Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Jesus in the ICU

Marsha and I went to the ICU to see Bill Merkel last night. Bill, Hymonda, their girls (and their families) have been like family to us (and our families) for over 35 years now. Bill had a heart valve replacement and is doing great. I am an elder in large part because of their influence. We got to see Bill and hold his hands and pray with him. Pretty neat that his nurse joined us in that. But while getting ready to go in and see Bill, we heard that Harry Whitt was in ICU. He was at Southern Hills years ago and has been active in prison ministry in and around Abilene for years. I have visited lots of offenders and ex-offenders with Harry over the years. So we left Bill and asked for Harry's room. He was not awake but prayed over him and left a note. While we were in the waiting room someone mentioned their was a group there from Minter Lane. Just because it is what we do, we started over to see if we knew them. Ann Hummel was the member in ICU. She was in one of my youth groups years ago and lives in our neighborhood. One of her older brothers, Dempsey Peterson -- also in our youth group and now a member at Minter -- was there and we got to catch up. Their oldest brother and his wife, Terry and Barbara Peterson graduated with me from High School and they were there. We have visited off and on when I would speak at Southgate in San Angelo where they are members. So we caught up with them. And after seeing Harry, we asked where Ann's room was. Nurses are curious by now and it was good to explain that we had lots of family in ICU and we were going to pray with and/or over every one of them. So we went to Ann's room and prayed with her. Never imagined all of that would happen from one visit to the ICU. You never know how -- or when -- God is going to use you. Or with whom. Church family. I love it. And I love being a shepherd ... even when my flock ends up being much bigger than just Southern Hills. Thanks God and You are amazing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


183 years of marriage...

I think March is a great month for marriages. Marsha and I were married in May, but I still like March and here is why. My daughter Julie and Bobby celebrated 6 years of marriage this month. My folks celebrated 62 years, and Marsha's folks celebrated 66 years of married life.

That's 134 years of marriage just in March. Marsha and I will celebrate 38 years this May, and our son Joe Don and Jamie will hit 11 years in July. That makes 183 years our family will celebrate this year.

That is remarkable. Part of it is that obviously our folks live a long time. All four parents are in theie 80's. But here is the most amazing thing: probably 150 of those years have been great. You are wondering about the other 33 years. There have been some tough years in these marriages. Economic hardship. Never has been much money in any of these families. Sin struggles. None of the ten of these spouses are perfect. There are incredible stories of grace, restoration, and healing in these years. Sickness. Cancer, heart attacks, car wrecks, hospitals rooms waiting on test results, mental challenges. We have faced them all.

So what's the secret of making it this long? One is don't quit. Tough times come. And they go. We don't. We stay.

But here is the real key. And every one of the 10 of us would agree on the key to long - and happy - marriages.

It's God. Always God. The center of our lives and marriages is that He comes first.

So to Don and Jean Herttenberger (66 years), Joe and Juanita Ridgell (62 years), Steve and Marsha Ridgell (38 years come May), Julie and Bobby Gilbreth (6 years), and Joe Don and Jamie Ridgell (11 years this July) -- well done.

Anna, Jake, Avery, Andrew, and Austin: what a great heritage you have in faith and in marriage. You will continue this heritage.

So most of all ...

Thanks God.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Hell, God, and Who's in or out...

It seems there is much talk these days about universal salvation, the reality of hell, defining what a "loving" God must mean, and the whole concept of judgment. Please know that I am not a theologian. I am not even a great thinker. Most of the famous evangelical writers will never have heard of me. Most people will never solicit my opinion about the great debate now going on about these things.

But there are certain things that seem clear to me.

Hell is real. I may not know everything about it, but I know this: I don't want to go there. I don't want anyone I love to go there.

I want to live forever with God. I want everyone to -- tho not as much as He does. But because of how much He does, I'm learning how much I do. That positive force is much stronger than my fear of hell. But that does not mean hell is not real.

I get very nervous when we try to explain God as if we understand Him. Get real. We can no more understand God than my dog understands me. I can love Him, I can worship Him, I can obey Him, I can know Him. Not sure I am able to understand Him. So I get nervous when people claim to explain God.

He is complex. I don't understand lots about the Old Testament, but some things God does I just don't understand. I guess that is why He is God. And not me. But I think there are things in the Old Testament that reveal certain aspects of His character. And some of them are scary.

If there is no hell, and no way a loving God could send anyone there, -- doesn't that take the edge off the urgency to make disciples of all nations? If it is going to get done in the end anyway, why the urgency to sacrifice to evangelize now?

Some of this debate sounds like second chance theology. Better to follow Jesus now, but if not... well, you'll get your chance eventually. You sure better be right if you are going to leave that impression.

I don't want to be judgmental about hell if I shouldn't be. I don't want to be judgmental about heaven either. I think judgment is God's business, not mine.

So I think I'll keep loving God and following Jesus. For me, that includes telling everyone I can about the good news of Jesus. I am like one snatched from the burning fire and made into royalty (Zecariah 3: 1-10). I want everyone else to have that too.

God loved me enough to send a Son to save me. That love compels me. So I''ll just keep snatching people out of the fire. God can explain exactly what it all means later. After all, He'll have an eternity to tell me.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


I want to be right, be trendy, and be liked...

I think everyone wants to be liked, even those of us who claim it doesn't matter. But it still hurts when people do not like us. I tend to think everyone is my friend and I am surprised if I ever find out someone does not like me. That makes it hard to be an elder sometimes. Elders have to make some hard decisions and -- tho we would certainly never say it this way -- it is hard to make a decision that you think some people will not like. We want to be popular and that makes it very hard to take stands that some will not like. Even if it is good for them, or best for the whole church family. And it is sure hard to confront people on spiritual issues.

We enjoy being trendy. I see things in our church of Christ fellowship that very much become the trendy, popular thing to say or do. We use buzz words that are code for the latest popular position. And if anyone happens to disagree with the latest and greatest trend, then we can dismiss them with a haughty remark about how they are stuck in the past, defending the status quo, don't get it, etc. No one seems to realize that in a couple of years there will be another trendy idea that we must embrace. Trendy ideas may be right ... or they may be wrong.

And we do want to be right. But being right about a decision is not always trendy or popular. So the older I get, the less I care about being popular or trendy. In fact, it may be a sign of maturing leadership that I really don't much care what people think.

So I have come up with my own test to use in making decisions. After every action, or every decision...

Will I be able to look my God in the face, my wife in the eyes, and myself in the mirror? If I can do those things, I made the best decision I could. If I fail any of those -- and no matter how popular I am with anyone else -- I made a bad decision.

So how do you make decisions in your church, or in your family, or at your workplace?

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Helping us confess our sins to each other...

If we are going to practice this spiritual discipline in fellowship, we must create an atmosphere of confession. We do a number of things at Southern Hills to facilitate this. Our Garden of Prayer helps. Elders walk the aisles among our flock, making ourselves available for prayer. Few people are going to walk down an aisle and "confess" their sin, but many will do it in a small group or with an individual elder. We set up many spiritual counseling sessions this way.

We celebrate success. We often refer to people who have found healing from their sin by coming to us for help. We speak of healed marriages and conquored addictions. We have testimonies from people who found healing.

Our leaders are authentic. I frequently say publicly that there is nothing one of our flock can confess to us that at least one on us has not struggled with -- or someone very close to us has. Nothing. We will not be shocked, we will not be disgusted, and we will help in healing.

We as leaders even confess sin and struggles. We have had elders acknowlege that at one time in their lives they were away from God, had marriages in trouble, struggled with sexual purity, and then we are able to point at healing in our own lives. If he can do it for us, he can do it for you.

Admitedly, not every individual elder or minister will be that transparent. But some of us are. And we don't give details publicly of our past sins, tho sometimes some do privately. But we are creating an atmosphere of confession.

We stress the outcome: healing. Confession is not what you do just because you got caught. It is not something you do generically. We don't think much of the whole "if I did anything to offend", or "they misunderstood", or "it's not my fault" confessions.

But we are trying. And God is healing. And the alcoholics are becoming sober. The sexual addicts are becoming pure. The angry are becoming sweet. The stingy are becoming givers. The captives are set free, the lame walk, and the blind see.

Every day by the power of God at work thru the community of his people.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Why I should confess my sins...

"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
James 5: 16

We need help. I spent a lot of years trying to handle my sin and struggles by myself. Didn't go so well. Not from lack of commitment and trying, but we are designed for community. I needed others to pray for me. I needed my sin out of the darkness so I had accountability. More importantly, so others could impart forgiveness and grace. Healing starts with confession.

"If we claim to be without sin, we decieve ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."
I John 1: 8-10

Well, we all are sinners. Confess it and he will forgive. He will purify. So to not confess my sin is to effectively claim to be sinless. Confession is the doorway to being cleansed from our unrighteousness.

Secret sin will destroy you. Confessed sin leads to healing. Seems like an easy choice.

I shared in my last couple of posts why it is difficult to confess our sins to each other. Over the next few I'll talk about how to make it easier.

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