Heaven’s Way Biker Church – Part I

IMG_0295 In the original Emmaus Road journey, which is recorded in the Bible in Luke 24, we are told that two disciples were walking along talking about Jesus arrest, crucifixion the empty tomb and that; “As they discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself, came up walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” (v. 15-16 NIV)

Why they failed to recognize him is unknown. Bible scholars and commentators have written a number of possible explanations but all must admit that the final answer remains elusive. Whether the issue was their vision (or lack thereof) or Jesus possibly altered appearance we do not know. All we know is that “they were kept from recognizing him.” It is this very notion, which has been key to my journey. I have been following the leading of the Holy Spirit, praying constantly for “eyes to see” what God is doing in these days and through what people and means.

Robert & Alicia2

Robert and Alicia Happoldt

As some of my recent posts have indicated, the people God has led me to as those He is using to impact this age in North America, are not people most of us would immediately recognize as reflections of Christ. So it is that we come to another case in point: Robert and Alicia Happoldt and their work at Heaven’s Way Biker Church in rural Cottondale, FL.

In 2000, Robert and Alicia were living the hardcore bikers life in southern Alabama, making, doing and selling drugs. In Alicia’s words it was a marriage made in Hell, where abuse and fear were part of her daily life. At that time, Robert was known as “Roger Rabbit” a fast living man with lots of drugs and a big gun. Occasionally Alicia made an attempt to get away, but Robert always found her and forced her back home. Then one early Wednesday morning in July, the 12th Judicial Circuit Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force came a knockin’ with search warrant in hand. It was no gentle knock, really more of a crash, and what the Task Force discovered, resulted in charges of possession and trafficking, earning both Robert and Alicia ten year prison sentences.

Robert & Alisha

Robert and Alicia – Servants of Christ

While still in county jail, awaiting final sentencing, Robert was visited regularly by a pastor who kept telling him aboutGod’s love and Jesus desire to set him free. Robert would cuss and swear and verbally abuse the preacher, rejecting everything he had to say. One day, however, the preacher showed up and said: “God is tired of knocking on your door and you not answering him.” With a few more words indicating a life of eternal torment the preacher left. In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Robert took out his Bible (one he had previously requested because the pages of Bibles made good rolling paper) and began to read. There he came across these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV) Thinking of all the people and families he had hurt because of his actions and the drugs he had provided, Robert was thrilled to know the past could be left there and a fresh start was indeed possible. There on the floor of that filthy, desolate cell, Robert knelt, confessing his many sins and seeking forgiveness from the One who makes all things new. Yes he still had to face a mandatory three years of his ten-year sentence, but for the first time in his life, Robert was truly free.

While God was dealing with Robert, he was also working in Alicia’s life, so on March 9, 2002 Alicia woke in her prison cell and decided she was through running with the devil, raised her arms to heaven and gave it all over to God. Just as Robert needed the years of his prison sentence to find grounding in the Lord, so Alicia found women who mentored her in her faith and helped her grow as a Christian.

Robert and Alicia have been out of prison for ten years now and are enjoying a marriage remade in heaven. They are part of Heaven’s Saints Motorcycle Ministry and have traveled and shared their testimony of God’s changing and delivering grace, many times with prisoners behind the very bars where they once resided. But about five years ago, Robert was asked to consider a new and unique ministry opportunity.


A Rather Unconventional Sanctuary

Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church, which was officially recognized in 1881, was for many years a flourishing congregation but by early this century it’s numbers were dwindling and it eventually closed its doors. Though some of the details are uncertain to me, Bob Johnson, the pastor of nearby Alford Baptist Church suggested to Robert that the church be re-opened as a different kind of church, ministering to Bikers and the homeless. Thus Heaven’s Way Biker Church came to be with Robert and Alicia leaving their native Alabama to lead this unique ministry.

It was while I was visiting Bobby Wells (who’s incredible testimony I first read in a little newspaper published by Cochise and Set Free Church in Daytona) in Naples Florida, that he shared with me some videos of Heaven’s Way and put me in touch with Robert. Though I was pleased with what I saw and heard from Bobby, I had no idea what I was riding into when I showed up in Cottondale. Bobby made a friend suggestion through Facebook so Robert and I connected and messaged beforehand but I had no idea what to expect. The fact is, even if I had seen more pictures and had the opportunity to read the full history, nothing could have prepared me for what I found at Heaven’s Way Biker Church.

The place, the people and the stories connected to them absolutely blew my mind. I’m afraid the details of what I found will have to wait for my next post so don’t forget to check back tomorrow.

Foolish, Weak, Lowly and Despised

Pastor James “Cochise” Powell

While I have made mention of him in a couple of Facebook posts, I feel the need to share a little more about my friend James “Cochise” Powell, as my meeting of Cochise has been a significant factor in the places I have been and some of the people I have met in the past few weeks.

My first encounter with Cochise was an interesting happenstance in itself. When I started this trip I said that I was relying on God to direct my steps and what an adventure it has been. It was a Friday afternoon in Daytona Beach several weeks ago and I had yet to find much in the way of unique, effective ministries. I had decided to try to enjoy my evening and began a search for some live music. That’s when I found Jakob’s Well and met Ray and Susan Kelley, whose story I already wrote in my post, “Just Crazy Enough to Do What He Tells Us to Do.” Ray told me about Jeremy Folmsbee and the beachside service he conducts at Sun Splash Park for the homeless and folks who live in a supportive housing facility across the street from the park. It was at that service that I met Pace Allen, a Christian Attorney, who invited me to a men’s prayer breakfast at First Baptist Church. Following the breakfast and a study on God and Country, I found a group of five or six men chatting about spiritual things and decided to pull up a chair. Sitting across the table from me was a man who was clearly looked to as an authority by the others in the circle. He was dressed casually with a black driving cap on backwards atop his longish salt and pepper hair, sporting a neatly trimmed goatee with tattoos up and down both arms. This was my first encounter with Cochise and I immediately sensed a need to talk further with him about my mission.

I left Daytona later that day in order to head to Virginia to celebrate Thanksgiving with two of my sons. When I returned a few days later I decided to attend Cochise’s service at Set Free Church. Though not specifically a “Biker Church” Set Free is a church that is geared toward reaching those who might not feel comfortable in a more traditional church. I was warmly greeted at the door and walked in to a meeting room with about 25 -30 people milling about and settling in for the service. For me, the service was oddly nostalgic, taking me back to my own church planting days. I say “oddly nostalgic” because I don’t always look back with fondness on those often, difficult days. However, somehow already on this journey, I am seeing the organic nature of that work in a very different light. (Perhaps I will have more to say on that subject later)

For those of you who perhaps haven’t been to church in a while, things have changed. As a child in a mainline church, we always had a choir. When I went back to church (an “evangelical” church) in the late 70’s I found the same formula with which I grew up, albeit a little more upbeat and less somber. Nowadays, most contemporary churches have a “worship band” instead of a choir and the words of the songs are projected on the wall or a giant screen in lieu of hymnals. In church planting, however, you have to be creative and work with what you’ve got. Set Free Church uses a laptop and projector with recorded music. We sang along to old songs like “Victory in Jesus” “I’ll Fly Away” along with other Christian classics. It just felt good to a middle-aged guy with a bass voice who sometimes struggles with the modern stuff that seems written for (if for men at all) men with a higher range.

At Set Free Church the people were friendly, casually dressed and appeared well aware of their shortcomings; there was no pretense and no facades. The message was solidly Biblical and Cochise was very engaging with his congregation. The music was familiar and the fellowship warm and inviting. In my spirit, I sensed the presence of Christ.

When I ran into Cochise a day or two later and told him I was struggling with what to write about him, he was quick to say “I don’t know that you will see the reflection of Christ in me, unless it’s in the call to be broken.” Well, as a matter of fact, I do see the reflection of Christ in that call, furthermore, I see the reflection Christ in his humility and desire to reach those who might not feel comfortable or even welcome in many churches today.


Christmas Eve Worship at Boot Hill Saloon

As further evidence of his desire to reach those who may be disenfranchised from traditional forms of worship, on the fourth Sunday of every month, Set Free Church meets early so they can conduct an additional service at Boot Hill Saloon, a popular biker bar amongst several such bars along Main Street in Daytona. Thanks to the relationships that have been built at Boot Hill, Cochise was invited to conduct a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Though I had already gone south, I decided it was worth a few extra miles to be able to attend that service, so as I headed north in preparation for my westward journey, I cut back across Florida in order to enjoy this unique setting for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Thanks to this servant of God, I have also had the pleasure of meeting his friend Bobby Wells in Fort Myers, who sent me to see Robert Happoldt, pastor of Heaven’s Way Biker Church in Cottondale, FL. This network of unconventional, ambassadors for Christ has been a wonderful blessing to me on my journey and opened my eyes further to the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:26-30 which reads: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

Parrot Heads, Street Preachers, Sunsets and More

KW Sunset1

In my mind Key West has always been a mystical place. I’ve read about it, seen pictures of it and been aware of some of its characters but had never been farther south than The Tamiami Trail, (FL Route 41 through the Everglades) so on this trip I decided it was worth the extra miles to finally experience Key West first-hand.

Over the course of my ten days in the Florida Keys I made the journey into Key West from Rico’s (you’ll read about him soon) home on Cudjoe Key, a total of five times.

My first trip in I was just trying to get the lay of the land in order to plan my exploration. I found it to be every bit as quaint and charming as I had heard, with beautiful old homes, a super relaxed feel with Chickens and Egrets wandering freely in the streets. It has been said that the feral foul that roam about are a perfect metaphor for Key West; they are colorful, noisy and don’t know when to shut up, causing many to consider them an annoyance but an unavoidable part of the culture.

On my second trip I went right to Old Town to check out the Duval Street crowd. I grabbed a late breakfast at Harpoon Harry’s and chatted with a few “locals.” In my wanderings I spoke with a woman from Michigan, a man from Boston, another from New York and yet another woman from my home state of New Hampshire, who have all moved to Key West over the years. I must admit I began to sense the appeal of the place and understood why it was so heavily populated by northerners.

My third trip, however, took place later in the day and into the evening. Having been a fan of Hemingway since my High School days I wanted to check out some of his old haunts. Though a fan of his writing; because of my work with men in recovery, I know too well the destructiveness of his lifestyle, so I was saddened to find, more who were trying to live (and perhaps die) like Hemingway, than those who sought to record the grittiness of life. In the middle of the afternoon the streets were teeming with men and women stumbling about from bar to bar (each providing live music in the form of dozens of Jimmy Buffet wannabe’s) in various states of inebriation. The earlier sense of charm was replaced with an awful feeling of despair.

Trip number four was a simple ride in with Rico to pick up tickets at the Tennessee Williams Theater (Williams being another famous author who resided here) for a show he was planning to attend. We stopped in to Bobalu’s on Big Coppit Key for a delicious “Garbage Pizza” (pepperoni, sausage, bacon, ham, onions, peppers and who knows what else) and my view brightened once again.

2014-12-19 18.54.06The purpose of my fifth and final sojourn was to catch up with Bill Welzien, a street preacher who offers a clear biblical message three nights per week along the famous wharf at Mallory Square where tourists come to watch the sunset. To call Bill a street preacher is not entirely accurate as he also pastors an Orthodox Presbyterian Church and heads up Keys Evangelistic Ministries, where he trains others in the work of evangelism. Still, most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you will find Bill among the jugglers, tightrope walkers, sword swallower, acrobats, psychics and other street performers with his easel and bottled paints, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something he has been doing here for the past twenty-eight years. (For a video of the above pictured message click here)

I had corresponded with Bill and spoken with him by phone so he was expecting me when I arrived. We talked at length as he prepared his materials for two separate talks he would do that evening. I watched as he interacted with some of the street performers and tried to read the crowd, determining when to launch into his message. What I witnessed was interesting, challenging, disturbing, yet, warming.2014-12-19 17.53.42

You see, as the juggler/tightrope walker or the sword swallower (performers to either side of Bill) began their acts, crowds were drawn to see what was happening and swelled further as they went on. However, when Bill began to preach, those standing nearby tended to scatter and crowds thinned. It was almost as if people didn’t want to be associated with the preacher and drew back. But as I stepped back to get a better photo of the scene, I realized that many on the periphery were indeed paying close attention to what was being declared. They watched the sunset, all the while eavesdropping on the preacher. When the message was complete, Bill offered to answer any questions people might have and was clearly skilled at engaging people from all backgrounds and perspectives.

Over the course of the two messages and post message engagements, I watched Bill converse with a fellow believer, two Muslim women, some Asian tourists, three young Jewish women and a couple of Christian women who were vacationing at a time-share nearby. To each one he gave a tract that explained what he had shared and offered again to answer questions. With one Christian man, we got into a lively theological debate where I found myself acting as a mediator between an Arminian stance and a staunchly Calvinistic position, each declaring a caricature of the others beliefs. When Bill and I were alone, we talked further about the free grace vs. predestination debate and found ourselves taking a decidedly Whitefield/Wesley stance of agreeing to disagree. (those interested in a deeper understanding of this debate may find this article enlightening.)

In the days that have passed since my visit with Bill I have thought of these words from the Apostle Paul: For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (I Corintians 3:4-6 NIV)

In my ongoing search for the Reflection of Christ, I am beginning to think that while no one person may serve as an accurate reflective image, if the people of God’s church could embrace the 95% of things we hold in common and stop allowing the other 5% over which we may disagree to become insurmountable obstacles, perhaps the world could indeed see that we are his disciples because we love one another. (See John 13:35)




LostAndFoundWhat does it mean to be lost and what does a lost person look like?

This question has been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of weeks. As a very white, very middle-class boy growing up in very white New Hampshire, (our mountain range is even called the “White Mountains”) the neediest people I knew might have had holes in their sneakers. As an adult Christian, God has called me out of my comfort zone and I have become aware of greater needs, and while I have ministered to many of the needier people of New Hampshire, most of my church experience is with middle-class white folk who, for the most part, are extremely self-sufficient. I have become convinced of this: self-sufficiency can easily translate to self-righteousness, and self-righteousness can lead to death.

It’s no wonder that New Hampshire is the least churched state in the union! That’s right year-after-year New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine come in as the bottom three states for church attendance. What else do these three states have in common? Well besides being bordered by Canada to the north, they each have very little ethnic diversity and rather low poverty rates. When you have everything you need, you don’t need God and if you don’t need God, you certainly don’t need to waste what little free time you have going to church.

You may say, well, people who know Christ know that’s not true. Perhaps intellectually we know the error of that thinking but do we recognize the neediness of our neighbors? I don’t think we do.

Now, truth be told, I don’t care if you live in New England or Virginia or Florida or most anywhere else on the North American continent, if the people around you don’t appear to have physical needs, it is hard to see them as having spiritual needs. While we may read in our Bible’s that: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV) Do we really understand that one day we will all face judgment? Do we understand that no one is self-sufficient when it comes to the judgment and that to face the judgment seat of God without a savior is to be lost for all eternity?

Pardon me if I get to preaching here but this is serious stuff! Plus I will admit, I have a long history of writing sermons on Saturday.

As I search for the reflection of Christ and think about some of the characters I have met thus far, it strikes me that most of the ones in whom I see Jesus would be described by most as “a little rough around the edges.” Come to think of it, I guess that’s the way the religious leaders of the day might have described Jesus when he walked about the hillsides of Judea and the shores of Galilee. And certainly, John the Baptist was considered rough around the edges – he wore camel hair clothing, his diet consisted of bugs and wild honey and he was always hollering at people to REPENT!

But let me ask you; when you hear the term Baptist (particularly if connected to the words conservative or southern) today, what image comes to mind? Chances are you may think of some uptight, moralistic, judgmental, registered republican with starched underwear in an out of date, ill-fitting suit and plastic hair. Or perhaps you imagine a dowdy woman with no makeup in a long dress or a jean jumper with her hair done up in a bun? (Maybe that’s a tad over the top) Anyway, my point being, when you think Southern Baptist you probably don’t think of a guy with long hair, tattoos up and down his arms, riding a Harley do you? Well perhaps you should.

You see, one of the things I have discovered on my journey to date is that the preachers/church leaders who are a little rough around the edges tend to attract people who are also a little, or even very rough, around the edges; perhaps even tattered, torn and broken – people who are able and willing to see themselves as in need of a savior.

Two such leaders I already wrote about are Ray and Susan Kelley, co-founders of Daytona Outreach Center. Another who warrants more than a passing mention is James “Cochise” Powell, Pastor/Church Planter of Set Free Church where I have been invited to share and sort of tag team preach tomorrow morning. In just a very short time I have come to love this brother in Christ and I look forward to sharing more about him and the wonderful work God is doing though him within the next few days.

Jesus put it this way: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

Or as he quoted from 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 concluding with this: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19, 21 NIV)

I guess it’s no coincidence that in my search for the reflection of Christ the Spirit has led me to folks who are ministering to the poor, those held captive by sin, the sick, the oppressed. Now if God will open our eyes to the fact that such a description applies to our tidy, apparently self-sufficient neighbors, perhaps the church in North America can turn the tide.


Simple Joy in the Face of Challenges

Last night I was feeling sorry for myself and perhaps a little depressed. I tend to be a glass half-full kind of guy, so usually I can talk myself out of a bad mood but as I have indicated here before, there are certain circumstances of my life right now that I simply wish were not. So, it was with a slightly downcast spirit that I walked into Jakob’s Well, again last evening to check out the open mic/karaoke night.

I arrived just before the advertised start time of 7:00 pm and what I found when I walked through the door set me back on my heels. To put this delicately, I discovered a short-bus load of well… grown up short-bus riders. Okay, maybe that wasn’t very delicate. The fact is I have never been politically correct and I happen to think that some of the pc terminology can be more offensive or confusing than straight talk but I guess the current language is either “developmentally delayed” or “developmentally challenged.” Perhaps as I have heard it’s not “developmentally disabled” but “other abled.” Whatever terminology you prefer, feel free to do a pc edit in your own mind – I won’t be offended.

Now, the reason I rocked back on my heels and took this in so quickly is that two of the challenged folk were up on stage singing karaoke with far more enthusiasm than their vocal talents warranted. For a moment I wondered if I had stumbled into one of those American Idol first audition deals. While I fear I may have stood agape for too long, I think in reality I processed the scene far more quickly and my slack jaw face turned to a smile in a mere second or two. I continued to absorb and process the scene as I walked to the counter, ordered a coffee and made my way to a seat.

As I sipped my coffee, my smile broadened (in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I was laughing on the inside but it was not a derisive laughter at all) taking in the whole scene. Please excuse my feeble attempt at painting this picture with words, but Imagine if you can, a rail thin man in his thirties with wispy thinning hair and thick glasses, dressed in tight tan shorts, a red t-shirt and shod in converse sneakers, with his hips canted slightly when still, but moving rapidly to the music belting out Alabama’s, “roll on eighteen-wheeler, roll on!”

As soon as he finished his set, he went to the DJ and ordered up a song for one of his compatriots to sing and it became self-evident that this man was the alpha-male of the room. As further proof of this fact, since the song now being sung was a slow song, I watched as he went to the girl who was clearly “his woman” and led her to the dance floor. As they swayed in rhythm to the music, her head on his chest, I was enthralled. Just when I thought I was witnessing the epitome of simple, joyous love, she leaned back, gazed longingly in his eyes, and he bent to give her the sweetest kiss I think I have ever seen. Nicholas Sparks could not capture with words what I saw with my own eyes.

Well the night was still young and I began to ponder what else was in store. I was quite certain I had been told that a regular crowd of un-churched folks came to perform for open mic and as some of them began to shuffle in I kind of wondered how they would respond to the group that was already there. What would this interaction look like? Would there be disgust? Would there be a clear distinction between the “normal” people and the “challenged” folks. Would the room be evenly divided and segregated? Would there be rivalry? How would the staff keep order since it had been pretty much a free for all to this point? Perhaps it was my previous mood that conjured up these negative speculations but any fears of tensions I held were quickly put to rest, for the interaction between the have’s and have not’s was one of casual comfort and mutual respect.

I watched as a hipster dude with a baldpate, partially hidden beneath a fedora, and neatly trimmed goatee warmly greeted the alpha-male. This was clearly not the first time these two groups had mingled. While the karaoke continued, Mr. hipster dude tuned his guitar, waiting patiently for his mic time. When he was ready and it was his turn to perform, along with his buddy on the snare drum, the entire audience listened with rapt attention.

After he played three or four songs, Tim, the manager, announced that he needed a couple volunteers (he wound up with four or five). He instructed his team of volunteers to choose a song – any song – for Tony (one of the guys in the Daytona Outreach Center program) to sing. This was a little game they call “karaoke roulette” and the idea is to find a song that’s hard to sing in an effort to embarrass Tony. Alpha-male huddled his troops to discuss the matter and when they broke he clapped his hands pointed to Tim and said, “Eighteen Wheeler,” the song he had earlier performed. Tony accepted the challenge but it was painfully clear he did not know the song as well as the previous performer.

While Tony struggled to sing, the music played and the hipster dude danced across the floor inviting a blond haired woman with Down’s syndrome to join him. Though she was at first flustered, she stepped out and tried to follow his lead. He gently spun her and swung her around the floor and she began to relax enjoying the attention and doing her best to mimic his moves. The room was filled with an air of pure delight.

Now, some of you might think that Jesus would never dance and make such a spectacle of himself, but I’m pretty sure I saw the reflection of Christ last night.





Authors note: It is difficult to capture in little more than a thousand words all I witnessed, for there was so much more worthy of cataloguing. Yet, I fear that my descriptions of some of the other characters I saw would come off sounding snarky, like I am poking, fun when my desire is just the opposite. I truly was taken by the simple joy exhibited by these folks who face life’s challenges with their own special kind of dignity. They helped put my problems in perspective, lifted my mood and caused me to give thanks to God for so many good things in my life. My glass is more than half-full — in fact, “my cup overflows.”


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.