Crisis #1 and #2

Crisis #1
According to the latest statistics compiled by Lifeway Research, 80% of regular church attenders believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. However, the reality is shockingly different. 61% state they have not shared how to become a Christian with anyone in the last six months. In addition, 48% (almost half) have not even invited an unchurched person to attend a church service or program in the last six months. The church is suffering from an Evangelism Crisis.

Crisis #2
Increasingly we are living in a digitally connected world. Generation Z (B.1995-2014) have not known the world without internet and smart phones. Presently 46% of adults report “sometimes” or “always” feeling lonely and 47% of us feel “left out” at times. We are moving toward a culture where loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions. We are connected digitally but not personally and we are lonelier than ever.

How can we fulfill our personal responsibility to share our faith and connect with a culture that is increasingly isolated and lonely?

God has given us the time-tested tool of Vacation Bible School. VBS has a brand awareness that Fortune 500 companies covet. 60% of Americans have attended VBS. 90% report VBS as a positive experience and 81% consider it a highlight of their childhood. WOW!! In addition, 69% of parents say they would encourage their child to attend a VBS at a church they don’t attend IF their child was personally invited by a friend. Take away: Children will attend our VBS if we personally invite them.

Here’s the challenge:
If we believe that, we are all sinners and sin separates us eternally from God, if we believe that Jesus life, death, and resurrection is the only solution to our sin problem, If we believe that we have a personal responsibility to share our faith, then, let us commit ourselves to making this year’s VBS our best one ever!

Will you join me and accept the challenge?

See You Sunday!

The Journey to happiness begins in church. At least that is the finding from
a survey just released by Pew Research (Article: www.tinyurl.com/TRC-PewHappy).

After analyzing surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries, Pew Research
published their results January 31 with this conclusion, “Church participation
leads to more happiness and civic engagement.”

Further, “This analysis finds that in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement.”

Interestingly, they further note, “Religious affiliation without participation does
not lead to the same positive outcomes.” In other words, having your name
on the roll without attending is of little value to you or the congregation.

One conclusion from the study is that, “Societies with declining levels of
religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal
and societal well-being,”

Pew defines active religious engagement as, “Those who identify with a religious group and attend church services at least monthly.”

In the U.S. 36% of actively religious people state, they are VERY happy
compared to 25% of inactive religious people and 25% of those unaffiliated
with any religious group.

The research also found that those who attend services are also more engaged
in their communities and more likely to volunteer than those who do not regularly
attend services.

This research provides evidence that being in small groups and worship
on a regular basis not only makes the Lord happy, but the individual as well.

This gives me even more reason to say, “See you Sunday!”

Super Bowl XX

I’m not a Chicago Bears fan, especially since Super Bowl XX when “Da Bears” schooled the Patriots 46-10. However, watching Codey Parkey’s missed (later ruled “blocked”) field goal attempt for the potential win in last week’s NFL playoff game, I hesitantly admit to some compassion for him. He made it once but had to re-kick it due to a last second time out called by the visiting Eagles team. Compassion is not how one would describe the die-hard Bear fans. Oh my! Such hostility!

Of course, Parkey isn’t the only one who ever messed up big time. In a 2011 AFC Championship game Billy Cundiff of the Baltimore Ravens missed a game-tying field goal with 15 seconds remaining, sending the Patriots to the Super Bowl, again.

Oh yeah, who could forget October 26, 1986, when in the wee hours of the morning Red Sox 1st baseman, Bill Buckner let a routine ground ball dribble between his legs allowing the Mets to score the winning run and forcing a game seven of the World Series, in which the Mets also won. Needless to say, the Boston anger and rage did not soon subside.

Then there was the “Steve Bartman Incident” of October 14, 2003. You have a vivid memory of it if you are a Cubs fan. It was the 8th inning of game six of the playoffs The Cubs were leading the Marlins 3-0. A pop foul sailed toward left field; Bartman, in the stands, reached for the ball, deflected it, and disrupted the potential catch. If it had been caught in play, it would have been the second out in the inning and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. Only recently have amends been made and the aggression eased as the Cubs awarded Bartman a 2016 World Series ring.

If messing up was just an isolated incident by an awkward few, we might have a reason for hostility, anger, and outrage. Pointing them out with derision might even be a worthy hobby. However, we all mess up. There was only one perfect person who walked this planet and he was crucified. When our team loses, we aren’t happy and we are tempted to assign fault. Remember to go easy on the poor soul who messes up, express some compassion, and offer some encouragement. Next time we might be the one who chokes with the game on the line.

Merry Christmas

This is the last edition of the Newsletter emailed or delivered by the USPS for theyear, 2018. We will publish again on January 3, 2019.

I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of Debbie and myself to wish youall a very Merry Christmas as you remember and celebrate the birth of our Lordand Savior, Jesus.

Again, I say thank you to everyone who contributed to the many giving opportunities this time of year: The Thanksgiving baskets, The Spirit you all, Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, the Debt Retirement 5th Sunday Offering, and to Pregnancy Matters.

In addition, I thank you for your financial support which keeps the building open, salaries, paid, provides ministries, materials, and opportunities to do missions. None of these items or activities would be possible without the Lord and the generous giving of the people of The Ridge Church.

Being a member of The Ridge Church includes the responsibility of the year support. Recognizing that responsibility is a sign of spiritual maturity. Fulfilling that responsibility is a sign of spiritual growth.

When John announced the advent of Jesus the people asked, “What should we do?” John told them to, share with those in need, keep no more than you must, and be satisfied with what you have (Luke 3:7—18).

This is the season of the year to renew our commitments to the Lord and to The Ridge Church. The financial cost of ministry never remains the same, it never costs less, and the increase is always beyond our ability. This is why, “We labor together with God” when we do our best, the Lord is able to do the Lord’s best!

Will you commit to the Lord to give your best financially through The RidgeChurch this year?

Again, enjoy a great Christmas with family and friends, and safe travels.

Christmas

I have a few annual Christmas TV traditions. One is watching “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve. TBS airs the story for 24 hours, so no matter where you start you always get to see a complete showing. My other Christmas TV tradition is re- watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Since its first airing in 1965, (53 years ago)

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” has become a “must see” classic. Lead character, Charlie Brown finds himself depressed despite the beginning of a
cheerful holiday season. He rants over the commercialism. Lucy suggests that the answer to his holiday doldrums is involvement, and she enlists him to direct the Christmas play. Willing to give it a go, he attempts to take charge, but with his leadership ignored and confronted with a list of complaints from the cast, his depression only worsens.

Determined to discover the meaning of the holiday and fend off his intensifying despair he concludes that what is lacking is a Christmas tree to set the mood. Off he goes, only to bring back the sorriest looking “Charlie Brown” tree on the lot. Of
course, he is scorned, mocked, laughed at, and humiliated. It is at this time he explodes in desperation and loudly asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus says he does, walks to center stage, and recites Luke 2:8-14. After he completes his reading, upbeat music resumes, a smile fills Charlies Brown face, and he picks up his tree to give it a proper decorating.

For me, this symbolizes the lifting of Charlie Brown’s heavy burden of depression in response to the gospel reading, leading to the discovery of the real meaning of Christmas. Even Linus lets go of his infamous security blanket as he reads. I realize life is not a cartoon and issues of depression are not as easily resolved. However, there is joy and celebration and praise when one discovers what Christmas is really all about.

My Christmas prayer is that we would all make that same discovery and make it an annual tradition!

Christmas

The Lights Fantastic Parade was fantastic! Once again, we won first place for our float, the 27th time in 28 years! Of course, I jest. Preparing the float for the parade takes a lot of time and effort and I thank everyone who helped put it together and the 22 folks who rode and walked the parade route.

Once again, I am reminded of the many who participate in the different ministries of The Ridge. A few Sundays ago, several stayed behind, raised the Christmas tree, and put up our decorations for the season. We all thank you!

While Christmas and all its responsibilities are already upon us, I want to share with you a few events that will make your Christmas most meaningful.

  • The Ridge Choir has been busy rehearsing the Cantata, “God Came Near”, which they will perform on Sunday, December 16, during worship.
  • Also, Jamie Robison has been working with our children on their Christmas program which will also be presented during worship on December 16, prior to the Cantata.
  • Then, our Annual Christmas Eve Candlelight service on December 24 begins at 5:30 p.m. The service is designed as a prelude to your Christmas Eve celebrations and will last about 30- 45 minutes. Dress is casual, come as you are. If possible, we ask that you bring a package of diapers for “Pregnancy Matters.” Find out more about their services at www.pregnancymatters.org

It is by intention that we have limited our Christmas activities. However, it makes these scheduled events even more precious and I challenge you to make it a priority to not only be present but also be passionate about inviting and bringing family and friends with you. To make your inviting easier we have tickets for you to give out. Check the Welcome Center.

Let me tell you about what is going on in Gorham!

The after school program resumed November 13. Each Tuesday we meet from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. at the Gorham Community Center. The program is designed for children in k- 6th grade, although there have been a few older and younger who are attending. We are excited for everyone who attends!

Each session begins as the children arrive with an activity that introduces the daily Bible focus. Some children arrive off the bus at 4 p.m. and others at 4:30 p.m. We have snacks and refreshments at the ready. After everyone arrives, the Bible study begins. We are using the same Bible study that we use for our children on Sunday morning at The Ridge Church.

Following the Bible study, the children complete the activity page. This is a take home page so the parents can visualize what the children are learning. Another component of our weekly study is to learn and review a memory verse.

In addition to the Bible Study, there is a mission study. Currently we are learning about the people who live in Mumbai, India. Our meeting concludes with an activity, game, or craft that will reinforce the lesson for the day.

We have experienced great support from the community. Last Tuesday’s attendance included 18 children and 6 leaders for a total of 24.

Please let our weekly leaders know how much you appreciate their ministry in Gorham: Allie and Lisa Hottensen, Angie James, Avis Barrett, Matt Philips, and Dennis Howell. And thank you to those who provide refreshments each week.

Please keep this ministry in your prayers. We will conclude this session on December 18 and hope to begin again in February 2019 as an Off-Campus Sunday School.

Christmas, Peace, & Jesus

Picture the perfect Christmas. Is it the making of the candy and cookies? Is it the perfect sized tree trimmed and glistening with lights and the exact right number and placement of silver icicles? Maybe it is a fire crackling in the fireplace with the stockings hung on the mantel with care. Or, all the family gathered together for one very elegant meal after opening up all the presents from under the tree.

December begins with high expectations but as the days race by the pursuit of the picture perfect day seems just beyond the grasp. Memories of Christmases past, family agendas, work schedules, the search for the perfect gift, finances, uncooperative weather, and over extended calendars, all seem to dampen our “Christmas Spirit”.

May I suggest two steps in making this Christmas at least a “Better Christmas”?

  1. Make the main thing the main thing. The best way to avoid turning into the Grinch is to remember the point of the holiday.
    Christmas isn’t about presents, trees, decorations, lights, or homemade fudge. It is the celebration of the day Jesus was born so we could be set free form our sin. Christmas is a celebration of God’s ultimate gift of salvation.
  2. Choose peace over chaos. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). This instruction is true for us today. We are called to live in peace, looking at our lives with thanks for what we have instead of complaining about what we don’t have. When peace rules, the stress of life slowly begins to fade away. Seeking Jesus and His peace this holiday season will ensure that you have the best Christmas ever.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Shoe boxes, and Grateful Hearts

I am looking forward to our annual Thanksgiving Dinner, Sunday at 6 p.m. I hope that you will be there and bring your whole family and all your friends. What a great opportunity to see everyone together. There is always so much great tasting food. It
is at meals like this that I wish I could eat more! Nevertheless, I will be content with a second helping of everything.

Contentment: Thanksgiving is a time to pause and contemplate on all that we have and joyfully give God thanks. Oh, life does not have to be perfect; it never is, for us to be content and thankful. In fact, contentment, thanksgiving, and joy are not found in a perfect life, or in wealth, or in our many accumulations. Rather contentment is the overflow of a grateful heart.

Grateful: Even in the midst of many of life’s challenges and struggles, we can live grateful and gracious lives. I am grateful for the people of The Ridge who so often rise to the occasion to provide for others.

For example, the postage money for sending 67 shoe-boxes at $9/each has been raised ($588). The funds for filling 20 Thanksgiving Food baskets has been received ($745). These baskets will be distributed in Gorham and to clients of Centerstone.

We were set to receive an offering for food baskets Sunday night. However, with our goal met, we will instead receive food items for the Murphysboro Food pantry. (The list of items needed is located in the newsletter).

There are still 18 Spirit of Christmas names to be claimed and the Week of Prayer for International missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas offering is just a few weeks away. I am confident that contented and grateful hearts will once again rise to the occasion to meet these Kingdom needs.


Never too early for VBS

Saturday Debbie and I, along with Lisa and Allie Hottensen attended the VBS Preview and Children’s Ministry Conference in Springfield.

First, I once again commend all of our Sunday School and Small Group leaders who attended training in Marion or Springfield. Thank you for your commitment and passion for learning and discovering new ways to reach and teach, as we journey together in our spiritual walk.

I certainly realize the challenge of committing time to training with so many other good activities competing for attention and priority. Therefore, we strive to offer only “top of the line” training opportunities that are worth your time.

Second, the VBS preview was a great introduction to this year’s VBS theme, “In The Wild.” The focus this year is on real-life encounters with Jesus. As we engage exotic animals, we will also find snapshots of Jesus in Scripture. Each snapshot will offer an opportunity to respond to the gospel. The adventure of a lifetime awaits!

It is not too early to make a commitment and volunteer in VBS. We need more volunteers this year. “Top of the line” VBS training will be at First Baptist Church, Carterville February 22, so save the date.

Third, LifeWay Research discovered in a recent study that 69% of American parents (churched AND unchurched) would encourage their children to attend VBS if they were invited by a friend. Let that sink in a minute—IF they were INVITED.

All it takes is an invitation. Wow, that’s easy! What are we waiting for? Let’s get started! Here are some quick tips to harness the power of a simple invitation.

  • Start with Relationship – Begin with your friends.
  • Extend a personal invitation –A personal invitation is a beautiful simple thing.
  • Get parents involved – Plugging parents into VBS gets them involved.
  • Know the goal – The reason we want kids (and parents) in VBS is that the message of the gospel is too important to miss.

We Labor Together with God, Wes