Do you remember the old Sunday School Song, “I’m in the Lords Army?

I may never march in the infantry, 

Ride in the cavalry, 

Shoot the artillery,

I may never zoom o’er the enemy,

 But I’m in the Lord’s army!

2020 provides a great opportunity for ministry through The Ridge Church. The sky is the limit. Since there are so many needs around us, I am confident there is one or two needs somewhere that we can meet whether we are 8 or 108.

When Jesus redeemed our life, he provided us with at least one and probably more gifts that we are to use for God’s glory. Our talents, abilities, availability, and attitude are all gifts that God has given every one of us. And, we are to use them in service for God’s Kingdom. They do not belong to us. They are not to be put on the shelf to gather dust like a souvenir from the baseball game. In fact, we will never be content or joyful until we are exercising those gifts. 

However, don’t be surprised, for where there are many opportunities there are always many adversaries to keep us from putting God’s gifts to work in our life.

Our own flesh provides great excuses in keeping us from the success God has in store. Our friends and family will even advise us not to “go off the deep end,” or “don’t get fanatical about it.” They may even try to “reason” that Jesus doesn’t want us to be radical about our faith. Unbelievers will mock us. Nevertheless, grab the vision! Embrace the opportunity! 

Whatever God has called us to do; we can do it through the power of God that resides within us. It might be tough. Nothing worth anything comes easy.

This is a battlefield and we are in the Lord’s Army. Endure the difficulty and the overcome the obstacles as a good soldier and fight on!

No New Year Resolutions Required

Traditionally the new year is a time for resolutions. These resolutions are promises we make to do things differently in the year to come. I heard that the top three resolutions for 2020 are 1) exercise more, 2) eat healthier, and 3) save more money. Noble resolutions indeed. I also heard some sage advice from Papa John’s pizza, “When it comes to resolutions there’s always next year.”  Included with the quote was a very delicious looking and tempting picture of a large pepperoni pizza! Who could resist? 

On a Facebook page, someone posted a devotion titled, “Resolutions” from, Experiencing God Day by Day” by Henry and Richard Blackaby. 

Let me share a few of their thoughts.

When we fail the Lord and fail to keep our promises (resolutions) to the Lord, the Lord does not berate or humiliate us. Instead, the Lord will ask us to examine our love for him. 

Do you remember when Jesus encountered Peter at the seashore after he had denied him three times? Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and Peter responded three times that, he truly indeed loved Jesus. 

Jesus does not need our resolutions, recommitments, or promises to try harder this year. If we failed last year in our resolutions and promises, we will no doubt fail again this year. Instead, Jesus simply asks for our love. 

If we truly indeed love the Lord, our service for the Lord in the new year will be of the quality that the Lord desires. 

Rather than grand resolutions and our annual promise to “try harder” may we instead examine our love for the Lord, obey his command to follow him, and grow in Kingdom service through the Ridge Church this year.   

It is a Privilege

In my last article, I wrote of the many mission opportunities the folks of the Ridge Church support. I continue to be pleasantly amazed at all the Lord is able to do through this congregation. 

This week my article serves as a gentle reminder of the necessity of financially supporting the day-to-day operation of The Ridge Church. Without the consistent financial support of the folks of The Ridge Church, as provided through the giving 

of tithes and offerings, The Ridge Church would cease to exist.  

I realize it’s a challenge to get excited about water, light fixtures, electricity, furniture, buildings, staff salaries, printed materials, video projectors, microphones, computers, telephones, music material, vacuum cleaners, soap, trash cans, stamps, postcards, coffee, windows, Wi-Fi, a web page, and an assortment of other equally boring items. Yet, all of these are necessary for the fulfillment of the mission that God has called us to accomplishment, “To lead non-believers into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

I am hesitant to send out this reminder because I am aware of the many financial household commitments many already have. Nevertheless, I am also aware of the generous spirit of the people of The Ridge Church. In addition, I remember the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, (12:17) “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”   In The Message, the response of the people to these words of Jesus was, their mouths hung open, speechless.”

It’s not a matter of just giving enough to get us by. It’s a matter of being responsible stewards of the bounty that God provides to meet the vision God has for this congregation. The vision exists to reach children and adults in our communities and lead them to follow Jesus. However, the financial resources for enlisting, training, and developing the necessary components are simply not available at this time. Meanwhile we do the best with the resources we have. Again, I am pleasantly amazed that God is still able to accomplish much. Still, so much more of God’s plan could be achieved if our financial giving increased.Actually, financially supporting The Ridge Church is not just a necessity, nor even a responsibility. It is a privilege.  I am grateful for the privilege of being an enthusiastic financial supporter of The Ridge. I know you are as well. May our enthusiasm abound!

Missions Opportunities

This morning I reviewed some of the events of last month and was pleasantly amazed at all the missions’ activities of The Ridge Church. These are activities supported in addition to the giving of your weekly tithes and offerings.  

Here are a few examples: 

  • Thanksgiving Baskets – $715 was donated for Thanksgiving baskets and 20 families were provided a complete Thanksgiving dinner. I received several 
    “thank you’s” from the recipients. One individual picked up her basket with tears.
  • Murphysboro Food Pantry – Funds were available to donate $125 to the Murphysboro Food Pantry. The food pantry serves residents of Jackson County.
  • Spirit of Christmas – 30 individuals were touched by your generosity. These individuals would have most likely received nothing or very little for Christmas.
  • Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes. Not only were we able to fill 64 shoeboxes with fun and practical items for children a whole world away, we were also able to raise the shipping cost for each shoebox ($9/each).  

In addition, the month of December provides more missions’ opportunities.

  • Lights Fantastic Parade – Ride The Ridge Church float this Saturday December 7, and let people know that “Jesus is Born.” Hot Chocolate and cookies provided! See Lisa Hottensen for details. 
  • Lottie Moon Christmas Offering – 100% of this offering is used to provide support for international missionaries and their families.  
  • Hand out Postcards – Be a missionary. Invite those around you to attend the Cantata on December 22 and the Christmas Eve service
  • Pregnancy Matters – We will collect diapers for Pregnancy Matters during our Christmas Eve service.

Thank you for your support of missions at home, far away, and places in between.

I Need Your Help

Perhaps when you read this, you will have just finished your Thanksgiving feast or maybe this finds you in the midst of your Thanksgiving festivities. In fact, you may even be in the middle of enjoying the tasty leftovers, the best part of Thanksgiving eating, IMHO. Regardless, I hope this note finds you grateful and thankful. 

Whether this has been the best year of your life, the most challenging, or something somewhere in between, we all have so much to be thankful for and appreciate from the hand of God. 

It is to God that the offering of our thanks belong. No doubt, when the ten lepers (Luke 17) realized Jesus had “cleansed” them, they all were thankful, but only one returned to thank Jesus.  Jesus expected all ten to return thanks. I want to be more like the one and less like the nine. I know you do as well. 

I need your help! Can you help me? Will you help me?

The Ridge has two major outreach events coming up in December. December 22, The Ridge Choir will present the Cantata, “His Name is Jesus” during the worship service.  Also, our children will present their Christmas program as well. 

Then, The Ridge Christmas Eve Candlelight service, at 5:30 p.m. This service will last about thirty minutes and is a “come as you are” gathering. It is a great way to begin your Christmas Eve family traditions.  

Here is how you can help. 1) Plan to attend both events. If you have family and friends coming in, bring them with you. Neither event will disrupt your schedule; it will only enhance your time together.  2) I need you personally to invite others to attend. To assist you, there are postcards available at the Information Center promoting the events. Pick up several and hand them out with your personal invitation. In addition, you have probably received one in the mail at your home. Please pass it along with your own smiling invitation.

God has included us in His plan to reconcile the world to Him. Lets’ embrace God’s plan.  Thank you for your help! 

What’s your Favorite Bible Story and Why?

What a great Thanksgiving meal we enjoyed together Sunday evening! Everything was superb. I want to thank you for your presence and the warm fellowship that we experienced. What a great congregation the Lord has brought together through The Ridge Church! 

Please join me in thanking Jamie Robison, Nikki Perschbacher, and Lois Anderson for taking the lead ensuring that everything was just right. I know they had lots of help and I thank you all for making our Thanksgiving meal possible.  And, ooh wasn’t that some of the best turkeymashed potatoes, and dressing that you’ve ever tasted?   

Sunday, the Children’s two class led by Jenny Hertter asked the Sunday School/Small group leaders to write down their favorite Bible story and explain why. Everyone participated and the results were amazing. The purpose of the assignment was to reinforce in the children the truth that the entire Bible has meaning from the first page to the last. Also, each part of the scripture has application from the Old Testament through the New Testament. Here are a few random examples.

  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego because they did the right thing even though they were unsure of the outcome.
  • Feeding the Five Thousand because it shows how Jesus meets the needs of people. It must have been amazing for the crowd to realize how Jesus can bless a small lunch, eat all you want, and have leftovers!
  • Joseph’s rise from abandoned by his brothers to Pharaohs top person because it is a great example of having faith in God in the toughest of circumstances.
  • Moses parts the Red Sea because it demonstrates God’s power and God’s willingness to use it for his people. He loves us so much.
  • Parable of the Good Samaritan because it shows it only takes the kindness of one person to do something good for someone else.
  • The veil of the Temple torn from top to bottom because it shows that we now have direct access to God without going through a priest.
  • Peter cutting off the ear of the soldier and Jesus heals him because it shows that we can’t go around hurting people just because we disagree.

What’s your favorite Bible story and why? Let me know. 

What Did He Say?

Are you a good Listener? If you are like me, it depends on who’s talking, right? 

Well, the fact of the matter is, listening is difficult. First, we can think four times faster than most people talk. Therefore, listening requires our brain to slow down and follower the speaker. Second, when listening we have to surrender control and coordinate our mind with the speed of the speaker. No doubt about it, developing good listening skills requires practice.

Listening to sermons well, can require even greater skills and practice. In a recent article Rev. Dr. Howard White, pastor of Carbondale First United Methodist offered a few ideas to improve listening skills to get more out of sermons. Let me share them with you.

  • Before the sermon – Prepare ahead of time: read the sermon scripture during the week. It is printed in the newsletter. Pray for the preacher. This not only invites supernatural aid, it creates some ownership of the sermon for you. Get enough sleep Saturday night. Commit to set aside worries and distractions for that hour. Expect to encounter God in worship.
  • During the sermon – Take notes. It engages the mind to keep you alert, active, involved, and helps you avoid feelings of drowsiness or distraction. Instead of ruminating over lunch destinations, think about things related to the topic.
  • Following the sermon, follow up with a discussion over lunch. Maybe something said that morning would trigger a mealtime conversation. Later on, review your notes and look for a personal application.   

Listening is a discipline that requires practice. Attending worship regularly provides opportunity to practice and develop those listening skills. Who knows, improved listening skills may even improve my sermons. I’m sure we would all appreciate that!

How Many Days until Christmas!?

As I took my daily stroll into Walmart on Tuesday, an extremely large barrier confronted me. It was a countdown calendar announcing the number of days until Christmas. “Days until Christmas 50”. There it was in BIG DIGITS –50

I’m sure it was intended as a public service announcement. After all, who wants to get caught up in all that last minute Christmas shopping? Thank you Walmart for being so considerate of my mental health! Although, I’m sure the case could be made that any merchant might use this ploy to jolt procrastinating shoppers into action. After all the bottom line for any so-called business PSA, is to increase sales.

I’m not sure how effective this ploy was. Rather than shopping, perhaps panic, terror, anxiety, melt down mode, and depression, are the more likely actions of viewing such information. For me, rather than stay and shop I wanted to run to my safe place.  

This emotional encounter caused me to ponder the daily moments we spend focused on some future event rather than appreciating the value of the moment. For example, the last seconds of the year are a total loss. As the big ball in Times Square makes its descent, rather than embracing the very last moments of the present year, we have already dismissed it as we join the “Final Countdown.” What a waste of time ….  

Oh, I know we have to plan and we have to look ahead and that where we are today reflects past choices and decisions. I also know that the decisions and choices we make in the present will determine results in the future. 

However, there is something precious and valuable in participating in the present moment and embracing all that it holds, rather than wishing our lives away. 

What would happen if we made a conscious determination to accept the present moment not as a stepping-stone for some future glory but to enjoy it as a gracious gift from God? The Psalmist writes, “This is the day the Lord as made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (118:24) OR, as The Message renders it, “This is the very day God acted—let’s celebrate and be festive!”

Thank You For Your Kindness

Debbie and I wish to thank you for your kind expressions of grace presented to us Sunday morning.  We enjoyed opening and reading your cards. They certainly were encouraging. We are grateful for the privilege and opportunity of ministry and service at The Ridge Church. Your acts of kindness are not limited to just one Sunday of the year and are appreciated all throughout the year. 

Our history together goes back quite a few years. We began attending Walnut Street Baptist Church in the fall of 1980, newly married and fresh out of college. I was Food Service Director at one of the off campus dorms in Carbondale. We moved away in 1985, to accept the pastorate at Cutler First Baptist Church. In 1994, I accepted a position as Hospice chaplain for Hospice of Southern Illinois. We moved to Carterville December 30, 1994. 

In September of 1998, Debbie was enlisted to lead music at Walnut Street. Soon after that, Pastor Bill Carter retired and I was asked to serve as Interim pastor. Over the course of time and prayer, the call to pastor was extended to me and I accepted God’s call to serve this congregation on January 1, 2000.  

So here we are almost 20 years later. God has been present and faithful all this time. God has enriched our lives as we have “labored together” in God’s Kingdom. I am continually amazed and humbled that God has called and included ALL the people of The Ridge Church to be part of God’s plan for reaching our communities with the good news of God’s love through Jesus. 

Since we are ALL part of God’s plan in reaching our communities, I invite you to physically join me in participating in The Ridge’s ministry in the village of Gorham. 

Here are three simple opportunities1) Sign up for Trunk or Treat. We still need a few more Trunks.  2) Attend the community Chili Supper on November 2. 3) Contribute to the Thanksgiving food drive and assist with the delivery of food baskets in Gorham. Contact Dennis Howell for information. 

Without Relationship, It’s Just Passing Information

Once again, the folks of The Ridge Church will be in Gorham on Halloween for their annual Trunk or Treat celebration. The Gorham Fire Department will grill hotdogs for everyone and it will be a great opportunity to get better acquainted and build relationships. I’m hoping that we have a good representation of #RidgeFolks present. If you would like to join us, there is a sign-up sheet at the Welcome Center. If you need more information, see Lisa Hottensen. 

Tuesday will be our last afternoon for TeamKids for a few weeks. We will resume November 12 and finish out the year on December 18. We have a great TeamKid team committed to sharing Jesus with the community. Thank you, Avis Barrett, Lisa Hottensen, Allie Hottensen, Dennis Howell, Angie James, Matt Phillips, and Pam White. One of the blessings of being in Gorham each week is the ability to connect not only with the children but with their parents as well. 

I encourage you to participate physically in the ministry in Gorham. I appreciate your prayers and contributions but I invite you to Gorham. There are several upcoming opportunities: 1) Sign up for Trunk or Treat 2) Attend the community Chili Supper on November 2. 3) Contribute to the Thanksgiving food drive and assist with the delivery of food baskets in Gorham. Contact Dennis Howell for information. 

In a recent workshop I attended, I read this quote by Bobby Harrington, “Without relationship there is no discipleship, just the passing of information.” We minister in Gorham not to pass information but to build relationships and share Jesus. 

A few weeks ago, Audra came into TeamKids excited. She took it upon herself to surf the internet to find this Bible verse and comment; “No matter what you are facing, remember Deuteronomy 20:4 ‘The Lord your God is with you to fight against your enemies to give you victory.’”  She recited the verse to everyone by memory. 

Yeah, we are building relationships in Gorham. God is moving! Will you be a part of what God is doing in this community?