By Jessica Brodie
LEXINGTON—Nearly 500 men in the Midlands used the extra day of the year to develop some extra spiritual muscle, gathering for the annual Men N Ministry spiritual retreat Feb. 29.
Held at Mount Horeb United Methodist Church, the two-day event lifted up the theme “Restored” as a way to help men learn new ways to be restored and made whole in Christ.
Marvin Horton, president of South Carolina United Methodist Men, said the event was inspiring and helpful.
“Second Corinthians 5:17 states, ‘The new creation has come,’ and I felt the power of men being restored into a new creation in Christ taking place,” Horton said. “I believe the men saw and experienced Christ in a new and powerful way.”
Horton said the central location has been helpful, and men’s ministry leaders are finding more younger men and more first-time attendees are now getting involved.
The concept of being restored—made new, made whole, made fresh—in Christ was echoed throughout this year’s event. A classic car show was held throughout the day Saturday with prizes, and speakers and many workshop leaders reflected a theme of being restored in the Christ.
Keynote speaker was Dr. Eric Mason, founder of Epiphany Fellowship Church in Philadelphia, with other main speakers including South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, Mount Horeb senior pastor the Rev. Jeff Kersey, faith comedian Marty Simpson and James “Slice” Penny, who spoke on his transformation and restoration in Christ after his devastating spiral into drug trafficking. Workshops included wisdom from the Rev. Robert Cox, Dr. David Olshine, Trevor Miller, Patrick Boatwright, the Rev. Bill Blair and Chris Rondeau.
The retreat also featured a golf tournament at Indian River Golf Course, an oyster roast in tandem with Mount Horeb Men, music, testimony and more.
Mount Horeb’s Kersey welcomed the crowd to the church, reminding them of the significance of the church’s namesake—Mount Horeb is where God came to Moses at burning bush and told him, “I want you to set My people free.”
“The bush is still burning here at Mount Horeb and today (at the men’s retreat),” Kersey said, noting the church’s three core values are Jesus first, Jesus always and Jesus is the source of all. He called Jesus—who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)—the ultimate way-maker, urging the Lord in prayer, “Inspire, convict and restore us today.”
Trevor Miller, family ministry pastor at Mount Horeb, also thanked the men for attending, noting that he and a group of men at the church have been participating in the retreat for a number of years, something that has transformed him and his faith walk.
“There’s nothing better than watching a bunch of men unashamed of their faith in Jesus,” Miller said.
Here are some highlights from the retreat:
‘Restored from the Inside Out’
Penny, also known as “Slice,” offered his testimony Saturday morning, sharing how although grew up in a traditional Christian, he drifted from the church after he started college at Florida State University. His secret alcoholism and drug addictions were brought to light when he was arrested for drug trafficking in 2015. Although he was sentenced to and served three years in prison for his crimes, he has emerged a new man with a new mission: Jesus.
“I sold my soul to the devil one sip, one shot and one smoke at a time, Penny shared, telling about how he build a proverbial “house of cards” so the world would think he was someone worth knowing.
On the outside, he had it all—a beautiful girlfriend, a promising future, a position as president of all the fraternities at FSU. But inside, Penny was miserable.
“I couldn’t shave looking in the mirror. I had to shave in shower because I couldn’t stand the sight of myself,” Penny said.
His transformation began when life began to spiral downward. The Drug Enforcement Administration found him at his parents’ house in North Carolina with warrants for his arrest.
“I started to cry—50 percent was, ‘Oh no, it’s over,’ and the other 50 percent was, ‘Thank you, God, it’s over,’ for the darkness was coming into the light,” Penny told the crowd, his voice shaking. “I had been running from God a long time.”
While he had been taught right from wrong as a child, “I just chose wrong.”
And now, through his arrest, he was being offered a way out.
As he awaited his trial and conviction, Penny’s mother urged him to join her at church. He didn’t want to go, dreading the feeling of everyone’s eyes on him, judging him. But he listened to his mother and tried once more.
That is where he found love—and the start of his restoration.
“The guy at the door greeted me like he knew me!” Penny said. “The love that man showed me helped push me back into the church. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t think I’d be here.”
That day, when the pastor preached, Penny said it felt like he was the only one in the room. He went to the altar and rededicated his life to God.
But there was a hitch, for as Penny said, “I wasn’t totally sold on idea of Jesus.”
Still, he stayed patient, read the Bible and stayed in dialogue with God about his feelings. One day, he asked God for a sign that God wanted him to follow not only Him but His son, Jesus. Just then, a song came on the radio: “There’s something about the name Jesus.” Penny fell to his knees, convinced.
“Sometimes last thing I want is first thing I need,” he said.
As his prison time approached and his nerves escalated, he began to feel a deep peace blossom within him, the kind described in Philippians 4:7, the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
He surrendered his heart fully to God and spent his years in prison reading the Bible and drawing closer to Jesus.
“While in prison learned more than I ever had before,” Penny shared. “You’ve got to have a test to have a testimony. I had to get broken down to get built back up. God will bring a season where it feels like nothing like rain, but my experience with God is He doesn’t bring rain to wash us away during flood but to bring sunshine so we can swim.”
Lifting up the analogy of the men’s retreat restored car show, he said each man there is like a restored car.
“Restoration isn’t a one and done thing,” Penny said. “We’re all different makes, models and years, and it’s a process.
“Like we restore cars in a dark garage, God had to take me out of world into prison to polish me, get rid of my dents, and then pulled me back into the light.”
Tearing down our strongholds
Mason brought a message on breaking free of strongholds as a means of restoration, drawing from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
He told a story about how elephants, when they are first trained, are bound in chains, but eventually the trainers remove the chain. The elephants, however, are so used to the weight and restriction of the chain they don’t even notice the chain is no longer there. They have been free to go at any time, yet they do not because of this stronghold.
That is how we can be when we build up strongholds about sin, Mason said.
“When most of us think of strongholds, we think of the sin itself,” Mason said.
But strongholds are not any particular sin but rather the thought pattern that creates the sin. For instance, porn is a sin, not a stronghold. Adultery is a sin, not a stronghold.
“Every sin we commit isn’t stronghold,” Mason said. “It’s the mindset that makes us think what we are doing is OK that makes it a stronghold.”
As he explained, a stronghold is a mindset, a value system or thought process that hinders our growth.
“Strongholds are stubborn ways of thinking that refuse to submit to God’s word,” he said. “It’s that thing you believe that isn’t biblical but you believe anyway—I deserve this. I’m a star. I’m trash.”
When the apostle Paul wrote of strongholds, he wasn’t referring to individual, specific sins but, Mason said, “Something more diabolical—an accusation planted firmly in your mind by Satan.”
Mason encouraged attendees to ask themselves what lie the enemy has planted in their mind and particularly what lie has become a belief system. For example, he shared, he and his wife went through a difficult time when they lost their first child, and one of things enemy tried to plant was “God doesn’t care.” But that was a lie.
“God wants you to be free of your stronghold,” Mason told the crowd.
To break free of these strongholds, he said, we need an encounter with God, because a lot of times we are so used to our strongholds that we don’t even notice they are there—like a person who has 50 cats and no longer notices his house smells like a litter box.
“Many of us been around our mess so long it doesn’t have a stink no more,” Mason said.
But you are more than where you are, more than your worst day, he said, “Not because you are ‘all that’ but … because Christ brings value to your life.”
After all, he said, God isn’t a talent scout; He’s a talent giver.
“Jesus didn’t pick a good team,” Mason said. “He picked a religious skeptic, a shady businessman, a thief, a thug, a shady government worker, a mama’s boy, a prostitute, an outcast and a formerly demon possessed woman. That’s the team God wanted to change the world? Why?
“Because God magnifies His glory using people you don’t expect God to use.”
Built for God’s purpose
Bishop Holston brought a word on a living God at work in all our lives for His divine plan.
“It is a wonder to be restored in God’s grace and mercy and know God lives and works in each of us,” Holston told the hundreds of men gathered at the event. “And God’s love is still available to you!”
But, he said, it’s important to remember that God’s church is not built for our pleasure—it’s built for God’s purpose, which is for us to ransom people to His love and His grace.
“We men can make a difference in our families, in our communities and in our church,” Holston said. “The church is always in uncertain times, but we have always known a certain God, and God has always used our dysfunction.”
To be used by God, we need to have God-sized dreams and a God-sized vision and be willing to step out beyond culture.
“We’ve got to say to the devil, ‘You don’t have a hold on me! Devil, get on out of here!’ Because we are gathered as one.”
Plans for next year’s men’s ministry event are in the works now.
For more information on men’s ministry in South Carolina: http://mennministrysc.org.
By Jessica Brodie