Bible Bowl Thoughts…Part 1

With this being Christian’s last year of Bible Bowl, I wanted to do a few posts of random thoughts I’ve had over the years about the game, among other things.  To give a bit of background, he was an emotional wreck and a big game choker when he first started playing.  He flamed out in 4th and 5th grade at Nationals finishing 7th and 8th, respectively.  He was a GREAT round robin player – seriously, he went 77-0 in Round Robin games his fourth grade year but he was in no way ready for any kind of double elim – which was my fault because I was his coach.  I can remember expressing my frustration to Lisa Rolston about why he couldn’t win any big games and in her calm and always optimistic way she would always say that he would be fine and “You never know…”.  This phrase became quite a mantra for April and I as we would talk to Lisa over the years.

In sixth grade, the Lord really began to doubly bless his efforts.  Having never won any kind of DE tournament, he beat a very strong Mt. Pleasant team in the junior division at KCU in the summer.  I can still remember Mark Young coming in and picking him up and hugging him – what an exciting day that was BUT he was still such an emotional player that could get five questions in a row – the other team get three – and he would literally be crying at the table.

In sixth grade, my wife and I can remember gathering around the bracket in Cincinnati listening to folks talk about how to beat him – not realizing that we were his parents!  🙂 There were some things that stick with you as well, from a parental standpoint.  Christian matured in the game well beyond his years very, very early but he was still emotionally and physically a sixth grader.  There was a team that had several girls on it that would laugh at him when he would cry – things like that always tug on your heart as a parent and leave a bad taste in your mouth for that program.  He finished up pretty well as a sixth grader, getting third at the National Tournament.  That was the first year for the quote bee as well and he took home third place.  Perhaps an even greater accomplishment than both of those is that he finished 19th on the test that year out of some 500 players would be my guess.

In seventh grade, our family broke off with two other families and formed what we called Covenant Christian Fellowship.  What a blast that year was!  I knew that he might be pretty good when he won the test at February KCU scoring a 199/200 (as I recall), edging out Courtney Hosp – one of his favorite players from Austin ;-), and also one of his biggest encouragers (planning to do a post later on some of the great folks from BB that we have met).  We spent A LOT of time working on his mental game (thanks Ed!) doing various drills…for example, I’d make him quote late at night (10:30 or so) holding a whiny baby (Elijah) so that he would have to focus on what he was doing.  He hated those drills…Ed Stivers, the coach of his 7th grade team would do things just to mess with him…tell he was wrong, when he right, not let him contest, make him sit out the first several questions of games – all to press him and pressure him.  Well, he had a great summer that year.  We played him up at all of the tournaments (except Johnson) – as best I recall he finished Top 8 at Milligan (I think he was knocked by a future National Champ in Curtis Gibson).  At KCU that year he beat Jon Derry (a BB great and one of the players that Christian looked up to) twice in the DE and a future National Champ in Josiah Gorman.  That was the first time I met Bill Thomas who was another one of Christian’s biggest encouragers.  We finished third in the DE – being knocked out by the Harlow boys (more on them later).  At Johnson that year we won the JR Division RR and went on to finish sixth in the DE (Christian’s highest finish ever at Johnson)…as best I recall, we took Jon Derry to a tie breaker that Christian bounced but really, we were just happy to be there.  One of the games that I recall (i’m pretty sure this is right) is a game that he played against Austin.  He got the first 14 on Courtney who was a very good player and Tracey Chamberlain (Christian’s future coach) just shook his head after the game and said, “There’s nothing you can do about that!”

At Nationals that year, Christian went undefeated in the RR but there were a couple of teams that scared us to death. MP with Chase Coy, VV with Richie Clubine and ICC with Jessica Henry.  They were all 8th graders and very good players…thankfully we didn’t have to play MP or VV in the double elim but we did have to play Jessica in Rd 6 (i think).  The game was fairly close but Christian began to bounce and Jessica was lightning quick and we dug ourselves a pretty deep hole.  He needed to get the last four to win…something he had never done.  Well, as always, the Lord was kind in that he got 17, 18 & 19 and Jessica buzzed on 20 and missed giving us the game.  That game was a turning point in his career in many ways. He went on to beat Macomb that year who proved to be a very tough challenge, we didn’t win until question 18.  That gave him his first National Title, albeit a junior title, but ask any player who’s won one, a lot of hard work went into those titles.  There were some very good teams in those days who would’ve caused a bracket nightmare had they played up at the national tournament.  That year he also finished 18th on the test and won the quote bee beating Daniel Moorehead.

I guess that’s it for now – those were his formative years in the game before he moved up to play against the big boys.  The thing that made Christian excel in the game at such an early age is first and foremost, the blessing of God.  If God does not bless your efforts, you will not win.  Period.  It doesn’t matter how hard you work.   Now, I’m not saying that Christian was more deserving and THAT brought the blessing of God, MAY IT NEVER BE – in fact, we were less deserving than many teams and why God was so kind to us, I really honestly have no idea.

Secondly, from a human standpoint, the reason why he excelled so early is because he would very rarely misquote – even as a sixth and seventh grader (he left his biggest misquote for question 1 of the Championship game this year, but I digress ;-)) if he hit the word, he would get it.  Third, the Lord gave him an uncanny ability for general toss ups.  When we would play up, there were players that were just flat out faster but where we would make up points is in generals – and generals come by text knowledge.  His seventh grade year is the first year that he began buzzing on references and getting them within the three second time (this was before black dotted verses)…again, where does that come from?  Well, humanly speaking hard work and April’s genetics but more important, MOST important – that is a gift from God.  All for now, if you’ve read all of this, you must really be a BB junkie or family, either way, thanks to all three of you for letting me share a few thoughts.

Three years ago today…

April writes:

Three years ago today, my grandmother fell asleep in her bed and awoke standing before the throne of grace.  Shortly after, I penned a list of things that I will forever miss.

I miss:

-the Monday arrival of the ‘survival’ care package which always consisted of 1. paper plates 2. a huge vat of ketchup 3. a couple of penne pollos (smart ones) 4. a bottle of ranch dressing 5. something for Graceann to cook (muffins, cookie dough, brownies, etc.)

-the $50 or so she’d slip me occasionally, always accompanied by one of three phrases – “if you wanna blow it all on bubble gum, then that’s fine” or “take your little family out to dinner” or “well, you can’t take it with you”.

-our Sunday phone call chats.

-our Monday talks about how our church services went.

-lunch out on Monday, I’ll especially miss Applebee’s as she was the only person that genuinely enjoyed that restaurant as much as I do.

-the way she always tore the little one’s hamburgers into bite size pieces.

-her thoughtfulness in always feeding Mollie the leftovers after lunch.

-her cleaning off the table after everyone was done, while I finished up my lunch.

-her sitting in the rocking chair holding the newest baby.

-laughing with her – usually over something that grandpa said or did.

-seeing her little red car pull in and the feeling of profound relief, gratitude and security that would go along with it.

-hugging her bony frame, the feel of her stiff hair and her smell.

-hearing her say, “Let me have the baby and you go get whatever you need to get done.”

-her encouragement and unfailing belief in me.

-her hamburgers and zesty fries.

-hearing her sing all the old hymns to the little ones.

-all the idle times filled with so much precious conversation.

-her fast driving and near misses.

-our lunch runs (Long John Silvers, Wendys, KFC, Taco Bell).

-shopping with her – that’s an old memory, but still so precious!

-her account of lying in the bed and envisioning each child before she went to sleep; she’d try to decide on a favorite, but said she couldn’t because each one was special in their own way.

-hiding Christmas presents at her house from our children, her annual Christmas dinner of KFC and her fudge.

-her lilac and hydrangea bush bouquets.

-her familiar form in the rocking chair.

-her greeting of “Hey, hey!” or the door bell ringing several times in a row.  Sometimes she’d say, “Anybody home?” and then just come on in.  This didn’t happen often however, due to the children’s vigilant watch and subsequent greeting of running out to the car and overcoming her with their hugs and squeals for candy (hershey kisses and little reese cups).

-her home on Crews Drive.

-the way the china would rattle in the hutch when you walked through the dining room at her house.

-having lunch in her basement.

-the way the phone would ring when she called (we assigned a ring-tone to her number).

-her love and support of our family, I especially miss all the prayers that went up on our behalf.

-debating over Scripture and our interpretation of different things; I’m grateful for her conclusion that Jesus was her Savior and all that really mattered was Him and His death of atonement for her.  She’d always tear up and say, “I’m ready.”.

Monday, May 14th, 2007, she came over to the house to keep Micah (8weeks) and Ryle (2 years old at the time) while I went out for lunch with a few ladies – something I rarely got to do.  She spent her last full day on this earth caring for the precious little ones that she loved so very much.  She gave Micah a bottle, she changed a dirty diaper on Ryle – doing what she had done hundreds if not thousands of times before.  She wasn’t there to criticize – she was there to support and to serve in whatever capacity she was needed.  That’s it.  She was just there to be a help, a confidant, and a friend.  After she left our house, she went home.  And then, later that night, shortly after midnight, she went Home.

Mother’s Day…a quick thought on my wife…

These posts are usually long and longer so I am hopeful that this one will be quick and to the point.  Oftentimes on Mother’s Day, grown children are thankful to mom for providing so much of the ‘things’ that they WANTED growing up.  As I’ve thought through the wording of that phrase, my wife really can’t provide many of the ‘things’ the children want.  You see, she labors IN the home.  The pay is bad, the work is menial and I mean menial – folding clothes, doing laundry, changing pull-ups that aren’t able to hold THAT much, fixing sandwiches, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, dusting, straightening, putting kids down for a nap, getting dinner together, running to school for a meeting, teaching Jake, Grace, Elijah and Ryle – bandaging scraped knees, writing a quick note to encourage a sister in Christ, bearing patiently with her grandfather who comes over everyday, disciplining, bringing the children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord and then, I get home.  By no means is that an exhaustive list (there’s seven children for crying out loud! ;-)).  Just a few things off the top of my head.

Back to my point.  She can’t provide many of the things that the children want.  But because she is laboring in the home, she CAN provide those things that our children most NEED.  Which is a mom who oversees their care, their discipline, their instruction and gives them not leftovers after a long day off somewhere else – but the ‘first fruits’ of her labor.

To my dear wife and mother of our children, “Many daughers have done well, but you excel them all.” (Prov 31:29).

“Job gone in july”

That’s how the text read to my wife’s cell phone on April 8, 2009 at 9:39 a.m.  I knew it was coming.  We all did.  Still, there’s nothing like actually hearing that your entire department is no longer wanted or needed.  “Your last day will be July 31.”  I can’t remember too much about the day, I do remember that I worked that Wednesday night at UPS – got off at 4 a.m. and then went to lunch with April.  At that lunch after having had about four hours of sleep, April began pressing me on what ‘the plan’ was.  ‘I don’t know.’  ‘What do you mean you don’t know?  You always have a plan.’ ‘I don’t have a plan, I don’t know what we’re going to do.’  That’s pretty much all I can quote from the discussion (putting to mildly) we had that day at the Beef O’ Brady’s in Fern Creek.

I had no idea how things were going to turn out.  My desire was to trust the Lord, knowing that He would provide.  Besides, I would get a nice severance, unemployment benefits, etc. and we’d be fine for a good long while.  But then what?  There’s a certain amount of healthy pressure to provide for a wife and seven children – thankfully, we have very little debt but a mortgage payment and groceries (our two biggest expenses), that really adds up.

I really hated the idea of job searching and having to sell my skillset (I use the term very loosely) to a prospective employer.  I’m not ‘that guy’.  I hate networking, I hate foity toity luncheons, slapping backs, laughing at stupid stories – and most everything that goes with it.  Besides, I knew my line of business at the bank, I’d been in it for 15 years and figured someone would pick me up, somewhere, because of my astounding (please note the sarcasm) floorplan knowledge.  But, as the Lord would have it, it rarely works out the you think it will.

In early July, some positions came open at the acquiring bank.  I applied for four of them.  I received two rejects on the positions that I thought I was best suited for.  Then, the job that I thought I was least likely to get a call on asked if I could interview July 26th – the Monday before my last day.  Of course, I jumped at the chance, wanting to keep my five weeks vacation, insurance benefits, retirement, etc.  The difficult thing is that they would have to make me an offer and I would have to accept – all before I left July 31st – or I would lose my benefits (at least that’s what the recruiter said).

The interview went okay – but at the end, I told them the pickle I was in – “I need an offer ASAP, if you like me.”  I’ve interviewed folks and I typically don’t like them putting me on their timetable but there was a lot at stake.  Blessedly, they did offer – on Tuesday!  Now, we had some things to iron out and I didn’t think it was going to work out.  I even woke on up July 31st and told my daughter, “This is it.  I don’t think I’m going to be employed on Monday.”  But again, the Lord was exceedingly merciful and I received a phone call at 10 a.m. saying that all of the wrinkles had been ironed out.

So, it’s a year later.  What has changed?  Everything.  And if you know my schedule from my old job, you know I really do mean everything.  No more working from home.  No more coming and going as I please.  No more trips to Dayton, Cincinnati, Lexington, Ashland to find good Mexican places on the bank’s money (I did audits there, Mexican was a good by-product of the trip).  No more being a night owl.  No more taking a day of vacation when I feel like because it’s “such a nice day”.

Again, it’s a year later.  What has changed?  Nothing.  I still enjoy my work.  I’ve met some great folks -I’ve got my Diet Dew buddy, we go get a our 32 oz. cups filled every morning and spend time chatting about family and movies and such.  We worked right across from each other for six months before they moved all of us into our cubes but he’s a great guy and I’m so thankful to have had those six months to chat with him all day, everyday.  But I’ve also met a dear, dear brother in Christ.  I am so thankful to have someone of like faith and like heart – a wanting to know and love the Lord Jesus – a desire to serve Him and a seeking to be the man that God calls him to be – those men are rare.  True Christian friendship is a wonderful treasure and a token of God’s blessing – I am so thankful for those few close friendships the Lord has given me.

But you know the biggest thing that hasn’t changed?  The Lord’s faithfulness to me and to my family.  I am amazed at His steadfast love in spite of my faltering and wavering faith.  I am so thankful that a year later, by the grace of God, I am still walking in the truth – that hasn’t changed.  I am so thankful that a year later, by the grace of God, I can say with the Psalmist “Bless the Lord, O my soul.  And all that is within me, bless His holy name!”  What the next year will bring – I have no idea.  But I pray that a year from now, I will still be able to say that He has forgiven all my iniquities, He’s redeemed my life from destruction, and He’s still crowned my life with lovingkindness and tender mercies.

I wish every family had a Gabe

It has been my desire on my children’s birthday to write a blog celebrating his/her special day.  I am already two behind for the year (Elijah and Micah both had birthdays in February) but there is no time like the present.  So, without futher delay – Gabey.  Gabey Baby.  The Lord has been very gracious to give us so many wonderful sons (and of course, one sweet little gem of a daughter) – each unique in his own way.

I can remember April and I trying to figure out what we were going to name our son in late 1994 and we came across the following verse in our daily Bible reading, “The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”  We read it again.  “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God…”.  We LOVED that name.

So a few months later, after 11 hours of labor and the use of a cool vacuum contraption with a suction cup on the end, Gabriel Ryan Kelley was extracted via air vacuum into the world.  And oh what a ride it has been!  🙂  In a great way.

Gabe brings a tremendous amount of laughter and joy to our home.  The highs are very high but on the flip side, the lows can be, well, pretty low.  But that’s okay – the Lord is using these things in all of our lives to knock off rough spots and press us to be more conformed to His image.

Gabe is a wonderful son.  He has a God given gift of being able to relate to folks of all ages in an endearing way.  He is genuine – not in the way that some folks use the word genuine.  Some folks like to talk about people and say how ‘real’ they are.  This typically means that they are foul-mouthed jerk faces who don’t consider others and ‘just say it like it is.’  Yeah, see where that gets you in life.  Anyway, I digress.  Blessedly, Gabe’s not ‘real’ in that sense.  He’s genuine in the sense that he really does take an interest in folks.  He is quick to think well – unlike me, I’m a ‘yeah, but’ kind of guy – but not Gabe.  He’s the kind of guy who sees faults in people and says, “Yeah, but what about these good things in his life.”  Gabe is also quick to see others who are being neglected and on the fringe and seeks to bring them in and include them.

He is also funny.  Really funny.  Too funny in fact which can be quite frustrating when you’re trying to be serious and you know by that twinkle in his eye that he’s thought of something he’s going to use later for a laugh. I think for most folks, to know him is to love him.

But all of that being said, Gabe has been granted, by the grace of God, to live up to the meaning of his name.  Gabriel means “devoted to God”.  Before he was born, it was our prayer then that this little one, growing in April’s womb, would one day come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.  And the Lord has answered that prayer – not in the superficial sense, walked an aisle, said a prayer, never step foot in a church but claims he’s a Christian type thing.  But in the true sense of what being a Christian means – understanding his sin and then seeking to extract it, fully leaning on Christ for forgiveness, wrestling for holiness of life (which brings up great questions from him), wanting to be with the people of God, desirous to worship Him and wanting to obey what His word says.

If you don’t know Gabe – I hope you get to meet him.  He’s not perfect – but he knows Who is.  So, my dear sweet boy, HAPPY 15TH BIRTHDAY!

Heart Trouble

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in Me.”.  – John 14:1

I’ve been thinking on this tonight.  The circumstances surrounding this statement are astounding.  In less than twelve hours the Lord Jesus would be hanging from a cross and these men who were hanging on every word would be nowhere to be found.  And yet, in the midst of the bitter cup (understatement of all time) that Jesus was about to drink, His heart goes out to comfort these men who would deny Him in a few short hours.

Thankfully, our Lord Jesus, who is the same yesterday and today and forever, still bids us to trust in God and to trust in Him.  Is your heart troubled?  Rest in the Savior.  He accepts weak faith and His word to us is simply to trust.  I encourage you today, being Good Friday, to spend some time thinking on what Christ has done on our behalf by His death.  Read through the teens of John (13-19).  Is your heart troubled?  Then find from God’s word THE remedy.  If your heart is troubled because you’ve never trusted and believed on the Lord Jesus – then consider your sin and then look to Christ.  If you’ve trusted in Christ and you’re still troubled, it won’t always be so.  Listen to what Jesus says. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

I hope your Good Friday is day in which you consider anew what Christ has done and what He will do – He will fulfill His promise.  He will come back and on that Great Day – all those in Christ will never, ever have troubled hearts again.

Home Run Derby Christianity


I enjoy watching the Home Run Derby during the All Star Game festivities.  The rules of the derby go something like this.  The player gets ten outs per round.  Anything that you make contact with that is not a home run is an out.  You hit more home runs than your opponent and you advance to the next round.  Since it is a home run derby and not a singles, doubles or triples derby – only the long ball counts.

Sometimes I see in my own heart this same mindset when it comes to the Christian life.  I have had the opportunity to sit under some amazing ministries.  Perhaps I’m a little biased but the men that I have heard preach at my church are “home run” hitting men – not just in pulpit with their ability to preach – but more importantly (at least to me) in their ability to lead and shepherd the flock of God.  These men are true pastors in every sense of the word – not just so called ministers using the sheep as a stepping stone to a ‘better opportunity’ – but pastors who strap on boots and all-weather gear to find a sheep that has gotten lost and is outside the fold, pastors who defend their flock, pastors who feed their flock and labor among dirty, forgetful and sinning sheep.

One of my pastors has moved to Zambia – talk about home run hitting – what can be more impressive than THAT?!?!  I think of a dear sister who has moved to the Far East to help lighten the administrative load of a missionary family there.  Another home run.  And then I think of my own walk with Christ.  Suffice to say, I’m not hitting any home runs.  I’m barely eeking out bunt singles at times (like my softball career but that’s another post for another time).  But you know, the vast majority of God’s servants are like me in that regard.  Bunt single, strikeout, strikeout, reached on an error, etc…laboring in anonymity.

So my friend, as you struggle to teach your seven year old the two greatest commandments for the hundredth time – as a stay-at-home mom you struggle to find purpose in changing diapers and reading books and administering medicine at the proper times – the dad who labors day in and day out, with no recognition…all single type hits…God notices.  Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”

Press on.  Keep eeking out those bunt singles for God has not called you to be great – He has called you to obedient.  And those who do the greatest things for God are those who, by the grace of God, seek to simply follow Him.

One Short Month

Do you have any plans in the coming four weeks?  Ah, yes – those last few presents to buy.  Cementing a few Christmas plans?  Me too.  Figuring out what you’re going to do on New Year’s Eve?  Well, not me so much – going to the Whiteley’s for the 3rd Annual NYE Partay Baby!  But what about after that?  Lord willing, in one short month, I’ll be standing in the Louisville International Airport saying good bye to a family that is very dear to me.  My pastor and his family are heading to Zambia.  It’s not for a short-term mission trip – they are going to live there.  What couple in their right mind would take five children (12 years old and younger), half a world away, to live in an impoverished country with the following statistics:

50% UNEMPLOYMENT

60% LIVING ON $1 PER DAY

LIFE EXPECTANCY = 38 YEARS

Who would do such a thing?  Well, I’ll tell you.  A family that has a desire to see the church of Jesus Christ expand in the continent of Africa. You see, those statistics are what make Zambia a fertile field for the gospel.  Nearly everyone has been affected by HIV/AIDS in that country.  Poverty is rampant.  Death is not some far off event that “may or may not” happen – death is real.  And where death is not some distant event, little boys and girls and grown men and women understand their own frailty.  With that, blessedly, thoughts turn to eternal things.  The gospel is spreading because men and women WANT TO HEAR about hope beyond the grave.

That’s where my pastor and his family come in.  They are leaving a beautiful home on five or so acres, the creature comforts that we take for granted (reliable electricity, paved roads, drinkable tap water and instant internet access to name a few), friends and family and a church that loves them – why?  For Christ.  Really you may ask?  Yeah, really.  Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”  (Luke 14:26–33 NKJV)

This phrase ‘my disciple’ of the Lord Jesus occurs three times in these eight verses – this is the only place that it occurs in the New Testament.  Without getting into a long exegesis of the text, I want to point you to three quick things.  1. Christ comes before family (Luke 14:26).  2.  Great sacrifice is required to be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:27).  3. You must be willing to forsake all to be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:33).

That’s what the Williamson family is doing.  What part can you play?  Well, you can learn more about the ministry here.  If you have further questions, please feel free to email me (rick.kelley@insightbb.com).

Oh, Brother!

My wife and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary on December 5th.  I can remember vividly certain details of that day.  Sadly, my wife and I were preoccupied to some degree because we had a 20 page paper due that following Monday.  The class?  Marriage and Family.  It was a class that we were taking together at the University of Louisville.  I don’t remember much about it other than seeing my first Michael Moore movie, learning such acronyms as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) and DINKs (Dual Income No Kids), and the flaming liberal professor whose name escapes me but whose face I can still clearly see.

April and I woke up on December 6th, left the Executive Inn and made our way to Service Merchandise on Shelbyville Road to buy ourselves a brand new word processor with our newly acquired wedding money.  Seeing as how we had just hit the jackpot, nothing short of the top of the line would do.  We bought a Brother Word Processor, took it home to our apartment and began to plunk out page by page – we needed to get 40 pages done between the two of us.  But never fear, we had a brand new Brother Word Processor.  This machine was a beauty!  She had a “5 X 9” CRT Screen, on-screen tutorial, grammar check, spreadsheet program (that I could do budgets on!), and among other things, a fold up locking keyboard on hinges!  Whew – doesn’t that sound exciting!  It was a laptop before laptops were around – granted it weighed just a little less than my first car – but it had a handle so that, if by chance you were strong enough, you could carry it around.

We tried to finish our papers.  We really did.  We worked all day and somewhere in the evening we both realized  – we’re not going to get finished.  As newlyweds, with two whole days of marriage under our collective belts, we were going to fail, yes fail, Marriage and Family.  And fail we did.  We didn’t even bother showing up to class on December 7th.  Most likely, we went out to eat and spoke poorly about the professor and his unrealistic expectations (never mind he had been telling us all semester to get the paper done week by week).

Failing a Marriage and Family class though, is not nearly as devastating as failing in marriage – which is what would have happened to April and I – had it not been for the grace of God.  Statistically, one out of every two marriages fail.  I wonder what those statistics would bear out for a teenage couple becoming pregnant in their senior year of high school and freshman year of college, having a child and THEN entering into marriage?  Statistically, what are the ‘odds’ that we would have stayed together?

You see, this is not a story of how April and I purposed to stay together through thick and thin.  Honestly, we didn’t like each other very much and had it been up to us, we would have been divorced in our first year.  But God (I love those two words), had another plan.  You see, He sought us.  And He found us.  And blessedly, some 17 years later, by the grace of God, we have not gotten an ‘F’ in marriage and family as our final grade.  O, we have failed at times to be sure BUT Christ is not through with us yet.  April and I look back at who we were apart from Christ – and we marvel at His grace to two lost sinners with no hope and no future (according to the statistics).

Reflecting on 17 years of marriage, I am profoundly thankful that 16 of those have been wonderful – and each year gets better.  It has been a great pleasure to see my wife progress in Christ-likeness over these 16 years since our conversion.  She is my crown (Proverbs 12:4).  She exhibits those characteristics beautifully of the virtuous wife found in Proverbs 31.  I conclude with the writer of Proverbs 31, “Many daughters have done well, BUT you excel them all.”

It’s already been five years?!?!

Five years ago today, our precious John Ryle came into the world.  Whew!  After an epidural, two labor stalls, C-section discussions because of ‘failure to progress’, a trip to Qdoba (for me), and 14 hours of hard labor – my sweet little Ryle was born.  His namesake is my ‘old friend’ JC Ryle – pastor and author in the 1800’s.  His simple, yet heart searching way of communicating biblical truth is something that April and I were/are drawn to.  We had his name picked out for some time but we couldn’t come up with his middle name.

Well, after such a difficult labor, we decided to name him John – which means the Lord is gracious.  Seeing His hand and goodness to us during those 14 or so hours – there was nothing more fitting.  (And since Ryle John doesn’t work, we went with John Ryle.) Every family should have a Ryle.  He is my running, fun loving, laughing ball of sweetness and spitfire!  What a joy!  And as much as I love him and thoroughly enjoy being his dad, there is something and someone more important that I would like for you to know.  You see, I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to the God of Ryle’s namesake.  JC Ryle loved, LOVED Jesus Christ.

Old JC said on one occasion, “There is no royal road to rest of soul. Let that never be forgotten. There is only one way to the Father – Jesus Christ. One door into heaven – Jesus Christ. One path to heart-peace and rest – Jesus Christ. By that way all laboring and heavy-laden ones must go, whatever their rank or condition.

Kings in their palaces and paupers in the workhouse, all are on the same level in this matter. All alike must walk in the ‘old paths’ and come to Christ, if they feel soul-weary and thirsty. All must drink of the same fountain, if they would have their thirst relieved.”

Is YOUR thirst relieved?  If not, there are living waters open to you right now.  So drink.

A year ago today…

A year ago today, about this time, I was sitting in a police car filling out a report for my stolen laptop bag from National City.  The thieves got my laptop (actually it belonged to the bank), Alfredo’s GPS (still sorry about that Alfredo), my daily calendar and most important to me – my daily MacArthur Bible.  To commemorate the one year anniversary, I went to Lifeway tonight and finally replaced it!  I could not be more pleased to have it back.

It has been an interesting year, to say the least.  A year ago today I was in a cushy job, setting my own schedule, quite comfortable and even satisfied with nearly everything in life.  Well, that has all changed.  No cushy job.  Not setting my own schedule.  Not a lot of comfort.  The Lord has been pleased to shake things up in our family.  We are learning in a new way what it is to follow Christ, to heed His command from Matthew 6:19, 20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  That is, by no means, all that we’re learning – there is much so much more.

But, in light of all that, I’m thankful.  I have been assured by God’s word that “all things work together for good to those who love God…”.  And I love God and He loves me – so this must be for my good.  A year ago today, I had no idea how different things would be, but I’m still thankful.  It’s not what I wanted.  But because it came from God’s hand, it’s what I needed.

I’m the black sheep…

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I had an interesting discussion with a young man last week. For awhile now, I’ve been working part-time at UPS. I have really enjoyed getting to meet and interact with such a diverse group of people. I’ve been chatting for some with a young man named Noah and his friend (his name escapes me right now). We’ve talked about their future plans, working for the “man”, the Lord’s moving in Zambia – and a host of other things.

This past week, the young name whose name I can’t remember, came up to me after his shift and told me that one of the girls at his work area asked him if he was saved. He began to recount for me the conversation that they had. I listened intently, praying that the Lord would give me wisdom in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. As he spoke, he said something that struck a nerve with me, “I’m the black sheep of the family.” Isn’t that an interesting phrase…the black sheep. He was acknowledging his non-conformity to the expectations of his family.  The Holy Spirit was gracious in bringing to mind verses and an example from Scripture that I hope stuck (Lord willing, I’ll see him Wednesday night if you’d like to pray for him).

As I’ve meditated and prayed about our discussion and the gospel seed being sown, this phrase keeps coming back to my mind. Really, in terms of nearness to the kingdom of God, this young man is close.  You see, if he thought of himself as the ‘white sheep’ in the family, the one who always does right and can do no wrong, oh – there would be so much he would need to understand about his own heart.  The Pharisees, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, would be those who considered themselves ‘white sheep’ – Jesus’ strongest rebukes were reserved for these men.

But with those who see their sin and have godly sorrow over it (Samaritan woman, prodigal son, the wee little man, etc), they are near to the kingdom of God. It is amazing to see the diversity by which God brings His children to Himself. For some, He completely strips away every last refuge in which we hide so that we have no choice but to look to Him. For others, He pinpoints their sin and gently exposes it to them such that they see it and cling to Christ quickly – saving them from a lifetime of heartbreak and soul anguish.

Within that diversity though, is striking similarity – we ALL must see our sin, we ALL must see ourselves as guilty before a holy and a just God and we ALL must place our hope in Jesus Christ and Him alone for our salvation.  You see, we’re all black sheep – everyone of us. “We ALL, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6). But blessedly, there is One who is white, even white as snow, and that One is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Do you know that One? If not, I encourage you – start by seeing yourself like my friend – as a black sheep – just like the rest of us. If you don’t think your wool is that dark – Read Exodus 20:1-17 – this is the Law of God that cannot be broken. If you’ve broken just one of those laws, the Bible says you’re guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10).

Once your sin becomes more than you can bear, look to the Lamb of God, that is Jesus Christ – who came and took upon Himself the sins of all of His sheep – that we might appear before God – pure and spotless – on the Day of Judgment.