Ralph Arnold

in memory

I first met Ralph when I went to interview for the job of Associate and Worship Minister at the West University Church of Christ in Houston, TX.  I immediately knew he was going to be a guy I would love.

After my wife and I went down to interview, we had one more interview and visit scheduled to a church near Oklahoma City.  We were shocked when the Monday after we returned home, we had gotten an email from Ralph, offering us a job.

I told him about our other interview we had lined up.  He immediately emailed me a contract, laid some things out for me to consider, and then told me this (a direct quote from the email he sent me on February 19, 2009):

“We know your family will be a great addition to our West U Family and we look forward to your coming at the earliest possible date.  We would be grateful for your acceptance of our offer within the next day or two.  There is no need for you to visit the ‘other church’.”

Ralph was a man of few words, but when he spoke, you listened.  He had a wealth of knowledge, life experience, and taught me so very much.

One of the joys of being in ministry is that you get to work with lots of different people.  I can say this without any doubt – Ralph Arnold was the best Elder of the Lord’s Church I ever worked for.  He was patient, he was kind, he was encouraging, he was direct, but above all He love God and He loved the church.

Behind Ralph was one of the most supportive of all ladies.  Beverly, also known as “Miss Daisy,” was always there by Ralph’s side, encouraging, loving, and supporting just like him.  You’re a rock star, Miss Daisy.

Ralph fought a few battles over the past few years with illness, and he was finally granted His eternal reward the other day.  Ralph Arnold, the world needs more people like you.  I could always call you, email you, visit with you.  You steered and guided this young minister in the way he needed to go.  You taught me much.  Since I was so far away from my father while I was in Houston, I considered you my “Adopted dad.”

Not sure they have a Corelli’s Italian Restaurant in Heaven, but I’m sure you’ll be visiting. Thanks for the lunches and dinners, the visits at the office, the constant encouragement and positive thoughts.  Ralph – you will be missed.

(Update – from my wife, Kristen – on her favorite Ralph memory):

My favorite Ralph memory (other than our visits to eat Italian food at Corelli’s, of course) is when Lane was on a mission trip to China and while he was gone, our refrigerator broke. I was 16 hours away from any of our family and home alone with our 18 month old little girl. So, I called my “family” away from family: Ralph & Beverly. You stayed home to watch Josie for me and Ralph went with me to Home Depot to pick out and buy a new refrigerator. I know that neither of you thought much of it, but that act of kindness meant the world to me at a time when I felt alone and helpless.
He leaves behind a legacy of kindness, respect and a true example of what it means to love God and serve Him.
Praying for you and your family. I know you will miss him.

Twas Almost the End of Christmas…13 Years ago…

young love

13 years ago, on December 25, 2002, these two love birds got engaged.  Look how young we were!!

We were wrapping up spending time with my family.  The day was getting later and later.  I had plans, but they were going to happen at Kristen’s parent’s house in Hartselle, AL.

And we still had to do Christmas there.

We rushed out of my family’s house – Kristen not having a clue as to why we were rushing.  No one did.

We got to her parent’s house late, and I was anxious.  I couldn’t tell you one thing that anyone got that year.  Except for one thing I gave.

After “family” Christmas, Kristen and I went up to her room to exchange gifts alone.  With just a little bit of time before Christmas day was over, I got down on one knee and asked her the most important question I’ve ever asked anyone – “Kristen, will you marry me?”

If you’re wondering, she said yes.

She said yes.

To this day, it gives me chills…in a good way.  To know that this awesome lady, this God-fearing, beautiful, loving woman said yes, makes me feel like the luckiest man in the entire world.

Christmas has always been special, but since that night, it’s been even more special.

 

May God bless you all on this most special of days.

Do You Hear the People Sing?

For victims of the heinous crimes against humanity, not just in Paris, but all over the world – where people are being killed for their beliefs, where innocent people are murdered for an evil cause by very evil men.

Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!

Another Football Season: Roll Tide, War Eagle, and Other Such Nonsense

go-sports

Well, it’s that time again.

Time to sit and watch hours upon hours of football.  Grab the chips and salsa.  Grab the cooler.  Grab the wings.

And sadly, in these days, time to grab your smartphone, click on your social media app, and give everyone a play by play of how your team is doing.  If things are going your way, you rub it in everyone’s newsfeed.  If your team is doing terrible, you’re mysteriously silent.  If your team catches up, it’s the greatest comeback in the history of anything.

Football + Social media tends to make harmless, normal, loving people into obnoxious jerks.

We all seem to think our team is the best.  And the other team is the worst.

We all become experts on all things football.

And we all become like Weird Al in his “Sports Song” (by the way, I don’t condone the use of the word “sucks” but the rest of the video is hilarious).  Watch the video below, and then continue reading:

Each year, I make a formal proclamation at the beginning of the football season on my Facebook page.

See, I am what’s known as an Alabama fan.  And I’m a recovering fan-a-holic.

The past few years, I’ve made this statement on my page:

“Football season is here. I love watching college and the pros. As I have done for the past few years I am vowing not to make any Crimson Tide comments throughout the year. While many college football comments are harmless – often times people get carried away on social media and end up insulting others with their comments. So until the last snap of the year – Roll Tide! Go SEC!!”

 We need to be careful how we come across in our fanaticism.  I love being an Alabama fan.  I’m a Yankees fan.  I’m a Titans fan.  I love my “sports teams” and think they’re the greatest.  But we just need to remember how we come across as we’re posting our comments.
Love your team, but love others.
Danger!

What We Can Learn from the Duggar Family Today

Danger!

My wife and I used to enjoy sitting down each week to watch the Duggar Family on their TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting.  Being a Christian family, we were thrilled to see that a good, wholesome, decent family with good morals was finally being portrayed on television.  It was so refreshing.  We watched the kids grow up like many of you did on television.

I was heartbroken to find out about the molestation charges on Josh Duggar, the oldest of the children.  The family did, in fact, admit that they had gone through a tough time, and that Josh had indeed molested several children.  There were many opinions, many thoughts, and many disagreements had by many people about the situation.

His wife forgave him.  She knew about it going into the marriage.  The family stood firm on how they handled it.  Would I have done things differently if it were my son?  Honestly – I don’t know how I would handle it.  But I can’t put myself in their shoes.  What a horrible thing to go through.

The Duggar family lost their show over a mistake their son made.  Pressure mounted on TLC to drop the show completely, and they did.

Fast forward to today.

A few days ago, hackers claimed they had hacked the Ashley Madison website.  This is an online site for people looking to have affairs (atrocious as it may sound) in a private, discreet way.  The hackers didn’t get what they wanted from the site, so they released information that is bound to destroy many, many families.

Last night, I saw that Josh Duggar’s name had popped up in the list.  All I could think of was “My goodness, someone logged in under Josh’s name so that he might one day get in trouble and they could smear the Duggar name.”  Then, I saw that the name was attached to Josh’s credit card, and his addresses in a previous and current home.

Even today, as I saw an article about it – I didn’t want to believe it.

But then, he admitted this afternoon that he had indeed been unfaithful to his wife, and was addicted to pornography.  Molestation charges, and now this.

A great family, one that has strong core beliefs, taken down again because of the mistakes of this young man.

So what are my thoughts?  I have several on this tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes.  Here are just a few:

  1. The internet is a wonderful tool, but when used the wrong way can destroy lives.  Sadly, the Duggar family is now a victim of the misuse of the internet.  There are so many sites out there in cyberspace that want nothing more than to prey on you.  They want to lure you in – to hack your computer, to steal your information, to steal your bank account, to get you involved in an inappropriate relationship.  While it’s great to be able to shop online, it’s far too easy to shop for the wrong thing.

  2. The internet is not safe.  You MUST take precautions to keep your family safe from the web.  Many people think an antivirus program is all they need.  However, filters need to be used, as well as communicating with your family about what’s out there in the internet world.   I was showing my wife the other night a music video to a popular song by a popular artist in which there are two versions – a rated and unrated version.  Any child can type in the name of this song, click on the unrated version, and see two popular music artists ogling topless women parading around.  It’s just that easy.  If you trust your children, that’s not enough – because a lot of time innocent searching can lead to terrible things.

  3. Don’t be absorbed.  The internet, your laptops, your smartphones, your tablets – can suck you in and not let go.  Click on this, go here, search here, and before you know it you’ve spent 3-4 hours on Facebook.  You see a link to a place that links to this place or that place – and you wind up seeing an advertisement for love, for intimacy, for something you’re searching for.  Get off your phones, give your thumb a break from scrolling through Facebook, and have a relationship with your family and friends, not a piece of technology.  I know people who spend more time on Facebook than they do anything else during the day.  Perhaps it is time to take a Facebook/Internet sabbatical if it’s absorbing all of your time.

  4. Communicate.  Sites like Ashley Madison, along with many other sites – prey on those who are seeking something they are not getting in their own relationships.  It might be something simple like conversation, or it could involve sexual intimacy.  If you are not getting something you are wanting out of your marriage – COMMUNICATE!  If sex isn’t occurring as frequent as you’d like – COMMUNICATE!  If you’re uncomfortable with something in the bedroom – COMMUNICATE!  You can not over-communicate in your marriage. Many extra-marital affairs occur because a husband or a wife is not providing something in the relationship.  Instead of thinking you can only get that something somewhere else – COMMUNICATE!

  5. It’s easy to judge from afar – but don’t.  I have tried my best in this post to steer clear of judging the Duggar family, but instead tried to look at what caused the most recent problem in the first place.  Sin is real, the struggle of pornography is real, the desire to run around and have fun is real for so many people.  I would dare say that most of us would not want our dirty laundry popping up on what’s trending on Twitter.  Instead of judging them, or anyone else – pray for them.  Pray that your family will avoid these kinds of situations.  Pray that you can be a light in a dark world.  Pray that Satan’s dart won’t pierce us all.

 

Bottom line – there is now a very broken family, a young man who will pay for his mistakes, a wife who is very much so heartbroken and shell-shocked, 4 young children who will always know the mistake their father made, a mother and father who are now wondering where they went wrong – ALL because of this mistake.

Temptation is one of the strongest things in the world.  May God give us all the power to look it eye to eye and say no.

What Happens When I Put Money in the Collection Plate?

church-giving-48

In most churches around the world, during the service at some point, a collection basket is passed.  Some churches have collection baskets in the back lobby, some pass them from person to person.  But just about every church does this.

My point in writing this is not to argue the need for people to contribute.  That’s pointed out in Scripture pretty clearly in my opinion.

I want to help you realize what your contribution dollars go toward.  What happens when you put that check in the basket?

1.  Salaries – Okay, let’s get this one out of the way.  Yes, your contribution dollars go to pay the salaries of people on staff.  You’ll probably be contributing toward the salary of a main pastor/preacher, an associate (who could have a plethora of various titles), a youth or student minister, an administrative assistant or two, and some sort of custodial staff.  You also may be contributing toward the salaries of missionaries or other various people the church has agreed to support.

Understand this – no two preachers/pastors are paid the same way.  They all are paid differently.  Oftentimes within the same office!  Some ministers get paid just a straight salary with no benefits whatsoever, so if you think your minister is getting paid too much, remember, they pay their own taxes, health insurance, and retirement out of that.  Some ministers get various packages including health insurance, or matching retirement, or other things.

2.  Building – It costs money to maintain a building.  Things need to be taken care of.  Bills have to be paid. Insurance has to bought.  If you don’t stay on top of building maintenance, it can all come due at one point.  Maybe your church building has multiple Heating/Air units.  Often these units seem to fail all at the same time, costing $20K-40K each to replace.  If your church budget is $10K a week, it could take an entire month’s worth of contribution to fix this.  Therefore, it would be smart for churches to save money in an emergency fund of some sorts for situations just like this.

Buildings also have to be updated.  Windows have to be replaced.  Roofs have to be replaced.  Parking lots have to be paved.  All of these things cost money.

On top of that – look at the bills associated with using the building.  Your electric bill at home may average between $100-400 a month depending on where you live.  But for your church building, it could run upwards of $2500-4000 a month!  It sure is nice to have that AC running when you come in on Sunday morning in the summers.

Many church buildings have baptistries.  These are like having a small hot tub in your home.  Electricity is needed to heat them.  Chemicals needed to treat them.

And, if your church has a kitchen, those aren’t cheap either!  What a blessing to have fellowship meals and share with each other, but stoves, refrigerators, sinks, and utensils are needed.

3.  Don’t forget about the children!  If you want to provide a quality education system for your children and teenagers, its going to cost money.  Crayons, markers, paper, scissors, glue – these items don’t just show up.  They cost money.  Also, most churches either pay for curriculum, or use a free curriculum and spend just as much on gathering supplies for the classes.

Then you have things like Vacation Bible School.  Paying for extra snacks, crafts, and other items is not cheap.

Sadly, there are many churches that spend very little on their children’s education fund.  They skimp on supplies, curriculum, and activities for them, and wonder why their children’s program isn’t growing.  You have to put money into it.  No, you don’t have to put a ton of cash into it, but do you really want your church to skimp on the children?

4.  Software/Computers/Electronics – I’m so grateful that I live in a day and age where I can worship by looking at a screen that projects the words and notes for my convenience.  I’m so happy to be able to use powerpoint/keynote while I preach to be able to better teach.  These can’t be used if you don’t have projectors.  If you want them to be effective they have to be good projectors.  And of course the projectors are useless unless you have the computers.  And guess what?  These all cost money!

And not just that – its great to be able to hear our members when they lead prayers, lead songs, lead worship, read scriptures, etc.  You’re able to because you have microphones!  And these microphones have to have amps, wires, mixers, etc. to run them.

Many of the programs we use have to be updated, or renewed, on a yearly basis.

And if your church has a website, well, they aren’t free either.  But its a lot cheaper than those old telephone book ads!

5.  Benevolence – Most churches have some sort of benevolence program.  Some of you may not realize that your church often helps members with problems that may arise in their lives.  The occasional gift card to a local gas station or grocery store is given to walk ups throughout the week.

6.  Outreach – These days, visitors (and members) expect things to look as professional as they can.  You want to put your best foot forward when you look at reaching out to the community.

Because of that, we have bulletins, pamphlets, brochures, cards, and pens to hand out to people when they come in the building.  But what about getting them in the building?  You may have a sign outside your building, but you and I know that’s not enough.

We tend to take out ads to promote our churches.  Radio spots, internet advertising, mail outs, and other various methods of outreach are wonderful, but they take money as well.

7.  Transportation – You have people, they need to get places.  Those youth trips need a bus.  Those senior saints outings need a van.  Monthly maintenance, gas, oil, tags, insurance are needed.

8.  Future planning – We’ve already sort of alluded to this, but I think its worth having a category in and of itself.  Most churches I know of would like to grow.  When you grow, you have to be able to do so.  New things must be purchased in order for growth to occur.  A smart congregation will be aware of this and plan ahead for this.

For example, if you’re ordering books for a class, you would be smart to order 15 books, even if you’re only planning on having 12 people.  Why?  Because you plan on the class growing.

Whether you want your current church family to grow, or whether you want to grow by planting elsewhere, you need to plan for that growth.

————————————————–

There are many things not mentioned here that the contribution goes to help with, but I think you get the idea.  Churches depend on the contribution of their members.

What have I missed?  What else does your contribution help with?

The Journey – Saddle Up Your Horses

Photo May 22, 5 15 58 PM

86 days ago, after a cold and snowy day, and after an ice storm that stranded us in our home for a week, I departed for my new home in Tampa.

I say “I departed” because it was only me.  We made the painstaking decision to let Josie finish school in Nashville instead of pulling her out with 3 months left.  I’ll never forget it.  I sat down on the steps in our home, and held Josie for what seemed like hours.  It wasn’t enough.  I’m not entirely sure she understood what was going on other than the fact that daddy was leaving.

It was hard.  Very hard.

That morning, as I was getting my oil changed and tires rotated for the journey, I got a call from my wife saying the battery in her car was dead.  The journey wasn’t starting well.  I rushed home so she could get Josie to school, let her take my car while I took the battery out, and spent the first part of my morning trying to figure out if it was a sign.

I wept for about an hour after I left.  I’m sure the people passing me on the interstate were confused.

I stopped in Huntsville to have dinner with one of my best and dearest friends in the world – Jason Bybee.  I can’t tell you how much he was there for me over the past few months.  Everyone in the world needs a friend like him.

I was going part of the way that night.  I went through Alabama, stopping in Dothan.  When I woke up in the morning, after I was on the road about 45 minutes, I had a blow out.  Some good samaritans stopped to help me with it, but it took about 2 hours to get down the road and find a shop on a Saturday morning in a small town that would replace it.

I got stuck in two traffic jams that lasted about an hour each.

Again, wondering if this was a sign.

After a 10 hour trip turned into a 18 hour journey, I arrived in Tampa.  The people I was going to be staying with were out of town, but Keith and Tonia Boyer met me at the Thompson home, and took me to dinner late that evening.  I remember walking into that lonely home, bringing my few possessions in, and laying on the bed weeping.  The trip had taken its toll, and the fact that I would be without my family for 3 months was sinking in slowly and surely.

I preached my first lesson here on March 1.  I was exhausted, emotional shot, but eager to begin.

For 3 months now, I have been working alongside the great church family at the Northwest Tampa Church of Christ.  They have taken me in, embraced me, loved me, encouraged me, and motivated me.

But I feel like I haven’t really started yet.  Why?  Because my family isn’t here.

Today, I had about 20 wonderful people from church help me unload a trailer with all our earthly possessions into an upstairs 3 bedroom apartment.  While i’m getting that set up, I’ll be staying with the Thompsons for a few more days.

On Wednesday, I fly home to celebrate my daughter’s birthday, and to bring my family home to Tampa.  No, we don’t have a “house” to live in yet, but we have a wonderful apartment.  But more importantly we’ll be together.

There have been times over the past few months that I’ve questioned whether or not we did the right thing.  Maybe we should have gone ahead and pulled her out of school, but Kristen also had a job she was committed to till the end of the school year.  Only time will tell if we did the right thing.  But we do know that moving to Northwest Tampa Church of Christ was the right thing.

I know, there are families who go through more.  Mothers and fathers who serve in the military, who get deployed for months, years at a time.  I’m not entirely sure how they do it, but it impresses me even more having gone through what we have gone through.

Its hard to believe that nearly 90 days ago, I made this long journey down here.  Its hard to believe that 90 days ago, I said goodbye to my family.  But, its coming to an end.  A week from now, we’ll be prepping my wife’s car to make the long journey….home.

I’m so grateful for my Northwest Tampa church family as they have been there for me during this time.  I can’t wait till my family gets here so I can be at full strength!

So were the setbacks a sign?  You know what, I’m going to say yes.  They were signs.  They were signs that God is with me.  They were signs that Satan is alive and well.  They were signs that the Evil One is scared of what is ahead at Northwest Tampa, because of the exciting things we’ll be doing.

The sign is that God is with us, and that Satan doesn’t like it.

I know there will continue to be tough days ahead.  But with God, and my family, my elders, co-workers, and co-laborers, we will succeed.  May God be praised.

My little girl is growing up

    

Today my little gal made her debut as a dancer. Now, I’m not sure how long her dancing career will last, but she sure did a great job. My face was beaming with pride as she did her little twirls and runs and steps. 

She’s growing up. 

Today I also got some news (which I can’t disclose yet but was pretty good news for us) that gave me an extra measure of peace. It was as if God was saying “It is all going to be all right. I got this. You just let me take care of everything.”

God has blessed me beyond measure. I just forget it sometimes. 

May you have a blessed weekend.