I’ve been thinking recently about places of significant spiritual encounters. (That’s sort of what happens when you’re in a car by yourself for six hours driving up the California coast.)
Those places where I could tie my story to something physical, something tangible, some moment in time where I would say, “I met God there.”
All of us have those moments or places.
Maybe a camp, retreat, weekend, vacation, or experience. Perhaps some time away with God at a cabin, next a stream, on a path, in the garden, or walking down the street.
Stories like these are littered throughout the Scriptures.
Some people had burning bush experiences.
Others met God at an altar.
Some had experiences of God on a mountainside. Others in the wilderness.
But each person shaped and called to do something for God first met him somewhere. Everyone that has been invited to join God in his mission has experienced a calling and direction, often at a meaningful or memorable spot.
My story and life will always be connected to the city of Fresno California. I love the city dearly.
I first went to Fresno as a sophomore in high school. It was my first ever missions trip. A couple that used to attend my home church in Kansas had moved to Fresno to work with urban gang members; providing them education, addiction recovery, job assistance, and any other help they might need. I spent a week there working with friends and discovering a wider picture of the Kingdom of God. As a small town kid, Fresno was huge and intimidating (what do you mean “don’t go out after dark!?”). I returned from that trip and remember telling my dad, “I’m not sure what exactly this means yet, but I think God is calling me into ministry.”
I returned to Fresno as a sophomore in college, helping the next group of youth on the same mission trip that I had once been on. This time instead of a participant, I was an intern for my church. I reconnected with old friends from four years before and got to see some the ways the Gospel had been advancing in the last four years.
And both times I attended this small church Butler. What an experience. People coming together from several different countries, cultures, and languages to worship the same God. Some of these people, by earthly standards, should have been enemies but the Gospel had united them and all I sensed was love and fellowship.
I would return to Fresno one more time in my life, this time to attend seminary. This third trip I brought a wife with me and instead of staying for one week, we stayed for three years. We had a kid there. We had jobs there. School. Family. Life. After months of church hopping, we finally found a church that we could both agree on, a small church named Butler.
Fresno became a place where both my wife and I grew closer to God. We experienced profound moments of healing and restoration.
Some of my the most pivotal moments of my faith story are tied to Fresno California.
Denver Colorado also plays a similar role in my story.
At a young age I discovered a local Denver band that taught me how good theology and prophetic ministry can be present in music. Their church modeled for me how to unite and heal the broken, outcast, and marginalized.
As a youth pastor, I led my first mission trip here. We spent a week in the heart of Denver volunteering and serving at a number of local homeless shelters, churches, and food banks.
As a young seminary graduate, I was called to pastor a church in Denver. We’ve now been here for three years and we love it. Garden Park has been a blessing in my life in countless ways.
We’ve had a child in Denver. Another is coming soon.
We have friends, people we love dearly in Denver.
We have a tribe in Denver, a group of people that we belong to. They will forever be a part of us.
In both of these cities I have seen God. I have felt the joys (and pains) of ministry. I have seen how God delights in using ordinary people to accomplish something extraordinary. I have been a witness to Good News in the flesh. I have laughed, cried, rejoiced, mourned, been broken, and experienced healing, hope, and restoration.
These cities and their stories have now become a part of my story. I’ll forever be intertwined with them.
And I’m grateful. The places, the people, the experiences. For all of it I am extraordinarily grateful. Without those, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I have been blessed and honored to see the many ways God has continued to work in and through me, despite all the reasons he has to stop doing so.
They are my sacred spots.
My holy moments.
My own little burning bushes.
And when I’m in these places, I love just getting to take my shoes off and stay awhile.
What about you? What are your sacred spots or special places? Where have you seen God place you for significant moments of growth and development?