Thursday, September 11, 2014


And today is my birthday...

No I am not going to talk about why I love me am proud of me.  But I thought I would share a few reflections.

I am 63.  It sounds old when I see it or when I hear it spoken.  But I don't feel any different.  I just don't think much about growing old.  I just figure God is in charge and till he takes me home he has a job for me to do here.

I thought about what I did this last week when I was 62 and what my first week of 63 looks like.

A couple of sessions with people wanting to know about Jesus:  one teenager, one grandmother.  Spent time talking to a couple of brothers in my flock who are battling their demons.  Fighting the fight.  Looking for help and strength.  Seeing someone who made it.  Did the same thing with another brother from a different city.  Preached last night at my home church.  Spent last weekend in New York equipping and motivating people to talk about Jesus.  Will do the same this weekend in Tennessee.

Took Marsha's Dad to the Dr.  Visited with her Mom.  Talked to my Mom.  Heard from all the kids and grands wishing me happy birthday.  Jogged this morning at 5:30.  Marsha and I will get to hang out together this weekend and for a couple of days after.

Wrote.  Did lesson and sermon prep.  Worked on material for Summit at ACU.

Played with the dogs.  Think I'll get to squeeze in a dove hunt next week.  Gonna work at the farm.

And you know what?  I am a blessed man.  Doing what I love with people I love.

Been a hard road sometimes.  But the end destination is wonderful.

Not sure I'd change much about my life.  God can if he wants.  But for today, I am happy and blessed.

Happy birthday to me.

Thanks God.  

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


Have to do, should do, and can do are not the same thing

It is always going to be hard to have unity among God's people when we cannot tell the difference between:  I have to do something, I should do something, or I can do something.

I absolutely believe there are things that Christians have to do.  And I absolutely believe there are things that Christians can not do.  Ever.  But I have to tell you that my list is fairly short on those things.  The only things that make the list are those things that I have no trouble pointing out in Scripture and that God is crystal clear about.

I will not compromise on them.  When you ask how I can believe such a thing, I do not even have to explain it.  I just open the Bible and point. Several times in most cases.

I do realize that there are things in Scripture that are clear and definite to me but others hold a different view.  That is between them and God.  As are my convictions. These are things so clear to me that I will not compromise.  Things that I have no problem saying, "Don't argue with me.  Argue with the text."

These are the GOD SAID passages.  When someone begins to tell me that what God said is not what God means then we are not going to come to agreement.

Just as when someone begins to tell me they are sure what God means even though he did not say it.

Then there are lots of things that I think Scripture indicates we should do.  I can show principles, examples, and concepts that would lead to my belief.  But these are not "God said" issues.  I want to leave room for discussion and study,  We may not agree on all of these points.  These are things that may be important and even clear to me.  But others may take the same principles and examples and come to a different conclusion.  

We must allow room for disagreement.  We can agree to disagree on some things and still support, encourage, fellowship, and pray for each other.

Then there are those things that just are not that clear.  Things that different congregations choose to do differently.  Things that are matters of opinion -- maybe strong opinion, but still opinion.  We must never divide the family of God over these.  And we will divide if we confuse our opinions with things we should do.  And opinions must never be in the must do category.

Of course, the problem comes when someone thinks my essentials belong in the maybe category.  Or when they try to put their "should do" onto my "must do" list.

So how do we decide?  Obviously I am not smart enough to solve something that has divided the church for centuries.  But I think a couple of things might help.  And I believe we have to keep trying.

When we say "God says," we better be able to quote God.

Understand the difference between commands, examples, and principles.

Prioritize.  Not everything is of equal value.  What to do about salvation is different from what to do about worship.

But... don't compromise.  I am willing to sever fellowship over the things I am convinced God said.  But that is a frightening thing.  So I better be sure.  I do believe I answer to God above all.  But I also have an obligation to my brothers and sisters to live in unity.

We will have to answer to God someday.

God.  He is the one in charge.  And none of us are him.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014


But they are really "good people" is a really bad argument...

It is one of those things you hear when someone is complaining about something at church.  Something is being started, or stopped, that they do not like.  Or something is not being started, or stopped, that they do like.  Most of the time these people are not even present.  But someone brings up their name and their concern.  And in the middle of the discussion, someone will say, "... but don't forget that they are really good people."  I have never understood why that is relevant to the discussion.

Here is the only reason I think that the "good people" statement should ever be used:  to remind all of us that faithful, active people can have different -- and very strong -- opinions about issues.  

And here are the reasons I cringe when this statement is made in the midst of making decisions...

How good (or active, or "faithful") someone is should not have any bearing on our church decisions.  I know lots of good people with horrible theology.  And I know lots of bad people with sound theology.  They just don't practice it.

As soon as someone says "but don't forget that these are good people," it is hard not to assume that anyone holding a different view may not be a good person.  After all, who opposes a good person?

Which of course leads to an assertion that there are good people on the other side of the discussion.  So what now?  Are we supposed to use some cosmic scale of goodness to determine what decision to make?  Do we go by the number of "good" people on each side?  Or do we give extra value to the really good?

Asserting that someone is a good person can quickly lead to a "that's not really true" moment if not careful.  Then the whole discussion is in danger of doing way more harm to the church than any perceived benefit.

And finally, if you really want to talk about good people, start by talking about the good God.  That will end the discussion pretty quickly.  Just ask the rich young ruler.

So maybe decisions on difficult matters should be handled without discussions of individual supporters or opponents of the question under consideration.

Easier said than done, I know.  But let's refrain from trying to sway the discussion by advocating the goodness of people on one side or the other.

After all, God is the only good one in the room.

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.


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.



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.

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