Conversations about living loved
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1560-1 Newbury Rd #313
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Phone: (805) 498-7774
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What a crazy week this has been. After a worldwind trip around Florida I returned on Monday. What an amazing trip. I started in Daytona Beach, spent a few days in the Orlando area, then a week teaching The Jesus Lens at a YWAM base in Sarasota through a German translator. After which I finished up in West Palm Beach reconnecting with some old friends and enjoying time with some new ones. This was a wonderful trip and I met so many people who are learning to live in the reality of Father's affection and break free fo the trappings of religious obligation and performance. I am always amazed by what God lets me do in the world and who he gives me to know. And I admire the courage of so many who are willing to take the road less traveled even when suffering the judgment and abuse of friends and family who regard them now with suspicion simply for rejecting the idea that Jesus came to start a religion. He didn't. He came to invite us alongside his Father, to freely embrace his love and to freely share it in the world.
I only had a couple of days to re-orient from the trip, try to catch-up on my email backlog and make the few appointments I had previous scheduled before the lead producer, Kevin, and the screen writer, Angela, for the movie adaptation of So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore arrive for a weekend of trying to finalize the script. Tomorrow someone else, Eugene, will join us who might be the director of this picture. I am still amazed that this book is making progress through the machinery that tries to cough out a movie.
But I've had a lot of fun living inside the story again. Tentatively called, "Out of the Game," it takes the major parts of that story and reshapes them in a way that will help it communicate with a different audience on the big screen. I've enjoyed working with all the people on this project and the passion they have shown for this story. We're still not agreed on every detail, but having just finished my most recent read of the manuscript, I'm convinced we're getting very close. So the next three days we will be refining the screenplay as well as making some critical decisions about moving the process forward. And on Saturday we wil be sitting with a group of actors who will read through it so we can see how the dialog sounds in their mouths. It's an adventure to be sure and I love at this stage of my life revisiting that story and my own life being a bit re-shaped by it. I don't usually get touched reading my own words, but some of this I worked on fifteen years ago and have enjoyed the re-focus and the gracious invitation of a Father into a life better lived in the security of his affection rather than the rabid fears religion often uses to make people conform. Only about 15% of the projects that get this far actually get made. There are so many parts that have t come together for this to work. So, we'll see. One step at a time.
And for those who ask about the film adaptation of The Shack, that is still in process as well. Lionsgate is the studio and they've already selected a director and are now workiing to cast the movie and schedule production. There is no clear release date on this movie though it should be sometime late in 2015 or early in 2016. There are lots of rumors floating around about who is involved. Just remember, Hollywood types do a lot of negotiation and compete for media attention by using rumors and leaks. Until you read, "Lionsgate announces...", don't believe everything you read.
I couldn't believe it when I heard the story, and he couldn't believe he did it when it happened.
A friend of mine, who has twice been the city champion of the state capital where he lives was on his way home from a vacation in Florida. He had arranged to stop at the Bay Hill Country Club to have lunch with a good friend. Bay Hill is Arnold Palmer's home course, and where this week he is hosting a prestigious PGA tournament. After they had lunch with his friend and was getting ready to leave, his friend asked if he'd ever met Arnold Palmer one of the great legends of golf and by all accounts one of the most gracious men in the game.
They finished lunch and as he was about to leave and get back on the road his friend asked him if he'd ever met Arnold Palmer." He hadn't so his friend said, "Let's go see if he's in his office."
He was. Ever cordial with the multitudes of people that want to greet him, Arnold got up from his desk and they had a brief conversation. Eventually Arnold had to leave to make his tee time with some others who had arranged to play golf that afternoon. "We've only got three of us. Would you like to be our fourth?" Without thinking and pressed by the fact that he was already getting on the road later than he planned, he declined.
It was only later as he was back on the road that he realized what he had done. He had just turned down a chance to play golf and spend a few hours with Arnold Palmer! What golfer in his right mind would turn down the chance to play a round of golf with the King of Golf on his own golf course? He has kicked himself ever since for declining such a great opportunity.
Have you ever missed an incredible opportunity because you were thinking so far down your schedule, you missed what was right in front of you? I have. And not with the King of Golf, but with the King of Kings.
Some of my best moments of my life have come at the most inopportune times. I've no doubt missed many more because I was so preoccupied with something ahead of me, I couldn't clearly see what was being offered right in front of me. Some I know about, others I'm sure I don't. But I am sure of this. I can't schedule the best moments in life. They appear unbiden popping up in the moment and if you're not free to violate your schedule you may, too, be missing some marvelous moments only to regret later that you didn't have the presence of mind to see what was really going on in that moment.
There are so many great moments in the Gospels, because Jesus was free to embrace the moment and not spend all his time creating or chasing plans. I want to live like that, so that the next time Jesus invites me to go along with him while he touches someone with his life, I'll be free to take a detour and go with him. A life lived without regret is a joyful life indeed.
These days I am finding more and more of those opportunities and greater freedom to recognize and embrace them. I don't think there are just more opportunities around my life these days, I just think I'm less driven by my own plans so I see them more easily at the time they appear. I love that.
I just want to be free to go play with the King, whenever he invites me.
Everywhere I go people continue to ask me about our friends in Kenya and especially the need in West Pokot. I appreciate that so many people are aware of this and continue to pray and give to help us rescue so many people who are in great need in that part of the world. It is truly a human catastrophe with many people dying and a great need to help them build a new economy.
I met last week with someone who is attached to a development agency that is already in that area of Kenya, in Turkana right next door. They help tribes address the five basic needs to build a society: water, food, wellness, education, and generating income. The work with the tribe to help them identify their most pressing need and then begin to act as a tribe to help fulfill that need. They they take on the next one. The plan is that in five years the tribe will address each of those needs and with outside training and resource be able to build a sustainable economy. They have had great success throughout Asia and Africa and I'm set to speak with some of their people tomorrow. I hope this will provide an approach that will let us wrap our hearts around part of the need and move it beyond relief to actually develop a future and hope. They do it for a cost of $15,000 per year for five years and the people are left with their needs addressed and resources for their culture to progress.
While I'm hopeful this might be an answer, I continue to hear of the great need in West Pokot. This morning I heard from one of the people we work with there:
"Last week I had a call from the doctor that elderly and the children have camped at the dispensary in large number since yesterday. The hunger has drived them from the village. If there is anyway to support them for the food it will be highly appreciated because it has affected the dispensary budget. I went to the dispensary this week and brother Wayne, the situation here is extremely bad. Many people have migrated from the village and camp to the hospital environment, because of the hunger, it has forced even the doctors and nurses to be overwhelmed due to this crucial situation and I met the doctors when they have started cooking the maize and beans to safe at least the situation for both the sick and those who had camped, many children women and Old were more totally affected, the old who are strong had tried to come in the hospital thinking that they will get meal and some who are not able to walk they have remain at their home helplessly. This situation has become worse and worse every day. The cry of doctors and Nurses is that if we can be able to get estimated 600 bags maize and beans it can help to save the situation for breast mothers, children and old aged, this can save a bit for about two to three months in this surrounding hospital village. If not we may lose the lives of many.
So immediately we start distributing as you may see in the pictures, this has help a bit the congestion from the dispensary. You have become, the father to the fatherless and the comfort to those who don’t even deserve, we urge you to support where necessary in this point.
Pray for us....
I have attached some of the other pictures below. These are all huge challenges, and I'm always blessed by the Kenyan people we know in Kitale who are spending of their time and resource to help these impoverished people. If any of these needs interest you and you'd like to underwrite it, please let me know. If you'd like to help with offerings that we can share, that would be great blessing as well. Our best guess now is that we'll be putting about $40,000 into Kenya over the next few months as God provides. If you have extra to pass along for the people of West Pokot you can direct it through Lifestream as contributions are tax-deductible in the US. As always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya. We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees. If you would like to be part of this to support these brothers and sisters and see the gospel grow in this part of Africa, please see our Sharing With the World page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1 • Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.
Here are the young children gathering early in the morning at the dispensary hoping from some food, more people gather hoping for help, and distributing what little grain they had from the truck. Not everyone in line got food this day. There wasn't enough.
This Saturday, March 7, I have been invited to be a guest on Moody Radio's "Up for Debate" show. This show, hosted by Julie Roys invites two people with opposing views to have a live call-in discussion about the topic. This week's topic: "Is Attending Church Manditory." It will air at 12:00 noon EST or 9:00 am PST. You will be able to stream it live from their website, or listen to the podcast at a later date if you wish. I have been assured that this is not an attack-show with people screaming at each other, but a reasoned discussion of conflicting points of view. I'm looking forward to exposing Finding Church to a wider audience.
It should be an interesting discussion, since my counterpart on the show has written extensively on this topic, including the Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters. I hope the show can shine a light on the reality that people can still engage Jesus and his church without necessarily being a committed member of a local institution. It should at least be interesting.
Here's how the producers of Up for Debate are promoting the show:
In conjunction with this appearance we are going to be re-offering our Finding Church get-one-free offer. Any one ordering Finding Church before March 31, 2015 will receive an additional copy free to share with someone they love. All you have to do is order one copy and an extra book will arrive with your shipment. We have been overwhelmed with the response to this new book and enjoy helping others share that message of hope in the new creation with others.
I’m just taking a quick stopover in Chicago on my way back home today. After 11 days in the south and zooming past hundreds of congregations with names that conjure up images of peace and tranquility while at the same time hearing a constant stream of horrors stories about the way people were treated by those who claim to represent Jesus in the world, I’m finding myself wishing that congregations were subject to truth-in-advertising laws.
I thought of that when I saw the picture above. I first thought it was a congregation with a bold sign on the exterior. Until I read it. And then I busted out laughing. No, it wasn’t a local congregation but a left over from a Halloween haunted house. But Nightmare on the Hill might be an appropriate name for many of the congregations whose former members and leaders I was with over the past ten days. Just because something calls itself a church, doesn’t mean it bears the image of Christ to the world, much less to its own members.
If you just attend a service on Sunday, you may not be aware of all the intrigue going on behind the scenes—of lies and betrayal, of tribunals to accuse those who simply ask questions of insubordination and rebellion, of insults, exclusions and lies that would make Machiavelli cringe in shame. Proclaiming themselves an oasis of love, they manipulate people in God’s name to great harm and destruction.
In what world would a congregation influenced by legalism and mocking other Christians who see the world differently call itself Grace Community? Or, how can a local pastor who has broken numerous laws and defrauded his people and community of money for his own gain, still be supported by a denomination that claims to be a reflection of Christ’s glory in the world?
Last year someone told me that they were in a contemporary fellowship and were handed a folder that included the order of service and announcements for the week, but in bold type across the top of the first page declared, “This is not a bulletin.” In what world can you deny the obvious and people believe you?
Religion, just like politics, is notorious for using language to hide what’s true. It is filled with double-talk and demands for unquestioned obedience because it isn’t what it claims to be. If you want to go on this journey you have to ask God to let you see things as they really are. Just because a group calls themselves a “church” doesn’t make them one. When the Pharisees claimed to be children of Abraham, Jesus corrected them. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires…. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. “
Let’s call things what they really are. What calls itself Grace Community might actually be a nightmare on the hill. And if it is, then run from it. Run as fast as you can. There is life beyond it.
The joy of this trip has come in meeting some incredible people who have escaped the orbit of such institutions to find a better journey in a growing relationship with the Father of affection. He is walking them through the pain and betrayals to see him more clearly and to love others more freely. We were warned after all that religious leaders would treat us the same way they treated him.
And Jesus still triumphs over them by leading us on a better journey and discovering that despite the failures of people, his church is still growing in the world.
Someone I reconnected with in Atlanta last week sent me a story that they had written. I loved it and I asked permission to share it with you. There is so much in this little story that desribes my own journey as well, how God won me away from the cabin to explore so many things with him. It's quite a process to get us to stop processing life with our own eyes, hopes, and biases and see the amazing adventure he wants to share with us. I hope it inspires you as well.
by Mike Spessard
I cannot remember how or when this journey began exactly, but as I look down into this valley with Him, it just seems like He has always been there with me. This valley is the most incredible place I’ve ever seen. Where is a camera when you need one? I have never seen anything so beautiful and inviting in my life. It is “the” time of day, my favorite. The light is incredible, but I’ve always loved the shadows of this time, long finger-like blues and grays stretching across the terrain like God’s own hands caressing His creation. The sun is slung low on the horizon so that its light casts warm hues of orange, red, and yellow, creating a longing in me, not a sad one mind you, but one of hope. It’s like a lingering remnant of a presence is here, and it’s telling me it’s coming back in full. Anyway, He seems to sense it too.
I’ve noticed the more I hung out with this guy, the more I am aware of our similarities. Neither of us says a word for a long time. I’m not sure how long, but there is no awkwardness. He seems to “get” this moment too. As a matter of fact, He seems to get it more than I do. I love this guy. Have you ever met someone that you just can’t be around enough? I love being us.
He turns and smiles. “Me too,” He says.
Did I just say that out loud? See, that’s what I mean about my friend; He just seems to know what I’m thinking. “Seriously though, did I say that out loud?” I ask.
Now He’s just flat out laughing. “You ready?” He asks.
“Dude, seriously, it’s last light, and you want to go explore this valley? We should really have ropes for this kind of descent. We have no idea how steep this gets at the bottom. Let’s come back in the morning so we can have the whole day?”
With His Cheshire cat smile, He begins descending into the valley. And while I protest, I notice that I too am beginning to get pulled on by this panorama that spreads before us.
“This is so stupid, dude,” I tell Him. This is not the first time I’ve let Him talk me into something I thought better of. But you know what’s strange? He has always been right. Every turn in the road, and new direction He suggests seems to speak life to both of us. But I’m not sure what brings Him the most life; the new adventures themselves, or me coming to life in them.
I think I should back up and share with you some more of this journey with my friend, so that you can better understand why I am following Him into this valley as night falls.
Like I said earlier, I don’t remember how this all began really. One day we just started walking. And we walked all the way to the state line and just kept awalkin’. And that’s all I have to say about that. He loves my Forrest Gump impersonation. Over the years we have seen a lot of different terrain. Sometimes the going is easy through grassy fields, rolling hills, or meandering streams, but other times we’ve ended up crossing what I would call a wasteland or dessert getting the crap kicked out of us by the sun.
“I can’t wait to get out of this place. We could die out here,” was my usual reaction.
“I know! Isn’t it a rush!” he’d say. I cannot tell you how annoying that became. Anyway, I did begin to appreciate all the different places we went even if I did think they were harsh initially.
You know, as I look back, I realize that in the beginning it seemed I was always leading. I don’t remember Him ever complaining, and there were many times, maybe even most, when we walked side by side, but I would always be the one suggesting a direction. “Sure, Mike, whatever you want,” was his standard answer. “Sure, Mike, whatever you want.” It became kind of a joke between us.
Once when we were walking through a field full of cows, I mockingly echoed Him as He said it. A second later I experienced the sensation of not nearly old enough cow pie impacting the back of my head. He was laughing so hard He could hardly stand up.
“That was so wrong!” I exclaimed. As I dropped my backpack to the ground, I bent to pick up my own fecal artillery and announced, “Game on!”
You may not be aware of this, but cow pies are amazingly similar in shape to Frisbees, and I did play quite a bit of ultimate in college. My first toss was a direct hit to the side of His face, knocking Him to the ground. He was so out of breath that He was unable to get to his feet before round two slammed into his kidney. This went on for entirely too long, and you can imagine how we ended up looking and smelling. As we caught our breath leaning on our knees, I noticed the producers of our ammo, some 200-300 cows all looking at us as if they where thinking, “People are so stupid.” We laughed until our bodies ached. Note to self: next time we decide to do something like this, make sure there is a body of water nearby.
It may seem strong to say this, but that memory is a treasure to me. We’ve had many experiences since then that fill my heart, not all of them joyous. Disagreements, fights, loneliness, and distrust have all seemed to find their way between us. Looking back, I see it was all my doing. Sometimes I thought we just needed some time apart. I never suggested this, but I’m sure of how He would have responded. “Sure, Mike, whatever you want.”
Sometime in the middle of our journey, we made our way through a spire of mountains. It was tough going. I mean steep! Toward the end of that day, we discovered a plateau that stretched between two ridges, and because I had begun to walk behind Him, something inside me said this must be our destination. This place was amazing. Once we got in the midst of the plateau, it got even better. There were tons of trees, flowers blanketing every direction, plenty of wildlife, and a lifetime of water to fly-fish. It felt perfect. We ended up staying between these two expanses of mountains for weeks. Everyday we explored more of it, and as it became more familiar, I became more comfortable.
As we ate dinner one night, I brought up the idea that this place would make a great home. “Look,” I told Him, “we have everything we need in this place. We could build a cabin from all the trees and have plenty to eat. We’d never have to ask for anything from people in our journey.”
He just smiled, but this time He didn’t say anything. He just smiled. I almost felt a sense of sadness in His reaction.
“How can you not want to stay?” I said. “We can make it here. I can plant crops. I can fish and hunt. This place has everything we need. On top of that, it’s beautiful.”
“It is that, Mike,” He said, “I’ll stay here if that’s what you want.” He paused as if He wanted to say more, but only added, “What do you want?”
“I’m tired. I want a place to call my own,” I answered.
He gave a disappointed nod, but His eyes didn’t condemn me.
“Look,” I said, “Let’s just hang here for a time. We can explore everything around here. Then we have this place to come back to every night.”
“Sure, Mike. Whatever you want.” There it was.
I started building a cabin the next day. The days were long, but they never seemed it. I would work from first light to last, save for a few hours to wet a fly line with Him. Even though He was out exploring, I finished in about a month. It was perfect, and I must say, I was pretty proud of it.
We settled in to the daily routine of chores and upkeep of the place, always leaving a little time for exploration and fun. I think He even started to enjoy staying there, although, on numerous occasions, I caught Him staring off into the horizon like He was looking for something. When I inquired as to what He saw, He just smiled and said, “Nothing. I was just admiring the view”. I wasn’t sure I believed that. There was a longing in the way He just stood there. What did He see out there?
Days grew into weeks. Weeks grew into years, and I sensed my friend was growing bored. He didn’t laugh as much, and he would go off for days at a time. He would always come back with descriptions of what He had seen and experienced. Something inside of me missed that journeying we experienced years ago. Sure there were a lot of unknowns, but there was an excitement and freedom in it.
“You have got to see this valley I found yesterday. It’s awesome,” He said.
“What’s wrong with this one? This place is still pretty incredible.”
“Oh yea. I know,” He answered. “But there is just so much out there Mike. So much that I want to show you.”
“Yea, it would be nice to see them, but I have so much I can do around here, and there always seems to be a lot of work to be done.” Oh no, I have turned into my dad. I was sure it would never happen. “You know what?” I said. “Tomorrow I want to see it. The valley, I mean.” His smile was one I had not seen in a long time.
Early the next morning, we set out. I’m not much of a morning person unless I am going hunting or fishing, but when I do get up early, it’s always amazing: the dew on the grass, the smells, and the birds just going nuts. The shadows are long, and the sun beckons, “Follow Me.”
It was good to be moving with Him again. I realized I missed being in places that weren’t familiar. There is a kind of discomfort about it. He seemed to thrive on it, my being uncomfortable, I mean.
It took most of the day to get to this place. I didn’t tire though; I guess it was the anticipation of seeing this place He had talked about so much. Getting there was brutal. He never did seem to find easy ways to get to places. He didn’t see the point in that. As I reflect on all our adventures, the most difficult ones were the most satisfying, not necessarily while we struggled through them, but when we would finish. We always seemed to finish well.
That brings me to where I began this story, the valley. You need to understand, He is great at underselling something. His description of this place did not do it justice. I think this was intentional. He wanted me to experience it when I wanted it. After many minutes of not speaking, just looking at this place, I turn to say something to Him. He isn’t even looking at the valley. He’s looking at me. He’s just enjoying me, enjoying this place. Why didn’t I come sooner?
“Why didn’t you tell me it was this incredible?” I say.
“Mike, … I did.” That was all He needed to say. Message received. I was so focused on my comfortable little cabin. I had missed out on being in places like this. I had forgotten what living looked like.
“Dude, I’m an idiot. I’m sorry.” I say.
“No worries,” He responds. “So how was today, Mike?”
I look down and take a moment to make sure I answer honestly. I notice that most of the skin on my knees is gone. Blood is running into my sock, which I’m pretty sure contains a leach I picked up at the last river crossing. I’m covered in scratches and bug bites, and I stink. My response: “It was awesome.”
He smiles and nods as He drops into this valley. Normally at this point, I begin to weigh the pros and cons. Not this time. I’m right behind Him. I don’t think we’re going to see the cabin for a long time.
Mike Spessard is the director of Grace Summit in Roswell, GA.
I'm attending a discipleship class locally. I didn't know it was a discipleship class when I signed up. A friend of mine was goign to teach a class on Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy, one of my favorite books of all time. At the time I read it, it was a godsend in helping thing outside the religious obligation treadmill I'd been running on for almost 40 years. But the class turns out to be less about the book and more about trying to be better disciples of Jesus. Well, I guess we could all use a refresher course like that so I've stayed with it. The class has been a bit like a time-warp. It has taken me back 30 years to when I thought discipleship is something we had to do for God, rather than learn to live inside his revelation.
It's reminded me that the life of Jesus is not found by trying to avoid our sins and or trying to incorporate more Christian practices in our life. The life of Jesus is found inside a relationship that is so endearing sin loses it's luster and its power, and finding what connects me better to him is the adventure of each day. I remember well working so hard to try to connect with him and always frustrated at my fleeting and failed attempts. All the while he was revealing himself to me in ways I couldn't recognize because I hadn't earned them by my hard work. Finding him as a real presence in my life changed everthing. I still do some of the same practices, but for far different reasons. They are no longer a substitute for the relationship I lacked, but simply a way of recognizing him. And in working less to find him, I find myself working more with him in the joy of loving and serving others.
The life of Jesus is not about saying no to our desires and trying to follow his. It's really about coming to know him and in knowing him let him teach us how to say no to worldly appetities and desires, and yes to his unfolding purpose in our lives. For me, it has made all the difference in the world and it is hard to watch others labor under a human effort approach to discipleship. It may work in the short term when a class is holding them accountable, but in time it will fade away like all the other attempts unless they discover how to engage a Father of great affection.
Even Dallas Willard said it that way: "The eternal life of which Jesus speaks is not knowledge about God but an intimately interactive relationship with him." The disciplines don't earn that, at their best the express the reality of it already happening in our hearts.
Tomorrow I board a flight for Atlanta and to wander around Georgia and North Carolina for 10 days and explore that journey with others. There are some old friends I'll cross paths with on this trip, and people I don't know yet, who will likely become friends in the brief time we'll have together. If you're interested in connecting with me and others on this journey while I'm there you can get details on my travel page. After that I'll be headed to Florida in early March, spending time in Orlando, Sarasota, and West Palm Beach. You can join us there if you like. Then in April I'm planning on spending some time in Virginia, at least in Richmond and wherever else he may open doors.
Also for your information on Saturday, March 7, I'm going to be a guest on Moody Radio's Up for Debate radio show, that will also stream life on the Internet. Host Julie Royas will be conducting a conversation about whether or not a Christian has to attend "a church." It should be interesting especially because the other guest has written that we must and that it is the only way to be identified with Jesus in the world. It should be an interesting discussion if you want to listen or call in. ;-)
I love talking about two things: What does it mean to live in the affection of the Father and what does the church look like if it was a community of people sharing the Father's affection and not distorted by the institutional priorities that often mar her beauty. Last week I got to do both.
I was a guest on Brian Holmes podcast talking about HE LOVES ME. In my opinion the material in this book is the most important issue I help people deal with. While "God is love" is the most certain of our theological underpinnings, most people do not wake up every morning confident that God loves them more than anyone on this planet every has or ever will, that he will work in their life that day for their good, and that they can walk with him in a real and tangible way. Brian and I get to process that together. If you haven't read the book you can order it here. If you're having trouble learning connecting to the way God makes himself known in your life, you might try our Engage videos, a free resource to help discover the relationship God is building with you.
I also did an intervidw on Finding Church for iHeart Radio. Unfortunately too many Christians think the only way to follow Jesus is by attending a local congregation that claims to be his church. While his church can often make itself known there, there are so many other ways and places where God expresses his family as well. Wayne talks about the growing trend of people from all walks of life who are no longer engaged in a traditional congregation and why they are finding that an institution is not the only place to celebrate the unity, encouragement and cammaradarie of the Body of Christ in the world.
For those of you concerned that I'm not blogging enough here, I'm also blogging at FindingChurch.com. If you liked our Facebook Page or subsribe to the blog, you'll be notified when I post a new blog. And I'm posting a new poem on the Finding Church blog today that will invite you into some really enthralling space about God's church in the world.
Over the past couple of weeks Sara has been sending out donation receipts to those who have given so generously to Lifestream over the past year. Of course, the vast majority of that went to help in Kenya where people were so impacted by drought and disease. In the past twenty years I have continually been amazed at how God has provided for all that we do here, from the books and travel, to the free website resources, and in the last few years to share with our brothers and sisters in Kenya who live in such incredible poverty.
We are not a relief organization, or even a missional one in the sense that our objective is to raise money for overseas needs. But you wouldn't know that from looking at our financial expenditures last year. If you had shown me this chart last year and told me that's what God was going to do in 2014, I would have thought you were crazy. We were simply touched by a need overseas. Dear friends from Kenya had come across a region north of them where over 100,000 peple were being decimated by extreme drought, destroying their food supply and ravaging them with disease. We simply offered to help and invited you to help too. What began with sending a few thousand dollars worth of food and water sort of snowballed—both with the need there, and the generosity of people who read this blog or listen to my podcast at The God Journey.
Honestly this was not in our budget or plans for this year. Who would have thought that we would be able to channel over half a million dollars by simply letting people know about the need? We didn't take out any fees for our expenses or administration in gathering and wiring this money and quickly generosity begat generosity. Well, we certainly look like a missions organization now at least as far as our spending in 2014. Here's what that looked like:
Someone wrote this week to get some more information on Lifestream and how we do what we do. Lifestream is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit ministry. For revenue last year we took in $344,000 in contributions and another $38,000 in book sales and other income. We spent $673,000 last year, with $531,00 of that going to our work in Kenya and $25,000 of that in travel and website expenses. We have two people on our payroll (myself and Sara) and we are free to do whatever God gives us to do to encourage people on this journey, connect them with others, and to share his resource among the corner of his family that we touch. As you can see our business model is unsustainable, spending more than we take in. It only works because of a past endowment we can access.
Almost two-thirds of our spending last year went to our brothers and sisters in Kenya to help relieve the suffering in North Pokot and open a wide door for the Gospel among a people who did not know about Jesus or his life. Over the next week or so our donation receipts will go out to those who helped make all of this possible. You can't imagine how grateful we are and overwhelmed with gratittude that God let us be part of something so incredible. A year ago we didn't even know these people existed or that we could help meet a need more worthy of far larger missions groups. But somehow God saw fit to use this little community in a corner of the web. So if you think this blog posting is bragging on Lifestream, you're a bit confused. This was not about us! This was about fellow human beings being ravaged by need and how a small group of people from all over the world responded. You can read more about that here as this journey continues into 2015.
Love draws you into some pretty crazy space where God can do things beyond anything you would even ask for or imagine.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an outstanding collegiate and professional basketball player many moons ago and well-known convert to Islam. In a Time article this week he wrote about his reaction to the Paris bombings as a Muslim:
"Ironically, terrorism is an act against the very religion the perpetrators believe in. It’s is an acknowledgement that the religion and its teachings aren’t enough to persuade people to follow it. Any religion that requires coercion is not about community but leaders who want power."
And it is also true of evangelical pastors who berate followers of Jesus with fear and obligation. If your faith is not engaging enough to invite others to embrace it on for its joy and reality, maybe you need to find a richer faith.