Another Comforter and he would guide them into all truth. He even admitted to them that he had so many more things to teach them but that they weren’t ready for them yet. I love how Jesus had a sense of the unfolding reality of truth in our hearts. He didn’t confront them with truth and demand they make a choice, but he opened the door to truth to see who was ready to walk through.

If I’d known that forty years ago, my heart would have been softer in the hands of the Master. I would have been far more gentler with people who didn’t see what I hoped they would see. I would have spent far less time trying to argue people into my view of truth. And, I would have trusted the Spirit to guide me better when others were trying to convince me of things they thought were true that didn’t yet make sense to me.

I would have taken all that energy I used to try and convince others and to let him teach me to walk in the truth I had already been given. And, I would have spent far more time encouraging others who were already hungry for the truth, rather than trying to convince others of it who weren’t yet ready and couldn’t yet see it.

In short, seeing the Spirit as the convincer of people, and I their friend has allowed me to be more relaxed in God’s process, not only in my heart, but with others around me as well. It is far more fruitful to help people into the truth they are seeking, rather than to badger them into what they are resisting. Believe me!

Are You Worthy of Love? 

If you gave this question serous consideration, we probably need to talk.

The saddest words I hear from people are those that wonder if they are worthy of God’s love. That question is predicated on the biggest lie to find it’s way into God’s creation—that love can be earned.

It can’t.

Nothing disproves that lie better than the coming of Christ into our world that we celebrate at this Christmas season. He didn’t come to redeem people the Father was disgusted with, but those he loved. Even on the night Christ was born, the shepherds heard the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Pleased?  Really? With all the brokenness in the world? Sin was rampant, Humanity was ever at war with itself and his own people were under Roman captivity and lost in their legalism. How could God be pleased with humankind?

Luke certainly didn’t mean God was pleased with the brokenness in his creation, but that he was pleased with humanity in spite of it. God’s love is not so fickle as to come and go based on how good we are. Love is love, even at our most broken, no less than you would have for your children. Our struggle in the darkness only endears us to him as his compassion seeks to rescue and redeem us.

We are all worthy of love because of the place we hold in Father’s heart. No failure, or broken place changes that. The prodigal son was loved as much when he was wasting his father’s money as he was when he returned home. It’s just that he wasn’t living in that love. He didn’t believe it and though he thought he had good evidence for his conclusion, they were based on the lie. Even when he returns home he considers himself  “not worthy” to be called a son.

But he was worthy simply because of the value he held in his father’s heart. The joy of the Gospel is not in getting God to love us, but to relax into the reality of the love he already has for us. Those who grew up abused or neglected have a hard time embracing that. The rejection of their parents seemed proof that they were so flawed as to be unworthy of love. But that is just part of the lie.

Those who grow up in religious settings, who think their performance can endear them to God, fall victim to the same lie. You can’t earn what you already have. You are loved, no less today than when the Father conceived you in his heart before you were born.

That’s the Gospel. Believe it or not, the Creator of the universe is your loving Father. You have the choice to run to that love and embrace it, or hide outside of it as long as you want. Love offers a door; it doesn’t force it’s way.

He loves you as much as any other person on the planet. For those who don’t know that in the deepest part of your soul, Sara and I are praying that Father will reveal that to you and you will find the freedom to joyfully embrace how deeply he delights in you. That’s where this journey of faith truly begins.

And what a Christmas miracle that is!

Notes For the New Year:

Wayne’s Latest Book Is Almost Here

Beyond Sundays, Wayne’s newest book, will be available early in 2018. It will cost $12.00 and we’ll begin taking pre-orders in early January.  It will also be available by e-book as soon as we can get that done.

This is an adaptation of blogs postings Wayne has written over the last year about the current dilemma of people leaving the traditional congregation and the opportunity it affords for the whole church to celebrate all the ways that Father is at work among his people and how he is preparing the bride for the return of his Son.

 

Travel Dates for Early in 2018

  • Jacksonville, FL- January 18
  • Raleigh, NC – January 19-22
  • Greensboro, NC – January 23-24
  • Charlotte, NC – January 25-29
  • Phoenix, AZ- February
  • Abilene, Tx – March 22-25

If you’re in these areas and still want to plan something, we do have some available time. Or if you just want to join us, please see our Travel Page, where details will be posted when we have them. 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.

Kenya Update

Thanks to the generosity of so many of you, we have given just under $200,000 this year to the people in Kenya with orphan children and to help the people in Pokot establish a sustainable future. We put in two agricultural projects so they can grow their own food, and have helped with hospital staff, medicine, food, education and micro-finance loans to help create enterprise. Get more information here.

Staying Up With Lifestream

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Finishing our Discussion on Finding Church

For the last eighteen months a group of us have been working through the themes of Finding Church chapter by chapter. We are now reaching the end of that study.  The discussion, however, will remain up as other people can come along and start with chapter 1 and work through it now at their own speed. Our hope was to let people contemplate the content of each chapter and how that might impact their own lives as they seek to follow Jesus.

It has been a wonderful study with lots of contributions by others.  You can find out more here if you are interested.

One of the discussion questions I posed today goes to the heart of all of our journeys.  You might want to contemplate it in your own:

Perhaps the greatest barrier in our own relationship with Jesus as well as connecting to his church in the world is to lay down our own agendas and expectations to let him truly be in control of the process. That’s the most difficult obstacle for us humans to face. We’re afraid if we let go, we won’t get what we want. And that may be true, but the hope of the Gospel is, when we give up we’ll get something better than we were trying to hold on to because he does know best about everything.

In your spiritual journey, what agenda in your heart has been (or still is) the most difficult to recognize and lay down?

For me, it was wanting to follow Jesus AND get the overwhelming approval of other Christians around me. For nearly forty years I never saw the inherent conflict between those two things, but my need for significance nonetheless made me double-minded in a way that caused me to miss countless times the life Jesus was nudging me into.

Hopefully other people will share theirs and we’ll all see that we’re not alone in this journey. Letting Jesus be our Lord and Leader is far easier to confess than it is to do, and the toughest part may be recognizing the problem itself. Our need to control travels in many disguises including commitment and devotion. It feels like we are doing our part, when in fact we’re trying to do his. It will lead to endless frustration until we can embrace enough of his love to realize he has our best at heart and if he’s not fulfilling what we desire, it’s because he desires something better.  But laying down ours long enough to recognize his, is a great challenge is this journey.

Finding a Different Rhythm and a Better Journey

Finalizing my latest book for publication, I ran across these two paragraphs. They express better than any other the transformation I see in people all over the world who move beyond religion and embrace a different way of living:

Following ritual and rules that others demand of you is still following law, even if we call them “New Testament principles.” God doesn’t transform us through obligation or meeting the expectations of others. The reason why many of us grew frustrated in religious settings is because they made promises they couldn’t fulfill. The harder we tried the emptier we felt. God has been inviting you to live in a new creation where his love transforms us in the deepest part of our soul.

Over this season you’ll learn to see through the manipulation of obligation, accountability, guilt, and fear and into a different rhythm that will allow you to live more at rest, aware of others, and free from the corrupting influences of this age. Instead of doing what others think you should do, you’ll be freer to discern his work in you and find yourself embracing his realities of grace, forgiveness, freedom, and generosity.

It all begins as you ask him to show you how deeply loved by God you are, then watching for how he shows you that reality. This is the trailhead that will lead you to greater freedom and fullness.

It’s a worthy journey, to be sure.

Lifestream Classic: The Call of the Shepherd

Before there was Jesus Calling, I wrote this article about the kinds of things the Shepherd whispers to help people who had lost a sense of his voice, to find their way back to him.  Written in 2004 as part of a quarterly newsletter we used to send out, I was reminded of it in a conversation last week, so went back and sought it out.

As I read it again, I thought it might be worth sharing with those of you who haven’t seen it.  I hope it encourages you and helps tune your heart to hear the words he is always speaking to your heart.

Here’s how it starts:

Do you remember the first day you knew that I loved you? Do you remember how clean you felt and how light your heart was? The air seemed clearer, the colors of my creation brighter. You felt as if you had stumbled out of a dark, dirty cave and plunged headlong into a clean, cool stream. You drank in the reality of my presence and splashed with delight in my goodness.

In that moment nothing else mattered. You knew at the very core of your being that I was real, that I had great affection for you. Even in the face of dire circumstances, you were convinced that there was nothing we couldn’t walk through together. My love not only overwhelmed you, it also overflowed you with grace for others, even those who had wronged you. You woke up every morning in eager anticipation of what I’d show you that day. You delighted yourself in me as I delighted myself in you and each day became an adventure together.

Wouldn’t you like to come back to that space?  That’s not just where I wanted you to start. It was where I wanted you to live every day.

Read the rest here.

 

 

Jesus Is Not Coming This Saturday Night

I just found out today that Jesus is coming back this Saturday night at 11:30, though I’m not sure what time zone that’s calibrated for. It has something to do with the star alignment and Revelation 12:1-2. I

DO NOT BELIEVE IT!

This stuff comes up every few years with someone mixing a dangerous amount of Scripture (far too little) with a bit of cosmic wizardry and sends people into a tizzy. Some have even quit jobs in times past to “prepare” for the return of Christ, and been disappointed and sometimes economically devastated when such dates prove untrue. I’ve watched this go on for the last 50 years and hate what it does to people. All it does is create a lot of attention from someone, often sells a lot of books, and in its failed aftermath creates a wake of people disillusioned with God and weary of waiting for his promises.

As much as I would love for Jesus to come this Saturday, and I would be the first to cheer if he does, this whole approach certainly does not have the fragrance of Father about it. The way they twisted Scripture and the constellations to get the date is absurd on the face of it. I actually laughed when I read the reasoning behind this weekend. When Jesus said his coming would be “like a thief in the night”, he was telling us to ignore any so called Bible or cosmic expert that would set a date. It only provokes fear and really, really poor planning. If he comes, great! He will some day.He said those who would be most prepared for his coming would already be faithfully doing the things God has put in their heart to do. They don’t need a date. Even Jesus didn’t have a date, but entrusted all that to his Father.

So, please don’t quit your job, or sell your possessions. You’re going to need some of that on Monday morning. And don’t freak out your friends or family with your fears and anxieties.

If you’re already living like he could come any time, why would you need a date? Especially dates that prove over and over again to be completely misguided. Remember, The 88 Reasons Jesus Is Coming in 1988? Oops! Missed that!  But the author of that book immediately turned around and wrote 89 Reasons Jesus Is Coming in 1989.  The math was off.  Both books sold well, but the body of Christ was not served well. Remember when one author staked “his entire reputation” on Y2K ushering in a worldwide depression that would precede the coming of Christ?  Wrong again!

So don’t take your direction from soothsayers who twist history, Bible, and astronomy to set dates and seek for notoriety. If the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, then you have all you need to follow him today. And if you’re following him, the knowledge that he would come on Saturday night would not change one thing about how you’re living today.

And that is as he desired it to be.

Why Every Day Is An Adventure

Somehow all of that faded away a a couple of decades ago. I discovered that my plans were mostly, well, my plans. I thought they were God’s because it was stuff on my heart after I had prayed for wisdom, but I came to discover that they were mostly formulated so I wouldn’t have to worry about what I’d say. But more and more I noticed that God was nudging the conversation elsewhere and sticking to my notes became more difficult and less effective.

I discovered that my “preparation” was about my need to have all my ducks in a row and it kept me from helping people by joining them in their world, sharing where needs and interest lie, rather than where I was comfortable or thought I’d be most entertaining. It was a gradual process of learning to encounter people in “their time” rather than my own. I also learned that God was more concerned with how I was living alongside him and loving who is in front of me today than he was giving me a topic to speak on a week from now.  He is the God of the present after all. And while I was praying for future events, I was missing opportunities right in front of me.

So I’m learning to walk with God each day in whatever circumstances I’m in.  I don’t show up with my plans anymore, but simply with a prepared heart ready to see what people are hungry for and how I might help. Oh, I might have an inkling of things God will sprinkle into the conversation, but I use them only if they unfold in the moment. It has been so much more helpful to people who are really on a journey of living in the Father’s love to let them shape the conversation and offer myself as a resource for their journey, rather than try to dazzle them with mine.

And it has helped live more full in the present, whether I’m home, on a plane, or in a far off land.  That’s why I have come to love this quote by Aldous Huxley because it captures the possibilities that every day affords us:

Every moment of our human life is a moment of crisis; for at every moment we are called upon to make an all-important decision – to choose between the way that leads to death and spiritual darkness, and the way that leads towards light and life; between interests exclusively temporal, and the eternal order; between our personal will, and the will of God.

A Quest for Values

I realize this can be read from the darkness of performance, where a demanding God is looking over our shoulder every moment judging everything you do or say. That is how I used to see him and I didn’t enjoy quotes like this because they just made me paranoid. No matter how many good decisions I made, I know I wouldn’t get them all right and I was far more aware every day of where I fell short, than where I had leaned into love and life.

That’s the problem with performance-living. Every day demanded perfection, which of course wasn’t possible so every day ended in frustration and confession and pledges to try harder.  But you now what? No child would learn to play piano, baseball, or ride a bike if they had to be perfect at it on the first day. God intended life to be an adventure, not were we get it all right today, but where we simply make progress in learning to walk alongside him and see the world through his eyes. Then we’ll know how to live and that will spill over in helping others.

I love how he is setting me free on the inside to be more aware of what’s unfolding around me and have a sense about how I might be loving, kind, or helpful to others. It’s not a demand of his; it’s an adventure of mine to learn a bit more each day what an amazing world he created and how I can be in it to bring hope and healing rather than more destruction.

Nope, I’m not perfect, but I am making progress and I honestly think that’s all he desires for me.

The Impact of Living Loved

This week I am a guest on The Born to Be podcast with Daron Earlwine out of Indianapolis, IN.

I had a wonderful time talking to Daron and appreciated the frank discussion we had about what it means to live loved, to discover the purpose God has for us on this broken planet, and our very disfigured views of what it means to be successful. Hint: What is honored among men and woman is highly desirable in the eyes of God.  We had a wonderful conversation considering these things. I think many of you will enjoy it as well. Daron taped this for his weekly radio show in Indianapolis and the longer version for his podcast.

This is how they described the podcast:

On today’s podcast, Daron and Wayne discuss the idea of living from a place of being truly loved and the impact this has on our purpose, as well as many other areas of our lives.  When we experience a loss or we either lose a dream or a dream has been stolen from us, how do we react? What do we do? Wayne has experienced each of these things in his life, and has some wonderful advice on how to respond and how healing comes from God’s Love.

You can listen to the podcast here.

The Gift of Encouragement

Did I get one yesterday!

The last few months have been difficult for a number of reasons, not the least of all is some health issues I’ve had to deal with. The health issues are getting behind me now, I hope, but some of the other stresses surrounding my life seem to be festering again.

I get a lot of encouraging mail, but yesterday someone took the time to write me a lengthy email just to tell me how the see Jesus reflecting through my life. It couldn’t have come at a more amazing time. I can’t work out again except to walk, so I’d just been on a two mile walk mulling over some things with God.  And while some interesting thoughts came to mind during the time, I always come back processing which of those were God’s thoughts and which were mine. Often I don’t answer that for days or weeks.

But yesterday I returned to an email in my inbox that couldn’t have been timed more perfectly.  And there were some phrasings in there that came straight out of my time with him. I rarely get such immediate or concrete confirmations, but because this lady took some time over the weekend to put some of her thoughts down and send them to me, my day seemed a bit more miraculous yesterday.  I was deeply touched. I wish I could share with you the email I got yesterday, but it would be horribly self-serving to do so.

It came from someone I’m just getting to know better, though they’ve been reading some of my stuff for awhile. I stayed with her and her husband once, very briefly and years ago, but more recently I had some longer time with her and her husband on a trip. Her email was not just about me or my writing, but also about what God had been shaping in her heart and mind by reading and listening to some of the things I’ve been involved in. And it had the time arc of more than a decade so some of the longer-term fruit could be recognized and celebrated.  Some of my things had helped her recognize and affirm what God had already put on her heart and gave her the courage to follow it, even when others around her were less encouraging.  She talked about a newfound hunger for Scripture, how much she’s enjoying the work of God refining her, and the joy of meeting other people I know in the world. (I do know some pretty amazing people.) She closed with a Scripture verse for me that touched my heart.

After sitting with it for a few hours, I wrote her back:

“What an incredibly sweet letter to brighten my day!  Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts together and sending me such an encouraging email.  in the midst of my recovery here.  I was deeply touched, not only by your appreciation for my life, but even more for the work that it has encouraged in your own. I love that God continues to prune, refine, and recalibrate us so that we can live every more freely and daringly in his reality, instead of being lost in our own perceptions and preferences.  I get to meet some of the most amazing people on the planet and see firsthand what God is doing in them to shape his glory in them. Watching those people love, relate, laugh and enjoy God and each other together is always a joy for me personally.  I am deeply touched this morning. More than you know some of the specific things you said have illuminated what God has been speaking to my heart in some key areas. I’m so grateful to receive this from you this morning.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”

Why am I sharing this with you today, especially without all the details? Because I was reminded how powerful encouragement is, and following through on something God has put on your heart.   It isn’t always easy and it sometimes feels a bit weird, but you have no idea how much you touch someone when you just write them a note, however briefly, to tell them what they mean to you, how Jesus is reflected in the way they live their lives, and how your life has been touched by them.

None of us hear that enough. Why? Because most people are too busy fighting for their own survival that they don’t pause to think how much someone around them might be blessed by an encouraging word. The impact it had on me yesterday was profound. It shaped my entire day and probably this week.

And it is something that’s so easy to do for others.

A few days ago someone sent me a blog posting about a couple who’d lost their twenty-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident last week. Their daughter wasn’t the driver but in the article they referred to THE SHACK and how much it had helped them find God in their own tragedy. They encouraged everyone to go to the movie. A few minutes later I had the thought to call them just to encourage them in the pain of their loss. Yes, it felt weird. They are not going to know who I am and I’m not even sure what to say. Besides, I didn’t have their phone number. As I tried to talk myself out of it, I realized I might be resisting the very Spirit I seek to follow. A quick Internet search got me their number and a few moments later I was talking to both parents sharing a bit of what God was doing in them through their own grief and to let them know I’d be praying for them

Encouragement is the least costly thing you can give someone, but may also be the most priceless. Looking for a way to sneak into someone’s life and leave them with words that will draw their heart in gratefulness to God may be the best way you can impact someone else today.

That may be why Scripture tells us to “Encourage one another daily.”
No better gift.
No better time.

What Love Transforms

When three different people send you a copy of the same book in the same week, you take note.  About a month ago Sara and I were able to start reading Love Does by Bob Goff.  We have found it a delightful read as Bob shares his adventures in learning to live inside of love, both for himself and for others around him.

This one paragraph really caught my eye, because I think it is the essence of transformative love. You cannot know God’s kind of love without it changing you from the inside and finding yourself a freer, kinder person in the world, not because you have to but because you’re free to be the person Jesus made you to be:

“The cool thing about taking Jesus up on His offer is that whatever controls you doesn’t anymore. People who used to be obsessed about becoming famous no longer care whether anybody knows their name. People who used to want power are willing to serve. People who used to chase money freely give it away. People who used to beg others for acceptance are now strong enough to give love.”

That’s what love does. It reshapes us from the inside. You don’t learn to love by trying to change the way you feel about these things. Instead learning to live inside the love of God changes your value systems, often while you’re least aware it is going on. I am so enjoying the things that love is reshaping in me and I’m excited to see what it will yet change as I find myself valuing more what God values.

Someone also sent the this quote from the NPR show On Being by Omid Safi about busyness:

“This disease of being ‘busy’ (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.”

It speaks into that same space. We’re not busy because the world demands it of us, we’re busy to run from ourselves and those around us as a retreat from the insecurities in our own heart. As those insecurities are cleansed by his love, you’ll find yourself far less busy. There’s no reason to be anymore and having time for the people in  your life will allow you to experience the richness of real community, not just another meeting to rush off to or another responsibility to check off your list.

(Health update:  For those concerned about my recovery from open-heart surgery, all continues as well as can be expected, which is a bit too slow for me.  🙂  I’m now three weeks from surgery in some pain and discomfort at times, but mostly just allowing the trauma to heal and my strength to recover. I’m walking about 4 miles per day now and will begin cardio therapy in a week or so. This has been quite a process, but filled with some lovely things God has done in the midst of it all.  I’ll share those some day too. My family has been an incredible source of care and courage to get through this. For now, it is back to sleep, which seems to sneak up on me without notice and without my permission!)

Why Won’t He Change Me Faster?

I get the frustrated email all the time. “Wayne, it doesn’t seem like anything is happening in me.” People who go on a journey to learn to live in the love of the Father get impatient when change doesn’t come as fast as they hope for. I understand. Many are used to intellectual change. I hear something. I believe it. And then I should be able to apply it to my life.

But transformation doesn’t work that way. We may know God loves us, but letting him win us into the reality of that love takes time. It may even seem as if nothing is happening and we begin to doubt either God’s love or the process. I’ve watched over many years as people write me frustrated that they don’t seem to be “getting it.”  In fact Brad and I recently did a podcast on what may be the scientific reason Why Transformation Takes Time. If you missed it, you might want to give it a listen.)

I try to tell people to relax in the Father’s affection and to relax in the process of how he changes us. I know it isn’t easy.  We want quick-fixes and be in control. But we can’t rush it. It isn’t ours to do. All we can do is just lean into him each day as much as we are able and set our affections on him. Yes, we’ll make mistakes. Certainly we’ll fee trapped by habit patterns and ways of thinking that don’t seem to change. But what we miss is what’s going on deep down in the core of our lives, beneath the level of us simply trying to act better.

That’s why I tell people to let it unfold the way God wants, even if it takes two or three years to see progress. I know that’s hard, but one day you’ll begin to see that things have been shifting in your life and now you are able to transit circumstances with more freedom that we’ve had before. That’s when you’ll know God is doing the work not you. Like Paul, you’ll end up with nothing to boast about except him and his work in you.

I got this email earlier this week from someone I’ve been in touch with over the past few frustrated years.  Look at what God has done:

I (am now experiencing) what I have been seeking for years.  I can only describe it as heavy warm feeling on my chest that leaves me feeling peaceful and I am left with an excited expectation for what is next to come in my life and that all is well.  I found out I have grown into Fathers reality a lot more than I ever dreamed because when the chips were down and I came to the end of me, grief lost its power, fear had no effect and I was left with a simple faith knowing he is in control. That’s the only way I know how to explain it.  I was growing up all along and didn’t even know it.

I love that. Changing by our own strength is much quicker, but it doesn’t last long and we soon slip back in our old patterns. Transformation works more deeply, helping us think differently from the inside, so that we live differently on the outside.  I hope this email encourages those of you for whom change seems to be moving too slowly. He is at work in you. You’ll see it one day and then you’ll overflow with thanksgiving.

When Life Frustrates You

Life rarely gives us what we want. How many of us have dreamed of things that bring us great joy but can’t find any way to fulfill them in this age?  We look at others who have the job we want, a better marriage than the one we struggle in, or with opportunities we wish we had. We see people getting the “lucky breaks” while it seems like everything we try seems to turn to dust.  It is easy to think that God is against us, or at least life is. The longer we live the more frustrating our disappointments can become.

I ran across this quote by C. S. Lewis yesterday:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

I love that thought. Sure some of our dreams and desires are fleshy and fulfilling them wouldn’t bring any of the joy we hope it would. But many of our deep-seated desires will never be fulfilled in this age, not because God doesn’t love us, but because this world cannot fulfill them anyway. I have often been comforted in the face of such desires knowing that they may be drawing me into a truer space, where the flesh no longer harasses us and where joy is untainted by human greed and competition.

It is easy to forget that our 70-80 years of life here is so fleeting. Scripture says it is like the dew on the grass which dries up in the morning sun. Real life lies beyond a veil we can’t see beyond. I often think of all of our life in this world like standing around in the lobby of a great play or concert, waiting for the doors to open.  You weren’t created for the brokenness of this age; you were made for a richer destiny in realities that your mind has not even thought of yet.

But we do have tastes of it—moments where love seems so rich and nourishing you’d think you’d die in its beauty, of joyful abandon when the cares of the world are swallowed up by pure bliss, and even where a dream exhilarates your heart with the hope of, “If only…”

So don’t let the brokenness of this world define your hopes. Why wouldn’t God fill us with hopes and desires that are for the main show, not the lobby? Why wouldn’t you hunger for things that you may only glimpse in part in this world but will someday be completely fulfilled in ways you don’t know?

So rather than let your disappointments frustrate you, let them draw you closer to the Father who gave them to you and bask in the hope that someday, perhaps sooner than we all think, they will be fulfilled in ways that make even glimpses of them here seem like a paltry shadow anyway.  Wait until the real glory comes!

 

The Best Kind of Friend

Love this quote and thought I’d pass it along today:

When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Henri J. M. Nouwen  Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life

As always when I share stuff like that, I’m not thinking, “Wow, I’ve got to find friends like that,” but rather, “That’s the kind of friend I want to be.”

Unfortunately more people seem to want to have friends rather than be friends. That’s why there’s a dearth of amazing friendships in this broken world.

Find someone to love today and love them well.  See what God does.

“He Cannot Love Me”

After I sent out the our Lifestream Update for Fall about God’s enjoyment of us as his kids, I got a few emails back from some individuals certain that was not true for them.  One had the title I’ve used above.  “He cannot love me!”

The reasons in each email vary.  If I only understood the choices they had made, the abuses they had suffered, the troubles they had faced, and the feelings they didn’t have, I would agree with them. Their conclusion were all the same “I am damaged, or cursed, or ignored by God, if he exists at all.” Certainly God would not enjoy them.

I don’t read such emails lightly.  They shatter something in my heart. But I’m glad they are at least reading and interacting with what I wrote. There is hope still. Their heart wants to embrace what their head tells them they can’t. It is a horrible darkness indeed to feel as when you cannot believe that God loves and desires you. There is no greater lie whispered in the universe than that God does not enjoy you and does not want you to know him.  He does. Regardless of what evidence you feel you have to the contrary, it is a deceptive web spun in your head and heart. To think that you are too damaged for God is like a child who feels their diagnosis of cancer leaves their parents too disgusted to love them. The diagnosis doesn’t make you less loved, but even more endearing to the One who made you and cares about you so deeply.

How can he help but love you even more than I love my own granddaughter (above)? This world is incredibly cruel and horrible things happen to people. We are all tempted into actions and attitudes that we may even find contemptible. But when God looks at you he sees who you really are underneath all that has sought to twist you or destroy you. Remember, God doesn’t have love, he is love! It defines his very nature and that is focused on you as much as anyone else in the world.  No one that’s existed was unloved by God and not invited into the knowing of him as an endeared child. The great horror of the Fall was not just that Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, but even more that in their disobedience they considered themselves no longer worthy of God’s affection.  Shame drove them to the dark place of seeing God as their enemy, when Father’s love for them never waned.

That’s what God wants to win in us. His love, even at our most broken and destitute, is the flash of light that opens the door to a wider world. I know that isn’t easy to see from many people’s vantage points. The pain, guilt, or fear is so deep that we can’t see him when he’s right in front of us. “But couldn’t he make it more clear?” I’ve been asked. Of course not. Wouldn’t he make it as clear as possible to everyone? It’s fear and shame that feed the darkness and seem to affirm the lie. But it is nonetheless a lie.

You are deeply loved by the God who fashioned you. That doesn’t mean he loves all that we do or think, or the choices we make. He just doesn’t define us by those things. He looks on the heart to know who we really are and it’s that unique son or daughter in the middle of the brokenness that he loves and that he invites out of the darkness into his light. You may not hear that now or recognize it yet, but it is growing inside you. He speaks and though it may go unheard by your physical ears the truth settles deep in your soul first and then it will become more obvious. Just keep coming, asking, and in hope against hope believing.

Two people sent me some poems that encourage them when they felt they were too damaged to be seen and pursued by God  Both are incredibly powerful and I hope you take the time to read the entire poems.  The first is from Then the Whispers Started by Jenny Rowbory, a young woman who’s faith and courage inspires me.  The words are God talking:

I will tell you of the wonders I see within you,
I will tell you again and again and again
until you come to believe the truth
instead of the lies.
For I love you
I delight in you
and I say that you are good.

Then someone else sent me David Whyte’s poem, Everything is Waiting for You.  What a powerful look into the pain of our loneliness and how to find a way out:

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone…
Too feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings…
Put down the weight of your aloneness
and ease into the conversation…
Everything is waiting for you.

This is how his reality overtakes ours. It’s rarely a white knight riding in on a white horse changing all our thinking with the flash of a sword, but a God who continues to unfold himself in the recesses of our mind, and the revelation of Creation around us. The process may seem slow and less obvious that we’d want him to be, but I am convinced that God is reaching out to us in the best way imaginable, and it just takes time for us to see it and embrace it. What helps most is someone else who will reflect God’s love in the world. Find someone like that, and if you know his love be someone like that so that others still lost in the darkness might find a connection through you to the Father who delights in them.

One more thing, I read an article last week about how God created our brain and explains perhaps better than anything I’ve ever read what the renewing of the mind (Romans 12) looks like inside.  It explains why transformation takes time as God rewires our brain to think differently.  Of course, the article doesn’t have God in it, but I see his hand in this process. I’ve told people for years that moving from a performance-based, fear-based relationship with God to learning to live in his affection takes many years.  We just don’t have the synapses yet to contain a different story than the one pain and shame schooled us in.  But all of that can change and I’m grateful the Holy Spirit is involved in the process. The article is here:  Good News: If You Keep Your Brain Active, It Will Continue to Grow Long Past Your 20s.  Brad and I talk about it on the podcast that will release Friday at The God Journey.  Here’s an excerpt:

BY DAVID EAGLEMAN FROM THE BOOK FROM THE BRAIN: THE STORY OF YOU

A baby’s neurons form two million new connections every second as they take in information. By age two, a child has over 100 trillion synapses—double the number an adult has.

This peak represents far more connections than the brain will need. The incredible blooming is then supplanted by neural “pruning.” As you mature through the teen years and into your 20s, 50 percent of your synapses will be pared back.

Which synapses stay, and which go? When a synapse successfully participates in a circuit, it is strengthened; synapses that aren’t used are weakened and eventually eliminated. Just as with paths in a forest, you lose the connections that you don’t use.

By age 25, our brains appear to be fully developed. But even in adulthood, the brain can form new connections…

If you’re having trouble believing that God would enjoy and desire you, you are not alone. Take hope!  He is winning this place in your heart. Just dare to believe in whatever small way you can, that you just might be wrong, and that God doesn’t look at you like you think he does. That will give you enough space to go on a different journey and see just how loved you really are!

When Our Prayer Life Changes…

This process of inner transformation is fascinating to watch, in my own life and others. It’s disorienting for many when their age-old religious practices start to shift. I know it was for me.  One day you’re doing a regimen of Bible reading and prayer, feeling good about yourself for ticking all the boxes. Then, they seem lifeless, or at least ineffective. Part of you says keep doing it no matter what, another part invites you down a journey away from religious obligation to discover what a real engagement with the Scriptures or God might be. I enjoy stories of those who take the road less traveled, and risk moving away from the lifeless status quo to discover a real relationship with God.

Transformation comes slowly. We may even been a bit naughty at the beginning since we’re not doing the things we’re “supposed to do.”  But what many of us have found on the other side is that prayer and Bible reading become so much more real inside a growing relationship, rather than as a rote exercise out of obligation.

I got this from someone today in that very process:

I’ve been contemplating something this morning….  I have a hard time with journaling now for a few days.  I was an avid journaler as that’s where I communicated with God.  I have a hard time “speaking prayers”…  I can say “help me God” but most of the time all that’s there are the thoughts within.  I don’t speak out much in the “dear God” prayers.  I’m not overwhelmed with guilt because I think of the Spirit groaning and Jesus interceding and since Jesus lives in me I believe that my thoughts and aches are translated in intercession to the father.  I’m not worried that I don’t have words because I know how I feel with my own children. Sometimes my son will come out of his room and just sit in the living room, yes, often on his phone… 🙂  But he’s in the living room with me.  I don’t care that he’s not talking.   I’m just happy he’s in the room with me.  If he wants to say something he can, if he doesn’t it’s ok.  He’s with me.

I know that there’s been such a huge distortion in regards to prayer for me as I often just don’t want to “talk” to God.  For one, it was displayed as an act of allegiance  to stay in right standing with God.  For two, so many of my prayers were about me getting what I thought was best for me.  An example: my broken-down car.   The way I would approach it  was to start to pray… and gather as many people as I could to pray.  We would all ask God together to cause the car to be an inexpensive fix.  That was the best thing for me, right.  I would pray constantly asking God to make it an inexpensive fix.  When the call came telling me it was a transmission there would be a deflation…. Why didn’t God give me “the best thing” and inexpensive repair.  What about “whatever you ask for in His name will be given to you”?  I had used Jesus’ name and asked over and over again, believing.  What happened there?  As a parent I would do that for my child, why wouldn’t he do that for me?  What kind of love is that?

Somehow I believe I have equated prayers answered the way I wanted with love, attentiveness, and care.  I got to the point that I stopped asking for things because what was the point, I rarely get what I pray for anyways. Answered prayer became some type of symbol of his love.  When it wasn’t answered the way I had prayed the indications were that something was really wrong, with God’s care for me of maybe with my value to Him.  I think somehow this distortion has hidden His love.   I think of the scripture that talks about “if a child asks for bread would he be given a stone.”  I often felt like I was being given the stone when God wouldn’t give me what I “so desperately needed”.. (of course I was determining what I needed)

So much has been distorted in the 50 + years of religious teaching that I sat under.   So nowadays I don’t say much in the ways I once did with words of “dear God”… I don’t ask for much.  I don’t journal much.

This is an incredibly healthy process. For me, when I realized that most of my prayers came from anxiety and that led me to always ask God to do what I thought best, my prayer life took a dive as well. No he doesn’t bless me from my agenda, he saves me from it.  He’s not the fairy Godfather turning our pumpkins into chariots. He’s with us in the reality of negotiating a broken world and all the while inviting us to know him better. As love began to win me, my prayer life too a real shift. First it seemed to die, then something more real and rewarding began to emerge.

His love built greater trust in me and I learned the power of prayer that rises from growing trust.  They weren’t “fix this” or “fix that” prayers; they were honest pleas for him to help me see what he was doing in the circumstances I was in and how I could be a part of that.  So instead of turning my anxiety into prayer requests, I just began to pour out my anxieties to him, knowing that love needed to win me into safer space. “God, why am I so anxious about this?” “Father, what do you want to show me of yourself.” “How do I keep my attitude free with the frustration of a broken car, or because someone else forgot an appointment, and how might you redeem this situation for your glory?”

I began to look toward him in everything and now pray more confidently for those things that God seems to nudge me towards.  Transformation is a great process.  Isn’t it fun to discover new things, to see movement in our journeys, to lose the religious habits of the past and find a real way to relate to him?

I love all that stuff and I love that it is happening in this woman as well.

What an amazing season when you risk the illusionary safety of the status quo and begin to let Jesus show you just how real this journey was meant to be.

 

Engaging Him

Connecting with the Jesus and his Father as he makes himself known to you was meant to be the simplest thing in the world, until our religious approaches got us all twisted up in our own performance and we felt we had to try and make “it” happen on our own. Many people miss that revelation because they are looking for something far more complicated or spectacular than how God draws us to himself.

Most people seek God with their physical senses hoping to see him or hear him in supernatural manifestations of his glory. While God does that some times, he is far more interested in helping us learn how to recognize him with the eyes and ears of our heart and to awaken those senses that engage the Eternal. God is always active around us—always moving, always speaking; it’s just that we miss him because we haven’t learned to recognize or trust our spiritual senses that engage him.

Over the last twenty-five years I’ve had the joy of helping many people find their way out of the religious jungle of self-effort to the trailhead of a growing relationship with him. Unfortunately time does not allow me to do it with all that write me or even that I visit, so a few years ago I put the key things I think help people the most to a set of videos. There are twenty-four of them, only about 5-8 minutes long designed to get people thinking in the space that makes it easiest to see how God is making himself known to us. We called the series Engage as a way of helping people see how God is engaging them.

We affectionately refer to this as the anti-discipleship approach because so many people have the idea that discipleship is building a relationship with God. In truth, discipleship isn’t about you building a relationship with God; it’s recognizing how God wants to build one with you.

Last week I got this email from Ed, as he is sorting this process out in his own life. I love the journey he’s on, and even though his hunger is satisfied yet it is obvious that the relationship he desires with God is growing in him. Yes, it takes time and it doesn’t happen the same way for everyone. All we can do is make ourselves avaialbe to him and then learn to recognize where God nudges his thoughts into ours and pours his strength and power into our struggles.

I honestly don’t even know how to relax into the relationship as you put it in the Engage series (currently going through those for the third time). I am so trained to be on the treadmill of religious performance that I feel anxious and nervous when I’m not doing something. I can’t ever remember a teacher or institution that wasn’t prodding me to do more, be more, give more, etc. Relationship with God has been modeled and taught to me as an exercise program. I seem to have been (religiously) born into an endless state of panic about how God views me and I’m driven to chase a never ending list of dos and don’ts in the hope that one day I’ll finally arrive at a state of “acceptable”. Honestly it’s exhausting just to think about it.

When my wife and I first left the our congregation I thought the joy I felt was me learning to walk in relationship and really experiencing the love of Father. Now I know that I was just so glad to be out from under the oppressive religious system we grew up in that I mistook that sense of relief for everything else. Now I perceive that the religious system was off of me but not out of me.

I’m listening to the Engage podcasts again (but being the religious performer I have to listen to more than one a day lol) and this morning I listened to #18 on the way to work. I had to listen to it twice because there was so much in it that spoke to me right now. Your relationship with Father is a present reality and you seem to just live out of that. I suppose that’s why my wife and I keep listening and reading your podcasts and books, because we truly want to see what a life lived in real relationship with Father looks like. We don’t see you as a “guru” but an example of the kind of life we hope for. I hope this makes sense but just your being (verb) is as significant to us as anything you talk about on the podcast.

Yes, it makes sense, Ed, and I do think that’s how life in this kingdom gets passed on. I’m glad not to be your guru; I only hope to be a brother pointing the way to a trailhead that lets you discover with increasing clarity how God is making himself know to you. Obviously that is stirring in you and in time you will become more comfortable listening with your heart.

Recognizing God in your life is not difficult because it’s complicated, but because it is simpler than we dare to believe.

Transformation is a Journey not an Achievement

When we live by religious rules and traditions we unwittingly shift into achievement mode, trying to do the best we can to live up to our standards and most days falling far short and bashing ourselves. That, however, is living by the law.  The new creation offers us a new way to live, not by meeting the expectations of law (or even New Testament principles), but the joy of learning to live by his Spirit will draw us into Father’s reality and shift the way we live as the fruit of a growing relationship of love.  Transformation is a journey, not an achievement. While perfection is the long-term hope, it is never a daily expectation to be disappointed.

It is such a joy when that reality sinks into a heart.  I got this email the other day from a friend and it so touches me to see how this shift has happened in her and her compassion for others still lost in the world of achievement and performance:

I had to write and tell you that I loved, loved, loved reading your book, In Season.  It just helped solidified so much of what is going on in my life.  It’s helped me to stand strong through the trials I’ve gone through lately.  However, I can actually say that I feel like I’m coming into my harvest time.  I loved your book He Loves Me, but people really need to read In Season! I think, just my opinion! I’ve given away many copies of your book, He Loves Me, but, now I’m doing it with, In Season.

You know, I’m realizing there’s a lot of people out there that are hurting in institutional religion, that would probably love to walk in a journey like ours, but are just too afraid.  I love my journey with the Lord and I would never go back.  I’ve given my yoga instructor your book, He Loves Me. She loves it and talks about it all the time… she’s a believer!  She says she can’t wait to read In Season.

I use to regret so much in my life, but I don’t any more.  I’m the person that I am today, because of the things I’ve walked through.  I’m stronger, steadier, and less afraid!  I know that trials will continue to come, but, my responses are and will be so much different.

Isn’t that what’s great about a journey?  You don’t have to waste time in regret for the past. Yes, we all have things we wish we hadn’t done, or spent more time trying to get something to work that was never meant to, but even those things become part of our journey as he draws us into himself and shows us how we can live freely in him even in the broken world that can cause so much pain.

That’s why I wrote In Season, to help people see that instead of trying to accomplish something for God by our own efforts, we can relax into the rhythm of his work in us realizing that each day holds the possibility of new discovery and greater freedom.  Since I grew up on a vineyard, this is a farmer’s view of John 15 and Jesus’ encouragement to learn to live in him like a branch lives in a vine. We get to enjoy the relationship and in doing so our lives are transformed with better ways to think, live, and love in the world. Spiritual growth is organic, a response to the circumstances and challenges in our life and the joy of walking in them with him and his strength.

And I love her compassion for people still lost in the world of religious performance. Having been there ourselves, who better to realize how lost and blind you can be even as your patting yourself on the back for being a ‘radical’ disciple of Jesus?  They need our love, compassion, and friendship, not our judgment and anger.

And as a reminder, most of our books are available at bulk discounts so you can share them with others affordably or start a study if you want. And individual copies of In Season is available for less than $10.00.

How Much Do You Think You Know About God?

I couldn’t resist sharing this thought above. I love it and it’s a great reminder every day that we live.  There is far more about God that we don’t know, than what we think we know. That’s especially true when we add in the conundrum of how much of God we think we know about him that isn’t even true. We just think it is.

It’s from a book I recommended a couple of months ago, called Paradox Lost.  The whole book is designed to help us settle into the reality that our Father in heaven could never be cataloged in a book and just about the time we think we’ve figure him out. It’s a book I know many of you will enjoy.

That’s why we will find more joy in following him as he reveals himself, rather than following concepts of him that often disappoint us.  I had a friend who often referred to God as Jehovah Tsdnikki. You’d have to be an old King James reader to fully appreciate that moniker. The way he shows up unexpectedly and the things he does to touch our lives defy our imaginations. That’s why trying to follow a God that meets your expectations will be horribly frustrating. I know, I did it for decades and spent a lot of time wallowing in the anger of disappointment. And there I missed so much of what he was still doing around me.

Realizing God is so much more than we can sort out at any stage in this life can set us at rest from trying to do so. Fortunately we have a God who wants to reveal himself to us in the smallest bits every day. I find greater joy walking in what he has revealed about himself than frustrating over what I don’t yet understand. When I pray, “Father I want to know you as you really are,” I find he answers that in the things I most need to see in the circumstances I’m facing. That often comes in conversations with others who are seeing things about him I haven’t discovered yet.

Figuring him out is an adventure we’ll never complete in this lifetime and our awareness of that can create a humility that doesn’t try to force our view on others. And we’ll not sort it out here. I’m hoping eternity will last long enough to maybe get to the end of him there, if getting to an end is even possible in eternity.

 

The Story of Jake

For a book that was never meant to be a book I am amazed at how the story keeps traveling. So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore started as a website and a story serialized over four and a half years by two of us who wondered what the Apostle John might think of what Jesus’ church had become in the 21st century.  We made it up as we went along to help people think past the pain of the religious games many of us get caught up in and discover what it is to live as his beloved son or daughter alongside others in the world.

I never thought we’d print it, since it has been free on line since the beginning. We printed it only because friends said they would never read it on line.  Hundreds of thousands did, however, and still many also bought the book.  It showed up in Walmart and Costco and a thousand other stores.  I get to hear testimonials all the time about how people found that book and what it helped identify in their own hearts about God’s working.

A few days ago I received this from a man today who has just finished leading a thirteen-week book discussion through So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. Here’s what he wrote:

Well, after going through Jake at least 4 times, plus going through a 13 week study of Jake with our Bible study group, I am finally done with Jake (at least today).  I can’t thank you enough for your efforts in writing this life changing book.  Since first reading The Story of Jake about a year ago my relationship with Father has changed dynamically. The guilt of leaving my church of 25 years and the understanding that Father loves me, even with all my faults, has changed remarkably.  It would take me 30 pages to tell you of all that has happened in the past year, but just know that Father and I are doing GREAT!  I didn’t say perfect, but GREAT!

Thanks, Carl. Dave and I were blessed to hear how much this story helped you on your own journey.

I still love this story and being in it a lot over the past couple of years as it quietly marches toward becoming a feature length film titled, Out of the Game. I’ve had a lot of fun helping to re-tell this story for a different medium and see if it can continue to help people discover life and freedom in him.