Black White & Blue 2016

Where am I?  Fear, Sad, Hurt, Angry.

If you are white and you don’t believe the deck is stacked against those with black skin, you are naïve and/or in denial.  I am white, but I have raised 4 white children and am currently raising two black teenage boys.  It’s not the same.

If you are black and you believe white people or those in law enforcement are the root of your problems, you are naïve/and or in denial.  Victims become victimizers. 

If we open our eyes to SEE, we will have feelings about what we see.  If our heart is sensitive to feel, the gift of these feelings will come as we are awakened to our need – for someone to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  We will need God and we will need each other.

If we are in a posture need, we can surrender the care of our lives (and those we love) to a God who sees us and still loves us.  It is true, “God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud.” (James 4:6).

Being in need is what most of us have learned to despise about ourselves, so we become self-sufficient, self-made survivors.  It is because we cannot tolerate being in need that we willfully choose not to see (denial) so we don’t have to feel and don’t have to be in need. 

Fear results in rage instead of a surrender that leads to faith. 
Sadness becomes self-pity instead of a grief that leads acceptance
Hurt becomes resentment instead of a confession that leads to healing.



Where am I?  Fear Sad Lonely Hurt Anger

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Luke 3:15,16

What John the Baptist does here is so counter to my experience.  When someone has the courage to express what they hope for, we are often quick to lower their expectations in an attempt to minimize the sadness, fear, loneliness, and hurt we fear will result if that hope is not realized.  We encourage realistic thinking with admonitions like, “Don’t get your hopes up!"

John the Baptist didn't seek to lower anyone's expectations.  He did the opposite, he raised them.  John said to a group of people already “filled with expectation,” that someone is coming who will exceed all they dared to hope for.

It takes courage to admit what you want.  I asked myself, Jeff, what expectations (hopes) are you “filled with?”  

The answer came quickly – so quickly it surprised me - as if I had thought a lot about this question before.  Consciously, I had not, but subconsciously, I must have because the words flowed from my pen.

What hopes am I filled with?  
“That my life would be good.” 

But what does that mean?  
“I want a life rich with friends (a few) and a worthy mission that I am good at where I can love and care for my family as I whole heartedly give myself over to God and to my calling.”

That one sentence says a lot.  It's also something I've hoped for as long as I can remember:  A few friends.  A worthy mission to do together.  Bringing my whole heart to my life and my calling.  To know I am good at something.  Able to love and care for my family.

A few verses later in Luke 3:21.22 it says, Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, Heaven was opened up, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”  

If the voice of God the Father spoke from Heaven to me, what would I like to hear about myself?  What would I dare hope that voice would say to me?

This answer also came quickly:  
  • I am not ashamed of you.
  • I have not grown weary of you.
  • You are not an inconvenience to me.
  • I will not tire of your company.

As I stared at the words in front of me, I could not help but notice the “nots.”  What would the positive side of these statements sound like?
  • You are special to me.
  • I delight in you.
  • My loyalty to you has no limits.

I don't believe God wants me to lower my expectations. When my hope is in Him, who He is exceeds anything I can hope for.  

Secondly, when what I hope for in this life is not fully realized in this life, God will give me healing for my hurt, faith for my fear, intimacy for my loneliness, and comfort for my sadness.

And that voice from Heaven?  There is a reason Romans 8:31-39 is a well worn page in my Bible.


Keeping Heart

A pastor/ministry leader I respect recently told with me he has not “written any books” because of his need to keep up the perception that he is “highly intelligent and theologically astute.”  His fear, he said, is that if he puts something in writing, it will give others the chance to critique his work and expose that he might not be as smart or theologically bullet proof as he would like them to think.

My first response was how grateful I was for his honesty. I don’t hear that kind of truthful confession very often – especially from ministry leaders who keep their jobs by creating the perception that they are better, and better off, than they are.

My second response was FEAR – because he had just asked me for a copy of the newly released Voice of the Heart Bible Study I co-wrote with my good friend Phil Herndon as a companion to the release of the 2nd Edition of Chip Dodd’s Voice of the Heart.  As I handed him a copy of the Bible Study, I admitted to him that I was sweating . . . because I was.

Then I remembered Chip Dodd’s admonition to Phil and me as we were working on the Voice of the Heart Bible Study: “Don’t write this as an apologetic on feelings for your seminary professors – write it for people who are hungry and thirsty of heart.” 

As I handed the study to this pastor, my fear imagined him pouring over each line of the study, marking it up with a red pen, and sending it back to me with all the mistakes we had made and all the hermeneutical guidelines we had broken. 

That’s why Chip’s comments were important for me to remember.  If this pastor reads the study to find out what he disagrees with or doesn’t like about it, then he is not who we wrote the Bible Study for.  I wrote this Bible Study with Phil Herndon for people like me.

Ten years ago I was surrounded by LIFE but not living fully in it.  I heard someone call this disconnect between a person’s head and heart the longest 18 inches on Earth.  God used Chip Dodd to come find me and bring me back to God, myself, my family - and ultimately to the gifts God gave me and the work I’ve been called to do (Eph.2:10).  Now, through the ministry of the Sage Hill Institute (the non-profit expression of Sage Hill), I have the great privilege of helping men and women around the world make this same journey - to God, to how God made them, to their families, and then to their calling.

Co-writing the Voice of the Heart Bible Study with Phil Hendon was a work of deep gratitude that I pray will yield much fruit in the lives of those who are longing for more and know, by their own experience, that there is more. 

I do care about what my seminary professors think about what we did because I want to be faithful to the Scriptures and responsible to those who will trust us to have created a tool that will help them engage a very taboo and misunderstood topic in the church: FEELINGS.   But I want so much more than that . . . for me and for those who get hold of the study and go through it on their own, with another person, or in a small group or class.

The Voice of the Heart and the Voice of the Heart Bible Study are about how God made us – feeling, needing, desiring, longing, and hoping.  The door to the recognition of our need is feeling – the human response to facing life on life’s terms (post Genesis 3).  Sadly, we have confused what happens when we don’t tell the truth about our feelings with the feelings themselves. When we lose touch with our feelings, we lose touch with the depth and recognition of the very need that opens the door to all intimate relationships. 

In every group we tested it with (men, women, pastors, couples), even long standing relationships reached new depths of intimacy.  I’ve worked on many projects in 34 years of knowing Christ, none I am more passionate about than this. 

We heard from a godly 70 year old woman today.  She said, "This study is hard . . . it's not hard to do, it's hard having to face my feelings!"

We did not write the study for the masses because we knew it would be "too hard."  We created it for the hungry and thirsty of heart - whomever they might be whatever age they might be.


Christmas Cheer?

Sad. Lonely. Afraid. Angry

I don’t like Christmas very much.

I was riding in the car last night with my wife Brenda and my two youngest boys.  We were actually on our way home from doing a surprise “drop in” at the ice cream shop where my high school senior works a few evenings a week.

On the way home, Brenda saw a sign that said, “Christmas lights at the end of the street.”  Unable to resist the invitation, she drove us to the back of a dead end where we saw a house lit up with so many Christmas lights, I promise you astronauts on the international space station could likely see it as they orbited overhead.

Brenda was obviously delighted by the Christmas light carolers, the light display of a Santa Clause bowing down to a baby Jesus in a manger, snow skiers making their way down the hill in the yard (where there was no snow!), and my boys in the back were loving it almost as much as she was.

I felt trapped in the car and just wanted to go home.  It was worse that Brenda was driving, so I was not in control and had to endure it all with my foot tapping against the floor mat of the passenger side of the car as Brenda drove SO SLOWLY down the street – oohing and ahhhing . . . “Those ice skaters holding hands are my favorite!”

Brenda saw I was fidgety so she asked me what was wrong.  I didn’t know so I made something up.  My chest felt tight and I wanted out of the car.  I did not care much for the lights and I was somehow irritated by Brenda’s enjoyment of the whole thing. 

This morning I remembered something Brenda said to me a couple years ago (after about our 25th year of marriage), “Jeff, you’re not much fun at Christmas.”

She’s right and I’m not.  I never understood this until my heart began to soften a few years ago going through Chip Dodd’s Voice of the Heart.  The way our brains are constructed, our memories are stored in the same place where we feel our feelings.  As a result, the more you begin to feel, the more you will remember.  The more you remember, the more you will feel about what you remember as you awaken to the feelings you attempted to stuff into the background by “forgetting” or “explaining away” the events of your life.

In August of 1965, my dad informed my mom that he was leaving her to marry a woman he had been having an affair with.  I was just shy of 3 years old, my little sister Judy had just been born, and there were six of us kids under the age of 14.  My mom asked my dad to wait until after Christmas.  He honored her request to the letter.  On the evening of Christmas day that year, I remember seeing my dad walk out the door and out of my life.

Yeah, I’ve never been much fun at Christmas.  There is a low-grade fever that comes over me this time of year that gifts, games, and gatherings can distract me from – but not heal.

Nothing from the OUTSIDE of me can change what is true INSIDE of me.

I am thankful this Christmas that Jesus Christ became a man to die on a cross for my sins and to come live INSIDE of me – to change me from the INSIDE out with the relentless power and pursuit of His gracious love.  He is not an external distraction from my sadness and loneliness and hurt.  He is one who felt all those things as a man and who is WITH me in the truest sense. 

Merry Christmas. Immanuel literally means “God WITH us.”