Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stay Tuned....

Hello Readers,

Yes, it's been a long time since I've posted here, but that's not because I've got nothing going on. In fact, I've "gone homeless" to two weeks, and I'm chronicling my experience in a different blog: Please check it out—I'm posting daily. Thanks!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Naked in the Woods: a Very Revealing Article About a Pastor’s Search for God

I recently went away for a couple of days to a cabin in the middle of the woods. This is the place where I got the original vision for Manna Café. More importantly, it’s where I hide when I unfortunately have issues with myself, when I’m burnt out, and when the world closes in and I need to be alone with God. This is a place where I can actually sit still for hours at a time and not feel guilty. If you were to ask anyone close to me, especially my wife, they would tell you I don’t sit still very often.

This trip was no different, and it was one of those spring fever days. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, the green of the earth was just starting to poke through the brown of winter, and there I was in the middle of the woods, complaining to God about this life He had given me. I was grateful, don’t get me wrong, but this life is hard! I was tired, feeling very beaten up and unsure of what I needed to do to fix things. So there I was, trying to unwind a little (especially seeing as how my blood pressure had been all out of whack the last few weeks), sitting in a lawn chair in the sun and enjoying the rays. I even took my shirt off. I was trying to keep my mouth shut and listen for God to speak some great words of wisdom from above, some new revelation—something! Anything! I was really starting to get into the moment.

Then I heard thunder in the distance and saw dark clouds far off, so I thought, Well, crap it’s going to rain . . . Oh well, no big deal. By the way, did I mention I was alone? All alone. Actually, there are very few people on this planet who even know where this place is, and the closest one was at least twenty miles away.

Then I heard that voice . . . you know, that Holy Spirit kinda voice. Not a big booming voice, but I recognized it because it was the same voice that talked me into getting a haircut seven years ago—but that’s another story. I remembered the voice—the same voice that talked to me about feeding the poor. The voice that called me out of the wilderness, the one that patches me up when I hit a wall.

The voice said to me, “Take off your clothes.”

The fact that I was in the middle of the woods and there was no chance of another person being anywhere close didn’t help any. Of course, I resisted! But the voice wouldn’t let up, so after at least thirty minutes of whining and checking all around to make there weren’t any squirrels looking, I finally obeyed and took the rest of my clothes off.

Now some of you might not think it strange for a fifty-year old hippie to sit in a lawn chair in the middle of the woods buck naked, but it was a little unusual for me. But there I was, naked in the woods in my lawn chair. The first few minutes were pretty intense. I heard every sound, everything that resembled someone or something stumbling upon my nudist camp of one. I heard every leaf rustle in the wind. The woods suddenly became very noisy. But after awhile, I finally calmed down and it wasn’t so bad. The sun was shining, and I could feel its warmth aalllll ooveer. I could hear the creek at the bottom of the hill.

Then I heard thunder again, but the voice said, “Sit.”

But it’s a storm, I said.


Then a few drops fell. I heard, “SIT.”

So I gathered my courage, thinking maybe this was some kind of rite-of-passage test that God was giving me. I thought, Well, okay, this ain’t so bad, I can do this. Then the thunder started up again, but the voice said, “Wait.” The wind picked up, but the voice said, “Wait.” I think those squirrels had a bet going on how long I would last because then a shower came, and I hunkered down, naked in my lawn chair, shivering in the wetness of the moment—but I made it through.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I had made it through a rain shower naked in the woods! Whatever test this was, I had made it. Part of me wanted to stand and beat my chest and do my Tarzan impression. You’ll be glad to know I restrained myself. I just leaned back with my hands behind my head and grunted a little, like Tim the Tool Man.

And then the bottom fell out.

It wasn’t just a rain, but one of those cold rains, the ones where the raindrops feel like icepicks driving through your flesh. There was thunder and lightning. Try as I might, within two minutes I was running into the cabin, shivering, drying off, yelling like a little girl, frantically trying to warm up with a blanket. And then the voice came back.

“What!? That’s all you got? You can’t even sit though a rainstorm without covering up? But you want to feed the world? You think you can save the world?

“You act like it’s up to you. Do you know where those raindrops came from? Could you have stopped them from falling? You couldn’t even sit through them, but you were just asking Me what you need to do to fix things in the storms around you. Did you save yourself, or did I save you? You remember, don’t you, that I’m the One who created the rain? I decide when it falls and when it doesn’t, so how can you take on the storms without Me?

“Do you remember the disciples could only find a few loaves and a few fish?—I’m the One who multiplied it and fed the thousands. Are you better than they were? Peter learned the hard way he couldn’t walk on water without Me. Have you even tried? You’re feeling discouraged and burnt out. You strive till you’re exhausted to make things right. Don’t you get it? All you have to do as my disciple is your part. I’ll provide the increase. You martyr your health, your family, even your relationship with Me to do ‘God’s work’ . . . My work. It’s not your work to do, it’s Mine. No wonder you’re tired.

“Give it to Me. I’ll take it because I’ve stood naked in the storms and survived. That’s My job—to do what you can’t do while covering you. Do your part and give Me the rest.

“On judgment day, you’ll stand naked before God. Will you be able to stand because you let Me be your covering, or will you run away buck naked and screaming like a little girl because you did it your way? Kenny, let Me show you what’s yours to do and what’s Mine. Do your part, and let Me do Mine. That’s how we will fix things.”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

“Simon Who?”

Thank you to the Leaf-Chronicle for publishing this message. Here it is in its entirety:

Ask me which character from the Bible I want to hang out with when I get to heaven, and without a doubt I’ll say Peter. He seems the most real. He fell down a lot, got excited, and said the wrong things. There are times when I read the Bible that even if he’s not mentioned I can hear him grumbling under his breath a bit, maybe about things that didn’t make sense to him.

Peter was not well-educated. We know this because he was a fisherman by trade and because the Sanhedrin marveled that he and John were so knowledgeable and bold even though they were uneducated. If you had asked the religious leaders of his day about Simon (his name before Jesus came along), their response would have been, “Simon who?” I’ve heard him described in many ways, from clumsy to stubborn. I’ve even heard him called a coward, which I really don’t get because even though he denied Jesus after His arrest, Peter was the only disciple not in hiding. Most of the others had scattered. Even though it was dangerous, Peter wanted to be as close to Jesus as possible. That’s not a coward, that’s a loyal friend.

Peter was the only disciple with enough faith to get out of the boat in the story in Matthew 14. Everyone else was still in the boat. And even though Peter was just a fisherman, Jesus said to him, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Peter was willing to charge ahead even when it didn’t make sense or the odds were against him. He had a genuine faith. Peter himself called this kind of faith more precious than gold to be guarded (1 Pet. 1:5, 7). Some translations call it a precious jewel, which is also hard to find. These weren’t just words to Peter; it wasn’t just knowledge, it was a life lesson, learned through every blunder and hard knock. Every time Peter fell and got back up, it helped refine this precious jewel that he called faith.

Even though Peter made mistakes, Jesus saw his faith like a lump of coal ready to be refined. In Peter’s day and even today, some of us would have picked someone different, someone with more connections. But in this rock, this unrefined jewel, Jesus saw the hidden faith that would change the world for His glory.

Another passage about Peter that resonates with me (and to which I’ve dedicated my life) has some of the last recorded words Jesus spoke to Peter on this earth. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter’s response every time was yes. Jesus’ next response was different each time: “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” All three involved service. By serving, Peter’s faith shined even brighter.

That day on the shore when Jesus first called out to Peter and his brother Andrew, “Follow me,” Peter had no idea where that call would lead—that on his faith, Christianity would be built; or that two thousand years later we would read about his life and his blunders. But Jesus did. In the history of this journey called Christianity, God has placed that same faith into numerous people who have accomplished miraculous feats even though they, in the eyes of the world, didn’t seem like the best person for the task. Some, like Peter, were even martyred in the process, but through them, regions, tribes, and even nations have been introduced to this faith. Bibles have been smuggled into hostile areas, books have been written, songs have been sung. When Jesus called them they had no idea where the call would lead. But Jesus did.

When I started my walk with God, I had no idea of the different directions my life would take. I had no idea that, as part of my journey, I would lose everything to the point of homelessness or that God would restore me so I could have the privilege of feeding and loving people in the name of Jesus. But Jesus did.

There is a big and hurting world out there waiting to be loved on, fed, called by name, given the love of Christ, and shown this precious gift of faith. I don’t know what Jesus has in store for you in order to refine your faith, but He does. Say yes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seven Years

With the ending of 2010 and the start of 2011, there is a huge milestone in my life. Sometime around the first of February will be my seven-year anniversary of coming out of the “wilderness,” which I was in for seven years…which means that I’ve been back walking with God for as long as I was walking away from Him. To some, this might not seem like too big a deal unless you know the drastic differences between the two seven-year spans. It’s been really unbelievable. People around me, including my wife Vicki, think I should share with you the story so you can see how big God really is.

A little over 14 years ago, after a lot of failure in my life and some bad choices, I found myself with a failed marriage of 17 years and a failing sound and light company. I also knew I’d never again be the full-time father I’d always promised to be to my three children. And, with the exception of a few friends who let me sleep on their couches from time to time, I became homeless. I felt like the scum of the earth, rejected and unloved by everyone—even God. I often slept in my car or my sound equipment truck. My diet consisted of pork and beans, Beanee Weenees, peanut butter—stuff that didn’t have to be heated.

For a while I tried to hold on to my faith in God, if only by a thread. I had started my journey with Him over a decade earlier, and while life was sometimes a rollercoaster ride, it had some really good moments. Most of all, I loved being a dad. I was also founder of one of the first contemporary Christian bands in Clarksville, a youth leader, and a Sunday school teacher in my church. I toured with a Christian artist with my sound company. And even as my life was falling apart and I was becoming homeless myself, I was still trying to do some street ministry by helping out with a local Christian coffee shop (where I was able to sleep on the couch) and organizing some street rallies and concerts. I continued to play bass on a local worship team and another Christian rock band in town.

I finally found a place to live and started to work some side jobs so I could eat and at least see my kids from time to time. But I felt like the lowest, most pathetic person on earth and was convinced that God must really be pissed off at me, He must not need me anymore, and the years I had spent with Him must not mean anything.

I started looking to the world for love. The Church didn’t seem to have any for me anymore, especially after the divorce papers were filed. And so my life in the wilderness started. I walked away from church, God, and friends (that is, those who hadn’t already turned their backs on me). With child support hanging over my head, I took a job in a local bar as a sound guy and jumped headfirst into a life of alcohol, drugs, and the party life. As my first Christmas without my kids approached, I decided I wouldn’t remember that Christmas, and I started to numb myself with whatever drink or drug I could get my hands on. On the 26th of December I ended up in the hospital with a heart attack. While I was lying there in the hospital, a pastor came to see me and tried to scare Jesus back into me. It didn’t work! In fact, years later, that same preacher admitted to me that he had left the hospital convinced that there wasn’t anything worth saving. And at that time, that’s what I believed, too.

I spent the next seven years working in bars as a sound guy, bartender, bouncer, or cook, taking any drug that was put in front of me. I even sold cocaine to pay for my own habit. I felt so alone that I would sleep with any woman who would go home with me. Deep down, I just wanted someone to love me. There were so many times during those years that my life could have ended from bad dope, bar fights, jealous husbands, or driving drunk.

But even though I turned my back on God, He didn’t turn His back on me. He kept me alive, and seven years ago next month He came and kissed me, put a clean robe on me, and started the process of building my life the way He wanted it to be. Ironically, the one I was running and hiding from is the very one I most wanted to love me, but I’d been so sure He was done with me.

Jesus took me and hid me away in a little room in a warehouse at a ministry in Nashville. He started to teach me how to love and be loved. He taught me how to love the unlovable. He taught me how to trust only in Him, even when it didn’t make sense. I learned to trust Him for all my needs, even what I ate from day to day. There have been times I’ve been a very slow learner, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but during these seven years since the wilderness I’ve been ordained under two different ministries and founded Manna Café Ministries (where we provide thousands of meals to the homeless and low-income families every month). God sent my wife, Vicki, to walk this wonderful life with me (she is truly my rib). My relationships with the ones who never gave up on me—my children and my family—are stronger than ever. I’ve been able to minister in one way or another in Boston, Seattle, Wisconsin, and Illinois as well as Queens, New York and in local churches in Tennessee and Kentucky.

The Bible says Jesus will call His own by a new name. One night a few years back, I had a dream in which God told me that my new name was Seth, which means “second chance.” God, thank You for that chance. Since that dream, I’ve been given other names—Pastor Bubba, Pop (Grandpa), Husband, and to many of you, Friend. I wear them all with pride. I pray that I live up to the name from the dream most of all.

I developed a lot of scars during those years in the wilderness, scars that Jesus, by going to the cross for me, has healed. And over the last seven years Jesus has shown me that He is using my scars to heal others.

When I was in the wilderness, I met a lot of amazing people who were just as lost as I was and who I still consider my friends. I’m making new friends now who are in the same boat—stuck in the wilderness without hope. Some may say they aren’t worth saving, but my prayer is that they can look at my story and follow me out, follow me to Jesus because in His eyes there is not one person who’s not worth saving. I’m proof.

Let the next seven years begin.

Bubba (a.k.a. Seth)

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Word from Bubba

This blog has been a long time coming. Since moving MCM from Nashville to Clarksville, God has done some amazing things. Some were downright miracles that there just hasn’t been time to write about.

In April, we signed a 6-month agreement with Hilldale UMC to use one of their buildings for a makeshift catering kitchen and office space. While getting the facility ready, the flood of 2010 happened, and with the help of United Way we jumped into flood relief. Using Hilldale UMC’s gym, we set up an emergency food bank, collecting and distributing food to hundreds of people who were affected by the flood while still moving forward with our original Café plan (to feed hot meals to the poor and homeless; our first meal was on May 6). Through these efforts, we have built relationships with several agencies such as United way, Operation Blessing, Operation Serve, Workforce Essentials, TEMA, Second Harvest, and the Clarksville Mayor’s Office.

After the floodwater went down, we kept moving forward, setting up an official food bank, which has involved moving our warehouse three times and becoming a Second Harvest agency in order to get food at a reduced rate. Since the flood, we have distributed over 100 thousand pounds of food and thousands of cases of water, milk, cleaning supplies, and hygiene items. Our Café has grown to three meals: Tuesday night, Thursday night, and Saturday morning. On average, we serve well over a thousand hot meals each month. Those who have been involved can honestly say they have seen God do mighty works among us—and all Vicki and I can say is “Thank you, God” while giving Him all the credit.

While our small team of staff, volunteers, and Workforce members have done an amazing job of collecting and distributing food, there are a few things we haven’t done very well at all—and one is saying thank you. Things have happened and grown so fast that it’s been all I can do to hang on. And my wife, Vicki, still works a fulltime job in Nashville and does what she can. In May, Dena LaBean came on staff to do administrative work, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day. As a result, one of the very things we feel strongly about—sending thank-you cards to those who contribute—has, at times, fallen through the cracks. Some of you have donated money, food, computers, desks, kitchens supplies, and your time; you’ve held food drives or fundraisers, but you have not received a thank you. First of all, I want say I’m sorry for this. We literally cannot survive without your support, and there is no excuse except that we dropped the ball. So I want to say thank you to everyone all at once, including individuals, churches and business, for all you have done to help us serve the poor.

Another way we have not been very efficient is communication. Several of you, through our webpage, Facebook page, phone calls, email, or in person, have expressed interest in getting involved with MCM but have not been contacted back. We know this is a huge problem, and again we’re sorry. This has happened for the same reason, and (ironically) the only solution is to find a volunteer coordinator. So, if you’re interested, please contact us and keep trying till you get a response. This goes for everyone who reads this; please contact us again until we get this problem resolved. We need your help to carry out the mission God has for us.

Which brings us to the present. We have reorganized the leadership of MCM and are in the process of setting up a new administrative board (called the Pillars) and adjusting the existing ministerial board (the Crash Crew). This will allow the leadership to do what they do best in their areas of expertise. (List of members to be announced soon.)

We have a new Manna House. We just signed a 3-year lease on a 5000 sq. ft. building at 1319 East Franklin St., and we’ve started the process of remodeling the offices, building a kitchen, and setting up the warehouse. We hope to have the offices done by Nov. 1 and the kitchen completed by the first of the year. The warehouse will be an ongoing project. So we need you. We need your prayers for the leadership of MCM, for the daily operations, and that we stay on path that God has set before us and continue to hear His voice. I’m learning the hard way that I can’t be everywhere at once and I can’t do everything, so there are a lot of projects that I need help with—from building walls to doing electrical and plumbing work to painting and sorting food. The first project will last from Wednesday the 20th until Saturday the 23rd. If you want to volunteer, please call our office @ 931-933-0970, and please keep trying till you get a response. We also need your financial support. The startup costs of building and stocking a kitchen is high—not to mention that moving to our new location has more than doubled our monthly operating expenses.

This is a very exciting season For Manna Café. We are privileged to be serving this city and our God at the same time. Help us to battle against the hunger issues in our community—because hunger in this town is unacceptable!

Thank you! I’ll be in touch soon.

Bubba (Kenny)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Country Ham in the Hood

As Vicki and I were getting ready for me to leave my day job and go into fulltime ministry, a lot of thoughts came to mind. Some were good, but a lot were not so good. They were thoughts and fears that were sent by the evil one (the accuser of the brethren, that sneaky snake, the devil himself). They were thoughts that would convince any normal person not to do something as stupid as quit a good job with good benefits to work with poor and homeless people, especially in this economy. (For the record, Vicki and I took a vow to not ever be “normal” long before we met, but this was a tough decision—or at least a little bit tough—even for us.)

During the moments we felt unsure, the Lord brought to memory times when He had provided in the past—times when I knew that I knew that He had taken care of me. I think this is what Revelation 12:11 means: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (NIV). Erwin McManus puts it this way: We are to witness about God and what He has done. The only things we can truly witness to are those that He has done in our lives; all the rest is just knowledge that we report.

What this means for me is that, as we walk through this life that God has laid before us (and if we have chosen to follow His lead), we witness things that become a testimony to build our faith, and the faith of those around us, so that we are ready for the next rock to climb or the next leap of faith. And believe me when I tell you I’ve had the privilege of witnessing some amazing stuff, even though I feel like my walk has just begun. One example that comes to mind is based on the scripture that God knows even the number of hairs on our head. In other words, He cares about the little stuff—the stuff no one else sees or cares about. This is one of those stories…

After I had moved to Nashville to be an inner-city missionary, things were good, but they were hard. I had worked hard all my life; I wasn’t very successful, but I worked hard. When I decided to move from Clarksville to Nashville, I was working three jobs. I was a breakfast cook in a local diner, I worked as a sound guy at a local bar on the weekends, and I freelanced as a sound tech with a couple of sound companies. When I came to Nashville, I quit all three jobs and went to work as a missionary for $75 a week. Needless to say, money was tight, but God provided over and over.

I had been at the ministry about three or four months, working in the warehouse. One day, I was watching for the food truck to run so we would have food for the community meal called Meal of Hope. While I worked, I started thinking about one of my favorite things to eat. To most people, it wouldn’t mean much—but being a country boy from Tennessee, I had a real draw to country ham. Back when I worked as a breakfast cook, one of the fringe benefits was that a few times a week I would fix myself a couple of small pieces of country ham. And sometimes I’d fix myself a whole piece. I know what some of you are thinking: that country ham is really bad for me…but that’s why it’s so good. So this day while I was working, I just happened to start thinking about that country ham, but with my budget, going out and buying it was out of the question. I remember saying under my breath, “Lord it’s been a while…it sure would taste good right now.” Then I went on about my chores and gave it no more thought.

The food truck came and went like it normally did, and I started sorting through the pan food that had arrived, checking each pan to see its content and deciding what would be served and what would be saved for later. I checked this one pan and saw it was full of cornbread, and I was about to set it aside when I noticed there was something barely sticking out from under one of the pieces of bread. As I took the cornbread out of the pan, I started to laugh. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Under the squares of cornbread was half a piece of cooked country ham.

Work stopped for me for a few minutes while I fixed myself a sammich. My request a little earlier that day had been just a thought. Most people wouldn’t even consider it a prayer, but my heavenly Daddy answered it anyway. In the grand scheme of things, that gift didn’t do much, but it let me know that He was watching out for me...and that He cared about and would provide even the small stuff in all our lives. This was the first of many times that I felt God winking at me—His little Bubba.

Monday, January 18, 2010

So You Wanna Go to Haiti?

Considering the tragedy in Haiti last week, it’s obvious that those people’s lives will never be the same. Some have lost everything. Many are hungry, and many more are homeless. I met with a minister last June who goes into this region on a regular basis and ministers to the orphans and kids on the streets who were already homeless before this tragedy. I said all that to say this: I’m seeing a lot of energy right now—people from all walks of life sending help down there, and this is good. Some are even frustrated and wish they could do more. I feel a need to say that if you really mean this—that if you want to do more—then you’ll get your chance. You see, it’s going to take months and even years for these people to get their lives back to even the poverty level they were at just a few days ago. So relief for them needs to be long-term, not just now, while emotions are high. So don’t get discouraged if you can’t go to Haiti right now. Your time will come.

In a few weeks, most of the world will forget about these people. And that’s when the work will begin for some of you. The work will be just as needed then as it is now—rebuilding homes, businesses, and schools; restoring lives and restoring hope. So get your passport ready, and pray for the efforts that are already in place. Pray for those precious people—that God will show His mercy toward the survivors. And start praying for your own mission trip; God will open the doors as to when, where, and how.

At times like this, I am amazed at how people respond. They want to help in any way they can…especially those who, in the natural, don’t have much to give, like the working poor and the homeless. For me, one of the most humbling testimonies to this happened during Hurricane Katrina. At the ministry I was at in Nashville during that time, we were initially told that there would be more than 20 thousand refugees relocating to the Nashville area. Every bed was going to be needed. We decided that our job was to offer housing to the disaster relief volunteers and to set up a clothing distribution center. So we contacted the Red Cross and set up a system whereas they would call us with the names, sizes, and locations of the Nashville refugees, and we would take clothing to them.

With just a few phone calls, we had literally a warehouse full of coats, shirts, shoes, and blankets. These items came from Nashville, Clarksville, and as far away as Dover, Tennessee. I was overwhelmed at the response.

But the one that got me the most was this: One day, we were distributing food and clothing to the community (our poor didn’t go away just because others arrived, and so local ministry couldn’t stop). There was a homeless man there that day. We’ll call him Tom. He was in his mid-thirties, with black, curly hair. He always carried a backpack that looked like it was about to burst. It was obvious he had been on the streets awhile, and it wasn’t too difficult to figure out that he was mentally challenged. The first clue was that he always wore football shoulder pads under his top layer of clothing. The second clue was that he said the reason he wore the pads is that the government had done experiments on him; the pads were to keep him from hurting people with his touch because toxic chemicals oozed from his body.

Tom lived in a tent and camped under a bridge downtown. He was a regular on Fridays (food and clothing distribution day). On this particular Friday (as on several other Fridays), Tom and his buddies came before we opened and stayed till we closed, so I fixed them coffee and sandwiches. And, when I had a chance, I went out on the stoop and drank coffee and talked with the guys. The subject on this day was Katrina, all the people who had lost everything, and how things were going to look different at the ministry because of the 20 thousand refugees. (When all was said and done, Nashville got only about six thousand.) As we were talking, Tom got a really serious look on his face and said, “You know, I don’t have much, but I’ve got an extra tent at the camp. It’s not much, but if anyone needs a place to stay, they can stay with me.”

After I got the lump out of my throat, I replied with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, “Tom, that’s awesome…. I will sure let them know.” That memory has almost haunted me at times. Here was a man who, in the eyes of most people, had nothing. But what he did have he was willing to share with someone who needed it more. I have no idea where Tom is right now. I haven’t seen him in more than three years, but his story has inspired me more than once when I’ve thought I had nothing to offer. So Lord, as I’m writing this, I pray that Tom and those who are hurting in Haiti have people around them to love on them, feed them, and give them a place to lay their heads. Give them hope and Your love. Show us what we have to give, and give us the strength to give it.

Pastor Bubba