Tag Archives: grace

79-89-99-09-19: Ready, Set, GROW!

I believe 2019 will be a significant year for me and for our church. The watchword for  this year is GROWTH.

It seems that every 10 years at the end of the previous decade, God establishes something significant in my life as a minister. 79-89-99-09-19. 

In 1979 I had been a follower of Jesus for a year and surrendered his call to preach. I pursued an education to prepare for ministry for the next decade.

In 1989 I was a year into professional ministry (as in, I got compensated financially; I’d been a volunteer minister for several years up to that point). Two important things happened: the church in which I ministered was reunited and re-established, and an I had the privilege of starting an annual event that was destined to reach thousands of people with the truth of the Gospel.

In 1999 the church I and a small group of young people founded the church I still pastor. At that point we called ourselves City of Refuge. Today the church is Lifewell. We’ve had our ups and downs, struggles and celebrations, people have come and gone, returned and left again, but we have a core group that has persevered. There are many new faces, and I believe they are the firstfruits of a new beginning that will result in tremendous GROWTH.

In January of 2009 our church established the lease on one of the oldest buildings in town. It is a 122 year old structure on the Garland downtown Square, and it’s been our place for ministry and worship in the heart of the city for a decade now.

So, every decade something significant has been established. Is something new coming in 2019. I cannot say. However, I do believe it is our year. I do believe it is a year the Lord will rain favor on me and our church–undeserved favor, which is grace. I’ve been tracking God’s promises for 20 years, and I’m looking forward to their realization in my life and ministry this year.

Here’s a promise I received from the Lord just this morning. Psalm 90 is a good Scripture to read as a new year begins. I memorized verse 12 many years ago: “Teach us to number our days rightly, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” However, the Spirit of God spoke at the end of the Psalm today.

“Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let your work be seen by your servants, and your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:15–17, CSB)

Amen. I’ve seen hard times, lean times, and certainly some good times. However, I must admit I’ve been persistently disappointed at the limited growth of our church. But I am a prisoner of hope (see Zechariah 9:12)! I have continued to believe that we are moving through a process of preparation for significant impact on our world. I believe God will bring remarkable growth to me and to Lifewell Church in 2019– personal, spiritual and numeric growth. It is our year. Let the beauty and favor of the Lord our God be upon us! Establish the work of our hands! Amen.


“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Romans 8:28–30.
It is not that my choice is unnecessary, irrelevant or forced upon me by God’s elect grace, but that God’s choice is preeminent. If God did not offer grace, my effort to reach him would be insufficient. In fact, early on in Romans the Apostle Paul, made the case that we don’t seek God at all. No, God’s grace is prevenient. I am in bondage to sin, no matter how much I want to do right. Only through trusting God’s righteous act in sending Jesus as an offering for sin can I be free. God gives me the opportunity to believe, he offers assurance and hope. Faith or rejection (disbelief) of the Gospel are my options. After I believe I discover that God foreknew me, chose me in, and has predestined me to become like, Christ. From my perspective salvation is dependent my choice and my faith, but from God’s perspective the crux is his choice, his call, his election of me. Paul offers an imaginary reaction from a detractor: “Who resists His will?” His response is, “Who are you to talk back to God?” True. God is sovereign. However, the question hangs. Who resists God’s will? The answer is: God allows resistance to his will and shall be glorified in the end when the elect are saved and the rebellious destroyed.
Be assured, it is not God’s will that anyone go to hell. You choose heaven or hell by virtue of your faith in the Gospel.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Peter 3:9.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 1 Timothy 2:3–4.

Radical Economy of Grace

Christ’s Radical Inversion of Social Values
General Comment on Luke 6:27-38

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6:27-36)

“You reap what you sow…”
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Law of Karma in Eastern religion.
The above represent expressions of the natural law of reciprocity, which is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.

In his commentary on Luke Joel B. Green recognizes two types of reciprocity in societies. The first is “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). The second type Green calls “generalized reciprocity,” wherein: “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).
The generalized type is always found among the members the nuclear family (parents and children), but in some cases and cultures it is seen among members of the extended family.
Jesus challenged the world system, commanding his disciples to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal, but Christ’s expectation for all Christians all of the time. This teaching of Jesus alone, if followed seriously, could radically transform every society in which it is practiced.

Jesus came to radically transform the economy of the world system. He did not merely teach his disciples, challenging them to live differently. Jesus came to earth to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt owed by all people when he took it upon himself, then suffered humiliation, beating and the death of crucifixion. Jesus established a new economy based upon grace. That is the fundamental feature of the Gospel. When Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross, he provided an inexhaustible, super-fund of good merit from which every person may draw when they confess sin, repent and put faith in the Savior.

We are called to extend the grace and forgiveness we have received to everyone we meet.

How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (from Luke 6:29-30). Are we to give over our possessions simply because immoral people demand it? Are we to give up our homes to the homeless? Are we to spend all of our valuable leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)? Who will protect me? Who will take care of my needs? The Father will provide for and protect me.

We do these things as we abide in Christ. We ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before we act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. We are to act without concern for ourselves. Instead, we act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal.
This is God’s agape’ love. We can do it because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).

Relevant quotes from Green:

“Jesus rejects the life of obligation and debt (see Luke 4:18-19). In its place he first posits a generalized reciprocity, the sort of open-handed sharing characteristic of families, and urges that actions typical among kin be the norm for interaction with all persons. But he also envisions a form of ideal benefaction: give to others without expectation of return, and God will give to you…
That is, in redefining the world for his followers…Jesus posits as its foundation his image of God as merciful Father (Luke 6:36)….That is, Jesus declares such behavior demonstrates that one is a child of God” (ibid. p. 270 & 271)

“Love is expressed in doing good—that is, not by passivity in the face of opposition but in proactivity: doing good, blessing, praying and offering the second cheek and shirt along with coat” (ibid. p. 272).

Christ came to radically transform every relationship. Stating all of this is one thing, but I must learn to live it and do it every day, and so must you if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Are You Unique?


Are you unique?

That’s what they tell me.

Then why are you trying so hard to be like everyone else in your subculture?

What are you talking about?

You have a group, or maybe a type, that you strive to be like. You identify with them, or some representative or archetype of this subculture. For young people it is usually easier to see. They identify with a particular celebrity in sports or music, or with a style that is modeled by one or more successful or notorious people in a subculture. For example, you have the teens and twenties who have what might be called a ghetto-style (not judgmental, many aren’t ashamed of the term ghetto). They sag their pants low to show their underwear, or basketball shorts worn like underwear, athletic shoes are vital, especially Nike, and representing a particular team or player by wearing a jersey is typical. They wear big, very expensive, Dr. Dre Beats headphones, which signals that they are listening to rap artists like Lil Wayne, Drake, or whoever is speaking the values of their subculture.

What values?

Sex, money, drugs, misogyny…

Mis… what?

They hate women.

That’s not true.

Of course it is. When a “song” calls women bitches and whores, it is expressing disrespect and hatred, toward women. When sex is an act of violence expressed by the ubiquitous f-word, it demonstrates hatred toward the object of the sexual encounter. Sadly, too many women simply allow themselves to become the object of some boy-man’s sex play, presumably with the thought that love or acceptance will result. The reality is, she has been used like a piece of toilet paper and will be flushed just as quickly from his life.

That’s harsh.

It was reported to me that a young man boasted after one of these brief sexual encounters, “I f’ed that bitch.” These are learned values. They are taught and reinforced by the artists these people idolize.

You’re just an old man. You don’t understand.

I’m old enough to understand. I’ve observed the youth culture for several generations now. There are standard values that don’t change, even though outward styles change dramatically. There are other values that have been taught in schools and through the media, which are now normative.

What do you mean? What do you see that’s the same?

Young people are looking for an identity, initially one that is different than their parents, or authority figures in their lives. The need to be seen as unique, even though, ironically, they act and dress alike, is a part of adolescence. Dressing and talking like others in a group or subculture expresses another need that young people have: acceptance by the group. This latter need is exploited when the military recruits young people. It is so great a need that young people are willing to do, well, all of the foolish things that we associate with teenagers and twenty-somethings.

Such as?

Experimenting with drugs, getting drunk and high, multiple sexual encounters which both boys and girls now boast about, violence against those outside the subgroup, especially against those who hold different values.

What do you mean, like gangs fighting each other?

Okay, yes. Many times those gangs are racially homogenous and they attack a rival gang comprised of a different racial or ethnic group and its values, which are seen as foolish. Blacks vs. Mexicans, Whites vs. Blacks, Blacks vs. Asians. There is also generational division and disrespect. I think this has been expressed on a number of occasions via the recent, so called, “knock-out game,” wherein groups of young people target older people, whom they try to hit hard enough to knock unconscious. Resentment for the establishment represented by young people attacking middle aged well-to-do people may be another underlying motive. The base, animalistic tendency to take advantage of the weak for profit or to demonstrate superiority is actually degrading for those who participate.  Worse, when young men rape, rob and murder the elderly for fun, they have sunk lower than any animal.

So, is that new, or did you see those kinds of things in, like, the 80’s?

I don’t really think it’s new. Maybe the form it takes, like the knock-out game, is new, but violence against the elderly has been around for a long time. In fact, that’s what the cult classic movie A Clockwork Orange is about, and it came out in the early 70’s. I’ve never understood the fascination with this movie, or the reason it is considered a classic.

What do you think is new, then?


What, you think there are more gays?

No, the percentage of people who persistently pursue that as their sexual preference has probably not changed all that much.

So, you agree that it’s genetic?

Not really, but I think the proclivity, or tendency, which may bring about attraction to the same gender may be. There are also social issues that may lead some people to act out sexually to fulfill certain perceived needs. However, I think homosexual acting out is a choice. The so called LGBT subculture has become well respected due to media and educational forces. The acceptance of this subculture among young people, who are most susceptible to those forces, is relatively new.

That’s good.

It is good if fewer people who self-identify as gay are being bullied or ostracized. It’s not good if, as a teenager journeys through puberty and feels some type of fascination with their own gender, they are made to believe they have been born homosexual.

Well, if you’re a guy and you are attracted to guys, then you’re gay. No big deal.

It’s not that simple. Many people go through phases of attraction as they move through puberty. This attraction is not necessarily a desire to have sex, so much as it is natural interest that can result in exploration. First a young person is fascinated with their own changing body, then with the bodies of those who are like them (their own gender), then with those who are unlike them (the opposite sex). If the normal progression stalls for some reason, and a young person is convinced by their culture that they’ve been born this way, it is tragic.

So, what if they stop at the beginning when they are still focused on their own body? What would you call that person? What would they be like?

That is a narcissist, which I believe is a huge problem among young people today, not just sexually, but socially.

I’ve heard people your age call us narcissistic. It’s probably just jealousy.

Maybe the ease with which some older people have recognized it is driven by envy. They wish they were still young and are affronted by your unwillingness to accept them. However, this is a real problem, and I think parent and grandparents must share guilt for your generation’s narcissism.

Really, how?

Many young people have a sense of entitlement, which is established by caregivers who give them whatever they want without any requirements. Previous generations of youth had to work hard to obtain what is taken for granted by young people today. I see teenagers from poorer homes whose parents buy them expensive athletic shoes, smart phones, Hollister, American Eagle or Polo clothing.  You have been led to believe that you deserve the best. What did you do to deserve it?

Because I’m good.

Really, and what good have you done and for whom have you done it?

I don’t know. I just am.

No, you’re not. Nobody is, really. Jesus was called good by a man one time and he answered, “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good but God.”

So, Jesus wasn’t good either.

He is the only one who was, and is. He was trying to get the man to recognize that he was God come in the flesh, and that’s why he is good. Only when we are connected to God do we become in any way good.

Well, it’s unconditional love, right? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to be about?

Love means acting in the best interest of the person you love. Giving your kid a pair of new Jordans won’t make him a better person, and it may make him the target of some jealous bully or robber who covets those shoes. Buying a kid an internet enabled smartphone if the parent fails to monitor what that kid is doing with it, is not a good idea. Many young people send sexually explicit pictures, access porn, film fights, use Vine, Instagram and YouTube to share and glorify bad and evil things. That is not love.

So, I go out and get a job, buy what I want, and it’s the same thing.

But that doesn’t promote narcissism and entitlement. You may still enjoy the same things, and some of those things may be wrong, but you learned the value of earning what you have. And if you mistreat it or break it, you have to replace it with your own money. Maybe you discover that something you have to work for is more valuable and should be used for better things. I think a young person would benefit greatly from having to work to get their first car.

I hope my Dad buys me something really nice.

I hope your Dad makes you work to pay for it. I had to work the whole summer after I turned 16 to buy my first car. A few months later I totaled it and had to pay payments on the next car. I did it all, though. Paid for the car, the insurance, the gas and upkeep. I learned the value of working for what you want. I got kicked out of my house when I was 17. I didn’t live on the street. My step-dad provided me with an inexpensive place to live on my own. I paid my own way, though. I went to school full-time and I worked hard to make a living. I went to college on my own and got my degree. Nothing was given to me.

The world had changed.

People haven’t changed all that much, though. Back to my original question: Are you unique?

I don’t know. Yeah, I guess so.

You are if you choose to be different than the mold into which our culture wants to press you. The Bible says it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by getting your mind renewed, then you will be able to test and prove what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, my paraphrase).

What if I don’t want to do God’s will?

That’s your option. But if you don’t do God’s will, you’ll just be another culture clone, a drone doing what the world around you dictates.

I do what I want.

You do what the world leads you to believe you want. It gets worse. The world is controlled by a prince who seeks to destroy you. The Bible calls him the Prince of the “Power of the Air,” and the “god of this world.”

Satan, right?

Yes. That word Satan means Enemy. He’s a fallen angel. Once he was close to God, but he chose to rebel and do things his own way. He wanted to be god.

Well, you said he is god of this world, so it looks like he got his wish.

When you get what you want apart from God, it falls apart sooner or later. Satan will eventually get what he deserves, and he’s already been defeated if people will start believing in Jesus and stop believing his lies .God allowed Satan to deceive people and gain control of the world. It’s a test. That’s the only way he stays in control, by deceiving us. Earlier I said when you do what you want you are only doing what the world dictates. You are really doing what Satan wants you to do. He lies and leads us to do his will by luring us with evil desires.

This is where you tell me that sex is evil.

No, sex is good, assuming you do it the way God designed it. Pray for a lifelong mate and best friend, marry that person, and learn to become intimate with them.

So, homosexuality is okay as long as you’re married?

No. Homosexuality is not God’s design. It doesn’t produce life. It falls short of his plan for sex, marriage, family, and intimacy.

People are born gay though.

That’s one of many lies Satan tells. I’ve already explained one reason that people may feel that way, if they find themselves attracted to the same gender and continue to reinforce that attraction sexually and socially, and then choose to self-identify as gay, they will probably believe the lie that they were born that way. The world is fallen, so I”m not saying someone who feels homosexual feelings is just freely choosing to be attracted. The attraction is there for a reason, but that doesn’t mean someone has to give themselves over to feelings of same sex attraction, or pursue it as though it were something God created and wills for them to do. People are tempted to do all sorts of self-destructive things— some people do heroin, some people like to fight, some people overeat— that doesn’t make those things are right. God has a better plan.

Like what?

Follow Jesus Christ.


He is the perfect example of what God created every human being to be. He came to earth, lived the kind of life we are supposed to live, but cannot live apart from God, then died on the cross to pay the death penalty we owe for the self-centered, sinful, rebellious lives we lead, and then rose from the dead to pave the way for us to get back to God. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ and start following him, you’ll really be unique.

Christians are boring, though.

Religious people are boring, church people can be boring. Following Jesus is a risky, amazing adventure. Start by talking to God and telling him you believe in Jesus. Confess where you’ve gone wrong. Ask God to become real to you. Start reading the Gospels in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, and you’ll get to know what Jesus is like. Ask God to fill you up with his Holy Spirit, Start following the leading of the Spirit.

And that will make me unique? Won’t I just have to stop doing everything that’s fun and go to church and listen to preachers and sing songs I really don’t like, and hang out with old people?

Church is a family. There are old people, young people, and everyone in between. In a good church there are people from different cultures and races, all worshiping the same God, following the same Jesus, and yet everyone is unique.

Maybe I’ll think about it.

Start believing and you’ll be unique.

Vindication Part 3: Dirty Cops

This is the third installment in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first two chapters in the series in my notes on Facebook.


I’ve been accused of being negative. Sorry, I’m trying to be more positive. I think faith is positive. It just seems I’m always fighting some kind of adversity. Maybe that’s the case with everyone. Probably that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If everything is going well, if I’m not fighting anything, I become comfortable and I don’t grow. Of course, if growth is predicated on conflict, I should be a spiritual giant by now! There’s more to it than just dealing with affliction, offense and opposition. I have to overcome, and that won’t happen apart from Christ working through me.

House of Judgement 1998 was the most difficult project for which I had been responsible, until I started a church. How the church got started is a story all it’s own, and I’ve written about it previously.

My church was founded under unique circumstances. I didn’t just come up with the idea one day. Really, my hand was forced. It became readily apparent that I could no longer be part of the status quo in youth ministry (as if I ever was!). A vocal but influential minority at the church where I served previously were unhappy with my unorthodox methods of reaching teenagers. I made this worse by doing stuff like bleaching my hair and doing our youth meetings at a place called the ROC (instead of at the church– as if the church is a building, but that’s another discussion).

Everything came to a head on February 15, 1999 when I was pulled over by the police at 2:00 A.M. with a car full of young adults. When asked why, the officer in charge told me I had made an illegal u-turn. Okay. We had just returned from… Dunkin Donuts. Pretty shady place to take young people, I know. When the police officer asked the ages of the people in the car, one young person was about a month short of his 17th birthday, so he was technically in violation of curfew. I should have checked before I let him go with us, I know.

It was cold outside. The 16 year old in question was not dressed for winter weather, but the officers took him out of the car, searched him and kept him shivering out there. I was frustrated and made the comment under my breath (I thought) that they’d see me in court over this. That is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. Promptly, the senior policeman, who we will just call “Officer Lurch,” appeared at my window like a quantum particle. “What did you say?” he demanded. I repeated myself. That may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.

“Step out of the car,” commanded Officer Lurch. He then made me spread eagle on the hood of his cruiser where he searched me. For what, I didn’t know. He put me in the back of the police car. No handcuffs. He and his partner spoke to the young adults in my car, and continued to keep the 16 year old out in the cold. Officer Lurch got into the front passenger seat of his warm police car and lectured me through the screen. He told me that they had the right to pull anybody over for anything they pleased at any time. At this point I had become wise enough to remain silent. The lecture about putative police rights lasted about 15 minutes.

At some point I was made aware that they had called the 16, nearly 17, year old passenger’s parents to come and get him. Since I wasn’t being charged with anything, –in fact, they never wrote me a ticket for the allegedly illegal u-turn– I asked if they’d let me out of the back of the police car before the young man’s father arrived. I didn’t need the guy thinking I’d done something wrong. Officer Lurch said, “We’ll see.” I could only watch helplessly when the young man’s father arrived and stared at me sitting like a criminal in the back of a police car. The man left with his son, then things got really interesting.

Officer Lurch came to the back of the police cruiser and commanded, “Step out of the car, please.” I complied. “Step around to the front of the car please.” I complied. As I was escorted to the front of the car by Officer Lurch, his rookie partner, who we’ll call Officer Buzz, circled around behind me, pushed me down on the hood of the cruiser and snapped handcuffs tightly on my wrists. Next–as in after I was cuffed–Officer Lurch circled back to the open door of the police car (not my car), and in one fluid movement appeared to reach into the back seat to remove a small plastic baggy with a dark substance in it. He walked up to me and shook the baggy in my face. “You’re under arrest for possession of marijuana!”

Officer Lurch, then turned toward the shocked passengers in my car and waved the baggy. Taunting with a smirk, he said: “See, your youth minister is a doper!”

I thought, ‘This can’t be happening!”  It was like I’d been dropped into the middle of some B-rated cop show.  I didn’t know what to say, so I shouted, “I’m being framed!”  as the dirty cops put me back (now handcuffed) into the police car. I was being framed. I guess they figured if I was going to see them in court, they’d give me a reason.

The officers then took charge of my car to have it towed, and made the remaining young adult passengers walk back to my apartment in the cold. I spent several hours in jail before I could post bail. I didn’t sleep, I assure you.

That week I spent money getting my car out of the impound, more money on a drug test within 24 hours, which proved I was clean. I even paid for at polygraph by a respected operator used by smaller police departments. The results? I was telling the truth when I stated: “The marijuana taken from the back of that police car was not mine.” I had to hire an attorney to present all of this. Once the Dallas County prosecutors office was confronted with the evidence, along with my clean record, they declined to pursue the case. The charges were dropped even before my arraignment.

Sadly, the information about my arrest got out, and there were those intent on ruining my reputation in the community. Gossip and rumor spread. “Did you hear about the youth minister who got arrested?” A member of our church heard the news from a police officer in line at the grocery story, another member heard it from someone at the bank. I had already informed our pastor of the incident, Next I held a meeting of all the youth parents and presented my case and the evidence of my innocense. The great majority of them believed me. I had spent seven years in that church as an honest, upright (and health conscious) associate pastor and youth minister. Later the same night I made the presentation to the rest of our congregation. Most of them believed my story, but not everyone.

Apparently, the disbelieving were vocal enough to have an impact. I was told by the pastor that my position would be reduced to part-time by the onset of summer. I was called to minister full-time. I had worked hard. I had done many good things at that church. What to do? I prayed.

I determined that God was calling me to start a church where people who felt unwanted, rejected and judged could come and find grace. I presented this idea to the pastor, and he was enthusiastic and supportive. We went to the local officials of the church’s denomination and they chose to sponsor the launch of a new church. On July 4th, 1999 City of Refuge was born in Richardson, Texas. We started with about 30-40 young people and a few adults. There was no model for this church, just the philosophy found in Jesus statement:

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

Everyone who attended received Christ’s unconditional acceptance. Many allowed his mercy and grace change there lives. There were also people who used this grace as a license to justify their bad behavior. It was a rough start. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. In fact, I could write an essay on how not to start a church.

In February of 2002 we determined that God wanted us to change the name of the church. Jesus taught that his followers are to be a light to the world like a city set on a hill. Zion is a name for Jerusalem in the Old Testament. It appears many times in connection with promises that God has made to his people. We are his people. His promises are for us. I don’t mean to say this about my church alone. All people who put their faith in Jesus have access to God’s “very great and precious promises” (see 2 Peter 2:2-4). Zion is a name that we hoped would remind the people of our church of this truth.

12 years later I started to notice that some people misunderstood the name Zion. Some thought it was Jewish, others associated it with Rastafarianism. Zion has a great biblical history, but too many organizations, good and bad, use it.  So, at the risk of appearing unstable, I proposed that we change the name one last time. I looked at the passage of Scripture from which we got our motto, “Spirit and Truth.” It is from the story about Jesus and the woman at the well. He promised a hurting outcast that if she asked, he would give her living water, water that would become a spring inside her, “welling up to eternal life.” Life Well. I want to live a Spirit filled, Christ focused life, and I want to receive the overflow of rich and satisfying life that Jesus offers to those who believe.  I want to help people to live life well. Now our church is called Lifewell and our new motto is “living life well.”

Along the way I’ve prayed that I would be vindicated, that my name would be cleared and my reputation restored. I had hoped one of those police officers somehow would have the conscience to come forward and tell the truth by now. Not yet, but I still have hope because I still believe the promises I received when I first came to Garland.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

All who rage against you

will surely be ashamed and disgraced;

those who oppose you

will be as nothing and perish.

Though you search for your enemies,

you will not find them.

Those who wage war against you

will be as nothing at all.

For I am the Lord, your God,

who takes hold of your right hand

and says to you, Do not fear;

I will help you.”

(Isaiah 41:10-13, NIV)

I suppose I could just forget about this terrible incident and move on, but the church I pastor is right around the corner from the church where I was youth minister when all of this occurred. We still do ministry at the ROC, a community center owned by that church. I have to believe that what happened to me was for a reason. God’s providence ensures that nothing takes place in the lives of any of his children apart from his approval. “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I do love God. I have been called. He has and will use this incident for good. I may not have had the courage to start City of Refuge if it wasn’t for what happened to me that cold February night in ’99.