by Joani Schultz
I love stories—especially true ones. And every year, two story-rich events (The Lifetree Cafe Annual Conference and The Future of the Church Summit) supply me with God Sightings I can’t keep to myself.
Having just been filled to the brim with real stories, I’m astounded at what God is doing. (Although why am I surprised?)
Here’s what I mean.
From hopelessness to hope
One night a rumpled, crumpled man walked into a Lifetree Café.
He planted himself in the back corner, suspicious and rather scary-looking with his unkempt, long, scraggly beard. He had no friends; he had no family.
A lonely hard-luck case. In other settings less welcoming, he would’ve been shunned or shuttled off as a bothersome homeless person.
He kept to himself. But he kept coming to Lifetree Café each week, listening in.
Every week he heard, “You’re welcome just as you are. Your thoughts are welcome; your doubts are welcome. We’re all in this together. God is here, ready to connect with you in a fresh way.” (I know this because hosts speak those magnetic words each week at every Lifetree Café across the country.)
After a while, he moved to a table of four and started participating in the discussions, willing to share his stories of isolation and heartbreak.
Those Lifetree friends put those weekly welcome words into action with acceptance, listening ears, open hearts, and even hugs. They became Jesus with skin on.
To everyone’s surprise, the once-bedraggled man began to transform. He took a bath, shaved, and cut his hair. He smiled and joined in. His skepticism turned to joy. His outsides—and insides—were transformed!
With a grateful heart, he told the Lifetree participants what he’d told his therapist: He’d found his spiritual therapy at Lifetree Café!
Isn’t that just like God to use willing, untrained, yet relationally rich people to be his salt and light to those who need it?
From discouragement to surprise
One Lifetree director had shared with one of her Lifetree “regulars” how discouraged she felt because more people weren’t showing up each week.
The Chinese woman listening looked surprised.
She’d never told the Lifetree director why she snapped pictures of the Scripture verses on screen each week. She’d never shared that after each Lifetree Café episode, she blogged her discoveries of God’s relevance in every topic covered. She’d never told how her blog reached millions in China—in Mandarin!
At a Lifetree Café with seemingly low attendance, God was using a blogger to China writing in Mandarin to reach more people than all the Lifetree Cafés combined!
Isn’t that just like God to multiply our efforts when we least expect it?
From impossible to possible
Each week a self-proclaimed Buddhist joined in the lively discussions at Lifetree Café. One week, the man found himself at a table with three Christian women who, through the artful Lifetree questions, were given an opportunity to share their stories of how they couldn’t imagine life without their Christian faith.
He left that evening saying, “That Jesus really means a lot to you ladies.”
Weeks later, the Lifetree hour concluded with a powerful prayer experience (inspired thanks to golf pro Wally Armstrong’s story. You can find his book HERE.)
The host placed an empty chair at the front of the room. Each person was to imagine Jesus sitting in that chair, eager to have a personal conversation with them. The prayer experience guided everyone through a conversation you’d have with a friend—what you’d want to tell a friend, what you’d laugh about, what you’d cry about. At the conclusion, everyone imagined Jesus leaning in and whispering something in their ear. Powerful.
As the Lifetree Café emptied, the Buddhist man shared with his new friends what Jesus had whispered in his ear:
“Believe in me.”
Isn’t it just like God to whisper “Believe in me” in each of our hearts?
“Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God’” (Mark 10:27).
My coworker told me I collect stories like barnacles.
May you be blessed with barnacles like these!