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Where Love Can’t Be Savored

Living in the freedom of God’s love will make you a better lover of people, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be able to recognize that love.

Instead, some will accuse you of not loving them because you don’t cater to their destructive whims. God knows this well as he lived it himself. Jesus was the perfect embodiment of God’s love to a broken world, and it got him killed by those that wanted to manipulate him and his gifts for their own ends. Love can be freely given, but it will be missed if it doesn’t find a resting place in one being loved.

Since I wrote the blog about Navigating Toxic Relationships, I heard from many of you who are doing exactly that. Friends, family, co-workers, or even a religious leader can become toxic when you become the focus of their unresolved issues or feel they are losing control over their own lives.  They will falsely accuse you and then refuse to talk it through by cutting you off or throwing a tantrum. This is all the more painful when you deeply care for the person involved. I’m always a champion for staying in a relationship as long as you have the grace to endure the cost, hoping and praying for God’s light to win over the lies and anger. However, people caught in such toxicity need to recognize that any attempts to reach out to their attacker will only cause them greater pain and anguish. Loving someone like that from up close can actually drive them further into their pain and delusion.

That’s when it’s best to love from afar as the father does in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There was nothing he could say to his son that would turn his heart toward home, so he gave his son the distance to savor the consequences of his false conclusions until he came to the end of himself.  Then, he could embrace the affection his father had always had for him.

My heart goes out to those of you suffering through a toxic relationship and wondering every day if you’re doing the right thing in seeking a way to love them. After my blog, one person recommended a book I have found helpful.  It’s called 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life by Bill Eddy. The subtitle is: “Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities.”  His research led him to conclude that ten percent of people are High Conflict Personalities, which are dangerous to engage. They create chaos in pools of relationships by fixating on a Target of Blame to focus their anger and fears.  They will weaponize other relationships you have to seek to marginalize you as the one with “issues.” While they treat everyone else with kindness, they will gossip and attack their victim relentlessly.

You can detect a High Conflict Personality by their persistent anger and gossip, always blaming someone else for whatever goes wrong, and will refuse to have a reasoned conversation to resolve their concerns. He recommends doing everything you can not to become their Target of Blame, and if you do, not confronting them for it will only escalate their anger.  It’s best, he suggests, to stay away from such the person targeting you. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but it is fruitless to try to love someone up close who perceives that love as a threat. When that happens, you need to withdraw for their good as well as your own.

I know that is hard to do, but you’re not responsible for those who cannot receive love from you. There’s no one better to share this with than God, whose love is also missed by those who are so locked in their pain they cannot see his love. You can love them from afar and hold them in your heart to see if they can come to the end of themselves and be open again to love. Most of these High Conflict Personalities are reacting to unresolved pain and trauma in their own lives. Targeting others is only a really bad coping mechanism to alleviate their own fear or pain.  By taking yourself out of the way, they will more quickly come to see that the problem is not the person they are blaming but the brokenness in their own soul. They merit our compassion, not our judgment. At the same time, however, we can recognize our limitations in our ability to express love to them.

Here are some of my highlights from that book I found helpful:

You can trust 80 to 90 percent of people to be who they say they are; to do what they say they’ll do; and to follow most of the social rules that help us live together. But the people we’re concerned with are the 10 percent—the one person in ten—who has a Target of Blame and a personality disorder. These are the people who are so fixated on their Targets that they can’t let go, can’t stop themselves, can’t change and therefore can ruin lives—including yours.

It’s the combination of someone having a high-conflict personality (people who have Targets of Blame) and a personality disorder (those who never reflect on their own behavior nor try to change it) that creates a human being who can ruin your life. That combination is the subject we’ll explore together.

There are five types of people who can ruin your life. They can ruin your reputation, your self-esteem, or your career. They can destroy your finances, your physical health, or your sanity. Some of them will kill you, if you give them the opportunity. They usually do this by focusing on Targets of Blame, whom they mercilessly attack—verbally, emotionally, financially, reputationally, litigiously, and sometimes violently—often for months or years, even if the initial conflict was minor. Their Targets of Blame are usually someone close (a coworker, neighbor, friend, partner, or family member) or someone in a position of authority.

The author breaks these High Conflict Personalities (HCP) into five types:

  • Narcissistic HCPs: They often seem very charming at first but believe they are hugely superior to others. They insult, humiliate, mislead, and lack empathy for their Targets of Blame. They also demand constant undeserved respect and attention from everyone.
  • Borderline HCPs: They often start out extremely friendly—but they can suddenly and unpredictably shift into being extremely angry. When this shift occurs, they may seek revenge for minor or nonexistent slights. They may launch vicious attacks against their Targets of Blame that involve physical violence, verbal abuse, legal action, or attempts to destroy their Targets’ reputations.
  • Antisocial (or Sociopathic) HCPs: They can be extremely charismatic—but their charm is a cover for their drive to dominate others through lying, stealing, publicly humiliating people, physically injuring them, and—in extreme cases—murdering them. They want what they want and they want it now. If you stand in their way, they will push you aside, or destroy your reputation, or even kill you to get what they want. They lack remorse, and some enjoy hurting people. In this regard, they are different from the other personalities who will ruin your life, but don’t harm you on purpose. Antisocial HCPs are driven by a need for dominance, and may ruin your life just to give themselves a sense of control over someone. They will talk fast and lie to your face so convincingly that you will second-guess your own instincts. Antisocial HCPs are remorseless and are said to have no conscience. 
  • Paranoid HCPs: They are deeply suspicious and constantly fear betrayal. Because they imagine conspiracies against them, they will launch preemptive attacks against their Targets of Blame, hoping to harm them first.
  • Histrionic HCPs: They can have very dramatic and exciting personalities. They often tell wild and extreme stories (which are sometimes totally false). Over time, they can be very harmful and emotionally draining to those around them, especially their Targets of Blame.

Not every bump in a relationship ought to be blamed on these things. Only ten percent of people are high conflict personalities, and they usually have only one or two Targets of Blame.  Fortunately, this isn’t an everyday occurrence, nor does everyone become a Target of Blame. Just keep your eyes open and remember that you cannot force someone to be loved. Sometimes loving well is giving someone the distance to come to the end of themselves and turn from their destructive ways to embrace the love they already have.

 

The Shepherd Is at Work

Yes, Sara and I are reading my new devotional book together, and though it feels a bit weird, we are enjoying how God is freshening in our hearts those realities he’s been inviting us to embrace for over twenty-five years.  This is from June 26, a reminder that following him is the only way to discover what our hearts long for most.  We are so easily distracted by the manipulations of others or the lure of following another human rather than him. Following him is the way to fullness and the church he is gathering from all over the world.

I know that the closer you follow me the *lonelier it seems.

You even think at times that I abandoned you and you withdrew into your fears. But even there, I am with you, calling you outside of yourself to come into the freedom of being my child and to join your heart with others in my flock that 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 my flock beyond their own way of organizing it. If you only knew how many people I have scattered all over the world, you would rejoice 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.

They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
John 10:16 (NIV)

 

Taken from The Call of the Shepherd, a blog Wayne wrote in May of 2004 as if giving voice to Jesus’ heart for his church. You can read the whole thing here.

Get your copy of Live Loved Free Full.

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*Interestingly enough, I had this quote in my inbox yesterday from The Daily Dig about loneliness and the work of God on earth.  Though I’m not feeling lonely these days, I know for others who have yet to connect with people who are leaning into the life of the Shepherd, there can be some lonely moments. Hopefully, this will encourage you.  I love it.  And I’m going to have to dig in and read The Brothers Karamazov someday.  I have yet to do it.

Believe to the End

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If everyone abandons you and even drives you away by force, then when you are left alone fall on the earth and kiss it, water it with your tears, and it will bring forth fruit even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude. Believe to the end, even if all people went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness. And if two of you are gathered together – then there is a whole world, a world of living love. Embrace each other tenderly and praise God, for, if only in you two, his truth has been fulfilled.

Source: The Brothers Karamazov

It’s Time to Take Wing, Again!

I doubt few people enjoyed the COVID stay-at-home orders more than I did. After twenty-five years of constant travel, it was a joy to be home with Sara for such a prolonged period as well as to work on some projects that were on my heart—the My Friend Luis podcast, a new daily devotional Live Loved Free Full, the A Breath of Fresh Air encouragements, and The Jesus Story, an adaptation of The Jesus Lens for kids. I’ve had numerous incredible engagements via Zoom with individuals and small groups for prayer, discovery, and insight into Father’s work in the world.  It has been both a restful and a fruitful season, and my heart has been re-shaped in so many ways and re-staged for what’s ahead.

The God Journey continued to allow me to explore many of the themes that continue to grow in my heart and mind—helping people live loved, recognizing and responding to Father’s work in their own hearts to overturn their illusions so they can more freely walk in his love and discover the joy of laying down their lives in a hostile world.

Now, I sense it’s time to take wing again, literally, traveling to places where God wants me to encourage his people to lean into his glory. As we come to rely on his love, it will allow us to see the truth of what’s going on inside of us and around us so that we can be part of his unfolding glory in the world and love well those he’s inviting us to engage.  So, this fall, I’ll begin traveling for a season as I sense God leading me to serve his purpose in the world.

In the last few months, I’ve sensed a freshening wind of the Spirit to help a new generation experience the joy of living outside the bondage of religious obligation and shame, to discover how to be sensitive to God’s Spirit and direction in the real circumstances of everyday life. I want to continue to have conversations that matter with people who care, whether that be in homes, outdoors, retreat centers, fellowship halls, or other places we can gather. I don’t do a lot of that by teaching seminars but by hanging out over a few days with people who want to explore what it means to walk alongside the Risen Christ.

God’s glory is rising again in those who wish to live untainted by religious obligation and free to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. While this will engage a younger generation, I’m also excited about exploring how more seasoned saints can be cheerleaders in this process by encouraging younger ones without seeking to control or monetize what God is doing. How can we be in tune with God’s work in the world and embrace the divine community God is stitching together around us?

I have a host of pre-COVID invitations, but I’m laying those aside to see what fresh direction God has for days to come. So, don’t assume I’ll follow up on an old invitation. If you even have an inkling that God might want to put something together where you live, please get in touch with me so we can pray and listen. Some of the places God wants me to go involve younger people who have never planned this kind of thing before and might be afraid to do it. Be courageous, and see what God might do.

What does it take for me to come? Not much! We simply need a shared sense that God has something in mind where you are, a place to hang out with people for a few days, and a pocket of people there who want to explore together what it means to live in love, at rest, and at play in the Father’s presence as we follow his leading. I have always traveled at my own expense, so finances are never an issue. If people inviting me can help share in those expenses, that’s always a bonus. If not, Father has other ways to provide for what he wants to do.

I have a few things to take care of at home this summer, but toward the end of August and beyond, I’m going to see where Father wants to take me.  First, I’m going to circle back to a few invitations I had to cancel when the pandemic hit and see if there’s still a desire for me to come.  I’m looking at you, Michigan, Wichita, Miami, and Oklahoma City.  Beyond that, I already have fresh invitations to Virginia and Maryland when I start traveling again.

If you’re in those areas, or someplace altogether different, with a desire on your heart to get some people together and explore the life lived in love and at the pleasure and power of his Spirit, let me know. And, if you want to connect with me if I’m ever in your area, you can sign up for Travel Notifications here. You’ll receive an email if I’m coming within a couple of hundred miles of where you live.

The people I’ve met around the world have greatly enriched my life and my journey. I learn so much from other people’s stories and the struggles they have endured. I’m looking forward to seeing what this next chapter looks like and how God’s glory will continue to rise in the world.

A Divine Wink?

I had an interesting experience the other day that still leaves me tickled and touched.

The photo above was taken in the men’s restroom at a gas station off of the Wheeler Ridge exit of Hwy 99. I was returning from a trip to visit my dad in the hospital shortly after he had a fractured hip repaired with a number of other things on my plate.  Driving back I was reflecting on my dad’s pain at nearly 96 and what might be the best options moving forward. I stopped at that exit to get some gas and make a visit to the restroom.

There in front of me at chest height was the plumbing fixture you see above. The letters seemed to jump off the metal, “Arek.”  I’ve never seen that name anywhere except in a book written by a long-time friend of mine. I’ve been coaching her on the manuscript and the publishing process because I think she has a gift and her book is a great read. Some people say it’s Bourne Identity meets Hunger Games. It’s the story of a young woman discovering that who she thinks she is and who she really is are vastly different realities and it takes her on a  roller-coaster ride of conflict as she fights for her life.

The lead male character is named Arek. He’s a mysterious presence, to say the least, and in the early part of the book seems to live in the shadows. Here I am in the middle of nowhere, stopping for a quick break and right in front of me, at THAT urinal is the unique name of THAT character. I’ve only known Arek in the pages of a book, seeing his name out here in the wild was a weird moment. It made me smile and almost laugh out loud, which is something I don’t recommend in a public restroom.

Wow!  Just wow!  For the next few miles, it was all I could think about. How could that have happened? I suspected it was God’s way of letting me know that he was pleased by the help I was giving this childhood friend of my daughter’s and that this might all be part of a bigger plan than I was aware. I love moments like that when God plays on the fringes of my journey. He’s done it in song lyrics playing in the background at a store, or in a random comment overheard from a passerby, or even in a line in a novel or article. Each seems like divine confirmation that I’m on the right track, like the occasional tree mark on a mountain trail or a cairn beside it. And I suspect he was signaling that not only for this young woman I’ve been helping but also for my father’s situation as well. I sensed his pleasure and my heart was warmed by a divine wink, “I love you, Kid.  Keep going down this road.”

I know Jesus said it was an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign. I never seek signs anymore because it proved a fruitless pastime. But that doesn’t mean he won’t wink at us from time to time to let us know we’re right where he wants us to be.  I’m sure I’ve missed a million of these for every one I have noticed. When I see them though I pause to take note and enjoy how God can be so playful in such subtle ways. I don’t chalk them up to mere coincidence, not when they are that dramatic.

The book with Arek and Willow in it will be released on June 15. It’s called Out of the Shadows and is the first of a three-part trilogy that I think many of you will enjoy, especially if you like mysteries and intense action. The author is Tessa Van Wade. She’ll be on a podcast soon so you can meet her. You’ll love the passion that fills her heart and how this story can help you walk out of the shadows of lies and illusions and embrace the true identity Father sees in you.  I’ll be sharing more about it up the road, but I do hope you get to meet Tessa, at least virtually and enjoy this amazing story that’s spilling out of her heart. You can see a trailer for the book here and pre-order it from Amazon here.

 

Embracing God’s Playfulness

Spring Newsletter 2021

Playfulness is not the first thing people think of when they think of the Creator of the universe. Our religious interpretations of him often paint him as an austere, angry, or even terrifying presence. Such views help keep the people fearful instead of faithful, which makes them easier to manipulate.

But how can that be an accurate portrayal of the God who made giraffes and hummingbirds, octopi and penguins, even sex, not have a pretty vibrant sense of humor?

Isn’t the playfulness of joy and laughter one of our most treasured human experiences? It draws our attention when children are shrieking with delight or when a conversation erupts in laughter. Wouldn’t these things be closer to the innocence of Creation than the despair and fear our more adult anxieties drag us into?

If you’ve been reading my blog of late or listening to the podcasts, you’ll recognize that Romans 8:19-21 had been close to my heart these days.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

While contemplating this Scripture, having recently visited the burn scar of a large wildfire, I sensed his Spirit whisper in my heart, “It’s time.”  My whole being shook with what I assumed was the same eager expectation the creation experiences. It’s time for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed on the earth. I don’t have a clue if this is that final, end-of-days revelation of his children. Still, I did sense in the wasteland of our virus-devastated, politically divided, and depression-rampant culture he wants to reveal himself more graphically in those who have come to rest in his love and express the joy of his delight.

Can you imagine how much a playful heart would stand out in this season of high anxiety and despair?  And by playful, I don’t mean frivolous or flippant, but one who has found a different source of life that transcends the events surrounding them. You know the kind, one who remains lighthearted even in the face of stress and expresses the kind of humor helpful in opening doors to people weighed down by the world.

Truly, God is the most playful presence I’ve ever encountered. Oh, there are times when he is somber and severe, that’s true. Truth can hurt. Jesus sweated great drops of blood in Gethsemane, and Paul reminded many of those who came to faith during his first missionary journey that it is through suffering that we often enter the kingdom. But that doesn’t discount the power of play, especially in our relationship with God and in times of extremity.

As a dad with his young son or daughter, God is playful, too. Some of the funniest thoughts I’ve ever had have come from him. I’ve often laughed out loud at an observation that completely flips how I am looking at a situation. Jesus often played with his disciples, whether it was calming a storm that scared them or telling them how easy it is to ignore the log stuck in their own eye while trying to plucking out a speck of sawdust in someone else’s. I love his playfulness with the Syrophoenician woman who reminded him that even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table.

People who are playful with God don’t trivialize him. It’s all the more glorious when it’s with the Transcendent God of the universe. It keeps us lighthearted even in the midst of struggle and brings the laughter that is a medicine for the heart. People who know God this way don’t fall into the perfectionist tone of an expert, but even though they haven’t figured it all out, they are confident in the One who does.

We took a lot of criticism for how playful Papa was in The Shack. Many complained that we didn’t give God his reverence, especially when he spills the pancake batter or tells Mack that he’s “messing with him.” Playfulness was Papa’s doorway into Mack’s great sadness. He wasn’t making light of his pain but finding a way through it to transform his heart and to unmask the lies of darkness that held him captive.

Sadly, so much of religion teaches us the opposite. Instead of lightheartedness, it weighs us down with shame and fear. Instead of helping us learn to rest in God’s work, it pushes us to try harder and do more for God. No wonder religion is so exhausting and so unfruitful. Learning to play with our Father is where we hear him best and are most free to respond to his desires for us. I suspect Father’s playfulness has a lot to do with keeping our hearts at rest in him, especially when circumstances can be so challenging around us. Lightness is not the way to avoid our pain but to transit through it to greater transformation and fruitfulness on the other side.

I’m convinced that this is the revelation of God in his children for which creation eagerly awaits. As you come to rest in his love, you too will discover how playful this God can be and why childlikeness is the attribute Jesus identified as most helpful to us in exploring his kingdom. If you haven’t discovered that yet, talk to him about it. Ask him to teach you and lean into those spaces where you can stake your trust in his love and how that can set you at rest in him.

As important as this is for all of us, I sense God is wanting to breathe this reality into a new generation of younger men and women who have been disillusioned and disappointed by religion and have yet to know how real and wonderful God is. He’s calling to them even now and those who respond will become a contagion for his love.

I am excited to see what the coming weeks and months might bring as God reveals himself in his creation. As I’ve begun sharing this, I have heard from so many others that say they have had similar insights about God making himself known through love, rest, and play.  This is not our work to do; it is his work in us.  Yield to him as best you see and watch what he will unfold.

Lifestream Updates

My Friend Luis
If you’re not listening yet to our newest limited-series podcast about my friendship with a man who came to America over the wall when he was twenty-one, you might want to jump in. Raphael is a recurring character in Luis’s childhood who seems to be an angel taking care of Luis through some horrendous circumstances. Just as I put the finishing touches on the last episode, Raphael returned and spent some time with Luis. He hadn’t seen him in over 30 years and what they share becomes the perfect conclusion to our podcast. So, we’re going to have to add an episode or two to our original plan to tell this part of the story.

Live Loved Free Full
Do you want some encouragement each day to lean into more relational space with God so that you can connect with his heart and learn to live in his love? Wayne wrote his latest book for you. It’s a daily devotional with 365 reflections to help tune your heart to Father’s frequency and allow your perception of him to grow.  If you haven’t got your copy, you can get it here.

Don’t Miss These
The trajectory of my heart has been shifting over the past couple of months, and if you want to know what that’s looking like, don’t miss these episodes of The God Journey:

Future Travel
I am in Amarillo, TX today as my first trip since the pandemic started. I meet with a college today and with Christ-followers tomorrow.  I’m not sure how fast or how soon I’ll plan other travel. I do have a couple of make-up trips for some that were canceled; then we’ll see what God has from there. If you’re hoping to put something together as this pandemic seems to wind down, please let me know.

The First Moment of Freedom

Sara and I are reading through my new devotional each day.  Yes, it is a bit weird reading my own book and even stranger to be touched by it and freshly encouraged to draw into that space that makes my life more fruitful.

This one especially touched my heart the other day.

April 15 – The First Moment of Freedom

Some have labored for months or years under the oppressive burden of trying to earn 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 accomplish, 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.

Sometimes it is an immediate realization, at others a slow awakening until that wonderful moment when the penny drops.

Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you.
Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives…

2 Corinthians 3:1–3 (MSG)

I’ve tasted of this many times in my own journey when some new glimpse of him opens a wider door in my heart. I’ve also been graced to be with quite a few people at the very moment some broken place in their life or thinking gives way to the recognition that they are loved no matter what. It’s a moment! I love being in those moments with people, but I am also increasingly aware that I cannot orchestrate them in my time frame, and neither can they.

This is the work of his Spirit, who is constantly arranging things in our heart to give us such a moment. It’s so easy to unwittingly resist that work as we drill down in our guilt or press ourselves to try harder or do more. All we can do is tell him that we desire that revelation in ourselves or in someone we’re with and leave our hearts as open as possible so we can see what the Spirit is doing to bring God alive in us.

If you’re struggling in one of those seasons where his love seems distant, I am praying for you even as I’m writing this. God wants you to have such freedom even more than you want it for yourself. I know it doesn’t feel like that sometimes, but it is still true. Ask him to help you relax into that reality and let his Spirit sort it out in you.

 


The excerpt is taken from Live Loved Free Full, my new devotional that gives you a thought every day to help invite your heart and mind into more relational space where you can see better how he is at work in you.   You can order your copy here, or view a video about it here.

A Life-Long Companion

I am grateful to those of you who have taken the time to review my new book on Amazon.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I hope they are helpful on people finding this book as an encouragement to the Spirit’s work in them. You have no idea how much those reviews help to launch this book into the wind. If you’re enjoying it and haven’t reviewed it yet, please consider doing so. Even a sentence or two is incredibly helpful.

While Amazon has the Kindle version for order, they are still listing the hardback book as “Unavailable.”  It’s crazy!  We shipped books to them weeks ago and have confirmation of them having been received. We have called them and written them and they still have not found the glitch that makes it seem the book is not available.  I’m so sorry for their incompetence. Don’t despair, though, we have plenty available for immediate shipping at Lifestream.  (For international orders, please email Jessica for a quote before ordering because our shipping calculator does not work for foreign destinations.) And if you want to hear more about the book, I was a guest last week on the AdventureLife podcast with Will Ratliff where we talk about the book.

I got my favorite review of this book a couple of weeks ago via text in the middle of playing a round of golf.  It was from my thirteen-year-old granddaughter.  “I was reading your book yesterday it is very good.” To hear her unbidden call it ‘very good.” warmed my heart. Let’s just say reading isn’t high on her list of favorite activities. What it lacks in eloquence, it makes up for in heart. I dedicated this book to my three grandchildren because in many ways I wrote it for them. As I was working on it, I hoped this would become a treasured companion for their life-long journeys—a loving grandpa whispering in their ear the things that he thinks matter most.

If it would touch them, I’m sure it would touch many more—parents, children, grandmas, and grandpas. By the reviews people have been posting and the emails I’ve received from those reading it, it has hit its mark.

Sara and I read my January 31 devotional last night. Many have written me to tell me it is one of their favorites. It is one of mine too. Those are the thoughts that draw me into a better relational space that makes me aware of God’s presence and his activity around me. That’s what my hope was in putting this devotional together, and I’m so glad to hear from those of you who are already finding it a welcome companion on your journey.

Here are some of the reviews from Amazon.  It blesses my heart to see how others are being touched by this book.

Jonathan

I first found Wayne Jacobsen through his Lifestream website many years ago when I was going through a difficult time in my spiritual journey. I have read many of his books, blog posts and listened to many episodes of his podcast over the years, and I was very excited when I found out he was creating a daily devotional! I got the Kindle version as soon as I heard it was available, and while daily devotionals were created to be read one day at a time, I haven’t been able to keep myself from reading ahead, and I am currently a month ahead of where I am supposed to be in the book, but I don’t care! With every devotional, I feel myself growing closer to God as I am made more aware of how much he loves me, and how I often forget that I am one of his beloved, loved greatly by him, just because he loves me, not because of anything I ever did or could do to earn his love. Returning to my first love is such a great experience, I am looking forward to reading through this devotional, and then starting over again to read through it multiple times this year!

 

MA Brown

I’ve been reading and listening to Wayne for almost twelve years now, and I love these little snippets of the wisdom he’s gained on his journey to live every moment in Father’s affection. They’re great reminders to me… I hope that they’re just what you need to breathe hope and peace into your heart and mind, especially in these challenging times. More than that, I hope that you will decide to go deeper into Wayne’s journey through the rest of his books. I’m grateful for his company on my journey–I bet you will be, too.

 

Timmy

This is a daily devotional book, but you cannot stop at just one. They are so inspiring. I have learned from Wayne’s journey with Father though his books, blog, and podcasts for more than ten years. The truths that Wayne shares have greatly impacted my relationship with God. I am so thankful to have his rich and wise insights in a daily format that will remind me and encourage me to go ever deeper in living in the reality of my Heavenly Father’s love for me.

 

Janelle

You know that feeling that you have on a busy day, when you get to take a break with a cup of your favorite beverage and just sit and take some time to recharge your batteries? Well, the entries in this book remind me of that. In a busy world loaded with hectic schedules, exhausting demands on our time and attention, and relationships that are floundering where we wish them to be flourishing, the contents in this book offer an oasis to visit. The truths portrayed energize you to take that next step forward in hope. We are meant to thrive, not just survive. Learning to live loved equals a security we all long for, an ever-growing sense of belonging that cannot be found reliably anywhere else. In these pages you will find much to point you in that direction and encourage you along the way.

 

Dianne

Generally, devotional books focus on what we have done or haven’t done, what we should do or shouldn’t do. We read them as an obligation because we “should” in order to “be better” Christian. This book is different. It is a pleasure and a joy to read because each reading gives us a different view of God’s love for us. No guilt. No shame. Just God’s love for you; unending and unconditional. You’ll probably finish this book in way less than a year because once you start reading, you’ll forget to stop at the end of each entry. You’ll find the readings so encouraging, so inspirational, so comforting that you will keep reading, one after another. What better way to begin (or end) each day than with a reminder of how much Father God loves you.

 

1thing

Open this book to any day of the year and you’ll be glad you did. Wayne is my Reminder-in-Chief—pastorally and kindly calling me back to live loved. This devotional is like having a daily cuppa with a dear friend who truly cares about your soul and wants to help you live freely. A beautiful gift to yourself…and others!

 

Lisa

How refreshing to have a devotional tool that focuses on the Father’s love, his affection and desire for me, rather than what’s wrong or needs fixed. The encouragement and peace this engenders is stealth spiritual warfare. Learning to live loved, is turning on the light to remove darkness, rather than trying to remove darkness to get the light in. We didn’t prepare for Jesus to come…. He came to prepare us to be loved.

 

Patricia

I’ve been on a “living loved” journey for over 3 years now and I can say Wayne Jacobsen’s books, podcasts and now this devotional have helped me grow even deeper in my love relationship with my Papa (I’m also a huge fan of the “Shack” book he co-wrote and I watch the movie every New Year’s Eve! This has been a huge game changer for me as I believe “we were created to live loved”; it is what our soul longs for and can only be satisfied by living in the Father’s affection every day! Every day there is a short, but perfect to the point thought to help you stay there!

 

Madison

I have read most of Wayne’s books and they have been a breath of fresh air on my faith journey. This is a great devotional, one that you will not feel guilty about later for not keeping up with like most that I have tried in the past. You will want to skip ahead in your daily readings or just randomly search for one because his words are such an encouragement, that point you straight to Jesus and the heart of the Father.

 

Marti 

This devotional is fresh and full of life. I highly recommend this book for the person who wants to deep in their relationship with God out of love rather than discipline.

 

Cheryl

This devotional is unlike any other, deeply profound – allowing the heart to shift from a place of anxiety, performance and striving and into a place of trust, delight, enjoyment and love. 

 

A-MS

This is the kind of devotional that will leave you feeling like you’ve been invited into a warm hug from Father and will leave you wanting to know what the next day’s reading has to say. These daily devotionals encourage us to seek for a deeper relationship with Father, and to go on a journey with Him that is our own journey, not a carbon copy of someone else’s. I’m looking forward to spending the next year being reminded every day of Father’s love, freedom and fullness of life that He has for me as I read through this book.

 

Will 

I thought I knew about God’s love until I read the writings of Wayne Jacobsen. He has a way of drawing you into an understanding of Father’s love like no other. This book is no exception. If you’ve ever doubted God’s love or how He could love you, read this book and you will see. It’s not about what you do or what you’ve done, but about what He’s done and who He is. 

 

Monica

The richness in this book is like a Thanksgiving feast. There is so much depth in these pages and beautiful glimpses of Father and his love. I ride a high for the rest of the day after reading in it. I see him in my life a little bit clearer and rest a little deeper! 

 

Bill

In this book it feels like Wayne opened all of his personal journals and shared with us the best of the best of his thoughts. I agree with some others who say they cannot stop at the reading for the current day. I just want to keep reading! Each day is simple, but profound. Please purchase one of these `labors of love` for yourself, and some for those you love!

 

David

I’m convinced you can’t find better things to read, anywhere! The way things are explained makes such perfect sense, my heart cannot deny,,, and neither does it want to.

Order your copy today.

Do You Love Me?

January 19 

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 conceivable threat.

He just wanted to know he had Peter’s love. Having that, he knew everything else would fall into place. Lacking that, nothing else would matter.

If the cross accomplished its purpose, even this one—who had betrayed him so painfully—would find his way back into his love. After all, Peter never stopped loving him, but simply let his fears overwhelm him when the pressure was on.

His failure did not disprove his love. Jesus knew that. For the moment, Peter didn’t. But he would soon enough and then he would be free to live out the rest of his days with growing affection for his resurrected friend.

Don’t think your mistakes prove your lack of love. Find a love bigger than your failures and you’ll find a life that grows increasingly free from wanting to go your own way.

 

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17–19 (NIV)

___________________

This reflection is taken from my new book, Live Loved Free Full. I am running them here because we didn’t receive the book in time to ship them before the start of the year. Since all pre-orders have been shipped, we will only do this until this Friday, January 22. You’ll need to get your book to keep reading. You can order your hardback copy from us or here from Amazon or get the e-book from your favorite e-book distributors. The Kindle edition is here.  After many hassles with their IT department, you can finally order the hardback at Amazon.

Let Your Soul Feel Its Worth

I posted this thought last year, and it came back to me repeatedly throughout the year as people would write and tell me how it had changed the trajectory of their lives. Through it, they recognized how unworthy they felt in their own failures and how distant from the very love that could transform them. As they began to talk to Jesus about this, he led them to a place where he could make himself known to them. Then they could begin to learn to relax into his reality. Sin, failure, or brokenness doesn’t make you less worthy of love, only more in need of it.

And, no, this is not the arrogant God-is-lucky-to-have-me sense of worth. It’s the humbling, contrite, joyful recognition that despite all that I’ve done and all that’s twisted in me, he delights in me as his child and loves me more deeply than any human ever has or ever will.

And the only way to know that is when he appears to you. I know a song lyric is not Scripture, but this one sums up so much of what Scripture seeks to say.  So, as my Christmas gift to so many of our friends around the world, I post it again.  May it bear even more fruit in 2021.

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas song and my favorite line in it is this:  “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Ever since Eden’s Fall, the hardest belief for many to sustain, especially in times of struggle and failure is that they are worthy of God’s love and affection. So often we are overwhelmed by failure and feel so alone in our struggles that it seems sometimes as if no one cares, and too often God most of all. But that’s the illusion that pushes our world into the darkness.

Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

God is not ever inactive toward us—unrecognized perhaps, but never uninvolved and he is always working to beckon us out of the darkness and into the joy of his light. What Sara and I want those three precious children in the picture above to know more than anything else is that they are beloved children of a gracious Father. They are worthy of his love, no matter what struggle they go through, whatever mistake they make, and in spite of every whisper of darkness into their ears.

It’s what we want everyone to know. He appeared in our world because we were worthy of love and to prove it he would spend his own life to rescue us from all that darkness twists or destroys in us. He came to redeem us because we were worth it to him.

You!  You are worth everything to him. What I love about the lyric above is that we come to know that worth when he appears. That’s when it all makes sense, and that’s not just about his coming 2000 years ago, but how he wants to make himself known to you today. When you behold him then your soul knows its worth. We are deeply loved and deeply cherished simply for who we are.

If you need a reminder of that, steal away for some alone-time over the next couple of days. Find a quiet place and ask him to reveal himself to you. Wait in the quiet until his reality begins to bubble up in your soul. We used to sing an old chorus, “There is none like you. No one else can touch my heart like you do. I could search for all eternity long and find, there is none like you.” It is such a rich chorus to sing to God.

But if you could for just a moment, imagine God singing those words to you. Read (or sing) them again and this time put those words onto God’s lips toward you. That’s just as true. And when you come to know that, your soul too will feel its worth.

Then every night can be a holy night!

We are so blessed to have so many connections with so many people around the world. During this season, we are grateful for every life that God has given us to know, every person whose path we have crossed, and those who have let us walk beside them in their own spiritual journey.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and may the New Year bring you an abundance of him and a spirit of selflessness to serve the world in this time of extremity,

Wayne and Sara

A Special Gift a Long Time Ago

I just read his obituary in Christianity Today. “Walter Hooper, a North Carolina man who dedicated his life to preserving and promoting the writings of C. S. Lewis, died Monday at the age of 89. He was sick with COVID-19.”

What an amazing life this man led and he was an important piece of a gift God gave me 19 years ago that has remained a treasured day in my memories. News of his death rekindled those today.

I was in Wales visiting friends and a fellowship there that had been powerfully impacted by some of my earlier books. One night, before bedtime, I was told to be ready to leave early in the morning on a day trip. They wouldn’t tell me where they were taking me, but they were obviously excited.

We got in the car the next morning and off we went back to England. I assumed they had some other folks they wanted me to meet. Soon, however, I noted we were on the road to Oxford. I’d never been there. It was where C.S. Lewis lived, taught, and wrote. My shelves are filled with C.S. Lewis books and others by the Inklings, a group of Christian writers that lived in Oxford. I had hoped that some day I would get to visit the city, the university, and the Kilns, the home where Lewis lived.  That’s where they were taking me and we had a 10:00 am appointment to tour the home, which are only done by prior arrangement.

As we were welcomed into the home, the American student giving us the tour said she could start now, but if we were willing to wait forty-five minutes she said we could join another group that would be extra-special. She didn’t say why but did say she had already gained their permission to let us join in. Since we would be waiting in C.S. Lewis’ library, we opted to join the later tour.

Right on time, two more people arrived. One a college student, and the other an older, soft spoken gentleman (seated above) that was going to lead the tour. He was introduced as “Walter” and though I’d read some of his books about Lewis and some he had edited for him, I don’t know if I’d ever seen his picture. However, as he began to show us around the library, it become clear that he had been in this home with Lewis and knew him quite well. His anecdotes of Lewis’ humor and his insight into his writings were such a delight. Fifteen minutes into the tour it dawned on me who he was and that I was being given a personal tour of C.S. Lewis’ home by someone who had known Lewis and dedicated his life to putting his writings into the world. We spent a couple of hours together and he took us throughout the house and grounds with his stories.

It was one of the most memorable days of my life. And, it seemed like a gift straight from the Father’s hand—that on the far side of the world two friends from Wales would take me to Oxford to surprise me and that we would just happen to be there when Walter Hooper was showing a young friend Lewis’ home and recounting his life and work with Lewis.

I’m grateful at every memory of it, as I was today when I read of Walter Hooper’s passing. At some point in eternity I hope I cross paths with C.S. Lewis and Walter Hooper on the bank of a tranquil stream and talk of the wonders of our God, and all the ways we got him wrong living in this age.

Rest in peace, Walter Hooper.  You’ve enriched the world with your careful work on Lewis’ thoughts and writings.

Would You Like to Help Me Launch My New Book?

I love surprises, and this one is a surprise even to me. My new book, Live Loved Free Full, releases December 22, 2020. It had been sitting on my computer for more than a decade, and I had no idea what a gem it was until I opened it recently. Someone else had put this together from blog posts and articles—a daily devotional inviting people into a grace-filled relational space to start each day. I have added to it and updated it and am excited to share the unexpected treat with you.

Right now, I am looking for a lot of volunteers who want to be part of a launch team that can spread the word about this book on social media! If you’d like to help us, we’ll give you $6.00 off the purchase of a copy.  You can read more about the book on my blog here.

If you…

  • love to read.
  • enjoy using Facebook, Instagram, or other social media
  • like to tell others about the books they are reading.
  • are willing to share about new books on social media.
  • are willing to write a review of the book on Goodreads and Amazon.
  • want to help me make this book available to the world.

Would you be interested?  I’d love to have you on the team! All launch team members will receive an advance digital copy of Live Loved Free Full.

If you want to join my team, please follow these two easy steps:

We’ll ask you to do three simple things.  (1) Read as much of the digital copy that we’ll send to you so that you’ll feel free to recommend it to others. (2) Write a review of it—even one to two sentences—and post it at Goodreads when you have it done and then on Amazon when it releases there on January 1, 2021. Amazon doesn’t accept reader reviews until the book is available to everyone. (3) Post pictures of the book with your recommendation about it on your social media feeds in late December and early January.

If you’re not interested in being on the Launch Team but want to pre-order your copy of Live Loved Free Full, click on the link.  I’m really excited about this book and can’t wait to share it with you.

If you’re willing to help us in this way, I’ll give you a coupon good for $6.00 off the purchase of your own printed copy. This one is a special edition in hardback with dustcover and a ribbon to keep your place.

At Peace No Matter What

Someone sent my own quote back to me a few days ago, telling me how much it had encouraged them.  This thought always draws my heart back to a better place, as well. Our world is a mess, no doubt about it. I wish there had been no virus, that our country wasn’t so polarized after the election, and that we could really treat all human beings equally regardless of their skin color. I’m sorry that people lose their jobs, get troubling diagnoses from their doctor, or have to deal with broken relationships with people they love.

I heard a quote this morning that is similar: “You can’t change how the story begins, but you can change how it ends.” It was mistakenly attributed to C. S. Lewis, though it isn’t in any of his writings. Still, it invites us to focus on the places where we can make a difference instead of leaving us in the despair of victimhood. We can’t do anything about what has happened to us in the past, but God is with us today and can teach us to trust his love in a way that will change the course of our lives.

When we stop fighting the reality of our circumstances, then we’re in a place to discover his peace in the midst of them and his grace to let him change us or the circumstances we face. That’s where I have hope, on what God might do today as I put my hand in his and follow him; however, he leads.

The person who sent this quote back to me also shared how that is living out in them.

Just wanted to thank you so very much for A Breath of Fresh Air. It has been refreshing to go back and listen to some of the older podcasts. I have enjoyed you and Brad being together and all the great laughing you two did together.

Also just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying and learning from the podcasts you and Kyle do together. They have been uplifting and such great teachable moments.

Of course, I love all the podcasts when you have guests and just when it is you. The insight God has given you and the way you share your life, perspectives, and teachings about the Bible has been very life-changing to me, i.e. Jesus Lens, Transitions, all the books and all the rest, have helped me be able to move on after so many years of negativity and control to a much more peaceful, love and grace-based faith and love for God and that He loves me so deeply. I can’t wait until your new devotional book comes out!

Hope you and your family have a blessed holiday season during this pandemic!

Others have told me that the quotes we’re sending out are drawing them back to discover the resources they come from. I like that they are not getting lost. If you want to hear the podcast that the quote above came from, you can listen here: Giving Up the Burden to Convince Others.

And I love the movement she describes from “negativity and control to a more peaceful, love and grace-based faith.” That’s my journey, too, which allows me to embrace whatever today is inside my confidence that God will get me through this too.  I no longer look back at my past, frustrated by what has been, nor look too far ahead and worry about what might be.

I find his grace sufficient to whatever I have to face today and know that living there will prepare me best for whatever is coming down the road.

___________________________

You can find out more about my newest book, Live Loved Free Full here.  And, if you don’t receive our periodic Breath of Fresh Air, you can sign up by clicking on the link and checking the appropriate box.

Busting Up Your Bias – Going Live Today at 2 pm

How do our perceptions of people groups who may be of a different color, different faith, or different sexuality affect how we relate to them? Many people can’t recognize their own biases, especially those that lead to injustice and unfairness for others. Recognizing we all have biases and learning how to manage them is an important facet to being a voice for healing in our culture.

We’re exploring how we can do that today on Language of Healing Live at 2:00 pm PDT.  I’ll be joined by my coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. Evan Taylor, Arnita’s oldest son, will guide our discussion today and others will join us in the Zoom room for a compelling conversation about compassion in a divided world. This conversation is drawn from Chapter 10.  This content couldn’t be more appropriate for the environment we find ourselves in today.

Language of Healing Live is a continuing series of bi-weekly video conversations to help people learn to live more generously in this divided world. You can view previous ones here.  We will be streaming live at the Language of Healing Discussion Group on Facebook, and I will attempt to post that feed on my Wayne Jacobsen Page on Facebook as well.

Join us there live, or watch the video after, which I’ll post here when we’ve finished.

______________

Also, Part 13 of Embracing His Glory dropped today over at The God Journey. This is a continuing series about learning to live loved and transformed by the work of Christ. If you haven’t been in on it, start at the beginning. It will make more sense. There is only one more episode coming in this series.

Pardon Me, Your Tribe is Showing

I will be doing a live Zoom session today at 2:00 pm PDT with my coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. Today’s conversation will focus on themes from Chapter 3 about the pluses and minuses of tribalism and how it affects our life.  It is so easy to think only inside of our own tribe and be oblivious to the experiences of others outside of it.

This is a continuing series of bi-weekly video conversations to help people learn to live more generously in this divided world. You can view previous ones here.   We will be streaming live at the Language of Healing Discussion Group on FaceBook, and I will attempt to post that feed on my Wayne Jacobsen Page there as well.

Join us there live, or watch the video after, which I’ll post here when we’ve finished.

Also, Part 6 of Embracing His Glory dropped today over at The God Journey. This is a continuing series about learning to live loved and transformed by the work of Christ. If you haven’t been in on it, start at the beginning. It will make more sense.

The Jesus Story #5 – The Story that Leads Us to Jesus

After talking through the life of Jesus, and how the early followers discovered what it means to let the Risen Christ live in them, we start looking back at the Bible story that leads to Jesus’ coming. This is a long story of God seeking to win people to himself as they continue to get lost in their own ambitions and would turn away from him. This video looks at the theme of that story and God seeks to win a people into his love, and the geography in which he placed them so that their only safety would be in learning to trust him.

The Jesus Story is an adaption of The Jesus Lens for my grandchildren (ages 9-15) and anyone else that cares to look over my shoulder.  I want to give them an appreciation for the Bible, that has been the most valuable book I know to help me learn to live inside the Father through the work of Jesus.   There will be thirteen episodes in this season as we cover the whole story of Scripture, which is really a story about Jesus.

You can join us live if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture or follow each new video as they appear on The Jesus Story Page here on Lifestream.

(If you don’t see the video above, please click here.)

Print Out Ancient Middle Eastern Map Before Watching the Video

The Jesus Story #4 – Learning to Live in Jesus

After Jesus’s resurrection, his new followers had to learn how to live in this new kingdom with Jesus on the inside instead of the outside. A number of those wrote letters to help explain it to others and those have been saved for us in the part of the New Testament between Acts and Revelation. These letters are a treasure map to help you learn how to move from obligation to rules  and rituals into a growing relationship with how Jesus wants to reveal himself to you and through you.

The Jesus Story is an adaption of The Jesus Lens for my grandchildren (ages 9-15) and anyone else that cares to look over my shoulder.  I want to give them an appreciation for the Bible, that has been the most valuable book I know to help me learn to live inside the Father through the work of Jesus.   There will be thirteen episodes in this season as we cover the whole story of Scripture, which is really a story about Jesus.

You can join us live if you like on the Facebook Group we created for this little venture or follow each new video as they appear on The Jesus Story Page here on Lifestream.

(If you don’t see the video above, please click here.)

Leaning into His Love

For those of you in and around central Michigan, I’m headed there at the end of the month if the planes are still flying. But what I really wanted to share was this:
A close friend from across the country wrote me a note last week. His adult son had been a bit down lately. In a phone call the dad had encouraged him, “to resist the unhealthy urge to isolate and prayerfully focus on Jesus (who is) with him in the present. Pay attention to his love, how he is loving you today and the things and people he is putting on your heart today.”
 
The next day when he returned to his apartment after work, he saw a package on his doorstep. When he opened it he found a cheap, used copy of He Loves Me. And when he picked it up he found a sticky note pictured above on the inside back cover. It read:
“Ask God every day to reveal the depth of your love for me, and teach me to trust you more.”
Not only is that great counsel, but it’s also pretty cool how God put his fingerprints on that for this young man.
Remember, the awareness of Father’s love is not something we can achieve; it’s a reality we relax into. He can show you too. Just ask him, “Father, how are you making your love known to me today?”
And if you don’t have access to a cheap, used copy, you can get a fresh one here.

Facilitating the Conversations That Matter

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog about The Power of a Conversation. I would say that the vast majority of us have been more impacted by a meaningful conversation than listening to a lecture. I know many people see lectures as more fit for teaching, but honestly I do more effective teaching in conversations these days than I can ever fit into a presentation.

Tomorrow, I’m off for a two-week a swing through Oklahoma, featuring a wide set of conversations, some about the depth of living loved, and others about how to love well in the world.  With my latest book out, I now have a set of three books covering the best of what it means to live in the Father’s love—growing in it personally (He Loves Me), finding mutual relationships to stimulate our spiritual growth and to serve others (Finding Church), and how to live with a generous heart in a broken world (A Language of Healing for a Polarized World, which recently became available in audio.)

I received a lot of email about my post regarding conversations. This was one of my favorite because the writer asks a question many of us struggle with:

We’ve been out of the institutional church now since reading Finding Church roughly two years ago and love following the Father this way. We’ve seen such great fruit in our family’s life, as well as with teens (I’m a high school teacher), as we have them over on Fridays for an informal small group/Bible study.

We’ve also occasionally invited others (adults and families) over to our house to simply gather and we have enjoyed it.  Yet, we find it so hard not to rely on a “worship time” or a “Teaching Time.”  What I wish we could experience are the gatherings that I’ve heard you speak of: people coming together when you’re in town at a house or somewhere, but you don’t do a ‘teaching’ and yet all sorts of Spirit-inspired conversations go on amongst the people there.

We find that when we have others over, people don’t typically discuss spiritual or life issues with each other without being encouraged to do so.  Things just stay in the “how are you doing?” and “what’s going with you guys these days?” subjects.  Admittedly, even writing it makes me feel a little silly: how can I expect people to have meaningful, God-journey-related conversations without facilitating them?  But once I start facilitating, somehow it feels like I am manufacturing an event, which I have done all my life.  I suppose what inspired me about your stories of gatherings is that the Spirit seemed to simply move without some teacher-person managing it all.

Do you have any insights for me of where my wife and I might be able to see/do things differently in this?

Here’s how I answered him, if you’re having similar struggles.

I love your hunger and your honesty here.  These are great questions. I love them. But, honestly, they are not easy to answer. You already know there’s a way to do it that is life-giving and invites people in to a quality conversation, and there’s an artificial way of doing it that either intimidates people or causes them to check out.  The difference between those two is affected both by the person wanting to facilitate it and the people he’s hoping will join that conversation.  You don’t really know until you try and then it’s obvious that the offer falls flat, or it didn’t.

I struggled for a long time with this, especially when I was a pastor. When Sara and I would go out with people, we could talk sports, weather, kids, and everyone would be quite animated, but when Jesus stuff came up (if it did) the conversation got awkward and stilted.  It seemed that conversation was reserved for “church” meetings or home groups, not the fodder of normal conversation.  Still, I think this is worth working through.

The first thing I’d suggest you think about is that people have to be on a Jesus journey to have a lively conversation about it. It can’t be just a religious journey that is compartmentalized into a few hours a week. The more they have a sense of their own trajectory or growing edge, and are exploring their life and circumstances with an eye to what God is doing in them or through them, the easier this will all be to fall into the course of regular conversation. People who have a sense of God in their daily life, are seeking to hear his voice and grow in his ways, are very easy to talk to. Those whose lives are immersed in circumstances without a thought as to God’s part with them, will struggle in this conversation. I don’t look for this kind of robust conversation with people like that. I look for ways to share something from my own life that might encourage them or get them thinking, but hopefully not in a manipulative way or one that expects them to respond in a certain way.

The best conversations start spontaneously out of people sharing a meal together. It’s usually triggered when someone dares to get real and shares something from their own journey that’s meaningful and perhaps even vulnerable. It may be a request for help or prayer, or just something that’s really been weighing on them. It can also happen when someone shares an insight they had, or read something that really made them think. Then other people tag on to it and the conversation begins to go down some deeper paths. I love that best. But notice, even then, someone had the wherewithal to have something on their heart and take the risk to share it. I don’t mind being that person if it doesn’t come from someone else.

This is pretty easy when I travel, because people come ready for that kind of a conversation. They’ve read things I’ve written or heard me say things on podcasts they want to discuss or with questions they have about it. That happens whether I’m in a group or one-on-one.

Finding your way into it with more spontaneous encounters takes some doing and some sensitivity to other people in the room.  What are they ready for?  What do the relationships allow?  That’s why it may be a bit easier to facilitate a recurring group to discuss a book or do a Bible study together.  But even in those gatherings, it’s usually the vulnerable sharing that opens the door to something deeper.  And even in our past home groups, we got to the place where the conversation around the table was deeper and more relational than the study we started later. That’s when we stopped doing the study and let the better conversations around the table continue.

Let me encourage you to talk to Jesus about this, not for a plan to implement every time, but for something that might be on your heart for the next conversation you’re in.  It may be a question to ask, or a vulnerable thing you’re going through, or something you read that inspired you. At our last Christmas dinner I had a wild thought just as we were sitting down to dinner. I made a bit of a game of it, but I said no one could leave the table until they shared an experience from the past year that made them a better person. This was my kids and grandkids, so everybody was ready to jump in. I doubt I could do that at any dinner group.  But it opened up the best sharing time we’ve ever had around the table, which also included young children. Later, everyone told me after how much they appreciated it.  I did it on a whim, hoping to have a better dialog around our table. You can bet I’ll be thinking that way again next time we get together with something entirely different. I want it to be a blessing to them, not something that feels forced.

That’s why it’s important that people have some relationship first. I think people who want to intentionally share some of their journey together in a regular way, really spend the first few weeks becoming friends, if they aren’t already. Many start having meetings that tend down a religious road of sharing knowledge, rather than a relational one sharing questions and struggles. If they don’t know each other well, then the first thing is to really let people share something from their lives that isn’t too spiritual, but helps others appreciate who they are as a person.  Some may go deeper there, but it isn’t necessary to force that.  As they get closer, they will be more involved in each other’s lives and questions will flow more readily. And I think it helps if people don’t meet EVERY week. That seems to be our default, but it may be too often. When people feel obligated to attend, or not enough life has passed for there to be fresh insights and struggles, they can grow stale quickly.  Some of the best relationships I have don’t try to cross paths every week or two. Some go months between connection, but when we do, there’s no end of things to talk about.

I hope that helps. There’s no magic formula here, just people who desire rich conversations, and are sensitive to when they become forced or artificial.

I Love How This Book Encourages So Many

One of the great joys I have every day is opening my email. Yes, there is lots of pain in there as people are struggling with the brokenness of the world and how much religious obligation has twisted their view of God and themselves. But there’s also lots of joy in it as people have been encouraged to take the road less traveled, away from the dictates of a religion to a vibrant connection with God and a growing trust in his love for the Father.

I’ve gotten two recently from those who have been especially touched by what we affectionately call The Jake Book—So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I realize between the lines here are also some of those great seasons of pain and frustration trying to fit their spiritual passion into a religious box that is far too small to contain it. But when people let me know that the gravity of life and freedom in Jesus has become more powerful than the pull of obligation, it makes my heart happy.  Here are two examples:

I cannot identify one particular thing that led me down the path of this journey that my wife and I are currently on with Jesus, but I do wish to acknowledge that a book that you wrote, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore? played a significant part in turning my life around. I was looking through a bunch of discounted books at a local bookstore a number of years ago and the title caught my eye. I have not been the same since I read it, mostly because it served as an encouragement to explore my questions about Church congregations and ministry as one serving as a clergy person, specifically as a chaplain for a Church-based retirement community and now as a hospice chaplain for a secular organization. I was a pastor for 15 years before entering the chaplaincy and did not find the pastorate to be something that encouraged my relationship with Christ. I found that I had to look beyond the “organized church” to find that.

I am thankful for your encouragement on this journey which has not been particularly easy, but has made my 60’s the best part of my life so far. I have been recovering from surgery this week and enjoyed listening to The Jesus Lens which has encouraged me to return to Scripture in a new way. I wish you well on your trip to Richmond this week.

And I sure agree with him that the 60s have been the best part of my life so far. That’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “from glory to ever-increasing glory…” he’s transforming us. There are lots of struggles in this journey, even in your 60s, but the freedom within and the growing connection to Jesus makes each decade better than the last.

And then, there’s  this one:

After 5 years in the church, I began to be worn out by the sermons of submission to the pastor, which makes them dependent on the pastor and not on God. They carry out activities, which not only have nothing to do with the Lord’s work but keeps them away from true communion with Him.

When I read your book, it was like a breath of fresh air. I realized that I was not crazy, and that freed me from doubts I had. Your book not only shed light on some of the shortcomings of the institution in which I have been for five years now but it also allows me to understand some of the mistakes I make in my quest for fellowship with Father. For example, John says to Jake: “Until you find out how to trust God for every detail of your life, you will constantly seek to control others for the things you think you need.”

This book is like a double-edged knife for me. It reveals the imperfections of the institution and of the men, but it also allows me to see the slags in me and to ask the Lord Jesus to show me what to do. God knows why He allowed your book to come into my hands. I am very grateful for that. It’s a blessing for me.

I am 70 years old and I arrived at Christianity in 1988, 31 years ago. It is true that all things have become new. The character of John impresses me, which child of God would not be like him? He reminds me of what our Lord said to Nicodemus in John 3: 8: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the noise, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with every man who is born of the Spirit.”

What a superb lesson of faith in God, who creates in us the will and the doing, also creates the circumstances and the situations; and He will put the words useful in our mouth for the one to whom he sends us. For me, I will wish to be a John whom God sends where He wants. I’d also like to have a John who would appear in my life when God knows I need him.

Your book is good for me and I thank God for allowing this.

And I love what he wrote about not just seeing the abuses of others that have reflected poorly in human institutions, but those things in us that contributed to it all.  In the end, his church is not an institution to be managed, but a growing family in the earth to be enjoyed.

 

 

 

The Focused Life

Over the past few weeks I have been recording the audio version of In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process for Fruitfulness, and then this weekend it was time to prune the four grapevines I have in my back yard. And it just so happens that I’ve been undergoing a bit of pruning in my spiritual life as well.  So, I have been freshly reminded of how much I love those stories from the vineyard, and how much I appreciate the Father’s engagement in helping us find our fulfillment in him so that his fruitfulness can take hold in a transformed heart.

Except for some snowy scenes at Christmas time, winter seems to be the most unpopular season. Spiritually, however, I’ve come to appreciate it deeply. At no other time does the farmer have so much influence on his vine’s fruitfulness. In the slowing cold of winter, the Master can cut off all the extraneous branches to focus our lives on the few things he wants us to do well, rather than being driven by the demands of our circumstances.

Having read these passages recently, I wanted to share them again with you from In Season:

The slowed days of winter fly in the face of our frenetic pace of life. This is the gardener leading his vineyards to rest in the same way the shepherd takes his sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. There they lie down to rest. The waters that nurse them are quiet, not raging. If we learned this well enough, perhaps the expression “to be busy for God” would be an oxymoron. It is the world that invites us to busyness. Take it from one who used to find most of his identity in a crammed schedule, proving by activity his worth to God. It is a fool’s trap that has made busyness a coveted merit badge in the kingdom of God.

God doesn’t want our busyness; he wants our trust. Having our trust, he knows we will respond to him and his ways as life unfolds before us.

When we are drawn away from our busyness then we’re free to submit to God’s reshaping of how we live our days, more focused on him and less manipulated by the illusions around us:

Pruning is God’s invitation to lay down those things that no longer need to take up our time and energy and move on to new things that will inspire us and help others. Through it, God resets our focus so that we can concentrate on what he wants us to do. Better to do one thing fruitfully than a lot of things that only turn out to be empty foliage.

I know people like that. In fact, I’ve been like that myself. Externally I looked productive, busily rushing from one meeting to another or jumping from one project to the next. Leaves everywhere! How intoxicating busyness can be. But I couldn’t find the fruit. My spiritual life was so diluted by my myriad of activities that none of them were bearing anything more than paltry, unripened fruit.

Busyness is not the goal of a conscientious believer; fruitfulness is. Not every request that comes my way is God’s will for me to accept. Good opportunities are not necessarily godly ones. Expectations pushed on us by others are not the directions Jesus invites us to follow.

Paul wrote to Titus that, “The grace of God teaches us to say no.” That means we can say no to the worldly passions that destroy us and no to the opportunities that overwhelm us.

Notice that it’s not fear that teaches us to say no, but grace. Because we can trust God and know that he will lead us into the fullness of joy, we are free to say no even to the things that we desire, whether good or bad.

Jesus said no to the enemy’s temptations, knowing that God’s way was better. He didn’t rush to Lazarus’ side when he first heard he was sick. He stayed two days longer to finish what he was doing before he joined the friends he deeply loved. Given Paul’s explanations in his epistles, he didn’t rush to churches that desired him to come either. He followed God’s agenda instead.

Recognizing that we are branches on his vine will free us to focus on the few things that God has really called us to do. That’s the only way to be fruitful. Draw near to God and let him show you what his plans are. His grace will teach you to say no to those that aren’t.

We hope to have the audio out in a month or so.  We’ll let you know here…

One Conversation at a Time

Our hope for A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation is that it would change the way people interact with those around them.  I love the stories where that is happening. Here are two I got just last week that really touched me:

Our publisher sent me this story after going into a Barnes and Noble in Colorado:

Out of curiosity, I attempted to find a copy of A Language of Healing. I was unable to locate it so I asked a customer service rep to see if they had it. She informed me that unfortunately they were sold out but that they could try and ship a copy to me in time for Christmas. I thanked her but declined, informing her that I was associated with the publishing company for A Language of Healing.

She got very excited and told me that her 14-year-old son loved the book. He is very passionate about politics and has been asking some very challenging questions about some of the current issues in today’s political atmosphere. The Barnes and Noble employee went on to say that there were a lot of books that B&N sells that she does not see the point in even carrying.  She wanted me to express her deepest thanks in taking the risk to write a book worthy of the world’s attention and told me she has intentionally sold several copies after reading it for herself with her son. 

Then, I got a series of texts from a good friend who lives in Mississippi:

Earlier in the day, he had met a Methodist pastor living in the area. After a brief conversation, my friend invited the pastor to go to dinner some evening with their wives and further the conversation. They exchanged cell numbers, but a bit later when my friend texted the pastor to firm up dinner arrangements he got back this text:

“Thank you for your gracious offer but our political views and views on faith are pretty much on opposite ends of the spectrum.  My wife will be running as a Democrat in the state legislature.  We appreciate the invitation and are glad you love this community like we do but we would rather not enter into a situation that would make either or both of us uncomfortable.”

My friend responded:  “I got your text.  Perhaps we could start with a coffee at Starbucks for just you and me? I’m sorry if I did anything to create the idea that friendship depends on agreement. In fact, I’d say just the opposite. Attached is a book called “A Language of Healing…” which I recently endorsed at the request of the authors.  You will see that conversations don’t make me uncomfortable at all. I understand however if you or your wife are not up for that. By the way, I’m not even a Republican anymore so being with Democrats is definitely no problem. Happy New Year”

With the text, he sent photos of the front and back cover of the book, and his endorsement inside it.

Shortly after, he got the following text:  “I am pleasantly surprised.  You did not do anything to make me think that friendships depend on agreement.  All I had to go on was info I found on Google about your past political views and so thought we might not enjoy each other’s company.  I have ordered the book and will give it a read.  After I have finished it you and I can get together for coffee.  Thanks for your gracious response.

To which my friend responded:  “Sure. Google and Facebook are from some hellish demon, or at least that’s my opinion based on experience. It’s too easy nowadays to dislike someone from a distance. I am quite confident we can smile about any differences. Thanks.

He agreed to meet for coffee!

In such small moments the culture begins to turn.

Who can you build a bridge with in 2020?

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 13

Many of you followed the saga of Alan and Lynn (not their real names) the summer that began as In the Shadow of Death and finished as When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want. It’s a prolonged email exchange with a man whose wife was dying of metastasized breast cancer despite their faith and belief that she would live. She died a few weeks into that exchange, and our correspondence continued into the grief of her loss and the challenge to his faith when he thought his belief would secure her healing. You can read all 12 posts from the beginning starting here if you’d missed it.

I have continued to stay in touch with Alan over the intervening months, and thought I’d add on this one exchange from last week:

From Alan:  

Today is 6 months to the day that Lynn died. It has been another difficult day. I am having a tough time remembering her in her beauty and love and kindness, the images of her in the hospice bed dying before my eyes are crowding out the good. Wayne, why did Jesus say “I will” to the leper and “I will not” to Lynn and me when we said we believe He can heal her if He will. We had zero doubt about His ability. I am so broken trying to make sense of my Father saying “no.” I suppose there are no answers now, and even in eternity he may choose to not reveal why. It is our place to just try to trust that He is good even though we don’t understand. I’m trying.

Wayne’s Response: 

I didn’t know what day it was but knew this would be a brutal day when it arrived.  A day that was so filled with celebration now becomes a marker for pain. That’s what grief is meant to walk us through—to recapture those memories with joy instead of being devastated by them. It does take time. I know we’re perhaps a long way from that kind of thing, but your self-talk now will take you one of two directions—either deeper into disillusionment and despair, or through the darkness of grief and into a light that shines more brightly on the relationship you shared for thirty years.

You know I don’t agree with you about the “I will not.”  Do you think the God you know would have listened to your and Lynn’s prayer and for some capricious reason decided, no, not this time?  Really? What kind of Father would that be? Her healing was never going to be about you believing enough or saying the right prayers. God’s work in the world is not to give all the good stuff to those who trust him, and all the bad stuff, like cancer, to people who don’t. You asked God to heal your wife. I would too, in the same situation.  His answer wasn’t, “I will not,” but it rather might have been…

My beloved son, Alan, there are considerations here you don’t even fathom and couldn’t if I tried to explain them to you, or else I would. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but that I could not, not because I lacked the power or desire to do so, but because of other factors in play that you don’t know about. I am so sorry. I knew you would take that out on me for a time, and I was willing to risk it because I know that at the end of the day your faith would win out. I am good, and Lynn knows that better than anyone living on earth right now. What I did or didn’t do was not about whether or not I loved you or her, but simply that this was the best of all possible solutions for all else that I’m doing on the earth.

I would never ask you to understand that, given your horrible loss and your limited perspective, but I do hope you’ll find a way to trust me in this and look beyond it to see what good I will yet do in you and through you.  Lynn is safely at rest in me, and she yearns for the day when you will join us, but there is so much more I want to share with you right where you are.  Stay the course. Find your way back to love and trust simply in the strength of my character, not in your ability to understand it.  You are mine, Alan. Your time is not yet. There is more day to live until the dawn in which all of this will make more sense.

Alan Response:

Wow! Thank you!. That is the most amazing response ever! You must have been attached to the portal of Heaven because that came from the Father, no doubt! Thank you for being patient and willing to be used by God in my life as opposed to being impatient and preferring to ignore me or tell me to stop bothering you. I love you and thank God for you. I hope that 2020 will afford an opportunity for me to tell you that face-to-face.

Too often, we come to conclusions about God from our limited perspective that are wildly untrue and wars against our intimate life in the Father’s love. If we could only see what he sees, we would understand, and until then, we have to trust what we know of him—that he is a loving, gracious Father, who is not wanting to add to our pain but wants to walk us through it into greater freedom beyond.

You might say we judge God through the knothole of our own pain. We’ve all done it, but it never leads us to what’s true.

Farewell Kevin… And Thank You

The world is a bit poorer today, at the same time more of what I treasure has found his way into eternity.

I found out this morning that my good friend from Australia, Kevin Smith, passed away peacefully on Sunday morning. I knew he had not been well and had endured great suffering and pain over the last few months. Those closest to him are relieved that his suffering is finally over and that he has begun the greatest adventure for which he was created—eternity with the Father he loved so much. My heart and prayers go out to his wife Val, his three kids and their spouses, and all the grandkids.

Over the past 24 years, I got to have so many long, deep, healing conversations with Kevin—in my home, in his, in Ireland, Singapore even on Skype calls. I got to introduce him to so many of my friends around the world. I first met him and Val in the summer of 1995 when asked to teach at a Servant School he’d helped organize in the bush outside of Melbourne, Australia. He and his then-21-year-old daughter picked Sara and me up at the airport to drive us out to Camp Weekaway. The conversation I heard between that father and daughter let me know we were in for a special time. It was our first time in Australia and we were deeply hurting at the time having just been betrayed by a close friend and forced out of a group of people we dearly loved. Those few days were life-changing. It’s where we began to see the cross in a different light, that I wrote about in He Loves Me, and talked at length about in Transitions, and where we got to experience the reality of a community of brothers and sisters that we had been trying so hard to produce, without success, by our own efforts at home.

Those ten days in Australia changed the course of our lives in so many ways. I have always been grateful that God allowed our lives to intersect then and continue to over the years that followed.  He was a treasure in so many ways—his smile, deep laugh, his wisdom, generosity, and graciousness communicated the Father’s nature to me better than anything else ever has. When people ask me what books have most shaped my life and theology, my answer is that it was never books. What has most shaped my life and thoughts on this journey are the people God brought across my path at just the right time and who invested so much in my heart and life. And I don’t mean I got to hear them speak; I got to spend time with these people in their homes, on long walks, in deep conversations and in frivolous moments of joking and laughter. They allowed me to see God in real life and Kevin was one of those. He never took himself too seriously or never tried to impress me with his spiritual depth. He just lived an authentic life and made room for others to walk alongside him.

Kevin Smith having a yarn in Ireland

The sheer gravity of his character and passion for God permanently altered the trajectory of my life. When I spent a few days with Kevin my trust in Father grew in ways that surprised me. He simply lived at rest in the Father’s care through times of great abundance and in times of great need or pain. He was willing to follow God’s leading even at great personal risk financially and otherwise. So much of how I live in the world today, I can trace back to my friendship with Kevin and what he showed me about what life in God looks like.

Even how I travel now is the fruit of our relationship. I know that what people need to see to catch this life for themselves is not a speaker on a stage talking about the love of God, but an example in their homes and over meals of our common humanity and the amazing Father that can make sense of our lives. I know that frivolous moments of laughter or making buttermilk biscuits are every bit as significant as the deep conversations. That’s what Kevin showed me and I still treasure every moment we’ve had together.

As I have reflected this morning on my gratefulness to God for allowing Kevin in my life, I was reminded of some of the things he said to me, that I still share with others:

  • He was the first person I ever heard use the word “Father” without the article in front of it. It captured me because I never call my father ‘The dad’. Father became such an endearing term to me.
  • After asking me how many of our policies in the church I’d been a part of were based on our fears of people falling through the cracks, of the wrong people getting in leadership, or of people not seriously following Jesus and I answered about ninety percent, “So, you know well the church that fear can build, but you’ve yet to discover the church that grows from trusting him.”
  • “We loved The Naked Church when we read it, but we also realized that what you don’t know yet is that Jesus didn’t leave us with a system to implement, but with his Spirit to follow.”
  • When asked by someone if he believed in the infallibility of the Bible, he hesitated briefly then answered,  “I believe in the infallibility of the God of the Bible.”
  • When I was complaining about one of our politicians, “Well, we know he lies, but we don’t know that he’s a liar.”
  • In a classroom in Singapore discussing Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers. “Is unity really our calling?  Who was Jesus asking to produce this unity, us or his Father?”
  • When asked about his children not growing up in Sunday school. “I think they may give our children just enough of God’s things to inoculate them against the reality of knowing him.”
  • “Let’s make a pact to use the term church only the way God uses it, not for humanity’s faltering institutions, but for the living, breathing family that thrives in the earth.”

I’m sure there are so many more that will come to mind over the days to come. I am so grateful that Father allowed us to have a friendship over the years.

Kevin Smith in Australia

Fortunately, you can still spend some time with Kevin if you’d like. Over the years I did five podcasts with Kevin and was always touched by the power and simplicity of his words as well as his life.  You can listen to them here. Take a weekend sometime and listen to all five of them back-to-back. It will enrich your journey in ways you can’t imagine.

Most of all, I will miss knowing you’re in this world, Kevin. I realize you are face-to-face with Father now and how I wish we could have one more Skype call so that I could know what you know now. But that will await another day. Thank you, Kevin, for being you! For sharing your life so freely with so many of us and enriching this world with the fragrance of Father.

Farewell, my friend.  Enjoy what’s next!

Do You Want to Help Launch My Latest Book?

They made me do it and laughed at me as they watched me squirm in anguish. All my protests only brought more laughter.

I have more social media than I can keep track of now, but the strategy for launching my newest book with co-authors Arnita Taylor and Bob Prater, A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, is to add Instagram to my list of things to bug me all day long.  OK, that’s mostly humor.  Well, maybe half… or maybe not. Anyway if you want to join me on Instagram and follow the new book release, you can follow me at WayneatLifestream.

But I’m so excited to finally share this book with you. It will release November 19 and we’re planning some events in Dallas, TX to mark the release and to possibly do some training in helping cultivate conversations that tend toward healing. That will be the weekend of November 15-17. I’ll have more information out soon, but if you’d like to join us in Dallas from elsewhere in the world, you might want to put it on the calendar.  All of the authors will be there.

Also, I’m looking for people to join a launch team we’re assembling for this book. The book releases November 19, 2019, and I need help spreading the word. Want to know more?

Ideal launch team members…

  • …love to read.
  • …enjoy using Facebook.
  • …like to tell others about the books they are reading.
  • …are willing to share about new books on social media.
  • …are willing to write a review of the book on Goodreads and Amazon.
  • …are interested in changing the dialogue from the rhetoric of polarizing animosity that is destroying the social fabric of our nation to a language of healing, where honest differences don’t have to destroy friendships?

If this sounds like you, I would love to have you on the team! All launch team members will have access to a digital advance copy of the book in the official The Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation Launch Team Facebook group.

If you’d like to join the team, please follow these two easy steps:

  1. Fill out this Google form: https://forms.gle/1PEJrx9dYV34GerC8
  2. Click this link https://www.facebook.com/groups/2448614108754741/ to join the launch team Facebook group!

That’s it! I’ll see you in the group!

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 12

This is the last posting of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but also with his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan, July 31, 2019 (96 days after first email):

This has been a series of awful days as far as the devastation of grief is concerned. The reality of Lynn being dead is so horrific. I am quickly losing hope and lacking any reason to have it. God is silent. I am all alone in this world. People respond, “Oh, Alan, you’re not alone.” But I realized the other day that I do not know anyone in Lynn’s and my peer group that has ever lost a spouse. Many of them have lost a parent or friend but no spouses. I’m glad for them. I would not wish this on anyone. But at the end of the day, no one knows what to say.

Hope is non-existent.

I have been listening to some of your messages online trying to convince myself that God is not punishing me. Then my mind goes to all the ways I was unfaithful to the precious gifts God gave me. I never committed adultery with another woman, but in my position as a part-time disc jockey at a big country music station, I had myriad opportunities to flirt with women who called in to my show and flirted with me. I have done and thought and fantasized things that said, “Father God, I do not appreciate this precious woman.” Things that I looked at online were a disgrace to my wife.

So, here I am. Harvest time for Alan. Wife dead. God knows all of these things, and I feel that I am reaping corruption that comes from sowing to the flesh.

Your message is “living loved.” How can he “interact with me as His beloved,” and sit by in silence as my wife dies? Knowing He could have healed her in this realm with a breath or a word or a thought and yet when I poured my heart out in prayer, when Lynn poured hers out in prayer, He essentially said, “No.” How is that love at any level? Are we as believers – as his children – only to expect that he’ll be there to help us pick up the pieces when life crashes, but not to intervene to keep things from shattering?

Why did the apostles say to pray? We have a God, a Father. Isn’t there some benefit associated with that that unbelievers do not have? God let Lynn die. He took her. Yes, she is blessed beyond measure and likely not even aware of my pain. But he could have healed her here; he didn’t. I’m left in an avalanche of empty, lonely searing pain. I try to pray for others who are going through battles with cancer, and I wonder what is the use?

The other day I was listening to a teaching and how God delivered Israel from Egypt after 400 years of bondage. 400 years! What about those who lived and died and essentially had their cries for freedom ignored during all those years? At the end of the day, God is sovereign and will do what He wants when He wants, and we are best served by living with no expectation of answered prayer. We can only hope that we don’t end up too broken. My mistake was having too much hope and faith.

Paul went through tribulation. The apostles died horrific deaths. Where is the hope, the evidence in this life that having a Heavenly Father is even real? When does my mourning turn to joy? When will He give me gladness for sorrow? Lynn loved God and trusted Him, and I am confident even in her pain and death, she never had these cynicisms that I have. Her heart was never tainted with what she didn’t understand nor with the questions that I had. She often told me in frustration to trust God when I would be at a crossroads. But, it seems that we are just to shut up and try to be obedient and never get our hopes up even though we are supposed to have faith to please Him.

Wishing I could tell her “Happy Birthday” again in this life,

My response

I know, Alan, and my heart breaks for you this morning.

The first year of grief is always the most painful—first birthday, first anniversary, first holidays, first vacation, all the things you do the first time without her will feel hollow and horrible. Grief comes in waves. That’s why you’ll have good days, where you think you might be getting beyond it, and then WHAM! A special day, a memory, a place you both thought special, or a random rush of pain will cross your path, and the grief rushes back in. Take hope in this, the painful days will, in time, grow less intense and less often, and the better days of celebrating the love you shared will grow more frequent, sweeter, and more prolonged.

The only way through this is through it. Great wisdom, eh? As much as you might want to run from it, embrace it. One person said when the darkness overwhelms you don’t chase the sunset because you’ll never catch it. The fastest way to the light is to head toward the sunrise, away from the setting sun and the light will yet appear again, sooner if you head east than if you chase it hopelessly to the west.

How I wish you could just grieve on the days that seem so dark and invite your loving Father into that grief! Instead, what you believe about God takes you to a different place. Instead of having God as a comforting presence inside your pain, you beat yourself up for every bad thing you’ve ever done or mistakes you’ve ever made. Do you really think God would kill your wife to punish you for something you did wrong? Do you really think God would say, “You looked at another woman years ago, so I gave your wife cancer?”

Is that how you interpret sowing and reaping, that reaping is God giving you a penalty for some weakness or failure? Can you appreciate that when your mind goes into that dark hole, it will seem as if God is silent, even when he is not? His beckoning to you with great compassion is drowned out by the way you view him.

I can assure you the God who loves you was not silent through any of this. Unheard, maybe, because some things you’ve believed about him made it difficult to sense what he was saying to you, especially in the crisis you were in. In the flood of great waters, we can lose sight of who he is because we are so focused on our disappointment or feeling betrayed. I’ve tried to reflect some of what he has been speaking to you in my words through these many emails, and you have recognized that at times. He has been there with you. My words have just been imperfect reflections of the deeper love and wisdom in his heart for you. That’s why I struggle so against religious thinking that puts God on the other side of our pain, as the cause of it whether it be through punishment or “allowing it” through a lack of concern. I reject both of those.

You were not the cause of Lynn’s cancer; this is not punishment from him. Jesus took all of that for us. If he’s still punishing you for your mistakes or imperfections, then Christ died in vain. Sowing and reaping are not about punishment for past actions, but the simple consequences we face for the choices we make. Sow generosity, reap generosity. Sow indulgence, reap emptiness and pain.

I pray you can come to see God as the one who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will. I want you to see Jesus as the loving Shepherd teaching us to live in the increasing freedom of the Father’s reality and growing us out of the places we got stuck and twisted. None of our failures surprise him, and none of them cut us off from his love. All of us can go back in our lives and pick out every mistake, bad thought, sinful action, or indulgence and think any of them exclude us from his love and care, but it still isn’t true. He’s the only one that can shape the trajectory of our lives and draw us out of the darkness and into the light. We won’t hear him do that if he’s condemning us for the darkness.

He celebrates our progress toward the light, not holding our past mistakes against us. How could we grow if he did? Ask him to help you let go of the past, not the good parts, but the mistakes and failures. You are his child—today! He is the rescuer in your story. No, that rescue did not include Lynn’s healing in this world to our great disappointment, but she has it now in another. And now he wants to rescue you through the grief and reveal himself to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Don’t stay in the past, focused on your failures. Wake up every morning in the fresh mercy of a loving Father. Follow him each day in the simple things he nudges your heart towards. He will lead you beyond the grief to all that he still has planned for you in your days on this earth. Let who he really is sink in past your disillusionment with him. You are being dis-illusioned. You had illusions about God that were never going to serve you well. He wants you to know him as he really is, and that is far better than either of us could conceive.

So, lean into love, Alan. It will be there for you every day. He’s closer than we know. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart to what is true of him, and for the God of all comfort to hold you in those moments you despair of life, just like Paul did (2 Corinthians 1).

I’m praying, too, Alan. I think you’re making significant progress, but I know that may be tough to see from where you sit, especially today.

———————————————————–

This is the last blog I’m going to do in this series. Alan and I have continued to be in touch, and I see signs of new life springing up in him as he continues to move forward. What’s more important is that he does, too. Here are a couple of snippets he sent me toward the end of August.

… I had a cool moment yesterday as I was going through some of her CDs and found the original one where I first heard you. You were in Wisconsin talking about living loved, and it is terrific. I’m listening to it multiple times, which seems to be a habit I’ve developed of late – listening to teachings that minister to me over and over.

… I am in a weird place. I am still grieving hard for my sweet bride. But I feel like God is putting me back together. A friend spoke to me and said that they felt like God was showing them that I am like a big tree that has had the bark blown off, and that has been nearly obliterated. But there is still a deep root. And that root is springing forth new life, and the tree will grow again. I don’t know, but I am thankful more and more for Lynn and her strong, steadfast faith.

If there’s a significant development here that extends the story, I will add it in a future blog. But I think Alan is finding his footing again and it will just take time for the grief of Lynn’s passing to be overwhelmed by the new creation that will continue to spring up in Alan’s journey. I want to thank “Alan” for giving me permission to share his emails, and thus his vulnerability and pain, with all of us. There were some raw moments in there that were real, and I know they resonated with many of you as you sort out God’s goodness in the face of him not doing what you thought love, or your theological convictions, would compel him to do. Our best intentions and misguided expectations can so easily block out our ability to sense his presence and see his fingerprints unfold in our days.

Every week my inbox is full of people facing horrible tragedies, and it is also filled with lots of stories of people who have been through those tragedies and come out on the other side more alive in Christ than ever and more transformed to embrace who God really is. Finding our security in his love, especially when the foundations of our lives are shaken, is quite a process. Pain has a way of dulling our spiritual senses, but God’s Spirit is even better at helping us embrace reality and find that God is bigger than our disappointments in him.

Dave Coleman, my co-author on So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, often tells me that he thinks 90% of Christians live with an undercurrent of anger towards God for not answering their prayers. Many have lost children, spouses, marriages, businesses, or friends in sickness, accidents, betrayal, or just unforeseen circumstances that sidetrack our joys or hopes.

The only absolute reality is that we are deeply loved by the God who made us and he wants to be inside the most brutal moments of our lives with us, helping us resolve our pain and draw closer to him. To do that, it will help if we lean on him at such times and not push him away by our false judgments about him or his motives toward us. He can handle our honesty, our disappointments, and our fears and walk us out to a place of freedom. That’s not a given, however. Brutal times can make us defensive, bitter, and isolated, or they can open our hearts to compassion, humility, and transformation.

I don’t believe God causes sickness and disease or withholds healing to make us better people, to punish us for our past mistakes, or to teach us much-needed lessons. He doesn’t have to. This broken Creation causes pain enough for all of us in various seasons. How we navigate them inside his care is way more important than trying to figure out why they happen, or why he doesn’t fix them the way we want.

I have been overwhelmed with email, blog comments, and FB postings that many of you have shared as this story has touched something in your own journey. I do think we’d be better off if we talked openly about these things—prayer, healing, death, disappointments. And our own mortality. Growth comes in such exchanges.

On this side of the Resurrection, we are all mortal. Until Jesus comes again, you and everyone you know will die. That’s how we get from this realm into the next. Death is so excruciating for those it leaves behind because of the vacuum it creates when their love and presence departs.

We forget, however, that for those who die in Christ, it is just the beginning of the greatest adventure ever into the unrestrained depths of God’s love!