Thursday, July 26, 2012


What does a second chance church look like?

I really think every church thinks they are a second chance church.  Or at least they would like to be.  But what does a second chance church do?  How does it function?  Here are a few things that I believe help a church to become a true second chance church.

1.  Build that reputation out of action, not image.  You will be known as a place of healing and restoration because you are a church where people get healed and restored.  It does not happen because you say you are.  It will happen because there are changed lives in your community of faith.

2.  Do not celebrate the sin.  There is a fine line between celebrating a restored sinner, and celebrating the old sinful lifestyle.  We sometimes act as if it is a mark of spirituality to talk about how messed up we were.  Be careful that we do not make it a "badge of honor" to have needed a second chance.  Do not romanticize the sin.  Believe me, those of us who have benefited from second chances have scars, consequences, and pain that we wish we did not have.  Celebrate the healing.  Walk alongside the struggler.  But do not talk lightly of the sin as if it was not a big deal.  It was.

3.  Protect the community of faith.  Second chance sinners sometimes scare the church.  Will they repeat their sin?  Are we endangering the flock by having them as part of our body?  This fear has led some to not believe in second chances, or at least to not extend full fellowship.  So be smart in protecting the body.  No pedophiles in the children's department.  The recovering thief does not count the collection.  The adulterer does not do counseling alone.  The alcoholic does not prepare the communion wine.  The gossip does not get to hear details of other people's struggle.

4.  Second chance strugglers need rules for living a restored life.  These may involve computer access accountability.  It may mean not being alone with someone of the opposite sex.  It may mean not going to places where alcohol is served.  This is where many churches have difficulty.  We must help people develop better spiritual life skills.  So help your strugglers  develop a set of life rules that works for them.  It is not enough to rebuke them.  Or pray for them.  Or ask them if they are OK.  These may be good things to do.  But give them concrete help.  And by the way, most of the spiritual life skills I help people with are good rules for all of us to live by.  We want to prevent trouble for our second chance believers, but also we want to prevent our family from becoming a second chance Christian.

5.  Develop restoration plans.  We want to restore the fallen sinner to active body life and ministry.  So develop an action plan.  It may be removal from certain ministries for a period of time.  It may be a series of steps with built in monitoring and accountability.  Our reaction to people who blow up their lives has typically been one extreme or another.  One is to ban them forever with no hope of acceptance or restoration.  The other has been to rush them back into full body life with no structure or accountability.  Time lines, ministry restrictions, accountability, and monitoring are acceptable methods if used with the goal of restoration.

The purpose of these actions is to protect the recovering sinner from temptation, protect the flock from danger, and to prevent false accusations and gossip.

Churches like this are not for everyone.  Real restoration and healing is hard and difficult.  If it was easy, no one would need this kind of help.  But if you really want healing, this is the kind of church you want.  And there are some who do not believe in second (much less third or more) chances for certain people or certain sins.  Then you will never be comfortable in a church like ours.  Maybe you need to find a church that fits you more.

Tough love.  Yes it is.  But there is so much joy in seeing healed marriages, recovered addicts, and restored ministry.  But it doesn't happen by accident. It is by God's grace lived out in a community of faith committed to forgiveness, healing, and restoration.

It really can happen.  I have seen it many, many times.

Thanks God for bringing so many of us back home.  To you.  Forever.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Do you really want to be part of a second chance church?

I believe in second chances.  And third, tenth, and sixtieth chances.  I believe that is the church God calls us to be.  And if you are a second chance church, you will have lots of people who have messed up their lives coming to be part of your fellowship.  However, I believe it is spiritual, wise, and right to put conditions on those chances.  God does not call the wounded sinners to stay in their mess.  He is a God of healing, forgiveness, and restoration.  Because of that, there are some conditions on accepting those sinners needing second chances.

1. They have to acknowledge that their sin is wrong.  Sin is an offense to God.  It is not just a mistake.  It is not just inappropriate.  It is not just poor judgement.  Sin is when you do not follow God's will.  Getting emotionally involved with someone other than your mate is wrong.  And it was wrong before you "committed" adultery.  Do not claim that everything was OK right up until the time you "crossed the line".  It wasn't.  Admit it. God does not want you to divorce your wife and marry your secretary so you can be happy.

If you cannot admit your action was sinful and wrong, we are not your church.  Not interested in giving you a place to continue wallowing in your filth.  But if you don't want to continue in sin, we can help your current mess become who you used to be, not who you are.

2.  Confess that you did it.  Don't blame the way you were raised.  Don't claim it is the way God made you.  Do not  blame everyone else.  Stealing from the petty cash drawer is not the fault of the one who forgot to lock it.  You did it.  Confess it.  It is not your parent's fault, your mate's fault, the church's fault, or society's fault.  Are they all perfect?  No.  But you are the one who sinned.

If nothing is your fault, we are not your church.  We are not a place for you to spend the rest of your days blaming everyone else for your problems.  But if you do not want to continue in the same pattern of sin, we can help you break it and find healthy spiritual patterns.

3.  Be sorry.  Not sorry you got caught.  Not sorry for the horrible consequences.  Sorry for the sin.  Be deeply sorry for what you have done.

If you are not really sorry, then we are not your church.  We don't want to be a place for you to hang out while you continue to sin.  But if you hate your sin, we are your church.  We hate it too.  But we love you.

4.  Seek help.  Do you want to fix it?  Do you want to be sober?  Pure?  Kind?  Second chance churches are where changed lives happen.  Alcoholic become sober.  Mean people become sweet.  Sex addicts become pure.  Marriages get healed.

But if you don't really want to change, find somewhere else to go to church.  We believe in the God of change.  We are not interested in the people who like to stay in the ditch.  But if you want to change, we are your church.  We can show you lots of healed lives.  We have the scars to prove it.  Scars... not wounds.

5.  Submit to spiritual guidance.  This stops many people.  They are on board with everything till someone says what they need to do to be healed and restored.  As a shepherd at my church, I have lots of people sit on my couch whose life is a mess.  I give Biblical, spiritual counsel how to be forgiven (and to forgive), how to break patterns of sin, and how to be restored.  Scripture has many stories of healing and restoration that apply to your situation.

But if you do not want anyone telling you what to do, or you do not like what our elders and spiritual counselors advise you to do... then we are not your church.  If what you have been doing is working for you, you don't need our help.  Or maybe you will find a group who give you advice more to your liking. But we can only share what we believe to be Godly advice, and what we have seen work.  So if you want healing, listen to those who have been healed.  Listen as spiritual people give Godly advice.  It works.

So "second chance" means a second chance to be God's person, not a second chance to continue in sin.  And if you need another chance, we'll still hang in there with you.  Again and again and again.  So long as you really want to be healed.

It works.  Lives change.  We have living proof all around our second chance church.  One of them even writes this blog.

Thanks God.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Happy birthday Avery

My granddaughter Avery turns five today so here is another one of my blessing blogs.

I love Avery because she absolutely brings joy into every occasion.  You have to smile, laugh, and love life with her.

She loves her family so much.  Loves her Mommy and Daddy of course, but adores her big brother Jake.  Talks about her cousins Anna, Andrew, and Austin all the time.  Loves her big girl cousins Brenna and Kelsey and is so excited when they come see her.

She and Mimi have a great relationship.  Loves to spend time with Mimi.  Loves to talk to her on the phone every day.  Of course, Julie and Marsha talk every day.  And so do Marsha and her Mom.  Pretty neat

She loves books.  She wants books read to her all the time.  Loves to spot words she knows.

She is sooo cute.  Pretty enough that we don't say much about it to her because so many other people do.

I love the way our church family loves her and prays for her.

She loves God and Jesus.  Love it when I catch her singing praise songs.  Love to hear her pray.  She mentions every family member by name in every prayer.

She already makes friends so easily.

So I am glad she's so pretty.  Happy that she is smart.  And love that her personality is so sparkly.

But best of all, her little heart already seeks Jesus.

So what a great year Avery is going to have.  She gets to start Kindergarten.  She gets to be part of the Pup Club at Wylie.  Yeah, I know.  They start them early out there.

So Avery, when Mommy and Daddy -- or Mimi -- reads this to you... remember that Pops loves you and is so proud of you.  You make my world a better place and bring joy to my life.  Keep it up.

Thank you God for the gift of Avery Grace Gilbreth.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


On being a second chance church...

I have been engaged in a lot of conversations lately on what it means to be a "second chance" church.  Southern Hills very much wants to be -- and I think is -- a church like that.  In fact, I think we are the church of second, third, fourth, and 490 chances.  We believe we are a community of sinners following the sinless Savior.  We believe in grace.  We believe in forgiveness.  We believe in restoration.

We teach this.  We preach this.  We model this.  We even have this reputation around town.  One of the nicest compliments I ever heard about Southern Hills is that we are where "all the screwed up people go."  If you are in a spiritual battle, if you are wounded and bleeding... we are your church.  We often remind our church to please come talk with the elders if you make a mess of your life.  You will find grace, help, and healing.  In fact, we have said from the pulpit that there is no sin you can talk with us about that one of us -- or someone we love deeply - has not struggled with

We do not throw people "under the bus". We do not chain you to your past.  And we don't let others do that  to you either.  We are not going to label you for what you were.  We are not about where you have been, but where you are going.

We will love you, forgive you, help you heal, model grace, and seek restoration.  Our family is full of healed marriages, conquered addictions, and changed lives.  And we have lots of brothers and sisters still on that journey.  We will put our time and our resources into healing the wounded. 

But there is something we need to be clear about.  We are not your church if you want to stay in your mess.  We are about healing and restoration, not wallowing in our sin.  It is not OK to stay where your mess is.  Get out, get well, move forward.  If you slip... get out, get well, move forward.

Next time I'll share some of what this means in practice.

But feel free to share your thoughts.

And one more thing, thanks God for healing me when I was a mess.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


How to bless your children...

One last thought from my Father's Day class.  God gives us a pattern and example for how to bless our children.  It is the way he blessed Jesus at his baptism.  I believe our children need our blessing and affirmation.  This is something that can be used at special occasions such as baptisms, birthdays, holidays, and milestone events like the first day of school, etc  This is not only a great pattern to bless our children, but I use it as an elder in public and private blessings.

This is my Son.  Identify and acknowledge the relationship.  Jesus left heaven to live in a hard world.  He had to know who he was.  So do our kids.  But I think it goes deeper.  It speaks to a sense of belonging and community.  Our kids need to know they are important because they are part of our family. They need to feel secure.  Grounding the blessing in our relationship gives a sense of security.  Children that know who they are and who are secure in their identity will make better choices.  They will be more independent and stronger against the influences of the world around them.

I love him.  Don't you know there were times when Jesus had to wonder who loved him.  The only way he could do what he did was to be secure in his father's love.  Our children must know and believe that they are loved.  They must see how special we believe they are.  They must know that nothing will ever change the fact that they are ours and that we love them.  You cannot express your love too much.  I still value hugs from my parents.  I do not have one phone call to my wife, my parents, my kids, or my grandkids that doesn't end with "I love you".  This also gives our kids security and healthy self esteem.  It equips them to face a world that is hostile to their faith.

I am proud of you.  Our kids need to know who they are.  They need to know they are loved.  And they need to know that we are proud of them.  Jesus did too.  I believe God was reminding his son that he was proud of him for what he was doing.  So be generous with praise.  Be specific.  I am proud of you because...  and then fill the blank.  Be public with it.  Say it in front of others.  But tell them.  That is how they develop the self esteem to be their own person and not conform to the world's standards.

This is not meant to be a set formula, tho it sure works as one.  But these are three elements of blessing your children that should be part of their lives every day.  And if you do not bless your kids, they will seek identity, love, and affirmation somewhere else.  Never withhold the blessing.  Better to overdo it than under-do it.

And so to my wife, my four kids, my five grandkids, and my four parents:  I love our family, I love you, and I am proud of every one of you.  You bless my life.

Thanks God for showing me how to bless others.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


JD and Jamie

While I was in Tennessee this past week or so, Joe Don and Jamie celebrated their twelve year anniversary.  And here is what I thought about when I realized it.

God knows what he is doing.  They are really, really well matched.  They make a great team.

Grandkids are great.  Anna was our first and so she will always be special.  Andrew stole my heart from the day he was born.  I suspect Austin will be our last and that makes him special.  I love the way my kids parent.  So intentional.

The future will be awesome.  I cannot help but be excited about what God will do with the Joe Don Ridgell family.  He has great plans for them and they are open to his leading, so it will be amazing.

They have an open heart and an open door for people. 

They love lots, laugh lots, pray lots, and worship lots. 

So I'm glad God gave Jamie to Joe Don.  It really is a marriage made in heaven.

And for those counting, our three generations of marriage -- 5 families -- now have 189 years of living marriage.  What an awesome thing for my grandkids to know about some day.  Great examples. 

So again today, I say thanks to God for blessing me so much more than I could ever have dreamed.  And certainly more than I deserve.

Thanks Jamie for picking my son.  And JD ... you did good.  :)

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