Living Loved Newsletter

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

Freedom is Only the Beginning

st_louis_lightning_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 2000

While in St. Louis in April after an outing looking to help some of the homeless in downtown a group of brothers took me to stand under the arch at 9:00 at night. We ascended the hill it sits on next to the Mississippi River just as a thunder storm made its approach on the city. As we stood there lightning flashed across the skyline, racing through the clouds then suddenly spearing the earth with its jagged fingers while the thunder rolled in the background. It was one of those rare moments when the awesome beauty of God’s creation literally takes your breath away and its memory hangs on for weeks afterwards.

As great as times like that are, they pale in comparison to those moments when God lets someone see just how free they are in his love. Sometimes it comes with a flood of tears and at others with a simple chuckle and a shake of the head. I’ve seen it happen while sharing through a portion of Scripture, or sitting down with someone to talk or to pray.

Somehow, as only his Spirit can do, God allows them to see that they are carrying far too much baggage in their Christian walk, robbing themselves of the simplicity of knowing God as their loving Father. Some have labored for months or years under the oppressive burden earning God’s approval, trying to please abusive leadership, or failing the expectations others have held for them. The moment God’s love works its way past all those things and captures them in his sheer delight is a moment that knows no equal in creation.

Once people discover just how much he loves them, and that love is motive enough to allow God to do everything in their life that he wants to do, you can see the weight lift from their shoulders. You can see in their eyes the renewed hope of enjoying again their relationship with Father.

Recently someone wrote me with huge letters, all in caps. “I GET IT!!!! I FINALLY GET IT!!!!” I could see them in my mind’s eye and laughed out loud as I. read. What is better than that?

I still remember one of my moments like that almost six years ago. Having tried to fit myself into a calling God had not given me (nor anyone else for that matter!), and having tried to find a Christian response to people who were playing power games God wouldn’t let me play. While I was walking through a park he spoke to me: “If you never teach another sermon, write another book, or spend one more moment counseling a broken life or witnessing to a lost soul, I will love you just as much!” What a moment! I never realized how much of my efforts as a believer had been wasted at trying to earn approval he had already given me. It had devoured my relationship with him and twisted my relationships with others.

That moment of revelation freed me to make the decisions he asked of me–even though many people I knew at the time would reject me for it. It also allowed me to reorder my entire life, no longer trying to earn his affection, but simply living in its reality every day.

Not the End-all!

As spectacular as God’s freedom is, however, it is not the end of the journey. In fact, it is only the beginning.

Don’t forget, it was freedom that allowed the Prodigal Son to leave his father’s house and strike out on his own. He used his freedom as an excuse to indulge his flesh, not knowing how much it would betray him and leave him broken in a pig-pen of self-doubt, loneliness and desperate need.

God’s freedom doesn’t make us his disciples, it only opens the door for us to decide whether we want to be or not. I’m convinced that without the freedom to be authentic and to make choices based on our own free will rather than the pressure of others, true discipleship cannot begin.

It is the environment Paul protected at all costs. He already knew all too well how our religious tendencies make us great rule-makers. It takes our own best intentions for others and makes part of a conspiracy that actually denies others the life they are looking for in God’s.

So when believers in Galatia sought to institute a set of “New Testament principles” that would rob God’s people of the freedom to hear Jesus and trust him, Paul rushed into the breach asking why they would trade the simplicity of relationship with Jesus for rules and regulations that they would have to keep by their own effort? Why indeed? Wasn’t loving Jesus enough for them? Obviously not for everyone!

We have every reason to believe that there were Galatians who were using the excuse of freedom to indulge their flesh and conspire in their own destruction. But even in the face of those who would abuse freedom, Paul still spoke up for the necessity of it if people are really going to be changed by God. Freedom is the only incubator in which God’s Spirit can thrive to transform those who want to walk with him.

Though freedom is the trailhead to the depths of God’s heart, it is also the trailhead away from it. Scary isn’t it? The choice is ours. Freedom itself is no virtue. Only if we use it to engage him in ever-deepening friendship will freedom be the blessing God intended.

The Fellowship of Freedom

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” The freedom to do whatever I want isn’t God’s kind of freedom at all. His freedom invites us to experience the depth of his love, both in our touch with him, and in our life with others.

Just because many of us have been manipulated and abused by those who claimed to be more knowledgeable (or more anointed), doesn’t mean we have to now make it on our own. We are as much a prisoner reacting to hurt as we were when we were bound by it. That’s true of sin and of unhealthy relationships with other believers. While it may make us more aware of how well-intentioned relationships can turn destructive, it doesn’t mean we throw out body life altogether.

Father has some incredible brothers and sisters out there who are discovering who he is and can encourage you along the journey even as you encourage them. At first blush they may seem difficult to find, but searching them out is well worth it. Whenever Scripture talks about my ability to know God as an individual, it makes clear that our best view is a dim one, as if through a darkened glass. It is only through his body that the fullness of Jesus is revealed. (Eph 1:23)

Of course we’ve got to define that term as Jesus did. He wasn’t referring to the numerous groups who get together and name themselves the First Something-Or-Other Church of Wherever-We-Are. He was referring to other believers who are on the journey of knowing him. We all know that trying to fellowship with people who are more in love with religion than God is a near impossibility and often find it distracting and discouraging to God’s work in our lives.

Freedom invites us to fellowship with those who are on the journey of knowing the Living God and understand how God works in our lives–not through manipulation and control but revelation of himself. When I find people like that I always come away strengthened, encouraged, and enlightened in what God is doing in my life.

Just because God has set you free, doesn’t mean you have to walk this journey alone. If you just want to see what you see, you’re free to live that way. But I want so much more. I want to know what Jesus is showing others as well. That may come in a serendipitous conversation Jesus sets up for me or through regular contact with people I get to be with more consistently. Of course, I think the best expression of this comes when people are willing to share intentional community together as they learn to listen to God together while they encourage and serve each other in the journey. Unfortunately the latter is difficult to find in this day and age. But don’t stop looking and asking God how he wants to connect you with others in that way.

How does that happen? It can only begin first in our relationship with God. Over the centuries we have been taught that our relationship with God rises out of body life, when it works just the opposite of that. No wonder true fellowship is so rare. If we don’t find our own relationship with God, we’ll merely use others as a substitute for what we’re not getting from him, disappointing ourselves and frustrating them in the process.

That’s why God is calling people in our day back to himself. For too long we have looked to groups or gifted ‘leaders’ to provide what Father wanted to give us. You may not find many others in the early days of this process that can validate what God has birthed deep in your heart. That’s because he wants to be the center of your life first. However, as he draws you closer to himself he will begin to connect you to healthy relationships with fellow-travelers that will encourage your journey without impinging on his freedom.

The Marks of a Free People

Relational Christianity is not primarily a different way of doing church. It is a different way of thinking about God and his family that will allow you to truly experience his life directly and alongside other followers. I don’t know of anyone growing in a relationship with Jesus that doesn’t hunger for friends who really want to share the journey with them.

But once people have been hurt by those who are willing to use God’s words to manipulate others, it is easy to see why they mistakenly equate body life with a compromise of freedom. But that really isn’t so.

As excited as I am about the current trend to gather in homes to discover relational life together, just because a group meets in a home doesn’t make them relational. And just because a group meets in a facility doesn’t mean they’re not. While I do think the home is the most natural place for us to discover life as a family, ultimately what facility we use is far less important than a host of other factors.

I travel among various expressions of the body of Christ regularly and find people I connect with instantly and others that seem forced and ultimately never become fruitful. I’ve noticed some common ingredients in relationships that spawn a healthy body life. Though I often befriend those who don’t understand many of these priorities, my greatest times of fellowship arise where people understand the nature of how God works and the freedom essential to true growth. Here are some of the signs of people who understand body life as God designed it:

The living presence of Jesus is their central focus. He is the only attraction and the only voice people are encouraged to follow. They don’t boast about the glories of their ‘worship’, the giftedness of their ‘teacher’, or even how ‘relational’ their priorities are. They only want to know him better and follow him more closely while helping others do the same.

They value authenticity over conformity. They would rather see the rough edges in someone’s life than have them put on an image. They allow people to feel what they feel, share what they think and question what they don’t understand without being judged, silenced or called independent or unsubmitted. Blind trust is never sought, nor are people encouraged to ‘act’ better. They’re more concerned about what’s really going on inside you than having you look better on the outside.

They trust grace-based transformation. Groups steeped in religion only know behavioral modification as the tool for personal change. If you’ll try harder you’ll get better. Those on the journey recognize that only Jesus can transform a life and see more fruit in encouraging each other to know his love more completely than to pressure people to outward change.

They are more concerned about relationships than meetings. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never seemed to have held a meeting that bears any resemblance to most of what we do in what we call church today? He got to know people at a heart level and spoke Father’s wisdom into the most mundane moments. His most effective exchanges with people came in homes, walks by the sea or even at a well outside Samaria. As wonderful as it is to gather together for prayer, worship or learning, without relationships that carry through the week we can’t really share the journey. Encouragement is a daily reality. I’ve been in home groups that have met for years where the people don’t really enjoy each other and can’t even carry on a normal conversation around a dinner table.

They are as honest in their struggles as they are in their joys. People who play one-upsmanship games, trying to convince others of how much they know and how together their lives are haven’t the foggiest idea what it is to know the Living God. Among them you’ll find far more gossip about the needs of others than confession about their own. But those who are growing to know God would rather expose the truth about their journey than try to impress each other with a false front of success. I love people who know they haven’t arrived yet, and who are in touch with the reality of their own doubts and struggles.

They are learning to depend on God’s agenda, work and power, over human preference, effort and ingenuity. They’ve given up trying to do things for God, and are nuts about doing things with him. Like me, they’ve messed it up enough, hurt enough people and fallen too far short too many times to keep trying to get God to bless what they want him to do. They only want to tune in to what he is doing and cooperate with him in it.

They are more interested in following God than getting their needs met. Look how divided Father’s family is in our day because people prefer worship a certain way, being led by a certain person or because the program fits their family best. The way of the cross is not to find a way to get all of our wants met, but to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Ultimately what makes us most comfortable and secure in ourselves may be the worst thing for us. Following his ever-present voice is the only way to know for sure.

They know that worship isn’t something we do to start a gathering, but how we live in God every day. Rather than being frustrated at everything they wish they could change about their lives, they are simply learning to be grateful for what he is doing every day.

They understand that we are all part of the body and desire environments where interaction happens rather than an up-front performance by a few. The living reality of God’s people is that everyone has a part, and they would never want to see a few gifts glorified at the expense of everyone else simply being who God has made them to be. They have the ability to celebrate the unique contribution of each of God’s kids, from the oldest to the youngest, male and female, without regard to status or station in society.

They trust God’s ability to connect them with people and don’t force themselves on anyone. I can be with some people for ten seconds and know God has brought us together for some purpose. I’ve known others I’ve tried to build a relationship with that never seems to work. I don’t really need to fuss over that, but trust what he is doing to knit his body together the way he wants.

They are not exclusive about God’s working and realize that what he is doing in the world and even in their own locality is far larger than they can see at any one moment and cherish opportunities to meet others who hunger for the same God they do even if they aren’t part of their same group.

Having been loved by God, they want to help others taste that love as well. They are learning to serve others in the most mundane ways and enjoy seeing others discover the same freedom in God that they enjoy.

Of course even a list like this can become another tool of bondage if people try to live up to it. These are not qualifications you should emulate, but simple observations as to what Godly fellowship can look like.

Don’t limit your relationships only to those who have it all together here, because God will bring lots of people across your path on any given day who are no where close to understanding the journey. But if you want to know the depths of what living in God’s family is about, this will give you some idea.

Where you find these kind of friendships, cherish them, and make the choice to invest some time cultivating them. Where you don’t, ask Father to bring about those connections in his way and in his time. Your journey will be all that much more fulfilling.

There’s nothing like it in all the world, when free people in Christ learn how to love each other without all the bondage of religious obligation. It is some of the richest fruit of God’s freedom. Only in freedom will we discover what true friendship really is.


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Snapshots of Father’s Love

jim_and_nyssa_0Snapshots of Father’s Love

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 2000

A Girl and Her Daddy!

“Majesty, worship his Majesty…” The familiar words rolled off my lips as I sat among a group of believers from all over the western U.S. who had gathered to share their experiences in relational church. It was Sunday morning and we were just beginning with a chance to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving for God.

We had sung a number of choruses that had drawn their theme from the songs of the angels and elders around the throne in Revelation–glory, honor and power!

As much as I know that our loving Father is worthy of all that and far more, something wasn’t sitting right in my heart. Sitting next to me that morning was a 3 1/2 year-old girl, cradled in the arms of her father, Jim. Nyssa (pronounced Nih-suh) struggles against the complications of Freeman Sheldon Syndrome, a genetic muscle disorder that has caused severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and disfigured fingers. She is fed through a tube to her stomach and the disorder renders her unable to talk, walk or play like other children. In fact she can only lay cuddled in her father’s arms, cooing and slobbering. But if you could have seen the connection between her and her father and the love and adoration that beamed from his face as he whispered to her and jiggled her in his arms.

“That’s what I want!” The words sailed through my mind so quietly I almost missed them. I had to stop a minute and ask not only what I had heard, but where it had come from. Certainly this wasn’t my thought. After a few moments of mediation, however, I recognized Father’s voice in it and suddenly it dawned on me why my heart had been so unsettled that morning.

We were exalting God, joining the great throng of angelic beings that surround the throne with praise and adoration to God. He was wanting us just to enjoy a moment in his lap just like that father and his daughter; with an intimacy that no moment of adoration could rival.

Now, please don’t miss my point here and think that God or I have a problem with adoring him for his greatness. I know I don’t, and fairly sure he’s fine with it too! But could it be that he wants something more? That it might even be possible for us to hide in a throng of people exclaiming praises about God and miss what it is to really touch him

As I thought about that for a moment, I had to ask myself what I would prefer most. Would I rather have my children sit on the couch and tell me what an incredibly awesome father I am, repeating the same words over and over again so I was sure to get the message; or, would I rather take a walk with them, sharing their joys, concerns and presence?

As the father of a 19 and 21 year old, that question isn’t even a tough call. Far more than their adoration, I’d rather have my children’s affection. Could we dare to believe that God wants the same from us? Of course we can give him both; in fact, one could argue that adoration almost naturally flowed from affection. However, I do think we can adore from a distance without even giving him our affection.

The contrast of a large group exalting the awesome God, and a little child cradled in her father’s arms has captured me since. Though our flesh can be seduced by the adoration of others, our Father doesn’t share the same ego. I know many people who sacrifice the affection of their family for their success in the workplace, but God isn’t wired that way. I think he would treasure affection over adoration any day of the week. He is the God of love, remember!

What touched me most about this exchange between a dad and daughter was that the daughter’s brokenness didn’t diminish the father’s affection. If anything her brokenness made her more endearing. We have the tendency to diminish our worship when we are aware of our own failures and weaknesses. Don’t great crowds of adoration always push the so-called ‘beautiful people’ and the ‘power people’ to the front while shunning to the back those who they deem ‘lesser’? But in a father’s lap there are no greater and lesser. Parents delight equally in their children and only see points of brokenness as vessels into which more love can be poured.

It might interest you to know that Nyssa was adopted into her family. Her parents first laid eyes on her when she was eleven days old and knew her entire condition before they threw wide the doors of their home and invited her in.

Jim told me he was initially reticent to adopt a child with so many special needs. But the moment he first laid eyes on Nyssa, all that changed. “As soon as I had her in my arms,” he said, “she looked up at me and sighed. My heart just melted and I knew I had to say ‘Yes’.”

She was chosen in the same way Father has chosen you, fully aware of all the brokenness he would love you through.

Second, her father reminded me that she couldn’t even crawl into her own father’s lap that morning. If her father hadn’t scooped down and picked her up, she would never have been there. I’m not so certain our plight is similar. Who of us can really claim to crawl into God’s lap by our own power? He is our only source, and there would be no intimacy if he did not make it happen. Perhaps the most we do is just lift our arms to him in surrender and desire. But our place on his lap is all his doing.

It makes more sense to me now, why Jesus asked Peter the question he did after the resurrection. “Do you love me?” He didn’t want to know if Peter adored him, feared him or was ready to serve him in the face of any threat. He just wanted Peter’s love. Having that, he knew everything else would fall into place. Lacking that, nothing else would matter.

Could we dare to believe that our Father sees us the same way as Jim sees Nyssa? His simple delight in us makes all the difference in the world.

“That’s what I want most!”

Well, it’s no wonder. Ever since that morning, I can’t be in a time of praise without remembering Nyssa and her father, and being reminded of what my heavenly Father wants most from me.

Note: Special thanks to Jim and Jayne Bennett for letting me share a piece of their story. They wrote, “Wayne, ever since your sharing that vision at the conference and these truths have hit me, I’ve started calling Nyssa my “window to God!” She is so precious. I’m an emotional wreck, and yet so happy, safe in His arms!”

A Dad and His Son

Photo © Copyright 2000 by Glenn Myers. Used with Permission“Everything God is calling me to right now seems wrapped up in this picture,” Glenn told me as he laid the picture on the table.

This is the first time I had been in Glenn and Elaine’s home. We had sat down for breakfast a few hours earlier and hadn’t yet moved from the table. We were talking about the awesome relationship that God extends to each of us through his son.

The photo was carefully framed and matted, an obvious treasure. I could see why immediately as I was captured by the interplay of this father and son standing beside a young birch tree that had already lost its leaves for winter. The stark contrast of the black and white photography and the clothes they wore spoke of a previous generation.

The obvious connection between father and son is profound, and as we discussed it, I thought I could understand why Glenn had seen such a powerful picture in this of the relationship God wanted with him.

FatherLook closely at the father. He seems to admire his son with great affection, while at the same time he is completely at peace. With his arm casually resting on his hip he also doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. For that moment he
BodyLife – Snapshots of Father’s Love 4 of 5

is simply focused on his boy and fully enjoying the moment fully without rushing onto anything else.

And the gaze back from the son is equally powerful, reflecting many of the same attributes of his father. The admiration in his face is obvious, as is his total pleasure to be hanging out with his dad. He, too, seems peaceful, his hands

resting comfortably in his pockets, seemingly ready to do whatever his father wants. He’s not tugging him along, or fighting for his affection.

The two are in obvious delight with each other and the photo captures so perfectly the joy, wonder, and affection that God wants to share with his children.

“I’m a long ways from that,” Glenn admitted after I had a chance to let the picture sink in, “but I know he is calling me to be just like that little boy.”

I know what he meant, and I felt a long ways from it too–to be so at peace in the Father’s presence, so secure in his care and so ready to enjoy the day with him. It wasn’t long until we both recognized that this wasn’t a relationship God was asking of us, but the relationship he was already at work producing in us by his power and grace. A boy at two can only reflect what he sees in his father. We know love, John says, only because he loved us first.

Son“That’s me!” Glenn finally told me, “the little boy there! I was two years old!”

My head shot up surprised. I had not even considered that this was a family photo.

“My father died within two months of that picture of a heart condition. I have no memory of him, only this picture. Now I want to know my heavenly Father with the same simplicity and joy.”

Me too! Isn’t that the point of everything God has done in creation and redemption? Take a good look at the photo again. What an incredible image that invites all of us to know the Living God like he so earnestly desires to be known with such security, wonder and affection. It would be my greatest desire to start every day like that–looking up at Father to see what he’s up to that day and not to anxious about anything when he’s there!

Note: Thanks to Glenn and Elaine Myers for letting me share something so personal of their life and journey. These photos are copyrighted and used with their permission.


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The Spirit of Family: Living in the Relational Church – Part 3

hiker_0The Spirit of Family: Living in the Relational Church – Part 3

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 2000

No matter how independent we humans may try to be, there are times we can’t help wanting to share with others.

Special moments are like that. Over the past few months as Sara and I have walked along the beach, we’ve watched a pod of dolphins play in the waves, even body-surfing into the shore. We couldn’t help point them out to total strangers and stand there sharing the moment with them. It has been so incredible that I think we’ve also told it to just about every human being we’ve met.

We also enjoy having others around when we feel threatened, uncertain or in need of direction. The first time Sara and I tried to hike to Walling Lake in the Kaiser Wilderness, we weren’t certain at all if we were on the right trail. Imagine our joy at finding another group of hikers coming down that same trail. We were able to confirm our bearings and they were able to warn us of a marshy area ahead that was filled with mosquitoes so we could get our insect repellent on before we became their lunch.

And one of the things I least like to do alone is move, paint or pour cement. I don’t know how I would have gotten our triple dresser to the second-floor without some dear friends and family who helped us move. As much as I hate to do it myself, I also hate anyone else left to do it on their own.

Sharing special times, sharing information to help others along the way and sharing resources to help lighten the burden on someone’s shoulders… I can’t imagine a better description of what it means to be part of God’s family. Why doesn’t it always work out that simply?

The Longing for Family

Maybe you’ve shared something special God showed you, only to have someone else dismiss it even as they tried to top it with their own discovery, or even worse tried to tell you how yours was flawed. Perhaps you’ve asked for help, only to have people ignore your pleas or send you down the wrong road, promising a reality you could never find. And in our day, fellowship has often become less about lightening another’s load as weighing others down with demands and expectations.

Is that why we live in a jaded age where many believers will only gather consistently to enjoy a polished performance; or else they retreat to themselves, doing the best they can on their own? Both options save us from having to get involved with anyone beyond a superficial level and rob us of one of the most incredible facets of being God’s child—life as a part of his awesome family.

The reason broken relationships in our own earthly families hurt so deeply, and why even in the face of such pain people still have an insatiable longing to be linked to family is because God created us for it. Unfortunately, the body of Christ in our day has not had much better success finding a healthy family life. Many come away from experiences in the body of Christ crushed by the disappointed desire to find real community, caring and involvement, where every member has a significant place and every person is valued.

Unfortunately today, institutional priorities are usually the guiding force of the shared life of believers. We have blindly accepted their demands while failing to realize that those priorities are the opposite of family. Instead of celebrating diversity and authenticity, or making room for people to be at different places in the journey, they are pressed into conformity. Smooth running programs are championed above building healthy relationships and the gifts of a few are exalted instead of unlocking the gifts of all. Institutions exist to secure their own preservation, rather than to embrace God’s wider work in the world and genuinely serving those who do not know him. It’s no wonder that these dynamics have proven more successful at entertaining crowds than nurturing Father’s family.

Forgetting What’s Behind

Anyone who has been involved in institutionalized Christianity knows how quickly the relationships of the most well-intentioned become filled with some of the very deeds of the flesh Paul outlined in Galatians 5: … “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy.” We can get caught up in those very actions even while thinking we are doing God’s will.

When the pain gets too intense, a faction breaks off to start a newer, better body. In a matter of years they are overtaken by the very things from which they fled. After a few experiences like this it’s no wonder many believers give up hope of ever finding vibrant body life.

But Father beckons us past our hurts and disappointments. I’ve heard horror story after horror story of people being exploited and manipulated by those who claimed to have God’s interests at heart. They were asked to defy their deepest convictions in the name of ‘love’ and ‘unity’, and when they would not, were vilified and excluded. As excruciating as those experiences can be, I still hear them hungering for real connections with other believers.

But for them to experience real body life they will have to follow their hunger even beyond their hurts and reactions to past failures. Perhaps it will help to realize that even though we were believers trying to follow God, those relationships may not have been built on the real spirit of Father’s family. Often they are focused more on what we felt we needed to get from others, not on what he freed us to give others.

It is easy to look at ourselves as victims and others as villains, when the truth is rarely that simplistic. Yes, you were probably manipulated by others, but isn’t it also true that we did some of our own manipulating? We expected people to act in certain ways and were disappointed when they didn’t. When we tried to get them to do it our way, we often resorted to tactics that Jesus never asked us to use.

Why? Because it is in our fallen nature to use organizations when they meet our needs and to abuse them when they don’t. In other words, the reason the spirit of family often decreases in proportion to the growth of an institution that tries to contain it, is because people begin to view it as the way to get their own needs met and their own preferences satisfied.

One former pastor I know defines institutionalized religion as the mutual accommodation of self-need. One has a need to teach, another to be taught. One has a need to lead worship, another to have a worship experience. One has a need to shepherd others, another a desire to put their responsibility on someone else. When our needs brings us together, we will both be exploited as well as exploit others. It is no wonder that this approach fails to nurture an environment where people can live together as God’s family.

One Anothering

One AnotheringThus the root of the problem is not our institutions, but our own self-needs and our attempts to get other people to fill up in us what we lack in our own relationship with God. You can almost find Scriptures to underscore that mistaken notion because God clearly works through others as the extension of his own hand. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus builds his body based on our self-needs. Far from it!

He builds family life only out of our relationship with him. As the Lord of Lords, the Head of the church, and the Savior of the world, all of our needs can only be dealt with in him. If they are legitimate he will meet them. If, instead, they are merely the tyrannical ravings of our flesh, he will want to set us free of them. Only when we get that straight are we ready for the kind of family life Jesus envisioned for us.

As we learn to trust him for everything—our fulfillment, our direction, our righteousness, our ministry, our resource—we can finally begin to share healthy relationships with other believers. Because our eyes are on Jesus to bring his life to us, we no longer have to manipulate others to get what we want. Though he will often use other believers to do that, he will rarely use ones we expect it from.

That’s why the Scriptures paint a far different picture of body life than we see today. It does not envision large institutions with hired staff and cumbersome overhead. Instead it depicts a group of people who are growing together to listen to Jesus; who intentionally and freely learn to share their lives without manipulating each other. The only body life the early church understood was the care, wisdom, and encouragement that people would share together in the reality of life.

They would not have conceived of the church as people lined up in chairs. Instead they saw it as the whole body engaged in sharing special moments, helping each other on the journey and finding ways to lighten someone’s load. That’s why the life of the early church can be summed up in the ‘one another’ Scriptures laced throughout the New Testament. (See list at right.)

This is how they saw their engagement of the Father’s family. Christ-centered friendships spilled over in acts of compassion and service through the daily course of human life. The body flourished only as each person was free to grow in Christ and valued for the gifts and insights they brought to the body. It was not a group of people that needed to be managed or entertained; but a family who could mutually share in God’s life. No one needed to lord over the others. No one needed to feel spiritually inferior. Instead, they looked to Jesus to meet their needs, and lived intentionally to put others’ needs on par with their own.

Freely Receive, Freely Give

Notice we don’t come to the body to get what we’re not finding in Christ. That’s backwards. We bring to the body the fullness of our relationship with him. That’s why Jesus didn’t tell us to “get love from one another” or to “get service from others”, but for us to “love one another” and to “serve one another”. It’s not what we expect from others that allows us to experience body life, but by that which we intentionally give.

Jesus expressed it to his disciples this way: “Freely you have received, freely give!” Received from whom? Each other? No, they share what they received from him. I like the way The Message translates that portion: “You have been treated generously, so live generously.”

I love that because it puts things in their proper order. I can’t be generous until I’ve experienced in a daily way God’s generosity for me. And, where I’ve experienced his generosity, I can’t help but treat all others around me in the same way. The saddest believers to me are those who never seem to discover that generosity. Because they live on their own resources or expectations instead of embracing his life wholeheartedly, they come to view God as a meager God. They never have enough time and energy for themselves, much less be able to take an interest in others.

However, when we fill up on God’s incredible love for us and embrace his purpose in us, we don’t have to make other people its substitute. As people like that find each other along the way, something incredible happens – family! I’ve been picked up at the airport often by total strangers and by the time we get to their house feel as if we’ve known each other for a long time.

Friends on the Adventure

I honestly think if we worried less about trying to find ‘a church’ or trying to start a new one, and simply learned to live in Father’s love while intentionally looking for opportunities to share that with others, that we would find ourselves in the midst of church every day.

The problem for many is that the life of trusting God is peripheral to their lives, and thus relationships with believers that are mutually-encouraging and edifying are as well. We think just because we sit in the same room with believers regularly and call it ‘family’ that we’re experiencing the fullness of it. The truth is, we probably haven’t even begun.

Let God become the sole source of every desire and need in your life. Go on the adventure of learning to trust him and you’ll soon find him connecting you with other believers who are on the same journey. It will be just like meeting other hikers in the back country. There will be immediate rapport, a willingness to share what you’ve experienced to help others, without the desire to force others to do what you’re doing.

If God leads you to, find ways to get together and discover how to take an interest in each other. I can’t emphasize enough that this is an intentional choice to engage the family pro-actively and become an active participant in helping others. It doesn’t just happen while we sit at home and twiddle our thumbs or sit in a service and watch the minutes tick by until the sermon ends. It happens as people go on an adventure with God and actively look to participate in other people’s lives as an encourager in the journey.

Where you hear of other believers near you sharing a similar passion, go check it out. I’ve been at a couple of gatherings this past summer where people chose to come great distances just to meet others who were on this kind of journey. If there’s a group of you already trying to do that and feeling like it’s falling short, ask someone to help you talk it out together and hear what God is saying.

There is nothing like the kind of relationships that allow us to share special moments, to help people further along in God’s life and to lift the burdens in this life that weigh us down. It’s not nearly as difficult as you might think, and the joys are indescribable.

After all, its what he made you to be a part of!


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Giving and Generosity: Living in the Relational Church – Part 4

doubloons_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 2000

“Follow the money!” The haunting words from Deep Throat, the unidentified Watergate informant for the Washington Post, proved to be the critical voice that unraveled the corruption in the Nixon White House.

I find it an interesting echo of Ecclesiastes 10:19, “Money is the answer for everything.”

When people ask me why do all the TV preachers sound the same, I point them to Ecclesiastes. When I’m asked why organized religion works the way it does, I point them to Ecclesiastes. When they ask me how do I know what my heart really wants, I point them to Ecclesiastes.

In human terms, money is the answer for everything. How you view it and how you use it will show you what you understand about Father’s work in your life.

Of all the questions I get about relational church life, “What do you think of tithing?” ranks right at the top with “What do we do about children?” Admittedly I traverse financial waters with great care since nothing has been more abused among God’s people in our day.

Usually those who speak about it do so only to get their hands on more of it for themselves. So let me offer this one caveat at the beginning: There is no financial crisis here, and please don’t send us any contributions because you think this is a veiled appeal to do so. It is not, and if that is hard for you to believe, please feel free not to read any further.

So much of what has been said in this area either burdens people with guilt or bribes them with false promises of God giving them more money in return. I’ll risk being misunderstood because I want you to discover the joy and freedom of seeing Father’s hand in your giving just as much as any other area of your life. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here nor to offer a complete treatise on this subject, but I do want to share with you where the journey has led me in this area.

Jesus and Money

Jesus spoke about money as much as he spoke about anything except relating to his Father. He said nothing reveals our affections more than that which we compile as treasure, or that which we freely share at God’s bidding.

Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that he talked about it more than he talked about church, worship or even prayer. He warned us not to judge God’s fairness or generosity by it, and made it clear that the abundant life had nothing to do with the amount of money or possessions we have, but the simplicity of living in the freedom of his righteousness, the rest of his peace and the fullness of his joy.

The pursuit of money and the worries it creates has the capacity to choke out the life of the kingdom in any of his followers. It is better to give it away to the poor than let it own your heart.

He also said that wise hearts would use money as a tool for God’s purpose in the world. It can open doors and minister to the needs of many, when it doesn’t own you. Use it responsively to him and it can be a blessing to you and others. Hoard it and its promise quickly turns into a cage for a darkened heart.

With capacity for such good or such evil, how does he want us to handle our money?

Storehouse Tithing

This used to be real easy for me. Growing up I was taught that ten percent of everything I received belonged to God. I owed him that ten percent. That is tithing.

How I paid that tithe was to donate it to whatever local congregation I attended. Those in charge were free to use it for the needs of the fellowship—to procure a facility, to pay salaries, to fund its programs and also to help people in need. I was not free to give it where God might lead. If I wanted to give anywhere else, it would have to be above my tithe. That is storehouse tithing.

To be honest, I was never fully comfortable drawing the Biblical lines to that conclusion. Certainly Abraham tithed as an act of gratefulness to God even before the law was given. It helped pay for the upkeep of God’s Temple and the Levites who cared for it. It was shared with the needy and also used to fund feasts for celebrating God’s life among them.

Admittedly, however, the New Testament is conspicuously silent about tithing as a practice of the early church. Nowhere is it encouraged and yet the generosity demonstrated by their giving to each other has not been rivaled since.

For too many years I missed that, however, blinded by the pragmatic need to fund the facilities, salaries and programs of the institutions I served. Without committed tithers we simply could not have funded the things we thought were so important to us. It was easy to co-opt the Old Testament tithe as an easy proof-text for our needs.

A Different Way of Giving

My conclusion now is quite different. No, I don’t believe tithing is wrong, I simply view it now like everything else in the Old Testament. It is only a shadow of something far more real that God wanted to show us in Jesus. And, like every other old covenant shadow, when you discover the real substance of giving you will see that tithing is a cheap substitute by comparison.

“You mean I don’t have to tithe?” I love the question, because it belies the motives that tithing too often taps. It’s a bill—an obligation we owe God. Once it is paid, we can run off with the remaining 90% and spend it however we like. Not to give it, in Malachi’s words, is to rob God of that which we owe.

The New Testament paints a far different picture. Jesus never mentioned tithing as a practice for his followers. And though giving is a constant theme of Acts and the Epistles, tithing is again not mentioned. Instead we see something else at work. Believers gave not because they had to, but because they chose to. Those who had been invited into relationship with the Living God, were so shaped and blessed by his generosity, that they responded to others around them with that same generosity. The giving that resulted outstripped anything tithing could ever accomplish.

Even when Peter addressed Ananias for lying about the money he was giving, he made it clear that the church had no claim on it. “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:5)

When Paul took up a collection for the famine-ravished believers in Jerusalem, he made it clear that it was not his command, but merely an opportunity. ” Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” ( 2 Cor. 9:7)

Ultimately, giving because we have to is not really giving at all. It is just another obligation to meet and a far cry from what God really had in mind all along.

Giving Generously

In fact Paul was shocked at how the Macedonians, who were in the midst of poverty themselves, responded to the need. “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” (2 Cor. 8:2-4)

Does that sound like tithing? Would tithing have resulted in such overwhelming action? I don’t think so! Here were believers who were so blessed by God’s generosity toward them that even out of their own need they could respond with generosity to others.

I love how the New Testament puts the focus where it belongs. We don’t give money to God so God will act generously toward us. Rather, he begins the cycle. Having overwhelmed us with his generosity, we will respond in the same way to others.

But there is a catch here, isn’t there? What if I don’t feel God is being generous with me, do I still give to others? Paul said that giving and receiving in the body does go in cycles. Those who have plenty today, might well be those who in need tomorrow. The goal is to share so that no one has too much or too little.

But how much is too much and how little is too little. While I think it’s obvious that almost every one of us who live in first-world countries are incredibly wealthy financially by world standards, so few people really know God’s generosity. Why?

Generosity God-Style

The reason so few people really understand God’s generosity results from two realities. First, they measure it by what they perceive to be their wants and needs. Comparing our homes, cars and toys to others in the culture leads to envy and greed. In the face of our demands God will rarely seem generous.

Paul understood God’s generosity at a far deeper level than material comfort. He said he knew the secret of contentedness whether he enjoyed an abundance or whether he suffered in need. Because he was focused on God’s agenda for his life and not his own, he saw God’s hand of generosity in every area of his life. Look at how he described it: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8, emphasis mine)

I have lived most of my spiritual life like a son of a stingy Father. Not ever having all I wanted and often being disappointed by his response to some of my most fervent prayers, I lived with a nagging disappointment in God. Yes, I could express thanks and praise as well as the next person intellectually, but underneath I felt cheated and was continually frustrated by the things he did not do that I expected of him.

It has only been in the last six years as God has dismantled my agenda for my own life, that I have been able to see a glimpse of what Paul is talking about here. Because I was so busy trying to get God on my page, I couldn’t see the incredible things he was doing in my life every day. When I start everyday without my own preferences for how I want things to turn out, I find myself constantly amazed at what God is doing in my life and genuinely thankful at every turn. If he doesn’t give me something, it’s because I really don’t need it.

This is why our expectations are disappointed so often. It’s not because God doesn’t care about us, but because he is committed to freeing us from the tyranny of self. Only then can we enjoy God’s resources and discover just how generous he is.

How Does It Work?

Living in God’s generosity leads to a life of generosity with our money, our time and our spiritual life.

Since God takes such incredible care of us we no longer have to live self-focused lives. Thus it will be easier for us to see ways God wants us to help others.

Remember the Macedonians who gave so much even though they were in need? Did that happen because they were committed to tithing? No. As Paul wrote, “They did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2 Cor. 8:5)

Simply, they heard God and did what he asked them. It was greater than Paul could conceive. Those who are convinced that giving to God is nothing more than paying ten percent as an obligation, will never understand giving like this.

A few times every year, I get calls from people whom God has led out of abusive institutions. They tell me that God has led them to send their tithe from now on to Lifestream. My answer is always the same. After thanking them for their thoughtfulness, I steer them away from any regular commitment. “If God puts it on your heart to send us something this month, please do so. If God puts it on your heart to send us something the next month, then do that. If in the following months God leads you to do something else with your gifts, then by all means do that.” Never have any of those people given to us more than a month or two. Hopefully they are learning a better way to give.

A Life of Giving

Each day God wants you to taste of his generous love, and then show you how he wants to channel his generosity through you to touch others. As I see it, Scripturally you are not obligated to give that to any specific location. He will show you where to give when you are led by him and not swayed by the appeals and demands of those who always claim to be in crisis.

Those who gather in more relational settings and have no need to spend significant funds on facilities, salaries or programs, often find creative ways to see God use their generosity. They give to those in need, to extend the light of God’s kingdom in the world, even to support ministry projects they feel called to aid.

They may do that together, or separately. I know one group in Australia that collected offerings into a combined account to distribute it on behalf of the group. After spending six weeks disagreeing over how to distribute it, they decided to give everyone their money back and let them give as they felt led. They choose to spend their time encouraging each other’s faith instead of spending each others offerings.

I know others who put a specific amount of money in their wallet each month and see where God might want them to give it at serendipitous moments throughout their week.

Notice I am not saying it is sinful to give ten percent to the group you regularly gather with if God so asks you. In fact, I think people whom God has blessed who are not willing to share the financial load of that which they benefit from might well reconsider whether or not God has called them to be part of it.

But God’s way of giving makes tithing a mere shadow by comparison. Those who discover God as the generous Father will give beyond ten percent, just by doing what God asks of them. What’s more, because it’s not a bill they pay, but an extension of his generosity, they will give with a passion that not only transfers funds, but builds relationship as well.

Why embrace the shadow, when you can enjoy the reality behind it? That holds true for so much in this kingdom, doesn’t it?


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The Deepest Freedom


By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • January 2001

 

The familiar voice on the phone brought back incredible memories of the friendship we had shared, even though it had been almost two years since we had last spoken. “What has God been doing in you?” he asked after we had exchanged pleasantries.

Before I realized what I was saying, the words rolled off of my tongue: “Over the past few years God has defied to the nth degree every expectation and desire I had for my life.” I was so surprised at my own answer and how smoothly it had flowed from my lips that as I paused to think about it an uneasy silence hung on the line.

After a few moments he spoke again, quite tentatively, “And is that a good thing?”

I remember chuckling as I answered, “It is the best thing!”

“Really?”

“Yes! In every way, what Father has accomplished in me was far better than anything I had tried to produce for myself.”

I was probably as surprised by the answer as he was. My life is far from any idealized existence I’d been taught to dream. The last few years had brought many painful circumstances that I would have changed in an instant had I the power to do so, as well as a number of disappointed hopes that I thought were as much God’s idea as mine.

What I realized in that moment, however, was that none of those things mattered anymore. Somehow in this incredible journey he had guided me toward a deeper level of freedom. What had for most of my spiritual journey been a great source of frustration—that God would not meet my expectations of him—had in fact been his hand setting me free from the worst kind of bondage.

I wanted him to please me; he wanted me to be free of the need to be pleased. Painful circumstances and disappointing expectations had been the incubator in which God wanted to teach me to stop trusting my expectations for my life and embrace his.

The Tyranny of Self

Today, I look back in awe. In spite of my best efforts at times to the contrary, God has steadily drawn me to himself. The things he’s changed in me, the people he has brought into my life, the way he has provided, and the doors he has opened to share his reality with others are far beyond anything I could ever have asked or imagined. (Which is a clear way of saying this is not the way I would have done it!)

I am now living the life in him the life I always thought was possible when I read with deep longing the Scriptures that spoke of God’s reality. Along the way, many tried to convince me I was just too idealistic. They told me that the relationship I desired with him and the depth of body life I hungered for with other believers were not going to be found in this age of fallen humanity. They may be right if we’re looking for fallen humanity to produce it—especially if we look to ourselves. But he has ways, to do just that in each of us if we ask him to do so.

But the greatest tyranny in our lives is not legalism, tradition nor religious obligation so prevalent in our day. As binding as those things can be, a more powerful tyrant holds us captive from the true depths of Father’s life and joy—self! We can be free of all the others and yet remain captive to this one that matters most.

I’ve seen it happen far too often. The nature of the things God’s asked me to write brings me to people who are discovering just how much bondage organized religion has become in our day. While it promises a dynamic relationship with the Living God, it too often only offers a program of behavioral conformity that leaves many empty, manipulated and disillusioned. Watching God set people free from that bondage is always a joy. However, freedom from those things without also finding freedom from the tyranny of self only becomes an excuse for greater bondage to the flesh. Paul warned the Galatians just how true that is.

Our greatest captivity is not to any other person or system; it is to self. And the greater bondage here is not the appetites of the flesh we clearly know are sinful, but the agendas we hold for our own good. Trying to get God to do for me what I think is best has tripped me up far more effectively, than more obvious sins.

God’s Will As A Joy

About six months ago I ran across these words from I Peter 4:1-2 in The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible. I think I have shared them just about everywhere I’ve gone since because I think they capture the heart of living as one of God’s children.

“Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think and act like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning away from the old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.”

Growing up as a young Christian I used to view doing God’s will as the overwhelming burden of the serious disciple. Somehow we were supposed to find the will-power to deny ourselves all the things we really wanted to do and then force ourselves to do God’s will. Doing his will was not something to be desired, but endured.

This translation turns that thinking on its head. Who wouldn’t want to wake up everyday free to engage God’s desires in their life? I’ll tell you who: those who have no idea who God is. If you think him a demanding taskmaster, you will find his will not only frustrating but you’ll also never be sure what it is. However, once you know him as he really is and are secure in how much he loves you, pursuing what he wants everyday will become your greatest joy.

Notice how Peter regards our self-nature. It is the tyrant, not God. I can think of no better words to describe our own agenda. When you go into a situation having to get your own way, don’t you feel tyrannized? I have. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to survive if I didn’t get what I wanted that I pressured myself and everyone else to conform to what I thought best. The weight of pulling that off is a tyranny all its own and a source of great anxiety for us and manipulation for others.

The real joy of being God’s child is waking up everyday with the simple freedom to join God in what he wants. As Jesus said, he is always working, in our lives and in people around us. He wants to share in the delight of that working, as a Father with his son or daughter. There is no greater freedom than to do so without distorting that with false needs and misplaced wants.

The School of Hard Knocks

How does that freedom come? Do you think you can just read an article or book about it and turn around and do it? I wish! How does God free us from our own agenda and teach us how much fun it is to embrace his? He does it by defying our misplaced expectations. That’s why Peter encouraged us to think of our sufferings as God’s way of weaning us away from having to get our own way.

Peter didn’t say he orchestrates our sufferings. He doesn’t create your troubles to teach you a lesson, but simply uses the troubles of life in this age to show you his freedom. He just graciously refuses to settle for flawed agendas and continues to fulfill his own in the lives of those who have asked him to do so.

He doesn’t deny us what we want to frustrate us, but to show us that he knows best about everything. The only way we figure that out is to watch our hard-fought agendas fall to nothing and to see God’s working exceed our greatest expectations.

This is not an easy process, as I’m sure you already know. When God doesn’t do the things we expect him to, we often wonder if he doesn’t love us, or if we haven’t done enough to earn his favor. Only by knowing that he loves you completely will you ever be able to go through moments of suffering as the weaning process he desires.

God’s not punishing you he is fulfilling your hunger at a deeper level. When I first started publishing books in the late 80’s I was just certain God wanted me to be a best-selling author and reform his church by the influence of the words I was writing. When book distribution was well below my expectations, I was frustrated at God. When my first two books went out of print, I was downright angry. Why would God fail me? Weren’t my desires only for his best interest? (You can laugh now!)

The more “my ministry” didn’t grow the way I desired, the more frustrated I got with God. Did that change the way he treated me? Not one bit! He still moved ahead to work his desires into my life. It almost killed me because I didn’t trust him. I was so tuned to what I thought God wanted I couldn’t recognize what he was actually doing. During those days my life was marked with bouts of anger, frustration, and anxiety.

Over the years, however, I’ve seen God maneuver circumstances that continued to draw me closer to him and closer to what he really had in mind for me. He opened doors I wasn’t even knocking on. He showed me that his idea of ministry made mine look like garbage in comparison. He really does know what is best for us everyday and is fully capable to lead us to it as long as we keep inviting him to do so.

NATO Living

The trick is learning how to live each day in the expectancy of God’s working in the circumstances of my life, without giving in to the expectation that it must look any particular way to satisfy me. I have begun to taste of the freedom of that kind of trust, and it is the most incredible reality I’ve yet to find in his love.

Imagine the freedom of no longer having to try and manipulate God or others toward your desired outcome. Instead, you can simply find out what he is up to, and though it will often seem more painful in the short-term than you might want, his ways are always the best — not only in resolving our circumstances but transforming us through them.

A number of years ago I read a book about a man playing the last rounds of golf with his terminally ill father around the famed courses of Scotland. Early on that trip he realized how little he enjoyed golf because his only goal was to shoot the lowest score possible. Whenever he got an unlucky bounce or hit a bad shot he’d sulk for the next few holes and play even worse.

That’s when his father taught him to play NATO golf—Not Attached To Outcome. In other words, his father told him, don’t worry about the score, just enjoy the challenge of hitting each shot as well as you can. When it goes off track, go find it and figure out the best shot you can hit from there. Let the score take care of itself and even if you don’t have a good round you still get to enjoy a walk in a beautiful park and the friendship of your partners.

Perhaps we should learn to live each day Not Attached To Outcome. Wouldn’t we be truly free if we could do the same on our own spiritual journeys? Instead of being so focused on the outcomes we desire, we could simply trust that regardless of the outcome, God is doing his work in and through us. Now instead of wasting our time with him trying to get him on our page, we can simply enjoy our fellowship with him as he moves us to his. And believe me, it is a lot more peaceful walking with God on his page, than constantly trying to figure out how to get him on yours.

A Better Agenda

What God has been doing in you since the day you came to know him, is to liberate you from the tyranny of self. He knows that your ability to live in his rest, peace and joy, will not come when you get everything you want, but when you forsake all your wants and embrace his.

Through most of my spiritual journey, I’ve been an insecure person about God’s love for me and my significance in the world. Most of what drove my life in those early years was trying to be successful, in my own eyes and the eyes of others. My prayer life focused around those insecurities, trying to get God to arrange my circumstances so that I would not have to be afraid or risk failure.

It always amazed me when he seemed to ignore my most ardent prayers, especially for those things I was certain were part of his vision for my life. How could he not change the things that angered and frustrated me?

Thankfully he had something far better in mind. I wanted him to change my circumstances so I would never have the need to feel insecure or afraid. He wanted to change me so that no circumstance would ever make me afraid again. If my security was going to be based on circumstances, he knew I would never follow him to the incredible places he wanted to take me.

How did he do that? He allowed circumstances to confront my greatest insecurities over and over again. In spite of my cries for relief, he just kept showing up for me every day, swallowing my pain with his love and gently pointing me toward a better way.

The Joy of Freedom

Certainly he has far more to do in my life along these lines, but somehow the last few months have brought me to a new plateau of this freedom. I feel like I can walk into most situations now with a freedom to live without catering to my agenda. I am more excited about what he might do than what I think he should do.

I don’t find myself haunted by the same insecurities or plagued by the sleepless nights of anxiety. I don’t walk into difficult conversations with that knot in the pit of my stomach because I know the outcome is not in my hands but his. Without all that bondage, I find it much easier to recognize his hand and flow with it.

Yes, there are still times I would like him to change some of my circumstances in ways that would make it easier for me. Now, however, I have a healthy suspicion that the way I would go about anything in my life and the way God would are probably polar opposites. I still let him know my requests of him, but I listen more intently for his of me. I know that what he’s up to in every circumstance will be far better than anything I could conceive.

So if you find God defying some of your most passionate expectations, just consider that he is doing something more extraordinary in you than you have yet grasped. He is expressing his love to you at a deeper level so that you will no longer have to bow to the tyranny of self.

By opening your eyes to that reality he is showing you how to be truly free—not just from legalism, works or religious obligation, but from a more powerful foe still. He wants you to be free of you, and only by doing so will you be able to know the person he created you to be.

You’ll find that freedom to be one of God’s greatest gifts. It will allow you to enjoy him more deeply and to recognize more easily how he wants you to share in his work around you.

You, too, will wake up each day excited to embrace what God wants rather than being forced by the tyranny of your own wants. This freedom is like no other.


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Reasons to Run: Living in the Relational Church – Part 5

sunset_runner_0Reasons to Run: Living in the Relational Church – Part 5

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 2001

“You must stay with him. That is only way God will bless.”

I heard the words, but was so shocked by them that for a moment I doubted my own ears. I was sitting at the table of a woman who was ready to divorce her husband of two years. I knew the abuse she had suffered at her new husband’s hands and the risk she felt that her children from a previous marriage were under in continuing to live with him.

There’s no doubt the situation was messy. Many of us had wept, prayed and counseled with both of them as the situation unfolded. A few days earlier another couple had asked me to go with them as they shared with her a word the Lord had put on their heart for her. When they dropped the bomb on her so unequivocally demanding her compliance, I knew something was desperately wrong.

I turned to face Beth (not her real name). She was obviously as taken back by their words as I was. Before she could speak, I opened a door for her escape.

“Of course, Beth, you know that words like this are only valid to the degree that they confirm what God has already put in your heart. If not, you’re free to disregard it.” In the next few moments she told us that she didn’t agree with what she had just been told. She had been seeking the Lord diligently and was getting counsel from two women in the fellowship we knew to be godly. Both of them had affirmed her decision to separate.

“Then feel free to pursue that,” I told her. “If God has anything else in mind, I’m sure he will make it clear to you.”

Outside her home, the couple tore into me on the driveway. “What were you doing in there? We had God’s word for her and you gave her all the excuse she needed to ignore it.” No amount of explaining soothed their anger, and I knew that if something didn’t change in the weeks ahead, I would not be able to serve alongside them much longer.

As much as Scripture invites us to run with open arms into relationships with other believers, it also warns us that not all relationships are healthy ones. Failure to understand that, cause many to be trapped in destructive relationships that will not only erode their own walk with God but also will in time cultivate a cynicism about others that will make them withdraw from healthy relationships.

Not an Easy Out

Scripture talks in no uncertain terms about the value of walking alongside other brothers and sisters of the faith. What each of us knows and sees on our own is only a small part of all that God is. As he connects us to other brothers and sisters who are discovering that same life we begin to get a fuller picture of him. That’s why he defined his body as “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

When those relationships work well they will encourage us to stay the course, comfort us through our darkest moments and help us keep our trust in God when we’re tempted to place it elsewhere. There is no treasure greater in this world than sharing that kind of friendship with believers who are committed to God’s work in your lives.

Everything I write here presupposes that truth. I know how easily these words can be used to excuse those who want to be lone rangers in the body of Christ. Do that at your peril. I want no part in it because our God is a reconciling God and his purpose in Christ is to bring all things together in him.

Where we are coming to discover his heart we will not be looking for excuses to distance ourselves from others just because a relationship goes through a difficult moment. Any deep friendship I’ve ever had has at times traversed deep waters where misunderstanding, human weakness and personal failures have caused hurt and confusion. If we bail out whenever relationships get difficult, we will never know just how truly awesome friendships in Christ can be.

However, I often cross paths with believers who are plagued by relationships where other believers are manipulating and controlling them. Wanting to be humble and open they make room in their lives for the wrong kind of counsel and advice and are overwhelmed with guilt when they can’t satisfy what others expect of them.

That’s why the New Testament not only tells us to love each other deeply, bear with each other through the tough stuff and forgive each other’s faults as they arise, but it also warns us to recognize when relationships turn destructive and to take proper distance from them.

Have Nothing To Do With…

Paul put it in the simplest terms possible, “Have nothing to do with them.” He used the same phrase in a variety of circumstances to help us recognize the signs that the relationship we’re having with another believer is not going to help us know God better and follow him more closely. He warns us to step aside from them, not in judgment or anger, but simply so that they will not swallow up our spiritual passion nor lead us astray.

These may not always be easy to recognize, especially when they come from people we care about, or even those who have helped us in the past. It is often the most well-intentioned people in our lives that will unwittingly make it more difficult for us to do what God asks.

Jesus faced that reality with one of his closest friends. When he told Peter about his journey to Jerusalem and his impending death on the cross, Peter jumped to his defense vowing to prevent such a thing from happening. His best friend had become the voice of the evil one. Jesus had to put that talk behind him knowing how seductive Peter’s misplaced love could prove to Jesus’ obedience to his Father.

To recognize when our relationships with believers move into treacherous waters does not mean we have to judge people or their motives. We only have to recognize that their words and actions are doing more to prevent us from following God than they are encouraging us to do so. We don’t take distance from them as if we are superior to them, or because they’ve become evil, but simply knowing that they will be an occasion for us to trip over our own worst motives. His desire was not to spawn separatism or one-ups-manship, but that the environment of body life you live in would be conducive to real spiritual encouragement and growth. So what can we watch out for?

The Pharisees’ Yeast (Matt. 16:6-12; 2 Tim. 3:2-5): Jesus warned his disciples to steer well clear of it and Paul did as well when he spoke of those with a ‘form of godliness, but denying its power.’ What were they talking about? They both refer to busybodies who are always pressuring people to conform to their standard of morality. Because their righteousness is conformity-based it is only an outward pretense and does not reflect what’s really inside. I knew one brother who made young couples embarrass themselves by confessing that they had premarital sex at their own wedding while he was hiding an affair in his own closet.

These people can forever justify anything they do even though you have often witnessed the disparity between what they appear to be and who they really are. Like yeast, this attempt to make themselves look good while trying to change others is incredibly contagious and before you know it, you’ll find yourself doing it to others. Because righteousness can only come from God’s transforming work inside of us, no one who has experienced it ever tries to force it on others. They know it simply won’t work that way.

Dividing Lines (Titus 3:10): These people think they can judge between those who belong to God and those who do not. Thus they have an obsession with controversy and gossip, leaving a wake of broken relationships wherever they go. These are not always easy to spot because their rhetoric of theological purity disguises their real bent. They love to hold institutional power and accuse others of being divisive who do not conform to their way of doing things. Just remember it is never divisive to raise honest concerns or ask the difficult questions.

Because each of us only has a handle on but a facet of God’s glory the desire to make our part the whole jewel has fragmented Christianity into a thousand brand names with pet doctrines and personal preferences of worship styles that has splintered the body of Christ around the world. When I was in Nepal before Christianity was legalized in that country, I witnessed an incredible amount of love and unity in their shared sufferings. It wasn’t long, however, after Christianity was legalized that denominations of every stripe came in and divided up the body of Christ by offering monthly stipends to those who would affiliate with them. Don’t be a party to division. Don’t be sucked into the notion that your way of doing things is the best or only thing God is doing in the world, or you will find yourself swirling about in a whirlpool of self-righteousness and miss the bigger work God is doing in our world.

Misplaced Confidences (Phil. 3:1-11): The number one assault on the early church was to forsake their trust in God’s ability to accomplish his work in them and then strive to do by their own effort. Nothing better sidetracks believers today either. Those who place confidence in the flesh will be a constant stumbling block to those wanting to learn the life of trust. When you see people blaming others or passing out lists of things you can do to be a better Christian, you better know you’re with people who are placing their confidence in something other than the work of God himself.

Rationalized Sins (I Cor. 5:1-13): All of us struggle with temptation and sin and our ongoing assessment and honesty about our weaknesses is a key ingredient to real body life. When people rationalize their failures to justify themselves, they have missed the essence of what it is to live as broken people at the foot of Jesus. God does not love us because we do nothing wrong, God loves us because he loves us; and sinners are who he came to redeem. We don’t have to change the definition of sin to think ourselves righteous, but rather find in our own temptations even more reason to draw near the only one who can transform us. Unfortunately we only think of sexual sins in this way, but Paul’s list to the Corinthians also included such things as greed, idolatry, swindling and slander.

Being Number One (Col 2:16-22 3 John 9): Whether by selfish ambition or a mistaken idea of what leadership in the body is all about, many people seek to have first place in any expression of the body. Though that place is reserved for Christ alone, they think it is theirs and act that way by demanding that their wisdom prevails, their preferences are served and their plans to be viewed as God’s plans. They think it is their responsibility to manage other people’s spirituality and are threatened by anything less than unquestioned obedience. You’ll know you’re near one of these when they force you to choose between submitting to them and doing what you honestly feel that God has put on your heart.

Step Away Quietly!

Of course, who of us can honestly say we haven’t fallen into one or more of these traps from time to time ourselves? That’s what makes them so destructive. They offer us the very things our flesh craves– acceptance, feeling of superiority, and control. Hang around believers who live like that and you will find all the excuse you need to be like them. We take distance from them because they will rob us of the hunger of listening to God every day and following him.

The reason Paul gave us these instructions is so that we could follow God’s leading when he encourages us to step away from a destructive relationship and not feel guilty about it. We have pursued such a false notion of unity in the body of Christ that many of us feel the need to pretend fellowship even with those who are hurtful and destructive in the life of the body.

Please notice that Paul never asks us to distance ourselves from the people of the world. How else will they ever come to experience God’s love if it is not through people like us loving them even in the midst of their worst failures and sins? The danger of distraction doesn’t come from the world, but from so-called believers whose misguided notion of the life of God provides easy distractions to the depth of his calling.

When John wrote that many antichrists had already gone out into the world, he was not talking about wicked people who actively opposed Jesus Christ. Rather, he was identifying those who appeared to be inside the faith who would draw dependence on themselves rather than on Christ alone. They were of the antichrist spirit because they sought to take his place in the lives of the faithful. It is a tragic commentary on our time that so many would-be leaders in the God’s church today feel they can only fulfill their calling by making people dependent on them. The results are always disastrous.

Of course having the freedom to run doesn’t mean we have to run. People that act destructively are themselves broken and fractured people. They need love to. If God graces you to stay near them to love them and you can do it without compromising your own relationship with him, by all means do it!

But when you recognize that another believer is distracting you from the real prize of knowing him, you don’t have to go on a tirade. You don’t have to confront, accuse and try to prove you’re right. You don’t even have to overreact and become the lone ranger. All you have to step away quietly from them and spend your time in the body of Christ with those relationships that stimulate you to draw closer to God and recognize his work in you.

With the demands of life pressing us from every side, time is just too short to waste our energies on other believers filled with manipulation, gossip and division. When you have a chance to be with other believers don’t you want it filled with encouragement, revelation and humility?

After all, life in the Body of Christ, shouldn’t make you doubt his ability to work in you, but to help you trust him even more.

After this article was published, I had the following email exchange with a reader that clarified some issues in this article. I include it here:

I found myself being troubled at a foundational level when reading ‘Reasons to Run’ in the March issue of BodyLife. The troubling may have come because of a certain conviction I hold from the Word that you may have inadvertently left out. After all, the whole concept behind the gift of His love and grace is to empower us to become like Him, which in its fullness, is the power to be free to obey in all loving devotion to Him, making reconciliation with man by His love. I know you alluded to this kind of faith, but, failed to bring it out in regards to the woman seeking a divorce. This was troubling.

Wayne’s Response: I guess the opening illustration I chose was a poor one. I related that opening story only to demonstrate how abusive leadership can be when it presumes to speak into someone’s pain without even listening to what they had been through and what they were hearing from the Lord. The ‘reasons to run’ were about taking distance from destructive relationships in body life and were not meant to be taken as justification for divorce. I am sorry if that illustration added confusion to the article. But I do appreciate you raising it with me. While I believe that no human relationship is outside the scope of God’s healing, I also realize in situations like the one I used here that it takes engagement by both parties to bring reconciliation which was not possible in this situation at that time.


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Why I Don’t Go To Church Anymore: Living in the Relational Church – Part 6

Why I Don't Go To Church Anymore by Wayne JacobsenWhy I Don’t Go To Church Anymore: Living in the Relational Church – Part 6

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 2001

Dear Fellow-believer,

I do appreciate your concern for me and your willingness to raise issues that have caused you concern. I know the way I relate to the church is a bit unconventional and some even call it dangerous. Believe me, I understand that concern because I used to think that way myself and even taught others to as well.

If you are happy with the status quo of organized religion today, you may not like what you read here. My purpose is not to convince you to see this incredible church the same way I do, but to answer your questions as openly and honestly as I can. Even if we don’t end up agreeing, hopefully you will understand that our differences need not estrange us as members of Christ’s body.

Where do you go to church?

I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer it with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it is based on a false premise—that church is something you can go to as in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus looks at the church quite differently. He didn’t talk about it as a place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and to other followers of his.

Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go a Jacobsen is. ‘Church’ is that kind of word. It doesn’t identify a location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate to each other. If we lose sight of that, our understanding of the church will be distorted and we’ll miss out on much of its joy.

Are you just trying to avoid the question?

I know it may only sound like quibbling over words, but words are important. When we only ascribe the term ‘church’ to weekend gatherings or institutions that have organized themselves as ‘churches’ we miss out on what it means to live as Christ’s body. It will give us a false sense of security to think that by attending a meeting once a week we are participating in God’s church. Conversely I hear people talk about ‘leaving the church’ when they stop attending a specific congregation.

But if the church is something we are, not someplace we go, how can we leave it unless we abandon Christ himself? And if I think only of a specific congregation as my part of the church, haven’t I separated myself from a host of other brothers and sisters that do not attend the same one I do?

The idea that those who gather on Sunday mornings to watch a praise concert and listen to a teaching are part of the church and those who do not, are not, would be foreign to Jesus. The issue is not where we are at a given time during the weekend, but how we are living in him and with other believers all week long.

But don’t we need regular fellowship?

I wouldn’t say we need it. If we were in a place where we couldn’t find other believers, Jesus certainly would be able to take care of us. Thus, I’d phrase that a bit differently: Will people who are growing to know the Living God also desire real and meaningful connections with other believers? Absolutely! The call to the kingdom is not a call to isolation. Every person I’ve ever met who is thriving in the life of Jesus has a desire to share authentic fellowship with other believers. They realize that whatever they know of God’s life is just in part, and only the fullest revelation of him is in the church.

But sometimes that kind of fellowship is not easy to find. Periodically on this journey we may go through times when we can’t seem to find any other believers who share our hunger. That’s especially true for those who find that conforming to the expectations of the religious institutions around them diminishes their relationship with Jesus. They may find themselves excluded by believers with whom they’ve shared close friendship. But no one going through that looks on that time as a treat. It is incredibly painful and they will look for other hungry believers to share the journey with.

My favorite expression of body life is where a local group of people chooses to walk together for a bit of the journey by cultivating close friendships and learning how to listen to God together.

Shouldn’t we be committed to a local fellowship?

That has been said so often today, that most of us assume it is in the Bible somewhere. I haven’t found it yet. Many of us have been led to believe that we can’t possibly survive without the ‘covering of the body’ and will either fall into error or backslide into sin. But doesn’t that happen inside our local congregations as well?

I know many people who live outside those structures and find not only an ever-deepening relationship with God, but also connections with other believers that run far deeper than they found in the institution. I haven’t lost any of my passion for Jesus or my affection for his church. If anything those have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.

Scripture does encourage us to be devoted to one another not committed to an institution. Jesus indicated that whenever two or three people get together focused on him, they would experience the vitality of church life.

Is it helpful to regularly participate in a local expression of that reality? Of course. But we make a huge mistake when we assume that fellowship takes place just because we attend the same event together, even regularly, or because we belong to the same organization. Fellowship happens where people share the journey of knowing Jesus together. It consists of open, honest sharing, genuine concern about each other’s spiritual well being and encouragement for people to follow Jesus however he leads them.

But don’t our institutions keep us from error?

I’m sorry to burst your bubble here, but every major heresy that has been inflicted on God’s people for the last 2,000 years has come from organized groups with ‘leaders’ who thought they knew God’s mind better than anyone around them. Conversely, virtually every move of God among people hungering for him was rejected by the ‘church’ of that day and were excluded, excommunicated or executed for following God.

If that is where you hope to find security, I’m afraid it is sorely misplaced. Jesus didn’t tell us that ‘going to church’ would keep us safe, but that trusting him would. He gave us an anointing of the Spirit so that we would know the difference between truth and error. That anointing is cultivated as we learn his ways in his Word and grow closer to his heart. It will help you recognize when expressions of church you share life with becomes destructive to his work in you.

So are traditional congregations wrong?

Absolutely not! I have found many of them with people who love God and are seeking to grow in his ways. I visit a couple of dozen different congregations a year that I find are far more centered on relationship than religion. Jesus is at the center of their life together, and those who act as leaders are true servants and not playing politics of leadership, so that all are encouraged to minister to one another.

I pray that even more of them are renewed in a passion for Jesus, a genuine concern for each other and a willingness to serve the world with God’s love. But I think we’d have to admit that these are rare in our communities and many only last for a short span before they unwittingly look to institutional answers for the needs of the body instead of remaining dependent on Jesus. When that happens do not feel condemned if God leads you not to go along with them.

So should I stop going to church, too?

I’m afraid that question also misses the point. You see I don’t believe you’re going to church any more than I am. We’re just part of it. Be your part, however Jesus calls you to and wherever he places you. Not all of us grow in the same environment.

If you gather with a group of believers at a specific time and place and that participation helps you grow closer to Jesus and allows you to follow his work in you, by all means don’t think you have to leave. Keep

in mind, however, that of itself is not the church. It is just one of many expressions of it in the place where you live.

Don’t be tricked into thinking that just because you attend its meetings you are experiencing real body life. That only comes as God connects you with a handful of brothers and sisters with whom you can build close friendships and share the real ups and downs of this journey.

That can happen among traditional congregations, as it can also happen beyond them. In the last seven years I’ve meet hundreds if not thousands of people who have grown disillusioned with traditional congregations and are thriving spiritually as they share God’s life with others, mostly in their homes.

Then meeting in homes is the answer?

Of course not. But let’s be clear: as fun as it is to enjoy large group worship and even be instructed by gifted teachers, the real joy of body life can’t be shared in huge groups. The church for its first 300 years found the home the perfect place to gather. They are much more suited to the dynamics of family which is how Jesus described his body.

But meeting in homes is no cure-all. I’ve been to some very sick home meetings and met in facilities with groups who shared an authentic body life together. But the time I spend in regular body life I want to spend face to face with a group of people. I know it isn’t popular today where people find it is far easier to sit through a finely-tuned (or not so finely-tuned) service and go home without ever having to open up our life or care about another person’s journey.

But ultimately what matters most to me is not where or how they meet, but whether or not people are focused on Jesus and really helping each other on the journey to becoming like him. Meetings are less the issue here than the quality of relationships. I am always looking for people like that wherever I am and always rejoice when I find it. In our new home in Oxnard, we’ve found a few folks and are hopeful to find even more.

Aren’t you just reacting out of hurt?

I suppose that is possible and time will tell, I guess, but I honestly don’t believe so. Anyone who is engaged in real body life will get hurt at times. But there are two kinds of hurt. There’s the kind of pain that points to a problem that can be fixed with the right care – such as a badly sprained ankle. Then there’s the kind of pain that can only be fixed by pulling away – as when you put your hand on a hot stove.

Perhaps all of us have experienced some measure of pain as we have tried to fit God’s life into institutions. For a long time most of us hung in there hoping if we tweaked a few things it would get better. Though we could be successful in limited ways during moments of renewal, we also discovered that eventually the conformity an institution demands and the freedom people need to grow in Christ are at odds with one another. It has happened with virtually every group formed throughout the history of Christianity.

Are you looking for the perfect church?

No, and I don’t anticipate finding one this side of eternity. Perfection is not my goal, but finding people with God’s priorities. It’s one thing for people to struggle toward an ideal they share together. It’s another to realize that our ideals have little in common.

I make no secret of the fact that I am deeply troubled by the state of organized Christianity. Most of what we call ‘church’ today are nothing more than well-planned performances with little actual connection between believers. Believers are encouraged toward a growing dependency on the system or its leadership rather than on Jesus himself. We spend more energy conforming behavior to what the institution needs rather than helping people be transformed at the foot of the cross!

I’m tired of trying to fellowship with people who only view church as a two-hour a week dumping ground for guilt while they live the rest of the week with the same priorities as the world. I’m tired of those who depend on their own works of righteousness but who have no compassion for the people of the world. I’m tired of insecure people using the Body of Christ as an extension of their own ego and will manipulate it to satisfy their own needs. I’m tired of sermons more filled with the bondage of religion than the freedom of God’s love and where relationships take a back seat to the demands of an efficient institution.

But don’t our children need church activities?

I’d suggest that what they need most is to be integrated into God’s life through relational fellowship with other believers. 92% of children who grow up in Sunday schools with all the puppets and high-powered entertainment, leave ‘church’ when they leave their parents’ home? Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need to demonstrate how to live in God’s life together.

Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal friendships with nonrelative adults. No Sunday school can fill that role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of sharing God’s life together as families could say that they had not lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood. I know I cut across the grain here, but it is far more important that our children experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick children’s program.

What dynamics of body life do you look for?

I’m always looking for a people who are seeking to follow the Living Christ. He is at the center of their lives, their affections and their conversation. They look to be authentic and free others to hurt when they hurt, to question what they question and to follow his voice without others accusing them of being divisive or rebellious. I look for people who are not wasting their money on extravagant buildings or flashy programs; where people sitting next to each other are not strangers; and where they all participate as a priesthood to God instead of watch passively from a safe distance.

Aren’t you giving people an excuse to sit home and do nothing?

I hope not, though I know it is a danger. I realize some people who leave traditional congregations end up abusing that freedom to satisfy their own desires and thus miss out on church life altogether. Neither am I a fan of ‘church hoppers’, who whip around to one place after another looking for the latest fad or the best opportunity to fulfill their own selfish desires.

But most of the people I meet and talk with are not outside the system because they have lost their passion for Jesus or his people, but only because the traditional congregations near them couldn’t satisfy their hunger for relationship. They are seeking authentic expressions of body life and pay an incredible cost to seek it out. Believe me, we would all find it easier just to go with the flow, but once you’ve tasted of living fellowship between passionate believers, it is impossible to settle for anything less.

Isn’t this view of church divisive?

Not of itself. People make it divisive when they demand that people conform to their revelation of truth. Most of us on the journey are accused of being divisive because freedom can be threatening to those who find their security in a religious system. But most of us aren’t trying to recruit others to leave their congregations. We see the body of Christ big enough to encompass God’s people however he calls them to gather.

One of the things often said about traditional church is that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American culture. We only meet with people who look like we do and like things the way we do. I’ve found now that I have far more opportunity to get with people from a broader cross-section of his body. I don’t demand others do it my way and I hope in time that those who see it differently will stop demanding we conform to theirs.

Where can I find that kind of fellowship?

There’s no easy answer here. It might be right in front of you among the fellowship you’re already in. It might be down the street in your neighborhood or across a cubicle at work. You can also get involved in compassionate outreaches to the needy and broken in your locality as a way to live out his life in you and meet others with a similar hunger.

Don’t expect this kind of fellowship to fall easily into an organization. It is organic, and Jesus can lead you to it right where you are. Look for him to put a dozen or so folks around your life with whom you can share the journey. They may not even all go to the same congregation you do. They might be neighbors or coworkers who are following after God. Wouldn’t that kind of interconnection among God’s people yield some incredible fruit?

Don’t expect it to be easy or run smoothly. It will take some specific choices on our part to be obedient to Jesus. It may take some training to shake off old habits and be free to let him build his community around you, but it is all worth it. I know it bothers some people that I don’t take my regular place in a pew on Sunday morning, but I can tell you absolutely that my worst days outside organized religion are still better than my best days inside it. To me the difference is like listening to someone talk about golf or actually taking a set of clubs out to a course and playing golf. Being his church is like that. In our day we don’t need more talk about the church, but people who are simply ready to live in its reality.

People all over the world are freshly discovering how to do that again. You can be one of them as you let him place you in his body as he desires.


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Questions About Body Life

people_gathering_0Questions About Body Life

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • August 2001

Sharing the journey has always been an important part of BodyLife. I am continually amazed at the people that God allows to cross our paths who are also paying the cost to follow his Spirit and discover how to live with God and live in his body with all the joy and freedom that he desires for us to know.

For those who think that church involvement is about commitment and accountability, I wonder if they haven’t missed what being part of Christ’s body is all about. We don’t engage other believers because we have to, but because it is inconceivable for us not to share a partnership with other brothers and sisters who are on the journey of becoming like him. We find their friendship, wisdom and support a wellspring of the Father’s provision for our own journey.

Remember, Paul indicates that individually we only know in part and gaze on him as if on a poor reflection of a mirror. (I Cor. 13:9-12) But when he refers to the insight offered through the incredible networking of the Body of Christ, he calls it, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph. 1:23)

It amazes me the instant connection that happens between people on a similar journey. I may step off of a plane and meet someone new or find an email pop up in my ‘inbox’ and sense almost immediately that God has us on similar journeys and that we can encourage and enlighten each other as we wander a bit further down the road.

Of course it’s best to find it just down the street or across town where I can get together more frequently for that kind of fellowship. I don’t seek out such relationships because I ‘should’ but because I just can’t imagine staying on this journey without them. If you’ve gotten out of that habit with folks near you, ask Father to make some connections for you or follow-up on some he’s already given you.

We’re going to live that out a bit in this issue of BodyLife. I’m going to let you look over my shoulder at some of the correspondence I have had over the last three months. It seems the last issue, “Why I Don’t Go to Church Anymore,” struck a nerve for many people. For some it spawned questions that were germane to their own struggles. For others it sparked interesting insights. I thought you might be encouraged to hear some of their stories and some of my responses (in red). Enjoy the feast:

G.C., from South Carolina

We are enjoying both of your books and wish we could find friendship with someone in our community with same thinking. Some friends have started a “home fellowship” but as much as I hate to say this, it is really the same old thing. We desire real friendships but it is hard to find. We are out of the institutional church and know several couples who do not go to church anymore, but this concept seems so foreign to anyone. They have been so hurt, they rather stay home, but are so empty and unhappy. This stage of our life has become quite difficult. My husband was always an “elder” in the church. We just don’t seem to know what to do now. Seem to be lost. Please pray for us.

Wayne: Though it may feel like it, I’m sure you’re not lost. God knows where you are and he is able to place you among his body just as he desires. That may not look like anything you’ve imagined before, but it will be better than you’ve ever known. But you have my compassion and my prayers. I know how difficult these times can be, especially when others have not only gotten burned out on religion, but also burned out on walking with other believers. Perhaps they need some time for the old hungers to surface again. It is amazing the kind of damage that religion can inflict on people. If it would ever be valuable for me to come by and see who among God’s people we might be able to encourage there, just let me know.

C.G., Texas

I recently read your article in the May edition of BodyLife. Thank you for sharing some light on an issue that is really a concern in my family’s life. We all want to follow Jesus, but our experience with churches is like the old saying, “water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink…” I have wrestled with guilt and keep wondering if there isn’t something wrong with me, as we have never really felt like we have found a “home” with any church. We have been a part of 4 churches over the past 25 years. When I left (the last one) six years ago, I wrote (the pastor) to ask for his blessing. He replied by sending me a tape on loyalty and no blessing. I know he meant well because he loves me and wants me with him. My reply was similar to your article, “I am a part of the same church, we are brothers and friends and I will be loyal to you for life. I love you…we are both a part of Jesus.” Six years later, we struggle with similar issues. (Now we) are elders at a “revival” church, and when asked recently in an elders’ meeting if anyone had any concerns about a specific service, I answered honestly. (In a recent service), I felt people may have been confused or troubled by the message (as opposed to enlightened and comforted)… I got a phone call from the pastor later that night warning me to “never again” put him down “in public.” Keep bringing light and life to people… Thanks for your kind and affirming words…WOW someone understands! Why is it difficult to keep it simple… love Jesus with all our hearts, and love others.

Wayne: I am so sorry for the painful experiences you’ve been through but am also incredibly blessed that you have continued to put your conscience above the ‘conformity dynamics’ of organized religion. I know how confusing and disillusioning it can be when relational life takes a back seat to the needs of the institution and those who think they are ‘kings’ in those institutions. But disillusionment can be a great thing. If we are disillusioned that simply means we had illusions that needed to be dissed. The reason God allows that to happen is to help us see him as he really is and the church as he is really making her to be.

It’s a marvelous journey, though incredibly painful at times as you seem to know all too well. My heart does go out to you because I know it is not easy to have hungers for God’s presence to be central in his body, where honesty and openness can shape an environment that is safe for all, and only to find that others are not thinking that way at all.

But God is doing something in you that will make you a freer person and thus a more authentic witness of the life of God he wants to pour out through you to others. Keep on, Brother! The best is not far ahead and you will find the joy absolutely overwhelming.

S.V., South Africa

I have been blessed to read a couple of your articles as confirmation of what the Lord has done in our church during the last year. We need witnesses to know that we are not crazy!! I resigned as a “pastor” more than a year ago. I felt that (God) said to me, “I will keep you accountable for every structure that you keep in place that focus people’s eyes on you or on the organization so that they cannot see Me.” I know that the problem is in our hearts and that structure is in itself innocent, but used by us to make a name for ourselves. We had about 150 – 200 people attending meetings before the changes, now we have about 40 -60 and it is still falling. I pray that, if this is what the Father wants, we will find a place of relationship that will be fruitful for us and those around us in future. In your experience – can we turn a fellowship around into the freedom of a relational community or should we close the Sunday service completely and go with those who have the vision?

Wayne: What a joy to know someone willing to risk so much to follow the Lamb wherever he leads. Absolutely we cannot turn around a group of people, and I know that isn’t exactly what you’re asking. Turning around a group of people is a work of God not man. Keep doing what he’s asked you to do, making sure you’re following voice in the context of the principles he’s taught you, not to principles in the absence of voice. There are a zillion ways God can lead you. To keep the Sunday morning as a training time while recognizing that it really isn’t church and encouraging people to find a live real church in their homes via relationships with others. When we manage those groups, people usually end up dependent on us instead of Jesus. Or, God may have you close it down and go with those who have vision and let God give birth to a whole new deal… I don’t think there is a right or wrong here. I’ve seen God do it many different ways in many places.

For the most part, however, I rarely see groups ‘turn around’. Some will, many won’t. Often those who want to change get forced out by those who want to save the institution. More rarely the people who don’t want change fade away into other institutions that they see as more ‘stable.’ What does God want for you? I don’t know. I will pray, however, that he gives you wisdom together and that you have the courage to follow what he settles in your heart even if it looks crazy to your natural man, or to others around you. That’s the toughest part of the journey.

How large is this move worldwide?

Wayne: It is broad at least by the emails and contacts I’ve had, but I don’t think it is a movement yet, nor do I hope it ever becomes one. Once it moves from people following Jesus to those replicating a pattern, it will die. The hunger to get back to Jesus at the center of his church is huge. But it manifests itself in a variety of ways. Not all ‘decentralized’ groups are healthy either. Some have just rejected organized religion out of disillusionment, and have not grown closer to Jesus to let him change them. That’s sad and their forms can become even more manipulative and controlling.

It seems to me that people are looking for a king, like Israel with Saul, and for a high priest, as with Israel when they wanted Moses to speak to God for them, and men are just too willing to take up those positions.

Wayne: I think so too and I find that sad.

There is a definite feeling of guilt in me and fear that I will not be doing what God called me to do and that I will end up in my comfort zone, totally ineffective in the Kingdom. This represents my biggest struggle over the last couple of months. If I remain faithful to what I believe He has said to me, I may not look successful, or effective, but at least I will be found a faithful steward.

Wayne: Here we see exactly how the power of the institution works. It presses us into conformity to its aims by manipulating our desire to be thought successful by others. No doubt, this is one of the hardest bonds the Spirit needs to break in our hearts. When colleagues, former ‘parishioners’ and others bring their judgments on us for not meeting their expectations we really find out whether or not it is God we follow, or whether we’re being tyrannized by other men’s opinions of us. Remember Paul’s words, “If I wanted to please men, I wouldn’t be a servant of Jesus Christ.” He was talking there about other brothers not people in the world. All I can tell you, is that I think I see and hear clearly the leading of God in your life. I know it is costing you far more to follow it than you ever dreamed. But I suspect at its end the fullness of God’s life will flow out of you more than and touch lives you never imagined.

Jesus entered into the obedience of the Kingdom through suffering and He said that it is through much tribulation that we will enter ourselves, so there seems to be no short cut to the place of rest that I am craving. The question remains x how do I detect the deception that will bind me into my own world of inner turmoil and make me totally inefficient? Maybe the safeguard lies in “exhorting one another daily” – that is why I am exposing my heart to you and to some other witnesses as well.

Wayne: Those certainly help, but ultimately we have to trust him to finish what he has begun in us. Our eyes must always be on him. When people ask me, “Wayne, are you confident that you can hear God’s voice clearly?” I have second thoughts about that because I don’t have that much confidence in me. But the real question is, “Wayne, do you think God is big enough to make his will clear to you?” That’s a question that gets a resounding YES! He is big enough. He has done it even at times when I was deeply ensnared by my own selfishness and ego. I’ve no doubt he can to it today.

The problem seems to be in our hearts – and how are we going to overcome it? When am I making a name for myself? When am I operating as a teacher with a heart that enjoys it when people call me “teacher” in their hearts without using the title? Jesus I believe was adamant that we should not call men “leader or teacher” or any title, because He knew about this problem. One of the most difficult things I have experienced in the last 10 months since I have resigned as “pastor”, is what I see in the eyes of the people and the children. There is a position in the soulish arena that people give to leaders that put them on a pedestal and that leaders enjoy despite their protestations to the contrary. This is what I missed the most and I am appalled by this!!!! Who will deliver me?

Wayne: He already is! The day will come when you will despise such titles and power as you continue to see how they’ve prevented you and others from really seeing God’s church as it is and living as the church with great joy and power. That you are appalled by the desire in yourself to bask in the accolades of being the local- holyman-guru, is a certain sign that you are well on the way to liberty.

Sorry that I did not respond earlier. I had to work through some issues before I could find the time and also understand what the Holy Sprit wanted (to say).

Wayne: No problem! I would much rather you sort these things out with God and use anything I might say as a supplement to what he’s showing you than the other way around. I enjoy where the Lord has led you and the things he has seeded deeply in your conscience. You couldn’t walk where you are walking if he had not been opening your eyes. The things that burn on your heart are definitely from him. The fact that you’ve been willing to pay a tremendous cost to follow them is even further validation. Personal expedience will never lead someone down the path you’re taking.

Sometimes conscience can be a challenging thing to live with. Wouldn’t it be easier just to give in and go along, making the most of a religious system that can do some good, and have others stroke us with their affirmations? But the life is not there. That is an illusion that promises what it cannot deliver. Continue to follow what God has put in your heart. When the old dies away you will find a greater joy, freedom and fruitfulness than you ever imagined.

Note: This email exchange went on to consider issues of elders, leadership, paying salaries and meeting together. It did not fit in our snail-mail version, but I have included the rest of our exchange on another page if you’d like to continue reading.

A.M, Massachusetts

I have a question for you. It is rather a personal one so if you’d rather not answer, I’ll certainly understand: Taking into consideration all we have come to know about “Instead of filling our children with ethics and rules we need to demonstrate how to live in God’s life together” what would you have done differently in raising your children? Wayne, I can’t tell all that is in my heart about how much I appreciate your teaching. Please continue to let His truth flow through you.

Wayne: I don’t mind trying to answer at all… I don’t know that there is a lot we’d do differently. I think we did raise our kids in a relational context and taught them how to depend on God when they sinned or failed. I’m pretty grateful for that. We also had them involved in home fellowships right along side other families for most of their growing-up years, so that was good too. The one thing I wish I had done differently now is not linking their acceptability with me to their performance. When I was disappointed in their actions I often distanced myself as part of their ‘punishment.’ That’s how I saw God treating me, so I did it to them. Now that I know he doesn’t, I regret doing it to them. I am grateful however that God is bigger than our (lack of) parenting perfection and they seemed to have gotten through it fine. I have, however, discussed it with them and asked their forgiveness…


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Lessons from the Rubble

twin_towers_0Lessons from the Rubble

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 2001

Last Saturday I stood with my wife and son at the place in Manhattan now known as Ground Zero. The massive buildings that had been the World Trade Center lie in a heap, shredded and charred. Nearly six weeks after the atrocities of September 11 the smoke and smell of destruction still hung heavy in the afternoon air. The fences were lined with flowers, posters and pictures paying tribute to those who are dead or still missing in the rubble.

I found it as difficult to process that scene as I had the unfolding stories on television that September 11. Having just flown in from Buffalo, NY the day before I was still asleep when my wife turned on the TV and told me I had to see what was happening. Two airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Just as I rolled over to focus on the screen the first tower started to crumble.

Who will ever forget that day? Another plane had crashed into the Pentagon and one in the countryside of Pennsylvania. Throughout the day the pictures and stories unfolded the disaster. Suicide hijackers had taken command of jumbo jets with the most rudimentary weapons because no one could conceive of them using those planes as guided missiles. Phone calls from aircraft and offices from people who were staring death in the face sought to affirm their love to those closest to them. People leapt from the upper floors of the towers in a desperate attempt to escape the encroaching flames. Heroic rescue workers were trapped and killed when the buildings finally crumbled to the ground.

All of that and more rushed through my mind as I stood with hundreds of others who gazed upon the carnage and destruction of Ground Zero. There the lives of 5,000 husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters had been crushed in the rubble caused by an evil almost impossible to comprehend. This was no accident or natural disaster, but the intentional act of those who thought they were doing God’s will.

Such climactic events are watershed moments. Though our leaders tell us to go back to life as normal, those words fall empty. Our sense of vulnerability and our restructured priorities will create a new normal. That can either destroy us with fear or despair, or help us lean in closer to the only security we’ve ever really had anyway–the love and care of an awesome Father.

The Day our Illusions Died

Many have said that the world changed on September 11, but I don’t agree. The world has since the fall been filled with this kind of evil and we have never been as invulnerable to it as we would like to think. It’s just that many of us in America have been insulated by our prosperity from seeing the world as it really is.

On September 11 any illusion we had that God’s blessing means we aren’t at risk from evil was exposed for the lie it was. No doubt, there were precious believers on those flights and in those buildings who didn’t go home that evening. Whatever grace they needed in those moments, God freely gave them. Whatever grace their family and friends will need to get through their grief and go on with life will also be given to them. Being blessed doesn’t mean we escape the evil in the world, only that the evil will not prevail over us.

Though we rarely see acts of evil on such a huge scale, we don’t have to look any further than many of our inner city neighborhoods to find people who grow up in fear of violence and suffer from incredible need. Most of the world lives in great risk. In my own county more people have been murdered since September 11 than have died from anthrax on the East Coast.

While one may seem random and the other calculated, the reality is that evil is alive and well in our world and it causes incredible pain, suffering and destruction. That needn’t lead us to despair, however, only repentance. At moments like this we see sin for what it is, the destroyer of everything good God has made. It is also in moments like these that we get to see God perform his greatest miracles. He is able to work incredible good even out of the most despicable acts of evil. As he did with Joseph, who had been betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers, God is able to work out his purpose in the world and in you even in this time of risk and threat.

Where Was God that Morning?

The media asked that question as well as many believers I know. Somehow we wonder if God was somewhere else in the world that morning and didn’t see the events that were happening on our eastern seaboard. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He saw it. Even as it unfolded it grieved his heart. And yes, though this is hard to hear, he did not stop it. Some people find that incompatible with the image of a loving Father. Wouldn’t his love compel him to ensure that such atrocious evil not succeed?

The Bible makes clear that God does not circumvent all evil in this world. He has given dominion of the earth to humanity and though he often intervenes to reveal himself in history and to move it to its divinely appointed end, he rarely spares us the consequences of evil. Rather, he redeems us out of it and through those consequences he invites us to refocus our lives on him and his will for us.

The idea that God won’t let bad things happen to good people misunderstands the nature of the world he created for us. It also is blind to the realities of the world in which we live. Six million Jews died in concentration camps in Germany during World War II. Thousands of Africans have been killed in the last decade by tribal warfare and by the AIDS virus. Atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland and throughout the Middle East have filled our media for years. Isn’t it arrogant of us to say that our suffering in the U.S. calls God’s character into question and not share the same pain when it happens in distant lands?

I met with church leaders in Nepal in the late 80’s all of whom had been imprisoned and many beaten for their faith. There are believers and unbelievers alike who put their children to bed hungry around the world.

Suffering is a daily reality in this world that is out of synch with the Creator’s plans and priorities. Certainly this is on a much grander scale, but is no more devastating for those impacted by it than other acts of violence in our world. If we only feel compassion when it is our fellow-countrymen, then we might want to reconsider just how deep our compassion runs.

Thoughts from the Sidelines

So much has been written and said in the aftermath of these events. The heroic acts of rescue workers at the crash sites and passengers on the fourth jetliner, the generosity of people for those in need, and the resurgence of kindness and community in our culture have been an inspiration. On the other hand, it has troubled me that so many would also seek to exploit this tragedy to advance their personal agendas.

I have been deeply concerned that the media has played into the hands of the terrorists and exacerbated this atrocity. While they were most useful in the first 48 hours in helping us understand what was happening, their need to fill round-the-clock programming and compete with each other has brought out the worst. Glorifying Osama bin Laden by putting his photo on magazine covers, playing his videotapes unedited, highlighting our vulnerabilities and helping incubate an atmosphere of terror by overemphasizing specific threats to our society has demonstrated that they care far more about their own profits than serving the public interest. While I agree that a free press is essential to a free society, we also need a responsible press that refuses to become the story it seeks to report.

Be wary of those who interpret these events in apocalyptic terms. Is this the beginning of the end of the age? Are we now in the final battle between the West and Muslim extremists? Is the antichrist at hand? I don’t know, and I don’t suspect others do either. It is easy to rework catastrophic events into our agenda for the world, and many believers in the past have been wrong in doing so. Many thought Hitler was the antichrist, that the founding of the state of Israel signaled the last generation, and that Jesus would come in 1988. All proved wrong and demonstrate the danger of presuming to interpret the apocalyptic language of Scripture with human reasoning.

If God has clearly spoken to you regarding these matters by all means speak out, but be careful of those who exploit this atrocity to sell their books or fill in their prophetic charts. We might well be at the threshold of the last days, and we might yet be a ways out from them. The geo-political arrangement in my view is still not in line with many of the prophecies of Scripture. Knowing whether it is or isn’t shouldn’t even be a factor for us. Jesus told his disciples that simply following him every day and occupying until he comes would be all we’d need to do.

Don’t fall for those who blame others. The shame of the fall compels us to blame the victims in times of crisis as a way to make us feel less vulnerable ourselves. Those who sought to use this crisis to advance their political agenda against only certain kinds of sins in our culture saw it blow up in their faces, and rightfully so. Those who blamed society’s moral laxity, its increased secularity or its approval of abortion as reasons for God to punish the U.S., exemplified arrogance not discernment. In times of trouble God’s prophets joined in the repentance owning their own failures, not pointing fingers of blame at others. The abuses and excesses of Christianity in America are well known and humility in the face of such calamity will serve God’s work far more. Jesus warned those in his day who thought the victims of calamity were more deserving than those who did not that they were wrong and missing the point entirely. (Luke 13:1-5)

And don’t make the mistake of thinking Godliness and patriotism are the same thing. Yes I think the resurgent unity of our country and care for each other during this time is a refreshing change from our otherwise indulgent society. I too sing God Bless America and The Star Spangled Banner with renewed meaning. If we think the feelings associated with these moments are the anointing of the Spirit, then we have certainly misunderstood God’s life and power.

I support the actions of our government to root out those responsible for terrorism and bring them to justice, but we cannot give in to perpetuating the cycle of hatred that spawned these acts in the first place. Our cause must be justice not vengeance or we will find ourselves playing the terrorists’ games.

God is not American. Participation in his kingdom need not exclude us from patriotism, but don’t forget that patriotism will never fulfill the glories of his kingdom. We are citizens of a greater kingdom, with priorities that go beyond our own personal safety and desire to punish evil–and our trust must go beyond it as well.

The Party Is Over

In the early 80’s, Tom Sine in his book, Mustard Seed Conspiracy, warned us that we could not just enjoy our irresponsible materialism and not create animosity in the rest of the world. Though we are the most generous society in history as far as feeding and caring for the needs of the world, the disparity between their need and our waste cannot be ignored.

Though nothing would ever justify terrorism, we dare not ignore the dynamics that breed people who see suicide attacks as a noble act. To be sure those who twist religion to evil ends manipulate these young men, but they wouldn’t be able to do so if they did not exist in such desperate circumstances. Many were drawn from refugee camps and Palestinian lands on the West Bank or those who sympathize with their plight. They blame our politics for propping up oppressive regimes that put them at risk and keep them in need. They watch their babies die from hunger or lack of simple antibiotics while they hear of the billions of dollars spent in the U.S. on cosmetic surgery or decadent amusements. If our war against terrorism does not include reaching out to such people, we will only breed a future generation of terrorists.

But for all of us the most powerful response is personal not political. Paul’s words reverberate in my ears with new meaning: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light… Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Rom. 13:11-14)

Whether or not the end of the age is upon us, it is a lot closer than when Paul penned these words. Notice he doesn’t consider the tensions at the end of the age to be night overcoming the day, but night giving way to the daylight. His focus was not on the trauma we would witness in the world, but on God’s purpose that would come to light through it.

Now more than ever, hear the Father inviting you to draw nearer to him than you ever have before. Don’t do that by redoubling your efforts to prove your love to God by good works or increased religious activity. Rather, come to the quiet and cultivate a transforming relationship with the Lord of Glory. Paul knew that only as we grew to know him better would his presence become more real and more satisfying than our own sins, appetites and distractions.

Getting back to normal doesn’t mean we spend our money and live our lives as we did before. Hopefully the priorities of many will change dramatically. What would it be like if we found more joy and fulfillment in the unfolding purpose of God than the costly amusements Madison Avenue keeps shoving down our throats?

How Shall We Now Live?

Times of tragedy and vulnerability offer us an incredible opportunity to find out where our security really lies. If it was placed in the illusions of our prosperous culture, you would have pretty quickly have found your stomach churning and sleep difficult to find.

As much as our government must mitigate this threat however they can, our security does not lie in jet fighters, hazmat suits, or airport screeners any more than ancient Israel could rely on horses and chariots. This is a great time to discover just how much I entrust myself to the Lord’s care and direction or how much I’m shaped by the age in which I live.

One of my favorite phrases in the book of Revelation, describes those followers who endure the trauma of the last days and overcame the power of sin and the terror of the antiChrist’s reign. “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” I love the simplicity of that and can think of no better words to describe life at its best. What’s even better is that we don’t have to wait until the end of the age to live that way.

He invites us every day to focus on his presence and simply do what he puts before us each and every day. While I’ll be the first to admit that doing so isn’t easy, there is no better time to let him teach you. As you learn the simple joy of following the Lamb wherever he goes, you will find that fear will have no place in your heart. While we certainly will all live with greater awareness of potential risks in our mailboxes or on our airplanes, we don’t have to let fear control our lives. Whatever God calls you to do, he will more than equip you with the grace and peace to see it through.

Paul is an excellent example here. Following Jesus led him to be locked into prison, stoned by those who opposed him, even to be robbed by bandits and shipwrecked on the high seas. Paul never saw these as proof that God had abandoned him, but part of the challenge of walking with Jesus in a fallen world. Though circumstances would at times press him on every side, or strike him down, he said it never crushed him or led him to despair or loneliness. (2 Cor. 4:7-10)

He drew a real distinction between events on the outside and the joy and freedom he treasured on the inside. Even in calamity that treasure would only be even more refined and through it find new ways to reach out and touch others in the process. Learning to live with a practical, daily dependence on Jesus is what spiritual maturity is really all about.

Elsewhere Paul said his “life was hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) What an incredible picture! He did not see himself as the victim of circumstance but secure with Christ in God. Regardless of what swirled around him he knew that God was his safety. Of course you can’t live there if you’re still trying to force God to fulfill what you want for your life. If you only trust him when life is easy, then you will not only miss him, but also miss the most valuable purpose of trust.

But when you set your mind on God’s things and know how safe you are in his awesome love, you can awaken to each new day not buffeted by fear, but free to see what he will do in the unfolding events of your life. Nothing can touch you there, not the most painful tragedy or alluring temptation.

Nothing will bring greater joy to his heart and more freedom to yours than to learn how to live there. He will teach you if you ask him. With your eyes more focused on him than the events of this world, you’ll be able to face anything with the confidence that comes from knowing him.


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Why House Church Isn’t the Answer: Living in the Relational Church – Part 7

house_0Why House Church Isn’t the Answer: Living in the Relational Church – Part 7

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • February 2002

When 20 years of countless prayers didn’t fix it, I had to conclude either that God was ignoring me, or that I was asking for the wrong thing. Anxiety used to be my constant companion, and quite honestly he was no fun to hang with. He used to punch me in the pit of the stomach when I least expected it and his ravings kept me awake at night.

Every time a circumstance emerged that caused him to appear, I begged God to change it so I would not be anxious. Rarely, if ever, did he answer those prayers. Finally, I concluded that the circumstances were not the problem, but the anxiety itself was. My prayers changed. I stopped begging him to fix my circumstances and instead asked him to remove my anxiety. It only took a decade this time for me to realize these prayers weren’t working any better and I grew incredibly frustrated at God’s seeming indifference to my concerns.

I didn’t know then that in God’s heart my problem was not the circumstances that allowed my anxiety to emerge, nor even the anxiety itself. The problem God wanted to fix was the fact that I didn’t trust him to work in my circumstances to accomplish his purpose. My desire to be in control of my own life and achieve the success I thought I needed to prove my worth to him, and ultimately to myself, was the real captor.

Anxiety was only the symptom of a deeper need that God wanted to expose and heal with a clearer revelation of who he is and what he wanted to do in me. Many of you have read the chronicle of that journey in these newsletters and in He Loves Me! The more he showed me how great he was and how much he loved me, the less often I met with anxiety. Even though my circumstances had not changed, my trust in him had. I have ended up not even wanting God to satisfy my agenda anymore, but just to let me live in his every day.

In my best wisdom I had been trying to get God to fix the wrong thing. Real freedom didn’t lie in conforming my circumstances to my expectations or simply removing my anxious thoughts. He wanted to build a relationship with me that would set my heart at rest regardless of the circumstances that came my way. For thirty years I had sought a cheap substitute for the real fix.

I see people doing the same thing in discovering how to be part of God’s church. Having seen the weaknesses and failures of many religious structures, they have turned towards house church as the answer for authentic church life. Unfortunately, they are likely to be just as disappointed there.

It’s Not the Form

For those who read BodyLife, you know I love seeing the body of Christ find ways to live out its faith and fellowship in household-sized groups where people can be active participants together in the journey of faith. The early church found the home to be the most natural environment for people to share God’s life together.

It is easy to convince people that house church just might be the answer to all they have desired to experience in body life, that is until they get involved in one. It quickly becomes evident that meeting in a home isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. What do we do about the people who only want to use the group for their own needs? Where can we find enough people willing to pay the price to share that kind of life together? What do we do when the meeting is boring and we’re tired of staring at each other?

Moving things out of a larger building and into a home does not of itself answer anything of substance. While it does provide the possibility of more active participation and deeper relationships, just sitting in a house together for a meeting does not guarantee that those things will happen. If people aren’t discovering the substance of what it means to live as the church, changing the mechanics will only provide a platform for people to commandeer the group in their thirst for leadership or pull it down by trying to make their needs or passions the focus of the group.

What’s wrong with the way we do church today has far less to do with the forms we use than it does the journey we are on. If we are looking for house church to meet the needs that more institutional forms couldn’t touch, we are likely to be disappointed by our experiences in house church. Any time we begin with our needs as the focus, instead of God’s purpose, we will end up disappointed by the results.

Mutual Accommodation of Self-Need

Like my attempts to get God to fix my anxiety my way, many of us are programmed to try to relate to God through our needs. If we begin to build our sense of church based on those self-needs, we will only end up frustrated with a cheap counterfeit of the real church God has created us to embrace. If we are looking to relate to the church because we need acceptance, or security, or a place to demonstrate our gifts, or people to love us in a certain way or someone to tell me how I should live in Christ, we’re already headed in the wrong direction.

Most people never see that because the things they want, like being free from anxiety, are not evil things. It’s the way we go about getting them met that provides the real trap. A friend of mine who was a denominational pastor for many years, in the end defined much of organized religion as the mutual accommodation of self-need. Some people need to lead; others need to be led. Some need acceptance and others relish in acting as their savior. Some need to get up front and sing; while others want to sit through a moving service. Some people have a passion for children’s ministry and others just want to drop their children so others will disciple them.

His contention was that congregations exist only as long as they can effectively overlap these needs. When they do, the congregation gets along famously. When they don’t they get trapped in gossip, power- struggles, and people leaving to find congregations that will meet their needs or form new ones with a different group in control. There the cycle begins all over again while most never realize that the life of the church is not built on our self-needs, but on God’s purpose in his people.

Changing the venue from a building to a home doesn’t solve this problem. If we’re going to seek to find church life by having our needs accommodated by others, we will find moments of fulfillment mingled with long, dry periods of discontent and frustration.

Absolute Dependence

Experiencing the joy of authentic fellowship begins when we realize that all our dependence must be centered on Jesus himself. We don’t share fellowship because we need to. We don’t do it to get our needs met. True fellowship can only be known where our dependence upon Christ spills out in our love for others. Knowing the joy and freedom of his life, we can’t help but share it with others.

Scripture is clear. True life is only found in Jesus. There is life in no other—not even a correct arrangement of Christians in houses or buildings. That’s what Paul meant when he called Jesus the Head of the Church, declaring that it was God’s purpose for him to “have first place in everything.” Our needs are not the focus of body life. His presence living among us is.

We’ve taught for years the mistaken notion that we need to go to church to fill up on the life of God. Not true! We can only fill up on God’s life through a transforming relationship with the Father through his Son. We were never meant to come to fill ourselves with church, but to live full of him and then share his life together with God’s people.

Here is the problem with most of what passes for church life today, including many house churches: Rather than teaching people how to live dependent on Jesus Christ, it supplants that dependency by its misguided attempt to take the place of Jesus in people’s lives. Instead of teaching them how to live in him, they make them dependent on the structures and gatherings of what we call church. Our expressions of church life just become another thing to stand in the way of people living deeply and fully in him.

But people who are learning to live deeply in a relationship with Jesus will find the sheer joy of sharing life with others who are doing the same. They can cross paths for a moment, or walk together for years, without having to manipulate or control each other. Because those people will realize that Jesus is the only one in control after all.

Unfortunately most believers have no idea how to live that way. We seem content to keep them dependent on our programs and services. It explains why so many expressions of church always promise more than they deliver. We can tinker forever with different methods of church life, but if we don’t get this right, all our efforts will fall short. If you need help find some people who are living this way, who are not gathering a ‘band of disciples’, and ask for their help.

Church life grows out of a group of people who are focused on Jesus. Focus on the church, and you will always be disappointed. Focus on Jesus and you will find him building the church all around you.

Everywhere a Movement

Everywhere I go now, people ask me about the ‘house church movement,’ hoping it will provide the answer to their hunger for real body life. While I greatly prefer relational environments to institutional ones, every time I hear the word ‘movement’ my heart sinks. I’m convinced that the day we call what God is doing a movement is the day it has already begun to die. I’ve seen many movements come and go —Charismatic, discipleship, deliverance, healing, intercession, spiritual warfare, prophetic, worship, and apostolic just to name a few. All of them came up hollow in the end, not because God wasn’t in some of it, but because people hijacked his work to serve their own needs and ambitions.

Calling something a movement inflates our own sense of importance and separates us from the multi- faceted working of God that transcends any particular way of doing things. Many years ago I was part of a denomination that called itself a movement. We used that term to make people feel that they were part of something more significant than other ‘less enlightened’ believers who didn’t do things the way we did. I think God grieves at such distinctions.

Labeling the joy of learning to share Christ’s life in our homes as the ‘House Church Movement’ takes our focus off of Christ and puts it either on the uniqueness of our methods or the voices of self-appointed experts. Either way, we trade our focus on Jesus for our own self-needs and miss the joy of authentic body life.

Sitting in a home in Buffalo, NY recently a friend handed me a new book on the house church movement. The subtitle nearly floored me, “…from the Radical Men Who Are Leading this Revolution.” One of the authors I considered friend enough to write and ask him if he could explain to me how the cover of his book was anything less than blasphemous.

If the church is truly the work of Jesus, and in it he has first place in everything, how does anyone claim to lead what God is doing? It is either his work or it isn’t. Please understand I don’t think these are malicious men out to harm God’s church. These in particular honestly want to see the church come to some kind of wholeness, freedom and life. However, the way they go about it demonstrates that while they understand a bit of God’s ways, they’ve come to know little of his character.

So while their book highlights many of the ways God has asked us to share his life together, it’s laced with the poisonous notion that we can produce that life by getting the mechanics right or by following the right leader. Such teaching actually circumvents the priorities it espouses by imposing a structure that will undermine those priorities.

Of course my friend did not agree with me. In fact, he said, the book was selling briskly. I have no doubt of that. Part of the reason we create movements is because people want models they think they can simply implement in their own communities.

Super Models

Many people ask me for a model for church life, hoping some future book might lay it out for them. I hate to disappoint them, but I don’t even believe there is a model they can implement that will produce the vitality of authentic fellowship. It is not produced in mechanics but in the hearts of people God is transforming to be like himself.

You can take the most biblical guidelines in the world and if you implement them at the expense of learning how to live dependent upon Jesus, it will still only be a substitute for Jesus presence rather than a place where fellow-pilgrims share his life together.

Jesus did not leave us with a model to build, but a guide to follow. We experience the life of the church not because we meet a certain way or in a certain place, but because we learn to listen to God together and let him teach us how to share his life. If we substitute any method or design for that process, we will end up following it instead of him and building a counterfeit instead of the real deal. I know of no greater distraction to the depth of relationships God wants us to share, than when we give our best efforts to doing something great for God. He didn’t ask us to work for him, but with him.

Beware of any model or would-be leader who wants to tell you what to do, rather than help you hear Jesus. Are there real leaders in the Body of Christ today? Of course! But they are not heading up movements or devising models, they are helping people know who Jesus really is and learn how to follow him. Religion results when men and women, with their best intentions, best activities and best programs try to accomplish God’s working. It always leads to well-intentioned programs that will do some good, but never rise to bear the great fruits that God intends and that only he can accomplish.

Many think I’m so concerned about organized religion because I’ve been hurt by the worst of it. That isn’t quite true. I think its greatest danger comes not when it is obviously flawed, but when it works well— giving people an aesthetic experience or a place to park their guilt, and missing out on a real engagement with the King of Glory. When it convinces us that sitting in the same room or greeting each other briefly in the parking lot is real fellowship, we’ll miss the greater joy of supportive relationships that will help us all respond better to what God is doing in us

Accept No Substitutes

What I love about the work of the Spirit in our day is that it is not being driven by an organization, a book or a charismatic speaker. God’s Spirit is creating a hunger in his people that defies the confines of religion or a particular way of doing things, and seeks to drink deeply of his presence and share an effective life with other fellow travelers.

Some people are finding others with that hunger inside more institutional congregations, and some are finding them outside of it. If you haven’t found people like that yet, don’t despair. God has not made all the connections he is going to make. Just don’t over trade the passion in your heart to settle for a shadow of body life and miss the real thing.

Real body life allows Jesus to have first place in everything, and encourages people to the heights of knowing him. It frees people on the journey of being transformed by God to be authentic and not have to conform or pretend. It shows them how to get involved in each other’s lives, not to manipulate others but to encourage God’s greatest work in their lives.

Why is that so difficult to find? It may be that too many believers are so focused on their own needs they don’t know how to engage others in true fellowship. It may be that we settle for cheap models that do some good in the short-term, but in doing so disarm the deeper yearnings for authentic body life. It may be that we’ve never learned the sheer joy of letting Jesus be the Head of his church.

If we don’t get this right, it won’t matter where or how we meet. It will still be centered on us, and fall far short of his glory. Why don’t you ask God to teach you how to let Jesus have first place in your heart and to help you find people who share that passion? I can’t imagine a prayer that would excite him more and when that happens he will show you how and where you can live out that life in him.


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The Joy of Letting Go

kayak_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 2002

When my daughter Julie invited me to go kayaking with her around the Channel Islands Harbor, I thought it would be a leisurely afternoon. As soon as I crawled off of the dock into the kayak for the first time, however, I realized I might have been a bit optimistic. Bobbing on top of the water, the little craft felt horribly unstable.

The slightest shift of weight caused it to start rolling, threatening to dump me into the cold waters of the harbor. When I adjusted my weight to compensate, I overcorrected and the boat would begin to roll in the opposite direction. As I shifted and reshifted multiple times in a few seconds my kayak quivered like a bowl of Jello in a California earthquake.

I honestly wondered if this had been such good idea. If I was having so much trouble in the calm waters by the dock how would I ever fare in the chop of the open water? Julie was already rowing around the dock. I only had a few seconds to choose whether or not to let go and sort it out in the going or stay holding on to the dock, looking like a wimp and missing out on the last special father-daughter day I would have with Julie before she got married.

Uncertain though I was about my ability to stay dry, I pushed away from the dock and learned how to stabilize the kayak and guide it into the open water. It took a while. Every move in the boat felt awkward until I got used to it. Even reaching for the paddle sent my kayak quivering again. I never regretted it, though. Eventually I learned how to row the kayak and we had a joyful afternoon cruising the harbor together – racing, splashing, laughing and enjoying the sights and the conversation.

I’ve thought about that day many times since because it mirrored so much of my life over the last decade. For so long I’ve sought a relationship with Jesus that fulfilled the promise and example of Scripture. Though I’d had tastes of it from time to time, the reality always seemed to fade away just as I got closer. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I know I was holding on to the dock. Afraid to follow his invitation to the open water, I clung to that which gave me temporary stability and security.

I had no idea that serving my desire for security and trying to follow Jesus were at odds with each other. No wonder my faith seemed so temporary and fruitless. Life in him can’t be lived holding on to the dock because of our insecurities. At some point we have to push away and only then can we learn how to live this incredible life in Jesus.

Missed Opportunity

I first met him almost eight years ago, and though we had exchanged some emails from time to time we had not had an opportunity to catch up in many years. Last month I ended up among a group of believers just beginning to sort out what it might mean to journey together. They wanted to ask me some questions about relational Christianity and how they might experience it in their newfound life together.

What an evening! We talked about how the institutional pressures they were already feeling were at cross- purposes with the priorities of the kingdom. To live in his fullness we have to learn how to enjoy God’s working rather than trying to control it. That’s not easy for any of us. After that evening I finally got the chance to sit down with my friend. Somehow our discussion that evening had disturbed him at a far deeper level than I would have guessed. He told me that seven years before our relationship had touched a deep hunger in him to walk closely with the Lord.

As he set out to do that, however, he noticed not too many others shared his hunger. What if he missed God in his pursuit and how would that affect his young family? Eventually he ended up getting involved in a ‘nice’, ‘safe’ fellowship of believers. It seemed they preferred to talk on the dock rather than climb in their kayaks, because in that fellowship his hunger for the life of God quickly waned. He hadn’t even noticed it until that evening when his old passion had been reawakened.

“I’m not going to miss it again,” he said looking up at me. “I came so close last time and this time I’m going to follow him no matter what it takes.”

His story is not unique. I’ve known many people who have had a deep passion to live the fullness of God’s life, but few of those actually ended up finding out how. The risk of riding the waves with him sends them scurrying back on the dock. Jesus warned us about that. “Any one who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” (John 12:25, The Message)

It seems our desire for security in temporal things is enemy number one to the very life we desire to find in him.

Relax!

I realize it isn’t an easy lesson to learn, but Jesus knew it was the key to life in him. In one of my favorite passages from The Message, Jesus wants them to learn how to let go of their anxieties and find out how richly God cares for them:

“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not to be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself!” (Luke 12:29-32)

I have found that to be so true. When I was preoccupied with getting the things I thought I needed to be a successful believer, I got further and further from it. When I finally gave up trying to get what I wanted from God and started just enjoying what God was bringing into my life, everything changed. I’m no longer frustrated by what God hasn’t yet done in my life, but blessed at every glimpse of mercy he shares with me. The joy of this life cannot be reached by our attempts to grab hold of God or his blessings, because we only end up grabbing those things that make us secure in ourselves. God wants us to find our security in the only place it really counts, in him!

Notice how that trust is deeply rooted in how his Father feels about us. Jesus wanted us to know that he does not withhold his glory or make us earn his favor. We’re his dearest friends! He wants us to experience the fullness of his life, and the best way we do that is to be learning to relax and let go of our need to control our own lives and define security on our own terms.

People who fuss, grab and manipulate simply don’t understand how God works. What a statement! I had no idea that my anxieties were the best evidence that I had simply not learned how God works. Because I didn’t trust him to bring into my life all that I needed to walk in him, I had to scheme and labor to try and get it for myself. And even when that doesn’t work, we don’t consider that our approach to God is flawed, only that we’re not working hard enough. So instead of giving up and learning to let go, we have to try even harder.

Of Systems and Spirit

Jesus is inviting a new generation of his followers to learn how to live dependent on the awesome love of his incredible Father. Isn’t it interesting that we have built most of our religious institutions on the fear that we can’t trust him to lead his people and therefore must provide programs and rituals to make people feel secure? Unfortunately we end up spending more energy building substitutes for people to trust in instead of equipping them to fully trust him.

A number of years ago I had begun to write a book as a follow-up to The Naked Church about New Testament approaches to church life. The working title was, “A New System”. I quiver now to think about that, but that was a kayak of a different color. I was teaching groups all over the world how to do church differently and gave them what I’m still convinced were Biblical priorities, but they were also laced with human methodologies that could not produce what they promised.

Only after the system I had helped build imploded due to competing agendas among believers, did I come to realize that my system of doing church was just another system to add to all the systems men and women have devised since the earliest days of Christendom.

A friend from Australia helped me see that as powerful as my passions might have been we were being under cut by the methods we employed. “Jesus did not leave us with a system,” he said, “but his Spirit.” Then he asked me an eye-opening question. “Wayne, how much of your method of church was built because you were afraid someone would fall through the cracks, go off into error, or misuse others in the body?”

“About 90% of it,” I answered half joking.

But he knew better. “Then what you’re saying is that 90% of your view of church was based on fear not on trust.” Exactly. That’s why it could not contain the fullness of Christ’s work. The lesson he wants us to learn is how to trust him and let go of our own ingenuity and wisdom.

Letting Go!

The best decision I’ve made in the last decade was also the most painful. Brothers and sisters I had worked with for nearly fifteen years were using half-truths, rumor and gossip to discredit me because I refused to conform to their authoritative view of leadership in the body of Christ. When the plot finally unraveled, I had them. It would have been so easy to expose their lives and reassert my place in that fellowship.

But God told me to let go. He asked me to walk away from people I loved and the fellowship I had helped to build. I’ve always been a competitor and to walk away from a fight I knew I could win was the hardest thing God ever asked me to do. And even when I did it, I thought it would last a few weeks before everyone would come to their senses and love each other again.

But it wasn’t to be! In those days, letting go of the dock meant giving up the only vocation I had known, the salary I depended upon, and control of my reputation to those who had chosen to spread malicious gossip about me. I cannot describe to you the pain of those days and how disoriented I felt. Nothing worked out like I thought it would to guarantee my success and security. I had other job offers to run to but I turned them down because of a nagging sense in my heart that God had given me an amazing opportunity to sail away from a dock of my own security and find out what life in his kingdom really meant.

I would not trade one lesson learned in the last seven years for my old position or reputation. It took me a number of months to learn how to keep the ‘kayak’ from quivering and to paddle in the open waters God had beckoned me to enjoy with him. I’ve never regretted it. I’ve found God’s life and his character to be everything he said he was. I’ve found relationships with other believers filled with joy and depth that I never thought possible.

Now finding my security in him instead of things, systems and other believers has become almost second nature. I am so grateful I chose not to grab for what I wanted most and have discovered that his generosity and presence is the safest place. Every night as I settle down in bed somewhere in this world, I am truly amazed at how he touched my life on that day. I no longer live with the enduring frustration with what God isn’t doing in my life, but with overwhelming joy of what he is doing.

There is no greater peace.

Living Openhandedly

I’ve come to realize that seeking after possessions, popularity, or influence are not beacons on the path to life, but traps that rob our freedom. John the Baptist said as much when people suggested that Jesus was becoming more popular than he was. “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven.” (John 3:27)

Paul echoed those same words. Frustrated that believers in Corinth were missing God’s life because of constant comparing themselves to each other and boasting in their efforts, Paul wrote, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” (I Corinthians 4:7) When you realize that all of your life is in the Father’s hand, then you can really live free.

Both John and Paul kept their dependency centered on Christ. When others tried to put their focus on things the world uses to measure security or success, they rebuffed it. They knew that real freedom is not found in how much you have, but only in the joy of following him.

When you no longer need to grab on to anything for security you will find yourself living with an open hand with others as well. Living in the joy of God’s life means that in every situation we don’t have to protect ourselves or look out for our best interests, because God will and he is so much better at it than we are. We tend to self-destruct when we get grabby and are more gracious when we’re not.

When you are really free in him you can walk into any situation with nothing to lose, nothing to gain, and nothing to prove. That’s what it means to live openhandedly and when we do that we are in a much better place to see what God is doing and flow along with him. You’ll find others gravitating towards you because the people who are free enough to genuinely take an interest in others are few and far between.

So I Do Nothing?

Letting go is probably the most crucial choice we make when God invites us further into his life. I know it’s scary, and I know it is difficult sometimes to see what that means. I’ve shared this lesson with many people who are struggling with their own need to let go of something they have found security in and invariably they ask me the same question. “So I just trust God and do nothing?”

Isn’t it interesting that we are so driven by our anxieties that we only see two options? Either I struggle in my own flesh in some fruitless attempt to find my own security, or I live in the presumption of doing nothing. Isn’t that proof that the only effort we know is driven by anxiety? If we give that up we don’t know what else will motivate us.

Believe me, letting go of those things that provide momentary security for us and finding out just how secure this Father can be, is not sitting back and doing nothing. Jesus didn’t tell us to relax so we could become spiritual couch potatoes, but so that we could be free enough to follow him into the glory of his life.

Seeking first his kingdom, trusting that God will provide whatever he chooses to provide, open whatever door he needs to open and sustain me through any trauma is not a complacent existence. Every day it challenges me to the core of my being, and asks me to choose against the path of least resistance. Following him still requires my effort, but it is energy directed his way, instead of channeled by my own limited wisdom or insecurities.

I Hope You Dance

The days of letting go are not over for me. Every day I find fresh opportunities to choose God’s presence over temporal illusions of security. I can’t even begin to imagine what letting go means for you. I’m pretty sure, however, for most of you that it doesn’t mean quitting your job and sitting in a kayak hoping God will touch you. It doesn’t mean you have to leave your fellowship.

Learning to let go is not a method to force God’s hand, but wisdom to help you live free enough to follow when he calls you onward. Don’t let the risk to your ego, security or comfort provide the excuse for you to miss the greater journey.

A song making the rounds today sums up wonderfully what I’m trying to say:

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking…
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…
I hope you dance.

I had never danced in public before my daughter’s wedding, but I wanted to dance with her that day. I knew I’d risk some good-natured abuse from my friends and knew no one would mistake me for Fred Astaire, but what a moment! I’m glad I danced then, and I’m glad I pushed away from the dock a month earlier.

And I pray when God next invites you to come follow, that you won’t let your fear of the unknown rob you of life’s greatest adventure. I hope you shove away from the dock instead of scurrying back onto it as an illusion of security. Don’t miss the chance to ride with him in the open waters. You’ll find nothing more secure, and no journey more filled with awesome joy.

Isn’t it time you found out just how real and incredible this Christian life can really be?


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The Third Road

fishing_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • June 2002

My father woke us up at 5:30 in the morning. We crawled out of our sleeping bags into the cold mountain air, ready for a fishing trip of a lifetime. Someone had told us that if we hiked out of the Dinky Creek campground up Rodman’s road for four or five miles, we would come to a creek where large rainbow trout lurked in every pool, ours for the taking. It would be the most incredible fishing experience we had ever known.

I don’t know how far we hiked that morning. We didn’t have a map, just the word of a friend. We trudged on for hours looking for any sign of a creek. At times we thought we could hear one in the distance spilling over the rocks and our pace would quicken in anticipation of finding it around the next bend.

As the hours passed, however, we didn’t even cross so much as a creek bed. When some spoke of giving up, others would encourage them on. We’d come so far. We’d hate to find out later we’d missed it simply because we hadn’t gone another few hundred yards.

Finally, however, our spirits lagged. Our candy bars were gone and our canteens were more than half empty. The sun was getting hotter and all we could think about was the long walk home. Somewhere past 11:00 we gave up and returned to camp in the middle of the afternoon, our fishing poles never having even touched a drop of water.

No one in our group was at fault. We were all awed by the incredible hope of this fishing hole. We’d all done our best and stuck together even when the going got rough. The fact was we were just on the wrong road. It didn’t matter how pure our motives, how passionate our expectations or how hard we tried. That road could not take us where we wanted to go.

Hiking to Nowhere

Bogus fishing expeditions are not the only frustrating hikes I’ve been on. For most of my spiritual journey, I’ve chased the greatest promises of Scripture only to have many of them melt away just at the moment I thought I was closest to them.

I’ve worked hard to seek God’s approval by my diligence, only to see my greatest efforts succumb yet again to attitudes and appetites that diminish my passion and distract my energies. I’ve sought to trust God in every circumstance, only to see circumstances I did not understand rob me of that trust. I’ve tasted of incredible fellowship, only to have it stolen by those who sought to control it.

Only in recent years have I come to see why. What I thought was the road to righteousness didn’t lead where it had promised. A long time ago, I had shunned the values of the world and chosen to live my life after God’s ways. I wanted to live in his righteousness and thought I knew how that could happen. It was a well-worn path that others have walked for centuries.

I had no idea the righteousness it promised was only an illusion. Rather than lead me to life and joy and freedom, it only detoured into a swamp of my own best efforts, woefully short of his promise. I used to blame myself at times for not trying hard enough and God at other times for not being fair to my efforts, never considering that I might actually be on the wrong road. No matter how far I followed it, it was never going to lead me to that which I desired most.

Only in the last decade have I come to realize the folly of the road I was on. I have since found a different road that actually fulfills the promise of Scripture. On its pathway I have found joy greater than I ever thought I could contain, healing from appetites and desires that only grows greater with the passing of time, a reality to God’s presence as real as I always hoped it could be, fellowship that runs deep and true without stagnating or collapsing into personal agendas, and transformation that even has unbelievers asking me what guides my life.

The Righteousness You Don’t Want

If I could offer you a box full of righteousness, would you take it?

Most believers would answer yes because we all know we’re supposed to be righteous. But you might want to be careful here. Paul might have answered, “It depends! What kind of righteousness do you have in there?”

There was a righteousness that Paul clearly did not want. He said he wanted to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law.” (Phil 3:9) Can you believe there was a righteousness that Paul rejected? He didn’t want to be found anywhere near it. No matter how much better it made him look on the outside it still pulled him further away from the true joy and life of God. He had been on that road most of his life, subscribing to the best rule-keeping system ever devised, and knew it did not lead to the fullness of life in God.

I used to think we had only two roads to choose between – the paths of wickedness or righteousness. The road to wickedness we all know well. Through rebellion, indulgence, independence and selfishness we can live only to please ourselves. Though that road provides momentary pleasures, it leads to death and destruction.

The only other road I knew about was the road to righteousness. I had to learn how to change my life so that it was pleasing to God. It was lined with rules and principles to observe, and laced with routines to follow. Accountability and commitment drove that journey in the unending quest of trying to earn God’s approval. When I fell short (and I always fell short) I resorted to comparing myself to others, hoping that God would grade on the curve. If I couldn’t be perfect I would at least be better than 90% of the other believers I knew.

Because that path could not transform me, it only made me more proficient at pretending to be righteous. It could never draw me into right relationship with the Father and free me to enjoy his life. Regardless of how passionate my pursuit was, it would on its best days only lead me to smug self-righteousness and on its worst days to the despair of unresolved guilt. No matter how much effort or expectation I brought to it, I always ended up frustrated and disappointed. Like our mountain hike to the phantom fishing hole, it was an impostor trail that led to greater bondage, not freedom.

The Righteousness that Comes from Faith

That’s why Paul spoke of a third road. This one doesn’t just aim at righteousness it actually gets there. In the same breath that he distanced himself from the righteousness produced by human effort, he declared his all-out passion for a different kind of righteousness – “that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9) Sharing his life with Jesus, the joys and the troubles, had transformed the way he thought about everything, and yes, his actions right along with it.

Though I’ve had tastes of this kind of righteousness in various seasons of my life, it is only in the last decade that I’ve really come to understand its power. All the appetites, attitudes and anxieties that held sway in my life all resulted from the fact that I did not trust that Jesus was big enough to watch over my life and lead me into his fullness. Because I couldn’t trust him to do it without me, I always found myself wandering back to the trail of self-effort.

The work Jesus has done in my heart over the past few years was to convince me that his love was great enough to contain every event in my life and provide for me all that he wants. He didn’t need me trying to produce it, only to draw close to him and discover how incredibly rich and powerful his love is. His presence would set me free enough from self so that I could live in him.

No, I do not consider myself perfect, far from it. But the more his love wins me over, the easier it is to entrust increasing bits of my life to him. The more I trust him the freer I become from the anxiety, appetites and attitudes that used to rule my life. I am just beginning to feast on the righteousness that relationship with him produces, and I’ve got to tell you, there is nothing sweeter. I notice it in the smallest things, the lack of frustration and anger if things don’t work out the way I’d hoped; less expectations of others and less hurt when they fail to live up to them; greater clarity about God’s purpose in the unfolding events of my life; and being able to recognize when others seek to manipulate me and the freedom to step away from it.

The only thing that needs to concern me on this road is drawing ever closer to him with an honest and sincere heart. No matter the joy, struggle or failure, he is there to love me in the middle of it and to lead me through it to greater life in him. The more he affirms his love for me, the easier it is for me to trust him and the freer I find myself to live out his life with people around me. This is the road that Paul discovered and the one he refused to get off of, even when others demanded it of him.

Rebellion, Religion, Relationship

Thus there are three roads that confront us daily. Let’s label the first road ‘Rebellion’, because it substitutes our own will for what God wants to accomplish in us. The second I’ll label ‘Religion’ because it is our attempts to produce God’s life by human effort. Like that fateful fishing expedition, it is a road that will never lead us to Godly fulfillment. The third road is the one Jesus paved for us. Let’s call it ‘Relationship’, because out of relationship with him he will transform us to live in his righteousness and freedom.

If you’ve been persistently disappointed by your spiritual aspirations, perhaps you, too, have been on the wrong road. Unfortunately many believers have tried to live on the very road that Paul repudiated. You don’t have to be a Christian long to run into the religious mindset that says we have to try harder to please God. Many of our religious institutions are built on that premise, because institutions demand conformity and conformity is a human process.

All of the early churches that Paul planted on the road to relationship ended up on the road of human effort. The reason we have most of the New Testament is because believers in Corinth, Galatia and Colossae, had gotten on the wrong road. They were convinced by those who claimed to be leaders that their success hinged on conforming to their demands. They all traded away the freedom of journeying in God for the empty works of human effort.

Paul wrote to point them back to the only way we can discover God’s righteousness – the road to relationship. He does not conform us by obligation, but transforms us by sharing his love with us and showing us how we can trust him.

Fellowshipping on the Second Road

We all know the camaraderie of indulgent living. Those who live to their own ambitions either want others to come along so they won’t feel alone, or they destroy people who get in their way. In this world relationships are either boom or bust depending on how we serve their interests.

Fellowshipping on the second road, can be as destructive, but is far subtler. People captured by religion are often well intentioned. They want what God wants for them, but because they are confused about how God accomplishes his purpose in them, they can be destructive without even realizing it.

Religious structures wire their relationships with accountability and control in the futile attempt to help people try to be more pleasing to God. Often their standards have nothing to do with what it means to walk with Jesus. One TV pastor summed it up this way: “Going to church, giving tithes and offerings, and keeping the sabbath are the basic doctrines of Christianity. We live the Christian life by practicing these basic doctrines of Christianity.” Of course these are practices not doctrines, but he does sum up the attitude of those mired in religion. And isn’t it interesting that the actions demanded do more to sustain the institution than draw people closer to Jesus and help them participate in his life?

If you go along, you are rewarded with approval and promises of expanding influence. When you cease to go along, you are cast out as a dangerous influence. Because our fallen nature craves approval by others, religious environments easily manipulate us by fear, guilt and shame. There is no middle ground here, because those on this journey know how easy it is to slip off that road back into the world. They regard their spirituality as fragile and it must be protected at all costs.

However, human effort cannot embrace the righteousness of God. People who follow it only end up pretending to be more righteous. Pecking orders develop quickly as people who seem to conform to the standards are exalted over those who struggle with them.

It has always bothered me that so many people who sincerely love God at the outset of their journey end up mired in manipulative relationships and, in the end, become far more hurtful than helpful to the kingdom. Now I understand. If we don’t get on the only road to righteousness that works, we have to keep going as we did most of the morning on our ill-fated fishing expedition. We’ve got too much invested now, to simply admit that we might have been led astray and look for a better option.

Fellowship on this road is painful at best, and seems to be based on the notion that misery loves company. People don’t talk of enjoying the camaraderie of the journey, but needing to “go to church” unless they fall into some grievous error. Often they have few true relationships with other believers, because they spend so much energy pretending to be what they know they are not.

Fellowship on the Third Road

Since I’ve discovered life on the road of ever growing trust in Jesus’ love for me and his purpose in my life, I have found a new depth of fellowship I never thought possible. Sharing life with people on this road fulfills all that Scriptures says about real body life.

Instead of pretending to be what we’re not, we encourage each other to be authentic. It’s OK to question what we need to question, ask what we need to ask and struggle where we struggle. People are not rewarded for pretending to be better than they are, but are loved through the ups and downs, hurts and joys, and doubts as well as triumphs.

Instead of exploiting people’s shame or need for approval to try and make them better Christians, we help people be released from shame so that they can experience God’s love.

Instead of loading each other up with a list of ‘shoulds’, we help each other listen to God and follow what he puts on their heart even if that means they make a mistake doing so.

Instead of trying to change each other we just encourage each other closer to Jesus, because it is so much fun (and far more effective) watching him change them.

Instead of manipulating each other to do what we think would most benefit the group, we learn together how to trust Jesus for what we need and find the simple sharing of that life together is the best of body life.

Since our eyes are fixed on Jesus and we simply get to enjoy each other, we have found that this kind of righteousness and body life is not nearly as fragile as we had been taught. I had learned that if I hung out with the wrong people, or missed a meeting or two, I would suddenly be swallowed back into the world’s temptation or be seduced into some grievous heresy. While that may be true of works-righteousness, it is not true of the righteousness that faith produces. He is able to keep us from falling. He is able to link us up with other brothers and sisters exactly as he desires. He is able to teach us how to live deeply in him and know the awesome freedom from our own expectations and the demands we put on others.

The righteousness that flows from trust is incredibly resilient. Once you’ve tasted of it, everything else loses its appeal. Though I am often with people walking down Religion Road, I am not even tempted to join them on that road again. I don’t mind loving them, telling stories of a better road that will really take them to the fullness of God’s life, but I have no desire to trade the power of God’s transformation for the illusion of human effort.

This is the best fellowship in the world, and I hope you are finding it too. Notice that it does not come from finding the ‘right group’ or meeting in the right way. You can seek those forever and never find them. This fellowship flows naturally among people who are walking on the road of ever-deepening relationship with God. I meet people like that everywhere.

If you find yourself today on the road to religion, why don’t you recognize it for what it is and ask the Father to free you from it and show you the road to increasing relationship. As you grow in doing so you will find yourself connecting to an ever-expanding group of folks who have found that trusting a Father’s love and depending on him is the only way to walk.

Believe me, you’ll never want to go back to mere religion again!


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OTHER TRANSLATIONS


It’s So Worth It!

waterfall_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 2002

Sara and I heard it over and over again as we struggled up the trail to Hanging Lake outside Glenwood Spring, Colorado. The trail winds uphill 1,000 feet in about a little over a mile. It’s a tough climb with so little oxygen at 7,000 feet. But hikers who passed us going back down the hill kept encouraging us.

“Keep going.”

“You’re getting close.”

“It’s so worth it.”

And it was!

Each word of encouragement lifted our spirits and lightened our steps as we traversed the rocky ground steadily climbing to the top of the cliff until we arrived at the waterfalls spilling into Hanging Lake and looked back out over the canyon we had scaled.

Learning to live relationally in an age where most of our perception of Christianity is based on religious thinking also takes even more encouragement. The writer of Hebrews says that ‘daily’ isn’t too often to help others break free from their own efforts and the distractions that so easily entangle them to discover just how awesome living daily in the Father’s love can be.

-The early steps on the journey are the most difficult, when other voices try to conform you to the rules of Christendom and you wonder if the passion in your heart makes any sense at all. Every time I grew weary, God was faithful to put someone in my path to encourage me. “This is the way!” “You won’t be disappointed!” “God loves you more than you yet know.” “You can trust him to get you through this.” Each encounter left me confident that I wasn’t as nuts as others seemed to think.

For those who have tasted of the joy and freedom of living in God’s love and the depth of fellowship that happens without all the institutional overlays, perhaps the greatest gift we can give others is to encourage them through the toughest sections of the trail until the spacious place of living in God spreads out before them like a high mountain lake.

That’s why I value most the letters I get from people who have read one of my books or an article from the website and say something like, “What I appreciate most about your writing, is not that you confronted me with things I’ve never thought of before, but you put to words what God had been revealing to my heart for some time. Your words gave me the courage to trust what God was telling me.”

I love that! What God is doing in this day to draw people to himself is not being led by any one person, or group of people. It is not a faddish reaction to a popular book. Rather, the Spirit of God is inviting people past the bondages of religious obligation to know him as he really is and to be transformed by his love so that they can reflect his glory wherever they go.

Encouraging others on that journey is the essence of body life.

Not Everyone Makes It

Two days after our hike to Hanging Lake we were headed up a more difficult trail to Booth Creek Falls outside of Vail. This one climbed 2,000 feet on a track that took us over two miles and started at 8300 feet. We had started early in the morning and didn’t meet any other hikers on the way down. To make matters worse this trail was not marked as well and a few times we weren’t sure we’d taken the right fork.

After hiking over an hour, we saw no sign of the falls. Had we missed it? Unsure how far we’d come, we debated whether to turn back and try a different fork. Finally, as we came out of the aspen forest to climb up a steep hillside we saw our first set of hikers coming back down the trail. It was a family of three and as we met I asked them if this was the way to the falls.

They said they thought it was, but added that they hadn’t seen the falls. “We came to where we thought they should be, but it looked like they’ve dried up for the season.” We were surprised and disappointed, but we told them we were going to press on anyway. We could hear water running in the canyon below us and couldn’t believe the falls would be dry.

“We wanted to,” one of them admitted, “but we’re on a tight schedule.” Then as they started back down the trail he turned to add, “If you find the falls, we don’t want to hear about it.”

A few hundred yards up the trail we think we found where they had stopped. We saw a rock formation that could have been mistaken for a dry waterfall, but the roar of water we could hear above us beckoned us further. In less than a hundred yards we came around a large rock outcropping and heard it before we saw it. Water plunged over the cliff and splashed 70 feet over the rock face to the creek below. What an awesome sight!

As Sara and I soaked in the moment, we couldn’t help but think of the family we had passed. They had hiked over 2 miles to see the falls and had missed it by less than a hundred yards. Of course, they would never know, but we did.

I feel the same for believers that start out to discover what it means to live free in God’s working and then find the road longer or more difficult than they thought. When ‘leaders’ questioned their passion or when they felt uncertain about breaking their dependence on systems they’d come to trust, they scurried back to the security of the familiar.

I wish we’d met that family as they were coming up the trail. We would have told them about the falls and pointed out just where they were. That’s what we did for everyone else we passed on the way back.

A Rest Still Waiting

In the last BodyLife I wrote about The Third Road, where we can discover true righteousness through a thriving relationship with Jesus, not through laws and human effort. It’s amazing how few people end up on that road. Religion takes our best intentions to rob us of the joy of relationship.

If there is one recurring theme in the New Testament it is the danger of starting out on a journey to discover relationship with the Living God and end up side-tracked on a road to religious obligation. While it makes us feel good because we’re working hard and seeming to achieve greater heights of spirituality, it actually is a trap that leads us into captivity. We mistake the right tradition, creed or discipline for engagement with his presence when in fact those things are but shadows of an even-greater reality.

When we returned from this second hike, I found myself reading Hebrews 3 and 4 where the writer talked about another group of people on a journey into God’s rest. They didn’t make it either. Trusting their own strength and wisdom instead of relying on God’s, they never followed him long enough to discover his rest.

Thus, the writer of Hebrews concludes, there remains a rest for God’s people. “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” After more than 40 years in Christianity, I am only beginning to taste a bit of what this means. I have tried so hard for so long to find the fullness of intimacy with God through my own efforts and diligence, and continued to be frustrated that my best efforts were not being rewarded.

But they weren’t, because God had something better in mind. He wanted me to discover the freedom of trusting him. That journey would seem so simple, and in many ways it is. It’s just that there are so many other things for us to put our trust in that we usually don’t stay on that trail long enough to taste its fruit.

Those Who Have Gone Before

Thankfully, I’ve met a dozen or more people who are significantly further down this journey than I am. They live in the Lord’s rest, not depending on their own power or ingenuity, they have found the peace and joy of cooperating with God’s work and enjoying a friendship with him that is more real than any human relationship they have. Just to be around them is a great encouragement and helps fix my compass for that which God asks me. I am blessed and challenged by how much they trust God to work things out with them and I am stirred by the depth of relationship and freedom they live every day.

They have found what those in Hebrews 3 and 4 missed. They trusted God enough to walk through the difficult and daunting stretches of the journey and found out that God really is all he says he is. He really does love them and can hold them up in any circumstance. They really don’t have to perform to garner his affection or achieve anything to prove theirs.

At just the right times God has put people like them in my path when I needed a smile, a nod and the encouragement that this road, though painful at times, holds a glory far greater than I could imagine. “It’s so worth it!”

Many of them read this journal and I want them to know how grateful I am that they have not only endured with him, but have freely shared their experiences, both good and bad, with me. I pray that you recognize people like that around you. I’ve no doubt they are there, but you can miss them if you live by appearances.

They won’t often fit the mold our religious culture has taught us to look for, but God has them spread out everywhere. They won’t have a model to implement, or a program to peddle, just the simple encouragement to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and follow him wherever he goes!

That’s the encouragement we all need and what our fellowship can do for each other.

It’s Not Just A Dream

When Sara and I returned from the last hike we saw a mother and daughter lacing up their hiking boots in the parking lot. “Did you make it to the falls?” they asked with a touch of discouragement in their voices.

“We did,” we told them.

“The people that came back before you said they didn’t.” We wondered if it had been the same family we met.

“No, they’re up there,” we said, “and well worth the hike. It’s a tough trail but there are incredible vistas around every turn and the falls are gorgeous.”

I want to tell you the same thing about this life in Jesus. Yes, the trail can be difficult, especially when people tell you that the life in Jesus you hope for is too idealistic. But what God has planted in your heart is not just a dream. It is the pulse of his heart calling you “further up and farther in.” Don’t listen to those who may have started down the trail, but either got side-tracked or didn’t follow it far enough to discover the wonder of God’s life. Listen to those who did.

Your freedom in God’s life is not just something you dreamed, but what God created you for. Stay on the journey until you drink of it freely, and don’t forget to encourage others as well. Sharing this joy with others is one of the best reasons he called us into his family.


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We Already Have a Shepherd! Leadership in the Relational Church – Part 8

sheep_0We Already Have a Shepherd! Leadership in the Relational Church – Part 8

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • December 2002

What did Jesus have in mind when he spoke of leadership among the incredible community of the Body of Christ?

By Wayne Jacobsen in collaboration with Kevin Smith, a good friend from Australia. This article grew out of a conversation that began during a trip there.

Here is the best definition I’ve ever heard of spiritual leadership: If you were going to be caught in your worst failure, who would you want to catch you?

If you really want to experience the fullness of life in Jesus, wouldn’t you want someone who would treat you as gently as Jesus treated the woman at the well while offering you the truth in a way that you could understand and follow into God’s freedom?

I have not heard a simpler statement that summarizes the way Jesus lived and what he taught his disciples about leadership in his church. Even Paul’s lists of qualifications in Timothy and Titus point out those who had walked with Jesus long enough to be transformed by him in a way that could be clearly seen in their families, in the community and their freedom to live the truth and thus be able to help others in the way Jesus would.

Perhaps the question I’m most asked in my travels is, “How do you see leadership functioning among people who embrace relational Christianity?” The question itself points out two significant problems with our perception of church. First, it is so dependent on the leadership of men and women that many cannot imagine how to function without it. That is tragic, because if our dependency isn’t in Christ we will never discover the power and simplicity of body life.

Second, our perception of leadership is so imbedded in managing or controlling institutions, that we cannot recognize it without titles and positions. Jesus said leadership in his kingdom would not need either and would serve an entirely different function than it does in the world. Unfortunately we’ve allowed ourselves to be squeezed into the world’s mold on this one.

If you can, set aside all your preconceived notions of human leadership and read the New Testament again with a fresh eye. The leadership of Father’s family is clearly placed in the hands of Jesus as its Head, and the Spirit as the one who joins us together and sets us in the body as he desires. Human leadership is not the main focus of Christ’s body. Jesus hardly mentions it and most of the letters don’t reference it at all.

But there were leaders in the early church, people protest, and I wholeheartedly agree. The important question is, just what kind of leaders were they?

Not So With You!

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

Clearly Jesus warned his disciples that in God’s reality leadership serves a different function than it does in the world because it is not based on management. Yet many books on Christian leadership today are so easily adapted to the business world. That alone should make us stop and question.

Jesus didn’t view leadership as the power to command, but the passion to serve people as they sort out what it means to live as God’s children. In the last decade my understanding of leadership has changed completely. I used to see it in terms of power – thinking leadership was defined by influence, institutional power or the value of their giftedness.

That’s not so in God. Those who have helped me most to grow in Father’s love, surprisingly enough, don’t hold positions of power but simply loved me enough to point out the way to God’s heart and then let me decide if I wanted to follow it. In fact, those I meet now who are most transformed by Father’s character disdain the power of the institutions I thought so essential to the kingdom. They reject anything that doesn’t reflect the childlike freedom to walk together focused on doing what pleases our Father.

The first person I ever met like that shocked me. Whenever he opened his mouth, wisdom poured out in the simplest terms. He knew more about God than I’d ever hope to and his calm spirit mirrored the nature of Jesus that I’d read about in the Gospels.

He had been a pastor for a number of years, but left during a brutal congregational fight rather than resort to their tactics to secure his place. For the next 15 years he hung wallpaper, which I thought he was doing just to pay the bills until he could find another ministry position. I was wrong! But I really didn’t realize how wrong until one day when I told him we were considering him as a future elder and eventually as full-time staff.

To my absolute shock, he listened for a while and then shook his head. “I’m just not interested,” he said. When I pressed him as to why he just smiled and told me that I would understand some day.

I think now that I know what he means. Those who most effectively function in leadership in this body don’t need titles, salaries or positions of authority. In fact, those things will only distract from God’s calling. Those who have been shaped by Christ’s life know there is an inherent conflict between spiritual authority and institutional power. Unfortunately, most people in the institution don’t understand this truth, and they continue to be hurt by those who act as leaders and fail to recognize true leadership God has so generously scattered throughout his body. Perhaps we need to think differently.

Transformed Lives Not Credentials

I’ll never forget the first time I saw ‘Rev. Wayne Jacobsen’ pressed on an office door. Even with my vocational mindset of ministry 27 years ago it was a shock. I was 22 with a BA in Bible and two weeks experience in marriage. How was I supposed to be a leader among the body of Christ? It would be laughable now if it were not so tragic. Even though God used that time in my life in spite of how deeply I misunderstood him, I realize now how little my life at that point reflected God’s priorities.

Though I couldn’t recognize it at the time I know now that I was driven less by a desire to serve others as I was to satiate my ego by trading on my speaking ability and proving my worth by influencing as many people as possible. What’s even stranger is that people did so without even questioning whether this is what God wanted.

Today people qualify for leadership based on their university degrees, eloquence, Biblical knowledge or their ability to draw a crowd, manage a vision or manipulate people to help them achieve their goals. If they draw a salary from a religious institution or hold a title we believe them to be leaders even if their lives don’t reflect his life.

Will that ever change? Not on this side of eternity! We have spawned an entire industry of seminaries and institutional positions to ‘prepare’ people to lead our religious institutions. They come out with $30,000.00 of debt and the need to find a career to justify that expense. All the while they have never even had the time to be transformed by the life of Christ and to demonstrate it in their personal life. No wonder there is so much failure and error among those who seek to lead in the Body of Christ.

Mostly well-intentioned men and women get into ‘the ministry’ for all the right reasons and then stay for all the wrong ones. The New Testament recognizes leadership by the evidence of a transformed life that lives in vital, daily, dynamic, relational connection with the head. People could tell they had been with Jesus. It didn’t matter what gifts they possessed or lacked, only that their character had been transformed to such an extent that they began to treat others the way Jesus would – with the same mix of truth and tenderness.

That’s why it is so important that every believer be thoroughly acquainted with the Jesus of the Bible, because the only way we can recognize Godly leadership among us is when people reflect his glory, his truth and his demeanor in the way they live.

Supplements not Substitutes

The body of Christ can only be healthy where every member in it is growing in relationship to Jesus and learning to live in his view of reality. He is the Head so that he “might come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18) That can happen only as every believer experiences the depth of friendship that Jesus wants with each of us.

Unfortunately leadership in our day doesn’t always help people live in that reality but often offers a substitute for it – and people like it that way. Like the children of Israel, many prefer to keep God at arm’s length expecting so-called leaders to deal with God for them so that they can follow only when they think it best.

For two thousand years this view of leadership has stripped God’s people of their confidence in his ability to work in them and has made them dependent upon clergy and institutions for their spiritual life. Isn’t it amazing that every religious system creates a local, holy-man guru who becomes the resident expert on things spiritual? Neither Jesus nor Paul ever envisioned the role we have ascribed to vocational pastors, priests and ‘workers’ today who supplant Jesus’ place among his people. These gifts Jesus spread over a far wider group of people who help others put their dependence on Christ, not themselves, their programs or their books!

The early apostles never saw it as a threat to their place in the body to say things like, “You have no need for anyone to teach you.” “You have an anointing from the Holy One to know truth and error.” They wanted Jesus’ followers to learn to trust him and hear from him directly as they lived in mutual relationship with each other.

They were not discounting the importance of teaching or counsel, but only putting it in its proper place. Whatever gift we have in the body, it is only to supplement his working in people, not to become a substitute for it. At best the touch of a leader is only temporary, helping people along the way, then quickly returning to the more enduring place of brother or sister.

Leadership in the body simply happens as Jesus expresses himself by the Holy Spirit through a submitted life. Sadly the star syndrome in the church often means that we elevate and give glory to the messengers rather than to the rightful ruler.

No one can take Jesus’ place in the body. That’s why Paul told people not to listen to anyone who distorted the gospel of Jesus (Gal. 1) nor to follow anyone purporting to know God’s will for others. (Col. 2) Those who have Jesus’ heart for the body will always be wary of others growing dependent upon anyone but the Lord himself. They would never rob a brother or sister of the joy of learning how to live freely in daily submission to Christ alone.

To Serve Not to Manage

One popular teacher a couple of decades ago defined spiritual leadership as the ability “to motivate people to do what they wouldn’t otherwise freely chose to do.” That’s manipulation not leadership. While it may be true of drill sergeants in basic training or advertising executives designing commercials, it is the opposite of what God has in mind for his children.

Virtually everyone today gives lip service to the biblical ideal of servant leadership, but most don’t realize that as long as you try to get people to do what you think is best for them you act as their master, not their servant. You are not serving them; they are serving you.

If anyone had the right to be served you’d think it would be Jesus, who is after all the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But even he didn’t take advantage of his position (when he certainly could have) but instead concerned himself with helping others to settle down at home in his Father’s life.

We can barely talk of leadership today without using the language of management. We see leadership as those who by power, influence or anointing compel others to act. Our religious systems take people who have a heart for God and turn them into program managers who make people conform to their program and think it is loving to do so. Those who get to the top of any institutional process hold great power over people and derive great personal benefit from it as well.

When Jesus lived in the flesh, he didn’t treat power the way others did and it drove his disciples nuts. Rather than gather power, he emptied himself of it. He knew that the way to help people into the Father’s life was not to direct them there, but to let them see his Father’s reality and help them learn to live in it. He knew compelling people would never work so he always gave them the freedom to choose. Likewise the early disciples had the grace to tell people the truth, and then let them go so they would be free to choose as their conscience directed.

Any Godly leader will do the same. He won’t create power centers of influence, money or programs that can be managed or exploited, but will release the body to do as God leads them.

Function Not Identity

Beware of anyone who finds their identity in the body based on a role of leadership or a title of ministry. As clearly as Jesus told us anything, he told his followers not to depend on such nonsense, for it is based on a false view of our Father’s family. “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” (Matt. 23:8.10)

The primary relationship for each member of the body is to be connected to the Head, then to share his life with each other as brother and sister. No greater identity is needed than to be sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, and anything God asks us to do to help others will not alter that simple identity. The fact that our culture has built body life around ‘leaders’ and ‘nonleaders’ robs the body of the freedom to share God’s life together.

Those who seek credibility in their degrees, their prowess with the original languages of Scripture, or some kind of ‘extra’ anointing not available to other believers, demonstrate by doing so how little of God’s nature they truly understand. Whatever elevates you above others destroys the value of anything God wants to share through you.

So, what do leaders do? Scripture gives us three functions for leadership:

To Facilitate Not Control: Leading in the body is as simple as initiating, at God’s leading, actions and activities and inviting others to come along and share in that experience. Leadership doesn’t seek to control an event or make sure it happens the way they think best, but acts as a catalyst to allow others to express what God has revealed to them. That happens as simply as someone leading out in a chorus, inviting people over for fellowship, or planning an outreach activity. A gift of leadership can get the ball rolling and see if others will pick it up and run with it.

To Equip Not to Perform: Instead of taking center-stage in the body with their gifts, true leaders crawl behind the scenes to help others grow in the life of Jesus and discover how God wants to express himself through them. Since this is best accomplished by example, they will live open lives before others as they help others learn how to connect with God in a meaningful way. They never exploit people’s shame or try to hold them accountable, but free them from shame so that they can engage in a transforming relationship with God. (Anyone who does this knows it happens best in smaller groups where there is a real exchange of dialog rather than in large-scale seminars.) As people become free in God’s life, they will know how to relate to others and that will allow the body to reflect a fuller picture of who Jesus is to the world around them.

To Watch Over Not Police: While not trying to manage the body, leaders will look beyond themselves to help the body live in wholeness. They will seek out those who exploit the body for their own gain and deal with them honestly and lovingly. They will help young believers learn to discern between true and false believers and point them back to Jesus when they are distracted.

One Flock With One Shepherd

When God exposed the false shepherds in Ezekiel 34, he didn’t say he would get rid of the false shepherds and find better ones. He said he would remove the false shepherds and shepherd them himself. He would lead them to safe pastures and protect them from harm so that they would never be afraid or abused again.

With that instruction, why do we have so many people today who insist on being shepherds? That’s not what I Peter 5 is about. Peter tells those called as elders to lead like Jesus did, not by compulsion, not for money, nor to lord over the flock, but simply by being an example of Christ’s life to others.

Those who try to act on his behalf in this way are put in an untenable position. Eugene Peterson described it in his translation of Psalm 14:3 as “Sheep taking turns pretending to be the shepherd.” It gives false teachers a platform to deceive and manipulate people and corners well-meaning people into roles that distort the reality of God’s family.

Why do we think that we need leaders to follow when we have the Leader himself? In John 10 Jesus said he was the only shepherd and those who follow him “shall become one flock with one shepherd.” Why is the body of Christ so weakened and divided today? Because we march to a thousand shepherds, each claiming the mantle of Christ and each leading people to what they think is best.

How do you live this reality practically? If you find yourself weighed down by someone who wants to be your shepherd, take some distance. While you may benefit from some of God’s work in them, living your spirituality through them will only rob you. Don’t think you have to dismantle their organizations, just live in the freedom God gives you.

When God does bring someone near whom he has shaped by his life, listen and watch them without becoming dependent on them. Don’t be so paranoid of falling prey to false leadership that you miss the gifts of wonderful people God has put near you.

And if you’re one of those God has freed from the desire to rule over others, it may be time for you to step up. Don’t think for a moment that God led you outside the power structures to be isolated. He did it to free you from its clutches so you could serve people in a greater way into a fuller life in him.

We will be one flock when we embrace one shepherd. Only when we all learn how to live in him and follow him will we realize the joy and the power of the unity that he desires for his church. Any one who leads in this family, will want nothing less.


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Shared Dependence: Living in the Relational Church – Part 9

cave_climber_0Shared Dependence: Living in the Relational Church – Part 9

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 2003

In the last decade I’ve met thousands of believers all over the world and watched carefully as they seek to live out Christian fellowship in a variety of groupings – from twos and threes in spontaneous fellowship to centuries old congregations and just about everything in between. In many places I have been delighted to find God’s people sharing his reality together as they grow to know him. In others, I’ve watched in sadness as they struggle to replicate some form of New Testament body life, but despite their diligent efforts they continually end up disappointed and frustrated.

Because I want everyone to know the joy of living in Christ’s life, I’m always trying to sort out what makes the difference. Why do some groups enjoy the Lord’s fullness together and others miss out? Some would say the presence of Jesus makes all the difference, and while that would be at least partly true, I find him present everywhere, even among the most captive people, inviting them closer to him.

Others might say that it’s because some meet the way God has told them to and others follow the traditions of men. That would be partly true as well, but I’ve noticed on occasion that the people employing the most biblical principles of church life have the most dysfunctional relationships and people as naive as spiritual toddlers are having a great time basking in the joy of God’s work.

No, in the end it isn’t knowledge, maturity, the right principles or even effort and commitment. People who live out God’s life in the healthiest settings have learned the beauty of shared dependence. And by that I don’t mean they have learned to depend on a leader, each other or a specific church structure, but that they are learning together how to depend on the Father and thus participate in his work among them.

Do We Need Fellowship?

Through most of my life I have heard people talk about church life with the language of need. “A good Christian is supposed to attend services whenever the body meets.” “You need to ‘come to church’ or you will fall into error.” What is so bad about body life that the only way we’re motivated to participate is because we have to. All this talk of obligation and commitment makes me wonder if the driving force behind ‘church attendance’ today is nothing more than misery loves company. Let’s face it, sitting through the same service every week can get a bit boring. Even the most incredible speakers I’ve heard grow tiresome week after week and repetitious year after year.

Body life was meant to reflect the joy of Father’s family, not be a painful obligation for his children. I know that may be hard to believe for those who have only experienced church life as redundant meetings, controlling leaders or relationships filled with gossip, condemnation and manipulation. Real body life, however, doesn’t look like any of those things.

When the New Testament talks about body life it doesn’t use the language of need or obligation. It doesn’t compel believers to engage God’s family because we have to, but invites them to share in an unparalleled demonstration of God’s glory. Your own individual relationship with him will at best allow you to taste only a tiny facet of God’s person and wisdom. Paul compared it to a partial glimpse as though we are looking at a darkened mirror (I Cor. 13:12). At best we will only see a part. But when we combine our part with the many other parts that are expressed by other members of his family, we get a more complete picture of God and his working. That’s why Paul described the church as the fullness of Christ (Eph. 1:23).

When you are loved beyond your wildest dreams, challenged to greater heights of glory, encouraged by his strength in others and enlightened by their insights, no one will have to be forced to participate. But only God can produce that kind of life together. If we look for it in each other instead of in him we’ll only find ourselves living a cheap substitute for the reality God offers us.

It’s Him We Need

In reality we don’t need each other. We need him! Body life that doesn’t begin with that simple premise is destined to miss the mark. As valuable and enriching as authentic body life is, if we make it a substitute for God’s daily presence working in each of us it will become an obstacle in the journey instead of a blessing to it.

We can’t let the two get confused. Scripture is clear here. He alone is our strength and shield. He alone is our refuge. He wants to teach each one of us how to live totally dependent upon him. Our relationships with each other must encourage that process not supplant it.

Recently I saw a photo of a newly discovered cave whose existence was only recently announced in the media. One chamber in this cave is large enough to contain the Superdome with plenty of room to spare. The only way out is to climb a rope which has been lowered through a hole in its ceiling. In the photo the team was climbing the rope to get back to the surface.

That photo held in tension the camaraderie of the journey without misplacing their dependence. Each of them was dependent on that rope to get out of that chamber. As valuable as their encouragement, experience and instruction might have been to the others, each person still needed to trust that rope enough to climb to the surface. None of them, even with the best intentions, could substitute for that rope. No one could crawl out for someone else and they could climb all over each other for years and still never find their way out to the surface.

In the same way our relationships with each other can only grow in health when we’re not trying to get from each other what only God can provide. Like the rope for the climbers, God wants us to depend on him alone and encourage others in the process of learning to do that.

Take No Substitute

Body life naturally results from people learning to live in daily dependence on the presence of the Father. That passion is an essential ingredient to people discovering effective body life together. It is tempting to think that if Jesus makes himself known in the body that we depend on him by depending on each other. Admittedly it is a subtle shift, but a potentially fatal one, at least spiritually, if it gets our eyes off of Jesus and on other people or on any system for replicating church.

Once the rope climbers let go of the rope, even to grab for each other, disaster results. We are people on a journey to greater relationship with him and greater trust in him. We can help each other go further together than most will go alone but we must never forget where we’re going. Body life flourishes where people are learning to depend on God for everything, and their relationships support that growth.

Unfortunately most of what passes for body life today, however unwittingly, offers substitutes for that dependence from taking hold in our hearts. Tradition can easily become the attempt to replicate something God did in the past, and most programs seek to secure God’s hand in the future. Both keep us from responding to the God who works in the present, leading us to trust him more. Read Matthew 6 and learn what Jesus is saying about each of us living in the absolute security of the fact that God will take care of us and lead us into his life. This is something we each must sort out in our own relationship with him.

I know learning to trust him alone can be scary. It may seem easier in the short term to put our dependence in leaders, other believers or a way of doing church, but it will only lead to perpetual frustration and hurt when others quite innocently fail our expectations or even more belligerently betray our trust. The pain that results is evidence enough of our misplaced dependency.

While we can encourage each other in the process we must take care not to subvert it by trying to rely on each other instead of on him. When people lose the passion to cultivate a growing dependence on the Father, the best they can produce by human effort is an illusion of body life.

Overestimating Our Abilities

It was one of those answers that surprised me as soon as I heard myself say it and that doesn’t happen too often for someone who generally thinks three sentences ahead of the one that is currently coming out of his mouth. For the past hour and a half I had been sitting in a former Tulsa nightclub with a group of hungry believers talking about this incredible journey of knowing the Father and walking in the reality of his presence. Then someone asked, “What do you think is the biggest barrier to people living in the fullness of God’s life?”

“I’m beginning to think the greatest barrier is the overestimation of our own capabilities.” My answer surprised me. I don’t know that I’ve ever expressed that concern in answer to a similar question. I had to pause and think for a moment whether or not that was my final answer.

The more I thought about it, however, I saw that God was illuminating something he had been working on in my life. I used to think diligent effort applied to the right process could accomplish anything. But over the years the failure of my best efforts had finally convinced me that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Ps. 127:1). The joy of this life is found in trusting him and following his leading out of a daily relationship of growing trust.

The longer we talked that night about the pressure we put on ourselves and others to replicate this amazing thing we call the life of the Spirit, the more convinced I became that overestimating our own capabilities complicates our walk instead of freeing us. It leads to feeling trapped in our failures and taking pride in successes. It makes us manipulate others to do what we think is best and encourages everyone to get their eyes on people rather than on Jesus. It leads to misplaced effort and wasted energy, because we will only know how to do our work when we understand how God works. People who trust their own capabilities will never discover the reality of life in God and the joy of sharing that life with others.

Not Even A Little Bit

The life of God had turned Paul’s whole world upside-down – from a committed religionist who boasted in his abilities and prided himself in his accomplishments to one who put absolutely no confidence in the flesh. (See Phil. 3:1-11). How would you like to have been in fellowship with Paul before God got a hold of his life? It would have been insufferable. He thought himself always right, closer to God than anyone else and he had the right to kill you if you didn’t see it his way. Of course today we use accusation and gossip far more often than actual stones, but it aims at the same result.

Imagine how different it was after Jesus had captured Paul with his penetrating love. He drew Paul to himself and changed him from one who was confident in his own abilities, into one who knew that only Jesus could accomplish anything that would endure. He’s the one that draws people to the truth. He’s the one that changes lives. He’s the one that connects his body in ways that further the purpose of his kingdom.

Paul could then see that his own best efforts were nothing but sewage, worthless in the unfolding of God’s glory in himself or in others. He found the righteousness that human effort produces to be repulsive and simply delighted himself in the righteousness that his growing trust in God produced.

Since he had no confidence in his own flesh, he didn’t put pressure on others to perform with theirs. He knew that everything in this kingdom had to flow from God’s working, and we can only respond to him, not produce his life on our own. This includes body life. If we are going to learn to share his life in meaningful relationships with other believers our dependency has to be in him. We cannot accomplish it even by following what we deem to be biblical patterns of church life. While they can help us recognize the way God works they will not of themselves let us share in the glory of his life. Only the Head of the church can build his church. We can only construct illusions of it.

Sharing Dependence on Him

I spent some time recently with a group of people aspiring to facilitate a home group in each of their homes. I put a scenario in front of them. What if six months from now two of the groups are exploding at the seams with excited people, two of them are just coasting along and the other two are totally dead and boring. What would we know about the facilitators of those groups and what would we do about it?

Popular wisdom would tell us that those groups that look vital are led by good leaders and those that are struggling are led by weaker ones. But that’s not how God sees it. Some groups may look vital only because their leaders are better at fabricating an illusion of body life. Their lively personalities or giftings draw a following, but whether or not it reflects the true sharing of life by believers is another matter. Likewise, those groups that may be struggling may have excellent facilitators, but they are trying to accomplish something God is not doing.

Jesus said that he only did the things he saw his Father doing. Unfortunately the way many do church life today, we look for what the Father doesn’t seem to be doing and go there to try and make something happen. The results shouldn’t surprise us. Human effort cannot produce God’s fruit, but surrendered hearts can participate in all God has prepared for them.

By saying we shouldn’t place our dependence in each other, I am not excusing us from being trustworthy, dependable brothers or sisters. The deepest experiences of body life happen where people are free enough from their own agenda and brokenness to be faithful in times of trouble, genuine to the core and true to their word even if it costs them. But if you allow yourself to grow dependent on them you’ll short-change your own relationship with Jesus. In fact people who know Jesus best wouldn’t dream of letting you do that. They’ll encourage you to keep your dependency firmly on him, because he is the only way to life!

Here’s the truth: Genuine, authentic body life is a gift God gives not something we can orchestrate by human effort even by following Biblical principles. Instead of trying to create it, we would be better served to ask him to show us each day how he is placing us among his body, who is he relating us to and how can we encourage them to rely on Him more freely?

Your work is to simply follow him there. When you do he will place you among the body just as he desires and you will know the joy of sharing a growing dependency on him with other members of his body.


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Sharing the Journey

hikers_on_trail_0Sharing the Journey

By Wayne Jacobsen and Clay Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 2003

Isn’t it interesting that you can spend all day wandering through the busy streets of Manhattan without anyone noticing you, and yet anyone you pass on a hiking trail will not only notice you but usually will pause to find out where you’ve been and where you are headed? The street is anonymous—people passing in a hurry to get somewhere else. There are far too many people to even consider engaging in a conversation. You would never get anywhere.

Loneliness flourishes in large crowds. But I have yet to pass anyone on a hiking trail who didn’t stop and talk at least briefly. The camaraderie of the trails is immediate, even if you are not likely to see each other again. For those brief moments the help and insight two people can share can make a huge difference.

If your Christian experience is a living journey instead of a plodding ritual, you will find the same thing to be true. When my Christianity was more static—consisting of attending services, doing church work and trying to be good—my fellowship with others stayed shallow. I remember coming home many nights frustrated from having spent an entire evening with other people but somehow having been unable to move the conversation beyond the weather, sports, family and current movies.

I wanted fellowship, but every time I would try to bring up something about God or Scripture the conversation grew stilted and awkward. Only in the last few years have I come to recognize that Christianity is a journey into ever-deepening levels of relationship and ever-widening spaces of freedom. When you’re on that journey you will naturally talk about it in virtually every conversation you have, and when you connect with someone else who is sharing that journey, your conversation will be the best. Sharing the journey is as natural as breathing.

Geese or Sparrows?

Watching a flock of Canada geese fly over in precise V-formation is an enthralling sight? How do you suppose they do that? Do they attend V-formation flying school when they are young? I can just see a older goose projecting a Powerpoint presentation against a birch tree and explaining to the younger birds that they must fly two feet to the outside wing of the goose in front of them, one foot behind and eighteen inches above its flight path so it will impress the humans below.

No, geese fly in a V-formation because flying in that exact spot allows them to fly in smoother air with less effort. If a goose falls out of position it immediately feels the added stress of flying on its own and moves pack into position. Scientists estimate that by drafting on the wake of the goose in front of them the entire flock is able to fly 71% further than each of them could fly individually. To accomplish this incredible feat the stronger birds in the flock will rotate the lead position so that no one bird wears out. According to NASA, ?This allows a flock of birds with differing abilities to fly at a constant speed with a common endurance.?

By drafting on the wake of the goose in front of them the entire flock is able to fly 71% further than each of them could fly individuallyThe reason you never see a flock of sparrows fly in V-formation is because they are not going anywhere. They flit around the yard from tree to tree, but at the end of the day they are in the same area. They could try to learn to fly in a V-formation, but by the time they got the formation together they would already be to the next tree and not need it. The same is true about fellowship. If Christianity is about rituals, routines and morals, our fellowship will suffer. We can rearrange our groupings or try a number of novel small-group techniques, but they will be as awkward as sparrows trying to fly in formation. But when Christianity is a life of growing dependence on God through the joys and challenges of our circumstances, pooling our wisdom becomes a natural extension of that life for us as it is for geese to fly in formation. When God is more real to you than the weather and the events of your day, you’ll find him filling your conversations and fellowship will be immediate, powerful and alive.

Journey Talk

I went to a men’s breakfast group one morning where the participants pulled out scorecards and each reported how many days the previous week they had read Scripture, witnessed to an unbeliever or ‘hit their knees’ before ‘hitting the shower.’ They were holding each other accountable to disciplines they thought important. As sincere as they may have been to encourage each other, they were sincerely wrong.

These men had embraced a process of conformity, thinking it was their responsibility to motivate people to comply with their standards. Little did they realize that this process is the opposite of sharing the Christian journey. That is why accountability groups start with a wealth of zeal and quickly fade away. Can you imagine Jesus pulling out similar scorecards to check on his disciples?

Growing in relationship with God does not come through conformity, but through transformation. Relationships are organic and therefore defy all attempts to fit into any one-size-fits-all model. Rules, routines and rituals are the building blocks of religion, not relationship. People caught up in religion will always focus on obeying authority, accountability, meeting standards by human effort, finding fault, confronting failure and blaming others. In short conforming to these things can be quite painful, especially for those who struggle to conform to do the accepted thing. People instinctively know that instead of helping them know God better, these religious activities add stress and strain to the journey. That is why Paul told us over and over again not to have anything to do with people who wanted to boss others, even if it their aim was greater righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 5:7-10, 6:11-19; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:16-19).

Paul wasn’t against righteousness, but knew that true righteousness grew only out of a trusting relationship to the Father. This kingdom does not result from our efforts, but from his. ?Apart from me you can do nothing,? (John 15:5) Jesus said, calling us to depend on him. We do not share the journey by conforming others to what we think is best for them, but by encouraging each other to lean on Jesus.

Those on the journey talk about encouragement, help, service, support, love, compassion, forgiveness and trust. They will focus on loving God more freely and one another more openly, trusting God instead of trusting ourselves, being real instead of repeating ‘right’ answers, and taking the risk to follow God instead of meeting people’s expectations. They won’t force people into a mold, because they know people have to have their own journey with God so he can transform them into his likeness. Doing so lifts people higher instead of weighing them down with added obligations and responsibilities.

“Instruct one another”

Teach? Me? Absolutely not! I couldn’t possibly do that. I hate standing in front of people.

It is tragic than when most of us hear the word ‘teaching’ we think of standing in front of a roomful of people lecturing. That is a small slice of what real teaching is. In fact for most of human history teaching was done one-on-one, in tutoring or apprenticeships. When share a favorite recipe with a friend; tell someone about a favorite article, book or thought; or you show a child how to use a fork, you are teaching.

We are all teachers. Sharing with others the insights God drops into our lives, or lessons we have picked up from others is the most powerful process for learning the lessons we need for the journey. The vast majority of teaching doesn’t happen in lecture halls, but in conversations in which we share what we have discovered to help others.

One of the hardest things to motivate small-group participants to do is to come ready to share. We have for so long been schooled in the notion that we gather as a body to receive what a few professionals have prepared for us that believers shy away from sharing a psalm, a word, a prayer—anything! Getting together with other Christians should be like a spiritual potluck where different ones bring something to share (I Corinthians 14:26).

I once met with a home group that grew awkwardly quiet as we began. It was the kind of meeting everyone hates, because no one has anything to share. After a song or two, it was clear that we weren’t going anywhere. ?It seems to me that we’re all a bit tired tonight.? I ventured. People nodded. ?Did anyone bring anything to share with us?? Everyone looked around the room but there were no takers. ?We have two choices, then. We can either press through our tiredness and see if God has something for us tonight, or we can just admit that we’re all tired and unprepared, call it a night, and try again next week.?

We agreed to try again next week. It was only a 10-minute meeting, but a powerful learning experience. We didn’t force anything to happen, nor did we go through the motions just to make us feel good. If we had it would have been the same as pretending to eat at a potluck to which no one had brought food. We wouldn’t do it nor would we ask our hosts to empty their freezer and feed everyone who hadn’t come prepared.

Until that notion of body life captures our heart, and we realize that God wants to use each of us to share his wisdom with others, we’ll miss out on the best teaching available in the body of Christ today. Whenever I see something in Scripture that touches my life, I always look for someone else it might bless.

“Admonishing one another”

“Don’t you think that was the most manipulative thing you’ve ever said?”

I couldn’t have been more shocked at his words. He always encouraged me in things I’d written or preached. I thought yesterday’s sermon on having a heart for outreach had been one of my best. I had looked forward to our lunch appointment all daybecause I knew Dave would be impressed.

“You’re kidding, right?” I said laughing it off. His face told me he wasn’t. I told him how powerful I thought the message had been and the positive feedback others had given me.

“I could be wrong,” he said shrugging his shoulders. “But it looked to me like you were manipulating people with guilt to make them do what you wanted. I’ve learned that anytime my success depends on another person’s response, I will manipulate them.”

Only after a few days of mulling over my friend’s words in prayer, did I finally understand. Even though my aim was noble, I had manipulated my audience and I called Dave to tell him so. That one conversation changed my life in powerful ways. Dave had spoken the truth to me out of a personal friendship that allowed it to bear fruit.

I love the way Dave spoke to me. He had the relationship to speak truthfully and firmly to me—as my friend, not my judge. He was honest with me, but didn’t try to convince me even when I resisted. He trusted that God would have to make it clear. That is admonishment—our willingness to be gently honest with people we see making hurtful choices. How many times have you walked away from a conversation wishing you had been more honest?

Admonishment was part of the early church’s body life. Paul rebuked Peter for discriminating against Gentile believers in the face of his Jewish friends (Galatians 2:11-15). And the writer of Hebrews rebuked believers who were throwing away their confidence in the mist of difficult times (Hebrews 10:35-39). Still, the New Testament uses words like encourage or build up fifty-six times, and to rebuke or admonish only 7 times. That seems like a pretty good ratio to me. Though I have learned some of my greatest lessons from Dave, he has affirmed God’s work in me at least eight times more than he has pointed out something that concerned him.

When people use admonishment to point out the faults of others so the former feel better about themselves, they kill genuine fellowship. We are not called to confront one another constantly or hold each other to exacting standards. We are to encourage one another along the journey of being transformed by God and only admonish each other when it will help them walk in greater wisdom.

Our past encouragements will make any admonishment easier to heed. Don’t force admonishment on others. Share what you see and trust the Holy Spirit to make it clear to them. Remember, we are only sharing a journey; we are not called to badger one another into righteousness or nit pick at one another’s faults.


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Thriving Outside the Box

bird_in_cage_0Thriving Outside the Box

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • October 2003

I have never been able to enjoy looking at a bird in a cage, even if it is a nice cage. While it may provide a safe haven and contain all the food and water she will ever need it also prevents her from doing the one thing God made her to do. A bird that cannot take wing and soar to the heights misses the best part of being a bird.

Over the last decade I’ve communicated with thousands of people whom God has awoken to the fact that they have grown up in religious cages that have stunted their growth and robbed them of God’s life. Some were thrown out for questioning the sanctity of the cage, while others escaped when they noticed the door was not closed as tightly as they’d been led to believe.

But not all who find themselves outside the box thrive in their newfound freedom. Though many do, others find living outside disorienting and uncertain. While they know well the pain of the box they were in, they don’t know how to thrive outside of it. Nothing works the way they are used to and if they don’t learn to live differently their release will be their ruin. They will soon learn that freedom itself is not the goal. It is only an opportunity. If they don’t use it to live more deeply in Jesus they will find themselves using it to stew in their anger at the cage that held them or to succumb to the ever-enticing flesh.

Boxed In

I know the analogy almost begs misunderstanding so let me be clear from the outset. If you’re thinking the cage represents those who participate in a Sunday morning event in those buildings many mistakenly call ‘churches,’ you would be wrong. It is not as simple as that. The cage that imprisons God’s people is not religious institutions per se, but the system of religious obligation that many of them (though not all) use to preserve the institution or to advance its program. Just because you meet in a home is no guarantee you’ve broken free of this system either. By moving it into a more intimate setting it only becomes more hurtful.

But no matter how we gather with believers, God wants all of us liberated from the cage of religious obligation. Because it is based on human effort for spiritual growth and community life, this cage is lined with guilt that you’re never doing enough to earn God’s favor and it is laced with the fear that your spiritual security lies in conforming to the doctrine and program of the group. It often focuses on an institutional program or someone’s personal vision, rewarding those who conform while abusing those who do not.

Many of us who gave ourselves wholeheartedly to that system were shocked to find out that it could only deliver an illusion of God’s life but never the reality. It exploited our most noble intentions and imprisoned us with our basest desires. It offered temporal security, spoon-fed nourishment and even some emotionally satisfying moments, but it could not let us soar to the heights. This system only wore us out with its programs, exhausting our efforts while bearing little fruit, and while it could conform our external behavior, it could not transform our inner thoughts and motives. So sin still undermined us, guilt consumed us and emptiness hounded us and we were only left with the inescapable conclusion that it wasn’t working because we weren’t trying hard enough.

Life Outside the Box

But every once in awhile God will allow his followers to see through the illusion of religious obligation and see what a failure it truly is. This usually comes with considerable pain – either exposure of our spiritual shallowness or of the exploitation or betrayal of someone we thought was a close friend.

-People react to those moments differently. Some take their liberty and go on in a relationship with God that becomes deeper and more powerful every day. Others may blame the symptom of the pain (an abusive leader or intransigent institution) and miss the larger reality of how the system itself destroys. They may move outside the box, but with considerable anger. Unresolved pain quickly devours their passion for Jesus and they find themselves emptier in freedom than they did in the cage.

Now what? Like the children of Israel who craved the comforts of Egypt some prefer to be secure slaves than free children. They seek out another cage or worse yet build one of their own mistakenly thinking that the problem was not with the cage, but with the people leaders in it. Others become so jaded they shun even genuine expressions of fellowship, fearful they will end up in another counterfeit. Neither the bondage of religion nor the complacency of freedom will lead people into Father’s fullness.

If we don’t find a greater freedom in Jesus outside the cage we will wither away. I know how disorienting it can be because nothing we learned in there works outside. To thrive in freedom we’ll need to learn a new way of living. Here are some of those lessons I see God teaching people learning to live free:

1. Relax. This is God’s Work

Religious obligation says that it is all up to you. If God isn’t doing the things you want, you have to work harder, stand firmer and pray longer. The focus is on your performance, your obedience, your righteousness. Outside that cage you will quickly recognize that your best efforts will not accomplish God’s work. This depends on him not you. Instead of trying to manipulate God he will teach you rest in his work through you.You will find yourself making better decisions when you trust his love for you than when you’re anxiety-ridden about trying to earn it.

You will learn rely on him alone and recognize that any time you give up responsibility for your spiritual nourishment to another person – whether friend, pastor or author, you’ve already traded away a bit of your freedom for life in a cage. We can only experience the true wonder of body life when we are learning to depend on God together, not exploiting each other in an attempt to get from each other what we have not found in God.

2. Give Up Your Illusion of Control

Someone told me last week God was asking them to give up control over their lives. I told him I didn’t quite think that was how God does it. You can only try to give up control if you’re still under the illusion that you have it. I know our actions and decisions have profound consequences in our journey, but ultimately God is in control. Has any amount of scheming or manipulation ever truly produced the results you seek? When God shows you that you are not in control, then you will truly be free to live in his purposes instead of your own.

3. Live for His Approval

The reason religious systems work so successfully is their ability to exploit people’s desire to be accepted. When we go along with the program we are rewarded with approval. When we do not, we are punished by being shunned, gossiped about or overlooked.

The craving for approval devours our spiritual passions by putting our focus on what people think of us rather than what God does. Paul clearly showed us that such thinking is at odds with spiritual growth: ?If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.? (Galatians 1:10) As you get free from the cage, expect others to play this approval card for all its worth. Even close friends will suddenly hold you at arm’s length or say ugly things about you, all in the hope of drawing you back into the cage they think holds the keys to life. It does not.

4. Learn Grace in Opposition

Jesus warned us that if we follow him others will speak ill of you, make false accusations and even exclude you. Fortunately in this day and age, they can’t stone you. But it is true that people in the cage regard those who are not as dangerous, deceived and rebellious.

It will hurt deeply, especially early in the process. But as you lean into him you will find his life in you becoming more real than the pain they can inflict. Knowing what God overlooks in you every day will make you more patient with others, even those who attack you. Your contempt for them will melt into compassion as you realize just how painful their bondage really is. Remember, as long as you are reacting to something, you are being controlled by it.

5. Let Guilt Die

You feel it when you turn down a request for help or sit out of a meeting you’ve attended most of your life – guilt. It is that deep, nagging drumbeat in your gut trying to convince you that you’re a really bad person and God is upset with you. Even when you rationally know you made the right decision, guilt can be relentless. Many would rather give in to it than face it. They were trained that way. Guilt is the easiest way to motivate people who do not know who they are in Christ.

How do you deal with it? Let it die. Though you can’t stop its drumbeat you can refuse to dance to it. In time it will fade away. You will also discover that those who help you most grow in God will never pile on the condemnation when you disappoint them, but they will always help peel it away. Like Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, they know that guilt rather than freeing people from sin only drives it into darker closets where it only becomes more destructive.

6. Savor the Story

In his amazing grace God gave us the story of how he made himself known to men and women just like us. He wanted us to know exactly what he is like and how he thinks so that we could know him as he is.

Evangelicalism may go down in history as the group that ardently defended the truth of Scripture while ignoring most of its content. The Bible is not an owner’s manual with rules to be followed nor a file of proof texts to wage doctrinal wars. It is the story of God making his reality known in the brokenness of our world. It doesn’t end with a book called Revelation, but with a person – Jesus himself! Scripture guides us to him so we can know him (John 5:40). If it doesn’t do that it can itself be a hindrance.

If you’re used to others spoon-feeding it to you, now is the time to take it on yourself. Start with the Gospels. Read them through three or four times to get to know the person of Jesus in his words and actions. Then read Acts and Paul’s letters, understanding how he saw God work in people. As you get a handle on the New Testament, then go back to the Old and read it in light of the New. How did God’s revelation get clearer? What has been his purpose through the ages and how does he think about things in our world? How does the Son sum it all up?

As you savor God’s story, you will find yourself better able to see and appreciate how he continues to write that story into your own life. You will see Jesus more clearly and recognize his voice more simply.

7. Be Aggressive about Cultivating Relationships

You never know how God might use you to touch someone who works near you, lives near you or just passes by you during the day. You’ll be surprised at the people he will put you in touch with and how his presence in you will be a blessing to them. (For more insight on this incredible process, consider taking a look at our new book Authentic Relationships.)

As you find yourself blessing others near you, you will also come across brothers and sisters who are on a similar journey. When you do, make the effort to get with them periodically for lunch or an evening together so the relationship can grow.

8. Live the Life, Don’t Fill Up On Meetings

Don’t rush so quickly to find body life that you try to rebuild it on your own needs! Real community is a gift God gives out of growing friendships, not what we produce by any methods or programs. Instead of creating it, we have only to recognize it as God builds it around us.

I know people misunderstand that and think I’m against meetings. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love gathering with the body in large and small groupings when Jesus is at the center of it. Unfortunately we hold way too many meetings because we don’t know how to share God’s life in the joy of ever-deepening relationships. That does not happen in meetings. The best gatherings of body life emerge out of relationships where people are learning to share the Jesus journey together.

If you know people who want to be intentional about sharing this kind of community, by all means join them. But if you don’t, don’t give into the lie that God has forgotten you. There are many ways God can relate you to people who are also living the journey, even if it is just a conversation here and there for a time. I suspect that when people have a hard time finding fellowship with others its because God wants to draw them closer to himself first.

9. Finally, Don’t Despise the Struggle

I know it isn’t easy learning to live outside the false security of religious obligation, but the freedom is so worth it. Scientists say if you help a butterfly escape its chrysalis, you actually kill it. God designed the process so that the struggle itself actually strengthens the butterfly so she will be able to fly away when she is finally free. Our struggles accomplish the same thing. They are part of what God uses to invite us deeper into him.

I know it can be scary when all the props that made you comfortable are no longer there. I know how easy it is to coast through life and miss out on the incredible friendship God wants with you. But don’t you think it is time you found out just how awesome God wants to be in you?

It is one thing to walk away from that which is fruitless and hurtful and quite another to soar in the life of Jesus. Stop reacting to the failures of others. Stop hoping to find a system that will satisfy your insecurities. Stop waiting until you understand it all or find someone to do it for you.


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Living in Two Worlds

nasa_photo_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • February 2004

I can’t begin to comprehend what it would be like to wake up tomorrow morning and find myself free of everything that hinders or distracts me from life in Jesus.

No longer would I have to grope through the fog of my own selfishness to get a fading glimpse of God’s presence for I would see God’s face as clearly as he sees mine. No longer would I entertain, even for a moment, doubts about his love for me or his ability to draw me into the fullness of his life. No longer would the ravages of fleshly appetites lure me into bondage that can suffocate me in my own amusements.

I can only imagine what it would be like if every appetite for sin was suddenly silent and all I wanted was what God wanted for me. How would it be to live without a hint of fear, self-pity or envy because the demands of self have been swallowed up in the greatness of God? I would have nothing to hide, nothing to prove and nothing to win, because I would be so fully satisfied by God himself, and totally at rest in whatever he gives. What would it be like to have no needs to harass me, no conflict to afflict me, no pain or disease to limit me and no sorrow to wound me?

Then I could enjoy unlimited time and unrestricted insights into the beauty of God’s nature and the wonder of his person. I could finally search out just how high and wide and deep his love runs for me and enjoy forever his infinite creativity and his boundless wisdom. What a life that would be!

Of course no one reading these words has any idea what that adventure will be like, but that day is fast approaching for all of us and it is closer now than when you began to read these words. It is what God made us for and what he steadily leads us to embrace.

Beyond Death’s Door

Obviously the full glory of what I describe here lies beyond death’s door and from our vantage point it isn’t easy to see. This world spares no expense to try and convince us that this is all there is. It beckons us to seek fulfillment in this age as if it was designed to provide it. The truth is it will never fulfill what our hearts long for most. Thinking it can will send us down the wrong paths and make us doubt God’s intentions toward us when things don’t work out as we think they should.

Life in this age is a mixed bag. At times we see the magnificence of God’s glory in the creation and experience marvelous moments of his blessings and his refreshing. At other times we come face to face with the suffering and chaos of a world out of synch with its Creator. Though the world was painted in God’s glory, it was marred by sin and is now hemmed in by death. That’s why God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden after they had sinned. If they had eaten from the Tree of Life in their sinful state, they would have been eternally sinful. How can you rescue what is eternal? By condemning sin and its devastation to this age, God preserved eternity to be pure and holy and the safe haven to which he could bring us to share in the fullness of his glory.

Though death is the tool God uses to keep eternity unstained by sin, it is not his friend. Paul calls it God’s enemy (I Cor. 15:26) and the last one he will destroy. He never wanted us to face death, neither the physical death that stalks our bodies in this age, nor the spiritual death that magnifies our selfish ambitions and hides us from the Father’s love. We see it clearly in the devastation brought on by war, terrorism, crime, tragic accidents and disease. With each death of a loved one, or the growing aches and limitations of age we are reminded that everything in this age is destined to perish.

But for those who yearn to know God in his fullness, death has no sting. It is simply a doorway through which we will find our final freedom. It is not the dreaded end of our life on earth, but a doorway into the last, great adventure – the freedom to know him without limitation or distraction. For us, death will be waking up on some tomorrow morning finally free of this broken world and our sin-scarred bodies.

Only a Prologue

On the last page of the last book of his Narnia tales, just when the reader thinks the story is over because the world has ended, C.S. Lewis pulls back the curtain even further: “For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world… had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Lewis gets it exactly right. The time between our birth and our death is only a small slice of your story. When we look back from eternity we will know that the whole of our life in this age, that seems like everything to us now, was only the beginning. I suspect we’ll remember it much like we remember kindergarten. That’s how God looks at our life in this age, and Scripture encouragea us to as well. It repeatedly says that this world and our life in it are as brief as the dew on the morning grass, or a vapor of smoke that hangs briefly in the air. If we knew that we wouldn’t be so devastated by our struggles or despair at life’s disappointments. And we wouldn’t fear death because we would see it not as the tragic end to life, but the beginning of life as God truly meant us to live it.

If we want to understand God’s unfolding work in our lives, we must look beyond the prologue and include the whole of the story. If not, we’ll miss God’s work in our lives, yearning for true fulfillment in an age that cannot deliver it. This world exists in the brokenness and chaos of sin and even God’s people face that every day. Our circumstances will never play out perfectly. We’ll never have everything we want and we’ll regularly face moments of conflict, struggle and pain. Even the best of times will not provide enduring satisfaction because we will never quite feel at home here.

Our home is in the Father’s heart. Though we won’t experience that fully until the end of the age, that doesn’t need to stop us from enjoying the first-fruits of it in our life every day. The early apostles didn’t think of eternal life only as life that would last forever, but as a quality of life lived in him. Eternal life is available now in Jesus. No wonder we feel caught between two worlds – living in one but drawing our life from another.

The World We Are In

When Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17 he specifically said his prayer was not that God would take them out of the world, but that God would keep them in the midst of it. They would be in the world, but they would no longer be of it. Tapping into God’s reality supersedes everything about this age and clarifies how we can live freely in it.

But we all know that isn’t easy. How distant the eternal can often feel when we get lost in our responsibilities at work and at home and by the myriad of amusements that our world offers. We think we’ll find greater joy in a better job, a nicer home or a bigger bank account. The lie is that we will. We are constantly bombarded in news stories and TV shows, advertisements, and movies that life in this age can fulfill our deepest dreams. It creates in all of us the frustration that we could just strike it rich in business or luck out in the lottery, find the right soul mate, write that best-seller, or get a decent break for our creativity then we would finally find the fulfillment we desperately seek.

We forget that the media sell illusions not reality, like the endless contraptions that promise to take inches off our waistline without any effort from us. What makes it even more difficult is that these illusionists aren’t just in the world, they are also among God’s people, co-opting the reality of God’s life by promising that if we just follow their program, prayer formula or other scheme God will make our wildest dreams come true.

Of course their wares sell well. Lies always do. But what happens when they don’t work? The dream- merchants fly off in their Lear jets while the people who paid for it are left wondering what is wrong with them or with God that he didn’t carve out an easy and prosperous life for them. This frustration at God and jealousy for the world’s goods has shipwrecked many believers. While God will often give us moments of joy and refreshing, we live in the chaos of a sin-stained world and we will also experience seasons of great hardship, sorrow and pain. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something, and that something will not last. That’s why Paul blasted the false teachers who said that godliness could lead to financial gain (I Timothy 6). He went on to say that the follower of Jesus would be content merely with food and clothes. Those who seek the fulfillment of wealth have never experienced the treasure that no amount of money can buy.

The World We Are Of

Jesus offered an abundance of life to those who follow him, but he never defined that in material terms. I’ve seen people live in the fullness of that life even as they endured dire poverty, fought debilitating diseases and faced persecution for their faith. They didn’t live out of the circumstances that assailed them but out of God’s presence that filled them.

Our home can never be in Oxnard, California or Lagos, Nigeria. Our home is in the heart of the Living God. The life that really is life comes from him alone. It isn’t measured in convenient or easy circumstances. This overwhelming sense of fullness and belonging comes simply from knowing the Father’s presence in every circumstance whether good or bad. That life expresses itself in his voice that guides us, his comfort that holds us, and his strength that transforms us to be a bit more like him with each passing day.

In our lives God continues to invade this sin-stained world, and though he will not fix every circumstance to conform to my comfort, he has offered to share all of his life with me. He will hold me in times of suffering and laugh with me in times of joy. He will give my life meaning not by what I gain in this world, but by making me part of his unfolding purpose – to win the world back to himself through his overwhelming love.

His reality in our lives and our cooperation with him is the only well that can sate our quest for fulfillment in this world. This is eternal life and it began for us the day you gave your life to him. As we let him live in us, becoming more real than the world we touch, see and hear every day, he will create in us an oasis of eternity in the midst of the barren wasteland of our culture.

Living In the Eternal

I love the way Paul thought through this:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

He fully faced the fact that outwardly death works to cause us to waste away in this age, but inwardly God’s renewal offers us an inner glory that carries far more weight than anything in this life. So his determination is to fix his perspective not on what he could see around him, but on the unseen realm, those things that are eternal.

The only way to live in this world and not become of it is to stare into the face of our gracious Father. His eternal life has already begun in his followers. If we live in that reality we won’t get sucked in by the illusions of this age nor think our answers are found in its systems. Then we are free to cooperate with God’s working in our own lives and in others around us.

That’s why Paul could look at perilous circumstances and rise victorious through them. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:9) His presence in us is greater than anything the world can hurl at us. With our eyes fixed on him we do not have to surrender to the world we live in or retreat from it. We can fully embrace whatever unfolds knowing that God’s greater purpose will go forward in our lives. This is living in the eternal: To taste of his rich presence every day that will not only guide us through it but will also overflow us and splash out onto a thirsty world.

Look to him early and often throughout your day. Ask him to make himself more real to you than anything in this world. Let him show you how to follow his voice and to see where his hand is moving in your life each day. Don’t think that can only happen in special devotional times that you try to cram into all the other demands of the day. God wants to invade your world and walk with you through it, not wear you out with religious activity.

You’ll find your values shifting from the temporary things that are destined to perish to embrace those things that live on through eternity. Possessions, amusements and achievements, will all come to nothing at the end of this age. You can enjoy what God gives you without being possessed by it. You can delight in the recreation God gives without being held captive by it. And you can do what he’s asked you to do in this world without keeping score that exalts yourself over others.

Keeping your eye on what’s eternal will help you navigate through the distractions of this world. When I took flying lessons as a teen-ager my instructor taught me to trust the instruments on the dash panel, rather than my feelings. To drive the point home he told me to close my eyes and hold the airplane straight and level. After a few seconds he asked how I was doing. I thought I was fine until he told me to open my eyes and I saw that the plane was in a steep bank and diving for the ground.

He made his point. By keeping my eyes on those instruments I could keep the plane level even if I couldn’t see the horizon. That’s why God wants us to keep our eyes on him and glance at the world, not the other way around.

A Life Worth Sharing

Of course walking with your eye on the eternal is easier if you know other believers who share that focus. Have you noticed how much your heart covets the things of this world when you’re around people who live for those things? The same is true of those focused on eternal things. We become like the people we hang out with. Real fellowship helps us see how God is working in our lives and will fill us with a greater passion for that which has eternal value.

I am somewhat bothered that so many of our engagements with other believers gets lost in age-old theological controversies, speculations about the end times or trying to find the right church model for real New Testament community. Find people with their eyes on the eternal and you’ll find yourself in the middle of fellowship that is real, encouraging, and fun. They will help you embrace the life that really is life rather than being sucked into the busyness of this world and the multitude of amusements it offers to seduce us back into its clutches.

Living in the eternal will not only refresh you in God’s presence, but you will also discover that he will make you an oasis of eternal life for people battered by our broken world. You will be able to help mend the broken-hearted, bind up the wounded, love the outcast and liberate the captive.

Surely the fullness of our eternal life awaits a future day, but that need not stop you from participating in as much of it as Father makes available today.


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OTHER TRANSLATIONS


The Call of the Shepherd

The Call of the Shepherd

As put into words by Wayne Jacobsen 

BodyLife • May 2004

[I appreciate that the form of this piece can lend itself to misinterpretation. By putting it in the first person I am not claiming to quote Jesus directly or giving a prophecy. I simply wrote down as best I could the voice that rings in my heart. Much of the language here is drawn from Scripture (cf. Ezekiel 34, Micah 5, Matthew 9:35-38,11:25-30, John 10) as it speaks of God’s heart for his people.]

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

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

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

Harassed and Helpless

I know things got complicated. I didn’t fix everything you wanted me to fix and I know that shook your confidence in me. Others told you that you weren’t working hard enough so you concluded that the success of our relationship was hinged on your effort and wisdom. When anything went wrong you either blamed me for not loving you or yourself for not trying hard enough. Both were dead ends and the life we shared eventually faded into confusion and guilt.

But I never gave up on you. I knew your best efforts would not be enough, which is why I already satisfied in myself everything you thought the Father might require of you. Your righteousness is in me and guilt never has a place in our relationship. And I know I disappointed your expectations, but that was only because I had better things in mind for you. I work through times of pain as well as times of joy.

I know you thought I had lost sight of you, but I never had. It was you who lost sight of me. I know right where you are and every place you have wandered because I followed you there. I have continued to call your name and invite you into the life that really is life. But so many other things drowned out my voice, activities you thought would bring me closer to you and the busyness you got caught in hoping to hide your emptiness. Even when I tried to scoop you up in my arms, you recoiled, not recognizing my hand and I held back, letting you have the distance you thought you needed.

I’m still here ready for you to fall into my arms. I want you to see through the illusion of your own efforts to produce my work in your life, or in the lives of others. I will teach you how to trust my purpose in you so that even times of trouble will not destroy our friendship. Come, my Beloved, let me wash over you again like a cool fountain, cleansing all that has hurt and confused you. Let us start anew and I will show you just how much I love you and that all I ever wanted from you was you!

A Shepherd Like No Other

Did I not tell you that I would take care of you – that I would lead you into safe pastures and refresh you with living water? Did I not tell you that I had rejected the shepherds who wanted to use my flock for their own purpose battering and plundering them for their own gain?

You need no other shepherd but me. I will lead you into rich pastures and watch over you so that you will never need to be afraid again. I am not going to exploit you, for I am the shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. I did not run in the face of my own death, but embraced the shame because I wanted to open the way for us to be together.

No one on this planet ever has or ever will love you like I do. The great lie is that I cannot be trusted with your life. Oh, but I can! I will take care of you and teach you to follow me so that you can know the fullness of my life. I will hold you close to my heart as we walk through the days ahead. Even in the face of pain and death, I will ensure that nothing will take you out of my hand. I will draw you to myself, wipe every tear from your eyes and through it all transform you into the person I created you to be.

I know you haven’t always seen that, nor yielded to me so that I could do it. You wandered in places where you got hurt and sought out easy answers that could not work. I have not been the source of your pain, but the one who has offered you healing. All the while I wanted to teach you how I work. I do not put band-aids over your life so it will look better but seek to heal you at the deepest places. It is not something that you can do, but it is something that you can thwart if you won’t let me teach you how to yield to my wisdom and power. You have nothing to fear. Your entire life is in my hands and my hands are sure.

No More Strangers

My sheep know my voice. I call you by name and point the way for you to go, but you have found the voice of strangers to be more certain than my own. Those who take turns pretending to be the shepherd have destroyed your confidence in my ability to lead you. Wanting you to be dependent on them, they told you to follow them because they knew what would be best for you.

Many of them even meant well, but the end result was always the same. They could not lead you to life because life is only in me. They had no way of knowing where I wanted to lead you and they were blinded to my working by their own plans to do what they thought were great things for me.

And you followed them, only to be abused and exploited. It was their vision they served and not mine. Yes, I saw your pain when they turned on you for asking honest questions and cut you off when you sought to follow me instead of them. I know how deeply it hurts to be betrayed by those you thought loved you. I never wanted you to trust them more than me. I never asked you to follow any man or woman. They’re the ones who asked you to do that.

I know many of you thought they were helping you, but in the end they only led you astray. They bullied you with their imagined authority and bloodied you with guilt and calls to loyalty. But you knew better, didn’t you? Often I warned you and your heart was unsettled in the things they told you. You overrode my warnings because you didn’t think yourself mature enough to question people like them. At such times you were looking to yourself and not to me. I am strong enough to lead you in my life, even beyond your doubts and insecurities.

Anyone who knows me will teach you to follow me. They will not use you to build their ministry or to line their pockets. They will give freely, always pointing you to the only shepherd that matters – me! They will encourage you to trust my love for you and will teach you to follow me even when you’re uncertain. They know it is better for you to learn to follow me and make a mistake than think yourself secure in any program they could devise.

Are you tired of listening to the voice of strangers? I want to teach you how to know my voice again. I have others that will help you learn but listen only to those that point you to me, not the ones who would gather you to themselves. You can trust me to make clear to you everything that I want you to know and everything that I call you to do. If you don’t hear my voice in what others say do not feel any obligation to follow their counsel or their instruction. You are only truly safe in me.

Listen

Can you hear me calling you in the deepest chambers of your heart and mind? I am not loud and boisterous. I will not compete with the clamor of the world nor the busyness of your agenda. I gently call you by name, hold you close to my heart and invite you to follow me.

If my voice seems only to drift by for a moment and then fades into the harried pace of life, it is because your ears are better tuned to other things. I only seem more distant when you trust your own wisdom instead of mine. Often I have shown you the way I want you to go but instead of simply following, you looked at the challenges that stood in your way and convinced yourself that it wasn’t me at all. I do not take the path of least resistance, but neither do I send you where I will not go with you. One day you will know that your safety is not in pleasant circumstances, but in being with me.

If you have forgotten how to listen, just ask me and I will show you. It is not as hard as you think. I simply want you to draw near to me and once again let your heart be mine alone. The more you grow in knowing my love for you, the easier it will be to recognize my gentle prodding. I am greater than any doubt that troubles you or any voice that seeks to steer you another way. I will help you recognize my presence in all you do. I will show you how to live as a father or mother, child or student, employer or employee, neighbor or friend. Don’t separate me to a separate spiritual part of your life, I want to make all of your life spiritual and all of it full in me.

You Won’t Be Alone

I know that the closer you follow me the lonelier it seems. You even think at times that I have abandoned you and you withdraw into your own fears. But even there I am with you, calling you outside yourself to come into the freedom of being my child and to join your hearts with others in my flock who live for no other.

You’ve been called arrogant, independent and unsubmitted, not by those who knew my heart, but by those who wanted you to conform to their way of doing things. They can’t see the body beyond their own way of organizing. If you only knew how many people I have scattered all over the world, you would know that you’re not alone.

Some of those live just down the block from you or work alongside you. I know that you don’t know them yet but you do understand the passion that courses through their veins and their desire to connect with people who share it. I am the shepherd of all my sheep and I am not only inviting you to follow me as an individual, I am gathering my flock together from the ends of the earth – not in human systems devouring your time and energy, but in the joy of healthy friendships. No man will own it and no system will replicate what I am building between my people. Resist the temptation to follow models devised by men that will always fail.

I will knit you into relationships with people near you and even some far away so that you can enjoy the richness of my flock. Don’t try to make it happen on your own. Just live with your eye on me everyday and soon you will find people around you who follow the same Shepherd you follow.

But first I want your heart to be mine. If you try to use others in the body to get what you do not find in me, it will only ruin the relationships. I want to teach you how to share my life together, each one receiving from my hand and sharing freely with the others without demanding anything in return. As you love that way you will find that life among my people is not cumbersome, but of great joy. You will go away from encounters more aware of who I am and less focused on your needs and weaknesses.

Wherever I Lead

What do I need from you? I need a willing heart that will simply follow me wherever I choose to take you. I don’t need great talent, great wisdom or great abilities, just a yielded life willing to learn how to trust me beyond your wisdom and your fears.

I want you to abandon your agenda, for it will only distract you from what I want to do in you. Even the best of intentions can lead you to desire the wrong things and following the wrong path. If you only knew the plans I have for you with a future and a hope that far outweighs your own agenda, you would abandon yours in an instant.

Don’t try to save yourself for you will only get in deeper trouble. Stop. Take a deep breath and yield to my arms. Pause before me and listen until you hear that voice that says, “This is the way I want you to go.” Don’t worry about whether or not it makes sense to you. I’ve been here before and you have not. I know the way through your doubts and pain to greater transformation and freedom.

Wake up each day and lay your agenda aside. Live in the moment looking for my hand and listening to my voice. Don’t live in the past by copying what you’ve done before. Don’t try to secure the future with programs and models that only offer false security.

Lay down even your dreams for ministry. You have confused your dreams with mine and trying to fulfill them in your own effort will only frustrate you. If they are only your dreams you won’t want them and those that are mine I will bring to pass in a way that you cannot even imagine yet. Most of what you call ministry has more to do with human aspiration than it does the life of my kingdom. Your pursuit of ministry instead of me will be a barrier not a blessing. Let me teach you all over again, how much I love the broken-hearted, the wounded and the oppressed and how I set them free.

To The Heights

I can keep following you and rescuing you out of all the places you get stuck, or you can turn around and follow me and I will lead you to the heights of my glory. I am the way to Father’s fullness and I want nothing more than to take you there.

Let me scoop you up in my arms and carry you along as I show you the wonders of my Father’s kingdom. Tune your ears to my voice and look to me in everything you do. There is no situation that I can’t lead you through and no promise that I cannot fulfill in you. Trust my voice more than your own and yield to my hand as I shape you into the person I created you to be.

There is nothing you can do to earn this. It is beyond your ability, but it is not beyond mine. I am able to make you stand and establish you in my gospel. I am able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times you will have all that you need. I am able to guard all that you have entrusted to me and able to help you at your weakest moment. And I am able to keep you from falling and present you before God’s glorious presence, without fault and with great joy! (Rom. 14:4; 16:25-26, 2 Cor. 9:8, 2 Tim 1:12, Heb. 5:2; Jude 24-25)

I am calling my flock back to me from all the places it has been scattered. I will take you to the heights of my glory, where you can delight in the greenest of pastures and drink the purest water. You will never need to be afraid again for you will know how much I love you and how safe you are in my hand. There is no God beside me, and no life apart from mine.

Come, my Beloved, your time is now. Draw near to me. Take my hand and I will show you all that I hold in my heart for you and you will discover the unmitigated joy of living in my rest.


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What Is God Asking Of You?

stepping_stones_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 2004

It’s been there for quite a while – a sense that Jesus is asking something of you. It doesn’t nag you at every moment, but often something will happen or something will be said that triggers your memory and brings it to your attention again. Suddenly you’re aware of a deeper stirring in your heart and even excited to think how it might come to be. Maybe you’re even reminded of it right now while you’re reading this.

But just as quickly that sense so often fades as it gets swallowed up in the daily demands of 21st Century living. Responsibilities at work, chores at home, family needs and the busyness of life take hold of our day and sends us careening from circumstance to circumstance until fulfilling our obligations takes up almost all of our time. We find ourselves so exhausted in the moments that remain that we can only muster enough energy for some brief amusement before falling into bed and starting the rat race again the next day.

This is the cycle of spiritual stagnation that can easily ensnare any of us. Instead of living in the adventure of Jesus’ work and purpose in our lives each day, we get sucked into the world’s way of thinking and focused only on daily survival. When that happens we become part of it again, so preoccupied with jobs, homes and activities that we lose our awareness that we are part of a greater kingdom. Even our spiritual passion is robbed by trading Jesus’ ever-present voice for the obligations, traditions and models others tell us we must employ.

We think we’re stuck in a dry time and that God’s presence has passed us by when nothing could be further from the truth.

Focus!

He’s right where he’s always been, deep in your heart using everything he can to invite you alongside him so that you can participate in his glory. He will continue to offer you the next step in the journey and will wait for you to follow. That’s why it is important for us to cultivate a heart that recognizes when he speaks and is intentional about following through as he shows you how. This is how we go on the adventure of living in him and escape the world’s attempts to press us into its mold.

Jesus told his followers that their continued growth in his love would come as they followed his ways. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10) He was not talking here about observing the law, but about doing what he saw his Father doing every day. There is no life, passion and joy in this kingdom without Jesus leading us and the choices we make to follow as best we can. He wants to 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.

What is he asking of you right now? It could be as simple as taking a treat to a neighbor and getting acquainted, or as life-changing as using a gift God has given you to help advance his kingdom in the world. He might be encouraging you to start a lunch-time study at work, or help some brothers and sisters near you to find more intentional ways of living out community. He could be asking you to give money to someone in need, open a door to reconcile a broken relationship, or come alongside another person in what he has called him or her to do. Or it could be a million other possibilities.

A Voice We’ve Been Taught To Ignore

The world makes fun of the notion that God still speaks to individuals. Some well-intentioned believers do as well. And you really can’t blame them. You probably know a number of people who have done ridiculous or destructive things all the while claiming God told them to do so. It’s enough to give listening to God a bad name. But just because people pass counterfeit money doesn’t stop us from using the real thing. At the heart of our life in Jesus is the freedom to hear him and follow him. Paul told the Romans that this life wasn’t about following rules anymore, but about following Jesus, “But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way.” (Romans 6:22 – The Message)

Learning to think with God through our day is not the upgraded, only-for-special-people, option of the life of Christ. This is the basic, stripped down version of the life Jesus purchased for us. He wants you to learn how to think through every event and encounter with his wisdom and heart, recognizing his prodding and following him. The New Testament reminds us over and over again that each of us can know him, so that no one needs to tell us what to do, or decide for us what is truth or error. (John 16:13, Hebrews 8:11; I John 2:20 & 27).

What is he doing in you? What is he asking of you today? Almost everything I’m involved in today as a part of God’s life in me resulted from simple actions I felt God asked of me years ago. Some of them were as small as making a phone call, volunteering at my daughter’s school, spending time developing relationships or walking away from a conflict with a brother when I would have preferred to fight. Each choice set off a chain reaction that opened doors that have astounded me. At no time did I foresee with any accuracy how those things would turn out but I am amazed at what can unfold from the simplest obedience.

A Growing Conviction

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I don’t sit down every morning and hear God tell me to go do this or that. It isn’t that contrived. Most times God speaks to me through a growing conviction in my heart over a period of time. Like everyone else I have fleeting thoughts and desires that sound like him initially, but soon prove to come from me and not him. How am I learning to tell the difference?

Give it some time. If it is not a spur of the moment opportunity like talking to someone on a plane, I let it settle for a few days. As I regularly spend time with Jesus, and season my mind with Bible reading and with the insights of other believers, I find God’s leading becomes increasingly clear over time. This growing relationship causes his voice to rise above the distraction and distress of the world’s ways.

I also measure whatever I’m hearing to the content and spirit of Scripture. Is this consistent with how God has revealed himself and how he works?

I never trust what answers my anxieties the easiest. Jesus warned us in Matthew 6 that a rising tide of anxiety would wash away our freedom to think kingdom thoughts. He reminded us that only by trusting God’s care for us would we be at rest enough to know his ways.

I don’t listen to guilt. Guilt drives us away from God’s wisdom. Too many think they will only be led by God when they finally stop some temptation or act more disciplined. But they have it backwards. We cannot conform our flesh to God’s ways but we can be led of him until our flesh is displaced by his presence and insight.

It also helps to let go of the tyranny of your own agenda. We all have things we want Jesus to do in our lives and the way we want him to do them. But our presumption that we know the best way to get there will keep us from simply doing things the way he asks of us. He is the one that taught us that you get to the top by serving and that first in line is found at the back. The more you grow to trust him to fulfill his purpose in you his way the easier it will be to recognize how he is doing it.

Don’t let your sense of incompetence keep you from following. Your natural mind won’t always be able to figure it out. You are not going to feel qualified to do what he asks of you, but he will go with you and empower you to do it. But you only experience that if you follow him far enough to see his hand at work through you.

And yes, you’ll make some mistakes along the way; no one who walks this way avoids them. I certainly made my share in my younger days and am far from perfect at it now. But learning to follow him comes as much from our mistakes as it does getting it right. Experience is a valuable tool in the hands of God’s Spirit.

And always be suspicious when you think what God is telling you is to make someone else to do something. God will lead you to follow him, not get you to make others do so. When God asks you to follow him, you will be the one to take the risk and pay the price for it, not someone else. While he may use us to confirm something he is already telling others, we will not need to manipulate them to be true to what he’s doing in us.

Now It’s Your Turn…

Few weeks go by that I don’t hear of some incredible thing God is doing in people just because of their intentional choice to follow what God has put on their heart. A woman wrote me last week telling me how God was bringing her out of spiritual bondage that resulted from prolonged abuse by her parents simply by following what he has been asking her to do. He’s given her simple steps to follow, but the freedom it is working into her life is amazing. I know people caring for people living with AIDs with the love of Jesus today because God asked one woman to go back and care for her gay ex-husband as he was dying of that horrible disease.

I know a man who sings in a mostly-gay civic chorus because God asked him to demonstrate God’s love to the other members. I know many people around the world who have found amazing expressions of New Testament community simply by listening to God together and following his voice. I know deep and life-changing relationships that started just because someone picked up a phone or made a visit in response to God’s leading. All of these things and the fruit that flows from them came from incredibly small choices to be part of something God put on their heart. It is amazing what will unfold in our lives when we are ready to obey the growing conviction in our hearts.

What has he put on yours? Find the time to simply ask him if you have lost sight of it. If nothing becomes clear in the next few days, don’t be discouraged. For now he may just want you more than he wants you to do something. Just keep leaning into him and as your relationship deepens, watch for anything he makes clear to you.

Then do it.

It may even seem small and insignificant, hardly worth your time or attention. But until you simply take the next step Jesus has put before you, you will never know what it means to follow him, nor the glory he wants to share with you. You just never know where one small step in obedience will lead.

Fairlie, New Zealand

That Lot in Fairlie

This summer Sara and I visited believers throughout New Zealand. Here is an incredible story excerpted from Wayne’s Blog of what happened when a group of people simply followed what Jesus had put on their heart to do. He won’t lead everyone the same way, but you have to love how these were able to follow his lead together.

Fairlie is a small farming village in the center of New Zealand’s South Island. For the last two years I had heard about some believers whom God led to give up the religious structure they had become part of to live as the body of Christ together in this region of the world. It was 1986 and some of its leaders felt like God was asking them to give up the structures that constrained their life together, which included not only the institution but also the building where they met. After weeks of praying together and considering this leading, the people unanimously agreed that this is what God was saying to them.

They agreed to lay it all down and let God lead them. The building they used was quite old and after donating all the furnishings that were worth anything to the denomination’s district they were leaving, they offered the building to the fire brigade to burn as a training exercise.

The neighbors objected, however, to torching the large structure so close to their homes, so in the end they dismantled it. They took some of the remaining furnishings, like the offering bags, out to the country and burnt them. Then one day some of the brothers descended on the building with chain saws. As they walked in that day to the main meeting room they asked where they should begin. They all looked at each other and in the same moment said,, “The pulpit!” With relish the sawed it in half, kept going across the stage and eventually dismantled the entire building and hauled it away to the trash heap.

Sara and I laughed and shook our heads in awe as we heard that story while meeting with about two dozen or more of these people. They had not done these things frivolously or in rage at ‘the system.’ They had simply felt those things, as they had used them, had become an offense to God and he wanted them to get rid of them. They never said anyone else should do the same, they simply went on and learned how to be the body of Christ without all the trappings of institutionalism. After they disposed of the building they found some amazing doors open in the community. One man from the village was talking to one of the former leaders shortly after these events, “I feel like I can really talk to you now.” They had no idea how much their baggage had turned off the very people God asked them to reach.

In the nearly twenty years since they have thrived in God’s life together as his people in this community. It has not been easy, nor has it been without challenge, but many of them talked of how their relationship with God really began to grow when they removed the crutch that the institution had become. Not having everything planned out for them anymore, they had to listen to God and do the things he put on their heart. Now they are people who live at peace with God, in fellowship with each other and available to unbelievers in ways they never had when they were so busy maintaining their structure. Even the children from those days have continued on with the simplicity of living in God and loving each other in the process. What joyful simplicity and what an incredible life they’ve gone on to share together!

They are also affectionately known in these parts as ‘that lot.’ The whole community knows about the congregation that dismantled its building and stopped meeting every week on a regular basis. They also know they have lived on as passionate believers. Without all the machinery to maintain, they have been more available to help care for the families and neighbors.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24-25) As long as we hold tightly to the things we think we must preserve, we’ll miss the incredible doors God would put before us every day as we simply live in him and follow his ways. True life is found in giving up, not in holding on, as we follow wherever God leads us.


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Breaking Free

butterfly_0Can someone try too hard to walk with God?

Absolutely!

I know that sounds odd, but relationship with the Living God cannot be earned by human effort, even extensive human effort. And sometimes those trying the hardest to make it happen, find themselves furthest from it. It breaks my heart to find people there. Religion never tires of telling us to try harder and giving us an increasing array of tasks to ‘help’ us find him.

Our self-effort still focuses on us, however, and we end up missing Jesus, who is right there to lead us into relationship with his Father. This is something he does at our invitation, not something we can do by our diligence.

Recently I met a man who was struggling with this very thing. If a relationship with God could be earned, this man would have earned it. He is a humble man, with an honest heart. He had spent decades in Bible study, prayer, teaching seminars, and local congregational leadership, trying to do whatever he knew to please God and was frustrated at how fruitless it had been. He felt as if God was a million miles away and had abandoned him in some of his greatest struggles. The first time I rode with him, he poured out decades of anguish and told me how empty he felt.

Over the next few days we talked about learning to live in Father’s affection, rather than trying to earn it. I encouraged him to relax in his walk with Jesus, to give up trying to control it and simply let Jesus take him for the ride of his life. It wasn’t easy for him. It isn’t easy for any of us. Religion has taught us that our relationship with God depends on our diligence, our commitment and our effort. It robs us of true relationship while piling on obligations that wear us out. I don’t know exactly what finally connected with him. I rarely do. But two weeks after I returned home I received a letter from him.

I have shared this letter on my blog, Brad and I discussed it on The God Journey and I’m reprinting it here because it is an incredible look at the beginning stages of someone breaking free of religion to find a real relationship with God. I hope it encourages some of you to give up on your own efforts without giving up on how this Father really feels about you and what he wants to do in you:


This journey that I am on is really something else. I thought you might be interested to hear what the Lord is doing. First I want to tell you that I can’t remember any conference I’ve attended having the same lasting affect on me that your weekend visit has so far. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. I suppose I hear at least a hundred times a day, “Relax!” I never realized just how much of my life has been based on performance, or how deeply ingrained has been the idea that somehow I must produce the things that Jesus wants to see in me. You can well imagine the sense of relief and freedom I am feeling. Your CDs are a big help, but more importantly I am hearing more clearly than ever before directly from Father Himself. How wonderful!

All the things I used to do that were spiritual (more religious, actually) are being overhauled into a new dynamic. Now, I find that my days are filled more with fellowship with Him and that the things I used to do to get close to Him are woven into our relationship as I walk through each day. And in that I am discovering how desperately I have always needed a Father, one that I never had. And He is revealing Himself as my Father! Man, oh man!!!

The other day I was struggling through some disappointments when I lost it and threw a mini-tantrum. After I calmed down, I went back to Father to apologize. Same old perspective – You are Holy God and who am I to challenge you like that, etc. What he said stunned me, “You never had a father to whom you could express yourself like that. And when you did it would have been better if you hadn’t.” Then he showed me a picture of how I was with my sons when they did the same thing, reminding me that I didn’t punish them but let them vent, encouraged them, and came along side of them to work through the issues with them.

Wayne, I have never made the connection until now – honestly. God showed me that that’s how he is! Matter of fact he said – “You are my son! I understand and here I am to work through it with you. We are partners in this.” Isn’t that amazing? He actually said that to me.

Then a little while later I was thinking about Scripture and pondering something I had read. Father said, “you know, the problem is that all along you’ve viewed the Scripture from the perspective of ‘must do’, ‘must perform’, ‘must make happen’. All along the Scripture has been intended to be viewed from the perspective of discovery of who I am and who you are and all that I have for you and intend to work in you but only in the context of relationship with me.” This is amazing-probably elementary to you but a real revelation to me.

So, this is how my journey is starting out, Wayne. I understand now what you meant about Father’s “tangible” love. I’m experiencing it. It’s not an emotion but something a lot deeper. There’s a connection that’s never been there before and the reason I know it’s true is because it is there day after day, all day, – not fleeting like emotions. I am beginning to have a sense of sonship with my Father. And He is answering literally, lifelong cry of my heart – to know Him and know His love. I can’t get my mind around the freedom and peace I am experiencing. I can’t get my mind around this sense of being a son and having a father. It’s amazing!


It truly is amazing! Look at how his entire perspective has shifted. Instead of trying to get God’s life for himself, he’s beginning to know the Father as a constant companion who is rewriting how he looks at God, himself, the Scriptures, and life itself. Jesus is doing this work in him, and even though he will go through some ups and downs in the days ahead, he can walk through them certain of Father’s affection and presence with him. That’s where this journey thrives.

So, if you find yourself in the same frustration and despair of religious practice that my friend was in at the start of this story, don’t let this letter be one more incredible story for someone else! I hope it inspires you to launch out on a similar journey yourself.

No, it won’t happen the same way. You are too unique and Jesus too creative to resort to formulas, but Jesus will carve out for you a relationship with his Father that is tangible and grows with each passing day. He wants you to cease from your own labors and learn to relax into a relationship that he desires more than you do. All you need to do is ask him.


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The Church That Jesus Builds: Living in the Relational Church – Part 10

wedding_0The Church That Jesus Builds: Living in the Relational Churh – Part 10

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • December 2004

“You want to know what I’ve learned this weekend?” the man said as he drove me to a Midwest airport early one morning. We’d just spent an incredible weekend together with a house church he’d helped foster and another group of believers who joined us when they heard I was in town. The latter were deeply conflicted about their current involvement with a congregation that sounded abusive. “I’ve been selling the wrong thing!” he continued.

“What’s that?” I asked oblivious to what we were talking about.

“I’ve been selling house church,” he said shaking his head with a sigh, “instead of Jesus.” Obviously he wasn’t talking about ‘selling’ anything, but I love his discovery. Almost everywhere I go people are preoccupied with finding the right way to do church. It seems our hunger for church outstrips our hunger for Jesus.

In one house church meeting a few years ago I heard a woman share a dream she had the night before about a bride endlessly primping in the mirror and admiring her own beauty. She fussed with her hair, make-up and dress making sure everything was perfect. Meanwhile she saw the groom standing at the altar checking his watch and wondering why his bride had not come. What a sad and lonely picture of too many believers in our day. We are so focused on ourselves and what the church should look like that we’ve forgotten our joy is in the bridegroom – Jesus himself!

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last decade visiting expressions of the body of Christ all over the world, it is that those preoccupied with doing church rarely get to experience body life to its full, while those who are preoccupied with Jesus find church life that is vibrant and awesome.

Search for the Church

In the last 40 years hundreds of books have been written about church renewal. I have watched countless people move from mainline to charismatic to mega-church to prayer-based to power-centered to cell church to seeker-sensitive to renewal to purpose-driven to house church to emerging church and the list just keeps getting longer. Some have even gone back to liturgical services, finding solace in its aesthetic beauty and safety. As one man confessed, “I just wanted to meet with Christians where I didn’t have to worry about someone flopping on the floor like a beached fish.”

These movements last only briefly spearheaded by a gifted speaker who draws a large following and then claims he has at last found the Biblical way to do church. After the euphoria of the alleged ‘new wineskin’ wears off in 3 to 5 years, people find themselves frustrated with the results and have to look again for another expression of church that fulfills the cry of their heart.

I understand the hunger. The Scriptures paint a compelling picture of God’s church – brothers and sisters growing in their relationship with Jesus and each other in a way that transformed them. They loved each other, grew together in God’s wisdom, shared their possessions together freely, and saw him reveal himself in extraordinary ways to them and their culture.

Was it perfect? Of course not and Scripture graciously made that clear as well. They struggled through failures and sin. They had to deal with those who tried to exercise control over others and brothers and sisters who preferred the comfort of false teaching to the challenge of the true. But throughout God kept making his way and truth known. They were filled with awe and God’s grace multiplied among them in demonstrable ways.

Who wouldn’t want that? But those expressions of church life have been rare and brief in our day. What passes for church today makes us spectators rather than participants, manipulates people’s shame rather than setting them free from it, prefers the rigidity of obligation to the power of love, is more contemptuous of the world than more relevant in it, and rewards cooperative pawns in someone else’s program rather than growing disciples of Jesus himself. No wonder so many people are disillusioned with it. Yet the search goes on, like birds drawn on an inexplicable migration, to a land they’ve never seen.

Beyond House Church

What compounds this search is that all that calls itself the church is not really the church. After 2000 years of Christian history, the term is used for institutions that provide a Christian experience through rituals, clergy and tradition. Some of the best of these actually provide an environment where people can come to know Jesus, grow in Biblical truths and connect in real fellowship so that in and around these institutions some people find expressions of church life.

However, there are increasing numbers of people who find that expression incredibly limited. Some have spilled out of abusive systems where the control of insecure leaders and the priorities of the institution overran any legitimate spiritual life. Still others grew unsettled with the time and money invested in building and institutional politics and found that those who get to the top of such groups often have little of Father’s character and even less of his passion.

I am continually amazed by the number of people I run into who have left those institutions who were once respected leaders in it – pastors, elders, teachers, deacons and board members. Some left rather than submit to ungodly demands made of them, but others did so because they grew convinced that the institution didn’t fulfill their hunger to live as the church. Loyalty was valued over honesty, arrogance over tenderness, entertainment over spiritual growth and the survival of the institution over loving people.

One denominational official confronted his own organization, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.” People are waking up to a new reality, and finding the way they have learned to “do church” in the past doesn’t serve their hunger to know Jesus more intimately and to share that life with others more effectively.

Many of these initially turned to house church, hoping its more Biblical dynamics would provide the Promised Land they hungered for. But they soon find it a mixed bag as well. Their excitement at the relational dynamics of a smaller group fades when they discover there are still people who wanted to control it from within or mold it into new networks from without. They find relationships awkward as people are more focused on a method than on following Jesus. They often face the same religious demands for conformity and commitment and they find the same our-group-is-better superiority that separates them from other Christians and from the world by breeding contempt for unbelievers, rather than compassion.

Now increasing numbers find themselves beyond house church still wondering where they can find authentic church life, or even if it exists at all.

An Undeniable Hunger

A sad reality is that many who break free of systems of religious obligation sometimes find themselves using freedom as an excuse to fulfill long-restrained appetites in the things of the world. They don’t always fall into great sin, but their spiritual hunger is swallowed up by their search for pleasure. I cringe when it happens, but I know for many it will only be a phase. Having worked so long and so hard for God with so little enduring fruit in relationship with him or with others, their frustration often spills out in careless personal indulgence.

For those who have been touched by Jesus, this season won’t satisfy and out of it a new passion for a real connection with Jesus emerges. Beyond their disappointments, beyond the failure of others, their hunger to find real life among God’s people surfaces again and again. I am amazed at the resiliency of this hunger to find life in Father’s family. Even those who have been abused or frustrated in their attempts to find it in the past, still find that undeniable hunger rising even beyond their resolve to go it alone. Once you’ve tasted genuine fellowship where dear friendships inspired your journey and opened up new vistas into God’s nature, you won’t be satisfied by anything less. Most have experienced some taste of that in the early days of a new fellowship, in an informal Bible study or with a close friend.

Certain there must be a consistent way for believers to share this incredible journey they read voraciously anything they can find on the church, search the Internet to see if anyone else has found it and keep going to any group in their area that sounds promising. While some find answers and connections others find themselves with passions ignited that leave them feeling increasingly isolated when they can find no one locally to share it with.

Perhaps we’re finally waking up to the fact that Jesus didn’t tell us to build his church. He said he would do that. He told us to abide in him, love others as he loves us, proclaim the gospel and help others learn to follow him. If we are focused on those things instead of trying to do his work, I’ve no doubt we’ll see the church springing up all around us.

The church that Jesus is building continues to grow the world over and you are no small part of that. Even if you feel alone in your journey, he is creating a passion in your heart for a purpose you may not yet see. I suspect in the next few years we will see Jesus bring his body together in ways we cannot even fathom now. I see two trends in our culture that excite me. First, an increasing number of believers are growing disillusioned with the rituals of organized religion. Second, an increasing number of nonbelievers are contemplating spiritual issues and hungering for authentic relationships. It will be interesting to see how these realities converge in the days ahead.

Recognizing His Church

Though I don’t expect to see a perfect expression of the body of Christ on the planet before Jesus returns, that doesn’t keep me from beholding her glory nonetheless. I have witnessed again and again all over the world the miracle of people sharing the life of Jesus together in growing compassion, wisdom, care and freedom. I’ve watched God connect people who had a profound impact on each other’s lives and had great joy in doing so.

I am reticent to define what Jesus’ church looks like, because I am convinced people know it when they touch it. Church is not a place to go or an organization of any kind. It is the network of relationships we share with other believers where Jesus is the only focus (Colossians 1:18) and we are free to grow in him (Ephesians 1:21; 4:18-20). You’ll recognize the life of Jesus’ church where people have the freedom to be honest without being attacked (John 4:24 – See sidebar Being Real), where they can disagree without being less loved (Romans 13), where they can be encouraged to their best without being manipulated by someone else’s agenda (I Corinthians 14), where guilt is lifted off each other instead of heaped on (Romans 8:1-4), where they lovingly care for each other’s practical and spiritual needs (Philippians 2:4), where they are set free from obligation to live in love (Galatians 5) and where God’s purpose in us comes into sharper focus (John 17, Ephesians 1). In short it is a family in the best sense of the word, brothers and sisters growing together under Father. People like this will find ways to gather regularly in various arrangements as God leads, but their relationships are the focus, not their meetings. Where you find people like that you’ve found the body of Christ. Of course these may happen around existing institutions, though no institution can ultimately contain it. They also happen outside institutions in the normal course of our lives as Jesus sets us in his body just as he desires (I Corinthians 1:18).

Where Can I Find That?

Relational community is not rocket science. The more we try to organize it the more we will siphon the life right out of it. When I was in junior high school I watched my parents move from being nominal church attendees to passionate believers. Caught up in the early days of the Charismatic renewal of the mid-1960s they began to discover just how real Jesus wanted to be in their lives and found many of their friends shared that hunger. Without any of the hassles of an institution they met house-to-house, shared meals and resources, and even invited in more mature believers to help them make sense of what God was doing in them.

The congregation they all attended on Sunday mornings soon grew threatened by their newfound fervor and soon forced them out. Excited, they moved their Friday night ‘prayer meetings’ to Sunday mornings to ‘start their own church.’ I remember even as a young man being amazed at how quickly their joy, enthusiasm and spontaneity faded away in the demands of getting organized, planning Sunday services, and staffing children’s ministries. Soon they were bickering over how things should be done and how money should be spent, rather than growing in Jesus.

I’ve seen that happen so many times since. Thinking we can make church life better by organizing it, we almost always unwittingly sacrifice it to the institutional needs that bear so little fruit. Church life is the natural fruit of people growing in Jesus and in friendships with people near them. It isn’t always easy to find people with that kind of passion, but Father has some interesting ways to connect them.

What You Can Do

You certainly cannot make church happen by your own effort but neither will it come banging on your door while you watch TV. There are some things you can think through that will help you see how God might be connecting you to other believers:

First, live the journey. You don’t find life in Jesus by finding the right group; you are connected with the family out of your relationship to the Head, Jesus. Isn’t it sad that people who have ‘attended church’ for 20, 30 or 40 years, have no idea how to listen to Jesus and do what he wants. We have so equipped them to live by principles that they have never learned to follow his voice. Learn to live in him. Discover how secure you are in his love and how much you can trust his work in you. Read the Scriptures so you will learn to think like he thinks and recognize his voice. If you know a few others who want to grow in this too, share that journey together.

Second, cultivate relationships. As you grow secure in Father’s love you will find yourself loving others in the same way, and not just Christians but people in the world, too. You’ll come to recognize that God works primarily through relationships. So join him in building relationships however God gives them to you. He might lead you to a group of folks already gathering or to some individual relationships among your neighbors or co-workers. He might call you to get involved with others in what are commonly called ‘parachurch’ ministries, such as a rescue mission, prison or youth outreach, or prayer gathering, or he might lead you to open your home for a Bible study or fellowship group. God knows how to connect you with folks he wants you to know. Be prepared to give some time to those relationships by doing things together – sharing a meal, helping on a household project, or going out together. Too few people actually initiate these kinds of encounters and yet they are critical to growing friendships.

Third, share the journey. Who has God put around you that you can open up your life to? It may be one person or a handful. They may live across town or work across the hall. Find a way to share God’s life together. Admittedly this will be awkward at first because we’re not used to these kinds of conversations, but this is a joy worth learning. Share insights from Scripture or things you’re learning, pray together about situations you’re encountering and what God is doing in you and learn to listen to him together as you encourage his work in others. As your friendships grow you’ll find yourself increasingly free to be more open, honest and confessional about your struggles and be able to garner the wisdom and strength God has given to others.

Fourth, learn to lay down your life. Community doesn’t happen where everyone grabs for what they want, but where they follow Jesus’ example of laying down their lives for others. As long as we only look out for ourselves we will pass like ships in the night, and even if we meet every week we’ll end up feeling alone. Laying down your life for others will open the doors to real community.

Fifth, explore relational community. As your relationships grow you might find some people or families who feel called to walk together for a season. There is no better expression of body life than brothers and sisters who want to share God’s life with some regularity and intentionality. Don’t try to ‘start a church’, just grow in what it means to care for each other through the real circumstances of life. Include entire families. Get together regularly, but also cultivate those relationships beyond the meetings. Share your resources, gifts and time as Jesus leads you. Look for ways God might give you away to others in the community, individually or collectively to reveal him in our world or bless other believers with help in growing spiritually and support each other in that process. Be careful not to limit your relationships just to those in the group and don’t try to make your community permanent. Enjoy what God gives you in each season and be open to moving on to other relationships when Jesus so leads.

And If You Want Help…

Learning to live as the church Jesus is building will challenge long-held paradigms. Most of us have been taught to be passive learners. If we need something, someone else will tell us what it is. Growth in this kingdom doesn’t happen that way. Those who find life are not afraid to knock, to ask, or to seek.

If you’re struggling to know how to live deeply in Christ, connect with other Christians, or have a group that can’t sort out how to share this journey together, it is often helpful to sort things out with a brother or sister that might be a bit further down the road in some areas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. At every stage of my journey, God has always put someone nearby to help confirm things I’m seeing and to help me think outside the limitations of my own previous experience. But I sought out those relationships. They didn’t come to me.

There are also gifts God has distributed through the body (Ephesians 4:11-13) to help equip people to live this journey. You won’t recognize them by their titles since the real ones won’t use them, or by their popularity since most fly under the radar, or even by their writings since most don’t write. God will link you to those he desires through relationship. You’ll recognize in their demeanor Father’s nature. You’ll hear in their words his voice. And time with them will draw you to Father and free you to trust him more. They will leave you focused on him not on trying to implement some method or set of principles. They help people unload their guilt and shame and never exploit it even in an attempt to get them to do the right thing. They have patience with those who struggle and are not defensive when people challenge them with honest questions. They don’t see themselves as experts above you, but as brothers or sisters alongside and will never pressure you or try to make you dependent on them. Their joy comes in your greater reliance on Father’s work in you.

It may require you to think outside the box, but learning to live in the church Jesus is building is worth every moment of the journey. He does want you to know the joy of walking alongside other brothers and sisters and finding them a powerful addition to the life you’re finding in him. Try not to lose your heart for that, even if it only looks like a distant mirage. I assure it is real enough and part of God’s plan to bring all things together under one head!

SIDEBAR:

Being Real

The following paragraph was adapted from “Will the Real You Please Stand Up!” a Lifestream Audio Collection, by a sister from Texas:

It’s OK to question what I need to question, ask what I need to ask and struggle where I struggle. I’ve learned that I am not rewarded for pretending to be better than I am, but that experiencing the life of God means that I am loved through the ups and downs, hurts and joys, and doubts as well as triumphs. Instead of exploiting people’s shame or need for approval to try and make them better Christians, I encourage people to go to God for healing and restoration from shame so they can experience for themselves the love of God.

Instead of loading others up with a list of `shoulds’, I tell people that God is working by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and his greatest desire is to communicate with them. I talk about learning “how to” listen to God and follow what he puts on their heart even if that means they make a mistake doing so. Instead of trying to change people I urge them to get to know Christ as life because it’s so much fun (and far more effective) watching him change them. Instead of manipulating others to do what I think would benefit me and my definition of God’s will for them.

I’ll share as much of your journey as I can to help lighten your load. If you’re in pain or in despair, I’ll be there for you as Father sorts things out. I don’t know that I’ll always have what you need, but I will at least be there with you so you won’t have to go it alone.


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A Couple Struggles with Pornography

couple_silhouette_0This is the exchange I had with a young wife and mother struggling with her husband’s addiction. I think it is important for all sides to see how this is not some victimless pursuit and how couples can work together to sort through the bondage and find freedom.

This is the email I received:

Have you any resources that you would suggest or articles or could you address this subject some how on your site or something? Pornography addiction. I am struggling with hurt and I do not know who to go to. My father has struggled with this, I think my brother has, and my husband is struggling. I don’t understand it and it hurts. I think God has really used it to teach me about forgiveness and this is good, but it is hard and I don’t know who to talk to. In the past in our institutional church this sin was yelled about from the pulpit and people were condemned and yet no one talked about it. There was never any help offered or anything. It seems to be a much bigger problem than I ever realized and all these men are believers.

Here’s how I responded at the time:

No I don’t have anything on my website about this, but perhaps I should. Probably 60–70% of guys I know (and that includes men who are serioulsy trying to follow Jesus and walk in his righteousness) have struggled with this at some point in their lives and all the more because of its easy availability on the Internet. It was one thing when a guy had to go into a store to buy it and risk being seen, plus hiding it at home, but quite another when it shows up unsolicited in your email box every morning. This is a really, really tough temptation and requires tons of prayer, usually a helping relationship from someone who understands the struggle, and an aggressive, growing relationship with God to displace the temptation itself.

I know this probably won’t sound like it helps at all, but a husband’s use of pornography isn’t personal. A man can be madly in love with his wife, care about her deeply, be turned on by her and yet find pornography an easy addiction to succumb to. This is where society has really conspired against people getting whole here. The pressure on women to compete with fantasy images is unbearable. And, because women are wired so much more differently they see pornography as a personal betrayal when the man is not thinking that way at all. They think men turn to pornography because the wife is inadequate either visually, physically or sexually. Let me assure you that that is rarely the case.

For a man it is the catalyst for a cheap, momentary sexual thrill, and not much more. Men are easily excited sexually by visual images and pornographic writings. Whatever turns on their fantasies (and it differs greatly even among men) is an almost irresistible draw, sometimes multiple times throughout the day. I think it is like overeating or shopping or whatever else tempts you regularly. You can say no to the desire often throughout the day, but it is impossible to do throughout the entire day without major intervention by Jesus.

And you’re right, there is little written that helps a man find a grace-based freedom from this bondage. Pressure, condemnation and guilt actually only increases the bondage. Strange, isn’t it? The dirtier they feel, the less they feel capable of struggling with it and the less inclined they feel to draw near to Jesus. It is easy to think their failure is proof that they don’t love him or aren’t committed enough. But without the closeness of relationship, the bondage will only grow deeper. Even the anger or hurt of their wife, won’t alone be enough to turn the tide. And if a man is feeling like a failure at work, or as a husband, or is depressed about what God isn’t doing in their life the temptation becomes all the greater. Pornography provides a cheap, easy sexual thrill during the day and it usually doesn’t mean much more than that to him. Except, however, for the believer who finds the guilt of failure, deep and unrelenting.

What can you do?

You will need help from the Lord not to take your husband’s bondage to visual stimulation as a rejection of you personally, or that he wants someone more attractive. That is rarely, if ever the case. You can live in freedom about yourself and your relationship even if he never finds the victory he craves.

If he wants you to share this journey for healing with him and he with you (and I don’t often recommend that wives do this because it is usually incredibly painful for them), then this is something you’ll want to pray about regularly together, not by focusing on the sin, but by focusing on Jesus together. Finding healing that endures from this temptation only comes when God’s presence becomes so real that the dark desires it serves are displaced by his presence.

What would be valuable is communicating together about your own sexual relationship. Talk about frequency, fantasies that you can play out in the bedroom together without debasing yourselves or the gift of sex as God gave it. Having a healthy, fun, sexual relationship together can help expose pornography as the cheap illusion it is. In time he needs to see that he is robbing you of the sexual energy he would bring to the bedroom by playing it out alone.

Pray for him, and find ways to encourage him as a man of God, even with the struggle he’s in. The more he’ll see himself as God’s child, the less he will need to give in to the temptation.

What can he do?

I thought I would just add this, even though there is no way you can, or even should, try to get him to do these things. When he is ready to let the Lord have this, he will want to find a process that brings him into freedom.

He needs to pursue relationship with Jesus in the midst of his bondage, and do not see this bondage as a barrier to relationship. Relationship will free him from the bondage, it is not the reward for him finding his own freedom. Jesus knows how strong our sexual urges are and he has grace enough to hold us in our failures while he rewires in us what finds release in cheap sexual thrills.

He needs to lean into Jesus and aggressively hold his bondage to pornography before the Lord. Each day, perhaps multiple times per day, he can say to God, “Father would you displace in me what draws me to this sin. Would you become so real in my life that I will no longer succumb to its temptation.

He should never give up saying ‘no’ as much and for as long as he is able. Sexual temptation seems to have a spiraling effect. Like illegal drugs, the more you give in to it, the more you want it. Reversing that trend by relying on Jesus is very important.

Finding another brother with whom he can honestly share this struggle is also important. The point here is not accountability but support and encouragement to help him think the way God thinks about pornography and find the true, deep and abiding freedom. It may take some time, so don’t grow impatient with the process.

I don’t know if any of this helps. As I finished this I want you to know that this is the first time I’ve ever tried to write on this, though I have had hundreds of conversations with men about it. My thoughts may not be as clear as I would want them to be, but I may keep working on this over time and eventually post it on the website somewhere. So, if something doesn’t make sense, please ask me, because I may be nuts. This is something worth discussing, however, because it is a trap that affects many lives and marriages.

I’ll pray for you as you continue to let God sort this out in those you love…

Wayne

The Struggle for Sexual Freedom

These two letters come from brothers I know personally and i thought their stories might be an encouragement and help to others. I know that God does not have a process for this kind of freedom that fits everyone, so please don’t assume you can just do what the’re doing. But hopefully they will encourage you to look to Father as your source of life and freedom in this struggle:

An Ongoing Struggle:

Wow! Way to go Wayne!

Nice opening shot on the whole sexuality thing. As you know, this has been a struggle for me over the years. Institutional churches usually do such a miserable job, and there are so few resources out there. I don’t know how others handle it. As for me, it has now been 7 years of concerted effort–counseling, prayer support buddies, small-group work/12-step stuff, etc. Things are much better, but the temptation–and “failures” remain.

The biggest obstacle is succumbing to the dirty feeling and allowing it to drive you from God and other people. Your book, He Loves Me, has been an immensely valuable resource to me and other men I know who struggle with this issue. Men struggling with this must know the truth that God’s love for them is bigger than their own feelings of failure. Men must choose to believe and accept this love. It is then that they will be able to demonstrate the paradox of “strength in weakness” that Jesus talks about.

Finding Freedom in a Long-Term Struggle

I just read your reply to the young wife and mother whose husband is struggling with pornography. I wanted to share what God’s been showing me and walking me through with this issue. As you know, I’ve been addicted to pornography and habitual masturbation since I was in junior high. I’ve never really understood why it’s been such a strong part of my life until recently.

Wild at Heart - John EldridgeI’ve been working through a book with two of the men in our group. We’ve been going through Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. My brother got it for me for my birthday and I looked at the first chapter and put it down because it seemed like another “Christian self-help” book extolling the wonders of the religious system. My wife looked through it and said there was some really good stuff in it. My brother kept asking if I’d read it yet and since it was important to him and my wife said it might be good, I started it.

I started reading it on a flight back home from a business trip and while reading into the third chapter it seemed like God just started speaking to the empty areas of my life. I started crying on the plane and then wrote my wife a five-page letter just sharing my heart with her. I’ve since been meeting with two older brothers that are more like father figures for me, and we’ve all been walking out what it means to be masculine in the heart of God. It seems like almost every week more and more of Gods call for my life is being revealed and understood. The way I view women and especially my wife has changed dramatically as well as the way I parent my children.

There are a few places where the author talks about pornography and why it’s so powerful of an addiction for men and I must admit that, at least in my life, he’s nailed it.

“What makes pornography so addictive is that more than anything else in a lost man’s life, it makes him feel like a man without ever requiring a thing of him. The less a guy feels like a real man in the presence of a real woman, the more vulnerable he is to porn”.

In another chapter….”Why is pornography the most addictive thing in the universe for men? Certainly there’s the fact that a man is visually wired, that pictures and images arouse men much more than they do women. But the deeper reason is because that seductive beauty reaches down inside and touches your desperate hunger for validation as a man you didn’t even know you had, touches it like nothing else most men have ever experienced.”

And finally….”Pornography is what happens when a man insists on being energized by a woman, he uses her to get a feeling that he is a man. It is a false strength, as I’ve said, because it depends on an outside source rather than emanating from deep within his center. And it is a paragon of selfishness. He offers nothing and takes everything.” The question of “Am I a man? Do I have what it takes? “If he can feel like the hero sexually, well, then mister, he’s the hero. Pornography is so seductive because what is a wounded, famished man to think when there are literally hundreds of beauties willing to give themselves to him. (Oh course, it’s not just to him, but when he’s alone with the photos, it feels likes it’s just for him.)”

All of these passages opened my heart and eyes to what has been going on for so long in my life. In your response to the young wife you said “For a man it is the catalyst for a cheap, momentary sexual thrill, and not much more.” But in my life it’s not been just a cheap thrill but so much more. It’s been one of the things that I’ve turned to feel like I’m somebody, that I’m loved by someone. I’ve known all along that it was sinful and NOT the answer, but when you don’t know how much God loves you and trust him to bring you life, you go to what you know works.

My earthly father is a passive, weak man, who’s never ushered me into genuine masculinity. I’ve never known what and who God’s called me to be so I’ve been looking. Looking into everything from being a great drummer on a worship team, to a great employee at work, and when I got married, the best husband and father. But of course, when all of those ambitions failed, there was always my fantasy women who would “comfort” me. Who would make me feel alive again!

It seemed like the compulsion to masturbate was strongest after having a big fight with my wife. I’d run off, either out of the house or simply to the bathroom and I’d either feel like a failure or be so angry at her for not loving me that I’d fantasizing about women who did love me and wanted me for the person I was or who I wanted to be. Pornography is so powerful because it offers a generation of men whose masculinity is under assault by the world, the enemy, and even the church, a way of “feeling” like a man.

It’s also so damaging. I’ve objectified women and especially my wife most of my life. I haven’t been there to offer my wife my strength as a man and husband but instead looked to her to fulfill it in me. I’m so blessed that she’s still with me. What an incredible woman to put up with a sex addict and an alcoholic for over 13 years. I’m happy to say that we’re actually moving toward each other in relationship and it’s a joy.

I’ve been experiencing freedom from the addiction more than I ever had and it’s been through understanding that I am valuable to Father, that he has an adventure for me live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to rescue. That I’m a warrior in his kingdom. That his love for me that is powerful. It’s also helped to have a couple of brothers I can talk to. One of the brothers had an affair as a pastor and being able to share my struggles with someone who’s been there and can empathize and help walk through finding Father has been invaluable.

Sexual Struggles on the Relational Journey

couple_silhouette_0Sexual Struggles on the Relational Journey

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 2005

Shocked!?!?! I hope not, some of you probably are and there’s no doubt not everyone will see these sensitive things the same way I do. I know how hard it was for me to write this and to decide to make it the subject of a BodyLife issue.

Dealing with sexuality in the context of our spiritual journeys can be a bit jarring and that is no accident. Religion doesn’t teach us how to deal with sex. Rather it prefers to keep our sexuality and our spirituality in two separate worlds. It tosses sexuality into a dark closet, slams the door and posts the rules for everyone to keep. Some can, others can only pretend to.

A few months ago, I received this desperate plea from a young mother:

“Have you any resources that you would suggest or could you address pornography addiction somehow on your site? I am struggling with hurt and I do not know who to go to. My father has struggled with this, I think my brother has, and my husband is struggling. I don’t understand it and it hurts…” (You can read my answer to her here.)

And I didn’t have anything to point to on this site. I found that incredible and sad. Sexual pleasure and sexual brokenness are common themes in our age, and they come up repeatedly every day. Why is it, then, that we rarely talk about sexuality in the context of our spiritual journeys? Scripture does not share our reticence. Sexual themes permeate its stories and teachings, highlighting not only the glory of sexuality in God’s creation, but also its power to destroy those who misuse it.

So maybe it’s time we think through sexuality and our spiritual journeys. I’ll admit that I haven’t got the final answers on any of this, but I do want to begin a discussion that will allow Jesus to bring greater freedom into this area. My observations are derived from helping a variety of people through these issues over the last 30 years.

And feel free to read between the lines here. What we learn about sexual struggles will also be true of other sins, how it is that God takes us from captivity into freedom, and how religious thinking unwittingly makes that journey more difficult.

An Incredible Gift

Some have said that God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is the only one humanity has obeyed.

Look at the incentive it took to get us to do that!

The excitement and pleasure of a husband and wife sharing themselves physically in an environment of growing love and trust is an incredible gift. It begins in the yearnings of youth and grows when held in trust for a future spouse. It grows greater through the early years of marriage as a couple shapes a sexual life together with a passion to please each other and to celebrate their love with the deepest connection and greatest joy two people can experience.

So it would be no surprise that sin would twist that gift into a weapon for our own destruction. The quest for immediate sexual gratification will always be at odds with our ultimate freedom to celebrate this gift in its most valued fashion. In a Carl’s Jr. commercial last year Playboy’s Hugh Hefner extolled the virtue of having a different kind of hamburger every night instead of the same old thing. The double-entendre was clear – sex is best with a line of ever-changing partners. How wrong he is! Mr. Hefner will never know the heights of ecstasy that can only come from growing in an exclusive, healthy and vibrant sexual relationship with the same woman over the course of a lifetime.

Sadly, many have bought into his philosophy that we can disconnect the act of sex from relationship and use it for our own amusement without any lasting damage. I am amazed how easily even teens today talk about hooking up for one-night sexual adventures, or designate ‘friends with privileges’ for those they’ll satisfy sexually with no enduring commitment. Only when our society has to pick up the pieces of sexual abuse, a marriage destroyed by an affair, young lives shattered from being sexually used and discarded, or the trauma of sexually-transmitted diseases or an unwanted pregnancy, does it really pause to reflect that maybe God knew what he was talking about.

And here our culture gives mixed messages. Almost every celebration of love, even in secular culture, expresses its yearning to be exclusive and eternal. I will love you only, and love you always. I have never performed a wedding ceremony for a couple who had held themselves abstinent until marriage, who regretted doing so. And they reap the benefits of that in the early days of marriage, discovering the joys and techniques of growing sexually together. The fact that they valued this gift and their future partner enough to save themselves is a powerful foundation upon which to build the trust in which relationship thrives.

What If I’ve Already Missed It?

Of course not everyone knew enough in their youth to make this choice, nor had strength enough to resist the temptations they faced. Others may have gone through divorce or the death of a spouse. What do we say to them?

We tend to view God’s ideal as a pass/fail test. If it is, then once you’ve missed that mark, you might as well just give up. But the New Testament makes it clear that God’s ideal is a promise of freedom that he will work in you. If you let God shape you with his desires you can still experience with ever-increasing glory God’s best for you. His forgiveness will cover your failure and his restoration opens up a new future to embrace your sexuality as God designed it.

I know it isn’t easy. My heart goes out to those who have lost their way in temptation or in the struggle with sexual thoughts and appetites. Nothing keeps men I’ve talked to from living confidently in God like the shame of their sexual failures. That struggle is made even more difficult by the sexually obsessed culture we live in. And I’m not just talking about pornography or MTV videos. So many things in our culture tear at our sexuality as Madison Avenue appeals to our sexual urges to sell everything from milk to cars. Provocative clothing has become the norm for women, and for men who are easily stimulated visually (that’s most of us!) our culture provides a constant haze of sexual stimulation. And sometimes even the most innocent glance or conversation will provoke temptation.

Sexual brokenness is rampant in our culture and manifests itself in a number of ways from outright sexual affairs, to emotional attractions for someone other than a spouse, to indulging in pornography or simply being tormented by fantasies that one cannot turn off. The accessibility of pornography and stimulating entertainments has grown exponentially in the media and on the Internet. No one has to get in their car and drive to the seedy part of town and risk being seen sneaking into an ‘adult’ store. A pit of sexual indulgence is only a mouse click away.

So we’re caught in quite a dilemma. God has given us a precious gift of sexuality and with it a drive that is often stronger than our will to resist its abuse. Our culture and the twisted nature of sin conspire to beckons us to squander God’s gift for instant gratification.

Just Say No?

Religion is notorious for underscoring the rules, demanding complicity and punishing those who fall short. It’s only counsel for sexual bondage is to just say no. If you love Jesus enough you will not yield to temptation. What kind of hope is that?

I heard a health educator to a secular audience say it as clearly as it can be said: “‘Just say no!’ hasn’t worked since the two most innocent people got it from the highest possible authority.” Adam and Eve in their innocence found themselves face to face with a ‘no’ they could not resist. If ‘just say no’ is the answer, then discipline is all we need to live free. Certainly some of us can muster enough discipline to live purely, at least outwardly. But Paul tells us that we are helpless in sin (Romans 5) and even those who may be able to deny themselves externally can still be tormented on the inside.

Jesus warned us in his Sermon on the Mount that just because you don’t commit adultery doesn’t mean you’ve fulfilled the law. If you even look at another person with lust then you’ve committed adultery in your heart. I used to hate that. I didn’t want to be guilty of something I worked so hard to deny. Of course, Jesus wasn’t telling us that if you’re thinking it you might just as well go ahead and do it. And he wasn’t trying to multiply our guilt either. What he wanted us to see is that our bondage run deeper than mere actions, and so does God’s healing.

Those who think just having the discipline to say no is Father’s fix, will find themselves either becoming proficient at hiding or excusing their failures, or give up altogether – thinking they’ll never be disciplined enough to make it in this kingdom. Amazingly those who scream ‘Just say no!’ the loudest are often caught later hiding their own failures. One pastor angered people by forcing young couples he married to confess their promiscuity to families and friends at their wedding. It came out years later that during that time that pastor was involved in an affair of his own.

As we shall see if you think piling on shame for sexual failure will deter future failures you are sadly misguided. The manipulation of shame in the face of sexual failure doesn’t advance healing; it only deepens the bondage by keeping it in the dark where it grows best. Those who struggle with sexual brokenness will find themselves acting out most when they feel condemned and distant from God.

So How Do We Fix It?

I hope I can be clear here. You can’t! You can’t! You can’t! This is not something you can do, but something Jesus can accomplish in you. The temptation to sexual indulgence is the most powerful and conflicting you’ll ever meet, and only a growing, vibrant relationship with the living God will displace its influence and free you to live God’s freedom.

I’m convinced that a lot of sexual bondage is perpetuated out of boredom and the self-focused life our society worships. A major way God displaces sin in our life is by giving us a higher purpose that captures our hearts and guides us through a day. Knowing him and engaging his agenda each day in our lives will save us from being captured in the bondage of our own comfort or amusement. So our focus needs to be less on trying not to do something as it is on engaging a reality so much larger than ourselves.

That’s not to say there aren’t specific ways we can look for God to touch our sexual brokenness. And I hope you’re not looking for a prescribed set of steps that you can follow to sexual healing. Jesus sorts these things out in a personal relationship with him and as I’ve walked with folks through these things I notice he so personalizes the healing process to the reality of each individual, that any prescribed plan would only work for a few and leave others feeling left out. So instead let me offer some thoughts that might help us recognize his work in this area.

Demystify your sexual struggles. Religion has made it a hornet’s nest of misinformation and deep-seated bias. Let me say at the outset that I embrace what Scripture says about healthy sexuality and what it identifies as sexual sin. Paul warned us that sexual failure destroys something deep inside us (1 Cor. 6) and yet it is obvious from his letters that all of the early congregations struggled with sexual temptation.

Remember you are not alone. Other brothers and sisters share your struggle. A well-known seminary did a survey a few years ago on the hidden addictions of Christian leaders and found that 55% of pastors confessed to regular use of Internet pornography. And that’s just those who were honest enough with themselves to admit it.

Sexual brokenness is not the last, great sin in the human experience. We all know what sexual temptation is like, even if the object of those temptations may be different. We’ve got to let him sort out the condemnation and humiliation religion has imbedded in sexual temptation because it only makes it stronger. And shame keeps us from the one thing that can free us from sexual bondage – a growing relationship of trust and intimacy with Jesus.

And there’s the conflict, isn’t it? I can’t be free until I have a relationship, but I’m too shamed in my failures to have the relationship. But the cross of Jesus solved that paradox. It reconciled our shame in the mercy of God, so that we would find him the safest place to be at our most broken. As we lean into him more each day, he will unwire our brokenness and channel our passions in ways that please him and fulfills his desire in us.

Walking Out of the Darkness

It might be helpful to view the struggle for freedom at three levels.

  • The first is dealing with the sexual temptations and fantasies that are a part of a normal sex drive. You don’t act on them, but they do filter into your thinking and challenge your resistance not to indulge them in ways that can result in greater bondage. The second level of bondage is marked by more protracted sexual thoughts that harass you almost constantly and which are acted out privately, either through role-playing, indulging fantasies, or viewing pornography. This includes aberrant sexual appetites, homosexuality and gender confusion.
  • The third level is overt sexual sin, engaged in with another person, either in cultivating an illicit emotional relationship or outright sexual activity.
  • Obviously the later two are of greatest concern and freedom at those levels will require an intentional choice on your part to sort out with Jesus why these fantasies have set such a deep hook in you and how it is that he will liberate you from them. Wherever you are you can start by surrendering yourself and your sexuality to Jesus. You’ve got to take this area seriously, with a desire to let him change your behavior and get whatever help you need for that to be a reality.

Let me add a caveat here about masturbation because I know that this one struggle keeps more men from walking closely to Jesus more than anything else I know. I wouldn’t suggest that self-gratification is a healthy way to deal with our sexual urges, but I find it odd that Scripture does not address something that is so prevalent in humanity. Nowhere does Scripture even mention it, must less forbid it, and that includes the story of Onan in Genesis 38.

The larger concern seems to be not the act itself, but the fantasies that go along with the act. Some think that is enough to forbid it, but I think that overreaches. This is something each one needs to sort out with God, especially knowing what he defines as sin and lust that captures our heart. And if you have to hide something from your spouse, that’s a pretty good sign it is not honorable even in your own eyes. In the meantime, don’t let this behavior push you away from Jesus, but let it draw you to him all the more.

Ask him to show you why you treat sex the way you do and why certain images incite your passions and why, beyond the rush of pleasure, do you succumb to its devices. You have to see it as more than just a moment of brief euphoria brought on by a weak will, and let him show you why it has become your drug of choice. Perhaps some formative event started you down this path, either abuse or great loss. God knows and he loves you enough to walk this through with you into absolute freedom.

As he does he will show you how sexual brokenness dehumanizes you and your spouse (even if he or she is still in the future). Real sexuality is about relationship first and pleasure second. Marriages that are affair-proof celebrate their sexuality as a relationship between best friends, not an act of pleasure or duty between two bodies.

Some Final Thoughts

Those of you who are young, it will serve you best to sort out these things early in your life. Don’t believe the world’s lie that sex can be casual and that it can be separated from a life-long relationship, or buy religion’s lie that you’re powerful enough to overcome temptation on your own.

By all means, resist sexual temptation wherever you can, for as long as you can. When you falter, don’t waste time bashing yourself or wallowing in shame. Don’t make promises you can’t keep because they will just increase your guilt and push you further from him. Instead, run to his presence, presenting yourself to him in failure and asking him what it is about you that is broken. He will show you.

Ask him to give you someone who will walk in this struggle with you. Brothers find a brother, and sisters another sister, not for accountability per se, but for compassion, prayer and support. Be careful here. Make sure this is someone you can trust to support you in the struggle, not load you up with guilt or expose your failures to others.

Beware of sexual or romantic fantasies that rob you of the true joy of sexuality. While couples can explore a variety of ways to make their lovemaking fun and playful, fantasies by definition are not reality. When you give yourself to being turned on by that which does not exist, you will miss the treasure of what does. Unrealistic fantasies do not help us enjoy sex more. They slowly dismantle real sexuality by dehumanizing your spouse and the act itself. Isn’t it amazing that with the rise of sexual imagery and exploitation in our culture, sexual dysfunction is growing at an astounding rate? I know there can be genuine physical reasons that Viagra and other enhancing drugs can be a real godsend in a marriage, but I also wonder how much of these chemicals are needed because indulging in unreal fantasies has robbed us of the truest joys right before us.

Those of you who have spouses whom you know are struggling with pornography, find a way to share that struggle together if you can do it with grace. As hard as this may be, don’t just react to it as if his indulgence in pornography is a rejection of you. These traps often get set at young ages, and are not easily broken. A man can be madly in love with his wife, care about her deeply, be turned on by her and still find pornography a cheap, temporal thrill.

This is where society has really conspired against people getting whole. The pressure on women to compete with fantasy images is unbearable. And, because women are wired differently they will see pornography as a personal betrayal. Let me assure you that that is rarely the case and your spouse was probably involved with it long before he met you. (For more comments on this, you can read the email I wrote to the young mother who first asked the question, on our website.)

I know there is much left unanswered here. How do couples build a mutually fulfilling sex life without using sex or its frequency as a weapon? Is there a difference between appreciating God’s creation in a beautiful woman without being lustful? How can women grow up healthy in a culture that judges them by external beauty and that with impossible standards? Why are some tempted by aberrant sexual desires while others are not? I can’t cover all that here but I do know that religious answers to these questions are not enough to lead people into God’s healing.

But he is enough. God wants us to experience our sexuality as the gift he gave us – joyfully linked to a life-long relationship of growing trust and joy, rather than squandering it for momentary cheap thrills that leave us empty and alone. Yes, it can be a huge battle that may take some time, but let me encourage you to take this freedom seriously and let him lead you to the gift of righteousness that a growing trust in him provides.

I said, that I hoped this article would begin a bit of dialogue, and some interesting ‘extras’ have come in. You can find that at the links below:


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