Punching Pastors, Bouncy Houses and Southern Hospitality

We have had a couple BIG days!

First, we had the cross country jaunt from New Orleans, Louisiana to Valdosta, Georgia. The kids did great enduring the trip as our packed out SUV careened throughout the clear highways of Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. We have made a deal with the kids that has already paid off quite well. It is a deal that I would encourage any family that is traveling cross country to do. It is this…

For every state that the kids make it through without fighting (OK… maybe it is just keeping the fighting to a minimum.), they will receive a dollar. That’s right… one slightly used greenback with the not so smiley face of George Washington staring back at them. The result has been a cross country trip that has been fairly peaceful which has only cost me about five bucks a kid. Well worth it!

It’s worked in a great way! Try it out. If you have teenagers, it probably won’t work as well… but my 4th grader can still be controlled with the promise of a dollar 😉

So, here we are in Georgia and it is beautiful. I have practically been blinded by all of the green. Being from the desert, green is a sight that I often don’t get to see. However, I have been so happy to be surrounded by the trees and grass and have absolutely fallen in love with a thing called “Spanish Moss”. It hangs from the trees and looks gorgeous on the Georgian landscape.

Spanish Moss in Georgia

Spanish Moss in Georgia

On our first day in Georgia we just grabbed a bite to eat, regrouped and hit the hay. It had been a long day of driving and we were happy to be at our home base. The next day we hooked up with a pastor friend of mine by the name of Kelly Barcol. Kelly is the only pastor that I personally know that has fought in a Mixed Martial Arts battle and won! He is an inspiration, a church planter and an incredibly charismatic dude. He has an awesome faith community called The House of Joy in Valdosta, Georgia.

Pastor Kelly Barcol from the House of Joy

Pastor Kelly Barcol from the House of Joy

Pastor Kelly with the Victory!

Pastor Kelly with the Victory!

I love Pastor Kelly! He has such an awesome heart and his desire is to reach people with the love of Jesus (plus he could probably break my arm in one of his “atomic arm bars”. I don’t know if he calls it “atomic”, but that sounds really cool! He should.)  He is an evangelist at heart and I can see this gifting and passion being utilized in great ways. He is doing a phenomenal work in the lives of many in the community of Valdosta.

On day two in Georgia, we hung out while the kids went to an indoor bouncy house warehouse called Jumping Jacks. The kids ran around like chickens with their heads cut off… which was great after our eight hour car ride… they needed to expel some energy. 

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Jump’n Jacks in Valdosta, Georgia

But, the reason for my visit to Valdosta happened today as I was able to preach at the House of Joy. From my very first steps onto the campus of this church, I knew that I was at home. Kelly has done a great job planting this church as a “parachute drop in church planter” ten years ago. I love church planters and the creativity that goes in to reaching people for Jesus and I could see this “heart” manifested in his team. I loved their commitment in setting up the different areas and praying for the service and going out of their way to make sure that new people were served.

I heard testimony after testimony of how this church had impacted the community. From drug addicts who the pastor would never give up on to intellectual college professors who were drawn in by the church’s love for family… the testimonies kept coming and coming. It was great to be able to give back to a community like this. The message went over amazingly and I was so honored to speak into the lives of these wonderful people. I hope and pray that this isn’t my last visit to Georgia and that the church I pastor, THE PLACE, and the House of Joy can do many great things together in the future!

After church, we went out to eat at a restaurant called “Cheddar’s” and this is when it really hit me. It was something that had been rising up from beneath the surface for some time, but it wasn’t until we hit this place that I truly began to understand the meaning of two words that I had heard used together many times before… but didn’t truly understand. These words are:

Southern Hospitality

It’s so true! People are different here than anywhere else that I’ve ever been. I’ve never been in the “deep south” like this before and I’ve never experienced this kind of hospitality. Let me give you some examples…

#1: We went in to get the kids a haircut at Walmart and didn’t walk out until 90 minutes later. Why? Because the guy cutting the kids’ hair was so talkative and friendly. I would look forward to getting my hair cut if this guy were the one doing it. He talked to people like he had known them for years and was filled with kindness and a story for everything that we talked about.

#2: We went to a restaurant and the server couldn’t do enough for us. She found out we were new to the south and made sure that the cooks made us up some “fried okra” so that we could have a southern favorite. We washed that down with some “sweet tea” and were good to go!

#3: In the line at the Salad Bar I overheard a conversation between two people. The one was telling another about Jesus and how to live a life that honors God. In fact, these kinds of conversations are heard everywhere. I am definitely in the heart of the Bible belt and everyone is incredibly open with their faith and their love for Jesus.

#4: I have had more “long conversations” here than ever before. People seem to want to talk. From the gas stations to the grocery store lines to the church parking lot to the men’s room… there is always a conversation to be had. And, they never seem rushing off to do anything else. They want to stop and talk and spend time with you. It has been so therapeutic to my “running full tilt boogie” way of life that I normally have.

The southern pace has been so nice for me. I am so happy to have had this time with these wonderful people to learn more about them… but also to learn more about myself.

I have been reminded of the words of Jesus as he spoke to His disciples in Mark chapter 6: “And He (Jesus) said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31

In ministry (and life) we can get moving pretty fast. And, when we get going, we find ourselves having to keep the pace that we have created. We have to keep it because it has been the standard. It has been the thing that has allowed you to get where you are and the only thing that is going to allow it to continue. But, instead, the opposite is really true.

Southern hospitality understands it… Jesus understands it… and I think that I’m reaching the place where I understand it too. In order to excel, sometimes you need to slow down.

It reminds me of a recent ride that I went on through the desert in my buddy Roy Fegley’s ATV. It’s a “ranger” and a ton of fun… at least it was until I was about two miles in the desert and the engine stopped working. There I was in the middle of the dirt with the sun pounding down on me. I was wishing that I was more mechanical or knew more than the location of the gas pedal… but I didn’t. I had no idea what to do. So, I did what anyone would do, I opened the hood and stared at the engine like I knew what I was looking at. What I saw was something that definitely wasn’t right… there was green liquid all over the engine.

Calling Roy on the phone, I asked him a single question… “Has this ever happened before?”

His answer… “No.”

My answer… “OK. Just wondering.”

His answer… “OK. Talk to you  later.”

My answer… “Bye.”

Hanging up I realized that I was back where I started… hot and perplexed in the middle of nowhere. So, I sat and waited and thought and waited. After a while, after the engine cooled, I was able to start it and limp it to safety. Reaching the autoparts store, we bought antifreeze (the green stuff), filled it up and kept going.

By stopping… by checking under the engine… by addressing the areas that needed addressed… we were able to drive home at full speed. We were able to operate at full potential.

My life is the same way and so is yours. Some of you may be broken down in the desert right now. You are frustrated and don’t know what to do. You have popped the hood and you know that there is something seriously wrong, but have no idea on how to fix it.

Others have started to let the engine cool and you are limping it back to the garage. You are working on the problem and have slowed down enough to get your life to a place of safety. You are on the road of recovery.

Either way, you have to open the hood and look at the engine. You have to take time.

Follow the words of Jesus.

Exercise some southern hospitality…

Or, better yet… receive some southern hospitality.

Don’t rush here and there. Don’t operate at a break neck pace. Slow down and appreciate people and situations and the life circumstances that you find yourself in.

If you do this, you just might find God moving in the midst of the peace. Take time today to rest. Take time today to listen. Take time today to simply “be”…


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