Tuesday, April 19, 2016


I finally figured out how to form faith in our kids...

I have been thinking a lot about how to shape faith among our young.  I am interested because I am an elder and we have a lot -- a lot -- of people under 18 in our church family.  I am interested because I have five grand-kids whose faith is being shaped right now.

It is no secret that I am proud of my two kids.  They are not perfect but they are faithful.  They love God.  So I started thinking about what it might have been that shaped their faith.

I want to be clear how much I appreciate Bible classes and youth programs.  I appreciate Youth Ministers and the programs they implement.  I am a big fan of good preaching and singing praises to God.  But I don't think it was programs and ministers that formed my kid's faith.

And we tried as parents to shape faith.  We prayed over Julie and Joe Don.  We tried to model grace, forgiveness, repentance, faithfulness, service, and sharing our faith.  I do think parents have more to do with shaping faith than anyone -- or anything -- else.  But parents need help.

So here is what I appreciate about how my kid's faith was shaped.

When they were little, I was a Youth Minister for a bunch of teens who loved our kids.  So did a lot of the parents.  And we did life with other couples trying to raise faithful kids.  Some that our kids don't even remember.  

Then I preached for a while at a small church in East Texas.  That church adopted our kids -- and us.  Half the time a teenager had our kids.  The rest of the time they were sitting with extended family.  Church was a fun and happy place for them.

I did campus ministry for a while.  Did life with the other families helping in that ministry.  And our kids knew a lot of committed Christian students.  Athletes who loved Jesus more than sports.  Kids hanging out with them.  Taking them to movies or to get snow cones.

And my kids spent lots of time with grandparents who loved Jesus.  Family church.  Prayer circles.  Lots of love.  Eating with them, showing up at ballgames, going to church.  We still have a four generation row at church even now.

Our kids saw a lot of real life.  Been going to funerals all their lives.  Seen who knows how many baptisms.  Devos at our house.  Heard lots of prayers.  Heard lots of Bible studies.  Lots of laughter and lots of tears.

So here is what I think I have figured out about forming faith in your kids.

Don't worry about the programs at church.  Quit searching for the perfect Bible school and youth program.

Instead, be sure your kids get lots of life sharing.  Be part of real community.  Have people you do life with for Jesus.

Be sure your kids have faithful grandparents -- their own or adopt some.

Get good role models in their life.  Older kids.  Teenagers and college age.  Help them find "their" elder.  Smart kids who love Jesus.  Musicians who love Jesus.  Athletes who love Jesus.  Cool kids who love Jesus.  Other parents who love Jesus.

So open your home for meals.  Or devotionals.  Have some people over.  Ask God to put people in their lives.

So here is my heartfelt thanks to all those families we have done life with,and all those teens and college kids who loved our kids.  And now our grands.  Thanks to faithful grandparents (and even great-grandparents) and extended family.

Be intentional about raising your kids in a generational faith community.

They will get it.

So thanks God for all your people who did life with us when we were raising Julie and Joe Don.  For those who know how important they were in shaping our kid's faith, and for those who had no idea.  Keep putting people in the lives of our five grands.  And help us all do that for the kids we do life with.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


My wife is having a birthday...

Marsha turns 63 tomorrow, April 6.  Here is why I love her and am proud of her.

She doesn't care if you know her age.  She is comfortable with who she is.  I guess it helps when you do not look -- or act -- your age.  But I love that does not have an age hang-up.

She is fanatical about following Jesus.  We are talking to a college girl tonight about following Jesus.  Marsha set it up.  Working with a couple tomorrow night.  Marsha stayed connected to the girl through thick and thin until they were ready to talk about Jesus.  She touches people for Jesus.  Teaches Bible class.  Hosts showers.  Prays.  And she is one of the really good people I know.  She would say that is because of Jesus.  She is right.

Great wife.  I cannot imagine where I would be without her.  She has been the calm in our storm for over 40 years.  She keeps me grounded and focused.  She reminds me what matters.  And she still laughs at my jokes.

Great Mom.  For Julie and Bobby.  For Joe Don and Jamie.  Prays for our kids.  Loves our kids.  Helps our kids.  Their biggest fan.  Speaks truth into their lives.

Awesome Mimi.  Cousin Camp every year is one of the all time great productions.  Family vacation is all her planning and execution.  She finds time for each one of our 5 grands.  She is fantastic about Christmas, b'days, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentines, and every other special day imaginable.  Supports their school activities and sports.  Prays all the time for them.

Loving daughter.  She is amazing with her parents.  Patient, helpful, supportive, and does for them so much they cannot do for themselves.  She is a true daughter to my Mom.  Calls, helps out, gives advice.

Amazing friend.  She has adopted daughters everywhere.  She is always available to talk to, cry with, laugh with, and give Godly advice for more women than I can count.

So happy birthday Mimi.  We hit the jackpot with you.

God, we are so blessed by Mimi.  Thank you for the gift of her love.  And we know that her love is just a reflection of your love.  Give her many more years to be about your business.   

Thursday, March 31, 2016


We better start listening to our old Christians

I have spent most of my life talking about Jesus and life with young people.  Mostly college students, but also high school and young adults.  I really have not spent much time with old Christians, but I am becoming more and more convinced we better start listening to our older saints if we want to have healthy, growing churches.

And yes I called them old.  Not senior saints, not 39ers, not even older.  Old.

And here is why we better listen.

I am rapidly becoming one.  Well, OK that may not be a good reason.  But I do actually think about what I have to offer the Kingdom and how that may change if God grants me another 20 or 30 years on this earth.  And much of what I am learning I am getting from old Christians.  And it is strong spiritual advice.

The Bible says to listen those who are older.  Read I John.  Or I Timothy.  Older men teach younger men.  Older women teach younger women.  Older widows on the ministry staff.  Elders teach the church.

Older Christians really care about the future of the church.  Not worship styles and making sure nothing changes.  I mean they really care about the generations behind them staying faithful to Jesus.  They want to see lost people saved.  Maybe it is more urgent because they have less time but they really care.

They understand priorities.  Most old Christians really are not afraid to die.  But being able to see death helps them focus on what really matters.  They get it.

Those of us who are younger need to see living examples of those that made it.  We need their stories of addictions defeated, marriages healed, and how God worked.  Those sweet, cute little old couples holding hands have weathered the storm.  And they made it.  They are living witnesses to God's goodness.

We need to hear how they made it.  What did they do to stay faithful to God?  What are the dangers maybe we do not see?  What would they do more of?  Less of?  What would they change?  What would they not change?

Their faith stories are inspirational.  There are great testimonies among our old.  We need them.

I know some old Christians get stuck in the past.  And some seem afraid to change anything.  Some of them act like a bunch of young, immature Christians wanting everything their way.

But not all of them.  Not even most of them.

We stand on their shoulders and we need to know how we got there.

They have seen it all and lived it all.  And they love God.

So find an old Christian to learn from -- and old may be someone twenty years older than you, or fifty years older.  But find them.

And then listen.

We better.

So thanks God for your old saints.  You have told us to let them teach us and we don't listen very well.  Help us to do better.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


How do you stay married 71 years?

Marsha's folks, Don and Jean Herttenberger, just celebrated 71 years of marriage.  Amazing.  I love them and am proud of them.  Here is my tribute and what I have learned from them about staying married.

Start young and grow up together.  They ran off when they were 16 and 17.  Made it pretty funny when they thought Marsha and I were too young at 20 and 21.  But here is the key.  Grew up.  They stuck it out.  I know enough to know there were times they could have quit.  Hard times farming.  Health crisis.  Family troubles.  But they stuck it out.  Didn't believe there was any other option.  For either of them.  They really did commit for life.  Taught us that all you need to make a good marriage is three:  husband, wife, God.

Faith carried them.  Grandpa converted Granny.  They have spent their lives loving God.  Raised their kids to love God.  Served others.  A lot of people have been fed by them.  Physically and spiritually.  Gave generously even when they did not have much.

They have a church family.  Showed up at Southern Hills the 2nd Sunday it existed.  Been there ever since.  Taught Bible classes, had people over, served as a Deacon, asked several times to be an elder, visited, showed up.  Were part of small groups, life groups, study groups.  Church friends.

Modeled love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and faith.

They love family.  Herttenbergers are family people.  Uncles and aunts, cousins, grandkids, friends.  All showing up for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and Sunday lunches. I watched them take care of their parents.  Now we kids take care of them.  Generational love.  They love their grands and their great-grands.

Pretty cool to get to be a Herttenberger.  And pretty easy to be part of their family.  God, Jesus, faith, and love.  Pretty well covers it.

I love Don and Jean.  Great role models for us, our kids, and our grands.  I have been their son for a long time now.  Blessed.

And of course, they gave me Marsha.  Best gift I ever got.  Well, except for my folks telling me about Jesus.

So God, thanks for Granny and Grandpa.  We have all learned a lot about you by watching them.  They are getting old now and I suspect their time here is getting pretty short.  They have spent a long time loving you, loving each other, and loving us.  Bless the rest of their lives here.  They taught us how to live in you and now they are teaching us how to finish strong in you.  And they will die in you. Then live with you forever.  So thanks for putting them together 71 years ago.  We give you the glory. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Julie and Bobby had another anniversary

Our daughter Julie and her husband, Bobby Gilbreth, just had their 11th anniversary.  That is noteworthy for several reasons and I am proud of them.

Julie was healthy this year for the time in the last 5 or so anniversaries.  Makes all the difference.  Thanks God.

They are raising two great kids.  I know they are my grands, but still...

Jake and Avery are developing faith, they do good academically, win citizenship awards, and excel at their chosen sports.  Added bonus:  Jake is a Bobby Jr. in size and Avery is a Julie Jr.  Glad it turned out that way and not the other way around.

The roller coaster that is life has not thrown them off.  They come from a long line of couples who stay married.  And a long line of couples that chose to stay married.  My folks over 60 years when my Dad went home.  My in-laws over 70.  We are past 40.  Joe Don and Jamie are past 15 and Julie and Bobby now 11.  Through sickness and health.  Richer or poorer.  Good times and bad.  Every marriage has been there.  They have had their share of adversity -- and more.

Still having anniversaries.

So here's to a year of health, a year of God giving you your daily bread, and of good times.

Thanks God for being faithful for Julie and Bobby when Satan and the world kept attacking.  Thank you for healing.  and God I ask that you bless them this year. I ask you use them together to bring people to you.  Bless Jake and Avery.  Thanks for the Gilbreths.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Are Church Buildings Helping or Hurting Kingdom Growth?

It has become increasingly difficult for me to justify the money Christians spend on buildings.  I grew up in a time where churches had Bible class, worship, Sunday night services, and Wednesday night services.  Some churches even had two Sunday morning services.  But even then it seemed that a lot of money was spent for for somewhere to do so little activity.

And now most churches do not do Sunday night at the building.  Give it 10 more years and I doubt many do Wednesday night at the building.  Some would argue that our churches are much healthier spiritually away from the building.  So there may be a number of great reasons to have fewer activities at our buildings.  But at the same time, that just makes it harder to justify the incredible expense.

Thousands upon thousands (if not millions) spent for auditoriums used at most 2 or 3 hours per week.  Classrooms used maybe one hour per week.

I acknowledge that many churches try to be good stewards with their physical resources but it seems harder and harder to justify.  So I have been trying really hard to come up with some reasons why we should continue building buildings in the name of Jesus.

Warning:  It is possible that I can sometimes be a little sarcastic.  So this may be a little tongue-in-cheek.

Buildings help people find the church.  Makes it easier for them to come to us.  If we did not have buildings, we might have to go out among the lost and hurting of this world.  After all, build it and they will come.

Some people will only give -- or will only give generously -- to buildings.  There is something special about real, tangible evidence of what we have done.  It is harder to see what you are building when you are trying to build people.  Hard to put a name on a person.  But we can look with pride at the buildings we erect.

It is hard to make the worship assembly the focal point of our Christianity without a big building.  It is hard to explain how much your church is growing without a building program to point to.  It is really hard to "take roll" if you don't have everyone together at least once a week.

If you shift to a bunch of smaller assemblies, it will be very intimidating to have to make eye contact, visit with people, and actually get involved.  We might even all be expected to sing in smaller assemblies.

How can you justify paying for a premium staff of ministers without preaching, big worship, large programs, etc.?  If not careful, the members would actually have to do most of the ministry.  Do you really want a bunch of ordinary, uneducated people doing important ministry?  The next thing you know the only way to justify paying ministers would be for them to spend more time reaching lost people instead of taking care of us.

Who is going to teach the children if we do not have big, nice classrooms for our Bible school program.  Parents?  Smaller assemblies mean young people right in the middle of everyone.  Listening to old people, hearing those endless questions from little ones.  Auditoriums were made to keep everyone quiet.  Well, except for one guy up front actually working.

What would you do with the money you save?  You would have smaller budgets everywhere.  And if people do not have to meet budgets, what happens to your tax deduction?

How will the world know we have arrived if not for our buildings?  After all, we have an image to keep up.  Successful churches surely have to look successful.  People notice.

OK.  Maybe I am too hard.  And I know lots of people that have given sacrificially to building programs because their leadership asked.  And I know lots of churches striving to make good Kingdom use of their buildings.  I know ministers who are desperate to reach to lost.  And even some who do not think it is their mission to pacify or entertain the saved.  Some that do not believe everything revolves around one hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday morning in an auditorium.

But I just cannot help but wonder if we are chasing a flawed model.  So for now, I don't vote for building programs. I usually just abstain from those votes.  They might be right.  I might be wrong.  And we will not give sacrificially to building programs.

Yet... rather than just complain and point out things that trouble me, I must do what I think church is called to do.  After all, you would have to be pretty arrogant to tell everyone what they do is wrong if you are not doing something different.

We will have people in our home.  Conversation with a couple wanting to know about Jesus last night.  Group of elder couples and a troubled marriage tonight.  We will use our resources to serve people and reach people.  We will try to live in spiritual community outside the walls of our building.

I don't need a building for that.  Nor can a building stop me from doing that.

Because the real building is what God is doing with people.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


An answer for the times when there seem to be no answers

There are times in life when there are no answers.  One of those times is when parents bury their children.  Why my child?  Where was God?  How can I go on living?  Unbearable pain, unimaginable future, unanswerable questions. And let me be clear that I do not have the answers.  I am not smart enough or spiritual enough to know what to say.  
But God does.  I think as an elder, preacher, parent, and friend we are called on to speak God words into the lives of those who look to us for help.  And I do believe God has spoken into our lives through a story.  So when we do not have all the answers, let God speak.
 It is the story of when King David and Bathsheba lost their infant child.  David fasted and prayed.  Maybe pleading with God to heal the sick child.  Maybe begging God not to hold his sin of adultery against the child.  And the baby died.  So David got up, cleaned up, and ate.  He went on with life.  When asked how that was possible, he said that the baby was not coming back to him… but that he could go to where his child was.
So here are three things that are certain.
1.     You are not the only one to experience this.  It is a world where death happens and evil exists.  God does not always do what we want.  I do not know why because I am not God. And that is a good thing because there has to be someone bigger and stronger than me in control.  So God’s people chose to believe in spite of the pain.
2.     Life goes on.  You may want it to stop.  You may even wish that it would, but it will not.  So those of us in God’s family keep on living.  One foot in front of the other … one day at a time.  Because we believe.
3.     This is not the end.  Christians know that we will see our children again.  Death is not the end.  It is only final for the short time we are on this earth.  It is not final forever.  

So that is my answer for a time when there seem to be no answers.  God speaks through the story of one of our faith heroes.  Just like he speaks thru those of you who are living faith heroes today.  Living an answer for those who think there are no answers.

This world is hard.  God is here.

Life goes on.  So live it by faith.

We will be together soon.  So stay on the journey till you get home.  Together again.

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