The Nut Test
By Wayne Jacobsen
BodyLife - September 1997
"You Mean I'm Not Nuts!" No statement has been
spoken to me more often by such a wide variety of people than this
Sometimes it's a question. Sometimes it's spoken
with great joy, other times with quiet relief. I've heard these words
in virtually every state of the union, and from countries half way
around the world. Every time, I hear them, I am blessed to be there.
Because for a long time, I wondered if I was nuts,
I had hungers in my heart toward God that life in
today's Christianity never satisfied. In fact I would say most church
activity did more to negate my hunger than satisfy it. There were too
many substitutes for the living God and too many people missing out on
the sheer joy and freedom of knowing him and depending totally on him.
Whenever I tried to talk about it people accused me of being nuts.
Well, that's not exactly the words they used. They
said stuff like:
You're too idealistic. Can't you just accept it the
way it is!
If that's what God wanted to do in the church today
don't you think he would speak to our leaders about it.
The only reason you're not happy is because you're
too independent and unsubmitted.
But every time I read the Word and took a look at
church life, I couldn't relate the two. The promises far outweighed
the reality. It seemed to me that only a few people were really
discovering what life in Jesus was all about. The rest were just cogs
in the machinery of religious institutions.
For the most part these were good people, mind you.
They were diligent in their commitments and responsibilities,
believing they were fulfilling God's purpose by doing so. But they
never seemed to engage a joyful, transforming relationship with a
I know that sounds judgmental. I don't mean it to
be. I've talked with many of them&emdash;always working hard, but
always feeling empty. Like me they wondered why they didn't experience
the depth of spiritual life they saw in the Word. They were grieved by
the focus they saw on buildings, programs, money and superstar
leaders, and the hurt caused by the pursuit of those things.
Ten years ago I wrote some of those observations in
a book called The Naked Church. That's when the letters and phone
calls started. It seems that I was not the only one afraid they were
nuts. I discovered lots of other believers whose hunger for God left
them disillusioned with the priorities of our religious systems. They
too had experienced persistent questioning of their sanity.
Many of these had served in leadership positions in
a variety of denominations. Many had been pushed aside with
accusations of being arrogant or rebellious when they started asking
the questions that made others uncomfortable.
When they talked to me, they didn't say things
like, "Wayne, you opened my eyes to things I never considered before."
Instead they said, "Wayne, you put into words what I have felt for so
long, but could never express." That someone else was asking the same
questions and sharing the same hungers made them feel like maybe they
weren't nuts after all.
Unless, of course, we're all nuts. Which in all
fairness might be worthy to consider.
But nothing sums up the passion of this ministry
than that simple discovery. We exist to help people discover and enjoy
a vibrant relationship with the living God. Sometimes all we have to
say is, "I think God is leading you. Feel free to follow him and not
worry what others think." Sometimes we're the only voice saying that
Relationship not Religion
"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you,
the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
These are the words Jesus prayed in the Garden,
shortly before his crucifixion. He didn't die to give birth to another
religion, but engage people in a relationship with him and his Father.
It has always bothered me that institutional
Christianity doesn't look any different to the world than any of the
other religions. We who allegedly walk with the living God have the
same traditions, obligations, shrines, sacrifices and ceremonies that
they have. Oh, we call them by different names and tell them we are
different. But it certainly doesn't look that way to outsiders.
Christianity is not another religion. It is not a
code of ethics. It is not participation in ceremonies or signing some
creed. Christianity is a relationship to the Risen Christ, his Father
and the Holy Spirit. It is intended to be a relationship more real,
more loving, more transforming than any other we've ever known in this
He wants to be at our side when we waken in the
morning and walk with us through every step of our day. He wants to be
the shoulder we cry on when we hurt, the resource we count on every
moment, and the ever-present guide that teaches us how to walk away
from the bondage of self and embrace life as Father knows it to be.
Then we can be like him in the world, loving others as we have been
It is called relational Christianity, because it is
only caught up in loving him and loving others. Period. That's all he
asked us to do, and it is what religion has most failed at over 2,000
years. We are committed to helping people discover the depth of that
relationship in him and then discover healthy ways believers can
relate together without contempt, manipulation, expectation and the
arrogance of setting themselves above others. That's not only the way
we'll treat other believers, but unbelievers around us as well.
Freedom not Conformity
That kind of relationship however doesn't grow
where people are burdened down with religious obligations and duties.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and
do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
Paul encouraged the church at Galatia to that
freedom, even though he warned them not to use it as an excuse to run
off and appease the flesh. But even when people did, he didn't revoke
the freedom of those who were growing to know Father. His letters
defined that freedom even as they warned that false leaders would come
to take that freedom away. He knew believers would only grow in an
environment of freedom.
To live in the love of an awesome Father, free to
respond to him as he leads you, even if that means you make mistakes
now and then.
To walk without guilt or condemnation. Recognize
that transformation is a life-long process that Jesus works in us by
our security in his love, not something we do for him out of fear.
To be real. To feel what you feel; to ask what you
need to ask, to be wrong where you are wrong, and to extend that same
freedom to others.
To be liberated from accountability to human
leaders who seek to take the place of Jesus in the church by telling
others what they think he would have them do.
To love other brothers and sisters freely, serving
them the way Jesus leads you and not trying to conform to their
expectations of what a 'good Christian' should do for them.
To live free of bitterness and hurt, even where
religious institutions (and those who run them) have failed you. We've
all got plenty wrong with us, so there can be no end to the generosity
we can extend others in their weakness.
Those who do not understand this freedom, have lost
touch with the head and deny the power of the cross. When that happens
people end up lording over others, seeking to conform them to their
standard of Christian behavior. Enduring transformation, however, can
never come that way. It can only spring from within as the fruit of
our friendship with Jesus.
Inside Out Not Outside In
Jesus didn't mince words. "Blind Pharisee! First
clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will
Religion always tries to change people from the
outside in, because it has no power to affect the inner life. Religion
finds its reason for being in sustaining traditions and ceremonies,
meeting people's needs and demanding behavioral and philosophical
conformity. We talk alike, act alike, think alike! We must be OK!
And because we've learned to be 'nice' on the
outside, we think that God's work is done. The only problem is that
nothing has changed on the inside. We forget that the same system that
made Paul "a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee… as
for legalistic righteousness, faultless" was the same system that made
him the "chief of sinners." When he fixed up the outside, he only
drove the sin deeper inside.
What he was on the inside was frightful. Even
though outwardly perfect by his standard, by his own words he was a
"blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man." It's amazing what
horrors external righteousness can produce where it really counts.
In Christ Paul found motivation that absolutely
transformed him. He came face to face with a love so powerful, that
Jesus' love for him was the only motivation he needed. He didn't need
the fear of hell. He didn't need accountability to men. He only needed
to know how much he was loved. There Paul could die to everything he
aspired to for himself, and could enter into the freedom of living in
the power of God.
I find no greater joy in my life than to help
people discover the depth of that love for themselves, and see how it
transforms them by the shear power of his love.
This is no external righteousness, it flows from
the depth of our being, the freedom to no longer live with self at the
So, Are We Against The System?
If by system we mean Christians gathering together
(even if it is the same time every week) for prayer, worship and
Absolutely not! In fact, I go to places like that
But if by system we mean the bondage of religious
conformity, where people become passive believers in the machinery of
a system that wants to use them to feed itself, then yes!
It amazes me that no one is even bothered by the
fact that Jesus never once gathered his people in a 'service.' He
never 'led worship' as far as we knew. He never set up a Sunday
School. He never launched into a 10 week study of anything beginning
at 10:00 on Saturday or Sunday morning. Yet today, we cannot imagine
Christianity without those things and judge harshly those who feel
like those thing don't benefit them.
Hear me clearly here. If you are involved in such a
gathering that truly stimulates you to greater depths of relationship
with God - by all means enjoy it! Wonderful things can and do happen
when believers get together like that.
But if you find that environment too passive, or
even hurtful because of what's being taught or how people are treated,
feel free not to go too! There are many people today who deeply love
God and are finding the joy of gathering in much more informal
settings, learning as families to share the life of Jesus together in
their homes. They don't go to church, but are learning to live as the
church by sharing his life with others and with the world. There's
nothing wrong with that either. In fact, I think it's a lot closer to
what Jesus modeled for his disciples than many of us would care to
Statistics continue to show that the most
significant moments in people's spiritual growth come not at church
services, but through personal relationships and in small home
studies. Church statisticians tell us that the fastest growing segment
of church life today is home groups, Bible studies and house churches.
In fact the most effective discipleship and mission work is done by
loosely-affiliated small groups of believers learning to share the
life and love of Jesus together as a real part of their every day
Personally, I love that kind of body life.
Certainly it is more challenging than meeting in managed services, but
I find it a far greater growing environment for the whole family. But
our purpose at Lifestream is not to advance any system over another.
Actually any system (including home churches) can be exploited by
people looking to serve themselves instead of live in Father's love.
And any time our idea of church becomes a substitute for a living
relationship with Father it becomes destructive.
Love Him, Love Each Other
Relational Christianity is so simply summed up it
seems almost trite to say it. Love him with everything you are, and
love others the same way you have been loved by him.
We want to help people experience the depth of that
relational life in all its facets. We provide writing and teaching to
encourage that process in people's lives. We meet with a wide variety
of groups who want to discover what it means to walk with him and
experience Godly relationships with other believers.
And once in a while we'll be a burr in the saddle
of institutional religion, not because we enjoy raining on other
people's parades, but because a lot of people fall out of that system
hurt and disillusioned. We want them to know that though the system
will fail us all at some point, that is only so that we might come to
trust Father and him alone.
Jesus didn't leave his disciples with a system to
mass produce throughout the world. He gave them the Spirit, so that we
might depend on him. That is true freedom and the source of limitless
joy that can conquer any circumstance life hurls at us.
Learn that and you'll discover the church as God
sees it not our cloistered groups meeting in a specific building under
a creed some weekend morning. You will see his body scattered
throughout your community and the whole world. He knows those who are
his. He is able to be the shepherd and hold them in his care. He is
able to link them for fellowship and ministry in ways you never
We simply aspire to be a part of Jesus doing that
wherever he sends us. We'll keep talking about this wonderful Father
and how we can grow to know him better. We'll keep talking about ways
the body of Christ can share life together that doesn't hurt or
manipulate, but encourage us to greater trust in him.
And we'll keep telling people they're not nuts.
Unless, of course, we think they are!
© Copyright 1997 by Lifestream Ministries
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