Living The Journey

The Narrow Road

Living Loved • Winter 2013        Current Issue

I had just spent the weekend in a country home talking with a group of people about living in the Father’s love. Afterwards two of them drove me to the airport nearly two hours away. The questions continued until we were close to the airport. Finally, a twenty-one year-old medical student in the back seat made one of the most insightful observations I’ve ever heard, “You know what I’m beginning to think, Wayne? Maybe the reason this journey seems so difficult is because it is far easier than we dare to believe!”

Read it again. Having written about finding a real relationship with God for 25 years, I get lots of email from frustrated people. Though they’ve read my books and listened to most of my audio they still feel as if they have little or no connection with God. Many feel forsaken, others wonder if he even exists.

The reason this journey seems so difficult is because it is far easier than we dare to believe!

I know it isn’t easy for people to find their way into a loving relationship with the Father. Everything we’ve learned and believed before runs counter to the dynamics of recognizing and resting in his love. However, it isn’t difficult because God makes it complicated, or because it takes a certain skill set or sensitivity, but because we look in the wrong places for how his life takes root in us.

But Jesus knows that too, and is still up to the challenge of engaging us in a fruitful relationship with his Father.
Uncomfortable Scriptures

In this article I want to look at several Scriptures that make some people nervous, because they seem judgmental and threatening. Most have only heard them in the context of religious performance and thus dismiss them as inconsistent with his love, but in doing so they toss aside some of the most helpful insight Jesus gave people to embrace this journey.

For instance, Jesus warned us that the road into his life is a narrow road. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matt. 7:13-14).

I know this has been preached to fill people with fear, but what if Jesus didn’t say this to push people harder on the religious treadmill? In fact, I don’t think his words are about eternal destiny at all, but rather an encouragement to a different way of living in this age. Salvation for Jesus was not giving out a get-out-of-hell-free card, but opening a door for us into a relationship with his Father.

Only the religious would twist them either to take pride in thinking they practice the right doctrine or ritual, and delight in the fact that those who don’t will get what they deserve. Jesus didn’t want to provoke exclusivity or fear with his words, but rather to equip hungry hearts to know how to know him. Following the broad way of self-interest will devour us, but there is a narrower path that will lead us to life.

I used to think that people were transformed by hearing the truth of Scripture and then applying those principles to life. Except that it never worked. People can listen to thousands of sermons and read hundreds of books and still feel like they don’t get it. No wonder Jesus didn’t preach sermons with application points at the end, but walked with people, answering their questions and stimulating their better hopes. In the face of those realities, he pointed down the road his Father would have them go, where they could know him and live freely in his life.

God writes his will in our hearts and minds, not in sermons and books. Until we learn to follow him in the simplest choices of daily life we’ll continue to miss out. I’ve had many people tell me, I’ve been pursuing God for years, and I am no closer to him now than when I started. My heart breaks for them. I’m sure they are genuine, but I also know they are missing him somehow. It could be that they keep following a broad way and miss his invitations to a narrower road.

That’s why Jesus contrasted the broad road with the narrow one. His way is not obvious to our natural inclinations. It may not look as satisfying at the outset, but that’s because true joy and freedom don’t lie in the things we think we want, or what the crowd tells us we want, but by embracing what God knows is best for us. That’s why he also warned us, Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matt. 16:25). He knew the way of destruction puts up an attractive facade that appeals to our selfish desires and the illusion of an easier way.

Every day we make dozens of choices about how we live our lives and how we treat people around us. In these moments we’ll be confronted with a number of options. Many will be obvious and fit into our self-satisfying cultural and religious norms. But those roads won’t lead us to life in him.

The doorway to his life runs through narrow doorways, not grand ones. In our daily choices we have the opportunity to merge off of the broader way and find a more gracious home on a narrower path. I know that isn’t glamorous, and some would prefer a spectacular revival service or rigorous discipleship school. But the life of Jesus is about learning to listen to his impulses in the next choice before you.
The Broader Roads

So at moments of choice, what determines the path you take?

Sometimes it’s as simple as following the flesh’s desire, either to maximize our happiness, or to minimize our pain in whatever circumstance we are in. Simply doing what’s easiest, what makes us feel good, what soothes our ego, or what is in our financial or personal self-interest, will work to our destruction. We can easily lose ourselves just going along with the distractions of this age, be they too much entertainment, political arguments, or the mundane chores of life.

At other times it can be far subtler, the still lingering coping mechanism that helped us survive childhood trauma, but now leads us to harmful routes. Religious obligation provides a compelling voice in most situations, especially since we’re doing what we have to do, not what we want to do. But it is all the more dangerous because it appears to be righteous even as it draws us into the appearance of self-denial. Even trying to build a ministry or an income stream from it, instead of simply making God’s gifts available will drive us to choices that will prove more hurtful than helpful.

Almost all of these pathways were sculpted in our youth or in our religious training and they come so automatically to us, we may not even be conscious how much they shape us. But, when God begins to invite us into his life, he does so in the simplest places. It often has far more to do with how we treat the next person before us with love and forgiveness, or doing something he’s given us to do.

Making space for him and his thoughts and following them is the only way off the broader road. We find the narrow road when we find rest in his love for us and then recognize his leading as he offers us a different way to see what’s going on around us. We often don’t even see a new trailhead until he nudges us towards it.

At first, everything in us wants to resist his nudge. No, it can’t be that way. I could get hurt. I could make a mistake. What if it goes wrong? But if he’s the one inviting us, we are safer doing what he asks than anything we do to save ourselves. We are not asked to indulge our preferences or live in resistance to them. We are simply called to follow him, in the simplest of choices as best we recognize his invitations. As we do, his life will unfold in us with ever-increasing reality.
How Do You Know?

God speaks to all of us. You don’t have to be a spiritual giant or a gifted seer. You only have to have a heart that wants to follow him and he will teach you how he speaks to you and invites you into life.

Many think they’ve never heard him, but that may only be because they have not yet learned to recognize how he speaks to them. I’ve no doubt he’s speaking, but they may be looking for a voice instead of a nudge or wanting him to say something different than what he is saying. Listening to him is not living by feelings, but by recognizing those impulses he brings to your mind and following them. Initially they will encourage you to rest in his love and to be more gracious to people near you. In time, he will show you more of his wisdom to guide your life.

You will only learn by practice. Yes, you will do some things you thought God was leading you to do, only to find out by the fruit of it that it was more your thought than his. That’s part of the process. How else will you learn? But you’ll also get some things right and the joy of that will help tune our heart to his. In the process, you’ll be drawn closer to him and come to recognize your more selfish aspirations, and the misplaced trust you have in your own wisdom or abilities.

I know there are many examples of those who claim God told them to do the most bizarre things that are hurtful and destructive to themselves and others. You can usually tell if someone’s listening to Jesus by how open and relaxed they are. If they are closed and defensive when someone questions them, be careful. I walked away from an encounter recently with one such person and commented to a friend, “That’s the kind of person that gives listening to God a bad name.”

One thing I know about people who listen to God, they don’t act destructively and they aren’t arrogant about what they think they hear. Learning to listen to God is a humbling process. You’re never one hundred percent sure of what he’s asking. You just have an impulse in your heart you can’t explain. It grows over time, but he is never forceful or manipulative, and that is also true of people learning to listen to him. They can be firm, but not defensive and are always willing to sacrifice for others, instead of asking others to sacrifice for them.
Choices Matter

God does love you, but that love only transforms you to the degree that you can trust his love enough to follow him on to the narrow road. His love doesn’t mean that everything will work out the way we want, nor that we won’t be the victims of other people’s hurtful and destructive choices.

But he wants to be with us in those moments to help us navigate our experience in a broken world and be transformed through it. He invites us to participate with him, which is why love and obedience go hand in hand in the Scriptures. As you grow to trust his love you will want to obey him, and it’s in following him that you get to live in the fruit of his love.

Jesus repeatedly made clear that our actions matter. Scripture often invokes the reality of sowing and reaping to express this truth. How we live either leads us more into his life, or draws us away from it, whether we’ll contribute to his redemption in the world, or be part of its destruction. That’s what Jesus meant when he affirmed those who followed, Well done! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matt. 25: 21)

Many find verses like this disconcerting, especially when Jesus warns the faithless that even what they have would be taken away. It sounds like those who have, get more and those that don’t have, are left out. But Jesus was not talking the language of reward and retribution here; he was talking about the unseen consequences of our choices. If we follow a bit, the road will get clearer. If we follow our own way instead, we’ll lose sight of him.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect for God to work in you, or that you can’t reverse the trend any day you want to. He is always ready to lead you one simple step at a time and never asks for what you cannot give. Following in small things today will open more doors tomorrow. If we’re indulgent and dishonest in little things, we will be indulgent and dishonest in larger things. If we can learn to follow him in simple ways of loving others and being true to our word even when it hurts, his work in us will grow in ways we’d never conceive.

This is not about earning his life by our obedience, but participating with him as he transforms us. Everything I get to experience of God today began with simple choices years ago. They set off a chain of unforeseen consequences that opened doors to where I live now. The simple nudge to go to public schools with our children and volunteer to help began a series of opportunities that eventually led to twenty years of consulting public schools on religious liberty conflicts. Listening to Jesus say, “I have more to teach you if you walk away,” when my former co-pastor wanted to force me out of the fellowship we helped build together, opened a trailhead into personal transformation I adore and opportunities for growing and sharing I would not have found without him.

At the outset, all these choices looked more difficult than other options I had in mind. I’m glad he won me into following him and the choice to do so now is far easier. I don’t even trust my own desires anymore because following him, even though painful at times, has always yielded better fruit.
It’s A Process

If you view the life of Jesus as a performance treadmill, what I’m writing will only create anxiety and pressure for you to work harder. That will lead you to despair and hopelessness, which is the opposite of what Jesus intended. Learning to merge off of the broad way and onto the narrow road is a process that he wants to work in you, not a requirement he’s made for you. It’s simply a matter of learning to lean into him a bit more each day and leaning away from what draws you down the broader road. You can’t do this alone.

And this does not mean you have to carefully listen to Jesus at every moment and try to figure out what he wants so you won’t miss out. Doing that will leave you frustrated and exhausted. We find his way much more simply than that. In fact, the anxiety of having to hear him will make it more difficult to do so. Instead go through your day with a growing awareness that he is with you. Whenever you have it, follow that inner sense that seems to encourage you one direction or checks you from going another. When you come up against choices of significance, ask him what he has in mind. Let him show you in his time. You don’t have to hear something every day or in every circumstance. Relax in him as he connects your heart with his.

Learning to live out of your spirit, rather than your intellect or emotions alone, will take some time. Ask him to show you the next step ahead and relax in a growing trust that he will. The Spirit makes his direction clear in a variety of ways–it might be that stray thought in your mind, affirmed by something that you read or hear, perhaps even a lyric of a song in the background that resonates with your heart. Don’t look for a “voice” per se, but a growing awareness of his thoughts in your mind. Of course, familiarity with his words in Scripture and conversations with others on a similar journey will also bring clarity to what he’s showing you.

As I go about my life, I become aware of options that are better than my own, especially in helping someone near me, or drawing me into a quieter space with him. At first, I don’t always like where these nudges would lead me, which is why Jesus saw this journey as a narrower road and why most people miss it. Our flesh so easily dismisses what it doesn’t want to consider. And, no, you don’t have to always get it right. No one does.

As you make a few choices down the narrow road, you will find yourself becoming more relaxed and able to live in the moment instead of trying to manipulate your circumstances. The questions you’ll find yourself asking might be these: What does he want to show me about himself today? What might love lead me to do in this situation? How does loving others, even at the expense of my self-interest perpetuate the kingdom? How does my forgiveness or service to someone else today, make the world a better place?

But even when you miss him and find yourself on a path of your own making, he is there, too, still nudging you toward a better road. Don’t be hard on yourself, just keep coming back to him over and over. You are loved, even in your brokenness. Today is the day God cares about. As they say, the best time to plant an oak tree was twenty years ago, but the second best time to plant it is today.

As you learn to live more on the narrow road, you’ll have a better idea just how destructive the broad way was, to yourself and others. Rather than be embarrassed by it, embrace that new reality. One of the most redemptive things we do on the narrow road is to go back to people we’ve wronged, seek their forgiveness and offer restitution where we can. Such moments bring great healing and clarity to all involved. Yes, it may not be easy, but that’s exactly the point of the narrow road–most fruitful things aren’t fun at the outset, but yield great joy later on.

Learning to follow him in the reality of daily life will have far-reaching consequences that will open up possibilities you would never see coming. That’s why Jesus warned Nicodemus that if he couldn’t believe him about earthly things, he’d never grasp what Jesus wanted to show him about heavenly things.
True Discipleship

The room was filled with a church planting team that gathered weekly in a coffee shop. But every year they don’t meet during the last month of summer to give everyone a break. They had just completed that month and told me that it is always their best month of community and growth. More fellowship, outreach, and interaction took place in that one month than the other eleven. They wanted to know how they could capture the spirit of that month in their meetings.

“Why try?” I asked. “If that’s your best month, maybe what you’re looking for is down that road?” I could tell the thought had never crossed their minds. They were having trouble grasping it now. How could they be “a church” without their meeting?

But the choice was so clearly before them and what they’d learn down that road would transform them in ways the status quo never would. That’s why Jesus encouraged us to look past how everyone else is doing things, and find out what he is asking of us.

Perhaps the most effective form of discipleship is not teaching a curriculum, but simply being alongside others when they are at a fork in the road and being a cheerleader for the road less traveled. We don’t have to manipulate or pressure them, but simply through a question or observation give them an opportunity to make a choice that matters. And if they make it, lend them our support and encouragement. That’s how people find their way onto a journey that will be full of his life.

The only reason why his way may seem difficult is because we’re so busy following the crowd that we miss his invitation to a narrower road. But once we learn to believe him, it becomes far easier than most think possible.
And though you’ll find yourself on a road most others can’t understand, it will change the way you think, live, and how you treat others. You’ll find yourself on a transformative journey that you will never regret.

 

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Bait and Switch

By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • May 2009

Trading the Vibrant Life of Jesus for a Ritualistic Religion Called Christianity.

I saw the sign a year ago in Georgia: Live Free for Three Months. It was a developer’s marketing strategy for a declining housing market. When I saw it, however, I wasn’t thinking about houses. I thought about Christianity and how we invite people to live free in Christ and then soon after saddle them with all the obligations of being a “good Christian”. We generally don’t even let them have three months.

When the early believers were first called Christians, we don’t know if it was a complement or a mockery. We do know that they didn’t invent the term for themselves. The culture called them “little christs” because they had found so much identity in following Jesus. Whatever spawned the term, those early believers adopted it for themselves and for 2,000 years it has been the dominant identifier for those who claim to follow Christ. But that might be changing.

Recent surveys show even believers are becoming uncomfortable with the term. At least in the United States it is increasingly used not for people who reflect the passion of Jesus in a broken world, but for adherents of a religion that has been built on a distortion of the life and teaching of Jesus, not necessarily it’s reality. The results can be confusing.

“Are you a Christian?” I used to love it when someone on a plane asked me that question. “Absolutely,” I’d answer, proud to be on the side of all that’s good and right in the world. But over the last fifteen years, answering that question has become far more difficult. Much of what has been done in recent years in the name of Christianity embarrasses me and disfigures the God I love. Some of it even horrifies me.

So now when I’m asked the question today, I hedge a bit. “It depends on what you mean by ‘Christian’,” I often respond. If they are asking whether or not I am a faithful adherent of the religion called Christianity, I have to confess that I’m not. I’m not even trying to be. But if they are asking me if I am a passionate follower of Jesus, the answer would be an enthusiastic yes.

In a few short years those realities have diverged significantly. Perhaps there has not been a time since the Middle Ages, where what it means to be a good Christian and what it means to thrive in a relationship with God, couldn’t be more at odds. You can do everything required of a ‘good Christian’ in our day and still miss out on what it means to know him and be involved in a meaningful relationship with him that transforms you to love as he loved.

How many people endure repetitive rituals certain that doing so endears them to God? How many embrace a slate of ethical rules or doctrinal propositions thinking that doing so ensures God’s blessings? Jesus offered us a vibrant life of relationship with his Father, and we ended up creating a religion that often disarms that very Gospel of its glory.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Mark 7:6-7) These words are as true for us today as when Jesus voiced them to the religious captives in his. His warnings in Matthew 23 about the pitfalls of religion, are more applicable in our day than they were in his. When is the last time you heard a sermon from that text? Read it. You’ll know why.

Something Is Broken

For the last few months I’ve done numerous radio interviews for people concerned about what’s being called the collapse of Christianity. Newsweek did a cover article in April about the collapse of Christianity’s influence in America and that fewer people identify themselves as Christian or are a committed part of a local congregation.

There’s a lot of handwringing going on about those statistics, most of them blaming the culture. But the problems in religion itself have never been greater. Conservative Christianity aligned itself with a political agenda and a party that turned out to be as corrupt as it blamed the other party for being. More and more believers I know are embarrassed at the anger and arrogance of many so-called leaders who speak to the press on behalf of Christianity. So it’s no wonder to me that last year 4000 churches closed in America, 1700 pastors left the ministry each month and another 1300 pastors were terminated by their church, many without cause, and over 3500 people per day left their church last year.

Clearly we have a problem that cannot be blamed on the secularization of our culture. The kingdom is no longer a pearl of great price, and knowing Jesus is no longer the fruit of our religious activities. And people who are beginning to see that, are often marginalized as rebellious or unsubmitted for simply wanting what Jesus promised them.

Many people giving up on local institutions are not doing so because they’ve rejected Jesus, but finding that the culture of Christianity is actually diminishing their faith not enhancing it. In an email I got the other day, from a frustrated pastor trying to help people follow Jesus, and is just coming to realize that his own job may be at odds with his greatest passion. “Church has become a hindrance to building relationships and loving others.”

He’s not alone. Many of us came to faith enamored by the life and teachings of Jesus. We were promised a relationship with God but were handed a religion of doctrines we had to believe, rituals we had to observe, obligations we had to meet and a standard of morality to adopt. While most of those were true enough, many found that their attempts to follow them did not produce either the life of Jesus it promised, nor the reality of true, caring communities of faith.

We have traded the simple power of the Gospel for a religion based on human effort. We were invited to relationship and ended up with a host of irrelevant dogma and burdensome obligations. Fortunately people from all over the world are waking up to a fresh hunger to shed the dictates of religion and embrace the wonder and power of a love-filled relationship with the living God.

Was Christianity Ever Meant to Be a Religion?

I guess all of this begs the question, did Jesus intend to start a religion called Christianity, or did we do this to ourselves? I suspect the latter. I am wholeheartedly convinced that he came to end all religions, not by lashing out against them, but by filling up in the human spirit what religion promises to fill but never can. Religion seeks to manipulate human effort to earn God’s approval, when such approval can never be earned.

Abraham, a Jewish man, lead the tour portion of a trip to Israel I was on fifteen years ago. Some of those on the tour had been rude to his faith as they tried to “help” him embrace Jesus as the Messiah. On the last morning, I found him alone by the bus and had the chance to ask him if he’d been offended by some of the remarks.

He smiled. He told me he’d been guiding tours for 30 years and someone is always trying to convert him to their faith–Christians, Reformed Jews, Muslims and Mormons. Then he asked me, “Do you know why it makes no difference to me?”

I shook my head. He led me out to the street and pointed at a building, “Do you see that synagogue with the star of David? That’s our building. The one over there with the cross on it is yours. Further down, do you see the dome? That’s theirs. On the surface they may look different, but underneath they are all basically the same. You would think that if one of us was serving the Living God, it would look differently.”

I still remember how much his words impacted me. Religion is the same all over the world. It is a prescribed set of doctrine, rules, rituals, and ethics. It celebrates sacred space, exalts holy-men as gurus and tries to muscle its way into the culture. For 2000 years many have practiced Christianity as a religion, essentially no different than the others, except in who it claims to follow. But if one of us was serving a Living God, wouldn’t it look very different?

When we cram the life of God into a box, we rob it of its life and power and only distinguish it from other religions by claiming a more truthful doctrine. Could that be why Jesus didn’t teach his disciples how to gain a following or build institutions. He didn’t teach them how to meet on Sunday mornings at 10:00 with a worship band and a leader to lecture the others. He didn’t give them a prescribed set of behaviors that people were suppose to follow as the means to serve God.

No, he invited them into his Father’s house, and a reality of relationship with his Father that would transform them and opened the way for them to share that love with others. That you can’t put into a religion and trying to only chokes out any hope of relationship. Putting creed and doctrine above a growing friendship with him supplants the reality he offered us, no matter how correct our doctrine or moral our ethics.

Don’t get me wrong. Truth is vital, as is righteousness, but without love they are also empty. Learning to live as a beloved child is far more transforming than the greatest principle you can follow. The life of Christian community isn’t found by sharing religion together, but by embracing a journey of growing relationship with him that transforms us by his grace and power.

Losing Your Religion

What does this mean for us? Should we stop calling ourselves Christian or judge those who do? Should we come up with a new term to franchise so we could separate the ones who live it relationally from the ones who are caught up in religion? If we did, we’d only be making the same mistakes that have diminished our life in Jesus over the centuries.

The truth is that Christianity as a religion is a dangerous disfigurement of the God of the Bible. But not all who call themselves Christians live religiously. Given all the excesses and failures of Christianity, I am delightfully grateful that the Gospel of Jesus is still relatively intact inside its doctrine. Unfortunately it only lets new believers live free for so long before burdening them with religious obligations.

And I meet many believers and leaders who have a profound faith and are seeking healthy ways to communicate that journey with others. I rejoice in that, as I do the amount of compassionate aid that such groups share with the world in need. But too many people miss out on the life Jesus offered them by practicing it as a religion instead of growing to know him.

Ultimately the transformation from practicing religion to living inside a relationship with God is not an institutional battle; it is a personal one. We could tear apart all of our religious institutions today and nothing would change. I’ve been in many a house church filled with people who see the institutional church as the problem and are oblivious to the fact that they’ve just moved their religion into a home, where close fellowship only makes it more oppressive.

So how do we know if you’ve been tricked into religion?

  •   When God is a distant concept to you instead of a real presence.
  •   When you find yourself following another man, woman, or a set of principles instead of following Jesus.
  •   When fear of eternity, not measuring up, or falling into error drives your actions.
  •   When you find yourself in empty rituals that do not connect you in a real way to him.
  •   When you are burdened by the expectations of others and feel guilty when you can’t do enough.
  •   When you look at others who struggle with contempt instead of compassion.
  •   When the approval of others means more to you than remaining in the reality of his love.
  •   When you hesitate to be honest about your doubts or struggles because others will judge you.
  •   When you think of holiness as an unachievable duty, rather than aglorious invitation.
  •   When you think righteousness depends on your efforts instead of his grace working in you.
  •   When following him is more about obligation than affection.
  •   When correcting someone’s doctrine is more important than loving them.
  •   When God seems more present on Sunday morning, than he does on Monday.

If you have only known Christianity to be a set of doctrines, rules and rituals, I have great news. Jesus came and died to open up access between you and his Father. Religion supplants that, distracting us with discipline, commitment and hard work that never yields the fruit it promises. If you’ve been worn out by religion, don’t think you’re alone. Others are just pretending, afraid they are the only ones, too. Life is only found in him.

Switching Back

There’s something about our flesh that craves the illusion of safety that religion affords. Anyone of us can find our heart easily turned toward following rules instead of engaging him. When we recognize that happening, we can simply turn our hearts back to him and choose to move away from the religious traps and connect once again with God as our Father.

Living the Gospel means we live in his love. We come to know the Father’s love for us and then sharing that love with him, and with others he puts in our path. (John 13:34-35). No other motive will suffice; no other is necessary. This is where the journey begins and this is the only place it can continue.

Returning to our first love isn’t as difficult as we like to make it. For me it just means finding a quiet place and talking to God. When you find yourself caught in religion, tell him you’re tired of chasing a religion that isn’t working and you want to know him as he really is. Then, wake up each day with a similar prayer on your heart. Watch how he makes himself known to you in the simple reality of living each day. Follow the nudges he puts on your heart instead of the obligations and rituals. Find others who are on this journey and find ways to share the reality of a growing relationship and help guard our hearts about following into empty religious practices.

If you’ve been steeped in religion for a long time, you’ll find yourself going through a very disorienting time. One woman I met called it a Pharisectomy, which is simply having your inner Pharisee removed. You might feel guilty, lonely, lost, or fearful in the process. Your former religious friends may feel threatened that you’re no longer doing the things they do. But in time you’ll find yourself sliding into the reality of relationship with him that is as increasingly real, transformative and engaging.

Among It, Not of It

So let’s not go to war with religion, railing against its failures fighting against its dictates. Instead let’s do what Jesus did–let’s live beyond it. Let’s find a reality of freedom and authenticity in him that can walk alongside anyone with patience and gentleness. Religion is what people crave when they haven’t found life in him. Taking their religion away won’t fix that. The only thing that will is helping them see a reality of relationship with God that makes all our religious activity unnecessary and unattractive. Jesus could be in religious settings and not be captured by them. He could care about a Pharisee as much as a prostitute.

Live among religion if he asks you to, loving toward those mired in it but you never have to be of it. The Gospel opens the door for us to re-engage the transcendent God, to know him as our Abba and to walk with him through the twists and turns of life, sharing his affection with others.

Live in the reality of that relationship and you’ll find it quite naturally finding expression through you as you love and treat others the same way God treats you. People who refuse to live to fear, conform to ritual or put doctrine above love will find themselves having ample opportunity to help others on this journey as well. A dear friend wrote me recently who was feeling a bit swamped by all the people seeking out his help these days, “You didn’t say anything about being safe is like hanging up a “counseling available” shingle.”

We live in a great day. The emptiness of tradition is being seen for what it is and people are hungering for the reality of relationship. Live there each day and there’s no telling where that will take you or who you’ll end up walking alongside as Jesus becomes your life.

Then you can live free, not just for a few days or even three months. He came to set you free eternally!


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

© Copyright 2013 Lifestream Ministries

Permission is hereby granted to anyone wishing to make copies for free distribution.

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Articles in Chronological Order | Articles by Content

The Power of Living In Love

By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • June 2008

Life has taken some crazy turns for me since the last one I wrote in September. I will still continue to do these from time to time, but they will not be often or regular. This one is a bit different as well. Here are three related snapshots of what it means to live in the love of God.

Live Where Love Leads You

So, I ended up with a publishing company. I’m not sure how it happened. I was helping a friend with a book he had written. I helped rewrite some of it with another friend, then represented it to the publishing industry. I wasn’t a very good agent. I couldn’t find anyone in the industry who thought it was worth publishing. So the author, another friend, and I decided to publish it on our own.

And we did. Then The Shack started climbing the best-seller lists and other companies wanted to buy it from us. To our surprise one of the largest publishers in the world approached us to enter a partnership with them, not only to help us get The Shack to a larger audience but also help with my books and others we think are worthy of publishing in years ahead. They bought into the vision of what we were doing and thought there was a significant space in the reading public for that vision.

So we formed a partnership with the Hachette Book Group, where we maintain our unique identity as Windblown Media. We can do just as much publishing with them as we want to, and yet are not obligated to put everything we do through the Hachette machine. They made it clear all along that they wanted to help us not hinder us. And while we were working things out with them, The Shack rose to the very top of the New York Times Best Seller List.

How did all this happen? Believe me, we have had some amazing laughter about it all. No one saw this coming and yet simply responding to him each day has brought us into a place we could not have conceived or conspired to get to.

But that’s true about everything I’m involved in at the moment. Nothing I’m doing today, I set out purposely to accomplish. My plans for my life were very different than how things have turned out. Funny how that is! As a twenty-two year-old, freshly graduated from college, and newly married I had so many dreams and visions of the things I thought God wanted me to accomplish. I had confused my ego with his calling, my dreams for his and had assumed I knew what outcomes God had in mind. My first twenty years on that course proved horribly frustrating as I could not convince God to honor my agenda. The last 14 years have been filled with ever increasing joy and gratefulness as God’s purposes have overrun my own. And in every way he did something immeasurably beyond anything I could have asked or imagined.

BridgeBuilders began because God asked us to go love people at my children’s public school. That one decision started a chain of events that has allowed me to sit in rooms at the most incredible gatherings of deeply conflicted people and help bring about peace. Lifestream started as a way to encourage people to experience a closer walk with Jesus and more relational engagements with others. That led to books, travel and website resources. Windblown Media resulted from simply helping a friend to tell a story God had put on his heart.

Perhaps being fruitful isn’t a matter of starting something, following a five-year plan, and achieving it. Perhaps it is a matter of simply being able to respond to the people and situations around us with his love in our heart and his voice in our ear. For most of my life I have drawn too direct a line between what I think God wants and what I must do to get it. It seems Jesus warned us about that: If you try to save your life you’ll lose it. If you try to be first you’ll end up last.

He only asked us to love, one day at a time, whoever is before us in whatever circumstance we meet them. Everything else he wants to do will flow from that simple reality.

We have filled the world with ministries people have started to accomplish some great thing for God. Many of them never go anywhere. There are a lot of people who come to Hollywood to be a chaplain to the stars. They set up a ministry, beg for money to fund it, and then try to find a way to connect with those people. We do the same with missions and youth ministries. Start a program, fund it, then try and try to get people to take advantage of it.

What if we just started loving the people God puts before us each day, can you imagine what would spill out of that in terms of opportunity, ministry and even growing fellowship?

I think we have it all backwards. Jesus didn’t ask us to start ministries. He didn’t ask us to accomplish great things. He simply asked us to love others the same way we are loved by him and that will be enough for the whole world to know that we belong to him and that they can too.

People ask me all the time how they can start a house church or connect with other brothers and sisters on a similar journey in their region. Many are frustrated at past attempts that haven’t worked out. While I think we can take advantage of Internet forums, email lists and directories to see if we can find people in our area growing in the same realities, that may not be the best way. I now encourage people just to listen to Father every day and live in love toward the people right in front of you. This has worked for Sara and me in our two recent moves and has brought a wealth of relationships locally that have just grown out of taking an interest in the people around us and discovering others who are passionate for the God we love. We don’t have to start or join anything for that, unless of course he asks us to.

I am more convinced than ever that every thing God wants to do in the world will flow from us learning to live in his love and listening to him as we walk through life. This allows the opportunities in our lives to grow organically, rather than through the artificial means of organizing, promoting, and manipulating others. That may be why he told us his new command would simply be to love like we’ve been loved.

I Couldn’t Let You Go Through This Alone

Adapted from the Lifestream Blog

This may just be the essence of community: “I couldn’t let you go through this alone”. The first time I heard those words it was from a good friend who walked beside me through the most painful experience of my life. We had shared some wonderful times together, but then he withdrew for a season from our relationship. I was so blessed when we reconnected in the midst of my trial. One day I asked him why he had disappeared for so long. His answer? “I could see that you were going to get hurt badly and I just couldn’t bear to watch it.” I understood his comment. He had been through something similar and I knew how painful it was for him to walk with me through mine. I laughed, “But you’re here now at the worst of it.”

“I know,” he grimaced. “I couldn’t let you go through this alone.”

I don’t know a better definition for community. It isn’t always fun and games. Love will also not let people go through their darkest days alone. As painful as it may be to watch people we care about suffer, love won’t let us be anywhere else.

I was reminded of that recently as I read Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. It’s an old book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s about a professor dying of ALS, and a former student who shows up for the last chapter of his life. It offers lessons from the brink of death and many of them are breathtaking. Even though this man was not a passionate believer, he’d come to believe some things that are pretty consistent with the life of Jesus:

“So many people walk around with meaningless life, they seem half a sleep, even when they are busy doing things, they think they are important, this is because they are chasing the wrong things, the way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

And this: “Love wins. Love always wins.”

I loved this book, enjoyed the lessons, but was most touched by this former student who would come and spend every Tuesday with his former professor in the last stages of his disease. He learned a lot, but also gave a lot – friendship on the brink of death.

At my brother’s funeral a number of years ago one of his best friends stood up at his funeral and said that he couldn’t bear to visit my brother as he suffered the final stages of multiple sclerosis. He wanted to remember him as he was, not in his weakened condition. When he was needed the most he couldn’t bear to go. How sad!

The meaning of compassion is right in the word itself: “come to passion”. Passion in the old English meant suffering. Thus compassion means “to run to suffering” – to be there at the worst moment because someone we love needs us. I love that. A good picture of this are the 9/11 rescue workers who were running into the World Trade Center when everyone else was trying to run out. Compassion means being there when it’s incredibly difficult, not because we enjoy the circumstances, but because we love the person in them.

No one enjoys walking people through dark valleys or through painful reactions, but love says, I’ll be there for you. I may not know what to do or what to say. But I just can’t let you go through this alone!

A Plea for Love From the Sudan

By Michele Perry

Michele Perry was born in Florida with only one leg. After getting involved in the house church movement for some years, she sensed God calling her two years ago to the Sudan to care for children orphaned by violence. She rented a home and started taking in children. She now has 80 children she cares for around the clock and another 150 who come to her school each day. She also has an infectious passion for all things Jesus. You can find out more at: Iris-Sudan.org. After she read a copy of So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore she wrote me this email. Please hear her words. They are as direct from our Father’s heart as anything you’ll read:

My day got interrupted with your book! A long-time friend told me I should download it, which I did in the London airport on my way home back to the bush of Southern Sudan. Three weeks later I got caught up in your story and my tissue box became my friend. I am a simple little white, city girl from Florida who is now in Sudan taking in orphaned children.

I was really relieved when Jesus called me to move to Sudan out of the west. When I got here I realized it was ten times more religious than anything I have ever seen. Leaders who actually know Jesus estimate maybe only three percent of people here actually know Jesus, really. The spirit of religion is so strong it feels choking at times – totally empowered by a spirit of fear. It is only Jesus as He truly is and His life that will draw them. He is the only one that can fix this mess.

When I was in the simple church movement I came to realize I was training people how to plant churches so nicely they could do it with out God. We were reproducing another box in which we were trying to contain God and saying that our box was better than the other boxes. Now, after nearing two years in the war torn bush of central Africa I don’t really give a rip whether it is house church or legacy church or cell church or open church, a sitting room, a sanctuary or a stadium – if people are growing in Jesus, walking in love with one another and being the face of His love to the world around them.

I don’t want to have to figure out whether I should embrace, conform, reform or vacate the system. I don’t have the time. Other things are too precious. I just want to do what He is doing and love people. I don’t want to debate what is the right way to have church, because it all can become a box and a prison if not filled with His life. Why can’t we all just focus on Him and fall in love with Him and love the people around us?

I don’t want to figure it all out – I can’t. I was just holding a dying woman in my arms in the hospital here whose family will not feed her or help her because the stench of rotting flesh is too bad and she soils herself and people are arguing if they should meet in homes or buildings. Last week a blind woman saw, this week a woman lay dying in my arms. I cannot figure it out. I don’t even want to try anymore. If I can’t embrace His mystery and love Him beyond my little understanding, I will limit the place I give to His majesty to be revealed in and through my life.

Meet under a tree, rent a cathedral, go on a hike with your family- but love people – learn about love.

Learn of him.

Live in him.

Have an encounter in him.

Live in encounter with him.

Be his encounter to those around you.

That’s what he said to me last night. Can’t we just do that? I don’t have any answers or anything except a heart cry to love each person he sets in front of me and stay in his presence because I love Him more than I love anything. He is my life.

Thank you for describing the One I love more than life, so beautifully and accurately. It means a lot. I met him face to face when I was seven and He walked into my room. I have read or heard very few who actually describe the One who captured my heart as a little girl.

You have!

* * * * * *

Jesus couldn’t have said it with any greater simplicity or clarity: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Would we dare to believe that his instructions would really be all that we need to accomplish his purpose in the earth, influence the culture the way he desires, find freedom from our own failures and bondages, and find the fellowship that would most glorify him in the earth? I do.

The reason we don’t experience his fullnes in our unfolding lives is because we live as if we are not loved. Fearful he won’t take care of us, we believe the lie that says God only helps those who help themselves. The most important thing we can discover is that the God of the Ages wants nothing more than for you to know him as the Abba – the tender Father who wants to sweep you up in his arms and transform you by winning you to the simple reality that no one loves you more than he does.

This is not just an intellectual conclusion; it is a revelation at the core of our being. Ask him to give you that. Pray that he will show you with ever-increasing clarity how much affection he has for you. Only then can life truly unfold!


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

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

Articles in Chronological Order | Articles by Content

Windblown: What Life in Him Looks Like

By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife • February 2007

He was a religious leader who sought Jesus out in the dark of night. He knew Jesus’ miracles were proof that God was with him and he wanted to be part of his kingdom. But he had no idea what it would demand from him.

Perhaps Nicodemus wanted some instructions to follow, new rules that would let him in on the life Jesus lived. But Jesus didn’t offer any. He simply told him that he needed to be born all over again. The idea sent Nicodemus’ head spinning as he tried to conceive how he, an old man, could be born a second time. Jesus must have smiled at the thought. It was not a physical rebirth that Nicodemus needed, but a spiritual one. He already knew all too well how to live as a human in the world. If he was going to see into the reality of this coming kingdom he needed a rebirth of the Spirit. Why? Because nothing in this kingdom can be seen, embraced or pursued by the flesh no matter how well intentioned. It runs contrary to every way our flesh sees and acts.

What’s surprising here is that there was no conflict between Nicodemus’ flesh and being a religious leader. While his religion at one level sought to restrain his fleshy appetites, it also provided a way for it to satisfy others, such as a lust for power or spiritual status. But the kingdom Jesus was bringing was different. It offered Nicodemus not another performance standard but a completely different way of living. To embrace that would take a rebirth of the Spirit that would open his spiritual eyes. And that’s when Jesus drops the bombshell. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

I could understand how the Spirit was like the wind that we can’t define or control, but the thought that those who are born of him are like that as well captured my heart the first time I heard thes words as a young man. I don’t even remember who was reading them or where I was, but I remember to this day how those words filled my heart with an irresistible call of mystery and adventure. Every time I’ve read John’s gospel since, those words re-ignite that same passion of living that religion at it’s best could never produce.

Born Again

We have certainly cheapened this passage in the past 50 years by applying the term ‘born again’ to those who have said a sinner’s prayer, been baptized, or those who go to a ‘Bible-believing’ fellowship as opposed to a more liberal one. The term ‘born again’ is often used today synonymously with the term ‘evangelical’ to validate a conservative brand of Christianity and question the faith of others who don’t use the same label. We have turned a term Jesus used to invite people into his kingdom into the most divisive term in Christendom, proving that we missed his point entirely.

If Jesus were going to define his kingdom by a creed, this was his time to say it. If Nicodemus could see the kingdom by participating in certain rituals or sacraments or ascribing to the ethics of a Godly life, Jesus would have told him here. Jesus was not refining the religion of the Old Covenant; he was offering a new way of living that was indefinable and incomprehensible to the natural mind.

Nicodemus didn’t need new principles; he needed to start his spiritual journey all over again. The religion he knew so well could never evolve into a life-transforming faith. Being born again meant that in spiritual things he needed to lay down everything he thought he knew and learn a life based on the Spirit. Jesus knew that would be difficult for a man so steeped in religion, and Nicodemus’ ensuing struggle over Jesus’ words demonstrated how right he was.

And so it is with us. The more we have been schooled in religious activity, the more difficult it is to see this kingdom for what it really is. We have millions of people on the planet today claiming to be born again who don’t have the foggiest idea who Jesus is or how to live in his reality. They may subscribe to Christian beliefs, follow Christian ethics and practice Christian rituals, but they do not know how to ride the wind of his Spirit and be transformed by him.

Being born again is a real process that opens our eyes and heart to participate in a kingdom that supersedes the material world we’ve all been taught to live in.

Riding the Wind

To illustrate this rebirth Jesus turns to the wind as a metaphor and describes three things that are true about it.

It blows where it wills. No man controls the wind. Even with our increased technology it is controlled by forces larger than humanity can influence. There are times we might like for it to stop or blow a different direction, but there isn’t a blasted thing we can do about it.

You hear its sound. While the wind is invisible, we can hear it, feel it on the skin and see its effects on the world around us. We’ve just endured about a week’s worth of Santa Ana winds that consistently blew 25-30 miles per hour and often gusted up to 50. One morning our street was filled with garbage as trashcans had been overturned on collection day.

You cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. Haven’t you ever wondered where all that wind comes from and where it ends up? I know it swirls around high and low pressure areas, but I don’t know where the wind swirling around my face began that morning or where it will end that evening.

What an excellent metaphor to describe the working of the Spirit. He is like the wind, blowing where he wills, unseen but not knowable and it is true that we mostly have no idea what he’s up to on any given day. And while all that may be true, that’s not what Jesus was saying. He compares the wind to everyone born of the Spirit.

That’s you and me! Those born of the Spirit move in this world just as Jesus described the wind. They live out of different motivations. You can see the impact they have, even if you can’t figure out why they’re doing what they do.

People like that used to drive me nuts. When I was a pastor, it bothered me that some of the most spiritual men and women I came across, wouldn’t fit into the program the way I wanted them to. They were uninterested in staff positions I dangled before them, and they declined invitations to join our elders. Maybe they weren’t as spiritual as I thought.

I came to find out, however, that they were tuned to a higher frequency. When I expressed my frustration to one of them, he answered. “I don’t know that I can explain it, but one day you’ll know.”

I didn’t like his answer at all until I heard myself saying almost the exact same words five years later to a group of elders courting me to become their next pastor.

Blown by a Different Wind

Unfortunately most believers have never been exposed to life in Christ like this. They have seen Christianity only as a religion with truths to learn, rules to follow and rituals to observe and have missed the beauty of what life in Jesus can be.

I love the way Paul expressed this to Timothy in warning him to keep the main issue the main issue: “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love – love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.” (1 Timothy 1:5 – The Message)

This is a life of love, not obligation. It is not what we know about God that matters as much as knowing his affection for us, and loving others in the same way. Timothy needed to keep that in mind especially where believers had become more enamored with doctinal controversies of doctrine, rather than living in love.

Notice that this love is uncontaminated by self-interest. We all know what it is to live to our own self-interest, looking to maximize our benefit or to minimize our pain in the circumstances we face. We learned to survive that way in the world. But the wind Jesus was revealing to Nicodemus doesn’t operate on self-interest, but the self-giving love of God. That’s what will mark his people in the world. It’s not hard for us to understand people controlled by self-interest, even when they use their religion to advance their personal goals or say it is in love. But we don’t understand people who live by the laying-down-their-lives kind of love that only Jesus can shape in us. Those who are well loved will love well.

I used to think that Christian growth came by learning new truths and putting them into practice. While that can be helpful, more often than not it doesn’t work. How many of us have heard a powerful sermon or read an inspired book ready to embrace its message and committed to living it out, and then failed to follow through? Then we blame ourselves for not trying hard enough and only ended up with another standard by which to measure our failures.

That’s why he said the Spirit would lead his followers into all truth (John 15). This was not something we could do on our own, like studying algebra or Latin. Jesus challenged Nicodemus not to think of his life as learning a new catalog of information, but to learn to live in love. That would so change the way he lived other people wouldn’t recognize him or be able to explain his actions.

A Genuine Trust

Every time I think I’ve figured out the way God works he’ll amaze me yet again – zigging where I would have zagged, giving strength in the face of circumstances I would have cured, or suddenly and conspicuously absent from the plans and routines that I hoped would contain him.

That used to frustrate me. It doesn’t any more. I am finally settled in the reality that he wouldn’t do anything the way I would. I’m convinced of the fact that he does all things well, even if he doesn’t do them for my comfort or convenience. And I am convinced that following him is the only real way to live, circumstance by circumstance, task by task, obedience by obedience. And I have come to love it that way.

The pursuit to find any formula that can be applied to produce his righteousness, provide me New Testament church life or even grow my trust, is a fool’s errand. It will fail time and time again until in the end I come to realize that this reality only comes through a growing friendship with him. The more I know him amd the more I see his hand at work the freer I will be to trust him and live in his kingdom.

I am convinced that wind is his Spirit, and my need to be born again is not a one-time experience but a daily choice to shed my expectations about the way things should be, to mistrust my own desires and agenda, and to tune my mind to the breath of his Spirit and the truths of his word. Where I live born of the Spirit today, I will ride that wind with increasing joy and freedom. I will see his fingerprints in the jagged places of life and be able to cooperate with his purpose in me.

Where I live out of my own selfish-ambition, religious performance, or natural wisdom I will struggle with unanswerable questions and act in ways that are hurtful to others. I’m so tired of that. And though I’m a long ways from living it perfectly, I want to live no other way – more today than yesterday and more tomorrow than today. And the only way I can do that is continue to live deeply in him, watching for his wind to blow and riding it, even if some of the most significant people in my life can’t understand what I’m doing or why. Jesus warned us that would be so.

Following Him, Not An It

Any time we choose to follow a model of spirituality, someone else’s formula for success, or an agenda no matter how well intentioned, we will end up walking by our own limited wisdom. The invitation to this kingdom is to follow a person. Jesus doesn’t give us the way; he is The Way. He doesn’t have life; he is The Life. He doesn’t just speak truth; he is The Truth itself. Everything about his kingdom begins and ends in him and we experience that through a growing friendship with him.

That’s often the hardest thing for people to see when they have been disillusioned by church life as many define it today. Immediately they begin to look for another way of doing church and jump right back into a different form of religious performance, rather than learning how they can simply follow him.

Part of what Jesus was encouraging Nicodemus to do was to stop trying to put boxes around the life of his Spirit, which can never be contained. Have you ever tried to stuff the wind into a box? Have you ever tried to stop it, or make it blow a different direction? How futile! So is trying to control God’s working by boxing it into forms we prefer, or trying to control the outcomes we want from him.

He is the wind. He blows where he wills, and we can follow if we want. The person who is born of the Spirit loses his moorings in the temporal world where the cravings of safety, security and stability must be satisfied. And in doing so we too become like the wind, available to him at each moment to do what he would ask of us.

Obeying the Nudges

Faith doesn’t flow from theology; it flows from relationship. From our earliest days he wants to show us how to embrace his unfolding revelation in our lives and teach us how to follow him. I don’t know any other way to describe it than to simply be obedient to those nudges he puts in your mind. He might be revealing something about himself, inviting us to some time with him, drawing us to the Bible, or leading us to serve or encourage someone else. Learning to recognize those nudges and follow through on them is what teaches us to distinguish between our deisres and his. Those nudges almost always begin not by calling us to grandiose ministries, but teaching us to live outside our self-interest in the mundane ways we can serve others around us.

To many people this may sound like emotion-driven, touchy-feely spirituality. I hear those objections often by those threatened with a life in God they won’t be able to control by their disciplines and doctrines. But they couldn’t be more wrong. This is a dance of head and heart together discerning God and his ways. The heart without the head can lead to well intentioned disaster, and the head without the heart will exalt doctrine over love and destroy others with its arrogance.

To grow in this life, I am continually cultivating my relationship with him. I intentionally spend time with him as I grow in my awareness of his working throughout my day. I have a running conversation with him about everything in my life and express my desire to follow his will at every turn. I immerse myself in the story of Scripture, learning how he thinks and acts. I have a steady diet of what God is showing others by what I read and listen to, and the conversations I have with others on this journey.

So how do I sort out his nudges from my own thoughts? Most nudges I get from his Spirit are simple ways of loving and serving people around me. I am not too worried about getting those wrong. There aren’t many downsides to serving others. But to have some measure of confidence to step out in a larger action he may be asking of me, I look for four things to to come into agreement:

1. An intuitive, growing conviction of his leading over time.

2. Affirmation in the truth and example of Scripture that this is how God works.

3. Confirmation from other brothers and sisters as I discuss it with them.

4. And the reality of unfolding circumstances.

When those voices are in synch, I have greater confidence that I am following him. But you know what? Sometimes all of these line up and I still get it wrong. That’s why people born of the Spirit rarely use language like, “God told me to…”, and will instead talk in terms of what they sense. They’ve been wrong enough times not to be so presumptuous, even when they’re most certain. I’ve forged God’s name on my agenda a number of times, only to find out later that it was my penmanship all along. But I’m still ready to get up the next day and learn to keep following him. And while I’m willing to pay the consequences for being wrong, I also know he can weave my mistakes into his purposes.

Taking Wing

This is what it means to be born of the Spirit. It has nothing to do with a sinner’s prayer or speaking in tongues. It means we’ve taken wing on a breath of wind that comes from the Father himself and learn to trust his words over our human reasoning and justifications.

It means we lay aside the lies of shame and the demands for performance that drive us from him and find our security in his affection for us and let that transform us. It means finally realizing how our selfish ambitions work against his purpose in us and others around us and laying them down in our growing trust that he knows better than we do and he does all things well.

It means we don’t have to have everything figured out to take the next step he’s put on our hearts and we no longer have to play for the applause of the crowd. It means we’re finally free to surrender our need to think we’re in control and know his plans are far better.

What great freedom to realize that I never had the power or wisdom to accomplish God’s purposes in my life and how losing confidence in my flesh only frees me to live more dependent on him and more grateful for his working. What a joy to wake up in the uncertain adventure of life and not be distressed at what might happen today, because he is with me!

How could human effort ever produce this? It is the work of his Spirit responding to our desire to know him. My prayer for you in these things is the same one that Paul had for the Thessalonians:

May the Master take your hand and lead you along the path
of God’s love and Christ’s endurance.
(2 Thessalonians 3:5)


Download Article:


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


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

Articles in Chronological Order | Articles by Content

Sexual Struggles on the Relational Journey

couple_silhouette_0Sexual Struggles on the Relational Journey

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 2005

Shocked!?!?! I hope not, some of you probably are and there’s no doubt not everyone will see these sensitive things the same way I do. I know how hard it was for me to write this and to decide to make it the subject of a BodyLife issue.

Dealing with sexuality in the context of our spiritual journeys can be a bit jarring and that is no accident. Religion doesn’t teach us how to deal with sex. Rather it prefers to keep our sexuality and our spirituality in two separate worlds. It tosses sexuality into a dark closet, slams the door and posts the rules for everyone to keep. Some can, others can only pretend to.

A few months ago, I received this desperate plea from a young mother:

“Have you any resources that you would suggest or could you address pornography addiction somehow on your site? I am struggling with hurt and I do not know who to go to. My father has struggled with this, I think my brother has, and my husband is struggling. I don’t understand it and it hurts…” (You can read my answer to her here.)

And I didn’t have anything to point to on this site. I found that incredible and sad. Sexual pleasure and sexual brokenness are common themes in our age, and they come up repeatedly every day. Why is it, then, that we rarely talk about sexuality in the context of our spiritual journeys? Scripture does not share our reticence. Sexual themes permeate its stories and teachings, highlighting not only the glory of sexuality in God’s creation, but also its power to destroy those who misuse it.

So maybe it’s time we think through sexuality and our spiritual journeys. I’ll admit that I haven’t got the final answers on any of this, but I do want to begin a discussion that will allow Jesus to bring greater freedom into this area. My observations are derived from helping a variety of people through these issues over the last 30 years.

And feel free to read between the lines here. What we learn about sexual struggles will also be true of other sins, how it is that God takes us from captivity into freedom, and how religious thinking unwittingly makes that journey more difficult.

An Incredible Gift

Some have said that God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is the only one humanity has obeyed.

Look at the incentive it took to get us to do that!

The excitement and pleasure of a husband and wife sharing themselves physically in an environment of growing love and trust is an incredible gift. It begins in the yearnings of youth and grows when held in trust for a future spouse. It grows greater through the early years of marriage as a couple shapes a sexual life together with a passion to please each other and to celebrate their love with the deepest connection and greatest joy two people can experience.

So it would be no surprise that sin would twist that gift into a weapon for our own destruction. The quest for immediate sexual gratification will always be at odds with our ultimate freedom to celebrate this gift in its most valued fashion. In a Carl’s Jr. commercial last year Playboy’s Hugh Hefner extolled the virtue of having a different kind of hamburger every night instead of the same old thing. The double-entendre was clear – sex is best with a line of ever-changing partners. How wrong he is! Mr. Hefner will never know the heights of ecstasy that can only come from growing in an exclusive, healthy and vibrant sexual relationship with the same woman over the course of a lifetime.

Sadly, many have bought into his philosophy that we can disconnect the act of sex from relationship and use it for our own amusement without any lasting damage. I am amazed how easily even teens today talk about hooking up for one-night sexual adventures, or designate ‘friends with privileges’ for those they’ll satisfy sexually with no enduring commitment. Only when our society has to pick up the pieces of sexual abuse, a marriage destroyed by an affair, young lives shattered from being sexually used and discarded, or the trauma of sexually-transmitted diseases or an unwanted pregnancy, does it really pause to reflect that maybe God knew what he was talking about.

And here our culture gives mixed messages. Almost every celebration of love, even in secular culture, expresses its yearning to be exclusive and eternal. I will love you only, and love you always. I have never performed a wedding ceremony for a couple who had held themselves abstinent until marriage, who regretted doing so. And they reap the benefits of that in the early days of marriage, discovering the joys and techniques of growing sexually together. The fact that they valued this gift and their future partner enough to save themselves is a powerful foundation upon which to build the trust in which relationship thrives.

What If I’ve Already Missed It?

Of course not everyone knew enough in their youth to make this choice, nor had strength enough to resist the temptations they faced. Others may have gone through divorce or the death of a spouse. What do we say to them?

We tend to view God’s ideal as a pass/fail test. If it is, then once you’ve missed that mark, you might as well just give up. But the New Testament makes it clear that God’s ideal is a promise of freedom that he will work in you. If you let God shape you with his desires you can still experience with ever-increasing glory God’s best for you. His forgiveness will cover your failure and his restoration opens up a new future to embrace your sexuality as God designed it.

I know it isn’t easy. My heart goes out to those who have lost their way in temptation or in the struggle with sexual thoughts and appetites. Nothing keeps men I’ve talked to from living confidently in God like the shame of their sexual failures. That struggle is made even more difficult by the sexually obsessed culture we live in. And I’m not just talking about pornography or MTV videos. So many things in our culture tear at our sexuality as Madison Avenue appeals to our sexual urges to sell everything from milk to cars. Provocative clothing has become the norm for women, and for men who are easily stimulated visually (that’s most of us!) our culture provides a constant haze of sexual stimulation. And sometimes even the most innocent glance or conversation will provoke temptation.

Sexual brokenness is rampant in our culture and manifests itself in a number of ways from outright sexual affairs, to emotional attractions for someone other than a spouse, to indulging in pornography or simply being tormented by fantasies that one cannot turn off. The accessibility of pornography and stimulating entertainments has grown exponentially in the media and on the Internet. No one has to get in their car and drive to the seedy part of town and risk being seen sneaking into an ‘adult’ store. A pit of sexual indulgence is only a mouse click away.

So we’re caught in quite a dilemma. God has given us a precious gift of sexuality and with it a drive that is often stronger than our will to resist its abuse. Our culture and the twisted nature of sin conspire to beckons us to squander God’s gift for instant gratification.

Just Say No?

Religion is notorious for underscoring the rules, demanding complicity and punishing those who fall short. It’s only counsel for sexual bondage is to just say no. If you love Jesus enough you will not yield to temptation. What kind of hope is that?

I heard a health educator to a secular audience say it as clearly as it can be said: “‘Just say no!’ hasn’t worked since the two most innocent people got it from the highest possible authority.” Adam and Eve in their innocence found themselves face to face with a ‘no’ they could not resist. If ‘just say no’ is the answer, then discipline is all we need to live free. Certainly some of us can muster enough discipline to live purely, at least outwardly. But Paul tells us that we are helpless in sin (Romans 5) and even those who may be able to deny themselves externally can still be tormented on the inside.

Jesus warned us in his Sermon on the Mount that just because you don’t commit adultery doesn’t mean you’ve fulfilled the law. If you even look at another person with lust then you’ve committed adultery in your heart. I used to hate that. I didn’t want to be guilty of something I worked so hard to deny. Of course, Jesus wasn’t telling us that if you’re thinking it you might just as well go ahead and do it. And he wasn’t trying to multiply our guilt either. What he wanted us to see is that our bondage run deeper than mere actions, and so does God’s healing.

Those who think just having the discipline to say no is Father’s fix, will find themselves either becoming proficient at hiding or excusing their failures, or give up altogether – thinking they’ll never be disciplined enough to make it in this kingdom. Amazingly those who scream ‘Just say no!’ the loudest are often caught later hiding their own failures. One pastor angered people by forcing young couples he married to confess their promiscuity to families and friends at their wedding. It came out years later that during that time that pastor was involved in an affair of his own.

As we shall see if you think piling on shame for sexual failure will deter future failures you are sadly misguided. The manipulation of shame in the face of sexual failure doesn’t advance healing; it only deepens the bondage by keeping it in the dark where it grows best. Those who struggle with sexual brokenness will find themselves acting out most when they feel condemned and distant from God.

So How Do We Fix It?

I hope I can be clear here. You can’t! You can’t! You can’t! This is not something you can do, but something Jesus can accomplish in you. The temptation to sexual indulgence is the most powerful and conflicting you’ll ever meet, and only a growing, vibrant relationship with the living God will displace its influence and free you to live God’s freedom.

I’m convinced that a lot of sexual bondage is perpetuated out of boredom and the self-focused life our society worships. A major way God displaces sin in our life is by giving us a higher purpose that captures our hearts and guides us through a day. Knowing him and engaging his agenda each day in our lives will save us from being captured in the bondage of our own comfort or amusement. So our focus needs to be less on trying not to do something as it is on engaging a reality so much larger than ourselves.

That’s not to say there aren’t specific ways we can look for God to touch our sexual brokenness. And I hope you’re not looking for a prescribed set of steps that you can follow to sexual healing. Jesus sorts these things out in a personal relationship with him and as I’ve walked with folks through these things I notice he so personalizes the healing process to the reality of each individual, that any prescribed plan would only work for a few and leave others feeling left out. So instead let me offer some thoughts that might help us recognize his work in this area.

Demystify your sexual struggles. Religion has made it a hornet’s nest of misinformation and deep-seated bias. Let me say at the outset that I embrace what Scripture says about healthy sexuality and what it identifies as sexual sin. Paul warned us that sexual failure destroys something deep inside us (1 Cor. 6) and yet it is obvious from his letters that all of the early congregations struggled with sexual temptation.

Remember you are not alone. Other brothers and sisters share your struggle. A well-known seminary did a survey a few years ago on the hidden addictions of Christian leaders and found that 55% of pastors confessed to regular use of Internet pornography. And that’s just those who were honest enough with themselves to admit it.

Sexual brokenness is not the last, great sin in the human experience. We all know what sexual temptation is like, even if the object of those temptations may be different. We’ve got to let him sort out the condemnation and humiliation religion has imbedded in sexual temptation because it only makes it stronger. And shame keeps us from the one thing that can free us from sexual bondage – a growing relationship of trust and intimacy with Jesus.

And there’s the conflict, isn’t it? I can’t be free until I have a relationship, but I’m too shamed in my failures to have the relationship. But the cross of Jesus solved that paradox. It reconciled our shame in the mercy of God, so that we would find him the safest place to be at our most broken. As we lean into him more each day, he will unwire our brokenness and channel our passions in ways that please him and fulfills his desire in us.

Walking Out of the Darkness

It might be helpful to view the struggle for freedom at three levels.

  • The first is dealing with the sexual temptations and fantasies that are a part of a normal sex drive. You don’t act on them, but they do filter into your thinking and challenge your resistance not to indulge them in ways that can result in greater bondage. The second level of bondage is marked by more protracted sexual thoughts that harass you almost constantly and which are acted out privately, either through role-playing, indulging fantasies, or viewing pornography. This includes aberrant sexual appetites, homosexuality and gender confusion.
  • The third level is overt sexual sin, engaged in with another person, either in cultivating an illicit emotional relationship or outright sexual activity.
  • Obviously the later two are of greatest concern and freedom at those levels will require an intentional choice on your part to sort out with Jesus why these fantasies have set such a deep hook in you and how it is that he will liberate you from them. Wherever you are you can start by surrendering yourself and your sexuality to Jesus. You’ve got to take this area seriously, with a desire to let him change your behavior and get whatever help you need for that to be a reality.

Let me add a caveat here about masturbation because I know that this one struggle keeps more men from walking closely to Jesus more than anything else I know. I wouldn’t suggest that self-gratification is a healthy way to deal with our sexual urges, but I find it odd that Scripture does not address something that is so prevalent in humanity. Nowhere does Scripture even mention it, must less forbid it, and that includes the story of Onan in Genesis 38.

The larger concern seems to be not the act itself, but the fantasies that go along with the act. Some think that is enough to forbid it, but I think that overreaches. This is something each one needs to sort out with God, especially knowing what he defines as sin and lust that captures our heart. And if you have to hide something from your spouse, that’s a pretty good sign it is not honorable even in your own eyes. In the meantime, don’t let this behavior push you away from Jesus, but let it draw you to him all the more.

Ask him to show you why you treat sex the way you do and why certain images incite your passions and why, beyond the rush of pleasure, do you succumb to its devices. You have to see it as more than just a moment of brief euphoria brought on by a weak will, and let him show you why it has become your drug of choice. Perhaps some formative event started you down this path, either abuse or great loss. God knows and he loves you enough to walk this through with you into absolute freedom.

As he does he will show you how sexual brokenness dehumanizes you and your spouse (even if he or she is still in the future). Real sexuality is about relationship first and pleasure second. Marriages that are affair-proof celebrate their sexuality as a relationship between best friends, not an act of pleasure or duty between two bodies.

Some Final Thoughts

Those of you who are young, it will serve you best to sort out these things early in your life. Don’t believe the world’s lie that sex can be casual and that it can be separated from a life-long relationship, or buy religion’s lie that you’re powerful enough to overcome temptation on your own.

By all means, resist sexual temptation wherever you can, for as long as you can. When you falter, don’t waste time bashing yourself or wallowing in shame. Don’t make promises you can’t keep because they will just increase your guilt and push you further from him. Instead, run to his presence, presenting yourself to him in failure and asking him what it is about you that is broken. He will show you.

Ask him to give you someone who will walk in this struggle with you. Brothers find a brother, and sisters another sister, not for accountability per se, but for compassion, prayer and support. Be careful here. Make sure this is someone you can trust to support you in the struggle, not load you up with guilt or expose your failures to others.

Beware of sexual or romantic fantasies that rob you of the true joy of sexuality. While couples can explore a variety of ways to make their lovemaking fun and playful, fantasies by definition are not reality. When you give yourself to being turned on by that which does not exist, you will miss the treasure of what does. Unrealistic fantasies do not help us enjoy sex more. They slowly dismantle real sexuality by dehumanizing your spouse and the act itself. Isn’t it amazing that with the rise of sexual imagery and exploitation in our culture, sexual dysfunction is growing at an astounding rate? I know there can be genuine physical reasons that Viagra and other enhancing drugs can be a real godsend in a marriage, but I also wonder how much of these chemicals are needed because indulging in unreal fantasies has robbed us of the truest joys right before us.

Those of you who have spouses whom you know are struggling with pornography, find a way to share that struggle together if you can do it with grace. As hard as this may be, don’t just react to it as if his indulgence in pornography is a rejection of you. These traps often get set at young ages, and are not easily broken. A man can be madly in love with his wife, care about her deeply, be turned on by her and still find pornography a cheap, temporal thrill.

This is where society has really conspired against people getting whole. The pressure on women to compete with fantasy images is unbearable. And, because women are wired differently they will see pornography as a personal betrayal. Let me assure you that that is rarely the case and your spouse was probably involved with it long before he met you. (For more comments on this, you can read the email I wrote to the young mother who first asked the question, on our website.)

I know there is much left unanswered here. How do couples build a mutually fulfilling sex life without using sex or its frequency as a weapon? Is there a difference between appreciating God’s creation in a beautiful woman without being lustful? How can women grow up healthy in a culture that judges them by external beauty and that with impossible standards? Why are some tempted by aberrant sexual desires while others are not? I can’t cover all that here but I do know that religious answers to these questions are not enough to lead people into God’s healing.

But he is enough. God wants us to experience our sexuality as the gift he gave us – joyfully linked to a life-long relationship of growing trust and joy, rather than squandering it for momentary cheap thrills that leave us empty and alone. Yes, it can be a huge battle that may take some time, but let me encourage you to take this freedom seriously and let him lead you to the gift of righteousness that a growing trust in him provides.

I said, that I hoped this article would begin a bit of dialogue, and some interesting ‘extras’ have come in. You can find that at the links below:


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OTHER TRANSLATIONS


Breaking Free

butterfly_0Can someone try too hard to walk with God?

Absolutely!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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What Is God Asking Of You?

stepping_stones_0What Is God Asking Of You?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 2004

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

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

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

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

Focus!

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

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

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

A Voice We’ve Been Taught To Ignore

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

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

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

A Growing Conviction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now It’s Your Turn…

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

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

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

Then do it.

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

Fairlie, New Zealand

That Lot in Fairlie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Call of the Shepherd

The Call of the Shepherd

As put into words by Wayne Jacobsen 

BodyLife • May 2004

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

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

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

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

Harassed and Helpless

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

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

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

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

A Shepherd Like No Other

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

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

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

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

No More Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen

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

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

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

You Won’t Be Alone

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

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

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

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

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

Wherever I Lead

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

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

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

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

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

To The Heights

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

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

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

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

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


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Living in Two Worlds

nasa_photo_0Living in Two Worlds

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • February 2004

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Death’s Door

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

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

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

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

Only a Prologue

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

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

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

The World We Are In

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

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

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

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

The World We Are Of

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

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

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

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

Living In the Eternal

I love the way Paul thought through this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Life Worth Sharing

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

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

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

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


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It’s So Worth It!

waterfall_0It’s So Worth It!

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • September 2002

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

“Keep going.”

“You’re getting close.”

“It’s so worth it.”

And it was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Everyone Makes It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rest Still Waiting

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

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

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

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

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

Those Who Have Gone Before

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not Just A Dream

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

“We did,” we told them.

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

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

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

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


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The Joy of Letting Go

kayak_0The Joy of Letting Go

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missed Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relax!

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

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

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

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

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

Of Systems and Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting Go!

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

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

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

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

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

There is no greater peace.

Living Openhandedly

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

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

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

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

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

So I Do Nothing?

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

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

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

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

I Hope You Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Signposts On The Journey

road_signs_0Signposts On the Journey

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • May 1999

You haven’t really had an adventure until you rent a car and drive alone through the backroads of New England. The roads twist and turn in directions you wouldn’t think possible. Even the locals can get confused.

Last month riding with some friends, we tried to get from Route 140 near Upton to Sutton, Massachusetts without a map. Previous experience had warned me that even though it was less than 10 miles as the crow flies, it was almost impossible to get there from where we were. So, even though it violated the sacrosanct rules of manhood, we stopped to ask directions–four times!

Each time we were given a confusing list of landmarks to look out for and turns to make. Then, in the middle of their explanation, each person we asked paused, looked at us quizzically and asked, “Where did you want to go again?”

It got to be so comical we ended up exploding in laughter as the last man did the same thing, despite our best efforts to not to. We could barely choke out a ‘thank you’ as we pulled away laughing so hard our stomachs ached for the next 20 minutes. (Which, by the way, is why men don’t usually stop and ask directions. We know that the guy we’re asking isn’t able to say, “I don’t know!” and will offer nebulous directions to take you further away from him.)

As bad as word-of-mouth directions can be, however, highway signs can be worse. In fact there are places you can end up driving west on SR 6 East. One interchange on Interstate 95 south of Boston will tell you to turn both west and east if you want to go to north to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Sometimes the spiritual journey can be like that, can’t it? We think we know what God wants, but the markers we have used for confirmation, don’t seem to line up with that. What do you do then? Discount what God seems to be saying, and trust our markers? Only if your markers are God’s markers. Regretfully, however, I’m finding many of the markers we use are in direct conflict with Scripture and the model Jesus left us.

The Markers We Use

One of the most shocking lessons I’ve had to face in the last few years is how many of the signs I have used to affirm God’s will in my life were actually markers inviting me to wander further from him.

Like a traveler on a road, I would hear him calling me to follow him. But when I looked in the direction of his voice I would see signs warning of danger, risk and conflict. Turning another way I could see signs offering convenience, gratification and security. How easy it was to tell myself that the voice had come down the more appealing path. However, when I set out in that direction, I would find God’s presence growing more distant and my spiritual life more dry and empty.

One does not have to twist Scripture far to think that following Jesus will lead down the most comfortable path, or the most popular, or the most financially rewarding, or the most secure. We never even consider that those who don’t know how much their Father loves them, seek those same things. So, like them, we pursue our own self-interest thinking it to be the way God works, but only find ourselves further from the depths of knowing him and missing out on the incredible adventure that comes by following the Lamb wherever he goes.

They are false markers, leading us toward the American dream not to the kingdom of God. If we only obey his voice when its easy, brings us the applause of others or benefits us financially we will find our spiritual life dry, empty and boring. While it offers the illusion of joy, it cannot give us the real thing, where God inhabits our heart, freeing us from the tyranny of darkness and releasing us to true joy and freedom that can only be found in living life God’s way.

Jesus warned us about that. He told us the life of the kingdom awaited those who walked a narrow road, apart from their own self-interest. Don’t forget that this is a kingdom in which everything works backwards from the natural way we would do things. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

If you’re confirming his voice off of the wrong markers, you will be confused when he speaks to you and you’ll find your decisions taking you further away from the life in him you desire.

So every once in a while it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the markers we’re seeing on the journey we’re on. They will tell us whether our journey is drawing us to him along the narrow road, or back to the broad road of complacency and ease that we left on the day he touched our hearts and invited us to go on a journey with the Living God:

Religious Busyness or Deepening Relationship?

There is no end to the number of good things you can do in God’s name in our religious-based culture. Everywhere people are begging for money and volunteers and it is easy for the conscientious believer to get caught up in a whirl of wonderful activities and miss out on what it means to build a deepening relationship with him.

It is true that the busiest people with religion, are often the most unfulfilled spiritually. Rather than being changed by his life, they are often short-tempered, demanding that others follow their example. They do not understand how religious activity can dull our hunger and distract our passion to know him. They pursue the latest program, observe demanding disciplines, seek out being ‘fed’ by teachers they enjoy, but never grow closer to the one who loves them so deeply.

The surest sign that you are walking the road God has for you is an ever-deepening friendship with him where you grow to know his heart better and are increasingly transformed into his image. It is helpful to pause regularly in your journey and ask whether or not you know him better today than you did a month ago. If the answer is no, or you’re uncertain, then you might consider that you’re moving the wrong direction. He wants nothing more than for you to learn to abide in him every day, and doing that everything else on God’s heart concerning you will be fulfilled.

Acclaim of Others or Being Misunderstood by Them?

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone around you could affirm God’s voice in your life and applaud you for following it? In the real world, however it is rarely true. People, especially those who care about you, often want the same things for you that your flesh does–back to that which is comfortable, safe and satisfying.

They may mean well, but Paul knew that walking with an eye to the approval of others will always take you far afield of the kingdom. Jesus said the same thing. He said to take stock when men speak well of you, for that’s how they treat false prophets. He went on to say you are blessed when people lie, insult, and exclude you because of your obedience to him. He knew the same crowd shouting ‘Hosannas’ on Sunday would be screaming “Crucify him!” only a few days later.

Even our Christian culture tells us that increased attendance, best-selling books, and growing audiences await those who obey Jesus. In fact, those who misunderstood Jesus the most were those most passionate about religion. You will even find other Christians calling you back to the broader road thinking they are helping you follow God. Don’t be fooled. He’s the only one we can follow. Even if that means you are misunderstood, God will be faithful to provide other believers at just the right moment to encourage you on the journey.

Fitting in with Religious Leaders or Perhaps Disappointing Them

In our day, many who claim to lead in the body of Christ are not much more than well-intentioned program managers. They have an organization to run and personal goals to meet and often view people around them as simply part of that process. If we confuse a submissive heart with following their instructions, we will often find ourselves moving away from the path God has chosen for us.

We all know how important it is to glean God’s wisdom from other believers, including those who might be further along the journey. However, make sure those are people who are on the journey to knowing God, not those imbedded in religious institutions and who have a vested interest in you doing things their way. Religious leaders are those who lead people into religion. Weren’t these types always at odds with Jesus? Did he put their directions above his Father’s?

Of course not! But how can you tell the difference between religious leaders and mature believers God has put around you? True leaders won’t tell you what Father’s will is for you; they will instead help you grow close enough to Jesus to understand that for yourself. I find it curious that most of the latter I’ve met in recent years rarely waste their time in management positions of institutionized Christianity.

Being Served or Serve?

Isn’t it the natural inclination of our natural mind to get things in order the way we want them, even if we disguise that as doing what we think is best for all? When God’s leading seems to put you at the center and use others to help you get what you want–be suspicious.

If, however, his tug on your heart leads you to lay down your life for someone else, helping them discover what Jesus is doing in them and freeing them to do it, then that just might be God’s will for you.

Convenience or Risk?

For those of us who regard God’s will lying down the path of least resistance, we find Paul’s words to the Corinthians to be quite disturbing, ” But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians. 16:8-9)

Open door–great conflict! What a perspective! When Jesus invites us to live by faith he invites us to live in the security of Father’s love with an eye to his wisdom, his power, his abilities, not our own. If as a believer you are not finding yourself in situations far beyond your own ability to handle, you’re probably not growing.

Because he so desperately wants to free you from the bondage of self, he will invite you beyond what is convenient and secure in your natural mind. Remember, when he led Israel through the wilderness they grew so insecure that they preferred slavery in Egypt to living as free men and women in God. Regretfully many make that same decision today.

On the other hand, look at the list of those who walked by faith. What faith led them to do almost always looked irresponsible to human wisdom. But it wasn’t, because they were learning to follow God and rely on him, not man’s ways of doing things. Though it took them into greater conflict, put them at incredible risk, and at times cost them more than they ever dreamed, it also took them into the very heart of God.

They learned to rely on him and not themselves, and that is true security.

When you’re looking at the sign that reads ‘Personal Security’ you’re looking the wrong direction. Turn around. Be willing to risk something so awesome at God’s leading that there’s no way it will work without him. That’s how God’s invites his people to live.

Financial Security or Contentedness with God’s Portion?

“The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” “You cannot serve both God and Money.” “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” These words certainly don’t sound to me like following God insures upward financial mobility. Yet we easily pursue such ambitions thinking they represent God’s blessing.

Paul warned us that only “men of corrupt mind?think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (I Timothy 6:5). Isn’t it difficult for us to admit that the best financial decisions aren’t always the most Godly? How many people have not followed God’s voice, because they couldn’t trust him to provide for them, or because it didn’t make sense financially?

God’s path doesn’t always draw us to financial gain, though he promises to take care of every need. If Paul had only made decisions based on how it would secure his financial future, I’m afraid he would have missed so much that God had for him. Instead he learned to be content with God’s provision and realized it might vary season to season. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

He knew that God’s ability to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” had to do with the inner life of joy, not the securing of material wealth. Follow God, or follow money, but you cannot do both!

Following Routine or Following Him?

I like having clear insight into the long-range plan before I do anything. I want to know how it will turn out and what my contingencies are if something goes wrong. Jesus, however, is more interested in teaching us to live with a daily dependence on his voice, willing to follow him even if we have no idea what the outcome might be.

There’s nothing more Jesus wants to teach us than how to depend on him every day, and follow him even when we don’t understand the outcome. There is nothing we want to learn less. We like being self-reliant, able to trust sound principles and routines rather than need to hear his ever-present voice.

I’ve been working through this very thing with publishing decisions. I want a principle to guide me through ever future decision, rather than simply listening to what he wants me to write next, trusting he’ll make a way to make it available when we get there. Following him most often means we only see the next step, not the next ten. Follow anyway, and you’ll see the wonder of his plan unfold in ways you could never have contemplated.

Shunning the World or Hanging Out with Unbelievers?

There was a time in my life that I had no meaningful relationships with people who were not believers, and only knew other believers that gathered in the same group as me. I looked with suspicion on those who had too many friendships with people in the world.

That’s what Jesus faced when he was constantly accused of hanging out with the wrong crowd–those who caught in sin or those who ignored the protocol of the religious crowd. Father’s heart had drawn him to be with the lost, helping them discover the joy of God’s life. So, don’t think when God invites you on opportunities to love those left out of his life that you are somehow abandoning him or his body. God has called us to be light in some of the darkest places.

And the Point Is… Follow Him!

Christianity is living in relationship to the Living God. You can’t do that if you’re not free to follow him wherever he leads you. Of course anyone who sets their course by running from busyness, trying to be misunderstood, offending religious leaders, taking absurd risks, living carelessly or finding company only among sinners will not necessarily be walking God’s pathway. In fact all of those can be used as excuses for arrogant and destructive behaviors against God and his people. But I am not writing to people like that.

Ultimately Jesus has not asked us to live our life by following signs, but by learning to listen to his voice and to trust him in every situation. We can, however, find ourselves missing out on his life because we ignore his voice if it doesn’t align with our false notions about what living in God really means. These markers only have value if they free us to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, so that you can be like him in the world and available for all he wants to do in and through you.


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Painting Outside the Lines

Painting Outside the Lines

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • November 1998

Remember the old paint-by-number sets? Collies stretched out on a hillside. Fly fishermen casting over a forest stream. Autumn trees and distant mountains.

Somewhere inside me must be a wanna-be artist, because I loved those things as a child. Even today as I channel surf, I get stuck on the painting lessons that public broadcasting offers.

But I don’t have the gifts of an artist, and I’ve long outgrown paint-by-number sets. They were fun and though the results were surprising from someone so untalented, no one would mistake them for real art. They were manufactured paintings, not requiring my talent, only my technical skill at painting between the lines.

You can spot those paintings in an instant, can’t you? Blotches of color between hard and fast lines is not how real artists paint. They blend colors, overlay strokes and produce paintings that have meaningful detail, passion and even life.

I can’t help but wonder if religion’s attempts to help us find a meaningful relationship with God isn’t a lot like a paint by number set. A discipleship curriculum I worked on nearly a decade ago had a grid containing behavioral objectives designed to help someone walk with God. I think it had about 60 things to do, staged over a four-step growth process.

Last month I listened to a presentation on discipleship-making that listed 372 behavioral objectives over a four-step process that would teach us how to be followers of Jesus. (Given enough time, I think I might have come up with that many.)

But we all know that following such guidelines doesn’t produce the relationship with God we hunger for. They might be able to help us conform enough behavior to make us look more Christian, but they cannot produce what our hearts hunger for most. For that reason my chart got put away many years ago. God had something better in mind:

God’s Incredible Wonder

Last spring Sara and I had the chance to walk through some of the most beautiful gardens in France, including those in Paris and at the Palace of Versailles. They were splendid examples of human landscape but as lovely as they were, they were not breath-taking.

If you want breath-taking, stand on a bridge over a New England stream, completely surrounded by the vivid hues of autumn color; or try the vista of high Sierras from the bluff alongside Walling Lake in the Kaiser Wilderness; or, gaze out over the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. All of those have actually taken my breath away and are more lovely than anything man can produce with all his symmetry and planning. Not only is God’s canvas far larger, but he creates beauty in ways we can never duplicate.

At a leadership meeting years ago I remember someone sharing an insight God had given them about managing his work. We put gardens in rows, curb off the grass and tightly clip hedges. God scatters wildflowers across the hillsides. He warned us that if we ever tried to fit his work into our boxes, we’d miss out on what he was doing and the results would be a pathetic shadow of the real beauty he wanted to produce in his people.

We didn’t listen. Soon we had almost as many lines for God to paint in as most other religious organizations. The more we tried to force God into our expectations the more people got hurt and the further we got from the simplicity and beauty of just loving him. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t faithful to paint inside our lines whenever he could, but it meant that we missed so much of his working because it didn’t fit neatly into our expectations.

Managed Spirituality

Anyone who seeks a relationship with the living God, knows it doesn’t fit in neat boxes designed by human ingenuity. That’s why 2,000 years of Christendom has produced hundreds of thousands of different denominations and organizations–none of them able to contain God’s working, though all of them have tried.

Life in God is a dynamic relationship. You can’t mass produce it by behavioral objectives. You can’t find it in religious tradition or embrace it vicariously through a charismatic leader. Life in God has to be lived in our own hearts.

It’s been almost four years ago since Sara and I were painted out of the fellowship we helped plant and in which we had lived for 15 years. We didn’t plan on getting painted out, but people we loved deeply drew lines of conformity we could not embrace. We saw the lines as limiting God’s work to a few personal preferences. Rather than release God’s fullness to people it would limit it. I only say that to explain that I never set out to live outside the lines. I was a line-drawer myself for many years and thought that was as God wanted it.

I decried people who didn’t “belong to a local body of believers” as independent, selfish and in danger of being led astray. I saw institutions like ours as their source of safety. And it was true that I didn’t know anyone outside the lines that was doing very well in their walk with Jesus. The ones I knew were bitter, distant and uninvolved because they had no passion for God.

I don’t know now if that assessment was true or whether it was skewed by my own need to have others belong to my system, but since we’ve been outside the lines Sara and I continue to meet the most wonderful, passionate, giving people whom we have ever known. Far from bitter or isolated, they are wonderfully free, engaging God in ways that thrill my heart.

To be sure, there are plenty of others outside the lines who have no idea who Father is and use a cry for freedom as an excuse to indulge their flesh and justify themselves. It’s a fascinating paradox–what hungry people most need to thrive in a relationship with the Living God are the same things that selfish people abuse to pretend a faith they don’t live.

I guess that’s why we draw so many lines, so that self-dominated people cannot fool themselves. But when we take away the truth of God’s life because someone is abusing it, we hurt hungry people who want to know him in truth and be transformed into his likeness.

Unstructured Is Not Unsaved

According to George Barna, a Christian researcher, the fastest growing wing of church life today is among people who have exited the organized religious establishments, but gather in loosely-affiliated relational groups for prayer, study and sharing their growth in Christ. That’s amazing!

A few years ago, I would have cast a suspicious eye toward such ‘unchurched’ rebels. Not anymore.

I have discovered that ‘unchurched’ is not necessarily ‘unsaved.’ Even the term ‘unchurched’ shows a weak understanding of what church is to begin with. You’re not ‘churched’ because you frequent a weekend service at a local building. You are part of the church when you live in relationship to the Living God and share his life with people he places around you.

To be sure, there are people who find religious structures a wonderful place to grow in their relationship with God. But not everyone does. Many believers today are finding ways to gather with believers and reach out to the lost without the cumbersome costs and time constraints of organized religion.

To embrace what God is doing in that arena represents quite a change for me. I’ve jokingly told others that five years ago I wouldn’t have even talked to the believer I’ve become. I found it too threatening, and myself too selfish to consider the genuineness of faith and fellowship that can exist outside the structures that we have come to call church.

But I’ve found out my canvas wasn’t quite large enough for all God is doing in the world. It seems he is calling an increasing army of people to walk with him outside the traditional patterns we’ve come to associate with organized Christianity.

I’ve discovered that church isn’t something you can go to, it is simply what you become a part of when Father invites you into his family. It is not an organization, but a way to live in love and freedom with his people all week long. It is not limited to a select group of his followers, but whomever God brings into our lives at a given moment.

Outside the Camp

Over the past month or so I’ve gathered with a significant number of such folks in Alaska, Portland and St Louis. Their passion for God excites me, and even though many of their former friends in the faith cannot understand the choices they’ve made, none of them regret the freedom or the passion for God that they’ve discovered outside the lines.

In fact, the reproach of well-intentioned believers who think unstructured Christianity is unsafe at best and blatantly wrong at worst is part of the process God is using to invite people closer to himself. There’s something in all of us that seeks the approval of others. Paul called it people-pleasing. He said as long as we worry about what others think of us, we’ll never know what it means to be a bondservant of Jesus Christ. When he said it, Paul was talking about brothers and sisters, not the world’s rejection.

Is that why God is calling an increasing number to follow him outside the camp, risking the reproach and judgment of other brothers and sisters when their lives don’t match what they believe to be normal Christianity? Is this why there is such power and excitement among believers, because they have taken the road less traveled, and are willing to lay down the need for other men’s approval to live to God alone?

That may explain why as soon as a move of God becomes known and recognized, that its power fades away. Instead of people discovering a deeper reality of God at great personal cost, they jump on a bandwagon for their own amusement. The glory fades because selfless pursuit is replaced with other motives that will not lead us closer to him.

I know that nothing pains me more than to be misunderstood by other believers whom I have loved (and still do!) and with whom I had served in God’s kingdom. This is not the easiest way to live as God’s people. Far from it. It requires greater initiative, passion and sensitivity to God than following any managed program.

But the rewards are commensurate with the risk. Once you have tasted of life with the Living God, you simply know that no system or program can ever contain it. There is no greater joy than knowing how much he loves you, hearing him speak with such simplicity and power, watching him work his ways into your life, and engaging spontaneous fellowship between believers without the weight of programs and agendas.

I realize that all of these things can also happen within more traditional expressions of Christianity, but in my experience they are rare indeed. Too much time is filled up maintaining machinery and compelling others to conform to the program that hunger for God is often swallowed up by so much spiritual busyness and well-intentioned programs.

It makes me wonder whether our attempts at organized religion is just our way to box God into our traditions and preferences. No wonder it leaves many confused when God doesn’t seem to be as real as Scripture indicates he wants to be. Maybe he finds our lines unable to contain all his wonder and beauty.

Outside the Lines

Jesus seemed to paint outside the lines with regularity–healing on the Sabbath, feasting with sinners, even ignoring the fast days that the religious crowd observed. His lifestyle plagued them with doubts about his authenticity and they regarded his nonconformity as a threat to their power and position with people.

Living outside the lines does not mean we have to rebel against the system. I don’t see God doing that. In fact, he extends his life to every person, regardless of where he finds them. I think it simply means that God has no regard for our machinery, nor limits himself to its demands. He can move through it, in spite of it and beyond it. He can point out its failures even as he uses those failures to transform those who look to him. He is an amazing artist, brushing his glory into our lives in more ways than any structure could ever contain.

Living outside the lines frees us to live in God and not be controlled by other people’s attempts to manipulate us. It looks something like this:

  • It is the freedom to put your relationship with Jesus above anything else.
  • It is the freedom to obey him and live in the truth of Scripture even if others don’t approve.
  • It is the freedom to engage Christ’s body however he calls you–within structures or beyond them.
  • It is the freedom to love God’s people and broken lives in the world without putting people in boxes.
  • It is the freedom to walk away from abusive religious settings and so-called ‘leaders.’
  • It is the freedom to ask hard questions and not allow your faith in God to be questioned.
  • It is the freedom to be honest about your struggles without being condemned or accused of rebellion.
  • It is the freedom to be known for who you really are and not pressured to pretend to be anything more or less.

This is the environment where our relationship with God can grow and flourish. And yes, many people use these very same truths as excuses to indulge their own selfish desires or to live in captivity to their capricious feelings. But just because some will use this freedom as an excuse for the flesh is no reason to deny it to people who really want to know God in truth and be transformed into his likeness.

The reason Christ set us free on the cross from the bondage of religious tradition and obligation is so that we might behold him in the fullness of his glory. We are not settlers who can pitch our tent and live in the relative comfort that God will conform himself to our expectations. He has called us to be pioneers, still journeying toward the city whose builder is God.

Don’t settle for anything less, just because it merits the approval of others. Keep seeking to know the Living God in spirit and in truth, until you see the glory of his life poured out in you every moment of your life on this earth.

He died for that to be true of us. Let us live to make it so!

Quote

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” G. K. Chesterton

Sidebar #1 – From Anna, Mister God and the Black Knight by Fynn

“Sometimes Tich, I think it’s a whole lot easier for kids to know Mister God than it is for grown ups.”

“Why, Finn?” she persisted. Why?”

I didn’t quite know the answer to that one, so I just had to make it up.

“Well,” I began, “I reckon grown ups have often got so many problems of their own that they just haven’t got time to… er…er…”

“Play?” she suggested. “Play with Mister God. Eh? Play?” “Something like that,” I said. “Um. Grown-up people make church so, well, serious that they ne-ver have time to play, do they, Fynn?” “I guess you’re just about right on that one, luv,” I replied. “Too busy trying to earn enough money to pay the bills, I guess.”

Sidebar #2 – From Who Builds the Church? By Alan Richardson

It’s worth turning aside a moment to encourage those of you who may, right now, be out in the wilderness at this point in your experience of life and God. You’re there because God has taken you to one side to show you something of Himself. It’s not easy, and it’s not very comfortable. You’re almost certainly misunderstood, mostly rejected and probably written off by most of your former peers. You may even be wondering sometimes what is happening to you.

Especially, if (your former peers) are enjoying apparent success and limelight, while you seem lost in the back woods.

After you’ve been out there a while, your true friends will begin to made known to you. They’re the ones who stick with you through thick and thin not because of what you do, but because of who you are. And at the times when you’re not even sure who that is any more, they’ll hold through because they have no hidden agendas in the relationship. They’re with you and alongside you simply because of God’s love.

But then there will be some friends who are performance related. They are your friends because of what they expect you to do, or because of the way they expect you to act. And when that fails to line up with their expectations, things go a little awry. You get criticized albeit “in love”. You get marginalized or put on the sidelines. And what’s even harder for you is that while you seem to “decrease”, these other friends whom you are sure are really missing it go on from success to success.

Your temptation is to let go of what God is seeking to build in you. To deny the struggle, the doubts the uncertainties and just get back into the flow where your former friends are seeing it all happen. You know you can do that or at least join them. And if you do, you’ll bring this uncertainty to an end.

But if you go back into what they are doing, God would have had no need to call you to one side.


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The Nut Test

BodyLife Archive • September 1997
By Wayne Jacobsen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship not Religion

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

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

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

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

Freedom not Conformity

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Inside Out Not Outside In

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Are We Against The System?

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

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

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

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

Love Him, Love Each Other

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

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

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

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


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What’s In it For Me?

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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Why Settle for Anything Less?

Why Settle for Anything Less?

By Wayne Jacobsen

BodyLife • April 1996

The lone figure stood on the shore. They didn’t recognize his form or his voice as he inquired about their catch, “You don’t have any fish, do you?” The fisherman’s worst torment when coming up empty.

“Try the other side,” the voice recommended.

Only when they had cast their net on the other side and it came alive with a boiling sea of fish, did John put it all together. He’d seen it happen once before, on the day he and Peter had first met Jesus back on a dock in Galilee. “It is the Lord!”

Without hesitation, Peter stripped off his outer garment, plunged into the sea, and swam for shore. His friend was back and he couldn’t wait for the boat to bring him to shore. There he finds Jesus had already cooked breakfast for them bread and fish.

It appears that the conversation is somewhat stilted. I’m not sure the disciples ever got comfortable with the Risen Christ who appeared and disappeared when they least expected him. No one challenged him as they ate in silent awe. Any word seemed too awkward so the silence hung in the air with the scent of cooked fish. Only when they finished eating did Jesus turn to Peter.

“Simon, do you love me?” The betrayed turns face to face with his betrayer.

“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Peter’s response is not flippant, it is measured. He doesn’t respond with the word for divine love, agape, that Jesus had used, but with a lesser word, phileo, the companionship of friends. Jesus then tells him to tend his lambs.

You know the exchange. Jesus asks again and again Peter answers the same way. Finally Jesus ends with Peter’s word, “Peter do you like me as a friend.” And now Peter grieved at the third question answers in agony, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I like you.”

Looking for Love

“Do you love me?”

What god of any religion that has existed on the earth cares about being loved? False gods never seek love, only power. They rule with terror, demanding unquestioned obedience and inexhaustible rituals. This theme runs through the idols of the Old Testament, the gods of Greek mythology and the tribal deities of
people around the world. Human-made gods don’t want love, they want subservience even if that means they plunder a man’s riches and require the sacrifice of his own child.

But since they are man’s own creation, they tell us far more about man’s sinfulness than they do the intentions of God. Our Father is a God of love. It was love that inspired him to create a world and people to fill it. It was love that beckoned him earthward, to live as man among us so we might know exactly who God is. It was love that invited these men from fishing boats and tax booths into an awesome friendship. It was love that devised a plan for our salvation for which he would be the sacrifice. And it was love that held him through the brutal agony of the cross until our redemption was won.

His love had prevailed through it all. Was this the final test of the cross, not just that God loved us, but that the sacrifice itself might produce love in our hearts for him? For this was what God wanted with us from the very beginning.

So he turns to the one remaining who had just failed him the most. Peter, so confident that night that his love would prevail, boasted that he would die for his friend. But Jesus knew better. He knew the fear in Peter would overwhelm his faith, that by the next dawn Peter would be devastated by his greatest failure.

But if the cross was going to be worth anything, it would have to demonstrate God’s love so completely, that it could usher a man from his worst failure into the fullness of the Father’s love.

Could that be what Jesus was looking for in Peter? This was no quiz to prolong Peter’s agony nor a three-point make-up test. It was an opportunity for Peter to discover the depth of love he really had for his friend, something he didn’t even know himself.

Is that why he hesitated to use the word agape? Did he feel so unworthy to use Jesus’ word because his failure might well have demonstrated otherwise? Maybe he wanted to use it, but hadn’t felt he’d earned it. Nevertheless the question kept coming. “Simon, do you love me?”

Jesus wanted him to know that his failure was not a measure of his love. Perhaps Peter didn’t understand it completely during this encounter. Perhaps this was just the seed, or maybe he couldn’t grasp it until the fullness of the Spirit captured his heart at Pentecost, but we know he eventually got it. Whenever he refers to the love of God in his own epistles, phileo is no longer on his lips. It is agape and agape alone. Peter came to know not only the depth of God’s love for him, but also his love for God.

Live the Love

Love is the very essence of God’s nature, and it is the means by which everything in his kingdom is transacted. He knew we were ill-equipped to understand that. Life in a fallen world is based around power, not love. We live by seeking to acquire the power or means necessary to guarantee our own survival, happiness or safety. Often when we speak of love, we primarily understand it only in terms of what we get out of it a good feeling, a friendship or some other need met.

God’s love is self-giving. It doesn’t seek its own glory or advancement, and in fact makes one only more vulnerable in a hostile world. But this love is the most powerful force in all the world, able to transform the most broken lives and able to hold us through unimaginable pain.

Jesus lived in that love every second of his life, and in doing so he sought to share it with his disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9) All he asked them to do was stay in the love he had given them. He warned them: do it, and everything about their lives would bear fruit. Wander away and they would whither up and die.

His call to love was not just for them, but for all who follow him. That is the only basis for life in this kingdom. How do we do that. Here are three ways that can happen in each of us everyday:

1. Embrace His Love Every Day

Do you remember the first day that you knew God loved you? Do you recall the euphoria, the wonder that the Almighty God who spoke worlds into existence even took note of you, much less genuinely cared about you and every event in your life?

If you are like most, that reality probably became clear to you in the midst of great pain or failure. But none of that mattered. His love captured your heart and everything about the world around you paled in comparison.

Every day was an adventure, and even through the most difficult circumstances you knew you were safe in his care and all your struggles were just a part of a larger plan of which you were now a part. God never intended you to leave that place. All he wanted you to do is remain there, or if you’ve left it, to return there. That’s why Scripture calls it first love. We weren’t meant to get on from there, but live in the joy of that love everyday.

Yet, isn’t the record of most of our lives littered with great periods of time where we have wandered away from that love, and sought other motives to carry our spiritual life? Devoid of his presence we are hounded by fear, guilt and the delusion that we can earn that love by just trying harder. So easily we find ourselves living with love-substitutes. We double our efforts to be responsible, committed or disciplined. But those don’t produce love, they were only meant to flow out of it.

In fact that’s also the history of the church. In Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning points out a disheartening trend:

History attests that religion and religious people tend to be narrow. Instead of expanding our capacity for
life, joy, and mystery, religion often contracts it. As systematic theology advance, the sense of wonder declines. The paradoxes, contradictions and ambiguities of life are codified, and God himself is cribbed, cabined, and confined within the pages of a leather-bound book. Instead of a love story the Bible is viewed as a detailed manual of directions.

If the Lord’s love seems distant for you, draw back to him. Find a quiet place and rekindle your affection. Don’t try to go on without it. God never intended you to live even one day outside the wonder of his love. And don’t make the mistake of trying to earn it either. You can’t earn points with someone who is no longer keeping score. Jesus already filled out your card with maximum points. You don’t have to earn what he has already freely given; you simply get to receive it.

2. Let Love Be Your Only Motive

“The love of Christ compels me,” Paul, the apostle wrote in 2 Corinthians 5. Here was a man that rose to the pinnacle of the religious institution of his day before he came face to face with the love of Jesus on that road to Damascus.

He knew what it was to fear the disapproval of men, to conform his life to the strictest of codes trying to measure up, and the control he could exercise over others as a leader.

But the cross changed all of that. He knew he deserved to die in his sin, yet Jesus had taken his place. Paul concluded that he died with Christ and that his life was no longer his own. He had nothing to fear, nothing to earn, nothing to control. His life had been swallowed up by Jesus’ love. There was nothing left for him to do but live every day only by what that love led him to do.

Everyday we are manipulated by host of motives, some of which even look godly. There are expectations people put on us, fears that drive us, appe-tites that lure us, and guilt that hounds us. But none of these are to control the life of the believer. All that matters now is love: his in us, and ours for him.

The next time you feel torn in any situation, retreat to this simple test: overwhelmed by gratefulness for what he’s done for me and secure in his acceptance and care for me, what do I feel called to do? Paul allowed himself no other motive, and neither should we. That’s the only motive that counts in this kingdom and the greatest gift of the cross.

Remain in my love. Without that kindled fresh in our hearts every day it is easy to find our spiritual lives sliding into an exhausting road of responsibilities and rituals. We will be busy doing a lot of things for God, but absolutely devoid of his life and his joy. Weariness will overtake us and our spiritual life will dry up.

3. Let His Love Flow Through You

With every exchange Jesus admonished Peter to take care of his sheep. The love of God flowing in us will die if it can’t flow through us. Having been so generously embraced by the Father, we will find it spilling over to others.

This love is the most powerful demonstration of God in the world. Jesus even took the Old Testament admonition, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to a whole new level: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Having been loved, now we can love, both our brothers and sisters in Christ and those around us who are lost in the darkness.

I am convinced that we understand little of this incredible love. Yes, it forgives wrongs suffered, but not without honoring truth. Jesus could in one moment confront the false spirituality of the Pharisees at the same time he invited the prostitute into his kingdom.

So much that travels as love in the body of Christ today is simply trying to be nice even at the expense of dishonesty. We’ll smile and feign love in someone’s presence and take the freedom to tear them down in a conversation with someone else. God’s love doesn’t live in denial. It can take situations as they really are and transform them by his glory.


This is the love God invites us to live in and with which we so easily lose touch. I realize that those who misunderstand love only as feeling will agree with much of what I’ve said, yet dismiss the conclusion as too idealistic. We need commitment and tradition, they’ll say, because we won’t always feel his love.

What has feelings do with love? His love for us and ours for him must transcend feelings and touch us at a far deeper level than the capriciousness of our emotions. But it is nonetheless real, all-encompassing and what ignites our hearts with his life.

Wouldn’t it be better to rekindle the love, instead of pushing ourselves to greater responsibility? What effort of our own has ever led us into a greater touch with the Father’s love?

We need only fall at his feet and receive what he has already given. In moments like that we can be captured by his love all over again. When that happens, we are truly full and truly free. He asked us to settle for nothing less. So whenever you lose touch with it, don’t take another step until you fall back into his arms again, and again, and again.


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