Raw Reflections from the Journey

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Invited to Intimacy

During his time on earth, Jesus offended a lot of people. Why? The reasons varied, but the responses were similar. Those that became offended either turned away from relationship with Him, or they attacked Him. Eventually a mob called for his death...and all this about a perfect, sinless man.

John 6:66 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible to me, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." How do you think it felt to Jesus to be abandoned by some in whom he'd invested time and given His love? Remember, he was fully human. How does it feel to you when someone you love or someone you've served turns away from you?

Scripture doesn't say it, but is is fair to infer that Jesus grieved as He watched former followers walk away. After all, he wept when informed of Lazarus's death.

But then the following verses in John (6:67,68) provide some consolation for the abandonment. Some remained faithful, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Jesus still invites everyone to intimacy, but it isn't the romanticized Hollywood version of closeness that smacks of conflict-free infatuation; relationships in which there are no offenses, no hurt feelings, no broken promises or unmet expectations. No, the kind of intimacy to which Jesus invites us to is the kind where long-suffering is the rule, where truth is spoken in love, where mercy, grace and forgiveness lubricate, repair and ultimately sustain relationships that were about to be permanently fractured.

As 2010 begins, Jill and I embark on our 25th year of marriage with a new organization in addition to Grace and Truth; Great Relationships, Inc. is a not for profit dedicated to inspiring and equipping as many people as possible as well as possible for a GREAT RELATIONSHIP with God and each other (especially marriages and families). And as we focus on facilitating Great Relationships for others, we will endeavor to nurture our own marriage, family, extended family and friendships.

Will 2010 be without disappointments, hurts, frustrations, offenses? No, but invitations to intimacy will never be without these because openness about our honest thoughts, feelings and desires in relationship are bound to conflict with those of others. Misunderstandings will occur, angry words will be impulsively spoken, and immature responses will fuel the fires of brokenness. BUT, the great hope in all of this is in a man who was quite familiar with relational abandonment and disappointment; Jesus.

What did Christ do in response to the departure of many disciples? Did He change his method of operation by refusing to speak truth in love? "I can't do that any more. The other disciples might leave me and there where will I be?" No. He continued as a man full of grace and truth to invite and accept invitations to intimacy, and as difficulties occurred he modeled reconciliation.

Is relational restoration modeled any better than between Jesus and Peter? Betrayed in his hour of need by the impetuous fisherman, Jesus opened himself to further hurt and disappointment by looking on and speaking to his previously bold, now embarrassed and humbled follower...the same man who boldly stated the words above, "To whom shall we go?"

As the New Year begins, I'm sure of two things:

1. That the risk of intimacy, real risky and potentially life-giving intimacy in relationships is worth it.
2. There will be relational rejection and disappointment that I'll be able to do little about.

Some people don't want closeness. They hold you at arm's length, not wanting you to get close enough to see and feel their struggles and shame. That's what I've heard from the Lord this week; that sometimes what seems to be relational abandonment is really about fear, shame and embarrassment. So, my question is, how to be full of grace and truth in Christ-like balance such that I can have a clear conscience that any relational brokenness of which I am a part isn't due to my sin? Well, that's a tall order and probably impossible, but humility gets close to the answer, I think.

Just today Jill and I exhorted two partners in marriage to search themselves before the Lord and to ask His enlightenment regarding the portion of problem they bring to the relationship. It's easy to point fingers and to register complaints, but maturity in relationships seems to require the humility to examine oneself and to make the changes indicated when problems are discovered.

Here's a toast to more authentic and satisfying intimacy for you in 2010! I hope you will risk openness and honesty with others in a way that invites a similar response, and that some of your invitations and efforts are reciprocated by efforts of others to hear, hold and appreciate what's in your heart!

God bless, Jeff

Friday, December 11, 2009

Licking Wounds or Living Like a Warrior?

I have a friend who trains Special Forces soldiers. His specialty is preparing them psychologically for fierce battle against overwhelming odds. One of the first things he does is to pour a gallon of cherry syrup at their feet. He says that the color and consistency of the fluid is similar to blood. The objective is to show the soldiers how much blood they can lose and still be able to fight. In other words, wounded warriors can still war on... "Since their job is to accomplish important missions, it is essential that they understand that even if they become severely wounded that they can still fight and make a contribution."

As a Clinical Counselor I know that any person that is put under unrelenting duress for a long enough period of time will evince psychological distress such as anxiety, depression, etc. While thresholds for stress vary, if one could orchestrate a series of disappointing, discouraging, and disillusioning occurrences for even the most optimistic person, the stress would eventually surpass their threshold for resiliency. I've seen it hundreds of times clinically, but until the past five years I hadn't experienced it myself.

The fact that I'm writing about this says something. I think I'm coming out of it. And, as crazy as it sounds, I'm glad I've gone through it.

How can one every really know what it is to suffer until they've suffered? This doesn't mean that non-sufferers or "not-yet" sufferers can't empathize with folks that are really going through something; it's just that those that have been there have a different look in their eye, a sober, realistic, "I'm sorry, I wish I could make it better, I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy" type of look and attitude.

When the three D's (disappointments, discouragements, and disillusionments) pile on, it is common for a person to develop a negative view of themselves, others and the world. Granted, there are probably legitimate negative facets of all three, but for the person who is struggling with situational depression (the psychological and emotional response to a critical mass of the three D's)the negativity about self, others and the world is disproportionate. That's when self-preservation kicks in. A person is likely to turn inward and become self-absorbed in a way that perpetuates the depressive state. Not only that, but they're likely to begin living a prescription for depression.

When you query the details of daily life for a person that is staggering under the weight of three D's, you'll likely find that they have begun to live a prescription for depression. They are apt to forsake activities that were once highly pleasurable (e.g., hobbies and recreation, friendships, even sex), healthy habits (sleep, diet, exercise) and that they are essentially aimless and unfocused regarding goals for the future. Of course, the severity of dysfunction is on a continuum and varies with many factors, but you get the point; such persons are more apt to live a prescription that sustains depression rather than life as an energetic, disciplined and focused Kingdom warrior.

Personally, I identify with John Eldredge's depiction of a Kingdom warrior; a man made in the image of Jesus the Lion of Judah who lives for a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. And, I function best when I live a recipe for spiritual, physical, and mental prowess. This is where cross-training comes in.

Recently I've been hungry for adventure on my bike. During the first snowfall of the season in DC I was on my bike for a 25 mile jaunt. The wind was whipping and the mix of sleet and snow was pelting my face. My legs were burning from the cold, and I was very, very happy...fully alive, on the rivets of my physical capabilities with heart racing, adrenaline coursing through my body, and worship music ringing in my ears extolling the Creator of all that I was seeing and inhaling deeply into my God-hungry soul. Five miles from home I begged God to give me the strength an ability to make it home and to stave off hypothermia. This was an epic adventure and a manufactured battle to fight against the elements and psychological limits of endurance and exhaustion. And Eldredge's third element was present, too...a beauty to rescue. My thoughts went something like this...

Jesus fought his way to the cross. He was not a whimpering victim who begged for His life to be spared, but rather a willing Savior who was determined to fulfill His part of the plan to redeem humankind to God; one for all, once for all. He was a tough man, sinewy, rugged, and with callouses on his feet and hands from a physically demanding life that he engaged joyfully and successfully. AND, what one man can do, another can do. What He did I can do by His life in me. So, pedal on. Grunt, grind, strain, strive and move forward. Get home, pick up the pace, give it all you got. The life of the triumphant one is in me. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

I have a choice, and so do you. When we are overcome and overwhelmed with the D's we can lick our wounds, and become self-absorbed, complacent and undisciplined, or we can live a prescription that builds our capabilities as Kingdom warriors. And lest you think that physical discipline and training is enough, consider Paul's exhortation to Timothy (I Timothy 4:8) For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The Kingdom warrior must not only practice physical discipline, but also spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, fasting, prayer, solitude, etc. Physical training makes it easier for me to say yes to other disciplines because I habitually do the things that my body doesn't want to and my mind says it may not be able to do.

Given our times, how should we live? Are you living a life worthy of the calling you have received? Are you habitually offering your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto the Lord? Are you soaking in His Word and in His presence by letting your mind fly to Him vs. preoccupation with pleasure and acquisition? Where are you on the continuum between self-absorbed wound licking and living life as a Kingdom warrior? What it God calling you to do or to forsake as you contemplate what I've written?

My prayer for me and for you is that we would walk in His footsteps today, just one step at at time.

I John 2:6, Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


We've received a number of encouraging notes and calls this week that have said about the same thing. They come because we continue to reach out to the local and trans-local community of believers for support, encouragement and intercession and perhaps as prompted by the Holy-Spirit. It is good to live out calling in community!

"Don't give up. You're making a difference in the lives of others and that's going to come with difficulty."

"I know you are warring against principalities and powers. Marriage done right is a powerful weapon against the devil."

We're looking to history, both Biblical and secular, for encouragement. What others have done, we can do.

First, the secular.

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. - Winston Churchill

And now, the Biblical.

Jesus. He completed the mission He came to do. Period.

What one man can do another can do. By His life in us, as He strengthens and sometimes carries us...we can do, one day at a time, one conversation at a time.




Monday, October 12, 2009

Leading Only as You Are LED

Recently I asked the Lord how much He wants to do with a vision He's given to Jill and me to build an organization to convene Christian Marriage and Family Coaches to pray with and for each other, to learn together, and to partner in initiatives to disseminate Christian Marriage and Family Coaching.

"I'll build it as big as your humility is deep"

He told me something like this before. In 2004 He used us to convene a group of clergy and community leaders to lead the development of a community marriage initiative, . After the first meeting I prayed and journaled, "Why do I get to do this" I asked? "Because you won't steal my glory" was His reply. It was both an affirming commendation of my character, but also a warning. I heard, "I know that it is in your heart to give to ME the Glory for bringing this to pass" and "If you try to take any Glory for yourself I will block it and discipline you."

I was talking with a friend last week about the an upcoming Association prayer and planning meeting. "I'm scared and excited", I said.

"I'm scared to become active in casting vision and convening people around vision again. I've been there and it can be great, but it can also be like Frodo's journey to do the noble thing he was called to do(Lord of the Rings); dangerous and difficult." Plus, I know that we cannot lead anything without subjecting those that follow to the current state of our character and comptencies. People get hurt and they eat the fruit of whatever God is processing in the leader's life."

"I'm excited because it has been 5 years since I was highly active in convening, vision casting, inspiring others to action for a vision from God. I'm a different person with better developed character and a bunch of relevant experience. I want to exercise those muscles again."

My friend is a leadership coach with a lot of experience observing and supporting leaders through undulating seasons of activity-preparation-activity-preparation... "I'm excited for the insights you've gained through this", he said. "A big challenge for leaders is keeping the humility they've gained once they become active in leading again."

The tension between working as it it depends on you (diligence, passion, etc.) and praying as if it depends on God is real. So how does one lead with all their might while simultaneously depending whole-heartedly on the Almighty?

The way I/we are engaging this round of activity is in confidence out of what we have seen and heard (signs of God's activity and sounds of confirmation from friends, and our own discernment in listening prayer before the Lord), and humility to the Lord's daily leading in regard to what He wants. We have vision and desires, but no foregone conclusions that we will marshal or manipulate people to accomplish because it is something that we want. We will invite participation, but after that it is God's to speak to and compel if it His plan to assign them to something He wants done.

This mode of operation seems to be a balance between leading as He wills us to while continuing in a prayerful listening posture that we lead only as He blesses. Does this sound reasonable?

It is God who wills in us to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13)

AND "I have been (am being) crucified with Christ, and I no longer live (less of me is living and more of Him is living in me, day by day), but Christ lives in me (more and more as I surrender to Him day by day). The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who died and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

How do you walk this tightrope of leading as you are led?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Work Within

I've been on an unscheduled Sabbatical for three years. Brief tours of duty with two national ministries came to an abrupt halt in the fall of 2006. The shock to my system was severe. Imagine a train going from 100mph to Zero in a second. It's disorienting to say the least.

Mama always told me that if God is going to use a man that He'll crush the man. Sign me up??

So, what happens when a divine directive comes down to put you on Sabbatical from rabid "doing" for God? Answer: He begins to do a work in you. Question: Will you cooperate?

The seeming lack of productivity during such a season betrays the fact that much is transpiring within. In truth, it's a gift that few choose to give to themselves...a prolonged season of contemplation, learning, character examination and growth. Why? That's easy. Because it's so painful. Loss after loss, after loss.

Doing is addictive. The rush comes from being needed, being important, being adored, being...being...being...being somebody as validated by meaningful doing. But who are you and what is your value when that is absent? The truth is that all of those things are impostors for what we really need, and at the deepest level, what we REALLY want.

Rich Mullins sang, "What we say is that we need just one thing (Jesus), but what we mean is that we just need one thing more (possession, position, power, etc.). His satire referred to the insatiable appetite for all of the false gods that temporarily satisfy, but eventually fade. Hmmm....that reminds of a well-known verse. "Store up your treasures in Heaven..."

Every time my sabbatical has threatened to come to an end I've grieved. Something tells me that when it ends (and I do have faith that it will end) I'm going to miss it and be nostalgic for it. It's been a remarkable crucible that I wouldn't have chosen, but wouldn't have missed. There's no way I/we (yes, Father has been processing the wonderful woman connected to me) could have grown more dependent on God and learned the volumes of things we have about Him, each other, our life purpose (calling), etc.

When Papa gives us more to do there will come the question, "How will I engage doing differently?" Tom Wymore has made a significant contribution to my thinking about that question through his commitment to not do ministry on adrenaline, but rather out of peace. (www.tomwymore.blogspot.com). What does that mean? Simply stated, we won't press to do, but rather agree to do when invited and He puts His peace on it. That means lots of prayer and connectedness that we might approach the being/doing balance that Jesus modeled.

The experts say that seasons of hiddenness are followed by greater productivity than before (the bearing of more fruit). As good as that will be for the Kingdom of God, I don't want it to be the kind of fruit that satisfies my deepest hunger. Only He can do that in the deepest and best way, and that happens in quiet solitude. (Some would argue it's not so quiet when I break out in worship singing, :))

Who do I have in Heaven but You? (Ps 73), and Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere...

Learning to be content in all circumstances,


Wanting What He Wants: Aligning with Papa's Purposes

I'm pleased with a shift in my thinking.

Yesterday a friend mentioned that he is thinking about a project that I happen to be very interested in, and that he has 4-5 people in mind to invite to participate. My first thought was, "I hope I'm one of them", but then it shifted to, "But, God, what do you want?"

Several years ago I had a divine appointment with the founder of DivorceCare (www.divorcecare.com)an international ministry. I'd called on him as a provider of Christian Marriage ministry while working with The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries. Steve invited me to his office where he invested in our friendship for several hours. "As you enter your mid-forties, Jeff, you will have to begin to focus very specifically on the thing that God made you to do. Up till now you've been able to try lots of different things and probably thought like many strong and gifted leaders that you could do them all, but that's simply not the case. To make the Kingdom contribution that God has planned for you, you're going to have to focus."

He was right. Three years later I'm approaching 45, and thankfully, what I want is becoming less important than what He wants. Besides, I've tried what I want, and He has foiled my ambitions enough times that I'm finally surrendering to what He wants. At least it's close second to thoughts about what I want, as evident in conversation with my friend yesterday.

I know He works through our desires, and that the best we can do sometimes is to get our ship out of the harbor so He can steer it. Sometimes he steers in directions we didn't anticipate. That's cool. He remains all-knowing God, and the course corrections are His right, and they are good. Do I really accept that all things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to His purposes? (Romans 8:28).

It's fairly easy to ask ourselves what we want, and beneficial to ask our loved ones. But it can be scary to ask God. Why? Because perhaps he'll answer and then I'll need to make a decision to either cooperate or to resist. Still, at the end of myself and efforts to direct my life down the paths that I have wanted, I come back to the same conclusion, "Asking Him what He wants is a good first question."

Papa, what do you want?

Searching and serving,


Monday, September 14, 2009

A Brutal Assault and Naked Warriors

I found a quote today that I'm really excited about.

The story of your life is the story of a long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. ~John Eldredge

It explains a lot, doesn't it?

I don't look for or find demons under every rock, but I don't dispute the Biblical truth that we humans have an archenemy who directs demonic legions to harass humankind, especially God's people, and especially those who know and attempt to live their purpose (calling).

How else do you explain minor relational irritations that devolve into painful silence and hopelessness? Untimely computer crashes, inexplicably lost documents, mysterious physical maladies, etc.

I know, I know. It's easy to over-spiritualize to the point that we absolve ourselves of responsibility to do maintenance on our bodies and office equipment, but it is reality that we're under attack even if we can't see the attacker, isn't it?

Eldredge's words strengthen and encourage me. While I don't like the fact that we are perpetual victims of a brutal assault, I LOVE that it is because the assailant does it because of Who we can BE in for our King and HIS Kingdom! That means my life has purpose, and that living a surrendered, consecrated on purpose life is very dangerous to our enemy!

I was reminded of the tragic suicide of my 36 year old friend (in 1997) the other day. One of the Waterboyz for Jesus, www.waterboyz.org told about a man who began attending a Waterboyz table this Spring after hearing the Annual 100-man choir. He showed up admittedly desperate, and then he disappeared...but only for a little while. Last week he resurfaced at a local Wal-Mart where he reportedly tried to call a few people to ask for help, but no one answered...then he fatally shot himself.

I was horrified. Someone reached out for help, but then effectively disappeared. Did any men from the table call to try to connect with him? I still haven't asked the man's name. In part I don't want to know because I don't want to find out that I was one of the men who dropped the ball...I'd rather think that I did, because I could have. Living apart from the reality of the continual brutal assault by the enemy it is easy to become complacent, self-absorbed, inattentive and numb. No, I want to live on the edge, just as I would if I were a soldier in enemy territory where snipers await an opportune moment to take a head shot.

I not only want to live vigilant, but also well dressed for battle. The same Waterboy who told the tragic suicide story also challenged the leadership group about going out into the battle dressed only in a loin cloth. Can you see it? Sorry. . kind of graphic...but you get the point. Unless we don the full armor of God, (the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the sword of the spirt, etc. Ephesians 6) we are naked warriors pretty inept to respond when under assault. You get the point.

No war is won by remaining in fox-holes. Fearful troops hunkered down under cover don't take the enemy's territory. No, just as at Normandy Beach, well-outfitted warriors had to get out of the boats, cross the beach and scale the cliffs to make inroads into the enemy's encampments. And so, as Michael W. Smith sings, "this is our time, this is our dance, live every moment, leave nothing to chance."

I weary of the attacks, but I'm thrilled that Jesus always leads in triumphal procession. His armory is stocked with effective weaponry, if only we'll gird ourselves up. And then to the fight with other warriors, back to back and shoulder to shoulder.

The bad news is that the god of this age continues to attempt to defeat and destroy our King's Kingdom. The good news is that our King will win, and we with him, in the end, but even now as we fight the way he fought.

Warring on, Jeff

Thursday, September 10, 2009

There Will Always be Waves

He is a career missionary in a third-world country. He and his wife could have made it big in business in their first-world home country, but, "We had a calling."

What is a calling? "An external call that comes from God that is for others."1

"When we first went, we took a couple of suitcases and slept on cement floors...but we were happy to do it because, "we were doing it all for Jesus."

Recently, they've faced expulsion from a country that would "end" their life work (of course it would carry on in so much as they have been depositing Kingdom seeds into people). Thousands of dollars have been spent on visa acquisition that has required extensive travel and marital/family separation.

"How are you with all of this?" I asked.

"It's fine", He said. "I've decided that there will always be waves, but that I'm not going to look at the waves. I'm going to look at Jesus, and I'm going to keep doing my calling." Wow!

Clearly this man was referring to Peter, who stepped out of the boat in faith to walk on the water to Jesus.

What do you do with that story? Do you admire Peter's courage and faith? Do you snicker that He began to sink? Can you identify with his desire and temporary success after getting out of the boat?

Do you have a calling that seems to be riding on the ocean swells of life? Are you waiting for the ocean to calm, or are you keeping your eyes on Jesus and doing what He has given you to do?

Interestingly, just last night I dreamt extensively about taking White's Ferry across the Potomac River to Virginia (a short cut to a section of northern Virginia since there are relatively few vehicle bridges in the area). Interestingly it was quite a long trip in my dream (in reality the crossing is about 10 minutes).

In the dream I just about didn't make the ferry. I was the last one aboard the last ferry of the day.

Then, my car, a little red 2-seat convertible (now I know it was a dream) was dangled over the side of the ferry by a hoist and cables because there wasn't room on board. Next, the crew served a meal to the passengers, but forgot to serve me. Finally, the weather turned life threatening with 15 foot swells as if we were in the ocean. My car was dipped into the water and barely saved. The ferry threatened to capsize but didn't. Finally, we made it safe to the other side. Hmmm...

An otherwise great night of sleep ended with an exhausting adventure...but I wasn't exhausted; not in my dreams and not in real life. Why not?

In my dream I prayed through the race to board the ferry. I didn't let adrenaline take over, but rather trusted God, "I'm doing my best to get there. If I make it, great. If not, I'm sure that it will work out for good."

Next, my car dangling. "It's just a tool for transportation, Lord. I know you will provide what I need."

Then to food, and I was hungry..."There's none left, sir. I'm sorry we forgot you." Oh well, again, He will provide. Maybe I didn't need that meal. Perhaps He has one for me that will be even better. Besides, you are the bread of life and living water. Help me to continue to partake of you during this journey and I know that I won't hunger or thirst."

Finally, the waves. "They look ominous, Lord. Will you save me?" silence, but a voice, "To live is to do my will, but to die is gain and to be with me." Ok.

Eventually, the ferry reached the other side. I disembarked. Off to continue in His calling.

The way of the Cross is definitely not easy. He didn't promise that it would be, but He did promise that He would be with us, that He would never leave or forsake us, that He would provide all of our needs, and that it would all work out in the end...All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose...and, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

Have you been called? yes. all are called to something in service of the King. If you don't know it, know that it can be discovered.2

Are you serving in your calling? No matter what?

Remember, there will always be waves...

1 Tony Stoltzfus in Coaching Life Purpose, available at www.coach22.com.
2 Life Purpose coaching focuses on discovering, articulating and living one's calling.

Monday, September 7, 2009

President Obama Talks to our Kids

Our President wants to talk to our kids. Ok. What's the big deal?

Have you read his speech? http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gDqQJuGAC0Xb5hUlwfuOZ-0hr5_gD9AIL5680

I'm fine with my daughter being encouraged and challenged by President Obama. Do I agree with all of his other polices? No. But, his message to our kids about personal responsibility and becoming who they were created to be is solid.

Now, for an additional consideration...

The responsibility of those that follow Jesus is to live a life of purpose for the purposes He has for their lives. Is this a compelling idea?

The life purpose of the Christ-follower is to serve His purposes, not their own, or others (even if they are from the President of the United States).

This is the foundation of concern for conservative Christians, I think. They don't want their kids to be influenced toward temporal success when they are teaching for eternal success. Does this make sense?

How is this blog relevant to 'The Journey'?

I hope that you will be motivated to be thoughtful about the voice(s) that you follow. Jesus' voice is trustworthy, while His followers can misinterpret and misunderstand.

Can you accurately discern the voice of truth? YES! By His Spirit you can know and hear His voice!

While you listen to or read anyone's "speech", pray that Papa helps you to discern the voice of TRUTH, and to obey any directives that voice give to you.



Friday, September 4, 2009

Reaching up for Abba

"She wants you to pick her up, dad." My fifteen month old granddaughter had toddled over to me as soon as she saw me enter the room. Her arms were lifted up reaching for me, and she was smiling. What a great feeling to be wanted for love. Children are unabashed in their efforts to get and give affection. I reached down to pick her up. She leaned in to get a hug, and turned her cheek for a kiss. Amazing!

Then, I thought about our heavenly Abba...Daddy who picks us up to hold us close. I'm glad He's there, and I'm glad that I know how to reach for him.

I was as despondent as I've ever been recently. Load anyone's life with enough disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment and deferred hope and it can take a toll. The slough of despondency is only a few thoughts away. Only Jill knew that I was in despair, but not even she knew how deep.

Notice what I said about thoughts? Happiness IS a choice. How we think about things has everything to do with how we feel. Do we consider our trials as pure joy? Or do we curse them as unfortunate obstacles to add to our list of disappointments?

I reached for the phone with the idea of calling a friend to vent. Papa stopped me. "Talk to me" I heard.

I'm fortunate to have a list of faithful brothers who will be there on a moments notice if I ask to bend their ear. It wasn't that I didn't want to bother them, but rather that I needed to reach for and connect with Jesus, the friend who sticks closer than a brother. As good of friends that I have (or that I can be to them), we're really only as good for each other as we manifest the mind and manner of Christ to each other. So why not go for the Man himself? I'm not saying that should be our only mode of operation. Talking truthfully to faithful friends is part being in fellowship with the Body of Christ. Confessing to each other and bearing burdens is commanded.

The awesome thing I've learned by daring to reach for Him is that He hears us when we cry, and He answers. Different people hear him differently, but all who want to hear Him can hear. He often puts scriptures in my mind. I count on the promised work of the Holy Spirit in this regard. John 14:26 tells us that part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of all that He has taught us. Cool! On a moment's notice I can be reminded of scripture that I have ingested...who He is, who I am to Him, my future, my purpose, His promises and His plan. Now, if consideration of all that doesn't drag one's spirit out of the slough of despond, what will?

I reached for Him again this morning as I lazily pedaled my bike through river valley and sunny plateau. What a blessing to soak in warm sunshine and breath in the unique scents of early autumn.

Have you been reaching for Him? There is a lot we can reach for...created things and distractions that provide temporary pleasure, but we're really missing an opportunity to be hugged, loved on, consoled and guided if we're not reaching for Him.

When we call on Him, He will answer!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Conversational Generosity*

I'm spoiled. Most of the folks I trust and feel closest to are Christian Coaching leaders that habitually ask questions and listen well from their hearts. Conversations with them are gratifying because they express interest in my life by asking and then hold my heart by generously listening. When caller ID informs me that one of them is on the phone I get excited, "This will probably be an encouraging conversation."

Contrast these conversations with the ones I have with folks that don't possess either the skill or heart to ask questions that draw out others thoughts, feelings and desires. To me it is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I can hardly stand it, particularly when there is a rare occasion to reconnect with friends from the past. "Why don't they ask any questions about our lives?" I wonder. It's dangerously depressing to fill in the blanks. "They must not care" I conclude. Well, maybe that's true, but maybe there's another explanation...maybe they don't know how!

I had a bit of a pity party for myself recently in a series of second-rate conversations. Topics were superficial, and even though most of my acquaintances from the past were willing to answer my questions, few asked questions about me/us, and the questions they did ask were ineffective. "How are you?" one friend asked. Before I could respond he answered for me..."good I hope". "Yeah, I guess" I replied unenthusiastically, and dishonestly. "Good". And he was off and running to the next anecdote about his life. I've learned to gauge the sincerity of such queries and to even ask, "How much time would you like to invest to hear my answer?" before answering. It is surprising how many say, "Just real quick, thirty seconds or so." I defer to another time, "Let me know when you have some time and I would enjoy a conversation."

You know how when you point the finger at someone that you have three fingers pointing back at you? Well, I'll just go ahead and confess that I'm guilty of being a conversational ball-hog in my past...but I'm trying to recover, and I'm finding that identifying with Jesus and taking His life more and more into mySELF is essential. "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve..."

Back to my coaching friends...if you listened in to our conversations you would possibly gag at the Chip and Dale (cartoon chipmunk) attitude between us. Kathy Stoltzfus* coined this as Conversational Generosity.* This is basically the idea of truly sharing the time allotted for conversation. For example, "I appreciate you asking, and I want to share, but I also want to know about you." We could view this as a skill but it's helpful to look at it as a matter of the heart, too.

What kind of heart must we maintain in order to practice Conversational Generosity? One that is truly humble and willing to serve, I think. Go back to my non-asking friends. How does the conversation change when I forsake my "right" to be heard, turn off the self-pitying conversation in my head, and give myself over to asking and listening about their life?

Just before getting out of our car to attend a wedding recently, Jill and I prayed. "Lord, we are going to run across a lot of people from our past tonight. Please help us to leave ourselves in the car, that we might make the conversations you bring across our path about the hearts of others." Again, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve.

My solace after not being asked or listened to for several days was none other than the One who sticks closer than a brother...Jesus. "You understand this, don't you?" I asked Him. His reply was via a reminder of an ultimate compliment to our Lord, written by the one-time cowardly observer of His passion. "When they hurled insults at Him He did not retaliate. When they beat Him He made no threats. Rather, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:23). Not only did Jesus not complain about being rejected, he remained silent in the face of taunts, and restrained Himself from annihilating His abusers. And NOT JUST THAT...He FORGAVE them!!! "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." Talk about amazing grace!

Ok, so what have I been whimpering about? Minuscule neglect in conversation. Is it really that big of a deal? Well, it's not as big as the matter of my heart, which is something I can do something about. While I may be able to influence/shape asking and listening of non-skilled friends by modeling, my first focus needs to be my heart. Lord, make my heart like yours; compassionate for even those that are not just neglectful and ignorant, but even those that are mean-spirited. They need to meet you, and it might just be through me. Please help me to not just behave with gracious skill, but also out of a tender and humble heart.

I want to close with a quote from the book referenced below:
The coaching approach forces your conversations to become less about your thoughts, your input, and how you can steer the dialogue around to the answer you think will work. You start listening--really listening--to the other person. You decrease what you say, so that others can increase And that's where the magic happens: the more you listen, the more you see how capable they are, how much they can do with a little encouragement, and what wonderful individuals they are. The more you ask the more you love (emphasis mine) (Tony Stoltzfus, Coaching Questions, p.8).

*Conversational Generosity was coined by Kathy Stoltzfus in her husband's book, "Coaching Questions", available at www.coach22.com. Kathy leads guided spiritual retreats for women that focus on meeting God in silence and in prayer. Contact her at k.stoltzfus@cox.net.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Grace of Truth-Telling: How to Snatch a Brother from The Brink of Disaster

A prevalent counterfeit for love is the god of "keeping the peace", and "not hurting anyone's feelings". How often do you shrink from saying what you really think to someone you care about because you don't want to upset them?

M. Scott Peck, author of "The Road Less Traveled" drew my attention to this neurotic behavior in relationships that is actually more hatred than loving. By definition love is willing to pay a price for the best interest of another, even if that means upset feelings or rejection.

I argue with God about this on a regular basis. Don't worry, He wins.

Before our second session with a couple we learned from the wife that the husband was behaving in a very untrustworthy manner. He'd stayed out an entire night w/out calling, and eventually admitted an episode of binge-drinking to "deal with stress". What had begun as ministry of marriage coaching to this couple to "improve their communication" was now a crisis situation with their marriage at stake. I prayed about it for direction, and wasn't surprised by Father's direction, "Go hard at him with the truth", I heard. Okay, Papa, but what if it upsets him, makes him mad? "That's my problem, not yours. The best way you can love him is to give him opportunity to feel godly sorrow that leads to repentance and life."

I told Jill to brace herself. "The first part of this session is not going to be easy."

Truth spoken in love, so that we might all grow up into the Head, who is Christ. Easily said. So why does it cause butterflies?

"We have two questions" I said to begin the session. "Is coaching the best approach to help you with your marriage, and do you have enough character to deal with and respond to truth in a way that will lead to godly sorrow, repentance and life for you, your marriage and your children? Are you going to come clean to embrace today as the first day of the rest of your life following Christ, and living as a godly husband and father, or is this the beginning of a story of tragedy?" Okay, maybe three questions...

He was dead to rights, and he knew it. After a bit of self-flagellation, he got the grace of truth, and asked help from us and his wife to become the man God wants him to be. So far, it's going well...one day at a time, one conversation at a time (with God, his wife and us).

One of the first things I did was to offer myself on a daily basis to connect around scripture. Do you recall Rich Mullin's lyrics about Scripture, "I did not make it, no, it is making me." The word of God is living and active..."All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16, NIV). It is never a mistake to dig into Scripture to let God speak for Himself.

There are 31 chapters in Proverbs. Every day this man and I read the chapter that corresponds with the day of the month (today is the 19th, so chapter 19), independently. Then we SOAP it (Bible study method of Men's fellowship, Waterboyz for Jesus, www.waterboyz.org).

S - read the Scripture, expecting God to speak to you from at least one verse. After reading and praying over it, pick the verse He has brought out to you, and write it down.

O - Observe what is happening in the verse

A - Application. Pray for how God would have you to apply the insight and learning from the verse He is bringing to your attention.

P - Prayer. Write a prayer to God about what you have learned and to help you to apply to your life.

S - Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it it the Lord's purpose that prevails.

O - It is natural to have many desires, and even to try to plan things...ways to do the Lord's work, but ultimately, He blesses and furthers only the things that are in alignment with His purposes.

A - I want to align my activity with the Lord's plans. I don't want to do things that are good ideas to me, but not part of God's purposes.

P - Lord, please help me to line my life up with your purposes and your timing. I want to be part of what you are doing, and to live fully according to your plans for my life to serve others. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

For the time being (until this gentleman establishes a broader circle of support, encouragement and accountability), he calls me at an agreed on time, every day to share about a verse he SOAPed. During our chat he shares about what the Lord is teaching him, how he is convicting him, and how He is responding to Jesus, the ONE who is FULL of Grace and Truth. Cool, huh?

What to do that next time someone you care about is headed down a destructive path?
1. Pray for how Jesus would have you to engage them. Don't be surprised if He directs you to speak truth in love, clearly, candidly, pointedly.
2. Introduce the conversation as the most loving way to address the situation, and make sure they know that you are doing Father's bidding per your prayer over them.
3. Trust the Lord to give you the words to speak, grace to listen, and clear ideas about how to practically support and encourage your brother sister on a path of restoration and growth.
4. Walk it out. Be faithful to your promise to be alongside.
5. Look for opportunities to help them to expand their circle of supportive, encouraging and accountable relationships.

Friends, I share this out of the Joy I am experiencing as a watch a man walk away from the cliff, and toward Jesus to be the man God made Him to be. May He put such on your path, or use these ideas to help you to do well by someone He has on your path.

Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead,


Copyright 2009 Jeffrey J. Williams | Grace & Truth Relationship Education | Germantown | MD | 20876 301.515.1218, Jeff.GTRE@gmail.com

*Jeff Williams is a certified Christian Coach specializing in marriage and family. He also coaches mission and ministry leaders for focus, purpose and leadership growth. Write or call for complementary consultation or for speaking and teaching.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Coming Home

I'm so glad to be home and thrilled that Jill and the girls are happy to see me! It is such a blessing to be loved and desired!

From the curb of Reagan airport in DC I could see Jill's grin from 50 yards away as she drove up to get me. We disregarded light traffic to enjoy our first embrace. At home Harley met me at the door with squeals and attempts to lick me. He was followed by my girls who didn't squeal, but did give me strong hugs and smiles. It's good to be home, where I am wanted and loved.

Our friend Rick (Moore) went home yesterday, too. He's been ravaged for a year by devastating melanoma (cancer), but yesterday he experienced the ultimate healing. He was greeted by Jesus and the angels, and restored to abundant health, given a new body, and will now await not only his wife, children and grandchildren, but also all of those that he helped to lead and influence for Christ through years of daily dedicated and quietly passionate evangelism through his life.

On the same day I said hello again to my family Rick said goodbye to his. I'm feeling very bittersweet today. He's really one of my first contemporaries who has gone on to be with the Lord. Dear Mary Lou, Rick (Jr.), Matt, Ben and Ashley, We love you and hope you feel our care and prayers...

What a good thing to be remembered in a good way. It is certain that the Moore family and many others will sob for their loss, but ultimately they will be consoled because they aren't grieving without hope. One day they'll go home too.

Upon your transition to eternity, how will you be remembered?

Living loved, living loving, and loving living,


Thursday, August 6, 2009


Tears are still drying on my cheeks as I write this post. I just wrote a goodbye letter to a friend of 20 years. He has weeks to live unless Jesus decides that it would be a better plan to heal him.

Rick Moore is father of four and grandfather to several more. He is one of the most generous, tireless and patient men of God I've had the privilege to know. In 2003 when God commissioned Jill and me to launch a community marriage initiative, Rick was one of the first names on a short list of potential directors to serve on the board to protect the vision and to execute the mission. That told me how much I think of him.

Rick lives in our former hometown, Springfield, Ohio. I don't know if I'll see him before he sees Jesus, so today I wrote a goodbye letter. Here's a portion:

Rick, I want to tell you that when I think about you I think about a life well lived for Christ, and that you have been one of my heroes for several reasons:

1.You have been a tireless and faithful servant on the board at First Christian forever.
2.You invested your vacations to go to camp to serve others at Butler Springs
3.You raised your family in the Lord.
4.You faithfully loved and served Mary Lou. When I think of a healthy and happy marriage, I think of you.
5.You can do the electric slide, .

The Church at Springfield (Ohio, several congregations represented) recently took fellowship, prayer and worship to the Moore home. Rick wanted to be with his brothers and sisters. The count for the evening was reportedly over 450 persons. What a great idea to say goodbye while still among the living.

Once again the brevity and unpredictability of life is illustrated. The story is all to familiar. Last year Rick went to the Dr. to have minor problem examined...

The point to me is to be about Father's business of loving Him, and living loving with others every breath, and to live without regret regarding how we invest our time for the Lord in the lives of others. Rick is leaving a legacy of Christ in the lives of many, and I dare say he will move from this life to the next without regret about how he invested his limited days.

God bless you, brother. Thank you for your quiet example of joyful faithful love and service to the King, your family and many others.

With love, Jeff

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bears, Rattle Snakes and Mountain Lions

"There are a few things you need to be aware of", our host announced. "This is the Rockies where bears and mountain Lions make their home", he continued.

What had I gotten myself into? Several supporters of our ministry had contributed funds...for what; to send me to my death?

The setting for the first annual CMI (Coaching Mission International, www.coachingmission.com) retreat was surreal. Fifteen miles off the beaten path is "The Refuge", a remarkable facility built by a congregation of Christ followers organized as the ministry, "Christ in the Canyons". (follow us on twitter, 'marriagecoaches' or facebook to see some pics).

Day 2 of the retreat will not be forgotten..."Somebody help me, please...calm me down...I just about got bit by a rattlesnake!" Ginger, one of the intercessors for the ministry had gone in search of a spot where her cell phone would connect to her husband. In mid-conversation her peripheral vision noticed a bulging and slithering animal. A Rattlesnake was coiling to strike!! Somehow she backed away to a safe distance and then sprinted to the house. "Help me!" After hugging our dear sister to bring her blood pressure below the threshold for a stroke I ventured out to verify the serpent; armed with a dishtowel and wearing sandals I know I was formidable. Sure enough, there he was, a five-foot diamond-back with a rattle. Thankfully it slithered slowly away.

Life really is short, ya know? One moment you're chatting amicably with your spouse and the next fighting or running for your life (snake bites aren't always fatal). That incident and a couple of mountain bike rides along cliffs with ready made dens for bears and cougars shocked me into the reality that the length of my life is unpredictable and that I am vulnerable to forces that could accomplish my demise.

So what? What do poignant reflections mean?

As I sat with my planner and notebook after the snake incident it was easier to separate essential activities from optional ones. "If I die tomorrow, what do I need to have accomplished today?", I wondered. Thankfully, the answers came clear.

"Strategic investments of time and energy."

Since we literally have a finite number of hours to live, it is of paramount importance that we invest every hour into endeavors that matter.

What can I do to maximize my influence for good?

Is it normal to experience a bit of panic in one's mid-forties? Twenty years ago all of life was ahead of me, but twenty years from now I'm not guaranteed health or even life itself. It's time to do the things I was made to do!!

Today I invested my best energies in people. Two hundred and seventy minutes were spent on the phone. I coached two missions leaders, one wife that is reeling from her husband's mistrustful behaviors, a pastor who is supporting a separated couple in severe crisis and pain, and a man approaching marriage and middle-age without a clear plan for his professional and personal life. A day well-spent? I think so. Eternity will tell.

In the context of the reality that death comes unexpectedly, I want to invest every day in a way that might matter for others. If the Lord allows a serpent to usher me into eternity I want to have spent that day doing as much good for as many as possible.

Let me conclude by quoting John Wesley, "“Do all the good you can,By all the means you can,In all the ways you can,In all the places you can, At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,As long as ever you can.”

Filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run*,


*from the poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling

Monday, July 27, 2009

To Know and be Known - It Takes Time

"I want to know you more than that", said my new coaching client. We'd traded 'life stories' as part of the initial coaching protocol. The task is to share significant events, formative experiences and relationships as a way to expedite the development of an authentic relationship. I asked him what he liked about sharing life stories, and that was his response. "I want to know you more than that. You told your story as if you were outside of it. Feelings were missing. I know some of what's happened in your life now, but not how you felt about it and what it meant to you. That would obviously take a lot more time, but that's what I want, and I want others to know me in the same way."

I've never received such obvious and excellent push back. Most clients are blown away by the power of trading stories. They're surprised that I'll be transparent about my life, and they love the opportunity to put their life in perspective to set the context for a season of coaching. But he wanted more, and his desire exposed my own complacency and perhaps the fact that I've allowed my wagon wheels to get stuck in a rut by traversing the same territory time and again. Has my relational approach to relationships become devoid of heartfelt meaning and emotion?

Most of my coaching experience is that clients initially experience intentional authenticity and focused reflection about their life as fresh, exciting and overwhelming. But this client is unique. He seems to be asking for more than an artificial ritual of relationship, and more for something that is real and really transformational. Do I have what it takes to give that to him?

In so much as I am drawing life from Him who is the deep fount of living water, I have something to give. But if I habitually drink only from the shallows of my own thoughts and my own ways I'll have little to impart.

I'm horrified to think that I may have made coaching into a thing, instead of a life-giving endeavor. But my client may have explained it well as he reflected on his conflict about how much and how far to press into the opportunity. "Maybe it's just the way it has to be when you try to summarize 44 years of life in relatively few minutes because of time constraints." While that may be true, it still isn't satisfactory. And that's where the primary conundrum about relationships lies for me. Knowing and being known takes time. Evidence that I want such with God and with others will be reflected in how I invest my limited days of life. As the worship chorus expresses, "Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere."

Here's to knowing...and being known,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Enduring Their Conduct

I wonder which set of parents loses more sleep; parents of infants or parents of young adults?

I awoke before dawn the other day, wracked with the myriad of emotions that indicate grief (anger, sadness, etc.) in regard to a circumstance in the life of one of our children. It's about a profound loss. No doubt they are sad and suffering, but so are we. As parents we can't help it. We hurt when they hurt.

Honestly, at 4am I felt more anger than any other emotion. "When are they going to get it?" I wondered. That's when God engaged me. "When are you? Do you realize how many fingers point back at you when you point fingers at others?" Hmmm. Now I really wasn't going to get back to sleep.

It wasn't until 7am during my weekly meeting with men (www.waterboyz.org) that God's perspective and His way came together through His timeless living and active Word.

Acts: 13:17,18
The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert (NIV).


Talk about long suffering love! God initiated a rescue of His chosen people who were suffering in bondage. He did miracle after miracle to save and provide for them (parting Red Sea, drowning the pursuing Egyptians, manna, meat, etc.) and what did they do? Time after time they forgot what He'd done, disrespected Him as God (e.g., The Golden Calf), and they whined about everything...AND HE ENDURED THEIR CONDUCT! Hmmmm...

How does God endure, and why? It is His nature. God is love, and love always hopes, always perseveres, always protects, always...by His love for me and in me I can live loving too.

What does He endure in me? How do I disappoint Him? How have I and how do I fail to seek or heed His counsel? How do I hurt His heart? How do I settle for less than best in the times I fail to make Him my first thought as my chosen confidant, comforter and companion? Recognition of this causes my pointing finger to fall to my side as the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery come to mind. "Woman, where are your accusers?" he asked. (They had walked away from the oldest to the youngest after Jesus challenged them, "You who are without sin, cast the first stone.")

Who am I to do less than to lovingly endure the conduct of my children when my Father in heaven endures mine? He loves me, and I love them.

It's okay to be emotionally distraught in regard to events in the lives of those we love (children, spouses, friends, etc.). But I must guard against self-righteousness, withdrawal and cessation of efforts to live loving as I endure their conduct. God endures my conduct, and He loves with perseverance..."Love always perseveres" (I Corinthians 13).

He endures because He loves. We endure by His Love for us.

Learning to love,


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Limits of Grace

It was 10pm and I was done for the day. It was time to curl up in the sheets, read for a bit and maybe have a little lovin’. It would be the perfect nightcap to a wonderful holiday weekend. Get the picture?

The last thing on my mind was the next day’s schedule. But it was at the top of Jill’s bedtime checklist, especially because I was going to be gone for a few days. One of my bride’s many God-given gifts is the ability to tie up loose ends. Do you see the making of a perfect storm? If only I’d been a bit more patient.

Something about the way Jill expressed surprise about me forgetting one of our appointments set me off. “Don’t you remember we rescheduled that?” Blame fatigue or my expectations that she would be as ready for bed as I was…the fact is that I wasn’t gracious. Sadly that momentary lapse cost US* for the next several hours.

This was a bad ending to an otherwise wonderful weekend. We’d enjoyed barbecue, leisurely walks and talks and some enjoyable episodes of affection. How is it that things can get so twisted so quickly?

Looking back, I have to admit that I’ve harbored an ungodly belief that grace has limits. It was 10pm, about the 16th hour of my day, and I didn’t feel like being patient with Jill’s need to clarify our schedule. “Do we have to deal with this now?” Besides I felt dumb that I’d forgotten, and I read into Jill’s tone. Still grace would have solved the problem before it got started. It wasn’t long before she asked for it, “Hey, how about a little grace?” It was a very appropriate request. In hindsight I’m sorry that I had to be asked.

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t limit grace, isn’t it? “Sorry Jeff, you’ve sinned one time too many. No more grace for you.” It’s unbelievable and unfair that it DOESN’T work that way. And since He doesn’t work that way, neither can I.

Learning to live loved requires acceptance that while we were still sinners Christ died for us; the just for the unjust, the lovely for the unlovely. And learning to live loving means that every thought about others is rooted in the reality that love continues to be extended even when we behave in an unlovely ways.

Jesus doesn’t demand perfection from me as a condition of His love and acceptance. If I’m going to walk as He walked then I won’t demand perfection from others. Rather, I’ll walk with Him and allow Him to work on my heart because it’s clear that working on it myself doesn’t work. And maybe, just maybe I’ll reach for strength in Him and allow Him to live through me, even after 10 o’clock at night!.

*US – capitalized us/US indicates the union of our relationship. My choice cost us; not me, not her, but US…our marriage.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When I'm with YOU

"Daddy, when I think about the times I feel most loved and accepted it is when I am with you."

This simple sentence penned by one of my daughters completely undid me this past Father's day. I couldn't help but cry because I was deeply touched, stunned and humbled.

Quickly I began searching my memory for the times we'd been together in the recent past. "What did I do? What did I say?"

One on one each of our children is a delight; each are fun, funny, thoughtful, curious...and loving. But, I had no idea that simple courtesies and common conversation was having such a profound impact. AND I wondered about the times I did and said things that made her feel anything but accepted and loved. "God help me to live more loving."

I've thought of myself as anything but loving at times. So, I was truly shocked to receive a spontaneous affirmation that my saga to learn to live loved by God and to live loving with others is happening. Not perfectly, and not all the time, but enough to have an effect.

She feels loved. What more could a father want for Father's Day, or any day?

Papa, please help me to lean into your love. When I'm with you is the time I feel most loved and accepted. Please, somehow, help your love to leak out of me that they might feel loved too.


Friday, June 19, 2009

A Good Idea or a God-Idea?

My friends were puzzled about my relative silence. "This isn't like you. What's up?"

A portion of my quietness was due to information overload. The previous hour had been spent with two friends in the U.S. Sentate Chaplain's office (Dr. Barry Black) for a private meeting during which he shared many nuggets of God-given wisdom, including the following, "Everyday, Alan (his chief of staff) and I look out that window to see man-made monuments surrounded by God's creation." He went on to explain that man can do apparently great things, and pursue great ideas, but that it is all in the context of what God initiates, allows and blesses. "Alan and I are in this office by God's appointment to share His Word. We didn't put ourselves in this position, and any day He wants to He can remove us from it." The genuine humility of men who have every reason to be spiritually arrogant was humbling.

Another portion of my silence was due to the fact that I had been quietly praying in an attempt to discern if the idea's of a friend were good ideas or God-ideas. "You make a lot of suggestions to connect with people", I said, "But which of your ideas about connecting and pursuing relationship or ministry partnership are God-ideas and which are simply good ideas?" I asked. The implication is that only God-ideas are worth pursuing.

Alan chimed in on this thread. "Jesus only did what He saw His Father do" he said. "He never ran anywhere in his ministry, but rather he seemed to rest and retreat between active engagements with others." As Alan suggested, that's pretty remarkable, given the fact that He only had three years to launch a global, eternal ministry. If it were us we'd certainly have been running everywhere!

For whatever reason, I'm tired of chasing good ideas that come to naught. Maybe it's because I'm in my mid-forties, or because I've run on and therefore run-out of adrenaline in accomplishment-driven ministry pursuits to validate myself. Whatever the reason(s), I'm tired and therefore unwilling to expend energy on other than God-ideas. I think this is a good thing, and I think that God thinks it is a good thing. Coming to an end of self brings us to the beginning of Him.

"I'm rather non-plussed by the 'doing' of ministry" I confessed to my concerned friends. "I'd rather just be quiet and alone in conversation with God than to speak, teach, or even coach" I continued. Alan, one of my spiritual mentors for the past four years simply smiled and patted me on the back. "Hang in there" he said lovingly. This was said with wisdom born of experience along a similar path of spiritual maturity.

Does God work through our creativity? Certainly. Is every one of our ideas a God-idea? Certainly not. How can we tell? We can take them to Him and then we can listen.

So now, after speaking for a bit I'm going to get quiet again.

Praying you joy on your journey,


Friday, June 12, 2009

A Heavenly Haircut About A Bloody Past

She survived the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, but her parents and siblings did not (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Fields). Ironically it was her survival of those horrors that stayed her self-execution when her husband of 20 years became unfaithful. "It is Asian custom to not talk about shameful things, but I thought, 'I've survived worse than this. Why would I kill myself?'"

I was an unsuspecting customer for a haircut this morning when the Lord decided to interrupt an ordinary morning with an extraordinary conversation.

My stylist's story is one of remarkable courage and perseverance in the face of malicious godlessness and sin. First a totalitarian government steals the joy of life with her family, and then her husband's adultery begins a season of living death for his once cherished bride and children. So sad, and still she survives.

I asked if faith had played a part in her survival. "Yes", she said. But what she talked about more than her faith was her loyal and compassionate customers in whom she confided her marital situation and thoughts of suicide. "For six months they listened, and even had me to their homes to talk. I felt cared about and they made some suggestions that helped me."

Hmmm. Heroic life-saving by a cadre of customers who paid for a service and paid back with priceless care and compassion. She groomed their heads and they held her heart. The result is that her heart continues to beat with renewed hope and emerging joy.

I don't know what deposits I left in my stylist's life today, but I know that this unexpected appointment reminded me about the way of life as a Kingdom special agent. "Anytime, anywhere, with anyone...be prepared to speak about the reason for the hope that you have, and to adminster the grace of God according to the gifts you have received."

Continually surprised in Washington,


Monday, June 8, 2009

Daddy, Can I Have a Hug?

They don't ask for hugs as often as they used to, but they still ask, especially when they are tired, anxious, sad or otherwise feeling the need to be loved or reassured.

It feels great when our kids ask for a hug without asking by opening their arms, sitting close, or leaning their head into my chest. Instinctively I wrap my arms around and squeeze. For a few moments all is well for them and for me as we simply enjoy a connected embrace that communicates thousands of words.

"I love you"
"I'm sorry"
"I've missed you"
"I hurt for you"
"I wish I could make it better"
"I forgive you"
"I wish I could protect you from hurt and disappointment"

Recently, each of our three kids reached for a hug within an hour or a day of a hurtful conversation or disappointing behavior. Since I'm personally on a journey of learning to live loved by Abba (God), I'd taken my hurt and disappointment to Him. Then, when my children came to me for a hug I simply loved instead of instructing or correcting. That felt good, AND it worked well as a parenting response. Simply loving them made space for self-correction.

"Daddy, I'm sorry for what I said. It was wrong and I know it hurt your feelings."

"No, you're right dad. It's not been an easy day, but it probably wouldn't have happened if I'd been where you asked me to be when you asked me to be there."

Jesus was clear that we would face many troubles in this world, and that we could take heart because He overcame the world! Day after day the challenges and disappointments continue. Personally, I'm learning when I feel angst in my breast to reach for my Abba. He makes everything ok by reassuring that He loves me.

Daddy, can I have a hug?

Learning to live loved,


Monday, June 1, 2009

The 85% Rule and the Number One

"I did the math on the faith chapter, Hebrews 11. Eighty-five percent of those who heard from God and who were commissioned to do something for Him had increased difficulty, heartache and problems in life after they were given their assignment."(1)

So, do you really want to get in line to work for God. It's not the stuff of Hollywood which takes people from the pits of despair to the pinnacle of success in two hours. No, it's more likely a long gauntlet which may appear at times to have no end (kind of like a few climbs today in the Catoctin Mountains that go up, up, up).

What's up with the processing process? Why does God put his chosen instruments through so much?

I was pondering this at the picnic table, my favorite post-ride resting place when I had some clarity. Jill and I know that we know that we know at least two essential ingredients that couples need to heal from desperate circumstances in painful marriages: Heart and Hope. "These are exactly what I often have trouble experiencing", I thought. "So many of my efforts that were full of hope and heart have not come to fruition. It's sometimes so hard to try again because I don't know how to get them back."

In an instant, the Holy Spirit arrived to teach me. "That's the point of the experiences I've given you" I heard. "You know how it feels to be absent heart and hope, and you know that you cannot muster it yourself; that it is something that only I can give. Turn to me and I will heal your heart, renew its strength, and give you hope, which is faith that I will bring to pass all that I have promised you, in my way, and in my time."

I know that God has orchestrated the crucible of the past five years. Had we known all that would be involved we wouldn't have chosen it. But the beginning of a loving, trusting and dependent relationship with Him makes all the difficulties, disappointments and disillusionment worth it.

Biblical patriarchs probably had little idea how much they would be studied and celebrated. They were simply struggling to be obedient to the God that had revealed Himself to them, one day at a time. That's the other number to remember, 1.

I can't imagine surviving deserts of difficulty without Jesus' wisdom about living one day at a time. Prior to a challenging mountain ride with friends today I was without heart and without hope in response to the visible world of circumstances, bills, etc. But, en route to the ride, I made a choice to embrace the day as ONE day that they Lord has made, and to rejoice and be glad in it. Because of this, I literally felt light on my feet and strong in my legs as we ascended climb after climb. It's amazing what a simple decision of the heart can do for one's entire body.

Are you in the process of being processed? Take heart. You're not alone.

Are you choosing to enjoy a loving, trusting relationship with God one day at a time? If not, that is a decision you can make right now, and each day after.

One. One God, One Son, One Holy Spirit all completely present in a loving way for us One day at a time. Thank you, Jesus.

1. Wayne Jacobsen, "The Adventure of Hearing Him", podcast, www.thegodjourney.com.

Friday, May 29, 2009

When I think of ME!

It happens time and again. I take off on my bike, hungry for the open road, speed, freedom, the wonderful scents of nature, a physical challenge and emotional cleansing. About half an hour into the ride I ask myself, "What have I been thinking about?" The answer is usually the same, "I don't know" or "Nothing". "Well", the conversation with myself continues, "Why don't you think about something that matters?" That's when the dilemma arises; what to think about.

I could think about me; my life, my feelings, my thoughts, my desires. Or, I could think about God and others.

Yesterday I chose God and others, and it was life-giving.

Jill and I have been involved with several couples and individuals recently who are engaged in struggles for faith, for marriage and for understanding clear purpose and meaning in their lives. The enemy has been harassing them, and they need help to continue standing through the onslaught.

"I need to invest as much time and energy as possible in intercession for them" my spirit told me. Thus, I went through the list, one by one, praying over their circumstances, asking Father's protection and provision, and pushing back the demonic forces attempting to choke them.

As I strained physically to turn the cranks up steep hills, and focused my adrenaline to steer down exhilarating descents I invested spiritual, mental and emotional energy in prayer for others.

When I think about me I'm not thinking about God or others because it is impossible to dwell on two things at the same time.

When I think about God, Jesus and Holy Spirit I get lost in a peaceful joy that makes everything well with my soul, no matter my circumstances.

When I think about others I am walking in the footsteps of Jesus who put the needs of others ahead of His own.

God doesn't need our attention, but we do need to attend to Him. We were made to need Him.

Others are vulnerable to the enemy's schemes when they aren't in intimate fellowship with other believers and protected by our intercessory prayers.

What are you thinking about? Who are you thinking about?

Would you think about and pray for me? Know that I'm thinking about and praying for you.

Pedaling forward,


Monday, May 25, 2009

Reconciling Relationships

Papa brought her to mind. We'd been connected in a divine appointment three years ago to help each other to grow in Christ...and, we'd butted heads a number of times that led to periods of silence and separation.

Strong people are made by God for specific purposes, and the bane of our existence is conflict and relational brokenness. Why? I think it is incumbent on us more than other temperaments to learn love as the medium to convey our heart.

God's prompt to my spirit was to ask for a conversation during which I might apologize for words and actions that had offended and injured. With courage Father provided I texted my sister, "Would you be willing for a meeting that I might apologize and ask forgiveness?" She responded graciously. "Yes, I've missed you."

We met today. My sister gave me a warm hug and said she'd really missed me. I was stunned by the warmth of her reception. Her grace made it all the easier to say that I was sorry for all of the ways I've offended and hurt her.

It is rather remarkable how relationships can be repaired and rejoined when we submit to God's pruning of our hearts, and we act in humility to take 100% responsibility for our part of the problems.

Today's reunion with my sister was a miraculous resurrection of a God-given, mutually beneficial relationship that is continuing only because we have both submitted to God's way.

Who has Father brought to mind recently? Have you heard a whisper of longing to be reunited with a brother or sister with whom you were once very close? What happened? Was it a misunderstanding, or words spoken out of pain or immature passion? Take heart. Father knows how to heal these things. Ask Him for grace and courage to apologize from the heart and watch what He does.

God bless, Jeff

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fame and The Famous One

"I want to make you famous."

I've heard this twice from capable people in the past 12 months. The first time my heart leapt at the prospect. We were in need of finances, and were longing for more people to know about what we do. GTRE (our ministry) evaluated the proposition for several weeks, but in the end said no because "fame" and the fortunes the promoter was willing to invest came with a price; bastardization of the message and method by which couples are strengthened and healed from hopeless places. It is God Himself who has shown up through us as surrendered instruments of His Grace to heal hopeless couples. No way could we sanitize our minstry of His name and His power in order to "advance" ourselves and "to do more good". We said no, and it was a significant moral victory. It wasn't easy, but it was a no-brainer, and it was an important lesson on the journey: God has control of provisions and influence, and will provide it if and when He wants us to have it. And, He won't require compromise.

The second time we were approached about fame was just this past week. I think this person has their heart in the right place. Their motives seem pure, but still the invitation feels dangerous. My spirit reacted immediately. "I don't want to be famous. It's a dangerous narcotic, and I don't want anything that could threaten my pleasure in You, Lord." I was surprised but pleased by the vehemence of my internal response. "Maybe I'm really getting it regarding the fact that He is the pearl of great price, worth more than anything this world can supply!"

My response to our friend was kind, but clear that fame is not an objective. "Certainly we want to share lifegiving truth and opportunity to grow and heal with as many people as possible. If the Lord wants to make His ministry to marriages known through our names, then I'm confident He will do that, but it is not something we will pursue. It could be something He would use, but I can't give myself over to it as a goal."

What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose intimacy with God?

I know this isn't an either/or proposition, but I do know from experience and testimony of others that money, possessions, and position are all legitimate threats to experiencing the reality of a loving relationship with God.

I'm thankful for the "disassembly" as one friend puts it. He chuckled the other day as I testified to the ongoing dissembling of my SELF in a way that leaves me with no option but to find solace in His love for me regardless of what I'm doing or how much I'm doing. For this reason, I celebrate a divinely orchestrated sabbatical from a rabid pace of doing in His name.

Bruce Wilkinson testified to the insidious nature of "doing" for God (Secrets of the Vine). He became depressed at the time his ministry became very successful. Puzzled, he traveled to visit his mentor. Immediately the correct diagnosis was made. The wise older man pronounced that Bruce had allowed his satisfaction in doing for God to surpass the joy of his relationship with Him. The lesson: Better men than me have succumbed to the seduction of doing for God.

Tom Wymore(1) talks about doing ministry absent adrenaline. I understand this to mean that he is as much at peace in his spirit on his back porch watching birds as he is while serving troubled souls during prolonged periods of healing prayer. That probably helps him to avoid "crashing" after "mountain-top" ministry experiences. It sounds like a worthy aspiration.

Fame? Only One deserves fame: The Famous One - Jesus. May all praise, glory and honor be unto Him, forever and ever. Amen.

1. www.tomwymore.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Making Space to Hear Him

"I like hearing myself talk", my friend said. "But, I've been working at being more succinct to make space for others. I have good things to say. Others affirm that, but I don't get to understand what is in someone else's heart if I don't listen."

So goes the average prayer life, eh? We speak, He listens. We ask, He responds. We tell Him what we want, and He delivers; like placing an order to be delivered by FedEx the next day. Is this the kind of 'conversation' He wants to have with us? What about us asking and then listening. Or what about just simply listening. "Dad, I'm just going to hang out with You because I enjoy you and want to hear anything You want to say to me." If there is one worthy of dominating a conversation, it would be Him. Is my prayer life making space to hear him?

Today, a pastor asked me to recommend a marriage coaching couple for a marriage in crisis. I had two choices: 1. Flip through the rolodex of my mind to locate the most suitable couple, or 2. Ask God to give me the names of the couple(s) He has in mind for the marriage that needs help. I chose the latter. Why? I want to make space to hear Him before I hear myself. Sure, He gave me a good mind and common sense to be able to evaluate the pros and cons of referring to specific couples. But the point I'm driving at is a matter of the order of the cart and the horse. I want to ask God before I ask myself. Since I want to live in constant conversation with the One who made me and loves me, I'm choosing to put His thoughts above mine.

Jesus explained to His disciples that part of the work of His Holy Spirit is to, "...remind you of everything I have taught you" (John 14:26). He also assured the disciples that as they went out and had opportunity to speak to others that they would be carried along by His Spirit who would provide words needed at those times.

In other words, I think Jesus was saying something like this, "Guys, you don't have to do this Great Commission thing on your own. I'm going to my Father but you're not going to be alone. It's going to be like I'm with you. All you have to do is pray to hear my voice through my Spirit and I'll be right there. In fact, it's going to be better than if I was physically present with you because there are no limitations to the presence of my Spirit to be in many places with many people at the same time. I'm still going to be with you. Don't fret. Just keep the conversation going as if I'm beside you just as I have been the past few years."

The point? He is available and He wants to be involved. All we have to do is make it a point to converse with Him. Thus, my conversation about a marriage coaching referral went like this, "Lord, you know what the pastor said. Who would you like to bring to mind that might be able to help them?" It wasn't long before two couples came to mind. So, I wrote a note to both, and copied the pastor. It wasn't long before I got a call from one couple. "Would you be able to share more about the referral?" I called back, "First, I want you to know that I prayed, and He brought you to mind." "Well", he said, "I guess I'll thank God instead of you for the referral." Good.

Just last night I read a brief interview with Mother Theresa. "What do you do when you pray?" she was asked. "I listen." "What does God do?" the reporter asked. "He listens" she said. I'm still puzzling over that one a bit. Conversations in which we do more listening than talking puts the horse in the proper order, don't you think?

Well, I'm off to listen a little bit now.

God bless, Jeff

Monday, May 11, 2009

Living Loved and Living Loving

I've puzzled over this phrase since Tom(1) first said it. "Live loved to live loving and love living."(2) It has been as difficult to memorize as nursery rhymes like, "How much wood could a wood-chuck chuck if a wood-chuck could chuck wood." But I think I've got it down now, at least saying it. Living it is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.

What does one do to "Live Loved" and why is it so important? Is there a formula to make it happen? Perhaps a 40-day venture of some sort? Maybe a Bible-study or a fast? Or stand on one leg and chant a mantra about Jesus? Maybe, hopefully, its a bit easier. (Would God really make something so important so simple?).

The men advocating this living loved thing have a few years on me, and a similar history to mine of making things happen by their will, work ethic and manipulation (it's what we resort to when our insatiable egos demand to be fed). But, they've abandoned the planned and controlled life in favor of God's plan to for them to experience His unconditional love and joy through real relationship and surrender to His daily nudges to give love to others. They have my attention. I'm all ears.

I told God today that I appreciate all that He has orchestrated to give me an opportunity to come to the end of myself. Tastes of success early on threatened to addict me to activity in His name, but knowing that, He took it away as any good parent would do when they see their child inordinately impressed with a toy, activity or a friend. The opportunity in the wilderness of silence and inactivity is to simply enjoy relationship with Him in a way that isn't adulterated by concern or desire about what He can do or what He can give. With that in mind, I want the desert to last as long and be as uncomfortable as it needs to be. I really do want to learn to be content in all circumstances, and no longer subject to the undulations of happiness and pain that are mediated by "success" and "failure".

What is success, after all? Micah 6:8 comes to mind, "To give mercy, do justly and walk humbly with my God." To walk humbly with my God. Back to the garden; walking humbly with our God.

Lord, please continue to orchestrate our lives in way that we can get You. What might it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls? Nothing. You are the pearl of great price. You are everything, and I simply want to know you.

Continuing down the road, Jeff

1. Tom Wymore, one of my spiritual dads, www.tomwymore.blogspot.com
2. Wayne Jacobsen, www.lifestream.org, www.thegodjourney.com.

Forrest Feels Like Writing Again!

I feel like writing again. It's been four months of hiatus, and there are things I need to pen. Why? not necessarily for anyone else, although I'm going to let you in on what I'm thinking. No, mostly it's for me because I feel the pleasure of God when I write, and I understand things and retain what I've learned through reflection when I put them on a page. Are you like that too?

Some of you read my last Daily Grace and Truth devotional on January 26, 2009 when I compared my self-imposed sabbatical to Forrest Gump's cessation of running. Remember the movie? He runs, and runs, and runs, and increasing numbers of inspired followers run along and run behind. Then, in the middle of nowhere, U.S.A. he stops. The followers look quizzically at each other and then ask, "Why did you stop?" Forrest answers simply, "I don't feel like running anymore." Well that's what happened and it's been a good break. But my heart is calling me back to share a few more thoughts about my journey, and I hope in comments, emails, calls, etc. that you will share yours.

In a nutshell I am excited about the status of my journey to know God and to have a vibrant, real, satisfying and exciting relationship with Jesus. Honestly, I've been mad at God for not doing what I want Him to do, but thankfully He is breaking through with some truths about who He really is and how He really feels about me that is making all the difference to the point that what does or doesn't happen in terms of provisions for living or 'success' in ministry doesn't matter. What I am learning is this: He loves me. He always has and always will. What He allows and orchestrates in my life is part of the story He is writing for His Glory, and only He knows the script and the end. My part is to enjoy living loved so that I can live loving and love living. What I am learning about this is what I intend to post in this blog.

Are you on the journey?

The writing and speaking of several men has been instrumental for this segment of the journey: Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, www.thegodjourney.com (podcast), and books, especially "He Loves Me" (www.lifestream.org, free pdf or hardcopy), and Tom Wymore, www.tomwymore.blogspot.com.

I'm planning to write as God nudges me. That might be every few days or it might be several times a day. Not sure what He'll do, and that's part of the joy of the journey.

See you on the road,