Heavenly Valley SDA Church and Central SDA Church

South Lake Tahoe, CA and Albuquerque, NM

I want to start out by saying to all of you who were praying for each one of these events, that I witnessed enormous transformations and deep relational paradigm shifts in the hearts of many who attended both of these weekends as open listeners encountered the message of who God is and what’s in His heart for them.

I have never been more convinced that Jesus (and the way He understood the Character of the Father) is the lens through which we desperately need, as Christians (those who claim to be following Jesus), to reassess all of our interpretations of what the Scriptures are teaching. The God that Jesus reveals is so radically different from what many have assumed God to be.

When I arrived at South Lake Tahoe, my first impression was that this was simply going to be another weekend series. Many of those who attended had heard me before or had read my book, so, at the very minimum, I was excited to be able to build on information I had shared before and to offer some new thoughts that have been churning in my head and heart in regard to the Gospel.

But, as I was sitting at the Fellowship Dinner after the morning church service, I met a dear sister who had quite a story. Her son had left, not simply the church, but had left a faith in Jesus entirely. This mother had read my book Finding the Father, and felt a strong need to share the book with her adult son. (You could see the emotion in this mother’s heart as she shared this story with me.) Her son read the book and encountered a God he had never imagined existed. His heart came into contact with a love he had never believed was there and was able to understand that the love in God’s heart had been reaching out to him every moment of his life. He felt that God’s love surrounded him as genuinely as the air he breathed. What else could he do but breathe it in?

This mother was simply visiting the church there in South Lake Tahoe. Her family was vacationing there, and they had no idea that the “author of this book” was at the local Adventist church that they were planning on visiting. She walked in during the first presentation that morning and, when she realized who was speaking, her mouth hit the floor.

I was so humbled to hear her story of how the God her son found in the pages of Finding The Father had turned his heart back to Himself and infused it with a newfound passion to become a follower of Jesus in all that that genuinely means.

Praise God for His Extravagant Love.

This last weekend I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport as I write this, still recovering from the dehydration and elevation of this weekend. Wow, it’s been a long time since I felt this dry! And I don’t mean my humor.)

But, what a blessing I received this weekend and what a blessing that so many people came up to me and proclaimed that they had received blessings this weekend too. I had met one of the small groups of this church at the Arizona camp meeting last summer, and there was an immediate connection. There are times in my travels when I stumble into intense pockets of God’s grace at work. This was one of them. This little group was largely made up of retirees, but they are anything but “old”! I have to confess that, at first, I was astounded at the progressive openness of their thinking and the level of acceptance and love that I witnessed in terms of their feelings for one another. I immediately recognized what I was seeing, in their interactions with each other, “Jesus” incarnate again.

They also immediately felt an affinity to the words and ideas that they heard me presenting each evening at that camp meeting, and a friendship, a kinship was established and something very special was set in motion.

This last weekend was just a step along that journey, and, although I encountered so many blessings and miracles this last weekend, it was just the beginning. I will be returning to this church in the fall of 2012 to help its members take the message of God’s extravagant, radically self-sacrificial, other-centered love to the community around them.

I will say this about this weekend: On my way there, I read Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins on the airplane. (And, NO, I do not feel that Rob is a Universalist in the traditional definition of that term. Rob, too, is on his own journey of understanding God in the context of the fate of all who have ever lived, and I’m just thankful he is moving away from Christianity’s traditional understandings although Christianity has always held three views about the fate of those who reject love in this life.) Although I’m not on the same page in terms of some of what Rob shares, I am thankful that someone is out there giving alternatives to the view of an eternally burning hell that has haunted Christianity, but finds no validation (when the relevant passages are properly explicated) in the Scriptures. My heart is especially sensitive to the issues surrounding our modern cultural perceptions of God (see this week’s Time Magazine for another example.) Many of the members of this church in Albuquerque that I just visited have had and are right now in the midst of intense personal suffering. Never has it been more important for us to understand God’s character and the role that He is playing (as well as the role He is NOT playing) in the tragedies that are ravaging our planet. Many are looking at the calamities taking place on this planet, and mistakenly attributing them to God. (I wrote about this in the context of Japan last weekend, and received many emails from upset readers. I can respect and understand where these sincere readers are coming from, but I still have to respectfully disagree with their sentiments.) Even as I write this, people are suffering from the fires in Texas and grieving the loss of lives in North Carolina this past weekend. My heart goes out to all of those who have been affected by those catastrophes. But God is not behind any of that misery. Some say, no, these are the plagues that we have been warned would come. I will grant that we have been warned that life will look very tragic just before this age ends and the next one begins. But I contend that even the plagues of the book of Revelation are not described as coming upon the world, but rather to the religious systems and leaders who have claimed to represent God to the masses but have grossly misrepresented Him and said monstrous things about Him instead. When one looks at this world’s perception of God’s character, honestly, it’s a train wreck. It’s not the way Jesus presented the Father at all. And what was the source of those incorrect understandings? They came from us, those who claim to follow God. The pattern we find at the end of the book of Revelation closely follows the one we find in Jesus’ life. Jesus sternly rebuked the religious leadership of His day, but to sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and the like, his message was very different. His message was “I DON’T Condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” I declare that something very heavy is coming upon the religious systems of this world that grossly misrepresent the character of God to the masses, but what we see going on right now is not it. It may be part of the backlash that is coming against those who represent God as being behind these events, but it’s not the fulfillment of what is coming upon those Jesus accused of making “people twice sons and daughters of hell as themselves” and “laying heavy burdens on others, but not lifting a finger themselves.”

I may write more about this in next week’s devotional, or I may not. We’ll see; but I can say that, at the very least, during this last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico, God’s heart was proclaimed and many testified to seeing Him very differently. There is no virtue in and of itself in terms of being “different.” But, to see God very differently, when your picture beforehand contained relationally destructive Ugliness and now you’re are seeing the restorative Beauty of God more fully, THAT is a difference worth celebrating.

For all of those who support Renewed Heart Ministries, either financially or simply through your prayers, thank you. God’s kingdom is being enlarged. I see it every weekend, and we could not do it without you. We’re in this together. Let’s keep finishing the work that Jesus began in terms of revealing the Father until the next age of radical sacrificial other-centered love eclipses the present.

Now, go build the kingdom this week, and know that I’m praying for you.

Love like the sun, love like the rain.

With much love and appreciation for your support,