Sharing God's Love
My name is Lonnie Riley and I direct a ministry in southeastern Kentucky called Meridzo Center Ministries, which is a Greek word for distribution. So that’s a large part of what we do is distributing those things that God gives to us and the Lord has done a tremendous work.
But really our journey started a number of years ago when the Lord came to me. I’ve been serving the Lord for many years, but often I realized that I’d been doing that in the flesh. I’d been going to college, some seminary, and I thought, well, this is the way you’re supposed to do it. And the LORD came to me and said, “Lonnie, your problem is you’ve been doing this, and I haven’t been doing it. Let me show you what I can do.” And for three days, the Lord put me on my face, on the floor, in my office. I couldn’t speak to my wife or anyone.
It is at that time that I really believe Jesus said, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it can’t bring forth fruit.” And I think, for the first time in my life, I sensed that God really killed me and, therefore, life came from that. And it’s been so real ever since. You know, it’s, it’s true to me. And that’s when God began to open up His revelation in my heart of how simply He works, but how profound the impact is. And so I began to let God do that, and the performance was now off the table for me. God said to me, “You just have an audience of One, and that’s Me.” And so the rest of my life is spent in that regard. I had to yield, totally surrender, all of my life to Him. Sink or swim, live or die, I’m Yours.
So the Lord began to take the Word of God, and the simplicity of the Word became so real to me that it changed the way I think, the way I view the world, the way I view God, the way I view other people. Everything changed. As an example, in Matthew 16, Peter made the great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said, “You said well, but flesh and blood does not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.” And based upon this revelation of who Jesus is, “upon this rock, I will build my church.” And I’d been trying for 20 years to build His church, and all of a sudden, it became so clear that I was trying to do what God said He would do. So I said, “Okay Lord, if you want to build a church then build it however You choose. If you want to use me, great, if not, it’s Your church, do whatever You want.”
And God began to do things like that in my life that were so simple, but I had been using it and preaching it so long that I missed the simplicity of the reality of the power of God. And when I began to focus on God, His love, His person became so real to me that I couldn’t do anything, but give more and more and more of my life to Him. So in that process, God began to do great things.
Then in 1999, the Lord led us back to Lynch, Kentucky, from a very affluent part of Mississippi, where I was pastoring a very affluent church. And here in Lynch, there was poverty, illiteracy, hopelessness, and everybody said, you know, “You’re crazy for going to a place like that from Mississippi.” I was 49 then, and had no job, no income, but a big God. And we were just beyond any shadow of a doubt. We knew. We never doubted for one time–and haven’t doubted since– that God brought us here. Jesus did not say, “I’ve come to give you life.” He said, “I am your life.” And so if He can become our life, when we yield Him, He actually does what He says He will do. And if you look in Matthew 6: “Take no thought for what you shall eat. Why don’t you consider the sparrow? They don’t sow nor do they reap, but God sees them. Doesn’t God love you more than the sparrow? And likewise, take no thought of what you should wear. Why don’t you consider the lilies of the field? I tell you, Solomon, in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But doesn’t God love you more than the flower in the field?” And then He says in Matthew 6:33, “First seek ye the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you.” And I had to ask the Lord this question, “Is that real or is that just a story we tell our children and grandchildren about, but it really doesn’t affect me?” God said, “No, it does affect you and if you believe when I say, I will do what I say.” And so we, we believed God would do that and God began to do it from the very beginning like this.
When we got to town, there were a lot of empty homes–thirteen empty homes on one block that we lived on. Everybody had hedges growing around their yard and they were unkempt. So they were going out over the sidewalk. And I thought, well, Lord sent me here to help, so I’ll just help people. So I went to Walmart, bought me a set of hedge clippers that cost $24.99, and I got a 100-foot extension cord, and I just went up and down the street trimming hedges. I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t knock on the door to see if anybody was home. I just…the Lord sent me here so I’m going to help make the town look better.
So we were in the yard one day, and this guy comes up and says, I need $75. My family didn’t have any food and I need a part for my car. I just got a job, can’t even get to work. And here was my response. I said, “Man, God hasn’t given me $75. I don’t have it. But if the Lord gives it to me, I’ll let you have it. Now I know he thought, ‘this is some preacher telling me this so he can get rid of me.’ So I take his name and number and two days later, my wife was out in the backyard again, working on the door to fix up the house. This lady gets up, pulls up in a Jeep from Ohio. She gets out, she came up to me and she crossed her arms and said, “I came to pay my bill.” I said, “Well, ma’am, you don’t owe any bills that I know of, I’ve never seen you before.” She said, “Aren’t you the guy going up and down the street trimming everybody’s hedges? I said, “Yes, ma’am. I’m doing that because God sent me here, not because I need any money.” She said, “Well, I always pay to have my hedges clipped. I’m the old vacant house, three doors up from you. You did a good job, and I’m gonna pay you.” So she pulled out a $100 bill and laid it on the floor. She said,”If you don’t pick up that hundred dollar bill it’s gonna stay there.” I often tell people, “You don’t say that to an old preacher in eastern Kentucky. Right?” I’m thinking I’m going down to Western Sizzlin’ tonight to get a steak.
So as I was talkin’ to my wife, the Lord reminded me, “Lonnie you told that boy, if I gave you $75 you’d give it to him. I just gave it to you. Not only did I give that guy $75, but I just paid you back for $24.99 hedge clippers all in one shot.” So I sat down at the phone to call that unsuspecting young man on the other end and I said, “Man, I want you to know that God has been good to you today.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I told you the other day, if God gave me $75, I’m giving it to you. So come on down and pick it up and you’ll know tonight when your family sits down to a nice warm meal, for the first time in a long time, and the needs of your family have been met, you’ll know that the Lord Jesus has been exceptionally good to you.” That’s how simply God began to do this. And by the way, we shared the gospel with him and he gave his heart to Christ. So God is doing simple things like that.
Now you fast forward to December of ’99, windchill factor 20 degrees below zero here in the mountains–it’s very cold. And I went out the back door of my home and there sat two boxes on the back doorstep. I picked up the boxes, took them in the house, yelled at my wife, I said, “Honey, come and look at this. Somebody left these boxes on our doorstep. She said, “What’s in the boxes?” I said, “I don’t have a clue.” We open it up and there were two 15 pound boxes of cookie dough. I thought, what in the world are we going to do with 30 pounds of cookie dough? She said I guess we’re going to bake cookies.
So unemployment, at that time in Lynch, was 53%, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission. And so we bake cookies for days, put them on paper plates, and so it was like a Currier and Ives moment for us. We walked up and down the streets of Lynch knocking on every door and here’s what we said: “We just want you to know that God hasn’t forgotten you this Christmas. We don’t know if you’re going to get anything else for Christmas or not. But the Lord wanted us to come by and tell you that He still loves you, and if you don’t get anything else, He wants you to have these Christmas cookies.”
That taught us a valuable lesson. Everything you have is just cookie dough. And God gives something to every person and the moment we get it, we decide one of two things: I’m going to use this for God or I’m going to use this for me. Now if you decide you’re going to use it for you, and you can–you’ve cut off your supply for more cookie dough. And so we just decided, whatever we have is God’s and we’ll just give it away if He desires for us to give it away. And so that’s how it started, initially.
All of a sudden churches started calling us. Now we had no ministry, we hadn’t heard a word from God in six months, we were just faithful to do what the Lord called us to do–just help people so we could share Jesus, that’s the two directives. And so these churches started calling, saying, “We want to come and help you.” I said, “You would like to help me do what?” “Well we want to help you put on roofs, build wheelchair ramps, wherever you need.” I said, “Oh, we need a lot of that here. So come on up and help us out.” So I asked my wife to start a little file. And we have a little cardboard box and we would put in, fix out the information on the church, put it in the cardboard box. And they invited us to speak at some meeting that they were having– I don’t know how they found out about us, but we went–and I told Belinda, I said, “Take that little box and we’ll see how many folks we got coming.” Now this was in spring of 2000 and so we got to figuring that up on the way, and there were 600 people coming to help us that summer of 2000. We only have 800 – 1000 in the whole town.
So then we began to put together the need that the people had with the people who were coming in. And our goal is not to help fix roofs, it’s to share Jesus. That’s just a tool, you understand. Just a tool we had. The second year, God sent 1200 people. And the third year God sent 2000. We have never called a church in 20 years to say, “will you come and help us?” God, just somehow knows how to connect those people. And they’re sharing Christ, and they’re, people are coming to know Jesus by the scores. Churches are growing. It was incredible what the Lord was doing. Now, if you look at it from an administrative point of view, I had to come to the conclusion that these people had to have someplace to live, someplace to eat, and someplace to take a shower, hopefully during that week. So we started praying for a mission house.
I said, “Lord, you’re gonna have to teach me how to pray so that I can pray in Your will.” Because when you pray in the will of God, God will always answer that prayer. And the Lord took me to Matthew 7 and it says, “Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock, and it shall be open to you.” But I’d never seen that in the context of prayer. He taught me that prayer is a process, not an activity, and the process is asking, but there’s more to the process. We have to look at what we just asked God for. If we don’t watch for God to show up and answer, we could have it not know it. And then the third thing is the knocking. That’s the action when God reveals what He is doing in response to what you ask, then you act upon that and God does it every single time.
So I’m saying, “Okay, I’m gonna wait on You.” And so the next week God sent an investor from Georgia. He saw the old hospital in town that was vacant–four floors, 89 rooms. And he said, “Lonnie, find out who owns that building and I’ll buy it for you, let you use it for 10 years for $1 a year. You can put all your missionaries in there. So I found out that Ark Land Company owned it out of St. Louis, Missouri and I looked up the vice president in charge of properties for this investment. Three months went by. That investor called me back and said, “Lonnie, that deal fell through. That guy’s not gonna buy that building. My boss is onto me to get rid of it.” And I said, “Man don’t do that.” He said, “Why not?” And I said, “Because I believe God wants to use that in the mountains for His glory.” He said, “You really believe that?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Well, why don’t you buy it?” That’s called puttin’ your faith where your mouth is. I said, “Okay. I will. What do you want for that?” He said, “$85,000; can’t take anything less.” I said, “Okay, I’ll buy it.” He said, “Well, how much money you got?” I said, “I don’t have any money, but my Heavenly Father is rich and when He gets ready, He’ll buy this building for me.” And he said, “I know you’re a man of faith, but the best I can do is hold it for you for 30 days.” I said, “Just hang onto it, that should be sufficient time for my Father to come up with that kind of money.”
So we don’t do fundraisers. If you do, that’s fine. We’re not anti-fundraisers, we just felt like God knows what your need is. He knows where the supply is and He knows how to put them together. So we let God do that. All of a sudden, God begins to send us the money. A friend of ours passed away and sent us his estate; sent us a check for $5,000 to do whatever you want to do with this. So now I’ve got to decide, is this mine or just cookie dough? See, it’s constant. God’s constantly giving you this stuff. And so I told my wife, “We didn’t expect this, so let’s put this back into the account.” Because we know this building’s coming up for closing. And so three weeks in a deal God has given us $25,000 and I didn’t ask anybody for a penny. And we were rejoicing. That guy called me back from St. Louis and said, “Lonnie, are you ready to close on that building in Lynch? I said, “Yes, sir. I’m ready when you are.” He said, “Well today’s Tuesday, next Tuesday will be your 30 days. Bring me a cashier’s check for 85,000, I’ll bring you the deed. We’ll just exchange and it’ll be yours.” I said, Okay, I’ll be there.” He said, “How much money you got?” I said, “We got 25,000.” He laughed a little bit and he said, “Now, you know you need 85.” I said, “Yes sir, but we don’t need it today.” You see God’s never late or early. He’s always on time.
So I go out of town on Wednesday, my wife calls me on Thursday and said, “Hon, this fellow called today and said he’s been praying for us and the Lord instructed him to send us down some money.” And I said, “Well tell him, send it on down. Whatever he doesn’t send, we’ll pray for. Today’s Thursday, we’ve got until next Tuesday. No use worrying about it.” So I called her back on Friday. I said, “Hon, did he happen to say anything about that money today?” She said, “Yeah. He wired it down today.” I said, “Wired it down? How much did he wire down?” She said, “$65,000.” Now if you know anything about wired money, it’s got to go through this process. And it became available Tuesday at 12 o’clock. I got a cashier’s check for $85,000 handed it to Mr. Irons and he said, “Boy you sure and have great faith.” I said, “No, has nothing to do with me–has everything to do with the Father and you can come into the Father like I did through His Son, the Lord Jesus.” And he gave his heart to Christ. He knew that God had done this whole thing.
And now we opened up our retreat center. We had 120 kids come the first time, didn’t have any furniture in it, was just a vacant building. We threw down mattresses, they brought sleeping bags and we saw 10 teenagers give their heart to Jesus the first night in this building. God had already started to use this place. And now it’s all been renovated. It’s all been fixed up. And we usually in a normal year, we will house 2000 people a year from across the country and around the world. In our little retreat center. Only God can do things like that. But He does it to extend the kingdom. It’s not so I can feel good about myself. But all I’m telling you is what God did. I have very little to play in what God does. God does everything. All He does is write it down. I believe it and He does it. And when your love relationship with God is real, God will do things that are extraordinary where you are. Even though you’re ordinary, God isn’t ordinary. And so if God could take a guy like me and do that, then God can do that with anybody who will just release their life to God and say, “God, here I am. You show me.” See, that’s the way God does things for us. We don’t plan it. We just respond to whatever God gives to us, we respond to.
There are two kinds of planning in the world. There’s a strategic plan. And that’s where you set a goal and you have these objectives. And if you meet all these objectives, then your goal should be met, right. But there’s a second kind and that’s responsive in nature and responsive simply means that which God delivers to you, how will you respond and use it? You don’t have to go get it. God will give it to you. I often ask the question, which one is most prevalent in the scripture? Obviously, it’s the response. God, the people of God, are constantly responding to that which God puts in front of them. But which one is most prevalent in the church today? It’s the strategy, and how we put this together. So we choose as a ministry, to live in responsive nature, that our lives can be always responding to the will of God, to the purpose of God, and to the plan of God, and not try to devise our own kingdom or build our own kingdom. That’s not what God’s about. He’s about building His kingdom. And the psalmist said, “Tell of the praiseworthy deeds of your God.” And the more we tell of what God does, the more God gives us to tell of what He does. And so we, all I’ve shared with you is what God has been doing, am I not correct? And it has been amazing. It’s been amazing. I’m very honored that you would even select me to do something like this. I’ve never done it before. So I figured it had to be God. I told my wife, “A podcast, I don’t even know what that is. But let’s see where it goes.”
See what God does with that.