Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Instrumental worship...

It seems as if church leaders everywhere in churches of Christ are having the discussion about using instruments as a part of worship (we do this every 125 years or so). Several have asked when I'm going to comment, so let me start with a couple of observations. First, I believe in church autonomy. I believe elders can decide what is best for their flock. Their decision may be right or wrong, but it is their decision. I do not feel qualified to criticize, or applaud, what other congregations do. I have enough to worry about at Southern Hills. I do know that some congregations have incredible influence in our fellowship. We are one of those. However, I want to do what is right for Southern Hills, not try to influence the brotherhood.

I know good Biblical scholars on all sides of this issue. I am appalled at those who accuse instumentalists of abandoning Scripture and truth. You will be hard pressed to make a clear cut, compelling arguement from Scripture that insturmental worship is prohibited in our worship assemblies. I am offended by those who act as if no right thinking Christian would even entertain the idea that we should worship without instruments. If you cannot see both sides of this discussion, then you need to sharpen your study skills. I just cannot believe it is as clear as some on both sides want to make it. It is acceptable to use instuments to praise God in the Old Testament (read Psalms). Instruments are not used in the New Testament church, or if they were they are the only part of worship not even mentioned in passing in the New Testament writings. That is sure odd. And they were not used in worship for centuries. So there you have it... if you cannot clearly understand the truth on this subject then welcome to the club. Yes, I know the argurments can be more complex. It's just that I am a simple guy. Different people and different churches will give different weight to all aspects of this discussion. They will come to different conclusions.

I also believe that your stand on instrumental worship has nothing to do with your spirituality or with your desire to reach the lost. The idea that non-instrumentalists don't want to reach our world, or don't understand worship, or don't really "get it", is absurd and insulting. To assume that those who worship with an instrument don't take worship seriously, or they are just following a trend or a fad, or that they don't care about the feeling of others is just as absurd and insulting.

I'll post more later. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments. After all, I've already made it pretty clear I don't have all the answers. I look forward to your insights.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I know many of you have been keeping up with the ongoing saga of the three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape. What a mess. These three student athletes were tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. The team was punished, the students suspended, and their story published across the nation. There were protests and harsh statements from administrators, women's groups, and students. Race even played a part in rushing to judgement for or against the participants. The district attorney rushed to prosecute.

And then the accusor changed her story, then changed it again. Some evidence was not as clear cut as we were led to believe. Other evidence had not been properly weighed. Now it appears as if an incredible wrong has been done. Lives and reputations are ruined. The accused and the accusor will never be the same. Duke, athletes, and the legal system have had there reputations damaged. Groups that rushed to judgement now look foolish. What a mess.

Yet... did anyone really think a party with young men, strippers, and alcohol was going to have a good result? I wonder if some of this is not the natural consequences of a number of poor decisions by many people. What is the Christian response to this? How do we as Christians speak to this event? What lessons do we teach to our children and to our congregations from this?

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Being quiet in chuch...

I grew up where you didn't talk in church...unless you were preaching or making announcements. As you can imagine, I sometimes got in trouble for talking. I still have a hard time getting over that whole concept. Be quiet, be "decent and in order", don't be a distraction to others who are trying to worship, and so on. But two things Sunday made me think about how glad I am that things are different.

The first one is about how our elders are always praying when other things are going on in the assembly. It often happens during the Garden of Prayer. The singing finishes, we go on to the connecting thoughts or a blessing...and some of us are still praying with people. Right in the aisle or in front, and out loud. This past Sunday, in both services, some of the elders were praying over the cards of those we want to be touched by Jesus this year. And we prayed aloud over them right up there on our "front porch" while the rest of you were singing. I think that's pretty neat. I like that we are are praying church. I like it that it's OK for me to pray with you before church right in the aisle with people coming in all around us. I believe it honors God.

Then in second service, I was sitting around some of our international students. Two of them were talking during the sermon and even during communion. They were being pretty quiet so I had a hard time hearing them. Since they were speaking English, I wanted to know what was so important they had to discuss it during service. Boy am I glad nobody got onto them for talking. One of them was evidently a visitor and her friend was explaining how to find Scriptures, and what the Lord's Supper was about. She was even doing a pretty good job of explaining Phil's sermon. I thought it was decent of her and certainly in order. I bet they got a lot closer to God than a lot of those who were being quiet.

So do you ever talk in church? And what do you think about those of us who do?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Singles ministry...

I had the opportunity over the holidays to visit with a number of people about singles minisitry. And I got to visit with several singles about fitting into our church familes. I still do a number of singles retreats, teach the singles class at Southern Hill from time to time, and so I get to have quite a bit of interaction with this group. Let me share some of my random thoughts about singles and singles ministry. For purposes of this post, I am really talking about never married singles as opposed to single again.

It doesn't seem to matter how much we talk about it, most singles still do not fit well in our church families. Our corporate language is couple language. Our singles understand that the majority of our members are couples, but it still makes it awkward. We still have a difficult time integrating singles into real fellowship. Most of the singles I talk to are close to family or other singles but they have a hard time connecting outside of that. Singles ministry is still sometimes seen as a marriage factory. And yes, singles sometimes bring this on themselves. And marriage is a great outcome for a singles ministry. But that needs to be a by-product, not a focus. Finally, I still am not convinced we utilize our singles enough in ministry.

Now let me share a few observations about singles. I find very few who follow the Paul model. Paul held up being single as a high calling freeing you to concentrate on Jesus and ministry. Now everyone does not ave the gift of remaining single, celebate, and faithful. But some do. It seems very difficult in our culture for a man to acknowledge that gift and to set Paul as his example. Even if that is not their gift, I appreciate the singles who realize that they are fine as they are. They may even desire marriage and family, but they are content to wait on God. Then there are the singles whose entire focus is on getting married. Perhaps they think that will solve their problems, or perhaps that is what they most desire in this life. It is hard for them to get on with life and to be happy and content. Which leads some of our singles to settle. Please don't.

I'm glad I am married. I wouldn't trade that for anything. But I do have family and spouse concerns that take time from ministry. So I salute my single brothers and sisters. Our church is better and stronger because of you. I love you, I affirm you, I pray for you. God bless you.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Meet Laz...

You need to know the story of my friend Laza Razafimanjato. He is one of the 26 or so Madagascar students studying at ACU. These students were hand picked by their nation's leaders to come and study at ACU. That in itself is pretty neat and makes Laz special. Most of these students have made Southern Hills their church home for the last 2 and 1/2 years. Before coming to ACU, I doubt any of them had ever even heard of the church of Christ.

It was not long until they began to have questions about what we believe and why we worship the way we do. I had the priviledge of having Laz (and sometimes others) in our home over the course of three months to study the Bible together. Laz was convicted about the Christian life to the point where he even talked to his parents back home about what he was learning and how it made him feel. He became convinced that he needed to make a decision about Jesus but did not want it to be a cultural thing, or an American thing.

He spent over one year praying, thinking, and wrestling with his decision about Jesus. And I appreciate that. Several of you have been praying for Laz. You see, it is a much bigger deal for Laz than for most of us. There are no Southern Hills in Madagascar. It won't be the thing to do back home to go to church. He will face persecution; some will see it as "American" or as an ACU thing. Some will even see it as a rejection of his roots. But in the end, none of that mattered. Laz wanted to know Jesus and to die with him.

So last Wednesday night I baptized Laz into Christ. It was emotional, joyful, and spiritual.

And what an odd way for God to work in Madagascar. Because I believe that is what he is doing. I can only imagine what God has in store for that country. God bless you Laz... and go God go.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I want to be in the Hall of Fame...

The baseball Hall of Fame recently selected two more canidates for induction. But to me, the most interesting part of the process was the discussion of who was worthy to be considered. With the steroid controversy, there was much discussion about cheating, character, and the overall body of work. Should you get into the hall based strictly on your body of work? Did you do/produce/perform well enough? What about character issues? Gamblers are banned, and "users" are rejected. Yet there are alcoholics, racists, and adulterers in the Hall. What about character issues we do not know about? What about good guys who didn't produce quite as much?

These debates are reflective of our culture. I'll get ahead in life if I just perform well enough: wow the boss, work hard, come thru in the clutch, and outperform my compition. Or...ifI'm a good guy then that should be enough. If I'm nice enough, if my character is strong, and if I treat people right, then I am bound to come out ahead. And if I do have a character issue, be sure it stays hidden.

These attitudes creep into church and our spiritual lives. If I just do the right things, cross every T and dot every I, then I make it into heaven. If anyone ever deserved to get into heaven, it's my Mom, Dad, friend, etc. After all, they are as good a person as ever walked the earth. It's really just about the person I am, not what I do. Worship is about attitude, not actions. And on and on it goes.

God, Jesus , and the church are counter cultural. Always have been...always will be. It's not about what we do, or how good we are, or what others think. It' about God, the gift of His Son, and our decision to trust them. I can't do enough, or be good enough. So the only way any of us are getting into the only Hall of Fame that matters is to take the focus off of us and put it on the one who really does matter.

By the way...great news. God voted for you, and his is the only one that counts.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Celebrating too early...

It's hard to win a national championship when your best player is hurt. Ohio State's Ted Ginn, Jr. ran the opening kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown in last night's national championship. The celebration in the end zone was incredible. I guess they really thought it was going to be that easy all night long. Ginn is a fantastic player, and that was it for him last night. He got hurt and couldn't play. Florida then beat Ohio State in every way. It was a rout. So how did Ted Ginn, Jr. get hurt? He was injured during the celebration of his opening kickoff return.

I wonder if we ever celebrate the beginning as if it were the end? I think the celebration of an early touchdown was natural and exciting. But there were still 59 minutes of football to play. We celebrate the birth of babies, and we ought to...but that's a beginning. The game is just starting. I wonder if weddings and honeymooms are a little like that. We celebrate the beginning, but I think I like celebrating the end more. For instance, Marsha and I now celebrate a lifetime of triumph, struggle, laughter, tears, and faith. We did not have a clue what was ahead of us. But now we can celebrate what we have accomplished. We get to celebrate our kids and our grandkids. And we are still only in the third quarter. So I am not going to celebrate as if it is over. It's not. I do think the best is yet to be.

And what about baptism? Do we sometimes celebrate baptism as if the game is now over? It's not... it is just beginning. I really get a sense sometimes that we are relieved that that step is over. We can quit worrying about them, not have to work as hard with them, and celebrate the culmination of our efforts. And then we wonder why some of our new converts end up sitting out the rest of the game. Yes we need to celebrate new births. We just need to remember the game has just started.

I love life. I live most of my life in celebration. I really am happy and I laugh and love lots. But I always remember that the game isn't finished. Someday I will celebrate with trumpets and the party will never end. I'll be a champion forever.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Garden of Prayer...

Several people lately have asked me about the Garden of Prayer and how we use it at Southern Hills. I notice many other churches beginning to do something similar. So let me share a few observations.

First, it is a time of prayer. It is not a "different way to do the invitation". Shepherds (and sometimes their wives) do roam the aisles in an effort to make it easier to pray with and for the flock. However, it is not a time just to pray with elders. Our desire is that someday there will be an undercurrent of prayer throughout the assembly as people pray together.

We encourage people to pray with friends, or as individuals, or with elders, or with any of their brothers and sisters. We hope people will pray prayers of thanksgiving, forgiveness, healing, praise, and encouragement.

It does sometimes seem awkward, messy, confusing, and not structured. We still have people who want to pray with someone and don't know how to express that... or don't feel comfortable yet. And yes, I have been known to climb over the pews to get to someone. But I think God is pleased and honored. And I think the Garden of Prayer is one of the most exciting things we do. It builds community, it honors God, it connects Shepherds to the flock, and it changes lives.

And as much as I enjoy preaching, and as much as I like to sing...it may be that this time in prayer is my favorite part of our time together. I cannot wait to see how it grows.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


If I were a rich man...

This past week I finished up our annual state of the Ridgell finances. You know the drill. It is the document that lists all the retirement accounts, checking accounts, debts, etc. In theory it is to facilitate the financial responsibilities should we die this year. It is not morbid, but I think it is prudent. However, it always leads to that great game - what would we do if we were rich?

Oddly enough, we know what we would do. We would buy a bigger house so there is more room for family, friends, showers, etc. We would bank enough to live at about the same salary level we are at now. That would let us spend our time doing ministry, family, and service without having to worry about support or jobs. If we still had money left, we would probably want to have land. It would be nice to keep Marsha's family farm and I sure would like to have a few acres for hunting and fishing.

And you know what? This discussion always ends with us realizing we are rich. We own a house that somehow accomodates all the people that show up. We have managed to be pretty much debt free and do lots of ministry, family, and service. And at least for now, the family farm is still in the family. I even have a really close friend who lets me hunt and fish on his place.

Then we talk about the places I go for Herald of Truth. We end up thanking God for the blessings He pours down on us. You see, we are richer than 90% of this world. So the discussion ends with analysis of the kind of stewards we want to be.

We have way more than we deserve. In fact, we probably have more than we even need. So thanks God for our daily bread. This year I'll remember that all I have is really yours. And whatever you give us we will try to use wisely.

How about you?

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