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.



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.


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.

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.