Search Results for: The call of the shepherd

The Church In the New Creation

I get lots of email asking how the new book is coming along, so I thought it best that I answer here. For those who don’t know I’m writing a book called Finding Church:  What If There Really Is Something More?  I had hoped to have the rough draft done before I depart next week for Israel, but it isn’t going to happen.  I’ve got about 80% of the book done and have three chapters left to write.  On a personal level, I am thrilled with how this book is turning out, though it has been a harder write than I anticipated.  There is so much on my heart here and finding a way to say it that is clear, compelling and accessible has been a challenge.  But I enjoy that kind of challenge.  Days spent home writing are some of my favorite days, so don’t feel badly for me.  

am working on the pinnacle chapter now:  “Unity Without Conformity” that pains a picture of what his church looks like in the world as she takes shape, but also how she fulfills her mission by demonstrating God’s character and being on the cusp of where the new creation confronts the brokenness of the old.  It will be one of my favorites and help people appreciate why Jesus wants to make himself known through the church that is not built by human hands or ingenuity.   

After I finish the rough draft, I’m going to go back through and tighten it all up.  It is about 20% longer than I want it to be, so that means cut, cut, cut.  And while it’s always hard to throw out paragraphs or stories that I spent so much time crafting, I learned a long time ago that writing is a discipline.  You can’t say everything you want to say and keep people engaged, and cutting forces you to do better writing.  I learned that while I was a Contributing Editor at Leadership Journal years ago.  No matter how long an article was, they always wanted me to take another pass and cut 20% out, because it forces you to write a better piece.  So I was not surprised to discover that this book as I’m coming to its end is about 20% longer than it needs to be.  I’m actually looking forward to cutting it back about and shaping the writing to be more focuse and more disciplined.   My theme verse at times like this is Ecclesiastes 6:11 “The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?”

I’ll continue to work on that when I get back from Israel and hope to have the book completed by late spring and hopefully out this summer.  Who knows?  It’s a journey and I’ll get to the end when I get to the end.  There’s an excitement in my heart that continues to bubble up through this process and I’m looking forward to getting it done just to engage the conversations it will spawn, both with pepole who will resonate with it, and with those who will find it threatening.  I can already see that in this season of my life I want to be involved in the conversations that help people recognize how Jesus’ church is already taking shape in the world and to spend time with those who have a heart to facilitate its life where they live, and have no desire to build a kingdom for themselves.  

On next week’s podcast, I’ll also be reading the rough draft of the second chapter for those who want to hear it.  I did the first chapter a few months ago.  You can find it here if you missed it.   For those who want to get a taste of what I’m working on, I am including an excerpt below to give you a taste:

A number of years ago I was invited to speak at a black, inner-city fellowship near Boston.  As I joined their meeting for the evening I was struck at how passive the people were even as the pastor railed at them for not being as faithful in attendance as she wanted them to be.  We went through all the motions. We sang.  I spoke, they listened, and while those times are not valueless, they are not what church life is all about.

The next morning I met two young men from that congregation for breakfast at their request.  As we ate they shared their stories and their spiritual hungers, which were not being met where they were. They talked about the community they lived in and their desire to see a display of Jesus’ life available to them. We laughed, we cried, and we prayed unaware that others were listening to us.

After a couple of hours of conversation two ladies in their seventies suddenly appeared at the end of our table with tears in their eyes.  “You don’t know how long we have been praying for God to touch some young men in this community who have a passion to share God’s life in such a desperate place.  We have enjoyed listening to you three for the past couple of hours and know this is part of the answer to what we’ve been praying.”  We all knew we were in a moment bigger than any of us and for that moment the church had taken shape in a restaurant in Roxbury, Massachusetts and was far more soul-shaping than the meeting we’d had the previous night.

If you’ve ever had a taste of authentic fellowship you’re a marked person. Nothing religious will ever satisfy you again.  You’ll know that it can appear where you least expect it and it will capture your heart in a way no obligation can.  You won’t see it as a meeting you can organize or invite others to, but as real and growing relationships with others on this amazing journey.  Nothing we can do, even with the best of intentions, can produce or maintain it. 

Though we see its reflection in fits and starts now, I don’t think any of us can yet conceive of what his church will yet look like when thousands upon thousands of people freely live in the reality of Jesus’ love and respond to the voice of the Shepherd simultaneously and spontaneously around the world, without the need to encase it in human institutions.  

 

The Church Jesus is Building

By Wayne Jacobsen
Living Loved • Winter 2011

“What do you think the church is going to look like ten years from now?” I get asked that question almost everywhere I go. People assume that my travels and correspondence give me a wider view of God’s work in the world. And while it may be a bit broader than some, in the grand scheme of things, I interact with a very small slice of Jesus’ followers and even that is a very specific subset drawn by the content of my books and websites.

Nonetheless I find it a fascinating question mostly for what it says about us. Our religious training has put our focus in the wrong place, asking the wrong questions, and leaving people feeling adrift when they have no need to be. No one can answer it with any degree of certainty and the question itself assumes a standardized answer that ignores Jesus’ immense creativity in the world across differing cultures and local realities.

The question does admit, however, that we are in a time of transition, where the old congregational forms based on centuries of worn-out methodologies and compromised hierarchies no longer work. People are leaving their congregations in droves. Certainly many of those have abandoned God either believing he isn’t real, or not worth knowing if he’s the demanding busybody religion often presents him to be. But a significant number are leaving because their congregations were having a negative influence on their desire to know God and find real community. The reasons are numerous–empty rituals, irrelevant programs, messages provoking guilt or demanding performance, misplaced priorities, authoritarian leadership, superficial relationships, or simply the inability to honest friendships sharing a journey of spiritual growth.

It’s easy to point fingers at those leaving. But even if you love the traditional congregation, you might want to look beyond it and ask why do we spend so much energy propping up a system that alienates so many wonderful people, instead of concluding that the people must not be wonderful because it no longer works for them.

Scattered?

For those who have given up on the congregation they were a part of, what do you do now? If you found your identity in a task you did for God or group you used to belong to, finding yourself outside of it can be incredibly disorienting. Even if your mind knows better, your emotions are still tied to the approval you received by being visible and active in a local fellowship. The same people who used to love and applaud you, now look down on you for “forsaking the assembly” and question your relationship with God.

Many feel like scattered sheep battling the guilt of their inactivity rather than using the time to deepen their own relationship with the Shepherd. Some seek another group of like-minded believers or try to start one of their own. If they do, they find themselves relapsing into that same feeling of superiority that comes from being in a group that is more committed to Biblical principals than the one you left, or at least thinks they are. But soon you realize that even a house church or an organic group can be as empty, or as abusive, as the congregation you left.

All the while, the question that nags you is, “What should the church look like?” The underlying premise is that if you just knew what it is supposed to look like you would know where to look or how to form one. That’s why so many end up in the unending struggle to find the right church model to copy. In doing so they never realize that their own pursuit is keeping them from the very reality they desire.

If your connection to Jesus is growing, you are not scattered at all. You are simply finding that the voices of religious performance no longer hold the same weight and you are no longer getting the same validation you became accustomed to. Your passion to live inside his affection is drawing you to a greater gathering of believers tha you cannot yet see. Don’t be afraid. You are not alone. Jesus is building a people in the earth who can live as his body in these days. You won’t miss out. You are simply transitioning from religious obligation to a relational reality, and no one I’ve met on this journey has ever regretted the cost to do so.

So while I am not able to answer the question directly, I want us to look at how we can embrace the church Jesus is building in the world. I won’t pretend my observations are complete or authoritative. They are simply the way I see it at this vantage point of my journey. Admittedly these thoughts have also been shaped by insights I’ve gained over the past fifteen years by tasting real community at home and in distant countries, and sitting at the tables of brothers and sisters around the world who have wrestled with these same questions, many of whom have lived outside the distractions of religious performance longer than me.

He Is Shaping A Bride

Jesus is building his church with the same passion that he has demonstrated through the ages. It may be hard for some to see, because they have used the term “church” to describe buildings and institutions, and thus have failed to recognize the church as she really is. Even if you attend a so-called church meeting, the church is not the meeting you attend or the organization that sponsors it; it is the network of Jesus-centered friendships that you enjoy in those institutions and beyond them.

He builds that church by first shaping people who can walk with him. I am thrilled with the stories I hear of people who are breaking out of religious molds and learning to live in the reality of the Father’s affection. This draws them out of religious performance and obligation, which relies on human effort and ingenuity. They are learning to follow him instead of finding security in a specific group, doctrine, tradition, or ritual.

The words of Isaiah may even be more timely for the religious contrivances we have designed today:

“Who talked you into the pursuit of this nonsense, forgetting you ever knew me? Because I don’t yell and make a scene do you think I don’t exist? I’ll go over, detail by detail, all your ‘righteous’ attempts at religion, and expose the absurdity of it all…. They’re smoke, nothing but smoke.” – Isaiah 57:11-13, The Message.

There’s no doubt Jesus is exposing the absurdity of our religious self-effort. None of our activities matter if they are not drawing us into a meaningful relationship with him, where each one learns to hear his voice and follow him. As well intentioned as it may be, our work for him may be the greatest obstacle to actually knowing him. The New Testament is clear: the only thing more dangerous than unrighteousness is self-righteousness.

And let’s not blame the institutions. Religion is not something we get from them; it is what those institutions provide to satisfy our fleshy inclinations. I know many who have left religious systems but are still living in religious ways of thinking. And I also know those who attend a local congregation, but they are not caught in the performance trap. Instead they are learning to love God and the people around them. They may have to ignore the guilt-inducing messages, or the manipulative tactics of those who seek to lead, but because they are free on the inside they can still be there to love beyond it all.

The church Jesus is shaping is one not driven to performance by fear, shame, or guilt. She doesn’t respond to obligation or ritual or the absence of them. She is learning to live at the pleasure of the Head and that makes her radiant with his glory wherever she appears on the planet.

Living at Home

Our old religious inclinations tell us that what we need for a vibrant spiritual life is “out there” somewhere. Find the right group, movement, author, plan, or revival or you’re going to miss out on what God is doing in the last days. That simply isn’t true. Jesus told us not to buy into the notion that the kingdom of God was somewhere else. “The kingdom is within you!”

We all know how to live in our fears or anxieties. We know how to conform to the world’s demands or religion’s dictates. What Jesus wants us to teach us is to live at home in his Father, the same way Jesus lived in him. This is not a theology to subscribe to, but a way to live all day, every day. Living in Christ has absolutely nothing to do with where you are on Sunday morning at 10:00 and everything to do with following him through each day. Jesus did not come to create sacred space for us in religious services, or even in our daily quiet times. He made all of life sacred by coming to live in us and becoming a part of every thing we do.

This is not as complicated as many fear. The reason people have trouble discovering this reality is because they don’t believe it is as simple as it really is. Living in communion with him is what he shapes in a wiling heart as we learn to relax in his love. Right where you are he can show you how to live at home in the Father, confident in his love, and at peace even in times of trouble

The loneliness some feel when they find themselves outside religious systems is really not a cry for more people; it is a drawing to God that we have tried to fill with other people. If you are not at rest in God’s love for you, no amount of human contact will fill that void; it can only mask it. Let your loneliness draw you into a greater depth of relationship with him and then a new way of relating to others emerges.

Resist the Urge

It’s often been said that the greatest enemy of the best is the good. It often is. The greatest distraction to being a part of what God is doing in the world is to be focused on human efforts, especially what we try to do for him. Nothing disrupts God’s work around us more than when the arm of flesh asserts itself to try to do for God what we think God cannot do for himself.

When we feel unattached, unproductive, or insignificant this growing urge will prod us to “at least do something,” as if misguided activity is preferable to a quiet, listening heart. If that doesn’t spring from our own flesh, then it will from someone’s near us. Many of our fellowship groups, Bible studies, and outreach efforts have begun with the perceived guilt that we are not doing enough for God. More time-consuming and irrelevant religious activities have been generated from that distorted impulse than any other. Authors manipulate it to sell books, and would-be leaders exploit it to get us to embrace their programs and contribute to their income.

The fruitfulness of God rises out of rest not anxiety, out of the gentle nudge of his Spirit not the vision of a charismatic leader. In truth, God is not asking us to do anything for him. He’s already doing the best stuff in the world and as we learn to live inside of him he will invite us to be part of what he’s already doing. One of the things I notice about the life of Jesus is that he rarely created the environment, or planned meetings for other people. He simply joined them in the environments in which he found them.

When we get so involved with our own planning we easily miss the moments Jesus puts right in front of us. They are always far simpler and yet more magnificent than what we conjure up. At the beginning they never look as flashy as our plans or appear to be as far reaching. Usually he’s just inviting us to love someone. We have no idea how simple acts of obedience can snowball into consequences we never considered.

As long as you have any confidence in your flesh’s ability to work for God, you will confuse the urge to be productive with the nudging of the Spirit. And the more capable you are in your own efforts and intellect the greater danger you’re in of substituting the arm of the flesh for the breath of the Spirit.

Being part of his church happens by simply loving the people God puts before you each day.

A Different Kind of Gathering

God’s voice isn’t in the passion to create new church movements, nor is it in the cry for revolution. Those appeal to our own self-need for significance by belonging to the most cutting-edge group. God’s invitation comes from within–that deep drawing into the Shepherd’s care, and learning to love as he loves, to think as he thinks.

What the church will become in ten years isn’t going to be unveiled in the next ecumenical conclave in Geneva or Hong Kong, nor in the latest how-to book on church life. What the church becomes in the next ten years will be the fruit of millions of simple decisions made each day by people like you who are learning to live loved by the Father. There is no model to copy, no method to implement.

The early church focused on Jesus and its life was merely the visible expression of how people who are alive in Jesus treat each other. It was not perfect, but it was full of life because their life was in him, not each other. The church was the joyful network of relationships that living in him spawned and its visibility in the world came simply from doing together those things he put on their hearts.

The church of Jesus gathers like a family, not with orchestrated meetings, but a celebration of relationship and sharing with each other. With the Father’s love as the source of church life, not it’s objective, a new range of possibilities as to how the church might gather will become clear. I already see God connecting in unique ways brothers and sisters across this world who live unencumbered by religious performance and seek simply to love as they have been loved. They are less concerned with getting church right than they are seeing Jesus reveal himself. Connections happen easily among such people as a friend of one quickly becomes a friend of others, and the body grows!

What will happen as that continues to spread? I don’t know and don’t need to know. I do expect, however, that this church will take more more visible expression over the next ten years than we can conceive. The forms that takes will uniquely fit the locale and the season of God’s working, but in the end may not be all that different from ones we have already known. I’m sure it will involve meals together with lots of laughter and at times tears, insightful sharing, caring about each other, and listening to God together.

In the end, what forms that takes is far less significant than having authentic, caring friendships that put Jesus first. What we can do is learn to live in him and open our hearts to the connections he wants to make with us.

 

Live Connected

Being part of his church happens by simply loving the people God puts before you each day. Be intentional about cultivating friendships, especially with new people. Some will be temporary; others will connect at a far deeper level. In our human nature we mostly gravitate to people we already know who make us happy. Those relationships, however, are still focused on our needs whether it is to combat our loneliness or find an audience for our gifts, and won’t lead us to the authentic friendships that radiate Jesus.

When you know you are loved by God, you own’t have to use others to get what you want. Then watch what happens out of those relationships. You won’t have to look far and wide for people of like mind. You won’t need to find a group that believes what you do. Just take an interest in the people around you and let the results of that caring bear fruit over time. Some relationships may not go far at all. Others may be only a fruitful moment while others will become deep and enduring friendships.

Simply loving those around us will open whatever other doors Jesus needs to build his church. I am convinced that everything God wants done in the world can happen as the simple extension of growing friendships. That will provide fellowship enough, outreach enough, and work enough to let God’s life flow to the world. He said so himself. If we will simply love others like he loves us the whole world will come to know him. (John 13:34-35) Because we don’t believe that the world can be touched through simple, loving relationship we keep creating machines that we hope can do it for us.

I am often accused of being anti-structure. I’m not. I’m against structure as a substitute for relationship. I’m all for structure that facilitates whatever God asks us to do together. There is a huge difference. Over the past few years I’ve been part of some international efforts that have had widespread impact just because some friends cooperated together and God has continued to open some amazing doors.

Out of friendship we’ve been able to send over $100,000.00 overseas to help with relief in Kenya without overhead costs or administrative fees. I’m grateful for that, but I am also well aware that the best way the gospel spreads in the earth is by each one of us just loving the next person God puts in front of us.

If you don’t know how to do that, ask for help from others who do. But be careful of those who try to herd you into their program or draw you into their vision. I’ll probably share more about this in the next issue, but real elders in the family don’t gather people to their vision, but help equip and free others to the vision God has for them.
And above all, relax. Building the church is Jesus’ assignment, ours is to learn to live loved by the Father and then to love others in the same way. When we focus on our task, it is far easier for him to do his!


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Reveling in the Freedom to Follow

By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • July 2006

To be honest, most of the mornings I lived bogged down by the demands and agendas of religion, I woke up defeated. I’d look at the clock dreading what the day might hold and wondering how I could get everything just right so God could do incredible things around me. Don’t hear that wrong. I loved God. I was as passionate for him as I am now, but I was also exhausted all the time. There were so many things to fix, so many people to see and so many meetings I had to prepare for.

I prayed hard each morning for God to bless this or save me from that. Most of the time my prayers didn’t seem to make any difference. It was horrible. No matter how well I did on any given day, I always fell short of my own expectations. On my best days I broke even, on most days I felt incredibly frustrated, either by my own failings or, conversely, how inactive God seemed to be. But I didn’t know there was any other way.

When I think back to those days now, they seem like a distant nightmare after waking up fully. It seems only a distant memory. Now I awaken every morning in the excitement of an unfolding adventure in the life of Jesus. (You have to keep in mind I’m a morning person!) Now my first thoughts in the morning are thoughts of wonder and excitement. I can’t wait to get to the day and see how this one unfolds. (I realize some of you don’t even wake up mentally until well after noon, so that’s when you might feel it.) And, as I lay my head down at night, I am not only overwhelmingly grateful for what God allowed me to experience that day, but also already looking forward to the one coming.

Some of you may chalk that up to the exciting life of a traveling author, as if this must be loads of fun. But honestly, that’s not what excites me, and my days are rarely easy or pain-free. The reason I’m excited to wake up each day is because I can’t wait to see who God might put in my path, or how he will sort out some unresolved thing in my life or someone I know around me.

Could this be what Jesus meant when he promised us the fullness of his life? He wasn’t talking about the ease of circumstance, or the fulfillment of our dreams, but the absolute adventure of walking through each day with him as his purpose slowly but surely unfolds in the circumstances and relationships around us. He is there in our simplest joys and in our most crushing circumstances, always inviting us closer, always transforming us so that we can live more freely in him. If this isn’t at least a piece of that abundant life, it is more like it than anything I’ve known to date.

 

Why Don’t We Want People to Follow?

The most incredible invitation Jesus made in his life among us was for each of us to simply follow him. For too much of my life, however, I thought following him meant that I subscribed to the principles and rituals of Christianity. Sure I had moments of knowing him even there, but they always faded away in the busyness of religious activity, which did more to wear me out than show me how to live in him.

As I read the New Testament, I’m blessed by how much the apostles reminded the early followers that they were not offering them a religion to observe, but inviting them into a living relationship with Jesus that would allow them to know his Father and participate in his unfolding grace in the world. “Our fellowship is with him!” “Believe what you hear.” “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

How is it that we have traded that adventure for services, doctrines and principles that promise a reality they can’t deliver? I regularly meet people who have been faithful elders, pastors, and participants in good religious institutions who grope around as if God does not speak to them and as if he is not able to transform them. They have no idea how to enjoy a relationship with a Father and his Son that gives them hope and direction in their darkest days and teaches them how live in his power instead of their own efforts. I’m thinking we didn’t make the best trade there.

If nothing else, that alone should make us question the religious activities and meetings that eat up so much of our lives and yet don’t equip us to live in the reality of the friendship he offered us. No wonder religion gets boring. The New Testament is replete with the invitation to follow him, not follow the dictates of a religious program. I even look back now and see how I discouraged people from trying to follow him. Sure they would make mistakes in learning to do so, but because I wanted to save them from those mistakes, I taught them to listen to me instead of continuing through the process of learning to listen to him. I didn’t mean to. I thought I was teaching them to follow him, but in the end, they only learned to listen to me. And that worked only as long as they liked what I said. When they didn’t, they just found someone else to tell them what they wanted to hear.

 

One Flock, One Shepherd

How much clearer could Jesus have been in John 10? He knows each of his sheep by name and leads them with his voice. That doesn’t seem too complicated. He connects with us; we follow him. That doesn’t seem like rocket science or something only a few gifted professionals could achieve. He went on to say that his sheep would know his voice so well that they wouldn’t follow a stranger. Is that ever true!

His sheep really do hear his voice; it’s just that they’ve been taught not to trust it. When they hear the voice of a stranger, it sounds wrong to them even if they can’t put their finger on exactly why. But that’s when they often get talked into ignoring what they know to be true inside. They are accused of independence, arrogance and rebellion to make sure they get back in line and don’t cause any trouble. Who are you to think you can know God? Do you have the training we have, or the anointing? Do you read Greek? Are you going to argue with the ‘wisdom passed down through the ages’?

As well meaning as some of that might be, it’s effect is to destroy people’s trust in Jesus as the one who wants to lead them, teach them, protect them and free them to live powerfully in his life. Leadership in the early church helped people learn how to walk with the living Jesus, not subvert that relationship by inserting themselves in its place. Doing so not only undermines spiritual growth, but also divides the body over the differing views of those who think they are leading his flock.

I love it when people tell me that something I read or said touched them deeply, not because it was new to them, but because it gave voice to something the Spirit had already been showing them for some time before. They were just afraid to believe it was true with all the religious voices telling them otherwise. The language of real fellowship will always make us more aware of his voice and less influenced by our desire to please people, especially leaders.

That’s why Jesus said we could be one flock with one shepherd. As long as we continue to have millions of people inserting themselves as the ones to follow, this family will continue to be fragmented. But that has been changing in recent years as an increasing number of people are simultaneously and spontaneously seeing through Christianity as the religion it has become and are learning again simply how to follow Jesus again, even when it goes against the grain of other people’s religious expectations of them.

I’ve been blessed to meet thousands of these people all over the world. They seem to be on the same adventure I’m on and when we connect our fellowship is immediate, deep and filled with life. And even though many of these people don’t fit into the traditional structures we’ve inherited in our day, they are not the independent or rebellious as others have described them. In fact, those learning to follow the Lamb have a deep desire for authentic fellowship with others and a desire to see the church emerge in our day as a true reflection of God’s glory in the world.

 

Spiritual Couch Potatoes?

Much has been written in national magazines over the last year about the growing disillusionment many are experiencing with institutionalized religion. They are reassessing their fruitfulness of the time, energy and finances that it takes to maintain buildings and sustain a staff that primarily runs programs for the faithful. Some are doing their best to help renew tired institutions, others are embracing new relational models hopeful that they will offer a better result, and many others are looking beyond all of that to find a dynamic life in Jesus and relationships with others that no model could ever contain.

Some have even belittled those they call the ‘out-of-church’ crowd calling them independent, spiritual couch potatoes. They say that without accountability to gifted leaders to keep them from error and to coordinate their efforts the church of Jesus Christ will end up weak and ineffective. Really? What does that say about Jesus’ ability (or should we say inability?) to raise up a flock after his own heart and release them to live and work together however he might desire? And why would we want to listen to those who have no trust in Jesus’ ability to change our lives?

These people have not seen the body of Christ that I have seen taking shape all over the world. Growing in dependence on Jesus rather than following programs crafted by a human leader, they are being powerfully transformed by his life and are making incredible impact in the world around them. And while the individual actions may not warrant magazine coverage, the sum total of the simple obedience of those believers is allowing God’s kingdom to be known in the world.

 

The Submitted Flock

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times political columnist wrote a book a few years ago, called The Lexus and the Olive Tree. In it he describes a fundamental shift in power from the political leaders of nation-states to what he called the electronic herd – the millions of individual investors who wake up every morning, turn on their computers and trade in stocks and currencies for their own financial gain.

They move millions if not billions of dollars each day to those places that the electronic herd trusts the most in returning a profit. Friedman asserted that this trend was so profound that power had already begun to shift away from governments and political leaders. In time nations will no longer be able to successfully manipulate their currency or economies, because when the electronic herd gets wind of it they will flee overnight to better investments.

I read that book years ago and found it shocking that people acting in their own self-interest could have such an impact on world events. Their power was derived from the sum total of their actions, not from any coordination between them, and yet they are economically restructuring our world. Lately that book has come back to mind as a parable of what is happening spiritually in the Father’s family. Jesus is raising up his own submitted flock – a people not making decisions every day in their own economic self-interest, but those who will simply respond to the Shepherd one action at a time, one person at a time, and in each situation as it comes.

Can you imagine the power of millions of individual believers from all over the world simply following the inclinations that Jesus would allow to grow in their hearts? I get a glimpse of that reality every day just by the folks I know. I hear incredible stories of lives being changed. I see Jesus’ hand as he connects people when he has a task for them to do together. I see a people more focused on doing what Jesus asks of them rather than building large programs or ministries to try to catch the attention of the world. They will go wherever he asks them to, link arms with other believers he invites to the same task and do it all without the need for power, self-glory or vocational provision. This is the picture Scripture paints, and those who aspire to work with him in this venture will not seek to replace him in people’s lives, but equip them to live it too.

I sit here today overwhelmed by what Jesus is doing in our world and almost laugh, thinking, of course it would be this way. He said it would. He would be the shepherd and all would follow him with his law written in their hearts. He never wanted us to follow the programs of men but learn to live in a growing trust in his ability to coordinate his body and love the world through us.

 

A People Like No Other

I realize some reading this article will be threatened by now that I would dare to encourage believers to follow Jesus as he leads them, rather than falling in line with one of the various institutions that claim to be preparing Christ’s body for the last days. They fear that if people are not obligated to join up, they will wither away in their own selfishness.

I understand why some people would feel that way. I know many who claim to be following Jesus and are only indulging their own self-interest. Instead of increasingly demonstrating his grace and truth, they turn out to be arrogant, isolated, and so filled with their own agenda they suffocate anyone near them. These are not those who are growing to know him, however. They are those who have reacted to religion by falling back into their own selfishness. God can rescue them, too, when they get weary of living that way.

But the fact that people can abuse the truth does not negate that truth. I’m not writing to those who want to use these words as an excuse to do whatever they feel like doing. I’m writing these words to encourage those who passionately want to know Jesus and be transformed by his life. Those people are finding that their freedom from religious activity is stirring them to a deeper passion for him and he grows more real in them with each passing day. And they also have an irresistible desire to connect with others who share that passion. They may not find them easily, but in time Jesus will connect them to others.

I see a vast group of people around the world learning to depend on him more each day. I am recognizing at least seven attributes that are increasing in them as they learn how to follow the Lamb wherever he goes:

  •     They live by the reality of love not by principles (John 13:34-35). As they respond to others with the same reality of love they have found in him for themselves, they know how to treat others around them in away that conveys the life of God to broken people and fellow travelers.
  •     They live with a growing trust in Father’s purpose and power, not out of fear (Romans 8). The more they live in the reality of God’s love the more obvious it becomes to them that God can be trusted with everything, and this freedom allows them to move through the world not looking out for their own good, but living by whatever Father gives them.
  •     They live at the Father’s pleasure not in the tyranny of fulfilling their own agendas (I Peter 4:1-2). Increasing trust means they no longer have to labor under the tyranny of what they think might be best. All they need to do is follow him, knowing that he will fulfill his purpose in them best when they are not trying to do it themselves.
  •     They trust in his power, not their own efforts (Philippians 3:1-14). Those who follow Jesus have given up any confidence they had in their own wisdom or their own ability to transform themselves or impact the world. The resultant humility allows them to speak the truth in love without being rude or pushing others to embrace their point of view.
  •     They live in the moment not in the anxiety of their imagined futures (Matthew 6/Luke 12). They know it is far easier to hear his voice in the moment and follow his lead when they are at rest on the inside. Most of our anxieties come from an imagined future in which God is not present. Having seen God time and again do the unexpected, they are confident that their whole lives are in his hands they do not worry about a future they cannot see. They know the best way for them to be where God wants them six months from now, is by following him today and see what doors he opens.
  •     They live in authentic expressions of community not in isolated independence or in prefabricated programs (I Corinthians 12-14). Their freedom in Jesus allow them to connect in relationships free of pretence and manipulation and find connecting with others of like passion to be an irresistible joy that encourages and inspires them to live more deeply in him.
  •     They live generously and graciously in the world, not seeking to exploit others with their own agenda (Mark 10:42-45). As they have learned to let God provide for them, they no longer need to use others, either to get what they want or to protect themselves from others. With a heart to help others openly God can make himself known through them in some fascinating ways and by doing so allow others to come to know who he is.

 

Live Free!

Like a field of wildflowers coming into their season, this submitted flock is blooming with God’s glory in the world. Every person can be part of it. Simply draw near to him continually and ask him to reveal himself to you. Take each situation you’re in and ask him to show you what it would mean for you to follow him in it. Then watch and listen over time as he makes his way clear to you.

If you know some other brothers and sisters near you who are learning to live this life as well, ask them to help you. Learn from them without making them a substitute for the walk Jesus wants to share with you.

Believe the growing convictions he puts on your heart and follow them as best you see them, being gracious to others as he shapes his image in you. Don’t worry about the mistakes you’ll make and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any teaching or model of church life will ever replace his voice leading you.

That’s why I’m not on any bandwagon with those who claim they have God’s proven model for church life. When our focus is on following a model, even a good one, rather than following him, we’ll still miss out on how he is knitting this family together. If you’re pursuing house church, cell church or purpose-driven church instead of following him, you will miss those he might ask you to walk beside who are in more traditional congregations or in no formalized group at all.

The glory of life in him is not found in finding the best model to implement, the right principles to follow or even the most powerful rituals to observe. It is about knowing him as our older brother and friend, living in that relationship with His Father, and following him wherever you see him leading you.

Without that freedom, we’ll just be a group of Christians caught up in the boring and powerless religious activities that never bring life to us, much less help us touch the world around us. With the freedom to follow him with joy, Jesus can do anything he wants to do in us on any given day.

Isn’t that something worth waking up to?


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Living Loved is published periodically by Lifestream Ministries and is sent free of charge to anyone who requests it. For those with email we recommend our web-based version so that we can hold down costs and get it to you much more quickly. This is especially important for international subscribers.

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We’re Back!

Well, our blissful vacation on the Olympic Peninsula ended early because of the constant shelling of our quiet seaside cottage by the neighbors on the hill behind us, who started celebrating July 1 with thousands of dollars of fireworks that began in the late morning and continued well past midnight on one evening. And it wasn’t even the Fourth yet.

And I’m not talking about a few bottle rockets or some firecrackers, here. I’m talking about the full-on huge starburst explosions that you see generally only at stadiums and community events—scores of them, one after the other exploding over our roof. When Sara and I passed through a Native American reservation about 20 miles short of our destination and saw dozens of firework stands, I wondered if that would be a problem… I had no idea they were selling the really big stuff.

Sara and I could handle it, but our 10 year-old Shepherd could not. She was in a constant state of panic, so we left early and drove home on Sunday and Monday. We actually made it from Eugene, Oregon to Moorpark in one 14 hours stretch on Monday, a distance of 858 miles. Sara drove all but the last 100 miles of that. She’s nuts!

The sudden end, however, didn’t destroy the awesome time we had. We had lots of time just to be together, to read looking over the sea, to hike through the Olympic National Forest to high mountain lakes and waterfalls with our dogs romping on the trail ahead of us. And we didn’t end our vacation, just because we got home. We still laid low, worked on some household projects and continued to enjoy our break. But today, we’re phasing back in and starting to wade into the mountain of things that has piled up in my absence. I thought I’d get a jump on them

And continuing the theme of the latest podcast released today, I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been reading during this veg vacation—my favorite kind! In addition to the magazines I brought along, my book list turned out to be quite an eclectic mix. I arrived still finishing a novel of Vatican intrigue called The Third Secret, which I enjoyed except for the last 10 pages, and Don Miller’s, Searching for God Knows What, which in the end I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as his first, Blue Like Jazz. Then I read an unpublished manuscript called Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer, which will be published later this year. I really enjoyed the honesty and humor of someone’s journey shaking fee of religion to embrace a real relationship with Jesus. Then it was onto Robert McCullough’s 1776, which was not at all what I expected. It is the story of Washington’s Continental Army through that year. It was riveting and I was shocked at how little I knew of the war of revolution during that time. Next up was C.S. Lewis’ ‘Til We Have Faces, which I consider to be his best fiction. It’s a story I’ve read four times before, but it had been 20 years since the last reading. What a story! I’m going to quote a piece from it in a future blog. Finally I started a Michael Chrichton Novel, State of Fear about global warming.

Where To From Here?

I got this letter the day after the last one I put on my blog. This one is from a senior pastor as well and letters like his more than make up for letters like the previous one. When our religious institutions get in the way of a simple hunger to live deeply in the life of Jesus, then we have to rethink what we’re doing…

I am a minister in my 50s. I was ordained as a Southern Baptist, was a Navy Chaplain, turned charismatic, involved most recently in a “apostolic church” with a strong emphasis on “fatherhood” (which I have decided is the shepherding movement warmed over), and I just separated myself from my “headship.” Part of me would like to walk away from Christianity completely and just take care of my young family, put my Bible away and tell God when he has something for me to light a nearby bush! My question is where to from here? I feel as though I can’t trust anyone. ( I also had my own business, to support my ministry, which some “christian brothers” left me holding the huge debt debt that resulted in personal and corporate bankruptcy.)

I became a Christian and a minister believing that the gospel could make the world a better place. Needless to say I have been disappointed. But I can not forsake Jesus. I just no longer know how the work of Christ in the world gets done in a tangible manner. Perhaps I am most disappointed in myself in that I have no idea any longer of my destiny or my calling. I am most disappointed in my lack of the love like Christ in my person. I feel totally inadequate for ministry (even with my college and seminary degrees and years of experience).

Got any suggestions?

Your story breaks my heart. Unfortunately it is not an uncommon story, even down to the betrayal of close friends and bankruptcy. You are not alone, Bro! What Christianity has become in our day is often a painful reality that doesn’t help people be transformed, just manipulate the system for their own gain. When it finally falls out it is incredibly destructive.

I’m blessed you would write me. I don’t feel like I have any adequate words at times like this and certainly can’t map out the next steps for you. I can affirm your statement that I can’t trust anyone. Jesus even said something like that in John 2. But you can trust him. You may not feel like that right now with so many disappointed hopes in him, but he has set himself to deliver you from a system that was doing more harm than good, even with the best of intentions, and is now inviting you to know him in ways you’ve only dreamed of before. 50ish is as good a time as any to let him take you through this transition and learn how to live in the freedom of his love rather than in the religion we call Christianity.

Where to go? To Him! To Him! To Him! Every day you wake up, just ask him to reveal himself to you as he really is. Ask him to lead you one step at a time to whatever he has for you. Follow the convictions of your heart and ignore the voices that seek to manipulate your sense of shame. Who knows what that will end up looking like for you? I’ve known so many brothers in your shoes and the outcomes are always different, but they all have this in common. We all look back and say, “Why didn’t I go on this journey earlier?” While the result are rarely what any of us expected, they are always far more spacious and filled with grace than our own dreams ever would have.â€

I know that may be hard to believe, given where you sit today. But he is pretty good at what he does. You’ve been dis-illusioned by what you thought his life was, but that is a GREAT thing. You (like all of us) had illusions about him and church that needed to be dissed. Now you stand on the brink of seeing this Father as he really is, and the bodfy of Christ as she is really taking shape in the world. It is more incredible than you’ll ever know.

The Real Question

By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • March 2006

As I travel among the body of Christ one of the questions I am asked the most is, what do I see Jesus doing in his church today? Am I excited or discouraged by what I see?

Before I answer that here, let me admit at the outset that my vantage point is in some ways incredibly blessed and in other ways severely limited. While better traveled than most, perhaps, there is much I don’t see and certainly my teachings, writings and web postings put me in touch believers who have a specific kind of passion. But I do get to sit down fairly often with some of the most incredible followers of Christ on the planet – those who are experiencing a depth of relationship with him that is transforming how they live in the world. Many of those had been in ‘positions of ministry’ at some point, but found themselves unable to fit into the religious landscape that proved insufficient for their hungers even though few others could validate their passion or obedience.

From this vantage point I am incredibly thrilled with what I see God doing to draw people to himself in our day. This Church all over the world is rising to become a people in whom God dwells, a bride without spot or wrinkle. That doesn’t mean she’s perfect, but her passion for the groom is growing to outweigh her desire for convenience or comfort in the culture. In that regard, these are the most exciting days of my lifetime as God’s glory is becoming increasingly visible in the earth.

I can say that because I don’t see the church as the sum of all the Christian institutions that dot our world. If I did, my conclusions wouldn’t be nearly so positive. Many of those institutions are preoccupied with the wrong priorities (money, size and political power), divided by their own preferences (of doctrine, music styles or allegiance to a human leader) and fail to help people discover how to live deeply in Father’s love and grow in trusting him.

I see the church as the sum of all the people in the world who are coming to know God as Father, Jesus as Lord, and are learning to live in the power of his Spirit. At no other time in my life have I met so many people really living the life even at great cost. They follow him even when others accuse them of being selfish or rebellious. They are sorting through their deepest doubts and disappointments to find out just who this God really is and how they can fulfill the purpose he has in putting them on the planet. This is an exciting day to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

An Unhealthy Divide

George Barna, a noted religious statistician published his latest book, Revolution, in September 2005, which notes that 30% of committed believers today are no longer attached to a traditional congregation. If the same demographic trends continue, he says, in 20 years 70% of committed believers will no longer be attached to a traditional congregation. And while some would look at that as a great tragedy, Barna asserts that many of those people have not left established congregations to abandon their faith or even the body of Christ. They have left because the institutions didn’t fulfill their spiritual hunger and wasted too much of their time and energy in programs and activities that did little to promote a deeper dependence on Christ or healthy relationships among believers.

To no one’s surprise this book started a fire storm. The largest evangelical magazine, Christianity Today and the largest Charismatic magazine, Charisma, both resoundingly attacked the book. And to do so they both had to distort its message. The truth is people are leaving organized religion in droves because it has not satisfied the cry of their heart to know the Living God. These are not by and large angry, independent believers who live isolated lives, but those who live out their relationship with God and their relationships with the body in more informal, relational gatherings in homes, neighborhoods and businesses. According to Barna, these believers often have a more Biblical worldview, live out a passionate devotion to Christ, deep relationships with other believers and are generous in giving to extend the kingdom around the world.

Yes, I can understand why those who still value the congregational model would be threatened with such conclusions. And certainly Barna didn’t help anyone by labeling them ‘Revolutionaries’ and making others feel excluded from their spiritual passions and hungers. The resulting anguish (and sometimes anger) between those who participate in traditional congregations and those who do not, will not serve the kingdom well. At a time when we most need a conversation between all of those who are living under Father that will help identify his hand in our age, we are pulling apart once again – this time fractionalized by how we ‘do church.’ Can you imagine what grief this brings to our Father?

I know how passionate people can be when they leave an abusive congregation, or even one that sucked out their spiritual passion with religious activities that did little to help them live the life Father wanted for them. And I know how threatening it can be for those who still embrace the congregational form as the only God-given expression of the body of Christ, to see people walk away and talk as if it is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst.

But let’s be real about it. Spontaneously and simultaneously believers all over the world are rethinking what it means to live in the life of Jesus and how the body of Christ takes expression in our world. They have wearied of religious systems that permeates much of our congregational life and are looking for more effective alternatives. It’s not enough to simply say that Hebrews 10:25 requires all committed Christians to be in attendance on Sunday morning in one of the institutions called ‘church’. They know better. ‘Assembling together’ is not a matter of attendance at a meeting, but the joining of lives in a common journey.

Many of those are still in systems their heart no longer supports, and they too yearn for a deeper reality to their spiritual life and a revival in church life. In these days we have far more to gain by keeping the lines of communication open between us all rather than by dividing up sides and rejecting those who disagree with us.

In the last two months I have been with two different traditional congregations while I was in the midst of also visiting people who have spilled outside of such things. I find the same passion in both places. There are people in both places seeking to know him and are asking similar questions as to how they can live that out in their daily lives. It would do us well to remember that not all congregations are like the one you last attended.

 

Why We’re Not There

As Barna has documented and my email confirms, many people have grown weary of a religious system that on net balance has become more of a distraction to their walk with Christ than an aid to it. I know that is hard for people to hear who find the opposite to be true. Keep reading, your section is coming!

Why are so many Christians growing disillusioned with the congregational experience? There are many reasons. Here are some I’ve heard over and over:

  •    We’re bored. Sitting through the same tired ritual every week, or listening to the same voice has dulled our spiritual passions rather than excited them.
  •    We felt disconnected. Sitting in rooms full of strangers on Sunday morning watching the same stage does not build the relationships among believers we desire.
  •    We are tired of seeing people blasted with guilt and religious obligation. While it may press people to conform to the needs of the institution, it only distances them from a Father who loves them more than they know.
  •    We got sick of the political games played behind the scenes to serve someone’s ego or put institutional priorities above the purpose of Jesus.
  •    Some of us didn’t leave, we were pushed aside by those who disliked the questions we raised, the clothes we wore or the truths we struggled with.
  •    We found that they reinforced the wrong things, encouraging us to pretend instead of being real, encouraging us to exploit people rather than serve them.
  •    We found out that the Gospel was so mixed with performance-based religion that the life of the Jesus had been swallowed up by our busyness.
  •    And yes, some have left because of the emptiness of religion and have abandoned Jesus altogether and no longer believe that Scripture speaks the truth. That’s what many of us hate most about religion. It makes promises it can’t keep and then makes people question whether or not God is real at all.

Most likely none of these things adequately describes any one person’s story, but rather it would be found in a mixture of them. And we realize not all congregations fall to such blatant abuses. But most of us hoped it could change, labored tirelessly in hopes that it would, tried other congregations we thought were better, and have only found themselves outside of it when those inside couldn’t respect the journey we are on.

 

Why We Are There…

I am often asked to teach in traditional congregations and I often feel impressed to go. Why? Because I find God’s people there too, many of them hungering for the same thing I hunger for and asking the same questions I was asking a decade or two ago. People with a heart for God still permeate many congregations even if they do see some of the same weaknesses in it that many others do.

  •    We are there because on balance we feel our congregational experience enlivens our passion for Jesus more than the politics and abuses undermines it.
  •    We are there to connect with fellow Christians in our communities.
  •    We are there because we’ve found some people that are more focused on Jesus than the demands of the institution.
  •    We are there hoping against hope that others might come to see that the authority structures can be changed to reflect more closely the Lord’s glory.
  •    We are there to learn from the Scriptures from what others have learned.
  •    We are there because we feel God has asked us to be even though we struggle with the politics and petty gossip.
  •    We’re there because we don’t know what else we’d do if we weren’t.
  •    And, yes, some are there only because they are mistakenly convinced that Hebrews 10:25 obligates them to be so. They think today’s congregational institutions are the only legitimate expression of church life and would feel judged by others if they weren’t there.

Again, there are more possibilities here than I can list and certainly a mixture of these motivations rather than just one of them would better express what most people see. Many would even consider other expressions if they saw some in their area that lived out the New Testament more authentically.

 

It’s Not About Church

My point is this: there are many wonderful God-loving believers inside traditional congregations and there are many who have spilled out of them. Those looking for a more authentic life in him and with his church have more to gain by staying in fellowship with each other rather than cutting each other off if we’re being led in different directions.

While I love alternative forms of relational life that are often expressed in homes and in more informal groupings, if we only change the locale without shifting our focus we will end up with the same result. If we’re focused on how we do church, even if we find more Scriptural ways to do it, instead of on Jesus himself as the Cornerstone and Head of that church, we will still miss his life. In short, finding our place in the body of Christ has far less to do with how we do church than it does with how we find our life on him. It’s not about church; it’s about Jesus. Where he captures our hearts and draws us to himself, we will find ourselves growing in the dynamics that allow the life of his church to emerge around us. We will value people being real, rather than pretending. We’ll want to free people from guilt and condemnation rather than manipulate them to get them to do what we think is best for them. We’ll value relationships that illuminate Jesus in our lives more than meetings that often don’t. And those who bear his heart will help equip others to live the life not manage programs for others to be obligated to attend.

In this kingdom the critical question is not where you go to church or how you ‘do church’ it is whether or not you’re coming to know him and walking alongside those he is giving you at any moment to help them on their journey. And if you are, you’ll be far more concerned with recognizing Jesus’ work in others, rather than judging their place in him by their view of church.

 

Reconciliation Not Suspicion

Our God is a God of reconciliation. Jesus died on the cross so that he could reconcile all things to himself (2 Corinthians 5). Those who grasp that purpose will also share his passion to see the family brought together in him, not divided by institutions or differences in how we view church. We have had enough broken relationships, enough division, enough of those who worry more about defining their distinctions than sharing the life we hold in common.

How do we do that, by encouraging our institutions and denominations to work together for greater unity? As if that has ever worked! Those who lead such things may talk about it from time to time, but denominations are about dividing and few at the top of those institutions will ever give up the power, money or prestige necessary for them to appreciate the true unity of this incredible family.

No, reconciliation happens simply by you loving each and every believer God allows to cross your path and look for ways to encourage them to know him better. We have to live as if the divisions don’t exist, recognizing Father’s fingerprints in each other’s lives, even if we don’t see eye to eye on every issue. This is where the unity of the body of Christ is celebrated. It is the stuff of grass roots actions, not organizational decrees.

Wherever you find believers near you get to know them. Celebrate Jesus together and see where the relationship might lead. Don’t feel you have to convince them about your idea of church, rather fan the flames of their passion for Jesus. You’ll find some amazing things happen in relationships that institutions can never touch.

When Paul traveled back through the people he’d help establish in the faith during his journey in Macedonia, Luke says that he “gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.” (Acts 20:2, The Message). Can you imagine a better description of fellowship? Paul was able to love them so freely, not because he wanted something from them, but because he wanted to encourage them where they were and make their journey lighter.

 

The Great Gathering

It is the nature of the Shepherd to gather – first to himself and then alongside others who belong to him as well. That’s what I see happening in the world today. Jesus is gathering people to himself and letting them link up with each other. When you find his heart in this, you too will have a heart for the great gathering that is going on among all his followers. Whether or not people are in a traditional congregation is an irrelevant question. What matters is whether or not they are growing to know him and find life in him. That’s the real question on which the family is based.

A few years ago a friend of mine was on a flight home. He discovered he was sitting next to a believer from his own city whom he didn’t know. For an hour they shared about their life in Jesus, how they had come to know him, what he was doing in them and what they were learning about him. As they approached their destination the other man asked my friend, “Where do you go to church, anyway?”

My friend thought for a moment and then answered, “For the last hour we’ve been talking about the most unifying person in all of history and have had a marvelous time. Do we really want to trade that conversation to discuss the most divisive question the body of Christ has ever known?”

His seatmate thought a minute, smiled and agreed, “Let’s not!”

What a perspective! Trading congregational brand names or models only takes the focus off of Jesus and leads us to assumptions about people that are rarely valid. We join this great gathering by loving those God puts in front of us every day. We won’t then seek for the like-minded, but the like-hearted, and then we’ll be closer to his truth for doing so. And once we’ve a connection with others that shows our love for them and our respect for Jesus’ work in them, then we will be able to discuss those things we see differently in ways that will draw the family together, not tear it apart.

As a father of older children, nothing brings me greater joy than watching my children love and laugh together even in the face of their differences. I can’t imagine that the Father of all doesn’t enjoy that as well.


Living Loved is published periodically by Lifestream Ministries and is sent free of charge to anyone who requests it. For those with email we recommend our web-based version so that we can hold down costs and get it to you much more quickly. This is especially important for international subscribers.

© Copyright 2013 Lifestream Ministries
Permission is hereby granted to anyone wishing to make copies for free distribution.

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Embracing Him In the Moment

I have enjoyed slowing down over the last few days, enjoying my family and some quieter moments on my own. I’ve enjoyed some reading and some long walks with Sara and the dogs and some of our other family in the woods near my parents’ home and in our neighborhood.

Sheba is our newest dog. She’s a lop-eared Shepherd/Lab cross with an exuberant spirit—sometimes too exuberant. Even though she has severe dysplasia in her hips and has pain from time to time she is the happiest dog we have ever owned. She’s not real bright, but she is always smiling, always ready to do something fun and a joy to be around. Well, most of the time.

The thing I hate most to do with this dog is take her for a walk. We’re trying to teach her not to pull on the lead, but simply walk along with us. Even though we’ve got one of those 16-foot retractable leashes, she constantly strains to get beyond it. It’s as if she can’t wait to get to the next place. But when she gets there she is already trying to get to the next one. It’s nuts, really. She can’t enjoy any place she is at the moment, because she’s always trying to get somewhere else. And if she spots another dog, it’s all over. She won’t listen to reason at all until the dog is out of sight.

As I grew impatient with her last night on a long walk with Sara, calling Sheba back again and again and again from pulling on the lead, I realized she is more like me than I care to admit. Only in the last few years have I begun to learn to live contentedly in Father’s work in my life. Most of my spiritual life I have strained against Jesus’ presence in my life. I have always tried to push him on to something else instead of staying in the moment with him, knowing that he is taking me on in his time, not mine.

It made me think how much more fun it would be to walk with Sheba if she stayed alongside me. Her constant straining against the lead and pulling at my arm gets tiresome and frustrating. I wonder if that’s been true for Jesus in my walk with him. I sense somehow that though he is patient with our impatience, he is indeed blessed when we learn to trust him enough not to pull him where we want to go, but to find contentedness by just being with him wherever he wants to take us.

And I wonder if that’s what David was thinking when he wrote: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.†Psalm 32:8-9

Contentedness is a great gift in this kingdom. It isn’t the same as complacency. It is going on with him, but allowing him to set that agenda, not trying to control it ourselves. I would love to come to the place where he needs no leash with me because I’m never further than a few feet from

New Podcast Airs: Accept No Substitutes

Our latest edition of The God Journey entitled Accept No Substitutes! has just been posted on our sister website thegodjourney.com.

Why would we ever think we’re safer following the crowd, or following another human being, when the King of Kings wants to be our shepherd and lead us into the true freedom of God’s life? He alone is the way, the truth and the life. Learning to live dependent on him rather than our own performance or the false security of so-called experts, will allow him to unravel our religious ways of thinking and free us to go on the journey with him that opens the door to the real thing—life in his kingdom!

A Weekend in Kalispell, Montana

I’m finishing up my weekend with some believers in and around the Kalispell, Montana area. This area is awesomely gorgeous, though it has rained three of my four days here. On the Friday, however, I got to go for a hike on a mountain above Flathead Lake with some old friends from the YWAM base near here. What a beautiful hike and we fouind a rock at the top fo the hill where we could look almost 300 degrees around at the lake and mountains and the landscape was as awe-inspiring as any I’ve seen. I love the mountains and forests, so this is like heaven to me.

I arrived here not ever having met the folks that invited me. We had corresponded a bit on the ‘net, but that was all. But in the plans to come up here, many others emailed me to find out where I was going to be and expressed surprise that there were others in the Flathead Valley thinking outside the box. God is definitely stirring a large number of people in this area and freeing them from religious boxes that have distracted them from knowing him.

What a weekend! We did nonstop yakking from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening sharing this incredible journey, affirming the things God’s been teaching his people and celebrating our unity in Christ. A couple of things really stand out from the time this weekend.

First, Father has already been speaking into our hearts the things he wants us to know. For many people here the things I shared weren’t brand new to them, but there were many ‘Ah! Hah!” moments where people recognized that the voice that had been whispering similar things to them all along, but they hadn’t really thought it was God’s voice because it ran so counter to the religious things they’d been taught all their lives. That is so fun! What God is doing to draw people to himself today is a work of the Spirit in the hearts of those who long for him, it is not a movement initiated or controlled by any author, speaker or organization. Leaving people freer to follow the Shepherd’s voice is the greatest joy of doing what I do.

Second, God is preparing people all around us to live more fully in his life. We may not know them yet, or know what God is doing in them, but it is easy to see how easy it would be for God to connect a few dots and we would see how incredibly whole and healthy his family is in the world. When people get together who are on the journey of knowing God more deeply and being transformed in his image, fellowship is so easy and so inspiring. I love the connections that happen in an area simply because people who’ve found their way to my website, get to meet others who live near them who hunger for similar things. Many who thought they were all alone in their passions, find they are not and that there are others around them with whom they can connect.

And as I was finishing this, Eugene Peterson returned my phone call of yesterday. He lives near here and we had met years ago at a small writer’s retreat that Leadership Journal hosted near Chicago. There were only a dozen of us that got to know each other over four days. Even so, I was shocked he remembered me. I just wanted to bless him and tell him how much I have appreciated his translation of the Scriptures and his other writings. Even though we are a few miles apart in how we view the Church, we are kindred spirits in the Father we love and the journey we have walked to live in him more deeply. He’s as genuine a human being as I have ever met and it was icing on the cake to have a chance to reconnect with him today.

I’ve got a few more folks to visit with today and then have a late afternoon departure to head home. I get in pretty late tonight, but there is nothing like the trip home! I always love getting home to Sara and those crazy pups of ours!

Jesus IS our Life!

Sometimes the most incredible letters in the world arrive in my email box. This is from a woman in New Zealand who has found her life in Christ despite incredibly desperate circumstances. I know of no greater miracle than when Jesus’ life holds someone close enough to himself in the worst of circumstances that they find songs of joy in the darkest night:

For about a year now I have been reading your website, and gained much encouragement from it. But this morning I read the email from a brother in Christ and I cheered because they were my own sentiments. For me it isn’t that Christ has the answer but Christ is the answer.

February this year after 6 weeks of jaundice (and all its nasty side effects) I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and told there was no medical hope for me. But hope is what I have, because hope comes from my newfound deeper relationship with an amazing heavenly Father. As I was bombarded with a lot of advice I felt the Lord continue to say’ trust in Me’. When I was trying to figure out whether I should change my diet, again, it was still ‘Trust in Me’. When things got hard for me to understand I found the answer. I had the answer: “Christ in you, the hope of Glory’. So I am not striving but am living in this day our Father has given me. The first 8 verses of Proverbs 3 regularly remind me what (he asks) of me.

I am in no way musical but I now have a song in my heart, and find myself singing songs I learned when I was first saved. They tend to be Scripture in song and full of praise.

As a family we have been out of institutionalized fellowship for about 18 years but this year we have truly experienced being part of the body of Christ. When I was diagnosed my husband wanted to call the elders and anoint me with oil and pray. Our first question was ‘who are the elder’ but it soon became clear they were other believers that fit the Bible’s requirements. What a joy for my 4 children (16 to 22 years) to experience the fellowship in our home of elder men that expressed this deep love for their mother, father and themselves. I have met people from all over who have told me they are praying for me, that is an overwhelming humbling experience.

I would never have put my hand up for cancer but I wouldn’t trade all the wonder and joy I have experienced knowing the Good Shepherd is looking after me, and especially that as a family we are hearing his voice and following him.

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

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

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 2000

hiker_0No matter how independent we humans may try to be, there are times we can’t help wanting to share with others.

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

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

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

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

The Longing for Family

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

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

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

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

Forgetting What’s Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Anothering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freely Receive, Freely Give

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

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

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

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

Friends on the Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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OTHER TRANSLATIONS


The Nut Test

BodyLife Archive • September 1997
By Wayne Jacobsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship not Religion

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

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

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

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

Freedom not Conformity

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Inside Out Not Outside In

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Are We Against The System?

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

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

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

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

Love Him, Love Each Other

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

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

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

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


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Once In a Lifetime…

Once In a Lifetime…

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stage God Chose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Better to Trust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Things

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Father’s Delight

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1996

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Kingdom without Hierarchy

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

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

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

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

But we don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breeding Insensitivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why then Leaders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom, not Anarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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