Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Sinners are welcome at our church... but not all

I am always excited about Easter Sunday.  It is a real chance to invite people to come hear the amazing story of Jesus.  They hear that God loved them so much that his Son came to earth to die for their sins.  They hear that after being killed, God raised him from the dead.  And most exciting of all, they will hear that they are invited to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus and live forever.

So this Sunday -- and every Sunday -- sinners are welcome.  I am very aware that if we mean this, some will come in the midst of their sin. They may show up drunk, or with their battered wife.  They may come with their girlfriend instead of their husband.  They may be greedy, hateful, and racist.  But they are welcome to come.

Some will not come back.  Jesus will not be the choice they make.  Some will choose Jesus and will become part of our church of followers living life together.  They will find out that some of us still struggle with some of these things.  We are not perfect, but forgiven.  By the grace of God, the example of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and going through life together... we are being transformed more and more to be like Jesus.

We learn more what pleases God and what hurts God.  We confess our sins, we repent of our sins, we seek to be changed.  As we mature as Christians, the bleeding wounds of our sins turn into scars.  So even though we may have brothers and sisters who are adulterers, or racists, or neglectful of parents, or struggling with pornography... we are changing.  We are not called to stay the same.  The point is we are struggling with our sin and not accepting, excusing, or remaining in our sin.

So if you are a Christian struggling with your sin, you are welcome.

I do know that some of our group are not struggling.  They love their sin more than their Jesus.  They do not repent, they are not sorry, and they do not want to change.  We will confront them, challenge them, work in groups, and even bring their sin before the church.  All in an effort to call them back to Jesus and faithfulness.

But if you have no interest in living out your commitment to Jesus, you are not going to feel welcome at our church.  We will be talking about things that will not interest you. And if you show no repentance from continuing sin, you will asked to leave our fellowship.

I also am aware some Christians not only practice sin, but call on the church to embrace sinners who not only do want to change, they insist they do not have to sin.  They can have Jesus and their sin.

False teacher like this are not welcome at our church.

God help us if the sinner in our world is not welcome.  Forgive us when we do even make friends unless they believe in Jesus first.  I don't want to be that church.

And forgive us when we passively allow our family to live in sin as if that is normal for a Christ follower.  But also forgive us when we do not allow for grace, forgiveness, repentance, and change.  I don't want to be a church that is more like a civic/social club.  I do want to be a church that invites the struggling pilgrim to find healing and restoration.

Forgive us when we allow people to be taught that sin is acceptable to you -- and when we make our wants the standard instead of what pleases you.  And please forgive us for not being consistent.  We are sorry for condemning some sins so stridently while ignoring others.

So let's be a church that welcomes sinners.  But never let us be a church that is more comfortable in the world than in the presence of Jesus.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Herttenbergers, Bar Church, and Hunter Hanner = why I love my church

On the surface, they would not seem to be related, but I want to tell you about how these three people made me happy and proud of my church last Sunday.

We recognized the Herrtenbergers, my in-laws, for being married 70 years.  But that is not why I love Southern Hills.  Nor is it because we had a huge turnout for their anniversary party at SH on Saturday.  I love this because I was reminded how much our church loves marriage.  This was more than recognition.  It was encouragement, motivation, and example.  It was a message to our young couples to hang in there.  It was a testimony to loving God and your mate.  It was a living witness to not give up.  We live out grace, forgiveness and love.  Makes me happy to be part of a church like that.

And we celebrated two years of Bar Church.  A lot of people seem to think we were trying to make a statement by planting a church in a bar.  Nope,  It is not about the image.  It is about the people we reach.  It is about Christians whose lives blew up.  Jail time, families destroyed.  And who found a place to come home.  To be restored.  To experience forgiveness.  To do ministry.  The original dream was to reach lost people who did not think Jesus and his people were for them.  So Sunday I watched Clay Martin talk about relationships and remembered about how he baptized 8 or so people into Christ this summer in his swimming pool.  What an evangelist.  What a minister.  And even better, we don't pay his salary.  He is a baseball coach.  Reaching people.  Making disciples.  That is what we do and that is who we are as a church.

Hunter Hanner was there Sunday.  If you have kept up much with Southern Hills, you know the story.  Life threatening illness.  Major and courageous transfusion treatments.  Months in the hospital.  He was there Sunday.  Long way to go, but God has acted to heal.  So powerful to hear him talk about the love and support of Southern Hills.  But it was about so much more than Hunter.  He just represented our belief that our God hears and acts.  Cole Watts was there Sunday also.  Shot in a hunting accidents.  Intensive care for weeks.  Multiple surgeries.  And he was there Sunday.  Healing.  Praising God when things are great.  Remembering we also praised him when things did not look so good.  

So I guess Sunday was really about two things I love.  Making more followers of Jesus and living life together.

The Herttenbergers, Bar Church, and Hunter Hanner.

And everyone of these gave the glory to God.  Where it belongs.

I love my church.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Don and Jean Herttenberger have been married 70 years

Today is the day.  We celebrated Saturday.  Our local paper did a front-page story today.  You can read their story by checking my Facebook feed.  But it was 70 years ago today my in-laws, Don and Jean Herttenberger, got married.

Yes, they were kids.  (But that certainly came in handy when they thought Marsha and I were too young to get married).  They still hold hands, still kiss, still hug.  Still don't like to be apart.  Still say I love you.  Still say Sorry when they need to.  

So here are a few reflections of why I love them and am so proud of them.

Their marriage is about God, not just them.  Grandpa converted Granny.  It is no exaggeration to say their lives have been spent in church.  They have been at Southern Hills 50 years.  Taught Bible class, served as a Deacon, asked several times to serve as an elder.  They raised their kids that way too.  All three are active in church.

But more than that, they live their faith.  They have fed literally thousands of meals to others, they have visited those in the hospital, they have given generously.  They still read their Bible, and they pray for their family, their church, and for lost people.

Jesus is a real part of that marriage.

Family is a big deal.  They love their grandkids.  I take great comfort in knowing how much my kids and my grandkids have been prayed for by Granny and Grandpa.  They love their siblings, their nieces and nephews, and all of their extended family.  For years, our church small group was the Herttenberger family.

They love the family farm.  115 years in the family.  There is something special about being connected to the land.  Cotton, wheat, peanuts, cattle, horses.  Tomatoes, beans, squash, okra, peas, and peppers.  Dove, quail, geese, and ducks.  Sunsets and sunrises.  Bobcats, rabbits, coyotes, and skunks. Drought and rain.  Sweat and tears.  Praying over crops and cattle.  Life.

I have been blessed to be part of this family for almost 42 years.  They gave me Marsha.  They have loved me.  I think I am their favorite.  And maybe that is the secret.  Everyone thinks they are their favorite.

I am blessed to be part of Don and Jean Herttenberger.  I honor them, but more importantly, they honor God.  By their words and by their lives.

Thank you God for the living miracle of 70 years loving You and loving each other.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Julie and Bobby's Tenth Anniversary

It is a milestone.  Our daughter Julie and her husband, Bobby Gilbreth, have been married 10 years today. Here are some of the reasons I love them and am proud of them.

In our culture in this day and age, staying married 10 years is a big deal.  You do not make it this long without being committed to God, committed to marriage, and committed to each other.

You have produced two awesome kids.  Jake and Avery are smart, mature, and sweet.  They are kind, generous, and well-behaved.  Good athletes too.  But most important, they love Jesus and God.  You are doing a good job raising them.

Love the Sundays when our four generations are at church.  Granny and Grandpa, Mimi and Pops, and the Gilbreths.  That is special.

I am proud of the way you have fought thru health challenges that would have destroyed most families.  The three years when no one could diagnose Julie.  Jake's Kawasaki disease.  You have come out the other side together and now you are getting better and better.

Love the way the Gilbreths love baseball.  Wylie Little League is a better place because of you four.

So I love you and am proud of you two.

Here;s to many, many more.

Just like you said ten years ago:  keep loving God, loving your family, and loving each other.  Everything else will take care of itself.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Observations from my Cuba trip

Just got back from a week in Cuba.  We celebrated the twenty year anniversary of the Herald of Truth work there, and then got to help out with the national Men's Conference where over 300 preachers gathered to fellowship, worship, and study together.

So here are a few of my random observations.

I am blessed to work in ministry with Tim Archer, Tony Fernandez, and Juan Antonio Monroy.  They are gifted, passionate, and driven to share Jesus with a lost world.

Bill Brant, our President, and two of our Board members, Faires Austin and James McCoy (along with his wife Debbie) went on this trip.  It is nice to know that the people running Hope for Life/Herald of Truth share that passion and mission.

Heard Tony play the Bass with his string quintet.  He could easily go elsewhere in the world and make a living as a musician.  He chooses to stay in Cuba and make disciples.  Love to see ministry as a calling and not just a career.

Got to see five people immersed into Christ.  One older lady had an old-fashioned tracheotomy -- the kind with a flap over the area.  She had to hold her hand over the flap to keep the water out when she was baptized.  Really wanted to follow Jesus.

Hung out with the staff of the Mayfair church from Huntsville.  That church and those brothers have poured lots of money and lots of time and energy into Cuba.  Love them for that.

Preached the same sermon in Cuba that I preached a couple of weeks ago at Southern Hills.  Helped me remember that we are more alike than different.  Serving the same God, committed to the same Jesus, led by the same Holy Spirit, and sharing the same mission in this world.  Disciples making disciples.

God is good.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


No I Will Not Tell You If I Am Participating in Lent

Lent is an old tradition practiced primarily by Catholics.  It has recently gotten a lot of traction among evangelical churches.  It is designed to help you focus on your mortality during a season of fasting leading up to Easter Sunday where the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated.  Some people start the season by wearing ashes on their forehead representing the dust our bodies will return to someday.  Many talk about what they are giving up for Lent.  Rarely is it food, but I often hear soda, Facebook, television, chocolate, etc.

I get asked what I think about Lent.  And if I am participating in Lent.

So here are a couple of thoughts.

You certainly do not have to participate in Lent to be a faithful Christian.  Lent is not a command.  It is a tradition.  I do have to say here that as a life-long member of churches of Christ, I never heard much about Lent.  We have our own set of traditions (like singing without instruments).  I am amused that some of the loudest proponents of practicing Lent (or Advent) are the same people that tell me how we cannot be slaves to some of our traditions.  It is almost as if our traditions = bad, and other groups traditions = good.  

And I do not think it is accurate to say that Ash Wednesday -- or Easter for that matter -- are violating the Scripture about putting one day above the rest.  That is not the theology of Lent.  It may happen that way in practice, but that is not the purpose.

I think some of the ideas about Lent are helpful.  It is good to contemplate our mortality.  And Jesus does say a lot about fasting.

But I do have a couple of problems with what I see this time of year.  One is that it is very easy to make this a spiritual exception to the rest of the year.  I think Christianity is supposed to be a lifestyle all the time.  But some people do the same thing when it comes to the Sunday assembly.  That is their one hour per week to be spiritual.  Maybe it a problem inherent with Sunday, Advent, Lent, and Easter.

But Jesus taught that our spiritual disciplines are between us and God.  In fact, he made a big deal out of praying in secret and dressing normally when fasting.  If anything, he taught us to not let people know when we are in a season of prayer and fasting.

So taking Ash Wednesday selfies, or even wearing ashes seems a little out of step with what Jesus said.  And telling people what you are giving up (fasting from) seems at odds with how Jesus said to do it.

So back to one of the original questions:  Am I participating in Lent?

I can't tell you.

It's between me and God.

Monday, March 02, 2015


Our Jamie had a birthday Saturday...

Jamie Bankes Ridgell had a birthday Saturday.  She is our daughter-in-law so we did not get to raise her but we do think of her as ours.  Her is why I love Jamie and am so proud of her.

She is a passionate and serious Jesus follower.  She is very intentional about living our her faith.  She models Jesus in her neighborhood and in Haiti.  She serves her church and her family.  She studies, prays, and then acts.

She is head over heels in love with Joe Don.  Still.  Coming up on 15 years and she is just as determined to be a partner, helper, and best friend as she was on their wedding day.  She works hard at their marriage.

Great Mom.  Loves her kids.  Teaches her kids.  Plays with her kids.  Prays with her kids.  There is a focused purpose to her parenting.

Good friend to so many.  Always does my heart good to hear people brag on her.  Love meeting people who know her.  They all speak of her giving to others, her generosity, and her commitment to walking thru this life with others.

Our family is better and stronger because of Jamie.

I am blessed to call her my daughter.

And thankful for her every day.

Keep it up Jamie.  The best is still to come.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?