Pathway Blog


February 22, 2021

We’ve been talking about two boys growing up in a family business, watching their dad in charge. As toddlers, he carried them on his shoulders out to check on the state of the work. It’s all they knew. Let’s unpack this Father a little more.
This family’s business must have been robust to survive a son leaving with his share of the estate. Watch, Dad didn’t even blink when he shared the estate with his inexperienced sons? Successful entrepreneurs would question these tactics. But then, they don’t understand that grace grows when you give it away.
This story isn’t about business strategies. Sure, it was a family business, yet the emphasis was obviously family over business; Dad first, CEO second. This was always the case whether the sons realized it or not. Remember the story’s end when he reminded his eldest that all he owned belonged to him.
The party when the young son returned … what does this tell us? It was never about how much work Dad could get out of either son at day’s end. Enjoying life with his sons was his heart. Dad sets the tone, “This family is not about competition or production quotas. It is about celebrating each other.”
This dad knew his boys … that one would become hyper-responsible and the other would wander off. He never told the dutiful son to sit down and rest. He didn’t stop the roving son from leaving. As the one in charge, he could have. But, he let them pursue their desired paths, hoping they’d one day discover his love.
To force authority on a person degrades the relationship. It may create order, but leaves the recipient feeling disrespected and confused. If made to stay home, the wandering son would have never come to his senses. If he’d not been given room to explode, the laboring son would have never owned his rage toward his dad. This father provided space for both discoveries.
Much of our culture’s religion assumes God has this hyper-need to be boss. He’s designed a cosmic plan that can’t vary one inch to the left or right. He’s the CEO. We are his minions. Work hard for the company. Follow policies and procedures. And you have one chance to get this right … or burn for eternity.
What if life is this story; not a job we do for God, but a family adventure we celebrate with him? And what if, like this story, God has this divine string tied around the heart of each child that he is gently tugging toward home?

Rediscovering the Father

February 15, 2021
I’m writing a recovery workbook by this title, based on Jesus’ tale of a dad with two sons. The story keeps exploding new truth for me. What will you see in it?
We know this one. Dad raises two boys in the family business. Older son is a no-frills hard-working guy. Younger is a free-bird who asks Dad for his piece of the family pie. Dad divides the estate between his sons. Shortly after, the young son decides to use his proceeds to fund a solo flight.
Obviously, he’s not ready to fledge, ’cause he crashes and burns. Out of money, out of friends. Out of friends, out of options. Working for Mr. Pig Farmer, he catches himself drooling over the slop. Time for his “ah-ha” moment … a plan.
His plan is to head home and hire on with Dad. Eyes on the horizon, Dad sees him far off and runs to meet him with hugs and kisses. Both bring their own plan to the reunion. But celebration out-votes obligation. Robes, rings, high dollar beef … time to party. Older son catches wind of the festivities and jumps in with accusations. When Dad consoles, the son goes off on him with pent up rage.
Jesus was born into a world that misunderstood his Father. Church leaders painted him as a demanding task-master. My own dad used to call this “the tyranny of the oughts.” Somebody else labeled it as “The Should Monster.” Jesus used this story to paint, with vivid clarity, a new picture of God.
What can you say about a God who doesn’t run his business so much as he freely shares it with his children. He lets his dutiful kids pursue their addiction to work. He lets his free-bird kids wander and wonder. When we choose unhealthy paths, he seems to love us even more. He responds empathetically the instant any of us open a door, even when he knows the conversation could get clumsy.
We call this parable “the prodigal son.” In reality it’s more about the good Father. Both sons misread him. Older son accuses him. Younger son takes advantage of him. But this Dad is relentless. Nothing either son does or says makes him love them any more or less. This is the God Jesus wants us to know and trust.
If you’re like me, you’ve typically identified with the foibles of the two sons in this story. This is distracting. What if we focus on the Father instead? Sit with him in this story. We’re about to get to know the best Dad ever.

Welcome to Love

February 8, 2021

God believes in love. He creates the world … constantly pursues humanity … becomes one of us … shares his Spirit with us, … all out of love.
His love can be gentle or seem harsh. It can get all up in your face or be subtle as a whisper. It can feel emotionally passionate or logically straightforward. It can discipline or coddle. Sometimes we get it. Sometimes we don’t. God’s love for us is doggedly relentless. We cannot make him un-love us.
God left no room for confusion with his Son. Touching lepers, cuddling little ones, washing feet, all graphic statements of love. He taught it. He lived it. He died it. He exploded a grave with it.
Enough said …
For much of my life I struggled with damaged emotions: anger, anxiety, low self-esteem, lust, hyper-control issues, depression. I tried praying it all away. I read books. I was the dutiful Christian. Nothing worked.
I preached God’s love during my entire ministry, but I never believed it applied to me. Somehow I lived with the silly notion that my particular version of badness stifled any goodness God could come up with. That’s some warped arrogance right there. Then, one day it dawned on me; this isn’t about my loveability. This is about God’s ability to love.
This is where the water gets over my head. I have no idea how God’s love works inside a person to bring hope and healing. In the grand scheme of things, it is probably best to leave that up to him. All I know is that when I stopped trying to be something extra, his love was able to take over and work its magic. My life took a u-turn. I don’t understand it. I just know it happened.
Back in my wounded days, I tried hard to practice love. I was a pastor, so it was my duty. Plus it looked good on my spiritual resume. But it was all like forcing a right-handed glove on my left hand. Just letting you know … this isn’t something we go out and work on. Our role is to stop trying. Apathetic? No. Hard? Yes!
But know this … when you’ve been loved like God loves, it’s hard to keep it to yourself. It’s not so much that you talk it. It’s more that you breathe it. And it’s not a job you do for God. It’s a life you live with him.
Welcome to love.

Pathway Journey

February 1, 2021
You and I have issues. Most of us are aware of our failures and falling-downs. If by chance we forget, our loved-ones and the scabs on our knees remind us.
This being said, think back five years. Where were you with your issues? Did they control you? Were you even aware of them? Could you talk about them? Were you seeking help: therapy, recovery groups, self-help books, prayer and fasting, etc?
There’s this misguided idea that every issue should have an instant solution. If we read the right book or say the right prayer, our problems will vanish in a puff of smoke. Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that work’n for you?” It’s not unusual to battle some of the same emotional demons for years.
In Pathway, the ministry I’m in, we hear newbies say, “I thought I’d be healed by now. Am I doing this recovery thing wrong? Does this approach even work?” Fair questions, for sure. Instead of quick cures, we invite them to keep coming back.
Pathway has two core values: Be real. Be loved. Bring your authentic self and let us love you. That’s it. The safety these values create invites people to open up their humanity. After a few visits, they realize the playing field is level. There are no “poster children” who have arrived. Week after week, God inhabits the honesty of his people. The magic can be palatable.
Over the years we’ve suited up and shown up, not knowing how our gatherings will unfold. A song may open an “ah-ha” moment. You might discover hope in someone’s story. It’s not chaotic, but there’s no rigid pattern, formula or strategy. The agenda is flexible. People always take priority over program and planning.
Recovery is not something you grasp. It is something that grasps you. It begins when you admit that you are powerless over your issues and fall back into the arms of your loving Father. And it happens best in healthy community.
Pathway… a journey in hope and healing.

Wendell VanValin, Pathway Minister