by Chris on June 10th, 2013

What do you do if it is two weeks out from your mom’s latest release from the state-run mental hospital and she’s already not med-compliant?  What do you do when you realize that you are a 35-year-old woman who is already in the “sandwich generation” but yet, there’s no sandwich because you’re not married and don’t have kids yet? What do you do with that ton of emotional bricks? What do you do when you think you’ve FINALLY gotten over all your past mistakes, yet find yourself tempted to travel down those same lonesome paths again?

If you’re me, you run. Oh, it doesn’t look like running. It looks like asking for counsel from trusted friends.  Running looks a lot like prayer (even though, it’s just mostly selfish talking at God). It looks like investing yourself in the lives of others. Running looks like running yourself ragged instead of facing your fears.

If you’re me, your dear friends are God’s mouthpiece. They allow you to spill your guts, and then with a gentleness that only God could show through them, rebuke you for your disobedience. They also encourage you to speak up and hold on tight to God. They post Scripture that God gives them FOR you. They pray for and with you. They love you – because in loving you they also love God.

And then, because God is good and He hears your half-prayers, He sees your struggle. He begins to show you phrases like “trust” and “obedience” and “my story” over and over again. God begins to weave little pieces of His plan together, and you see it.

You see, “God will fight the battle for you.”

And, you see, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.”

And, you hear, "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me ..."

Because you can’t stand the heartbreak anymore, what you do is fall flat on your face on your best friend’s living room floor and weep. Weep for breaking God’s heart. Weep for time lost. Weep for yourself and all that you grieve. Weep for joy because you feel the presence of God and you know that His love really never fails, gives up, or runs out on you.

Finally, you tell your story.  You start small. You tell a friend. And, then another …  

And when you least expect it, a voice whispers to your heart, “Confess your faults one to another … that you may be healed.”

So, what do you do? You let the healing begin.

Written by: Katie Hampton, ragamuffin and music junkie, likens herself to David – a total sinner who runs after God.

by Chris on May 28th, 2013

Anyone remember the thing in the image above?  We always called it a "record player".  For the more technically inclined they were "turntables".  We wore these things out in my house growing up.  My Uncle Ron and Nanny owned a record store and kept us in stock of all kinds of music.  Many of the songs from those records, along with my Dad's classic rock collection of albums formed a kind of soundtrack for my childhood.   I think music has the power to transport us, to remind us of times, places, people, and experiences. 

But I think there's an even deeper soundtrack.  One that we all have that plays in the back (and sometimes the front) of our minds and hearts.  It's full of the messages we've heard and believed about ourselves, about life, about others, and about God. Some were delivered directly and personally from people and institutions.  Some were delivered in more subtle ways, but their effect is just as powerful.

So much of that soundtrack for so many is about the ways we don't quite measure up.  How if we'd just do or be "this" or overcome "that" we'd be accepted and loved. Or at least more acceptable and lovable.  It plays so often and the tunes are so familiar that they seem like white noise sometimes.  Or maybe like the soundtracks of movies, they set the tone for each scene, kind of manipulating how we should feel.  

In Luke 19 it's said that Jesus came to "seek and save what was lost."  And if we are truly made in the image of the Trinity and we go around with this soundtrack about how unacceptable and unlovable we are, then I'd say something has been "lost".  

When Jesus launched his public ministry, in his hometown, he declared by announcing from Isaiah 61 that he was sent to "bind up broken hearts, set captives free."  If we are held captive by this soundtrack that announces to us our worthlessness, then I'd say we are in need of being set free.  If we are broken by the messages of our unlovable-ness (I don't think that's a real word) then I'd say we are in need of being bound back together.

This is not a self-esteem gospel.  This is not a "Think Positive" salvation.  God's children don't know who we are.  We don't remember what he REALLY thinks of us.  And so we live "less-than" lives loving with a love that is "much less-than" what he intends.  We are starving to live the full abundant life and share it with our loved ones, our community, our world.  

He wants to meet us, give us new songs, remind us we are beautiful, worthy, valuable, that we have what it takes to love and live.  And to heal the soundtrack of our souls.

What is your soundtrack?  Can you name the tunes?  What are their messages about you?  about the world?  about God?

(here are a couple more turntables you might remember)

by Chris on May 20th, 2013

My friend, Paul Johnson, guest blogger/licensed therapist/decent conversationalist, said to me, "Pioneers get to hold on to nothing tightly."  It was a great moment in a great conversation over a decent bagel.

Paul and his family had come home recently and had a knock on the door (after 9pm so Paul had to go answer it even though he was as nervous about it as his wife.)  The neighbor at the door asked if the family was ok.  The family had been out at the ball park that day, but nothing happened to warrant the concern in the neighbor's voice.  Then Paul found out that his house nearly burned down earlier.  His grill had been left on, burned a crater in his deck, and was caught just in time to keep it from spreading to the house, saved, thanks to a quick-thinking neighbor.  This was part of the conversation that lead to the thought above.  There was a lot more to it....personal stuff for both of us (that might eventually make it to a blog post).  But that's where it started.  We thought about all that could have been lost, material things, sentimental things, feelings of safety and security, even lives.  All things we (as pioneers in this land) might hold on to tightly.

And so that thought has been running through my head ever since (along with a .38 Special song, can you guess which one?).  Whatever I have, I can end up grasping too tightly.  Talents, relationships, things, ideas, outlets for creativity, my own life.  My broken places can push me to hold on to those things like they are really mine, instead of gifts for the journey. 

When we pioneer across the rough terrain, when we navigate through rough waters of this life, is when the temptation is to hold on the tightest.  The things we clamp down on then become idols for me, for us.  The things we "can't live without".  And I don't believe God takes them away so much as they just are crushed under that weight.

I ran across this thought today

"Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
— C.S. Lewis

The disciples did it with Jesus.  Or at least with their idea of Jesus.  He had to die and be given back afresh so they could see the real deal.  When I hold on tightly to "keep" something, I run the risk of losing that very thing.  Many times I need to lose it, like the disciples did with their idea of Jesus.  Sometimes, well, sometimes I lose things that I need because nothing makes a good god except for...well....God.

I want to hold on with a grip like golfer Sam Snead said about holding your club, "like you have a bird in your hand, " tight enough to keep it there but not crush it.  Because only the things that I've held loosely have I kept.

What about you?  Are you holding on tightly to something?  Is something crushing under the weight of being your source, your provision, your god?

by Chris on May 6th, 2013

By Katie Hampton

Man, this is tough. What IS keeping me from my passions? My initial, gut reaction was to point out that fear is what keeps me from my passions. And, I had a great list of fears, too. Here they are:
-Fear of failure
-Fear of exposure
-Fear of rejection
-Fear of being “real” aka transparency

Yet, the more I chewed on the topic and the more I talked to my friends about the stuff God unearths in me, I learned that fear is just a symptom.  A symptom of a much greater disease in my life – disobedience.  Yes, fear is a factor, but when I strip away all the layers (and*ahem* excuses) what I am left with is … wait for it …  disobedience.

Disobedience … in the form of lack of trust A dear friend shared this quote with me, “True faith means holding nothing back. It means putting every hope in God’s fidelity to His promises.” The word that catches my attention most in that statement is fidelity. Imagine God-sized fidelity. With that in mind, how can I not trust in God? Beyond that, and here’s where the disobedience part kicks in, we are instructed in Scripture to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). That’s a command. Not a suggestion.

Disobedience … in the form of refusing to believe I think refusing to believe in God’s infinite power keeps most of us from pursuing our passions. We don’t think we are a good enough for God. We aren’t a good enough writer.  We aren’t a good enough speaker. We aren’t a good enough teacher, etc.  We’ve not lived blamelessly enough.  Plainly put, we all have a deep mental struggle that has us trying to figure out just how much God really loves us. Ironically, as one writer states, “If the Bible makes no other point, it shouts this one: God loves us!” What a novel idea. God loves me. He really, really does love me. I just have to believe that God cares enough to equip me for what He has called me to do.

Disobedience … in the form of not responding God loves me, and He has told all of us “I love you” in countless ways. Instead of trying to be good enough, I just need to respond to God’s love. Respond. Live my life fully. Live my life in the freedom of God’s unending grace. Who knows, while I’m responding, maybe I’ll help someone else break down similar walls or touch their heart. If I don’t respond and run after what God offers me, I risk not touching the heart of someone else.

So, here I sit and it’s time to turn the corner. It’s time to trust, believe, and respond. It’s time to be obedient. And, now, I dare you. Ask yourself what’s keeping YOU from your passions.

Katie Hampton is ragamuffin and all-around music junkie who wants to be a writer when she grows up.

by Chris on May 2nd, 2013

Above photo is from the White River in Northern Arkansas

“Caution, Slippery When…”— Written by Paul Johnson
So there we were, standing on the pier, fishing poles in hand, a small fish on the line, dangling in the air, tail flapping and gills spreading. My sons looked at me with sheer delight at their accomplishment. The smiles were broad and the chests were puffed. They looked at their fish again, and then my oldest said, “What do we do with it?” I replied, “Take it off the hook.” They both, in unison, turned to the fish, to consider how this was done. And it occurred to them that the fish was going to have to be touched. The smiles faded a bit; the shoulders slumped a tad. They turned to me, again in unison, and my eldest said, “Ok, Dad; you do it.”

Personally, I’m not a big fan of holding a fresh fish (though eating a fresh fish I have no problem with). But while the head and tail are still attached, and while flapping is occurring, I’m not a fan of grabbing it. It’s not that it’s gross; I can deal with slime. It’s that they are slippery in their slime. Really slippery. For those who have done this, you know of what I speak. It’s tricky. I grab the fishing line with my right hand, and then with my left, starting at the head, run my hand down to about the mid point of the fish, in an attempt to get a grip on the chunkier part of the fish. Of course, if the fish starts to squirm, out it goes from the hand because of that blasted slippery factor. That’s ok if the fish is still on the hook, because I can start over. But if it has been unhooked, then instinct kicks in, and as it slips out of my hand, I start batting it, with a juggling action. Boys squeal, and try to move out of the way, and eventually someone falls off the pier, and then in an attempt to catch them, I fall off the pier. Of course, if the fish is one you want to keep, it falls in the water and swims away; but if it is one you wanted to release, it falls on the pier, and then flaps and gasps and generally makes itself pitiful so that the son left on the pier runs to it, squealing, and yelling to daddy to hurry to get out of the water and help the fish get into the water before it “diiiiiiiessssssss” (said exactly like that).

Managing emotions is a lot like handling a fish on the line. First, there is the sense of, “what do we do with it”. Second, they can be quite slippery when we attempt to handle them. They slip out of our understanding, and then get batted around as we try to regain some kind of control, which eventually means someone is going to wind up in a condition they did not want to be, with more emotion being stirred up than was originally present. Many people decide that emotions are either not worth it, and thus develop an unhealthy distrust of any emotion; or decide that emotions are what are most authentic, and thus emote all over the place about all things. The truth is, feelings serve a purpose, and they can be handled. The trick is not squeezing too hard so that they pop out of our hands, or not letting them just flap all over the place like a pitiful fish struggling to breathe. When we try to over-control our emotions, this occurs.     Keeping them on the line helps. Going slow with them helps. Being patient and working with them, gently working our way down from the initial beginning of the emotion to the meatier part of it helps us to know what the feeling is about. Once we know what the feeling is about, what is generating it, then we can address the real problem. The feeling is not the problem—what is generating it is. Our emotions serve us well when we see we consider them to be an intricate signal system, trying to get our attention about something that is occurring or potentially occurring within our internal environment. But when we treat the emotion as the problem, we encounter that blasted slippery factor, and they slip out of our hands, get batted around, and we end up in more trouble than we seemed to be in from the first moment the feeling began to occur.

Take a deep breath. Remember that these things are slippery. But it can be done. It can be figured out. The hook can be removed. We can do this. Breathe. Just go slow. No one is going to diiiiiiiiie (said exactly like that).

Ok. Let’s pause here. Just as there are more fish in the ocean (or lake), there is more to be said on this. So we’ll pick up from here next time. Until then…

To talk further about the emotions you experience, please consider Paul Johnson for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach him at 205-807-6645, or email at lifepractical@gmail.com. Paul is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and counselor in Birmingham, AL.

by Chris on April 23rd, 2013

Thoughts on Encounter's ministry to men and marriages.  This was sent to me before the Boston Marathon.  Hope it gives a little insight into what we "do"
You can help fund these opportunities (to join God in "binding up broken hearts" Isa 61) by sponsoring me in out Annual Golf Tourney here  http://buff.ly/YGyuos
(for obvious reasons the author chose to remain anonymous)

First Responders

After the events of 9/11, a lot of discussion centered on the term “first responders”. At a dictionary level, these are the first people to respond in the event of a crisis/emergency. To those experiencing pain in an emergency situation, these people are life savers. They respond quickly and address the needs of this injured. If I showed up at an emergency, I would have no idea what to do and would only make the situation worse. However, first responders train to address these situations and are able to help those who are wounded.

It is easy to talk in generalities about crisis that we face in our lives, but I can share a personal example. On a weeknight not too long ago my wife said “I want a divorce”. Devastating does not even begin to express how I felt. Yet, who could I call? The first person that I called was Chris Roe. He heard what I was feeling and cried with me. At 4:30 am the next morning, Chris was texting me words of encouragement. The following days were extremely difficult yet Chris called to check on me, encourage me and walk with me through these very tough times. Emotionally and spiritually, I lay there wounded and Encounter Ministries was my first responder. How my marriage ultimately ends up is still to be determined. Unfortunately, I do not have the guaranteed happy ending that Disney films portray. Yet, I am not alone and I know that I have someone walking with me every step of the way. Please know that Encounter Ministries is changing lives and walking with individuals during some very difficult times in life. Chris may not have strobe lights on his vehicle but he is a first responder of the most important kind.
Note from Chris:  I am a little uncomfortable with the first responders idea.  We don't regularly put ourselves in physical danger, unless riding in the car with certain board members :).  We don't run toward the bombs, into the fires, or in the line of fire.  I respect and appreciate what real first responders do. A couple of my son's baseball coaches do that for a living and I am grateful!

With that said, I do want Encounter to be what is described above, First Responders of the heart.  I have been through a divorce, had close family members die, lost friends, and churches I called home.  God sent people to me in those times, too numerous to name.  You know who you are and I am thankful.  I pray that Encounter will be that to those who find themselves in need of heart and soul care.

by Chris on April 22nd, 2013

The recidivism rate is how often offenders return to criminal behavior or prison.  Nationally that average is about 40%, in Texas (where we do Wild at Heart Retreats for inmates) it's about 32%.  At the unit we have partnered with for the last few years the recidivism rate is LESS THAN 5%.  While these weekends aren't the only factor (or the primary factor) our work there is a contributing factor.  

Encounter is a HUGE factor in this next statistic.  The small unit where we lead these weekends (about 300 inmates) has the most chaplaincy volunteer hours in the state of Texas (there are units with several thousand inmates).  We are blessed to spend 24-25 hours during each weekend event with these brothers in Christ.  We drive from Alabama (9 hours or more depending on how many bathroom breaks :) . Many of our guys take 2-3 days off work, and we not only "teach" but spend face time with the inmates.  

This prison unit houses men who will all be back in the free world within 6 months.  Encounter works to share the love of God with them in meaningful ways.  Reclaiming God as Father, dealing with woundings from the "flaming arrows" of the enemy, sharing our own stories/testimonies of God's work in and on us.  

We need your help. All of this takes time and money to meet the needs of these men heading back into the free world.  Would you help us help others by sponsoring/donating through our major yearly fundraiser here http://buff.ly/YGyuos ?

Source info from http://www.pewstates.org/research/reports/state-of-recidivism-85899377338 and from the Clyde M. Johnston Unit Chaplain.

by Chris on April 10th, 2013

In light of the Warren Family tragedy grief is a theme this week. To grieve something is to say that it is significant, that it's loss matters.  Your willingness to allow your grief to surface is somehow intimately connected to your capacity for joy.  When/if we close off grief, the walls of our hearts close in on us.  When/if we close off grief, we miss an intimate experience of the presence of the Father.

Matthew 5:4 (MSG) You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Romans 12:15 (NIV) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

John 11:35 (MSG) Now Jesus wept.

Are you hurting?  Grieving?  Let us know.

by Chris on March 29th, 2013

So far I have made lists of #LessonsLearned at a funeral and in prison and posted them to our various social media accounts.  Today marks the third list #LessonsLearned from kids playing baseball.  My son is on a coach pitch baseball team made up of boys five and six years old.  Playing is an appropriate word for the time they spend at games and practice.  It's not unusual for a good number of the boys to be caught kicking the dirt, staring into space, singing a song to themselves, or end up on the ground rolling around wrestling.  They are playing.  As I watch the epic adventure unfold in front of me I am learning (or re-learning) valuable lessons. 

-Even if you have no idea what to do, do it with a smile.
-Even if you have no idea what to do, do it with confidence.
-Even if you have no idea where to throw the ball, throw it hard.
-Even if you're running into left field rather than to third base, run fast.
-Even if you miss the ball 15 times in a row, keep swinging.
-Even if it's 39 degrees with a mighty wind blowing, show up and play hard.
-Coaches matter
-Parents matter
-Kids REALLY matter.
-When in the stands, parents should be parents not coaches.
-Encouragement trumps criticism
-Gentle, Firm, Repetitive Instruction is necessary
-A fist bump from your coach means the world
-A game ball in your first game after going 2-3 means the universe.
-A hug from your friend who is so happy YOU got the game ball means the cosmos (that's bigger than the universe right? Oh well.)
-Most of us take things too seriously. Don't pass that on to the kids.
-A coach who wants to pray with your kids is a gift.
-Cheer and clap loudly.
-Very little is more important than the words "That's my boy."  (or girl)
-If you fall down, get up, go back to your spot and play your position, even if you're crying.
-If you're cold, keep playing, your team needs you.
-People who give their time to coach kids deserve extra applause.
-There's always more to learn.
-There's always more to practice.
-There's always more
-If you're going to run in the dirt, you need good cleats.
-Winning is a reminder that you can do it.
-Losing is a reminder that you can't do it perfect every time.
-Kids are fun.
-Sometimes kids aren't fun.
-What is taught before you come to bat helps waaaaaaaay more than what's said as you go up to the plate in front of five dozen onlookers.
-Don't give up.
-Don't quit.

And that's only after several weeks of practice (minus spring break and the flu) and Game 1!  Maybe I'll have more soon. 

by Chris on March 27th, 2013

My friend Chris Jackson asked me what would be included on a "Christian Man-Card".  If you don't know what a Man-Card (is that supposed to be Hyphenated? I could probably lose my man card for asking) is, it's an imaginary card that all men have that can be taken away for any number of offenses.  Those offenses are decided by the "men" nearest him when he breaks the unwritten unofficial "rules".  I thought the exercise would be fun so I started a list. 

Here's what I have so far.  I'd love to hear more from you.  What would you put on your a Christian Man-Card?  Women welcome to submit suggestions as well. 

-Loves His Family Fiercely
-Tends to his own heart (Prov 4:23)
-After tending to his heart, tends to the hearts of family and community
-Knows how to comfort a child and protect it from danger
-Cries during Gladiator and Braveheart
-Can watch a chick flick with his beauty and an action adventure with his bros with equal attention.
-Speaks with authority when needed
-Listens with humility when needed
----Knows the difference between speaking and listening