Just Crazy Enough to Do What He Tells Us to Do

After a week of reading, writing, reflecting and riding around the Daytona Beach area in search of something that really stands out as worth exploring, I was coming up empty.

Since I say I am trusting God to lead in this adventure, I decided there was no sense in feeling frustrated and figured I just needed to roll with it. I decided to look for some live music and just kick back for a Friday evening. Well, God leads in mysterious ways as they say. A Google search for “live music Daytona Beach” returned information about wild looking nightclubs, biker bars, dives and a coffee shop called Jakob’s Well. Hmmm, that looked promising, so I clicked and found myself at the website for Daytona Outreach Center, a ministry that provides rehab and housing for homeless addicts. Digging around, I found an interesting looking program that was no nonsense discipleship. I fired off a quick email to the founders but decided to pop on over to the coffee shop since it’s less than a mile from where I am staying.

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While I was chatting with the man at the counter, Susan walked out of the backroom, overheard me and said she had just received my email. She then introduced me to Tim, the coffee shop manager and what a story he had to tell. It seems that he was a homeless addict just walking the streets a couple years ago when Susan’s husband, Ray, pulled him aside. Ray asked a simple question of Tim. “If I offered you a place to live with no strings attached accept that I would also teach you about Jesus would you like that?” Tim asked for a few minutes to think about it, went and smoked a cigarette and came back to Ray after about ten minutes and agreed to the simple terms. That was over two years ago and Tim never touched drugs again. He now follows the same simple discipleship process of watching the crowds at various gatherings, asking the same basic question of guys he feels the Lord leading him to speak with. Some look at him like he’s a bit crazy but others respond much as he did. Over the past several years hundreds of homeless addicts have found hope through this ministry and now both Jakob’s Well and The Daytona Outreach Center Thrift Store are managed and operated by men who have been through the discipleship program.

Later that evening I went back for the live music and Tim introduced me to Ray Kelley, the man who started it all. Ray sat and shared his story with me for the next two hours. He had been a successful businessman but hung with a rough biker crowd and got into methamphetamines. After their “chef” got busted, Ray became the new meth chef and set up a mobile lab, a la Breaking Bad. Susan was a good Christian wife who made sure her family got to church every Sunday but in a moment of weakness, she finally gave in to Ray’s invitation to try a taste of meth. One try was all it took and for the next five years Ray and Susan lost everything they had. Over one 18 month period Ray told me, they burned through $900,000 and didn’t buy a single home or car or motorcycle or any major tangible item. They became two homeless addicts who hated each other. They went their separate ways and continued to self-destruct. Eventually, Ray says, he was homeless, helpless and hopeless and he cried out to God, not for salvation but to take his life. As Ray put it, God’s answer to that prayer was, “No.” Instead of dying, Ray began to feel just a little bit of peace. Since God didn’t strike him dead Ray asked God to deliver him from his addiction and God did just that. From that day, nearly ten years ago, Ray never touched the drug that had ruined his life. He got in line with God’s plan and purpose and eventually he and Susan reunited and began ministering to others together.

One Friday night a few months later Ray had been asked to lead a Bible study at a homeless outreach program in Daytona Beach. Ray says instead of leading a Bible Study, he got to preaching to the small group of seven people and while he was preaching he sensed the Lord telling him to take them all home with him. He said he tried to ignore the voice and kept on preaching – louder to try to drown out the voice he was hearing. But he couldn’t quiet the voice. When he was through preaching he went to Susan and shared with her the sense he had, hoping that she would tell him it was ridiculous and out of the question. Instead she smiled and said, “Praise God!” Ray protested and knew it wasn’t a good idea but Susan said if it’s really God speaking to you, you can’t refuse, even if you think it doesn’t make sense.

Ray described these seven characters as, two men who were bi-vocational (pimps and drug dealers) three women who were “self-employed entrepreneurs”, a teenage runaway and one just plain homeless addict. Oh yes, Ray and Susan also had a 15 year old daughter still living with them at the time, so they called to prepare her for what they were bringing home. This family of three was suddenly ten living in a three-bedroom house. That first weekend the runaway and one of the pimps took off together, but the other five stayed and were discipled by Ray and Susan. For the rest of our time together Ray shared story after story of the adventure they have been on and God’s provision time-after-time (including a recent $10,000 award from CBS and USA Networks in their “Characters Unite” program.) Over the next several years, God provided more homes for little or no money and has lead Ray and Susan to begin these social enterprise programs to provide jobs and generate income for the ministry. Ray admits that what they do is unconventional and in some peoples minds, dangerous, but no one argues with the results. Hundreds of homeless addicts have been rescued, discipled and trained to reproduce. As Ray declared to me, “We’re just crazy enough to do what he tells us to do.”

As we ended our conversation Ray said, “if you want to see another cool ministry you won’t find publicized anywhere, you should check out the Sunday morning service at Sun Splash Park. Every Sunday at 7:00 am, there’s a great service for the homeless and the residents of an assisted living facility that’s right across the street.” Wait till I tell you that story – incredible!

A Great Redemption Story

The Traversy Family

The Traversy Family

On my way south last week I made one of my planned stops in Thomasville, NC to catch up with the Traversy family. As noted in a couple earlier posts, Genevieve Traversy was the very first foster child we welcomed into our home.

When Genevieve came to live with us shortly after her 16th birthday, she arrived with an open, indomitable spirit – and her two-week old son. As I sat in her living room the other night she told me that ours was at least the twelfth home she had been placed in during her years in the foster care system. [Genevieve and her story have been featured in NH Division of Children Youth and Families conferences; a video produced by DCYF can be seen by clicking here] With a history such as hers, most people would flounder and fall into despair and addiction or worse. But God had his hand on Genevieve and wrought redemption in and through her life. Though she was in many ways a typical rebellious teenager, it was clear that there was something special about Genevieve. Even at an age when most kids were into music and fashion she was a devoted mother caring for her infant son with a tenderness not often seen. She managed the middle of the night feedings and changings and still kept up with her schoolwork, even though coming to a new home met registering at yet another new school. When we told her that we attended church every Sunday (I was after all, the pastor of a church plant at the time) she was happy to hear it and gladly attended church with our family, always open to the word of God, which had been established in her heart at an early age. Though she lived with us for only about a year, I am grateful to God that we have stayed in touch and been privileged to witness His hand in her life.

A few years back Genevieve called me to ask if I would perform her marriage to Shawn. I responded as I usually do to such requests, saying that I only do Christian weddings so I would need meet with she and her fiancé at least six times to explain what a Christian marriage is all about. To my surprise she told me that Shawn wanted that so it was my distinct pleasure and honor to take Genevieve and Shawn through premarital counseling and joining them as husband and wife. During that counseling, I shared the truth of the Gospel with Shawn, and while I believe he accepted the message intellectually, he would admit that he didn’t actually cross the line of faith until months later when they got plugged in to a wonderful church. Today, Genevieve and Shawn are parents to four wonderful children and oh what tremendous growth and transformation can be seen in this entire family.

When I showed up at their doorstep, I was welcomed with warm greetings and hugs. Genevieve had been busy most of the day, teaching at a homeschool co-op, and Shawn had been working on their ailing family van, but there was no sense that I was inconveniencing them in any way. They have a home where all are welcome. In fact, hospitality is something they practice regularly and though far from wealthy in a material sense, they are willing and eager to share whatever they have with whoever is in need.

Though Genevieve was a ward of the state from a very early age, she always made great effort to stay in touch with her birth family and cultivated relationships with her mother and brothers. As her foster parents, we understood how important those ties are and had welcomed Genevieve’s mom to holiday dinners in our home. Years after Genevieve had left our home and I was working with the homeless in Manchester, NH, developing a new collaborative project with several other agencies, I happened to spot a woman stumbling down the middle of the street early one morning. I was forced to slow down for fear she may lurch in front of my car and as I passed her I had a flash of recognition, it was Genevieve’s mom. My heart sank to see her in such a state and thought then of how much pain Genevieve must feel.

That incident took place a year or two before the call about getting married. When I showed up at Genevieve and Shawn’s apartment for our second premarital counseling appointment, Genevieve apologized for the mess saying that her mom had recently moved in with them, had accepted Christ, was sober and ready to go into treatment for the first time. Sure enough, there was the same woman I had seen stumbling down the street, standing before me, still looking a little haggard, but bright eyed and clear headed. I am thrilled to say that while I, as one who dealt with alcoholics and drug addicts daily, was a bit skeptical, Genevieve’s mom, did go to treatment, got into a transitional housing program and eventually her own place and maintained sobriety from that day forward. I attribute her success to the fact that she believed the power of God to transform lives because she witnessed that power in the transformed life of her daughter.

Those familial relationships that Genevieve fostered – her older brother Jeff, walked her down the aisle and gave her away at her wedding. Sadly, Jeff died last year and his daughter, Kaitlyn, had a very hard time of it. A few months ago she asked Genevieve if she could come live with her and her family. After praying together, Genevieve and Shawn agreed to have her come. Kaitlyn has also come into a relationship with God as a result of this loving families example and is flourishing in her new life.

The baby who I first met at two-weeks of age is now almost 16. He is smart as a whip and taking college courses offering credits toward his high school diploma. He will likely complete his home education and graduate soon. He is extremely tech savvy and is producing music and music videos of amazing quality. His younger siblings are excelling in their own rights (congratulations again to Kahleb, whose football team just completed their second undefeated championship season) and like so many homeschooled siblings I have known, have their squabbles but are clearly devoted to one another. This entire family stands as a wonderful testimony to God’s amazing grace and reflect the nature, character of love of Jesus in virtually everything they do.

Thank you Traversy’s for offering this wandering preacher a place to lay my head for the night and sharing your lives with me.


Biblical Equilibrium

I mentioned in an earlier post that while I am trusting the Spirit to guide me as I travel, there are a few people and places I plan to visit on this Emmaus Road Trip because I already know reflect Christ and their stories deserve to be told. My biggest fear in these cases is that I won’t be able to find appropriate words to make that reflection clear to my readers. Last week I visited with a family that exemplifies living faith and I am anxious to tell at least a little bit of their story. However, if you will indulge me, I feel the need to set the stage with a brief Bible study. Tomorrow I will post the narrative of Genevieve and her family.

As I have hinted at and sometimes declared outright, there are times when I take issue with today’s church. Simply put, I don’t think the church is a very good reflection of the person and nature of Christ as he is revealed in the Bible. It’s funny the different responses I get to that statement. Un-churched people usually nod their heads enthusiastically in agreement, whereas regular church attenders often become defensive and tell me how good their church is or how their pastor is such a great preacher. The fact is, I consider myself a decent preacher and have been told as much many times, yet, I don’t feel that I have been very effective in leading any church I have pastored to reflect the nature of Christ to the world at large.

As one called and anointed to “preach the word” I have often been frustrated that people with whom I share the good news of God’s love and His desire to enrich their lives, will often take a little bit of it but then just kind of stagnate. In 30 plus years of ministry I can think of too few lives that I would say have been “radically transformed” by God. The problem isn’t God’s lack of power, but our (I definitely include myself in this) failure to understand the depth and breadth of the power that is available to us who believe.

As I have wrestled with this and studied the Scriptures I am convinced that the lack of understanding stems from our uneven reading and understanding of the Bible itself. At some point during my wrestling, I came across a verse that just smacked me up side of the head. I have memorized it, quoted it often, studied it, restudied, meditated on it and even now after many years I am still gaining understanding, with a recognition that I still don’t grasp it entirely. But here it is, in James’ letter to the church God inspired him to write these words: “Religion that God our Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)

Now I know better than to hang everything on a single verse, yet in that one verse I found what I am convinced diagnoses the problem (at least in part) and offers the solution (also in part) to the diminished power of today’s church. Again, I recognize that all things must be kept in context, and in the limited space below I have attempted to offer evidence to show that I am being faithful to the whole of scripture with this thought.

When I came into the church in my late teens the clear emphasis was on the latter part of that verse – “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” By and large, the primary message of the evangelical church was; how to live a holy life in a fallen and sinful world. Today, it is much the same, though perhaps a little softer and focused a bit more on how to have a happy life, with the underlying current being that you need to live a clean life in order to have a happy life. By the time I came to understand this message I was already pretty polluted though I didn’t even know it. In my mind I was a nice guy. As I got more and more involved in the church, I found that some of the things I thought were no big deal, were frowned upon by the clean folk in my new circle and gradually I was lead to clean up my act. When I was called to preach, I began to preach to others the need to clean up their acts as well. Everywhere I looked within the church that was the basic message. A good Christian doesn’t drink alcohol, doesn’t dance, (might lead to carnal desires) doesn’t smoke, doesn’t cuss, doesn’t go to the movies, (where sin and depravity are glorified), and the list of things a good Christian doesn’t or shouldn’t do goes on.

The thing is, I don’t recall hearing much, if anything, about the first part of that verse; “to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” If anything, it was implied that such social work was the domain of the liberal mainline churches that had already “watered down” the Gospel. However, a further study of church history shows that compassionate outreach to the poorest of the poor is an essential cornerstone of the evangelical church of the late 19th and early 20th century. In fact, virtually every social action addressing the needs of the downtrodden originated in God’s church.

As I mediated and studied that verse I learned this. The English word “and” doesn’t appear in the original language in which the Bible was written. But because there seem to be two distinct statements made, the word “and” was inserted to make the verse flow better. Yet, here is a literal translation of the text: religion pure and undefiled with the God and Father is this, to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation — unspotted to keep himself from the world. (YLT) So what if there is really only a single statement here? What if we read the verse like this? “Religion that God our father consider pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress (in order) to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

What if the real key to personal purity is found not in a list of do’s don’ts but in following God’s command and example of caring for those who are most needy? In the Old Testament we read this description of God: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5 NIV) In Isaiah when we read of God chastising his people we find this: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2 NIV) These are just two of the dozens of verses that speak of God’s concern for the fatherless, widows and aliens living among His chosen people.

Furthermore, consider Jesus response when questioned about the greatest commandment. He said we are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves and even went so far as to say: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40 NIV) Or how about these words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches that had fallen into legalism: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 NIV) [In case you think Paul was contradicting Jesus, understand that since he was writing to Christians, the loving God part was presumed]

The longer I live and the more I study and pray, the more I see this as critical to our understanding of God’s will for his church. So it was with James 1:27 in mind, and at least the germ of this understanding that back in 1997 my wife and I decided to become foster parents, opening our home to a fatherless child. Enter Genevieve, whose story I promise to tell in my next post.


The Search Continues

My how time flies when you are busy. I am now thirteen days into the Emmaus Road Trip and I simply cannot believe it. For the first few days I raced against the weather, trying to stay ahead of the Arctic cold that has been sweeping most of the country. As a result, I haven’t had time to post much here but now I have several posts in the works, so please check back often.

It wasn’t until my fifth night that I finally got a chance to camp and meet some interesting people.

Hanging_Rock_State_Park 2

I spent last Sunday night at Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury, North Carolina. The campground host was a retired southern gentleman who travels full-time, serving as a volunteer at campgrounds all over the country. He was very warm and welcoming telling me to go ahead and pick a site that worked for me, and he would be around later to take care of the paperwork. While I was setting up my Nube shelter, (yes, that’s a shameless plug) three deer walked up behind me, casually foraging among the fallen leaves. A few minutes later my host stopped by but was unable to make change so he told me that the ranger would probably stop by as well.

As I continued setting up camp to prepare my own evening meal, a fellow camper stopped by. He said he tours on his motorcycle some as well and wanted to invite me to join he and his wife for a pancake breakfast in the morning. He had just barely left when the park ranger, Sam, came by to with change for my camping fee. As a ranger he is an avid outdoorsman so he was very intrigued by my hammock set up. With his wonderful southern hospitality, he apologized for bothering me, but wondered if he could take a closer look. I invited him to check it out and he was duly impressed. Our conversation then turned to motorcycles, adventures and family. We must have chatted for at least half an hour. I finally got a fire started and dinner made and settled in to relax for the evening. Sitting in my chair, looking to the heavens I thought, “man, it has been too long since I just sat and stared at the night sky.” just then, as if a special gift from the Creator, I watched a meteor streak across the empyrean.

In the morning, I decided to take Ray up on his invitation. Based on the warm welcome they extended, I was certain that this was going to be my first encounter with people who reflect the nature and character of Christ. Well, they did, but they didn’t. That is, they were very caring and hospitable, and very interested in what I had to share, but claimed no faith of their own. They were more welcoming than most New England Christians, and exhibited many Christ like characteristics, but it was more the result of their upbringing than their faith that made them so.

Following breakfast but before breaking camp, I decided to take a little walking tour of the rest of the campground. I came across a couple men who had been camping and hiking the area trails. They were packing up and one of them offered me their left over firewood. I thanked them but informed them I would be moving on as well. One thing led to another and suddenly we were into a deep political and theological conversation. It turns out they had both been in the Marines and been out now for fourteen years. This was the first time since his years as a Marine that one of them had slept in a tent.

It seems he was raised in a Christian home but during his time in the military wandered away. Apparently some of what he saw and experienced caused him to doubt or question. He became quite a student of history and from a military perspective he felt we became a right wing country, instead of a Christian country.

When I shared that as a minister I had run a transitional housing program for men in recovery, he immediately said what I know many people have thought; “I would have said, there you go, compromising the Gospel and watering down the truth.”

Our conversation jumped around a bit but as I recall it, he told me of a priest who directed him to the writings of an Egyptian Coptic who has helped him in his spiritual journey. God really does work in mysterious ways.

[Author’s personal note: I’m sorry I didn’t get your names, but as you both took my card in order to follow along with my journey, if you happen to read this post and feel the desire to correct any of the facts I have stated, please feel free to email me or leave your comments below.]

Heading to my next stop, I knew I was going to encounter Christ in his people, as I was on my way to see our first foster daughter and her family, who had moved to North Carolina two years ago. Their story follows in my next post.


We Have Ignition – We Have Liftoff

Apollow liftoffAs a kid I remember hearing those words as I watched the televised launch of almost every Gemini and Apollo rocket mission. I don’t recall ever wanting to be an astronaut but those words sparked something of a sense of adventure deep within me lo, those many years ago.

Those words came to mind as I pulled out of my driveway yesterday morning to begin this Emmaus Road Trip that I have been planning for the past few months. We have ignition – we have liftoff! The first day of the trip couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Nice weather and light traffic allowed me to reach Westport, CT in about 3 ½ hours where I had a nice visit with my daughter and her family where they are settling in to a new community. They moved there recently as my son-in-law accepted a new position as the Associate Rector of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. (Perhaps, like me, you find that name a bit redundant, but it stems from the merger of Christ Church and The Memorial Church of the Holy Trinity back in 1944).

I’m happy to report that I saw the reflection of Christ yesterday in the form of a four-year old boy and a two-year old little girl. Fine, perhaps I am a bit biased since these two darling cherubs are in fact my grandchildren but man can they make me smile! Their joy, their innocence, their zest for life, are simply inspiring. They may not be the type of examples I am looking for in this journey but I sure am glad I had the chance to visit with them at the start of my quest. It helps to remind me of the importance of this search for those people and organizations that serve as the hands and feet of Christ in a world in chaos.

As I departed this morning from Westport, it was raining lightly but steadily. I now sit sipping a hot chocolate in a McDonalds somewhere in Northern NJ trying to warm up before continuing in a southwesterly direction. Oddly enough, Emmaus, PA is a few miles down the road. I’m not sure this is the best route to my goal of Ashburn, VA for tomorrow but how could I not at least ride through Emmaus?

I appreciate your prayers for safety throughout the long ride ahead and particularly on days like this. Remember, I am looking for the reflection of Christ in post-modern America. I am not on a journey to see Him face-to-face just yet.

That will do for this quick update, I trust you will check back often to share in this great adventure. May our God bless you all abundantly.