Tuesday, August 26, 2014

 

Do you know any good churches in...?

I guess it is because I am a traveling preacher.  Or maybe I just know a lot of people.  But I frequently get asked if I can recommend a good congregation in different cities.  I don't put much thought into my answer, I usually just mention the ones that come to mind first.

But I recently tried to decide why I recommend certain congregations.

It started because a couple we had converted in Abilene were moving to a large metropolitan area with many churches to choose from.  I was suggesting churches to visit.  Recommending them.  Someone heard my list and asked me about it.  They pointed out that the preachers were really different, that the worship styles were way, way different, and that my list ranged from very progressive to very conservative.  That hadn't dawned on me.  I realized my recommendations were like that for a lot of places.  So why do I recommend the churches I do?  And how do such seemingly different churches get on it?

And yes, there are churches I know about that I don't recommend.  But this post is about the ones I do recommend.  And why.

So...  

All of these churches had some things in common. Things I think are way more important than their differences.

I knew someone personally at these congregations.  Someone I knew I could trust to help new spiritual babies learn to walk.

Each of these churches are full of people who love Jesus and want to live like him.  Loving god and loving their neighbors in real ways in a real world.

They preach Jesus crucified for our sins and raised from the dead.  That is their base theology.

They are all committed to living life together in community.  Communion matters because they care about each other.

They are all passionate about reaching people for Jesus.  Baptizing people is really about helping them die to themselves and experiencing new life.

I know they worship differently.  And I know they have different opinions about lots of issues.  I don't even know if these churches get along.  Not sure they would recommend each other.

But I know them.  And I know what matters to them.  So I gladly refer people to them.

So I can't help but wonder... do they know how much they have in common?  Way more than ways they are different.  So quit being mad at people who do things differently than your church does.  And quit being condescending to those who don't do it like you do.

So I hope all those churches are going to grow.

And one of them will get my friends to take care of.  And they will help them grow.  And Satan will be mad.  God will be glad. And the Kingdom will march on.

Together.

  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

 

Kent Brantly's healing shocked the world... but not us



Kent Brantly is healed.

It is amazing, wonderful, awesome, and a source of incredible happiness.

It is not surprising, shocking, or unexpected.

Kent Brantly is healed.  He was released from the hospital today.  His story has been all over the news.  His life threatened by Ebola, Kent has survived.  Many news outlets, commentaries, blogs, and social media have made much of this amazing story.  As a fellow Christian, I have been thrilled to see Kent and Amber living out their faith and giving God the glory, praise, and honor for his healing.

And it is amazing.  It looked for a long time as if he was going to die.  And now he is out of the hospital.  I join with people all over this world who are speaking of this "wonderful miracle".

But I am not surprised.  None of us Christians are.  It is what we expected.  That is what we prayed for.  We prayed for healing because we believed that was what God would do.  And he did.  Nothing surprising for us there.

Amber grew up in the church we attend.  We prayed constantly, earnestly, without ceasing.  We prayed as a community of faith publicly, and we each prayed constantly as individuals.  But so did thousands of other churches.  And millions of individuals.  And God answered our prayer.  Just like we expected.

And right about now is where some are thinking... BUT WHAT IF HE HAD DIED? What if God answered our prayers in a different way.  So let me tell you what we believe... and what Kent believes.

In the book of Daniel, some men of God were threatened with a fiery death if they did not worship the false gods of Nebuchadnezzar.  The stated that they believed their God was able to save them, but if he did not they still would worship only their God and not false Gods.

 Us too.  So the prayers offered for Kent were an act of faith in the one we believe always knows what is best.  Always.  We are praising God for healing Kent.  And if Kent had died, we would be praising God that someday we would be together again and that death does not have the final victory over a Christian.  Grieving, but weeping as believers with hope.

So we pray that God's will be done.  We know we are not God.  We know he knows things, sees things, plans things we do not even understand.  We operate totally under his will.

We know we have already passed from life to death.  We believe we were crucified with Christ when we were baptized into his death and buried with him in that baptism.  And then raised to a new life.  Real life that never ends.  We really believe this world is not our home.

This story is amazing.  But it is not about Kent and Amber.  They believe this was God. And that is what their families believe, and what their church believes.  After all, they believed it was God who brought them together and gave them a family for his glory.  And they believed it was God who called them to serve him in a hard an dangerous place for his glory.  And just like they believe this part of their lives is for God and his glory.

Just like my life.  And my family.  And my church.  And all of us Christians.  It is never about us.  Always about God and his son.

So for those that wonder how we could not be surprised... here is how my prayers went.

God, we love Kent and want him healed.  We do not know if medicine and Doctors can heal him.  But we know you can.  So we ask you to do that.  If in your will you do not answer the way we think best, we will still love you and praise you.  We will still believe.  But we ask you to heal him, and when you do we will give you all the praise and glory.  And we believe you will heal him.

AND NOW:  You did it God.  Just like we thought you would. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Use Kent and Amber as witnesses to your power.  May your son be seen and glorified, and this world come to know him.  Use all of our stories to witness to your salvation.  You are our God forever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

 

Here's to the real church heroes...

The term hero is thrown around pretty loosely these days... even in church circles.  But I know some real spiritual heroes.  People who live radical lives.  People who follow God at great cost.  People who lay their lives down every day.  Most of them are not well known and we rarely celebrate them.  But I am making a conscious effort to encourage, salute, support, and love the church heroes I know.  Here are some places I found heroes.  If you look around, you may find some too.  You may even be one.

In hospital rooms.  Christian parents begging God to heal their children while promising to be faithful no matter what comes next.  Sick, sick children talking about death, angels, and heaven.  Wives holding their husband's hand as he slips into forever life.  Christians dying with dignity, courage, and faith.

At funerals.  Families in the midst of incredible pain singing praises, smiling with promise, grieving with hope, bearing witness that there is a better life to come.  And committing that they will live on in this life as witnesses to the Kingdom of God.

In old houses, care centers, and nursing homes where couples live out their lives in pain, sickness, and faith.  Where I see holy marriages of 50, 60, and even 70 years.  Heroic people of faith.

On living room couches where shattered marriages work for healing.  Where betrayed spouses reach out hands of forgiveness.  Where struggling mates face their sin and addictions and begin the heroic task of healing their marriage, living holy, and doing real repentance.

In homes where children are raised by intentional adopting of orphans.  In families where children take care of older parents, and where God is glorified.

In homes where singleness is lived out in faith.  Where the divorced Christian commits to a life of peace and hope in spite of the hurt, bitterness, grief of a marriage that died against their will.  Single parents struggling to get the kids up and to school, into Bible class, and keep food on the table while trying desperately to fulfill two roles.  Heroes honoring God thru a life they never expected to live.

In Bible classes where the teacher greets her 30th class of First Graders as if they were the most wonderful group of children ever seen in that church.  And next year will greet 31.

In smiles.  Not smiles of joy seeing close friends and family, but the smile given in love and forgiveness to the person who gossiped about them, lied about them, said cruel things, or turned their back on them.  Heroic.

Well, I could go on and on but you get the idea.

They are amazing heroes of faith all around us.

Celebrate them, speak a word of love and encouragement.  Take a moment to send a card, invite them for a meal, make a visit, say a prayer, babysit, or buy a cup of coffee.

Hang out with them, learn from them.

And remember... chances are really good that you are someone's hero.

Thanks God for the radical heroes of faith all around me.  They live by your grace.  Bless them.







Tuesday, August 12, 2014

 

Austin Ridgell is 4

He is our youngest grand.  He turned 4 last Saturday and here is why I love him and am proud of him.

He has no idea that he is younger than the other 4.  He believes he should -- and can -- do anything the others do.  That makes him fearless, independent, and intense.  So playgrounds, parking lots, and vacations can be a little ... well, interesting.  But it also means he learned his Bible verse at Cousin Camp, he said his prayers, and he slept in his tent all by himself.

Very competitive.  That will be a great blessing or a horrible curse.  It also means he does not back down. I like to think that will stand him in good stead as a believer living in a fallen world.  Strong-willed.  So when he believes something, he will be hard to change.

He loves life.  Running, playing, movies, donuts, horseback riding, fishing, church.  He enjoys it all.

Loves dogs.  Can't wait to pet our Golden Retriever, Lucky.  Asks to go to Pops and Lucky's house.

He has a smile that will melt your heart.  Very hard to stay mad at him.  I suspect he is going to break a few hearts before he is done.

But never on purpose.  He cares about people.  Loves his family and friends.

So Little Man:  Pops loves you very much.  Keep loving life.  Always love your family.  Most of all, keep loving God.

You make me happy and proud.

Thanks God for the joy Austin brings to our family.







Thursday, August 07, 2014

 

I love Anna Claire Ridgell... and she is 9

Anna Claire Ridgell is our first grandchild and she turned 9 last Sunday.  Here are just a few of the reasons why I love her so much.

She is generous with what she has.  She gives money away, she wants to help people that don't have much, and she is learning that giving to others means having less for you.  And she still wants to do it.

She loves her little brothers.  I know they drive her nuts sometimes, but she loves them.  She is protective of them and she helps them learn.

She already loves reading, writing, and stories.  Makes me happy.

She is really smart.  I am not sure she knows how smart she is.  I like that.

She is a good athlete.  It will be hard for her to narrow down her sports some day.  But being a good athlete is not why I love her.  Not even why I am proud of her.  It is because she tries hard, she listens to her coaches, she is a good sport, and she plays with intensity.  And when it is over, she is friends with the other team.

She is a natural runner.  I just like that.  Love watching her run.

She loves God and is quickly learning what that means in how to live each day.  Her heart gets it and I love watching her process how to live up to her heart.

It is easy for me to forget she is only 9.  And that makes me proud.

So Anna... I love you.  I am proud of the smarts and the sports.  But it makes me happy to see your faith growing.  Keep loving God, Jesus, your family, and the people in this world that need Jesus.

God is going to do amazing things thru you.  I can't wait to see it.

I am blessed to be your Pops.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

 

Why I love my church...

I love Southern Hills church of Christ.  We had Vacation Bible School last week -- Joshua:  Bringing Down the House.  I have spent some time over the past couple of days thanking God for the things I saw that make me love this church.  And that remind me as an elder that things are going really well.

We had as many adults as kids at VBS.  As best I can tell, we had about 400 kids, 300 adults or so in class, and close to 200 adults involved in putting it on.

The VBS leadership was fantastic.  Full-time staff members going above and beyond to pull this off.  Volunteer leaders who put in hours and hours for months and months to make this happen.  And work has already started on next year's:  Daniel, the Mane Man.  So thankful for the leadership team that met, prayed, worked, and gave God the glory.  Volunteers who get it.

The musical was fantastic.  God was honored and the gospel message taught.  So many people using gifts and talents to pull this off.  Lead performers, cast members, crew members.  And everyone I talked to -- everyone -- gave glory to God.

Love those who taught, did crafts, led our kids around.  It is challenging, exhausting, and time consuming.  But that is where the real growth happens.  In those classes.  Sharing Bible stories.  So many praying daily for the kids.

Love the support and Admin people.  Those who fed the VBS staff, those who registered kids, those who made it a safe place to be.  Smiling faces, first impressions, putting our best foot forward.  All in the name of Jesus.

Loved the age span of the workers.  High school thru workers in their 80's.  Doing ministry together.

Loved seeing new Christians involved.  Living out their faith.  Sharing Jesus.

Loved how many families were all involved in one way or another.  Parents, kids, even grandparents.  Teaching, performing, serving, attending.

Love our elders.  Some taught.  Some were in the musical.  Some worked in the support groups.  Some just came to greet and love on people.  Glad our elders didn't even blink when told the musical and lessons were going to be about Rahab.

Loved seeing the pure joy of Jesus every night.

Loved that this joy and excitement was coupled with prayer and pain for members coping with horrible health concerns.  That's life in Christ.

Thrilled at the Facebook phenomenon going around now.  Our members sending messages thanking each other for what the did.  Community.  Doing life together.    

So happy that everyone was praying, inviting, and talking with the purpose of using this to bring people to Jesus.

And mostly happy that this is not something new for Southern Hills.  This was a glimpse of our real heart.  For as long as I have known this church, this is who we have been.  Praising God, loving kids, teaching Bible, not caring what anyone else thinks, doing ministry together, praying, reaching the lost.  And giving God the credit for all of it.

And I am not going to mention one name in this post.  Because not a one of these people care about credit or glory.  Love them.

So...

Go God.





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

 

Kent Brantly, Jesus, Ebola, and Being a Hero

I guess by now everyone has heard about Dr. Kent Brantly.  He is over in Africa battling for his life.  He has Ebola.  Got it because he was working to treat people who are suffering from this horrible disease.  His wife and kids returned to the States just shortly before he was diagnosed and so appear at this time to be out of danger.  But Kent is not.  There are literally thousands upon thousands praying for his healing.

In the interest of full disclosure... I know Kent and Amber.  Her folks go to Southern Hills where I am an elder.  We've prayed for them before.  For their marriage, for their babies, and for their ministry.

And I hear lots of people saying things not exactly true.

One is that it was not a good idea to go to Africa in the first place.

The other is that Kent is some kind of hero because he got Ebola in Africa.

Both of these miss the point.  The Brantly family is a Christian family.

So going to Africa was not a wise -- or unwise -- decision.  It was a natural outgrowth of their desire to follow the call of Jesus.  Like Jesus, they care about people.  They had medical gifts as a Doctor and Nurse.  They prayed about how God would use them for Kingdom business in this world.  They got spiritual advice and guidance.

And they followed the call of God.  And following Jesus is not about the wisdom of the world.  Never has been.  It is about faithfulness.

And Kent is not a hero because he has Ebola.  Not even because he was exposed doing a courageous ministry.

He was a hero long before he got sick.

He is still a role model and hero.  So is his wife.  They are heroes because they choose to live radical lives of obedience in a war zone.  No, not Africa.  In this world.  They choose to follow Jesus.  The Jesus who saved them and then commissioned them to do battle with the forces of evil in this world.  So other people will have the chance to know what they know.  Hope. Purpose.  Peace.  In a broken world.

Hero?  Yes.  They are heroes because they died with Jesus a long time ago and were raised to a new life.  And they are courageously following that life where God calls them.

Just like many of you are doing.

So I pray for Kent lots.  I am asking God to heal him.  But Kent will be OK no matter what.  That was decided the day he made the only decision that really matters.

So he is a hero worth holding up to our church family.  And especially to our kids.

Because we want to raise more Kent and Ambers.  People that follow Jesus wherever the road leads.

So God, please heal Kent. Thank you for parents that raised kids with radical faith.  Let their story help others see your Son.  And may you be glorified in the life of the Brantly family.  Like you have been.  Like you will be.

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