Tuesday, March 14, 2017


No I Don't Think You Are Sorry

Over the years I have found myself in many situations where someone was using the phrase... "I am sorry."  I have seen public apologies and many private ones.  I have listened to parents, children, and mates say they were sorry.  I have heard it expressed by people who have had their secret life discovered and those who evidently made a horrific choice and it really was the first time.  I have seen repentance expressed by those caught in sin and those who were not caught but decided to confess their sin.  I have seen people confess to what nobody else knew about and to what everybody else knew about.

And over and over again I have heard someone ask...

"How do I know they really mean it?"

Only God really knows the heart but I have learned over the years to recognize signs that help reveal the sincerity of repentance and confession.

So watch out for these indicators of an apology that is not quite sincere.

Use of the words "but...", "if you only knew", and "I know this doesn't justify what I did, but..."
There may be an appropriate time to identify the causes of our sin, but not in the confession.  I am concerned when establishing the excuse is emphasized more than the apology.

The blame game.  When the confession is couched in an explanation of how someone else made -- or influenced -- you to do something it is easy to lose sight of the fact that you still made the wrong choice.  Their may be lots of factors that contribute to our bad decisions, but those are for future attention.  Do not try to shift the blame.  

When the apology shifts onto the faults and problems of the one being apologized to then it is easy to lose focus.  Our sins are not excused because of the actions of others.  They are forgiven because of the action of Jesus.

Watch out for comparison language.  When they start defending their actions because they could have been so much worse, or they want to point out how others made even worse choices it cheapens the confession.

I am leery of people who do not want help.  My suggestions for dealing with sin may not be the best, but to refuse any suggestions or to deny the need for help always raise red flags in my experience.

Most of these are very natural reactions to facing our sin.  I try to not do these things when I am the one doing the confessing.  And when working with others, I try to help them focus initially on their sin that is being confessed.

But I have lived long enough to recognize that a confession or apology is not always genuine.  They can be manipulative or calculated to achieve something different than what God intended.

Genuine heartfelt confession is difficult.  There are people that you may have deeply wounded.  There are consequences to be faced.  It is our human tendency to excuse, explain, or justify what we did.

Of course, time is the ultimate proof of true sorry and repentance.  Because genuine repentance will result in changed lives.  And over time it will be evident.

So recognize your sin, acknowledge it, and confess it without rationalization.  Then accept God's forgiveness.

And help others to do the same.


Thursday, March 09, 2017


Jesus calls us to radically live... exactly as we want

Following Jesus is not determined by how I want to live, but how he wants me to live.

Jesus said if we want to follow him, we need to deny ourselves first.

Baptism is described as a death.

When we are crucified with Christ, we no longer live but Christ lives in us.

When Jesus told people to follow him, that journey ended on a cross -- a place of death.

But I am not sure we Christians really believe this applies to us.

Listen to some of our questions...

How much do I have to give?

How often do I have to go to church?

Listen to how we insist on our rights ... to worship like we prefer, to marry whoever we want, to use our money the way we want, to use alcohol the way we want.

Why to listen to some of us, it is amazing that the demands of Jesus happen to exactly fit the way we want to live.

The Bible speaks of transforming out minds and not being conformed to the world.  We are to be formed into the image of Christ.  Dying with Jesus in baptism leads us to a new life.

We work to convince ourselves that the Bible fits our preferences.  We try to make it say what it does not say, or assert that the things we don't like were surely for people a long time ago in a different place.

Scripture speaks of us as foreigners and aliens who are citizens of a heavenly country.  We seem afraid to be different than our culture and in fact convince ourselves that Jesus does after all want us to live in ways that do not offend our culture.

Does Jesus expect us to radically alter our lives to follow him?

If there is never one thing in my life that I have to change for Jesus, am I really serious about following him?  Or am I really wanting him to follow me?

I get it.  I've been there.  To look at Jesus and then at your life and to change for him no matter what rather than try to convince yourself and others it is OK to go on living the way you have been.

So thanks to my brothers and sisters that are faith fighters.  Those of you who are changing and being formed into holy children of God.

No excuses, no looking for loopholes... just fighting to be who God called you to be.

So God you know it is hard to follow your Son.  There are so many things we want to do that we know we should let go of -- and so many things we do not want to do that you call us to.  Help us never to cheapen your grace or try to conform you to our image.  

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


My policeman friend David, death, and heaven

My friend David is being buried this morning.  I guess everyone sort of things David was their friend because he was one of those people who was everyone's friend.  David's wife Cindy is the Finance minister for our church.  They were a core part of our church family.  David loved life, he loved his family, and he loved his church.  He was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago.  Said it was one of the best things to ever happen to him.  Cancer forced a strong man to depend on God and others.  It helped him treasure his time with Cindy and their grown daughters.  Helped him value life even more.

David was a policeman.  He was one of those cops who believed his job was to help people.  He was the one you wanted to be there if your kid was in a wreck.  Or when your kid got in trouble.  His cancer journey was a testimony to the whole city of Abilene about God, love, faith, family, and church.

He died last week and it got me to thinking about how heaven looks to a policeman.  By the way, I want to be clear that I believe David is in heaven because he is a believer, not because he was a policeman.  His identity was in Jesus.  Police work was his profession.  I know a lot of Christian police and I know some who are not believers.

But I knew David as a brother in the Lord first, and a policeman second.

So here are some things I think David must be enjoying in heaven.

As a cop and as a cancer patient, David sure understood that we live in an evil world.  And now he is in a world where evil cannot be.  He has seen God's face and sin, cancer, and the evil of this world is gone forever.

Policemen see a lot of bad things.  They will tell you that evil works in darkness.  Crime is more difficult to do in the light.  David is home in a city where there is no darkness.

David had to deliver bad news as part of his job.  Crime, death, and tears were part of his job.  He sometimes had to be the bearer of bad news.  And he knew how it felt to get bad news.  Cancer diagnosis is never what you want to hear.  He and family shed tears.  But now God has wiped away all tears from David's eyes.

Best of all, David finished.  He is home.  Forever.

Some see the death of a mid-fifties policeman as tragic.  And his family grieves.  Our church family grieves.  Our city grieves.  But his family and his church family do not grieve as those who have no hope.  In the midst of tears and pain, you see our smiles and hear our laughter.  Because of Jesus. Because we are happy-sad.  Sad for us, happy for him.  Because we believe.  Because David believes.  
He is where we want to be.  By God's grace.  And by God's grace we will be together again.

So thanks God for the hope we have in your Son.  Thanks that David has seen that hope realized.  You brought him home safely on many nights here.  And now you have brought him home safely forever.  Thanks for the great memories of life shared with David here.  Thanks for the life we will all share together again around your throne.  

Thursday, March 02, 2017


Happy birthday to our Jamie

Our daughter-in-law, Jamie Ridgell, had a birthday a couple of days ago.  As is my custom, here is my tribute to why I love her and am so proud of her.

She is a sold-out, passionate follower of Jesus.  She lives her faith, serves others because of her faith, and shares her faith.

She uses their home as a place of Kingdom business.  Showers, small group gatherings, parties, meals, kids hangout ... well, you get the idea.  It is a place where Jesus is seen.

She loves our son Joe Don.  I am so thankful God put them together.  Great things are done by them in the Kingdom.

She never seems to get rattled or "lose it".  I know she must sometimes but I am amazed that she is always calm in the midst of her crazy life.  

She is a great Mom.  Supports, loves, teaches, disciplines, molds, and encourages her three kids.  And her nieces and nephews.  And her friend's kids.

I have absolutely no doubt that she views Mimi and me as parents.  Just like we believe she is our daughter.

So God thanks for our Jamie.  You have blessed so many lives thru her.  Give her health and long life. Continue to use her and her family in powerful ways.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Interpreting -- or changing -- Scripture

The more I listen to churches -- all types of churches -- the more I hear a common theme about church divisions, splits, and general lack of unity.  People will say churches divide over worship issues, women's roles, church organization, even how to be saved.  But I am convinced these are not the real issue.

I believe the major cause of church division is how we view Scripture.  I know we use Scripture to argue all sides of the above issue but most of the time I think it really is a matter of different views of Scripture:  rule book, general guidebook, every word inspired, written by good men but just men, inspired but only for then and there not here and now.

Well, you get the picture.  It would really be helpful if we would learn how to talk about our view of Scripture.  For example, I often hear the phrase "we just interpret that differently."  We use that phrase to explain why we believe differently on certain issues.  I get the need for God's people to use scholarship, prayer, the Holy Spirit, community of faith, church history, etc. to interpret Scripture.

But interpreting Scripture is to ask what it means for us.  It does not mean changing what Scripture says.

One example.  I Timothy where Paul says elders are to be the husband of one wife.

Interpretation:  Only married once.  Or widowed and remarried.  Or divorced and remarried.  Or widowed but not remarried.  All these are ways in which husband of one wife can be interpreted.  All versions of elders are married men.

Not Interpretation: if they are married -- or woman of one husband -- or husband of one husband.
These all fundamentally change the meaning of husband of one wife.  You may believe these positions but not because you interpret that Scripture differently.  It is because you do not believe that Scripture applies to the current situation.  You may have any number of reasons for believing that, but it is not a matter of interpretation.  No one reads husband of one wife and says "oh, that means single men, or married women, or same sex relationships.

Let's just be honest with each other about what we mean when we are talking about what God meant.

God, help us to know and understand your word.  Help us to grant each other grace and peace as we work thru what the Bible means.  But Father, I do not believe you were careless with however your Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture.  So help me, and all those who seek you, to be careful with your message to us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Jesus is not buying into the American dream

You know the American dream.  Come to America and find freedom.  Anyone can grow up to become President.  Lift yourself to a better life by working hard.  Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and become healthy, wealthy, and wise.  You are the master of your own destiny.  Every generation in your family can have it better than the generation before.

Jesus talks about dying to self, taking up the cross, and following him.  Baptism is even described as dying with Jesus.  He said that we would have trouble in this world.  He said we would be persecuted for his sake.  He said the world would hate us because it hates him.

Jesus said ask and he would give.  But if we do not receive, it is because we are asking for ourselves.  He emphasizes selfless living, never selfish.  He talks about his followers as people who are not at home in this world.  

The American dream is rooted in some idealistic version of fair play and equality.  May the best man (or woman) win.  If you have read much American history at all, you will realize how untrue the American dream really is, but many cling to that idealized version of what it is to be an American.

The Jesus way is rooted in the idea that life is not fair.  Jesus and the cross.  Not fair.  

The American dream says you have certain rights.  Even claim these rights are from our Creator. 

Jesus says to give up our rights to follow him.  Give up our rights so we can live in community together as believers.  

American dream is to be a self-made man.  Independent.  Free.

Jesus says real freedom is found in becoming his slave.  Surrendering everything to follow him.  He is the source of every good thing we have.  God gets the glory.  

Jesus says life is found in him.  Real liberty is found in surrender to him.  Happiness is found in being faithful to him.

America says you can find hope, peace, and joy by what you do.

Jesus says you can find hope, peace, and joy by giving up self to follow him.  He is the source of life.

If you pursue the American dream, you may be sorely disappointed and left wanting more.  

Pursue Jesus and find life.  Forever.

God I was raised in America and I know there are things I have because of that.  Things the world values.  But thank you for parents that taught me where to find the things that are really valuable.  Jesus things.  I promise to help others find true freedom in your son.     

Thursday, February 09, 2017


No I can't -- and won't -- try to help you anymore

I think every Christian wrestles with how to help our brothers and sisters who are living with sin.  Of course, I do not mean that we are all expected to lead sinless lives.  Impossible.  But I am talking about the member of our church family who is entangled in sin to the point it will destroy them.  Sinful relationships, sinful addictions, lifestyle choices.

As an elder, I am especially convicted to help those in my flock who are in spiritual trouble.  It may be someone convicted of their sin who seeks me out.  Or someone who was caught in their sin and that has brought them to their senses.

My regular readers know that I believe Marsha and I are gifted as the "triage" elder couple.  Addictions, shattered marriages, public humiliation.  I frequently state publicly that there is no sin for which our flock cannot come to us and seek help.  And that God is the great fixer of our messes.  We stress forgiveness, managing consequences, and changing lives.

We will get down in the mud, blood, and mess of lives for as long as it takes.  And have.  Sometimes for years.


There are some people I will not help.

I will not spend time with the person who will not admit what they have done (or are doing) is wrong.  I do not have the time or energy to try and convince Christians why certain actions are not acceptable for the Jesus follower.  I need to hear them say it was -- or is -- wrong.

I do not have time for the person who admits they are wrong, but just want to explain how their mess is really everyone else's fault.  Their mate, God, financial pressure, the church, and on and on.  I am interested in helping the one who confesses they have sinned.

I don't want to spend time on the person who does not want to be there.  Parents, mate, boss, another elder, or someone told them to talk to me.  Only if they repent -- and by that I mean acknowledge that they need, and want, to change am I willing to invest in their lives.

And we end our time together when they do not accept my counsel.  Not because I am always right, but because all I know to do is offer advice based on Scripture, my life experience, and years of helping others battle -- and overcome -- their demons.  So if they say they do have to talk one more time with the other woman, or they can't just quit their job, or there is no way they are going to a professional counselor, or there is no way they are going to tell someone where they are every second of the day ... well, then I am out.  My advice may be wrong and I always tell them that if they think my advice is poor then go to someone else.  All I can do is give what I believe to be sound spiritual advice.  If they don't buy it, then we are both wasting our time.

So there are times when I say "sorry but I can't help you."  It took me a long time to learn that.

Maybe this will help some of you decide when it is time to cut people loose.  Doesn't mean you don't love them.  Just means you are not the one to help them.  And if they really want help, God will connect them with those who will help them.  It just may not be me.  Or you.

so God help me to always be there for those in trouble.  I have seen you do amazing things in my life and in the lives of others.  Help me to always give strong spiritual counsel.  But help me have the wisdom and courage to know when it is time to move on. 

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