Spiritual friendship – See the Spirit’s work in real time as lives are changed. Connecting with other men in church. Why is community so important? The ripple effects of a Christ centered life are amazing.
Bio: James Shelley
James Shelley by day, is a product manager at Denver Hardwood Company, and has been actively serving in his home church as leader on the worship team for over a decade. James and Kep met in late 1998; they quickly became fast friends and brothers in Christ, and have played in a band together, led worship at each other’s churches, for nearly 25 years. He is proud to have known Larry and is excited to see Larger Story grow. James and his wife Brandy have been married for 28 years and reside in a small town on the eastern plains outside the Denver metro area. They enjoy spending time together at Lake McConaughy in Nebraska in the summertime and are avid Denver Nuggets fans!
Real Church by Dr. Larry Crabb
SoulTalk by Dr. Larry Crabb
[00:00:28] Kep Crabb: Welcome everybody to Larger Story’s podcast: Relational Spirituality. What does it mean to relate with someone in only a way that the Holy Spirit makes possible? To belong, to become, and to be really known? I’ve got a special guest today who is one of my best friends and we’ve got a story together that’s been really fun since 1998.
Looking at how the Lord has grabbed hold of this guy’s life is why I wanted to bring him on, to share his story with you all as I’ve seen such a tremendous transformation in my brother James. Let me introduce my boy, James Shelly. James, thanks for joining me today, bro.
[00:01:04] James Shelley: Yeah, I’m glad to be here. It’s good to be on and finally getting a chance to do this with you.
[00:01:08] Kep Crabb: This is fun, man. This, by the way, will be the beginning of many. You and I are going to be doing this a bunch, I love to chat with you. We’ve talked about doing this kind of thing many times before in the last 25 years. I think what I want to talk about more than anything is to talk about the story of you; to introduce people to you.
Let me quickly run through how we met when I moved to Colorado in late ‘97. We met in late ‘97, early ‘98 through a mutual friend who you were playing music with at the time. I’m also a musician, as some people know, and you and I hit it off and we started playing music and we had a band. The band that I joined is a band that you had led since ‘93. Then, you and I joined together and it became the Kep and James Show. We hurt some feelings for some people, but we took that off and it’s just been amazing to see what God’s done in your life since that time.
Let me just give y’all some real quick background as well on James. James, correct me, when was it that you took Sam and Grace in? How long ago was that?
[00:02:11] James Shelley: We actually got them in 2018 when they were eight and 10. So we’ve had them, it’s going on five years. In fact, just a couple days ago was our five year anniversary. It was January 26th when we took them in 2018.
[00:02:24] Kep Crabb: In 2018, James took in his niece and nephew, his brother’s children. James and his wife Brandy are now the people in complete custody of those kids and loving them like their own in some really impressive ways.
But that’s just the beginning of James’s story as we talk today. James, you were saying the last three years or so has been a real shift in some things. You said that started with the men’s retreat that you were on at one point.
[00:02:53] James Shelley: It really did. I spent a lot of time going to church with my wife and I was on the worship team. When I started going to the men’s retreat, it started sinking into me that I needed a community of men around me. I could literally just be with my wife, Brandy, and I don’t need anybody else, but that’s really not the way that I started seeing things after attending these men’s retreat. Iron sharpens iron. I came around with this two sessions ago when I went to the retreat. I needed a different community and it really sparked something in the small group sessions that we had at those retreats. The deep discussions, the becoming vulnerable with those guys which I hadn’t before. I was up there on the platform playing guitar every Sunday. People knew who I was, I just didn’t have connection with any of the men in my church.
That started happening after that retreat two years ago. It’s just led to accountability with a couple other guys. We’ve done daily devotionals together, and that’s where it started; the change in me and how God has used that to increase the size of that little group to three or four guys that I have extra devotional times with and connection with. It’s an amazing thing to see how God has used that situation to strengthen my faith, my bible habits, my meditations. It truly is basically a situation where you turn over Lordship daily, and when you do that, then you step out of His way and let Him take control. The days just seem to go a whole lot better when I start off like that.
[00:04:48] Kep Crabb: It’s beautiful bro. It’s so amazing because I’ve had a chance to see from a front row seat what God’s done in your life, and through that what He’s also done in your wife’s life and through that what He’s doing in your kids’ life and through that, what He’s doing in your church community.
You said something as you were unpacking it there that I grabbed onto: the whole notion of iron sharpening iron and the whole thought of the fact that this was all based in community. Why? Why is it so important to be in community and especially you as a man with other men?
Dad used to say, and you may have heard this – just in case you guys were wondering, this guy right here is one of the very few people who ever got to jam with Larry Crabb several times. We could show videos of that at some other point, but we won’t do that. What’s it like to be in community with guys? Dad used to say, your wife wasn’t meant for your weight, but your shoulders were meant for hers.
So who was meant for your weight? That’s brothers. That’s where I think that you and I have really become brothers and so close in the last, two decades-plus, and just where I feel like I’ve got someone in you who I can trust, who I can rely on.
[00:06:01] James Shelley: It’s true. We’re going through a series now; we’re better together as opposed to this world right now that wants to isolate us. The social media, the things like that, that really want to close us off by ourselves, and the importance of getting together with believers. This relational spirituality concept that you’re building on here is the direction I think the church needs to go in this season.
To include everybody just like Jesus did. He never outcasted anybody. He was around everybody – the people that He outcasted I guess were the religious people – so the community is where we get together. It says where two or more are gathered, He is there.
It’s just that community is just becoming more and more important. That’s what I gathered the last couple years getting with those guys, and when the guys step up and start leading their families, our pastor always says, you won’t believe what happens to the church body itself when the men get together and lead.
They’re spiritual families. It’s an awesome thing to be a part of and that’s what God is doing right now in our church and in my life. He is getting us guys together and doing mighty works.
[00:07:25] Kep Crabb: I’ve seen that with you in respect to how you’ve taken control of your family spiritually – the bull by the horns as they say. That, to me, is so important in what that means and what that looks like.
It’s been so encouraging to see how Brandy, your wife, has just stepped in with you. I said this to you today, she’s the kind of gal who I’ve just seen stay by your side. Whether you’re planning a Harley Davidson biker party or you’re planning a men’s church retreat, she’s right there with you. That’s just been a testament, man. Your life has been so encouraging to so many, and I think that the whole notion of how to be in community, what does that look like? You guys are in some small groups now, and you’re heavily involved in your church now.
Let me tell one more story about you before we go on. When you and I first met, I asked you, do you ever go to church? I remember you saying, sometimes I drop the kids off.
[00:08:18] James Shelley: Yeah. What a change.
[00:08:21] Kep Crabb: What a change from where you were to where you are now.
[00:08:23] James Shelley: The sad part about that, I lived three houses down from the church that I grew up in, and we just said, “Hey, kids, all right, it’s time. It’s Sunday morning. Go ahead and go down there to Sunday school.” We didn’t even take them to drop them off. We just said, “Hey, you can walk a hundred yards to the church.” That was that period in young life when you and I hooked up, I was young. Mid twenties. Leading my life, I basically turned my back and said, “God I’ve got this. I can handle this.” Had the job running, the family, doing the thing, and I look back, it was because I had lost my childhood pastor. I didn’t lose him, he retired. There was a new pastor at the church. I didn’t feel connected to that one, so I was in the midst of trying to find my own way and lost and in sin and all that stuff.
That was that period where I just sent the kids to school or to Sunday school instead of going myself. It wasn’t until Pastor Tux passed away and I went to his funeral that I felt a calling when his wife Dolores looked at me and said, you need to get your buns back to church, honey.
I felt that call. It was like a ton of bricks landed on my shoulders. I said, yeah, I need to. That’s where the journey started. I still checked a lot of boxes along the way, but Brandy and I, that’s what we consider that separates us – or, not separates us, but that makes us different than say if we’re in a group of 10 couples, that our faith is stronger.
As we work towards God, we grow closer together. That’s what sets us apart from some couples is our faith over the years. You’ve seen it grow. You were there. We weren’t married all that long before I met you. You and Kimmie, you’ve been there.
[00:10:15] Kep Crabb: I’ve journeyed with you, bro, and I love that. I love the fact that I’ve had the chance to journey with you and see the transformation in what you’ve become as a man of God and to see the ripple effects of that. Your wife is blessed, your niece and nephew – who really are now your son and daughter – they’re being blessed by your commitment to the Lord and how that’s changed. It’s such a great thing for me to see, which is why I’ve wanted to share you with everybody. You get to see a little bit of an intimate side of me, everybody watching this, because this is my boy and we’ve played music together for 25 years and he’s seen some of my story as well.
As we talk about it, one of the things you mentioned was this men’s group and where you are now, what continues to sustain you. Because you seem to be getting ahead of steam in a good way where you really are moving in some really powerful directions.
[00:11:07] James Shelley: About four to six months ago, I felt the desire to share my testimony from the platform. I’m currently in a situation where I led the worship team during Covid when we didn’t have a pastor. Our previous worship pastor left in June of ‘19. I said I’ll be the leader of the group – not the pastor just leading the group. We had a pretty solid group during that time I led, and then when we got our new pastor, Tim. For about the first six months, he was building this thing where he wanted people to share the testimony. Now we’re starting this movement in our church; this year, in 2023, the challenge for the church and all of us is to share 90 seconds of our testimony; not necessarily the whole picture. That day that I shared my testimony from the platform it was a lengthy one because I’d been up there and I knew people knew who I was. I’ve been in the community a long time, my whole life. I would say that 95% of them didn’t know the James Shelley conversion story, even though it happened a long time ago. The movement is the sharing of the testimony and what God is currently doing. We’re all working on that. That has sparked the men in our group.
The elder board has identified 20 men in the church who have shown some extra leadership. Of course, Tim, my worship pastor, interjected me into that group. I’ve always been a leader there at Mountain View, although I’m not the official title of elder, just because I’ve been there long and my age; I’ve been there a long time since 2009, and they started in 2005.
It’s a simple transition to where we’re trying to lead from the front and that community of us men getting together and being spiritual and creating relationships with each other. Becoming more vulnerable with each other leads to clearer spirituality as we meet together and we invite the Holy Spirit in. It’s just a fantastic position to be in. When you’re doing the things that are like this podcast is trying to get across: relational spirituality, being together so that other people can see, so that the greatness of God can show through. That’s really it.
[00:13:53] Kep Crabb: That’s incredible. James, I wonder, what would Brandy say if someone were to ask her, how has James changed the most, or in what ways has James changed the most in the last 2-4 years? What do you think she would say?
[00:14:12] James Shelley: I would say the physical side of seeing me in the Word; studying and circling and underlining, not just reading the pages, but reading it and rereading it. Last October, ashamedly, I finally made it through the entire Bible. I had read everything else except the prophets. The major and the minor prophets. I finally was able to work through that.
I would say over the last two, three years, she has seen a hunger and a desire to be in God’s word for me. We’re in a small group as well, the worship team, she’s in women’s bible study. Sometimes it can become cumbersome having to go to the church three or four nights a week, but it’s becoming more and more because the passion that gets ignited
I would hope she would say that my anger is not quite the rollercoaster it used to be. That hopefully she could say that, that she sees me asking the question, is that what Jesus would do or is that how He would react? Is that what he would say? Because those things are real. They’re more real each and every passing day.
Now when I get confronted with something, I almost immediately think the whole, “what would Jesus do” thing, so that love, that passion, that evenness, that calm and the grace that God gives me, hopefully she says that’s what she sees of me.
[00:15:58] Kep Crabb: Yeah, I love that bro.
I think that’s so cool. It’s funny because in this conversation so far, you’ve mentioned that some of the big changing points have been community with some brothers. The second thing you’ve said is spending intentional time in the Word, which then leads to this outpouring that your wife is seeing happen.
It just helps in so many ways. I remember asking my dad questions one time. I said, “Dad, how do you know the Holy Spirit is guiding you or directing you? I’ve seen people come up to you before, saying, ‘I’ve got a word for you, Larry. Here’s a word from the Spirit for you.’ What does that do for you?” And he says, “Sometimes something, but who knows?” I said, how do you know that something’s really coming from the Holy Spirit? You knew Dad. I said, how do you do that? He said, there’s three things, and you just named them all in respect to, if you hear that voice in community, if you hear that voice in the scriptures and if you hear that voice in your prayer life, you can be pretty confident that’s the Spirit saying, move.
I think that’s what you’ve been in tune with in respect to how you’ve lived your life with these other men and with people. It makes your wife the recipient of a better man, a better husband. My dad used to say to my mom, my goal is not to be a good husband, and I used to wonder what are you talking about, Dad? Sure it is. Come on, you want to be a good husband.He said, no. That’s not to mean it’s not important to me, but he said, my goal is not to be a good husband. My goal is to pursue the Lord. And if I do that with everything I am, well then your mom, she’s going to be getting a pretty good deal.
[00:17:34] James Shelley: She’s the best, for sure. For sure. It’s a good thing to follow that blueprint. Your dad, I look at him and what he accomplished. He’s like the spiritual earthly father that I’d never had, my dad being an alcoholic – he was saved, but he wasn’t practicing. He had accepted Christ, but I think that he thought that he could do enough to get to heaven. Even though I think down deep, he knew accepting Christ’s gift was what salvation was. He’ll be there on the other side – but your dad is a person that every time you were in presence with Larry, it wasn’t just surface stuff. It was thoughtful, thought provoking. You could just tell by Larry’s tone in his voice, he was engaging with you.
One of my goals is to complete the catalog. I’ve got a ways to go, but SoulTalk, I’m sure we’ll talk about that in the upcoming sessions. I just completed that book, and that book was a powerful book because I actually heard his voice the whole time I was reading. I could hear his voice inside my head. I know there’s going to be seasons. David had his seasons of resting by the brook and then running into the caves and hiding and things like that. I’m sure those seasons are still there, but it’s going to be a lot easier navigating when you’re more inside the Lord’s will.
[00:19:14] Kep Crabb: I think the biggest takeaway that we can think about now as we’re chatting is to stay inside the Lord’s will, like you just said. It’s really about being in community with people who sharpen you, who strengthen you, who encourage you. Be in the word daily. I love that your hunger for the word grows when that happens, and I can see that in you. And then to be in constant prayer and just petitioning the Lord and talking to God. I think those are the three things that, if we can live in those, we can be different people in the ripple effect of our life.
We used Dad as the example, and you and I got a chance to see that firsthand.
[00:20:01] James Shelley: From the beginning too. I remember the early days, shortly after we got together and started playing in the band. Your dad was working on New Way. You started speaking about the new way to live.
Since you started Larger Story, it’s that 30,000 foot view that says, Hey, we really are a small part of a really large story. It’s a story that needs to be told every day for the rest of our life: the Larger Story. Our Lord the Savior, His stories. Whatever we can do to promote those stories and tell people what He’s done for us. Why wouldn’t we spend the time and effort to tell those around us. Like He says, love one another. It’s an amazing thing.
I’m peaceful. I’m not complacent at all, because you get distracted. The evil one will come in at any moment. He’s always there to try to get you off the course, but it’s great to be able to stand on the solid rock, and start today with the solid rock.
You talked about being a part of this movement in eastern Colorado and the vision that we have at our church and then your vision and others, the team that you work with ast Larger Story. We’re coming into a good season.
[00:21:27] Kep Crabb: I really am so grateful that you’re part of all that, bro.
I love hearing what you’re talking about when you say, talking about God’s Larger Story. You are such a big part of God’s Larger Story in the sphere of influence that you have with your wife, your family, your friends, your church, your community with me. I think that’s really what it’s all about.
The dramatic change that I’ve had a chance to see with you is something that I wanted to introduce to these people, to the people of Larger Story, because this is a guy you’re going to get a chance to see a lot more of. I’m going to be chatting with him a bunch and maybe sometimes we’ll even break out the guitars and sing a song or two.
We’ll see how we do with some of that, but this is just going to be fun. What does it mean to put on display this relational concept of a relationship, a conversation that we can only have because of Jesus. You have Jesus’ Spirit in you, and I know Jesus, I have the Spirit in me as well.
That just gives me goosebumps, man. It really does make us brothers.
[00:22:31] James Shelley: Yeah, and for people, they’re in my small circle of influence in my church. They can see that it’s real. It’s not contrived, it’s not put on. I’ve always tried to just be as real as it can be in the crazy, in the humor, in this and that and the other thing.
It’s just, it’s the realness, the real-ationship, it’s a good practice to just continue to connect with people and share your story. The testimony is the thing that if people are going to get to know, and people are going to ask the question, what makes that guy tick? What is it about him? The people that don’t know you, they’re going to know shortly that it’s Christ, it’s the almighty God that is working through us: through me, through that guy. That it’s real. They can see that something is going on and it’s real. That’s the exciting part.
[00:23:37] Kep Crabb: Your story has been an incredible example of that to me, which is why I wanted to have you on today. Yeah, I just want to say I love you bro. It’s so good to have you on today and get this first one under our belt. I think this is going to be kind of fun because these are the kind of conversations that you and I have all the time.
We will continue to have these kinds of conversations where iron is sharpening iron. You can talk to me about struggles. I’ve talked to you about struggles, you’ve talked to me. We felt like we’ve had each other’s back so many times, and that’s a great feeling. I would always encourage people out there to find – Dad used to say – find one person that you can be totally honest with, in the sense of telling everything. You said, is that going to be your spouse? Should you tell your spouse some things, whatever. That’s not to keep things from your spouse. You need to use the Lord’s and the Spirit’s judgment in that for sure. She’s not to bear your weight and you’ve really displayed what it means to step into the leadership of your family spiritually and take that bull by the horns, just like I would’ve expected, and I did expect. You’ve got a crew of people following you now, and it’s just fun to be a part of that too, my man.
[00:24:45] James Shelley: Yeah. All glory to God. It’s Him working through me and Him working through all of us. If it’s not for that, then it’s for nothing, and I’m just glad we finally got to this because from where we started, it was a very small part and it has blossomed; God has blossomed it over the years. I think He brought us together. Even though we’re not speaking for hours daily like we used to because we were each other’s “girlfriends,” it’s that relationship that we have that nobody can really touch.
Hopefully we can find people to foster that relationship with so that they can know the Christ we know, so that they can do the same thing and duplicate. I love it, man. I’m loving it.
[00:25:36] Kep Crabb: I am too, bro. I’m so proud of you. So happy to be one of your close brothers.
I just thank y’all for joining us today. I want to remind you that every Tuesday of every week we’re going to be dropping a new podcast. You’ll get a chance to see myself with some friends, and some guests. You’ll get a chance to see Karlene, Rosanne, with some friends and some guests. We’re all going to be talking about relational spirituality. One of the books that we’re looking at right now is one of Dad’s books, actually one of my favorite books. We’ve done a webinar on it. It’s titled The Pressure’s Off. I think as you get a little older, and I’m starting to realize this a little bit, James, the pressure really is off.
We come here and we have this conversation. We prayed before we talked, and we wanted it to go so well, but Lord, this is in your hands because there’s nothing that we can do that’s going to change anybody. We don’t have that power. But through the Spirit, we do. That just blows me away, man.
[00:26:31] James Shelley: You do, Lord, let me get out of your way. It’s funny you say that because I just picked up my copy. I got it yesterday. I’ve started with the first page already, so I’m going to be looking forward to this one. Like I say, I’m working my way through Dr. Crabb’s library for sure. My maturity level now I think is expounded enough to understand and get on your dad’s level, whereas when I was 26 he was a little bit up there.
[00:27:03] Kep Crabb: He’s making you reach for it. He wants you to realize there’s something more.
Bro, I just love you man. Thanks for joining me today folks. Thanks for joining us. See you next Tuesday and have a great day.