Thursday, March 31, 2016


We better start listening to our old Christians

I have spent most of my life talking about Jesus and life with young people.  Mostly college students, but also high school and young adults.  I really have not spent much time with old Christians, but I am becoming more and more convinced we better start listening to our older saints if we want to have healthy, growing churches.

And yes I called them old.  Not senior saints, not 39ers, not even older.  Old.

And here is why we better listen.

I am rapidly becoming one.  Well, OK that may not be a good reason.  But I do actually think about what I have to offer the Kingdom and how that may change if God grants me another 20 or 30 years on this earth.  And much of what I am learning I am getting from old Christians.  And it is strong spiritual advice.

The Bible says to listen those who are older.  Read I John.  Or I Timothy.  Older men teach younger men.  Older women teach younger women.  Older widows on the ministry staff.  Elders teach the church.

Older Christians really care about the future of the church.  Not worship styles and making sure nothing changes.  I mean they really care about the generations behind them staying faithful to Jesus.  They want to see lost people saved.  Maybe it is more urgent because they have less time but they really care.

They understand priorities.  Most old Christians really are not afraid to die.  But being able to see death helps them focus on what really matters.  They get it.

Those of us who are younger need to see living examples of those that made it.  We need their stories of addictions defeated, marriages healed, and how God worked.  Those sweet, cute little old couples holding hands have weathered the storm.  And they made it.  They are living witnesses to God's goodness.

We need to hear how they made it.  What did they do to stay faithful to God?  What are the dangers maybe we do not see?  What would they do more of?  Less of?  What would they change?  What would they not change?

Their faith stories are inspirational.  There are great testimonies among our old.  We need them.

I know some old Christians get stuck in the past.  And some seem afraid to change anything.  Some of them act like a bunch of young, immature Christians wanting everything their way.

But not all of them.  Not even most of them.

We stand on their shoulders and we need to know how we got there.

They have seen it all and lived it all.  And they love God.

So find an old Christian to learn from -- and old may be someone twenty years older than you, or fifty years older.  But find them.

And then listen.

We better.

So thanks God for your old saints.  You have told us to let them teach us and we don't listen very well.  Help us to do better.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


How do you stay married 71 years?

Marsha's folks, Don and Jean Herttenberger, just celebrated 71 years of marriage.  Amazing.  I love them and am proud of them.  Here is my tribute and what I have learned from them about staying married.

Start young and grow up together.  They ran off when they were 16 and 17.  Made it pretty funny when they thought Marsha and I were too young at 20 and 21.  But here is the key.  Grew up.  They stuck it out.  I know enough to know there were times they could have quit.  Hard times farming.  Health crisis.  Family troubles.  But they stuck it out.  Didn't believe there was any other option.  For either of them.  They really did commit for life.  Taught us that all you need to make a good marriage is three:  husband, wife, God.

Faith carried them.  Grandpa converted Granny.  They have spent their lives loving God.  Raised their kids to love God.  Served others.  A lot of people have been fed by them.  Physically and spiritually.  Gave generously even when they did not have much.

They have a church family.  Showed up at Southern Hills the 2nd Sunday it existed.  Been there ever since.  Taught Bible classes, had people over, served as a Deacon, asked several times to be an elder, visited, showed up.  Were part of small groups, life groups, study groups.  Church friends.

Modeled love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and faith.

They love family.  Herttenbergers are family people.  Uncles and aunts, cousins, grandkids, friends.  All showing up for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and Sunday lunches. I watched them take care of their parents.  Now we kids take care of them.  Generational love.  They love their grands and their great-grands.

Pretty cool to get to be a Herttenberger.  And pretty easy to be part of their family.  God, Jesus, faith, and love.  Pretty well covers it.

I love Don and Jean.  Great role models for us, our kids, and our grands.  I have been their son for a long time now.  Blessed.

And of course, they gave me Marsha.  Best gift I ever got.  Well, except for my folks telling me about Jesus.

So God, thanks for Granny and Grandpa.  We have all learned a lot about you by watching them.  They are getting old now and I suspect their time here is getting pretty short.  They have spent a long time loving you, loving each other, and loving us.  Bless the rest of their lives here.  They taught us how to live in you and now they are teaching us how to finish strong in you.  And they will die in you. Then live with you forever.  So thanks for putting them together 71 years ago.  We give you the glory. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Julie and Bobby had another anniversary

Our daughter Julie and her husband, Bobby Gilbreth, just had their 11th anniversary.  That is noteworthy for several reasons and I am proud of them.

Julie was healthy this year for the time in the last 5 or so anniversaries.  Makes all the difference.  Thanks God.

They are raising two great kids.  I know they are my grands, but still...

Jake and Avery are developing faith, they do good academically, win citizenship awards, and excel at their chosen sports.  Added bonus:  Jake is a Bobby Jr. in size and Avery is a Julie Jr.  Glad it turned out that way and not the other way around.

The roller coaster that is life has not thrown them off.  They come from a long line of couples who stay married.  And a long line of couples that chose to stay married.  My folks over 60 years when my Dad went home.  My in-laws over 70.  We are past 40.  Joe Don and Jamie are past 15 and Julie and Bobby now 11.  Through sickness and health.  Richer or poorer.  Good times and bad.  Every marriage has been there.  They have had their share of adversity -- and more.

Still having anniversaries.

So here's to a year of health, a year of God giving you your daily bread, and of good times.

Thanks God for being faithful for Julie and Bobby when Satan and the world kept attacking.  Thank you for healing.  and God I ask that you bless them this year. I ask you use them together to bring people to you.  Bless Jake and Avery.  Thanks for the Gilbreths.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Are Church Buildings Helping or Hurting Kingdom Growth?

It has become increasingly difficult for me to justify the money Christians spend on buildings.  I grew up in a time where churches had Bible class, worship, Sunday night services, and Wednesday night services.  Some churches even had two Sunday morning services.  But even then it seemed that a lot of money was spent for for somewhere to do so little activity.

And now most churches do not do Sunday night at the building.  Give it 10 more years and I doubt many do Wednesday night at the building.  Some would argue that our churches are much healthier spiritually away from the building.  So there may be a number of great reasons to have fewer activities at our buildings.  But at the same time, that just makes it harder to justify the incredible expense.

Thousands upon thousands (if not millions) spent for auditoriums used at most 2 or 3 hours per week.  Classrooms used maybe one hour per week.

I acknowledge that many churches try to be good stewards with their physical resources but it seems harder and harder to justify.  So I have been trying really hard to come up with some reasons why we should continue building buildings in the name of Jesus.

Warning:  It is possible that I can sometimes be a little sarcastic.  So this may be a little tongue-in-cheek.

Buildings help people find the church.  Makes it easier for them to come to us.  If we did not have buildings, we might have to go out among the lost and hurting of this world.  After all, build it and they will come.

Some people will only give -- or will only give generously -- to buildings.  There is something special about real, tangible evidence of what we have done.  It is harder to see what you are building when you are trying to build people.  Hard to put a name on a person.  But we can look with pride at the buildings we erect.

It is hard to make the worship assembly the focal point of our Christianity without a big building.  It is hard to explain how much your church is growing without a building program to point to.  It is really hard to "take roll" if you don't have everyone together at least once a week.

If you shift to a bunch of smaller assemblies, it will be very intimidating to have to make eye contact, visit with people, and actually get involved.  We might even all be expected to sing in smaller assemblies.

How can you justify paying for a premium staff of ministers without preaching, big worship, large programs, etc.?  If not careful, the members would actually have to do most of the ministry.  Do you really want a bunch of ordinary, uneducated people doing important ministry?  The next thing you know the only way to justify paying ministers would be for them to spend more time reaching lost people instead of taking care of us.

Who is going to teach the children if we do not have big, nice classrooms for our Bible school program.  Parents?  Smaller assemblies mean young people right in the middle of everyone.  Listening to old people, hearing those endless questions from little ones.  Auditoriums were made to keep everyone quiet.  Well, except for one guy up front actually working.

What would you do with the money you save?  You would have smaller budgets everywhere.  And if people do not have to meet budgets, what happens to your tax deduction?

How will the world know we have arrived if not for our buildings?  After all, we have an image to keep up.  Successful churches surely have to look successful.  People notice.

OK.  Maybe I am too hard.  And I know lots of people that have given sacrificially to building programs because their leadership asked.  And I know lots of churches striving to make good Kingdom use of their buildings.  I know ministers who are desperate to reach to lost.  And even some who do not think it is their mission to pacify or entertain the saved.  Some that do not believe everything revolves around one hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday morning in an auditorium.

But I just cannot help but wonder if we are chasing a flawed model.  So for now, I don't vote for building programs. I usually just abstain from those votes.  They might be right.  I might be wrong.  And we will not give sacrificially to building programs.

Yet... rather than just complain and point out things that trouble me, I must do what I think church is called to do.  After all, you would have to be pretty arrogant to tell everyone what they do is wrong if you are not doing something different.

We will have people in our home.  Conversation with a couple wanting to know about Jesus last night.  Group of elder couples and a troubled marriage tonight.  We will use our resources to serve people and reach people.  We will try to live in spiritual community outside the walls of our building.

I don't need a building for that.  Nor can a building stop me from doing that.

Because the real building is what God is doing with people.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


An answer for the times when there seem to be no answers

There are times in life when there are no answers.  One of those times is when parents bury their children.  Why my child?  Where was God?  How can I go on living?  Unbearable pain, unimaginable future, unanswerable questions. And let me be clear that I do not have the answers.  I am not smart enough or spiritual enough to know what to say.  
But God does.  I think as an elder, preacher, parent, and friend we are called on to speak God words into the lives of those who look to us for help.  And I do believe God has spoken into our lives through a story.  So when we do not have all the answers, let God speak.
 It is the story of when King David and Bathsheba lost their infant child.  David fasted and prayed.  Maybe pleading with God to heal the sick child.  Maybe begging God not to hold his sin of adultery against the child.  And the baby died.  So David got up, cleaned up, and ate.  He went on with life.  When asked how that was possible, he said that the baby was not coming back to him… but that he could go to where his child was.
So here are three things that are certain.
1.     You are not the only one to experience this.  It is a world where death happens and evil exists.  God does not always do what we want.  I do not know why because I am not God. And that is a good thing because there has to be someone bigger and stronger than me in control.  So God’s people chose to believe in spite of the pain.
2.     Life goes on.  You may want it to stop.  You may even wish that it would, but it will not.  So those of us in God’s family keep on living.  One foot in front of the other … one day at a time.  Because we believe.
3.     This is not the end.  Christians know that we will see our children again.  Death is not the end.  It is only final for the short time we are on this earth.  It is not final forever.  

So that is my answer for a time when there seem to be no answers.  God speaks through the story of one of our faith heroes.  Just like he speaks thru those of you who are living faith heroes today.  Living an answer for those who think there are no answers.

This world is hard.  God is here.

Life goes on.  So live it by faith.

We will be together soon.  So stay on the journey till you get home.  Together again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Another precious baby in heaven... my great-nephew Easton Robert Hebert

Easton Robert Hebert was stillborn yesterday.  His Mom, Jenna Hebert, is my niece.
I like to think my Dad is rocking Easton in heaven, yet... sometimes there are just no words.  Only feelings. But there are some things I do think I know.  So here is a blog I actually wrote a few weeks ago for Hudson Wade, an 11 year old member of my church who died of Leukemia.  But it fits for Easton too.  And for our family.

Over the past few months and years, their have been so many parents I know who had to bury their kids.  Some from sickness and some from accidents.  Some saw it coming, others had no idea till the phone rang.  Some died in the womb, some were grown.  So I think on Hudson, Matt, Ashton, Scottie, Nick, Matt, Caleb, and Lane.  Now Easton.  And so many more.

I have prayed and cried.  I have preached many of the funerals.  Attended most of the others.  And now I am grieving again with my family.  But I am remembering that as believers we are hope grievers.

So I don't have the answers about death, God, prayer, and suffering.

But I do know some things to be true.

Here is what I know.

This world is a tough place.  Sickness, sin, pain, and death.  It is real and it touches all of us.

God is here in the midst of all of it.

This world is not our home.

God will be glorified.  We will praise him in the storm.

We do not grieve like those with no hope.  Because we believe.

We will see Easton around the throne of God someday.

I have to tell the world of our hope.

So they can know what we know.

In a broken world of death and pain...

Jesus rose from the grave.

We believe and because of that, we will see our babies, our sons and daughters, our children, again.

Until then, we cry, praise, and hang on to God and each other.

And wait for the Lord to take us home so we can all be together again.

And I know that I cannot fathom how you survive without Jesus.

So come quickly Lord.

Take us home.

Thursday, March 03, 2016


Our Jamie had a birthday...

Jamie Ridgell, our daughter-in-law, had a birthday last week.  So here is why I love Jamie and why I am so proud of her.

She loves God.  I don't mean that she just goes to church and tries to be good.  I mean she is deeply and passionately in love with God.  That love is evident in her life, her family, and the way she treats people.

She wants everyone to know Jesus.  She gets to know people.  She talks about Jesus.  She invites people to church and to special church events.  There are people who will be in heaven because they met Jamie.

She loves our Joe Don.  I really appreciate the way she intentionally works on their relationship.  There is no doubt she is still crazy in love with our son.

She is a great Mom.  She loves, disciples, teaches, molds, and takes care of her littles -- who are not so little any more.  She is one of those fun Moms whose kids love to hang out with her.

She is a great Aunt, great sister, and a great granddaughter.  She didn't just get Joe Don when they married, she got all the Ridgells and Herttenbergers too.  And she loves all of us.

She is a real prayer warrior.  Jamie has prayed us all thru some hard times.  Still does.

If we could have chosen anyone to be our other daughter, it would have been Jamie.  Still is.

So Jamie, we love you and we are proud of you. You are one of our kids.

Thanks God for Jamie.  Thank you for giving her to our son so we could have her too.  Bless her as your daughter, as a wife, a mother, and a friend.   And thank you for letting her be our daughter.

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