Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"You Ordered a Mess & You Got a Mess..."

This is the 3rd installment of a 3 part series. You may need to go back a couple of days to catch up...

I think I was in the 8th grade when some friends and I went to the local ice cream shop one afternoon to hang out and eat frozen goodies. My friend Becky ordered vanilla ice cream with caramel syrup on top. She expected to get it in a cup, but instead was handed a cone with caramel oozing down the sides. As Becky gasped in disbelief the server said to her, "You ordered a mess and you got a mess!~"

Around noon on March 21st, 2007, I found myself in a mess of my own making. The Waycross Police arrived at my home. I was out in the yard with our dog, Conner, when they pulled up. When I greeted them they asked me if I knew what they were there for. I said, "I would assume you're here to arrest me." I was right. They let me take Conner back inside and call Marilyn to tell her what was going on. They were the first of many to tell me I would be out on bond by the next morning. We walked to the car and I got in. They never touched me and never handcuffed me. And we headed off to the county jail.

Once inside, the mess kept getting bigger. I sat in a holding cell while 2 men threatened to kill each other and then me- and then were released without being booked. As they booked me there was a lengthy argument about whether my Internet conversation was a misdemeanor or a felony. A very helpful man from the GBI decided on felony. Then there was another discussion about where I should be housed for the one night (I heard it over and over again) I would be there. Since I knew absolutely nothing about prison life, they decided to give me a private cell on the high security wing for my own safety. They gave me an orange and white striped jump suit to put on. I'm 6'4" and nothing fit, so I wound up wearing what amounted to Capri pants- for the next 7 weeks. There were no bars on my cell, just a small concrete block room with no windows and a plexi-glass porthole in the heavy steel door. And it was freezing.  I'm almost never cold (ask anyone who ever visited one of my offices), but I FROZE that day and night. The ceiling was covered with globs of toilet paper that previous occupants had gotten wet and then tossed at the air vents hoping they would stick and block them. I had a bed that was way too short, 2 sheets and no pillow. And a towel. I used the towel for a blanket. I had no idea what time it was or what might happen next. In the middle of the night, one of the giant globs of TP fell from the ceiling and would have scared me to death- except that I was already that scared. 

The next morning they brought me breakfast, wrapped me in chains like I was the Frankenstein monster, and took me to a court room right there in the jail. Marilyn and my attorney were waiting for me there. This was when bail would be set and I could go home. But this mess of my own making just kept getting messier. The judge could not set bail in my case because his superior wanted to see me in court first. The Assistant D.A. said they were willing to set bail and process it with Judge Jackson (he has since passed away, but the name still makes me shiver) so I could get out immediately. Judge Jackson proceeded to sit on that bond request for 7 weeks, thus accounting for my time in jail. Along the way it became clear that I was going to be punished as much for being a Youth Pastor who had fallen as for the crime I had committed- and I understood that. I had disappointed so many people. I finally pled guilty to a plea bargain that kept me from serving 10 years in prison, and I instead received 10 years probation. I was banned from living in south Georgia (which everyone agrees is unconstitutional, but what are you gonna' do?  We were not going to stay there in any case.). And I was branded with a label (see What's Your Sign?) that could have made me a modern day leper. I would love to complain about the severity of my punishment, but it was a mess of my own making. I ordered a mess, and I got a mess....

Somehow, the love and grace of Jesus and my family rescued my soul in the days that followed, and now I live to love them and to praise Him. This blog (and later Twitter) has played no small role in my return to society and in my desire to once again find a ministry to serve in the name of Jesus. I am still unable to travel much and I live under many restrictions- but I do live! And I await direction from God on how I can best serve Him in the next phase of my life. The responses to my posts of the past 2 days have been so amazing and grace-filled, and I cannot say "thank you" often enough or loudly enough to those who have been so kind. However, if these revelations make it uncomfortable for you to call me a friend, read this blog or follow me on Twitter anymore, I understand. Thanks for travelling with me this far. May God's love and mercy be with you always. I know it has been with me...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 30, 2011


"We are not sinners because we sometimes sin.  We sin because we are all sinners."  -Brennan Manning

I don't really know how many of you were surprised by the news yesterday that I spent 7 weeks in jail in 2007. I know that many of my former youth and their parents have known my story for a long time. Many have shown me amazing grace and mercy, while others have removed themselves from my life. I understand this. It has to be difficult to understand how someone they trusted so much could have disappointed them so completely. There have been many hints from the very first day of this blog that there had been a great sin in my life that ended my ministry, and I know that a few of my friends and Twitter followers have "googled" me and learned my story in that way. In any case, I am going to spend two days bringing everyone up to speed on how I went from youth pastor to inmate. I didn't intend to tell this story until I reached the right point chronologically, but yesterday's revelation makes it feel like this is the time to tell you "the rest of the story." 

I have written here before that quite often we don't dive into a sin, we "nibble" our way to lostness. This was very true in my case. In the latter part of the 1990s I discovered the wonders of the Internet. I loved using e-mail and instant messages to stay in touch with the students in my ministry and with old friends from all over the country. In fact, I was recognized by my peers in student ministry for some of the creative ways I was using the web. As time went by I discovered chat rooms and met some wonderful new people. It all seemed so useful. There was, however, a dark side to the Internet- and I began to find it. As my work became more and more frustrating after a pastoral change and a move to a church where I had way too much free time, I began to "nibble." Soon I was having instant message chats with people I did not know. My issues were not pornography or trying to meet people offline. For me the sin was living in a fantasy world where no one knew who I was and no one had expectations of me. In that world I was not accountable to God or anyone else. Every so often God would convict me of this sin in my life and I would stop. But whenever life got tough, I would become weak. I never thought of anything I did as being illegal, but I knew it was a sin. I had stopped for a long period of time when my father passed away and I was leaving to take on a new ministry- BOTH on February 15, 2006. I then spent 6 months living by myself, waiting for school to end so my wife and son could move up and join me. During that time I began to nibble again...

In February of 2007 we had just returned from a great youth group ski trip- one where it actually snowed! I was very excited about the student ministry and the church I was serving in Waycross, GA. I was making plans for the summer, having already booked a house at Myrtle Beach and scheduled a CSM mission trip to Toronto. Things seemed great. My sin never kept me from doing my job. One afternoon I was at home alone when several local police officers and a car from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) stopped by the house. They seized all of my computers (home & office) and questioned me about an instant message conversation I had participated in back in December. The other participant had identified themselves as a minor and I had kept talking. We shared a very brief chat and then I was called away- but not before I said things I should not have said. The "girl" I was speaking with turned out to be a retired police officer. They would search 3 computers and find nothing- no pictures,  no e-mails and no attempts to meet anyone. But I was guilty of that conversation, and I said so. Confession may be good for the soul, but it when it comes to the USAmerican legal system it's a stupid thing to do. Things fell apart quickly after that. I was first suspended and then fired from my job (even though the church staff stood by me and my family until the end). I had to tell my wife and son the whole story. They were, of course, very angry with me- but even in those first moments they showed me nothing but grace. Even if I had been innocent (and I wasn't) just the allegation of such immoral behavior would have cost me my career. The entire community became aware of the situation in a heartbeat. The youth were questioned to make certain I had never harmed them, and youth from previous stops along my journey were questioned as well. I was left to dwell on what I had done, pray for those I had hurt, and await the outcome of the investigation. I didn't have to wait too long. The story continues tomorrow...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Encounters With God: My Own Story

Easter morning of 2007 began like so many others before it. I was awakened before sunrise and said a prayer that the activities of the day would somehow bring glory to the name of Jesus. I grabbed a quick bite to eat (technically I was served breakfast in bed), then pulled out my tattered, worn leather-bound NIV Bible that had been a gift from the youth of Springfield Friends Meeting when I left there in 1994. I read the stories of the resurrection of Christ before once again going to God in prayer, seeking guidance for the day and for my life. That was where the similarities to any other Easter Sunday of my life ended.  There would be no Sunrise Service. In fact, there would be no church at all. For you see, I spent Easter Sunday 2007 in jail.

The story of how and why I came to be in the Ware County (GA) Jail for 7 weeks in the Spring of' '07 will be told here over the next two days, but trust me- I was there. By April 8th (Easter) I had been incarcerated for 18 days, which was 17 days longer that anyone had expected. I was being kept on the high security wing of the county jail with the inmates who had mental issues or who had tried to commit suicide. I was there for my own safety (I seemed a bit out of place in jail) and because the guards thought I might be able to help them with some of the other patrons. Plus everyone thought I was going home- the next day. The next day had now arrived 17 times, and I was still there. It was Easter, my very favorite day of the year, the highest of Holy days for Christians and the day to CELEBRATE JESUS- and I was sad, depressed and feeling completely useless. I was certain no one could ever love me again. I was pretty sure God would give up on me too. It seemed my day would be spent wallowing in self-pity and beating myself up for the sin that had placed me there. That's when God stepped in...

Sometime after lunch I began to talk to my cellmate, who we'll call Ronnie. Ronnie had been in and out of jail and prison for 8 years, and during this particular stay had tried to kill himself twice. Before moving him in with me, one the guards (an incredible Christian woman named Betty) asked me if I would try to talk with him and pray with him. I had agreed, but had really done nothing of the sort. I was too busy worrying about me- which shows you just how little I was thinking about Jesus. But on Easter afternoon we began to talk. He had grown up in church, so he knew "the stories" of Jesus. Our talk turned to Holy Week, and I pulled my trusty Bible back out and began to read him some of the stories. The story of The Last Supper seemed to trouble him greatly, and when I pushed the subject he told me he had never belonged to a family or group that shared a meal like that, with real conversation and real love. It was a wonderful opening to talk about Jesus and the family of God, and it was at that moment that the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head and reminded me of "whose I was." Yes I had been stupid. Yes I had sinned. Yes, God still loved me. And yes, my life still belonged to Jesus

I was suddenly filled with joy, with energy and with a bit of imagination. I flagged down a guard and asked if I could get some juice and bread so I could serve Holy Communion to any of the guys on the hall who were interested. He brought me some mostly frozen apple juice and a slice of bread so old that it had been rejected by the rats. I preached a short message on John 3:16 and what the resurrection could mean in their lives- from inside my cell. I talked about the joy and peace that come with being a part of God's family. I talked about grace. And then with the guard's help I served Communion. It was powerful. Big, tough men were crying- and repenting. One guy named John (who was a bit nuts, and who was there for threatening to blow up a government building) began singing Amazing Grace, and others joined in. I have never felt the presence of God  ANYWHERE  like I felt it that afternoon in jail. I prayed a "Sinner's Prayer" with Ronnie and one other inmate. And when it was over, I laid down on my bed and cried. All of my sin, all of my depression, all of my frustration and all of my love for Jesus came flowing out of me- and after 28 years of teaching about grace, I finally really understood what it was. God still loved me. My wife and son still loved me- ANYWAY! I had no idea how at that particular moment, but I knew God was still going to use me. My soul was about to explode as I realized that no matter how anyone on earth might respond to me and what I had done, it was Jesus who would define my life from that point on.  After all of those wonderful years of ministry, it took an encounter with God in a jail cell to truly open my eyes. I was reminded of Joseph in The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when he sings, "Close every door to me, hide those I love from me...but children of Israel (and God) are never alone!"

Later that night I sat on my bed and wrote out from memory the words to the incredible song from the late Rich Mullins, Bound To Come Some Trouble. I keep that tattered piece of paper in my tattered old Bible. It's pictured here. I still cling to these words:

There's bound to come some trouble to your life,
just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight;
He's been there before and He knows what it's like
you'll find He's there...

I add this encounter with God to the two weeks of amazing and personal stories that have been shared here. My thanks to everyone who contributed and all who have been reading. If you haven't read these amazing posts, please go back and do it now. It is my prayer that these diverse and powerful examples of brushes with the living God will remind us all that God moves among us every single day. Encountering God often has very little to do with us going to the mountaintop; it is much more common for Jesus to find us in the valleys of life. Seek God in your life daily, and discover the "reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God."  Blessings to you all.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Encounters With God: Becky Memmelaar

I first met Becky when I arrived at Springfield Friends Meeting in October of 1986.  She was the daughter of my new boss and Senior Pastor, Max Rees, and she had two daughters in the children's ministry.  She was single at the time and wearing a sweatshirt that proclaimed "Marry me and fly free!"  Marilyn and I knew right away this was someone we would love, and we did.  Through our 8 years at Springfield, her marriage to Captain Ron and two more children, we shared a lot.  Her oldest children; Stacy and Jill, were a huge part of our student ministry at Springfield and we love them dearly.  Since that time, Becky went back to school and is now pastor of the First Friends (Quaker) Meeting of Whittier, CA.  She's the only one of my guest bloggers that I sought out, and I am honored to have her share her story with us today. 

When Carl asked me to write a blog about a time when God showed up in my life, I thought sure I can do that. As I was thinking about this question I realized that God shows up in numerous ways each day.  The difference is that most of the times it takes me being so down and out, scraping the bottom of the barrel kind of down to get me to recognize the powerful, amazing presence of our God. 

I was a flight attendant for 22 years.  My husband Ron is a pilot.  Together we’ve invested a great deal of time in the airline industry.  We’ve ridden the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows of successes that accompany, the glamour of flying. 

We were both home on 9/11.  It was our son Max’ 11 birthday.  We were sharing our coffee getting ready to buy cupcakes to take to his school, to celebrate the day our life had changed 11 years earlier.  When the planes began to fall from the sky that day and our life changed irreparably. It was as if we entered a different time warp, a new time continuum, or a worm-hole from Star Trek.  Ron had been a captain at an airline on 9/11.  On 9/12 he became a stay at home Dad.  I became the primary breadwinner for our family. As air travel returned so did I, but never with any surety that I’d kiss the faces of my sweet children again.  Perhaps that sounds melodramatic, but let me assure you it is an accurate description of how I felt.  I kept going, kept flying, but make no mistake I was not rejoicing in all things.

At the time I was an international flight attendant and I commuted from Greensboro, NC to Philadelphia, Pa.  It was my ritual to do my Bible study as I commuted.  One particular day, about a month into the whole post 9/11 drama I pulled out my Bible and my study and began to work.  It was a Beth Moore study, (while I don’t agree with Beth’s theology, she groups scripture and has a love and passion for God and scripture like no other). Anyway, this particular day was a study of how God spoke to us through clouds.  You know the whole Exodus story, of God speaking to us through the cloud. You know, the cloud moved from in front of the Israelites to lead them and then moved to the rear to guard their flanks.  I had always missed that God had changed position to guard their flanks.  This whole day's lesson had taken us through the Bible, through the times God spoke to us through clouds.  It hit me that during my cloudiest times is when I could hear God the most clearly, even though I like smooth sailing and sunny days best.   I was at that moment in one of the darkest, dreariest times of my life. I felt that quickening, that feeling when you know something is getting ready to happen and Beth hit me with 1 Thessalonians 4:17“Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

I looked around recognized that we were flying through a cloud. I looked out every window I could see.  I wanted to laugh; I wanted to cry, because I recognized that God had totally surrounded me by a cloud and was speaking to me in that dark moment. I realized at that exact moment God met me in the air, was going ahead of me, was guarding my flanks, and was in fact surrounding me in a cloud.  I was alive and there was absolutely no place I could go outside of the incredible, powerful, amazing presence of our beloved God.

~Becky Memmelaar

Friday, May 27, 2011

Encounters with God: Michael Head

Today's second encounter comes from Michael Head, a youth pastor in Houston.  You can visit Michael's blog (and catch the rest of this series) at http://michaelhead.org  and follow him on Twitter @mycoolhead.  Thanks for being willing to share with us today, Michael!

So many people have a desire to “Encounter God” but the things that slow them down are deadly relationships.  This is 1 in a 4 part series on what is slowing you down…

Too many people are in a relationship that are seriously killing them. I am not just talking about dating or marriage I am talking about relationships, all of them. We have people in our life that do not match what we believe or want. Am I saying that you don't need to hang out with them NO! But if they are bringing you down or causing you to do things that you would not normally do, then yes! If they are causing you to bring up old dark things in your past that you have let go of and given to God, then YES!! That shows that you are not strong enough to shine Christ in those areas. The people you hang out with will define you! Those people say who you are and what you believe in. You have to be wise in your relationships. People will come and say, "I don't know what happened? I am just so different now." I will say, well look at the people you are hanging out with! That is almost always the problem. Don't be the next person who had it all going for them and then over time they have eaten them away to be a totally different person. Then they say, "I just can't leave them, I want to show them Christ." I will say, you haven't done it now and you probably won't later. Let God be God and you back off, you work on you... He has been doing plenty without you since the beginning of time. End deadly relationships now, it will be so worth it!

~ Michael Head

Encounters With God: My Friend Denise

Myself, Denise & Donna- 1982
Today's first post is brought to you by...me!  The guest blogger scheduled for today is going to submit a post a bit later, so it turns out to be a 2 for 1 Friday!   I apologize for anything I have "misremembered" in telling this story.  If any old friends are reading today, please correct me in the comments section!

In the late 1970's and early 80's (my college years) I ran around with a very special group of people.  One of the things we all had in common was worshipping together on Sunday mornings at New Garden Friends Meeting, a Quaker church in Greensboro, NC.  I was one of the youth leaders there (along with the pictured Donna Haynes; the photo is from a New Garden pictoral directory) at the time while still in college, and a lot of my friends were members there as well.  Among this group of friends was a woman named Denise May.

I met Denise when she lived next door to (and eventually with) one of my best friends, Beth Vestal.  Beth and I had grown up in youth group at New Garden, and when Denise started hanging out with she began attending as well. It was quite a switch for a Southern Baptist girl from eastern NC, but Denise fit right in and loved going with us.  I could tell you lots of stories about Denise, but the only thing you really need to know is that she introduced me to my wife of almost 25 years, Marilyn.  Needless to say, Denise is special to me.

One Sunday morning we were in meeting for worship at New Garden, which always featured a period of open worship (silent prayer and meditation when anyone who felt moved was welcome to speak).  During the open worship that morning Denise seemed restless and uncomfortable and like she was on the verge of speaking- which was something she had never done. But she remained silent.  After worship as we were all preparing to go to lunch, she approached me with a question.  "Carl, do you know where Belize is?"  I didn't.  In fact, none of us recalled ever having heard of Belize.  It turns out it is the northern-most Central American nation.  After lunch we went our separate ways, and later on that evening Denise called and wanted to talk.  She had indeed been restless during worship.  She told me God had spoken to her very clearly as she prayed and told her He wanted her to go to Belize as a missionary.  For her, the fact that she had no idea that Belize was a country in Central America was confirmation that it had indeed been the Holy Spirit that had given her these marching orders.  We talked and prayed, and I gave her the name and number of the lady in charge of world missions for Quakers.  And to be real honest, I thought that would be the end of that.  It all seemed a little nuts...

But it wasn't nuts- it was just a "God Thing!"  Denise soon quit her job teaching Home Economics to high school kids and began training to be a missionary in Belize.  It turned out that Quakers had a thriving mission there and needed help.  God had interrupted her perfectly normal life with an extraordinary call to serve.  Her life was turned upside down, just like the first disciples when they heeded the call to follow Jesus.  And after almost a year of training, we had a big party for Denise and sent her on her way.

I wish I could tell you that Denise went on to change the world through her work in Belize- but this is not that story.  In fact, she was there for 2 days.  The poverty and conditions completely overwhelmed her, and she came home quickly.  But the story does not end there, either.  After her return, she was offered a position as a youth pastor at a Friends Meeting in Asheboro, NC.  She accepted, and became a missionary in a completely different field of souls.  And she was awesome. 

So here's my point:  When we encounter God, it is our job to follow His leadings and go and do the things we are called to go and do.  God is still in charge of results!  Scripture is full of heroes whose paths to serving God were winding and crooked.  God calls us to be faithful; whether or not we are successful is up to Him.  Even the most powerful encounters with God do not come with fully marked road maps- but that does not make them any less real.  Because of the call Denise received that morning in 1983, I always enter worship with the expectation that something miraculous could happen.  And that is as great a gift as I have ever been given.  Thanks, Neicy May!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Encounters With God: Terry Smith

Today's  guest post comes from Terry Smith.  Terry is a yet another friend I have come to know through Twitter, where his tweets both inspire and provoke you.  He is part of a band of merry misfits known as the Outlaw Preachers who (it seems to me) seek to strip away the "stuff" from our faith and return the focus to Jesus.  You can follow Terry on Twitter @TerryRamoneSmit or visit his blog at http://tsmith0095.wordpress.com/ Thanks for sharing from your heart, Terry!

Let me say this. Not everyone encounters God the same way. Ya see, I always knew ABOUT God, but I never KNEW Him. I knew God in the same sense that we all know the President. Yeah, we know what he looks like and could pick him out of a lineup, but we don't know his favorite color. I want to be that close to God. I want to know His favorite color.

I was raised the son of a Baptist Preacher and the grandson of a Baptist song-leader in a church of about 50 people. I knew the Scriptures backwards, forwards and diagonally and I loved knowing the Scripture. I loved being the guy who knew a lot about God and therefore everyone just assumed I also knew Him.

My father and I were never really close when I was growing up. I was afraid of and respected my father but there wasn't a close relationship there. I definitely transposed some of those feelings about my daddy to Father God.

There was a certain time when I was 16 and I was reading Scripture getting ready to preach my first sermon and I was reading the story of The Prodigal Son. And we all know that story (It can be found in Luke Ch. 15 if you don't), but I'll give you a synopsis:

A young man goes to his father and requests his inheritance before it is due and receives it.
The young man goes off and squanders off his inheritance and ends up sharing a slop trough
with pigs. And he thinks, "A servant at my father's house lives better than this. I will go home
and be a servant of my father." He heads home and his father sees him coming a long way off.
His father runs out and meets him, puts a new ring on his finger, throws a new robe over him
and throws a party.

Now, I don't know about you, but if I was this father, I don't know if I would be as forgiving as he was. But, when I was 16, I saw God in this parable and I broke down. I started crying and couldn't contain myself. Say hello to Father God, the God that forgives and puts a new ring (symbolizing Covenant) and a new coat (symbolizing protection) on me. This was the first time in my life that I remember wanting a relationship with God and being more than the guy that knew a lot ABOUT God.

That's my big encounter with God moment. There was no worship band playing music, no big-name preacher giving a sermon, but just the Scripture, me and God. And with this, I encourage you to take Scripture seriously, for it reveals to you the Secret things of God. Take time to get to know your Daddy. He loves you. He wants a Covenant with you and He wants to provide for and protect you.

~Terry Smith

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Encounters With God: Lexi MacKinnon

Lexi MacKinnon has a heart for Jesus and for the least of these.  Her "encounter" talks about her experiences in Uganda, and it is only fitting that she is there right now ministering to some of the poorest of the poor.  Lexi has seen the face of Jesus in the children she serves there, and her challenge to us today is be "doers of the Word and not hearers only."  Follow her on Twitter @leximackinnon and be sure to  leave her lots of comments so that the next time she is at a computer she will feel the love we have for her and the work she is doing. I hate to contradict my own guest writer, but Lexi, you are both "extra brave and courageous!"  Blessings to you, my friend!

Jesus Is the Least of These
Encountering God is not as simple as saying a quick version of the sinner’s prayer, going to church weekly or even daily quiet times. If that is all our Christian walks are centered on, we are no better than the Pharisees.

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said, "And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"

So you want to encounter Jesus and really know him? Jesus says that He IS the unloved and unwanted of our world. It is in the least of these that we can encounter Jesus in ways we have never before experienced.

Often when I share with others about the fact that I am moving to Eastern Uganda to care for orphans, they say that I must be extra brave or courageous. I promise you I am neither.  The truth is that in Uganda I have seen the face of Jesus!  

In the street children, in the starving babies, in the abused women, in the unloved elderly, in the drug addicted teens... I have seen the face of Jesus. In the midst of those suffering, Jesus is present in a way I have never before encountered!

So I am not special. I am not brave. I am not courageous. I am someone who has seen the face of Jesus fleshed out and I desire nothing more than to chase after it.

Like the parable Jesus spoke of in Matthew 13:40, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field."

I have encountered Jesus through the greatest treasure on this Earth and like the farmer I will sell everything to make that treasure mine.  Will you?

Have you encountered Jesus among the least of these?
What are you doing now to go after that precious treasure?

About Lexi MacKinnon
I am a young-twenty something from Tampa, FL currently living in Nashville, TN. I have started a new ministry called Muzungu Mama Ministries to be the light of Jesus in unreached places in Eastern Uganda. I will be moving to Pallisa, Uganda in September to open a children's home and start a family sponsorship program there. You can read more about this amazing journey at my blog Moving Mountains or check out my ministry's site Muzungu Mama Ministries .

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Encounters With God: James Robinson

Today's Encounter with God comes from James Robinson.  James (though he'll always be Jamie to my wife and I) was a vital part of my youth group at Springfield Friends Meeting in the late 1980s.  We had lost touch for quite a few years until he was made aware of a Goggle Alert that informed a co-worker (in the high-tech industry) that he had been mentioned on this the very blog.  In fact, he had been inducted into my Youth Group Hall of Fame.  Most of you do not know James, but he is on Twitter @jerobins and he blogs on rare occasions at http://blog.robinsonhouse.com/ . He is married with children and very active in his local church.  It's an honor to share this post with all of you and to call Jamie a friend.

Of Best Intentions
Planning comes naturally to some. My dear wife makes plans, checks up on the plans, gets frustrated when the plans need changing, but, nevertheless, keeps working the plan. My wife will tell you that I'm not big on planning; however, the truth is I do plan. The breakdown occurs in the follow through; not actively changing and updating the plan when the need arises.

I am a leaf on the wind - watch how I soar.
There is a difference between intentions and being intentional. So often, mine is a world of intentions. I had intended on having this blog post completed the morning of May 23rd and emailed to Carl that afternoon. What if I would have been intentional? What if I had planned to have it done early, say by May 19th, and made a deliberate attempt each day to stick to that plan?

Such is my walk with God...
  • I intend to have a quiet time with God each morning
  • I intend to have family devotions three times a week
  • I intend to build my children's character, not just change their behavior
  • I intend to build my wife up daily
  • ...the list goes on
Are my intentions enough?
Despite a popular Hindu quote, I believe God expects more from those that love Him. When I look at myself and God's plans for me (Psalm 37:23), I am ashamed.

A plan is just a plan until it is executed. Intentional is defined as doing something on purpose. It can be depressing to constantly make plans and then fail to execute, especially when we are trying to do things out of our love for God.

Thankfully there is forgiveness and grace so I don't have to be burdened with my past failings. But what about today? What am I doing today to allow God's plan to be fulfilled through me?

Plan, then Execute
I will have a time of solitude with God in the morning. I will make a plan to intentionally build my kids character on a daily basis. I will create a new family devotion plan now that swim team has started and our former schedule is toast. And when the plans get interrupted, I will adjust the plan and keep on working. But, most importantly, I will seek God's wisdom and strength to make the right plans and to enable me to do them well.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. -- Proverbs 16:9 ESV

I find encounters with my ever-present God when I am walking beside Him and not off doing my own thing.

~James Robinson

Monday, May 23, 2011

Encounters With God: Kevin Weatherby

Today we are honored to have Kevin Weatherby sharing with us- and I do mean honored!  Kevin is one of my favorite bloggers, favorite Tweeters and an all-around favorite men of God.  His book, "The Great Cow-mission,"  (available from Amazon) is one of the best reads of the past 12 months, and he and his wife Christie keep me laughing on Twitter.  As usual, Kevin's "encounter" just blew me away, and I am so happy to share it with you!

My dad never showed up one Saturday to pull up tee-posts at the ranch like he said he would. I figured he had went and worked cattle for a neighbor or something. Little did I know that twenty-four hours later, a doctor would tell me that there was an 80% chance that my dad would die. This episode would bring about an encounter with God that I will never forget.

Sunday morning at the little Cowboy Church where I was the pastor in February of this year (2011), my little sister told me that dad was home and throwin' up. I kind of laughed and told her to tell him that I said, “Get to feelin' better, cause I ain't comin' to see you and catch that bug that's goin' around.”

People had been getting sick a lot lately with this nasty little stomach bug. We had many folks miss church and work as this virus struck hard and fast.

Sunday evening about 5:00, this same little sister called me and told me that dad was in the local hospital. I told her that supper was nearly ready and that I would eat real quick and then go see him.  I had just finished eating when my step-mother called and said that they were life-flighting dad to Odessa, Texas (about 80 miles away). Seems he had a blockage in his intestine. This kind of made me nervous, but I just laughed it off and told her, “Tell him to get ready to be Roto Rooter-ed! We always knew he was full of crap.”

I drove to Odessa straight from my ranch and waited on the helicopter to land.

When they brought him out of the elevator and into ICU, I was shocked at how much pain he was in. This tough man was writhing in pain (as much as a tough guy does at least). They kicked me out of ICU while they got him all hooked up.

Fast forward a couple of hours and I am standing outside of his ICU room and a doctor walks up and asks me if I am with Mr. Weatherby. I told him that I was his son and he commenced to tellin' me that the blood supply had been cut off from my dad's small intestine and that he will probably not make it.

I felt like a mule had kicked me right in the heart.

When the doctor told me that there was an 80% chance that my dad would die, I looked at him and said, “Well, 80% ain't nothin' to my God...” --and I meant it.

I walked in and watched the doctor tell my dad the same thing as I stood at the end of the bed. My dad looked at the doctor and asked, “So, you tellin' me that I'm probably gonna die from this bad belly ache?”  “Yes, Mr. Weatherby. I'm sorry, but we will do what we can,” the doctor said.

My dad turned at looked at me and said, “Wow. That's a trip.”

My step-mother had to leave the room and I had to have THE talk with my dad who attended church as part of my congregation. I asked him, “Dad, I have to know that you are saved.”  “Of course I am son. Don't worry about that.”  “Well,” I said, “I am worried about it. I want to hear you pray and tell God that you believe in his Son and that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.”  I held his hand as he prayed and said that and more.

When his prayer was done, it was my turn to pray. I placed my hand on his stomach and asked, “God, I don't deserve to ask and my dad don't deserve to receive, but could you please heal him. Make your presence known and make him a living testament to your love and promises....”

The last thing I said to my dad when they closed the surgery doors was, “Hey Weatherby!!”  He turned and looked at me.  “You get in there and you ride this bull and then you get back here to the chute and I'll be waitin' on you.” He gave me a thumbs up and closed his eyes.

That morning I had preached a sermon about giving God your best. As I sat there in the surgery waiting room, I prayed and said, “God, this morning I talked about giving you our best. Well Lord, I ain't got nothing I love more on this earth than that cowboy in surgery. I don't care what happens though. I give him to you.”

I walked in the door of the ranch house about 5:30 in the morning. My wife was asleep on the couch waiting on me to come home. All the pain, all the fear, all of the positive thoughts vanished as this tough cowboy knelt down beside the couch and cried like a baby.

“It's OK honey,” my wife said as she held my head in her lap.  “I know,” I sobbed.

I wept as I have never wept in my adult or even teenage life. Through my tears I pictured myself at the feet of Jesus. I felt his presence. You see, I wasn't crying because my dad had died. I was crying because he was going to be fine.

The doctor had walked out of surgery, looked me in the eye and said, “You have an awesome God. The CAT scan showed your dad's whole small intestine was dead, but when we got in there and looked, there was enough alive and your dad is gonna be fine.”

As I cried, I alternated between thanking God for the miracle he had granted me and asking him why he had done so. I'll never forget the answer that I received picturing myself kneeling down at the feet of Jesus.

As I held his feet in my mind and thanked him and asked him why he had saved my dad and answered my prayer he said, “Because I love you...”

And I cried harder after that. Experiencing true grace will do that to you. ~

Kevin Weatherby moved to Kiowa, Colorado right after this incident. He left his family, his church, his ranch, and everything else he had to heed God's call to start a cowboy ministry SE of Denver.  He is married and has two kids, a son and daughter.  Kevin writes Cowboy Devotionals at www.campfirecowboyministries.com where you can find nearly anything to suit your fancy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, but most of all, you'll hear God's Word in a meat and taters fashion instead of fish eggs and fancy talk.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Encounters With God: Jason Huffman

Today's post comes from my good friend Jason Huffman.  I met Jason on Twitter several months ago and soon we were talking sports, youth ministry, blogging and Jesus.  He quickly became one of my favorite people and someone I truly hope to spend some "face time" with someday soon.  You can get to know Jason by following him on Twitter @jasonbhuffman or by visiting his blog at http://jasonbhuffman.wordpress.com/.  Just don't say anything nasty about his Texas Rangers!  Thanks for sharing your heart with us, Jason.

You know that kid that was dragged to church every time the doors were open and came from the squeaky clean family? Well, that was me. So, I guess you could say I encountered God on a regular basis for many years. This was not a bad thing at all. I am thankful for my Christian upbringing, for my mom's faithful involvement in all things church, and my dad's great example. But somehow over the years, my theology became somewhat skewed. Having a relatively easy life (stable home, decent income, etc.), I began to formulate the idea in my mind that if I was just faithful to God and didn't get myself into a lot of hot water over a bunch of sinful living, then God would honor that and life would be relatively easy. After all, that's biblical, right?

Well, enter encounter number one. My wife of almost three years, my college girlfriend, came to me and basically said, "I've been thinking a lot about leaving." After trying to do all I could to rectify the relationship and stop her from tearing our marriage apart, there was nothing more I could do. She even gave me the comfort of saying, "You did nothing wrong, this is just all on me. I never should have gotten married." So while that allowed me to clear my conscience, it didn't make the pain go away. I had been serving for two years at a little Baptist church in Rockdale, TX. My wife had been our church pianist and had worked with me in my youth ministry. My world had been shaken up like one of those snow globes. And somehow in the midst of it all, God was there. Well, as my life seemingly spun out of control, it was my continuing seminary education and a church paycheck that kept me from going off the deep end. I felt so far away from God, yet at the same time, I was supposed to be leading others to be closer to him.

The scripture that spoke the most to me during this time was Phil 4:7-8 which says " Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I had learned a song as a child that said "I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart (where?)". I never understood the "peace that transcends all understanding" until I felt this pain. In the midst of the storm, there was peace.This passage tells me that when hard times come, I have a choice to make. I can lean on God and trust him, or I can turn my back on him and do it on my own.

What happened after that would be a tumultuous two years. I soon met another lady and we were married and divorced in just over a year. We had been without a pastor and in addition to doing youth ministry, music ministry, and going to school full time, I was also doing the pastoral ministry for the church. It was a very stressful time in my life. She left on a Friday and I took my last semester of seminary finals on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and graduated on Saturday. Imagine getting this piece of paper that is supposed to affirm God's call on your life all the while you know that you are going to have to leave your church ministry you've held for five years. So, after resigning from my church, I packed up my life, put my house up for sale, and moved back home with my parents. Twenty-seven years old, no job, and a Masters Degree in Christian Education that I felt wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

Burnt out on ministry, I began seeking employment in the secular world. Through a series of unusual circumstances, after three months, I wound up in the insurance office of a godly man who had built his business on Christian principles and was looking for some new, young agents to expand his business. This was encounter #2. While I would grow to loathe selling insurance, it was a good job and paycheck for the next two years. The night before I started that job, I broke down and cried because of all the hell I had been through and was so happy that God was going to provide me with a job.

After two years in insurance, I was pining to go back into the trenches of ministry. I had been leading a Wednesday night youth Bible study at a church I was attending, but they had recently hired a youth minister. A Methodist pastor had hit me up two years before about working for them, but it was only part time and I was burnt out on ministry anyway. It just wasn't the right time. But one Tuesday afternoon, after a less than successful insurance appointment, I swung by the same Methodist church and told the pastor, "I don't even know why I'm here. I just know I'm sick of selling insurance and two years ago you were looking for a youth worker." His eyes lit up. I would soon find out they had just released a youth director who had been there for a year and a half and had already been through six applicants from all over the country trying to find the right fit. He gave me some paperwork, made a few phone calls. A week later I had a job. This was encounter #3. That was five years ago May 1. I've heard it said that coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

I'm still the Director of Youth Ministries at First United Methodist Church of Palestine. I have been married now to my wife for three years and have adopted her daughter. And there have been many more "mundane" encounters with God. Life is good. I know hard times will come and go, but God will never leave me or forsake me. How have you encountered God in your life?

Jason Huffman

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Encounters With God: Amy Nabors

Today we welcome Amy Nabors to the Encounters With God family of bloggers!  Amy has becmoe a dear friend on Twitter and I was very excited she was willing to share with us today.  Be sure and check out her blog and follow her on Twitter using the links found at the bottom of the page.  And come on people- leave some comments for these wonderful writers!

The Story God Is Writing In My Life
Expressing how God has changed and is changing me isn't easy. Maybe more a maturing. An awakening. Admitting I don't have it all together is frightening.

Some of these changes you can see in previous posts, but it is a story still being written.

Through it all I'm finding my voice. Finding my voice to tell the stories God gives me.

It's never been easy for me to talk about my faith. Shyness along with a pretty non-eventful life always left me feeling like anything I had to share would bore everyone. No stories with sordid details or dramatic scenes. A simple life.

Growing up in a Christian home I never knew how to be anything but a Christian. I walked the aisle in my teens like expected. I believed Jesus was God's son, died on the cross to save me from my sins, was resurrected, etc...I believed all this. I know my salvation was real. But feelings. Feelings could not be trusted or at least lessons learned in church impressed that upon my childhood mind.

But I always wondered. Wondered why I had never really FELT God's presence around me as so many I had heard experienced. As I began digging for myself in scriptures much of what I had been taught by 'church' no longer worked. Baggage comes with second hand knowledge.

The past months have brought unexpected transformation. It's my story. The story God is writing in my life.

In subtle ways the change began over a year ago. I'm not sure any one experience attributes beginning it all. A gradual awakening might describe it best. Although I've had experiences in the past that I knew God was in I suppose they never moved me like the experiences of these past months.

None of these experiences dramatic or tragic. The change evolving through quiet prayers, friendships, gratitude, and study.

My faith moving from a head knowledge to a deep heart knowledge.

The last week of August 2010. A week I can't forget. Two friends. Both battling their own separate struggles.

One friend hurt by unwarranted harsh words behind the back. An afternoon call of tears and frustration. Words of encouragement fall flat, unable to fix the friend's hurt.

Two nights I awake. A heavy sense to pray for my two friends. Friday afternoon a call from the first friend still unknowing of my prayers. Sharing a story of the apology and amazement at the details.

For me, a confirmation of God's presence.

The other friend searching for God's direction. For months I prayed without knowing why. The friend unknowing of my prayers. An undefinable pain in the friend's eyes the only clue. Then the same Friday, an early evening message asking for prayer. A night and day struggling through an internal hell wondering God's plan. The friend will email more later. So I pray through the evening. Praying, drifting to sleep. I wake without reason. 1:55 a.m. the clock reads. Getting up I notice it. The blink of a new email. An email time stamped 1:55 a.m. from the searching friend. Heart pouring out frustration.

My heart aches. Yet still, another confirmation God is there. No longer can I believe in coincidence. God's presence felt.

The next day. A dreary morning, rocking in my favorite porch chair. Listening to the rain. As it falls, eyes closed, praying. Tears. Tears for my friends. Tears for their struggles. Tears of gratitude for their friendships. Then the quiet voice. Feeling God next to me. His presence beside me. Unexplainable.

More stories, more experiences share in this quiet change. No blinding lights. No burning bushes. No tragic happenings. Just a gradual awakening. And it continues. At times I think in preparation.

No longer content being who others expect me to be. No longer content with faith through the lenses of others.
Never thinking I would write again. My first love I had given up years ago given back amidst it all. Finding my voice to share what He teaches me. Lessons of grace, self-worth, and much more. Lessons in prayer. A continuing reassurance of His presence.

So where does my story lead as 2011 continues?

Amy Nabors
Follow me on Twitter @amykiane

Friday, May 20, 2011

Encounters With God: Brandon Baker

Today we are honored to share a guest post from Brandon Baker. Brandon is a youth minister and social worker in Temple, TX, and a regular contributer to my Twitter feed.  Please visit Brandon's blog and follow him on Twitter; his info for both can be found at the bottom of this post. And as always, please leave comments and let Brandon know how much we appreciate his willingness to share.

Go Home. Quit. 
I have often listened for a “word from God”, but I was not looking for this word. In 2006, I had never felt better about my personal competencies and ministry effectiveness, or more hopeful in the life of our congregation. Yet, after a couple changes in our leadership I became depressed, pessimistic, and discouraged.

I boarded a plane in Baltimore and headed for the desert looking for an encounter with God. Big Bend National Park in Texas was the desolate place that I hoped would bring renewed vision for all that God would do through me at my church. But after 8 long hours sitting alone on this desert mountain, all I heard was silence.

Apparently, God can’t be forced to speak. He wasn’t going to do what I wanted him to do. I wanted vision, affirmation, encouragement, and approval. But as I walked down the mountain to my tent, I was convinced of a different message, “Go Home. Quit. There’s a line of people to take your place.”

Whether it was an actual word from God, I don’t know. But it was true. I went home. I quit. And God did much more through the person who took my place than he could have done with me.

Lessons for ministry from my encounter with God:
1. God doesn’t need me.
2. God may exclude me.
3. High anxiety, depression, and frustration were signs of ego-ministry.

The Lord said to Elijah, “Go back the way you came...and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet...I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19

Brandon Baker
Youth Minister
Temple, TX


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Encounters With God: Tracee Persiko

Today's guest post is from blogger extraordinaire Tracee Persiko.  Tracee is one of the very first people I came to know and love through Twitter, and her insights into faith are always inspirational and encouraging.  You can spend more time with Tracee by visiting her blog and website at http://traceepersiko.wordpress.com/ or by following her on Twitter @TraceePersiko.  I know you will be touched by her post- be sure and leave comments to encourage her!

In the Midst
Stories are the things that change lives and situations. Life stories bring hope, dreams, courage, strength, love, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and grace. Stories change minds and hearts.

The bible is filled with countless life stories of people who were changed by encounters with Jesus. I am always amazed that I can read through the scriptures and find any one of my hearts circumstances in another person’s story.

The greatest thing about God is that he always meets people where they are.

My life story is filled with the ups and downs of grief and brokenness. My encounter with God came at the intersection of having just given my life to Christ and my family falling apart.

I was introduced to who Jesus was when I was 16 years old on a Young Life retreat. I did not grow up in a Christian home, but one that “attended” church. I realized on that retreat that I was living in a broken relationship with him and need forgiveness. Little did I know that this realization of forgiveness would play out in more of a real way then I thought possible.

Just after my junior year of high school started, my father confessed to having an affair and was leaving. Everything that made sense no longer looked comprehensible. Life fell apart. The road my life was headed down all of a sudden dropped off with no other visible side.

 In the midst of the chaos of my emotions and heart, God became more real to me than anything else. He became all that was comprehensible in my life. In the midst of a time where trust, love, and hope were shattered, he became the living form for all of those things.

God is an “in the midst” kind of God.

At times, it feels weird to still be working through the ripple effects of grief from that day, but it has forever changed me.

Here is the truth of what I know about life- it is filled with brokenness and messy hearts. We are a fallen people who consistently miss the mark. However, here is the truth I know about God – he always matches the depths of our grief and pain with his love and grace.

God has consistently met me deep in the midst of my life’s brokenness. I can honestly say that he has matched the depths of my grief with his love, as well as loved me in the redirection of my own failures. God wants to be in the midst.

The bible has story after story of Jesus meeting people in the midst of their own life’s brokenness. My life requires his encountering to survive it all.

What are you encountering God in the midst of?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Encounters With God: Noah Lomax

I hope that all of you (my readers) are as inspired and encouraged by these first few days of Encounters With God as I am.  Today's guest blogger is Noah Lomax, who reminds us that in the scriptures and in our own lives our experiences with God are not always gentle.  Be sure to leave comments for Noah, and check out his information at the bottom of the page.  Enjoy!

Gut-Checked by a God-Moment
It was like a slap in the face. It was not a touchy, feely “saw a bit of Jesus moment.” But it was certainly an encounter with God.

 I was overseas, ministering in a country where English was not the predominant language. Every day, during my personal worship time, one thought was recurrent in my prayers: 

“God, if it would bring you glory, help me to cross paths with someone who speaks English today so that I could have the privilege of befriending them and sharing the Gospel.”

 I was petitioning for an unselfish, God-glorifying request so I could keep the Great Commission. I would love to tell you this remarkable story about how the stars aligned and against all odds I stumbled upon the only English speaker in this town who pleaded, “Noah, what must I do to be saved?” That did not happen.

Instead, my encounter happened right there while I was praying. Within seconds of the request leaving my lips I was instantly struck with this question: “Noah, almost every person who lives in Watertown, Wisconsin (my hometown) speaks English. How many of them have you given the Gospel to? If you have not been faithful with them, why should I give you the special few here?”

It was like a shot to the heart. I had no ground to stand on. I had no defense. I just cried. God was right. I repented of my unfaithfulness. Then I committed to intentionally building redemptive relationships in my home community.

Although difficult, it was a needed encounter with God. I was reminded that every person with whom I interact is a person I am entrusted with to share the Good News. Will I be a good steward of these opportunities? Will you?

 Are you faithfully sharing the Gospel with those whom God has placed in your daily path?

Noah Lomax serves as the Director of Student Activities at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. He aims to develop strong, character-driven leaders who excel in life and ministry to the glory of God! He also likes ice cream and coffee! Follow him on Twitter @NoahLomax