Intimacy with God

The Conversations that Matter

Years ago, I heard a mission statement someone had crafted: “I want to have conversations that matter with people who care.”

When I heard it, I knew instantly that this was the part of my life I treasured most. Above any recreational pursuit, athletic competition, or entertainment option, what I enjoy most is having a conversation that makes a difference in my life or someone else’s because we care about finding our way into Jesus’s fullness. Of course, that is most meaningful when it happens with Sara, my children or grandchildren, other family, and close friends.

But Jesus has also allowed us to have thousands of conversations like this with people worldwide. Many of those have become close friends with repeated opportunities to grow our friendship. That’s why I enjoy doing the podcast and interacting with those who listen, helping them further the conversation with their friends and family. Rich conversations are the treasures that transmit the kingdom.

I read something the other day that helped me see some ingredients that help conversations matter. A psychologist writing about emotionally abusive people said they are incapable of engaging in “mutually respectful relationships that require consideration, empathy, compassion, and kindness.” I find that so incredibly sad because the relationships that allow God’s grace to unfold require those exact things—mutual respect (especially where people don’t see things the same way) as well as consideration, empathy, compassion, and kindness. Those attributes open the kind of dialogue that sets us at ease even in our struggles, helps unravel pain, and allows his truth access to our hearts.

I’ve always got my eye out for conversations that open doors in people’s hearts. I find them everywhere—in our neighborhood, with a worker at our home, phone calls, and gatherings. I pursue them with people God connects me with and intentionally take to time to let relationships grow.

Sara and I will leave California on our second RV trip in two weeks. We’ll go first to Denver to visit our son and then head east, though not so nearly as far as last time. Our itinerary is still flexible, though we are headed to some planned events near Little Rock, Arkansas, and Austin, TX. There’s plenty of room to add other conversations around that as we travel.

We’re doing it pretty much like last time—going where the Spirit seems to lead and staying as long as we need to. Here’s a rough framework, however, of what that could look like:

  • Denver, CO – September 7-13
  • Wichita, KS – September 15-17
  • Kansas City – September 18-20
  • Belleville, IL – September 21-24
  • Little Rock, AR – September 29 – October 1
  • Austin, TX – October 6-8
  • San Antonio, TX – October 11-14

Then, we head home, possibly back up to I-40 through Dallas or Lubbock. We’re not sure yet. But we will go through Albuquerque and Flagstaff on the way home.

So, if you’re along this route and have some people who would like to connect with us, please contact me through email. Then, let’s trust that if God wants us to be together on this trip, he will arrange our schedules accordingly. What will we talk about? Whatever you want to. We no longer set the agenda but wait to see what will most help their journey. Themes from my books and podcasts almost always come up, but that’s a wide range of subject matter:

  • Living loved
  • Dealing with trauma
  • God’s view of sin
  • Finding community
  • The Jesus Lens (a freeing and meaningful engagement with Scripture)
  • Recognizing the Spirit’s nudges
  • Growing trust, and
  • Compassionate and humble engagement with the world

Sometimes, we’ll cover a bunch of those in the same conversation.

And we meet almost anywhere—in homes, parks, restaurants, or by the campfire next to our RV.

Please don’t hesitate to email me if something is on your heart. We may not be able to work everything in, but we will see how the Spirit leads. As a fun aside for this trip, we plan to visit some of the Presidential Libraries along our route. Let us know if you want to join us for one of those. And, yes, we will have plenty of alone time for God’s work to continue unfolding in our journey.

After finishing the Jake Colsen Fan Club, several people asked if we could do one through He Loves Me. Now would be an excellent time to begin, so beginning next Sunday, August 27, we’re going to initiate the He Loves Me Book Club for those who want to go through a chapter-by-chapter focus on the themes in that book. It’s always tricky with an audience as spread out around the world as this one to find a time that will work for everyone. We are going to start at 1:30 pm PDT and work from there. I know it is late in Europe and early in Asia and Australia, but if we have enough interest from both, we may have two different sessions, so one will be in the evening in Europe and late morning in the East.

We will coordinate this book club through a Facebook Group that you are welcome to join. We will continue the discussion there as well as post the Zoom links. If you’re not part of Facebook and want me to send you the link, please email me here.

As I said, there is nothing more compelling than conversations that matter with people who care. Here are some ways to connect with us, but I hope you’re finding meaningful conversations in your own relationships.


Responsible to Obey, or Free to Love?

In an email exchange with a friend, he made this observation:

“If there are no other species out there (in the universe) unless created by Father, we are responsible to obey him. That’s our responsibility. He will bring the end of the age in his time.”

Reading it, I felt a ping in my yuck meter.

“…Responsible to obey him.” There was a time when I’d have felt comfortable with those words, but no longer. He was a good enough friend to push back playfully:

I agree on all points, though I’d substitute “a love to embrace” for “a responsibility to obey. Love will always lead us to obedience but obedience does not always lead us to love. That’s how I see the new covenant.   

He simply wrote back, “Full agreement here.”

So how do you see your relationship with God today? Do you consider it your responsibility to obey him or your joy to embrace his love?

The Old Testament seems to confront us with the need to obey God because we are afraid of him. That’s our responsibility, or so we thought. However, laced throughout the Old Testament is also the language of lovingkindness and mercy. And the writer of Hebrews tells us they couldn’t enter God’s rest, not because of their disobedience, but because of their unbelief. They didn’t trust his love and goodness, and not believing in him, they continued to look to false gods and foreign powers to comfort them.

Jesus underscored the power of his Father’s love when he was here. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” You could read that under the eyes of the Old Testament to mean that keeping commands proves that we love him. But the whole mission of Jesus proves otherwise. He meant, “If you discover the depth of my love, you will find yourself following me to the ends of the earth.”

That’s what I’ve discovered to be true. Those who seek to follow Jesus focused on fear and obedience are not always pleasant people to be around. They are often frustrated and angry, just like the Pharisees were. Thinking their relationship with God is secured by their performance, they are exhausted by their efforts and frustrated at the lack of results. Moreover, they push their frustration onto others by judging their misdeeds and trespassing on their lives by telling others what they should do.

Thinking our responsibility is to obey him draws us right back under the law, and it will kill us. According to the writer of Hebrews, that’s why Israel couldn’t enter God’s rest—not because of a lack of obedience but because of their unbelief. They didn’t believe he was wholly good and that he loved them even in their darkness. If they had, he would have filled up in their hearts what sin seeks to fill.

Jesus has offered us a better way. Come live in his love, grow to trust him, and you’ll find yourself following him with great joy and freedom.

And that’s the obedience that matters.


If you need some help exploring this shift in thinking, Wayne wrote He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection to do just that.



Waves of Joy

It has been a while since I have had the chance to post some of my thoughts. The last month of settling into our new home has brought a host of challenges, decisions, and work. I’ve managed to keep up with The God Journey podcasts because I greatly enjoy those conversations. We just posted Episode 900 today about Vengeance, Mercy, and Justice. I never tire of what we learn as we explore the journey of Living Loved. The rest of the time, I’ve been handling a bit of correspondence and conversations as well as unpacking, discarding, and preparing a place for Sara and me in this next season of our lives. It is all going so incredibly well, though taking up far more time than I would have hoped. More on that next week, if time allows.

Catching up on some emails today, I ran into this one, which asks some questions that might interest others. This is from a friend in Hawaii:

I do have a few questions about your book, He Loves Me. In chapter 22, you write: “If you’ve ever known that glory, either just sitting in his presence communing with him or having just seen him use you to reveal himself to someone else, you know what I’m talking about. At such moments it seems time itself stands still. Waves of joy sweep across us, and it is so incredible that you feel if you were made just for that one moment, your life would have had a wealth of meaning. ‘I was made for this.’ And you were.”

How important is it for the daughter or son of Abba to experience what you call “waves of joy”…given that is a huge part of our design in Him? 

I never try to focus on a single “experience” as something essential or even something to seek. Walking with him manifests his glory in our lives in various ways, and how we sense them depends a lot on our personality. I don’t even know how each interprets “waves of joy,” and it may be very different from what those words mean to me. “Waves of joy” is the feeling I get when I’m at rest and enjoying his work in me, and it comes without me trying to manufacture it.

It is distracting for any of us to try to pursue an experience. Even the focus on doing so can quickly become a distraction. That sentence was for those who have experienced it, not to discourage people who haven’t. Instead of getting people focused on any specific manifestation, I try to help them recognize Father’s presence in the experiences they are already having. Surely he is making himself known to all of us in whatever way suits us best, though much of his work goes unrecognized by those distracted by the shiny things in the world or the darker corners of their hearts. I want to help people recognize him, however he is making himself known, not getting them focused on hoping he works in a specific way.

How is it that we settle for not living with as much joy as Papa, Jesus, and the Spirit are longing for in our lives? Your last chapter, “Living Loved,” is great and speaks to this, but I was wondering if you have any other insights.

There are lots of reasons for this. Lots of worldly distractions. Lots of unresolved pain that makes us try to self-medicate. Lots of disappointed expectations that God didn’t meet, even like the “experiences” above. However, I think it is also because we haven’t learned how to engage Father, Son, and Spirit as they make themselves known. It’s been easier to force people into religious performance, but those who have tried it grow discouraged because it doesn’t work.

Learning to live inside Father’s joy is to give up control of life as we want it to be and find God in the chaos of real life and how he is making himself known. Following him is the ultimate loss of control, and religious performance is the ultimate attempt to control God. A lot of people get discouraged and sadly give up.

Giving up the notion that we can control the relationship we have with God is a critical step in all of our journeys. He is the initiator; we are the responders. That’s because he knows best about everything, especially how to engage each of us and invite us to be at home with him.


Powerful Word in Times of Trouble

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Dave Coleman was one of those friends for me. He was a man of immense wisdom, rock-solid integrity, and deep love. I don’t know why he took a liking to me, but he’s one of those friends where the conversations always go deep, and the affection builds over a lifetime. He helped me discover how to live the life behind He Loves Me and was my co-author for So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore.

More importantly, he was there when I was betrayed by my co-pastor, giving me comfort and counsel that steered my heart into a better reality than I might have seen otherwise. He was there through the lawsuit over The Shack and encouraged me to find my home in the truth and not worry about the lies being told of me. And two summers ago, he held my heart through the rejection of a lifelong companion that came out of nowhere.

A few weeks after we talked, he sent me this prayer and admonishment. This was August 2021, still eight months before Sara’s trauma exploded. I wish he’d been there for that, too, but he passed away in November of that year.

May the Father, who is rich in mercy, speak kindly to your heart and comfort you with the thought that the only way out of this is to lay it at the foot of the cross…. with the prayer, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Do not allow your accusers to stifle in any way your message of God’s love. Just allow this experience to increase your urgency and your compassion and, above all, to deepen your dependency on His grace.

Those words have been taped to my computer since receiving them. There is so much in those words that have held my heart, even through the painful days of last spring, as if Dave were comforting me from the grave. Why am I sharing them today? Over the last few days, I’ve found myself sending them to almost a dozen people who needed to hear those exact words in their context. I figured others might need to hear a similar word for their heart. It is as true for you as it continues to be for me.

It’s a beautiful thing for the Father, who is rich in mercy, to speak kindly to your heart and to comfort you at the foot of the cross where the only way to liberate yourself is the prayer of forgiveness in recognition that most people doing hurtful things have no idea what’s motivating their behaviors. And when the Accuser, even in the other voices he uses, tries to erode your confidence in Jesus’s work in you, it’s time to lean in more with more urgency and depend on his grace.



Good news! The renovations on our home are nearing completion. This has taken a bit longer than we thought it would starting out, but this is Sara’s dream. To see it come together now as a place for us to live a life we love and to share our lives with others brings a profound sense of joy. Sorry, no pictures yet. We will in time, but much still needs to be cleaned up and completed.

So, we’ll be moving and settling in over the next couple of weeks. Don’t look for much new stuff here for a bit, though we hope to keep the podcast going on Friday, which is the best way to follow my life these days. All that God has been teaching us and doing in our hearts have found their way into my conversations with Kyle. I can’t begin to tell you how rich these last two years have been. They have had more trouble than we thought we could bear but also a profound grace and Presence that has held us safe and opened our hearts and minds to some unique insights that have touched us deeply.

Our journey over the past 16 months will come full circle next week. We’ve been through an exodus from trauma and a home we loved, took a sojourn through the wilderness of Sara’s trauma, and the healing that came out of it in our RV last fall and our apartment this winter and spring. We will soon move onto a new land of God’s promise—an oasis for our hearts and all who Jesus sends us in this season. We have no idea what any of that means, but we could not be more excited.


Finding Our Connection with God

“They led me into a relationship with God that I’ve only dreamt about.”

I can’t tell you how much those words mean to me. That’s the reason for all the writing and podcasts I have done over the years, so that someone else can find their way into an intimate connection with God that changes the trajectory of their lives. I love reading those words; they make my heart soar. That’s the hunger God has put deep inside us and what religion so often fails to let us experience.

I also get emails from those who say they cannot sense his presence or recognize his love for them even though they have sought it over many years. I hurt with them as much as I rejoice with those who do find that connection. I don’t think God is at fault here, nor that the person seeking is unworthy in some way of him. I have come to conclude that it is not as easy a connection to make as many have been led to believe. Indeed, God is doing everything from his end. But so much from our end makes it difficult—misplaced expectations, unresolved trauma, delusions of darkness, not having someone who can help, and trying to find him through self-effort and discipline.

However, I have seen God overcome all these things for people who had almost given up hope. It takes a lot to relax enough on the inside to affirm what Father is already doing to make that connection with us. No matter how desperately we try, we can’t be disciplined enough or knowledgeable enough to earn our way into it. This relationship is a reality we relax into, a gift that Father gives as we make ourselves available to him. Keep letting your heart lay before him, and be patient as he makes these connections. And don’t be afraid to get help from those you know who are finding their life in him.

The email I quoted above came from a young woman I first met before she was in high school as I shared some time with her family in New England. You have no idea what it meant to me that she would write and touch on so many things that I also want to share with you. I received it after Sara and I returned from Hawaii to celebrate our upcoming anniversary and all God has done this last year. We had a beautiful time together and even spent a day in Honolulu with a congregation that has been studying He Loves Me. What a day with the people there! I love those conversations so much, and having Sara in them, sharing from her journey, makes them all that much sweeter.

And the time Sara and I had alone together was so precious, and I would say even sacred, for reasons I share on the podcast this Friday.

But let me share this email with you as we discover what helped her make that connection. Also, I want to respond to it with some information I think others will enjoy as well. So much of what she wrote to me touches on the critical things in my life these days and some things I would love to update many of my readers.

First, I want to thank you both for sharing your story over this past year. I know sharing it has changed the lives of many in such an incredibly positive way. 

Sara’s courage to share her story and its impact on our marriage has borne incredible fruit worldwide. Her vulnerability opened a wide door for others to deal with long-buried trauma in their own lives. We are continually amazed and blessed by the emails we receive and the conversations we have with people taking a serious look at the brokenness in their lives and seeing where Jesus might be in it for them. And if her story encourages you to lean more closely into Jesus to heal some unresolved trauma, that’s awesome. Be patient with the process. It is scary. It may take a while, but the rewards of freedom are worth every bit of it. 

I’ve been listening to your podcast along with the My Friend Luis podcast since 2021 and it’s led me into a relationship with God that I’ve only dreamt about. So thank you for that! 

If you’ve not listened to the My Friend Luis podcast or stayed up with our Redeeming Love story at The God Journey, you might want to go back and catch those. They helped her make that connection, and hearing stories of how God has connected with others can help us recognize him in our own story if we don’t try to get him to do it the same way with us as he did for them. They are two powerful stories of God intervening in dark places in very different ways to unfold his glory and bring his freedom. We all have a story like this going on in our own hearts, and I love that these were catalysts for this young woman to find the relationship she dreamed about.

I realize I have updated you on Luis for some time. I will write more in an upcoming post, but you can rest assured that Jesus continues to engage him over some of the residues of his past and draw him into greater freedom. He continues to work with young men and women, helping rescue them from trouble and offering them a life lived in Jesus’s love. His application for amnesty and legal status in the U.S. is still pending. This is a laborious process. Your prayers and support for his work with at-risk youth are deeply appreciated.

Like Sara, I have a playlist of songs on my phone from over the years where I felt a connection with a lyric or lyrics. I was recently questioning whether those lyrics that were speaking to me were actually God or just in my head. The next day, I was listening to your podcast, and Sara shared the lyrics that have recently connected with her. I guess I got my answer. 

I’m glad you did. I love the creative ways God speaks to us—through song, Scripture, conversations, nature, and inner thoughts. Song lyrics can powerfully mirror the insights he wants us to see. Sara has a twelve-year song list that reflects God’s thoughts to her through this season of her journey. It’s spectacular, and each is an excellent reminder of his truth as it continues to win her heart over the illusions of trauma. For those still seeking this connection, discover how God is making himself known to you and explore him there. He may be using unconventional ways to open your heart to his reality.

About a month ago, I had a dream that God opened a window for me to look through and I saw a beautiful landscape with golden colors and trees. Next to the window there was writing that described it as The Garden of Eden and God said, “It’s time.”  Since then, I have felt God’s presence significantly more than I ever have in my life. From sitting with this for a while, I think it may also relate to the it’s time that you heard in regards to God’s children being revealed. 

Her words were such an encouragement to me, and I hope to you. We will revisit these words, as I did in a recent blog. Nothing is more critical now than people learning to embrace an affection-based relationship with God that transforms them so that they reveal his glory in the world without trying. For too long, the wrong people who promote themselves and their brand have twisted God’s image to build their own following. Making people dependent on them or their message, they have supplanted Jesus’ influence in the lives of his followers. Kevin Smith of Australia told me years ago that in these days, Jesus is taking his church back to himself, inviting his followers to know him and follow him instead of those who claim to be his surrogates.

Now more than ever, it is time to lean in close, forsake our misplaced confidence in self-effort, and learn how to ride the wind of his Spirit, letting his life and light unfold in us and reflect from us to a world so hungry for something real.

Some other items of interest:

I just found out you can order the Kindle version of So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore for $1.99 today only at eBook Daily.

The Israel tour Sara and I are sponsoring next winter is full and has a significant waitlist. I’m sorry if you wanted to go and didn’t get in on this trip. I’m excited about those who are going.

However, the final gathering of the Jake Colsen Book Club will be held Sunday, May 21, at 1:30 pm PDT. We will cover the final chapter of the book, as well as open up to any questions or discoveries from anywhere in the book. Anyone is welcome to join us, even if it’s your first time. We will also stream it live on my Facebook Author Page, but if you want to be part of the conversation, you can get a link to the Zoom Room by emailing Wayne and asking for it. You can view our last discussion on chapter 12 here.

There have been many requests for a book discussion through He Loves Me when this concludes. I am excited to do that and will probably start sometime in June. Stay tuned for more details.

His Children Revealed

This weekend I spoke at a conference in Kenya.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to travel there to be with them personally, but they asked if I would send a video of any word I might to encourage the hundreds of pastors gathering in Kitale last weekend.

If you want to see the video, you can view it here.

Though I don’t refer to it in this video, the seeds for what I shared with the pastors in Kenya began two years ago as I stood in the burn scar of a wildfire that consumed more than 400,000 acres of alpine forest in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Scanning the hillsides for miles in the distance, I could not see one speck of greenery in the burgeoning light of spring. Overwhelmed by the devastation, something rose in my heart over the next few days. It was a drumbeat I could not ignore: “It’s time!”

As I pondered that thought over the next few days, I was drawn to the passage in Romans 8 about the Creation groaning in frustration for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed on the earth. I shared that in a short video I recorded from the burn scar a few days later.

How has that weathered the last two years? It has only grown in me with all the calamities in the world and what God has been shifting in my heart, even through the shock of last year. My prayers still reverberate with the desire for the sons and daughters to grow to know Father to be revealed in the world. I see that happening as many find healing and transformation inside his love. Unfortunately, I also see the love of many Christians growing cold as they react to those in the world they think victimize them. Growing increasingly angry and judgmental, they are unable to extend compassion to those who seem lost in the illusions of darkness.

It is time for the children of God to be revealed on the earth, letting God draw a clear distinction between those who only practice their religion for personal gain and those who are being drawn into a life of love shaped by God’s life. He is equipping a people for these days who are learning how to recognize God’s love and helping others to do the same. They are learning to recognize his leading and helping others do the same. And are also learning to love whomever God brings to them and help others to do the same. That’s what my heart was for those Kenyan men and women this weekend, and it’s where my heart beats these days in so many other areas.

They are not drawing attention to themselves or their beliefs on social media or trying to build a brand about love. They are living out his compassion, one person, one conversation, one engagement at a time, without having to work at it. Empathy is becoming so infused with their person; it’s just how they live.

That’s the revelation the world waits for—men and women, young and old, of all races and ethnicities, who embrace God’s compassion for their own hearts and reflect it with ease into the world.


On another note, Sara and I will be in Honolulu, HI, on Sunday, April 30, at the Bluewater Mission Church, 1114 Mona St., Honolulu, HI, 96821. We’ll begin at 2:20 pm, and if you’re in the area, you are welcome to join us. For most of our time in Hawaii, we will be on the island of Maui if anyone wants to connect with us there.

Also, the next gathering of the Jake Colsen Book Club is this Saturday, April 22, at 1:30 pm PDT. We will stream it live on my Facebook Author Page, but if you want to be part of the conversation, you can get a link to the Zoom Room by emailing Wayne and asking for it.

And our next Wrestling with Trauma conversation will meet next Sunday, April 23, at 10:30 am PDT.  Among other things, we’re going to explore what it means to let go of the hurtful things that have happened to us and the process God uses to help us find out how. Sara shared that in a recent podcast if you haven’t heard it. If you’d like to join us, please email me for the Zoom link. We’ll be limiting it to the first twelve who request a link.

Snapshots of Father’s Love

Snapshots of Father’s Love

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 2000

A Girl and Her Daddy!

jim_and_nyssa_0“Majesty, worship his Majesty…” The familiar words rolled off my lips as I sat among a group of believers from all over the western U.S. who had gathered to share their experiences in relational church. It was Sunday morning and we were just beginning with a chance to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving for God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s what I want most!”

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

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

A Dad and His Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hen and Her Chicks

chicken_and_chick_0By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1999

The forest fire had been brought under control, and the group of firefighters were working back through the devastation making sure all the hot spots had been extinguished. As they marched across the blackened landscape between the wisps of smoke still rising from the smoldering remains, a large lump on the trail caught a firefighter’s eye.

As he got closer he noticed it was the charred remains of a large bird, that had burned nearly half way through. Since birds can so easily fly away from the approaching flames, the firefighter wondered what must have been wrong with this bird that it could not escape. Had it been sick or injured?

Arriving at the carcass, he decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As soon as he did, however, he was startled half to death by a flurry of activity around his feet. Four little birds flailed in the dust and ash then scurried away down the hillside.

The bulk of the mother’s body had covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, it allowed her babies to find safety underneath. In the face of the rising flames, she had stayed with her young. She was their only hope for safety, and willing to risk her own life she gathered them under her body and covered them with herself. Even when the pain reached its most unbearable moment, when she could easily have flown away to start another family on another day, she made herself stay through the raging flames.

Her dead carcass and her fleeing chicks told the story well enough—she gave the ultimate sacrifice to save her young. It also illustrates an even greater story—this one almost incomprehensible. In this story it is the Creator of heaven and earth who does exactly the same thing to rescue his wayward children from their own destruction.

The Worst Curse

Jesus was surrounded by his most hostile audience. No one gave him more trouble than the elders and Pharisees in Jerusalem. Their only priority seemed to be protecting their position in society, and trying to deal with this miracle-working teacher with a mix of disdain one moment and feigned support when they were afraid of the people. To say they were the most disingenuous people he dealt with would be an understatement. They were always covering up their real motives and actions to act a holiness they did not know.

In his final words to the city of Jerusalem, only days before his death, he exposes them for what they really are—hypocrites who turned the work of the loving God into a religion they manipulated for their own gain and sense of self-importance. Eight times he pronounced a curse on them, “Woe to you scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites.” Five more times he calls them blind guides, or blind Pharisees.

He exposed them for keeping people from the reality of the kingdom; for making converts they only lured into greater bondage; for skewed priorities; for pretending to be righteous on the outside when evil raged within, for glorifying the prophets of the past and rejecting the prophets of their day.

The last charge was serious indeed. “You brood of vipers,” Jesus called them, “how do you think you will escape the sentence of hell?” In the days ahead God would send his messengers again to them, but they would torture and kill them. Jesus warned them that because of their deeds upon them would “come the guilt of all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth.”

What a curse! He made them responsible for the murder of every righteous person since the day Cain slew his own brother Abel. He could already see the consequences bearing down on them like a firestorm of wrath, seeking to consume them in their sin.

Don’t these words seem so completely out of character for Jesus? His message of love and forgiveness had captured the land, inviting to himself some of the most sinful people of his day. Yet these religious leaders he condemned in the cruelest of terms. Had he utterly rejected them?

That’s what it appears on the surface, but look closer. Rather than taking delight in their coming devastation, he offered to risk his life to take part in their rescue. In words both poetic and poignant he makes them an incredible offer.

Under His Wings

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

They had rejected God and the messengers he had sent. They had earned the harshest of sentences for their actions and yet Jesus still wanted to draw them to himself and bear the destruction for them. Their city would be conquered and their children devastated by the consequences of living to their own selfishness instead of trusting in the Living God.

Jesus invoked the same image the firefighter had seen in the woods. He presented himself as a hen trying to gather chicks to herself. That only happens when danger presses in upon them. A hen doesn’t nurse her children or cuddle them to sleep. But when a predator comes near or the coop catches on fire she will try to gather them under her wings. Pulling them beneath her she will cover them with her body, risking her own life for their safety.

Jesus could see the firestorm their own sin had produced approaching Jerusalem. It would devour them utterly. Even though many in that crowd would cry for his crucifixion only a few days later, he still wanted them. Like the hen, he offered them a safe place under his wings, willing to endure the fire to the point of death to rescue whoever wanted to come.

When it would have been so easy for him to abandon them to the fate we deserved, he was going to stay and meet the approaching fire in its full fury. What must it take for a bird to stay over her babies as the fire draws ever-closer, then begins to sear her neck and back? What must it have taken for the God himself to endure the fury of the wrath our sins deserved and stay through it to the end so that those under his wing might be saved.

“But you were not willing.” The story’s end was tragic for those who stood around Jesus that day. Unwilling to come to him they would have to endure the fire themselves to its tragic end. I doubt there are words that break Father’s heart more than these. After all I’ve done to deliver you from the ravages of sin, you were unwilling.

Not all chicks run to their mothers in time of danger. Some, either paralyzed in panic, or trying to find a way to save themselves, get devoured. She cannot run around gathering them individually. They have to come to her. That’s all the young chicks had done in the forest fire to be safe. They didn’t have to earn it; all they had to do was run under the mother’s wing and let her cover them.

Those who did were rescued; those who didn’t we’re devoured. It didn’t matter if they thought they had a better idea. It didn’t matter if they thought they could outrun it on their own. All that mattered was their willingness to trust the call of their mother. Most of Jerusalem on that day did not. They would face the terrible judgment on their own terms.

But the story doesn’t have to end that way for you. If you want, you can give up all the ways you try to save yourself and come running to him. He will pull you up close, under his wing and take for you, what you could never endure.

Unlimited Patience

Look how closely our choice in Christ parallels Adam and Eve’s choice in the Garden. If they had trusted their Creator’s love for them, they would not have had to resort to their own means to become like God. Once they doubted his love for them, they could only fall back on their best wisdom, which proved woefully inadequate.

The elders in Jerusalem faced the same choice. Would they trust their own religious ways to save themselves, or would they trust God’s work in Jesus? Remember these were not self-indulgent men fulfilling their passions by outwardly sinful acts. No, the deception for them was much like it was for Adam and Eve. These were men trying to be Godly, or so they thought. They observed cumbersome rituals and traditions thinking that would make them like God. They spurned the pleasures of the world in an effort to earn his approval. But being good, wasn’t good enough.

They were still engaged in an attempt to save themselves, and they would end up in the same mess as Adam and Eve. No matter how righteous they could be on the outside, it would bring them no closer to God. They were still trusting themselves, instead of him.

Jesus unmasked that most clearly in when he invited one from their own midst to himself . Paul, formerly called Saul, had grown up training to be a Pharisee. Everything about his life conformed to their code; such that Paul could later say about himself at that time that no one was his equal in zeal for God and as to legalistic righteousness he was faultless. With such impressive credentials, you would think him well-placed for God’s working.

Rubbish! That’s what Paul called that way of thinking. It was boasting in the flesh, he said, and that flesh had not saved him. It had only driven his sin ever deeper underground. Though he appeared to be one of the most righteous men in his day, in reality he was full of sin. Elsewhere he called himself the worst of sinners, because his religious exterior had only been a cover-up for the sin that destroyed him from within. He calls himself a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.”

Don’t mistake his assessment here as the mere humility of a gracious man. Paul is trying to convince all who would listen that self-righteousness is no righteousness at all. Driven by his desire to be one of the spiritual elite of his day, he had only found himself in greater sin. When Jesus found him, he was in fact killing God’s people thinking he was doing God’s work.

Why did Jesus save Paul? In Paul’s words, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (I Tim. 1:1)

I’ve sat with people convinced they were far too evil for God to want them. I’ve often referred to this passage, asking them if they had done worse than Paul had done and haven’t ever had someone tell me they had. God saved Paul, so the most broken, devastated and sinful person would feel free to come running under his wing.. All they have to do is be willing to come to him.

A Real Covering

When God put Adam and Eve out of the Garden, he even looked in mercy at their cover-up. Taking the undergarments they had fashioned from the fig leaf collection, he made them clothing of animal skins. It was not only an act of mercy, but also prophetic demonstration. The blood shed to cover them that day, testified to a future day when Jesus’ death would provide the covering we really need.

Shame craves for a covering. We’ve already seen how it can reveal itself in blaming others, even God, for our own choices and weaknesses. Now we see how it can use religion to the same end. We live in a world where everybody covers up to protect themselves. That’s why relationships in religious environments can turn so painful when people have to tear others down to make themselves look better.

We push to achieve beyond our peers so we can feel superior to them. We blame others so we don’t have to face our own weaknesses. We gossip about the failures of others so we can feel better about ourselves. We even look for religious institutions to affirm us so that we can ignore the doubts that assail us.

It seems we are all on the relentless pursuit to hide our own inadequacies and seek our own security. In doing so, we are like little chickens running around the burning coop throwing leaves over our heads hoping they will be enough.

But they won’t be. There is only one covering that will save us from ourselves; and it is Jesus himself. He endured the firestorm for us so that those who crawl under his wing can dwell in safety. He is the only covering that at once delivers us from our shame and frees us from the bondage of sin.

Cover yourself in him. Learn to live under his wing today and every day for the rest of your life. How do you do that? By learning to trust him completely in every situation that comes upon you.

Of course that is far easier said than done. When difficulties press in around us, we are most likely to doubt God’s motives towards us. Could that be the voice of the serpent still whispering in our ears? “If God’s not going to give you what you think you need, maybe you should go get it yourself.”

Trusting our own wisdom so easy we find ourselves doing it before we ever realize it. Ask him to help you learn how to trust him for everything in your life. And when you realize you are scurrying about in our own efforts to save yourself, that would be a great time, to stop what you’re doing and look for his awesome outstretched wings.

When you see them dive underneath No place in the world is safer for you!

More information on how the cross of Jesus Christ can radically alter your relationship to the living God can be found in the tape series, The Power of the Cross in Daily Life.

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Rekindling Passion

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • January 1999

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are the Radicals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passions Lost

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

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

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

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

Passions Restored

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

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

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

What? You’re not feeling anything yet?

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

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

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

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

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

Going the Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sidebar #1: Church or Jesus?

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

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

I don’t think so!

Sidebar #2: Tribulation for Breakfast?

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

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

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

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

— From Economic Doomsday By Gene Edwards

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Getting on Father’s Page

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is God Up To?

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

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

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

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

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

“My Father Is Always Working”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust Is Not Passive

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

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

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

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

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

You Know the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Every Word

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Sin Is This?

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

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

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

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

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

The Sin of Assumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ever-Present Voice

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

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

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

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

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

Help Me Do That!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Every Day, Every Moment

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d Rather Do It Myself

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

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

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

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

He Lives!

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

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

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

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

“Remain in Me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Do That?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sidebar 1: God in the Shower?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Businessman and the Beggar

The Businessman and the Beggar

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • March 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caught In The Do-Dos

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising the Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I Have To?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord, Have Mercy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Are You So Afraid?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we get to that place?

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

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

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Welcome Home!

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • July 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s In it For Me?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bribed and Threatened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Else Do you Do With Flesh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem with Self-Interest

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

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

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

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

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

Serving God Without Preference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One Who Is Truly Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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