Cleopas Rides Again

CampsiteIt’s been way too long since I posted anything here, but the simple fact is that life has been extremely settled – perhaps that’s a little over the top, but all things are relative, right? It’s really been pretty busy and exciting, though stable and stationary.

Yet, with all the good things God is doing, our universal enemy has decided to toss a few bricks and I figured a little time alone on the road would do me good and help me gain and/or keep a right perspective.

For the past two years, I have been in a new pastorate, seeking to apply a few things I learned over the 4 months and roughly 9,000 miles I traveled back in 2014/15 as I sought the reflection of Christ in post-modern North America.

To briefly recap, here’s what I discovered. Despite the failings of many churches, God is still very much alive and thriving and so is His Church. While I had a few disappointing experiences, I seemed to tap into a vein of churches, what we might call church type missions, and para-church organizations where Christ was clearly manifest. These places were geographically, socio-economically, racially, and culturally diverse. Some were rather traditional, some served the homeless, some served a primarily immigrant population and others a particular sub-culture, yet in each of these places I saw the hands and feet of Christ at work, meeting needs and changing lives for the better.

Upon my return, I spent a great deal of time reflecting and analyzing, seeking to understand if there were certain common denominators in these vastly different ministries and environments. Initially I found two common factors: a strong emphasis on teaching the Word of God, and great fellowship or hospitality.

A few months ago, as I was considering a couple things we were thinking of implementing in our church a third element came to mind. Perhaps I was a little slow to realize this because of the broken place I was in at the time, but it dawned on me that everywhere I felt the presence of God, I personally, was loved and accepted by those in leadership and beyond. Then, upon further reflection I saw one further factor. Each of these churches/ministries was “other focused.” That is, they were all concerned with helping others and I can almost guarantee that the question, “What’s in it for me/us?” was rarely, if ever, considered.

So here’s what I think is my final conclusion on this whole thing about finding Christ, whether it be in post-modern North America or at any other time in history, or place in the world. Are you ready for this? I hope you’re paying close attention because I think this is big. Simple, but big – so simple that I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to put it all together, but big enough to effect every ministry decision I expect ever to make.

The following summarizes what I learned on my quest: 1. The Word leads us to love God and love others. 2. It makes sense that fellowship/hospitality would follow because it’s natural to want to spend time with those we love. 3. The Word teaches us that we have all fallen short, in other words we are all broken. If we recognize this truth about ourselves, then we must accept brokenness in others. 4. The Word teaches us to reach out and to consider others needs before our own. Perhaps to keep things even simpler we should see it like this:


1. A focus on The Word of God leads us to…

a. Fellowship/Hospitality

b. Acceptance of people where they are

c. Focus and concern for others.


If we have the first item right – the Word of God – then the items that follow are fluid in their order, yet once thing is critical, it’s all about the Word of God. That must come first at all times in in every consideration, because when the Word comes first, the other things flow from that. The Word teaches us that we must love God and love others. Our Jewish brothers and sisters are taught the Shema as the centerpiece of the morning and evening prayer service which includes the following passage: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV) In the New Testament this command is tied to loving others by Jesus in a number of places, best summarized in the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37:


25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV)


Again, if we are living out these commands, then fellowship and hospitality naturally follow. It becomes an almost automatic byproduct of love.


When we understand the message of the Gospel, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, we realize that we have no ground whatsoever to stand on, whereby we can judge others. Having had our sins forgiven, we are commanded to forgive others and it becomes natural to accept people the way Jesus does. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul to his friends in Philippi, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 NIV)


Just in case the point of being other focused isn’t made clear in the above passages let’s pick up the instruction that follows in Philippians 2:5-8, which was part of an early hymn of the church: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”


Did you catch that? Jesus, being in nature God, made himself nothing, took on the nature of a servant, and became obedient to the point of death. I promise you that at no time while Jesus contemplated the cross or prayed in the garden of Gethsemane did he ever once say to his Father, “Okay, if I do this thing, what’s in it for me?”


So here’s my new simple metric for ministry decisions. Is what we are considering clearly in line with the Word of God? If so, does it build fellowship, does it express Christ’s acceptance or is it other centered? If we have a definite affirmative to the first as well as an affirmative to any of the following three elements, then we’ll do it. Maybe not right away, since we might need to find and train leadership, but we will work to that end. If the answer is “no” to either question, we will pass.


Yes, God Is Still About the Business of Miracles

For me, Christianity is a perfectly reasonable and logical system of belief. Having weighed (and yes, participated in) other life philosophies prior to coming to a place of faith in God, I can attest that even in times of doubt/weak faith, when I consider the evidence for the existence of God and the historical record of the God/Man, Jesus, I find that nothing else comes close to making sense.

Most of the time my faith is entirely rational. I have openly agreed with a friend and fellow blogger (he’s way out of my league but occasionally we share/exchange thoughts that make me feel wicked smaht) that a major problem with many contemporary worship songs is that they are emotion-based and encourage the believer to have a passionately intimate relationship with Jesus. We agree that this is one reason that many un-churched men are just that, un-churched. They find it strange to relate to another man in such an intimate way. Now before anyone accuses me of being homophobic or sexist or tossing any other labels at me – please just stop. I happily identify with the saying concerning the most interesting man in the world (Think-Dos Equis): “He would be in touch with his feminine side – if he had one.”

Having said all this, I will admit that from time-to-time, I experience the presence of God in such a powerful way that I am overcome with emotion.

One such incident occurred just yesterday and I spent a considerable amount of time in the dark, wee hours this morning contemplating the “what and the why” of my nearly uncontrollable emotions. I’ve been feeling poorly myself for several days and have taken advantage of a fairly low-pressure week to rest and nap during the day. This disruption in my normal sleep/rest cycle, along with waking sometime after midnight in a sweat as my fever broke, got me out of bed.

Rather than switching on lights or any number of electronic distractions – T.V., laptop, tablet – I decided to sit alone with my God and my thoughts. As I sat in the darkness of my living room, listening to the dog snore in the corner, and the sound of the white noise machine through the bedroom wall (which Janet needs in order to sleep through my snoring), several thoughts came to me regarding the awesomeness of God and though I was tempted to grab the computer and start writing then, I wanted instead to just enjoy and treasure the thoughts for myself, figuring that if they were as deep and meaningful to me as I thought, they would stick with me until a more opportune time to write.

A further setting of the stage: I rose yesterday as usual and after a short quiet time to pray and read my Bible, I clicked over to Facebook and found a post from a friend that caused me to dissolve in tears. I had just barely regained my composure when Janet came into the room and I said, “Listen to this.” As I began to read the post aloud I got a few lines in and broke down again, blubbering like a baby.

Not used to seeing her “strong man” so emotional, Janet couldn’t imagine what had me so choked up, but in tender compassion bent down to give me a hug as I struggled on. Rather than paraphrase, let me share Ray’s full post here:

Ray Kelley


Ray Kelley

February 15 at 1:59pm ·

“So we left this morning at 5 to go to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to meet with the team of Doctors who were going to perform my Daughter Katlin’s bone marrow transplant on Monday. A couple of couselers came in and talked to us and said the Doctors will be in in a few minutes. We set there for an hour which is very rare for Moffitt. Those guys are so awesome and are right on time for everything. Katlin was getting frustrated because of the wait. Two Doctors came in with a hand full of papers which were test results literally scratching there heads. She said I have no explanation for what I’m about to tell you. She said a few things that didn’t make sense to them and then said YOU DON’T NEED A BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT BECAUSE YOU NO LONGER HAVE CANCER. We set there totally speechless. Katlin said what? She repeated herself and Susan and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and smiled. We knew WHO ALL THE GLORY AND HONOR BELONGS!!! I said to the Doctor that a Miracle has happened and the Doctor said YES IT SURE HAS. We set speachless. The Doctor looks at us and said GET THE HELL OUTA HERE. We are still speechless. FRIENDS THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PRAYING FOR US THROUGH THIS DIFFICULT TIME. THE LORD JESUS SURE HAS HEARD AND ANSWERED YOUR PRAYERS. SHE IS HEALED BY HIS STRIPS!!! This sure has been a day I will never forget. My heart is full to see my baby smile and laugh all the way home.”

So here’s the thing: I don’t even know Katlin personally, but Ray and Susan are a dear couple I met near the beginning of my Emmaus Road Trip (See the archived post from November 2014, “Just Crazy Enough To Do What God Tells Us To Do”), and while we have had very little personal communication, we’ve kept up on Facebook and I, along with perhaps hundreds of others, have prayed for Katlin and the family as they have faced this frightening thing called cancer. Reading some of their posts it has been clear that these have been scary times and though they all have remained positive, I could tell that the prognosis was not always good.

As a minister of the Gospel, I deal with the sick and dying on a regular basis. In my latest assignment in this little seacoast community church I have already conducted several funerals and ministered to dozens of fearful and/or grieving people. Heck, it was just a few months ago that I walked through end of life issues thanks to this damned disease called cancer, with my own sister who transitioned from the picture of health to death in a matter of weeks.

Through all of these times I am able to express compassion and sympathy for those who are fearful and hurting while managing to rise above much overly emotional demonstration. So why was I sobbing and blubbering as I took in Ray’s post?

I am clearly happy for my friends at the wonderful news they received, but the emotion wasn’t mere happiness, or even joy. What I have come to understand is that I was, and am, overwhelmed by the glory and majesty of God. He is greater, smarter, more powerful and loving than I often give Him credit for. Sure I have read stories of miraculous healing and have been bold enough a time or two to ask for a miracle in my or others’ lives. Goodness, I’ve experienced the miraculous in recent months, but somehow this miracle has hit me deeper and more profoundly.

Perhaps it’s because I have come to trust God more to work out the details. Mostly, I think that’s good, but sometimes it can lead to complacency where I just kind of go along thinking, “It doesn’t really matter if things go the way I want, God can engineer things much better than I can.” Whether you are a person of faith or not, perhaps you’ve seen a motivational poster or a plaque of some sort that states: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

A few years ago while I was going through, what to be gentle I will call, a particularly excrement filled time in my life – you know what, that’s just not doing it, I’m afraid I will have to be a little more graphic because frankly from October 2012 to this past summer 2016 I experienced a SHIT SHOW of immeasurable pain and suffering. During this unrelenting storm I must have received over a dozen cards, plaques and tokens with that verse inscribed from friends and acquaintances. Fact is, that while it did become a bit cliché, I have held to the truth of the Scripture. Furthermore, while the suffering was real, the promise was just as real and never once did I feel abandoned by God – I always knew He had a plan that was good.

The danger, as I say, is in becoming complacent or even going so far as to be a fatalist, which is not even remotely Christian. God invites you and me to become co-laborers with him in this world and that includes ordering our own lives. So in the end, as I analyze my incredibly emotional response, I draw the following conclusions.

First, I am thrilled for my friends and the wonderful miracle they received. Second, I am overwhelmed with the majesty and power of God to do what man and science cannot explain, but more than that, I am struck by His fatherly love, grace and mercy. And finally, I recognize and confess that at times my faith is too small or too simplistic.

I learned through suffering and pain that I’m not God and I’m not in control, yet, as I grow in grace and my knowledge of Him, I find a God who desires to do more in the world than our meager faith will allow Him to do. I am convinced that we – you and I – are allowing the world to fall apart because we’re afraid to ask God for bigger things.

Perhaps it’s time to dust off the old classic “Your God Is Too Small” by J.B. Philips, and begin to develop a more Godly worldview.


Elephant Butte Lake Sunrise

Sunrise at Elephant Butte Lake

Shortly before setting out on my journey I attended a pastor’s brunch and had the opportunity to share and pray with some ministerial colleagues. As I described my search for the reflection of Christ in postmodern North America, one of the men at my table noted that many sociologists and philosophers, say we are even beyond postmodernism and now into supermodernism or hypermodernism.

One of my discoveries on the road is that none of these terms or labels means a thing to the average man or woman on the street. However, before I dive into this lack of labeling or embracing of specific philosophies, let me step back a bit to explain why I adopted my premise and approach.

While the issue is more complex than I have space for, or for that matter perhaps, sufficient intellect to adequately explain, postmodernity has been used a great deal to give justification as to why the church has been losing ground in recent years. The gist of the rationalization goes something like this: In the “modern age” as technology progressed there was hope that everything would get better. That with advances in modern science man could figure out solutions to every problem and the world would experience a golden age of reason and greater enlightenment and peace. However, when mans overall condition failed to improve significantly, postmodernism declared that knowledge and truth are not discovered, rather they are invented. In other words, there is no such thing as truth. You can have your truth and I can have my truth and anyone can have whatever truth they so choose. Thus the rationale or the excuse used to explain why the church is losing congregants so rapidly is that people have rejected the truth claims of the church. While this may be a slight oversimplification of the matter, it is generally what I have heard for many years now and a presumption, which I had accepted prior to my Emmaus Road Trip.

Yet, as I continue to process the things I found and the conversations I had while on the road, it strikes me that no one challenged me with a denial of truth or the truth claims of the church. Of the dozens of theological and intellectual exchanges I had with folks in a variety of settings, not a single soul said to me that the problem with the modern church is its insistence on a particular truth.

People told me that they felt the church is too focused on money or has become too political. Several people told me the church is run too much like a business and many told me that they have a problem with hypocrisy in the church. More than a few raised the issue of child molestation by Roman Catholic priests, (in fairness I must acknowledge that sexual deviation and sin are not exclusive to Roman Catholic clergy) and the far-reaching efforts to cover up such atrocities. Plenty of folks told me they feel the church is “out of touch” with the culture, but again, not a single person said the problem with the church is its position on truth.

Now that I have had time to digest and reflect I think I have figured out why I didn’t hear that complaint or criticism. I’m pretty sure it’s because the church is not making truth claims. The sad fact is that so many of us who preach the gospel have been sold a bill of goods that says people reject claims about absolute truth and, therefore, in an effort to be more palatable we have removed such bold statements from our preaching. In fact, one comment that was made to me more than once is that the church seems to be trying to compete with modern forms of entertainment and church has become another show. Since it can rarely compete on an even footing with modern entertainment, it has become a bad show; offensive to those who go seeking truth, and laughable to those accustomed to high tech sound and special effects.

Recently I was listening to the radio (a habit I had gotten out of while on my trip since I don’t have a radio on my bike) while driving with four wheels beneath me and caught an NPR story about the radicalization of American youth and those who are joining ISIS or other Jihadist groups. I know I have heard this before but it really struck me, perhaps in light of my own discoveries, as I heard again that one significant reason young Americans are joining these groups is that they long for something to believe in, something greater than themselves that declares the way things ought to be.

Meanwhile the average evangelical church youth group brings a bunch of teens together to play silly games and listen to crappy, supposedly hip music with pseudo Christian lyrics, trying desperately to entertain our kids to faith. What a pathetic and unbiblical methodology we employ to fulfill the great commission! We wring our hands at the fact that we are losing our youth and fail to see that they aren’t abandoning faith; rather they are simply walking away from lame forms of so called Christian entertainment. They are abandoning the church because we have not presented them with any truth(s) on which to build their lives.



In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes about spiritual warfare and the armor of God. (See Ephesians 6:10-20) As he begins to describe the armor he says, “Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…” Catch that? Truth is the first piece of armor Paul says we are to don, and with good reason. The belt of a Roman Centurion wasn’t merely a strip of cloth or leather around the waist used to hold his pants up. Particularly true since they didn’t wear pants, but that’s beside the point. The belt was a wide piece of leather with straps that crisscrossed in the back and came up and over the shoulders, attaching again at the front and was the foundation on which other pieces of armor mounted. The breastplate, (which spiritually, Paul equates with righteousness) designed to protect the vital organs, especially the heart, hung from hooks or buckles on the shoulder straps of the belt. In similar fashion the scabbard for the warriors sword hung from this belt.

Without the belt of truth there can be no righteousness for without truth there is no foundation for righteousness! Without the belt of truth there is no place to mount one’s sword and since Paul refers to the “sword of the spirit which is the word of God” we are left with nothing to offer that is different or greater than the philosophies of the world. Sure we may be able to wear the “helmet of salvation” independent of the “belt of truth” but we are extremely vulnerable and thus weak and prone to injury, which I fear describes the condition of the average churchgoer these days.

Is the church losing ground? Yes, of this fact there can be little doubt. Are we losing ground because people have rejected our claims about truth? I think not. Rather, in our race to be relevant we’ve become less so, offering cheap grace in an inferior package. As one apologist I heard a short time ago said: “Most preaching today is nothing more than more than feel good pop psychology with a little Christian wording thrown in.”

Lest you think I am about to break into a chorus of “Gimme that old time religion, Gimme that old time religion, Gimme that old time religion, It’s good enough for me.” please understand nothing could be farther from the truth. Old time religion was no better than new fangled religion – I reject them both.

So, to my brothers and sisters, called of God to proclaim his Word and truth, I set forth this challenge and/or encouragement: Be bold! Declare truth! Punch up those sermons with proclamations of truth worth living and dying over. Not simply to be offensive but in order to make known the Christ who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Who taught “the way of God in accordance with the truth.” Who “Came down from the Father full of grace and truth.” Who said, “God is spirit and is worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.” And “If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And who prayed to the Father on our behalf, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

To my un-churched readers, please; if you disagree with my assessment here, feel free to say so – I welcome your input. In fact, as a foot note to all, as one who is more accustomed to communicating orally, who is more comfortable in the pulpit where I can see faces and know if I am connecting, than at the keyboard sending my thoughts off into the ether, knowing not if I have hit the mark, I cherish all comments and feedback.

Now I pray that you will know the truth and find greater freedom in this life and the next, than you have ever experienced.


A Slice of Heaven

I-35 and 4th

This is the Site for Church Under the Bridge

Beneath Interstate 35, between 4th and 5th streets in Waco, TX, sits an egg shaped island of concrete covering about ¾ of an acre. Most days it’s just a vast oval of cement but come Sunday morning it is transformed into a little slice of heaven.

Food Line

Lining up for a Spaghetti Dinner at 10:30 am

Vans and pick-up trucks pulling trailers that have been fitted for special purposes begin pulling up on this island an hour or two after sunrise. Out come the portable stage, sound system and instruments for the worship team. Off another trailer with custom racks come the metal folding chairs for the congregation and plastic tables for the meal to be served by a visiting church from the region. Nearby the serving tables one finds a few more tables where those who desire can sign up for small groups or grab helpful resources and information or buy their very own Troll t-shirt.

At yet another set of tables one might find a youth group from another area church preparing to pass out fresh fruit and water.

CUB Bikers

Some of the Regular Bikers

As it becomes obvious that a gathering is going to take place more vehicles begin to arrive. Cars, trucks motorcycles and scooters begin to line the outer edge of the island and pull under the shelter of the southbound lane of the highway. As space becomes scarce, folks start parking in a vacant lot across the street or along the side streets to the east and west. Before you know it, people (and a few dogs) who have driven, ridden and walked are gathered together as the body of Christ.

CUB Message

An Attentive Congregation

While many churches may have a sign in front of their’ buildings indicating that “All Are Welcome”, few appear to believe that. However, the people gathered under the bridge seem to know this fact without any sign telling them so. Those who’ve come together represent all social and economic strata. There are plenty of middle class looking people one might find in your average church, more than a few rough looking bikers, those clearly down on their luck and homeless struggling to survive, alongside corporate executives, business owners and other people of means. Throw in a few college students and professors from nearby Baylor University, and consider that in each of the above categories one finds every shade of skin color and we indeed find a little slice of heaven. Or at least, what heaven will look like one day, for those who have put their trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ.

Having reached the approximate halfway point in my journey, both in terms of time and miles, I find I have been blessed in ways I never would have imagined. In almost every state or region I have been, I have found some deep, deep pools, where people of faith, acting in obedience to the Word of God and His will as it has been revealed to them, are marvelously impacting the communities around them and reflecting the nature and Character of Christ.

Unity in Worship

A Diverse Congregation

While I have many miles to go and many more regions to explore, I have a slight fear I may have peaked here in Waco. Between all the programs of Mission Waco, the incredibly authentic Church Under the Bridge and the cooperation from other churches in the city, I find it hard to believe I could find anything that better represents what I set out to find.

That statement should not detract in any way from the people and places I have been to date, nor do I expect it to leave me disappointed in what is yet to come, it is simply that almost everything has come together here in Waco.

Though the opening paragraphs of this post along with the photos might give you a limited picture of what you would find if you were to make the journey here yourself, let me take a few minutes now to share the stories of some of the people I met who have been touched by this church without walls


Pastor Jimmy Dorrell

Because Jimmy introduced me at the Friday breakfast and again from the platform on Sunday several people came up to me to chat face-to-face. While all were interested in the story of my trip many  others were equally anxious to share with me the impact this church has had in their lives.

When I shared with one man that I had been the director of a transitional housing program for men in recovery, he said, “Oh cool, I’m in recovery.” He then went on to share the heartbreaking story of his downfall and his journey back. Fourteen years ago his ten-year old daughter was raped, beaten and killed. The shock, pain and emotional upheaval of this tragic loss were too much for him to bear. He began to drink heavily and when the alcohol could not numb his feelings he turned to drugs and then more drugs and more booze and anything at all that might provide a moment or two in which his tortured mind didn’t picture her beaten body.

Pastoral care

Pastoral Care and Prayer Prior to Service

Living in an almost constant stupor, going to church didn’t even enter his mind. Then one day, about five years ago he happened across this open-air church. No one seemed to look down on him in his inebriated state. Instead he found a place of welcome and love and slowly began to realize that there was a better way and that he could move on with his life. He didn’t act like suddenly everything was better, but over time he found new ways to cope and a glorious new life in Christ.

At the ball field Sunday afternoon (It just so happened that this past Sunday was CUB’s annual “Toilet Bowl” touch football game and Chili Cook-off) another man approached me to wish me well on my journey and told me the story of his family moving to Waco so they could be a part of this church. He explained that his son was born with developmental disabilities and as a Christian family they tried to live their lives as normally as they could, continuing to attend their church and treating their son with respect and dignity. As the boy grew, however, they found it hard to keep him still and quiet during service. He would get up and wander about and occasionally try to walk up on the platform and grab a microphone. One day the pastor spoke rather harshly to him, and while he could understand that his son might cause others to be distracted, he felt hurt and dejected.

On a visit to Waco, the family attended Church Under the Bridge. Though many are seated and focused on the music and the message, there are still quite a few people who are milling around during the service, so the boy was not alone in his wanderings and not the distraction he was considered in his home church. At one point the boy’s wandering led him to the edge of the stage and he headed for the stairs to climb on up. As his father dashed to stop him, Janet, the pastor’s wife and worship leader said, “It’s okay, he can come up here if he wants to.”

Unity 2

All Ages and Backgrounds

Imagine the feelings that rushed through that father. The son that he loved was not seen as a distraction or a nuisance or a problem, instead he was accepted and welcomed. Immediately the family began to make plans to move to Waco.

A woman I bumped into in the parking lot told me how she had been a member of a fairly fundamentalist church and didn’t really fit in. She tried another church that was a little less dogmatic and for a time felt comfortable, but subsequent moves and a search for another church where she felt she belonged proved difficult and she was about ready to give up on church altogether. Then she found Church Under the Bridge, where the Bible is not only preached, but is also lived out effectively in the context of community. Today she is a small group leader within the church and loving every minute of it.

These are just three quick snippets of what I have a very strong notion, represent dozens of similar stories that could be told were I to stick around Waco for any length of time. Part of me would love to do just that; hang my hat here for a while and learn these stories first hand, but to paraphrase my fellow Granite Stater Robert Frost;

“The church is lovely, bright, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

CUB From Behind

Behinds the Scenes View




Mission Waco – Mission World


Mission Waco – Mission World Offices, Jubilee Theater and World Cup Cafe

I came to Waco because I ran into someone in Cottondale, FL who told me about Church Under the Bridge, which sounded intriguing to me. What I found was far more than a unique church, though that in and of it’s self is very cool. In addition I found a Christian Community Organization called Mission Waco that operates over two-dozen programs for adults, teens and children. I had the opportunity the other night to attend their annual banquet, and the next morning sat with the founder, Jimmy Dorrell who offered me a quick overview, then handed me off to an Executive Assistant who took me around town to tour several of their facilities and programs.


Jimmy Dorrell handing out awards at the Annual Banquet

The scope of this ministry is almost overwhelming, addressing a myriad of social ills with a distinctly Biblical approach. Even as I write that phrase, I cringe to think of what that might mean to those of you who read it. Some will think, “Great, they preach the Gospel and tell people about Jesus, because Jesus is the answer!” Others will surmise: “Oh great, they just preach at people and tell them if they don’t clean up their acts, they will go to hell.” Still others might assume this is some type of modern Robin Hood-ery, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, an effort to “redistribute wealth” under a Christian cloak. But the truth is, a Biblical, Christ-like response to poverty, hunger, homelessness, addiction, education and commerce is very different from any of the above.

Over and over again the Bible instructs us to follow the heart of God who cares for the poor. In the law, God instructed the harvesters not to harvest completely in either field or vineyard, in order that the poor and needy would have opportunity to gather for themselves’.

Following his baptism and wilderness temptation, Jesus entered the Temple in his hometown and read these words found in the book of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he sat down and said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (see Luke 4:18-21 NIV)

If God, the Father, instructs us to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien, and God the Son declares that the Spirit anointed him to proclaim good news, freedom, recovery and favor to the poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed, then I suppose we, who bear his name and are called to be his ambassadors ought to pay attention and follow his lead. And that’s exactly what the programs and services of Mission Waco are designed to do.

According to their Mission Statement, they: Provide Christian-based holistic, relationship-based programs that empower the poor and marginalized. Mobilize middle-class Americans to become more compassionately involved among the poor. Seek ways to overcome the systemic issues of social injustice which oppress the poor and marginalized.


World Cup Cafe

Following an empowerment model of care, all those who receive services are encouraged to accept and grow in responsibility. Though space does not allow for all details, nor do I desire to bore my readers, let me summarize with the following: In most of the programs that might be free elsewhere, there is a small, manageable fee for services that increases as time goes on. For instance, in the homeless shelter, the first three nights are free. On nights four through thirty, there is a $2.00/night charge which increases to $5.00 for nights thirty-one through sixty-three, at which time the expectation is that the person is moving on or moving up to a different type of program.


Fair Trade Market

As I write this post, I am sitting at the counter of the World Cup Café, a quaint 45-seat restaurant operated by Mission Waco, which declares they are “changing the world one cup at a time, while remembering fair trade for a fair world.” Attached to the restaurant is the Fair Trade Market, which sells a wide variety of jewelry, clothing and crafts, created by artisans from around the world now earning a living wage.


Handcrafted Jewelry and Baskets

This whole organization came to be when Jimmy and Janet Dorrell, understanding God’s call to incarnational ministry, bought a home in a blighted neighborhood in North Waco. As I’ve gleaned from conversations with a Jimmy and others, this area was previously a well to do primarily Jewish neighborhood. Over time it became a poor, mostly black neighborhood and now, thanks to incarnational ministry and the growth of Mission Waco, it is a racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood on the rise.


The Former Porn House – Jubilee Theater

The building that houses the café and market is also the location of the administrative offices and sandwiched between the two is the Jubilee Theater which was formerly a porn house, and now hosts productions with a Christian and/or socially conscious message. Some of those very productions are written and prepared by staff and youth at the Youth Center which is the next building down. There, area youth gather Monday through Thursday afternoon for a time of Bible Study, fun, tutoring, music and learning. There is a fully equipped sound studio where the kids are able to produce their own hip-hop music. Down the block and around the corner we find yet another building, this one offering after school programs for kids ages four to eleven.


Youth Center

All that I share here, just barely scratches the surface of what Mission Waco is doing in this community. The truth is that while I keep mentioning Mission Waco, their full name is Mission Waco – Mission World, for they have programs and services in Mexico City, India and Haiti as well. At the banquet the other night they promoted a project they are undertaking this fall to bring solar lighting to an entire village in Haiti. With no electricity in this village the primary home light source is kerosene lamps. Medical research has shown that breathing the soot produced by these lamps is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. These solar lights will not only alleviate this health risk, but will provide lengthened study time for students eager to learn.

Of all the things that amaze me about this place that so marvelously reflects the nature and character of Christ, I think what amazes me most is that I had never heard of it before arriving Tuesday evening. There is no doubt in my mind that this ministry should be more widely known, broadly studied and perhaps replicated, in community after community around the United States.

Man Plans – God Laughs


San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene

So after witnessing some very cool ministry in south Texas and starting to get a sense of a great movement afoot, I began to head north in order to continue west. Arrived in San Antonio the other day and spent some time concentrating on work matters trying to earn enough money to complete the trip. Spent a little time researching churches around San Antonio and discovered that there are a lot of churches here. According to, there are Nineteen Nazarene churches in San Antonio. That’s more than in the states of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. That left me with lots of choices, but oddly, none of them were particularly close to where I was staying, well, accept for First Church of the Nazarene, but with so many newer churches, my expectation was that “First Church” would be kind of the old fuddy duddy church that tends to leave me cold. I’m looking for out of the box, cutting edge stuff, so First Church was the last place I planned to be today.

The fact is, since there is another Church Under the Bridge here in town, (which like the church of the same name in Houston, no longer meets under the bridge, since the city won’t allow it.) I had planned to attend services there. However, when I went out to dry off my bike this morning and start loading my gear, I discovered that someone stole my tank bag right off the bike last night. It was a little worn and I have actually thought about getting a new one, so the bag itself is no great loss, but it had a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff, like riding glasses, a couple pair of gloves, some tools and other miscellaneous items.

After filing a report with the hotel and the San Antonio Police, I was running a little behind schedule but I figured it was no big deal if I showed up a few minutes late so I plugged the address into my phone for navigation and dang, my phone said it couldn’t connect to the network and I knew there was no way I could find my way without directions.

By this point I was starting to get angry, but immediately those words from James popped into my mind; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) This is a notion I have been working on truly embracing, not just after the fact; but, in the midst of the trial. So I began to pray, “Okay God, thank you for this trial, I rejoice in you and even in the fact that I was robbed last night. I’m figuring that you have a higher purpose that I can’t see just now, so I turn this situation over to you. Now, where shall I go to church this morning?” Right away, a map of the area with a blue line leading me to First Church popped into my head. I remembered that when I had looked at this map on the computer, it was supposed to take twelve minutes from my current location and it was now 10:23 and service started at 10:40, so off I went laughing to myself at the absurdity of it all.


Pastor Matt Rice

By the time I arrived at the church, I was expecting good things, and God did not disappoint. Walking into the foyer I spotted the coffee pot and went to grab myself a cup, so far so good. Upon entering the sanctuary I was handed a bulletin and received a friendly greeting. When I told the woman who greeted me that I was expecting good things because I felt God led me there she began to explain a few things about the church, their vision for the future and introduced me to the pastor who was passing by and then said she thought there was a guest preacher there to share about church planting. “Hah, very funny God” I thought. For those who don’t know me personally, I am a fifty-six year old man (57 by the end of the week, but I’m not about to call myself that just yet) who nearly burned out on two previous church plants and so far on this trip I have twice been invited to plant a church and twice more asked to stick around and help out in young churches. In each of these cases my response has been to smile, point out that I have a quest to complete, but promise to pray about it, which has effectively ended the discussion. For my un-churched friends, the “I’ll pray about it” line is the church speak equivalent of the parent who says, “We’ll see” when they don’t want to come out and say “no” to their kids.

Early in the service, the director of their compassionate ministry center, did a brief presentation, noting that they distribute food to about one-hundred, seventy families each week, providing approximately $42.00 worth of food at retail prices, for about $1.18 in actual cost, thanks to their partnership with the local food bank. Happy to discover that they had a separate 501 (c) 3 Compassionate Ministry, what impressed me most was the fact that the entire church was excited to hear about it and celebrated this wonderful work.


Pastor and Congregation of San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene

As the pastor stood to introduce the guest speaker, he shared briefly his own vision for planting churches and outposts throughout the city and again the congregation responded with enthusiastic amens. Then Scotty Young, the Church Planter, stepped to the pulpit and began to share about the work he is planting in the Heights section of Houston. As he described the work they are doing, their vision and mission, I was thrilled to hear how solidly Biblical and Christ reflecting it is.

Then he said something I had been waiting to hear. “God calls us to make disciples, not to build churches.” To be honest, his words might not have been exactly those; that is a quote I have heard twice before on this trip and I have been fully expecting God to confirm something to me by having a third person say it. I think Scotty actually put it a little more eloquently as he described his interactions with some of the people he has met in this new work, but the gist is the same.

It was such a blessing this morning to be reminded that God is still very much alive and active in the the Church of the Nazarene. To see that he is raising up men and women of all ages to bring the message of his love to people who need to hear and that many are recognizing the mission field just outside our own doors.

I’m nearly half way through this journey (at least the scheduled portion of it) and knowing that there is so much more to discover and learn, one things that has been made wonderfully clear to me is this: the less I depend on my plans and ability to make something happen, and the more I depend on God and trust him to lead, the better things go. I planned, God laughed, and I’m actually learning to laugh with him.




Lost and Found

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Innocence and Joy

If I were you, I wouldn’t do it. So said a pastor with experience helping to plant churches in Mexico, in response to my inquiries regarding where to go and what to look for concerning the Church south of the border. He went on to explain that what we are seeing in the media is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to kidnappings, beheadings and disappearances.

I took his counsel to heart but couldn’t shake a sense that my search would be incomplete without gaining some understanding of the spiritual climate and the workings of the church in this portion of North America. Sitting in my campsite at Lake Corpus Christi I was praying once again and asking God to lead me to my next stop. With more rain on the way I logged on to Priceline to see if I could find a cheap hotel for a couple of days around Brownsville. Low and behold, I found a room on South Padre Island that was cheaper than my campsite. What’s not to love about the off-season?

These were not high-class accommodations, but I was warm and dry and closer to the border. After a couple of days of searching, sending emails to churches explaining my quest and getting no response, I was about to give up and start heading back north but decided to check one last resource. Though as reported in earlier posts, I had not had the best luck with my own denomination, I surfed over to and typed Brownsville, TX into the church finder box. What do you know, up popped a work called “Lost and Found” – there was no website for the church, just an email address, but intrigued by the name I fired of a quick message and went to get some coffee. By the time I got back to my room I had a response from Pastor Mark and after exchanging a couple more emails we made plans to meet for dinner at Kiki’s Restaurant Familiar. This was no Tex-Mex joint, but a true Mexican restaurant. Over a simple dinner, Mark and Marilyn Redwine became almost instant friends and I knew that God had led me to kindred spirits.

Mark explained that this was a different kind of work ministering exclusively to the local Mexican population most of whom live in the Colonias (A Colonia is a semi-rural subdivision of substandard housing lacking basic physical infrastructure, potable water, sanitary sewage, and adequate roads.)[1] in the area.[2] Before we parted for the night he invited me to bring the message at their Thursday evening service.

Thursday morning I awoke, giving thanks to God for providing an opportunity to gain the knowledge I sought without the risks associated with riding my bike into Mexico. I must admit that I also began my day with a certain amount of trepidation. Thus far on this trip I have found wonderful ministries serving the homeless, addicts and those with physical and developmental disabilities. Out of the box ministries for sure, but I have a fair amount of experience with these populations. Then there are the Biker churches, again, different, but as a guy touring North America on a motorcycle, these are folks with whom I have shared interest. However, with the Mexican immigrant population I have no previous exposure, nor even a point of reference.

I prayed; “God, what do I, a middle-class gringo who’s running all over the place on a motorcycle have to share with these folks?” His answer; “You have me, you have the story of what I am doing in your life, and you have a desire to learn from them. What more do you need?” With that clarity, I spent a little more time in preparation and enjoyed the rest of my day.

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Every Church Should Have a Granny

As evening approached, I headed to Mark and Marilyn’s house, having agreed to meet there so I could ride with them into the Colonia. There I met Karen, a teenager from another Colonia who spends a good deal of time at the parsonage and serves as a back up translator at times. Then Ron and Kay showed up, they’re a wonderful couple called in retirement to offer themselves as volunteer missionaries. As we headed out to the van we were joined by “Granny”, the widow of a Mexican pastor/church planter who lives next door to the parsonage, and what I assumed was her real life grandson.

After a short drive we arrived at the mobile home where the meeting is held each week. Mark explained that the deck on which we met was fairly new. When services started at this location the deck was small and rickety and the only thing steady was the fear that it would collapse at any moment. A work and witness team from another church came down and built this new deck so the group would have a safe place to meet.

There were about twenty of us on the deck Thursday night, with temperatures in the fifties and a steady twenty mph wind, gusting at times to about twice that speed. Most folks were dressed in layers and bundled up against the cold yet, undeterred. Since none of these homes have heat, they are quite used to dressing for the cold.

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Thursday Evening Service in the Colonia

After a few songs, a couple in English but most in Spanish, requests and concerns were shared and Granny led in prayer. Mark stood to introduce me to the congregation, saying he felt like we had been friends for years (the Bible does say that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years”) and invited me to share a little of my story.

Working with an interpreter, I shared J.I. Packer’s quote that Christianity in North America is three thousand miles wide and a half-inch deep, and went on to explain my search for deeper pools of authentic faith. I was just beginning to feel like the interpreter and I were getting into a pretty good rhythm when I made the statement that though I have been in ministry for almost thirty years, I have seen far too few people radically transformed after coming to know God. What happened next was absolutely precious, for instead of translating, my interpreter looked at me with shock and simply said, “You haven’t?” Suddenly, it was as if everyone else disappeared and the two of us engaged in a dialogue about how while I have seen some people dramatically changed as a result of their relationship with God, the vast majority of Christians I know are pretty much the same as people in the world, with only slightly different priorities. She then turned and attempted to explain to everyone else what we were discussing. Based on the looks on all their faces, it seems the gist of what I was trying to convey came across.

I went on to share the story of the two disciples on the original Emmaus road journey and how their eyes were opened and their hearts burned within them when they encountered the risen Christ.

While I was pleased to be able to share with these folks I am certain that I received the greater blessing in observing their faith and fellowship. It was genuine and not in the least dependent on their circumstances. As a result I decided to stick around Brownsville for a few more days, moving out of my hotel and into a guest room at the parsonage where Mark and Marilyn have been extremely gracious hosts.

A Man of Faith

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Pastor Mark Thomas Redwine

The story of my time in Brownsville, (almost Mexico) TX would not be complete without sharing a little more about the wonderful man of God who is leading this amazing work.

Prior to moving to Brownsville to plant this church, Mark Thomas Redwine was a Chiropractor living in Butte, Montana. As a Nazarene layman, Mark had traveled to Africa several times on short and medium term missions trips serving in a variety of ways as he was led by God. Each time he returned to the states he was able to rebuild his practice and get his patients back. Yet, after his last trip to Africa the Chiropractic practice didn’t recover so well and it became clear that God had other plans.

Years earlier, Mark said he felt God had called him to plant a Spanish speaking church; however, one does not find a large ethnic population in Butte, MT. He would go to Wal-Mart and Home Depot scanning the faces of the crowds looking for people with brown eyes and slightly darker skin, to no avail. So, it was that at the age of sixty-three, through those connections built during years of missions trips, Mark was prepared to respond to the opportunity to move to South Texas as part of the Nazarene Border Initiative and plant that Spanish speaking church.

With limited financial support, Mark’s days are filled with pastoral duties, compassionate ministry food and clothing distribution and a part-time job, as he puts it, pounding dents out of trumpets. In fact, Mark repairs musical instruments of all kinds in order to put food, not only on his table, but often, on the tables of the people to whom he has been called to serve.

Yes indeed my friends, God has led me to another place where Christianity is far more than a half-inch deep.


[1] Larson, J. E. (2002). Informality, Illegality, and Inequality (Vol. 20, pp. 137-82). Yale Law & Policy Review, Inc.

[2] For a more detailed explanation of Colonias click here.

A Tale of Two Churches – Part II


Lining up for a meal following the service

In Part I of this post I was pretty harsh concerning the church I visited in Baton Rouge, but I believe with good reason. You see, several times now on this journey I have spoken at length with people who have a Christian background and who will quite willingly tell me that they still believe, yet for a variety of reasons, they have become disenfranchised from the church of their youth. Some tell me that the church has become too political; others say the church is all about money or about power or cite the issues of child abuse and molestation among the clergy. Still others say it’s just so empty and irrelevant to their daily lives. They tell me they are sick of the prosperity gospel or the feel good gospel and are hungry to be challenged and called to something more meaningful.

So it is with the Holy Spirit’s conviction in my own heart that I say to all churches that are just happily going through the motions, providing services to the people who are already in, but doing little to meet the temporal and spiritual needs of those without, it is time to wake from your slumber! It is high time you/we start reflecting the nature and character of the Christ who is revealed to us in Scripture, for we are called to be his ambassadors, not his gatekeepers

When I review the history of the Church of the Nazarene, I find a denomination very different in its early days from what it has become today. I remember distinctly during my preparation for ministry a class in which we discussed the life span of a movement. I don’t claim to be an expert on organization lifespans but here is what I remember from our discussions and personal study

Everything starts with an idea. When an idea is shared and embraced by others, if it significant enough to create action, then two or more people band together to create a movement. As the movement gains momentum and grows in the number of participants, while it may seek to avoid the trappings of an institution, it soon becomes clear that without some sort of structure it becomes chaotic and ineffective. Thus rules and some form of organizational authority are developed. Over time, as the organization continues to grow and diversify, the original catalytic idea or ideal is all too easily forgotten. It is at this stage that the organization has become an institution. Institutions become their own life form and rarely look anything like the original idea or movement.

Now, let me share with you the words of Dr. Phineas F. Bresee, a Methodist minister of the late 1800’s who along with his friend Dr. J.P. Widney and eighty additional charter members, started the movement that became the Church of the Nazarene: “We were convinced that houses of worship should be plain and cheap, to save from financial burdens, and that everything should say welcome to the poor. We went feeling that food and clothing and shelter were the open doors to the hearts of the unsaved poor, and that through these doors we could bear to them the life of God. We went in poverty, to give ourselves – and what God might give us – determined to forego provision for the future and old age, in order to see the salvation of God while we were yet here. God has not disappointed us. While we would be glad to do much more, yet hundreds of dollars have gone to the poor, with loving ministry of every kind, and with it a way has been opened up to the hearts of men and women, that has been unutterable joy. The gospel comes to a multitude without money and without price, and the poorest of the poor are entitled to a front seat at the Church of the Nazarene, the only condition being that they come early enough to get there.” (Emphasis mine) (Phineas F. Bresee: A Prince in Israel, E. A. Girvin)

The movement that began nearly 120 years ago is now an institution. I am happy to report that there are still Nazarene churches that reflect the work and ideals of the original movement, but I fear they are too few and certainly not the norm.

I pray that by now I haven’t bored you to tears with sociology and griping. All the above I feel was necessary to set the stage for what I witnessed and experienced at Church Under the Bridge.


From Vacant Lot to Church

As noted in my previous post, after confirming that I had the correct address and arriving back on location, I found a small team at work setting up church, where just a few short minutes prior, had been a vacant lot in an impoverished and dangerous neighborhood in Houston. While there were a few volunteers from a supporting church or ministry, the majority of the work was being done by those who have been reached through the ministry of the church and are in the discipleship program.

As the time for service drew near, one could see the congregation gathering, shuffling in from all points of the compass. They were all dressed in multiple layers, with several sporting black plastic trash bags as their outerwear, hoping for some measure of protection from the rain. Most carried small backpacks with the remainder of their worldly goods. A few rode bicycles but the majority were truly pedestrian. Just as the make up of the neighborhood is predominantly African American, so were those present, with a few of apparent Hispanic origin and perhaps three white guys. Needless to say, this white guy, with the silver reflective strips on his motorcycle jacket, moving around snapping pictures of everyone and everything kind of stood out. Yet, I felt less like an outsider here amongst the homeless than I had in that comfy church in Baton Rouge.


Brother Tyrone Blasts the Shofar

As we huddled together under the pop-up awnings the worship service began with prayer and readings from both the Old and New Testaments. Then the guest speaker, Tyrone Obaseki, was introduced and he stepped forward. Here was another who appeared almost as out of place as I. He was dressed in fine clothes with a black trench coat and sweet black fedora. He stepped to the pulpit and blew a Yemenite Shofar, something that has become popular in some circles as a call to worship, signifying a call to battle or spiritual warfare.


Tyrone Obaseki, President & CEO of Impact Youth America

Tyrone spoke to the men (and few women) with boldness and authority, declaring their need to choose whether to continue down a path of destruction and despair through drug abuse or to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus as the solution. He was open and honest about his own past, having been raised in the foster care system from infancy to adulthood, experiencing homelessness and drug addiction first hand. He had been in their shoes, yet found deliverance and had no problem calling them to repentance. (I wish I had space to share more of Tyrone’s personal story. To read more from his website, click here.)


Pastor Kenneth Brown, Sr.

Following the message, pastor Kenneth stepped forward and reinforced the call to repentance, challenging all present to choose the better way of Christ and specifically inviting them to join in a prayer of repentance if they chose to turn things around. After that we gathered together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Several chairs were removed in order to allow folks to come forward to receive the elements. The pastor encouraged everyone to gather close, as communion is a special family time and so we all stood, shoulder to shoulder with wafer and cup in hand, joining together in the Lord’s Prayer. As I stood in this throng, repeating those familiar words that I have uttered countless times in my life, I found myself moved to tears. I didn’t understand why then and have thought about it several times since. Perhaps it was merely being in the presence of many for whom “daily bread” is an earnest concern. Perhaps, if I am totally honest, I felt a slight sense of superiority and was feeling grateful for the privileged life I have been given.

In my final analysis, however, while both of the above were factors in my emotions, I am convinced it is the hardships I have faced in recent years along with the minor deprivations I have experienced on this journey that cause me to truly hallow my God. To know that he knows my needs and promises to meet them daily, that he calls me to extend forgiveness, just as I have received it from him. Understanding that he desires to set me free from all evil and that every aspect of that familiar prayer is possible because Jesus, a man without sin, became sin for me, paying my debt on Calvary.

The conclusion to this Tale of Two Churches is simply this: For me, Church Under the Bridge did far more in helping me to see the face of Christ and is a better representation of my own church’s heritage and the New Testament ideals to which I believe we are all called, than the comfy, cozy suburban church that has become so much of main stream Christianity.

Here is the call of God that Bresee was anxious to extend to all he met:“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-39 KJV)

May the western church wake from its slumber and extend this call once again!

A Tale of Two Churches


As I trust is coming through in some of my writings, my horizons have been expanded and my world-view is being reshaped on this trip. I have met some people and attended some churches that are very different than my rather traditional white, middle class history. Though traditional, I have always considered myself fairly open-minded. I know some who know me well, including my children may laugh at that notion, but it is true. It is entirely possible to be open-minded, yet conservative and opinionated. Now, stop laughing, I have something very important to share with you all.

Following my time at Heaven’s Way Biker Church I began my westward journey. By the following Sunday I had been settled in for a few days in Baton Rouge, LA and since I hadn’t come across anything unique looking, decided to attend the local church of my denomination. Being in Baton Rouge, I expected a church of some diversity, instead I found a church that epitomized white middle class-ness, and I felt oddly uncomfortable. Why? I wondered. Here was a church that not too many years ago I might have dreamed of pastoring. The people were friendly, the music was familiar, I knew when to stand, when to sit and how to behave at the artificially friendly greeting time. I’ll admit, I was a bit underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt but as I thought about it, I knew that wasn’t the cause of my discomfort. Was it that feeling of being an outsider? Well, sort of, but then again, I have been an outsider everywhere I have been on this trip. The thing is I didn’t feel like an outsider in those other places, only here. Then it hit me, just how artificial, plastic and contrived it all felt to me. I feel terrible even saying this because I believe the people were basically sincere in their worship, or wanted to be at least, but couldn’t see just how programmed they were. It was so much like I had grown up with, yet it left me cold. Cold isn’t even adequate – more like frostbitten. When church was over I couldn’t get outside to the fifty-degree dampness fast enough to warm up a little.

I considered writing a post just about this experience but remembered the old adage on which I grew up; “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I held my tongue (or fingers if you will) and refrained. However, my experience the following Sunday has caused me to realize that sometimes you have to call out the cold deadness. Even Jesus declared: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV) Perhaps that quote is a bit strong for what I experienced, as I don’t think the folks at that church were quite as dead in their faith as were the Pharisees, but if they do not wake up, they will be soon.

As I progressed through the next week, I continued to find myself battling unseasonably cold weather in Texas. Seriously, who would have thought I would need to wear the arctic rated underwear, I normally use when hunting in New England for a few days of camping in South Texas? Perhaps the physical cold and its attending misery are symbolic of everything I want to leave behind that is less than genuine in terms of my Christian faith.

Now we come to Church Under the Bridge. A slight misnomer, as the church no longer meets under the bridge, but it’s where they started. However, the bridge in question is part of a fairly busy interchange and the crowds grew too large, so for safety reasons the city asked them to find another location to meet. Today, the church meets in a field owned by another church not far from the bridge.

IMG_0367I had discovered this church online, while researching another church in Waco that I am planning to visit soon. All I had was an address, which I plugged into my iPhone setting off from my campsite about 42 miles south. Not knowing exactly where I was going, I left plenty early. When my phone indicated that I had arrived at my destination I found nothing to indicate that I was where I wanted to be. Since this location also happened to be on the edge of Houston’s Third Ward, ranked number fifteen in the most violent neighborhoods in America, I knew it was not where I wanted to be without a clear purpose for being there.

IMG_0407I headed off in search a friendly and safer feeling place and found a Starbucks (yes, I understand that my white middle class-ness is shining through) several blocks away. I accessed the net to make sure I had the address correct and according to the ministry’s website,, I was indeed in the right place, so after a quick cup of coffee, I headed back. Upon my return I found a small group setting up for church. Out of a van and small trailer, emerged a generator, a portable sound system and laptop computer, several portable instant canopies, stacks of plastic chairs, a few folding tables, a large cross and an a-frame sign that simply read, CHURCH – EVERYONE WELCOME.I have done church planting on a shoe-string budget before, but this whole packaged church, which by-the-way is set up and taken down in this location, 7 days per week, I would ball park at about a $10,000 cost, including the van and trailer. I tracked down the pastor to introduce myself and ask permission to take pictures. He greeted me warmly and told me to feel free to take all the pictures I wanted.

It was a cold, rainy day, which I know affects church attendance anywhere, but I assumed one that met outdoors might be particularly impacted. The seats were better than 80% filled, (which church growth experts say is really full, since people prefer a little personal space. Ah, see how they love one another.) I estimated the crowd at 60 to 70 but the pastor told me they usually run closer to 90 to 100 at every service. Again, that’s not just this Sunday afternoon service, but they meet in this same spot Monday through Saturday at 7:00 pm. Furthermore, this same ministry hosts Church in the Park, Wednesday through Saturday at 9:30 am, and Church in the Driveway, Monday through Friday at 7:30 am and Sunday at 10:00 am. The Driveway Church by-the-way, meets in the driveway to their Disciple Houses program, which rather than trying to describe myself, I will just share this statement from their website: “Our Disciple Houses are a residential living program for men working to get off the streets, who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and have a burning desire to serve God and work hard. The men are trained and discipled to work in the ministry, or receive support in learning skills for secular jobs.”

So, did you catch those numbers? This ministry is conducting 18 Bible preaching church services every week! Plus running a discipleship housing program and planting churches in Latin America, Columbia, Africa and elsewhere around the globe. Oh, guess what else. At every one of those services, they serve a meal to everyone who comes!

This place is the real deal, this is Christianity in action and in my next post I will share more about the authentic reflection of Christ I found in this church and it’s pastor.



Heaven’s Way Biker Church – Part II


Pastor Robert cleaning up after a day of work

For those of you trying to follow this story, please allow me a few moments to refresh your memory and mine as to how I came to Heaven’s Way Biker Church to begin with. I met Cochise in Daytona Beach and he suggested I stop in to see his friend Bobby Wells in Fort Myers, when I was down that way. Bobby and his wife Michelle provided me a guest room in their home a few weeks later and Bobby told me about Robert Happoldt and HWBC. Now I had never met Robert but through Bobby’s friend suggestion on Facebook, we shared a few messages. I had asked him if there was any place at the church where I might be able to hang my hammock or otherwise crash for the night as I came through the Florida panhandle and he simply told me to call when I hit town.

As someone who has planted churches, worked with people with addictions and spent ten years running a transitional housing program for men in recovery, I think I have seen and experienced quite a few things that many pastors never do. Yet, as I wrote in Part I of my Heaven’s Way Biker Church experience, nothing could have prepared me for what I found in Cottondale, Florida.

Having ridden all day on mostly backcountry roads from Daytona across the northern tier of Florida, I stopped in Tallahassee for the night and let Robert know I would be arriving some time on Saturday. He asked me if I preached and when I assured him I did, he simply said, “ This Sunday 2PM Biker Church.” That was my first clear sign, that this a faith based ministry as very few pastors would dare to invite a perfect stranger to stand in their pulpit. Arriving in Cottondale, I called Robert for specific directions.

To get a general sense of things, one must understand that Cottondale, FL is a poor, rural community. Located roughly 75 miles west of Tallahassee and 40 miles south of Dothan, AL, the nearest city. Cottondale proper boasts a population of just over 900 residents with a median household income of less than $19,000 per year. To put that in perspective, the median household income for the state of Florida is a little over $45,000. These and other factors combine to make this community a natural breeding ground for alcohol and drug addiction along with the other social ills that normally accompany substance abuse.

The center of town lies about three miles off Interstate 10, and then Heaven’s Way Biker Church is another six or seven miles out country roads at the end of the blacktop of Woodcrest Rd. As I pulled up, I found Robert, Wayne (who has been living at the church for almost two months and Nemo (a fellow sojourner, though traveling on two feet instead of two wheels) working out front, rebuilding the church sign. Robert greeted me, suggested I pull my bike around back, gave me at the nickel tour of the facility, showed me where to put my things then went right back to work.


Welcome to God’s Garage

What they have done is simply amazing. Old Sunday school classrooms have been converted to bedrooms and a shower has been installed between the bathrooms and the baptistry. Since the bedrooms were fully occupied, I was provided an inflatable bed set up in the sanctuary which doesn’t look like any sanctuary I have ever been in before. The center aisle is painted black with a dotted line down the middle, the pulpit is a black 50 gallon oil drum with a small wooden podium on top. The back walls are covered in original artwork depicting a Biker riding up a cross and a highway as backdrop for the baptistry. For additional decorations we find a skeleton in a rocking chair and a bedpan guitar along with various and sundry motorcycle parts, road signs, and license plates hung about.


All Artwork Courtesy of Bobby Wells

As soon as I unstrapped and stowed my gear I went back out front with my camera to begin the important act of chronicling this place. After getting some initial shots I joined the work party, not because anyone said I should, it simply felt like the right thing to do. After painting and sealing the plywood, we mounted it to the framework over the old granite sign of Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church.

As dusk began to fall we all headed inside and I met more folks who were staying at the church. I met Tina who was traveling with Wayne from Indiana. John, a guy on a sport bike from South Carolina, and K.R., a Lakota Indian who for some reason found himself in crisis in Cottondale.


Murals by Bobby Wells

Alicia had come over and offered her greeting as well, then after digging out a bunch of food from the pantry and the refrigerators which Tina set to work turning into our dinner, Robert and Alicia went back across the road to the parsonage. Wayne has a job washing dishes at a little Mexican restaurant in town so Tina prepared dinner for the rest of us. Setting it all out on the counter, we gathered into a circle and held hands for the blessing, which was led by K.R.

As dinner drew to a close, people just started getting up and taking care of cleanup. I have been in churches where everyone knows each other and knows their way around the various tasks that need to be performed, but I have never seen anything go smoother in my life. Here we were, five travelers from very different backgrounds, on separate journey’s working in near perfect harmony. As the newest “member of the family” I assumed they had been working together this way for a long time, only to discover that K.R. and John had only been around for a week and Nemo for two with Tina (and Wayne) the longest in residence at about 8 weeks. I felt so welcome, so comfortable, so at ease that I knew instantly, only the Holy Spirit can bring this kind of unity amongst veritable strangers

Over the next couple of days I had the opportunity to get to know these folks a little better. Unfortunately K.R. was suffering with a terrible toothache due to a lost filling and slept most of the time I was there so I didn’t get much of his story, but this much I came to understand. He was a traveler in need, was provided food and shelter along with a scheduled dental appointment to address his most pressing need. He was loved and welcomed and grateful in return.

John had been traveling for some time but apparently found himself out of funds to continue his journey. Finding HWBC as a temporary home he went out in search of work and found employment as a cook at a Waffle House in Dothan. Since he was off to work a great deal of the time I was around, I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked but the gist I got was that he was doing all he could to provide for himself and was looking for a place closer to work where he could settle in for a while.

Nemo, as I said was on a walking trip from Indiana. He had set out to walk a thousand miles with his destination Saint Petersburg, FL. Nemo is an artist who works with items he finds in nature. Along his journey he has created works of art that remain in place wherever he creates them. Some are made using fallen leaves, moss and twigs, so when the wind blows they are gone from view but not from memory, or in some cases a digital record. Similar to my own journey, Nemo’s is deeply spiritual in nature and it is his hope to publish his artful sojourn someday. After his R & R break at Heaven’s Way, he plans to be back on the road soon for the last two to three hundred miles of his trek.

As often happens when people find out I am a pastor, Tina opened up to me about her troubled past. Though I want to be careful not to divulge anything that may have been spoken under the assumption of confidentiality, she admitted that leaving Indiana was like running away, something she needed to do to get her head on straight. She was so thankful to have found a place like HWBC where she found such peace. She told me that while she knew she couldn’t stay forever, the notion of leaving this peaceful haven brought tears to her eyes.

Wayne had his own troubles back home; having lost much, he is fighting his own demons but looking to make a fresh start. With an appearance similar to Hulk Hogan and a down home Midwestern mindset he is undeterred by his circumstances. Working as a dishwasher in a local Mexican restaurant he has managed to convince his employer that he should pay him a salary and let him work whatever hours needed to get the job done. Thus he goes into work for a couple of hours three times per day, doing morning prep, then cleanup after lunch and dinner. I have never seen anything quite like this arrangement but since it works well for both employer and employee, everyone is happy.

While each of my fellow travelers will testify to faith in Christ, none of them look or act much like the folks I have gone to church with over the years of my Christian walk. I would say, with the certainty that none will not be offended by this, that they are all aware of their brokenness, comfortable with their imperfections and joyous in the knowledge that God loves them, cares for them and is at work in them, accepting them just the way they are. What made this brief encounter so thrilling for me was that not one of them was wearing a mask. There were no facades, no pretense and no false holiness.

Aside from these fellow travelers, I found much the same in our host and hostess, Robert and Alicia, as well as all those who gathered for church, both Sunday morning in Alford, and Sunday afternoon in Cottondale.


Cleanup After Sunday Dinner Begins

While I may not have been everywhere and seen it all, over the years I have had opportunity to travel and visit many churches of various flavors and denominations but I have never seen anything like I did last weekend. In Alford, the sponsor church for Heaven’s Way, I saw very traditional Southern Baptist ladies in dresses with classic church lady hairdo’s worshipping side by side with tattooed women in jeans and black leather. I saw Southern gentlemen in coats and ties greeting and hugging long-haired, bearded bikers. In Cottondale, I saw many of these same people respond positively to a simple gospel message brought to them by a Yankee preacher. In other words, I witnessed what church growth experts have told me was impossible, but what I took as a foretaste of heaven.

Knowing not what lies ahead on this journey, I know that my brief stay and experience at heaven’s Way Biker Church will be cherished as a great highlight of my Emmaus Road Trip. Thanks for riding along with me in thought and prayer.