Monday, November 23, 2015


Andrew Joel Ridgell is 8

Andrew, Joe Don and Jamie's middle child, turned 8 last Thursday.  Here are just a few of the reasons I love him and am so proud of him.

He has a big heart.  He loves people.  He wants everyone to be happy, to be included, and to get along.  He already has great people skills.

He hates injustice and he cannot stand it when things are not fair.  He will be the one who takes up for the underdog.

He is happy.  He wakes up happy.  He is content with who he is and with his life.

He loves to worship.  Sings with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

Loves to pray.  I love to hear him pray.  Deep, sensitive, loving.

He talks about God and Jesus.

He loves God and he loves Jesus.  Already very passionate about doing what they want him to do.

Loves his family.  He loves his Dad.  And his Mom, sister, and brother.  Loves his cousins, aunts, uncles.  His grands.  Loves Mimi.

He loves me.  We have a special bond and connection.  Fishing, sports, talking about God, telling Jesus stories.

And he does love sports. Good thing he is already a good athlete.

My life is blessed by Andrew Joel.  I am happier and closer to Jesus because he is my grandson.

So thanks God for a happy and healthy Andrew.  I cannot wait to see what his faith and your power will accomplish in his life.  And I am confident great things will be done by him in your name and for your Kingdom.  Thanks for letting me be part of it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


We are missing the real question about Christians and refugees

I get the emotions surrounding the recent questions about the United States and refugees.

But I think Christians are missing the point.

I understand the concern for safety, but we Christians are always in danger because we are living in a fallen world.  Our history is to be persecuted because we are at war and we live in the land of the enemy.  Christians rise above our fear every day.

I appreciate the concern for what Jesus would do, but that has not one thing to do with what America should or should not do.  America is not a Christian nation so do not argue about what Jesus would do in a political context.  There is no political system that is Christian.  Nor will there be.

But here is the question I really think Christians must be asking.

What am I going to do personally as a follower of Jesus when I encounter refugees?

I live in Abilene and we get a lot of refugees.  I assume that will continue.  At Southern Hills we have really tried to reach out to them.  We have especially been involved with the Bhutanese refugees.  We have done some things well and some not so well.  But somewhere around 60 of these refugees have become my brothers and sisters over the past few years.

But having said that, most of my congregation have never interacted with them.  Not served them, not been in their homes or had them in their homes, not shared Jesus.  It has been a radical commitment from a small group of a couple of dozen and then some involvement from maybe another 100 or so of us.

Here is what I want for Christians and refugees.

That faith will overcome fear.  That if refugees come to your community (your world), that you will go among them to make disciples.  It will be scary and might prove to be dangerous.  And it will be what Jesus called you to do.

That actions will match rhetoric.  That we will not just worry about what a government should or should not do, but that we will have an opportunity to put our faith into action. Making friends, serving in the name of Jesus, witness by our lives, testifying by teaching.

Who knows but that God's plan to evangelize Syrians -- and many others -- is to bring them right into our world.

And then trust us to do what He asks us to do.

So God help us to be your ambassadors to the strangers among us.  Let them see you in action by our lives.  Give us courage to speak about your son.  Let our faith conquer our fear.  We believe there is a great harvest waiting.  Send us into the field.  Or bring the field to us.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Thinking about heroes today

I have been reading a lot on social media today about heroes.  It got me to thinking about some of my heroes.

My heroes are Christians.  Kingdom people.  They are the ones I want to be like, the ones I want my kids to be, and the ones I want my grandkids to grow up watching.

Here are some...

The couples who have been married 50, 60, and 70 years and still love each other.  Living witness.

The mate who loving cares for their spouse who is suffering from debilitating illness:  cancer, Alzhiemer's, strokes.

Single Moms.

Foster parents and couples who adopt.

Those who buy a cup of coffee for a friend and share the story of Jesus.

Those who fight their addictions.  Who are sorry when they fail, who do something about it, and who will never quit trying to be more like Jesus and less like their old self.

Kingdom soldiers.  Those who go where the enemy is strong and share the story of Jesus.  In their neighborhood, among their friends, where they work and go to school.

Those who care enough to ask what they can do to help... and then do it.

Prayer warriors.

Nurses, Doctors, teachers, preachers, and counselors who see their professions as doing the work of Jesus.

Plumbers, roofers, farmers, salesmen, and janitors who are truly vocational ministers.

Bible class teachers.

Elders and their wives.

Those who by faith risk their lives every day for the Kingdom.

Those who die for their faith.

My heroes.

Thursday, November 05, 2015


So is being an elder worth it?

Southern Hills did ask me to lead them again as one of their shepherds.  There are 23 men who agreed to move forward to the affirmation stage of elder selection.  There were more than this who were asked to serve but decided not to go to the next stage.

Marsha and I are going through this next stage.  It is the one where the congregation prays, asks questions, visits with us... and then decides if they are willing to follow us.  So Marsha and I spent some thinking about this question:  is being an elder worth it?

It takes a lot of time.  Because I am out most weekends preaching, we have to spend most weeknights trying to shepherd.  Hospital visits, crisis shepherding, crisis management, prayer times, annointings, meetings, teaching ...

It is hard to manage the guilt sometimes.  You always feel like you could -- and should -- do more.  You worry about that nagging sense that you ought to talk to someone but you get busy and don't get around to it.  Then later find out you missed an opportunity.

It is painful to lose sheep.  And sometimes we do.  People leave Jesus.  They abandon mates and children.  Marriages fail.  People chase what they believe will make them happy rather than being obedient to God.  And even though you warn them, and even though it is ultimately their choice ... it hurts.  Sometimes the addictions win.  Satan does steal some sheep.

It hurts to see your sheep wounded.  Even when repentance is real there is still horrible consequences to sin.  It hurts to see your people hurt.

And we have feelings.  Sometimes those feelings get hurt.  And of course we want people to like us.  People leave because they don't get their way.  Sometimes they say hurtful things.  You make decisions and people say cruel things because they do not agree.  Even well meaning people say things that hurt when their needs have not been met.  Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are unrealistic, but it hurts.

So why in the world would anyone serve as an elder?

Because of the people that want to follow Jesus.

Because broken marriages get healed.  Addictions get broken.  Because prayers and annointings lead to healing.  And when they do not ... you help your sheep keep their feet on the road to heaven.

Because your flock grows.  Because they become more like Jesus.

Because you become more like the Great Shepherd.

Because God called you.  Because your people asked you.

Because some day I will get my crown.

So I don't do this to be an elder of a church.

I do this to be a shepherd of my sheep.

People not power or prestige.

So sometimes we cry, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we lose sleep, sometimes fall to our knees.  We get to witness God do amazing things.

We commit to getting home.  And we bring as many of our flock as we can.

It is who we are.  It is what we do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


The hardest responsibility an elder has...

There is an amazing passage in Hebrews about obeying and submitting to your spiritual leaders.  We are urged to do this because the leaders are watching over us as men who must give an accounting.

I believe this passage is talking about elders and I believe we have to account for how we care care for our sheep.

I have heard it said that elders are responsible for the salvation of their flock.  Not true.  I cannot save anyone.  Jesus and God do that.  And I am only responsible for my personal faithfulness.  Just as each individual is.

So then ... what does it mean to give account for the sheep under my care?

I believe that as a shepherd my job is to encourage, motivate, and inspire my flock.  I want to be out in front leading them into heaven.  I have to be sure that when my flock follows me that they will end up in heaven.

So it is important to warn any of my sheep that leave the safe path.  I believe as an elder I have to warn, rebuke, give advice, hold out a hand, model forgiveness, and discourage action or talk that could lead to someone to fall from grace.

So elders pray, speak truth, confront, encourage, and lead by example so all the flock gets home safely.

Even if my sheep get mad, or threaten to quit, I will act and speak to the dangers I see.  And as a shepherd, I will not endorse actions that endanger their salvation.

I give pointed advice based on Scripture in an effort to bring wandering sheep back into the safety of the flock.

That is an enormous responsibility, but here is what enables a shepherd to bear up under it.  I am not responsible for whether anyone listens, obeys, or follows.  That is their choice.

I seek credibility by using Scripture, by living forgiven myself, for being vulnerable enough to be living proof that God restores, and by investing in lives so that they know they are loved by me.

So I do not believe God is going to hold me accountable if you choose to leave Jesus.  He will hold me accountable for not trying to change that decision.

Sometimes elders are afraid to be seen as meddlers or be accused of being judgmental.  It hurts when one of your faith family ignores you, disobeys you, or will not listen.

But it hurts more to not try.

So that is why elders cry, plead, pray, study, and show up in the middle of the night to help.  It is why we are willing to get down in the muck and mire of your sin to help you out.  It is why we are willing to endure the blood and vomit of a life blown apart by sin.

Because we love you.  Because Jesus and God love you.  Because your are our family.

So here is the job of an elder:  do all that we can to get everyone home safe.

So God, please strengthen your shepherds all over your kingdom. Give them courage to be faithful to your call.  Help us get your people home safe to you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Elders better know Scripture

We are moving along in our process to select elders at Southern Hills and I am still thinking about what Scripture says about the kind of man he wants to lead his people.

Elders have to know Scripture.  And they better be using it.

I grew up hearing the Timothy passage about "apt to teach" and somehow I got the impression that meant elders should be willing to teach a Bible class if needed.  I hope I just heard it wrong.  Surely nobody taught that.

But I never heard much from Titus about elders knowing the Scripture in order to refute false teaching and also to strengthen the weak.

And I sure never heard growing up that actually elders in the New Testament were the paid teachers and ministers.  What we call ministers were probably evangelists in the first century.

So I am convinced elders have to know Scripture and to really shepherd they must know how to use Scripture.  

Elders might teach and preach publicly.  Some have that gift.  But I think most elder teaching from Scripture is done in living rooms and coffee shops.

Here are the ways I see elders teaching.

Refute false doctrine.  In the midst of pain, it is not uncommon to hear things that are not true. Or real questions expressing doubt, fear, and uncertainty.   Why would God do this to me?  Where was God?  God did not answer my prayer.  I believe that there is a right time and way to teach, but I believe elders need to speak truth into lives during pain.

Or when someone in our flock wants us to approve of their divorce because God wants them to be happy. Wrong.  Elders speak truth about faithfulness, obedience, and joy given thru faith.  Or when a member says God would never have anyone divorce, no matter what.  Wrong.  Elders speak truth.

Or when visitors want to know more about Jesus and how to follow him.  Elders can teach in that way (tho I really think this is what evangelists do).

When members have questions about baptizing their young children. or why their older children have not accepted Christ.  Elders must know truth and speak it into lives.

Elders shepherd by showing from Bible stories how Satan works and how to resist temptation.

Elders speak truth about receiving forgiveness and about extending forgiveness.

Knowing Scripture lets real truth be spoken into real lives from a real God.  

You want elders who know the Book.  You want elders who know how to use the Book.  

Teachers.  Shepherding their flock with advice that comes from the mouth and heart of God.  

Sharing Scripture to exhort, encourage, rebuke, and admonish.  

So we all get safely home.

Thanks God for your Word.  Give us leaders who know truth and who will love us enough to speak it into our lives.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


What is a blameless, above reproach elder anyway?

Timothy and Titus have the phrase "blameless" and "above reproach".  I Peter says be an example for the flock.  So what does that mean for those of us who are thinking about serving as elders?

It does not mean perfect.  Let's be real.  Only Jesus was perfect.  There are no elders who are perfect.  Not in our past.  Not in our present.  Not in our future.  I do not believe the standard is perfection.  I do not believe it means that we should find men whose sins are not public or known by others -- those who just keep up appearances.

I also do not think it means that elders are just like everyone else so do not expect more out of them than you would any Christian.

Here is what I do think about elders living as blameless, above reproach examples.

We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.  I don't mean to be better, but to expect more out of ourselves.  Let me give some concrete examples.

Christians should not get drunk.  None of us should, but some of my flock really struggle with alcohol.  We even have a service named "bar church" so yeah, alcohol is a constant struggle.  It is a battle in our culture.  It is a struggle for our teenagers.  Elders are not to be given to much wine.  So I would not argue that Christians cannot social drink as long as they do not get drunk.  But why the admonition to elders to be careful about how much they drink?  Maybe it is the higher standard idea.  Should elders intentionally choose not to drink?  Or to be very careful about where they have a glass of wine?  could this be part of what it means to be above reproach and an example for the flock.

I have lived for some time under a set of guidelines that have to do with the opposite sex.  No lunches, no phone calls that cannot be overheard. No one- on-one counseling, no closed doors.  Are these behaviors prohibited in Scripture?  Or are these ways an elder should insure blameless and above reproach?

There are other examples I could use.  Church attendance,  Should elders be more rigorous in attendance?  What about giving?  Should elders be encouraged to talk about how much they give?  At least in terms of percentages.  Higher standards and expectations.  Blameless, above reproach, examples.

There are lots of behaviors that may not be required but I believe elders should practice.

And when a man says that this is infringing on his freedom in Christ, then maybe he is not ready to be a shepherd.

I want to set the bar higher as an elder.  I should expect more from the leaders than I do from the followers.

I do want to set standards in my life that cannot be questioned -- blameless.

I want to live in ways that would not give excuses or cause spiritual babies in my flock to be confused -- above reproach.

I want to set an example.

So am I saying that elders cannot be just like their members?  Yes.  Am I arguing that I have to give up certain rights and freedoms just because I am a shepherd?  Yes.

We are asking and expecting people to look to us to see how to follow Jesus.  We are not perfect.  We still have many things to work on in our lives.  But we are going to expect more from ourselves as leaders.  We are going to follow practices that protect us and our flock.  We are going to attempt to go above and beyond in setting an example.

So Father... I know how far I am from your holiness.  But I want to live like your Son.  Help me to live in such a way that my flock will not be confused or have reason to falter because of what they have seen in me.  Thank you for forgiving my failures.  I am sorry for the lessons I had to learn the hard way but thankful for your grace.  So I'll keep growing and maturing till you send your son to take me, my family, and my flock home.  

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