I'll be hanging out all around the Orlando area in various venues and with various people
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1560-1 Newbury Rd #313
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Phone: (805) 498-7774
Fax: (805) 499-5975
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.
If you haven't followed this blog, over the last nine months, through the generosity of many of you were were able to send over half a million dollars to help rescue over 120,000 tribal people in West Pokot, whose sparse economy had collapsed under the weight of a three-year drought. We were able to bring food, water, and emergency medical care to relieve the most pressing needs last April. We then financed four wells to provide water and built a school and a field clinic to help the people in so desperate a condition. Disease is rampant because they have no toilets or the most rudimentary hygene. We also financed an enterprise whose profits will go to pay the ongoing expenses at the school. A year ago we didn't even know these people existed and we'd never have conceived of trying to raise that much money for anyone. But as the needs continued to unfold, God continued to send us people who had extra to help rescue these people. It has opened a wide door for the Gospel to penetrate these people who had previously only prayed to their ancestors. The reports I get continue to amaze me at all that God did through people who read this blog and listen to my podcast at The God Journey. If you want to read a more detailed report of what has gone there, please click here.
It has been inconceivable to me that such a huge need could exist in our modern world and be so far beyond the reach of any governmental aid, or help from large nonprofit organizations that help feed and drill wells in places of great need. I never thought our little group of people could long continue to manage this need on our own, but government support has been nonexistent and the ongoing need is still causing death and starvation. As God would have it, this week I had a friend visit and stay overnight with us. Traveling with him was an African man who is part of a ministry that develops schools in Africa and this man was the director for that ministry in Rwanda. He was very interested in our Kenya story and what we’d been able to do there for you and what we’ve done in the past year for the people of West Pokot. First, he couldn’t believe that such need would exist among 120,000 people and the government, UN, or NGOs wouldn’t be involved to help in such a crisis. But he has a good friend who is well-connected politically in Nairobi and so we placed a call to him and he was able to confirm not only the desperate crisis in Pokot, but also that the government is only now making efforts to create a government presence there and see how these needs can be addressed. He did not know of the work we had done there, but was excited to hear of it. He said he would be willing to travel up there to meet with our representatives and introduce them to government officials who can help spur economic development. This was an amazing answer to prayer. He was just what we needed and he offered to assess the situation and recommend a strategic plan for the future utilizing government services and help from other nonprofit groups.
Both the director from Rwanda and the man in Kenya were able to school us on the problem too much with relief that destroys the existing sharing of food and resources among the people themsevles to help generate a new economy and it can destroy people's initiative and make the dependent on perpetual aid. This has been a concern and prayer of mine all along. We want to help, but we want to help wisely. I was blessed that this man is there and is willing to help the people of Pokot sort out a way to move forward beyond their need. This is an important piece of our puzzle.
What we have already been able to do here through your generosity completely astounds me and I am more grateful than I could ever convey on this blog, as are our brothers and sisters in Kenya. That said, there are some immediate needs for which the Kenyans have asked for our help and I am asking for yours. The two doctors and nurses that staff the dispensary in West Pokot have had no support and may have to leave to go back to help meet their family expenses at home. They are needing about $1800.00 per month for the next three years to keep doctors and nurses on site. The car needed for transportation between Kitale and West Pokot needs some significant repairs due to the difficult road conditions in that part of the country and the dispensary staff needs a motorcycle to get supplies and to get to those who cannot get to the clinic themselves. Total cost for those two is about $10,000. The medical people are also begging for latrines to be built in the communities to stop the proliferation of disease that results from people coming into contact with human waste. These are large facilities that can service hundres of people but cost about $1700 each for the supplies needed to build them. The men are willing to do the labor.
In addition there are many elderly and small children that do not have enough money to get food, which adds to their proclivity toward disease. The need here is about $3800 per month, but at this point we're not sure this is the best way to meet that need. Surely some short-term relief will be needed here, but we also have to help the community care for the neediest among them as well.
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.
Digging latrines in West Pokot
I got this email the other day and it really touched me. It was from someone I first met traveling in Pennsylvania some time ago, but we have stayed in contact and become good friends over that time. "As I continue to see the never-ending "church"/"christian" debates, promotions, and controversies scroll down my Facebook news feed, I couldn't be happier that Father saw fit to connect us over ten years ago! You have truly shown me a better way, a better relationship, a better Father!"
First off, I won't take credit for all of that, but reading his words made me grateful for every human being God has led across my path in my most transformative days who helped me see a better way into a relationship with Father that increasingly bears the fruit of kindness, generosity, and graciousness to others, even those who don't share my views of God, his church, or the world. Those people who reflected Jesus' priorities to me were an incredible encouragement on this journey.
Secondly, reading his email expressed well for me what I feel reading down my Facebook feed most days. There is still way too much angst between those who either want to defend congregational attendance as the only measure of someone's walk with Jesus or passion for real community, and those who want to reject anyone who does as being embedded in legalism or religion. Congregational meetings are simply collections of Christians who get together regularly for some singing and a Bible lecture. That can be helpful on some people's journey or it can be destructive depending on the content and the structure behind it.
But the real journey is not about church, no church, going to church, not going to church, accusing others of being too religious or lone wolves. The real journey is about embraching the reality of Father's love and letting that spill out of us in ways that brings his redemptive influence into the world, rather than tearing others down.
By all means do what God gives you to do, but don't think you have to either convince others to do it too, or justify yourself by tearing down what may be a significant part of somone else's journey. Here are some excerpts from Romans 14 in THE MESSAGE that always challenge me:
- Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.
- So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.
- Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others.
If we can only see how well-loved we are we would love well in the world, and his kingdom would unfurl before us like a meadow full of wildflowers. And I really do think that's a better way than getting caught up in the side roads of comparing ourselves to others.
The last few weeks have been filled with family and friends during this end-of-the-year season and I was able to complete my latest book. But more on that below. This last week has been a refreshing and restful time. I had a three-hour drive with my 89-year old dad just after Christmas getting him back to his home and we got to talking about his childhood, my childhood, any regrets about his journey, and how God has been faithful through the years. It encompassed the span of both of our lives and was one of those conversations I will remember for the rest of my life. I think many people would love to have that kind of time with their parents before they go, but never seem to find the time or the questions to let it open up. Trust me, find the time! Ask the simple questions of "What were your parents like?" "What do you remember most from grade school years?" "Any regrets?" We fell into a very natural conversation when my dad was especially talkative. I am blessed with a rich heritage of faith for sure, but I also Dad and I see things quite differently at times. It was great to see God and the world through his eyes for those three hours and I learned an awful lot I didn't know about my dad and his life.
On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day we connected with two couples that we've been close to for almost 40 years, meeting at a congregation where I had my first vocational "ministry" position. They were also part of my time in Visalia. We had almost 24 hours together to share our friendship and catching up on each other's lives—both the struggles and joys of being on this journey. There is a rich heritage, too, of relationships that we have cultivated over many years and through many twists in the road. The fellowship was rich an the conversation filled with life. What a graet mini-retreat!
I've also had much more opportunity for personal encounters with people at propitious moments in their journey. I find my heart leaning more away from "group" meetings and more toward pro-longed conversations with people engaged in a transformative journey with Jesus. There are an increasing number of people that just want to stop by Newbuyr Park over lunch or a beverage to share this journey and I find when I'm on the road that the personal conversations have been so fruitful. So I don't know what the year holds there. As I move into this stage of our my journey I much more appreciate the honesty, open conversation with a few rather than trying to facilitate it with a large group. I'm sure I will still do both, but excited that the shift seems to be moving more toward personal engagements where more transformative topics seem to come up and deep friendships often result. This week while Sara and I were visiting in Central California two people heavily engaged with a congregation nearby wanted to meet with me. We spent a couple of hours together over coffee first and then some pizza. Great conversation. I love what one of them wrote about their conversation back home:
Thank you again Wayne for spending time with us today! As we got into the car after lunch, I asked my friend, "So, what'd you think?" He said that you are the same in person as you are in your books & emails—authentic & friendly! I'd say it doesn't get much better than that! Thanks again for all of your hard work, and all of your writings! The "Jake" book totally grabbed me & authenticated my Journey... "He Loves Me" reiterated what I already knew, but even more. "Finding Church" has really left me at peace.
No, it doesn't get any better than that. "Authentic and friendly," is what I hope people see in my life however they engage me. I've met many an author or speaker who seemed to be in private the exact opposite of the personna they cultivated for the public. I've never wanted to be that guy and that brief note blew me away. I am so grateful at Father's love has shaped in my life. So grateful. Believe me, such things have not always been said of me.
My Christmas project this year was to put together over 850 pictures that our photographers took on our trip to Israel last February. What a daunting task to cull through the pictures and chose those that could capture the trip and the people who joines us there. If you want to have a peak, you can view it here. It has amazed me how much that group of 40 people has stayed connected in the months since. They have visited each other even across countries and continents, and stayed in contact through a private Facebook page as they continue to cheer each other on in the amazing journey of life. We really did come to Israel as strangers and left having become a part of a larger family. Many people have bugged me about going back at some point and I probably will when my daughter's kids get old enough so that she can go. That may be three to four years out, but nonetheless a possibility. And if some of you want to join us for that, I'll go through all of this again!
Finally, lots of incredible doors are opening up with Finding Church, that I'll be more free to talk about in the weeks ahead as we try to sort out which way the Spirit is blowing us. The emails I get about the book have been much appreciated as are the thirty-one people have posted reviews on Amazon.com, even the guy who only thought it deserved two stars. He seemed to have missed the point but he took a chance to read the book, which I think is awesome.
As I look forward to 2015, I don't start with a lot of personal goals, but I have an expectancy that God and I will continue this incredible journey and that he'll allow me to help some others along it as well. At this point I have little scheduled and even less planned, but I couldn't be more excited about what might unfold. I pray you too will have a fruitful year ahead and that we'll all be a bit more free of our own hopes and dreamss to see his unfolding right in front of us!