Thursday, August 20, 2015


Jack, Bill, and Me: An elder legacy

Jack Qualls, Bill Merkel, and me.

This picture was taken on the Sunday we kicked off our 50 year anniversary celebration at Southern Hills.  I love these two men.  Jack was an elder at Southern Hills when I first came there, when Marsha and I got married, and when I was the Youth Minister/Song leader.  Bill was the Deacon over the Youth Group.  We ate a lot of meals with these two families.  We looked up to them.  We wanted to be like them.

But here is the most special thing about this picture.

Jack and Jenny Qualls not only were a great elder couple, but they mentored and influenced Bill and Hymonda Merkel.  Jack encouraged Bill to be an elder.  Jenny told Hymonda what an outstanding elder's wife she would be.

It was because of their example that the Merkels were such a great elder couple for so long.

And it was Bill who encouraged me to be an elder.  Hymonda told Marsha what a great elder wife she would be.

It was because of their example that Marsha and I have been serving Southern Hills as and elder couple for so long now.

Jack to Bill to me.

I learned so much about how to shepherd from these men.  It is a legacy of shepherding that has made an incredible impact on Southern Hills for 50 years.

Jack and Bill are two of my spiritual heroes.  I cannot imagine where I would be without their love, encouragement, and discipline in my life.

Sometimes you just need to take a moment and say thanks.

So thanks God for men like these who went before me.  Thanks for their example and encouragement.  Thanks for their lives.  

And yes, I realize we should have gotten a picture of Marsha, Hymonda, and Jenny.  Prettier and more spiritual too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Is Vacation Bible School Still Worth It?

Our Vacation Bible School at Southern Hills finished up a few weeks ago and I wanted to wait a while before I talked about it.  By almost any measure it was an unqualified success.  Large crowds, lots of visitors, incredible excitement, and widespread participation.  But it took an amazing amount of time, energy, and financing.  Our full-time staff put in lots of work.  Our volunteers were amazing.
But it is still worth asking the question:  was it worth it?  This is just my opinion... but absolutely.  I do not know what our staff will say, or the rest of the elders, or our Children's Ministry team... but I think it was.  And I say that as more than just a casual observer.  We were part of the hundreds of volunteers who put it on.  So was my daughter.  Her kids were there.

So I have been thinking about why VBS still works for us and why I think it is worth the investment of time, energy, and money.

Here are three things we do that I think are worth every church considering.  Three things that I think are major reasons why VBS works for us.

We ask, and expect, most of our members to be involved.  We have teachers, we have performers for the musical (our version of the traditional VBS skits), and we have support staff (registration, security, set-up, clean-up, meals for the workers.  You can work, you can bring cookies or chips, or you can write a check.  But you are expected to do something.  Our staff and elders and wives are heavily involved.  Our members whose kids are long grown get involved.  Our young families are involved.  Our teenagers are involved.  For many, this is their first exposure to teaching Bible.

It is a Family Vacation Bible School.  No dropping off of kids for free babysitting.  We require someone to be with every child attending VBS.  So if you bring your neighbor's kids, you have to have a signed release and stay at the building.  If you visit from another church because you want your child to experience VBS, you have to come also.  We invite friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates.  But we invite the whole family.  And they have to stay.  So do all our parents.

Part of this is because that reflects our conviction that families matter.  Part of it is so we can introduce adults to Jesus and our community of faith.

So what do the adults do during VBS?  They go to class just like the kids.  We have an adult class.  Covers the same material as the kids are studying.  Sometimes we use our ministry staff to teach it, sometimes we use our members, and sometimes we bring in guest teachers.

As part of the family emphasis, we are very security conscious.  Background checks, security patrols, bathroom monitors, adult registration.  If you are in our building you better have on the official tee shirt, a costume, or a bracelet indicating you too have registered.  Let's our community know we are a safe place.

Everyone at church is expected to attend.  We expect them to be involved, but we also expect them to be there.  Invite people, help put it on in some way, and show up.  Meet visitors, add to the excitement.  This is because we believe VBS is an intentional ministry, for our own as well as a way to reach outsiders.

And yes, we sing our VBS songs during Sunday assembly.  We show videos of VBS.  We salute our volunteer workers.  We make it a big deal.  Elders and staff make it a big deal.

And we follow up with our visitors.  Thank you packets with information about Southern Hills.  Offers to talk about Jesus.  Invitations to other church community events.

It wasn't always this way.  A few years ago I thought we would drop VBS.  Many of our leaders did not attend, the same small number of workers got burned out, and for some we were a three or four night free baby sitting service.

So we changed expectations, added adult class, and asked everyone to come.

We have attracted families, converted some, and held up Jesus.

So yeah, I am still a big fan of VBS.
Maybe some of these ideas will help your VBS too.

To the glory of God.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


And now our youngest grand, Austin Ridgell, turned 5

Just a few days ago Anna Claire Ridgell, our oldest grandchild, turned 10.  Then Sunday Austin Ridgell, our youngest turned five.

So here are a few of the reasons I love Austin.

Killer smile.  He just radiates joy.  The only problem is he knows how to use that smile to try and get away with things.

Five grandkids at cousin camp.  Four try to get our little rescue dog in their tent.  Not Austin.  He went for Lucky, our Golden Retriever.  Think big Austin.

Wants to do everything his older brother and sister do.  Love that kind of fearlessness.

But he does not do what he does not want to do.  Doesn't care if everyone else does something or not.  Love that he makes up his own mind.  Love he is not swayed by what others think or do.

Great hugger.  He gives amazing, all-in, hugs.  Because he has a great big heart.

He is 100% all boy.  Loves playing ball, fishing, catching frogs, going on hikes, dogs, and playing in the dirt.

He is all action and energy.

He loves God.

Curious, energetic, fun, independent, intense, happy, secure in who he is.

So thanks God for the gift of joy in Austin.  Give us all the energy to keep up with him and use his energy and passion in mighty ways for your Kingdom.

I love you Austin.


Thursday, August 06, 2015


Anna Claire is 10

OK, this is a big one for Marsha and I.  Our granddaughter, Anna Claire Ridgell, has turned 10.  So to remind her how special she is and how much she is loved... here is my tribute to Anna.

She and Mimi have a special bond.  It is not unusual for her to run right by me to hug her Mimi.

But she loves me too.  She will always come back and hug her Pops too.

She loves her family.  Her Mom and Dad, her brothers, her Aunts and Uncles, and her cousins.  She values family and it shows.

She is a really good athlete.  She is a good basketball and softball player.  And I think she is a natural runner.  It makes going to see her play so much more fun.  We would watch if she was not very good, but it is more fun.

I love to watch her praise God in worship.  She really loves to sing.  Makes my heart happy.

She is smart.  Likes to read.  Is already a talented writer.

She never seems worried about what comes next.  Not in school, or when in a strange place, or somewhere not familiar.  She may worry but it doesn't show.  She is secure in who she is.

She loves studying the Bible.  Memorizes Scripture.  Talks about God.

She has lots of friends.

She is a good role model for our other 4 grands.  

But here is why I am most proud of Anna.  And why I am so glad she is mine.

She really loves God and Jesus.  I love to hear her pray.  That singing comes from her heart.  She memorizes those Scriptures because it matters to her what God says.  She is not afraid to talk about God.  She wants to help others.

So God... thanks for Anna Claire.  I am thankful that her Mom and Dad are raising her to love You, but I am also thankful that she wants to love You.  Do amazing Kingdom things with her.  I look forward to seeing them.  

So go Anna.  Keep it up and you have made me so happy and proud to be your Pops.

P. S.  It's still OK if you hug Mimi first.  :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Why I love Cousin Camp

Well, it is over and we survived.  We had our 5 grands last week for cousin camp:  Anna, Jake, Avery, Andrew, and Austin.  Almost 5 to almost 10.  2 going into 4th grade, 1 into 3rd, 1 into 2nd, and one into last year of Pre-K.

Here are just a few reasons I love it and why all grandparents should do it.

It is an absolute labor of love for Marsha.  She is amazing at what she does, organizes, and prepares.

The cousins really get close and bond.  I think that will pay off in the future.  Family matters.

Interesting to hear that Andrew evidently fell out of his tent one night, Jake just picked him up and put him back in.  We never knew.

Dogs loved getting in and going from tent to tent for treats and petting.

Anna and Avery are getting way to grown up.

Watching the five of them ride horses makes me realize they are going to be better at a lot of things than I ever was.

Fun to hear the others tell lifeguards that yes Austin can jump off the diving board and swim.  And he did.

Watching them spend tickets at the Pizza places is brutal.  Hearing them bargain with the workers is hysterical.

Glad to hear both sets of kids had date nights during the Camp.  Hope Mimi and Pops get one next.

Devos are the best.  Hearing them all recite their memory verse. Having us all pray in a circle and realizing that every one of them is used to praying.

Love hearing them talk about what they saw the others doing that showed Jesus.

Had to wipe away tears when I looked over at church and saw them singing their hearts out.

Only two notes for next year:  remember that the boys (and the girls) are in better shape and are better athletes than Pops is.

And never schedule Cousin's Camp to end on the same day VBS starts.  We are too old for that.

So thanks God for a great week of watching my grands growing in their love for you.  So happy their parents have given them each over to You.  My heart is full.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Avery Grace is 8...

My granddaughter, Avery Grace Gilbreth, turned 8 last Saturday.  Here are some reasons I love her and am really proud of her.

She has the sweetest spirit of anyone I know.  She does not get mad, she puts others first, she forgives quickly, and she is nice to everyone.

She loves her family.  Loves her bubba, her parents, cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles.

She is fiercely determined when she sets her mind to something.  Right now, it is gymnastics.  I don't pretend to know if she is any good or not, but I do know she works hard at it.  And whatever team she is on, I do know she is younger than anyone else.

She has lots and lots of friends.  They are all sparky, cute, and love Jesus.  I hope they stay connected right thru school.

Avery loves dogs.  Loves her Lincoln but also likes to hang out with Lulu and Lucky at our house.

She has a special connection to her Mommy, her Mimi, and her Granny.  I call them 1,2, 3, and 4.  It is sweet, holy, and special.

She makes good grades.  Really good grades.  But she also wins Citizenship awards.

She has a tender heart.  Wants to rescue every stray animal and kid she sees.

But most of all, she loves God and Jesus.

Avery you really make Pops proud and happy.  I love you and cannot wait to see what God will do with you and through you in the future.

So thanks God for Avery.  Thanks for the joy and love she brings into our lives.  Protect her from evil and harm.  Use her to change this world for your Son.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


For my brothers and sisters battling same sex attraction...

There has been quite a lot of discussion/argument/debate in churches recently about same sex attraction and marriage.  In the effort to not offend anyone, or to be true to Scripture, or to explain how Christians should -- or should not -- react... I am concerned about a segment of our church that is having a difficult time right now.

I am hurting for my same sex attraction brothers and sisters who have chosen to remain celibate. It is always difficult to battle your demons.  Ask anyone battling sexual addiction of any kind.  Or ask the Christian alcoholic.  Or the brother who is fighting to have a healthy body that honors God..  Or the sister who is committed to not gossip any longer.  It is hard to live the way God asks.

It is a battle to stay sexually sober.  It is frustrating to realize that you may never experience marriage the way most of your church family does.  Not just because you have not found "the one", but because you can't find the one.  And you would give anything to have things be different.  But they aren't.  At least not now.

And now it seems that our culture is celebrating the legalization of what you have made the spiritual commitment to forego.  It must be hard to see these couples celebrating what you will not do.  There are those dangerous thoughts that whisper how that could be you.  Just like for any of us that see culture celebrating and engaging in what we battle.  It is hard to be faithful in a unfaithful world.

And then the church is making it clear how wrong homosexuality is.  You get it.  You know it.  That is why you have chosen celibacy.  And Satan whispers how unfair it is.  No other sin is being publicly condemned like this one is now.  It would be easy to feel picked on.  It would be easy to just give up and give in.

In what is a hard fight, you have to watch the world celebrate what you refuse to surrender to.  And you have to hear the church reminding you how wrong your temptation is.

So to my brothers and sisters faithfully and courageously choosing celibacy and committing to walk the hard road to follow the call of Jesus... you are loved and appreciated.  Your courage will inspire us in our struggles.  We are praying for you.  We are walking with you.  Do not be ashamed.  Be proud that you have chosen to be a faith fighter.

So God, bless those in my church family who battle same sex attraction and choose not to act out.  They are under a lot of pressure right now so protect them from the evil one.  Help us surround them in love.  For your Son's sake.

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