Thursday, July 31, 2014


Why I love my church...

I love Southern Hills church of Christ.  We had Vacation Bible School last week -- Joshua:  Bringing Down the House.  I have spent some time over the past couple of days thanking God for the things I saw that make me love this church.  And that remind me as an elder that things are going really well.

We had as many adults as kids at VBS.  As best I can tell, we had about 400 kids, 300 adults or so in class, and close to 200 adults involved in putting it on.

The VBS leadership was fantastic.  Full-time staff members going above and beyond to pull this off.  Volunteer leaders who put in hours and hours for months and months to make this happen.  And work has already started on next year's:  Daniel, the Mane Man.  So thankful for the leadership team that met, prayed, worked, and gave God the glory.  Volunteers who get it.

The musical was fantastic.  God was honored and the gospel message taught.  So many people using gifts and talents to pull this off.  Lead performers, cast members, crew members.  And everyone I talked to -- everyone -- gave glory to God.

Love those who taught, did crafts, led our kids around.  It is challenging, exhausting, and time consuming.  But that is where the real growth happens.  In those classes.  Sharing Bible stories.  So many praying daily for the kids.

Love the support and Admin people.  Those who fed the VBS staff, those who registered kids, those who made it a safe place to be.  Smiling faces, first impressions, putting our best foot forward.  All in the name of Jesus.

Loved the age span of the workers.  High school thru workers in their 80's.  Doing ministry together.

Loved seeing new Christians involved.  Living out their faith.  Sharing Jesus.

Loved how many families were all involved in one way or another.  Parents, kids, even grandparents.  Teaching, performing, serving, attending.

Love our elders.  Some taught.  Some were in the musical.  Some worked in the support groups.  Some just came to greet and love on people.  Glad our elders didn't even blink when told the musical and lessons were going to be about Rahab.

Loved seeing the pure joy of Jesus every night.

Loved that this joy and excitement was coupled with prayer and pain for members coping with horrible health concerns.  That's life in Christ.

Thrilled at the Facebook phenomenon going around now.  Our members sending messages thanking each other for what the did.  Community.  Doing life together.    

So happy that everyone was praying, inviting, and talking with the purpose of using this to bring people to Jesus.

And mostly happy that this is not something new for Southern Hills.  This was a glimpse of our real heart.  For as long as I have known this church, this is who we have been.  Praising God, loving kids, teaching Bible, not caring what anyone else thinks, doing ministry together, praying, reaching the lost.  And giving God the credit for all of it.

And I am not going to mention one name in this post.  Because not a one of these people care about credit or glory.  Love them.


Go God.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Kent Brantly, Jesus, Ebola, and Being a Hero

I guess by now everyone has heard about Dr. Kent Brantly.  He is over in Africa battling for his life.  He has Ebola.  Got it because he was working to treat people who are suffering from this horrible disease.  His wife and kids returned to the States just shortly before he was diagnosed and so appear at this time to be out of danger.  But Kent is not.  There are literally thousands upon thousands praying for his healing.

In the interest of full disclosure... I know Kent and Amber.  Her folks go to Southern Hills where I am an elder.  We've prayed for them before.  For their marriage, for their babies, and for their ministry.

And I hear lots of people saying things not exactly true.

One is that it was not a good idea to go to Africa in the first place.

The other is that Kent is some kind of hero because he got Ebola in Africa.

Both of these miss the point.  The Brantly family is a Christian family.

So going to Africa was not a wise -- or unwise -- decision.  It was a natural outgrowth of their desire to follow the call of Jesus.  Like Jesus, they care about people.  They had medical gifts as a Doctor and Nurse.  They prayed about how God would use them for Kingdom business in this world.  They got spiritual advice and guidance.

And they followed the call of God.  And following Jesus is not about the wisdom of the world.  Never has been.  It is about faithfulness.

And Kent is not a hero because he has Ebola.  Not even because he was exposed doing a courageous ministry.

He was a hero long before he got sick.

He is still a role model and hero.  So is his wife.  They are heroes because they choose to live radical lives of obedience in a war zone.  No, not Africa.  In this world.  They choose to follow Jesus.  The Jesus who saved them and then commissioned them to do battle with the forces of evil in this world.  So other people will have the chance to know what they know.  Hope. Purpose.  Peace.  In a broken world.

Hero?  Yes.  They are heroes because they died with Jesus a long time ago and were raised to a new life.  And they are courageously following that life where God calls them.

Just like many of you are doing.

So I pray for Kent lots.  I am asking God to heal him.  But Kent will be OK no matter what.  That was decided the day he made the only decision that really matters.

So he is a hero worth holding up to our church family.  And especially to our kids.

Because we want to raise more Kent and Ambers.  People that follow Jesus wherever the road leads.

So God, please heal Kent. Thank you for parents that raised kids with radical faith.  Let their story help others see your Son.  And may you be glorified in the life of the Brantly family.  Like you have been.  Like you will be.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Helpful hints for handling church criticism

I hear a lot of complaining.  In every church I visit.  I have never known a preacher, elder, deacon, ministry leader, or small group leader who has not had to deal with complainers.  So here are a few things I try to remember when dealing with complainers.

There is a difference between a complaint and a complainer.

Generic complaints are not helpful.  Everyone thinks, everyone knows, lots of people are saying, etc.  If you can't say who, I just have to believe it is not real.

Don't be afraid to tell them to take it up with the person they are complaining about first.  I even offer to go with them.  If they won't, I don't want to hear it.  Won't hear it.

It does matter who makes the complaint.  Yep, I said it.  The person complaining about our Bible classes will get further with me if they are actually teaching, or even have taught, than the one who hasn't or won't.

Most complainers don't do very many positive things.

Tell them thanks for volunteering and they are now in charge.  I know that is not always practical, but ...  When someone complains about the church not being friendly, show them witch door they are to be at 15 minutes early next week.  Or when they complain about a benevolent program, ask them what they are doing with for the poor or needy.

Some complaints are more serious than others.  I am not getting "fed" coming from someone who has been a Christian for 20 years does not bother me near as much as the new Christian who says they are not learning any Bible.

Ask how they would solve the issue.  And if they are willing to be personally involved in the solution.

It is OK to tell complainers that they are wrong, their facts are not correct, or they should let it go.

Quit being defensive when faced with a complainer.

The sky is not falling.  Really, it's not.

Don't be intimidated by threats.  Preachers who threaten to quit, elders, members, etc.  Or I'll withhold my contribution, etc.

It is not about how many.  Unfaithful spies about to die:  10.  Joshua, Caleb, Aaron and Moses:  4.  The people went with the 10.  The 4 were right.

Many complainers are manipulators.  They complain because it works and they get their way.

Use Scripture every time you can.  Let them argue with God, not you.

Pray.  Ask the complainer to pray.

And always remember, sometimes the complainer is right.

But if you lead, someone is going to complain.

Just ask Moses.

Or God.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Three things the Church of Christ is in danger of losing... and they are important

I grew up in the church of Christ -- or Church of Christ if you think it ought to be a title instead of a description.  So did my wife.  And that is where we raised our kids.  I think my people have gotten a lot of things right in our heritage.  And some of us have missed on a few.  Lately I hear a lot of talk about whether the church of Christ will survive in the future.  I am not real worried about it.  God's people, his church, will be here until he sends his son back to get us.  But I do think we offer some valuable insight for the Kingdom as a whole.  But lately I have started wondering if we are losing sight of some of the really valuable things that made us grow so fast.  And I am not talking about baptism, though I really am thankful for our emphasis on that as the way to participate in the death, burial, and resurrection. And I am not talking about acapella worship, though I like that and think it is a great tradition.  It is special when other groups ask our advice about how to use it to enhance their worship experience.

But here are three things I think we are losing that endanger our future.

1. We used to really emphasize every member is a minister.  Sometimes we were pretty much anti-clergy.  But for us, ministry was something everyone did.  Some just got paid to do it full-time.  We were adamant that preachers were not pastors.  That was what elders did.  We believed that every man was minister able to perform weddings, do funerals, preach, preside at the Lord's table, read Scripture, lead prayer in the worship assembly.  Our boys grew up watching their Dads do this, and they learned how from them.  (and this is not about women's role so not going there).  We are not that way in our big churches anymore.  More and more I see our churches led by "professional" ministers. They do all the public ministry, they lead all the ministries, and they make most of the decisions.  So for a lot of our men, the expectation is to show up.  Not expected to lead, not expected to teach, not expected to do much of anything.  Well, we still want their money.  Don't have a professional minister?  Show a video (and by the way I know some good ones -- my point is not the quality, it is the mindset behind it).  And we wonder why men are dropping out.

That is one reason I think smaller churches, and house churches, are the key to the future.  Or very active groups within our big churches.  They are driven by members.  Not top down, but with everyone needed and expected to lead.

2.  We don't know the book like we used to.  We expect the professionals to do our study for us, explain it clearly, and then tell us what it means.  We used to know Scripture.  We would debate what it meant, fight over different interpretations, and have intense arguments over it.  But we knew it.  Not just our preachers.  Not even just our elders.  Not even just our men.  We all learned the Bible.  I think we are losing that.  You can sit in a lot of our "Bible" classes and not hear much Bible.  You can hear a lot of application.  You can hear a lot of felt needs addressed.  But if we don't know what the basis is, I am not sure the application is much different than you could hear at any active civic club.

So we have got to get back to learning the book.  Good for theology.  Good for practical ministry application.  We are building a house without a foundation.

3.  We are not evangelistic.  We have lost sight of the mission.  We have got to be serious about all of us making disciples.  We have got to be courageous and fearless in sharing our faith.  And we won't always be liked by our world if we do that.  But they crucified Jesus, so...

Churches where members share their faith grow.  Churches that don't, die.  We sometimes confuse social justice with sharing the good news.  Or we think relief efforts are the same as mission work.  Jesus thought they all went together.  We used to.

So here are three quick questions:

Does your church expect anything out of you besides showing up, giving, and living right?

Do you need a Bible to understand the sermon and/or Bible class you attend?

How many first generation Christians do you know in your congregation?

And if not, what are you going to do about it?


Thursday, July 17, 2014


Avery Grace is 7 tomorrow

My granddaughter, Avery Grace Gilbreth, turns 7 tomorrow.  Here are just a few of the many reasons I love her and am proud of her.

She loves her family.  Any girl that wants to date her brother Jake someday will have to pass the Avery test.  She really enjoys hanging out with her Mom -- and her Mimi too.  Loves her cousins.

She is a happy girl.  All the time.  She wakes up happy.  Smiles and laughs thru the whole day.  Goes to bed happy.  Makes everyone around her happy too.

Fearless.  She is absolutely fearless.  I like that.  A little scary sometimes but she will not miss out on anything.  I think this is one reason she is such a good gymnast, and I think it will serve her well.

She is her own person.  If she doesn't want to do something, she won't.  Good for her.

She's smart.  Really smart.

She is fun and funny.  You have to be family or a really good friend to see the real Avery, but when she gets going, it is hysterical.

Loves God and Jesus.  Love hearing her pray for my Mom not to miss my Dad too much.  Love that she knows they will be together in heaven someday.

Her Mom and Dad are going to have so much fun raising her.  And it will be challenging sometimes.  I look forward to watching it.

Thanks God for Avery Grace.  She makes me happy.  And she makes you happy.  Keep taking care of her.

Love you Ave the Bave!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Richard Melton "retired" as an elder

My friend Richard Melton retired recently as an elder at Southern Hills.  He has served us for 30 years as one of our shepherds.  So he may not have the title any more, and he gets to skip the meetings.  I guess he won't vote any more.  But I do know he will still be a shepherd.  I served the last 9 years in the eldership with Richard.

So here are some things that made Richard a great elder.

He showed up.  It is amazing how many hospital rooms I go in where our members tell me every elder that has visited them.  Richard was always on that list.  Always.  One of my goals in life was to make a hospital visit before Richard.  Never did.  He really understands that shepherding happens in crisis.  And he did not just visit the well known members.  He checked in on everyone.  And prayed with them every time.

Our elders do a lot of prayer and anointing.  Some of our members -- and even some elders initially -- were a little leery of this practice.  I love what Richard said about it:  I am not sure why, I didn't' see this growing up in church, but it is in Scripture so we better do it.  Wow.

 Richard was a shepherd to the marginal and the disenfranchised.  I hear a lot of talk about reaching those on the margins.  Well, our church has some of those.  Richard was their elder.  Spent hours counseling, serving, giving, praying, and studying with them.  Lots of people talk about it.  Richard just did it.

He is a good student of the Bible.  Richard has taught Bible class at Southern Hills as long as I have known him.  When a topic came up for discussion in an elder meeting, Richard knew where Scripture addressed the issue.  Elders have to know the Word.  Richard does.  It is fitting that his elder retirement gift was a Bible.

He and Jane modeled couple shepherding.  She has been every bit as involved in the lives of our members as Richard.  Opened their home to so many.  Leading our church by example.

You can tell a lot about who is a real shepherd by who gets asked to do annointings and funerals.  Richard did a lot.  

Now don't misunderstand.  Richard is not perfect.  But he knows who is.  And he gave 30 years to getting his flock safely home to heaven.  I love that.

And I love the fact that Richard will not quit shepherding.  He may not be an elder, but he will always be a shepherd.  

I do lots of leadership seminars and retreats about elders.  I hear a lot of talk about shepherding.  Richard didn't just talk about it.  He did it.

Our eldership will miss him.  I'll miss him.  But I am glad he will still be one of my shepherds.

So thanks God for Richard and Jane Melton.  They have kept your people on the road home.  So raise up more like them to lead your people. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


Joe Don and Jamie

Joe Don and Jamie Ridgell have been married 14 years as of July 1.  Here are the reasons I love them -- not just as individuals, but as a couple.

They have a great marriage because they work hard at it.  So many couples take their marriage -- and each other -- for granted.  JD and Jamie don't.  They still date.  They make time to be together.  They work at communicating.

They are great parents.  Not just because Jamie teaches home school.  Not just because they are so supportive of their athletic endeavors.  But because they are passing on their faith.  Theirs will be a house all the kids will want to come and hang out.

They are great friends.  I don't mean just with each other but with so many other couples.  I am amazed how many people I run into who talk about how special my kids are.

They are great family members.  I mean the extended family.  The fun Aunt and Uncle.  Help with grandparents.  Pray.  Love.

They are the young family every church wishes they had more of.  They teach class, they give, they evangelize, they give spiritual counsel, they lead groups.  You can count on them.

They fit together.  They compliment each other so well.  They are better together than they are apart.

They are not perfect.  And I'm glad.  I know their struggles and their weaknesses.  If they were perfect, I would worry about what they are hiding.

So God did a good thing when he put them together.  The Kingdom is stronger of earth because of it.

I love them and am so proud of them.

Thanks God for Joe Don and Jamie.  Give them many more years together to be your people on this earth.

Thursday, July 03, 2014


Joe Don's birthday ... why I'm proud of him

My son Joe Don had a birthday last week... so as is my custom, here are just a few reasons I love him and am proud of him.

He loves God.  He has as long as I can remember.  He talks about God and he tries to live in a way that honors God.

He loves his family.  Devoted to Jamie.  Great Dad.  I love that his kids race to the door to greet him when he comes home.  I love that he intentionally makes time to spend with each one of them.

He is focused on leading his family in faith.  They are generous givers.  They constantly open their home for fellowship and study.  They pray together.  They share their faith in their neighborhood.

He is a great brother and uncle.  That is a special gift.  I love that his nieces and nephews think he is a crazy, fun uncle who loves them deeply.

At my Dad's funeral Joe Don spoke.  He honored his Pap-pa and he honored his God.  It made me so happy to see living proof that faith is being handed down thru the Ridgell generations.

He still makes time for his Mom and Dad.  Love that he still enjoys hanging out with me.  Hunting, fishing, ballgames.  Even more amazed that he still comes to hear me teach and/or preach whenever he can.

I love how many times someone tells me what a difference JD has made in their life spiritually.  He has a shepherd's heart and will be a great elder someday.

Son, husband, Dad, grandson, teacher, friend. lawyer, spiritual guide.

But most of all -- follower of Jesus.

I love you and am proud of you.  I thank God every day that I get to be your Dad.


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