Travelogue

Life at the Speed of Relationships

No, that isn’t the new Lifestream plane, nor am I asking you to buy it for me. I got back last week from a delightful trip to the south. Spent the first weekend with a delightful family south of Atlanta. The whole family (seven kids and spouses) read He Loves Me and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore one summer and all got together to discuss them and their implications on their own spiritual journeys. It was fascinating because they are all in different stages of working out what their engagement with the body of Christ looks like. We were also joined by a number of couples who had been in missions for a significant portion of their lives—in Israel, Thailand, and Honduras.

In addition, some of us played a round of golf. Then, the husband of the home I was staying in flew me up to Clemson in his small twin-engine plane for a week of writing out on Lake Jocassee. He even let me fly it for a big chunk of the way. It has been forty years since I’ve flown as pilot-in-command of an aircraft, though I’ve bummed a ride now and then since. My pilot on this trip is a senior Delta pilot as well as a general aviation enthusiast. As we made our final approach to the airport, he told me I was a natural and handled the plane so beautifully. I dreamed of flying even as a little child, got my pilot’s license when I was seventeen, but I just couldn’t afford to continue doing it avocationally. Though I don’t know what decisions I could have made, not finding a way to fly more is one of the regrets of my life. I love being above the earth in a small plane and bringing it down for a landing.

Then, we got to work on the third part of the Civil War-era novel a friend of mine has been writing for twenty years. I’ve been on it with him for about six. I talk to the author about it on this week’s podcast, as well as contemplating our own mortality. I’m hopeful you’ll get to read that book in the next year or so. But last week we had to cut the third section down significantly. It came in at 120,000 words, and we got it down to 47,000 without sacrificing the story. And in between we got in a bit of water skiing and jet ski tour of a waterfall on the lake. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

Then, I ended up in Damascus, VA – population 814. Seven trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains converge on this town, so it is a hiker’s paradise. What beautiful surroundings, and I got to spend some time with a wonderful couple who are friends with close friends of mine. We were also joined by people from other places in Virginia and North Carolina. We sat out on a large deck and talked the days and nights away. I love the mix of big conversations and then more personal ones with individuals who want some further insight.

One sentence came up in one discussion that I have reveled in since. “Life moves at the speed of relationships.” It immediately resonated with me, so I asked the person saying it, where he had gotten it. He said he thought it had been from a Philippine pastor. When I was talking to my hosts about it as they drove me to Charlotte I found out that my host, John Coleman, had come up with it. Since then, I’ve web-searched it to discover that others have said it as well.  Think about it for a moment. Most people I know don’t live by relationships. They live by achievement or survival, often ignoring or sabotaging relationships they do have. But real life moves at the speed of relationships.

What matters most are the friends you have, not the accolades on your wall. Relationships move slowly. You have to take the time to understand someone else’s story and they, your story. That has to spark a care and concern for each other that goes beyond just using them for something you want, and then you find your way to enjoyment, laughter, and tears together. Jesus lived that way. That’s why he didn’t lay out curricula or institutional plans. The world would not be saved by books or programs, but by loving relationships that allow transformation to happen.  I look back at my life and see that where I’ve lived by the speed of relationships, my life has been marked by joy and fulfillment. Achievement never leads to the same reality.  I’m going to think on that statement for a long time, and rest in that reality. True life does move at the speed of relationships. The Kingdom of God grows in the world at the speed of relationships. If we think there are short-cuts that violate the relationships in our life, we’ll be sorely disappointed at life’s end.  Too many people end up alone because they’ve never learned how to invest in relationships and reap the rewards of doing so.

My daughter, Julie, and I talk more about this on this week’s podcast at TheGodJourney.com.

I came back to a crazy week as we finalized all the files to get A Language of Healing to press. It has all come together so well and I’m thrilled for my two coauthors on it—Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. It will be available on November 19 and you can pre-order at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and most other places books are sold. The e-book will also be available at the same time and we haven’t made a decision about an audio book yet.

Finally, I leave this week for Florida where I will be conducting a seminar on The Freedom to Live Loved in Miami next weekend. We are going to talk about how differently we would live if we were completely at rest in the Father’s love. We’ll be focusing on (1) Recognizing How Father is Loving You, (2) Letting Him Win Your Heart, and  (3) Living Freely as a Beloved Child. If you’re nearby come and join us. And if you’re not, these will be taped and I will make them available afterwards through Lifestream.org. After that, I’ll be near Lake Worth, then over in the Sarasota and Tampa area. I still have some open time if you’re interested in connecting along the way.

My Ukrainian Adventure

My oldest brother, Rod, went to college with such a passion to be a missionary to the Soviet Union that he double-majored in Russian and in Biblical Studies. When the iron curtain finally fell, my brother was so hampered by his battle with multiple sclerosis that he was unable to go. He eventually died in 1999, just short of his 49th birthday, after years of praying for the people of the former Soviet Union. So, when I get invited there I make every effort to go in his honor and to love the people he carried in his heart and his prayers for so long. I was in Russia seven years ago and spent the past weekend in Ukraine.

In addition to the Ukrainians that joined us, we were also enriched to have people from Israel, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Moldova, and such rich people they were, too. The hardest part of traveling is how connected I become to people even after only three or four days together.  Leaving is always difficult, not knowing if I’ll ever get to see any of them again. This weekend, I was enriched by their faith, played out in the difficulty of a country transitioning out of Soviet domination, while still at war with Russia on their eastern flank. I was amazed at their hunger for the real things of God and the price so many had paid to follow their heart instead of the religious conventions of others.

Since this was only a five-day trip for me, I spoke through the stupor of a persistent jet lag that never allowed me to get a full night’s sleep. Often I lay awake at crazy hours and used it to pray for the day ahead. But each time I helped facilitate a discussion, my mind was graciously alert and my heart alive with passion for how I might be able to help or encourage them. The first good night’s sleep I’ve had in over a week came last night after I returned home to my own bed. Surprisingly I slept through the night and woke up wonderfully refreshed this morning.

It is never easy to be with people whose language I don’t share. While there were people who would translate for me in personal conversations, I felt like I missed so much depth in the stories they were telling me. I felt like I’m just scratching the surface of who they are and what they’ve been through. And, of course, translating takes extra time, which means we don’t always get to the heart of a matter before someone else comes along and the conversation shifts yet again. Even so, I found my heart touched by their love for God and each other and their desire for a deep and vibrant walk with the living God.

The picture above is of some time around the fire our last night at the camp. Even though I could hardly stay awake as we sang and shared, this picture brings back such rich memories of my time there, the people I met, and the stories I heard of faith and courage.

On Sunday afternoon after the conference had ended, some people took me around the city of Kiev to show me the sights—World War II memorial, where the army gunned down protestors of the government five years ago, a delightful chocolate shop, and a seemingly endless stream of religious buildings with golden, onion-shaped copulas, like the picture below.

Isn’t it tragic, that we call buildings like these “churches”, and few people would use that same term to describe the people in the picture at the top of the page? If anything, however, the picture at the top is a far more accurate characterization of the reality of the church in the world. It speaks of people, shared life, relationships, and following God together the best we can.

Like most people, I find the ornate, opulent, religious structures of Europe fascinating in their beauty and architecture. I just cringe when anyone calls them a church, or thinks they represent God in some special way. They don’t. If anything, they represent skewed priorities of religious leaders who put opulence over people and power over love. That most were built on the terrified backs of peasants trying to curry favor with God or alleviate their guilt makes it all the worse.

Remember, Stephen was stoned for saying, “… the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.” That reality still makes people nervous today, and makes it difficult to justify the incredible wealth we have (and still do) put into buildings. And yet, if you want to find God, you would be better off looking for him in the people around you than in any building, as impressive as it may be.

With special thanks to my hosts and all the people I got to meet in Ukraine.

 


On an unrelated note, the first of a two-part interview I did with the ladies of Confronting Normal has just released.  It’s about community and you can find it here. This is how they described it:

Community is a complicated topic. It’s a conversation laced with many layers, a wide variety of interpretations and definitions, and typically, it comes accompanied with a ton of painful baggage and unmet expectations.

But in this episode, Cindy and Renae get the rare opportunity to sit down face-to-face with author, speaker and fellow podcaster, Wayne Jacobsen, as they explore this important conversation from the comforts of Cindy’s living room – a fitting location for such a relational topic. Together, the trio share openly and honestly about the struggle and beauty that is community. In the end, they consider that perhaps community should really just be called … friendship.

A Busy But Wonderful Season

The last few weeks have been crazy for me and I’m hopelessly behind on everything.  I spent two weeks with the delightful couple above, Gert and Katia, who had it on their hearts for me to come to France and spend some time with their friends who are just seeing the French and Dutch versions of THE SHACK movie. They are native Belgians now living in the south of France. We had a 1200 mile odyssey as I arrived in the south of France and starting in Montpelier, we traveled together through Toulouse to Condom, north to Angers, stopped outside of Paris and finally arrived in Belgium for the end of our eleven-day trip. I went on to Holland for one day near The Hague with some friends before coming home Monday.

What a trip!  So many conversations with so many people about so many things!  Wow!  And when you travel like that, staying with people every night, there’s hardly any personal time for rest or reflection, or even trying to keep up with email. However, each day was so rewarding.  I have so many great memories of the people I spent time with, some I just met for the first time, others I’ve known from previous trips. It is always wonderful to return and see people growing in grace and love. I also had an encounter with a pastor who is not too fond of my books, or perhaps better said, how some in his family have responded to them. He said he wasn’t religious, but one of the the things religion does best is blind us to its tentacles shaping our lives. The next day we were with a young man who doesn’t know of God is real and in the midst of our talking, God’s love just overwhelmed his heart and with tears streaming down his face he got a taste of the reality he’s been seeking.

In addition, I got to stay in an old farm house (since remodeled) in the countryside of France that had been a winery, got to walk along the Angers river and talk about healing, and spent time contemplating the horrors of The Great War (World War I) in the battlefields of Belgium where cemeteries dot the countryside where the lives of 18 and 19 year old young men were cut short.  All that was so moving. We were also in the field where the poem In Flanders Fields was written. I remember it from high school. Such a moving tribute to those who lost their lives and forever connected poppies and veterans.  You can see some of my pictures below.

Then we had a showing of THE SHACK in Dutch at a congregation near Iepers and then a full day after processing some of the themes behind the theology of that story with people who were touched by it and others who had concerns about it.

Today I’m about to take a walk with Sara, my dad, our children (Andy is visiting this week from his new home in Denver), or grandchildren, and of course, the hounds! My dad is visiting this Veteran Day weekend. He is our favorite veteran. He was wounded in France in World War II.  He’s visiting for a few days along with our son who has arrived from Denver. I am also celebrating my good health on the first anniversary of my open-heart surgery. I’m so grateful for what medical science can do and am back to full form. Also, Sara continues her recovery and now walks pain-free and has a newfound hope that she will get her life back.  I’m so happy for her!

And between coming back from Europe and these festivities, I left for two days of a golf outing with old friends, who do this every year. We played 54 holes of golf in two days with some stiff competition. A lot of fun, but not so easy to leave Sara so soon and to fight the jet lag as well as the golf, but we had a great time.

So the weekend is full, including baptizing my granddaughter later today, a big family birthday party for our November birthdays, and then Monday I’m taking my dad back home to Central California and have a board meeting for Lifestream in Visalia.  So things will keep backing up until Tuesday.  These are all special days, however, and I wouldn’t miss any of it for anything.

And, yes, I know most of life isn’t lived here. Believe me Sara and I have our dark and challenging days in this broken world, which makes me appreciate seasons like this all the more. We are grateful that God is with us all the time–whether in joy or pain and learning to lean into him is the greatest joy of all. I hope you are learning that as well.

Here are some pictures from my time in Europe:

Azille, where Gert and Katia live, a small village set amidst the vineyards. Some great morning walks here through the vineyards. So lovely! I spent four nights here.

A conversation in Azille

The farmhouse with a winery in the garage in Condom, France

Dinner and dialog near Angers

Iepers, Belgium near the gate where they have been playing Taps every night since the mid 1920s at 8:00 pm to memorialize those who died in The Great War

One of the cemeteries in Belgium

World famous hotel on the beach outside of The Hague in Holland.  No I didn’t stay there.

All in all these last weeks have been exhilarating and exhausting, warmly refreshing and incredibly challenging–all of it filled with joy and wonder. My heart is overwhelmed in gratitude for all that God is and how he takes shape in our lives.

Off to Europe at the End of the Month

This trip has been in the works for some time, but we wanted to make sure Sara was recovered from her surgery and able to safely handle things around here. Fortunately her recovery continues well and we sense it is time for me to take this trip to Europe. So from October 24 – November 6, I’m going to start in the south of France, work my way up the west side through Paris and into Belgium before a brief stop in The Netherlands before I head home.  I’ll be with some good friends who will be driving me and we will cover over 1200 miles in 13 days. Can anyone say Road Trip?

The movie of The Shack was recently released in French, so we’ll be spending some of this time exploring themes from the book and the movie, but more importantly we’ll be talking about our own journeys and how we can live more at rest in the Father’s love and by doing so be more transformed so that we can live free and full in the world.  It will also give an opportunity for people to meet others near them on a similar journey.

There is still some flexibility in this schedule if there’s anything else God might have in mind. We are especially looking for a place to gather around Paris on November 1, if anyone has some space.  Please write me if you have some ideas.

You can see all the details and get contact information on my Travel Page.  Just click the site you’re interested in to get the information you need.

For those not in our target area, you’re welcome to keep both Sara, me, and this trip in your prayers if you have from.

A World Full of Love

It was an interesting flight home from South Africa on Ethiopian Airlines. Because their movie selection wasn’t the greatest I found myself on my iPad most of the way home with the interactive map playing on my TV screen.  It was amazing how often I looked up and saw our plane flying over some place where I’ve been or where I have connections with people. The map was my ever-present call to celebration of relationships I treasure, and prayer for their ongoing journey.

My route took me north from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I changed planes to fly up over Europe landing briefly in Dublin before carrying on overseas and final touchdown in Los Angeles.  As I flew over South Africa I prayed for those I had met during my stay and prayed that the conversations we had would bear fruit in their lives with joy and freedom. Then it was over Kitale, where we have helped build an orphanage and support a school. Soon after we were over Pokot where many of you have invested so much resource to help 120,000 people build a sustainable economy after their nomadic ways were devastated by a prolonged drought and where the Gospel is reaching many of those with newfound joy.

Then I was in Ethiopia briefly and I have two good friends with very deep connections there. After take off we flew across the Mediterranean where my family had had such a wonderful celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago. My family brings me such incredible joy and wonder! And yes, Israel was just off to the right where I have led two tours in the last three years with people from all over the world as we found our way to being a family while we discovered the Holy Land. One of the great joys of this journey I’m on is that I get to meet some of the most incredible people in the world. People learning to live loved are engaging, warm, and lovely. They are easy to communicate with, to laugh and to cry with. Those I meet caught up in world ambition or religious obligation are not nearly so. These relationships make me a rich man indeed and always help affirm the path I’m on.

Then it was across Europe with France on the left, which I may visit this fall and Switzerland on the right where we have some close personal friends. We arched over the UK and landed in Ireland where I get to celebrate the Father’s family whenever I land in either of those two island nations.  Then it was out over the Atlantic crossing Canada near Winnipeg, where my son’s girlfriend is from, and I had reminders everywhere of people I love that stretch from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver Island.

Finally we crossed into the U.S. and over the town I visited with good friends in Wyoming last year. Each reminder brought a warmth to my heart and a reminder of God’s incredible work in the world to bring people to himself and help them discover the Life that really is life.

I’ll leave you with two things: If you’re interested here is some audio from my Sunday conversation with a roomful of people at “Grace Kitchen”, a community of people risking their traditional congregation to discover what it means to be a family sharing Father’s love together, and a number of others who joined us that day.

And here is an interview I did with a young blogger Muizenberg, where I taught at a YWAM DTS for a week.

It’s been great to be home reconnecting with Sara this weekend and reliving my trip to South Africa and all the people I got to spend some time with.  Blessings to you today and all that encompasses your life.

Homeward Bound from South Africa

In just an hour I leave for the airport to begin my 32-hour door-to-door journey home from South Africa. I leave my 2.5 week stay with fond memories, overwhelming gratitude for all the care extended to me, and so many newfound friendships with people I’ve come to love whose journeys I admire out of the rigors of religious obligation and into an endearing relationship with Father who loves us all. It is not an easy journey to reconsider the things you’ve been taught that turn out not to be so true, and to reshape a way of living around the Father’s work in us, rather than what we consider to be our work for him.

One theme of this trip has been learning to enjoy the presence of God and let him enjoy us, taken from this story I told on a recent God Journey Podcast.  It has really found its way into my heart and how the Father wants us to enjoy the reality of his presence and how we often settle for knowing about God or following his principles, than actually knowing him.

I have held conversations with groups as large as 150 and as small as one person, a couple, or a family of five. I spent four days with a group of young people whose passion to discover how to live loved was infectious and rewarding. I’ve had countless conversations celebrating God’s love and helping people consider the ways God works.  This is where religious obligation gets it so wrong. We think God responds to our human effort to find him, rather than his work to find us. We were never intended to carve out a journey with him by our own wisdom or will.  It is his to do and as we learn to recognize him as he is pouring his life and love into us, the relationship begins to grow.

This is my prayer this morning for all I’ve met on this journey, and for me as well:

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works…  As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. 

Colossians 1:9-10

I love discovering the ways in which God works and simply following along with him. It yields such amazing fruit far more than anything I could accomplish by my own strength.  Last night I sat and listen to some people give me feedback about what my time with them had meant. I heard things like, “taking the complexity out of a life with God”, “being so real and being so gentle”, “how restful you are in exploring this journey”, and “where have you been the past 56  years?”  I was deeply touched to hear what had communicated to them.  Only I know how much of a miracle it is for his life to take shape in me. No one knowing me 30 years ago would have said such things.  Learning to live inside his work is just the best and I am so grateful for how he is taking shape in my life.

It has all been such a joy, but my heart has already turned toward home and a much longed-for reunion with Sara, my family, and those crazy pups!  There’s nothing like being “at home”, both in the Father’s love, and in Sara’s presence.

Next stop….  Sara!

South Africa Is Up Next

I’m over half way through my east coast trip that began near Boston, took a swing up to northern Vermont and then arrived last night in Pennsylvania.  Today I head down to Maryland and some interesting gatherings over the weekend.  It’s not too late to join us if you’re nearby. You can get details and contact info on my Travel Page.

After that I head home for a couple of weeks and then next up on my schedule is South Africa. The picture above was taken from our room in Bishopscourt when Sara and I were last there in 2009.  What a breath-taking view to wake up to!

I’ll be starting in Durban during the last week of June, then head over to Cape Town for the weekend. From there I head to a YWAM DTS south of Cape Town that bases their training out of He Loves Me.  From there I head to Johannesburg for six days seeing old friends and connecting with others who have been touched by some things I’ve written.  If you’d like to join in, don’t be bashful. There re contact details on my Travel Page. Let them know of your interest and they will let you know how you can participate.

It’s been a few years since I was last in South Africa, and though the flight is about as long as anywhere I travel, I’m looking forward to connecting again with God’s people there.

Headed for the East Coast

Before an unexpected trip to the emergency room I was supposed to make this trip at the end of March. We have managed to reschedule it for the first twelve days of June. So in just a few weeks I’m going to back in Pennsylvania and Maryland for a weekend of fellowship and sharing.  I’ll be in Harrisburg, Hagerstown, Rockville, and finish in Sykesville over the weekend of June 10-12.

If you’re interested in joining us at any of these locations you’ll find the contact information below.  Please contact the host to get details and to RSVP. We do this so we can get an accurate count of whose interested and to avoid posting home addresses online.

June 2-4 – Reading, MA  (near Boston): We will be gathering over Friday night, Saturday and Sunday for conversations about living in and sharing God’s love together. Steve is my host and you can contact him here for details.

June 5 – Milbury, MA  near Worcester: at the home of some dear friends of mine. You can email Clara Jean here if you’re interested.

June 6 –  South Burlington, VT: for a gathering on Tuesday afternoon and evening.  You can email Bobber details.

June 7 – Harrisburg, PA:   Conversations at the home base of Wildheart Ministries.  For more details contact Lindsey here.

June 8 – Hagerstown, MD:  I’m sorry there is no open gathering in Hagerstown though I will be meeting with some people individually there.

June 9 – Rockville, MD:  A one-night gathering with a group in Rockville for conversation.  Contact Gregg for details.

June 10-11 – Sykesville, MD (Baltimore):  The weekend will give us more of an extended conversation with people in the area about living loved and my latest book Finding Church.  Pete is my host and he’ll be happy to send you the details. Or if you prefer, you can call him at:  443-277-7176.

You can get all the details from my Travel Page.

It Can Never Be Too Small

Yesterday I spent time with at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  My host in Potoskey is a volunteer there and set it up for me to come and meet with the prisoners. There are two sides to the prison so we did two hours on one side in the morning, and two hours on the other in the afternoon.  This was an elective event. They had to sign up in advance to join us and most of them were drawn from the Christian groups within the prison

I told them as I started out that I gave up talking at people a long time ago and told them I wanted to talk with them in a growing conversation. They responded beautifully. We had the most amazing time getting to know each other and discussing what it means to discover how deeply loved by God they are and how they might respond to him even in the desperation of their current circumstances. I love how they welcomed me into their lives and their honesty about their struggles even with the other inmates right there with us.

But there was a difference in the conversations. One went deep, with some of the men opening their hearts in ways that surprised me and some of the others that work in the prison. We go down to some personal needs and some glorious questions about their own struggles. The other one didn’t get nearly so deep. We had a great time and talked about a lot of things but it stayed more to how I see certain issues than the intensity of their own struggles.

So what was the difference?  Both sides of the prison are equal in size, but on one side only ten people signed up to join us.  On the other side more than ninety did. As we went to the first group of ten, people kept apologizing to me that it wasn’t as large a group as they had hoped. And from their point of view I can understand why they would want more inmates to take advantage of my time there. I found myself thinking, “A group can be too large, it can never be too small, especially in a conversation.” ‘

Yesterday reinforced what I already knew.  The best conversation we can have is found in twos and threes where people have time to talk and explore their journey and any issues they might have. Adding more to the conversation always dilutes it’s depth in exchange for breadth.  I realize it isn’t always possible to get groups of 8-10 together, and I’m grateful that ninety men wanted to meet with me from the other side of the facility. That was a great conversation too, that exposed them to a view of God I hope they found enduring and compelling, but it didn’t give me as much of a chance to interact with them in the same way.

I’m not saying that a crowd of ninety is somehow less Godly than a group of ten, I’m just saying the dynamics are different. God can be in both, and was in both yesterday. If the goal is to disseminate information then large is more efficient. Lots can be done there. But if the goal is a conversation where people can sort out something in their own journey, then less is more.  Some people wonder why I choose small groups over large and it’s simply because I have been convinced that a conversation is a better learning environment than a lecture.

I can put lectures up on line and have with Transition, The Jesus Lens, and Engage.  You can get to all of the from our Free Stuff menu at Lifestream.org.  I know they touch people and do not discount that in the least.  And I am happy to be with people on the road with whatever size chooses to show up and trust God to work in that environment the best way I can. But no one ever needs to apologize to me for having a group be too small. That’s where the conversations ensue that engage my heart the most, and I hope others appreciate that too. Like the world we think bigger is better and I’m only suggesting we rethink that. Smaller is often more in Jesus’ kingdom.

If I was invited to get a golf lesson from a famous golf pro and I arrive there to find 40,000 people filling a stadium, with the instruction on the giant TV screen as I sat a hundred yards from the pro, I’d be disappointed. Wouldn’t it be better if I arrived and it was just the two of us? Can you imagine how different the instruction would be if he was working individually with my swing instead of telling me about his?  I think that’s why Jesus seemed to treasure a conversation with a woman at a well or lunch with a tax collector over 5,000 people filling the hillsides. And why the impact of those events were so markedly different.

As I said, a group can never be too small. And I’m so incredibly grateful to those who invited me to come and let me have some time with these men. I hope they are able to see more clearly their loving Father with them each day drawing them into his reality. That’s the real end of this and why God sent us each his Spirit to guide us rathe than a guru on a stage.

 

I’m Headed to Michigan and Wisconsin

This is the trip we planned for last year and never got to take.  I was supposed to fly out November 11 to Appleton and move across Michigan until I ended in Flint.  However, my doctors had other ideas and two days before I was supposed to leave they ordered me to cancel the trip and schedule open-heart surgery to do a valve replacement.  That surgery happened on November 10. So we are rebooting this visit to Michigan and Wisconsin for April 27 – May7.

It has not been easy to reschedule this trip, but I think we finally have it done, Lord willing, and no more surprise surgeries. We also had to make a few changes in the trip. We’re starting in Michigan this time and working our way west to Wisconsin. And unfortunately I won’t be stopping in Flint since the people who invited me have moved away. So, instead I’m starting in Grand Rapids, working my way up to the Upper Peninsula and then across to Appleton. I’m really excited at how this came together. In fact, we just added Grand Rapids this morning with a Thursday night meeting at a coffee shop there and a Friday gathering for those interested.

You can get the full schedule here.  I’ve also re-scheduled the East Coast trip I’d had planned a few weeks ago, before I needed a second surgery for my gallbladder.  Sheesh!  Maybe I’m done traveling. Who knows? But we’ve re-scheduled that for June 2 – 12 and are working on a trip to South Africa in early July.  You can see how those trips are shaping up as well.

If you’re nearby and want to come join us for some conversation and getting a chance to meet others who are on a similar journey of learning to live in the Father’s love, shoot an email off to the hosts nearest you. These are informal gatherings and you’re welcome to be with us.

And What a Trip it Was! Israel 2017

Brad and I had a great time walking alongside thirty-two others who came so see Israel and Jordan with us.  We got  back last Sunday and I’m just beginning to dig my way out of the pile of work that found it’s way to my computer while I was gone, especially with The Shack Movie set to launch in just over two weeks.  Just like last time, we had a fabulous trip and saw real community grow among us as we traveled on a bus together and visited some amazing sighs in the Holy Land. And this was all the more special because my daughter and niece were with me. Having extended time with them while we processed God’s revelation of himself in that corner of the world will always be a highlight of my life.

We started in Jordan and stood on Mt. Nebo where God showed Moses the promised land and then took him into his presence. As much as it took from Moses to get the people that far, he was not the one who would lead them into the Promised Land. What an amazing moment. Then it was on to the rock city of Petra, which is truly one of the most amazing sights in all the world. It is the second-most visited World Heritage Sight, and it is easy to see why.  The carvings are amazing and the size of that city was huge for its day. Then it was on to Israel and pick up another 11 people who joined us there. We headed first up the coast to Caesarea, where Peter met with Cornelius and Paul was imprisoned. Then we went to Mt. Carmel where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, then to the tel at Megiddo, and finally to Nazareth. The next three day see spent in the Galilee visiting sites where Jesus shared his Gospel and met the people who helped spread that Gospel far and wide. We also visited the Golan Heights and were 20 miles from Isis-held territory.

Then we traveled down the Jordan Valley, through the West Bank to the Dead Sea. We visited Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, went to En Gedi where David hid from Saul and then to Masada. On our way up to Jerusalem we stopped to baptize Susannah who had never been baptized before.  We stopped at the Jordan river near the sight where Jesus was baptized and where the Children of Israel miraculously crossed into the Promised Land. It was cold (in the 40s), raining, and the river there was not only freezing, but also a a flowing stream of mud. But Susannah had been deeply touched by our podcasts over the years and wanted to be baptized as part of this trip. What a brave kid!

From there it was up to Jerusalem for our last five days, experiencing the life of the city and observing first hand the religious conflict that defines its existence even today.  On our final day day we retraced the steps of Jesus through the weekend of his crucifixion and resurrection.

What I hope to do with people on a trip like this is to not only acquaint them with the geography, political realities, and historical sights in Israel, but also tie it into the whole story of God’s work of redemption, inviting estranged humanity back into a growing love relationship with him that sets us at ease in trusting him. We cover the whole scope of the Scripture story and seek to put it in its context. My hope is that when people return the Scriptures will come alive to them because they have been in the places it speaks of, and now have a grid to understand those stories without the religious overtones of fear often applied to them. You can’t imagine what it’s like to read Scripture after you’ve stood in the very places where those events took place.

I’m already hearing back from so many that this has become true for them.  Here are comments from three of the people who were with us:

“I read through the fast-paced gospel of Mark this morning highlighting all the location names. It was so interesting now that I have pictures in my mind of a lot of these places!”

“I started reading in Genesis this morning and couldn’t put it down! Being in Israel has unlocked so much for me. I am finding the same thread there as in the New Testament—the unfolding story of his redemption and love for humanity! I was Hoping this would change for me and it has! I get the feeling I don’t yet know how much is waiting to be discovered there! Thanks for putting this trip together for us all it has been life changing for me! Have an awesome day!”

“I love reading the Bible now. I’ve been reading the Gospels and I just can’t stop reading. It makes a big difference to actually know the places where these things took place.

And as with the first trip, the depth of community that happens spending 13 days together in a bus, at touring sites, and at meals is simply astounding. It gives people a taste of what I experience all over the world. Even spending a few days with people in heart-to-heart sharing forms bonds that last a lifetime. I have no doubt that relationships will continue to grow among the people who took this trip with us.

I’m sorry all of you couldn’t go, but to help you have a taste for some of what we saw and the snakiness that underlies many of the moments, Brad and I made a few videos, which you can view below.  Rest assured, there were also deeply moving times both corporately and individually as God was doing his work in many hearts.

The God Journey Goes to Israel

Two years ago I took my wife, son and 40 other people who have enjoyed my writings for an 11-day trip to the land of Israel. We had the time of our lives! Not only did we get to be where so much of redemptive history unfolded, but we also got to share it with people on a similar journey of learning to live in the Father’s affection and exploring more relational ways of finding church.

I am returning again in February 2017 to take my daughter and my niece on the same trip and you would be welcome to join us. Brad Cummings, my podcast partner at The God Journey, will also be joining us and adding his insights and passion to our tour. We are also adding an extended three days before the Israel tour for those would like to go to Jordan to visit Mt. Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land, the ancient rock-carved city of Petra, and some added sites in Israel as we come back up to join the rest of those touring with us.

The cost of the Israel Tour will be less than $4000 per person, with double-occupancy and including airfare if you’re coming from the US.  Those of you traveling from elsewhere can just pay for the land tour and make your own flight arrangements to Israel.  If you’d like to join us for the three extra days in Jordan it will cost about $1300 extra. You can get all the details and register here.

This land and its people are pivotal in the biblical story and it is here that history will reach its conclusion. No, God is not more present here than he is anywhere else on the planet, but if you’ve never been you have no idea how it will impact you to be in the very places you’ve read about so often and how it will change your reading of Scripture for the rest of your life.

Jerusalem
Can you imagine what it is like…

  • to stand on the shore of Galilee with the water lapping at your feet
  • to climb Mt. Carmel where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal
  • to look down from the Mt. of Olives at the very place where God’s temple stood
  • to be surrounded by 2000 year old trees in Gethsemane
  • to approach Temple Mount on stone pathways that date to the time of Jesus
  • to be in the very cell that held Jesus the night before He was crucified

jeruslamewwallMy first trip to Israel in 1997 proved to have far more impact on me than I ever thought it could and the one we took two years ago brought some amazing people together and began friendships from around the world that continue to flourish. My time in Israel gave me a different dimension of understanding for God’s work of redemption. I was drawn closer to His heart. I had touched the earth where He had walked. I had been given a first-hand look at the sky, hills, valleys, and waters where He lived out His physical life. I had experienced His earthly home!

israel3We’re making room for forty-five people to come with Brad and me.  As we journey, we’ll walk through the Scripture story. I’ll be sharing some thoughts at key sites designed to stimulate personal reflection. And as we go along, we will enjoy a joint conversation about how God is revealing Himself in us.

The Israel Tour Company, known for intimate tours that allow people to absorb the culture and history of the land, is taking care of all the details.  They have hosted both my previous trips there and I’m thrilled to be working with them again.

We have chosen to travel in February since the weather is comfortable in the desert locations. There aren’t as many tourists in the country at this time. And we can take a smaller, more intimate group more affordably. The length of the trip is designed to move us through the highlights of the country, still allowing time for reflection and a free day in Jerusalem. And for those who can come a bit early we are offering an extended three days to visit Mt. Nebo, where Moses died in Jordan, the ancient rock-carved city of Petra, and some added sites in Israel as we come back up to join the rest of those touring with us.

I hope you can join me for an amazing tour of Israel – one that will add so much to your understanding of who God is and how he wants to walk with us.

For more information and registration click here.

Why I Travel, Part 2

The letters I get from people after being i in a meeting with them often blow me away.  I shared one a few weeks ago after my visit to the midwest. Last week I got one from someone who was in our gathering in Orange County. I love when people share their stories and how a brief intersection with some others can have incredible impact on their own journey. These moments of encouragement, clarity, and opening doors into new space are why I travel when God asks me to, and their stories are often such a great encouragement to others.  Here is the latest:  

In February of this year, God heard my frustrated cry after an annual men’s retreat that started me down a road to freedom and fruitfulness.  It all started when I went up for prayer to an elder at a closing worship service at the retreat, and I tearfully expressed to him that I was tired of the performing, sick of the failing, and that I felt incredibly guilty because after ten years of Bible studies and church service, I was no longer interested.  He paused and I swear he almost chuckled., and said that I sounded exactly like a character in a book he was reading.  (I came to find out later it was So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Anymore).  He encouraged me by saying my heart was actually in a good place.  He advised me to stop all of my performing and to be honest with God about my frustrations and to ask God to make Himself real to me.

Afterwards I did just that.  Then within a few days I found and read through the online version of the book. In the last ten months I read the He Loves Me, and then read The Shack. All the while I listened to the podcasts at The God Journey during the day.  God began a work immediately. Two particular areas of struggle that plagued me my entire life almost immediately taken out of the picture.  It was not because of discipline but rather it was because for once I experienced His pure and true love.  He was starting to impress on me that he was my biggest fan and that he was incredibly patient in my transformation.  I began to wonder about different issues I had and He would calmly communicate to me that he would get to those things in time and for me to relax.  He is so patient.  Some of those issues He has subtlety started changing in me and some are totally on the back burner, and that is exciting!   I am no longer trying to live beyond my transformation, but right in it!

Amazingly my wife is going through this as well.  By her just being in proximity to me and seeing the guilt and shame being lifted from me, her desire for a deep and real relationship with God grew as well.  At times I would be tempted to interject this or that, giving tips or advice, but God would whisper to me that I didn’t have to worry about it and that He was perfectly capable to do a work with me just living right next to her.

Conversations and opportunities to share what I was going through sprung up all around me, and my willingness to be open and honest with friends, family and even strangers came very easy and unforced.  My life has changed and I feel it’s simply because my cry to Him was real, and because I was truly fed up.  I am coming to trust that He will make Himself known and real for anyone who honestly asks.  And that He will do it for each person in His own customized way.  The amazing and freeing thing is that I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s journey; I just need to encourage and love them.  Wow!

As I drove to your meeting I was listening to your very first podcast.  You see in February I started listening to the podcasts while I worked, in reverse order while throwing in the current ones whenever the came out and it just so happened that on the day we met up I finished all of the media.

I didn’t know what to expect on Saturday, but I thought it would be a good time to at least thank you for your heart and honesty in the materials you had made available to people wanting to experience the true and living God.  When the discussion started I was pretty turned off when people were referring to themselves as Wayne groupies, and Wayne stalkers, putting you on a pedestal I don’t think you enjoy.  Also people were so focused on what to do or say to others in different situations and it seemed the focus of questions were shallow. I was going to take off at lunch but you happened to come up and invited me to lunch.  In the afternoon I was so glad you shifted the focus onto the importance of an intimate and growing relationship with God.  It’s funny how complicated we make things, because really a close relationship is all that really matters.  All situational advice that people want can be found in Him and I am so glad you stressed that.

Watching you endure the Wayne groupie comments and steer people to what matters was important for me to see.  Your willingness to break through the superficial fronts that people put up and challenge them to keep it simple is what I had hoped you would do.

Thank you for making your journey so public to encourage me on mine.  Now that I’ve gone through a book or two, met you in person, and finished all 511 podcasts, I feel like I can take the training wheels off and venture out. Teaching and showing my eight year-old son and four year-old daughter how to engage God in real relationship is obviously priority number one.  Our second priority is our community.  We have not been to a Sunday gathering in ten months but I am finally unbelievably okay with the idea of maybe attending every once and a while to see if God wants us to help anyone that is tired or discouraged.  Our hearts are now turned to serve and love the people that are right before us.

Also check out this amazing story about God transforming a neighborhood at FindingChurch.com.