Molly the Magic Mare
Lesson from Life on Love
by Roland J. Hearn &
W. Bradford Mercer
Table of Contents
Forward W. Bradford Mercer 3
Introduction Roland Hearn 4
Chapter 1 Molly’s Story 6
Chapter 2 Learning to Be Out of Control 13
Chapter 3 The Heart of God 19
Chapter 4 Living in the Heart of God 26
Chapter 5 The Happiness Quotient 34
Chapter 6 Understanding Doubt in a Love Matrix 39
Chapter 7 Creating a Community of Love 43
Chapter 8 What Love Brings 49
Chapter 9 Selfishness, Self-worth and Holiness 55
Chapter 10 Faith, Hope, Love and Happiness 61
Chapter 11 Whatever Happened to Molly? 63
The first conversation I remember having with Roland Hearn was a “thread” on a web-based discussion
board about how love ought to work in the church. I was spouting off about my theory that the church should
literally do nothing from any motivation but love. He responded that he was the pastor of a church in Australia
that was actually experimenting with that very idea. They had eliminated every program of the church that was
being sustained merely out of habit or a sense of duty.
As we talked, first on that discussion board, then by e-mail, phone and, finally, in person, I heard
something truly remarkable. In the 1980’s the word “paradigm” came into vogue and was greatly overused, but
what I heard from Roland could legitimately be described as nothing less than a new paradigm for the church in
the 21st century. He managed to be absolutely faithful to our shared theological heritage, consistent with modern
psychology and resonant with the broader culture.
All our lives in the denomination we both grew up in and loved, we had heard stories of times in the life
of the church when it seemed a common experience to live such utterly joyous, free, loving lives as to be almost
beyond description. We heard of times when the message and model of the church was so compelling that new
believers were brought in almost faster than they could be assimilated; a time when the sheer love, joy and
optimism of the church not only set individuals free from the things that shackled them, but actually shaped the
broader culture and the agenda of the nations.
We lived with a sense in the church that it had seen better days and a longing for a restoration of those
good days. We were cajoled to pray longer, to work harder, to train better, but it never seemed quite enough to
achieve what we called revival. Somehow the old methods, the old programs, the old catch phrases and the old
hymns didn’t seem able to do for a secular, post-modern, information age what it had done in previous
generations for a broadly Christian, modern or pre-modern agricultural or industrial age.
We didn’t so much care whether the local church was big or rich; we just wanted to see it happy and in
love and making a difference and at least occasionally overwhelmed by a sense of the real, immediate presence
of God. We wanted to see a church characterized by real, deep friendships and the obvious evidence of the hand
of God at work. We wanted the educated professional class who lived around us to be able to hear the “Good
News” with the same impact that the farmers at 19th century campmeetings heard it. We saw their worth and
their pain and their hunger, and we wanted to be able to communicate God to them in a way that would make the
light go on in their eyes.
We planted a new church together to implement the ideas that we were developing about how to
describe holiness to this generation. As we began to see happening in our own local church the things the larger
church had been praying and longing for, we wanted desperately to be able to share it with the people we love
outside our local church. We want our friends and loved ones outside the church, as well as like-minded
believers around the world to know the joy of living and growing as we are in an atmosphere of healing and
intimacy and vulnerability and peace and love and joy just like the Bible talks about.
If this book makes that seem possible, if it revives the hope of someone for whom hope has been dying,
if it replaces a growing cynicism with radical optimism, if it helps someone outside the church get a glimpse of
the attraction to be found inside, or helps a few of those inside remember why they came inside in the first place,
our purpose will be served.
W. Bradford Mercer
August 9, 2004
The book that you are about to read represents the journey of many years. It has not been an easy
journey, but it has been a trip worth taking. As I look back across my life, I recognize that the presence of God
has never been far from me, but rather than pushing me or pulling me in a direction I was unwilling to go, he has
stood beside me as a friend and encouraged me to make good and healthy choices. That sense of God is
somewhat different than that which we encounter in many places. It is my personal grappling with my constructs
of God and arriving at this understanding that has led me to want to write this book. I think that many struggles
that people have with life and faith can be attributed to faulty understandings of who God really is. I do not
claim perfect understanding, nor theological expertise. However, I do believe that life should bring us to a place
where we are glad we have lived, and I believe that is only possible as we wrestle tenaciously with all that stands
in the way of that possibility. Our understanding of God can very often leave us defeated and frustrated, and that
is irreconcilable with the way he is presented in his word.
When I pastored my second church, in Maryborough, Australia, I began to realize that among our
biggest problems in living a rich and happy life were first, our desire to avoid pain, and second, the mistaken
conclusions we came to as a result of our pain. I began to realize then that life could only truly be enjoyed when
we allowed love – God’s love – to work deeply within us, transforming our conclusions about ourselves. In fact,
when we allowed this process, the result was happiness akin to that which is reflected in the highest claims of the
Bible. As I wrestled with those truths then, it seemed to me that I had a good grasp upon these concepts. In the
following years, however, I discovered that true happiness comes not from understanding appropriate theories
about God, but from actually encountering him in the very moments in which we need this transformation the
I did not know then how much of my understanding of myself and of my God still needed to be
subjected to this very process. Years of pain and struggle encountered while planting a church in Frisco, Texas
became the context in which my theories became my reality.
As I began to write this book, I wanted to find a metaphor that would describe the interaction between
pain and love as a dynamic process. The reality is that life is never really free of pain in this world. Whatever
God is able to do in our lives, he must do in response to that truth. A relationship with God cannot ignore pain,
nor can it make pain the enemy that must be avoided. There are so many components to the idea of the way pain
works in our life that it became a difficult process to actually find a way of reflecting that adequately. Here is
what we do not want to say. We do not want to say that pain is to be pursued as a valuable, enjoyable component
of life. That is masochism. However, it is equally true that a focus on pain as the problem of our life diverts our
attention from the truth. When we see pain as an unavoidable component of life, and the struggle with pain
creating a context in which I can more clearly embrace love, I am enabled to see that while pain is not
unavoidable, it does not need to dominate my life. Brad and I can not adequately express the number of hours
that we debated how to effectively say that. It was easy for us to imagine a reader coming to the wrong
conclusion by our inadequate expression of this idea of struggle and acceptance. In the end, we chose the
metaphor of dance to describe the way that love and pain interact with each other. We very much hope that such
a metaphor does not trivialize the significance of the struggle we have with pain. But we wanted to say that pain
and love work together in our lives in intricate, interesting and vital ways. The activity reflected in a dance
suggests the dynamic of this process. This book is not a book about “pain” although we talk a lot about that
subject. It is a book about love and to understand love we need to understand how pain has affected us; that is
often difficult to discern. Our hope is that the concepts we write addressing the issue of pain will encourage you
to continue to work through its impact on your life. We hope that what we write about love will inspire you to
live more fully, enjoy your life more lavishly and experience peace more deeply.
I actually first began to write this book while in my second pastorate. The third chapter of this book was
largely written at that time. It reflects a closeness to the events described in that chapter that I do not now have,
simply by the passage of time. Some of the ideas that I wrote in that chapter, I would word differently today.
There are numbers of very Australian expressions in that chapter. Some of the language is a little more
“churchy” than I would use today. However, when I considered updating what I said and the way I said it, I was
left with an inescapable sense that there was something valuable in the way it was written. If I say things
differently in that chapter than I do in other chapters, that in itself is a reflection of the effects in my own life of
the ideas presented in this book.
My highest hope is that in some way the readers will be lead to grapple with the issues in their own lives
in such a way as to discover that joy, peace and real soul happiness are available to us while we walk this earth.
These are not concepts that are illusions of religion. They are God’s promise, his desire, and our experience.
Roland J. Hearn
9 August, 2004
Chapter 1 - Molly’s Story
Life is a great teacher. Every day there are a thousand little tutorials but once in awhile there is an entire
syllabus crammed into a matter of a few hours. I learned to tie a useful knot by watching work-gnarled hands
moving to and fro with seemingly impossible rhythm. I learned how to juggle from a friend with a few idle
minutes. I’ve learned a lot of useful things in the time I have had at my disposal, and probably a lot more that is
not at all useful, but still fascinating to me. The truths that have the most value, however, have often come both
in flashing inspiration while facing circumstances of extraordinary difficulty and in slow realizations while I
have simply lived. Those truths, the very greatest of truths, have an interconnectedness that causes life to make
sense and to be worth living.
I have had the privilege of a life of rich blessing. I have been closely followed by those two most life-
shaping ingredients, love and pain. The two live in uncomfortable synergy. They are never far apart, often
traveling hand in hand. In our minds they are mortal enemies and we desperately want the one while fleeing
from the other. It is not always clear which is which. In this book we hope to show the reader that life is meant
to be wonder-filled and that love is what makes that possible. Love is so much more than simply a feeling; it is
the very center of life and the longing of our hearts.
My life lessons are not done. I expect I will learn more and more of the ways in which love and pain
weave their existence together in a complex and wondrous dance that is being performed on the stage of my life.
At last, however, I can watch without fleeing as they intertwine in this expression of performing art. That lesson
is among the most valuable to learn and one that has not come without great struggle.
My journey is not yours, yet many of the lessons are the same. I want to invite you to come and stand by
me. Let us watch these two, Love and Pain, in their great dance, and perhaps we can discover some truth about
the way this performance impacts our lives. In the end we can learn to smile a little more deeply and appreciate
their interaction, and our lives, more thoroughly. It is my desire to share with you both my own personal passage
to such a place and what I believe are foundational concepts for arriving there. Happiness is a worthy life goal.
Deep-seated soul happiness is even more so. I believe such a state is possible for anyone, in any circumstance, at
any time, and it is my desire to explore the ideas that will make it so.
To begin this journey, let us go to my office, early one Sunday morning. I am doing what I do every
week and what I love doing. I am getting ready for my day of sharing my life with others. I am a pastor and it is
my privilege to live my life openly before others, to let them look at me, watch my struggles, my joys, my
victories and defeats and in the process see God work in me. It is a part of the blessing of my life. On this
Sunday morning as I was going through my ideas for my message, thinking about the encounters I would have
with people, praying and meditating, my world shifted.
My phone rang, which at 5:00 am is rarely a good thing. It was my wife. At the time of the phone call
she and my children were living some 8000 miles away at our home in Australia. When Love and Pain come
together, circumstances result that are a little difficult to understand at first glance. I will describe later the
circumstances that would cause two people very much in love to live so far apart. For now, however, it is
important to focus on this phone call and its immediate impact upon my life. Almost the first words from my
wife’s mouth were, “Molly is dying.” As I questioned her, the details became clear. Molly is a horse – a mare
to be precise. She belongs to my daughters, Kaylah and Tylah. She was the birthday present for their 14th and
8th birthdays respectively. They had owned her for one week. She was the gift that would help fill their lives with
a sense of how much they were loved by their parents and loved by God.
The previous 5 years had been a time of great uncertainty for all our family. When we came to the US
from our home in Australia, our children experienced the trauma of changing schools, friends and cultures, in
addition to locations. When they moved back to Australia, they had to do it all again. We expected that they
would suffer the same utter dislocation still a third time when the planned move back to Texas was to put this
family together again. The girls, like so many, had dreamed of having their own horse. They watched the
newspapers together, made phone calls and talked constantly about their desire. With Emmy, my wife, due to
pay a two week visit to me, which would require leaving the kids with my extended family, we knew we would
have to come up with something to ease their fears. When some unexpected money came to us we decided the
horse would be a perfect way of enriching their lives and giving them something to focus on that might ease
It was a traumatic enough process to find the horse. A myriad of options were available but nothing
seemed to fit. However, once it was done it seemed like the perfect animal had come into their lives. Kaylah
described her as the most beautiful horse she had ever seen. Emmy watched in sheer delight as happiness
returned to Kaylah’s face where for so long had been worry and uncertainty. Kaylah declared that saying thank
you to God seemed inadequate and she wanted to climb into his lap and give him a hug. The gift had been
successful. We were thrilled with the response.
Now comes the phone call. Emmy explained that the horse had somehow contracted peritonitis, perhaps
by accidentally digesting some sharp object that had nicked its gut. It was seriously ill and the veterinarian held
little hope of it making it through the night. Emmy described the devastation the girls were experiencing. To
make it worse a little old welsh pony named Fifi that had been given to the girls to aid them in learning to ride
was on that very weekend reaching the end of its life. She was in excess of 31 years old and age was now taking
its toll. Both animals were lying in the field behind my parents’ home only hours from death.
A numbness washed through my mind as I desperately attempted to weigh the implications of this event.
I recognized that my daughters would be overwhelmed by the tragedy. I saw this as a potentially life-shaping
event. In the middle of their struggle to find emotional stability in new circumstances they had placed enormous
import in these animals. Molly was the answer to their prayers and a reflection of the character of God to them.
Now cruelly and with total disregard, apparently, for the mental well-being of my children, God had reached into
their lives and brought tragedy. That was my first thought.
As time passed I was able to allow years of reshaping my view of God to overcome my initial self-
absorbed perspective and recognize that this was not about a grand master plan; it was simply life. It was, in
effect love and pain dancing together. However, my daughters were going through an incredibly painful
experience without me while I was on the other side of the planet. I felt a deep sadness in response to my own
sense of failure to be an adequate parent. I wanted God to step in and fix it. I am now convinced that God has the
power to heal any scar but I don’t want my daughters to have to be scarred by this. I don’t want their hearts
breaking. Those thoughts all raced through my mind.
Emmy explained that the vet had administered penicillin and there was the slimmest of chances that if
Molly could survive 24 hours, long enough for the penicillin to work, she might make it. I seized on that, as she
had done, and began to pray that God would help Molly make it through the 24 hours. I wanted the horse to live,
because I wanted my girls to see God not just as one that gives and takes but one that loves and cares deeply
There is a 15 hour difference between my office in Dallas, Texas and the Australian home where Emmy
and the kids were living. That meant that when she was calling me early on my Sunday morning it was Sunday
evening for them and they were about to endure a long night as I was about to endure a long day.
I did not want to preach my planned message for that day. It was entitled, “Making Love Work.” It was
my plan to show the wonder that comes from understanding God’s perspective of our lives. He declares his love
for us by his confidence in us. He doesn’t reject us and dismiss us because of our failure but he calls us to
Himself. The beauty of this truth is found first in what that means about our lives but even more in the freedom it
gives us to love each other and provide a context for one another’s healing from the pain of life. The message
was to be a snapshot of this whole book.
Instead, at that moment, I was not interested in being an inspiration to others as I had intended my
message to be. I doubted and hurt and feared and questioned myself and God. I cried in my heart, wondering
what God could be thinking when my little girls were in such a fragile place. I know there is truth that empowers
us to overcome the most difficult of times. It is the truth we discover deep in the heart of God. However, I don’t
want my girls to have to keep learning that God is bigger than circumstances and meets them in the middle of
such times; sometimes I want them to discover that he can rescue them from – and change – their circumstances.
I didn’t want to stand before a group of people and declare the joy of creating an environment of love for each
other; I wanted this pain to go away. I wept and prayed. As I did, it occurred to me that these were precisely the
times that love must work. The truths I had intended to preach objectively must work in me or they are not truths
at all. I decided to share with my people, my friends, my church, the details of my struggle that morning and give
them the chance of both loving me and watching God’s love work in me and in my family. I did not know how
he would do that. I hoped he would heal the horse but whatever he would do, I would let those around me who
love me see him do it.
As I shared my pain that morning I watched as people’s eyes filled with tears and some wept openly. I
knew they understood my pain. What was not clear was how love would get involved in this crisis.
As I preached openly of my struggle and my confidence that God would walk into this situation, we
experienced a very real sense of his presence. I declared as I came to the end of my message that my hope was
that God would heal the horse. I had hope, however, that went beyond the fate of the horse. Even if the horse
died we could find God in the middle of this situation and he would teach us all, even my girls, how to let our
pain and our love touch each other. The end result of that interaction is always that we are more able to love. In
effect we are better people. I believed that was true but in my heart I was still desperately praying and hoping
that God would work a miracle first with the horse before he needed to work one with my little girls’ hearts.
That afternoon, after the night had passed on the other side of the world, my wife called. Molly had
survived the night. She had even stood up and drank a little. The older horse, Fifi, was doing no better but if
Molly had survived this long perhaps a miracle was happening.
I went to bed that evening with a new confidence that God would work and my family would see a
miracle and after the grief of the passing of Fifi we could all go back to living a normal life; the girls would be
happy and Emmy could make her trip to see me and to be a part of the church again for a couple of weeks. In the
morning I opened my email and found this letter from my wife:
I am so mind-numbingly empty tonight it's hard to describe. When the vet came to put Fifi down tonight
he told Kammy and Kevin that Molly will be dead by tomorrow night, probably she'll go through the
night tonight. She has a soaring fever, her heart rate is 100/ min and it should be 45; neither he nor the
vet that came yesterday have ever seen a horse with as bad a case of diarrhea as Molly's; and she has a
blue line of toxicity around her gums that signals that her blood has hit its maximum level of poisoning
and it's only a matter of hours before she's dead. I can't begin to try to describe how agonizing it's been
tonight watching Kaylah slowly fall into this abyss of despair. Not only has she spent the day watching
Fifi pinned to the ground while she cared for Molly, knowing all day the hours were ticking down till
they came and put Fifi to sleep ... she and Tylah gave her her last meal this afternoon before the vet
came and then I took them home to our place sobbing their hearts out ... but she then had to go back
tonight to say goodbye to Molly, knowing she'll be dead tomorrow. Not only were these horses her best
friends, but Molly was her birthday present. She is beside herself with grief. I had to give her two
sleeping tablets and put her to bed. My heart just breaks for her ... no girl who loves animals as much as
she does should have to do this twice in one day. She had just started getting her hopes up about Molly
getting better when we left there this afternoon.
Anyway I need to go to bed. I'll watch some TV for a while to get myself a little more tired before I go. I
don't think I've ever felt this laid bare over a pet dying. It's hard to believe how intense it is to lose an
animal like Molly. Maybe it just feels harder than ever before because I'm absorbing Kaylah's pain as
well, I'm not sure. It's just really hard.
I'm so sorry to have to send you this email - I've agonized over sending it for an hour or so ... it's easy
for me to pour out my grief on a page and feel somewhat better afterwards - but then you read it and
you feel so much worse. But I'm not sure I'd do much better telling you on the phone tomorrow anyway...
at least this way you can't hear me cry.
That letter had me sobbing openly before it was done. In the next few minutes I made the decision to
take the frequent flyer points I had and go to my family. They needed me to be with them in those moments and
I could not think past their pain. I made a phone call to get the church taken care of for the week that I would be
gone and within four hours of receiving Emmy’s email I was on a plane back to Australia.
When I arrived in Los Angles to make my connecting flight to Auckland and then to Brisbane, I called
Emmy. When she answered the phone she actually sounded a little less stressed than she had in her email. After
speaking with her for a few minutes I discovered that Molly had not died during the night. She was now standing
and she was looking a little brighter. I was not certain I was not hearing false hope and so I warned her of
beginning to wish for something that could not happen. The vet had told her it was still unlikely to live and yet
here it was nearly 48 hours after it was meant to be in a hole, still alive.
By the time I finished that conversation I had a faint sense within me that perhaps Molly may even now
make a miraculous recovery. Ahead of me was the long flight that at times can feel endless. When the aircraft
departs LA it heads out over the pacific never to cross land again until it makes its touchdown in New Zealand
some thirteen hours later. That whole way was consumed with reflections on the decisions I had made in life,
second guessing myself, wondering if I had made the right choices in my life. I was confronted with the dilemma
of fatherhood. What is the dividing line between my dreams and the responsibility to my family? Should I have
never agreed to allow this time of separation that would aid me in pursuing my vision while my family found
refuge in their homeland? Those questions haunt me often, yet they were more compelling in these moments
than they had ever been. Those questions lie at the heart of this story. Their answer can not be found in the
moments, certainly not the painful ones. They do, however, seek constantly to be answered. That satisfaction
must wait, however, for a later chapter, for in these moments there were only questions - not answers.
Finally the long flight was over and I was in my homeland. I had passed through Auckland, made my
connection to Brisbane, Australia and was now preparing to pass through customs and out into the waiting
lounge where my family would no doubt be waiting. It then hit me. In the next few minutes I would have to
begin to deal with the likely impact of Molly’s death upon my children and upon my wife. When I had last
spoken to Emmy she had been hopeful. But hopes had turned sour in the past and it was more than likely they
would again. I steeled myself as I passed through the dividing partition that would take me into the waiting
lounge. I searched for those faces that had so often brought joy to me and now would very possibly confront me
with pain and a need to instantly be a consoling father. I was scared. I searched the sea of longing eyes that were
lost in their own process of looking for loved ones. I always loved that part of the trip. It is generally true that
faces waiting with anticipation for the object of their affection are happier than the ones I had left 8,000 miles
behind that were saying farewell. I, however, was not at all certain that I would see that kind of joy in the eyes
that I was looking for.
I heard then a voice call my name. I looked down and to my left into the wonderful, delightful, smiling
face of my 9 year old son Braden. Beside him was his younger sister Tylah and she looked remarkably happy
under the circumstances. It immediately occurred to me that my arrival was almost certainly taking her mind off
the events she was facing. A second or so later I heard my wife call to me. Beside her was my oldest son Jon. So
far, no great pain, but I was still looking for the face that would show it most compellingly. There it was. Out
from behind Emmy stepped Kaylah. Her eyes held simultaneously the joy of seeing her father home in the
middle of this crisis and the tiredness from days of carrying pain beyond what was reasonable for a child of her
age. She came up to me and hugged me. All six of us chattered excitedly for a few minutes about the unexpected
quickness of my passage through customs. Soon we headed for the car.
After we took a few more steps I made a choice. I asked Kaylah how Molly was. It had been nearly 16
hours since my conversation with Emmy in LA. I braced myself for the news. Almost without emotion Kaylah
lowered her head and said she was still living. From that response I knew that Molly was doing a lot better than
was expected but that Kaylah was not prepared to consider the possibility after all this pain that she would be ok.
I then turned to Emmy for a greater disclosure of the situation. She told me that Molly was in fact miraculously
still alive and indeed looking better than she had been.
Eventually after traveling about an hour from the airport we arrived at my parents’ home. There, I was
able to begin to get involved in my family’s preoccupation with constant updates of Molly’s health. She was in
fact doing well - very well. The next day the vet declared that it would be unlikely for Molly to die now. Within
a few days there was a shine on her coat once again, she was eating well and returning to health. The vets said it
was unlikely she could ever return to full health though, so much had been required of her heart. Yet within two
weeks she was galloping at full pace and presenting a new problem - how to restrain a new found vigor that at
times made her uncontrollable.
Naturally the veterinarian declared her healing a surprise. I think it was a miracle. I don’t have a problem
with an understanding of God that allows him to step into the sphere of our existence. In fact, my life would be
less than meaningless without such a concept. I am thrilled to claim that my God healed my daughter’s horse as
an expression of his love. I am, however, concerned by one facet of that claim. Why?
Why would God respond to my prayers, the prayers of my family and my church to heal a horse when I
can recount many stories of God not doing the same thing for humans who needed healing? It somehow didn’t
make sense. While I was delighted with the way it had turned out, I was concerned about how to interpret God in
this situation and more to the point how to interpret him for my children. I was at the same time overwhelmed
with joy at a miracle-working God that could respond to my children’s pain in such a way as to completely
intersect their struggle, and yet dismayed that as a result of this circumstance they might come to see God as
merely arbitrarily manipulative.
The problem, in my observation, is that far too often we see our relationship with God as puppet to
master. It is not always clear which is the master and which is the puppet. Sometimes we believe that God is
manipulating circumstances so as to get certain responses from us. He is the master and we the puppet. At other
times we are attempting to find the right formula to get God to respond to us. Keeping the right rules and praying
the right prayers and having enough faith are all ways that we try to manipulate God. We become the master and
he the puppet.
I sat with Kaylah. I saw her beautiful young face beginning to gain a look of relief. There was still
uncertainty in her eyes at this point; an uncertainty that was based not on Molly’s survival, which was now
assured, but on her struggle to find balance in her thoughts. At this point it was not certain how Molly would
ultimately be affected by her illness. It was more than likely that she would be less vigorous post-illness than she
had been before. It saddened Kaylah to think that she had had this sprightly horse for only a week and now she
had a horse that would probably never be the same again. At the same time, she needed to be thankful for its
Still we talked about miracles and the process of discovering God’s love in the middle of this situation.
We talked about how we needed to come up with the same conclusion about God no matter what the result. Her
response said she understood but continued to struggle with the events. That was pretty much all I needed to hear
from her. I have discovered that God is more than comfortable with honest struggle and that, in fact, our only
way to really know God is through honest struggle and doubt.
As things turned out, Molly made a total recovery and we were able to delight together in her health and
in the process that we had worked through together trying to discover how God works in our circumstances. We
had learned together a little of how Pain and Love interact. We had discovered that Pain is not the destroyer of
Love. Love’s ultimate enemy, in fact, is far more sinister and a master of disguise. It is at work in every context,
it plays out in our minds, in our homes, in our relationships, in our sporting activities and – probably as much as
anywhere – in our churches.
We are so unaware of who or what this thing is that almost always when we see Love and Pain entwined
together we perceive Pain as the ultimate enemy. We blame Pain and attempt to banish it from the here and
now, at all costs, only to find Love departed or diminished as well. We think then that Pain has left an enduring
scar, yet if we could turn we would see the true enemy, the true culprit sneering over our shoulders, mocking us
and taunting Love. For some reason, though, we never look, or if we do we see the enemy as a friend and we
want to draw him in to comfort Love. If we do that and often we do, Love is left more brutalized than before.
Often we blame Love for its own struggle. We will choose to live with less love in order to protect ourselves
from pain, building walls against hurt. Happiness becomes a fleeting concept. At varying levels we will discover
despair, discouragement and even depression. That is what this book is about – recognizing that with life comes
pain but pain does not need to destroy love or happiness. Love is so much more than warm feelings; it is the
essence, the core of life, and it is every individual’s desire and search. We want to love and be loved but our fear
of pain pushes that hope farther and farther away. We, however, want to suggest strongly that pain is not the
mortal enemy of our heart’s highest hope.
Let’s make the first efforts now to reveal the identity of the true enemy of our heart’s deepest longing.
To do so it is important to establish the true nature of “love”. While love can take many forms and exist on many
levels, while it is indeed the deepest longing of our lives it is not always clear exactly what we mean when we
talk of this thing called love. However, this much we know to be true: when we experience love we experience
joy. When we experience pain we rarely experience joy. We will later explore this concept in greater depth but it
is sufficient to say here that in truth love is a concept that is deeply imbedded in the idea of “worth.” They are
not the same thing but they are permanently and profoundly connected. To love something or someone is to
value the object of our affection; the greater the worth, the greater the love. When God says he loves us he is
also saying he values us deeply. Our own sense of personal worth is deeply wrapped up in our perception of the
extent to which we are loved. When something brings us pain it decreases our sense of worth. That is a fairly
clinical way to describe what transpires but it is none the less true. If someone hurts me I feel less valuable to
them. When I perceive that God has hurt me or allowed me to be hurt I feel less valuable to him. It is for this
reason that we perceive that love and pain are at odds. Our response to pain then is to try and in some way
control the source or impact of pain. We attempt to control our circumstances or find a form of medication so we
do not feel the pain of our circumstances. In fact we, the authors of this book, believe that you can define every
cognitive human action by either an attempt to feel more valuable about ourselves or to medicate the pain of not
feeling valuable. It is indeed this attempt at controlling our circumstances and the concomitant sense of worth
that is the true enemy. It is what we believe about ourselves and what we interpret pain is saying to us about
ourselves that is the real enemy. The reality is that those who have walked through pain and discovered that pain
is not the measure of love or worth, are people who have learned the secret of living deep and wondrous lives.
Pain then, is not the enemy; very often the road we walk with pain is the road to deeper love. The true enemy is
our perception of ourselves that is developed in a deeply flawed environment and our conclusions from that
environment about our circumstances. We will explain this idea a little more fully in the next chapter. What we
want to say here is that in this book we want to help the reader understand that there is in fact a solution. That
solution means that life, anyone’s life, can be more compelling and joyous then they ever imagined. We believe
that God has the answer for the human condition. We believe this answer is psychologically and theologically
sound and has profound implications. We believe this answer is wrapped up in the core reason for the existence
of the church and we will write on that topic, too.
In this chapter we have written somewhat metaphorically of “love” and “pain”. We did that in the hope
that we could capture your attention. We won’t do that to the same extent from this point forward. What we want
to do is create a construct in which individuals and churches can understand how to unfold the plan of God for
lives that are rich in love, joy and peace. We want to communicate that idea in terms that are accessible,
understandable and inspiring regardless of the point in the journey at which you find yourself. We hope this
book will help you wrestle with the way you see yourself, the way you understand God and his work in your life,
and the role you see the church playing in this world. When it is done, if you are lead to believe that God does
indeed desire your deepest happiness and loves you deeply and that the church can still play a role in
transforming our society then we will have achieved our highest hope.
Molly is a magical mare. Magical not in the sense that she determined her own fate against the odds or
imparted some control of circumstances that was beyond our understanding. To me she is magical because in her
I saw one of the great struggles of my life reflected. In her I saw the chance to witness the dance of Love and
Pain. In her the mystery, wonder and glory of life was reflected for a time. She now has a quality that transcends
the mundane. Kaylah and I go riding sometimes for hours and she is always atop Molly. They are inseparable
friends. Kaylah rides cross country, gallops and jumps upon her but all the time Molly has the effect of bringing
into focus for us the wonder of our lives and of our God.
So in this amazing story of Molly the magical mare I find a moment where I get a chance to pass on to
my children not an answer to life but the right questions to ask. It is my hope that they will ask those questions
throughout their lives and that they will continually and increasingly understand that our struggles are not when
Love and Pain come together but when we try to disconnect them by allowing the enemy of which I have spoken
to become involved.
Allow me the privilege of helping you to ask those same questions.
Chapter 2 - Learning to Be Out of Control
One of the truly wonderful parts of my current life context is that when I am with my family I enjoy real
quality time with them. My work load and stresses are limited to the things I can achieve on my lap top and over
the internet. While those things are significant they never amount to more than an hour or two a day. In the end
that means the time I get to spend with my family is spent on rewarding them for the sacrifice of the time we
spend apart. I love to do special things with my kids. We will often go to the beach or for a drive in the hills that
surround my home town of Brisbane, or to a sporting match, which is really for my benefit, but I get to see the
delight in my children’s eyes as they get to be with me. Going to the beach is certainly one of the most favored
activities. I never knew quite how much I missed the beach living in Dallas until I had the chance to return home
and spend a whole day there after an absence of a couple of years.
There is something about the combination of sun, salt and sand that I can never quite get enough of.
People are relaxed with the way they dress and the pace they walk, declaring: “I am on vacation - nothing can
bother me.” Every time I am home we get at least one chance to go to the beach and my children love it and look
forward to it.
This being the case it surprised me when my oldest son, Jon, suggested that he would rather go to school
on the afternoon that we had intended for the trip. We had decided to pull the kids out of school for the
afternoon. He had a class in robotics on that day and didn’t want to miss it. The teacher had requested that those
who committed to this elective class be certain that they didn’t miss any of the classes. It would make it difficult
for the others in the group if they did. He was torn between the two activities but ultimately decided he would
rather not miss out on the joy of his class and let his classmates down. We struggled to know what to do because
it was always such a family activity and it did not look like we were going to get many other chances within the
next week to be at the beach. We chose to go, and asked my sister to pick him up from school while the rest of
us went to the beach.
It was a truly great afternoon. The sand was bright and clean; the water, crystal blue. There was a gentle,
offshore breeze that kept the waves at a manageable level and helped keep down any potentially dangerous rip
currents. It turned out perfectly as we basked in the sun and splashed in the sea. It was a wonderful occasion to
be a family together, and the weather and waves were perfect. It was one of those days when you thrill at being
When we arrived home Jonathan was frustrated and a little sullen. After a short while he began to tell
how his day had not worked out well in class. He had a disappointing time. He and his project friend had spent a
good deal of their time programming their robot to perform new tasks. They had written a new song for it to
perform to. After downloading the information into their robot and attempting to get it to perform adequately
they discovered that something had gone awry. They returned to the desktop computer to check on the program
only to discover some other boys had taken over the computer. The boys assured Jon and his friend that they had
only minimized, not deleted, the code that had been written. However, when Jon and his partner got back onto
the computer they discovered that all their hard work had been lost. They were disappointed and discouraged.
However, the biggest disappointment for Jon was that on the previous weekend, when we had first discussed
going to the beach we had changed our plans when we discovered Kaylah was not able to make it. He said that
he felt like we had favored Kaylah in our decision to go to the beach when she was available but not when he
was. He got a little agitated as he was relaying his feelings.
I found myself caught in one of those parental moments where you know that you are dealing with
issues that have significance beyond what is apparent because you are dealing with the limited perspective of a
child. It is often the tendency in those moments to berate the child, to tell them they are being silly and
encourage them to grow up. It is one of those moments where parental wisdom says “here is a teaching
moment.” Armed with that certainty it is not uncommon to journey off into a diatribe condemning the limitations
of the child’s perspective. It is in moments like this that we will often draw up all the evidence to contradict the
child’s point of view. If that doesn’t work we will attempt to control the situation by suggesting that the child
just accept that no such favoritism exists and it is silliness to think otherwise.
There is a hint in this last paragraph of the true struggle, a suggestion of the real issue. It is my
observation in life that anytime I feel the need to control a situation it reflects my own feelings of inadequacy. So
when I feel myself needing to control a situation I need to recognize what that says about me. I have been
working hard over a number of years to train myself to think that way. I did a quick mental check and began to
recognize that in this situation I was feeling inadequate as a father. I wanted Jonathan to accept his own
decisions and for that not to reflect negatively on me. I didn’t want to make an arbitrary decision that impacted
negatively upon him so therefore it was my desire that he accept things happily. I paused, thought quickly and
responded. I told him that I recognized that he felt devalued. It looked to him like we had favored Kaylah over
him and that didn’t feel good. He was frustrated about school and feeling bad about himself. I told him I
understood and recognized that would not feel very good. I told him that we had really struggled for a long time
over the decision before deciding to go anyway but that he couldn’t know that. For all he knew we had just
happily and willingly thought that Jonathan didn’t matter much and we should go anyway. It wasn’t true but I
could understand how he felt.
He looked up at me and smiled. His mood changed instantly. He relaxed and welcomed eagerly the
promise that we would go as a whole family to the beach before I returned to the States. It was an amazing
validation of a truth I have discovered over recent years.
This is the truth that I have discovered: “People long to know that they are valuable.” This truth is
absolutely fundamental. It is foundational to all that we do. When my son communicated to me his pain, my
first response, at least within myself, was to put back on him the responsibility of his decision. The reasons are
clear. I do not want to disappoint him or hurt him. I want to be a good father and I can only be a good father if he
thinks I am. Do you see the subtle lie at work in this situation? The lie is that my value as a parent affects my
value as a human being; my value is determined by the opinions of others, in this case my son. If he thinks I
have been a bad parent then I am a bad parent and I am a bad person. If I believe this lie I can assert my
authority as a parent, belittle him and control him into submission. I may even congratulate myself on being a
good parent in the process because I have taught him a valuable life lesson - accept responsibility. However, I
believe it would have been a sin for me to do that. (I will give you a definition for sin shortly that I believe
stands up to any thorough biblical analysis but changes, sometimes completely, how we view ourselves, our
actions and our God.) If I instead choose to recognize Jon’s pain and seek to understand, that does not
automatically mean that I have allowed his own problematic thinking to go unaddressed. I have laid a foundation
in which I can help him discover the internal inconsistencies in his thinking. It does exactly the opposite of what
control would do in this situation. It values him as a human being. It communicates to him that emotions are not
bad in and of themselves. It tells him he is safe and loved and therefore he becomes open to looking at other
ways of viewing this situation - he feels valuable. By resisting my own feelings of worthlessness and turning my
attention to him instead, and recognizing the validity of his struggle, I have in fact done something that I long to
do for my children. I have effectively loved him.
Love has no real workable definition apart from its impact on the loved one’s sense of self-worth. We
can talk all we want about good feelings and sublime ideals but in the end to love someone is to value them.
When I say to someone “I love you,” I am in truth saying “you are extremely valuable to me.” People don’t
actually experience love outside of feelings of worth. How often do we have experiences where someone tells us
that they love us but we feel worthless to them and therefore doubt the validity of their love?
In 1998 I watched a disturbing, emotionally riveting movie – at least that was the way it impacted me. It
was called the City of Angels and starred Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage. I loved the movie but probably was
more impacted by a song from its soundtrack that became a hit. It was Sarah McLachlan’s song “Arms of an
Angel”. The opening lines of that song say:
“Spend all of your time waiting for that second chance.
For a break that will make it ok.
There is always some reason to feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day”
It is a moving song because it so adequately captures the human condition. For centuries theologians
have argued the origins, structure and actuality of original sin. I have no desire at this point to enter that debate
except to say this: there is hardly any truth less debatable and more observable than that, at the heart of our
humanity, we struggle to know that we are valuable. This idea has been captured in music and literature
throughout human history and was encapsulated by Henry David Thoreau’s excellent observation: “The mass of
men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Such a sense takes as many variations as there are people. Some have built such adequate emotional
structures to deal with that sense that they are almost unaware of it. However, if they find themselves in a set of
circumstances that challenges their structure they may become inexplicably angry or depressed. Others have
succumbed to that sense of quiet desperation and live their lives in open defeat. Others are so busy medicating
their pain that they have embraced those medicating activities as a lifestyle. All addictions known to humanity
are in fact attempts to medicate the pain, in one way or another, of worthlessness.
As this truth has dawned upon me across the years it has helped me to recognize both my own struggle
and the struggle of others. It has simplified for me the process of finding true help and healing and it has allowed
me to help others. It has simplified the process because it has enabled me to go more quickly to the source of
human struggle and therefore to the solution, which is what this book is primarily about.
“Wait a minute”, you may say, “I am not unhappy, I have a good life and I know many people that are
very happy with their lives.” In response I would say I agree. I have learned something else while watching
people. I call it “the happiness quotient.” It seems to me that happiness is the result when a certain set of
influences are at work in our life in a positive way. We all live in a life context. Our life context involves our
current circumstances, our achievements, our victories and defeats, our relationships, our ideas, our education,
our employment and many other factors. If when we combine all those ingredients together they add up to an
impact upon us that convinces us that we are valuable then we are happy. If on the other hand our fears, our
failures, our traumas, our past and our pain added together are able to outweigh the positive influences in our
lives then we will feel increasingly worthless. At different points in our lives we may very well vacillate from
one extreme to the other depending on which factors are having the greatest impact. If you were to imagine a
graph with two curved lines upon it, the first would indicate the positive influences in our life, the second the
negative. As long as the first is higher than the second we will experience a level of happiness. The greater the
gap between the two, the greater our level of happiness. However, the rise and fall of those two lines are not
governed by mathematical formulas. The negative line particularly can quite suddenly peak. Many people will
spend large portions of their lives with the negative second line higher than the positive first line and life will be
miserable. Often the two are closer than imagined even by those that claim a life of happiness. So we spend
untold hours investigating ways to keep our first line higher than the second but at any given point in our life,
most usually in the middle of crises, we will experience the second line riding up over the first and find
ourselves discouraged and defeated. If we stay that way too long depression will follow.
There is a very simple explanation for this phenomenon. It comes again to the issue of self-worth.
Humanity -- you and I -- were designed to experience life from the foundation of relationship with our creator.
That relationship is the only objective source of self-worth. God says he loves you. When he makes that
declaration he is saying, “you are valuable to me.” He is the creator of all that is and he is the only place from
which we can adequately know that we are valuable. However, we come into this world with this relationship
and hence this source of self-worth absent. We are born with an emptiness, with an uncertainty about who we are
or what we are worth.
Our relationship with our parents becomes the first place to which we look for affirmation regarding our
worth. Some are blessed with wonderful parents. Others may have parents inflicted upon them whose own sense
of self is so distorted that they are abusive and destructive. Still others will never know their biological parents
but someone will fill that role for them. While it is obviously better to have good parents than bad parents, even
good parents are still inadequate as a foundation for our self-image. People are not perfect and one of the great
struggles that we will have as we come to be adults ourselves is accepting the imperfection of our parents and
releasing them from the role of guardians of our self-worth. As we grow, whatever our experience, we engage in
a perpetual hunt for adequate sources of self-worth. We will look for it in our siblings, in our peers, in our
teachers, in our friends, in our education, athletic prowess, in our career, in our achievements, in our spouses and
ultimately even in our children. We will find it unwillingly in our failures, in our rejections, in our fears, in our
tormentors, and in our encounters with people in the same struggle. Even while I drive down the street and I am
cut off by some “unthinking jerk,” I am having an encounter with self-worth. However, as long as God is not at
the center of that struggle, everything I put in his place will be inadequate and incompetent for the task.
In the middle of this struggle an individual will develop defense mechanisms to protect against the pain
of worthlessness. Those defenses will be varied and sometimes complex. For the most part they will be so much
a part of us that we will be totally unaware of their existence. However when those defense mechanisms cause us
to act in ways that are contrary to love toward others, God or self, then we have sinned.
Ok, there it is! That is the definition of sin that I promised earlier. Sin is not merely the doing of
something “bad” defined by an arbitrary code or law outside of myself and my circumstances. While John the
Apostle defines sin as lawlessness (1 John 3:4) the law he has in mind is central to our discussion here. When
Jesus was cornered by the lawyers of his day wanting to know what the most important law was, his response
was not only enlightening, it reflects the most centrally significant truth of all of human history. This truth
cannot be underestimated or over-applied. It is the essence of faith, the source of life, the foundation for all that
is reasonable. It must become the center for all that we do. It is the end of our search. Jesus said, “'Love the Lord
your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest
commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38). However, he did not stop there. He could not, for this command cannot be
separated from what follows. He adds another command and it is inextricably linked to the first. These two
cannot be divided; the one must lead to the other, the first must result in the second. Jesus went on to say: “And
the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:39). So let me say it again, sin is the
activity of our defense mechanisms acting contrary to love for God, others or ourselves, with love being the
ultimate expression of worth. Sin is the dysfunctional expression of our sense of worthlessness. It always has an
individual’s distorted world view with a distorted sense of self at its core. It is motivated by a desperate attempt
to find self-worth, to find love; or alternatively it is an attempt to protect from the conviction of worthlessness or
the hopelessness of failing to find love. Sin is best defined in terms of love rather than in terms of broken law.
That is what Jesus was giving expression to, it is what John was proclaiming in 1 John 3:4, and it is what Paul
was declaring in Romans 8:2 when he writes: “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from
the law of sin and death.”
Do you see it? There is an offer of true freedom here! Paul is suggesting that life can be lived in freedom
from sin. There has been a debate through the ages within Christendom as to whether or not this is practically
true. Can we be free? Can we truly be free? The actual experience of such a lofty ideal would surely be
accompanied by joy and peace without comparison. Yet that is precisely what we are offered in scripture.
Romans 15:13 is one example of such a promise. This is not merely a formal greeting; Paul actually believes it is
possible, here and now, to be filled “with all joy and peace”, and to “abound in hope through the power of the
Holy Spirit.” Let us consider another offer of freedom. Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth
will set you free." (John 8:32) So truth is a component of this freedom but it is freedom itself that he offers.
Let us think about truth for a moment. Everything I do, I do as a result of what I believe to be true.
Sometimes we insist that we have made choices that were contrary to our beliefs, but we really haven’t.
Everything I do, I do as a result of what I believe to be true. No deliberate action is devoid of this component. If
we can allow that revelation to sink into our minds it has extraordinary implications. I go to the mail box to
collect the mail because I believe that it is true that there is at least some possibility that the mail is there. If I
thought there was no possibility that the mail was there I would not go, right? Well, for the most part this is true,
unless I believe something else is true that causes me to go the mail box regardless of the chance of mail being
there. If for example I had found some emotional comfort in the process of simply walking to the mail box I
may do it regardless of the chance of mail being there. At one point, in a playful mood, my wife challenged me
to go to the mail box in sub-freezing temperatures with only shorts and a t-shirt on. I knew there was no mail
there but I accepted my wife’s challenge just for her entertainment. I did it. True, I regretted it because my body
had never experienced cold like that, but I did do it. If we can get in the habit of analyzing our thought patterns
we will discover this principle is always at work: our actions and attitudes always reflect something that we
believe to be true. I have had people challenge me on this but a simple process of working through any willful
action will, without exception, confirm this principle.
The most significant implication of this in terms of our discussion on sin and love is that every time we
sin, it is because we believe a lie. All truth is found in God; God is love; therefore it is in fact not possible to
know the truth, to act accordingly and to sin. It remains then that our sin is a response to our belief that
something is true that is not in fact true. If we can change what we believe we can indeed find freedom from sin.
I am not addressing here what we may say we believe. I am talking about what we actually do believe to be true.
I can say I believe in God but if in fact my fear and pain are more apparent and compelling to me I will act out of
the latter rather than the former. Therefore Jesus can declare, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you
At this point it becomes important to wrestle with one more issue before making a final observation and
then launching on a journey of discovery that will, in the end, lead us to that deep soul happiness that we spoke
of at the very beginning of this book.
Our fundamental structure regarding our beliefs about God must undergo a substantial change. We have
all heard that God is love. Everything that this book contains is in fact based upon that one significant truth. God
is love, and love here is a noun. The scripture does not merely say that God is loving, a verb, it says he is love.
We know that God does in fact do loving things. He does them because he can do nothing else for he is love. He
is the source of love; his character defines love; our search for love is at its deepest a search for him.
While this is all true, our understanding of God has been distorted by our concept of his demand for
justice. We see God’s activity in the world being shaped by his battle for right against wrong. Our decisions in
life are often described as decisions for right and wrong. We are often led to understand all of spirituality in
terms of a struggle for good against evil, like Star Wars. We are led to see God as a judge and ultimately his love
is an expression of his justice. There is an overarching beam from which hangs our entire concept of the world,
of our place in it, of God and of evil. That beam will determine our belief system. In a world of black and white,
right and wrong, joy and pain that beam is usually justice. If justice is the beam, we see life pushing constantly
toward a balance; we believe that ultimately if we hold true to what we believe, then when we come to the end of
our lives we will see balance being restored. We will be rewarded if we are good enough and punished if we
aren’t. We look for reason in the world around us and we will often describe events in the world as “twists of
fate” leading ever on toward balance and justice. We will define Christ’s death in terms of balancing the scales
and allowing us to escape our condemnation. Christ’s death enables God to forgive sins and keep the cosmos
balanced. Such ideas lead inevitably to a deterministic view of the world; a God that is pulling the strings,
making events take place so that he can achieve balance. Such ideas find their way into almost everything we say
and do in terms of our faith. The problem is that it ultimately becomes untenable. We will be left with a God that
denies free will and forces events if we pursue this perspective.
The whole structure must be replaced. In its place we must find all our beliefs about God suspended
from the beam that boldly declares that God is love. Justice becomes an expression of God’s love and not the
other way around. Christ’s death is an expression of love conquering the inevitable consequences of sin, thus
providing a way love can work in our lives. God’s activity in our lives is an activity of love, or grace as the Bible
calls it. He is not seeking to have us and the cosmos in balance; he is seeking to have us in relationship, and that
can at times seem very unbalanced.
Now we come to the important effect of pain. When we are in pain we begin to ask the deep questions,
to challenge our world views. We will discard belief systems and embrace new ones. Many times that can be
destructive but if we can meet in the middle of our pain a true expression of God as love, that pain can become
the gate through which new life walks. We can indeed embrace God at the depths of our being; we can find him
as a God of love in our own lives and our lives in turn can be shaped by him to reveal him. Pain then has a
redemptive quality. In fact I have never witnessed anyone that truly discovered God for who he is that did not
first experience pain. Pain and love begin to dance together and as they do we begin to see the world for what it
truly is. We will begin to allow God to transform us so that we understand the pain, rather than build defense
mechanisms to escape the pain. I think this is what Paul meant when he declared, “I want to know Christ and the
power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so,
somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Our demand for justice, for balance, for order is really a demand to know what is going on. It becomes
important to us to have an understandable system of predetermined rules with resultant punishments and
rewards. We like that system because it gives us control. I have discovered something to be ultimately true: the
assertion of control is the enemy of love. To live life beyond my control, to trust God and allow him to shape me
in the middle of my pain is to soar with eagles; it is to be free. Such an understanding of God has not come
easily. It has come with great pain and great cost. I am sure now that I experienced more pain and paid a price
greater than I would have if I had seen these truths earlier but I would not swap what I now know about my God,
my Abba Father, for anything. I would go through all the pain again if I needed to in order that I might see him
for who he truly is.
Perhaps you are in pain even as you read this. Here is hope: if you will meet God in the middle of that
pain he will show you things and take you places of which you never dreamed. That is his promise. He has kept
it for me. Let me tell you a little more of my story and you will see the way God has taken my hand in the
middle of great pain and helped me shift my center from justice to love.
Chapter 3 - The Heart of God
It's a dream. No it's a nightmare. So much pain, so much confusion. I can hear voices. My eyes are shut,
I think. There is someone nearby touching my head. I hear a familiar voice; I think it's my sister. I have never
known a place like this before. If I had to give this place a name it would be called "Nothing." For nothing my
senses perceive has any point of reference for me. There is darkness all around – darkness filled with pain. It
closes in around me, occasionally allowing me to look out from it at a world filled with white and brightness and
yet the brightness cannot challenge the darkness.
This stifling darkness that has almost assumed a personality, gives permission for a terrifying realization
to speak. It demands to be heard. I do not know from where it comes. I know, however, that the words it speaks
are truth; a truth that is more terrible than any imagination would give rise to.
Deep in this valley of nothing, suspended somewhere between dream and reality, that realization gives
birth to a terrible question. It reaches my lips and I can hear myself allowing it to slip from my mouth. I know
the answer and that is what makes it more horrendous. How can I possibly know? I do not even know where I
am, what is happening, why I am here, who is around me. I struggle even to know who I am. Yet I know the
answer to my question. I cannot even tell if I am awake or asleep and yet I hear that question with stark clarity
and feel my heart pulled from my chest as I note the reaction on the faces of those that I can hardly even see.
The words of the question are weighted with life-shattering impact as they crystallize drowning thoughts
that scream to be rescued. There is desperation in my voice. I am pleading for this increasing reality to slip back
into the dream from which it rose. It will not.
The question changes my life forever. I will never be the same again; I can never be the same again.
With that question Roland Hearn the Untouched dies. In his place is painfully born a man whose journey to
discover reality will take him down paths he would never have dreamed he could walk. His understandings of
life would be bent and twisted and broken. His perception of God, the church, himself and others, would go
through an incredible metamorphosis. Ultimately he will emerge from his cocoon of bitterness, hatred, anger and
fear, a man wanting nothing more than to reveal the "Heart of God".
Those days, however, are far from this place. In the moment following this question, that distant future
would be an impossibility. What would be reality was a mire of hurt, loss and hopelessness, a mire that would
not be quickly escaped, a mire that for years would get deeper and deeper, a mire that would be a prison from
which only an all-powerful God could rescue me, a mire that would be a prison from which I had no desire to be
rescued. Rescue would seem for many years the enemy.
The question upon which all these things would turn was simple. In any other context it would be
perceived as polite and caring. Here in "Nothing" it only held disaster. Yet it demands to be spoken, for the
journey must begin. "How are the girls?"
It was not meant to be this way of course. This day had begun with so much hope and so much potential
for joy. I had planned it to be a day that would change my life forever but not the way it turned out.
A few months before, a chance meeting by a friend with a couple of fascinating girls had led to a date.
The date had led to an instant attraction. That attraction had led to the first serious relationship of my life. There
had been other girls that I had wanted to be with before. I can remember numbers that I would lie awake at night
thinking about. I had even been out with others before. Never in my life, however, had anyone so completely
gripped my heart as did Kaye Marie Dobson. I would do anything to be with this girl. I lived each day waiting
for the time that work would finish so I could jump in my car and be with her. We would talk, kiss and cuddle.
We would walk together. She had a way of knowing me that no one ever had before. We would hold hands and
play in a park. We would sit on the cool grass on weekends. We would go out together to the movies and laugh
There were two things I remember about Kaye more than anything else. She was more attractive than
anyone I had ever known and she had an aroma about her when we where close. I am not sure it was the perfume
she wore but it could have been. It was somewhat like musk but not quite. I had never smelled it before and I
have not smelled it since.
She loved to have fun. She was always laughing at things. She had her own little language. She would
say for instance, "That's not very funny," with the emphasis on the "very". In fact what she meant was that it was
"very funny". Despite these things that I just loved about her there was a desperation in her soul. She was lost. At
nineteen she had been away from her home with her parents for over a year making her way on her own wits.
Her sister, Dianne, had within the last few months moved in with her and they shared a house in the central
western suburbs of Brisbane. Neither had a job yet they always seemed to have enough money to do the things
they wanted to do.
As I was dating Kaye, a friend of mine was dating Dianne. As my friend and I came to know and care
for them more deeply it became apparent that something was going on in their lives that we were not aware of. I
cannot forget the sinking feeling that came to me when my friend told me that he had discovered that Dianne,
with whom he was increasingly getting closer to a lifetime commitment, was involved in prostitution. It posed
immediately the question in my mind as to whether or not Kaye was involved in the same activities. I struggled
for a long time with that possibility before I confronted her with it. There had been occasions following an
evening out together when I had dropped her off outside an illegal casino run by a known underworld figure in
Brisbane. She claimed that she had part time employment there as a waitress.
Her response that she was not involved in any kind of prostitution did not convince me except that she
pleaded for me to believe her. It seemed to me that it was more important to her for me to believe that she was
not involved in such activities than it was for me to know the truth. I told her I believed her.
In the weeks that followed I began to pay more attention to her as an individual. Prior to that time she
had been a girl who to me was more attractive than any other. Our relationship was, however, as far as I was
concerned, basically for my benefit. It felt good to me to be with someone so beautiful. It felt good to me to have
her showing me affection. When we kissed it was as if I was the strongest man alive and could achieve anything.
Now I began to see her as someone in need; someone who perhaps needed me more than I needed her.
I began to share with her my faith that had been growing cold. I had placed my relationship with God
well and truly on the back shelf while I pursued what seemed to be a more real and gratifying relationship with
Kaye. One evening as I sat at her kitchen table I talked of my belief in God, heaven and hell. I reasoned to
myself that perhaps if she could come to faith in God then our relationship could continue on a more legitimate
basis. She responded to me that she believed in heaven and wanted to be there but that she did not believe in
hell. For her life was hell. In that moment I was overcome with the enormity of how blind and selfish I had been.
I had focussed so exclusively on myself that I had missed the total desperation that was in her life. I promised
myself I would do all I could to give her a life that she could be happy in.
A few nights later I was again dropping her off outside the club at which she "worked." She did not say a
word throughout the entire trip, which for Kaye was most unusual. When she stepped from the vehicle she gave
me nothing more than a peck on the cheek. Her kisses were normally much more passionate. I knew then that I
did not have the capacity to reach her. Her desperation was much deeper, her hurt beyond my capacity to heal.
At home that evening I began to pray in a way I had not done for a long time. I began to pray for the girl
that had impacted my life so profoundly. She had touched me physically and caused emotions and passions that I
had never experienced to the same extent before. Yet she had touched me more deeply than that. She had
touched my heart. As I prayed I felt very certainly that God had said to me that he was powerless to do anything
for her while I was not living before her in a right relationship with him. I asked for forgiveness for the way I
had been so preoccupied with myself in recent weeks and months. I wept tears of sorrow for denying his life
within me. When I finished praying I knew that I had been forgiven and my relationship with the Creator was
once again restored. I knew one other thing besides. I knew that I had to end my physical relationship with Kaye
if God was going to reach her.
It was about this time, in fact it was a few weeks prior to this time, that a different life dream had come
true for me. I had been waiting for about two years on an appointment to the police force. Those two years are a
story of disappointment and discouragement in themselves. It was perhaps the discouragement of those days that
had caused me to be so vulnerable and desperate to grab a little bit of "fun" for myself. Once I was in the police
academy I was confronted with the reality that my relationship with Kaye, and through her to the local
underworld figure, could put my career in the police force in some jeopardy. It was a difficult thing to do to
bring to an end a time that seemed so filled with joy and at the same time with fear and frustration. I had been
more alive during that period than at any time in my life. It was an exciting, exhilarating time for me. Now it was
over. I knew it was the right thing to do. I consoled myself with the fact that I had my career to pursue now.
I tried to put her from my mind but that was a lesson in futility. I prayed for her every time I thought of
her and in a way, that helped me to keep my contact with her alive. I did not pray for her in an idle way. I prayed
for her with every amount of feeling that I had. At night I would be on my knees praying for her and as I prayed,
into the back of my mind began to creep the prayer, "bring her to yourself Lord and then she can be my wife."
A month or so passed and the phone rang. I answered it expecting it to be for someone else in the house.
I did not get many phone calls at that time. In fact it was for my younger brother. Keen on cars, he was in the
process of becoming a mechanic. It was Kaye looking for some help with her new car. I could not believe my
ears. I was talking to her again. In a second all of my feelings for her came rushing to the fore. I could not help
myself; I had to see her. I asked if we could meet. She told me that she would love to see me again. I drove to
her new flat, provided incidentally by the same underworld figure mentioned earlier. I met her there and we
talked for sometime. I asked her if she would like to see me again. She agreed she would.
One afternoon following my shift at police headquarters I drove around to see her. A plan had been born
in my mind. I could not deny my feelings for her now. Nor could I confuse the way she spoke to me. Where
once everything had been simply fun now she was deliberately reaching out to me. My dream that we would one
day be married seemed to be coming closer. When I arrived at her flat she was not home. I waited for some time
desperate to see her. She did not come. I eventually left in some discouragement. As I was driving away, I
noticed a car parked in a side street and there was Kaye sitting in the car talking with a young man. At first I was
a little concerned but I decided to act as if it was all innocent and that I was simply glad to see her. I pulled my
car up opposite to the vehicle she was in and called to her. When she saw me her face brightened and she leapt
from the car. She came running across to me. I told her I had just wanted to see her. She asked me to wait for a
minute and ran back to the other vehicle at which point it simply drove away. She returned to me, walked to the
other side of the car and hopped in. She looked at me with her great big eyes that I loved so much and with
genuine affection asked me if I had come all the way just to see her. The question surprised me because I had
often driven long distances to see her. I did not miss the point however; she was asking me if I really cared for
her. I told her that it was never a problem to come and see her and then asked her about the man in the car. She
told me that it was simply a friend. He had wanted to take her out and she had agreed but turned him down when
she had seen me. We talked for some time and then I mapped out my plan for her and myself over the next week.
The following Saturday evening there was to be an evangelistic youth rally at one of our denominational
churches. I asked her if she would attend it with me. The following Tuesday I had a day off and I asked her if
she would go to the beach with me. Then on the next Thursday the biggest event in our city’s international
history was to take place. It was the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth
Games are of course an Olympic-style games program that is held for members and past members of the British
commonwealth of nations. From the beginning of our friendship, Kaye had expressed her desire to attend the
opening ceremony. My roster meant that I was able to take her. With excitement she agreed to attend all three
events with me – the youth rally, the trip to the beach, and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.
When the evening of the youth service arrived I proceeded with enormous anticipation to Kaye's
apartment where I was to pick her up. We travelled together to the church, talking quite happily as we went. The
service was good and there was a strong evangelistic appeal at the end. I hoped with every part of my being that
Kaye would make some kind of a move. She did not.
On the way home I eventually asked her what she thought of the evening. She replied very negatively. I
was intrigued to find out why. Her response was that she felt that the preacher had told her everything that was
wrong with her life and she did not like it. Together we spoke of God's love for her, of his plan for her, of the
effect of sin in her life. The time passed quickly and before I knew it we were sitting in the driveway to her unit
and having the deepest conversation we had ever had. Finally I told her I was not going to push anything on her
she did not want and that I wanted her to think about it for herself. She looked at me again with those deep green
eyes and told me she wanted to believe but didn't know if she could. I told her I would see her Tuesday and we
would talk some more.
It was then that it happened. I leaned over to kiss her good night. When our lips met, I felt more
desperately in love with her than I knew it was possible for any one to feel for another human being. I held her
hand for a moment, touched her face and wished for Tuesday to come the next morning.
The following day was a Sunday; Kaye went to visit her mother that day. That in itself was an unusual
thing. She had not spoken to her mother properly in a long time, at least as far as I knew. When I saw her the
following Tuesday she told me that she and her mother had patched things up and she had a wonderful time with
On that Sunday my friend caught up with me. He and Dianne, who were now engaged, wanted to come
with us to the beach the following Tuesday. I felt uneasy about it, seeing the importance of what I wished to talk
with Kaye about, but with reluctance I agreed to let them come. That evening they agreed to go to church with
me. Following that service my friend and Dianne had an argument. At the time, I did not know what it was about
but I found out later it was a result of Dianne expressing her desire to respond to the gospel message she had
Tuesday morning arrived, September 28 1982. I awoke and knelt beside my bed to pray. As I prayed I
knew that the day ahead would be one of the most important days of my life. I again expressed my wish that
Kaye would be saved. I spoke to God of my desire to marry her. I felt him ask me if I wanted her saved for her
benefit and the glory of God or my own benefit. I wrestled with that idea. Finally I deliberately prayed that if
God would bring Kaye to Himself even if I never saw her again I would be happy. I prepared to leave. On my
way out of the house I told my mother to pray for me for this was to be a very important day. She told me she
would be praying.
My friend and I met and went to pick the girls up together. After they were in the car my friend informed
me that he and Dianne needed to go into the city to a clinic to pick up some test results. They assured me that it
would only take a few minutes. We were held up more than two hours. I began to be frustrated. I wanted to
spend the whole day on the beach with Kaye and every moment we wasted was more time that was lost. Finally
about 11 o'clock we were on our way.
The day before had been Kaye's birthday. I had gone and bought her a present that I felt expressed my
affection for her. I had placed it in the glove box and waited for the right moment to give it to her. I told her it
was there. She opened it slowly and took out the small stuffed dog that was there. She looked at it and cuddled it
to herself, gave a sigh and scratched it on the head. That image is burned into my mind, for it is the last memory
I have of Kaye Marie Dobson or of her sister Dianne.
About forty five minutes later, as we were driving up the freeway about 30 km from home the rear tire
of my vehicle exploded and threw the car into a skid. The car went into a large ditch that separated the north
bound from the south bound lanes. The car rolled over. Neither Kaye nor her sister was wearing a seatbelt. They
were thrown from the car and both died of head injuries. My neck was broken in two places, three ribs were
broken, a lung was punctured, my arm was broken and I had multiple cuts and bruises on my face and head. My
friend walked from the wreck almost without a scratch.
My first recollection was the hospital emergency room. It was there I asked that question. It was then the
real nightmare began.
The following days were a continuation of the confusion and pain first experienced in the emergency
room. Only one incident can I recall from that time. I was being taken to the operating theatre in preparation for
surgery to place me in the necessary traction to allow for the healing process to take place upon my broken neck.
I was aware of medical personnel around me and somebody informing me that my neck was broken. I recall
having the presence of mind to wriggle my toes to determine whether or not I was a quadriplegic. A wave of
relief flooded my tortured mind as I felt my toes move the sheet that I was under. I then lapsed into
unconsciousness again. From this state I only woke for short blurred periods of time. Those times were filled
with so much agony I cannot begin to describe it. The agony was only minimized by repeated shots of pethidine,
after which I invariably slept.
The drugs I was on maintained an existence in which I was hardly even aware of night and day. I was
occasionally aware that my mother or other relatives were with me but I do not recall anything but a blur of time.
I was in this state for about three days before the reality of all that had happened began to sink into my
nightmare. I remember coming to the conclusion that this was not a dream from which I would wake and that I
was going to have to deal with it eventually.
For four weeks I was strapped to a bed filled with grief unable to do anything but look at the ceiling or
floor. I was in a rotating bed that they would turn me in to avoid bed sores. The process of being turned was
enormously painful and I begged for them not to do it.
It was during this time that the first challenges to all that I had understood about God began. Well-
meaning friends would visit me and with the best of intentions tell me that God loved me, had a plan for my life
and that everything would work out well in the end. They often quoted that famous scripture that people use in
times of trouble, Romans 8:28. "We know that in all things God works for the good of those that love Him, who
have been called according to His purpose." (NIV) They would tell me of Job and what God had done for him.
In my mind I could only ask, "What kind of God kills people for another's good." It seemed to me that
God had become an arbitrary judge of who deserved favour and who did not. My heart began to grow cold again.
Finally the day came when I was taken from my bed to the plaster department of the hospital. It was
such an exciting day as I was given my freedom by being encased in a plaster tomb. From my head to my hips I
was covered in plaster. There was a space for my face and that was all. In an air-conditioned hospital I did not
foresee the weeks of stinking humidity and heat that I would endure as I faced a long, hot sub-tropical summer
encased in plaster in our un-air-conditioned home. There were eight weeks of the worst discomfort of my life
ahead of me.
What was hardest about this time was the feeling of being trapped when all I wanted to do was get away
by myself, sit down and weep about what had happened. Instead I could not go anywhere on my own. I could
not be free to just deal with my emotional pain. I was both trapped in my agony and reminded of it every
waking second of those weeks. My heart grew more cold, but worse was yet to come.
I could not wait for the day when my plaster would come off and I could return to my police training. At
least I could put what had happened into a different perspective by immersing myself in my studies. As
December passed slowly and Christmas neared, the day of my release drew closer. I contacted the police
academy and was assured that I would enter into the course again in February, once I had gained a medical
clearance. Then another fateful day arrived.
The door bell rang. A detective was there to ask questions about my accident. When he finished, he
informed me that it was standard procedure that when an individual was involved in a fatal auto accident they
would be charged with "Dangerous Driving causing death," an offence that carried a maximum sentence of
seven years imprisonment. He gave me the name of a good solicitor (lawyer) and told me that it would not likely
proceed very far at all.
A couple of days later two uniformed police officers were standing at my door asking to be let in. Once
inside they informed me that I was being discharged from the police academy because I had been charged with
an offence. They told me that it was standard procedure. I protested that I had been told that it was not likely to
proceed very far. They told me that when the charges had been dealt with I would be free to reapply.
I was shattered. Now it was complete; everything that had any meaning for me was gone completely. I
felt anger towards God rise within me. Bitterness began to consume my life. I felt that there was nothing left to
live for. If I was not certain that damnation would be the result I could have easily taken my own life. I looked at
my rifle on many occasions. I even loaded it a couple of times. It seemed almost attractive to finish it once and
for all. God was out to get me. He had designed my life as something he could play with and destroy for his
amusement. I would not give him that pleasure. I could take my own life.
The waiting process for my court appearance began. Life was now only existence. There was nothing to
enjoy. My twenty-first birthday came a few days after my plaster was removed. Neither of these events gave me
any more than the smallest amount of release from the agony of regret and the cruel bitterness of anticipation. I
was caught between two horrors, past tragedies and future fears. They worked together relentlessly to create a
present hell. I was, in those days, nothing more than a dead man walking. I had no life; I had no hope.
The months began to grind past. Each day was an eternity. With no work to keep my mind occupied I
sank deeper and deeper into despair. My parents and family tried to encourage me to seek other distractions.
They suggested holidays, hobbies, finding new friends. I could think of no reason to try and make my life
bearable. God had chosen to destroy me; it was folly to attempt to resist. I had only one reason for attempting to
maintain a relationship with him. He was my only hope in my upcoming trial.
With the passing months came visits to solicitors and barristers (trial lawyers). My solicitor was an
elderly man approaching retirement. He looked at my case and made a commitment to ensuring that the charges
would be dropped or I would be found not guilty. It was his faith in my innocence that gave me my only
assurance. I felt guilty. I had been driving; I was meant to be in control. If I had not been driving, if it had not
been my car then perhaps the accident would not have happened. I almost felt as if I deserved to go to prison, but
I was terrified by the prospect.
Following the charges being laid I had no desire to pursue any kind of life for myself. Within two or
three months a committal hearing was set for the Caboolture Magistrates court. It was simply a hearing to
determine Prima Facia evidence sufficient for a trial to be set. The magistrate determined that there was and a
trial date followed. It was set for September, almost a whole year after the accident.
As days passed it became increasingly apparent that I was going to need to find new employment. I did
not wish to return to the driving of general cartage transport trucks as I had done prior to entering the police
force. I felt I wanted to find a potentially new career. An advertisement caught my attention and I began training
as a used car salesman.
When the final week before the trial arrived it was filled with increased visits to the solicitor’s office.
My family home was feeling the tension. There was a very deep feeling of sickness in the pit of my stomach. I
did not know if, come the end of the following week, the only thing I had left in the world, my freedom, would
be taken from me. I was sure in light of all that had happened that it would be. I pleaded with God not to let me
be found guilty but I did not think that he was really listening to me. After all, he had done so much to get me
into this position in the first place why would he change now?
It was Friday afternoon; the court case was set for the coming Monday. My solicitor and barrister were
involved in pre-trial briefing. At nine o'clock the following Monday morning I was to sit before twelve peers and
my life would once again be turned upside down. At around 5 o'clock that Friday evening the phone rang. It was
my solicitor. When I answered it I instantly noted a jubilation in his voice. He told me that the prosecuting
barrister had reviewed the evidence that day and recommended the charges be dropped in light of limited and
insufficient evidence to proceed with the trial.
I could not believe it. I could begin after almost twelve months to put my life back together. It was the
first time I had known any release in the last year. I was actually happy. Instead of responding to God for his
hand in that decision I felt relieved that I no longer had to live a charade. In the days that followed that news I
gave up trying to keep my spiritual life alive. I threw myself into my new job and all the activities of revelry that
went along with it. It seemed to me that the best way to deal with the hurt and bitterness was to live life for the
Alcohol became my sedative for the emotional pain, marijuana became my stimulant for joy, sex
became my replacement for love and acceptance. After some months of successful car selling and some good
pay checks, a friend and I moved into a luxury apartment in a high rise building in the centre of the city. We had
one mandate: live it up.
In the middle of all this the pain just grew greater, the sadness more intense, the bitterness more
complete. I could not adequately describe the sense of lostness in those days. I knew that my every move was
wrong but there was not one fibre of my being that cared.
It was then that God began the process of bringing me to Himself. One evening following a long day on
the used car lot a number of us went to one of the local football clubs to have a few drinks. I was elected to drive
and so was to refrain from too much consumption of alcohol. I had a few beers. When we came to leave the
place we were immediately followed by a motorcycle police officer. He pulled the car over and had me blow
into the device they use for determining drunk drivers. I went over the limit. The trip to the police station and the
embarrassment of the proceedings began to work in my mind.
I became depressed in the days that followed. The guilt of my life style was beginning to catch up to me.
My ability to sell cars vanished. I had no money and could not afford to buy anything to help me keep my
conscience at bay. One evening as I prepared for bed, stone cold sober, my mind began to work through all that I
had done and all that I was becoming. In that moment I felt the presence of Jesus Christ enter my room more
powerfully than I ever had before or since. I heard him say, "I want you back." I replied, "How can I, after all I
have done and after all I have hated you over." He simply repeated that he wanted me back. I felt his arms enfold
me. I knelt beside my bed, I repented of all that I had done and asked for his forgiveness. In that moment I
discovered the "Heart of God."
Chapter 4 - Living in the Heart of God
Right behind home plate, about 10 rows back, one of my closest friends, his daughter, three year old son
and I sat watching the Texas Rangers play in a regular season home game. We were at The Ball Park in
Arlington, Texas. This was probably my fifth or sixth occasion to witness a major league baseball game. This
day, however, for an almost bizarre reason, would mark a significant moment for me. In it I would recognize the
transition that has taken place in my understanding of how I see myself in relationship to God and his love.
It was around the sixth inning. Don, my close friend, had taken his son to the bathroom. A batter was at
the plate. I have no idea who it was now and at the time I remember wishing I had taken note for as he swung he
tipped a fly fowl up over his head. It shot like a rocket almost 20 feet above our heads and continued on its path
toward the upper deck. I watched with a level of excitement as it disappeared and wondered who might catch it
and what that person may have to do to take a hold of it. At that point it cannoned into the safety rail above us. It
shot back over our heads and proceeded towards the seats about three rows in front of us. However, as it was
beginning its downward descent I could see that, while its trajectory would take it well clear of our reach, it was
definitely coming in our direction. I remembered thinking, “this ball is mine.” It shot back over us and struck,
with some force, the seats about three rows in front. It ricocheted from the seats and came back at us like a shot
from a gun, with as much noise. I stuck out my left hand just above my head, my left unprotected hand I may
add, and it was at that time that my years of back yard cricket, as a child, returned instinctively to me. The ball
struck the palm of my hand and my fingers closed softly but safely around it. I had it. It was mine. As fast as I
could I stuck the ball in my jacket pocket and sat down as if nothing had happened. My plan at that point was to
act the uneducated child of the cricket world and as we were leaving the park nonchalantly pull the ball from my
pocket and say to Don, “I caught this ball; where should I go to give it back?” In cricket an entire game is played
with one ball and no one ever keeps the ball if they catch it. However as soon as he returned to the seat the
gentlemen behind me with childish glee reported the incident - much to my dismay.
With my ruse ruined I was left to contemplate this unusual event. It said something to me about me and
my life. In my teenage years my perspective on the world was summed up with one little personal catch phrase.
“If anything can go wrong it will go wrong for me.” It was the way I viewed the world. That idea dominated my
perspective of myself, my God and my circumstances.
This chance event in the ball park, and I do mean chance, said something to me about the changes that
God had worked in my life. My lifelong negative perspective had been through significant modification. I was
overjoyed with the evidence that good things could, by chance, happen to me just as bad things can. The fact is,
in life we live with a remarkable degree of chance. Things happen, good things and bad things. With six billion
people in the world there is a lot of opportunity for good and bad to happen.
Many times as a way of reflecting our spirituality and our confidence in the sovereignty of God we may
say something like, “I do not believe in luck, I only believe in blessing.” We think by saying such things we are
affirming the reality of God’s sovereignty over the universe. In fact, we reaffirm a sense of the world seeking
balance in line with what we perceive as God’s justice. Control is the negation of love. To have a God who
arbitrarily does good and bad to people to fit some divine sense of justice is to negate any chance of him being a
loving God. Why? Because to love is to express worth. The more we see our lives as simply pawns on a galactic
chess board or a sentence in the cosmic narrative the less we see our lives as individually valuable. The less we
value our own lives, the less possible it is in reality to value God and hence to love him. A deep sense of worth
born from an understanding of our standing before God is imperative to life, happiness and capacity to
experience freedom. The Bible and all its expressions of God’s love for us become a mockery if God is simply
toying with our lives for his own ultimate end. We are not valuable – his plan is! We are merely a small part of
that plan. Yes, I believe God has a plan for our lives but that cannot be contradictory to love. His plan for us is
precisely found in the vagaries of life, the good and the bad and the capacity for love to be brought to the fore in
me so that “in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:17). So I believe in this gloriously chaotic universe where
chance events rumble through our lives, some good and some bad but in the end in all of them I can find love
working in me and God declaring “I love you”! Can God step into our lives and challenge circumstances or
direct us to make a wiser choice? Absolutely, but that is not his preoccupation, you and I are. A supposed
arbitrary plan, God’s battle against evil, is not his focus – you and I are. These ideas can take a long time for us
to grasp, reflect on and make our own, but they are essential if we are going to ultimately experience genuine
peace and freedom.
So I caught a ball, “luck” transpired and a baseball landed in my hand against the odds. So what? The
fact is in that moment I felt like a giddy school boy who just experienced a moment of fabulous achievement.
Deep within, while I kept a straight face so as to appear in control, I was leaping and laughing and enjoying life.
God was not conspiring against me or forcing things to happen for my benefit, a wonderful moment had just
occurred and I was free to enjoy it, not to second guess it. It was a little while before I recognized how naturally
and completely the joy I felt reflected where I was in my relationship with God. For almost 20 years God had
been working within me to change my mind so I could simply enjoy him. In the past when good things would
happen I would suck the life out of those moments by wondering what evil God would send to restore balance to
my world. When ill would occur I would recognize it as proof that God ultimately saw me as a pawn on his
chess board to be used for some greater good, and that unknown good would be best served by my experience of
misery. Perhaps God was teaching me how to smile through misery so that he could hold me up as an example
of what he could do in an individual’s life. That seemingly lofty ideal is rank with a reflection of my
understanding that I am a secondary purpose to God. My value is far behind the value of his plan. However, God
worked a miracle, a series of miracles really, and took me down a long road to a moment when I would face
another incredibly difficult time and be able to joyously anticipate discovering him in the middle of it.
Don’t miss my point here in thinking that I have become egocentric, seeing myself at the center of God’s
will and the world spinning around me. In fact the exact opposite is true. What I have discovered is simply the
joy of living life knowing that my relationship with my Eternal Father is the most significant thing in my life and
he loves me with a love I cannot fully grasp. I do not have to earn that love or perform to be adequate for that
love. He loves me. He loves me no more or less than anyone else but he does love me and I am more important
to him than I can ever fully imagine.
There are four most significant moments in my life that stand out from all the others in the miracle of
God unfolding the truth of his love for me. The first occurred while I was still in college training to be a pastor.
Following my return to God by a prayer beside my bed my life circumstances changed fairly quickly. That
prayer took place on a Saturday evening. The following evening I was in church sealing that prayer. At the
conclusion of the service, I stood, walked to the front in the time honored fashion of evangelical churches, knelt
at the wooden rail we call an altar and before my family and friends declared openly my decision to follow
Christ with my whole life. By the end of that week I had returned to live at home with my parents. I had left my
job selling vehicles and begun working with my former employer in a car wholesale business. Within a couple of
months I left that behind, too, and started college to study for pastoral ministry. Within a few days a beautiful
young lady had caught my eye. Her name was Cheryl and after just a few conversations we knew that we would
spend the rest of our lives on this journey of the discovery of the “Heart of God” together. We were married in
November of that first year of college after an eight month courtship.
Life appeared wonderful. It had all the marks of the prodigal son come home and I was living in the
banquet. It seemed that this was the perfect fairy tale. The pain and frustration of life was now being balanced
out with the happy ending. Now for the rest of my life I could serve God and do his will and be rewarded with
happiness and success.
It didn’t last long. Things were going well educationally, our marriage was happy and fulfilling, but
deep within me there was still a problem. There was a sense of need; something was not right within. I had
grown up in a holiness church. It is part of our understanding of God that his desire is to fill his people with his
Spirit and that would be reflected in a life of love. Theologically we have called that experience entire
sanctification. We believe that God can cleanse our hearts of carnality, our inclination toward evil, and that we
can serve him with our whole lives out of hearts made pure in love. I knew that was what I desired more than
anything. I began to pray. I began to wonder if such an encounter with God was truly available for everyone. I
decided that I still had my distorted ego at the center of my world and I wanted to be all that God could make
me. I wanted to be worthy of all that he had done for me. I prayed, I read both the Bible and everything I could
get my hands on both theologically and experientially of this experience called entire sanctification, the deeper
life, Christian perfection. The more I read, the more I felt empty and distant from God. I became more deeply
miserable in those days than I had been in a long time. I prayed this prayer, “God I am not sure of anything
really but what I want is to know you as deeply as I can. Perhaps there is nothing more in this life, but if there is,
show me the way you see me and show me what you can do in me.” God answered that prayer. I saw myself
from the perspective of a holy loving God. I saw myself as self-motivated, egocentric, grabbing and self-
protective. It shocked me, what I saw! I wondered if God could even love me the way I was, let alone transform
me. He could do both. After six weeks of genuine emotional and spiritual agony I rose one evening in a special
combined church service just to declare my confidence that God was working in my life. In the next few minutes
I publicly confessed how deeply self-centered I was and how I longed for God to do something deep within. I sat
down and felt humiliated, empty and alone. Those gathered at that meeting that evening only seemed to say to
me afterwards, “at least you are reflecting honesty.” However, I knew deep within that I was no longer a fake; I
knew that I could not be more honest with myself, with God or with other people. I knew that if my life could be
transformed there was nothing left I could do, I was empty. Two days later, at around 11:40 am on January 28
1986, God stepped out from behind a tree while I was mowing the campus lawn. He walked up to me, tapped me
on the shoulder and asked this question that would change my life forever. “Roland, do you really want to be
entirely sanctified?” I simply replied, “yes”. In that second it was as if I was standing in a flood of God’s love as
it poured out from heaven and washed over my life. In my mind I experienced something like a mental white
out. It was as if there was an explosion. I lost sight of the physical world around me as if blinded by a light. It
lasted for perhaps a micro-second but was very real. I left the lawn mower, turned toward my apartment where
my wife was and began to run. As I ran I heard the voice of God echoing deep within my heart, “preach
holiness.” As I ran I prayed, “I will if you will teach me how to in a language that people can understand.” I
arrived at the back door, flung it open and ran to my wife shouting, “God has just sanctified me.”
As compelling and wonderful as this transformational encounter with God was, it didn’t fix my world.
Within a couple of years of that date I was pastoring a little country church in south central Queensland. It was
both a wonderful and terrible experience. We saw lives touched and hearts changed but at the same time it
brought me face to face with my weaknesses over and over again. After three years we were given the
opportunity of pastoring a larger church on the coast. We took it, certain that we would have the chance to build
a family and a church at the same time and enjoy the challenges of pastoring a growing and exciting church. Our
first daughter was born while we pastored that first church. Kaylah was the answer to many tearful prayers while
we faced the possibility of infertility. In our second church in Maryborough, Queensland we enjoyed the
wonders of living on the coast in a small rural city with wonderful weather and wonderful people. We dreamed
of living our whole lives there. The church was growing, people’s lives were being touched, three more children,
Jonathan, Braden, and Tylah were born in the hospital less than a hundred yards from our front door. It seemed
things were going well. However, it was not fast enough. I was planning and strategizing the development of a
church that could radically touch people’s lives. I had begun to think through the issues of how the love of God
affects our psyche. In fact I even began to write this book at that point. However, nothing I did seemed to deal
with the deep soul emptiness that I experienced every day. I felt like I could never be good enough. Every
negative word I heard addressed toward me would draw a deep anger from within. I felt morose most of the
time. I would laugh from time to time but it always felt fake. I watched while people’s lives were actually being
transformed by my ministry but never felt I was good enough. Deep within my heart I cried out to be loved.
Nothing touched the core of my being. I knew my wife loved me but it never seemed that she could express it
adequately or in enough quantity to overcome my doubt about its veracity. While there was every reason to be
happy I never felt I had done enough to deserve happiness. My home began to fill daily with the sounds of
arguments as conflict broke out constantly with my wife. Each time that happened I felt disingenuous to say the
least. I would be preaching Sundays and running bible studies centered on love but during the week I would let
fly with all my frustrations at my wife. I watched while she turned from a wide-eyed beautiful woman into an
android that functioned without emotion each day.
One day in the midst of an argument where I was trying to communicate my needs to her I let fly with
this statement, “I don’t know if I love you anymore.” It broke her heart and shattered her world. She walked
from the room, packed her bags, grabbed our children and left. I wondered for hours where she was until I got a
call from my mother saying that she had turned up at their home and that she really didn’t want to speak to me. I
felt more empty, more alone, more lost, more worthless. The thought that this was my lot in life began to ring in
my ears. It seemed to me that life had brought me to where God wanted me: lost, lonely and empty. That was
where he tried to take me with the accident and that was where he had brought me now. Deep down something
was still driving me on. I could not give up and just stop; I had to keep going. A day or so later I heard from
Cheryl. She was with my mother at her mother’s home in Sydney about 800 miles from my home. They had
decided to spend the week together doing this trip. We talked and I apologized and told her I did in fact love her
and that I wanted her and the children home; I would be different. She returned in a week or so and I stuffed my
feelings down even deeper. I don’t recall our home being a happy place at that time but we didn’t argue so much.
I guess I just buried what I was really feeling. That was the second of those events that were conspiring to bring
about a transformation of grace in my psyche.
In the next few months an opportunity began to develop for me. The international General Assembly for
our denomination was taking place in Indianapolis in the US. A number of events conspired together to allow me
the opportunity to attend. I made contact with some friends who lived in California and we decided to meet up
following the assembly at the first ever 50,000 man conference of Promise Keepers in Boulder, Colorado. About
a month before I was to depart, a book turned up in the mail. The book, “We are Driven, the Compulsions
America Applauds”, by Frank Minirth and Paul Meier, sat on my desk for days silently inviting me to read it. I
didn’t know where it had come from or who sent it to me. In fact it was probably a year after I read it that I
recalled a conversation that had happened some six months earlier when a friend had recommended it to me. I
didn’t open it; it just sat there. However, when I came to take my trip I tossed it into my carry-luggage. As I
departed from the Brisbane International airport, I looked across the tarmac to the departure lounge where my
wife and young family were waving farewell. I was impressed with how much I wanted to be able to express my
love for them and in particular my wife. I wrote in my journal:
“July 18 1993, 6:17 A.M. Brisbane.
Farewells have been said, midst held back tears. The two most beautiful children in the world and the
most wonderful wife now turn toward their own eminent departure. I wait alone in my seat, 43A,
preparing for a life-changing journey. The cabin fills with expectant people as they joyously embark on
their own tours of fascination.
What secrets do they hold? What fears do they conceal? Where are they headed? I do not know. Truly,
at this moment, I do not care.
I have left behind the hectic world of a desperate individual. The battles against insecurities and never
ending fears are behind me for the next 22 days. My desire is that they would be behind me forever. I do
not know what is before me today or the weeks ahead. I know, whatever will come, I want to change. I
want to throw off the heavy yoke of my drivenness and take upon myself the “yoke that is easy”, “the
burden that is light.” To help me do that I will endeavor to keep this “journal of change.”
My deepest desire is to give my wonderful wife the gift she deserves: A husband free of a personality
driven by a desire for acceptance. I promised her something special when I return - for sure that would
Over the next few weeks as I read from that book I came to understand the power of shame that works in
our lives. Shame often masks itself as guilt; it is the feeling deep within us that things are not right, that we as
individuals are not right. Shame develops early in life as a reflection of our incompleteness, a result of coming
into this world without the necessary relationship with our creator. We interpret life through a shame filter. Pain,
abandonment, abuse, unhappy childhoods, tragedy are all interpreted as confirmation of what our shame tells us
about ourselves. By the time we become adults we all have developed certain coping mechanisms in response to
our pain. For me, as for many, my drivenness was the response of my psyche to that shame. If I worked hard
enough, if I could just do enough, then I could, myself, overcome that inner sense. It never worked.
For most of us the core of our shame can be located around one idea or event – a crystallizing, if you
like, of all that we feel about ourselves into a central emotional locale. It can be helpful for us to discover that
source so we can apply God’s truth to the lies that seep from that place. It does not mean that the core issue from
which the others flow is the problem; it simply locates the most powerful lies at work in our minds that keep
God’s love from truly working healing. For me as I sat in another airport during the three weeks of this trip it
finally occurred to me what that locale was. I had grown up in the church. The church was the most significant
influence in my life beyond my family. It had always been a part of my family’s identity. It was a part of mine. I
could only be a valuable person if I was instrumental in bringing the church to success in Australia. My worth
was directly related to my place, acceptance and position in the church. I was finally able to recognize that for
what it was. I let go of it and for the first time I felt love begin to heal the depth of my shame. It had been such a
long process of struggle that the letting it go seemed relatively easy; however I am certain that this is rarely true.
You see, the thing from which we most significantly draw our sense of worth or identity is in truth our god. No
god apart from God can, in fact, adequately love us. Those things will inevitably heighten our shame. If it is our
careers that are our greatest source of identity we will give ourselves at the expense of all else to that career and
never feel good enough. There are so many places, sources and experiences that we create as our source of
identity that it would be impossible to adequately list them. However, think of the thing that most upsets you
when it is not the way you perceive it should be and you will be getting close to the source of shame in your life.
This now brings me to the final of those life-changing experiences. It did not take place in a moment but
spans a number of years culminating in a moment of awareness of the grace of God with which I have nothing to
compare. It began in the sixth year of being the pastor of our church in Maryborough. I received an email that
was quite aggressively worded and was the culmination of a series of emails that had been going back and
forward that had begun with a simple comment reflecting my understanding of certain issues. In that email a few
negative and hurtful remarks were made about my wife. For the previous four years, ever since I had returned
from my life-changing trip to the US, I had been learning how to effectively love and value my wife. I had in
fact given her a new husband. I had learned to not reflect my own sense of inadequacy with cutting and critical
comments. I had learned how to value her thoughts, ideas and communications. I had learned how to open my
heart to her and let her see the treasured place that she held in my heart. As time went on, it seemed that Cheryl
began to more deeply trust the reflection of her worth to me. Then with this email she embarked on her own
journey of discovery. The email seemed to shake her emotionally to the core. It became a focus point for her.
She began to rehearse the assessments of her as if they were completely true and defined her existence. At the
same time she became extremely angry and defensive. It felt as if she was being sucked into a predetermined
vortex of depression and defeat. Those few statements that reflected negatively on the most importance sources
of her sense of worth led in a few short weeks to a deep state of depression in her. The events of the next few
weeks are complex and could require many pages in their own right to describe. In the end I would probably end
up adding little to what the reader would gain from this recounting. I would probably succeed in only a process
of catharsis for myself. To avoid that I need to condense the events of that time into a few statements as they
relate most to my own journey.
In one of those “chance” moments (and in this moment I very clearly see the hand of God) I happened to
discover a denominational chat page on the internet. There I met an individual that was to become a lifetime
friend, confidant and partner in the application of the truths that I had been discovering. Brad Mercer is his name
and he is the co-author of this book. I have no friend that is closer to me. We would write on that chat board
about our dreams and desires for the church, we would talk about the principles of grace and how they ought to
be applied to the church and we would encourage each other to believe that God could still build his church and
use grace – just grace – to do it. After one post that I had made, Brad replied enthusiastically, if not
prophetically, “man I would follow you off a cliff! We aren’t going off a cliff, are we?” In the years to follow,
we would run directly off that cliff and even as I write, I presume we are still falling.
Our conversation ended with us “putting our money where our mouth is.” I moved my family from our
church in Maryborough to Dallas and eventually to far north Dallas, in what was then the small town of Frisco.
Together the Mercers and the Hearns planted a church. The eleven of us – four adults and seven children – were
joined by three others: Nita, Darrell and Steve. Around this group we dared to believe that God could plant a
church that would be committed to the idea that “love must be enough.”
Not long after we began, we felt the full impact of the course that began with that email that had hurt my
wife so deeply. Deep emotional wounds that my wife had carried her whole life, wounds that had remained
buried deep within, began to come to the surface. It is impossible in this forum to fully express the depth of pain
into which we sunk together in those days. In the middle of a situation that should be so filled with excitement
and joy my wife began to come face to face with unbearable pain. Much of that pain had been, while buried at
the time, multiplied by the way I had related to her in the first seven years of our marriage. Eventually she
declared that life felt to her like one morning she woke up, she was a pastor’s wife, had four children, was living
in a foreign country and she had chosen none of it. She emphatically proclaimed that she didn’t want to live a lie
any longer and she wanted out of our marriage.
While facing the stress and uncertainty of how to best go about planting a church with seven adults and
seven children I was now facing the reality of losing my family, which would in turn ruin my career, which in
turn would prove my worthlessness. I would return to Australia a beaten failure, separated from my wife and
children and with no dream left to live. One evening my mind let go and I found myself being admitted to a
psych ward. Life could get no worse. It felt exactly to me like the world had felt in the days and weeks following
Kaye’s death. At that time I had lost the person closest to me, my career, my dream and my hope of proving that
my life was worth something. I was faced with the identical feelings, as life seemed to repeat itself. It occurred
to me that this event was making a mockery of all the processing my life had been through. I had come this great
journey of wrestling with my pain, my shame, my fears, my drivenness and now God had managed to take me
back to exactly the same life agony that he had brought me to in the past. Then a thought washed over my life.
While there were a lot of similarities in the results, perhaps the truth was in what it said to me about the deepest
place from which I, even still, gained my sense of self-worth. After all these years I had not managed to discover
any noticeable difference in the way I deal with my deepest struggles. That could mean only one of two things.
These two ideas are mutually exclusive; we must choose between them if we are ever going to understand how
love and pain can dance together. The first is that God is unable or unwilling to truly touch our lives; that his
work is a superficial facade to cover what is going on in our lives so that he can use us “for his glory.” The
second possibility is that he truly can transform us at the very core of our beings and that I had simply not yet
allowed him to go that deep in my life. I sat and thought about all the devices I had used to control my life and
my sense of self and I made a decision. I penned in my journal, “God’s love must be enough.” It occurred to me
that the former idea was not worth building a life around and if it was true, then life truly was not worth living.
That is ultimately contradictory of the revelation of God that is in Christ and in his Word. If the latter is true, he
was able to address that issue in me and heal even me. At that point I decided that if I returned to Australia
alone, a failure and without a future, God’s love still had to reach me even there. He had to be enough for that set
of circumstances as well. If he could not be enough for that then in truth he could not be enough for anything. A
peace flooded my life, a sense of joy and hope returned and I knew beyond any doubt at all that my hope rested
in him. I could declare with Paul the apostle, “I (my identity and all the things that I have used to define it) have
been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (He is the source of my understanding of
the world and of myself). The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave
himself for me (His love is enough for all that life brings)” (Gal 2:20). My wife visited me in the psych ward that
day and I told her that I would let her go, that I knew how hard life had been for her and how traumatic the last
12 months had been as she tried to deal with it. If she needed my support in starting life all over again, then she
would have it. She didn’t leave. We began to work through the issues together, we planted the church, we
watched God use our pain to touch many lives. It was and still is “life in a miracle.” She began the difficult
process of redefining herself after God’s love and took the name Emmy. Our youngest child, Tylah, would say
“Emmy” when calling “Mommy”. It was who she wanted to be and it gave her a new sense of herself and her
A couple of years passed and the stress of starting a church, Emmy’s need to work two jobs to help
provide for the family in a struggling church financial situation, the pressure of being the worship leader,
mothering four children and of working through all that she had been through brought her to her own encounter
at the depth of her being with these truths. In the end however, Emmy was exhausted. We talked about it as a
family and with the church that was growing stronger every day through the principles of grace, and together we
worked out a way that she could return to Australia for 18 months to take a break and just restore. That is where
our lives are at the moment. I travel back and forward spending the majority of my time in Frisco but every few
months I am with my family. It is not perfect – far from it. We are near to the end of that time as I write this and
about to take on the next challenge. I can declare however that “love is enough.” It will be enough for our future
and it is enough even now.
In writing this book we set out to create a pragmatic work that would reflect as clearly as possible the
way that love effectively works in our lives. There are in fact great theological treatises that address the
theoretical constructs of “how and why” God works within us. Such works are essential for a well rounded
understanding of God and his grace. However, it would do well for us to recognize that in writing this we are
touching on some fairly important theological constructs. When we write about “sanctification” we are dealing
with one of the great issues of debate within the church. That debate has existed from the first century of the
church. Sanctification describes the concept of being made holy both before God and for his work. We, the
authors of this book, recognize that what is reflected by the idea of “God’s work” is the same thing as is intended
to be conveyed by the phrase “his grace.” His “work” is the expression of his love. To be “sanctified” is to be
remade in his image that we may have the capacity to adequately reflect his grace. As John the divine has said
“because as he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17)” What transpired for me on that day on the college
campus was an encounter with God that transformed my heart. In the theological construct of the Wesleyan
movement I would say on that day I was “entirely sanctified.” To adequately define that phrase is beyond the
scope of this work. Let me offer this definition for brevity: “entire sanctification is the act of God whereby in
response to our faith he becomes the very core of our being.” While this statement may be very inadequate in
fully embracing all that is intended to be conveyed by the idea of entire sanctification, this is the issue most
fundamental to an understanding of all that God can do in our lives and ultimately through our lives. The process
of encountering God in the following years represents not more of the same in terms of God’s work in my life
but the impact of that initial encounter working its way through my psyche and my emotions. The idea of “living
in the Heart of God” captures for me the full range of all that God does in our lives to bring us from a moment of
surrender to his love to adequate reflections of his grace. It must include a transformed psyche.
“The Heart of God” has become, for me, a metaphor to describe my new understanding of his
motivation. In the weeks, months and years following my acceptance and embracing of his love, my life has
been an experience of constant refining. I sense I am being drawn ever more deeply to the goal of life. The goal
of life is to be in deep, intimate relationship with God, a relationship defined by love – his love for me and my
love for him. That love then becomes the context in which I experience love for others, my family first, and then
my church and different individuals that I am privileged to encounter in my journey. God is motivated by his
love. As I know him and grow to understand him more, I am increasingly motivated the same way. In effect I am
being embraced by his heart.
Chapter 5 - The Happiness Quotient
I made the transition from a child to a man in the 1970’s. The 70’s were a time of ongoing cultural
transition. The fermentation of that time created an environment in which the popular media reflected my own
personal struggle. It was easy for me to enjoy singing along with the popular band known as the Eagles when
they sang about “Life in the Fast Lane.” A cursory look at this song gives an initial sense that it is simply a
glorification of “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” As you listen more closely, though, you find a poetic expression
of the primary struggle of life. You see a picture of a couple blessed with physical beauty. The extent to which
they are enamored by each other’s beauty is exceeded only by their self-admiration. They throw themselves into
a lifestyle in which the trading currency is beauty, by which they hope to buy fulfillment, and, I guess,
happiness. It’s a manic lifestyle designed to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. It is obvious as you listen,
though, that their currency is dwindling, pleasure is waning, and the price increasing. We finally come to a line
in the song that declares: “They went rushing down that freeway, messed around and got lost, they didn’t care,
they were just dying to get off.” With this line, the authors express a view of life that many of us have
experienced. Our deepest, highest efforts, no matter how passionate, fun-filled, desperate or determined, lead to
a sense of lostness and hopelessness.
I am convinced that the struggle portrayed in that song is in fact the fruitless search for self-worth. Put
simply, self-worth is knowing I am valuable. The best source of that knowledge is not immediately apparent. For
those blessed with it, physical beauty might seem an appropriate foundation for that knowledge. Beauty is
certainly valued highly by our culture. Those who don’t have an abundant supply of that gift will probably look
elsewhere. As you take your commute to work in the morning, you will see a myriad of faces endeavoring to
find the solution in their employment. The creative among us may seek it in popular approval for their creations.
Many will spend years in the valuable pursuit of education, but as an end in itself, rather than a means. In recent
years extreme sports have proliferated and become ever more extreme. We want to find an area in which we are
confident that we will find approval, and we want that approval to be expressed by the way people relate to us.
No matter what form the search takes, the object of our search is the same. For significant portions of our lives,
most of us are unaware that we’re even engaged in such a search.
While the search continues, we may be left with an uncomfortable sense that we’re not quite getting
what we desire. Other experiences and events contradict the very best affirmations our search provides. There
are for some, times when these contradictions are so massive that they are left with a total sense of failure. No
matter whether the contradiction is small or great, we generally seek ways of ‘medicating’ the pain created by
that sense of contradiction. When I say ‘medication,’ I don’t necessarily mean pharmaceuticals, although
pharmaceuticals may serve that purpose for some. Our medications may be anything from our forms of
relaxation to a compulsive lifestyle.
The extent to which our affirmations appear successful, in opposition to the contradictions, is the extent
to which we experience happiness in life. It is from this concept that I developed what I have referred to as the
‘happiness quotient.’ Let me explain it this way:
Positive self-esteem affirmations
- Negative self-esteem detractors
As long as the result of that equation produces a positive answer we will be happy. The extent to which
it producers a negative result is the extent to which we will struggle with discouragement, despair and even
depression. It is apparent that life generally is the process of balancing these two competing forces. When we are
successful in that process, we are left with the sense that life is good. In returning to our Eagles song, the turning
point for the protagonists was the failure of beauty. This predicts the problem. No matter what our source of
affirmation is, every one of them ultimately is inadequate. It is inadequate because on the one hand it may be
taken away from us, as in wealth or career. On the other, it may prove insufficient for approval by others. For
example, suppose I devote my life to the pursuit of education. I may live with the fear of meeting someone more
I, Brad Mercer, the co-author of this book, remember encountering that fear. I have a master’s degree in
history, including two courses in Russian history. I remember being fresh out of graduate school, discovering
that a master’s degree in history wasn’t in great demand, and going to work in a department store. In that
environment, I was the most educated person in the department. My education became for me a source of value.
I remember being engaged in a discussion with the other clerks in the department about some point of Russian
history about which they had opinions. I was the expert, though. I was valuable because of my master’s degree.
At that moment, a customer entered the department and overheard our conversation. He said to me: “So you
know a lot about Russian history, do you?” Immediately, I was robbed of my sense of self-worth, and became
insecure and fearful. I knew I was being set up to be exposed as worthless, and I didn’t know how to avoid the
trap. I responded as guardedly as possible with some statement like: “well, I know whatever a couple of graduate
courses in Russian history can teach.” If I’m lucky, I thought, he’s got less expertise in the subject, and I haven’t
embarrassed myself. I wasn’t lucky. He had a doctorate in Russian history, taught at a local university, and had
been a consultant for the U.S. State Department. He knew vastly more than I did about our debate topic, and
disagreed with my contention, whatever it was. He pronounced judgment, smiled, and strolled on past us to
another part of the store. I was left standing there in the aisle, exposed to my co-workers as worthless on my own
If therefore, happiness is both a desirable and achievable goal, there of necessity must be a more secure
foundation for it. It is our contention that happiness is both desirable and achievable. It is at this point that the
dance of pain and love causes us to shift our focus. Our desire for worth is a genuine desire for love. No one
alive could honestly declare that they do not want love. It is pain that will first cause our search for love to
become tenuous or guarded. A small child in a safe environment does not consider either love or happiness to be
unreachable. Road-weary travelers in the latter years of life are often left disillusioned by the sense of futility.
For life to be truly good, it must be possible to arrive at the end of life engaged, joyful and sweet, instead of
disconnected or embittered. As pain causes our journey to become tenuous, it opens the possibility of seeing
something new. It is pain that causes us to recognize our sources of affirmation as inadequate. If the journey
continues beyond that point of recognition without a replacement source of value, we do become embittered.
Our one hope is at that point to find an objective and competent resource to supply what is lacking in our lives.
Step back with me now, and consider a moment in time – perhaps one of the most powerful moments in
human history. Here we find the greatest illustration of the way pain and love work together. I’m talking about a
moment just hours before Christ was crucified. We find him kneeling in a garden setting, weeping so deeply that
he has begun to bleed from the effort. He is aware that his life is coming to a close. That process is going to
involve excruciating agony, powerfully portrayed in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” See how Mark
describes these moments:
…he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. He said, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of
death…." He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the
awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Please take
this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." Mark 14:33-36 (NLT)
That final statement, “your will, not mine,” declares Jesus’ certainty that God’s will is good because his
will is love. God’s breaking heart is for humanity. Christ knows that his death brings ultimate life to all. His
immediate awareness is that this process involves great pain. The problem with pain is that it hurts. Like us all,
he wishes to avoid that. However, the glory and wonder of love is that it’s not diminished by the moments of
pain. In fact, as Christ understands, pain exposes and magnifies love. When Jesus declares, ‘your will, not mine’,
he is not articulating a distinction between God’s arbitrary will and his own desires; he is articulating his
recognition that in order for love to triumph, pain must not be evaded. So, because he is at one with the heart of
God, he will walk through the pain rather than around it or away from it. For to walk away from it, would be to
miss the essential ingredient for happiness: intimate relationship with God. If Christ’s death brings ultimate life
to all, then to walk away from the pain is to walk away from love.
Intimate relationship with God becomes an unshakable foundation for a sense of self. God, the creator of
the universe, says, “I love you and you are valuable to me.” Pain will always cause us to evaluate our source of
worth. When that evaluation leaves us looking into the eyes of God we become convinced that we are worthy.
With this perspective, everything that we admire about ourselves and about our lives is secondary in its influence
upon our sense of self. As good as they are, when they fail, we are still left with God. Nothing that condemns or
shames or detracts from a sense of worth can withstand his gaze.
At this point in our personal development, our focus becomes intimacy with God rather than our
inadequate sources of self-worth. We willfully and often painfully relegate those other sources to a secondary
role in our lives. It is important to understand that while secondary in impact, those other things still continue to
have legitimate value to us in helping us shape our sense of who we are. In fact, it is the contention of this book
that we are intended to feel good about ourselves. It is precisely the person who is content who has adequately
addressed the issue of self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is the process of grasping for affirmation of self-
worth. The soul centered in Christ and experiencing worth from him above all else, does not have to grasp for
affirmation from other sources.
At the beginning of this book, we wrote about our experience with the horse Molly. In the moments
following the first phone call I really struggled with fear and doubt. I was angry. I did not want to preach that
day. I resented the fact that I lived in a context as a pastor that did not allow me the freedom to process these
events on my own. I had to stand before people and declare confidence in God when confidence was the last
thing I felt. There is nothing inconsistent between my relationship with Christ and my sense of pain over the
potential loss of the horse. My family is legitimately a source of my sense of self-worth. I love them and they
love me. I feel good about myself when I am with them. I love the way my children smile. My heart breaks when
they cry. My love for my family is utterly legitimate and my desire for them more completely selfless than any
other relationship. However, I deeply want to be an adequate husband and father. When circumstances make that
impossible, it does affect the way I feel about myself. I do feel good about myself when I’m adequate as a father,
and God wants it that way. When I am inadequate, I feel like a failure, and I want God to fix it, so I can feel
adequate again. This means that in the context of these moments, I am facing the issue of whether my sense of
worth that I take from my own adequacy is more able to predict who I am than is God’s love for me. In that
moment, the answer is yes. The Holy Spirit lovingly, tenderly, and with deep affection, reminds me of who I am.
Before I can do anything else, I surrender myself to him again.
Do you see the problem here? This whole process spins around an entirely legitimate experience. The
problem is certainly not whether it is right to feel good about myself as a father. The problem is not that I feel
inadequate. The problem is that that inadequacy has pushed me to the place of distancing myself from God.
Doubt and fear, allowed to continue, will end in separation. So often, then, we miss the true struggle in the
middle of confusing, painful and in many ways legitimate circumstances. Being a good father, being a good
Christian, being a good man or woman, are all profoundly good desires. When that need assumes a primary
place in our lives, though, it has become an idol. We are no longer surrendered to God. We are surrendered to a
secondary source of worth. C.S. Lewis, in an article entitled “On First and Second Things”, makes this very
point. He goes further, in fact, and asserts that when we make secondary things primary in our lives, we not only
lose the primary thing we sacrificed, but also lose the secondary things for which we made the sacrifice. The
reason that is true, is that God is the only one through the whole of life who is able to give us what we most
The idea of sanctification is a rich and wonderful biblical concept. The idea has a deep religious
meaning. It defined the process by which an object was used exclusively for the glory of God. By this we mean
that, all of its inadequacies aside, it would in some way reflect who God is. It would be ritually cleansed and
from that point only used in religious rituals. Following the time of Christ, that word was used to describe what
happened in the life of his followers. By an act of will, his disciples would choose to follow him exclusively.
Christ’s promise and the experience of the early church was that at that point the individual was filled with the
Spirit of God. The believer was now in a relationship with God where he was their “all in all”. By this they
meant that he was their one source of identity.
The apostle Paul declares: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ
lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave
Himself up for me. Gal 2:20 (NASB) Look closely at this remarkable verse. Paul says ‘I’ am crucified with
Christ. The personal pronoun means nothing outside of identity. He is saying ‘Christ has become my identity’.
The allusion is not that his identity ceases to exist; it means his identity is overwhelmed by what Christ affirms
to be true about him. He says the life that he lives, he lives by faith in the son of God. That means his existence
is completed by a confidence in Jesus Christ. His focus at this point is that Christ loves him and gave himself for
him. It is absolutely clear from this verse that his relationship with Christ is one in which he senses himself as
loved and valuable. He says ‘he loves me and he gave himself for me.’ That can only mean that he values me.
My sense of worth comes from him.
For many years, growing up in the church, I heard the phrase ‘death to self’ taught as a central
component of life in Christ. There came a point where I struggled with that concept, as it seemed to infer loss of
identity. In retrospect, I see the fullness of what was intended. For me to die to myself cannot imply loss of
identity. It means that I have recognized that my life to this point has been a constant struggle to find adequate
sources of identity. I’m utterly centered in myself and my search. If my search produces pain in those around
me, I may be left conflicted, but almost always, my search will continue, regardless of the pain. That is sin. To
those looking on, I am selfish. They may even reject me. Their rejection confirms what I fear about myself. I
resume my search with a renewed ardor. This is the pathetic struggle of life. My relationship with Christ is
intended to end this struggle. It is not always true that it does. When it doesn’t, it’s because I have not grasped
this issue of identity.
In the ninth chapter of Luke, Jesus declares , "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself,
and take up his cross daily and follow Me. Luke 9:23 (NASB) The phrase ‘deny himself’ cannot mean that I
don’t exist or that I should pretend I don’t exist. When Jesus goes on to say ‘take up his cross daily’, he is saying
precisely the same thing that Paul is saying. That is that while I do go on living and have individual personal
existence, complete with all the mental and physical attributes of any human being, the primary source of my
identity is Christ. I am identified with and defined by him and nothing else. To say I am identified by him is to
be reminded of what he says about me: he loves me; in fact, he adores me. He gives himself freely for me. He
calls my life to express the highest good found in God. The concept of sanctification can only have significance
if it means that there is a locale in time where I come to this realization. From that point on, our normal Christian
experience is living in harmony with Christ, expressing his grace and his joy. Each and every day I will confront
situations that prompt me to reaffirm this decision. It is entirely possible that in this daily process I will
encounter circumstances that cause me to look deeply at myself. I may find that my reactions reflect that I have
allowed something else to slip temporarily into position as a primary source of identity. It is the very
completeness of my relationship with Christ that leads me quickly to the awareness of this situation. The Spirit-
filled life at this point means not that I have performed perfectly, but that my decision to allow Christ to be
central is being reaffirmed.
Happiness has become for us both attainable and perpetual. God is now the source of my identity. He
has declared with everything he has done and said that he loves me, and I am worth his very life to him. With
that as the most central conviction of my identity, I have placed an unassailable truth at the center of my
existence. In terms of the happiness quotient, the sense of being overwhelmed by the negative events in my life
can no longer be more than transitory and ephemeral.
Chapter 6 – Understanding Doubt in a Love Matrix
I, Brad, have always found U.S. presidential elections to be my favorite spectator sport. If I had my way,
we’d have a presidential election every year and a Super Bowl every four years, instead of the other way around.
I love my country. I have had a lifelong fascination with politics. I wrote my master’s thesis on Theodore
Roosevelt. I love the guessing game of the pundits before and after the election about why the people support
which candidate. Beyond the entertainment value of the election as a horse race, though, is the confidence that
we, the people, really do choose our own leaders for our own reasons. The presidential election of 2000 created a
fresh doubt for me in that regard. A heretofore unexamined fundamental assumption was shaken in the aftermath
of that election. I was very familiar with instances in past elections where concerns had been raised about voter
qualification or motive. It was widely rumored in the aftermath of a very close presidential election in 1960 that
the mayor of a large city had fraudulently stuffed the ballot boxes with votes from dead voters. The question in
that case, as in many similar cases, was simply whether those votes were from legitimate voters. The only
question had always been by whom, rather than for whom, a given ballot was cast. The question in 2000 was a
new, and in my view, more fundamental question. If we couldn’t be sure even what a vote meant, much less
whether the voter was qualified, it seemed to me to cast fundamental doubt on the very possibility of seeing any
election as a clear expression of the will of the people. It raised for me a deeply unsettling doubt as to the future
viability of democracy itself.
Doubt is an unsettling emotion. Doubt can only exist in the context of belief. I have believed that
democracy is a reflection of majority will. Doubt causes me to wonder if that is possible. As an individual sits on
an aircraft ready to take a long flight, they believe the process of aerodynamics makes it viable. A disquiet enters
the spirit as that individual imagines potential catastrophe interrupting the flight. They begin to doubt that the
flight will be successful. The dynamic of belief versus doubt occurs in an endless variety of ways in our lives.
The reason that is true is that a large amount of what we call certainty is merely what we believe to be true based
on our own experience. When something enters my world view that is in some way contradictory to my
experience, it creates doubt.
Astronomically speaking, stars are born, live and die. When they die, there are often huge explosions
that we see as supernova. The lifespan of a star is so fantastically larger than ours as to be incomparable. We are
certain that the sun will rise tomorrow. My experience, and indeed the entire experience of humanity, confirms
that certainty. Scientists tell us, however, that a day will come when the sun will cease to exist. On that day, it
will not rise. However, my certainty of the sun rising tomorrow is based solely on the assumption that that day is
not tomorrow. Because it always has, my expectation is that it always will. My certainty in this case has very
sound reason for it, but it is still based on experience.
We have traditionally seen doubt as the enemy of faith. Too often we presume that the pinnacle of faith
is the absence of doubt. It is often true that a person struggling with doubt is looked down upon. It is often
assumed that the reason a person doubts is because their understanding is inadequate. Our response can then be
to shore up their understanding through argument. Perhaps we go back to basics and, layer upon layer, build
again the prescription of belief. Yet all too often, when that is done, doubt remains. For doubt is not dealing with
the adequacy of an argument. It is primarily dealing with my own uncertainty about it working for me. We, Brad
and Roland, were both born and raised in the church. We’ve each spent many hours debating endlessly with non-
believers and people who believed differently, attempting by sheer will and eloquence to persuade that our
perspective is the better. This process has rarely proved beneficial.
It was my (Brad’s) privilege a few years ago to join a group of people under the leadership of Christian
apologist and author Josh McDowell on a trip to eastern Europe. Our purpose was to distribute Bibles and
Christian literature in a part of the world where such literature had previously been forbidden. My personal hope
was that I would have the opportunity to use my polemical skills and political/historical knowledge to argue a
communist into embracing Christianity. The people I met had just experienced the collapse of their communist
governments and the ideology and promise upon which those governments were built. One person told me:
“Everything we have ever believed was a lie, and I don’t believe in anything anymore except myself.” It was
into that environment of doubt and disillusionment that I stepped. I had two clear opportunities to respond to that
doubt. In the first, I pulled out all the stops and spent two or three hours arguing for God over atheism, freedom
over totalitarianism and Christianity over communism. By the time our conversation was over my communist
acquaintance had retreated from his initial spiritual openness to the assertion that all along he had really only
wanted to practice his English. I had utterly failed to convince him of anything. My other clear opportunity was
in a more confining circumstance. I met this second communist just moments before our group was scheduled to
depart that city. I instantly liked the man. I admired his immediately apparent intelligence and his sincere, eager,
spiritual curiosity. I spoke to him for just a few seconds and then, because I had no more time to establish a real
relationship with him to help him find the basis for a new faith and confidence, I asked him if I could pray for
him before I left, and he said yes. I just prayed a very brief prayer in which I asked our heavenly father to reveal
his love and to provide a way and a hope for him. I ran straight from that encounter to board our bus just as it
was leaving, and hardly gave the incident another thought. I wouldn’t even have remembered it a few weeks
later if I hadn’t noted the meeting in my journal that night. But six weeks after that conversation I got a letter
from him telling me that he had encountered God in an unforgettable, life-changing way, in that prayer. When I
confronted doubt with propositional argument I failed to adequately address it. When I confronted doubt with
love, faith resulted.
This reflects the fundamental nature of doubt. Doubt is the intellectual process whereby we reflect the
inadequacy of our sources of identity and self-worth. It is the process of saying in effect ‘my experience has
been that my deepest needs have not been met, and my fear is that they cannot be.’ To respond to such a position
with a carefully designed argument misses the depth and complexity of a person’s fear. To affirm a person’s
worth and the validity of the process of doubt in no way confirms or strengthens the doubt itself.
For many people, faith has been developed in the context of a well-presented argument. Faith in that
paradigm is about doctrines; it is about history; it is about understanding empirical truth. The real issue here is
that such a faith becomes in and of itself a source of identity. It is at odds with what we have previously
recognized about the imperative of making Christ himself the center of our identity. When life brings
circumstances that throw into disarray our neatly-defined propositions, a person whose faith is about
propositions is left with a sense of being abandoned by God. At that point he can find greater evidence to support
his propositions, he can abandon faith or he can begin the restructuring of his faith on a new foundation.
The problem with the first position is that even when successful, I inevitably become more determined,
more inflexible and more hard-headed. In that response to doubt, it is inherent that propositions become more
important than relationships. By definition, I am less loving and thus less like Christ at the end than I was at the
beginning of such an approach to faith. In the second case, I find myself drifting, lost again, in the endless
pursuit of worth and meaning. However, in the third case, that new foundation becomes love. The new
foundation is a confidence that God loves me, that he gave himself for me, that he desires relationship with me,
and that he longs for me to enjoy him and to enjoy my life. Upon this new foundation, we build life as a matrix
of love, and the worst of circumstances only strengthen it. Doubt leads us then to rewarding conclusions because
it invites us to abandon untenable sources of worth and identity. There is an interweaving of all of the
circumstances of life; there is continuity between experience and theory. Faith becomes nothing at all like an
argument; it becomes the process of life itself.
Rather than defining my concept of God by constructs that are at odds with my experience, my
experience and my faith are entirely consistent and intricately interwoven. Faith is not the student sitting at a
desk learning from the brilliant teacher. It is the small child raising his arms aloft to a passionately loving father.
For that small child, his confidence and trust in his father are not a mere intellectual construct that he has worked
through and come to understand. The love the child experiences is a result of the reality of its existence in the
father. We arrive at the point of true faith when we know at the deepest, most instinctive level that regardless of
what life brings, my heavenly father loves me. With that foundational idea, I am adequately equipped to face any
circumstance. I can rest assured that whatever tomorrow may bring, in the end, I will know more love. This is
what Søren Kierkegaard termed the leap of faith. He recognized that faith calls us to a higher experience of God
than reason alone can supply.
Love must be the matrix in which faith is formed. Doubt is as vital to this process as is belief, because in
the process of doubt I get to experience God’s acceptance. His acceptance reveals his love for me. God’s desire
for us is the renewal of our minds. He longs to embrace us with all of our inadequacies, with all of our fears,
with all of our doubts, and begin to build from that point a comprehensive understanding of him. It is when his
love meets us at the point of our doubts that we get to discover who he really is. Too often the church
discourages doubt and leaves the doubter feeling all the more inadequate, and trapped thereby in a superficial
At NewStart, the church at which we pastor, we began with a conviction that love must be enough. A
genuine attempt to create a community of love has forced us to resist the temptation to control and argue people
to faith. We have watched while lifelong believers have begun to challenge the tenets of their own faith. Those
raised, as we were, in a sometimes rigid and legalistic environment find that they have developed a concept of
God that is consistent with that environment. To begin to understand God as first and foremost a God of love
then, contrary constructs must be dismantled. God ceases to be demanding and insistent about our performance.
At that point, long time believers sometimes find themselves questioning the very existence of God. We are
learning at NewStart that dismay at this step in the process is not necessary. God does indeed lead the honest
doubter to an awareness of his embrace, as surely as he did Thomas in the gospel account. It is absolutely
predictable. This is only not true when a person refuses to abandon the sources of self-worth that have failed
This whole process is fabulously demonstrated in an incident in Jesus’ ministry. A man of wealth,
influence, intelligence and youth comes to Jesus. He has in abundance many of the sources of self-worth that we
have discussed here. He asks a question. His question is filled with implicit doubt. He asks, “what must I do to
inherit eternal life?” It is obvious from his question that he wants to know whether he is acceptable to God.
Jesus, with remarkable perception, points him again to the law under which he has lived. This very law has
proven to be an inadequate source of assurance for him. He has endeavored throughout his life to keep the law.
Jesus knows that the law was given as a reflection of the heart of God. It has across the centuries, though,
become an unbearable burden of intricate demands that insist on perfect performance. Without relationship with
God, a person perfectly fulfilling his demands still is uncertain of their acceptability. Remember, it is
relationship with God that is the only fundamentally adequate source of self-worth.
The young man replies that he has done all these things but still lacks a sense of acceptance. Jesus then
addresses his other primary source of self-worth – his wealth and his resulting authority. He declares that
adequate relationship with God that meets the deepest need of our hearts is not available to us when we are
finding our self-worth in something other than him. He tells him to sell everything he owns and give it to the
poor. It is certainly not clear at this point whether or not that was actually required of him. But Jesus knew the
issue was of the greatest import to him. The Bible account says he went away sad because he had great wealth.
We will never know what would have happened if he had embraced this command eagerly, but we do know
what happened when he didn’t. He went away sad. He had come to Jesus sad. All of his efforts, his wealth and
his influence had not left him with a sense of happiness. He went away sad, because he refused to abandon these
failed sources of self-worth.
The implications are clear – doubt will lead us to recognize that our sources of self-worth have failed.
God always invites us into a deeper relationship with him that is built in the matrix of love. We will always be
left with a choice: to let go of these failed resources, as important as they are to us, or to cling to them with the
hope that the inadequate may yet prove adequate.
That hope is, of course, futile. Nevertheless, to let go will feel uncertain and unsafe. It is imperative that
I recognize that my doubt about where God is taking me is not based on my experience of God; it is based on my
experience with other sources of self-worth that have already proven inadequate. To abandon these, is to be
embraced by God. My doubt becomes my opportunity to find him. He is the entirely adequate source for the
satisfaction of all my deepest needs and desires. To trust him with the longings of our hearts will always be
Chapter 7 - Creating a Community of Love
It was one of those classically beautiful Texas mornings. Late March or early April offers weather about
as perfect as you will find anywhere. On this day, a Saturday morning, Brad and I were following our routine for
a Saturday. I picked him up from his house and we traveled to Kroger, our nearest supermarket, to buy some
Half & Half and some milk for our Saturday morning men’s Bible study. This Bible study was without a doubt,
one of the highest points of our weekly routine. Within six months of launching NewStart, our church plant, one
of our new friends who was recognizing and experiencing the love of God for the first time in his life, had come
to us and suggested we have a Bible study so he could find out all he could about this new love. Now, five years
later, there had scarcely been a week that the men of the church had not met for this purpose. We would pick a
book of the Bible, primarily the New Testament, and work through it phrase by phrase and verse by verse and
find on every page how deeply and utterly the gospel is about God’s love and grace. It has been our constant
desire to avoid obscure interpretations of what is intended in scripture and discover the richest truth that lies
open and evident at every turn.
By the time we arrived at the church, Don Crecelius, our study leader, was already preparing the coffee
and arranging the chairs around the tables. Within a few minutes we would be discussing our week, laughing at
silly things that had happened and talking about the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and the Stars hockey
team. Sports events and teams are always a major point of discussion as we prepare to study the word of God.
By the time the setup process is complete and the donuts are on the table and the coffee is brewing, the rest of
the men begin to filter in. For the next 30 minutes, our discussions will contain banter, political observations,
jokes and embarrassing revelations from our week. On more than one occasion we will find ourselves laughing
so hard with the sheer joy of being together that tears will begin to roll down our faces and we realize once again
how blessed we are to have this opportunity. At about that point, Don will open his Bible, will read the chapter
for that week and we will return to the first verse to begin our probing process.
On this particular Saturday, we recognized that our Bible discussion might be somewhat limited in the
discovery of the truths that we generally find. We were studying 1 Corinthians 11, and the most significant point
in the first half of that chapter is Paul pointing out who should and who shouldn’t wear long hair. Short hair is
for men; long hair and hats are for women. Try to have an exciting encounter with God over that! At this point,
the miracle that is NewStart began to happen – because we did! One of the newcomers to the group was a good-
looking and well built young ex-marine named Jeff. He had begun attending NewStart about six months earlier
with Brad’s youngest sister Andrea. He had served in Gulf War I, had endured desert heat and crippling
conditions, and had agonized over watching the deaths of his friends who served under his command. He was
still a young man, but was battered and bruised emotionally and physically by the worst that life could bring. He
was recently divorced and constantly felt lost, alone and worthless. As we examined that chapter of 1
Corinthians, considered the context and the issues being addressed, we were indeed able to find how this chapter
reflected love. At some point in the discussion, Jeff asked a rather confusing question about shepherds and
sheep. I don’t even recall exactly what it was, but at the time it seemed somehow vaguely connected to the
scripture we were studying. He went on to describe a shepherd sitting on a hill, alone and empty, trying to find
God. I asked him if he was describing himself as the shepherd. His shoulders began to shake, and this man, who
had courageously faced bullets flying all around him, was now sobbing like a child. Through his tears he
declared, “I’ve been attending here for six months, and in all that time you guys have done nothing but tell me
how much you love me, and the more you’ve loved me, the more worthless I have felt.” As he continued to talk,
he began to describe his lifelong struggle to feel valuable. His recent divorce and loss of employment had
convinced him that he was worthless. He declared that his deepest desire was to be the person that he sensed we
saw in him.
The dozen or so men gathered around that table rose almost as one, walked to Jeff, crowded around him,
each one eagerly seeking to touch his head or shoulders with their hands, and we prayed together for him. Love
flowed in its most sublime expression as the grace of God filled the room as this young man found that God
loved him as much as he loved anyone else. His life was transformed in a second; he was born a child of God.
This was not a passing moment in time. Two years later, he stands proudly on the platform as he participates
with the music team in leading us into worship on Sunday morning. He and Andrea are in weekly pre-marital
counseling preparing for their joyous day. The story of Jeff is far from isolated in the experience of NewStart. It
is exactly why we started the church. From the very beginning, with the confidence that love is enough, we have
believed that the desperately hurting and distant from God could be brought back to his arms by love alone.
As Brad and I drove home that morning with eyes filled with tears and hearts filled with joy, we spoke
again as we had a hundred times before about how much we would rather be in these moments than anywhere
else in the world. We will often find ourselves marveling at how a journey that has been so uncertain in the
specifics has so completely confirmed our highest hopes, dreams and expectations about the character and power
In 1996 when Brad and I first encountered each other on NazNet.com, a web-based discussion board, we
both were possessed of an idealistic optimism that in some way transcended our experience. As I had struggled
as a pastor across ten years to lead the church in the direction I felt it should go, it had always seemed that in
reality, the task was beyond me. At the same time, I, Brad, was on the board of a mid-sized metropolitan church
in Richardson, Texas. I recognized clearly in theory that love ought to be the motive and experience of the
church, and I recognized equally clearly that in practice it wasn’t. I could find the words to articulate the theory,
but my experience of the application within the church was extremely limited. We all want love to work, but we
find ourselves working to love. For example, as I thought about evangelism and outreach, I realized that I had all
the training and knowledge I needed to be an effective “soul-winner”, but I wasn’t effective. I realized I felt
much more clearly the duty and self-validation of winning the lost than I felt actual love for the lost individual.
When we considered as a board how the nursery should function, I passionately advocated the idea that love
should be more effective than money as an incentive for ministry. Yet, I personally was not sufficiently
motivated by love to work in the nursery, and we did, in fact, wind up finding someone from outside the church
to watch the nursery. With these experiences in mind, we had both come to the place where we had begun to
consider the idea that maybe it was time to let go of our naiveté.
When we found each other on that forum, there was a sense in which we were simply excited by the
prospect of one other person who was equally naïve. Our idealistic positions soon became opportunities to
passionately rant about the way we thought things should be. In 1997, Emmy and I, Roland, on our way to San
Antonio for the international General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene met Brad and his wife Karen face
to face for the first time. Brad joined Emmy and me on our trip to San Antonio from Dallas, and we continued to
talk about the way the church should be and that we imagined it could be. At a later moment, we had the
opportunity to drive around north Dallas to look at the massive housing developments that were pushing the
expansion of the metroplex further and further north. We began to wonder out loud what would happen if we
had the opportunity to plant a church built around the values we had embraced, and designed to meet the needs
of a post-modern, secularized and affluent people. We desperately wanted to be a part of a church where love
really was the framework and foundation and immediately guiding motive for everything it did.
When we first talked, it was much more in the realm of the hypothetical than any actual commitment to
an imagined future. However, in a few months, Brad learned that the Dallas District of the Church of the
Nazarene desired to actually plant a church in the far north Dallas suburb of Frisco. We discussed whether we
would be willing to abandon the security of our existing church lives to seize on this opportunity of a church
plant. We decided to test the water.
Brad told district superintendent Dave Nixon that he had an Australian pastor friend named Roland who
might be interested in pastoring the proposed church plant, and gave him a tape of a sermon preached by Roland.
Dave, deeply committed to the idea of a successful and God-glorifying church plant, responded that they were,
indeed, moving ahead with the idea, but that they already had a church-planting pastor in mind. That individual
was coming to Dallas the next day to explore the possibility. Dave said that unless something de-railed, he
wouldn’t be able to use Roland. Brad laughed and said, “I’ll pray that something derails, then!” The next day,
Dave called back and said, “Brad, quit praying so hard. My guy got cold feet; he’s not coming. I’ll talk to your
Over the next few weeks Roland and Dave, in an e-mail exchange, discussed possibilities and
philosophies of ministry. At that point in time, Emmy and I, Roland, were beginning to sense that our time in
Maryborough was coming to an end, as Emmy began the first steps in dealing with her deepest struggles. We
had a number of new opportunities laid before us, each with its own attractions. I was very much captured by the
adventure of starting a new church, but not overly convinced of my capacity to do it. My concern that I was not
effectively equipped for such a task could only be put aside if I was convinced that God would join me in the
mission and we could create the church that Brad and I desired. To help me be certain that that was the case, I
prayed that the advisory board for the Dallas district would make the decision to invite me to come based not on
what they perceived as my abilities but on their confidence that this was the direction God was leading. I prayed
very specifically about the way I thought that should be communicated to me. The following day, 24 hours
before the date that Emmy and I had set aside to make our final decision, I received an e-mail from Dave Nixon
outlining the reasons that they wanted me to come, in almost exactly the same language as I had prayed it.
Emmy and I were immediately convinced that this was the next step we should take in our lives.
We arrived in Dallas on the evening of Saturday, March 14, 1998. We had spent a wonderful week with
friends in California and taken our children to visit Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. I remember flying in to Dallas
with a very low cloud ceiling and not being able to catch a glimpse of the city until seconds before we touched
down. It was a cold, wet evening, but our hearts were filled with excitement and we eagerly awaited our
encounters with the group that was gathered at the airport to greet us. While it was an exciting experience for us,
it was somewhat intimidating for our small children. The first time I clearly faced the enormity of what we had
decided to do was when my 6-year-old son Jonathan looked at me with fear in his eyes and asked how all these
strange people knew who he was. I realized I had taken my family from everything they had known as safe, and
placed them in a set of circumstances that was entirely uncertain. The next few weeks were filled with the details
of finding a place to live, buying a vehicle to drive around in, and basically setting up a new home.
With those tasks behind us we were able to begin to focus on the process of planting the church. Brad
had been convinced that the most effective first thing that we could do to start this church was to fast and pray.
We committed ourselves to something we had never dreamed of doing before. We fasted for 40 days, and spent
some of almost every day during that time praying together. Many times we walked around the sanctuary of the
Richardson Church of the Nazarene praying out loud and sharing that time with a couple of friends who wanted
to be supportive in prayer with us. We walked the streets of Frisco, praying for the future. We walked into
business establishments and prayed for them. We sat in restaurants with nothing more than a glass of water and
our spirits prayed. We went to the four corners of the city and prayed for the city. With all that we had risked,
and weighed down by our sense of inadequacy, we were convinced that nothing but the spirit of God could make
this happen. As we prayed, we discovered a transformation taking place within us. We began first to pray for the
things we needed for the task, but as the 40 days drew closer to the end, we found ourselves praying from a
heretofore undiscovered depth of spirit, that we might be all that God could make us. We encountered God
during that time and he moved us in ways that we can hardly describe.
During that period, we devoted significant time to putting in writing what we saw as the purpose, values
and vision of the church. We then determined to hold a “sample” presentation service designed to attract a core
group to help us start the church. From the more than 100 people who gathered for that service, we found three
who declared their desire to be a part of the church. The next step was to set up a home in Frisco, the location of
the church plant. In the next few months we began Bible studies and practice worship services held midweek in
the local Methodist church. We had planned from the beginning to launch the church through a variety of mass
marketing media. We had confidently believed that God would help us find the money to do so. The days and
weeks began to tick by, and it was during that time that I entered the struggle that I described in an earlier
chapter that lead me to the psych ward. After discovering again that God was enough when it seemed that God
was all I had, we found ourselves dreaming again of what the church might be. Still uncertain of where the
finances might come from, we continued our midweek services and Bible studies, convinced that he would
Early in January, 1999, I sat in a church service in Irving, Texas as a good friend of mine, Steve
Hendrix, preached on the power of God to meet our needs when we trust him. Immediately, as clearly as I have
sensed anything in my life, I understood the Holy Spirit to be saying, “Get started next week.” During that week
we made plans for the first Sunday morning service of NewStart Church of the Nazarene – Frisco. We invited
everyone we could think of, and told them we would hold a service in our living room the next week. During
that week we were contacted by two couples who had heard the church was starting and wanted to attend. God
was making a way. Around 30 people crowded into our living room that Sunday morning, and we were amazed
at the response. For two months we planned and strategized and prayed for the opportunity to effectively launch
the church in a public way.
God helped us find a facility at the corner of Third and Main that would be adequate for our launch. It
was small, but we envisioned transforming it into a place where people could find God. We decided together in
the absence of clear miraculous provision, that our dream was valuable enough for us to borrow from the bank
money enough to launch the church. While this meant that our resources were less than we had anticipated, it
still gave us the opportunity to send out a number of mailers inviting the community to discover the dream. Our
facilities being so small, we commenced with two Sunday morning services on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1999.
With eager anticipation and churning stomachs, a small group gathered and waited for the strangers to arrive. On
that first Sunday, we had a total attendance of 87 people. Among strange and varied faces were a number who
would become lifelong friends and companions on the road.
In the years that would follow that day, hardly a week has gone by when we have not heard statements
“This has been the best year (day, week) of my life.”
“I have never been so happy.”
“When I said I would never attend church, I didn’t mean this.”
“I will never forget this day.”
“You loved me to faith.”
“I’ve never had friends like this.”
“I’ve never seen people who love each other so much.”
“I’ve never seen so many people so passionate and so unified. This blows me away.”
“I will give whatever it takes to make sure this keeps happening for other people like it has happened for
These statements have all come as individuals have walked into the church with broken lives reflected
by serial adultery, alcoholism, eating disorders, self-mutilation, suicidal depression, drug addiction, uncontrolled
rage and simply dysfunctional lives. They did not walk into the church on a Sunday, have an encounter with God
and abandon their dysfunctions that day. However, as they found their lives being embraced by love, they began
to see a vision of who God created us to be. Every one of us, including Brad and Roland and our families, has
been able to recognize that our lives have been at some point dysfunctional. There are places of pain and fear in
our lives that we have avoided. Yet, as we have taken one another’s hands and walked together, committing
ourselves to experiencing the grace of God with each other, we have all experienced transformation. Our views
of God and ourselves have changed. He has become increasingly the source of our identity. Our sins have been
forgiven; our hearts have been filled with him. We have left our pasts behind and are experiencing happiness at a
level not previously imagined.
Within a few weeks of launching the church, Emmy found herself bedridden with severe back spasms.
She ended up in the hospital and was incapacitated for several days. The first clear indication to me that our
hopes for this new church would be realized came when we received a call from someone who had attended the
church only on those first two Sundays. She offered to take our children and care for them. When she turned up
at our house, we had a significant sense of both uncertainty because of how unfamiliar we were with each other,
and yet confidence that this was a good thing. She was reaching out in love to people she hardly knew, who
represented a faith that was totally outside of her experience. Yet, what she had experienced had touched her
deeply and she wanted to be a part of it. Her name was Karin. She and her husband had moved from Sweden
some seven years earlier with his job with the telecom giant Ericsson. Her life had been something of a spiritual
journey. Her experience of Christianity was confined largely to the rituals of the Swedish state Lutheran church
– confirmations, weddings and funerals. Yet, throughout her life she had been drawn by the idea that there was
something beyond and bigger than human existence, and she was not certain of how to obtain that. She had read
widely and eclectically from a variety of approaches to spirituality. However, on that day, as she reached out in
love, our hearts connected. In the coming weeks, she began to attend a ladies Bible study. During that time she
declared that her husband would never come to church. However, she invited him, and he promised to come one
Sunday with her, if, after it was done and he didn’t like it, that they could agree to do something else together on
Sundays. From his very first Sunday, he found something compelling in the worship experience. Within a few
months, Karin had an encounter with God in the ladies Bible study, where she prayed for the very first time. It
was just a very simple prayer for her children, but she immediately recognized that her heart had been touched
by the power of God.
In the next few months they found their marriage in crisis. The stresses of many out of town business
trips for Christer, her husband, were creating an increasing sense of disconnectedness in their entire family.
There was a growing sense of doubt as to whether their marriage could survive. One afternoon, while returning
from a troubled discussion over coffee at Starbucks, Christer found himself directing his car to my house. When
I opened the door to them, I could tell instantly that we were in the middle of extremely difficult moments. Very
quickly and vaguely, they conveyed the idea of the troubles with which they were dealing. Karin agreed to
accompany Emmy to their house, while Christer stayed and talked with me of his troubles and uncertainties. As
we talked, I gained a strong impression of his desperateness and darkness, of his struggle to see that there was
hope in the future. For him there seemed to be only decisions between bad choices. I suggested to him that his
greatest struggle was not his uncertainty about the future, but his uncertainty about himself, and he agreed.
Without giving him any directives regarding the future, I asked him if he would like to pray together, and ask for
Christ’s help in dealing with his struggles. He nodded, lowered his head, and we prayed together. When we were
done praying, he smiled broadly and said it seemed to him as if his troubles had floated out the window. With an
unawareness that only a totally unchurched person could have, he declared that it felt like he had been born
again. We drove together to his home, where Karin and Emmy sat drinking coffee, talking and crying together.
We all four sat around their table and Christer described what he had done. Karin was excited but she wanted
some guarantees about their marriage. He looked her in the eyes and said with total honesty, “I don’t know about
tomorrow, but I’ve decided to follow that God today, and wherever he takes me, I will go.” If the words
“blissfully happy” can be applied to any marriage, today it can be applied to theirs. They serve on the church
board, lead a small group, preach regularly on Sunday mornings, and dream of a church like this existing one
day in their homeland.
After the church had been in existence for a couple of years, I, Roland, was invited to teach an
evangelism class for our district’s ministerial training program. The class was 10 weeks long, and throughout
that class I attempted to reflect the idea of evangelism from a love perspective. We will write more on that later,
but at this time I want to share with you the story of Denise Crawford. Denise was a member of that class. She
was a youth pastor, primarily relating to junior high students. She loved ministry, loved the church and loved
God, but across the years, had sensed her wide-eyed, optimistic enthusiasm for the things of God and for sharing
his love slowly dying. Increasingly, ministry in the context of the church felt like drudgery, and disappointments
seemed to outnumber victories. It seemed that in her experience, there were more people to be wary of in the
church than people with whom she could be open-hearted. She still wanted more, but had begun to relinquish
that hope. During the course of that class, a class that Brad, too, was taking, our excited chatter and newfound
clarity of vision for how the church could be, began to revive her heart. Within a few months of the end of that
class, she and her husband had decided to sell their home and move to Frisco to be a part of NewStart. It was
Denise’s experience that God needed to heal her heart, too, that she needed to be released from the bondage of
shame, and set free to become the person that she had always wanted to be. With each passing week, and many
times in the middle of incredible struggle, she reflected the truth that the love of her friends and the richness of
God’s grace was indeed transforming her life. She launched a youth program at NewStart that has become the
source of new life for many teenagers who now swell our numbers on a Sunday morning and live out faith with
enthusiasm before us. Denise represents for us another affirmation that the grace of God is not only for those
outside the church. Many Christians, perhaps a majority, can discover a concept of God that launches them to
newfound heights of glory. God desires to heal the human heart and it does not matter what context we find
ourselves in, his healing grace is there for us.
As we, Brad and Roland, walk into church on a Sunday morning, we will stand together and listen to the
worship team preparing for the service. Long before our service begins, we have been touched by the grace of
God. As we look around the room, we will see Kleenex boxes that have been strategically placed at the end of
every row of seats. We learned very early that they would be needed. When people are allowed to process in the
context of love, the depths of their pain and shame, and they are invited to hope for a grace without bounds, their
emotions sometimes cannot be contained. Those Kleenex boxes are as essential to our services as our video
projectors. When we drive away from the church service on a Sunday morning (actually it’s usually well into the
afternoon) we have encountered God with hugs in the foyer; we have encountered God in our music; he has
spoken to us through the sermon; he has filled our room with his presence while we prayed; our hearts have been
lifted and encouraged. The conversations following the service will sometimes last as long again or longer than
the service itself. An hour and a half after the end of the service you will still find groups of people talking
together. While it is still the early years of our church’s life, and the numerical attendance, while growing, has
not yet reached what we have desired, we are very much aware that the transformed lives, the healed marriages,
the hope-filled individuals are everything we had ever anticipated that the church could be, and vastly more.
Whatever price we have had to pay, we would pay a thousand times over to be a part of such a church. God IS
love. He brings healing, hope and happiness, and that is the ongoing story of NewStart.
Chapter 8 - What Love Brings
On any Monday night from September to December, you’ll find groups of people sitting together to
watch Monday night football. It happens all over the country. It happens, too, in the sanctuary of NewStart
Church of the Nazarene – Frisco. A group, usually not more than four or five men, deep friends, will sit and
watch the game projected from our video projectors onto the big screens. In eager excitement, we will make off-
the-cuff remarks about the inane things the commentators say and will laugh out loud at the same commercials
over and over again. As I have looked around that room, I have often been made aware of how deep are the
friendships we share at that time. Once again, as Brad and I are driving home from that time together, we have
remarked on many occasions, that if we had the choice of getting a person to either a worship service on Sunday
morning or to all the fun stuff we do together, we would choose for them to do the latter.
That statement may cause some disquiet. It may appear to reflect a shallow experience, but here is what
we have found. We have found over and over again that a person who attends only on Sunday mornings, even
when they are inspired by the message, filled with hope and recognize that something genuine and wonderful is
laid before them, if they don’t find themselves involved in real relationships during the week, will drift away,
saddened and discouraged, and our hearts are broken. If, on the other hand, a person finds themselves watching
football with us (and by us we mean the whole church), going to games with us, going on shopping trips with us,
talking at barbeques with us, God’s love working through us will cause them to see their worth to him. They
will sense something being stirred within them. They will long to know more and, as often as not, will find
themselves worshiping with us on Sunday morning. Love truly works. It really is enough. This is not merely
our theoretical rationale for social events – it is our actual experience of the church.
Here is the reason why: Love is not a concept. It is not theoretical. It is not what one person does for
another. Love is relationship. That truth can neither be overstated nor underestimated. The necessity of God as
relationship is seen in the Trinity. God must love and be loved, in order to be love, and this is what has
happened within the godhead from the eternities. As a result of his love, he will create. Love never ceases to
embrace. It is always expanding, always reaching out, always inviting more to stand within its grasp. Many
times we have heard it said in the Christian context that love is more than feeling; it is what one person does for
another. But we would suggest that it is significantly more than that, as well. Love is one person being
connected with another person, spirit to spirit, heart to heart. Love is never activated without vulnerability and
love is always looking for ways to express the wondrous worth of the other. When God says he loves us, he
declares it by showing us our worth to him. He dies for us. It is only in the context of relationship that a person
can truly show another what they are worth. It is only when the bonds of that relationship have been broken
through the failure of one, and the other has the opportunity to forgive and invite deeply into relationship again
that love becomes clear and can be grasped. Love does not insist on perfect performance. Love says that,
regardless of how you perform, I see your worth, and I want you to see it, too. That is what Paul meant when he
said love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV)
Love is not a means to an end. It is the end. We do not propose love as a surefire means of church
growth. We propose love as the supreme destiny and experience of man. We were designed for one end – to
love. Eternity with God – or heaven – is not defined by our wildest imaginations of the wealth contained there.
It is clarified only in the most intimate and personal of relationships. We have constantly in our church
experience had to force ourselves to stop when we perceived that we may be falling into the trap of using love to
get something else. Everything we do, we do for love’s sake. On this point is perhaps found the failure of the
church so often to truly be the church. We tend to see love as one of the weapons in our arsenal, and we may
even see it as the greatest weapon, but it is there to achieve an end. That end may be conceived as a really large
church, a Christian nation, a well-populated heaven, or Christ’s ultimate victory at Armageddon. But love is not
a weapon, it is not a tool, it is not a resource, it is not an argument, nor a warm feeling. Love is the reason for
Not only is it true that love is none of these lesser things, but none of these lesser things leads to love.
Love is both the end and the means. The only valid question is, how do I gain more love, how do I express more
love, how do I experience more love? When we define our church experience in any terms that reflect dutiful
service, we have lost the church. The church is the bride of Christ, an expression of the most intimate love itself.
We have sometimes lived as if we believed the church was the mechanic of Christ. We are not here to fix a
thing. We are here to love and be loved. The results of experiencing love at the deepest core of our being are
not the validation for trying the way of love. We may see precisely what we want to see, or we may find
ourselves rejected over and over again. But we do not surrender to love in order to achieve an end; we surrender
to love because that is the only way to truly live.
When we were preparing to begin this new church we decided to act as if there was nothing that was
pre-ordained to be a part of the life of the church. If the church was love, what would it look like? In terms of
the worship experience, we start at the beginning. When people drive up to a church, a church they’ve never
been to before, will they have to struggle to find a parking place. Will they drive past the door and find the ten
closest parking places reserved first for people more important than them -- the senior pastor, and down the list
in importance to the youth pastor’s Kia in the tenth space? On the very first morning at NewStart we
encouraged everyone who had been connected with the church to that point to park as far away from the church
door as they could. Located in a small strip mall, some of us will park in areas quite distant from the church.
Love says, if you’ve never been here before, you’re important to us; every one of us knows where the front door
is. We can find it and we can walk a distance because we care about you. Come and park as close to that door
as you can.
When they walk through the door into the foyer, they will find our very best efforts to provide tea,
coffee, juices and a snack that reflects both nutritional value and taste. We want the visitor to recognize that
because they are important to us, we have spent a decent amount of money to provide a light meal for them that
will make them feel warm, invited and accepted. We decided very early on to never make an issue of food or
drink spilled in the sanctuary; we would clean the carpet. If you’ve never been to church before, we don’t want
you thinking that this facility is far more important than you are. You may decide never to come back again, but
in these few moments, we want you to feel loved, valued and accepted.
It was very early in the history of NewStart when this rich warmth and friendship spilled over into a
habit of everyone hugging everyone in sight. There is scarcely a visitor who doesn’t comment on the warm,
open expressions of love. That has become a very safe practice for us. However, within a few weeks of
recognizing that this habit had become universal, we had to say to our people, “remember, if you’ve never been
to this church before, you have no idea what to expect and that these hugs are genuine expressions of love.
People are suspicious and wary, and maybe a little overwhelmed by being hugged by 40 people. So, we
generally try to give a person a couple of hug-free weeks. However, we figure that if a person turns up on a third
Sunday, they’ve seen this practice and have decided to continue coming. If they show up on that third Sunday,
we will proudly declare to them that they need a hug. Everybody is invited when they first enter the foyer to
place a handwritten name tag on their shirt or blouse. We have nobody with a pre-printed name tag. Here’s the
reason why. A pre-printed name tag says, “I’ve been here before, I belong.” A handwritten name tag beside the
pre-printed one says, “I’m an outsider, I don’t quite belong here.” If everyone in the church is wearing a
handwritten name tag, the first time visitor has no clue as to who has been here before and who has not. That
gives them the chance to feel like they fit.
As an individual takes her coffee and food into the sanctuary and the warm greetings continue, a chair
needs to be available to them. Early on, we invited our regular attenders to take seats as far from the door as
possible, leaving the ones closer to the door available to the visitors. We only said that early in the life of the
church. Years later, led by our youth group who were small children when we began, our people leave the best
seats for the visitors, because they actually do care, and want the first time attender to experience love,
convenience and comfort.
As the service begins, before anything else happens, the worship team will sing a chorus. We never
request that people take their seat. The performance of the worship team is an invitation and people respond.
Halfway through that song, the lights are turned off. The lighting from our projectors and floodlights for the
stage are the only lighting. They provide enough light for navigation between the seats, but the light is low
enough to allow the visitors to preserve their anonymity. One great fear that many people have of church is that
in some way they will be exposed as an outsider by not knowing one or other of the habits of this group of
people. With the low light they are left to feel that, even if they get something wrong, no one will notice. It is
our habit, however, to give clear instruction for anything that will involve the whole congregation. As much as
possible, though, we want to allow people to experience worship as an observer if they feel they need to.
We refuse to be engaged by the worship music debate that has consumed so many churches. We chose
to do a contemporary music style because this is the style with which most first time visitors will feel
comfortable. However, we are convinced that regardless of music style, a church that is dedicated to love will be
able to communicate that. At this point in our worship service, we will always show a short clip from some
popular movie. While this is an increasingly popular thing to do in the modern day church, we believe its value
is far beyond that of a fad. When a person who has never been inside a church before sees a movie on the screen
with which he is familiar, he may recognize nothing else in the service, but he can say, “I can identify with that.”
We choose the clips because they are a culturally familiar, and therefore safe, expression of a common human
experience or emotion. Because it’s safe and familiar, the visitor is more readily able to acknowledge it. When
we speak of how God’s love encounters us at the point of that experience or emotion, they are more readily able
to understand and accept.
When I, Roland, first came to NewStart, I had been used to preaching vividly and passionately, as had
been the custom in my theological tradition. I would raise my voice to a level at which it would boom from
behind the pulpit. In today’s culture, people are much less willing to accept something simply based upon the
forcefulness with which it is said. They are unaccustomed to any forum in which someone yells at them for 20
minutes. They desire to be led to understand something rather than driven to understand. That led us to doing
two things. The first was that we dismissed any idea of having a pulpit. A large, intimidating piece of furniture
behind which an orator stands, suggest subliminally to the listener that something is being hidden from them.
They are not invited into relationship with this person; they are invited to listen to this person. Secondly, for
weeks before my first message in this new church, I was practicing keeping my voice timber at a moderate level,
not raising my voice and trying not to get overly excited. From a natural perspective that was difficult for me.
But all these years later, I think I would find it even more difficult now to raise my voice.
Following the message, we invite the congregation into a time of worship. We decided that simply
leaving at the end of the message or the singing of one song and then departing suggested that there was no good
thing that could happen after the word had been disseminated. But we wanted to avoid the age-old tradition of
an altar call where individuals were invited to kneel at the front of the auditorium and pray. While this means
served adequately for generations, today, people are suspicious of that process. However, we definitely wanted
people to have an opportunity to have an encounter with God following the hearing of the word. We decided
that we should make the entire latter part of the service, and the context in which it happens, an altar. Following
a time of worship, I will walk to the front and as the Spirit of God bathes the sanctuary with his presence, we
will pray, inviting people to embrace the prayer as their own. It is our experience that many of the people who
have found their lives transformed at NewStart have encountered that transformation during these moments.
Following the prayer, we will have an inspiring chorus that will invite us to leave this place of worship
with confidence that we are loved, that our life is worth living, and we are moving ever closer to becoming the
people Christ has called us to be.
You will notice that through this whole service we have not received an offering. Research told us that
one of the things that the unchurched are most suspicious of is the motive of the church towards money. They
see the church as a business venture designed first and foremost to extract finances from people. It is our
profound conviction that the first encounter with the church must always be an encounter with love. That love
must be seen as an end and not as a means. It must be clearly seen as unconditional. We do not want to leave
people wondering exactly why we invited them to church. We want them to know that it is for them. It is both
our confidence and our experience that when a person has encountered love and had their lives transformed, they
are motivated by love to give to the vision. In the six years of our existence, we have never passed an offering
plate, we have never preached a sermon on finances or stewardship, and yet our per capita giving is on par with
the majority of churches. For about the first year of our existence we did, in fact, tell people where and how they
could contribute to the ongoing ministry of the church, but eventually we realized two things. By doing so, we
were sending a mixed message to the visitor, and for the long term attendee, it was superfluous. One of our
great joys is to have the opportunity to explain to a newcomer who has been around for a month or so why we
have never asked them for money or passed the plate. When they hear our explanation in the context of their
experience with the church, it immediately rings true for them. Their eyes will widen with excitement, and
many will eagerly desire to give of their resources for the future, even at great personal sacrifice.
Now as the worship service has concluded, eyes are being dried and noses blown, people slowly stand
and turn to one another and the hugging begins again. As we said earlier, no one rushes for the door, and for
several hours, people will stand and talk or move to restaurants together for lunch. Plans are being made to
spend time together during the week. They have been invited by video announcement to come and share in any
of a number of activities that will take place during the week in which they can experience real relationship.
Once a month, following the service, everyone in the church is invited to hang around, enjoy pizza together and
participate in what we call “Church Alive.” During that time, we will discuss various activities that will give us
the opportunity to spend time together. We will consider the individuals within the life of the church who most
need expressive love and we will think together of how to do that most effectively. We will talk of making
phone calls, writing letters, picnicking together and canoeing together. During that time notes are being taken of
the expressions of need. A couple of weeks later in a similar midweek meeting, a smaller group consisting of
the committed core will assess whether those needs have been effectively met.
We have begun to think of NewStart as a funnel to love. We want to broadly embrace as many people
as we can and lead them step by step through encounters of relationships to a point where they are fully
experiencing all that God’s love has for them. They are invited every step along the way to become more
vulnerable, and allow God’s love to work healingly in their lives.
We, Brad and Roland, over and over again reflect that we are a part of the closest thing to the New
Testament church that we have ever encountered. It may be suggested that this understanding is because we
planted the church. However, the truth is that our experience of the church is broad and we are more adequately
ministered to by the people of NewStart than in any position or church we have ever known before. As a pastor,
I never dreamed of the extent to which I could be loved. The love goes far beyond the respect and admiration so
often experienced by a pastor in a church. These people minister to my needs because they love me and because
they are the church. So as both recipients of and ministers of the grace of God, we watch daily and weekly as
people embrace grace and grace embraces them.
We are genuinely seeing people who have never encountered God before, encountering him and seeing
their lives transformed. Weekly we see people whose hearts are hurting being healed by love. Over and over
again we see believers coming to an encounter with God that is all-encompassing and in response they surrender
everything they have and are to him. We work through the deepest of issues, the most horrendous of situations
over and over again with the conviction that love is the answer and it is the only answer we have, and over and
over again we see struggles resolved, hearts healed and sins forgiven.
We avoid listing sins and attempting to force people to conform to our image of righteousness. The
word of God says that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, and we have discovered that he is up to the job.
Many times we have had the experience of feeling that we needed to talk to someone about some habitual sin.
At that point we remind ourselves that we are convinced that God is able to speak to his people, if we keep on
loving them and modeling grace before them. And over and over again, just when we are about to break and
become controlling or manipulative, that individual will come to us and ask for help or tell us that God has
shown them how contrary to love is that habit, and that he has delivered them from it. We genuinely do not have
people vying for position. We don’t have to plead for workers. We don’t ask for money. We don’t fight about
music. We honestly, really do not have intergenerational conflict in any form. One of those profoundly
symbolic moments was when one of our teenaged believers from an unchurched family was invited to do the
welcome for the worship service and she stood before the church, people that she had known for just a short
time, and she declared that this was her family; these were her aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters. And as
is often the case with such public affirmations at NewStart, her statements were cheered and applauded. Brad
and I have often bragged on our youth group as being the only group we have heard cheering for each
announcement. They listen intently throughout the whole message. They are the first to spontaneously stand in
a worship song. When a visiting family includes a teenager, one or two of our teens will go to that visiting
family and invite their teen to sit with our teens. Our children pester their parents all week long, wanting to
know if it’s Sunday yet. If we were not a part of this church, we would think the claims that we make are way
too extravagant to be real, but they are real, and we live with it every week, and it has almost nothing to do with
our adequacy. It is because God is God, and God is love, and love is enough.
It is really important at this point, recognizing that we have spoken to many across the years who desire
to see a truly effective church, to say that there is no way to create this or make it happen. It comes at the price
of being willing to be utterly laid bare before God and man, being willing to be vulnerable and to deal with our
own stuff. This does not mean going to the proverbial prayer closet and locking ourselves away until we have
encountered God. This means entering more deeply into relationships. This is about love and love is about
relationships. Relationships rise and fall on the extent to which we are vulnerable. When we preach, when we
teach, when we serve, when we care, we are not doing something to somebody else; we are exposing our lives to
them and we are allowing them to see not merely what grace has done, but what grace is doing in us and inviting
them to experience the same.
We must be willing to love vulnerably as an end and not as a means. When we find someone needing to
be loved, we choose to love them because they deserve and need to be loved, and not so that they will respond in
a certain way. We utterly abandon all hopes that love will lead to something else or become a means of control
for us. We must be willing to place a period at the end of the sentence, “I love you and you are worth loving.”
Early in the ministry of NewStart, a broken man with a hurting heart came into our life. He had left his
wife and begun a relationship with a much younger woman. He recognized that his life was filled with pain and
dysfunction, and so was the life of the one with whom he was now living. His new girlfriend was a drug abuser
with a seemingly unconquerable habit. Across more than a year, we attempted to work with them and help them
experience love. This man, however, no matter how much we spoke to him of love, and how much his eyes
filled with tears at the prospect, never got beyond an understanding of love as a means to get what he wanted
from his girlfriend. Before our eyes, we watched him choose to allow her to be engulfed by her habits in a
desperate attempt to continue to be loved by her. In the end, she lost her life and he lost everything he hoped for.
It is impossible for us to underscore enough our conviction that no matter how good and attractive may appear
the end that love can help us get, when we see love this way, we end up losing both the love and the thing we
thought it could get for us. LOVE IS NOT A MEANS; IT IS THE END.
You may recall that when we began this book, I wrote that happiness in any and every situation was a
worthy goal, and indeed it is. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop in “A Theology of Love” expresses it this way:
“Happiness is not an emotional titillation, but a harmony of the whole self. Holiness is not a glorified
maladjustment, a neurosis, as its critics like to say. It is health, vitality, wholeness; the end of disharmony,
edginess and out-of-jointness. Love goes straight to the heart of personal relationship and demands a right
ground for fellowship. It mercilessly, but healingly sorts out the motives and directs the realignment of attitudes
and relationships.” This is happiness. Happiness is found when we are whole and complete. Being whole and
complete is being found totally in Christ. To be found totally in Christ is to be holy. To be holy is to know
adequately who God is and who we are in his presence. From this relationship we sense our worth. To sense
our worth in him leaves us utterly and sublimely happy.
Chapter 9 - Selfishness, Self-worth and Holiness
When the authors of this book were young, our experience of the church was one of wide-eyed
excitement. We witnessed people’s lives being transformed, people being excited about their faith, and
expressions of joy in the context of a worship service that today would appear wildly extravagant. We saw a
genuineness about people’s faith that caused us to view that as the norm. That remains today our instinctive
expectation of what ‘normal’ church should look like. In the intervening years, though, the culture in which we
live has changed to the point where such extravagant expressions of joy may be more off-putting than
compelling. The church during that time has evolved to the point where we do not see such expressions as
frequently as we once did. While this evolution is almost certainly necessary, it seems to us that something
germane has been lost. We heard preachers, teachers, parents and friends talk with wide-eyed wonder about what
God could do in the human heart, and they called it holiness. The church, even now, will often talk of holiness
and sanctification, but we seem to spend way more time describing what God doesn’t do for us, than we used to.
When we get around to declaring what he does do for us, it somehow doesn’t seem as extravagant or wonder-
filled as those testimonies and sermons of our childhood.
It is possible that what we saw in our childhood was, in fact, the tail-end of a century-and-a-half-long
movement based simply on a misunderstanding of what God could do. The expressions and excitement could
largely have been the confused responses of a simple people in a simple time. The other possibility is that in our
efforts to be accurate, we have maintained forms and structures but have lost the impact. People still do have
encounters with God and many times, people are aware of a deep cry for more. And yet, given enough time,
people will find the mundane life of the church acceptable and even consuming. We will establish prayer
meetings, study groups and draw from the latest fad, in our endeavors to see the church impact our society. But
our prayers begin to have a sense of desperation about them, and we lose confidence that God will move through
his people as the all-conquering captain and lead us to victory. We begin to take up a posture of waiting for the
end. A college lecturer of Roland’s once declared that we will never again see a movement of God’s Spirit as
was seen in the nineteenth century.
We, the authors of this book, maintain the contrary position, though. Our confidence is that God
remains God; that he has always desired to live in his people and to reveal himself through his people in such a
way as to transform their world. Not only is it true that God is still God, but people are still people. The deepest
needs of people in this generation still cry out to be met. We long for God and his glory in the depths of our
being. As the church, we have begun to believe that this generation is beyond reach. We throw around phrases
like “pluralistic society” and “post-modernism” as if they reflect an ingrained indifference to God. The debate
between those who would return to a former more glorious time and those who would push on to a more
accurate but less inspiring concept of God and the church, is a debate about the wrong stuff. What we the church
need to grapple with is the question of whether the highest, grandest claims of Christ and the New Testament
church can still be applied in this time, with our experiences, in such a way that we become attractive,
compelling and ultimately transforming?
Christianity is unique among religious faiths. Christians do not see themselves as groveling to appease a
cruel and arbitrary God. We are embraced and adored by the God of love. It is profoundly significant that
Christianity has always led to an elevation of the understanding of human worth. With the dawn of the
renaissance and the leaving behind of a thousand years of darkness, there emerged great Christian thinkers such
as Thomas More, Erasmus and Pope Pius II. These men saw themselves as elevating the understanding of human
worth on the basis of New Testament foundations. They became known as Christian Humanists. With the
coming of the age of enlightenment and the increasing divergence of scientific and religious thought, the idea of
the worth of humanity became disconnected from its source in God.
In the mid-1950’s and early 1960’s, concepts of self-image and self-worth began to seep from modern
psychology into the mainstream culture. The popular culture embraced psychology as an effective tool in dealing
with the woes of life. A positive mental attitude and a deep sense of self-worth became the cure-all for any
struggle. Christendom saw this move as the raising of a new idol, and indeed in many ways it was. The fervent
proponents of secular humanism boldly declared that Nietzsche was right when he said that God is dead. He was
dead because as a concept we presumed to no longer need him. To be human was to be divine. In direct reaction
the church rejected such nonsense. Our understanding was that the self was in fact the problem, and if we died to
self and lived for God our needs would be met. Any language that appeared even remotely to reflect the excesses
of pop psychology were rejected.
Our society has moved on. It began to be apparent by the mid-80’s that the secular humanistic ideal was
in large part a failed one. All of our education, all of our success, all of our wealth had not met our deepest
needs. We began to look for something else. We embraced religions and creeds of all types, longing for the
missing piece. In a popular sense, we had begun to believe that as human beings we were valuable in ourselves,
but we were missing something. With needs unmet and hungry hearts, by and large, we continued to reject
Christianity as able to meet our needs. If we went to church, we continued to hear that we were worthless and
condemned. The church’s language had changed very little, but the culture had been through massive shifts.
People standing outside the walls of the church could not hear what was being said inside in a way that made
sense to them. It conflicted with their desires and their understandings. And so a generation with deep needs and
searching hearts has walked past the doors of the church and has dismissed the unintelligible sounds they hear
coming from within. But they are hungry, and they are searching still. Is it possible that we need again the
miracle of Pentecost, when the Bible says that everyone heard the message in their own language? The key here
is the capacity to understand. If God’s love can not be recognized, it cannot be received.
In order to understand what God is able to do in our generation, we need to understand what he desires
to do. At any point in human history, in any culture, language or people group, the finest expression of
relationship with God reflects a common experience. There is a thread that runs through human experience with
God. If there is not a fundamental commonality in the experience of God by people of different theological
camps and different generations, then we have something less than a common faith. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop
wrestles with this idea in her classic “Theology of Love”. She sees a credibility gap when we allow our theology
to be inconsistent with our experience. Her masterful work, using John Wesley’s writings as a frame of
reference, suggests that the core of all Christian faith is the love that issues from God to us and through us. Love
is the common experience of humanity with God.
The question remains, what does love achieve in our lives, where does love take us, and how do we get
to the place where we really are experiencing such an effectual love? The fullness of this issue cannot be more
compellingly reflected than in this paragraph by Wynkoop:
God acts towards man in terms of personal relationship. If he did not, if he took advantage of his power
and position by bypassing the integrity of man whom he made for love and fellowship, he would destroy
man as man. Love does not – cannot – violate the integrity of another. To do so cancels out love. A
“love” which forces even “good” things on another destroys that other. When St. John can say, “God is
love,” he has exhausted human language. He has said something about God which is a commentary on
the nature and potential of man and upon the kind of thing that redemption is, and what God is.
Essentially, what she is saying is that the very statement, “God is love,” leads us to inescapable
conclusions about God, about ourselves and about the way he interacts with us. Every Christian acknowledges
with St. John that God is love. It has echoed around the grandest cathedrals in Europe. It has been boldly
proclaimed under baobab trees on the African savannah. We embrace that idea. It is our hope. It is, in fact, the
‘gospel,’ the good news. But do we always take the next step with Wynkoop and recognize that “a ‘love’ which
forces even ‘good’ things on another destroys that other”? Essential to an understanding of love is the lover’s
recognition of the innate, present worth of the beloved. If I say to another, “I love you,” and then act towards
them in such a way as to say to them, “You are worthless to me,” they will not believe my former statement.
Love is valuing. The two concepts are so utterly and intricately connected that to have the one is to have the
other. Before the reader can constructively continue beyond this point, this concept must be utterly embraced.
We would invite you to pause and think experientially for a moment and see if you can disconnect the ideas of
worth and love. The people that you love are the people that are most valuable to you. The people who love you
most effectively cause you to feel valued. Love always increases a sense of worth, because the lover has already
clearly seen the innate, present, actual worth of the beloved.
As an aside, one of the reasons the church has failed to communicate effectively with non-believers is
because the non-believers themselves are not actually valued as ends, they become means to ends. That never is
When we restore to its rightful place an effective understanding of the concepts of love and worth, we
are enabled to see the grand plan of salvation and embrace it as our own. To fail at this point is to leave us
grappling with untenable concepts in unusable theology. When we say, “God is love,” and implicit in that is
God’s reflection upon our worth, we have said something that is profoundly exciting. To allow this to mean what
it truly does mean, will transform our churches, will invigorate tired believers, and empower God’s people to
transform their world.
To understand this as the truth it becomes necessary to recognize the problem that is being addressed.
The most important issue coming from the Genesis account of the sin of Adam and Eve is the broken
relationship between God and man. Prior to “the fall,” Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect relationship with their
creator. They walked with him in the cool of the evening; they talked with him. They enjoyed intimate
communion with him. The resultant life experience for them was one that was rich, full, and without shame. To
emphasize this, the picture is painted that they are entirely naked, a situation that would create great shame for
an individual otherwise. Shame is a deep human emotion that says something is wrong with me. They lived
without shame because God was constantly with them affirming that there was nothing wrong with them. They
indeed were blissfully ignorant of any flaws in their existence.
When they are challenged by the serpent, he challenges them directly at the point of their worth by
declaring that they were somehow inadequate without the experiential understanding of good and evil. It would
be naïve to suggest that they did not have a theoretical concept of good and evil; otherwise the prohibition would
make no sense to them. When the serpent declared, “you will be like God, knowing good from evil,” he was in
fact lying. The knowledge they would obtain by defying God would make them precisely not like God.
It is the great lie to tell them they are not like God and that God doesn’t want them to be like him, when
the truth is they are already like God, because he has created them that way. The power of the lie rests solely in
its ability to challenge their sense of worth. When they defy God’s command, they reject his love, and
relationship is severed. Immediately, they experience shame. They are aware that something is fundamentally
wrong with them. It is that sense that is utterly consistent amongst the whole of humanity. What we do for
ourselves to restore that sense of worth is our sin.
God’s longing, then, for us, is to restore us to himself, to restore to us our understanding of our worth to
him and to restore to us a full grasp of our place in his heart. We are in fact called to be like him, to partake of
his nature and thereby return to relationship with him akin to what Adam and Eve enjoyed prior to the fall. God
is a holy God. Holiness cannot mean anything apart from love and love cannot mean anything apart from worth.
To be holy, then, is to be filled with the nature of God. It is to see the worth that he sees, both in ourselves and in
others. Holiness, in the human experience, then, is to love as God loves. John, when he declares “perfect love
drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment,” is proclaiming this very principle. The life that is
crushed by shame lives with the constant fear that I am about to be found out, revealed for who I am, and
dismissed as worthless. Perfect love, God’s love, as it fills our hearts, drives this fear far from us.
The condition of humanity without this love is a shame-filled existence. Selfishness is expressed as we
attempt to deal with the sense of inadequacy that our shame produces. We grasp and control and manipulate
circumstances and people around us in a futile attempt to escape our shame. We medicate as that futility
becomes more recognizable. The Bible calls the shame-filled nature of humanity without God, ‘the sinful nature’
and sets it up in opposition to life in the Spirit. Paul says in Galatians 5:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its
desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so
that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the
Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry,
sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying,
drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you,
that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such
things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one
another, envying one another.
Gal 5:16-26 (NASB)
We see Paul’s entire list of deeds of the flesh readily divisible into sins that we have characterized as
grasping and controlling on one hand, or medicating on the other. We engage in sorcery, strife and disputes in
the effort to control and manipulate the circumstances and people around us. We engage in drunkenness,
carousing and sensuality in the effort to medicate our shame, when our control efforts prove inadequate. Over
against this list, he contrasts the fruits of the spirit, which consistently reflect worth. We are able to be
consistently patient, kind and gentle only when we recognize the worth of the people around us. Furthermore, we
are able to consistently experience joy, peace and self-control only to the extent that we are confident of our own
worth to God.
Self-worth then, is not a concept that we need, as Christians, to be afraid of. It is the heart of the good
news. Selfishness is, in fact, at odds with self-worth. It is because I sense my shame and feel worthless that I
become grasping and controlling, which is the essence of what we mean by selfishness.
In order for my life to be transformed, it is essential that my encounters with God are encounters of
grace. If, when I first begin to hear of God or become interested in his claim upon my life, it is in an
environment of condemnation and shame, that environment profoundly impacts my understanding of him and of
myself. In such an environment I am much more likely to embrace a series of laws and ideas that ultimately only
increase the depth of my struggle with manipulation and control. On the other hand, in an environment of God’s
gracious love, where I see that he “loves me and gave himself for me,” I recognize that I am valuable to him. His
desire for my life is not at odds with my deepest desires. In fact, it is his very image within me that cries out for
him. At that point, my reception of him involves my recognition that indeed I have sinned by living outside the
bounds of love. As Wynkoop says, “the very nature of sin is love’s perversion which makes the self the object of
its own dedication.”
When the self is the object of its own dedication our focus is on something that has lost its reason for
existence. We were created for relationship with God. Without that, we meander, longing for something to fill
that void. That is what creates our sense of worthlessness. A proper understanding of salvation rests at this point
upon our repentance. Repentance is an often misunderstood concept. We restrict repentance to a sorrow for
breaking God’s law. Repentance at that point then implies a commitment to endeavoring to do right before God.
The problem here is that repentance that merely addresses my guilt and not my sense of worthlessness and
shame still leaves me looking for a source of self-worth. I will either continuously declare my worthlessness as
reflective of God’s amazing grace, and thereby condemn myself to living out a life of unaddressed struggle, or I
will perpetuate an existence where I believe I will feel valuable when I have done enough good things to show
that I am good. Neither of these is adequate. The former leaves us with an unrealized sense that we can have
more; the latter leaves us with a sense that we have never done enough.
True repentance is wonderfully revealed by C.S. Lewis in his book, “The Silver Chair”. In that
children’s classic, he tells the story of a prince who has been captured by a witch. The witch has convinced him
that she has the power to make him a prince and to set him on a throne if he remains in bondage to her. He does
not know that he is already a prince, already destined to rule, already heir to all the things that, far from
delivering to him, she keeps from him. When the witch’s bondage is broken and he surrenders to the figure in
the story who represents Christ, he discovers that that surrender is only the surrender of his fear, his shame and
his chains. He loses nothing of even the smallest value in that surrender, and has not even the smallest new chain
laid on him. He is already loved and already designed and destined for fellowship and light. What he discovers is
his own worth – his own pre-existing relationship with the king.
Repentance then, is an abandonment of the struggle for worth. It is a realization of my value to God.
Sorrow for a life that has been lived in violation of God’s law is an entirely appropriate experience. We should
feel sorrow. However, Paul makes great effort to point out that the law exists only to reveal how far outside
God’s love we are. Repentance, then, is fundamentally more than sorrow. Our problem is not the law; it is
broken relationship. Repentance is an embracing of God as loving father.
This truth is revealed in what takes place in our lives at the point of repentance. Theologians say that we
are adopted, justified and regenerated. Repentance has brought us to new relationship – we are adopted into the
family of God. All that we have done that is reflective of the absence of relationship is wiped from God’s
consciousness. Our hearts are made entirely new. The long and wonderful journey of the restoration of his image
within us has begun. All of this takes place simultaneously at the point when we accept Christ’s love for us by
faith. Indeed, we are simply saying, “I believe you are who you claim to be. My highest efforts are but rags, and
I want what you want for me.” We are now his.
As a believer begins this journey, he will find plenty of evidence along the way that his former sources
of worth still influence him. Indeed, at times they will vie with God for the ultimate power to declare who we
really are. This process can leave the new Christian wondering at times if his conversion has been real. Many
have found this struggle continuing throughout their spiritual lives. Yet, God in his grace is always wanting to
lead us to a moment where we are able to look fully into his eyes and recognize that he desires to be our
exclusive source of understanding who we are. As described in a previous chapter, we come to a point where we
abandon those inadequate sources and we crown Christ Lord as well as Savior. He becomes our all in all.
Theologians have described this encounter as entire sanctification, the perfecting in love, the higher way, the
deeper life, the second rest, and many other terms designed to convey the wonder and grandeur of such an
encounter. At this point of utter surrender, God fills us with his Holy Spirit. He pours his very nature into us. He
answers Paul’s plea “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the
fullness of God.” Eph 3:19 (NASB) Such a moment is often so real in a person’s experience that the joy can be
irrepressible. However, many arrive at this moment as the culmination of a series of “moments” and walk into
this new way of living by such subtle means that they are almost unaware that anything significant has
happened. However their new center is profoundly recognized in a brand new way of relating to others. From
that moment we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory,” as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18. The
individual embraced by God and filled with his love will live the rest of his life with that glorious understanding
of himself and of his God constantly transforming and renewing his mind. In many ways, our minds still
understand the world through concepts that were formed outside of relationship with Christ. These inadequate
ideas will be by the very nature of love and grace replaced with more adequate and glorious understandings of
God, ourselves, people around us and the world in which we live. This does not mean that life becomes one of
ease and of rose-colored glasses. Precisely because we are not drawing our sense of ourselves from the world
around us and our experiences, we are empowered to live beyond their debilitating reach. Life is exclusively
about deeper and more intimate relationship with our God. He is our focus. His glory is our desire. Reflecting his
love is our highest end. The Westminster Catechism is precisely correct when it says that the chief end of man is
to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That is holiness. Such an experience of God addresses the deepest issues
of humanity. A culture today that longs for an existence that is transcendent and meaningful will be satisfied
with this. Churches will ring again with the sounds of laughter and joy as the people of God worship and adore
him. While we may not express that extravagant joy in exactly the same forms as did the church of 50 or 100
years ago, our joy will be nonetheless equally apparent.
Chapter 10 - Faith, Hope, Love and Happiness
If you have continued with us to this point in the book, it is possible that you have enjoyed the stories,
been delighted by the possibilities, and wondered how it might work out practically in your life. It is possible
that you feel that something is still missing. That missing something is probably “how”. How do I find myself in
a relationship with God in which he has become the source of my identity? How do I replace inadequate
affirmations of my worth with what God says about me? How can it be possible to live with love as the
foundation of my identity and the thread that connects all of my relationships?
When I sat alone in a hospital just north of downtown Dallas, I experienced a moment of realization
when I wrote “God’s love must be enough.” Something profoundly wonderful happened in that moment and in
the next few days. A foundational truth replaced a lifelong misbelief. It was not that this misbelief had appeared
inadequate or filled with logical holes as I lived my life. This misbelief was the very construct under which I
related to every experience and individual. It was totally beyond question or analysis. In fact, it was so
thoroughly ingrained in me as to be an absolute given, like one of my senses. When we smell something we may
question what we are smelling, but we don’t question the sense of smell itself. Like Thomas Anderson before he
becomes Neo in the movie, The Matrix, we exist without awareness that our world is a fabrication. However, the
good news is that Jesus said, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Our “matrix” is the
complex structure in which we understand ourselves, built upon our experiences and our shame. Born without
relationship with God, we are left with a sense of incompleteness that nags at our consciousness throughout our
lives. Our attempts to understand ourselves, the world around us, and even God, are set in that matrix. When we
encounter God it is his desire to destroy the matrix and replace it with himself as the foundation for all we are.
Ultimately, faith is not the discovery of a magical formula to fix our world. It is the embracing of all that
God is, and all that he desires to do within our lives. Very simply, when I say I have faith in God, I am saying
that I trust in his character. I will let him be who he is for me. Faith is not the mere intellectual assent to concepts
about God; it is the surrender of ourselves to him. It is my willingness to let go of all that I believe about myself
and the world around me, and give him permission to structure my world and my perceptions in accordance with
who he is. It is a process. It does take time. This process works within the context of our real world and impacts
every moment of it. It will include epiphanies and flow through our every moment of living. There are moments
when I must choose to walk away from what I have embraced as truth, and cling to God. Those moments will
include a time when I first believe that he is who he claims to be, and I invite him to establish relationship with
me. For many years in the church we have talked about being born again. By this phrase, first used by Christ, it
is being suggested that my life has begun now with him as the foundation. At other moments in our life, we will
be brought to an understanding that I need to surrender to him everything that I am and everything that I have
used as a source of self-worth.
However, as real as these epiphanic moments are, they can never take away from the truth that faith is
allowing Christ to work in every moment of my existence, transforming me to be like him. Faith in Christ is our
confidence that he will work well in our lives. It is allowing him through our continuing deliberate choice to take
the place of everything else that defined us. In the end, the “how” is answered by our choosing Christ over all
else and continuing to so choose. I know that I have done this when my world view is continuously shaped by
two most significant ideas. First, I have, indeed, embraced Christ when I look to the future with an optimism that
transcends my limited perspective. I trust him with tomorrow. Secondly, I live in the now with a desire to love as
my first chosen response to every circumstance and person I encounter. If this is not my world-view, I must of
necessity ask myself the question, do I really trust Christ? Is he my all in all, my source of worth, the foundation
for my identity? At any given moment, I may be left with the conclusion that he isn’t. The remedy is simply to
choose him again. It is never found in berating ourselves for our failure. It is only found when I choose to
believe that he loves me and gave himself for me. Anytime I find myself responding with fear, anger, control or
distance, I am not finding my identity and worth in Christ, but in some inferior source that I perceive to be
threatened. For my relationship with him to continue as abundantly as he desires for us, it is essential that I
identify that inferior source and submit it, too, to his grace. That is the process of the life of faith. Therein lies
Chapter 11 - Whatever Happened to Molly?
This book was begun as I, Roland, struggled for an adequate understanding of God that reflected my
journey of recent years. The circumstances surrounding Molly’s illness and recovery seemed to beg for an
explanation of how God works in our lives. When things turn out as we hoped, it is easy to shape our
understanding of God as one who does good things for us. When things go against us though, that same process
can leave us with a very unsatisfying understanding of who he really is. The way we come to understand who
God is, how he relates to us, where he is in the middle of good times and bad times, and how he desires to be
involved in our lives individually and as a church, must be shaped, not by those circumstances, but by our
relationship with him. There must be a transcendent nature to our deliberate understanding of God or it is not
faith. True faith comes to us from our encounters with God and his grace – not from our perception of his
activity in our circumstances.
Time for me has marched on. It became increasingly evident that my family would not be able to return
to Dallas as we had hoped. In this we determined that God must be God. We struggled together as a church and
recognized that the time had in fact come for me to return to my home land. I write this final chapter sitting in
my office in Brisbane, Australia, now 8000 miles and two years from where I began to write this book.
My family is together and we are embracing a future built on an understanding that God must be God
and love must be enough. We have Molly stabled within walking distance of our new home. She grazes in
comfort and is ready to take my daughter riding almost every day. They spend hours together. My daughter is
growing into a young lady now with confidence in herself but more importantly, with confidence in God – a
confidence built, not on things working out well, but built on the fact that at an early age she has encountered a
God of grace, and she loves him.
As a father I could hope for nothing more. I long for my children to see God as the God of grace that he
is, and I am watching that happen right before my eyes. Deep within me, I have a burning desire to reflect that
same understanding to the church and to the world at large. God is love. God loves us as individuals. Everything
we need to know about God is found in those two sentences. Every time we try to build our lives or our churches
upon another ideal we have missed and lost something. If my relationships with others do not reflect that truth I
am failing them.
A short time ago I had the wonderful privilege of strolling down a street in Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Brad and I were there for a short visit with a friend to talk with his church about the principles of this book. It
was a wonderful experience and I am almost certain that those fabulous Dutch people impacted our lives far
more than we impacted theirs. As I strolled down that street in Dordrecht, it was a Sunday morning and I was
walking to church. As I approached the church, I heard the church bell toll, calling people to worship. Coming
from a comparatively new country as I do, I was struck by the ancientness of the tradition represented by that
bell. We don’t hear church bells in Brisbane or Dallas. It was a magnificent and slightly wistful sound to me. It
called me to another time. It was a sound that resonated with hope and warmed my heart as I imagined myself
strolling through a European village centuries ago to that same sound and hearing in it the one certainty in my
life: the assurance that the church – and therefore God – would always be there.
Growing up in a country with a very brief history I have not had the opportunity to feel the same sense of
connectedness with the ancient church as I did that morning. It was a wonderful feeling, but it was more than
that. As the bell tolled it reminded me that the church has always found ways to call people out of their mundane
reality and into the presence of God. It has not always been a bell that has done that. It almost certainly will not
be a bell in the future. But somehow, my life and the lives of the faithful, transformed by the grace of a loving
God, must resonate with hope to the culture in which we live. We must warm the hearts of those we touch and
there is no other way but the way of love. We will never transform the world to even the smallest degree if we
allow ourselves to rely merely upon sound argument, our impact upon the political scene, or our ability to create
a fortress that isolates us from the polluting culture around us. We must walk with people, touch their lives,
believe in them, encourage them – love them. There is no other way; this is the way of grace. I choose again to
give myself to that way, what is your choice?