Growing in Trust

No Better Place to Be

There’s probably not a week that goes by or a trip I take where these two questions don’t come up. This email asked them as succinctly and clearly as they’ve ever been asked. I thought some of you might also be interested in the answers. I hope that someday I’ll be able to travel somewhere and not have these questions come up. Religion has put so much fear into humanity that we miss the more critical things Scripture teaches us—that the Father behind all this is incredibly trustworthy to sort out all things with love and justice we can’t even imagine.

The message of salvation is that there is no safer place for us to be than in the palm of his hand, yielding to his desires for us.

If God loves people so much, then why does He not stop horrible things from happening to them? As for this first question, I am mostly at peace in my heart. Scriptures, the voice of the Holy Spirit, your writings and podcasts—all of these things have played a huge role in helping me understand that horrible things happen to people as a result of living in a fallen world, not because God sits by and “allows” them. In my own experience, I’ve seen what God is able to accomplish in us through these difficulties that probably would not be accomplished any other way. I still hurt for people who have experienced more pain, abuse, and heartache than I could ever imagine. But the Holy Spirit helps to direct my thoughts on these things now, even though my human ability to understand is limited.

That’s a timeless question and difficult to answer. We’re trying to put human-sized brains into a God-sized reality. There’s something about the gravity of pain in our world that draws people to him, and there’s something about free will on a planet he gave us that makes us victims of the free will of others. It is the source of evil in the world, and evil does have consequences even for innocent victims. And some people bear a disproportionate weight of that pain. We are assured that his love is bigger than anything this world can deal out to us and that he can work good out of very tragic events, until the end when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God! What a great day that will be when Jesus gets the last word on everyone and everything. He just hasn’t had it yet.

In the meantime, when you know others who suffer more deeply than you do, don’t seek an answer in trying to figure out if they have deserved this in some way. Instead, find a way for you to lighten their load, salve their pain, and provide for them. Handle your struggles inside his love and help others with their suffering by inviting them inside your love. That’s all we know, but it’s enough to get up today and go out and love in the world.

I’m confident enough in God’s love and character now that I don’t let it eat away at me. In fact, I’m able to hold it fearlessly before the Lord and ask Him to help me understand. But I’d still really like to hear your thoughts on it. It’s one of the things my husband says drove him to question, and ultimately walk away from, God. If God loves people so much, how can He send people to hell who have never even been given the chance to accept or reject Christ? People in remote places who’ve never heard even the name Jesus, as well as people in populated places who have experienced so much pain (abuse, neglect, etc.) that they have absolutely no frame of reference to connect with a loving God. See, when I encounter this pain, I am almost in a panic to get out there and spread the love of Jesus, so people can know how real it is. But then I become completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in need of this. And that’s when I’m faced with this question. There are so many people. Will Jesus make Himself known to every person somehow, in some way?

Your question is based on a number of assumptions that I am not convinced are true.

(a) God doesn’t send people to hell. He is doing everything he can to rescue people out of it. Hell is not God’s punishment; it is the culmination of sin’s destructive power. He’s the rescuer in the story, not the punisher.

(b) Who knows how many are lost to destruction, and how many turn their hearts to him in the face of death? I’ve seen and read countless stories of people turning to him at their last breath. So, we just don’t know how many he gets to redeem even at the very end.

(c) With a loving and just God, I’m sure everyone will have their chance however God makes himself known to them. I don’t think it is up to us, but at the same time letting his light shine through us to others opens a wider door for them to come to know him. So, we’re part of it, just not the whole part, or even the biggest part. I also know that sharing God with the world through our panicked fear will not win them anyway to his heart. Notice that Jesus didn’t do anything like that when he was here. He stayed in one relatively small area, sharing with those God had given him. Those at rest in his love and confident in his work are in the best place to present the Gospel to others around them.

And (d) as to the existence of hell itself, I don’t claim to have the after-life all sorted out anymore. The Scriptures on heaven and hell are some of the most difficult to interpret, and while some of them seem to contradict each other, I know that can’t be true. I believe Scripture is describing a reality too marvelous for us to understand from our limited perspective here. So we see hints of the joys of eternity and the consequences of sin’s devastation. But I wonder if heaven is really about mansions and streets of gold and if hell is a place of eternal torment for unregenerate humanity. Revelation calls it a “second death.” Could it be where the devil and his host are contained and others consumed? I don’t think Scripture is crystal clear on any of that.

What I have come to know through the Scripture is a Father wise and gracious enough that I can entrust all to him. He is so incredibly loving, so full of wisdom and righteousness, and so committed to justice that when we finally see how it all plays out, we will turn to each other and say, “Wasn’t that the most incredible way he could have done it? We’ll see he was loving and just all in a way we would never conceive. Every factor was accounted for, and he has proved himself to be the God above all Gods, abounding in lovingkindness that mercy and endures forever.”

That really is enough for me to lay all these questions and all the others I have in his hands. He is the potter after all, and we are the clay. He’s promised us enough wisdom and grace to navigate each day’s challenges, but not to answer all our fears and curiosities about the future.

The more we know him as the Father he is, the less any unanswered question will disrupt us.

Embracing His Glory - Audio Series

Embracing His Glory Audio Series

Embracing His Glory was originally a Tuesday morning series at The God Journey with Wayne sharing how God lets us experience his glory in our life and then how we reflect it to the world around us. Paul wrote that, “…Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”


Embracing His Glory #1

Wayne has been freshly exploring from the book of John how that early believer saw Jesus doing that in his own life and how he wanted us to be part of it as well.

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Embracing His Glory #2

In this recording we talk about what is God’s glory? How do we think about it, and how did Jesus seem to think about it when he asked the Father to give us his glory?

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Embracing His Glory #3

In this recording Wayne talks about how we had that glory at the beginning, and how we lost it in the preference for our wisdom above the Creator’s.

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Embracing His Glory #4

In this recording Wayne talks about how the pursuit of false glory bears witness to the echo of Eden in our heart that glory is what we were destined to have.

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Embracing His Glory #5

In this recording Wayne talks about beholding Jesus—the perfect union of grace and truth, and how exploring that fuels the process of transformation.

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Embracing His Glory #6

In this recording Wayne talks about letting Jesus show us what’s really going on around us as the invisible world informs us of the seen world, not the other way around.

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Embracing His Glory #7

In this recording Wayne talks about how Jesus pokes a hole in our pretensions and how by following him we can embrace the light he offers us.

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Embracing His Glory #8

In this recording Wayne talks about how to embrace the moments when Jesus breaks through our illusions and invites us into the light.

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Embracing His Glory #9

In this recording Wayne talks about the incredible opportunity for us to cooperate with God’s unfolding glory in whatever situation you find yourself.

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Embracing His Glory #10

In this recording Wayne talks about retuning your heart to his when you get lost in the weeds of your journey.

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Embracing His Glory #11

In this recording Wayne talks about what it means to follow Jesus in a daily way so that we can share the fruit of his work in us.

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Embracing His Glory #12

In this recording Wayne talks about how our following him will lead us to the fullness of joy and the camaraderie of sharing life with Jesus.

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Embracing His Glory #13

In this recording Wayne talks about how following Jesus is less about getting directions all the time as it is learning to think the way Jesus thinks about the people and circumstances we confront.

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Embracing His Glory #14

In this recording Wayne talks about how to negotiate circumstances in our life and the world where God’s glory is yet to be revealed.

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Lifestream #3: How can I live in increasingly trusting Jesus?

One of the greatest freedoms of learning to live loved by the Father is that you’ll find yourself increasingly trusting him. Confident of his love for you, you won’t have to trust your own wisdom or efforts but learn to cooperate with his. He’ll show where your efforts got you off in the weeds and how relying on him changes the course of a circumstance in some surprisingly helpful ways.

Faith or trust is not something you can manufacture on our own. Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of your faith, help it grow by winning you into his reality and inviting you to a growing reliance on his wisdom and power. Every sin and struggle results from trying to grasp for ourselves that which God is not giving us. Why do we do those things? Because we don’t know that he loves us enough to take care of us and provide us with what is good. As our awareness of his love grows, so will our freedom from those things that do us harm.

You will trust someone to the degree that you know they love you. That’s how our faith in Father grows. Circumstances that used to create anxiety and fear will no longer have the same impact on you. Confident that you are loved, you will know his rest even in the most painful of circumstances. We are not alone, and we are not abandoned to our own wisdom or strength. Our peace is not in the certainty of the outcome we want, but knowing that we are his and that he will be sufficient no matter what happens. Now, we’re free to cooperate with him as he guides us through life.

The undercurrent to a lot of my writing is how our trust will grow quite naturally out of learning to live in his love. Here are some resources to help you explore this part of your journey with him:

Key Articles 



Wayne’s Books


For a Deeper Dive

Use the search windows at the top of Lifestream,org and for “faith” and “trust”.  Also, many have written us to say that the articles of the Living Loved Newsletter in chronological order gave them a picture of how God led Wayne through those transformative years when he was just learning how real faith develops in us.

More Lifestream Features

Lifestream 1 - How Can I Live Every Day in Father's Love?
Lifestream 2 - Where Will I Find the Church Jesus is Building?
Lifestream 3 - How Can My Freedom to Trust Jesus Grow?
Lifestream 4 - How Do You Find Such Encouragement in the Bible?
Lifestream 5 - How Can I Live More Generously in a Broken World?

Living in Uncertain Times

What a difference twenty-four hours can make. Last night as I watched at my grandson’s little league game, the coronavirus was still a distant concern. Then, the president spoke, and suddenly major league and college sports teams were postponing their schedules. Cruise lines were canceling their trips; Broadway and Disneyland are closing. Now, it seems, we are taking this seriously.

Of course, the idea is not to stop the spread, which now encircles the globe. Rather, officials want to slow its growth, so that we’ll have enough medical resources to help with those contracting the virus. Scientists have talked about the danger of a pandemic in this highly-mobile world, and it has finally come. Fortunately, this one does not yet appear to be as virulent as worst-case scenarios have imagined, but now we see that it is going to dramatically affect most of our lives.

I’m still not certain at this point what travel I’ll be able to take in the next few weeks or months. Some of us had been planning a gathering in Europe, which may have to be postponed. Time will tell, for sure. I’m all for being cautious and prudent, not only for myself but for people around me that my carelessness might put at additional risk. The best counsel I’ve heard to date came this morning in a conversation with a friend in Ireland. The UK is recommending that if you have a cough or a fever, self-isolate for at least seven days. It may turn out to be nothing, but that’s when you are the most contagious to others, whether you have the coronavirus or the cold or flu. Loving others enough to take that precaution seems minimal at best.

Who knows where all this might lead, other than God himself. John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation hint at plagues that will wipe out one-third of humans on the planet. This virus isn’t near that potent, but it does make me think, “What if?” Is this a birth pang of the Last Day? My heart leaps at the thought. Yes, it would mean a rough ride ahead, but isn’t this what our hearts have longed for—the consummation of this age and a kingdom to come fulfills all God has desired for his creation? Oh, that it is!

I know many people are afraid or at least find the uncertainty of it all disturbing. I am not among them. A long time ago, Jesus began to teach me how little control I had over my own life. I used to find my security in trying to control people and events around me; my inability to do so would cause great anxiety or fear. But ever-so-slowly, Jesus began to invite me into an ever-deepening security in his love and trust in his plans for the world that has allowed me to grow increasingly at rest in times of uncertainty. (Here’s a podcast Brad and I did back in 2009 if you want to taste a bit in the middle of that process.)

Faith is this: our whole life is in his hands—every breath—and he can enfold any circumstance into his purpose in the world. He promised each of us grace enough for each day and told us to look to the birds as encouragement because they live anxiety-free in the Father’s care. So, whether or not my planned trips come off right now or not, how much of a crisis this virus becomes is not in my control. My life is not wrapped up in the stock market curve or in my knowledge of the future. My joy is to wake up on this day, listen for his nudges, and follow his footprints. However he chooses to lead me, fear is not my friend. It will only wrap me into knots and make me respond in ways that will be destructive to me and others around me.

This is the adventure of walking with him, uncertain of what the next circumstance might bring. I’m actually learning to love this, not the tragedies in the world, but the freedom to lean into him through them. Yesterday, someone wrote this about a recent exchange I had with them during a podcast interview, “(He) has a willingness to be profoundly honest about his journey, and this wonderful lilies-and-the-sparrows trust about him which has helped me spiritually exhale more than once over the last month. For a person who’s been so successful in his career (he co-wrote The Shack, for instance), he’s also one of the most generous I’ve met when it comes to his time and his attention.” Man, that is not the Wayne of twenty years ago, but if that’s how my life encourages others right now, I’m overwhelmingly grateful.

You’ve got to know that this freedom has come through a lot of disappointment about what I wanted for my life. I’ve spent hours in fruitless prayers trying to get God to change my circumstances when he was more concerned about changing me in them. I’ve had close friends betray me and lie about me simply to get their own way. I’ve encountered circumstances that have challenged me to the core and drove me more deeply into trusting his care.

All the while, this has become one of my favorite portions of Scripture in times of extremity:

Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. (I Peter 3:22 – 4:2, in The Message)

No, Jesus hasn’t had the last word about everything in my life, or this world. Not yet. I’ve been cheated, shunned, blamed, excluded, and insulted unfairly by people who have taken out their brokenness on me. Right now, it seems that they have had the last word. (By the way, I’ve done my share of that to others, and though I’ve tried to own those moments I’m aware of by apologizing to people, I’m sure there’s more I haven’t yet seen.) In any case, he will get the last word on all of it, and I can only imagine all the healing that will bring into his world.

And I love knowing he has been through everything I’m going through and more. I love Peter’s counsel here. I can see any suffering as an opportunity to let go of more of my plans and to embrace his purpose in the world. Who wouldn’t want to wake up every day free to do what he wants rather than be tyrannized by our own desires? And truthfully, today is no more uncertain than any other day you’ve lived; you’re just more aware of it.  

So, if you find yourself anxious in these times, this may be the best time to have him teach you how to deepen your rest in his love. Every plan we have that is a day out, a week out, or even a year out, may be turned on its head with the next twist of this crisis. This is not the time to grit our teeth and get through the next rush of anxiety, or to beg Jesus to take it away. This is the time to call out to Jesus. Ask him to help you see where fear has a hold to hook its tentacles in you. Live one day at a time and see where grace makes itself known to you. Spend less time trying to get him to change your circumstances and more time leaning into his love so that trust overwhelms fear.

If those who live loved can be fully at rest in seasons of uncertainty, then we can be a rock for others who have no such place to deal with their fear. That’s where God’s glory shines most brightly—when people respond differently than circumstances might dictate.

After all, our circumstances don’t get the last word, Jesus does.

The Prayer of Faith

I received an email last week from someone who had been recently diagnosed with a debilitating disease.  He told me what he was trying with some alternative treatments and with learning to pray in a way that supposedly can command healing.  I don’t think he had read any of my blog, helping Alan and his wife deal with terminal cancer.  If you missed it too, you can read it here.
I know what a scary thing it is to receive a diagnosis like ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis. I’ve had people close to me deal with all of these, and each of them was looking for the secret that would unlock their healing, be it medical, quasi-medical, nutrition, or faith. At times I’ve seen God miraculously heal some of these and know that he has the power to do so. However, that has not always mostly been the case, no matter how hard people tried to get him to do so. He wasn’t sure why he wrote to me, but I wrote him back to share some of my perspective on this. It may be a good summary of my lengthy exchange with Alan as to what people might do when they face something like this and what might James have been referring to when he wrote about “the prayer of faith” in his epistle.
Here was my response: 
I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with this condition. I’m touched that you wanted to share this with me and I will be praying for the unfolding of God’s grace and glory in your life. My heart broke as I read this, but I do know that God is greater still, and that all of your life is in his hands and he will be gracious to you as the days ahead unfold.  I’m not sure why you wrote to me either, but my brother had multiple sclerosis, and my father-in-law had Parkinson’s disease, so your email strikes close to home. I get at least a bit of what you’re facing.  I don’t know if you want my feedback here, but given what you shared I’d feel remiss in not offering some thoughts.
When someone has a debilitating condition like yours, it is easy for desperation to set in and to seek any solution possible, even if it might have less than a 1% hope of healing you or improving your life. Many unscrupulous people (and some well-intentioned ones) will prey on that desperation, with overseas clinics and teaching seminars or books that will try to profit by giving you hope, even if it is a false hope. Both my brother and my father-in-law went to great extremes on the promise of some new cure often at a great personal cost both financially and in pain and discomfort. Other than what appeared to be a small placebo effect that lasted only briefly, none of those attempts panned out. They both tirelessly sought healing at every revival, faith healer, or new healing technique they heard about, again to no effect. They spent most of those years in the frustrating pursuit of a healing that never came, and the disappointment that somehow God didn’t deem them worthy of the miracle they sought. Only toward the end of their lives did they come to rest and trust in the Father’s provision for them.
I do not say any of this to discourage you, so please hear me out. I believe in a God who heals. I’ve seen him heal incredible things and rejoice whenever he does. However, that healing is not in our hands; it’s in his. I don’t know why some are healed in this life and others are refined through their trying circumstances. I am convinced of this, though: we do not have the power to “believe enough” or to “command healing” in any way that will guarantee the outcome we seek. If so, then, in the end, our trust would only be in our own ability to work God enough to get him to give us what we want. I find that characterization of God now to be well beneath him. What kind of Father is that?
I have a Father now that I can trust with anything. The “prayer of faith” doesn’t arise from desperation, but from our growing security in the Father’s affection for us, with or without the disease. Otherwise, the disease over time will become the test of love. I’ve seen it happen to too many people I care about. “If he heals me, I know I’m loved; if not, I am left to question whether he really does.”
I’d rather see you put your trust in him and find your hope there. It’s a process, and he can show you how. He has a way through this for you. It may include healing it completely; it may be working through it to let his glory shine out of your weakness. I have no idea, but if I were you, I’d rather wake up every morning and put my whole life in his hands, asking him to teach me to trust him and to show me whatever his plans might be for me. Then I can watch to see how he works in my life as each day unfolds. Then there will be grace enough to endure what comes and to celebrate his life, however he makes himself known. By all means, do the medical things that are clear to do, but don’t get caught up in the lie that there is a certain process you need, a specific prayer to be prayed, a level of belief you have to reach that will turn the tide and finally get God to heal you. So many people waste their lives on such pursuits and miss what God is doing right in front of them today—the people he gives you to love, the wisdom he wants you to share with another, or the way he’s expressing his love to you.
If there is something he wants you to learn or a way to pray that will make a difference, trust him to show you and to guide you to it. You will best see that out of growing trust, not the desperation of “I have to do something, even if there’s a small chance it will work.” Or, the fear that if I don’t try something, it may have been the key that I needed.  These are fear-based and will have you chasing the false hope of a mirage on the horizon.
He loves you. That you can trust. You can learn to rest in that reality and trust him to lead you however he most desires your path to unfold, and in that space, you’ll be able to see more clearly how he is with you in this.
The prayer of faith arises from growing trust in God’s ability, in his plans even if I can’t see them, and in his care for me whether it be in healing or endurance. I’ve seen people powerfully transformed by both. That’s what trust does, instead of us having to find the key to make God do what we desire, we find the freedom to ride the current with him to whatever end best serves his purpose on the earth.
I used to say, “I trust you, God, to heal this or change that.” I don’t anymore. If I’m trusting God for an outcome, I’m not really trusting him. I can trust him without even knowing the outcome and live in the grace and leading he gives me day by day. I’m praying you do, too.

An Untapped Resource

I got to spend the weekend and then a three-hour drive with my dad this week. I realize I’m incredibly privileged to have a father like him. He was the epitome of character, integrity, graciousness, and willingness to follow God even at great risk to relationships he treasured.  I watched him be lied about by close friends and not defend himself, to be called names because he wouldn’t conform to what others wanted. This was not only my father according to the flesh, but also he is my father in the faith, setting the example of a man who would carve out time in his life to cultivate a closer relationship to Jesus, to listen to him, and to do whatever he put on his heart.

Spending time with my dad and talking over things we’re both thinking about and struggling with, is better than any book I can read, any conference I could attend, or any counselor I’d know. It is a rich, rich time that helps center my heart, shift my priorities, and adds nuggets of wisdom to my own journey.

After I dropped my dad off, I spent a few hours with another friend, Dave Coleman, who was my co-author on So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I enjoy time with Dave in the same way and with the same results. Between those two men in a single day, I gleaned over 170 years of experience of learning to know who Jesus is and and how to follow him. What an outstanding resource they both are! And, I know many more like them all over the world—men and women  in their 70s, 80s and 90s—who have been seasoned in walk with Jesus and picked up some amazing lessons along the way. Yet, they spend countless hours at home, alone. Few people come to visit, to ask questions, to not only offer them company but draw from their fountain of wisdom as well. And, I don’t just mean about spiritual things. These people know how to raise families, run businesses, cultivate healthy relationships, and put the welfare of others above their own.

In fact, after I left Dave’s, I met with some others who know him. They asked me how he was doing. It seemed so absurd to me. I live 250 miles away and they ask me how someone is doing who lives down the street from them. “He lives right here, you know?” I asked comically, though, I was also making a point. I know Dave would love to spend time with any of them, and they would all go away, enlightened and encouraged.

A few years ago I met with Jack Gray, a ninety-year-old in New Zealand, whose life and wisdom in Christ I’ve come to appreciate deeply. The man who drove me to that appointment joined in our conversation and after I came back home, he got a few more friends and went over to visit again and continues to, because of how helpful it has been to them. Jack told me those conversations have revitalized him and he looks forward to every one.

To its detriment, our culture has diminished the wisdom of age. Yes, I know many people grow old, bitter and more reclusive, but many others don’t. It’s as if we put their vast resources of wisdom and compassion on a shelf and ignore it, all the while trying to find the right book or speaker that might give us the wisdom we think we need. Don’t fall for it. There are brothers and sisters right around you that have what you seek and would love to help you discover a great life in Jesus. And you won’t just get platitudes or principles, but a living example and the honesty of their struggle.

If you know one of them, just invite them to lunch, or ask if you might visit. Get to know them and see what treasures spill out of their heart. If you don’t know what to talk about, here are some suggestions:

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned on your journey?

What are you thinking about these days?

What’s the best advice you ever received about marriage (or business, or relationships, or discipleship)?

Tell me some ways God has made himself known to you?

What has been the hardest thing for you to entrust to God?

I promise you, you’ll make their day.  And yours too!

Letting God’s Plans Unfold

Many of you know we are trying to make a movie of the story of Jake and John in So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. We announced two years ago that we were going to make an opportunity for people to give towards this as a way to have some “passion” money alongside the investment money. I’m grateful for the many of you who responded. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive enough to begin production right away. My producer has been looking elsewhere for the necessary funds, which has been made all the more difficult by Amazon and Netflix scooping up the independent projects to create their own original content. It has changed the available money for making small, independent films.

Interestingly enough, on my recent trip east a couple of people asked me about the movie and where we are in the process. After catching one of them up, they simply commented, “I think the time is now.”

Honestly, I have no sense of that. Converting this story into a movie has always been a long-shot in my mind, as much as I’d love to see it done. I do what I can to help it along, but I know many projects get as far as we have that don’t make it into final production. Getting the right people and the money to the starting line at the same time is quite an endeavor.

So, I was surprised when my producer wanted to talk this week. He told me that he had a recent conversation with another filmmaker who was also asking about this project. At the end of it, that friend said to my producer, “Relax. This will get done. Projects like this have their own time.”

“The time is now,” my producer found himself answering, to his own surprise.

When he told me that, I told him the conversation I had the previous week and he said, “I’m bursting out with goose bumps all over here.”

I love how God’s work gently unfolds in our lives. I’ve come to trust it over my own plotting and scheming. I know the frustration of asking God to give me wisdom about something I wanted to do and then feel as if he’s gone silent. Looking back, I now see that I was asking God to give me a strategy so I could work toward the outcome I desired. God didn’t go silent; he just didn’t have an answer for that. So, when he didn’t say what I wanted to hear it was easy to make up a process in my own head and attach his name to it. That is a futile road, for sure. When he didn’t honor my process, I felt even more abandoned.

But now, I’ve been won in to different space, knowing that God’s will for us unfolds in the circumstances of life. We want a strategy to implement; he wants a relationship where he will walk with us. I’m convinced that the best way for God NOT to get me where he wants me in six months, is to tell me. I’ll actually try to get there for him and mess it all up. But if I’ll just follow him today, and again tomorrow, six months from now I’ll be right where he wants me to be. Almost everything I’m involved in now was not part of my planning, but I wouldn’t trade how God has fulfilled the passions he put in me for anything I’d envisioned in the past. I love being in the moment with him, free to respond to the opportunities that come, rather than trying to claw my way to the destination I desire.

Even the cover art (see picture above), which was a gift from someone I didn’t even know, who lived in Chicago at the time, conveys that same reality. Some people thought the book didn’t offer enough “how-tos” at the end, but it wasn’t meant to. The invitation was to an adventure with him down the road less traveled, rather than a new methodology to try and create his church in our image.

I meet too many young people who are trying to strategize a new way of doing ministry. It’s an exhausting road with little real kingdom fruit. I encourage them to draw close to the Master and let him guide them through the circumstances that come their way. Rather than trying to impose our will, we get to flow with his as it winds through the circumstances and opportunities of life. Then we’ll find ourselves being fruitful in ways we’d never imagined and watch him open doors we could never have contrived. It’s slower this way, to be sure, but it is a more joyful and fruitful way to live.

Part of that phone call with my producer this week was to let me know he thinks he’s found a path to get us to that elusive starting line. A fortuitous experience working with another film crew has opened up some new options. I can’t say more than that now, but it will still take people with passion, both on the casting and production side as well as the money side. But this looks far more hopeful than it looked a few months ago.

For those of you interested in the movie, we made a video two years ago to let people know what we were doing. You can view it here:

The budget is currently estimated at $2 million. While we have had, and will continue to have, conversations with both conventional movie and private investors, we also want to include people who have a passion for the story. That will give us a seat at the table to help protect its message. So we’ve come up with the idea of raising funds through Lifestream. Not only will that give you a tax-deductible receipt, but give Lifestream a stake in the movie. If it generates a profit, our share of return will go to help fund our various projects around the world.

Click here to SEE LOOKBOOK Click the button here to view a copy of our Lookbook. In the industry it’s a representation of the movie we want to make and a feel for how it will look.

If you’d like to be involved with us financially, please scroll down to the bottom of this page for giving and reward options.

The Things God Says

Often I hear people say that God doesn’t speak to them. I never believe it. He’s been whispering his reality into your heart since you first took breath, it’s just that we’ve gotten used to listening to other voices until his fades into the background of our own fears and anxieties. The ubiquitous noise of our culture drown him out and the lies of religion have us looking for an accuser’s voice that we’re not enough, rather than the tenderness of the Abba’s voice.

Learning to quiet the noise and hear his heartbeat again is one of the great joys of this journey. Discovering that some of those thoughts running around your head are not you talking to you, but are addressed to you by someone who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will. It helps to know what to look for. If you’re looking for accusation, condemnation, and disappointment, you’ll miss him. His are words of endearment, comfort, wisdom, and life! Yes, they may be challenging, but in a way that invites us into a greater reality, not that makes us despise ourselves.

Many have heard him who just haven’t recognized him yet. It may help to know some of the kinds of things God says. Over the years people have told me stories of recognition and freedom that came when they heard him speak to them. I love the things he says to people that are illuminating and liberating at the same time.

Here are a few of the examples I’ve heard:

  • To someone lost in a temptation or addiction, “What are you doing? This isn’t who you are.
  • To someone complaining about difficult circumstances, “You talk to me as if I am your adversary.”
  • To someone drowning in feelings of abandonment, “I wish you knew how much I love you.”
  • To someone with overextended commitments, “I didn’t ask you to do any of this.”
  • To someone being battered by religious leaders, “They are not your shepherds. I’m your shepherd and I will never treat you like that.”
  • Dealing with criticism and judgments of others: “What they think about you doesn’t define you.”
  • To someone finding new freedom not to react out of their flesh, “I really enjoy you this way.”

This little two-minute video illustrates this all so perfectly as comedian Michael, Jr. talks about his baby hearing his voice for the first time. Watch the recognition and the immediate change in his newborn daughter. (Sorry about the ad!) And listen to what he is quite naturally saying to her in her disoriented fears.

If you knew Father was whispering similar things in your heart today, wouldn’t it change everything? “Daddy is right here. Everything will be OK. I love you.”

That’s what he is saying to you, whether you can hear it or not. Be still. Find a quiet place. Listen. Lean into the reality of his love, not the lies of our culture or your religious heritage.

Stupid Teachings About Prayer

 Just when you think bad theology has exhausted itself, it pokes up its ugly head yet again.  This came in an email this week:

(Can you help me with) the faith teaching that goes down the road of “Don’t claim that!” and “Just repeat God’s word over and over.” and “We don’t confess that!” and all the teaching that makes it sound like we’ve got to muster up all this faith and if we speak it enough we’ll somehow have it and all that speaking will change us and give us power.  This has always bothered me – been there, heard the message, ran the other way a long time ago! But as it’s fresh on my mind thanks to some class notes for an upcoming summer study being left out in the copy room at my office. I’ve looked over them and the meter is screaming in the red.

My response:  As far as your question about prayer, I think this stuff is NUTS!  There is now right or wrong way to pray.  Prayer is not a technique or incantation. Our confidence in prayer is not based on what we are saying or not saying, but the One we are communing with as we simply lean in to being vessels to let his love and power flow through us as HE desires.

Then this came form someone else:

I heard someone speaking the other day about praying for the sick.  He mentioned that he had a sister with cancer, and they prayed, but unfortunately, she still passed away.  He then learned a lot about prayer, and different kinds of prayer, and realized they had been praying the “wrong way”.  He had another sister fall ill with terminal cancer, they prayed for her, and half an hour later, she was healed. The question is.  Do you believe there is a wrong way to pray for people?  Or a way that we can pray that guarantees healing?  It kind of goes against what I feel in my heart, but it’s really twisting my brain. Thought I’d see what you think about it! I’ve been in prayer asking God to show me his heart on prayer.

And now he has a book or ministry to sell with this bait that people can finally get the miracle they want from God by using his secret technique.  I hate this kind of teaching, built of an experience that may or may not even be true, but even if it is, it does not prove his premise. Bad teachings about prayer prey on the most vulnerable among us—those with a desperate need and will jump through whatever prayer hoop someone gives them even if there’s less than a 1% chance it will help.  No one wants to be left out of a miracle if there’s just one more thing they can do that will finally get the answer they want from God.

But this kind of teaching doesn’t draw us into true faith at all.  In fact, it disfigures God by making him our tool to manipulate. Do you remember the kids game we used to play where someone asks for something and says, “Please.”  Then, to be mean we said, “Say, ‘Pretty Please.'”  They do that and then we add “Say, ‘Pretty please with sugar on top,'”  and it continues. Unfortunately that’s how some people view God. He would like to help, but will withhold his blessing until they say all the right words, in the right order, with the right amount of “faith.” And when he doesn’t act, they blame themselves and keep desperately seeking for the formula that will compel him to give us our miracle.

Throw all that baloney out. Anything that makes God a miserly Father making us jump through hoops is absurd. If you think God is more inclined to heal a child’s cancer if one million people on Facebook offer a prayer for him than two or three placing that need before him, you have no idea who the God is. If you’re struggling with a need and think there’s a special way to pray that God will have to answer, then you’re using prayer as an incantation not real communion with him.  You will exhaust yourself trying to earn your miracle and in the process only grow more frustrated with God and yourself.

Jesus taught us that all God needs in prayer is a heart that seeks what’s true, a simple expression of our desire, a persistence that allows your trust in the Father’s care to grow, and the passion to see his glory fulfilled above your own convenience . From there he will do whatever is best for you and that may not be to answer your prayer the way you want.  Just remember, he cares more for you than you do yourself and he has plans unfolding that you cannot comprehend. So if your miracle happens, awesome!  If it doesn’t, then assume something greater is going on than you can see, and just keep walking with him through whatever challenge lies before you.  If there’s something more he wants to show you, trust him to do so without your frantic need to find it on your own.

That’s all any of us need to do to live in the unfolding reality of his glory, whether or not things work out the way we want.  We are deeply loved by a generous Father and that’s enough to take us through anything.

When Scripture Terrifies Me

I realize a lot of well-meaning people think that fear will endear people to God. They pull out any passage that can be interpreted to terrify people, thinking that fear will lead people to holiness. Well-meaning perhaps, but horribly ignorant of the Gospel itself.  Jesus taught us that only love leads to holiness. Fear will not draw people to God. It will either draw them away from him, or it will make them so focused on their failures that they can’t find mercy and grace when they need it most.

The entire Bible story was written to draw people out of their fear and feelings of condemnation when they think of God, to see him as a loving Father drawing them into his love and his reality.  Look at Jesus. When he was among us he was not terrifying people with his power, but reaching out to them “as harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” I am so sick of religious teachers twisting that story by pulling out those moments where God has to intrude into human history to preserve a line of salvation and concluding that they define his nature. His actions are still one intent on rescue, not destruction.

A few days ago I received an email from Germany written by a young woman who finds some of the more ominous passages in Scripture undermines her freedom to trust God’s love.  Here’s what she wrote:

I emailed you last year shortly after reading your book He Loves Me the first time. I love your book! Since I read it,  I am trying to change my perspective and “live loved”. I really want to live my life for God and do His will without fear.  But I have a problem with different fears since I am a child. Right now, I am seeing a therapist for it (he`s not a Christian) and we are working on it. I think God is working on me, too. I realize His love especially through brothers and sisters that I meet and circumstances. However, there are still great fears in me  because of passages in the Bible that I do not understand. They really disturb me and make it harder for me to believe in a loving Father.

The passages I am talking about are where God hardens the heart of Pharaoh, Romans 9, the story of Annanias and Sapphira, God trying to kill Moses, God saying he loves Jacob but hates Esau, the fate of Judas, the passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus warns that not everyone calling on His name will be saved, and some passages in Hebrews. Reading all these passages create a fear in me that God may choose to harden my heart as well, or suddenly punish me one day or make me “an object of his wrath — prepared for destruction” (Romans 9) – for I know that there are still dark sides in my heart, that I am far from perfect, and not obedient all the time. I really fear that I might get lost or loose my faith one day, that God chooses to do so because of my sins & doubts.

In this regard, I thought about Judas a lot. Did he ever had a chance? Was he meant to get lost since the day of his birth?  And finally, how do I know I am a “real believer” and do not have to fear Jesus warnings in Matthew 7?

I am often telling myself Bible verses that speak of Gods love and that I do not have a Spirit of fear. I also think of your words that fear never does make anyone holy. I talked to some Christian friends about my fears and they said that we will never understand God completely and that I just have to trust & obey him. They said that “nobody can take me out of His hand”, but I wonder, is that true? What about my doubts and sins – can they not take me out of His hand?  I am really trying to learn to trust God but whenever I think of those passages I feel discouraged and fearful. These fears make me doubt God and in the end, I do not only feel awful because of my fears, but also because of my doubts, which in turn increase the fear again that God leaves me/hardens me because of my doubts, and thus, this becomes an endless circle.

I am telling God about my struggles often and ask Him often to give me a trustful, fear-free heart, but obviously, it does not happen yet. I am telling myself that He is still working on me but sometimes I fail to believe that.  How can I loose my doubts and fears and trust God whole-heartedly, knowing that He will not leave me?

It’s easy to understand why these passages cause such concern. It’s just like the alcoholic father who comes home and beats his wife and kids.  He may only do it every few months, but if he does it at all, his family will live on pins and needles always afraid when he comes home that this might be the angry dad. I hate that religion has made our God look like that and creates an environment where people have to either totally trust God or be terrified of him. It isn’t honest and it causes paralyzing fear in people God simply wants to invite to know him better as he teaches them how to live in his love and grow in their trust.

Here’s what I wrote back to this young woman.  Perhaps it will be helpful to others of you as well:

There are many more passages (even in the Old Testament) about God’s “lovingkindness is better than life”, where his faithfulness is great, and where his love endures forever.  You’re pulling out the most extreme circumstances and applying them in ways they were not meant to. Of course it would take a while to drill down into all of those stories and explain what’s really going on there as a loving Father is trying to keep creation from falling into complete darkness and preserving his work of redemption in the world. His actions in these moments are like a surgeon removing a cancer that will spread, than an abusive dad blowing up in his anger. I recorded a video series (8 hours +) to help people work through all of this.  I know that is a lot of time, but it is at least free.  It’s called The Jesus Lens and seeks to help people interpret passages like these through the eyes of Jesus.  It will help, but I realize it will take some time.

Part of the problem may be that you feel as if you must trust God whole-heartedly and never have doubt.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  But it is also unrealistic.  God wins us into ever-deepening layers of trust as we grow more secure in his love. Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith, because we can’t do it on our own.  We all have doubts and God does not reject us for it.  Instead he wants to be invited into our doubts, where we can pray, “What is it about your love God, that if I understood it, I would not have this doubt.”  This is a journey out of fear and doubt into love and trust.  It is a lifetime journey. You can relax in this process as he teaches you.  Look at Jesus’ patience with the disciples when they kept misunderstanding what he was about.  He gently kept inviting them in closer so they could relax in his love.

Don’t try to completely trust him.  Just trust him today as much as you can. Be honest about your doubts and know that he sees you as his beloved daughter and he wants to teach you how to respond to his love and grow in trust.

I don’t believe Judas was condemned at birth.  God might have known the choices he mad,e but he was not forced int to hem. Scripture makes clear that God always responds to the slightest attempts to look to him and follow him.  Focus on those passages that demonstrate his magnificent love.  Those that provoke fear, ignore for a time. Ask God to show you what’s really going on there in his time. But know that his perfect love casts out fear.  Fear will not serve you today in any way God wants access to your life.  Fear drives us from him not toward him.  He doesn’t need it.  You don’t need it.  Your heart is his or you wouldn’t write the things you write here.

How will you know?  Look to him. Watch how Jesus treats the people around him, especially those who are struggling to believe him. Listen to your own heart as his Spirit lets you know how the Father feels about you. You don’t have to trust what others say, or sort through competing conclusions from Scripture. Simply knowing him will make it absolutely clear to you.

I pray you will have the freedom to relax in his love. Walk in it where you see it today. Let the passages you do understand shape your heart, and put those you don’t understand on a shelf until God makes them clear to you.  Do so again tomorrow and you’ll find your freedom growing.

How Healing Grows

I love when healing comes suddenly, quickly and completely. God does that, but not nearly as often as many seem to think. This false expectation may be the result of too many altar calls where people come forward for prayer in hope that that alone will fix the probelm. Many go away feeling better, but when they wake up the next morning with the same brokenness they end up condemning themselves for not believing enough or going back home and “losing their healing”.

This theme kept coming up in many of the conversations I had on my last trip. I met so many people disappointed, confused, and frustrated that they can’t seem to find the freedom in God they so desperately seek. As I listened, however, It seemed so many of them were caught up in the expectation of immediacy and missing the progress God was making in their heart and mind. Any evidence of the ongoing struggle seemed to sidetrack them, assuming God was not at work. Instead of growing in hope, they give in to despair because their healing wasn’t immediate and it caused them to wonder if God was neglecting them or if they were preventing it somehow.

As I’ve watched many people come to greater freedom and emotional healthy over the years, I am more convinced than ever that for most people healing is a process. That’s because God is not just taking a problem away, he’s transforming how we think and live from the inside. Most pain comes from within us, not the circumstance we blame it on. Those circumstances may have started it, but it lives on in us because of our unworthy thoughts about God our ourselves. Healing comes by transforming our false thoughts about him and ourselves, or freeing us from the false security we get from some of our coping mechanisms.  And that takes time.

So rather than get discouraged when it isn’t completed yet, we can continue to embrace him in the transforming process that will not only bring us freedom, but a transformed way to live as well.

What I look for in this process is not immediacy, but growing freedom. So however your brokenness is exposed, either by anxiety, distress, fear, hurt, bad memories, hurtful feelings or anything else, just keep leaning into God’s reality. As you do you’ll find the pain…

  • will grow less intense,
  • then will last a shorter duration,
  • and finally we will find longer gaps between those cycles of pain.

Converesely, you will find times of joy growing in the same way.  Moments of joy and freedom…

  • will come more often,
  • then they will last longer,
  • and finally they will grow more real.

That’s what the renewing of the mind actually looks like. I’ve been through this process with a number of people and it is always a joy to watch.  If they are only focused on it ending, they will never see it and grow more and more discouraged. If they can see the process, which is where cheerleading friends and spouses come in, then they will be encouraged by the process until times of pain become increasingly distant and eventually impotent.

How we help is by being less obsessed with our own healing, by learning to enjoy him each day and seeing what he has for us rather than trying to get him to do what we want. Then we will be able to trust him to complete it in the best possible way and be able to cooperate with him.

Leaning Into the Light: Ellen’s Story

This is a compelling story. I received it in an email last week as someone wanted me to know how much some of my things had touched them. But it is so much more than that. This is the honest struggle of someone who has grown up in a legalistic tradition, finding their way into what it means to live in his love. And it’s still in process even after six years. I love that. So many people want easy fixes and quick answers, but this journey really unfolds by simply following the nudges in her heart even if she didn’t understand them or they seemed scandalous, like buying a potentially heretical book from WalMart. It keeps unfolding by sorting through yet unanswered questions or not being sidetraced even by a cancer diagnosis.  

With her permission, I share it with you. I love hearing how people are finding their way into the light and into Father’s freedom.  I love her honesty, the reality of her struggle, and the freedom not to get to answers more quickly than Jesus gives them.  I hope it encourages you wherever you are on your journey.

It’s been 6 years since I first read So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore followed by He Loves Me! a year later, and The Shack a few years after that. Even before I read the first book, God had been stirring in my heart. In the year previous to reading So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, I was startled to realize that I didn’t really know what Jesus taught. I had been a Christian since I was 11, but the church I was a part of spoke so little of the life Jesus lived and held out to us. I didn’t know the kind of life He wanted me to live. I didn’t know the truth He taught. I didn’t know him, period.

That realization began an in depth study of the Gospels, and what I read startled and scared me. My first reading and study of the Gospels showed me how far away I was, how far away the church group I was a part of was from the life He portrayed. Coming from a fear-based religion, that realization only terrified me as I keenly realized that I did not measure up! Everything was so far away and so twisted: pride, power-hungry leaders, top-heavy organization, fear, and rules. I dimly saw that my life needed a radical change, regardless of what happened around me, but I had no idea where to start. The journey to change started with a prayer: “God, I don’t know what You are calling me to, but something in my life and the religion around me is radically wrong. I don’t know what this will require of me, but I want to know You at any cost.” I prayed that prayer with fear and trembling because I knew that such a prayer, prayed with sincerity and faith, will be answered. And I knew enough of God’s ways and my humanness to know that the journey could be long and convoluted. But I was exhausted with the life I had known until then.

Soon after, I stopped by the bookshelves at my local Walmart, as I did occasionally, to peruse the Christian/religious titles on display. The book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore was there. Out of curiosity, I picked it up. Two hours later, after having skimmed 3/4 of it while standing in the aisle leaning on my shopping cart, I put the book back on the shelf and walked away. The book was shocking, but mentally had me saying, “Yes! YES! These are the questions I’ve been asking and the things I’ve been struggling with!” However, according to the teaching I’d received in church, the book was practically heresy! Did I dare? Was it even Biblical? I did the rest of my shopping, returned to the shelf, put the book in my cart, and then put it back on the shelf, and left. For the next few weeks I chewed on the startling thoughts I had gleaned. Finally, one day I returned to that Walmart and picked up the book, determined to read it through and discover for myself whether this was truth or heresy. So I continued my study of the Gospels, simultaneously reading So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I read, and I underlined, and I highlighted, and I made notes and I compared the book with the truth before me in the Scriptures.

I remember the moment my life changed. One morning, while reading and praying over chapter 3, I read this sentence: “There’s not one thing you can do to make Him love you any more today; and there’s not one thing you can do to make him love you any less, either. He just loves you.” I sat there, absolutely stunned, as all the lightbulbs came on and flashed neon. He loves me! HE LOVES ME! He loves me like that. No wonder I was so frustrated! No wonder I lived in such fear! No wonder I was terrified at all the commands I thought I was missing! No wonder my struggle with addictions got nowhere! I was trying to earn His love when I already had it! Not a single thing I could do would change His love one iota!

That was when it all changed for me. Oh, it wasn’t instantaneous! Far from it! But it was the start of my journey into the Father’s love, an amazing journey that will never end until I reach glory. There’s been so much stumbling, and learning, and growing, and changing. Since then, the journey has been largely unexpected and startling and painful and glorious all at the same time.

I’m still a part of the “church” organization I was 6 years ago when it all began. I’ve been deeply saddened, often dissatisfied, often frustrated, but so far, I’m still here, largely because I have not felt that nudge from Father saying, “I have another place for you to be.” I often think to what you said in So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. “If he were asking you to leave today, I think you’d know that. If he hasn’t made it clear to you, then wait.” So I’ve kept waiting, meanwhile seeking to live the life He wants me to live where I am.

However, the longer I am on this journey, the more my “yuck meter” goes off lately. How do I stay in a broken organization when it takes 4 days to recover from the dose of fear and and commandments preached every Sunday? How do I stay when all around I see Christians living in fear and my heart breaks? How do I stay when what I hear on a Sunday morning is so far away from the full life the Father gives us? How do I stay when the real connections occur over Chinese eaten at a local restaurant and not in the stilted atmosphere of the Sunday service? I attend Sunday services as little as possible, attending just enough to escape reprimand for my lack of attendance, but even the little I attend is difficult, and I draw a breath of relief when I’m home again. My inner life is so disconnected from the part of the body of Christ I’ve identified with that it’s harder and harder to stay. Living with a “yuck meter” that is way off the charts is an uncomfortable place to be. I’ve been asking Father about how he wants me to live in his family. The hard part is to not look for “the” answer but to follow his pull on my heart.

One of the “convoluted” ways that God has led me over the past 6 years has been my cancer diagnosis for the last 3 1/2 years. My cancer has relapsed multiple times. I’m doing chemo for the 3rd time, radiation and a stem cell transplant already behind me. Cancer, one of the diseases that strikes fear into most people, has been an amazing journey into the Father’s affection, an amazing gift, even on the hard days. My cancer has been a unique way for me to speak of the journey Father has led me on. I was startled to learn how few of the Christians around me live with the deep assurance I have of the Father’s love for me. I was startled how many are actually afraid to die because they were scared they didn’t measure up and therefore think they aren’t worthy of heaven. I was saddened that they didn’t see death as simply a “going Home” as I do because the blood of Jesus has brought us home to Father. I was surprised how many were amazed at my honesty about the struggle of living God’s full life in the hard things of cancer and pain and the unknowns, and then I realized how little the “church” organization speaks honestly about life and the daily learning and struggle and joy of it all. Instead, we all are to present these facades that we are “good Christians” and the deep pain and struggles and questions and fears never get spoken of. It does make me laugh a little because many of the views I hold about “church” are seen as nearly heretical if I speak about them, but those same people who think it is heresy envy the relationship with Father I live in every day.

Have I stumbled? Have I sometimes lost sight of the glory of it all when it all just gets too much? Has my faith sometimes limped? Have I cried? Have I honestly “had it out” with Father during the hard times? Have I been afraid? Am I still very broken and in need of so much more change and healing? Yes, to all of those. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am His child and nothing can change that. What matters is that He is never done with me and what lies before can only be better yet than anything He has led me to. What matters is that when I stumble, He is carrying me and I never lose His presence, even when I’m too human or too exhausted to feel it. What matters is that this life isn’t dependent on me and how well I do it, but on Him and His life in me. What matters is that, life or death, I am secure.

All this to simply say thank you! Thank you for allowing the Father to use you and your writing as a catalyst for change in my life. Thank you for providing some of the signposts along the way. Thank you for the honest conversations in the books and blogs I’ve read and the podcasts I’ve listened to.

May Father continue to lead you, Ellen, as you awaken into the reality of the new creation as it keeps stirring in you. And I pray that as well for everyone touched by these words and seeking to follow the nudgings of the Spirit as he works in you.



If you’d like, you can reach Ellen here.