Conversations about Grass Valley groups

After living in Sacramento for many years, I felt led to move to Grass Valley, which is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s just sixty miles from our former house, but it feels like thousand miles because we built a home in the suburbs on a beautiful, secluded five acres of pines and oaks, and yes, we have a trout stream in our front yard. Thank you, Jesus.

After we were settled and had found a good church, I began to think and pray about the ministry opportunities of our new city. One option was to continue the ministries we had in Sacramento, but I felt a check, so we just waited. One day I was a bit frustrated about not hearing from the Lord, so I went up on the mountain to a place that had an overview of the entire area. I spent an hour or two just thinking and praying and got very excited when an idea came to me. It was just the germ of an idea, but as I thought about the possibilities of it coming to fruition, I began to get excited. The idea was in the form of a question; how would I respond if an angel appeared to me and said, Jesus is coming to Grass Valley for one day, and He wants you to arrange his schedule.

A few days later, I was at that same spot with a yellow legal tablet and was ready to do some thinking. Of course, I wouldn’t want to waste His time, so I tried to think of every option and soon was flooded with ideas. I thought, maybe I should take him to the hospital and heal everyone. On the other hand, I could take him to the high school and change the lives of the future leaders of our community. That was appealing to me because for ten years I led “Young Life Clubs” at three high schools in Sacramento and had learned to love high school kids. On the other hand, should I take him to every church and maybe that would bring revival to our town. These are just a few of the ideas that I had, but one thought started to dominate my thinking.

The idea was to schedule thirty-minute appointments with Jesus and the most prominent leaders of our community. Of course, if I tell them Jesus is going to visit Grass Valley for one day, they would not believe me. However, I knew that if that was literally true and I asked, would you like to have a thirty-minute meeting with Jesus, very few people would say no. It might even be out of curiosity, but I knew that everyone would like to meet Jesus. I knew He would not be physically present, however, since He is present in Spirit, I asked God for a plan that would accomplish this task. There was, however, a small problem, I was new to the community and did not know who should be the candidates. So I watched the newspaper daily to evaluate who was well known and very influential.

Over the next several weeks I came up with a list of; the Senior judge, the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, the Editor of the newspaper, the Manager of a well-known bank, the District Attorney, the Owner and Manager of the radio station, the Mayor, and several of the most prominent businessmen. I then began to pray about how I would approach them and who should be contacted first. Again my intent was to arrange for Jesus to have a thirty-minute meeting with each of these men.

A method of allowing this to happen began to form in my mind, so I went to the most unlikely person first. I called and told that person that I had an idea that I would like to present to him. I thought he would want to know what the idea was before I could schedule the appointment but he agreed to Tuesday morning at ten am.

The idea I shared with him was as follows; I am new to the area, and I have been thinking about the leadership in our community. I have some experience working with those in leadership and know the benefits and frustrations that accompany it. I told him that with a little research I had learned that you are one of the most respected leaders in town, and I know that is a very lonely place. So I would like to propose that we start a breakfast group with you and nine other men who hold similar positions. I then mentioned the names of the men I was going to contact.

I explained that this breakfast group would be a place to discuss our community’s needs but also a safe place to process personal issues. That would happen over time as our commitment to confidentiality allowed trust to develop among us. Then I quoted one of my favorite proverbs; “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, just pour them all out, grain and chaff together, sure that a faithful hand will sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” Then I asked, do you have a place like that?

He said it sounds like the relationships we had in my college fraternity years. I agreed and said, it was your common commitment to each other and the fraternity that made it work. I was thinking about what would be the common interest that would hold this group together. It is unlikely that they all belong to Rotary, or all play golf or the other things that create a common bond. I was thinking that the best chance for this group to gel is if we meet in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. He immediately said, “I am not religious, and this idea doesn’t appeal to me at all.” I responded, great, because this will not be about religion. Then I asked, would you try it for four weeks. If it doesn’t fit your schedule or is not enjoyable, you are free to stop with no questions asked. There were several seconds of uncomfortable silence and then he swore and said; “I guess I could try it for four weeks.” He later told me after we were good friends, that he decided to say yes because I had mentioned that I was going to contact the Judge and the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors and he thought they might say yes and he would not be in the group. It seems clear that God had gone before me and prepared each person because without exception every person on my list became part of our breakfast group. That first group still meets weekly and has for more than thirty-eight years.

For our meeting place, I arranged a private room in a hotel for these nine men plus myself. For this group and every group that followed, I started with a restatement of what I had told each person including that we will be meeting in the spirit of Jesus. Then to remove the fear of the unknown, I explained a proposed format of a strict one-hour meeting with the first thirty minutes talking about current events and personal situations. I then told them I would like them to think of the second thirty minutes as follows.

Let’s imagine that Jesus was speaking in person up at Scotts Flat Lake which is about four miles out of town. We could all go listen to what He had to say and then the next morning we could have our breakfast and give our personal opinions of what we heard. There would not be any restrictions on what you could say because our breakfast is a safe place to process how you feel about any issue. Since Jesus is not actually speaking at the lake, we will read a portion of what He told other people at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had a best friend who wrote a book about his life so will use that book to evaluate what He said to the people.

One of the more memorable moments from that first group was when we were reading the book of John, and came to the passage where Jesus says to Nicodemus; you must be born again. When we opened it for discussion, the first man to speak said, ever since Jimmy Carter was President, I’ve wondered what “born again” means. Another man spoke up and said I would like to know also because my brother wrote me a letter three weeks ago and said I needed to be born again. Since I started the group all eyes turned to me, and a man said, Glenn what does it mean? I have approached each of the groups with the attitude that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher as we read the Scriptures. So my answer was guys I have an opinion about that but what if I am wrong. What is important is what Jesus means by that phrase. Let’s read it again and see if we can decide what He means. After we reread it, there was complete silence, which was unusual in that group. I think everyone was afraid to give an opinion, which might be wrong. So I eventually said, well guys I told you I have an opinion about that, but if you don’t share what you think about that phrase I am prepared to leave without sharing my view. I said come on now; you must have some thoughts after reading it twice. Eventually, one man said, well I guess it is like being born physically except it’s different in some way. That seemed to be our only starting place, so I prompted them to explain the process of how one is born physically. They took about ten minutes discussing that you get a boy and a girl together and they have intercourse, and she gets pregnant. That led to a discussion about abortion, miscarriage, baby being stillborn, etc., but eventually, we got to a normal birth. There was total silence, and then one man said, I think I am about six months pregnant. I asked him what he meant by that statement, and his answer was a first for me. He said I’ve been in the group for about six months, and I don’t know about being born again, but I feel like something is about to be birthed in me. Another guy spoke up and said I think I’m farther along than you are. Both of those men are genuinely born again today. The first man who spoke up went on a men’s retreat with me in Colorado, and it was there that he received the life of Jesus. Sadly, he died of cancer about eighteen months later, but happily, he is with Jesus.

Eventually, there were thirteen men’s groups and three women’s groups meeting with the same format. We had a group at all three County Clubs, a Doctors group that met at six am at the hospital, a Dentist group, Nurses at the hospital, a group of men in law enforcement including the City Attorney, three judges, the Sheriff, Captain of the California Highway Patrol, etc., and a women’s group in my home with my wife facilitating.

Here are some of the responses I received when I met individually with men for the first time. Remember that I had never met any of the men so had no knowledge about their spiritual interest. However, I gave each person essentially the same information about what the group would be like and that we would be meeting in the spirit of Jesus. Two men said I’ve never read the Bible, would I feel uncomfortable there? Another said I will join if you won’t broadcast that I am attending. Another man said I am Jewish, but I would be interested in meeting with that group of men. For his group, we started with the book of Hebrews. Later he said, I have learned more about the Jewish faith that I did for my Bar Mitzvah.

When I presented the idea to the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors’s he got tears in his eyes and said, “You don’t know how much I need something like this. Sometimes after a late night meeting that is especially difficult, I stop by the Episcopal Church which is the only one that leaves its doors open. I just go in and sit in the dark and try to recover my sanity.” I later learned that he attended the Methodist Church regularly and of course he became a consistent attender until his death twenty-seven years later. It is still amazing to me that no one ever missed a breakfast unless they were ill or out of town.

A group at one of the Country Clubs was possibility the most remarkable. Billy Graham says that after age seventy, one in a million surrenders their lives to Christ. What was so amazing about that group is that every man was over seventy and six of them received Christ.

In my appointment with the Mayor, it was going well until I said, we will be meeting in the spirit of Jesus. He interrupted me and blurted out, “What the h… does that mean?” I was a little taken aback but gave him an honest reply. I said I’m not exactly sure because no one has ever asked me. However, I must mean something by it because I use it quite often. Let me think for a moment, and then I believe the Lord gave me an answer for him. I asked, have you ever heard of the Bible verse John 3:16 and he said yes I have seen it at football games and it’s on that ham radio tower on Highway 49. I asked, do you know what it says and he admitted that he did not. So I quoted it to him and then asked have you heard of John 3:17? When he said no I have never seen those numbers, I told him that verse 0is just as important as 3:16 and quoted it for him. “…God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” So, if we meet in the spirit of Jesus, you would not feel condemned, and if you did, it would not be from Him. He began to weep uncontrollably, and at first, I thought I must have touched some deep-seated issue. So I said I am sorry, but he quickly got it together and said, don’t worry about it, that statement really affected me because I have worried all my life about being condemned by Jesus. Of course, he joined one of the prayer breakfasts, and about two years later, he surrendered his life to Jesus. Some years later when he decided to move to San Diego, I was the first one who knew it because he called and asked if there is a group like ours down there. I assured him there was and introduced him to my associate, and longtime friend, Milt Richards.

When I met with another man who seemed very open, his countenance indicated he would say yes to my invitation. However, when I asked him to try it for four weeks, he very graciously said he would not be able to accept. He had given me the opposite reaction, so I told him that and wondered why he was saying no. His answer was; you called this a prayer breakfast, and even though I am Catholic, I don’t know how to pray in public. I asked him if he knew how to pray silently and he said yes, so I told him that was the same thing to God. So he joined a group and became very Christ-centered and eventually became the facilitator of that group.

One of the prominent businessmen on my list owned three stores, and one was the largest liquor store in the area. When I contacted him, he asked me to meet him at the liquor store. We went into the back room, and I sat on a case of whiskey and invited him to join one of our breakfasts. The evening of his first meeting, he called me at home, and said,”I’m in.” I reminded him that he had four weeks to decide and he said, I’m aware of that. When I asked why he was so sure, he said, “for years I’ve wondered if there is a place where I can ask questions about God without being condemned and I think, this is the place.” Within a year both he and his wife were baptized at First Baptist Church and sold the liquor store.

As stated earlier we intentionally avoided an evangelistic approach so each man would not feel like a target or manipulated in any way. We just wanted them to have thirty minutes a week with Jesus because that is the vision he gave me. However, nearly every group started with approximately ninety percent nonbelievers, and as I look back over the years, I believe that at least seventy percent met Jesus personally. When a number of the wives showed an interest, we also started a couples Bible study in our home.

Within a few more years several of the people formed a committee and initiated an Annual Community Leaders Prayer Breakfast. It’s held at a Country Club and has been a sell-out for the past thirty plus years. We have a theme each year, and the head table consists of people involved in that discipline including the speaker. Here are some examples: We honored Law Enforcement, and the Sherrif spoke about his spiritual journey. Another year we honored and prayed for those in Politics with our Congressman speaking about his faith in Jesus. Other years we honored Medicine, Fireman and Paramedics, Education, Social agencies, and Non-profits, etc.

These activities were the springboard the Lord used to prepare and to send me around the globe to interact with the leaders of many nations.