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.


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.