Living Loved Newsletter

Newsletter from LifeStream – Living Loved. Includes downloadable PDFs, and translations to other languages.

To Trust or Not to Trust

To Trust or Not to Trust

by Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • February 1996

Sara and I had spent almost a week among them. Invited to teach, we were also learning as we watched the simplicity of fellowship, worship and growth that this group of believers shared together. Finally, late one evening while sitting by the fire with some of their key people we got to ask our questions about the life they shared together.

“How do you teach believers to trust each other?” Sara asked.

By the facial reactions around the room, you’d have thought Sara might as well have asked them if they sacrificed animals. They glanced at one another, and shook their heads as if to say, “You really don’t get it, do you?” I was taken back. We had witnessed their honesty, their openness, their service to each other. Surely they worked on trust.

One finally spoke, “Where does the Word teach us to put our trust in men?”

I started probing the deep recesses of my mind whirling through every Scripture I could recall. I couldn’t come up with any Scripture to answer the question.

How could this be? Much of what I taught about the power of Christian community was to help people see how much they need each other, and assist them in building the kind of trusting relationships that would allow them to share God’s life together. But I knew, and most of those I’ve taught also knew that this trust always breaks down. We are imperfect people after all, who will make mistakes, fail each other especially at critical moments which is why churches often leave a wake of broken people.

But isn’t community based on trust? I’ve probed that question often since our encounter almost 8 months ago. Our last issue of BodyLife dealt with the trust we can have in the Father through the faith Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Now let’s take a look at the implications of the cross in our relationships with other believers.

Why Didn’t Jesus Do it?

It’s probably the most difficult question I’ve ever been asked whenever I’ve taught on community. “Why do we have to trust others if Jesus didn’t?” I’ve been asked that twice both of them referring to the same Scripture:

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (John 2:24-25)

On both occasions I mumbled something about Jesus’ superior wisdom and that no one was able to understand his death on the cross until after it was over anyway.

But even at the time the question bugged me. If Jesus didn’t trust men because he knew what was in them, why would he ask us to? But the only models I knew for body life were those where people were trying to trust each other.

I didn’t stop at the time to realize it was also the common denominator in those who had been deeply hurt by past church experiences. They had trusted others only to see them turn on them whenever their struggles, needs or gifts didn’t fit the prevailing agenda.

So as believers, are we or are we not to trust each another?

Turning to the Word

Three words continue to crop up in most teaching regarding the importance of church life: commitment, accountability and trust. These are used to describe the kind of life that brothers and sisters ought to share together. I’ve used them often to help people see the great value that body life can be to them.

‘Commitment’ is not used at all in the New Testament, though its root, ‘commit’ is. Interestingly enough it is overwhelmingly used to talk about committing sin, as in committing adultery. Only in the Old Testament can we find references about committing our ways to the Lord. Two references in the New Testament describe committing people to the grace of God. All of these, however, are clearly directed at the Father and his work, nothing spoke of being committed to each other or to the church.

Likewise our ‘accountability’ in Scripture is only directed at God. We are not accountable to the local church, to its leaders, or even to other brothers and sisters. Paul specifically exempted himself from such thinking: “To me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you; in fact, I don’t even examine myself. The one who examines me is the Lord.” (I Cor. 4:4-5)

Though there are extensive references to trusting and believing throughout the Word, I couldn’t find one where we are encouraged to let another believer be the object of our trust. We are told to love each other, pray for each other, bear each other’s burdens, forgive each other, serve each other, stimulate each other to love and good deeds, be kind to one another and many other such things, but we are never told to trust one another. All references to trust and belief are firmly and exclusively directed to God. If he is the one in which all of our trust is invested, what do we have left over to give to another believer?

Interesting isn’t it? Words we consider critical building blocks to body life are not even part of the
foundation that Jesus laid for the church. In fact, these are the concepts that the church has historically used to bind people to its programs and agendas, as in, “Don’t you trust the leadership here?” “If you’re going to grow you need to be committed to what God is doing among us.” “You’ve got to be plugged in somewhere so you can be accountable.”

Jesus only gave us two directives: Love God and love each other. Doing that, we will fulfill all his ambitions for our lives.

Institutional Words

So why are these words so commonly used in the church today? Commitment, accountability and trust are all words that deal with institutions, and are necessary for the survival of any institution. It is what allows people to find identity and cooperation.

Regretfully many people don’t have an accurate distinction in their minds about the church as God sees it and the institutions that have sprung up around it. We think of them as the same thing.

God sees one church that encompasses every believer in every corner of the world. He sees that not in its institutional failures, or the weaknesses of its leaders or adherents, but as the bride he is preparing for his Son. He views the church with great affection, desire and adoration. Gene Edwards, author of Tale of Three Kings, has taken to calling the church, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” I love that description and understanding it from that perspective will keep us from growing cynical and sarcastic about that which God loves so much.

But that is not the same thing as the organizations, buildings and meetings we call ‘church’ today. Wherever believers gather and seek to work together an institution springs up around it. That’s what allows the group to organize, collect and spend money and make decisions. Leaders are almost always selected who provide certain ‘services’ for the members. That’s been true for 1900 years and will probably be true up to his coming.

Men need institutions to function. Those institutions can be good, releasing the Lord’s life and power among a group of people, or they can become self-serving seeking to use the institution as the extension of their own power needs or the means to their own comfort.

If church history teaches us anything it does demonstrate that while the institution that surrounds the church has often been helpful in preserving history, serving needs, testing orthodoxy and preaching the gospel, it also too often lets the institution overrun the life of God within it. You can always see that when a church battles over ‘what’s right’ in nonessential matters instead of focusing on being right with each other in love and forgiveness.

Church renewal is often only letting believers re-discover what they had in the beginning, before the institution organized it to death. As such, the church often becomes a substitute in people’s lives for a dynamic relationship with the Father. It happens so subtly that few are aware of it. We get so busy maintaining the program and meeting needs that we adjust to the waning life of the Spirit by increasing the institution. When it does we emphasize commitment and accountability.

The Father’s Community

Our attempts to make other believers, or worse yet a church institution, the object of our trust, our commitment or our accountability is to place it in the role that has been reserved for the Father alone. That sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? God has invited us to something so much better.

From the dawn of creation to Jesus’ death on the cross, the Father’s plan has always been to invite us into the fullness of relationship that he shares with himself. Since before time The Father, Son and Spirit have shared absolute joy, love, life, glory, power and wisdom without any thought of one being exalted over the other. God is a community and wherever he manifests his presence he builds community.

That’s the hunger that stirs in people’s hearts who desire to know the Father. It isn’t necessarily for all the trappings of church life today, but to know the community of the Trinity, and be able to share that journey with fellow travelers who are learning to follow the Lord.

That’s the connection Jesus was making with his disciples in the upper room in John 14-17. He wanted them to transfer the friendship he had with them to the Father and the Spirit, and with himself on the other side of the resurrection. “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us.” (John 17:21)

In exactly the same way the Father and Son shared life and love, he wanted to share with them as well. We get to experience their life, love, sharing joy and wisdom. Jesus identified that community as the basis by which believers would find their unity and their ability to demonstrate his glory to the world. It doesn’t thrive on our trust in each other, but our faith in the Father. The former will leave us hurt and bitter when we fail. The latter will allow us to know God in ever-increasing fullness, and touching that it will be impossible for us to contain his life and love.

Body Life, Father Style

Almost without trying the Father’s love in us will spill out causing us to ‘one another’ believers with love, prayer, forgiveness, insight, money, help and anything else others might need that we have.

Only out of that fullness and our trust in God to fill our own needs will we be able to share without any expectation for others to reciprocate, or any desire to manipulate their response. This is the essence of fellowship believers freely loving each other, assisting however we can, but without any compulsion to get others to do it our way.

We’ll visit this topic again in a future issue, because it is so critical. Notice I’ve not given any institutional fixes here. What I want you to consider is not the structure you attend, but your relationships with other believers. Are you trying to trust them or do they demand your trust? If so, you will get hurt, because we will fail each other out of our own flesh, and even at times when we don’t understand other people’s obedience to the Father.

If you have been hurt like this, let the Father bring healing to your life. Your hurt, only testifies to your misplaced trust and holding onto it will hold you back from finding a freedom to experience the life of God and share it with others.

So what do our relationships with others look like? A man in Australia expressed it best: “It looks like this, Wayne, “in my relationship with you I don’t want you to trust me more, I want to help you trust the Father like you never have before. If you’re doing the same thing with me then we’re sharing fellowship. If I am and you’re not, then I get to minister to you, which is a joy. But I’m not being cheated because I’m trusting the Father for everything I need.”

Doesn’t that make sense, and isn’t it liberating?


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OTHER TRANSLATIONS


Why Settle for Anything Less?

Why Settle for Anything Less?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 1996

The lone figure stood on the shore. They didn’t recognize his form or his voice as he inquired about their catch, “You don’t have any fish, do you?” The fisherman’s worst torment when coming up empty.

“Try the other side,” the voice recommended.

Only when they had cast their net on the other side and it came alive with a boiling sea of fish, did John put it all together. He’d seen it happen once before, on the day he and Peter had first met Jesus back on a dock in Galilee. “It is the Lord!”

Without hesitation, Peter stripped off his outer garment, plunged into the sea, and swam for shore. His friend was back and he couldn’t wait for the boat to bring him to shore. There he finds Jesus had already cooked breakfast for them bread and fish.

It appears that the conversation is somewhat stilted. I’m not sure the disciples ever got comfortable with the Risen Christ who appeared and disappeared when they least expected him. No one challenged him as they ate in silent awe. Any word seemed too awkward so the silence hung in the air with the scent of cooked fish. Only when they finished eating did Jesus turn to Peter.

“Simon, do you love me?” The betrayed turns face to face with his betrayer.

“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Peter’s response is not flippant, it is measured. He doesn’t respond with the word for divine love, agape, that Jesus had used, but with a lesser word, phileo, the companionship of friends. Jesus then tells him to tend his lambs.

You know the exchange. Jesus asks again and again Peter answers the same way. Finally Jesus ends with Peter’s word, “Peter do you like me as a friend.” And now Peter grieved at the third question answers in agony, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I like you.”

Looking for Love

“Do you love me?”

What god of any religion that has existed on the earth cares about being loved? False gods never seek love, only power. They rule with terror, demanding unquestioned obedience and inexhaustible rituals. This theme runs through the idols of the Old Testament, the gods of Greek mythology and the tribal deities of
people around the world. Human-made gods don’t want love, they want subservience even if that means they plunder a man’s riches and require the sacrifice of his own child.

But since they are man’s own creation, they tell us far more about man’s sinfulness than they do the intentions of God. Our Father is a God of love. It was love that inspired him to create a world and people to fill it. It was love that beckoned him earthward, to live as man among us so we might know exactly who God is. It was love that invited these men from fishing boats and tax booths into an awesome friendship. It was love that devised a plan for our salvation for which he would be the sacrifice. And it was love that held him through the brutal agony of the cross until our redemption was won.

His love had prevailed through it all. Was this the final test of the cross, not just that God loved us, but that the sacrifice itself might produce love in our hearts for him? For this was what God wanted with us from the very beginning.

So he turns to the one remaining who had just failed him the most. Peter, so confident that night that his love would prevail, boasted that he would die for his friend. But Jesus knew better. He knew the fear in Peter would overwhelm his faith, that by the next dawn Peter would be devastated by his greatest failure.

But if the cross was going to be worth anything, it would have to demonstrate God’s love so completely, that it could usher a man from his worst failure into the fullness of the Father’s love.

Could that be what Jesus was looking for in Peter? This was no quiz to prolong Peter’s agony nor a three-point make-up test. It was an opportunity for Peter to discover the depth of love he really had for his friend, something he didn’t even know himself.

Is that why he hesitated to use the word agape? Did he feel so unworthy to use Jesus’ word because his failure might well have demonstrated otherwise? Maybe he wanted to use it, but hadn’t felt he’d earned it. Nevertheless the question kept coming. “Simon, do you love me?”

Jesus wanted him to know that his failure was not a measure of his love. Perhaps Peter didn’t understand it completely during this encounter. Perhaps this was just the seed, or maybe he couldn’t grasp it until the fullness of the Spirit captured his heart at Pentecost, but we know he eventually got it. Whenever he refers to the love of God in his own epistles, phileo is no longer on his lips. It is agape and agape alone. Peter came to know not only the depth of God’s love for him, but also his love for God.

Live the Love

Love is the very essence of God’s nature, and it is the means by which everything in his kingdom is transacted. He knew we were ill-equipped to understand that. Life in a fallen world is based around power, not love. We live by seeking to acquire the power or means necessary to guarantee our own survival, happiness or safety. Often when we speak of love, we primarily understand it only in terms of what we get out of it a good feeling, a friendship or some other need met.

God’s love is self-giving. It doesn’t seek its own glory or advancement, and in fact makes one only more vulnerable in a hostile world. But this love is the most powerful force in all the world, able to transform the most broken lives and able to hold us through unimaginable pain.

Jesus lived in that love every second of his life, and in doing so he sought to share it with his disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9) All he asked them to do was stay in the love he had given them. He warned them: do it, and everything about their lives would bear fruit. Wander away and they would whither up and die.

His call to love was not just for them, but for all who follow him. That is the only basis for life in this kingdom. How do we do that. Here are three ways that can happen in each of us everyday:

1. Embrace His Love Every Day

Do you remember the first day that you knew God loved you? Do you recall the euphoria, the wonder that the Almighty God who spoke worlds into existence even took note of you, much less genuinely cared about you and every event in your life?

If you are like most, that reality probably became clear to you in the midst of great pain or failure. But none of that mattered. His love captured your heart and everything about the world around you paled in comparison.

Every day was an adventure, and even through the most difficult circumstances you knew you were safe in his care and all your struggles were just a part of a larger plan of which you were now a part. God never intended you to leave that place. All he wanted you to do is remain there, or if you’ve left it, to return there. That’s why Scripture calls it first love. We weren’t meant to get on from there, but live in the joy of that love everyday.

Yet, isn’t the record of most of our lives littered with great periods of time where we have wandered away from that love, and sought other motives to carry our spiritual life? Devoid of his presence we are hounded by fear, guilt and the delusion that we can earn that love by just trying harder. So easily we find ourselves living with love-substitutes. We double our efforts to be responsible, committed or disciplined. But those don’t produce love, they were only meant to flow out of it.

In fact that’s also the history of the church. In Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning points out a disheartening trend:

History attests that religion and religious people tend to be narrow. Instead of expanding our capacity for
life, joy, and mystery, religion often contracts it. As systematic theology advance, the sense of wonder declines. The paradoxes, contradictions and ambiguities of life are codified, and God himself is cribbed, cabined, and confined within the pages of a leather-bound book. Instead of a love story the Bible is viewed as a detailed manual of directions.

If the Lord’s love seems distant for you, draw back to him. Find a quiet place and rekindle your affection. Don’t try to go on without it. God never intended you to live even one day outside the wonder of his love. And don’t make the mistake of trying to earn it either. You can’t earn points with someone who is no longer keeping score. Jesus already filled out your card with maximum points. You don’t have to earn what he has already freely given; you simply get to receive it.

2. Let Love Be Your Only Motive

“The love of Christ compels me,” Paul, the apostle wrote in 2 Corinthians 5. Here was a man that rose to the pinnacle of the religious institution of his day before he came face to face with the love of Jesus on that road to Damascus.

He knew what it was to fear the disapproval of men, to conform his life to the strictest of codes trying to measure up, and the control he could exercise over others as a leader.

But the cross changed all of that. He knew he deserved to die in his sin, yet Jesus had taken his place. Paul concluded that he died with Christ and that his life was no longer his own. He had nothing to fear, nothing to earn, nothing to control. His life had been swallowed up by Jesus’ love. There was nothing left for him to do but live every day only by what that love led him to do.

Everyday we are manipulated by host of motives, some of which even look godly. There are expectations people put on us, fears that drive us, appe-tites that lure us, and guilt that hounds us. But none of these are to control the life of the believer. All that matters now is love: his in us, and ours for him.

The next time you feel torn in any situation, retreat to this simple test: overwhelmed by gratefulness for what he’s done for me and secure in his acceptance and care for me, what do I feel called to do? Paul allowed himself no other motive, and neither should we. That’s the only motive that counts in this kingdom and the greatest gift of the cross.

Remain in my love. Without that kindled fresh in our hearts every day it is easy to find our spiritual lives sliding into an exhausting road of responsibilities and rituals. We will be busy doing a lot of things for God, but absolutely devoid of his life and his joy. Weariness will overtake us and our spiritual life will dry up.

3. Let His Love Flow Through You

With every exchange Jesus admonished Peter to take care of his sheep. The love of God flowing in us will die if it can’t flow through us. Having been so generously embraced by the Father, we will find it spilling over to others.

This love is the most powerful demonstration of God in the world. Jesus even took the Old Testament admonition, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to a whole new level: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Having been loved, now we can love, both our brothers and sisters in Christ and those around us who are lost in the darkness.

I am convinced that we understand little of this incredible love. Yes, it forgives wrongs suffered, but not without honoring truth. Jesus could in one moment confront the false spirituality of the Pharisees at the same time he invited the prostitute into his kingdom.

So much that travels as love in the body of Christ today is simply trying to be nice even at the expense of dishonesty. We’ll smile and feign love in someone’s presence and take the freedom to tear them down in a conversation with someone else. God’s love doesn’t live in denial. It can take situations as they really are and transform them by his glory.


This is the love God invites us to live in and with which we so easily lose touch. I realize that those who misunderstand love only as feeling will agree with much of what I’ve said, yet dismiss the conclusion as too idealistic. We need commitment and tradition, they’ll say, because we won’t always feel his love.

What has feelings do with love? His love for us and ours for him must transcend feelings and touch us at a far deeper level than the capriciousness of our emotions. But it is nonetheless real, all-encompassing and what ignites our hearts with his life.

Wouldn’t it be better to rekindle the love, instead of pushing ourselves to greater responsibility? What effort of our own has ever led us into a greater touch with the Father’s love?

We need only fall at his feet and receive what he has already given. In moments like that we can be captured by his love all over again. When that happens, we are truly full and truly free. He asked us to settle for nothing less. So whenever you lose touch with it, don’t take another step until you fall back into his arms again, and again, and again.


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Going to the Root

Going to the Root

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • June 1996

Talk about intimacy with God for very long, and the conversation almost always turns to how that is lived out in church life. Most people seem to recognize that the means by which we often “do church” does not always help foster that relationship and often provides significant distractions to it.

Look at all the books written and all the seminars held in the last 30 years about church renewal, yet what has really changed? A variety of structures have been offered, each claiming to be God’s last, best answer. But even those lapse back into the same pattern of Sunday services with kids spirited away to their own peer group, up-front led worship, and a sermon that may entertain briefly, but can not be recalled two days later.

Add to that the confusion that comes when people in the church force their way on others, and it’s no wonder that most people really question what ‘church life’ should look like. During a recent trip to New England this topic came up continually. For all the time and energy we put into our church structures, wouldn’t you think they would be more effective at doing the most important thing helping us know Jesus better?

But not everyone finds them so. A couple of years ago, I would have claimed to have more answers than I would today. Now I have far more questions, but through the sometimes painful circumstances of our church involvement the past few years Sara and I have come to see how simply powerful the life of the church can be, without the need for extensive structure.

In the last year we have had significant contact with believers all over the world who have moved out of traditionally-structured churches to seek a more effective and authentic body life. Many meet in homes, building the life of the body around Jesus-centered relationships and daily discovering what it means to pursue God and care for each other. Their meetings are rarely slick and attractive. They are designed to equip and encourage through active participation, honest examination and simple love. They say they have stopped just going to church and are now learning to be the church.

I am not offering that here as the answer, convinced that no structure guarantees renewal. But I am finding increasing merit in their priorities that can even be a blessing to people who attend more traditional church structures. Those are best summarized in a book by Christian Smith called, Going to the Root (Herald Press: Scottsdale, PA). He offers nine proposals for radical church renewal. I want to share them with you for your own reflection and encouragement this summer:

1. Build Intentional Community

“Radical church renewal begins with a new vision of Christian relationships in the body of Christ. It affirms that the church should look, and feel, not like a club or interest group, but a loving, extended family What is necessary for people to live like this? People must truly know each other, share with each other who they really are.”

In short, discipleship and personal care in the body of Christ were never meant to come through a paid staff or cumbersome programs. Jesus gave his ministry to people who would live out their lives in close, personal friendships.

Let me give you a word of warning about this chapter, however. It seeks to build that community through accountability and commitment, two words that are not linked to body life at all in the New Testament and are often misused to exercise control over people. While I love his goal here, his methodology will only set us up for disappointed expectations. Love and freedom is how Jesus called us to embrace body life for it was in relationship not institution that Jesus vested his life.

That said, the author gives two key pieces of advice: “Christian community is an alien, alternative reality that must be purposefully pursued and cultivated” and “It is a living dynamic experience that is nurtured, not a prepackaged program that is instituted.”

2. Do Church Without Clergy

Don’t panic! I know a lot of hot-buttons just went off. The author doesn’t advocate throwing pastors overboard, simply makes the case that we do not need them in the way they’ve come to dominate church life today. “Going to the root helps us see that our clergy system is not demanded by the New Testament. It is often counterproductive. And it can obstruct healthy, biblical church life. Is it possible that one of the best things that could happen to the church would be for the clergy to resign and take secular jobs? The problem with the clergy is not the people, but the profession itself. The New Tes-tament is clear that ministry in the church is the work of the entire body of believers, not of a single minister or pastoral team.”

From both sides the fact of clergy in the body of Christ today produces two classes of people leaders and followers. This is unhealthy from two angles. On the one hand we expect pastors to be the body of Christ for every one, and who can stand up to that weight? On the other, it promotes passivity on the part of believers, waiting for the leaders to sort things out without going to the Head and following his desires.

The profession always seems to lead clergy to be more program managers than mentors, making decisions for people believing themselves to have a superior perspective, rather than linking people close enough to Jesus, that he can live out his will through them.

3. Decentralize Leadership and Decisions

“Never in the New Testa-ment is one believer, even a church leader, said to have spiritual authority over another…. (We don’t find) a model of leadership that is hierarchical, authoritarian or focused on filling offices. What we find is a very organic, bottom-up model of leadership…. (Spiritual authority) is given to leaders by believers around them because of the exemplary, trustworthy character of their lives.

The author goes on to say that whatever leadership emerges exists only to mentor others to hear and follow the the Lord. They should function in plurality without one leader dominating the others. But for decision-making, he encourages those believers affected by the decision to engage in a process of consensus-building. “When dominating leaders make decisions and call the flock to follow, the seeds of apathy and immaturity are sown.” Of course this works more realistically in groups less than 50 than it does in large impersonal groups. For that to happen we will have to learn how to handle growth by multiplying groups not expanding them until they can longer function relationally.

4. Open Up Worship Services

“Structurally, the worship services of many churches are preplanned, clergy-centered and performance- oriented (that often)undermine our best intentions In the most extended New Testament teaching on church gatherings ( I Cor 11-14), Paul repeatedly states that the overarching goal of meeting together is mutual edificationbuilding and strengthening the believing community.”

How can that happen if we don’t move away from our pre-planned meetings, and invite the honest, open participation of all God’s people who gather? This doesn’t lead to an efficient service, but it does allow the body to be the body.

Here the author encourages us away from up-front led worship, which puts the focus on a few and breeds passivity in the rest. Instead people can have the freedom to lead out in prayer, give thanks, read Scripture, encourage, and even ask questions from the teaching so that the body can be built up by its honest interaction in the presence of the Lord.

5. Get Over The Edifice Complex

“Perhaps the most obvious monument to the church’s im-mobility and inflexibility are its church buildings. Buildings are massive, stationary structures, imposing physical symbols of fixity and rigidity.” Here the author most clearly suggests the home church model, “The early Christians could have followed the familiar model of the Jewish temple or synagogue and created specifically Chris-tian buildings to meet and worship in. They did not. Appa-rently they believed their homes were the best context for gathering…. Homes are a place of family, which is what the early believers were to each other.”

Of course the edifice complex can be just as apparent in avoiding buildings, and it could be said that persecution may have contributed to the early church staying in homes. But we still have to ask what do we gain (or lose) by confining God’s work to a building that more often than not confines the life of the body, at great expense to build and maintain.

6. Cultivate a Spirituality of Daily Life

How do we relate to a living God in our everyday existence? Too often we only see that in terms of meeting legalistic, guilt-inducing ex-pectations in the do’s and don’ts of our behavior. This method never produces God’s transformation. Radical renewal invites us to cultivate a relationship with God, that fills every corner of our lives with his presence where we realize it’s not what we do for God that matters, but what we let him do in us.

7. Practice Lifestyle Evangelism

“The Bible makes it clear that the central and irreplaceable medium for communicating the gospel is the quality of believers’ lives together. The lives of people who genuinely love each other, for all their warts and false starts, will be a truer explanation of the good news than the most precisely pitched evangelistic message.” Amen.

8. Work for Social Justice

“Doing biblical justice, therefore, means taking positive actions that create and preserve flourishing human community in fidelity to God’s covenantwhich is to realize a just social order.” This chapter was not easy to understand, but it demonstrates that God’s heart is for justice, especially in alleviating the suffering of the oppressed and needy. How we accomplish that might differ greatly, but we can acknowledge that our service in places like that is close to God’s heart and the true nature of religion.

9. Do Grass-Roots Ecumenism

“Radical church renewal rejects the unnecessary divisions that separate and isolate Christians from each other. It calls believers to work for the unity of the Spirit. But to be meaningful and effective, this work must become the bottom-up, grass roots work of the people of God.” Don’t confine your relationships only to believers who make up whatever group you worship with. God’s work in our world is so much larger, and we can see that when we make an effort to seek relationships beyond our own group.

I doubt I’ve done these justice by trying to summarize in so short a space, but aren’t these fascinating? They have each challenged me to take a fresh look at what it means for me to be a part of the church.

Certainly I’m not encouraging everyone to leave their traditional church structures and jump into house churches. Many of these proposals are possible through home groups and other relationships that can be a part of more traditional structures. What this book did for me, and what I hope this overview does for you, is to help me find meaningful body life wherever God plants me.

If you have been lulled into passivity, expecting your church to spoon feed it to you, I hope this calls you back to action. I also hope it encourages you to find significant friendships with other believers, where you grow together through open and honest conversation, serve each other gladly, and challenge each other to walk in the fullness of his life.

But I also want it to encourage many who read this newsletter who are no longer part of those traditional structures. They are finding God’s life more effective in meaningful exchanges of relationships with other believers in their own homes. I don’t want them to labor under the guilt of an obligation to a Sunday morning format that Scripture never made compulsory. There are many ways for the body of Christ to gather and celebrate.

Let me close by paraphrasing a comment I read off the internet. It ties together so well with past issues of BodyLife:

“Beloved, if we preach ‘the church’ in all of its technical correctness, we will never find it, but if we embrace the power of the cross we will see the church spring up around us in all its glory. When the cross is in its rightful place in the lives of the believing community, the church as God has ordained it will organically flow from that.”

Then God himself can truly be more important than any church structure. In being free from the need to go to church to fulfill some kind of obligation, we can recover the simple joy of living as his church in the world.


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To Be Free of God??!!?!?

To Be Free of God??!!?!?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 1996

“The wish to be free of God is the deepest yearning of man. It is greater than his yearning for God.”

The sentence leapt off the page and nearly took my breath away. I was reading Helmut Thielicke’s, Between God and Satan, a provocative study of the temptations of Jesus. Thielicke was a German theologian who lived through the horrors of World War II as an active resistor of his own government. A depth of faith forged in the struggle of those years permeates everything he writes.

I was enjoying this book tremendously until I came to this statement. As one who teaches on intimacy with God often, I like to think it fulfills the deepest longing of the human heart. Who wouldn’t want to know the Creator personally; to sense the majesty of his presence; hear his tender voice and watch his power accomplish things we could never even imagine? What else could anyone really want?

Before I knew it I was arguing with Professor Thielicke, trying to reject his conclusion. But the more I thought about it the more sense it made. His conclusion does answer some compelling questions: Even though I do really want to know God better, why do I often make choices that lead me further from that reality? Why do I get into circumstances and so easily trust my common sense, than really wait to hear what God might have to say about it? In short, why is it so difficult to follow someone we desire to love so much?

I know there is a deep longing in my heart to know God, but could there also be a deeper yearning still?

The Quest for Control

There was for Adam and Eve. It wasn’t enough that God had given them each other, a garden to live in or even daily moments of fellowship with himself. They wanted something more. Something God said they shouldn’t take to themselves or they would die.

But they did anyway. No where do we read that Adam and Eve wanted to reject God. Quite the contrary they just wanted to be more like him, and this knowledge of good and evil just might be the trick. Here was a simple way to get it. All they had to do was eat the fruit before them. They wanted control of their destiny, freedom from God to earn their own way by their own hand!

And of course it was God that gave them the power to do so. He gave them the freedom of self-determination the gift of choice. He not only invited them to trust him, but he also provided the fruit of that tree as a means for them to gain knowledge apart from him. He warned them not to, but then watched as the enemy coaxed out of Eve her distrust of Father. “God just knows that when you eat of it you’ll be like him.” He’s holding out on you, Eve.

The choice was clear. Trust Father and spurn the devil’s temptation; or trust her own insight and strength to get what she could do for herself. Adam wasn’t long in following after her, and though they gained the knowledge they sought, that knowledge became their bondage. They had no power to choose the good over the evil. Their desire to take control of their lives was greater than their desire for God.

I’ve weathered that same struggle. Sometimes I’ll just start praying about a situation, when my mind is already scheming about phone calls I can make or a letter I could write to fix it. Too often it was only after I have tried those things and made things worse that I quiet myself enough to listen to God’s wisdom.

Don’t we hate being in any kind of situation where we are not in control. Fear and anxiety overwhelm us and we waste all kinds of effort scheming or manipulating others to put ourselves back in control. Haven’t we all learned how horrible it can be to be at the mercy of circumstance or other people? If you don’t control you’re own destiny people will take advantage of you, and use you for theirs.

The yearning in our hearts to be free of God springs from this fountain. It’s not that we reject God; it’s more that we want control of our own lives. We want that and God too, and there is the deception. We don’t realize that the affections are mutually exclusive.

The Insidious Reversal

When we seek control of our own lives, and at the same time attempt to foster a relationship with Father we put ourselves above him. We know what is best for us, and if God doesn’t satisfy our expectations we doubt his love for us, our love for him, or both. Every difficult circumstance, then becomes a cause for despair and disillusionment. We enlist his help to change the circumstances or what others are doing and are frustrated when he doesn’t honor our attempts. Or worse yet, we assume his favor when someone does give in to our manipulation, thinking we’ve won a great victory.

But notice what has happened in this whole process? By wanting God to be the vehicle for our agenda, we turn the Almighty God into our personal fairy godmother. We think he exists to turn our pumpkins into carriages, and our mice into white stallions. Of course we still want God, but not as God. We want him to fulfill our needs our way. We want his power to serve our comfort and convenience.

Jesus didn’t see it that way, which is why he seemed to say some really strange things by our standards. “Blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” That’s Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew 5:3. How many of us genuinely feel blessed when we are at the end of our rope? How many people do you find sharing how great their week was because they had lost control of key situations in their life?

No, our sense of being blessed is often derived from how ‘in control’ we feel. If we have enough money, friends, health and possessions we feel secure. When we don’t have those things we’re afraid and have to work even harder to maneuver our circumstances to a more secure place.

I’ve come to realize that I have spent most of my life working against Father’s plan for my life and I didn’t even know it. I was trying to help God (see how twisted that is!) get me to a place where everything in my life was wonderful and easy. In short, I wanted to be so secure in my circumstances that I wouldn’t need him every day. All the while he was trying to teach me that I needed him, and that there is no other place in the world more secure than that regardless of what the external circumstances look like.

Regrettably, we only seem to realize that when our attempts to control ourselves fail miserably. According to Jesus that’s the best place for us to be, so he is merciful to show us over and over again that our efforts will never be good enough. When we finally give in, no longer trusting our insights or our abilities we are in the best place to see God’s hand more clearly. Then we can give way to his rule, or purpose, in us. The secret to intimacy with Father is to give up on our ideas of what is best for us and surrender completely to the Father’s purpose even when we may not understand it.

I remember how risky all of that used to sound to me. Even the thought of surrendering completely to God conjured up fears of missionary service in a distant land or menial labor closer to home. Trust used to be so scary. Not anymore.

Life at the End of the Rope

Whenever I talk with other pastors who hunger to see the body of Christ as a dynamic people growing together in loving the Father and sharing his life together, one question almost always surfaces. “If all the body shares responsibility together, how do we justify our salaries?” Sometimes we laughed it off, too uncomfortable with the subject. In more secure times we engaged serious discussion about how great it would be for the body not to have the image of full-time Christians trying to be the body of Christ to everyone else. But we never did anything about it because we were afraid of losing control of our lives.

Instead we’d have to work harder and do more than others to justify our position and our pay. I felt pressure to teach or lead activities, so people would think we were earning our keep. It’s a vicious cycle. The more I did, the more people let me do. The more they let me do, the less opportunity there was for others to grow in their gifts, and the less of a body we became.

Almost two years ago now, it became clear that Sara and I were on a different track than others on the leadership team of the church I’d helped plant 15 years before. We tried everything we knew to do to fix the problem or make room for the differences, but every attempt failed. God clearly put it on Sara and my heart to let go and give everything up–ministry, friendships, reputation, and salary. It was the hardest and most painful thing we have ever done.

Never before had I truly been at the end of my rope. I’ve been a couple of inches down it before, but now I knew I’d never been close to the end. Everything I had controlled about my life through 20 years of vocational ministry was gone in a single day. We cried out to God to fix the circumstances, but he didn’t. Oh, he took care of us well enough. We never missed a meal, nor a house payment. He graciously used our lives to encourage others even as he brought others to encourage us.

The first six months were horrible. We might have put up a bold front at times, but the anxiety was great. Both books I had published were out of print. Few churches were inviting us to come and teach, and I was no longer sure I believed in the church system I had invested so much time in training others to embrace.

I’d lost control of my life and was miserable for it. You would never have convinced me before that I was in control of it. I couldn’t see it until I lost it. I tried a number of things to get it back and all of them either failed, or someone stopped me before I made things worse. Through it all Father kept dealing with my trust in him. “Stop trying to control your life, Wayne. That’s my job. All you have to do is trust me enough to let me.” I kept trying to explain to him that it would be easier to yield to him if I had more control.

I don’t know how. I’m not even sure exactly when, but somehow the words finally sank through my unbelief. The last year has been an absolute joy seeing God open doors, provide for us, and teach us how to live life outside of our own control and under the security of his. Looking back now through every painful moment, I am incredibly thankful for what God has taught us.

I have never known such freedom. No longer burdened by my attempts to earn my way, I can enjoy the grace of God. No longer having to manipulate people to fit into my plans, I can simply love them and free them to discover God’s will and live in it with joy. No longer finding security in a salary, I have only to obey him every day and rejoice as he provides. And no longer being in charge of a fellowship, I can be only what Father has made me to be in the body and not fit a cultural role that no man can honestly bear.

Losing Control, Gaining a Father

When Kevin Smith, a friend from Australia, was here this summer he said something that intrigued me. Because we don’t really trust Jesus to be the head of his church, we devise systems to keep it under man’s control on his behalf. Which means much of our structures for body life today are actually built on unbelief.

Sometimes I feel like such a fool that I had been in ministry so long without learning that Jesus rules to the extent that I let go. He said it clearly, “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” I thought I knew what that meant, but if I’d have listened carefully my anxieties would have proved me wrong. Fear is certain evidence that I’m moving out of my own wisdom and expectations, instead of moving out of my trust and security in the Father’s watchfulness over and care for my life.

As long as we’re trying to manipulate circumstances around us, we’ll find our spiritual life shriveling up. That’s as true of our job as it is our ministries and our children. That’s because we’re trying to be free of Father to pursue our own will and desires. That road always looks secure but leads to ruin. I am so thankful that he has provided a better way.

Even out of our own failures, our Father can work his purpose. That’s what he did for Adam and Eve. In fact he knew his first invitation to trust would be ignored. He knew it would cost him his Son before we would be able to understand how much we are loved and how safe it is to put all of our trust in him. He also knows how slow we are to learn that, and with great patience continues to invite us past our fears and anxieties, past the need to control every circumstance of our lives, and surrender to his work and purpose.

What are you afraid of today? Where does your life feel out of control? Right there, at the end of your rope, let go and fall into the lap of a loving and powerful Father. “I’m so sorry God for trying to fit everything in my image; so tired of finding my security in the fickleness of circumstance. Show me, Father, how I am manipulating others and teach me how to find all my joy and security in you and you alone.”

He knows everything about you. He knows every circumstance that assails you and he will use them all to teach you how to trust him, if you’ll let him. He will never take control of your life; that’s something you must give up to him every day, circumstance by circumstance. Give up trying to grab what you desire most. Do it and you’ll find that real security doesn’t come in the money we possess, the church we attend, or the circumstances we manipulate. Security is found in the Father alone.

Then build your life anew not on the fears of unbelief, demanding your expectations be fulfilled, but on the presence of a Father who is more awesome than you ever imagined. There you’ll find a peace and rest that no circumstance or person can disturb.

Finally, you’ll discover what it is to be free of the need to control your own life. You’ll find that Father really does know best and that he can work in you better than you ever asked or imagined.

Then and only then will your deepest desire be to know God more fully.


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The Father’s Delight

The Father’s Delight

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1996

What greater sound is there than that of children laughing? I’m still hooked on it and mine are in their mid to late teens. As their father, nothing touches me more deeply nor gives me greater pleasure than watching them explode in laughter at some new experience or story. Long after they’ve left the room, I still find myself enjoying their joy.

Have you ever wondered what brings that kind of delight to God’s heart? Well, wonder no more. Jesus already told us.

His disciples had just returned from going through the villages of Palestine sharing the good news of the kingdom. They had watched blind people see for the first time; lepers weep in joy at the touch of their new skin; and people oppressed by demons dancing in joy at suddenly being returned to their right mind.

To get the impact of this, we have to remember who they were. We think of them now as “The Apostles”, men of great wisdom, character and training. We forget that at the time they were simply bad fishermen, tax collectors and who knows what else. Far from being highly respected religious people, they were normal, every-day people who had been infused with God’s life, power and a bit of his wisdom.

Here, for the only time in Scripture, we are told that Jesus was “full of joy” and declared: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

What gives the Father pleasure? Revealing his life to people the world would have little regard for. That’s the point here, isn’t it? His emphasis is not who God hides things from, but who he reveals them to. And he delights to reveal himself to people like Peter, Bartholomew and Matthew those who still fought over who would be first in the kingdom, who still didn’t understand the full import of Jesus’ mission, who couldn’t even figure out most of the stories Jesus told.

And he delights to reveal his will, his plans and his power to you as much as I enjoy hearing the laughter of my children.

A Kingdom without Hierarchy

What demonstrates the magnificence of Jesus’ kingdom over every other institutional arrangement of our world is the fact that Father wants direct contact with everyone in his kingdom. He established no hierarchy to feed his plans through, but invited every one of us to a relationship with him close enough so that he could give us his life and direction first hand.

This was God’s plan from the beginning. Ezekiel chastised the shepherds of Israel for abusing the sheep only for what they could get out of them. “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I am against the shepherds (and) will remove them from tending the flock. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” (34:10-11)

Jesus wasn’t looking for better shepherds, he would be the only shepherd anyone would need for he who would look after his sheep individually and draw them to himself without a human mediator. “My sheep know my voice,” he said. “A stranger they simply will not follow.” “There shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:4, 5, 16, 27)

Why then do we have so many today who claim to be shepherds, and so many separate flocks divided up by their care? Aren’t we missing something incredibly basic in this kingdom, that it was designed for only one shepherd. He can lead each of his sheep. Even the youngest among him know his voice, can understand what’s true and what is a lie. He wants us to trust that.

But we don’t.

We live in an age that is enamored with experts. That’s not a bad thing if you need heart surgery, car repair, and or a house built. But Jesus offered us a kingdom without human experts a place where every son and daughter is directly linked to him. Why is it then that we fall into the trap of deferring to others, especially leadership, as having greater insight than the rest of the flock? Nowhere in Scripture are leaders or institutions made the test of sound doctrine, the managers of the body’s ministry, or the final check on personal obedience. Quite the opposite, every time such things are needed, it is referred to the body itself, not its leadership.

Why? Because we are all connected to Jesus, the only expert in this kingdom.

While leaders are encouraged to teach only that which is sound doctrine, the proof of that is in the ears of the body of Christ. Are we hearing Jesus’ voice in what is being said, or the voice of a stranger? Don’t forget, every false teaching that emerged in the early church came from those who aspired to be leaders.

“Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The leaders in Galatia were pushing the body toward legalism so that they could boast in how well their flock looked. Paul said that their teachings bore no resemblance to the gospel and when he corrected it he didn’t appeal to the leaders to kick out the false teachers, he appealed to the body to ignore their ravings.

When those who claimed to be leaders in Ephesus exalted themselves over the lives of others, John went directly to the conscience of God’s people. “You have an anointing from the Holy One,” he said, “and all of you know the truth.” (1 John 2:20-21) John didn’t appeal to a church tribunal, to the leaders or even to his apostleship. He appealed to the fact that Jesus was able to make his truth known in each of those who were following him.

He knew what was coming. Diotrephes, one of their own elders, had decided he wanted to be first among the body able to decide who could and who couldn’t have place in the body and would punish those who didn’t follow his wishes. Hope for the body didn’t lie in trusting their leaders, but in trusting the Spirit’s voice in each of them.

Breeding Insensitivity

Instead of encouraging that sensitivity, however, leaders often end up undermining it. I knew a young man would share frequently during our worship gatherings. He seemed to have a heart for God, and there was often a nugget of truth in what he shared. Just as often, however, it was buried beneath a load of self-focus that made him appear harsh and his words confused. Every time he shared someone would tell me that they struggled with the content and character of his words.

Not wanting them to misjudge the brother, I would hear them out but try to convince them that they may not be seeing things clearly. They were letting his weaknesses prevent them from hearing what the Lord was speaking through him. Because he was recognized as a regular contributor to our services, I felt I had to defend him. I didn’t realize it at the time but by doing so I was only training people to be insensitive to the Spirit. That ‘anointing’ had alerted them to be cautious about what they were hearing. They knew not to give it a lot of weight and instead of teaching them to trust that, I tried to get them to be more ‘open,’ clearly communicating that they weren’t competent enough to judge such things.

Another time a couple came to me confused. They felt God had called them to give up some of their duties in the church to become more active in a civic organization where they had frequent opportunities to share the Lord with people who didn’t know him. They had talked to their pastor who said they were being deceived . Their gifts were far more useful in the church than in a secular organization.

“What should we do? We don’t want to be rebellious, but we feel God has called us to go.” At the heart of their dilemma lay this question: who best hears the voice of Jesus for our lives, and how does Jesus want to communicate with his body?

This was 20 years ago and I have long regretted the answer I gave them. I told them they needed to trust the leadership God had placed over them and follow the counsel of their pastor. Even if he is wrong, I told them, God would honor them for obeying him and work things out well for them.

If I could remember who the couple was, I would hunt them down today and beg their forgiveness. At the time certainly was caught up in the pervasive Bill Gothard mentality of the 70’s that God had given us “coverings” in our lives to protect us from making mistakes.

What an absurd conclusion, however, to encourage anyone to defer to another person at the price of being disobedient to God. I can see this couple standing with God someday: “I really had a marvelous opportunity set up there for you to take my light into a dark place. Why didn’t you go?”

“Wayne told us we shouldn’t.” I can hear them answer.

And how would God respond? “Oh, that’s okay, then. If Wayne told you not to do what I wanted you to do, then of course he would know best.” I don’t think so!

Jesus alone is the only shepherd to guide and direct his sheep.

Why then Leaders?

Please understand that the vast majority of leaders I have known in the body of Christ have never wanted to hurt anyone, or take Jesus’ place in their lives. But one of the pitfalls of assuming the place of a program manager in the body of Christ is to think your insight better than others who are not so employed.

What begins out of a desire to help people, can subtly become a means to press people to conform to the needs of the program. “We’re just trying to help people here and we will be able to do that if everyone will just cooperate with us.” Why should they? The reasons are varied, but all have in mind elevating some people above others. “We are better trained, more mature, closer to God, pray more, equipped with a special leadership ‘anointing’, hold a designated church ‘office’ or simply because they attend leadership meetings.

It’s only a small jump from there to accuse people who don’t follow the ‘church program’ designed by those with ‘superior insight’ to be closed, defensive, independent, rebellious or unsubmitted. And if they don’t give in, they often get whispered about as those who have “stretched out their hands against God’s anointed.”

It is so easy to paint someone who is seeking to be true to the Lord’s direction in them as arrogant. “Who are they to think they hear God better than all of us?” The Pharisees did it to Jesus and his disciples. Their modern-day counterparts still do it to those they cannot press to conformity.

When you hear or see such things being spoken, run as far as you can as fast as you can. Don’t misunderstand. The people who do such things often do so with the best of intentions, trying to serve people the best way they can. But that’s the problem. It’s the best way that they see, and whenever we remove from people their responsibility to hear and follow the Shepherd we do them a grave disservice no matter how well-intentioned our actions might be.

John calls this elevation of one believer’s perspective over another as the spirit of the anti-Christ, because it works against Christ’s presence in all of us. It creates a dependency on leaders and by doing so circumvents the very relationship Jesus wants with all of his sheep. Jesus never assigned the proof of his working to leadership. He came to be the shepherd to every member of his flock. This is so easy to forget amidst the way of our world that exalts coaches, managers, directors and even pastors. The role of leadership is not to manage the flock nor provide a buffer between people and Jesus, but to equip the flock to know Jesus better, hear him more clearly and follow him with greater courage.

As such true leaders in Christ’s body will not burden the flock with obligations that serve the program needs of the fellowship, but will free them up to walk with the Living God. They will be excited to encourage them to follow what the Shepherd has spoken to them and support them in trusting his anointing in their lives. As such their ministry will not breed a persistent dependency on themselves or the church program, but on Father himself, through Jesus Christ.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be honest when they have legitimate concerns, but will not make judgments against the motives of people and punish them if they don’t conform. They will know that the only way to learn to follow the shepherd is by freeing them to make their own choices, even allowing mistakes to be part of the learning process.

Freedom, not Anarchy

I know some reading this are about to jump through the roof, fearing this will only breed anarchy in the body of Christ, giving people an excuse to pursue their own desires and say they are being led by God.

Paul makes that exact point in the pastoral epistles. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) But Paul does not even for that reason, inject human leaders as mediators between God and people.

For he knew that what we often do to protect against the abuse of those who are not really followers of Christ devours those who really are. The pressure to conform to a program and the invitation to be transformed by the life of Jesus are two very different things. The former will eventually produce only hurt and emptiness, the later is necessary to help believers embrace the presence of God in their lives.

People who really have a heart for God will not allow their discernment of Jesus’ voice to breed greater independence. Quite the opposite.

Those who take the responsibility to be lead of the Spirit will become more diligent students of Scripture, wanting to understand for themselves the ways and character of God. They will listen to teaching, read other books, but all the while listening for the familiar voice of the Shepherd. They simply will not follow the voice of an imposter.

People who know the voice of the shepherd, will realize the value of a fuller perspective that comes from being linked with other believers. In times of decision or need they will seek out the counsel of other believers, including those they might consider to be further down the road than they. But they won’t just do what they are told, they will be listening for that ever-familiar voice of the one shepherd they have pledged to follow.

Finally, they will cooperate with other believers and leaders in the body, since they understand the gentleness of God’s character.

But they will not allow any man or institution to drive a wedge between them and their dependence on Jesus and will turn away from those who try even at great personal cost. They know how seductive Jesus- surrogates are; how easily they have fallen in the past because it is far easier to follow a man or a program than it is to put their trust in Jesus directly.

This attitude is so critical for those who would grow in a trusting relationship with Father. It will transform them from being passive learners, who just hear sermons they mostly forget by Tuesday, into those who actively seek the presence and voice of Jesus in their own lives. They find him to be a Shepherd no man could duplicate and a certain refuge in the midst of every storm.

And I also think they get to hear God laugh with delight. For he loves nothing more than to reveal his treasures not to the wise, but to babes in the kingdom to you and me who simply want to love him with all our hearts. This is his good pleasure. It can be ours as well!


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What About Him?

What About Him?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • January 1997

“When you grow old… someone else will dress you and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

The words Jesus used were precise and abundantly clear. No one standing in that huddled group on Galilee’s shore that morning misunderstood what he had just told Peter. He would one day be executed for his friendship with Jesus.

The surprise breakfast on the beach with the resurrected Lord suddenly turned ominous. Peter must have just stared, his mouth agape with shock. The rest of the disciples must have glanced at each other with that “poor Peter” expression on their face, completely unaware that most of them would die in the same way.

Jesus knew he had just dropped a bombshell on them and certainly he knew the distress that would have been filling Peter’s heart. He was not that many days away from his own anguish that had sent him to the Garden to pray on the eve of his crucifixion.

But Jesus hadn’t spoken these words to scare Peter. So he perhaps reached to Peter, grasped his shoulder and pulled him under his arm. With a reassuring smile on his face he spoke the words he had said to Peter the first day they had met: “Follow me.” It had been on the same lake some years ago and had changed everything about Peter’s life. How much he had been through since then and how much he had learned!

Perhaps this was the best lesson yet. Jesus’ invitation to him was still the same. He didn’t have to be brave or strong or possess great ingenuity. He just need to follow to center his eyes on the one who loved him so much and stay close.

Nothing more simply expresses the essence of what it means to be a believer. We complicate it by getting our eyes on other things, but the secret to thriving through the ups and downs of life is to draw close to Jesus, doing whatever he does and going wherever he goes. In the last days before his Ascension, Jesus wanted Peter to know the same thing that had held him the last few years, could hold him the rest of his life. Jesus would still be with him and he would still be able to simply follow him.

But Peter’s eyes were not yet where they needed to be, for they were yet consumed by his fears.

It’s Not Fair!

When Peter finally regained enough composure to speak we see where his eyes were focused. “What about him?” Peter said motioning to John standing a few feet away. The inference is clear. Is he going to die too? Do we all have the same road here?

I guess misery really does love company. I suspect Peter would have felt somewhat better about his future if he knew he hadn’t been singled out for a worse lot than the others. His words do have a familiar ring to them, don’t they? How often as children when we were asked to do something unpleasant, didn’t we immediately want to know if our brother or sister would have to do it too. Even at work we want to see the joys and responsibilities evenly distributed or cries of “Unfair!” fill our lips.

Isn’t it interesting that our idea of fairness always has to do with comparing ourselves to others? Every human relationship we’ve ever known has been steeped in competition. It seems our society can only measure worth, success even beauty in relative terms. How do you compare to others around you?

Sibling rivalry competes either for the affection of parents, or for their attention as we go out in the world and try to be successful. From the day you started school, you found yourself in competition with all the other students. The infamous bell curve bases education purely on competition. We don’t have to know everything, just a little bit more than most of the others in the class.

In the work world, your application competes against everyone else looking for the same job. On the job your performance review is based on how you compare to others before you or those who have similar responsibilities in the company.

Even in church, competition continues. Minister’s count heads as a measure of success. We compare our blessings with others (or our trials) fearful they say something about how well we are doing spiritually. We even use competition as one of the primary tools used to raise children to be good Christians. We put gold stars on attendance charts so kids who fill up their row can feel good about themselves, and those who don’t might feel guilty enough to come more often.

To show you how poorly wired I was in this area, I remember a Scripture memory contest my church held when I was in elementary school. Whoever could memorize the most verses in one quarter would win a new Bible. I didn’t even need the new Bible, I already had one. But I memorized 153 verses in 3 months. How good was that? Second place had done 37.

Obviously I won the contest, but looking back I think I lost something far more valuable the freedom not to measure my spiritual life against others. For most of my life since I have taken my spiritual temperature by comparing my life to others. As long as I studied more, prayed more, attended church more I could feel good about myself whether or not those things had actually led me to know Jesus better.

Am I saying competition is some great evil? Not in the world. Competition is one of the “elementary principles of this age,” that Paul writes about in Colossians. Without it our world would collapse into chaos, for it is one of the most powerful motivating forces for unredeemed humanity.

But in the kingdom? That’s a different story. Any need for competition has been swallowed up by Jesus’ death on the cross. He set us free from self-effort, so that we need only be motivated by his incredible love for us. Now we can just follow him, without any need to compare ourselves with any other person on the planet. In Christ we are free from the elementary principles of this age. We don’t have to follow them, but we so often do.

Can You Imagine?

We see it in Peter as he turns to John, and that is the lesson Jesus wanted to teach them all that morning.

That’s why he answered Peter’s question the way he did. He didn’t cave into Peter’s comparison even though he could have. If tradition is accurate then John was executed by being boiled alive in a vat of oil some 20 or 30 years after Peter was crucified upside down on a cross. So Jesus could have met Peter’s test of fairness. “Yeah! Him, too! And Philip and MatthewE” He could have worked his way around the circle, somehow proving God’s fairness by the death of them all.

But he didn’t. In fact, he took a surprising tack. He pointed to John. “Him? If I want him to remain again until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” Jesus expanded the problem to encompass Peter’s worst fear. “What if he never dies, Peter. How does that affect you?”

And then he spoke those incredible words again, “Follow me.” When Peter is looking for fairness in the lives of others around him, where are his eyes focused? On them and himself. That perspective will get you nowhere in this kingdom. That’s why God has never answered my angriest accusations about his seeming unfairness. He does not want to encourage the very perspective that will keep my eyes focused in the wrong place.

We can only follow him if our eyes are on him. When we compare our lives to others our eyes are on ourselves and them. And that is as dangerous as trying to drive while gawking in the rear-view mirror at yourself and others in the back seat. That’s the point Jesus wanted to make here. “Get your eyes off of John, Peter. There’s no help there. Don’t focus on the suffering ahead, just follow me.”

How simple Jesus’ invitation is. All we have to do is follow him. We don’t have to understand the big picture and try to figure out what we are suppose to do. I suspect that’s why Jesus didn’t publish a discipleship manual with troubleshooting options for every difficulty or a list of frequently asked questions and their answers. He didn’t want us pursuing a religion. He wanted to build a friendship with us that would allow him to be our personal friend in every circumstance.

How practical that can be! Every day I have more options before my life than I can possibly meet. Should I teach at this church or go help that school district? Should I write that book, or meet with some broken people? Should I invest time today in Lifestream Ministries or Bridge-Builders? Should I only be focused on one of those? It can get overwhelming, until I realize that I don’t have to understand the big picture. I only need to focus my eyes on Jesus, see what he seems to be up to today and follow him. I know it sounds crazy, but whenever I do that I seem to have great clarity about what today holds, and doing that the future takes care of itself.

Compare No More!

But I find it very difficult to do that as long as my focus is on myself and others. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m battling an inferiority complex based on viewing my own failures and other people’s strengths, or from the superiority complex of accentuating God’s grace in my life and focusing on others’ flesh. The fact that I’m even trying to find wisdom in comparison is the problem. My perception of what seems to be happening to me, and what seems to be happening to others will lead me to the conclusion that God is unfair and break the trust that I have in him and his incredible goodness.

Is it fair that the gifted young evangelist, Stephen, was stoned to death during one of his first sermons, and the young man, Saul, holding the coats of those tossing the stones went on to make Jesus known throughout the Mediterranean world? When you put it that wayE Exactly. That’s how our limited human sight puts it, and by doing so we miss out on the marvelous purpose of God unfolding in our lives and people around us.

But, as this little encounter on the seashore attests, Jesus understands that. He watched his disciples compete over who would be first in the kingdom, who could be closest to him or who wouldn’t have to wash the others’ feet. He knows learning to follow him is the exact opposite of everything we have learned in this world. He knows our proclivity to compare and become confused. That’s why it took something so marvelous as the cross to defeat any need for us to compete with others.

The cross was God’s work for us when we were powerless to do anything for him. Nothing about us made us acceptable to him, except his awesome love for us. At the foot of the cross, we know that we cannot do anything to make God love us more nor less. Therefore any boasting we might portion out for ourselves is rendered ridiculous, as is any blame we render out to others.

At the cross battling over comparative significance is exposed as the farce it is. As much as the disciples seemed to squabble about that before the cross, they never did so after. The cross makes us all equal in the eyes of the Father. When you understand that you will never have a need to exalt yourself over others or tear them down focusing on their weaknesses.

At the cross Father’s love was so completely demonstrated, that no tragedy in our lives can erase the reality of his love for each one of us. Having loved us at the ultimate price, how absolutely silly it is for us to doubt that love just because things don’t work out the way we preferred.

And at the cross all the righteousness of the law has been met in us, so that we no longer have to live by rules, guidelines, expectations even principles. We are now free to serve in the newness of the Spirit where the only rule is, “Follow me!” And the one saying it is the one who has loved us more than anyone else in all the world.

What God Values

What do relationships look like that are no longer steeped in competition? It’s hard to imagine isn’t it? So many of our relationships even with other believers have been tainted by it. But the Word paints an incredible picture of believers who love, share, support, serve, give; without a need to gossip, envy or complain about what God is doing in others.

Those kind of relationships begin only in Father’s lap. I love how Paul expressed it: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth is joined.” (Eph. 3:14-15) When we really understand Father’s love, competition no longer has any power over us. We can finally value in each other, what God values in us.

Our world values people who conform, Father values people who are real. Sometimes we’re so busy acting right, that God doesn’t get to touch us where we really hurt. Jesus never chided anyone for being real. If we’re angry at God, don’t you think he’d rather have us be honest about it and work through it rather than hide behind meaningless words that do us no good? When we’re not competing with each other anymore to see who looks most spiritual, we can extend that same openness to others, standing by them in their struggles to let Father reveal himself.

Our world values those who boast in their good fortune; Father values those who can be confessional with their own weaknesses and struggles. A believing community is a confessing community. People are not posturing to be better than others, but letting Father’s glory shine through their brokenness and failures. When there is no competition there is no need to pretend that we are anything else than what we really are. In our conversations and our prayers we can freely look at our failures and mistakes, knowing that he is at work to change us.

Our world values tearing down others; Father values building others up. When I find people who exalt how right they are and gossip about others who disagree with them, I know they are still trapped in competition. The only way they can feel better about themselves is to point out the flesh in others. How tragic! They might be well served to revisit the cross and remember how none of us have earned anything by our acts of righteousness. When we understand that we can encourage others past the most painful obstacles into the fullness of life in Jesus.


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Once In a Lifetime…

Once In a Lifetime…

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 1997

O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Psalm 88:1-6

These words from Psalm 88 echoed off the solid rock walls that surrounded us and sunk deep into our hearts. I was standing with about 20 others in a small chamber carved out of solid rock. Fifteen feet above us was a small hole that had been cut in the rock. Two thousand years ago that was the only access to this dungeon and it was used to lower prisoners into the holding cell we were now in.

This room lie directly beneath the house of Caiaphas, the high priest during the time Jesus lived. Through the long night before his crucifixion, Jesus had been here. The religious leaders had already judged him and they awaited morning to dispatch him to Pilate.

Read the verses again. What went through Jesus’ mind and heart as he sat in the darkness, knowing his hour had come? One thing became very clear to me there. There is no suffering I endure, or pain I have known that he does not understand. He knows well the depths of our anguish which makes him such a wonderful Savior to turn to when doubts and fears assail us.

It was just one moment on my eight day January trip to Israel, but it symbolizes so much of what that time meant. Not only were we walking in places Jesus walked and discovering things about him we’d never considered before, but we also witnessed the oppression of religion that was visible at every turn. Just what was a dungeon doing beneath the house of a high priest anyway?

I am taking this space to share with you some of my trip, not to flaunt it, but to respond to all the questions that I’ve had about my impressions there. It was deeply moving and wonderfully enlightening. For those of you that may never have the chance to go, perhaps I can give you some taste of what it’s like. But I write also to encourage some of you to consider the possibility, even if you have to save years for it. It is a journey that will deepen your faith in Father, and provide more background to allow the Bible to come alive in your hands than anything else you could do.

The Stage God Chose

I can’t say that going to the Holy Land had been one of my long-held dreams. I always had an intellectual curiosity about going there, knowing it would add depth to my study of Scripture. At the same time, however, I knew that the land of Israel was no more holy than any other place in God’s creation nor would God’s presence there be any greater than it is in Visalia, California.

But what hit me the moment I arrived in Israel was that this was the stage God had chosen to reveal himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to their descendants and through them to the world. It was here that he put his own Son on display, and here that his blood was spilled for the salvation of the world. And in that setting I was far more touched than I ever expected.

I arrived at the invitation of The Israel Tour Company, who had invited me to join a pastor’s tour they were conducting and teach on themes of the cross at various sites throughout Israel. What a journey this week proved to be.

We began on the Mediterranean coast, at the Roman city of Ceasarea. Built by Herod as a resort city to indulge the fleshly passions of the Romans living in Palestine, it was also the site God asked Peter to go to when the gospel was first extended to the Gentiles. No wonder the other church leaders were angry that he had done so.

The next morning, we went up into the Carmel Mountains to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. From our overlook we saw the entire Jezreel valley, and Israeli fighters taking off headed for Lebanon.

From there we went to Megiddo and combed through 4,000 years of history that has been excavated. We saw sections that Solomon had built and at one point stood above a Canaanite altar where child sacrifices were being made when Abraham arrived. This is also the site that is called in Latin, Armageddon. It is just about 12 miles from there across the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth where we spent some moments in the synagogue, that is on the exact site of the one where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah.

Leaving Nazareth we went through Cana, site of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding then through the hills to finally arrive at Galilee. Coming over the hill top, spread out before us was the Sea of Galilee itself, spilling out into the Jordan River that wound its way south through verdant lush farmland. We drove around the backside of the Sea to the place where Jesus delivered the deranged man who lived among the tombs then wound up the Golan Heights, where we got a bird’s eye view of the Galilee all the way to snow-capped Mt. Hermon on the border with Syria.

After an evening in Tiberius, the major commercial center in the Galilee, we spent the night at a kibbutz on the southern shore. I ended the evening standing in the darkness, with the water lapping at my feet and surveying distant lights that encircled the lake. “I can’t believe I’m here,” kept running through my mind. “Nor that, 2,000 years ago, he was too.”

The next morning we rode in a boat across the Sea and then explored the north shore. We went to Capernaum where Jesus based his ministry, saw Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, where Jesus surely stayed and stood in the synagogue he had frequented. Then we went to the Mount of Beatitudes, and there overlooking the Sea of Galilee with the wind blowing through the trees we had opportunity to reflect on the words Jesus used to teach people the reality of Father’s kingdom.

Then it was on to Jerusalem, with a stop at Bet-Shean. This was the city and fortification that marked the joining of the Jezreel Valley with the Jordan Valley. Here King Saul’s head had been hung from the walls after his death and here Rome built a magnificent city that existed in the time of Jesus. The excavations were breathtaking. We saw 2,000 year-old mosaics, baths, streets and pillars.

We then wound our way down the Jordan Valley, where Israel would have crossed under Joshua’s command to take the Promised Land. Here, too, John the Baptist baptized those who came from Jerusalem. Through Jericho, then wound our way up the hills and at dusk, came over Mt. Scopus and before us lay what Scripture calls the City of God. The panorama took in the Mt. of Olives, Gethsemane, Mt. Zion, the Old City, and Temple Mount on Mt. Moriah.

The next four days we spent in and around Jerusalem, visiting 3500 years of history. One afternoon some of us walked the tunnel that Hezekiah built to bring the water of the Gihon spring into the city walls when Assyria was planning its assault on Jerusalem. For an hour we meandered by flashlight in thigh-deep water, through solid rock until we arrived at the Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed two blind men. The next day we took a side trip down to the Dead Sea, En Gedi (where David hid out from Saul), and Masada where a Roman fortress had become the symbol of Jewish resistance to foreign oppression.

On our last day we followed the life of Christ, from the shepherds fields near Bethlehem, through the events of his passion, ending at the empty tomb. What an incredible day to be so near the places where these incredible events changed the history of the whole world and became the source of our salvation.

Where Better to Trust?

Why did God choose this stage? Israel has for thousands of years stood at the crossroads of history. A narrow strip of land between the deserts of Arabia and the Mediterranean Sea, it was the only traversable land-bridge between the major civilizations of Babylon, Egypt and the European kingdoms of Greece and Rome. All trading routes traveled through this small area. What greater place could God chose to put his love on display to the whole world than right here? So to this land he brings his people.

But also for that reason this land was most-coveted. Jerusalem has been conquered and re-conquered 23 times in the last 3500 years. God told them he would give them this land and keep it for them if they would put their trust in him. That wasn’t just good advice, it was the truth. The nation of Israel would never be strong enough on its own to hold this land by their military might. All of the nations wanted to control Israel’s trading corridors and the money that could be made from taxing the trade that passed through it. If God did not intervene for them on a daily basis, they were only to know the oppression of one civilization after another.

But as Psalm 78 tells us, Israel often forgot God in times when he made her secure. The people would trust in their own power and give themselves over to their fleshly passions. To invite them back to himself, he would send in armies to challenge them in hopes of drawing Israel’s heart back to himself. At every turn in Israel we saw how God entreated his people to trust him and not themselves or their false gods.

I’ve written a lot in this space over the last couple of years on the joyous journey of learning to trust Father for everything, and not rely on ourselves. That is how sin got started with Adam and Eve, and how it infects us all. Putting our trust in Father, however, is where relationship with him thrives and where freedom from sin can finally become a reality. No where have I seen that more graphically illustrated than here. Are we going to trust God, or ourselves. Isn’t that what Jesus faced in his temptations? Would he provide for himself, or trust that Father knew best for him and follow his desires? One day we stood on the 2,000 year old steps that led up to the temple, just beneath the pinnacle where the scapegoat was thrown off, and where Jesus was tempted to put his trust in his own actions.

The entire passion account draws into sharp relief the choice of self-survival or trust in Father. At any moment Jesus could have ended his trial and invoked the legion of angels to rescue him. Even in that long night in the pit beneath Caiaphas’ house, he chose to entrust himself to Father. Even in the darkness of becoming sin for us on the cross; unable to even see Father except as the source of the wrath that he bore so that sin could finally be destroyed in his flesh; he still entrusted himself to God, refusing to save himself.

Thus he became the Savior for us all. Now, as we learn to entrust ourselves to God in the same way, losing our lives in a very real sense of not protecting ourselves, we too can taste of the marvelous provision and love of Father. Life is found in trust, and this trust Jesus not only modeled for us, but extends to us through the life of the Spirit.

Final Things

There is so much more to say, but space does not permit. Israel provides a wonderful study in religious tradition and oppression. Almost everywhere you turn church buildings have been built over the “authentic” site of some Biblical moment. The only problem is in many places there are three or four churches claiming to be the authentic site of the same event. Our orthodox Jewish guide told us that the church built these in the 4th and 5th centuries to hold the faithful when many were abandoning the church. Interesting.

It was an eye-opening moment to watch 16 different orthodox churches fight over every square inch of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which they believe to be the site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Does anyone else find this absurd? On the site they think Jesus shed his blood for the unity of the church, they demonstrate the disunity of the church and each of them feeling justified to do so because they alone hold the true gospel for the church.

Compound this with all the mosques that the Moslems have built during the time they ruled Israel, and it really was hard to see any pragmatic difference between Christian sites and Moslem ones, except for the crosses or the minarets. But when you look at the religious ceremony, it differs very little, and its no wonder that the Jewish people reject them both.

The hotel we stayed at in Jerusalem was the focal point of the Hebron agreement that was being hammered out while we were there. The American delegation stayed there, and so was the media seeking interviews in the lobby. Some of the saddest words I heard spoken while we were there were made by our guide on a trip through the countryside. “We are creating Bosnia here,” he said. The land is being parceled out to a patchwork of competing jurisdictions that could explode some day in all-out conflict. How difficult the political realities and stakes in this section of the world.

But as far as our own safety we never felt at-risk. The tour companies do a great job of keeping people out of the hot spots, and most people there realize the value of the tourist dollar and don’t want to threaten it. To top it off, Israel has the best security in the world, attested to by the soldier brandishing an M-16 that broke into our meeting with a Tourism official to search our room for bombs. Wow how secure can you get?

None of these things took away from the incredible moments that allowed me to taste God’s work in Israel where he chose to reveal himself to the world. It is a marvelous stage to view God’s love and his work on our behalf.


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What’s In it For Me?

What’s In it For Me?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1997

Over the last few years I’ve shared a meal or two with some incredible brothers and sisters.

All of them had been involved in successful vocations or ministries at one point in their lives, most of them at the head of it, and yet all of them found occasion to walk away. For all of them at the time it had been a very painful decision, and none of them really knew what lie beyond it. Often their friends or families didn’t understand what they were doing, and either ridiculed them or withdrew from them.

But they had some wonderful things in common. None of them were bitter, or pined away for their “successful past.” They all confessed how deeply their relationship with Jesus had grown and their understanding of the power of God’s grace. All of them said they had discovered life and freedom in Jesus they never imagined existed when they made their difficult decision.

People who do not act in their own best interest have always fascinated me. It’s easy to understand why people do good things when there is something in it for them. Even our pleas for volunteer help or charitable contributions are almost always linked to tax-deductions, feeling good about yourself and or giving something back, as a way of appealing to people who make choices only because it is in their best interest to do so. That’s just the way our world works.

But that’s not the way Father’s kingdom works. Jesus said so in perhaps the most paradoxical statement of his ministry: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

When we worry about what’s in it for us, struggle to do the best we can for ourselves, even in our pursuit of God, we will always find ourselves deeply disappointed. But if we can let go of that which seeks our perception of our own best interest, we will discover the life of God in the fullest measure.

This is an incredible kingdom our Father has crafted. Choosing his way is undoubtedly the best decision we can make for ourselves. However, our knowledge about what is truly best for us is so limited, that decisions we make seeking our own best interest only draw us further from him. That’s why Jesus warned anyone who would come after him that he would need to, “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Only where we mistrust our pursuit of happiness on our terms, will we discover that true joy lies only in him. For our joy comes not in attaining anything, but being free from our own selfish passions and desires. The problem is that’s not how most of us were introduced to the Father’s kingdom.

Bribed and Threatened

The two most effective evangelism tools of our century both appeal to people’s best interests.

“If you died tonight do you know that you would go to heaven?” Many people come to this kingdom threatened with the fiery stench of hell. It’s a terrifying concept, isn’t it? Once you convince people that heaven and hell, are both real and God decides who goes where, the work of evangelism is done. What fool would choose hell over heaven if they really believe both existed?

Yet this approach to God leaves us in a horrible dilemma. How do you build a loving relationship with the God who would hurl you into eternal torture if you don’t? Is there something so wrong with God that we have to be threatened with torture to come to him?

The second tool, takes the opposite approach to our best interests. “God has a wonderful plan for your life;” and with it we conjure up images of a blissful life with a God who will keep us at peace, happy and free from suffering if we’ll just follow him. So, people come to God in hopes of finding in him what they couldn’t find for themselves in the world. But self is still at the center-we come to him for ourselves. Joy is still defined in our terms.

This becomes painfully obvious whenever expectations are disappointed or difficulties arise. We begin to doubt God’s love if we don’t get the job we wanted or if our children battle a serious illness. Most Christians I have dealt with in years of ministry seem to have more stress over the fact that God is allowing them to be in crisis, than the crisis itself would ever produce.

In appealing to people’s best interest for themselves, both of these invitations to the kingdom may be counterproductive to the kingdom itself. By getting people to chose the kingdom based on their fear of punishment or their greed for the good life, they are only further ensnared in their bondage to self. Rather than leading them closer to the embrace of a living God, they end up only frustrated that Christianity isn’t all it pretends to be.

The relationship that God invites us to share in is the same one that he has enjoyed through all eternity. The Father, Son and Spirit live together in absolute love, sharing together life, glory, and joy. Love in this sense is complete selflessness, each of them giving and serving without any thought for themselves. This kind of love is hard for us to grasp, for what love defines in our age is usually nothing more than mutually-beneficial relationship. People say they love each other when each of them provide some benefit or enjoyment to the other. But as soon as one stops benefiting from the relationship, they usually withdraw pursuing other more-satisfying relationships.

Such self-based love really isn’t love at all. When we approach God in this way we will find ourselves often disappointed when he doesn’t do what we expect him to. When Jesus invited us to the depths of relationship with the Father, the Spirit and himself, he knew the only way we could discover the depth of joy is where we abandon the pursuit of our own best interests and completely trust him to provide everything we need. But that runs against everything we’ve ever known.

What Else Do you Do With Flesh?

Adam and Eve made their choice in the garden, certain they were acting in their own best interest. We will become like God, they thought, never understanding all the ramifications of that choice until it was too late.

I’ve often wondered why God was not a bit more specific about the trees he’d planted in that garden. About the tree they ate from, he warned them they would die if they did. But why didn’t he tell them all of it? Why didn’t he tell them that if they ate of it they would subject themselves and thousands of generations to follow to the horrible atrocities of sin, disease, depression, broken relationships, abuse and death? If he had, and told them all they had to do to avoid these things was to go over and eat of the Tree of Life, don’t you suppose they would have done it?

Of course they would. But why, because they loved and trusted him? No. They would have done it only because it would have been in their best interest. They would have still chosen control of their own life and by doing so would have missed out on the relationship he wanted them to discover. So they came to know good and evil without any power to choose the good.

But let us not forget, that God knew from the beginning what their choice would be and had already set about to use their failure in the process of redemption. Immediately after their fall, he prescribed conditions in which their bent for choosing in their own best interest would be used to help hold their sin in check until the Savior would come. The curses and eventually the law God used rewards and punishments to make God’s ways appeal to our self-interest.

We do the same thing when we discipline our children. Their flesh will not want to do good on their own, but through discipline we seek to make disobedience less attractive. This is how our world conforms behavior. We obey traffic laws, for fear of getting a ticket. The military makes people conform to the standards of conduct they want by an exhaustive set of rewards and punishments, all designed to use self-interest as the motivating force. Grades in school and incentives in business are all meant to appeal to our greed and fear to hold us in check.

So it is natural for us to assume then that God would use hell and the promise of the abundant life to conform our behavior in the kingdom. That’s why so much fear and guilt or promise of God’s blessing or leadership positions are used to get believers to do what’s right.

The Problem with Self-Interest

But anyone who has ever used self-interest as a motivating tool, knows it ultimately doesn’t work. God never expected his own law to work, because our flesh was just too weak. While it can be successful in conforming external behaviors (there’s a lot less adultery around if people get stoned for it), it ultimately cannot transform people.

That’s why children who have only been motivated by fear will end up in rebellion in the teen-age years. Fear never endures. Having been taught all their lives to respond to self-interest what do parents do when that self-interest is served more by going along with their crowd instead of following the desires of their parents?

Even Paul blamed the same process that made him a Pharisee and faultless in legalistic righteousness, as that which made him the chiefest of sinners. Outside his life conformed to God’s law, even though inside hate raged against people he considered a threat to the God he thought he knew. So he murdered in God’s name, and only by God’s mercy found the light of God.

That ought to give us pause, because much of our orientation to the Christian life today is incredibly similar to the Pharisees. We might call them ‘New Testament principles’ instead of law but they still are a set of dos and don’ts that we try to package to appeal to people’s self interest. Regrettably the results are the same. Externally we may look like good Christians and might even take great pride in that; while the most despicable of sins devours us from within. Scripture and history show us that even the most religious of us, will only end up using our traditions and principles to maximize our own best interests, like tax-lawyers groping for loopholes.

It’s no wonder that this process cannot draw us any closer to him, and why God had a better plan in mind.

Serving God Without Preference

God’s ultimate plan to deal with self-interest was not going to come through law or obligation. He knew our flesh was too weak for that. The only way to life was for self to be swallowed up in the immensity of Father’s love.

So Jesus came to die, not because God needed a victim on which to expend his wrath, but that we needed a demonstration of love so powerful, that we could abandon all trust in living to our own best interests and come to participate in the community of God. Because we would trust his love and care for our lives, we would no longer have to look out for ourselves, but follow him freely all of our days.

That’s what Paul taught regarding the cross. “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor 5:15) That became incredibly practical for me recently. I was reminded about a near accident I had while driving a car when I was eighteen. I was speeding down a dark country road with five passengers aboard. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with an urge to slam on my brakes and did so without even consciously choosing to. As the car skidded to a stop a diamond-shaped reflector sign came into view. The road was coming to a dead-end into a cement ditch. My tires stopped within a foot of that sign.

I haven’t thought about that for a long time, until a time of prayer when I was complaining to God about some difficult things that were going in my life. “Why can’t I get away with doing what seems to work for everyone else?”

At that moment I thought of my near accident and heard that still, small voice: “Ever since that night I’ve considered you mine. You deserved to die in a tragedy that would have taken five other lives, but I saved you. I own you.”

What captured my heart in that moment was the overwhelming love of God. Being owned by him was not bondage. What he was doing in my life was not punishment I needed to fear, but his grace that was showing me the depth of his love. He was inviting me to a relationship with him that acting in my best interest would never approach.

“But perfect love drives out fear,” John wrote, “because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

What a gift! Abandoning our best-interest is a no-brainer decision in the face of the cross. Our agenda is exposed clearly for what it is, a march for self-destruction. Now, we can face every situation without the horrible bondage of figuring out how to make it work best for me. We can simply yield ourselves to God and watch him work out his purposes.

Obedience is no longer the onerous task of trying to keep God appeased, but the simple result of living in trust. After all, isn’t sin only the result of trying to provide for ourselves what God said he would provide for us? If so, then when we are confident that God will have his way, we no longer have to push for our own agendas. In the cross Wayne’s best interest has ceased to exist and no longer needs to be served. That’s not just true of sinful acts but even visions of ministry. He is at work in me for his pleasure. I don’t have to scheme or manipulate people anymore.

The One Who Is Truly Free

What has touched me most about the people I mentioned at the beginning of this article is that they are the most liberated people I’ve ever known. They had uncovered a greater depth of relationship, not because Father rewarded their efforts, but because they had discovered a life in God beyond self. They had seen God take care of them and were learning to enjoy his presence because they were no longer blowing by him in the night continuing to pursue their own agendas.

We understand people who serve their self-interest. In fact it is easy to manipulate people with threats and bribery. But when someone ceases to be motivated by such things, they themselves become a threat to the self-interest system. Others will call them rebels and accuse them of being unsubmitted.

The free person in Christ and the rebellious will always look the same to those who labor under religious obligation, because both ignore the conventions that govern men. But there is a major difference between the two. The rebel does it to serve himself and his passions, always harming others in the process and leaving a wake of anarchy behind him.

The free person in Christ, however, does so because they no longer have a need to serve themselves. They have embraced God’s love at a far deeper level than any method of behavioral conformity will touch, and they will guard that freedom even if it means others will misunderstand them. They reject the conventions not to please themselves, but Father, and because they want others to find that same joy in the hands of a loving Father.

This is the parent, co-worker, brother, sister, son or daughter that God wants to scatter over the whole earth, and by liberating us from self-interest based, legalistic righteousness, allows us to taste the majesty and depth of all that waits for us in God.

This is the purpose of God in bringing his children into his glory. As long as you seek your own best interest in the circumstances you face, you will never find the life of God. Learn to let go of your agenda and trust Father’s immense love, and you will discover what true freedom and joy really are.


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Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 1997

The warm lights of the dinning room spill out through opened curtains into the growing darkness of the yard. The alluring aroma of dinner, tender conversation and cheerful laughter drift out through the open windows.

What could be more inviting? But in the front yard the tension is nearly unbearable.

I am kneeling on the lawn, my eyes on a stray puppy not 15 yards away. It’s in her mind that the battle rages.

“Should I or shouldn’t I? I really want to, but will I be safe?”

I can see the torment in her eyes. She wants to trust me, but is too afraid of what I might do. She is tired of fending for herself, alone in a cruel world.

But the choice to trust is never easy. Will I take care of her and help her, or will I be like all the others who have hurt her or abandoned her? She doesn’t want any more pain, preferring to leave now if my invitation will only bring her added disappointment.

I would love to run to her, sweep her up in my arms and assure her I mean her no harm, but she will not let me. Every time I make the slightest move toward her she moves further away. If I’m going to help her, she will have to risk trusting me. Little does she know that there is probably not a better home in all the world for her than ours.

So many strays show up here, that I think our address must be listed on every fire hydrant in town. There is nothing that evokes more compassion from my wife than a lost or stray dog.

From the moment we spot a strange dog in our front yard, we watch it carefully to see if it’s just passing through, or if it is lost. If my wife concludes the later, it will get the royal treatment. We’ll invite her into our home and offer her plenty of water and food. Sara will check to see if she has any dog tags, and if she does she will call the owners right away and let them know their dog is safe.

If she has no tags, within a few hours she will be given a bath, including a treatment for fleas. She will be cuddled and coddled and assured she’s safe, wonderful and loved. Then Sara will call the dog pound to see if the owner has contacted them and leaves the dog’s description in case they do later. But she will not take it to the pound. No dog will ever die at her hand.

She will also put an ad in the paper describing the lost dog and leaving our phone number. If no one calls in a week, she takes out another ad to offer the dog to a good home and screens every caller until she’s satisfied the potential owners are worthy of her dog.

Right now, the dog across from me has no idea all this awaits her if she can overcome her fear. But all the benefits of my house are hers, if she comes. I hold out my hand, offering her food. I know she hasn’t eaten in awhile because I can count every rib right through her fur. I coax lovingly, speaking in soft tones, trying to caress her with my words.

She makes a few halting steps toward me, then thinks better of it. She backs off, turning her head away as if to break a spell about to overcome her. The game will continue for awhile. I will not force her into my home, and thus allow her fears to be a risk to my dogs or my children. If she comes, she’ll have to come willingly.

Every time I play this game with the latest stray through our neighborhood, I can’t help but think how much this pictures God’s entreaty to each of us.

He has prepared an incredible place for us in himself and invited us to come into his house and be part of his family. For us to come, however, we will have to trust him. That’s not easy when you’ve been disappointed by others or even when we’re unsure that we are worthy of coming to his house.

Yet there he is, patiently extending his hand to us, trying to get closer, until we cower away in fear. Then he backs off so he will not add to our fear, hoping by his gentleness to convince us that we can trust him.

But we’ve been disappointed so many times before. Per-haps like some of the strays who come to our house, every one we’ve ever trusted has betrayed that trust. Maybe even things we thought were God in the past turned out to be hurtful, so we really want to be sure this time it is really him. If the truth be told many of us have been exploited by people who came to us in God’s name, claiming to know God’s will for us, who only had in mind exploiting us for their own needs.

Trust. It is so easy to talk about, but so hard to put into practice. Nothing is more theologically certain than that God is faithful and trustworthy. But learning how to live in that trust through the twists and turns of our lives is the most difficult challenge we face.

No one knows that better than our loving Father. So while we look longingly in his direction, hoping against hope that he is who he claims to be. His soft voice beckons us closer. “It’s okay. I love you. I really do.”

How I want to believe him. I take a step toward him, but as soon as I do, fear begins to build again. What if he hurts me? What if he makes me do something I’ll really hate?

Worse yet, what if this isn’t really God at all, just the figment of my imagination. I have too often been suckered into the enemy’s trap. I don’t know if I can handle the disappointment again.

Fear finally overwhelms trust and we step back again, turning aside, wishing it would all go away and life would be better. But we are still lost, still hungry and know there is no where else to go that can really give us life. We glance back his direction. Should we go? Is it too good to be true?

As difficult as it is for that puppy to trust me, because I can so quickly and easily hurt her, it is far more risky for us to trust God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth. His very presence conveys how powerless and undeserving we are. But he has provided a way. He wants to teach us to trust him far more than we want to learn it.

It took him almost Abraham’s entire life to teach him the joy of trusting him. But he did it. Even when he was asked to give up his only son and heir, he trusted God’s plan and God’s nature enough to set about the task. This, from the one who had risked his wife’s virtue by lying to Pharaoh that she was not his wife. This, from the one who had impregnated his wife’s maidservant when it didn’t appear God would give Sarah the child he promised.

To accomplish that, God did some extraordinary things for Abraham, so that he could know what was in God’s heart for him.

Rest assured, God knows how difficult it is for you to trust him.

He is not threatened by that nor angry with you. He simply wants you to keep your eye on him and learn.

He knows that only by trusting him can you participate in relationship with him and enjoy the fullness of life in his household. This is why he created you and why he designed such an extraordinary plan to teach you exactly how to lay aside your fears and walk into his arms.

Then he can scoop you up, hold you closely to himself and fulfill what began in his heart for you since before the creation of the world.


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The Nut Test

BodyLife Archive • September 1997
By Wayne Jacobsen

“You mean I’m not nuts!” No statement has been spoken to me more often by such a wide variety of people than this one.  Sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes it’s spoken with great joy, other times with quiet relief. I’ve heard these words in virtually every state of the union, and from countries half way around the world. Every time, I hear them, I am blessed to be there.
Because for a long time, I wondered if I was nuts, too. I had hungers in my heart toward God that life in today’s Christianity never satisfied. In fact I would say most church activity did more to negate my hunger than satisfy it. There were too many substitutes for the living God and too many people missing out on the sheer joy and freedom of knowing him and depending totally on him. Whenever I tried to talk about it people accused me of being nuts.

Well, that’s not exactly the words they used. They said stuff like: You’re too idealistic. Can’t you just accept it the way it is! If that’s what God wanted to do in the church today don’t you think he would speak to our leaders about it.

The only reason you’re not happy is because you’re too independent and unsubmitted. But every time I read the Word and took a look at church life, I couldn’t relate the two. The promises far outweighed the reality. It seemed to me that only a few people were really discovering what life in Jesus was all about. The rest were just cogs in the machinery of religious institutions.
For the most part these were good people, mind you. They were diligent in their commitments and responsibilities, believing they were fulfilling God’s purpose by doing so. But they never seemed to engage a joyful, transforming relationship with a loving Father.

I know that sounds judgmental. I don’t mean it to be. I’ve talked with many of them always working hard, but always feeling empty. Like me they wondered why they didn’t experience the depth of spiritual life they saw in the Word. They were grieved by the focus they saw on buildings, programs, money and superstar leaders, and the hurt caused by the pursuit of those things.

Ten years ago I wrote some of those observations in a book called The Naked Church. That’s when the letters and phone calls started. It seems that I was not the only one afraid they were nuts. I discovered lots of other believers whose hunger for God left them disillusioned with the priorities of our religious systems. They too had experienced persistent questioning of their sanity. Many of these had served in leadership positions in a variety of denominations. Many had been pushed aside with accusations of being arrogant or rebellious when they started asking the questions that made others uncomfortable.

When they talked to me, they didn’t say things like, “Wayne, you opened my eyes to things I never considered before.” Instead they said, “Wayne, you put into words what I have felt for so long, but could never express.” That someone else was asking the same questions and sharing the same hungers made them feel like maybe they weren’t nuts after all.
Unless, of course, we’re all nuts. Which in all fairness might be worthy to consider. But nothing sums up the passion of this ministry than that simple discovery. We exist to help people discover and enjoy a vibrant relationship with the living God. Sometimes all we have to say is, “I think God is leading you. Feel free to follow him and not worry what others think.” Sometimes we’re the only voice saying that to them.

Relationship not Religion

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

These are the words Jesus prayed in the Garden, shortly before his crucifixion. He didn’t die to give birth to another religion, but engage people in a relationship with him and his Father. It has always bothered me that institutional Christianity doesn’t look any different to the world than any of the other religions. We who allegedly walk with the living God have the same traditions, obligations, shrines, sacrifices and ceremonies that they have. Oh, we call them by different names and tell them we are different. But it certainly doesn’t look that way to outsiders.

Christianity is not another religion. It is not a code of ethics. It is not participation in ceremonies or signing some creed. Christianity is a relationship to the Risen Christ, his Father and the Holy Spirit. It is intended to be a relationship more real, more loving, more transforming than any other we’ve ever known in this life. He wants to be at our side when we waken in the morning and walk with us through every step of our day. He wants to be the shoulder we cry on when we hurt, the resource we count on every moment, and the ever-present guide that teaches us how to walk away from the bondage of self and embrace life as Father knows it to be. Then we can be like him in the world, loving others as we have been loved.

It is called relational Christianity, because it is only caught up in loving him and loving others. Period. That’s all he asked us to do, and it is what religion has most failed at over 2,000 years. We are committed to helping people discover the depth of that relationship in him and then discover healthy ways believers can relate together without contempt, manipulation, expectation and the arrogance of setting themselves above others. That’s not only the way we’ll treat other believers, but unbelievers around us as well.

Freedom not Conformity

That kind of relationship however doesn’t grow where people are burdened down with religious obligations and duties. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul encouraged the church at Galatia to that freedom, even though he warned them not to use it as an excuse to run off and appease the flesh. But even when people did, he didn’t revoke the freedom of those who were growing to know Father. His letters defined that freedom even as they warned that false leaders would come to take that freedom away. He knew believers would only grow in an environment of freedom.

 

  • To live in the love of an awesome Father, free to respond to him as he leads you, even if that means you make mistakes now and then.
  • To walk without guilt or condemnation. Recognize that transformation is a life-long process that Jesus
  • works in us by our security in his love, not something we do for him out of fear.
  • To be real. To feel what you feel; to ask what you need to ask, to be wrong where you are wrong, and to extend that same freedom to others.
  • To be liberated from accountability to human leaders who seek to take the place of Jesus in the church by telling others what they think he would have them do.
  • To love other brothers and sisters freely, serving them the way Jesus leads you and not trying to conform to their expectations of what a ‘good Christian’ should do for them.
  • To live free of bitterness and hurt, even where religious institutions (and those who run them) have failed you. We’ve all got plenty wrong with us, so there can be no end to the generosity we can extend others in their weakness.

 

Those who do not understand this freedom, have lost touch with the head and deny the power of the cross. When that happens people end up lording over others, seeking to conform them to their standard of Christian behavior. Enduring transformation, however, can never come that way. It can only spring from within as the fruit of our friendship with Jesus.

 

Inside Out Not Outside In

Jesus didn’t mince words. “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Religion always tries to change people from the outside in, because it has no power to affect the inner life. Religion finds its reason for being in sustaining traditions and ceremonies, meeting people’s needs and demanding behavioral and philosophical conformity. We talk alike, act alike, think alike! We must be OK!

And because we’ve learned to be ‘nice’ on the outside, we think that God’s work is done. The only problem is that nothing has changed on the inside. We forget that the same system that made Paul “a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” was the same system that made him the “chief of sinners.” When he fixed up the outside, he only drove the sin deeper inside.

What he was on the inside was frightful. Even though outwardly perfect by his standard, by his own words he was a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” It’s amazing what horrors external righteousness can produce where it really counts.

In Christ Paul found motivation that absolutely transformed him. He came face to face with a love so powerful, that Jesus’ love for him was the only motivation he needed. He didn’t need the fear of hell. He didn’t need accountability to men. He only needed to know how much he was loved. There Paul could die to everything he aspired to for himself, and could enter into the freedom of living in the power of God.

I find no greater joy in my life than to help people discover the depth of that love for themselves, and see how it transforms them by the shear power of his love. This is no external righteousness, it flows from the depth of our being, the freedom to no longer live with self at the center.

So, Are We Against The System?

If by system we mean Christians gathering together (even if it is the same time every week) for prayer, worship and teaching.  Absolutely not! In fact, I go to places like that quite frequently. But if by system we mean the bondage of religious conformity, where people become passive believers in the machinery of a system that wants to use them to feed itself, then yes!
It amazes me that no one is even bothered by the fact that Jesus never once gathered his people in a ‘service.’ He never ‘led worship’ as far as we knew. He never set up a Sunday School. He never launched into a 10 week study of anything beginning at 10:00 on Saturday or Sunday morning. Yet today, we cannot imagine Christianity without those things and judge harshly those who feel like those thing don’t benefit them.

Hear me clearly here. If you are involved in such a gathering that truly stimulates you to greater depths of relationship with God by all means enjoy it! Wonderful things can and do happen when believers get together like that.

But if you find that environment too passive, or even hurtful because of what’s being taught or how people are treated, feel free not to go too! There are many people today who deeply love God and are finding the joy of gathering in much more informal settings, learning as families to share the life of Jesus together in their homes. They don’t go to church, but are learning to live as the church by sharing his life with others and with the world. There’s nothing wrong with that either. In fact, I think it’s a lot closer to what Jesus modeled for his disciples than many of us would care to admit.
Statistics continue to show that the most significant moments in people’s spiritual growth come not at church services, but through personal relationships and in small home studies. Church statisticians tell us that the fastest growing segment of church life today is home groups, Bible studies and house churches. In fact the most effective discipleship and mission work is done by loosely-affiliated small groups of believers learning to share the life and love of Jesus together as a real part of their every day lives.

Personally, I love that kind of body life. Certainly it is more challenging than meeting in managed services, but I find it a far greater growing environment for the whole family. But our purpose at Lifestream is not to advance any system over another. Actually any system (including home churches) can be exploited by people looking to serve themselves instead of live in Father’s love. And any time our idea of church becomes a substitute for a living relationship with Father it becomes destructive.

Love Him, Love Each Other

Relational Christianity is so simply summed up it seems almost trite to say it. Love him with everything you are, and love others the same way you have been loved by him.
We want to help people experience the depth of that relational life in all its facets. We provide writing and teaching to encourage that process in people’s lives. We meet with a wide variety of groups who want to discover what it means to walk with him and experience Godly relationships with other believers.

And once in a while we’ll be a burr in the saddle of institutional religion, not because we enjoy raining on other people’s parades, but because a lot of people fall out of that system hurt and disillusioned. We want them to know that though the system will fail us all at some point, that is only so that we might come to trust Father and him alone.
Jesus didn’t leave his disciples with a system to mass produce throughout the world. He gave them the Spirit, so that we might depend on him. That is true freedom and the source of limitless joy that can conquer any circumstance life hurls at us.

Learn that and you’ll discover the church as God sees it not our cloistered groups meeting in a specific building under a creed some weekend morning. You will see his body scattered throughout your community and the whole world. He knows those who are his. He is able to be the shepherd and hold them in his care. He is able to link them for fellowship and ministry in ways you never dreamed.

We simply aspire to be a part of Jesus doing that wherever he sends us. We’ll keep talking about this wonderful Father and how we can grow to know him better. We’ll keep talking about ways the body of Christ can share life together that doesn’t hurt or manipulate, but encourage us to greater trust in him.
And we’ll keep telling people they’re not nuts. Unless, of course, we think they are!


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Permission is herby granted to anyone wishing to make copies for free distribution.

Why Are You So Afraid?

Why Are You So Afraid?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1997

From out of no where it seemed the storm had charged across the lake and threatened to sink the small boat and the disciples. Terrified they finally realize Jesus was asleep and awakened him. He looked in their frantic eyes and asked them one simple question. “Why are you so afraid?”

Why? Because. Because they were a long way from the shore.

Because their boat was at one moment tossed into the air by an angry wave, and in the next it would slam into the bottom of a trough where more waves washed over the side, threatening to rip them out of the boat.

Because they were about to capsize and they couldn’t even see where the nearest shoreline was. Because they were about to die. Weren’t those reasons enough to be afraid?

Sure, they might seem silly now that the sky was clear, the wind barely a whisper and only the tiniest of ripples lapped against the side of the boat, but how were they to know he could or would command the storm to silence? How were they to know that they would be safe after all?

They didn’t, of course, which couldn’t have been his point. Certainly the circumstances were such that any rational person would be afraid.

Unless.

Unless they were looking at someone more certain than the wind, more powerful than the waves, more loving toward them than any of them yet knew.

‘You of little faith,’ he had called them. I would love to see the look on his face when he did so. I don’t think this is the angry rebuke our movie versions have made it out to be. Couldn’t he have said it with a chuckle in his voice as he’s roughing up Matthew’s hair? That’s what I suspect, because this was a lesson not a test. There was something he wanted them to grasp here.

Having “little faith” is not a measurement of quantity. On another occasion when Jesus pointed out how little their faith was, the disciples asked him to increase their faith. He responded that faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains.

So if quantity was not his concern, then it must have been something else.

If our faith is in the wind and the sea, then you will only feel safe when it is clear and calm. When it is not, you will be stricken with fear. But if you can learn to vest your trust in Father’s love and care for you, then it matters little what wind and sea can hurl at you.

This is perhaps your greatest challenge in learning the freedom and joy of trusting Father. For in trusting him we have to put more faith in what we cannot see than what we do. Nothing is more difficult for us to learn. We are physical creatures that find it easier to trust the tangibles in time and space more than we trust Father’s love for us.

But isn’t our trust in circumstances, really a trust in ourselves? Before the storm hit, the disciples trusted the skills of the fishermen among them. They were certain of their abilities to sail the sea as long as the weather didn’t get too nasty. Up until the moment it did, they had no fear because they were certain of themselves. But when the storm reached full fury, they knew they were in over their heads.

We do the same thing, don’t we? We take care of ourselves the best we can. As long as everything works the way we want it to, we are content. But when crisis hits, our misdirected faith is unmasked. We are not so well-equipped as we thought. Now, not only do our eyes fix on the circumstances that rage around us, but also on our own failures to deal with them.

Perhaps even the disciples, swamped by the tempest turned to blaming themselves. We should have stayed closer to land. We should have taken a bigger boat. Whose idea was it to go boating today?

And once you start down that road there is no hope in crisis. How can I trust God with something when it’s my own fault to begin with? We can rattle off a hundred things we could have done differently, and all of them become excuses for why we can’t trust him now.

Trust in God based on our own performance, is still trust in ourselves. If God only helps the perfect, what hope have any of us? If we must earn the right to trust in Father, then we still end up only believing in ourselves. It will even work for us as long as the weather is nice. But when the storm crashes down us, such faith is worthless indeed. Who cannot point to weaknesses, ignorance or failure in our own lives that would make it impossible to believe he will help me out?

Jesus’s ministry with his closest friends was designed to bring them to the end of themselves so that they might trust in Father alone. But no matter how hard they tried, they always seemed to come up short. Even on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter was so certain his faith in God would overcome any temptation to deny his friend. But it wasn’t so. As soon as the heat was turned up he caved in, his fears overwhelming his faith.

You know what that is like, don’t you? If you’re like me you probably have plenty of stories where you really needed to entrust yourself to his care, but instead reacted to your fears. Like Peter, we look back at our faithlessness and weep. Blame and accusation swallow up any confidence we have that God will work in our lives. As long as I’ve been a Christian I should be doing better by now.

But our self-focused faith only let’s every trial and difficulty either prove that we’re not good enough, or that God doesn’t care enough about us. Both will make us afraid. Both are ‘little faith,’ because that faith is vested is something so little ourselves!

As God invites us into relationship with him where he becomes far more real than any circumstance we encounter. Instead of seeing wind and waves, or our inability to deal with them, we see him in the midst of it all. We may not know how he is going to deal with our circumstances, but we can rest secure that no one loves us more. And when his work is unfolding in our lives, no circumstance is a cause for fear.

How can we get to that place?

Wrong question, for in asking it we only prove our eyes are still on ourselves. Like the storm on Galilee, it matters little what we do, only what he will do. By keeping our eyes on him we can be free of fear or anxiety no matter what we might encounter in this life.

And what he has done in us and what he will continue to do even in the midst of the most painful circumstances you face today, will absolutely astound you.


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The Most Exciting Days in History

kevin_smith_0The Most Exciting Days in History

By Kevin Smith

BodyLife • January 1998

 

As the last few years of the twentieth century flit away, much of our society is marked by a sense of disillusionment. Things have not turned out the way we once thought they would. The optimism of the ’60s and ’70s has given way to a harsh ’90s loss of vision and hope for the future.

We have become used to living with change. Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock, written in the ’60s, understated the massive change that humanity has been subjected to.

Alongside society’s feelings of hopelessness and questions about the value of life and living, the church has also gone through massive change. Church life surveys indicate that fewer people are attending church services each week, and the message of the good news of Jesus is regarded by many (including some churchgoers) as at best irrelevant. The young have deserted the church in droves, voting with their feet.

In so many ways, it seems that confidence in our culture and our future on planet Earth is at an all time low.

Perhaps the greatest danger is when human beings themselves find they are at the end of their rope. At the point where our optimism fades and our expectations are threatened, we often act in ways that are extreme, sometimes downright inhumane!

At each era of history, in all the schemes for living that the human race has devised, it always seems that in the course of time the best ideas end with a need to look for further solutions. Each set of ideas disintegrates on the rubbish heap of history.

To people who are human spirits and who (as St. Augustine reminds us) can be satisfied by nothing but God, it is little wonder that we cry out for the reality of God’s person.

Exciting Days

How can we say, then, that these are the most exciting days of human history? They are exciting because in these days of disillusionment we are finding much that is sterile and destructive, and we are beginning to see past our dreams of better things to catch a glimpse of the vista revealed by the God who shows his intentions in the Bible.

For a long time we human beings have disregarded God and his ways. Like goldfish in a bowl, we have argued that our perspective on life is reality. This reality has only been sha-ken from time to time when the bowl has wobbled. But we live in days when it’s threatening to topple. Like goldfish tipped from their bowl into a drain and on into the ocean, our perspective is undergoing radical change!

This is an exciting time in human history because humankind is realizing that things are not what our philosophers and psychologists have said they are. Rather, reality is based on the God of the Bible.

Looking for God’s Reality

But where do we find that reality? Despite all the religious options of our day, people still don’t know where to look.

They’ve seen the futility of mere talk about God. They’ve sensed the emptiness of projecting their own vulnerability and failures on to God. And the way the hopes and magic practices of ‘religion’ make God appear as someone able to be controlled and marketed, without too many side-effects, has made people as disenchanted and wary about God as everything else.

We must ask: Has religion kept us busily away from knowing close relationship with God? In the end, structures absorb life and rob us of a growing intimacy with the Creator.

The truth is, God’s church has been ‘squeezed into the mold’ of the world system, the very thing Paul warned us about when he wrote to the Roman Christians:

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2).

Paul’s admonition is for all of us who have seen the goodness of God’s rescue from sin and death to focus clearly on God and see the world from his vantage point with the expectation that God will change us from the inside out. This change will allow us to know what God desires so that we can respond.

The outcome is that we’ll no longer find ourselves locked into society’s way of approaching things. Taking God’s perspective saves us from being dragged down to the level of the immaturity of our culture.

The Church Is not Peripheral to the World

The exciting thing is that, in these days when many seem to be leaving organized institutional religion, more and more people are discovering new depths to their relationship with the living God.

For too long we’ve understood God’s church as being a little like a students’ chocolate eating club’ that meets outside of school or university class-time. We’ve seen it as an extracurricular activity for people whose primary concern is life in the world.

But God’s understanding is that his church is a people for whom his desires form the central direction of their lives. By doing what God reveals, they find not only that they express their love for God but also that what he desires is best for humanity itself. As they do what God wants, God rules as the supreme ruler he is.

As Paul said, [God] set [Jesus] on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever … At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence (Ephesians 1:20-23).

History underlines that the world is different because of what God has done through his church. Hospitals, schools, trades unions and many of the service and caring strategies taken for granted today had their beginnings in God moving his people to act.

Yet history also records some very dark days when horrific things were done in the name of God. You don’t have to go back to the Crusades; mere decades ago in God’s name, Aboriginal children were removed from their families, and thereby denied the very relationship that God made basic for life.

God Is Always at Work

But history is his story, and the sovereign God is never jammed! Even when his people are disobedient and rebellious, he redeems the mess and leads them on.

There is no point in the history of his people when God has not been there to sovereignty lead them forward. Even in the darkest hour God is at work. Luther published his famous 95 Theses. Calvin saw a vision of a city where God was king. Wesley made the Gospel known across England. Booth cared for the marginalized and poor. The Pentecostal and charismatic movements of the 20th century helped people open up to God’s Spirit. And so on. God has moved his people.

Some people today are sad when they consider what they know of the church. But God is at work. There is no place where God acts that is not good!

The days we live in are exciting because at long last we are rediscovering what God intended for his people from the beginning. The groups and fellowships we meet with are really organizations made by men and women that try to manage and control God’s church. But all the best efforts of men and women to support, encourage and help ‘grow’ the church often get in the way of the One who is master of the church. For it was the Master, Jesus, who said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not stand against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Relationship Not Religion

It is easy to miss the point that it was God who initiated the action to rescue his creation when we rebelled. Jesus died on the cross, and in this action opened the door for forgiveness to be available to all humankind. Paul writes:

“Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

This is not religion but the expression of a relationship with a living being. It’s not theory but reality! It has nothing to do with ‘going to church’ and everything to do with being the church.

When a person encounters Jesus, he or she is a whole new creation. They find that God has made them more than just a mind and body they discover the realm of spirit. And they find that God has made them to know the wholeness of spirit, soul and body that modern men and women have disregarded but desperately long for.

Life Better Than We’ve Dreamed

Things may be changing. The whole world may seem mad. Many things may stand in the way of finding the Creator’s reason for our existence on this earth. But God is at work. He has acted to redeem his creation. Nothing but nothing will stand in the way of what he has done.

When the Mao Tse Tung’s government came to power in China, a group of foreign missionaries being forced to leave China sat and lamented that God’s work was being curtailed. Less than 50 years later the evidence of the fastest growing church in the world points to the fact that people’s most diabolical treatment and schemes cannot stop God!

This is a day when we are increasingly seeing the difference between the programs of religion and relationship with God, and catching a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

So don’t worry if denominations pass away or Christian organizations crash! For these are indeed the most exciting days in human history!

Editor’s Note: This article Copyright 1997 by Kevin Smith. Reprinted with permission. First published in On Being magazine, PO Box 434, HAW-THORN VIC 3122. Kevin has become a dear friend of this ministry, having first met him in 1995. This fall Wayne taught with him tn Singapore. The are in the early stages of co-authoring a book tentatively titled The Church Relational: Discovering How to Live in Father’s Family. Kevin Smith, with his wife Val (pictured above), has an extensive ministry teaching, counseling and encouraging Christians throughout Australia and overseas. Bible quotes in this article are from The Message by Eugene Peterson.


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The Businessman and the Beggar

The Businessman and the Beggar

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 1998

Two men approached Jesus on his last journey to Jerusalem–a businessman and a beggar.

The first was a righteous man who had meticulously kept the law all of his life. He only wanted to ensure that his efforts would be enough to secure him eternal life. Tragically, he went away deeply grieved and broken, his request unsatisfied.

The other was a beggar–blind since birth. When he heard Jesus was near he called out for help. People around him tried to silence him, but he shouted above them anyway. However, he was part of an incredible miracle that not only restored his sight, but saved his soul.

What made the difference? Why did one receive from Jesus and one did not? And why was it that the one we would more naturally deem less worthy found the answer he sought?

I find such contrasts intriguing. There’s nothing more I want in my life than to receive freely of God’s life–his wisdom, power and love–in every situation. When I see one man walking away from Jesus grieved and another rejoicing, I want to know why.

Rarely a day passes where I am not looking to Father for help in my own circumstances and for people he has related me to. Sometimes his wisdom or provision seems clear and effortless. At other times I struggle for weeks or months, calling out to him, examining myself trying to figure out what I might be doing wrong that blocks his work in me or through me.

But it does seem the harder I try to make something happen, the further I get from God’s provision. Do you ever feel that way? If so, we both have something wonderful to learn from Jesus’ encounter with the businessman and the beggar. (You’ll find them both in Mark 10–the rich young ruler in verses 17-31 and Bartimaeus in verses 46-52.)

What we’ll discover is not that Jesus loved one more than the other; nor that he gave to one and not the other. For he graciously gave to both of them. It’s just that one recognized it and one did not and the difference between the two gives us incredible insight into how we can relate to Jesus every day of our lives.

Caught In The Do-Dos

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The rich man’s question sounded innocent enough; even humble. How much more compliant could anyone be? He wanted eternal life and wanted to know what he had to do to get it.

Jesus immediately answers his query by referring him to the commandments. The rich man’s answer gives us a look into his heart. “I have kept all of these from my youth up.”

Really? Had he? Paul the Apostle said that no man has ever kept all of God’s law–that if even one person could have earned his or her way into God’s life by the law, then Christ died in vain.

No, he had not kept the law, what was most critical here was that he thought he had. Since he was a little child he had worked hard to keep the law in hopes of earning his place with God. But the fact that he is still seeking eternal life makes it clear that he hadn’t found it yet, nor was he secure that his current course would produced it in the future.

This man was steeped in his own works. That was evident by the question he had asked Jesus at the outset. The “I” and the “do” gave him away. He was focused on himself and his ability and resources. He was trying to earn what could only be a gift. His efforts would continue to fail.

How much Jesus wanted him to understand that! Mark specifically mentions that Jesus looks on this man and felt a deep love for him. What did he see? Did he see a little boy trying to be perfect as the only way to earn his father’s affirmation? Did he see the years of fruitless labor that still held periodic failures that had to be covered up to maintain his illusion of righteousness? Did he see the gnawing in the young man’s stomach born of his obsessive drive to perfection that was destroying him from within?

Probably he saw all that and more and Jesus intended to help him see it too. His next response seems on the surface to be one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings: “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” On hearing the words, the businessman’s countenance fell. Unable to do what had just been asked of him, he walks away in grief.

I’ve taught this parable so many times, and with unwitting arrogance railed at the rich man’s inability to do what Jesus asked of him. What a fool! He was too greedy to follow Jesus. But that was not the lesson. Who of us would have come to this kingdom if those were the terms? How many people would have come streaming forward at Billy Graham crusades if the price of salvation had been to sell everything in your possession give it to the poor and then come forward? I don’t even know one person who came to Christ on those terms and I don’t know that many of us who would stay if that’s what he required of us!

But that was not Jesus’ point. He had something far better in mind.

Raising the Bar

If you want to train a high jumper of pole vaulter for the Olympics, you wouldn’t start them out by putting the bar at world-record height and have them try to jump until they could clear it. The task would be too daunting. You would start with a height that can be successfully achieved and slowly raise the bar allowing refined technique, practice and conditioning to help the athlete do better.

But that’s not what Jesus did here. He put the bar at world-record height at the very beginning. And the businessman did exactly what any athlete would do, he went away discouraged.

But Jesus didn’t do it to be mean to him. He raised the bar so high, the man could never get over it, because Jesus wanted him to stop trying. He offered the man an incredible gift–to be free from having to earn God’s favor by his efforts. Jesus wanted him free from the “do-dos” to realize that what he could not earn for himself, Jesus would give to him.

All he would have had to do was look Jesus in the eye and say “I don’t think I can do that!” To which Jesus might have answered, “Good, now stop doing all the other silly things you’re trying to do to earn God’s favor. Stop striving; stop pretending, stop trying to earn what you can never earn!”

That’s why Jesus specifically notes how difficult it is for people of wealth to find their way into the kingdom. Such people always feel like they can earn it or pay for it. They are so focused on their own efforts and resources that they can’t recognize what Jesus can do for them.

Even when Peter started to boast in what they had left to follow him, Jesus reminds him that none of them had left anything that he wasn’t going to replace with far more and far better. The fact is they had left their stuff not to earn salvation, but because of a relationship with Jesus that had captured their hearts.

Sadly, we don’t get to see the end for this young businessman. My hope would be that Jesus’ words finally worked through his heart at some point. But whether they did or didn’t, Jesus still offered him an incredible gift, the freedom from having to earn what he could never earn and he missed it!

One other man approached Jesus asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. This man was an expert in the law and when Jesus asked him what the law said, he answered correctly citing the call to love God with everything we are and our neighbor as ourselves.

Looking for a loophole the man then asked him who his neighbor was. Jesus answers by telling the story of the Good Samaritan–a man who loved across racial and cultural barriers and extended himself at great personal cost of time and money to make sure the man’s every need was taken care of. Was Jesus raising the bar again to unattainable heights? I think so.

Isn’t it interesting that we teach these two responses of Jesus as actions attainable by dedicated believers?

We can’t keep the law, nor can we love others enough to earn our way to this kingdom. Far from offering these as viable options, Jesus was trying to show both men that their best efforts wouldn’t work.

That’s not to say that as we love him he won’t bring us greater freedom from our possessions or greater love for others, for he will do both. But that will rise not out of our attempts to earn his favor, but as grateful responses to the love of a gracious Father.

That’s the lesson we will have to learn if we are going to live in his kingdom. He didn’t come to form a religion but rather to offer us a relationship with the Father. We will never earn one thing from his hand. But relationship isn’t about earning, it’s about loving. He loves us so much that he does all the work for us.

“Do I Have To?”

To understand Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom we must understand it relationally not religiously. He wasn’t inviting people to a rigid ethic or ceremonial rituals. He invited people to relationship. Those that engage the relationship will live transformed lives, but often those who only conform their outward behavior miss out on the depth of relationship that Father wants to have with them.

“Do I have to to be saved?” That was the most frequently-asked question I receive from people who seek the Lord’s wisdom, but have not discovered him relationally. What they are seeking to uncover is minimal salvation. I don’t want to do one bit more than is absolutely necessary to get what I want.

This is just like a son telling his father that he really doesn’t want to to spend time with him unless he has to to ensure that he won’t be disinherited. Can you imagine how that son would respond to a dinner invitation from his father? “If I don’t, Dad, will you cut me out of the will?”

What answer could the father give to that question. None would really suffice, since the question misses the whole point of relationship and will always leave us short of Father’s desire for us. He has the best goodies in all the universe, but the person who seeks his things without desiring to know him misses out on the real life of the kingdom.

That’s what people are saying who wonder if they must do one thing or another or risk losing their salvation. They don’t want one drop more of God’s life than the minimum required to escape the flames of hell. How tragic! No wonder they missed the best gift God could give them, and why Jesus wanted so desperately to free them from the tyranny of trying to earn eternal life by their own religious efforts.

“Lord, Have Mercy!”

Bartimaeus sat by the road and begged. As a blind man in that society he had few other options. On one incredible day he heard a great commotion coming toward him on the road. When he inquired he found out that Jesus the Nazarene was coming that way with a great throng of people. Bartimaeus had already heard enough about this teacher from Galilee, to know that he might be able to help him. He began to call out instantly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

People nearby were embarrassed by his shouts and sternly told him to keep quiet. But that only made Barti-maeus cry out even louder. Finally Jesus heard his plea and called for him. Bartimaeus had one simple request: “I want to regain my sight.”

Notice he doesn’t ask what he needed to do to see again. He did not barter based on his righteousness. He didn’t ask for what he could do to earn his healing. He simply put all of his confidence in the mercy of the man sent from God.

That was enough. Jesus didn’t ask him to sell all he had. Jesus didn’t tell him to go love the people he hated most. Jesus healed him and noted that Bartimaeus’ simple focus was all that was needed. “Go, your way; your faith has saved you.” He not only received healing, but salvation as well.

Do you get it? Approach God on the basis of your own efforts and you will always be disappointed. Trust him for mercy we could never deserve and you’ll find his grace flow through you like a raging river. It’s the strangest of things: Try to do enough to earn God’s favor and you will ensure that you will fall painfully short no matter how much you do. Accept his mercy, however, and you will end up enjoying his life and doing the very things that please him most.

In Luke 18:9-17, Jesus tells a parable that captures this lesson perfectly. A Pharisee and a tax-collector entered the temple. The Pharisee delighted in his righteousness–how he was more committed than anyone else he knew. He even puffed himself up at the expense of the tax-gatherer praying nearby. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…even like this tax collector.”

That’s what living by our own works produces. Since we’ll never be good enough on our own we will seek to justify ourselves by being better than other believers around us. To create that facade we have to focus on their weaknesses and hold them in contempt. Any time we set ourselves above other people, we only prove that we are not walking in God’s mercy. We are trying to earn what we never can. At times like that we need to see the bar that Jesus raised so high we could never get over it no matter how much better we think ourselves than others.

Then, melting before him we can like the tax-collector fall on our knees, “God, be merciful to me!” It was this man who went home in right standing with God, not the one who had sacrificed for all his religious activities.

Is that incredible? The key to walking out the life of Jesus is to trust his love, not to earn it. Each day I can gratefully acknowledge Father’s mercy and receive whatever he has for me. Unless God works in me today, in spite of my weaknesses and failures, I really have no hope at all. But he does. And therefore I do!


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Every Day, Every Moment

Every Day, Every Moment

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1998

There was never a moment in the last seven days of your life when Jesus wasn’t present with you—fully aware of everything you were doing.

Now, what do you think? Is that good news, or bad news?

For most of my spiritual life that kind of thinking was a bit disconcerting to me. The very thought of such a reality made me focus with guilt on every failure and lapse of good judgment. I hate to think Jesus saw all of that.

What’s more, at thoughts of him being present with me, I’d feel bad about how little I’d been aware of him with me. Even the good things I’d attempted were the result of my best wisdom, not necessarily his leading. Eventually they would collapse under the weight of the human wisdom they were built on and I’d feel like an idiot.

The words of that perennial Sunday school song would replay in my head: “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see for the Father up above is looking down in love.” I know it’s a fun song for kids to sing as they get to point to various body parts, but it makes a horrible connection between God’s love and an image of him as the divine cop shaking his finger at us whenever we falter or fail. This is certainly not the image of his Father that Jesus passed on to his followers.

Jesus’ presence with us is not to police, to condemn, or to harass us. Rather, he is with us to lead us into the fullness of the Father’s life. Growing in our awareness and dependence of his presence with us is the whole of what it means to live the Christian life.

I’d Rather Do It Myself

Last month I took my son Andy with me for my appearance on TNN. My brother is the director of Prime Time Country and Andy wanted to see the inner-workings of television production. For the most part, I’m not as cool in his eyes as I used to be. In fact I have been known to be an embarrassment to him at times, even when I’m not trying. When I had to go off and do other things at the studio, he didn’t miss me much.

That is a part of growing up and learning to take responsibility for himself in the world. Unfortunately what’s good for growing up to be a responsible adult in the world is the opposite of what it means to mature in Christ. The Christian life is not something we’re supposed to learn to live on our own. In fact, the most important lesson we all need to learn is that we cannot live the Christian life without the daily intervention of Jesus in our lives.

I did get a taste of that on the flight home with Andy. Andy hates to fly and to make matters worse we encountered severe turbulence as we flew into another El Nino storm invading California. Suddenly Dad wasn’t so uncool anymore. He wanted me there so that every few seconds he could ask me about our safety. He also needed someone on which to vent his firm resolve that he would never fly again.

That’s the picture Jesus wants us to have of him—in times of need and times of joy.

He Lives!

It is easy to celebrate the fact of the resurrection as we did at Easter last month and miss the most important implication of that fact. It means Jesus is alive. He didn’t come to found a religion but to invite us to participate in the relationship that Father, Son and Spirit have shared for all eternity.

He yearns for us to live in the reality of his presence with us at every moment, offering access to the Father, wisdom for the circumstances we’ve en-gaged, and power for God to be glorified through our lives.

If we are going to be God’s people in the earth we not only need to embrace the theological fact of the resurrection but the relational reality of it as well. He is alive—no longer just with his followers, but in them. I love Paul’s description of Christian maturity in Gal 4:19 “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—”

What a powerful image! The risen Christ wants to take shape in you. Think of that! What could describe our life in him any better? Not only is it a joyful hope, but it also points up how incapable we are of producing that by our own strength or ingenuity.

“Remain in Me”

The last instructions Jesus left his followers was to remain, or abide in him, and to love each other. He didn’t want them mistaking Christianity for an ethic to be observed or a tradition to follow. They had learned to just live with him for three years or more, he wanted to continue that relationship within them after his resurrection.

But he knew it wouldn’t be easy. How do we stay aware of that which we cannot see? We all know how easy it is to live significant chunks of our lives without even thinking of Jesus being with us, much less hearing his voice direct us, or seeing his power equip us.

That is the challenge isn’t it? How do we develop a relationship with him whom we cannot see and how do we live in that awareness of him, when everything about life in this age distracts us from knowing him?

Unfortunately we have too clear a picture of what it means to be a good Christian today. It means going to church, reading our Bibles, trying to live moral lives and sharing the gospel with others. We know what we should do, think or say in any situation and yet we find ourselves incapable of living out the very ethic we embrace. Though we find comfort in doing the things we think God expects of us, we may have no idea how to cultivate our relationship with him.

The sad truth is most of us have had far more training in religion than we have had in relationship.

  • How do I rest in the security of Father’s love, even though I still fall short of my own expectations?
  • How can I be aware of his presence with me all the time, and not just when I’m afraid or in need?
  • How do I identify Jesus’ voice when he speaks and how can I know what he’s doing in my life through the circumstance I’m caught in?
  • How can I really draw on his power and not just give it my best effort?

Those are relational questions. This is what every new convert should learn in their first ten years of becoming a Christian. We shouldn’t hasten them on so quickly to get them to look and act more Christian, but to learn how to live out a real friendship with Jesus every day of their lives. If we did that, everything else that needed to happen in their lives would—they’d grow increasingly free of sin, they’d bear God’s fruit before the world, they’d love others and see God answer their prayers. Without that relationship, Jesus warned us, we would not be able to do anything that would be fruitful for his work in us or those around us.

How Do I Do That?

If your first thought here is to buy a book or find a seminar or spiritual intimacy, I’m afraid the journey is over before it begins. It’s not that those things can’t be helpful, but building a relationship with Jesus means spending time cultivating my awareness of his presence and submitting my heart to his will and purpose in me.

Read all the books you want and you won’t find that in any of them. That happens only in the dynamic growth of a relationship between you and him. He modeled for us with the disciples what that would look like. It’s a friendship. The disciples walked with him every day. They knew his laughter and rebukes, argued with him and listened to his wisdom, called to him in their fears and shook their heads when his words confused them. They grew to know God as a friend.

Jesus wants no less for you. He can take you right where you are and lead you into that friendship that can fill every day with his presence.

The first thing you can do is simply be honest with him about your struggles to know him as a friend. Tell him the hungers on your heart and the disappointments of past attempts. Ask him to teach you how to know him better and to recognize him through the normal course of daily life.

His presence is not something we experience only in Bible studies and worship services. He wants to be no less real in all the other places we inhabit the rest of the week—offices, houses, schools, cars, airplanes and fields. If we’ll just pause even a few seconds throughout our day and recognize the truth of that, we’ll find ourselves engaging a conversation with him that runs through our entire life. He will show us things we would easily miss and teach us how to love people around us like he has loved us.

He can teach you how to do that better than anyone. He has been building friendships with people since the world began and is wonderfully good at it. It may be a struggle at times, but learning how to cultivate that relationship is the greatest joy of being a believer in him.

Now I know that there is a not a moment of my life that Jesus is not there, completely aware of everything going on around me and at work to lead me to the fullness Father’s life. Even where I struggle, I have no pangs of shame, because only he can change me—and he is well on the way to doing that!

Sidebar 1: God in the Shower?

After a gathering with believers in Ohio a professor visiting the US from India on an exchange program approached me with a question. He loved the informality of our gathering, but was bothered by the casual dress. “If I was going to meet the President of the United States today, I would dress up in a suit and tie. Should we offer God any less?”

“And so would I,” I responded. “But there is someone who would feel no need whatsoever to dress up if they met the President today.” He looked at me quizzically. “Chelsea. In fact, the President wouldn’t want her to dress up because he’s her father and no formality is needed.”

Isn’t it a joy that we are sons and daughters who need no pretense in Father’s presence? He invites us to enjoy him, not impress him.

But this question bothers me in another way. Its hidden premise is that God is somehow more present at a gathering of believers than he is when we take a shower in the morning, or when we’re hot and sweaty from a hard day’s work. And he’s not, you now!

Sidebar 2: It’s the Process, not Perfection!

After a time of teaching about how Father extends his grace to us while he reshapes our lives, a brother shared something he had discovered: “I think I finally understood something today, I have thought that God was only pleased by my perfection. Since I never measured up to that I have always struggled. But I am beginning to think he not only wants me to be whole, but that he actually enjoys the process of getting me there.”

What else explains why Father just doesn’t wave his arms over us and make us all perfect overnight. He wants us to reflect his glory from the inside out. He patiently shapes our lives until Christ is fully formed in us. Like a potter spinning a new pot, he’s not just excited about getting it done, but he actually enjoys the whole process—softening the clay, kneading it in his hands, and fashioning with great care into that which he sees in his heart.

If we only think him satisfied when we get it all together, I’m afraid our lives will be filled with frustration—for ourselves and others! But if he enjoys the process, shouldn’t we also? He is fashioning you so that Jesus can take form in you. Can you see how he’s doing that? But if we can with him enjoy the process of him allowing Jesus to take form in us, then we too can be more patient with our still-glaring deficiencies.


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By Every Word

By Every Word

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 1998

Isn’t it amazing what people will do in God’s name and never think twice about it?

I stood in a beautiful cathedral in Albi, a small city in the south of France. Underneath its entrance was a dungeon. It was the focal point for a crusade launched against a group of French Christians who resisted the corruption of the papacy in the 12th century.

The cathedral was built to intimidate those believers with the might, power and resources of the church. The message couldn’t have been clearer if it had been scripted in neon above the hillsides. “No one resists the power of the institutional church and survives.”

And none of them did. In 50 years every one of those families who had dared to separate themselves from Rome was imprisoned and killed if they did not repent and rejoin the institution. And, true to Jesus’ words, those who did the killing and torturing were certain they were doing God a favor.

Fortunately our religious institutions today don’t have the same power to imprison and kill, but it still amazes me how Christians can treat each other with gossip, accusation, lies and manipulation when they feel that the occasion demands it.

It is so easy to claim God’s endorsement for our own ideasxand be so totally wrong! How often I have watched my best-intentioned efforts have unforeseen consequences that were painful for me and others.

What can save us from such misguided labors? I know only of one thing, and it is clearly seen in the first temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness.

What Sin Is This?

The temptation to make lunch out of rocks has always been an enigma to me. Jesus was at the end of his fast. He was hungry. Changing stones into bread would have been easy for him to do and no one would have been hurt by it. There was nothing wrong with having bread. In fact the request for it is included in the model prayer he taught his disciples. “Give us today our daily bread.”

In and of itself it would not have been sin in any way that we know. It was not forbidden in any of the laws of the Old Covenant. It was not even that different from the first miracle he would perform a few days later at a wedding reception by changing water into wine?

Of course, the fact that the enemy was offering the option to him might have been a give away, though I doubt he was perched on a rock in red tights with his spiked tail curved around his feet. Perhaps his temptation was just like some of oursxa good idea to help meet a genuine need.

But Jesus was not fooled. He didn’t even try to find a way to make this idea fly. He turned it back instantly and the words he used show us what was really at stake: “It is written, man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Now the problem comes into sharp focus. Making bread out of stones was not in Father’s heart for him to do. This was not God’s idea and Jesus knew that the only way to live is by following the voice of his Father, initiating nothing out of his own desires or even need. This was a life lived in trust, and that trust only had expression where it responded to God’s voice alone.

The Sin of Assumption

Jesus refused to use whatever power God gave him simply to satisfy his own desires. What a lesson. The sin here was far less obvious than tempting God by throwing himself off of Temple Mount, or falling on his face to worship Satan. No, this was only sin because it had not been borne in the heart of God. It didn’t matter how easily he could justify the act with his own rationalizations. He was going to live by every word that came from God, and this one had not come from there.

How do people who think they love God end up destroying people around them? Because they assume they know what Father would do and act accordingly. The sin of assumption is probably the most deceptive of all sins, because it allows us to act in God’s name, thinking we are doing his will when in fact we do things that harm his work in us and others at the same time.

But the only way for us to overcome such temptation is to live the same way Jesus did. That is, we stop doing anything just because it sounds good, meets our need, is Biblically justifiable or because someone is pressuring us to do it. Instead, the only question we need to ask is whether or not God has spoken this to us.

It is easy to quote Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” and never realize that we violate that verse every time we act in our best interpretation of what Scripture says. For even then we are still relying on our understanding not on the voice of the Lord.

Rome justified burning at the stake the so-called heretics of the Middle Ages by their misunderstanding of John 15. Jesus said there that his Father gathers up unfruitful branches and burns them. In actions Rome has long since repudiated, the Inquisitors thought it their obligation to act in God’s stead by torturing and killing those that would not conform to their practice and teaching.

Of course that’s an extreme example, but we do the same thing whenever we assume what God is doing in our lives instead of waiting for him to speak clearly to us. Whenever we trust our best perspective on things we lean on our own understand and miss the exceedingly more abundant ways that God wants to work in us.

An Ever-Present Voice

Perhaps the greatest joy of intimacy with God is how present God wants to be in our every-day lives. He has not asked us to live the Christian life without him. Christianity was never meant to be a list of principles to which we conform our behavior; it is living reconciled to God in active communion with him every day.

Many believers, however, miss this incredible facet of our relationship with him. Thinking God has given us guiding principles to live by, we grow accustomed to living days or weeks without ever listening to hear what Father has on his heart for us. We make decisions by listing pros and cons, instead of sitting down for any extended period to ask that he make his desires known to us.

Without growing in our ability to recognize what God speaks to us, we can’t live to the freedom and joy God wants for us.

Without an ear that listens to God’s voice what we call trust is nothing more than presumption; what we call obedience, nothing more than legalism. David knew that. I love his agonizing prayer in the first verse of Psalm 28: “To you I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.” In other words, “I can’t live without you, God. My own wisdom isn’t enough. My own resources aren’t enough.”

That’s the joy of living in God. We need him. We want his active engagement in every phase of our lives. We know that without it we are left to our own devices which bring certain failure and pain. No, that doesn’t mean we have to ask him permission to brush our teeth or to read the paper, but it means we never get comfortable in life without asking him to reveal himself and his will to me in the situations I face.

Help Me Do That!

I realize that nothing can be more frustrating than trying to hear God’s voice, especially if you feel like he never talks to you, even when you listen diligently. I know that many of us have been convinced that we’re not good enough, mature enough, or wise to hear God’s voice and instead must trust others to tell us what God’s mind is.

Don’t read these words and take on the burden of having to be good enough to hear from God. I’m not passing out burdens here. God wants you to live the same way Jesus didxby every word that comes from his mouth.

To do that, he will have to teach you how to hear his voice. It’s not the same for all of us. I can’t give you three pointers that will work like sticking a decoder over your Taco Bell game piece.

I can tell you that he wants you to know his voice more than you want to know it. I can encourage you to ask him to help you discover how he is doing that with you. For thousands of years he has been making his voice known to men and women who want to hear it. He is really good at doing so.

For us, it simply means that we take an extra moment before rushing headlong into our next, best idea and pause for some time with Father. “What do you want, Lord? What will bring the most glory to you and fulfill your heart in these things?” Then stop and just listen. Do it when you’re in the car, waiting in line at the store or doing yard work.

If you don’t sense his direction, don’t move ahead. It is better to wait until you know than rush off assuming you know best. He’ll show you by a conviction in your heart, something you read in Scripture, a comment from a friend or even stranger, by the way circumstances sort out, or by a combination of those.

Learning to live by every word that comes from God was never meant to be a test of spirituality or a merit badge for maturity it’s just the way Father wanted his kids to live. If you realize you’re accommodating yourself to living without that, maybe now is a good time to remind yourself how involved he wants to be with you.

Seek his face. Talk to him throughout your day and listen and watch for God to make himself and his will known to you. Nothing delights him more.


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Getting on Father’s Page

Getting on Father’s Page

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 1998

He was used to people clearing their schedule for him. After all, he was a writer for Time Magazine, and who wouldn’t be flattered enough by his request for an interview that they wouldn’t drop everything to meet with him?

One day he found someone who wouldn’t, and told the story on himself. He had been trying to arrange an interview with Mother Theresa for some time but could not get her to make an appointment with him. She said she had too many important things to do and didn’t know when she could stop for an interview. He persisted. Finally she offered him a solution. If he wanted to come to India he could follow her around for a few days and she would answer questions when she had the time. So he boarded a plane for Calcutta and did exactly that. In the article he wrote from that experience, he said that watching her in action was far more valuable to his story than getting his questions answered.

He was trying to get her on his page, and her simple genuineness ended up inviting him onto hers. Don’t you think that’s what Father might be up to with you?

When we first learned to walk with him, we were overawed by this powerful God who said he loves us completely. We found out he wanted to answer our prayers, so we brought our desires to him. But all the while we were centered on our own needs and our own wants. We were trying to get God on our page.

He is marvelously patient through such times, especially with young believers. Some things he even answered just to let you know how much he cared for you. But it doesn’t take honest believers very long to realize that God answers far less prayers in the affirmative than they hoped he would. Even things we think would obviously be his will, don’t seem to move him at all.

But the true lessons of spirituality begin when we come to understand that it is not for us to get God on our page, but to let his love lure us onto his. Instead of trying to get him to go where we want to go, he’s invited us to come where he already is.

What Is God Up To?

As I travel around the world one of the most-asked questions I get is what I think about the future. Some well-known Christian leaders are predicting an incredible revival ahead; others a time of judgment and scarcity. People are curious if I have any special insight into such things.

I always deflect such questions. If I’ve learned anything from 2000 years of Christian history it is that people who try to figure out what God is doing and set dates and times are always wrong. Why? Because people who are preoccupied with such things are looking in the wrong place. God does not measure his work on the earth today primarily in such macro terms. We always want to understand the big picture, knowing God holds the unfolding story of history in his hands.

But how God works that out is on a micro level revealing his will and his glory to every individual who has their eye on him. What he’s doing today has less to do with governments and more to do with changing you to be more like him, so that you can truly be free and so that he can reveal himself more clearly to people around you.

Isn’t that what Jesus demonstrated? He brought a kingdom that he did not implement through Jerusalem’s religious leaders or Rome’s political ones. He offered it to farmers and tax-collectors, rebels and fishermen, harlots and homemakers. “The kingdom has come near you.” As they learned to get on God’s page instead of trying to get God on theirs, the kingdom that came to them and functioned through them upset almost all of the known world of their day.

When our prayers center around our own ambitions and needs, asking God to bless our plans and help us get what we want, we can know that we’re missing the heart of his kingdom. As we grow to know him better our prayers become less, “God, do this; God, bless that; God, fix this;” and instead become, “God, open my eyes to see what you’re doing; God, fulfill the desires of your heart in me; God, help me love others the way you are today.”

“My Father Is Always Working”

I love to ask people what they see Father doing in their life. There’s nothing more exciting than knowing on any given day what God is doing in you and how he is using your circumstances to teach you more about him and make his life available through you to others. Unfortunately, most people answer with a shrug of the shoulders or a quiet “I don’t know.”

Some will even wonder aloud whether he is doing anything at all. I’ve been there. I’ve called out to God earnestly only to watch my words bounce alone in the silence. Does he even know what I’m going through? Is he even there?

I’ve learned better. In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is always at work, to this very day and I, too, am working.” They are always working, not only in the whole of the world, but specifically in your life and mine as well. When I’m not seeing that, it’s because I’m looking in the wrong places.

When Jesus spoke those words, it was after he had just healed a lame man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were angry because they thought he had violated God’s law. This can’t be God, or so they thought. I wonder how often we do that. When God invites us outside the lines of our habits and customs, even those things that mark his past revelation to us, do we recognize him? The Pharisees would say God was doing nothing that day. Jesus knew better. So did the lame man. So can we.

The Father is always working. If I don’t see him moving in my life, it’s not because he isn’t, it’s because I’m not seeing him. Jesus lived his whole life with his eyes on his Father, never doing anything on his own. He invited us to live exactly the same way. There is never a moment when God doesn’t want you to be aware of him and his work in you and around you.

We won’t know everything we would like to know, but he wants to show us enough so that we can cooperate with his purpose in us as it unfolds in the circumstances and opportunities that surround us every moment on the job or in school, at home or during recreation, in trouble and in joy. He wants us to live the same way his Son did, looking for God’s work every day and hanging out where he is.

That doesn’t just happen. To get on God’s page we have to make a choice to move from where we are to be just where he is in every circumstance of our lives. Certainly that is easier said than done, but this is the essence of what it means to live in God. Every day we can behold him, engage what he has engaged in our lives, and leave alone that which he is not touching.

Trust Is Not Passive

Whenever I talk about trust with people, invariably the frustrated question emerges, “So I’m just supposed to sit around and DO nothing?” I find it interesting that we associate trust with inactivity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Trust is not staring at the walls hoping God will do something. Of course, for those of us who have learned to trust our own efforts far more than God’s, learning to trust him often means we have to stop the fruitless activity that we engage on our own behalf. It does mean we wait until God begins to make things clear. But I’ve never found such waiting to be passive. In fact, waiting on God will be one of the most difficult things you will ever learn to do.

But trust does not end in waiting. Notice the words Paul uses in Scripture for his participation in the gospel. He talks about labor and striving with all diligence. That doesn’t sound passive to me. But neither is it the frenetic activity of one who fears God will not be there for him, working on his behalf.

Trusting Jesus means that I am so confident in his love for me and his work in me that I can completely abandon my own agenda and embrace his especially when I think he is leading me where I don’t prefer to go. Trust is seeing what God is doing and being with him all day, every day just like our reporter with Mother Theresa.

But too many of us are so busy trying to get God to bless what we’re doing and to help us get our needs met that we miss out on this greatest portion of being God’s children. We no longer have to fight for our own way. We no longer have to wonder whether he is at work in us. He is always at work. He’s always got something going on. He wants to show us what that is so we can be intentional in our cooperation with him.

You Know the Way

The disciples must have thought Jesus had lost it. He was telling them not to be afraid, that he was leaving them, but that he would come again to them. Then, almost as a throw off he tells them, “You know the way where I am going.”

Thomas jumps in, “We don’t even know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Thomas was right, you know. The disciples had no idea what Jesus was up to. He talked about his Father’s house, about leaving them to go to his Father, and they didn’t know what he meant at all.

But you’ve got to love Jesus’ answer, “I am the way.”

If you are with the guide, you don’t have to know the route. They had no idea the plans Jesus had for them, but they did know him and that would be enough. He himself was the way. Knowing him and hanging out with him was all they had to do. That alone would take them into the fullness of God’s life.

The same is true for us. You may not yet have learned to recognize God’s voice and work in your life every day. But you do know Jesus. Make the intentional choice to hang out with him every day. Ask him to remake you so you can recognize his working in your daily life and not have to grope about confused when things don’t turn out the way you expect.

He’s the way. Follow him and everything that needs to work out in your life will. He will help you to see his Father. He will teach you to trust. He will lure you to jump off your own page and onto his.

And there is nothing better than to be where he is!


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Painting Outside the Lines

Painting Outside the Lines

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1998

Remember the old paint-by-number sets? Collies stretched out on a hillside. Fly fishermen casting over a forest stream. Autumn trees and distant mountains.

Somewhere inside me must be a wanna-be artist, because I loved those things as a child. Even today as I channel surf, I get stuck on the painting lessons that public broadcasting offers.

But I don’t have the gifts of an artist, and I’ve long outgrown paint-by-number sets. They were fun and though the results were surprising from someone so untalented, no one would mistake them for real art. They were manufactured paintings, not requiring my talent, only my technical skill at painting between the lines.

You can spot those paintings in an instant, can’t you? Blotches of color between hard and fast lines is not how real artists paint. They blend colors, overlay strokes and produce paintings that have meaningful detail, passion and even life.

I can’t help but wonder if religion’s attempts to help us find a meaningful relationship with God isn’t a lot like a paint by number set. A discipleship curriculum I worked on nearly a decade ago had a grid containing behavioral objectives designed to help someone walk with God. I think it had about 60 things to do, staged over a four-step growth process.

Last month I listened to a presentation on discipleship-making that listed 372 behavioral objectives over a four-step process that would teach us how to be followers of Jesus. (Given enough time, I think I might have come up with that many.)

But we all know that following such guidelines doesn’t produce the relationship with God we hunger for. They might be able to help us conform enough behavior to make us look more Christian, but they cannot produce what our hearts hunger for most. For that reason my chart got put away many years ago. God had something better in mind:

God’s Incredible Wonder

Last spring Sara and I had the chance to walk through some of the most beautiful gardens in France, including those in Paris and at the Palace of Versailles. They were splendid examples of human landscape but as lovely as they were, they were not breath-taking.

If you want breath-taking, stand on a bridge over a New England stream, completely surrounded by the vivid hues of autumn color; or try the vista of high Sierras from the bluff alongside Walling Lake in the Kaiser Wilderness; or, gaze out over the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. All of those have actually taken my breath away and are more lovely than anything man can produce with all his symmetry and planning. Not only is God’s canvas far larger, but he creates beauty in ways we can never duplicate.

At a leadership meeting years ago I remember someone sharing an insight God had given them about managing his work. We put gardens in rows, curb off the grass and tightly clip hedges. God scatters wildflowers across the hillsides. He warned us that if we ever tried to fit his work into our boxes, we’d miss out on what he was doing and the results would be a pathetic shadow of the real beauty he wanted to produce in his people.

We didn’t listen. Soon we had almost as many lines for God to paint in as most other religious organizations. The more we tried to force God into our expectations the more people got hurt and the further we got from the simplicity and beauty of just loving him. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t faithful to paint inside our lines whenever he could, but it meant that we missed so much of his working because it didn’t fit neatly into our expectations.

Managed Spirituality

Anyone who seeks a relationship with the living God, knows it doesn’t fit in neat boxes designed by human ingenuity. That’s why 2,000 years of Christendom has produced hundreds of thousands of different denominations and organizations–none of them able to contain God’s working, though all of them have tried.

Life in God is a dynamic relationship. You can’t mass produce it by behavioral objectives. You can’t find it in religious tradition or embrace it vicariously through a charismatic leader. Life in God has to be lived in our own hearts.

It’s been almost four years ago since Sara and I were painted out of the fellowship we helped plant and in which we had lived for 15 years. We didn’t plan on getting painted out, but people we loved deeply drew lines of conformity we could not embrace. We saw the lines as limiting God’s work to a few personal preferences. Rather than release God’s fullness to people it would limit it. I only say that to explain that I never set out to live outside the lines. I was a line-drawer myself for many years and thought that was as God wanted it.

I decried people who didn’t “belong to a local body of believers” as independent, selfish and in danger of being led astray. I saw institutions like ours as their source of safety. And it was true that I didn’t know anyone outside the lines that was doing very well in their walk with Jesus. The ones I knew were bitter, distant and uninvolved because they had no passion for God.

I don’t know now if that assessment was true or whether it was skewed by my own need to have others belong to my system, but since we’ve been outside the lines Sara and I continue to meet the most wonderful, passionate, giving people whom we have ever known. Far from bitter or isolated, they are wonderfully free, engaging God in ways that thrill my heart.

To be sure, there are plenty of others outside the lines who have no idea who Father is and use a cry for freedom as an excuse to indulge their flesh and justify themselves. It’s a fascinating paradox–what hungry people most need to thrive in a relationship with the Living God are the same things that selfish people abuse to pretend a faith they don’t live.

I guess that’s why we draw so many lines, so that self-dominated people cannot fool themselves. But when we take away the truth of God’s life because someone is abusing it, we hurt hungry people who want to know him in truth and be transformed into his likeness.

Unstructured Is Not Unsaved

According to George Barna, a Christian researcher, the fastest growing wing of church life today is among people who have exited the organized religious establishments, but gather in loosely-affiliated relational groups for prayer, study and sharing their growth in Christ. That’s amazing!

A few years ago, I would have cast a suspicious eye toward such ‘unchurched’ rebels. Not anymore.

I have discovered that ‘unchurched’ is not necessarily ‘unsaved.’ Even the term ‘unchurched’ shows a weak understanding of what church is to begin with. You’re not ‘churched’ because you frequent a weekend service at a local building. You are part of the church when you live in relationship to the Living God and share his life with people he places around you.

To be sure, there are people who find religious structures a wonderful place to grow in their relationship with God. But not everyone does. Many believers today are finding ways to gather with believers and reach out to the lost without the cumbersome costs and time constraints of organized religion.

To embrace what God is doing in that arena represents quite a change for me. I’ve jokingly told others that five years ago I wouldn’t have even talked to the believer I’ve become. I found it too threatening, and myself too selfish to consider the genuineness of faith and fellowship that can exist outside the structures that we have come to call church.

But I’ve found out my canvas wasn’t quite large enough for all God is doing in the world. It seems he is calling an increasing army of people to walk with him outside the traditional patterns we’ve come to associate with organized Christianity.

I’ve discovered that church isn’t something you can go to, it is simply what you become a part of when Father invites you into his family. It is not an organization, but a way to live in love and freedom with his people all week long. It is not limited to a select group of his followers, but whomever God brings into our lives at a given moment.

Outside the Camp

Over the past month or so I’ve gathered with a significant number of such folks in Alaska, Portland and St Louis. Their passion for God excites me, and even though many of their former friends in the faith cannot understand the choices they’ve made, none of them regret the freedom or the passion for God that they’ve discovered outside the lines.

In fact, the reproach of well-intentioned believers who think unstructured Christianity is unsafe at best and blatantly wrong at worst is part of the process God is using to invite people closer to himself. There’s something in all of us that seeks the approval of others. Paul called it people-pleasing. He said as long as we worry about what others think of us, we’ll never know what it means to be a bondservant of Jesus Christ. When he said it, Paul was talking about brothers and sisters, not the world’s rejection.

Is that why God is calling an increasing number to follow him outside the camp, risking the reproach and judgment of other brothers and sisters when their lives don’t match what they believe to be normal Christianity? Is this why there is such power and excitement among believers, because they have taken the road less traveled, and are willing to lay down the need for other men’s approval to live to God alone?

That may explain why as soon as a move of God becomes known and recognized, that its power fades away. Instead of people discovering a deeper reality of God at great personal cost, they jump on a bandwagon for their own amusement. The glory fades because selfless pursuit is replaced with other motives that will not lead us closer to him.

I know that nothing pains me more than to be misunderstood by other believers whom I have loved (and still do!) and with whom I had served in God’s kingdom. This is not the easiest way to live as God’s people. Far from it. It requires greater initiative, passion and sensitivity to God than following any managed program.

But the rewards are commensurate with the risk. Once you have tasted of life with the Living God, you simply know that no system or program can ever contain it. There is no greater joy than knowing how much he loves you, hearing him speak with such simplicity and power, watching him work his ways into your life, and engaging spontaneous fellowship between believers without the weight of programs and agendas.

I realize that all of these things can also happen within more traditional expressions of Christianity, but in my experience they are rare indeed. Too much time is filled up maintaining machinery and compelling others to conform to the program that hunger for God is often swallowed up by so much spiritual busyness and well-intentioned programs.

It makes me wonder whether our attempts at organized religion is just our way to box God into our traditions and preferences. No wonder it leaves many confused when God doesn’t seem to be as real as Scripture indicates he wants to be. Maybe he finds our lines unable to contain all his wonder and beauty.

Outside the Lines

Jesus seemed to paint outside the lines with regularity–healing on the Sabbath, feasting with sinners, even ignoring the fast days that the religious crowd observed. His lifestyle plagued them with doubts about his authenticity and they regarded his nonconformity as a threat to their power and position with people.

Living outside the lines does not mean we have to rebel against the system. I don’t see God doing that. In fact, he extends his life to every person, regardless of where he finds them. I think it simply means that God has no regard for our machinery, nor limits himself to its demands. He can move through it, in spite of it and beyond it. He can point out its failures even as he uses those failures to transform those who look to him. He is an amazing artist, brushing his glory into our lives in more ways than any structure could ever contain.

Living outside the lines frees us to live in God and not be controlled by other people’s attempts to manipulate us. It looks something like this:

  • It is the freedom to put your relationship with Jesus above anything else.
  • It is the freedom to obey him and live in the truth of Scripture even if others don’t approve.
  • It is the freedom to engage Christ’s body however he calls you–within structures or beyond them.
  • It is the freedom to love God’s people and broken lives in the world without putting people in boxes.
  • It is the freedom to walk away from abusive religious settings and so-called ‘leaders.’
  • It is the freedom to ask hard questions and not allow your faith in God to be questioned.
  • It is the freedom to be honest about your struggles without being condemned or accused of rebellion.
  • It is the freedom to be known for who you really are and not pressured to pretend to be anything more or less.

This is the environment where our relationship with God can grow and flourish. And yes, many people use these very same truths as excuses to indulge their own selfish desires or to live in captivity to their capricious feelings. But just because some will use this freedom as an excuse for the flesh is no reason to deny it to people who really want to know God in truth and be transformed into his likeness.

The reason Christ set us free on the cross from the bondage of religious tradition and obligation is so that we might behold him in the fullness of his glory. We are not settlers who can pitch our tent and live in the relative comfort that God will conform himself to our expectations. He has called us to be pioneers, still journeying toward the city whose builder is God.

Don’t settle for anything less, just because it merits the approval of others. Keep seeking to know the Living God in spirit and in truth, until you see the glory of his life poured out in you every moment of your life on this earth.

He died for that to be true of us. Let us live to make it so!

Quote

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” G. K. Chesterton

Sidebar #1 – From Anna, Mister God and the Black Knight by Fynn

“Sometimes Tich, I think it’s a whole lot easier for kids to know Mister God than it is for grown ups.”

“Why, Finn?” she persisted. Why?”

I didn’t quite know the answer to that one, so I just had to make it up.

“Well,” I began, “I reckon grown ups have often got so many problems of their own that they just haven’t got time to… er…er…”

“Play?” she suggested. “Play with Mister God. Eh? Play?” “Something like that,” I said. “Um. Grown-up people make church so, well, serious that they ne-ver have time to play, do they, Fynn?” “I guess you’re just about right on that one, luv,” I replied. “Too busy trying to earn enough money to pay the bills, I guess.”

Sidebar #2 – From Who Builds the Church? By Alan Richardson

It’s worth turning aside a moment to encourage those of you who may, right now, be out in the wilderness at this point in your experience of life and God. You’re there because God has taken you to one side to show you something of Himself. It’s not easy, and it’s not very comfortable. You’re almost certainly misunderstood, mostly rejected and probably written off by most of your former peers. You may even be wondering sometimes what is happening to you.

Especially, if (your former peers) are enjoying apparent success and limelight, while you seem lost in the back woods.

After you’ve been out there a while, your true friends will begin to made known to you. They’re the ones who stick with you through thick and thin not because of what you do, but because of who you are. And at the times when you’re not even sure who that is any more, they’ll hold through because they have no hidden agendas in the relationship. They’re with you and alongside you simply because of God’s love.

But then there will be some friends who are performance related. They are your friends because of what they expect you to do, or because of the way they expect you to act. And when that fails to line up with their expectations, things go a little awry. You get criticized albeit “in love”. You get marginalized or put on the sidelines. And what’s even harder for you is that while you seem to “decrease”, these other friends whom you are sure are really missing it go on from success to success.

Your temptation is to let go of what God is seeking to build in you. To deny the struggle, the doubts the uncertainties and just get back into the flow where your former friends are seeing it all happen. You know you can do that or at least join them. And if you do, you’ll bring this uncertainty to an end.

But if you go back into what they are doing, God would have had no need to call you to one side.


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Rekindling Passion

Rekindling Passion

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • January 1999

Can you remember the last time you awoke in the middle of the night, not to anxiety or fear, but to Jesus’ invitation to spend some time with him? Or when last God’s presence was so real neither of you needed to say anything and the minutes raced by as if time itself no longer had significance? How about the last time being obedient to God landed you in hot water because someone misunderstood or because, “that’s not the way we do things around here”?

There is nothing like the days when our passion to know God burns white-hot. No matter what life may throw at us, God shows himself bigger still making himself known in the most unexpected places. Living like that makes every day an adventure in Father’s life and his work in you becomes far more real than the circumstances that try to pull you down.

During such times you search his Word, not because you should, but because you can’t wait to see what God might have hidden there for you to discover that day. You get with other believers and find yourselves sharing the deepest secrets and struggles of your heart and end up praying together just to see what God might want to add to the discussion. When he puts someone on your heart you don’t hesitate to contact them and find the timing was perfect, for both of you!

If you’ve experienced such times, you also know how easily they fade away. It happens so subtly that weeks, months or even years can go by before we realize we are just going through the motions of something that once had so much more life. Without ever making a conscious decision to do so we end up trading the dynamic relationship with the living God for religious activity that never satisfies our deepest hungers.

But it doesn’t have to. Living in passionate love for Father is what he’s offered us every day.

Where Are the Radicals?

Whenever God renews people in relationship with him, almost always a conflict results between them and those who control the religious institutions of the day. I saw it happen in the early days of the Charismatic renewal and the Jesus People revival. But it has also happened consistently throughout church history. Virtually every denomination that exists today began as a reaction to the loss of passion in the institutions of their day. Even when Jesus himself challenged people to think differently about God, he was spurned by the very people who thought they were serving his Father.

This cycle repeats itself because institutional needs and spiritual passions operate on two different planes.

Institutions champion safety, conformity and tradition. As such they can provide wonderful experiences and even helpful instruction about the living God. In the process, however, they can easily negate the risk, vulnerability and spontaneity that allow us the depth of relationship Jesus wants with each of us.

In the 70’s and 80’s, I knew so many people who hungered to see Jesus do something new in his church, so that corporate life would encourage people to know the living God, not supplant that hunger with order and routine. We risked the comfort of our institutions to seek ways to help people experience passionate relationship with the living God. Where are these people now? Amazingly they ended up back where they began, only now in institutions they control.

Alan Richardson, in Who Builds the Church? expresses the same dismay that I have often felt.

The pioneers, those men who in the late 60’s had found no satisfaction in an institutional church, had gone full-circle. Ironically, many today stand in the pulpits of new “sanctuaries”, bigger and better than they left 20 or so years ago. Yes, those same men who sought to be on a cutting edge that threatened to unsettle the security of the institution of those days, have now themselves settled for the security of structured, comfortable and well-ordered ‘church’.

Please don’t misunderstand that statement as a sweeping condemnation of the groups we call churches. I don’t think that’s Alan’s intention or mine. The point here is not how we do church, but whether or not we are living in a daily, passionate love for God or whether we’re ensnared in religious busyness that doesn’t satisfy the passion with which we began.

Passion and comfort offer us two different journeys. Those who wonder why their passion has been lost, rarely consider that their need for safety, predictability and control has taken them down a different path. Recently I spoke with one pastor who admitted that he had been through his more radical days. Now he was managing a large congregation. “I know this isn’t the best. I know it isn’t taking me where I most wanted to go, but I’ve decided just to make the best of it.”

I hurt for people like him who don’t realize that Godly passion wasn’t meant to start us down the road, but also to walk with us all the way to its end.

Passions Lost

So where does our passion go? Jesus told the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) to answer that question. He points out there what the early church also discovered to be true many people get a taste for God but don’t see it through to its fullness. Four things rob people of their passion and leave them adrift in lifeless religion:

  • A lack of understanding. Some experience God’s love briefly, but never understand how to live in that love. Instead of letting God live through them, they try to do things for him. That approach will allow the seeds of God’s life to be snatched away by our own religious fervor. We cannot embrace God’s life and passion by our own efforts. They will leave us empty.
  • Trouble or persecution. Others find joy in God as long as times are good. Whenever difficult times come, they withdraw in fear that God will not be big enough to get them through it and change them in the process. In every circumstance we will always have two options either to entrust ourselves to God or to save ourselves from the discomfort he would use to teach us to depend on him. Those who chose comfort over the cross will find dry times ahead.
  • The worries of life. They wear on us, don’t they? Our jobs, family responsibilities, relationships, fears and uncertainties can take up the whole of our life if we let them. Whenever we slip into survival mode just getting through another week the demands of this life will choke our our passion just like weeds. Instead of sitting at his feet in trust that he’ll take care of us, we will scheme to make things work out our way. Passion dies when we live to necessity and we’ll always wonder where it went.
  • The deceitfulness of wealth. “If I just had more money…,” is at the root of wealth’s deceit. You don’t have to be rich to fall under it’s spell. It is just as powerful for those who don’t have enough, and think their lives would be fuller if they did. Jesus warned us that whenever we mix God and mammon, God’s best for us is swallowed up by our need to survive. We’ll do what our financial wisdom tells us is best and miss out on God’s fullness.

C.S. Lewis said it best in The Screwtape Letters: “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance build up in him a sense of really being at home in earth, which is just what we (demons) want.”

Do you see any of these things disarming your passion? Join the club. These are the battles every believer fights, and those we cannot win. If you recognize yourself in these words, please don’t try to change things on your own. Run to the only one who can restore your passion.

Passions Restored

If you’ve ever tried to restore your passion, you know there are lots of places to try: participate in the right church, read a good book, absorb a new tape series, attend a conference or retreat, or even follow someone else who has it. But you also know none of these will work. Yes, they might let you soar for a short time, but they cannot take you far.

I’ve only found one place to rekindle my spiritual passion at the feet of Jesus. Take a long walk, or sit down in an undisturbed place and pour out your heart to him. Tell him that the passion you desire to be the center of your life has faded away and that you want his help in uncovering it again.

Pray the scariest prayer of all: “God, whatever it takes, I want to know you with all my heart and live in an open, passionate relationship with you.”

What? You’re not feeling anything yet?

Good. Passion is not a feeling. It is not something he will just do at some given point. He wants to unwire you from ways you think about yourself and him that disarms his work in you. This will take some time, so don’t despair in the process.

Just keep going to him; day after day, week after week, if need be. Sit in his presence. Tell him what you’re really thinking. Learn how to see him again and how to recognize his heartbeat. Stop trying to get him to do what you want and trust that he knows well enough what needs to happen in your life and willingly surrender to whatever he wants to do.

Then, as if you heart were coals in the fireplace, his breath will fan you into flames again. Slowly your passion will begin to rise. You’ll begin to see him in the smallest things. You’ll see things about your life that you never thought could be there both your failures and his gifts. With either, you’ll know you are safe enough to explore them in his presence and see what he has in mind for you.

Treasure each revelation of his with thanksgiving. Notice the conversations he leads you to, the people he puts on your heart to pray for or to contact. When he stirs your heart to do something, do it. When he challenges you to be still and do nothing, then do that.

And keep coming to him. Breathe a prayer in the shower. Talk to him while you’re driving or walking down the hallway at work. Let him show you how to live in him every day not just for a brief time but every day for the rest of your life.

Going the Distance

Life in God is not a sprint. It’s a long-distance run. Passion is what you need to get to the end of it.

I am encouraged to know that the same struggles I have staying passionate also infected the early church. The book of Hebrews was written to a group of believers who had been more passionate in their early days than they were when he wrote them.

He reminded them how they had faced persecution with joy, even when their property was taken and they were arrested. They didn’t shrink back in fear, but stood boldly, knowing that their inheritance was not in this life, but in God himself.

But time had taken its toll. They were older now, but also far less passionate. The author sends them back to the only place they could find that boldness and confidence again to risk life with God. Like children who needed to learn how to swim again, they needed encouragement to let go of the deck and trust their teacher to keep them afloat.

So he reminded them with a great roll call of faith men and women who had braved the harshest of circumstances because their vision of a more enduring city burned deep within them. That passion allowed them to go through anything and only grow in their love for God and by doing so only further demonstrate that they were not at home in the world at all.

Then he called them to the highest place: “Fix your eyes on Jesus…” Get them off of your comfort in this age. Get them off of what other people are doing or what they think of you. Get them off of yourself and your own failures. Behold the living God!

He both began the work in you and will perfect it concerning you. Read the story of his life again and again, seeing how he endured such hostility because of a greater joy before him. Watch him love the Father more than anything this life offered him and how it drew him ever-closer to his Father. See him enthroned at God’s right hand, already victorious, and know that nothing about God’s will concerning you need ever be in doubt again.

Today a fresh call has gone out from the Father’s heart. He seeks a generation of men and women who will allow him to enflame their hearts with his love so that he can demonstrate his glory in the earth.

Do you hear him calling you? Listen to him. Put down this article and just wait in his presence. What do you hear him saying to you?

If you’ve never known such spiritual passion in your every-day life, now is the time to turn your heart toward him and ask him for it.

If you’re one of those who’ve tasted it before, come drink again. You, who were pioneers in earlier days of renewal, don’t think he’s shelved you now. God has a place for you alongside younger men and women who hunger to see what you have already seen.

Allow Jesus to fan you into flame againblowing off the ashes that have covered up your passion and letting his Spirit re-ignite the depth of your love for him. Let him lead you through disappointed expectations, personal failures and places where other believers hurt or rejected you.

This is a time for people to arise who are passionate in their love for God. The finest hour of his work does not have to lie behind you. He has greater plans ahead.

Come with me, will you and let’s run after him with joy all the way to heaven’s gate.

Quote:

“Let me just tell you what Jesus is all about. It’s about unconditional love and being willing to be crucified. And if you don’t like the game, join another religion.” — Tony Campolo Quoted in On Being Magazine

Sidebar #1: Church or Jesus?

A friend recently told me about a conversation he was having with another believer whom he had just met. They had spent an hour sharing about Jesus and the impact he was having on their lives. Toward the end of the conversation the other one asked my friend what church he went to.

My friend paused a moment, certain his new acquaintance wouldn’t understand the nonstructured environment with which he now gathered with other believers. He finally said, “We’ve spent the last hour talking about the one who unifies all thing in himself. Do we really want to switch now and talk about the one thing that has caused the most division among his followers how we gather for church?”

I don’t think so!

Sidebar #2: Tribulation for Breakfast?

The church has been through many a plague, famine, fire and sword in the last 2,000 years. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is no “cry baby.” She is the toughest lady in the universe, and eats tribulation for breakfast. She does not fear. She is feared!

What kind of Christian teaching depicted this lady as afraid of anything? This woman, the Bride of Christ, the daughter of God, is afraid of nothing!

What kind of God have you? That is the wrong question. What kind of church have you?This lady, named Ekklesia, is the scourge of Satan, the terror of demons. This lady- and never forget this-this is the gal who kicks down the gates of hell.

This lady shines in adversity! This woman, the fiancee of Jesus Christ, is made for trouble. She uses famine, pestilence, war, recessions and depressions to show forth her triumphant Lord… and to bring glory to His name. She had done so before, she will do so in this (coming) depression. This is her hour!

— From Economic Doomsday By Gene Edwards


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Daisy Petal Christianity

daisy_0Daisy Petal Christianity

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 1999

He loves me.

He loves me not.

He loves me.

He loves me not.

It is a game little girls play hoping to find out if the boy of their desires also desires them. As the daisy petals are torn from the flower one by one, the chant continues. The tension builds until the last petal tells all. Are they loved in return or not? Even if you’re watching them from far away, their squeals of delight or groans of sorrow will tell you how it turned out.

Of course no one takes it seriously. When they don’t get the answer they want, many will take another daisy and start the process again. It doesn’t take long even for children to realize that flowers just weren’t designed to tell romantic fortunes. Why should they link their heart’s desires to the fickleness of chance?

Why indeed!

It seems to be a lesson far easier learned in romance than in our relationship with God. Perhaps because he has eyes we cannot look into and a voice that our ears often cannot hear, we look to our circumstances for clues as to how God feels toward us on any given day.

Is he delighted with me, or disappointed? Am I in a place to receive his blessing, or have I messed up enough to warrant his anger? Can I feel safe with him today, or should I shy away in fear? It’s a game too many of us play.

I got a raise at work. He loves me.

I lost my job. He loves me not.

I got something meaningful out of the Bible today. He loves me.

My child is seriously ill. He loves me not.

I gave money to someone in need. He loves me.

I let my anger get the best of me. He loves me not.

Something I prayed for actually happened. He loves me.

I fudged on the truth to get me out of a tight spot. He loves me not.

Have you ever felt like that? Tossed back and forth, you sort through ever circumstance just like you used to pluck daisy petals–hoping to find some clear evidence of God’s disposition toward you. Does he love me?

What God Is This?

It is a perilous tight-rope. You have heard that God loves you and in your better moments you believe it easily.

But what do you do when circumstances turn hurtful? For you have also have heard that he is a God of vengeance, demanding your obedience to his will. If he rewards those who follow him, are your difficulties confirmation that you’re not on his good side?

Here is the problem isn’t it? Scripture paints two seemingly contradictory portraits of him. As the holy God he is shown to be unapproachable in his purity, willing to met out unspeakable torment on his Son, and ready to consign the unrepentant to eternal agony in hell. He is also portrayed as a tender Father, so loving that the most wayward sinner could run to his side in absolute safety and find forgiveness and mercy.

If you are not able to resolve these images into a coherent view of God, you will end up playing the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not game. Like the schizophrenic child of an abusive father, you’ll never be certain what God you’ll meet on a given day–the one who wants to scoop you up in his arms with laughter, or the one who ignores or punishes you for reasons you don’t understand.

Vacillating between loving him and fearing him will keep you from learning to trust him. For you know intuitively that you cannot love what you fear; and you will not fear what you love. Here is why so few believers ever discover the depths of friendship God has offered to them. They see God’s holiness as a contradiction to his tenderness. Unable to reconcile the two, fear wins out and intimacy with him is forfeit.

Fear Him or Love Him?

Fear and love cannot exist side by side in the human heart. Though the Psalmist tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom–it is only the beginning. We need to learn that love is the fulfillment of it, and that’s why John said that perfect love will cast out all fear. The upshot is this: if you don’t love God, you would be well-served to fear him. Once, however, you learn what it really is to love him, you will never need to fear him again.

Only by experiencing this depth of love can you come to know God as he really is and how secure you are in him. Discover that out and your calamities will never again drive you to question God’s love nor whether you’ve done enough to merit his affection. Instead of fearing he has turned his back on you, you will be able to rest in his love at the moments you need it most.

This has been God’s desire for you since the first day of creation–to invite you past your fear of him, to discover what it means to love him. He offers you an intimate friendship with him that will transform you as he alone becomes the all-consuming passion of your life. He will be the voice that steers you through every situation, the peace that sets your heart at rest in trouble and the power that holds you up in the storm. He wants to be closer than your dearest friend and more faithful than you’ve ever known in any human being.

I know it sounds too good to be true. How can mere humans enjoy such a friendship with the Almighty God who created with a word all that we see? Do I dare think that he would know and care about the details of my life? Isn’t it presumptuous to even imagine that this God would take delight in me, even though I still struggle with the failures of flesh?

It would be if this were not his idea before it was ever yours. He’s the one that offered to be your loving Father–sharing life with you in ways no earthly father ever could. He’s the one that loves you more than you have ever been loved, and he knows that when you discover that, all of your fears, including your fear of him, will be destroyed.

Where Is This Love?

There’s only one place you can go to find a love so powerful–the cross on Golgotha. Here the Father and Son unveil a plan so incredible that it opens the door for you to have an eternity-long, love-relationship with the Lord of glory.

For most of my life in the faith I have seen the cross only as the substitutionary sacrifice that allowed Jesus to pay the price for my sins. It is only in the last few years that I have discovered it is so much more. The cross not only qualified us for salvation, but also provided the basis for our confidence in his love. Turn your eyes again to his cross, and see what transpired between a Father and a Son that forever secures our place in his love. He was not just punished for our sin, but he took sin into himself, so he might destroy it there for all who want to come to him.

That is the love God invites us to live in every day. Fear paralyzes, but love will free you to come to him, even in the midst of your worst failures, knowing that he loves you enough to change you. Fear makes you work harder to prove your worth to him; love teaches you to trust his work in you.

For too long organized religion has sought to teach us that fear and shame will make us better Christians, but it is not so. Insecurity about your place in him will do far more to separate you from your loving Father than to ever draw you to him. Jesus knew that. He taught people how to live securely in God’s love every moment of ever day so that he could transform them in ways they never could on their own.

For those that think grace offers us the luxury of throwing token acknowledgment to God while we continue to live to our own desires, you greatly misunderstand it. Grace frees us to live in relationship with God while he teaches us how to live in his desires. When you learn to live in Father’s love, you will discover how to love him with all your heart. And I dare you to do that, and not be transformed into an authentic reflection of his glory.

Drink deeply of his love every day. Engage him daily in conversation. Ask him to reveal himself and his love to you and watch him do so in the most unlikely places.

He wants you to walk with him that way every day, for the rest of your life–never fearing him again.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18


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Signposts On The Journey

road_signs_0Signposts On the Journey

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1999

You haven’t really had an adventure until you rent a car and drive alone through the backroads of New England. The roads twist and turn in directions you wouldn’t think possible. Even the locals can get confused.

Last month riding with some friends, we tried to get from Route 140 near Upton to Sutton, Massachusetts without a map. Previous experience had warned me that even though it was less than 10 miles as the crow flies, it was almost impossible to get there from where we were. So, even though it violated the sacrosanct rules of manhood, we stopped to ask directions–four times!

Each time we were given a confusing list of landmarks to look out for and turns to make. Then, in the middle of their explanation, each person we asked paused, looked at us quizzically and asked, “Where did you want to go again?”

It got to be so comical we ended up exploding in laughter as the last man did the same thing, despite our best efforts to not to. We could barely choke out a ‘thank you’ as we pulled away laughing so hard our stomachs ached for the next 20 minutes. (Which, by the way, is why men don’t usually stop and ask directions. We know that the guy we’re asking isn’t able to say, “I don’t know!” and will offer nebulous directions to take you further away from him.)

As bad as word-of-mouth directions can be, however, highway signs can be worse. In fact there are places you can end up driving west on SR 6 East. One interchange on Interstate 95 south of Boston will tell you to turn both west and east if you want to go to north to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Sometimes the spiritual journey can be like that, can’t it? We think we know what God wants, but the markers we have used for confirmation, don’t seem to line up with that. What do you do then? Discount what God seems to be saying, and trust our markers? Only if your markers are God’s markers. Regretfully, however, I’m finding many of the markers we use are in direct conflict with Scripture and the model Jesus left us.

The Markers We Use

One of the most shocking lessons I’ve had to face in the last few years is how many of the signs I have used to affirm God’s will in my life were actually markers inviting me to wander further from him.

Like a traveler on a road, I would hear him calling me to follow him. But when I looked in the direction of his voice I would see signs warning of danger, risk and conflict. Turning another way I could see signs offering convenience, gratification and security. How easy it was to tell myself that the voice had come down the more appealing path. However, when I set out in that direction, I would find God’s presence growing more distant and my spiritual life more dry and empty.

One does not have to twist Scripture far to think that following Jesus will lead down the most comfortable path, or the most popular, or the most financially rewarding, or the most secure. We never even consider that those who don’t know how much their Father loves them, seek those same things. So, like them, we pursue our own self-interest thinking it to be the way God works, but only find ourselves further from the depths of knowing him and missing out on the incredible adventure that comes by following the Lamb wherever he goes.

They are false markers, leading us toward the American dream not to the kingdom of God. If we only obey his voice when its easy, brings us the applause of others or benefits us financially we will find our spiritual life dry, empty and boring. While it offers the illusion of joy, it cannot give us the real thing, where God inhabits our heart, freeing us from the tyranny of darkness and releasing us to true joy and freedom that can only be found in living life God’s way.

Jesus warned us about that. He told us the life of the kingdom awaited those who walked a narrow road, apart from their own self-interest. Don’t forget that this is a kingdom in which everything works backwards from the natural way we would do things. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

If you’re confirming his voice off of the wrong markers, you will be confused when he speaks to you and you’ll find your decisions taking you further away from the life in him you desire.

So every once in a while it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the markers we’re seeing on the journey we’re on. They will tell us whether our journey is drawing us to him along the narrow road, or back to the broad road of complacency and ease that we left on the day he touched our hearts and invited us to go on a journey with the Living God:

Religious Busyness or Deepening Relationship?

There is no end to the number of good things you can do in God’s name in our religious-based culture. Everywhere people are begging for money and volunteers and it is easy for the conscientious believer to get caught up in a whirl of wonderful activities and miss out on what it means to build a deepening relationship with him.

It is true that the busiest people with religion, are often the most unfulfilled spiritually. Rather than being changed by his life, they are often short-tempered, demanding that others follow their example. They do not understand how religious activity can dull our hunger and distract our passion to know him. They pursue the latest program, observe demanding disciplines, seek out being ‘fed’ by teachers they enjoy, but never grow closer to the one who loves them so deeply.

The surest sign that you are walking the road God has for you is an ever-deepening friendship with him where you grow to know his heart better and are increasingly transformed into his image. It is helpful to pause regularly in your journey and ask whether or not you know him better today than you did a month ago. If the answer is no, or you’re uncertain, then you might consider that you’re moving the wrong direction. He wants nothing more than for you to learn to abide in him every day, and doing that everything else on God’s heart concerning you will be fulfilled.

Acclaim of Others or Being Misunderstood by Them?

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone around you could affirm God’s voice in your life and applaud you for following it? In the real world, however it is rarely true. People, especially those who care about you, often want the same things for you that your flesh does–back to that which is comfortable, safe and satisfying.

They may mean well, but Paul knew that walking with an eye to the approval of others will always take you far afield of the kingdom. Jesus said the same thing. He said to take stock when men speak well of you, for that’s how they treat false prophets. He went on to say you are blessed when people lie, insult, and exclude you because of your obedience to him. He knew the same crowd shouting ‘Hosannas’ on Sunday would be screaming “Crucify him!” only a few days later.

Even our Christian culture tells us that increased attendance, best-selling books, and growing audiences await those who obey Jesus. In fact, those who misunderstood Jesus the most were those most passionate about religion. You will even find other Christians calling you back to the broader road thinking they are helping you follow God. Don’t be fooled. He’s the only one we can follow. Even if that means you are misunderstood, God will be faithful to provide other believers at just the right moment to encourage you on the journey.

Fitting in with Religious Leaders or Perhaps Disappointing Them

In our day, many who claim to lead in the body of Christ are not much more than well-intentioned program managers. They have an organization to run and personal goals to meet and often view people around them as simply part of that process. If we confuse a submissive heart with following their instructions, we will often find ourselves moving away from the path God has chosen for us.

We all know how important it is to glean God’s wisdom from other believers, including those who might be further along the journey. However, make sure those are people who are on the journey to knowing God, not those imbedded in religious institutions and who have a vested interest in you doing things their way. Religious leaders are those who lead people into religion. Weren’t these types always at odds with Jesus? Did he put their directions above his Father’s?

Of course not! But how can you tell the difference between religious leaders and mature believers God has put around you? True leaders won’t tell you what Father’s will is for you; they will instead help you grow close enough to Jesus to understand that for yourself. I find it curious that most of the latter I’ve met in recent years rarely waste their time in management positions of institutionized Christianity.

Being Served or Serve?

Isn’t it the natural inclination of our natural mind to get things in order the way we want them, even if we disguise that as doing what we think is best for all? When God’s leading seems to put you at the center and use others to help you get what you want–be suspicious.

If, however, his tug on your heart leads you to lay down your life for someone else, helping them discover what Jesus is doing in them and freeing them to do it, then that just might be God’s will for you.

Convenience or Risk?

For those of us who regard God’s will lying down the path of least resistance, we find Paul’s words to the Corinthians to be quite disturbing, ” But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians. 16:8-9)

Open door–great conflict! What a perspective! When Jesus invites us to live by faith he invites us to live in the security of Father’s love with an eye to his wisdom, his power, his abilities, not our own. If as a believer you are not finding yourself in situations far beyond your own ability to handle, you’re probably not growing.

Because he so desperately wants to free you from the bondage of self, he will invite you beyond what is convenient and secure in your natural mind. Remember, when he led Israel through the wilderness they grew so insecure that they preferred slavery in Egypt to living as free men and women in God. Regretfully many make that same decision today.

On the other hand, look at the list of those who walked by faith. What faith led them to do almost always looked irresponsible to human wisdom. But it wasn’t, because they were learning to follow God and rely on him, not man’s ways of doing things. Though it took them into greater conflict, put them at incredible risk, and at times cost them more than they ever dreamed, it also took them into the very heart of God.

They learned to rely on him and not themselves, and that is true security.

When you’re looking at the sign that reads ‘Personal Security’ you’re looking the wrong direction. Turn around. Be willing to risk something so awesome at God’s leading that there’s no way it will work without him. That’s how God’s invites his people to live.

Financial Security or Contentedness with God’s Portion?

“The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” “You cannot serve both God and Money.” “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” These words certainly don’t sound to me like following God insures upward financial mobility. Yet we easily pursue such ambitions thinking they represent God’s blessing.

Paul warned us that only “men of corrupt mind?think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (I Timothy 6:5). Isn’t it difficult for us to admit that the best financial decisions aren’t always the most Godly? How many people have not followed God’s voice, because they couldn’t trust him to provide for them, or because it didn’t make sense financially?

God’s path doesn’t always draw us to financial gain, though he promises to take care of every need. If Paul had only made decisions based on how it would secure his financial future, I’m afraid he would have missed so much that God had for him. Instead he learned to be content with God’s provision and realized it might vary season to season. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

He knew that God’s ability to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” had to do with the inner life of joy, not the securing of material wealth. Follow God, or follow money, but you cannot do both!

Following Routine or Following Him?

I like having clear insight into the long-range plan before I do anything. I want to know how it will turn out and what my contingencies are if something goes wrong. Jesus, however, is more interested in teaching us to live with a daily dependence on his voice, willing to follow him even if we have no idea what the outcome might be.

There’s nothing more Jesus wants to teach us than how to depend on him every day, and follow him even when we don’t understand the outcome. There is nothing we want to learn less. We like being self-reliant, able to trust sound principles and routines rather than need to hear his ever-present voice.

I’ve been working through this very thing with publishing decisions. I want a principle to guide me through ever future decision, rather than simply listening to what he wants me to write next, trusting he’ll make a way to make it available when we get there. Following him most often means we only see the next step, not the next ten. Follow anyway, and you’ll see the wonder of his plan unfold in ways you could never have contemplated.

Shunning the World or Hanging Out with Unbelievers?

There was a time in my life that I had no meaningful relationships with people who were not believers, and only knew other believers that gathered in the same group as me. I looked with suspicion on those who had too many friendships with people in the world.

That’s what Jesus faced when he was constantly accused of hanging out with the wrong crowd–those who caught in sin or those who ignored the protocol of the religious crowd. Father’s heart had drawn him to be with the lost, helping them discover the joy of God’s life. So, don’t think when God invites you on opportunities to love those left out of his life that you are somehow abandoning him or his body. God has called us to be light in some of the darkest places.

And the Point Is… Follow Him!

Christianity is living in relationship to the Living God. You can’t do that if you’re not free to follow him wherever he leads you. Of course anyone who sets their course by running from busyness, trying to be misunderstood, offending religious leaders, taking absurd risks, living carelessly or finding company only among sinners will not necessarily be walking God’s pathway. In fact all of those can be used as excuses for arrogant and destructive behaviors against God and his people. But I am not writing to people like that.

Ultimately Jesus has not asked us to live our life by following signs, but by learning to listen to his voice and to trust him in every situation. We can, however, find ourselves missing out on his life because we ignore his voice if it doesn’t align with our false notions about what living in God really means. These markers only have value if they free us to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, so that you can be like him in the world and available for all he wants to do in and through you.


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Living in the Relational Church – Part 1

Living in the Relational Church – Part 1

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 1999

“So, after 2,000 years, how do you think he’s doing?”

I can’t resist asking that question whenever I’m studying Matthew 16 with a group of believers. There we find the only recorded instructions Jesus gave to his disciples about the church. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” He didn’t ask them to do it. He didn’t give them a blueprint of an organization. He simply said he would build his church and it would be strong enough to withstand any assault by darkness.

So it only seems natural to assess how he’s doing. If he’s been at it for almost 2,000 years, what do we have to show for it? I’ve asked that of all kinds of people, even at pastoral conventions. When I do, you can feel the tension in the room. People shift awkwardly, a few chuckle nervously. They know better than to say he hasn’t done well, but they also know the church is fragmented by division, scandalized by immorality, vilified for its arrogance, exposed by its misplaced priorities and far from replicating the ministry Jesus modeled for us in the Gospels.

We either have to conclude that Jesus hasn’t done an exceptional job, or consider that there is a vast difference between what he calls church and what we do.

I used to be disillusioned by what I thought was God’s church. Seeing his people lost in priorities that were far from his own and doing things in ways that seemed to benefit the institution more than extend God’s kingdom in our lives or the world, I lamented the sorry state of the church.

Not anymore! In recent years I’ve come to realize that our religious institutions are not the church God sees. What God calls ‘church’ are all the people who know his Son as their Lord and leader. They are scattered over the whole world, growing to know him better and to demonstrate his character in the world. This is the bride God is preparing for his own Son. I’ve seen parts of her all over the world. Far from being weak, divided and corrupted, the church of Jesus Christ is growing in beauty, strength and power everyday. How is Jesus doing at building his church? Incredible! His people exist in every knook and cranny of the world, and they are finding ways to relate to each other that glorify his name, not cause people to disparage it.

What God Calls Church

To see it, however, you have to look past the institutions and buildings we call church and find those people who are living in him. Please don’t misunderstand that statement. I am not speaking against those institutions as evil, only encouraging you not to confuse them with church. Yes, many people frequent them who are part of God’s church and are growing to know him better. That’s not at question, but to see God’s work in the world, you have to look beyond the groups that call themselves church and see the bigger picture–all those God is calling to himself throughout your city and the world.

If not, we’ll confuse our religious systems with the church and miss the great thing God is doing in preparing himself a bride. We must be careful to call church what God calls church, or we’ll end up saying things that don’t make any sense.

For instance, I was with a young couple recently. A few months before, they had simply had enough. Tired of the backbiting, bored by being a spectator on Sunday mornings, wearied of being manipulated to do more for God, and burned-out on too many responsibilities, already they told me they had left the church.

“How could you do that” I asked. “The church is not something you can leave, unless you’ve left Jesus.”

Of course they hadn’t and they only meant that they had left organized religion in hopes of finding a more authentic expression of his life than the group they were in. But that is a very different thing than leaving the church. Let us be careful with our terms. When religious organizations co-opt the term, ‘church’, it is easy for us to get confused, thinking that’s what they really are. But they are not. They might be gatherings of people who are part of the church, but in and of themselves they are not the church.

The church of Jesus Christ could never be contained in any organization, and in fact, the way he works makes it impossible to fit in the most skillfully constructed structures.

Lone Rangers Need Not Apply

I know you’ve probably heard people say such things proved to be lone-rangers, never seeming to thrive in the life of Jesus. But that is a long ways from who God’s people really are. Just as institutions can’t be the church by declaring it so, neither can individuals.

Who is the church in the world? Is it not those who live the same confession Peter offered” “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”? You are part of the church as you live under the Head, following him as your Lord and leader. You can’t be the church by following someone else who is doing that, you have to do it yourself.

And following him will not lead you to independence. How can it? God is a community and wherever he is known, real community will emerge among his people. Father, Son and Spirit have dwelt in true community for all eternity, knowing the sheer joy and wonder of sharing life, love and glory with themselves. You can’t touch his love and not find it drawing you toward others God puts in your path.

As brothers and sisters begin to connect with each other in real fellowship, they will soon discover that what they know about God is always in part, as if through a darkened window. But in fellowship among believers who are growing to know him better, there is a fullness of wisdom and revelation. That’s why Paul said in Ephesians 1 that the church is “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Imagine any singular group of people fulfilling that incredible promise! The reason why our view of God is often limited, is because institutions are only able to pull people together who see the same thing in the same way. Their view through the darkened glass never gets any clearer, they only grow more convinced that what they see is more accurate than what anyone else sees.

God’s kind of community, however springs up among people who are pursuing a vibrant friendship with the Living God. For I’ve thought the life of God flows to people through our so-called church structures. But it isn’t so. Life does not exist in the church, it is only in Jesus.

Those who gather then to get fed or pumped up to get through another week miss what relational church is all about. We can only find life in him and once we find it there, our connection with other believers allows us to share that life together. ‘Church’ cannot ever be a substitute for knowing him. We can’t follow him by conforming to the religious system in which we find ourselves and why would we want to. He’s offered each of us the joy of knowing him every day.

Institutional Dynamics

That’s why a growing personal relationship is critical to relational Christianity. It can only begin as people are equipped to know the living God and follow him. Having a growing relationship with him, will teach you how to relate to other believers. It doesn’t flow the other way around, and years of trying to make it do so have only disillusioned those who really want to know God better every day.

Gene Edwards was right when he says the model for church life is found in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. He never taught them how to have a ‘service’ or how to construct an organizational flow chart. He didn’t tell them that church life was about attending a meeting, conforming to a group ethic, or regimenting people’s lives by the most well-intentioned program.

Instead, he taught them how to relate to God as Father and each other as brothers and sisters. The language he used with them (and indeed the language Paul uses in his letters) was not the language of institutions, but the language of family.

Because most of what we call ‘church’ today operates on institutional dynamics, many believers today have no idea what God has designed church life to be. Institutions must focus on creeds, programs and procedures that attempt to get people to conform to the ‘way we do things here.’ Usually a group of top-heavy leadership draw the most attention and people are encouraged to submit unquestioningly to their insights and counsel.

Institutional dynamics encourage people to promote an image, and does not free them to be real. Gossip and one-upsmanship games abound as people try to find their place often at another’s expense. The same things you see in the corporate world are the basis of life as an institution. And if you ever leave an institution, you will often be ignored. Many people who have left religious institutions have commented that they felt like they ceased to exist even for people whom they had considered close friends.

Family Dynamics

Life as a family, however, is built on an entirely different set of methods and goals. In a healthy family people are not cooperating to achieve an end, they are simply learning to relate to each other in love. In a healthy family diversity is not only allowed, it’s cherished. People don’t relate to each other through lines of authority, but by functional gifting. If someone’s car started to make strange noises on the way over, they feel no compulsion to ask the older brother to attend to it. They will already know who in the family has the most ‘car-sense’ and seek their help.

Healthy families don’t press people to conform, but let people grow together at their own pace. They have the freedom to disagree without separating into multiple families. They share together in each other’s journey, serving with their gifts, offering insights and abilities where they are helpful, and supporting each other no matter what they go through.

Many believers today are finding fresh encouragement in the ‘one anothering’ Scriptures that the New Testament encourages believers to do for each other. They are discovering that teaching, counseling, serving, offering hospitality, sharing confessions, praying for needs, admonishing the selfish, and all the rest are not things we hire a staff to provide for us, but what the body was meant to do for each other. As we live in Jesus together he passes out gifts among the entire body, that each can give and each receive from God through others. That’s why some have said that there is more ‘church’ going on in the parking lots on Sunday morning than is allowed to happen in the morning service.

If you’ve ever experienced real spontaneous, fellowship among a group of believers, you don’t need me to tell you how rich it is. The joy of journeying together, of not having to pretend, of having people support you in your weakness and affirm you in your gifts is reward enough. And yes, a lot of that can go on among believers who gather in institutional environments, but it isn’t always there.

The important thing is that you recognize family dynamics when you see them and embrace them wholeheartedly. Conversely recognize hurtful, institutional dynamics which have nothing to do with God’s kingdom and take your distance from them guiltlessly.

As much as Paul encouraged believers to get together in ways that encourage your life in God, he also told them to be free to walk away from environments that become destructive to that life. If you sense him leading you away from such a group, don’t be condemned either by them or yourself. You will not be leaving the church at all, he may only be preparing you to find it in a more authentic way than you ever dreamed.

Finding Body Life

So where do you go to find relational church life? Why? to Jesus, of course! That may sound simplistic, but where else can you go? Trust Jesus to provide the fellowship he wants you to have. Remember, his church is built on those who are learning to trust him.

You might discover the freedom to live relational church right where you are. Don’t worry about whether or not everyone else shares your same perspective, simply look for opportunities to share life with people hungering to know him more fully.

You may find, however, that some institutional structures actually devour those who hunger to follow God freely and he might call you out. Many people leave one broken institution, only to dive into another or start a new one on their own. Let me encourage you to slow down and don’t do anything until he clearly speaks to you.

Watch for the people he begins to connect your life with, some may be lifetime friends, others new acquaintances. Don’t hurry to start anything, learn to recognize what he is doing in your area to provide meaningful connections between believers that are hungry to know him–his honesty, his grace and his life! He has people who will share the journey with you and encourage your growth without manipulating you to conform to their expectations.

Where you find that in your own locality may differ greatly from how someone else finds it in theirs. It might be in a Sunday morning gathering, with a neighbor up the street, in a home groups or with people God spontaneously brings across your path. However it comes, you’ll find that church life could never be a once- or twice-a-week event. It happens every day as we live our lives in him and share that with others.

As you’ve read in these pages before, there are lots of ways Jesus calls his believers to share his life together. In our next issue we’ll look at what it means not “to forsake the assembling of yourselves together?” and detail some of the ways God invites people to share his life together.

I know it can be discouraging, looking for a depth of body life that it seems too few hunger for today. But Jesus would not have stirred your passion for it, if he didn’t have a way to meet it. It just may not come in the way you’re expecting it. So don’t focus so hard on any one thing, that you miss the other doors he opens for you. Tell him how much you hunger to know an authentic body life that matches what he shared with his disciples. Ask him to connect you with people who share a passion to live in the dynamics of family.

Then enjoy whatever connections he begins to make. Don’t force it into your mold, or feel the need to make a group out of it. Just learn what it is to relate to brothers and sisters, even in groups of twos and threes, that lets Jesus be at the center. Love others in the same way God loves you and you’ll see the church Jesus is building all around you and all over the world.

It will astound you! After all, he’s been doing that for 2,000 years. He’s actually amazingly good at it!


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Living in the Relational Church – Part 2

Living in the Relational Church – Part 2

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 1999

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

I don’t know of another Scripture that has suffered more abuse than this one. It is often quoted as the reason people must file into a religious institution on Sunday morning, sit in rows and submit to a music performance and a lecture that others have put together for their benefit.

For many, that is the only standard that determines whether someone belongs to God’s church or whether they are regarded as independent and rebellious. It has become so enshrined in our religious psyche that nothing else matters.

If you frequent one of these religious establishments with some regularity (every few weeks will do) others consider you to be a healthy believer. If not, however, they raise an eyebrow of caution. Just going validates someone’s faith even when nothing else about their lives would indicate that they know who he is. Some of the most arrogant and independent people I know sit through a weekly religious event and still go out and live life on their own terms.

Pressed on the point, many will admit that Sunday morning attendance isn’t going to earn their way into heaven or secure a life-transforming relationship with the Living God. But while they concede it may not work for everyone, they consider those who do not attend to be in grave danger.

How tragic! When we fail to view the church as God does, and unthinkingly embrace what 2,000 years of religious tradition says it is, we miss out on some of the simplest and best truths of God’s Word. For the writer of Hebrews is talking about something far more vital than where someone sits on a weekend morning.

Encourage One Another

The above passage from Hebrews was never intended to be a proof-text to demand people sit through a programmed ‘service’ every week. But please don’t misunderstand me here. If your relationships with other believers revolve around such a meeting and you are growing to experience all that God has for you in the midst of it, stay with it!

But I think we make a critical error if we assume that’s all the writer had in mind. I see five reasons why he must have been talking about something more:

First, the early church did not have anything like what we call ‘church services’ today. Yes, they got together–mostly in homes, and only occasionally in larger settings to hear one of the apostles or a distant teacher help them discover who God is and how to walk with him. These gatherings, however, didn’t look at all like most programmed gatherings today which are often designed more to entertain than to equip.

Second, the writer specifically focuses on an environment where each believer is actively involved in encouraging the others–stimulating them to love and good deeds. Where does that happen in most Sunday morning events today? People only look at the back of other people’s heads while all the ‘ministry’ flows from talented musicians and orators up front. This Scripture paints a far different picture of face-to-face dialogue and personal engagement.

Third, he tells them to do it daily. How can that be fulfilled in a weekly or twice-weekly event? If he meant such gatherings they would have to meet every day. Obviously he’s not talking about organized meetings, but spontaneous connections between believers learning to live together in God and finding occasion to cross each other’s lives daily.

Fourth, he specifically says the main reason for getting together is to encourage each other. Most people talk about attending our religious institutions today because of the need for accountability, not encouragement. That can have some painful, if unintentional results. Philip Yancey tells about a prostitute who was looking for help and was encouraged to go to church. She responded, “Why would I ever go there, I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

Surprisingly, no Scripture assigns believers or leaders to provide accountability for each other. That is reserved for God alone. We are told to encourage each other and though that means at times we might have to confront or admonish, it does not mean we hold each other accountable.

Finally, he envisions believers connecting with each other all over the community. While claiming to be essential gatherings for believers, our Sunday morning events do more to fragment the body of Christ in any locality. Rather than connecting us with a wide-diversity of his people, we end up meeting with people who are just like us and who believe the same things we do.

Two or Three Together

The writer of Hebrews was encouraging a relational connection between believers that goes far deeper than any religious service can offer. He was talking about the entire network of relationships God builds between believers and how important it is for us to let others into our lives. Don’t go it alone, when we can be so helpful to each other.

Paul gives us some insight as to why in Ephesians. He said that the fullness of God is revealed in the whole of the body, not in the individual believer. We won’t know enough on our own nor have enough strength. But how do we live that out? By being a spectator in a large gathering, or by sharing our lives with fellow travelers who are coming to know his life?

Even Jesus himself made it clear that the most powerful moments of body life happen in twos and threes, not in groups of hundreds. It’s where people can be known for who they are, loved through their most desperate pain, and discover God’s presence with others.

The most powerful example of that in this century happened in Red China during the communist regime. As people were forced underground by persecution they discovered the joy caring for one another, the focus of being excluded from the mainstream, and freedom from religions traditions, one-man leadership, and those who were not completely sold-out to God. How God’s life grew among them is the stuff of legend. But are we listening to the lessons they learned during that time? No! We’re too busy smuggling in our Christian programs so they can be more like us.

Circumstances forced them to embrace what the New Testament speaks so clearly. True body life cannot be embraced institutionally, it is the result of people who are passionately loving Father and learning how to live as a family with other brothers and sisters.

Sadly, many believers have never tasted of that kind of body life–holding no greater view of the ‘church’ life than to file in on Sunday, enjoy the performance and go back to their lives. However, when crisis hits and they need friendships to speak the life of God into their circumstances, no one is there for them. They will soon find that sitting through the performance has not adequately prepared them to face the darkest days of their lives.

Finding the Family

Knowing God as Father leads to an engagement of his people as family. Do you sense that hunger stirring in you? It’s happening to people all over the world. Weary of the political games used to manipulate institutional power, or bored with the passive environment fostered in worship “services,” people are dropping out of organized religion in ever-greater numbers.

I know many of them have sadly given up on God, but many others hunger to share an authentic body life with other believers that allows Jesus to truly be at the center as we learn how to live in the full freedom of his life. Like many on the cutting edge of hunger, they may not know what they are really searching for. Since most of us have been steeped in religion most of our lives, we’re not sure where else to look. So we keep looking for an event, a group of people or a mentor to help us find a way, and often come away disappointed in the search.

As I said in the last issue, institutional dynamics will only produce a shadow of what family life really is. It cannot provide the reality. If relationship is what we hunger for, then we might want to think relationally. God’s kind of community isn’t produced by man’s ingenuity or program. It springs up organically among people who are learning to follow Jesus and see themselves as part of something larger than themselves.

Thus, finding Father’s family begins with Father, not with others. If he is not the object of your whole- hearted pursuit, you will miss so much that he has for you. Don’t begin with a program. Begin with him. Don’t let any expression of body life be a substitute for cultivating your own relationship with him. That’s how we often get it confused. We seek to relate to God by relating to others. The exact opposite is true. We learn to relate to others, but loving God first and foremost. Then you’ll be able to see how he is placing you in the family around you. Look at that in the whole of your locality, not just in a single group. God has people everywhere. Discovering how he wants to place you in it is a process that may encompass the following stages:

1. Spontaneous Fellowship: Getting connected in this family often begins with spontaneous fellowship. What hungry believers has God placed around you? These might be people you know that you invite over for an evening of fellowship, or share lunch together once and a while. It also happens in more serendipitous moments when you just happen to be standing in line at the store and find out the person next to you also loves the Lord.

God has many ways to bring his family together. Get to know the family that just moved into the neighborhood; invite the new employee home from work, or volunteer in your community and see who God brings near you. I’ll guarantee you’ll never look at people around you quite the same way again. They might be believers with whom you can share God’s life, or people who don’t know him at all whom you can love in his name.

Either way, this is where fellowship begins. People who meet, find a bit out about each other and find that they hold the life of God in common. In my travels I have met people in every corner of the world who hunger to know the Living God, and find just a meal together, or staying over in the home of someone I’ve never met before begins a life-long relationship sharing our passion for Jesus.

Spontaneous fellowship can be fairly fluid. They may only last a few moments, or days, but sometimes they may go on to become far more significant. Look around you. The believers God wants you to experience body life with may be closer to you than you think.

2. Developing Friendships: Out of these spontaneous encounters, you will find people with whom you seem to have a deeper connection. It is if the Holy Spirit is drawing you together to help each other in the journey.

Friendships develop because people make an effort to get together. They are in touch with each other every few days; look for things to do together and find themselves encouraged every time they come away from each other.

Friends don’t place expectations on each other, or use people for their own self-needs. Friends are those who can share their journey together under Father. They don’t seek to control each other, or toss another aside when they no longer meet their needs. Godly friendships look to share a journey together with ever-deepening honesty and vulnerability, always freeing the other person to be absolutely genuine.

Often friendships develop between people who help each other through difficult times. What often starts out merely as a compassionate act of ministry can easily become a close friendship. That’s why it is important to engage people in need around us, offering to support them and give what help you can to get them through a crisis.

Every true friendship we have with someone in Father’s family is an incredible treasure. They are worth every bit of time we give to cultivate them. The real ones last forever, even though time and circumstances may not make it possible to be together with great regularity. But when you do connect you can pick up right where you left off.

3. Intentional Community: As friendships develop, sometimes people find themselves wanting more. God made us for community, remember, and though we are linked by the cross to every other believer on the planet, one of the most valuable ways to experience his life is to explicitly share the journey with a group of friends.

Intentional community happens when an individual or family decides to join with others in sharing their journey. Realizing that Father has called them to walk together for a time which could range from a few months to a number of years, they choose to share their journeys together, both by gathering regularly for sharing, worship, prayer and study of the Word, and by staying in touch with each other through the week.

Listening to God together, guarding each other’s freedom in Christ, caring for each other in moments of need and being mindful of how God wants to use them to extend his kingdom seem to be some of the significant objectives of this kind of community.

The forms it takes, however, can vary greatly. House churches can look this way as do more loosely affiliated groups that often spring up within institutions. These are not held together by covenants or creeds, but by the choice people make to love deeply enough to stay with each other through the ups and downs of life, and to live their lives openly before each other. Though it probably demands an entire article some day, children fit into this environment with incredible ease and nothing will better prepare them to live a life-long adventure in Father’s family.

Initiative Required

Why are such groups sometimes difficult to find? Because they require a level of individual initiative that more programmed structures have robbed from God’s people. Either because they prefer everything to be spoon-fed to them, or because they’ve been taught to think they are incompetent to follow God without an ‘ordained’ leader handy, many believers have little time or energy to discover the fullness of living in Christ’s body that Father intended.

There are far easier ways to get together with Christians, but to discover the depth of what it means to live in Father’s family we cannot sit back and wait for someone else’s program. Instead we can choose to engage the lives of people God has placed around us looking for ways his life in us can bless others. As we recognize people God’s calling us to walk with we can combine our resources with those of other brothers and sisters and find ourselves far more equipped to stand in these increasingly-darker days.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews wanted you to know.

That’s what God is rebuilding in these days. Ask him to teach you how to see his church as he does, and live in the joy, power and freedom of that reality.


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The Hen and Her Chicks

chicken_and_chick_0The Hen and Her Chicks

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1999

The forest fire had been brought under control, and the group of firefighters were working back through the devastation making sure all the hot spots had been extinguished. As they marched across the blackened landscape between the wisps of smoke still rising from the smoldering remains, a large lump on the trail caught a firefighter’s eye.

As he got closer he noticed it was the charred remains of a large bird, that had burned nearly half way through. Since birds can so easily fly away from the approaching flames, the firefighter wondered what must have been wrong with this bird that it could not escape. Had it been sick or injured?

Arriving at the carcass, he decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As soon as he did, however, he was startled half to death by a flurry of activity around his feet. Four little birds flailed in the dust and ash then scurried away down the hillside.

The bulk of the mother’s body had covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, it allowed her babies to find safety underneath. In the face of the rising flames, she had stayed with her young. She was their only hope for safety, and willing to risk her own life she gathered them under her body and covered them with herself. Even when the pain reached its most unbearable moment, when she could easily have flown away to start another family on another day, she made herself stay through the raging flames.

Her dead carcass and her fleeing chicks told the story well enough—she gave the ultimate sacrifice to save her young. It also illustrates an even greater story—this one almost incomprehensible. In this story it is the Creator of heaven and earth who does exactly the same thing to rescue his wayward children from their own destruction.

The Worst Curse

Jesus was surrounded by his most hostile audience. No one gave him more trouble than the elders and Pharisees in Jerusalem. Their only priority seemed to be protecting their position in society, and trying to deal with this miracle-working teacher with a mix of disdain one moment and feigned support when they were afraid of the people. To say they were the most disingenuous people he dealt with would be an understatement. They were always covering up their real motives and actions to act a holiness they did not know.

In his final words to the city of Jerusalem, only days before his death, he exposes them for what they really are—hypocrites who turned the work of the loving God into a religion they manipulated for their own gain and sense of self-importance. Eight times he pronounced a curse on them, “Woe to you scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites.” Five more times he calls them blind guides, or blind Pharisees.

He exposed them for keeping people from the reality of the kingdom; for making converts they only lured into greater bondage; for skewed priorities; for pretending to be righteous on the outside when evil raged within, for glorifying the prophets of the past and rejecting the prophets of their day.

The last charge was serious indeed. “You brood of vipers,” Jesus called them, “how do you think you will escape the sentence of hell?” In the days ahead God would send his messengers again to them, but they would torture and kill them. Jesus warned them that because of their deeds upon them would “come the guilt of all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth.”

What a curse! He made them responsible for the murder of every righteous person since the day Cain slew his own brother Abel. He could already see the consequences bearing down on them like a firestorm of wrath, seeking to consume them in their sin.

Don’t these words seem so completely out of character for Jesus? His message of love and forgiveness had captured the land, inviting to himself some of the most sinful people of his day. Yet these religious leaders he condemned in the cruelest of terms. Had he utterly rejected them?

That’s what it appears on the surface, but look closer. Rather than taking delight in their coming devastation, he offered to risk his life to take part in their rescue. In words both poetic and poignant he makes them an incredible offer.

Under His Wings

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

They had rejected God and the messengers he had sent. They had earned the harshest of sentences for their actions and yet Jesus still wanted to draw them to himself and bear the destruction for them. Their city would be conquered and their children devastated by the consequences of living to their own selfishness instead of trusting in the Living God.

Jesus invoked the same image the firefighter had seen in the woods. He presented himself as a hen trying to gather chicks to herself. That only happens when danger presses in upon them. A hen doesn’t nurse her children or cuddle them to sleep. But when a predator comes near or the coop catches on fire she will try to gather them under her wings. Pulling them beneath her she will cover them with her body, risking her own life for their safety.

Jesus could see the firestorm their own sin had produced approaching Jerusalem. It would devour them utterly. Even though many in that crowd would cry for his crucifixion only a few days later, he still wanted them. Like the hen, he offered them a safe place under his wings, willing to endure the fire to the point of death to rescue whoever wanted to come.

When it would have been so easy for him to abandon them to the fate we deserved, he was going to stay and meet the approaching fire in its full fury. What must it take for a bird to stay over her babies as the fire draws ever-closer, then begins to sear her neck and back? What must it have taken for the God himself to endure the fury of the wrath our sins deserved and stay through it to the end so that those under his wing might be saved.

“But you were not willing.” The story’s end was tragic for those who stood around Jesus that day. Unwilling to come to him they would have to endure the fire themselves to its tragic end. I doubt there are words that break Father’s heart more than these. After all I’ve done to deliver you from the ravages of sin, you were unwilling.

Not all chicks run to their mothers in time of danger. Some, either paralyzed in panic, or trying to find a way to save themselves, get devoured. She cannot run around gathering them individually. They have to come to her. That’s all the young chicks had done in the forest fire to be safe. They didn’t have to earn it; all they had to do was run under the mother’s wing and let her cover them.

Those who did were rescued; those who didn’t we’re devoured. It didn’t matter if they thought they had a better idea. It didn’t matter if they thought they could outrun it on their own. All that mattered was their willingness to trust the call of their mother. Most of Jerusalem on that day did not. They would face the terrible judgment on their own terms.

But the story doesn’t have to end that way for you. If you want, you can give up all the ways you try to save yourself and come running to him. He will pull you up close, under his wing and take for you, what you could never endure.

Unlimited Patience

Look how closely our choice in Christ parallels Adam and Eve’s choice in the Garden. If they had trusted their Creator’s love for them, they would not have had to resort to their own means to become like God. Once they doubted his love for them, they could only fall back on their best wisdom, which proved woefully inadequate.

The elders in Jerusalem faced the same choice. Would they trust their own religious ways to save themselves, or would they trust God’s work in Jesus? Remember these were not self-indulgent men fulfilling their passions by outwardly sinful acts. No, the deception for them was much like it was for Adam and Eve. These were men trying to be Godly, or so they thought. They observed cumbersome rituals and traditions thinking that would make them like God. They spurned the pleasures of the world in an effort to earn his approval. But being good, wasn’t good enough.

They were still engaged in an attempt to save themselves, and they would end up in the same mess as Adam and Eve. No matter how righteous they could be on the outside, it would bring them no closer to God. They were still trusting themselves, instead of him.

Jesus unmasked that most clearly in when he invited one from their own midst to himself . Paul, formerly called Saul, had grown up training to be a Pharisee. Everything about his life conformed to their code; such that Paul could later say about himself at that time that no one was his equal in zeal for God and as to legalistic righteousness he was faultless. With such impressive credentials, you would think him well-placed for God’s working.

Rubbish! That’s what Paul called that way of thinking. It was boasting in the flesh, he said, and that flesh had not saved him. It had only driven his sin ever deeper underground. Though he appeared to be one of the most righteous men in his day, in reality he was full of sin. Elsewhere he called himself the worst of sinners, because his religious exterior had only been a cover-up for the sin that destroyed him from within. He calls himself a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.”

Don’t mistake his assessment here as the mere humility of a gracious man. Paul is trying to convince all who would listen that self-righteousness is no righteousness at all. Driven by his desire to be one of the spiritual elite of his day, he had only found himself in greater sin. When Jesus found him, he was in fact killing God’s people thinking he was doing God’s work.

Why did Jesus save Paul? In Paul’s words, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (I Tim. 1:1)

I’ve sat with people convinced they were far too evil for God to want them. I’ve often referred to this passage, asking them if they had done worse than Paul had done and haven’t ever had someone tell me they had. God saved Paul, so the most broken, devastated and sinful person would feel free to come running under his wing.. All they have to do is be willing to come to him.

A Real Covering

When God put Adam and Eve out of the Garden, he even looked in mercy at their cover-up. Taking the undergarments they had fashioned from the fig leaf collection, he made them clothing of animal skins. It was not only an act of mercy, but also prophetic demonstration. The blood shed to cover them that day, testified to a future day when Jesus’ death would provide the covering we really need.

Shame craves for a covering. We’ve already seen how it can reveal itself in blaming others, even God, for our own choices and weaknesses. Now we see how it can use religion to the same end. We live in a world where everybody covers up to protect themselves. That’s why relationships in religious environments can turn so painful when people have to tear others down to make themselves look better.

We push to achieve beyond our peers so we can feel superior to them. We blame others so we don’t have to face our own weaknesses. We gossip about the failures of others so we can feel better about ourselves. We even look for religious institutions to affirm us so that we can ignore the doubts that assail us.

It seems we are all on the relentless pursuit to hide our own inadequacies and seek our own security. In doing so, we are like little chickens running around the burning coop throwing leaves over our heads hoping they will be enough.

But they won’t be. There is only one covering that will save us from ourselves; and it is Jesus himself. He endured the firestorm for us so that those who crawl under his wing can dwell in safety. He is the only covering that at once delivers us from our shame and frees us from the bondage of sin.

Cover yourself in him. Learn to live under his wing today and every day for the rest of your life. How do you do that? By learning to trust him completely in every situation that comes upon you.

Of course that is far easier said than done. When difficulties press in around us, we are most likely to doubt God’s motives towards us. Could that be the voice of the serpent still whispering in our ears? “If God’s not going to give you what you think you need, maybe you should go get it yourself.”

Trusting our own wisdom so easy we find ourselves doing it before we ever realize it. Ask him to help you learn how to trust him for everything in your life. And when you realize you are scurrying about in our own efforts to save yourself, that would be a great time, to stop what you’re doing and look for his awesome outstretched wings.

When you see them dive underneath No place in the world is safer for you!

More information on how the cross of Jesus Christ can radically alter your relationship to the living God can be found in the tape series, The Power of the Cross in Daily Life.


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The Same Old Story

hot_air_balloons_0The Same Old Story

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • January 2000

How quickly the Galatians had lost sight of it! According to Paul, they had had a clear revelation of the crucified Christ and the glory it produced. They had experienced a work of the Spirit that had captured their heart and had swept them to the heights of what it meant to know Jesus.

But in less than a decade, they had traded the fresh wind of God’s Spirit, for the predictable, but empty, patterns of trying to live in God’s life by their own efforts.

In one of the first letters he wrote to any of the churches, Paul was beside himself. He was in obvious anguish when he wrote them, for he knew too well what had lured them earthward again—the need to boast in their own efforts rather than to trust God’s ability to work in them. He knew how seductive it was for them to work hard for God and how exhilarating it would be for them to feel as if they had earned God’s blessing by their diligence.

He had already been down that road, remember, and knew too well that it always produced the opposite of what it promised. Instead of drawing them closer to God, it only obscured their view of him and left them mired in a host of activities and routines that only offered a form of Godliness, but denied the real power of it.

How often that story has been repeated among God’s people in the 2,000 years since. It’s even been repeated in my own life numerous times. For the most part, I’m not even aware when I’m settling out of the winds aloft to tether my craft to my way to more earthly ways of doing things, because my desire to live in God hasn’t changed. It’s just that I opt for ways that look more predictable and more in my control. I seem to only to notice after I’m good and stuck, longing for the freedom to soar with God that I have long since given up.

Regrettably the Galatians’ story proved to be more parable in Christian history than anomaly. Like them, we often need to be encouraged regularly away from the apparent safety of the moorings of the rules and routines with which we become so familiar, so that we can be carried again wherever the winds of God’s Spirit desires to take us.

Taking Flight

It has been five years now since Father delivered Sara and I from the role I thought I had to play in managing the spiritual life of a group of people. We began as a small group of people who just wanted to learn how to love God together. As we incorporated more programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, our attention to God’s voice faded. We ended up with a large machine that required constant maintenance and where it became far easier to battle over competing agendas than to love each other from the heart.

In the separation we found more pain than we ever thought we could endure, but found more freedom than we ever knew we were allowed to embrace. It has been a wild ride since we cut the tethers that had held us down, and have come to discover that we are not alone. Over these five years we have met people from all over the world with similar journey and nearly identical hungers to know God in his life and fullness.

The conversations we’ve had have encouraged us and helped us see just what our Father is doing in these days. God is calling people away from the safety of those things they can control, to allow him to lead them to his fullness. But that process is never easy and in fact can be filled with great pain.

I wish there were a way to gather all of you next month for a week of being God’s people together. I know how incredibly encouraged you would be to see what God is doing in people all over the world. Father is opening the eyes of many people to see the futility of trying to replicate his life by our own efforts. You would be so encouraged to hear other people tell your same story and know that God really is who he claims to be and that life as his people can be filled with joy instead of pain, freedom instead of conformity, and encouragement instead of confrontation.

It would be just a small taste of what I get to experience as God allows me to meet with pockets of people all over who are struggling with the emptiness of religion and the questions and accusations they get from others who don’t underhand their actions.

I hope we can put together some gatherings like that this year, but in the meantime I want to share with you the common threads in this age-old story, and some of the lessons others seem to be learning. I think you’ll discover that your story may well be part of one far larger and far older than you may have known.

When Your Eyes Open?

It’s not that we didn’t try to find a way to make organized religion a tool for our passion to know God and help others know him. Many of us shared in leadership under one title or another, or at least gave countless hours and significant dollars trying to make the best of it. That was until we began to see some things we hadn’t noticed before.

Here the details vary somewhat. For some they discovered that their honest attempts to follow the voice of Jesus made the others around them nervous or even hostile. What began as a joyful discovery of God’s life together, quickly turned into a source of great pain as others rejected their insights or probing questions and sought to silence them or get them to leave.

For others, they found that the mere invitation to conform to the programs of religion couldn’t heal their brokenness. When they cried out for help, people became uncomfortable with their pain and pushed them aside. Instead of comforting those in pain, they often accused them of not doing enough right or for not having enough faith.

Still others, in a growing revelation begin to recognize that all the activities and traditions are not helping them either to know God any more deeply, nor to see his presence transform the inner conflicts and temptations they faced.

In almost all these cases, the initial discovery came with great excitement. Certain others would be as excited as they were with God’s working, they shared freely their hopes, suggestions for change, or even their disappointment and pain. It didn’t take long to see that others didn’t share their enthusiasm. Instead they found that their insights or struggles caused even close friends to question their passion for Jesus, their submittedness in the body of Christ or, in worst cases, even their sanity.

Cutting the Ropes

That which tethers us to our own human efforts are not easily cut. Few people I know ever intended to leave the system they were in, hoping rather to be a catalyst for change with in it. But when they met the powers of institutionalism which prefer procedure and rules over the breath of the Spirit they were shocked at how easily those who were formerly friends and colleagues would turn on them.

Here is a critical juncture. Will we risk our comfort to follow what we know in our hearts to be true? Many don’t make it past this point, preferring to co-exist in silence rather than pursue their passion. I understand why people do that, but also know that he miss out on a journey whose joys far outweigh its risks and its cost.

Those who do go on, meet resistance on virtually every front. Accused of being independent, unsubmitted, or spiritually confused, they find their own self-doubts adding to the chorus. “What if I am nuts?” “Who am I to question what has been in existence for so long and seems to bless so many people?”

But Father’s leading plays out in the deepest places of our hearts. Usually these people are not convinced they are right and that all others are wrong, but finally realize that they want only to follow God’s leading as best they understand it. But pressing ahead isn’t easy. As their eyes continue to open they see how the system is used to manipulate people and reward a select view. They see how people God cares for deeply are hurt, excluded or neglected. They see that those who have been lulled to complacency by tradition and religious activities are missing out on the greatest joys of walking with the Living God. And for many they just can’t keep quiet.

The Need to Convince

No doubt this is where the process gets most painful for everyone. Because the struggle to follow our conscience ensues without a lot of external affirmation, we find ourselves having to defend our actions. We hope others will still trust that we love God and will allow us the journey, but it is not so.

Nothing threatens systems of conformity more than those who begin to live in the freedom that Jesus purchased for us. Those who challenge the validity of the routines and traditions are often isolated and excluded. Mostly this is done through gossip by ‘leaders’ who think they protect God’s work by discrediting other believers.

Regretfully some of us fall into the trap of bolstering our confidence by striking back. We too point out their faults, rail against the abuses and gossip about those who we find opposing us. That isn’t always wrong. Jesus may want us to confront openly the failures of institutionalized Christianity, but we need to be sure.

More often, our reactions come from our insecurities and wanting to defend our reputations. We don’t want people to misunderstand us nor distort the passions of our heart. We speak up hopeful that others will listen. They rarely do. We think they will be easily convinced if they just have the right information. But the sad fact is that many people find more comfort in staying tethered to someone’s program rather than to soar on the heights of trusting God.

Though God may call us to speak up in truth, he never makes us responsible to convince others. I have long since realized that people won’t see the fallacy and pain of institutionalized religion until God himself shows it to them. Sadly, that often only comes in moments of great pain where God allows the institution to fail us, so that we can see our trust has been vested in the wrong place.

We have to remember that those who don’t see it yet, are not usually complicit in the destruction it causes. I’m convinced that the real danger of religion is that it takes our best motives for God’s life and turns them against ourselves and others. All the proof I need is seeing how people caught up in religion can harshly treat others who disagree with them.

Where to From Here?

Many people I know are right here in the story. They have seen something they cannot deny and are willing to follow God’s leading no matter what the cost. But how he seems to be leading them is very different.

Some stay right where they are, learning how to live in God’s freedom even among those who are caught up in religion. They disregard the guilt-inducing sermons and glean what encourages their relationship to Jesus. Not wanting to waste time maintaining machinery, nor needing the notoriety of a title, they decline invitations to participate in leadership positions that are invariably offered. This will work as long as God calls them to it, but it is certainly not for everyone. They can find their motives questioned for not helping out or conforming enough, and few can resist for long the hypnotic complacency that religion tries to trade for our radical passion for Jesus.

Others find themselves out of the system entirely. Many are forced to leave by outright request or by never-ceasing gossip; others simply are unwilling to be a partner any longer in the damaging environment. This time can be incredibly painful and you’ll find that people with whom you’ve had life-long friendships will no longer acknowledge you or seek out your company.

But what do we do for fellowship now? Some try other local congregations hoping to find one that is more focused on Jesus and less tainted by organized religion, but that doesn’t work for many.

The temptation is to distance ourselves entirely from other believers and think we can make it on our own. While God may call us ‘outside the camp’ for a period of time to reorder his place in our lives and to reinstill a hunger to find genuine and healthy relationships to his people, his passion is to reconcile people together and place before his son a bride fit for him. That process may take longer than you want it to, just because you may not be able to find others who want to meet regularly to encourage each other in Christ. But let it have its end.

Freedom to Fly Higher

That needn’t concern you unnecessarily. What is certain is that whatever ways we find to be the church with other believers, is initiated by Jesus himself, the head of the church. He knows how, when and where to connect you with other people. Some are finding each other through internet resources and are willing to travel periodically to find meaningful fellowship. Others find spontaneous encounters or simply fellowship with good friends to be a starting point. Where people are free to love Jesus passionately, the bride will emerge.

Personally, I’m thrilled to find believers who want to be God’s church together. They want to learn how to listen to him together, to encourage one another on the journey and to care for each other through the twists and turns of life.

Without the trappings of religion, however, that takes a firm choice on our part and a willingness to invest time in other believers. I don’t know how Jesus will produce that in you, but isn’t it thrilling to see the number of people seeking out home-based church life? It’s not easy and we may have to re-learn how we think about God and his people, but the freedom it gives us to share life with each other relationally instead of organizationally is incredible.

The temptation all of us face, however, is to abuse this new-found freedom as an excuse for the flesh to reassert control of our lives. He sets us free from guilt and manipulation so that we can know him better, become more like him, and reflect his glory in the world—to believer and unbeliever alike. We can’t make that happen by our own efforts; but we can choose to draw near to him daily, hear his passion for our lives, and follow him wherever he leads us.

Recently I heard someone in a clerical collar express his outrage on TV at those who question organized religion. “What would you prefer disorganized religion?”

It’s a cute comment, but truly misses the point. The problem is not that our religion is organized, but that it is religion at all. Religion is managed spirituality—an attempt to make people feel better about themselves without helping them discover the reality of their own friendship with the Living God. It is man’s attempt to do God’s work.

It will forever keep you tethered to your own best efforts when Father wants you to ride freely on the wind of the Spirit.


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In Exactly the Same Way

fountain_0In Exactly the Same Way

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 2000

He didn’t keep it to himself. It might have been impossible – even for God!

To hold something so beautiful for himself was unthinkable.

He had enjoyed it forever in the divine relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. He wanted to share it so much that he made a universe to house those he would create to be its object.

Genuine love is like that. Part of reveling in its delights is to share it with others. When you really touch it, just try and contain it if you can. If God didn’t, how do you think you’ll pull it off?

The earliest believers transformed by the cross couldn’t, even when they were being beaten with whips or battered with stones. When they were commanded to silence they responded, ?We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard? (Acts 4:20 ).

They had been touched by the greatest force in the universe and they were unable to keep it in, even when they knew it would cost them dearly. Such is the nature of God’s love. As I said at the outset, there is nothing more powerful in all the world and once you’ve experienced God’s kind of love, there will be no way for you to keep it to yourself.

The Wellspring of Love

I’ll have to admit that I grew up viewing love as an onerous chore. Loving others meant I had to be nice to them, even when I didn’t want to. Lacking compassion, I still thought I had to act compassionately at least toward other believers.

Trying to share God’s love with the world was a bit more confusing and often embarrassing. We knew we were supposed to share the gospel with them, but often we talked about them as enemies meriting of God’s judgment. Most attempts to share God’s love were driven more by our feeling condemned if we didn’t, than out of genuine concern.

Because our motives lay more with our needs than theirs, we weren’t really loving them. That was probably more obvious to them than it was to us. Instead of feeling loved, they felt exploited by those who want to get another notch on their belts.

Jesus didn’t call us to convert the world, but to simply love others the way we’ve been loved. As long as we act out of obligation toward others we will fall far short of what Jesus asked us to do. But he also knows that we cannot love effectively if we have not been loved extravagantly ourselves. That may seem selfish at first look, but until we trust our Father to care for us, we will constantly use the people around us to meet our own needs and preferences.

The unfolding of love in our lives can only begin with the wellspring of love, the Father himself! ?This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins? (1 John 4:10). Once we experience love as God defines it we will not be able to keep from sharing it with others as it has been shared with us. True love does not give with any thought what it gains in return.

Where God is generous with you, you can be generous with others. Where God affirms your worth in him, you won’t seek its substitute with others. Where you know God overlooks your flaws; you’ll overlook them in others.

Jesus left us with one command: to love one another as we have been loved. Paul even placed love on a higher plane than spiritual knowledge, noting that knowledge can easily puff us up whereas love will build up others (I Corinthians 8:1) He thought it absurd that believers would trample those for whom Christ died over disputes about what foods to eat or days to celebrate. But it happened in his day and through the course of history because we’ve made Christianity more about right doctrine than loving others.

Healthy Relationships

You will soon find that your security in God’s love and your awareness of his unlimited patience with you will redefine the other relationships in your life.

Instead of demanding that others conform to what you think is right, you will find yourself letting others have their own journey. By no longer manipulating them to what you think is best you can allow them the same freedom God gives you. You will let them choose their own course based on nothing but the clarity of truth as you understand it and the willingness of their conscience. It is the task of the Holy Spirit to convict, not yours.

Instead of despising people who are broken by sin you will be touched by the depth of bondage that holds them captive. You will also see more clearly how the Father is responding to them and then know how you can. Sometimes that means you’ll stand back and let the consequences of sin take their course as the father did with his prodigal son. At other times it means you’ll jump into the mess with them and help them find God’s way out.

Instead of saying what you think people want to hear, you’ll look for ways to be gently honest with them. Human love seeks people’s comfort at the expense of truth. God’s kind of love seeks people’s comfort in the midst of truth. He doesn’t avoid the difficult moment or hold his peace just to be nice. As you experience that in your own relationship with him you’ll find yourself unable to be disingenuous with people.

Finally, by looking to God as the resource for your needs you will find yourself not overloading your friendships with expectations that are easily disappointed. So much ill-will exists in God’s church because of something said or not said; something done or not done. We either withdraw with hurt feelings or work even harder to manipulate others to do what we want.

By vesting all of our hope in God’s ability to meet our needs we will not need to force our friends to do it. I know God will often use other believers to extend his gifts and graces to me, but now I also know I don’t get to choose the vessel he uses. In other words, I always look for how God is revealing himself to me through other believers, but I don’t trick myself into thinking it has to come from a specific person I want him to use.

Disappointed expectations destroy relationships because we look to others in ways God wants us to look to him. Such expectations set us up for enduring frustration. However, when we give up our expectations of people, we’ll find God using some of the most unlikely people to lend us a hand. Our frustration will yield to gratefulness at however, whenever and through whomever God uses others to touch us or us to touch others.

A Safe Harbor

Instead of trying to fix people in crisis, love will call us to graciously lend them our support. We will be able to offer insights as fellow-strugglers in the process, not experts with pat answers. When you live like that you will be a safe place for people to be encouraged in their trials and for them to discover what it means to rely on God in the midst of it.

People who serve the illusion of a demanding God will be unwittingly destructive to people in pain instead of helpful. When I thought I had to work so hard to earn God’s acceptance, I thought loving people meant I had to push them to do so as well. When someone came to me in crisis, I would tell them what they were doing wrong and encourage them to try harder. No wonder people in pain shied away from me.

I discovered that a few years ago as I was sitting in a roomful of people going through some very painful life experiences: lost jobs; family crisis, desperately ill relatives; chronic diseases, and drug dependencies. Thinking out loud I observed that it seemed to be a tough time for God’s people. A few years ago, I noted, that most believers I knew were living the bliss of the American dream – stable families, healthy children, rising incomes.

Knowing glances shot around the room. “Should we tell him?” someone finally asked.

Tell me what?

“Back then you were not a safe person for people who were hurting. You had an answer for everything and it usually added to people’s feelings of condemnation and inadequacy. But the difficulties you experienced in the last few years have changed you. People sense your compassion and your trust that the Father will sort it out with them in his time.”

If all the pain I’ve gone through opens that door for others, I can truly say it has been worth it. But again, this is nothing I set out to change. Somehow some of the patience God had poured into me had splashed out on to others without my notice.

I am amazed at what love will call people to do, and they won’t even think it a sacrifice. Recently I met a woman from the Midwest who had been divorced when her husband told her he was gay, that he had AIDS and that he wanted to live with his lover. A few years later as the disease progressed, she felt compassion for her former husband and felt God wanted her to help care for him as the disease worsened.

She did just that. With her husband’s permission she moved back in, not as wife but as nurse, and cared for him as the disease progressed. I can’t imagine what it took for her to give of herself in this way, and don’t think her obedience should become a standard for others, but she talked about it as one of the greatest experiences of her life. What’s more, after his death she took in other AIDS patients for the next few years to share God’s love with them as well.

The Excellent Way

Without God’s love filling our hearts, we’ll end up hurting people despite our best intentions. For years I’ve heard of congregations doing ?Jericho marches? around property they needed to expand their facility to reach their neighborhood more effectively for the kingdom. I heard one pastor telling how one of their next-door neighbors sold them the property they needed after they went out on a Sunday evening and marched around it singing and praying that the owners would sell.

A few years later I got a look from the other side of those curtains. Our new neighbors were not Christians and let us know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want that ?Jesus stuff crammed down their throats.? We assured them we would not. As we got to know them better we found out why. Their previous home had been located next to a church facility and according to them the people there had been obnoxious in their attempts to make them move. They parked in their driveway, trampled their flowers, and even one night marched around the house chanting. As an elderly couple it had scared them half to death.

They had held their ground for many years thereafter unwilling to give in. When they finally did move they were embittered at how they had been treated and had rejected any sense of God’s reality.

Over the course of the next thirteen years, however, we got to know them, mostly by taking them their mail when it had mistakenly ended up in our box. They mentioned one day how much they appreciated some article I’d written for the local paper and our conversations more frequently turned to spiritual things. They were interested but still cautious.

Do you know what finally opened the door? One day I found out they were too ill to get their paper any more and had to wait until the evening when their son would come over and get them their paper. I told them I’d be happy to get theirs every morning when I got mine. For the next four years, until we moved, it was our family project. It wasn’t any big deal to us and yet it touched them deeply.

I did get to share the life of Jesus with them and was even asked to preside at the husband’s funeral when he passed away a couple of years ago. They were not ?missionary projects? to us, they were friends and neighbors whom we cared about.

Jesus said the same thing. ?If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching? (John 14:23).

I know that can be taken two ways and for most of my life I’ve followed the wrong one. I thought Jesus was saying if I really loved him I would keep all of his commands, as if the keeping was proof of the loving. But the rest of his actions and teaching prove otherwise. Those who love will find themselves obeying his ways, as if the keeping was only the natural result of loving.

The difference is critical, for it determines where we’ll invest our efforts – in keeping or loving. We know our best efforts at keeping will never be enough but the transformation that love brings to our lives will help us live like Jesus in the world.

That’s why he told us to love – exactly the same way he would love us. Until we know he does? we can’t. Once we fully know he does? we can’t help ourselves not to.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. I John 4:10

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