"Investigators from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and the Jackson County Coroner's Office are conducting a death investigation in rural Murphysboro, Illinois." The KFVS news article I'm quoting from is not unlike many top story news articles one reads about, but this one was different in significant ways. Murphysboro is a sleepy little town seven miles from its more well known neighbor, Carbondale. Carbondale is making national news for being the epicenter of the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug 20. The story of these deaths, however, eclipses the solar eclipse by far because the two who died were dear friends and former parishioners of mine. The article went on to say "people in the neighborhood said the family that lived in the home has been in there for more than two decades but no one seems to know much about them." This statement bothered me, because one could not have been around Murphysboro very long without benefiting from the positive influence of Burl and Brenda Ritcheson. While the investigators are investigating the homicide, let me introduce you to your neighbors.
Burl and Brenda's home was the first place we stayed when coming to Murphysboro to candidate for becoming the pastor of what later was to become Christ Community Church. They treated us like kings and fed us with a brand of homemade cooking that was unique to Southern Illinois. I learned what chicken and dumplins were. Over time, she and some of her other family members who shall go unnamed fattened me up. I scored several invitations to their family gatherings which were a highlight for both eating and fellowship. Burl helped set me up in the first home we rented on 15th St. which was owned by Burl's brother.
Burl was involved in the youth baseball programs in Murphysboro and was a gentle teacher of the game. Burl was a man's man. He was a modern day John Wayne type. Instead of horses, however, he liked cars and doing body work on them. Burl, frankly, intimidated me a little because I wasn't as manly as he was.
One weekend in Murphysboro, we had a friend visiting from Missouri who owned a sports car and invited me to drive it. I had never driven a car with such power and I failed to notice as I came to a side street that there was no stop sign and a car ran into the back of this beautiful brand new car I was driving. And then I remembered Burl. Burl laughed at me when I called and he patiently beat and painted that car until it was in new condition. Burl didn't charge me a dime for the work.
On another occasion, I conducted my first business meeting at the church and there was a controversial issue we were discussing and I took a stand for how I thought we should move forward. My plan passed by one vote. Tension was high as the meeting dismissed and Burl sensed I needed a friend. He asked if he could take me to Dennys in Carbondale. He sat across from me and encouraged me and made me feel like I was a great man of faith and courage for what I had done when he knew I was shaking in my boots.
Brenda was one of five sisters whose families were the backbone of our church. Brenda had a beautiful alto voice and sang in the choir. She could read music and tried to help my wife Melanie learn to sing by note which Melanie says was a losing cause. Brenda was one of the people who helped Murphysboro Christian Academy thrive during its early years. She was a regular performer at the L.A.F.F (Laughter After Fifty Five) club that was run by her sister Mary Jane. Brenda had an infectious laugh and when she laughed she literally cried with actual tears and her face turned red.
Life took some difficult turns for Burl and Brenda. Over time, they drifted apart and eventually divorced and went through some painful years trying to rebuild their lives. During this time, Burl lived near my house. One Summer day he saw my wife stuck in the ditch with our riding lawn mower. Burl saw her, stopped his car, and put the mower back up out of the ditch, got in his car and never said a word. It was definitely a John Wayne moment.
After several years, however, Burl and Brenda realized what they had lost and found love with each other again. Walter Bruggemann says that "in the life of faith, we go from being securely oriented, to painfully disoriented, to surprisingly reoriented. They were in the process of reorienting their lives on the fateful day that their lives were cut short. They were looking forward to their daughter Stephanie returning from Peoria and spending time with their grandchildren.
This story, however, does not end in death, It ends in life eternal. Jesus was not only the "author" of their faith, but he was also the "finisher." I imagine when the roll is called up yonder, Burl and Brenda coming in together as Jesus gets to the B's. "Burl and Brenda" he will say, "Well done!"
These are your neighbors, I really wish you had known them.
I recently attended a viewing of the new movie called "The Shack" I read the book a few years ago and was interested in how it came out in movie form. I was not a huge fan of the book only because I got bogged down a bit in the allegory. After hearing that it was controversial in some Christian circles I also viewed the movie through the lenses of theology. Here are my thoughts:
The Shack is one of the first movies that I thought was better in film than in print. The story details the heartbreaking story of a family whose daughter is abducted and killed by a deranged murderer. Most of the movie revolves around the father who was only a nominal Christian but receives an invitation from God to spend a weekend at "The Shack."
Anyone who has experienced a "Great Sadness" in life will relate to the main characters struggle with God and the meaning of life throughout the film.
The trinity is portrayed as "Papa" portrayed by a loving African American woman. Jesus was cast how one might imagine him as a Middle Eastern young man. The Holy Spirit was an Asian woman. Together they faithfully exemplified the "grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit described in 2 Corinthians 13:14. The movie clearly portrayed them as "persons" within the one same God.
i found it refreshing to reimagine the persons of the godhead in racially diverse roles. The movie creatively explores the feminine side of God. In Scripture, God is not only "Father" but also the mother hen who broods over her chicks.
Theologically, God is Spirit and males and females both equally reflect God's image Every nationality also reflects the God who cannot be pinned down to race and gender.
Seeing the father as a wise African American mother somehow made the father even more endearing. It was very believable to view this woman as the God who is "especially fond" of us.
The sensitivity of the Holy Spirit is also very easy to imagine in feminine terms. I thought the movie was faithful both to the text and spirit of the Bible.
God's is at work in the beautifully messy garden of our lives and redeems our sufferings and sadnesses. Without giving away the end, I wept as I experienced the love of God as I examined my own life through the prism of this film. Go see it. It will help you with whatever "The Great Sadness" is in your life.
On my morning commute I was listening to my One Year Bible as is my custom and noticed something I hadn't caught before. I knew that Israel took the long way to the Promised Land but primarily I thought it was primarily because of their mistakes and lessons needing to be learned.
Today I learned that something more was at stake. They needed to take a road that kept them as far away from Egypt as possible so that when they got into a battle they wouldn't be tempted to go back. This is how it reads:
Israel’s Wilderness Detour
17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.[a] Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.
Every one of us know that if we are trying to get away from some habit or pattern of living, it is most helpful if we don't even go close to it. Proximity feeds temptation.
Maybe this is just for me today, but if you are escaping something damaging to your life, don't just "Get out of Dodge," Get WAY out of Dodge.
Life Church Knoxville is on the rise. Attendance is up, giving is up, and hope is up. Having said that, we are still a small church. I am not used to being small. I left a large church in a small town to pastor a small church in a large town. I moved to Knoxville with dreams of a great church in our great city. I recently took a group of volunteers to Church of the Highlands in Birmingham Alabama that has tens of thousands of members that meet weekly in multiple campuses. We all returned with renewed dreams in our hearts that we have not yet scratched the surface of all that God is going to do through our congregation. Having said this, God loves us when we are small! If you lead a small business, attend a small church, or find yourself in small circumstances, this word of encouragement is for you.
This guy, Mark Farid, will spend 28 days in a room as a real life Avitar with nothing but virtual reality googles seeing and virtually living life through the eyes of another. This is a psychological experiment to test whether Mark will be less his “normal” self after the experiment and take on the personality of the person whose eyes he is observing life from. Psychologists are wondering what changes will take place in his personality or if he will even want to go back to his normal self.
There is a poetic sense of completeness about four years in leadership. Its the amount of time we give our Presidents to accomplish something before deciding whether to give them four more years or send them packing. Unlike the political world, however, pastoring is not about making promises and making good on those promises. Being a pastor is primarily about casting vision, being faithful and caring for the flock,
I’m not Catholic. Well that’s only partially true. I actually am “catholic” I’m just not Roman Catholic. I’m more hillbilly catholic. The term “catholic” means universal. In that sense I am a part of that great universal, mystical, and invisible church which extends beyond all our denominational and non-denominational boundaries.
Growing up in church, the word “radical” was a almost a badge of honor. When somebody was radical they were considered to be totally “sold out” for the Lord. As I continued to grow I noticed that people sort of had to “out radical” one another. It wasn’t enough for radicals to be “modest”, they made a show of their extreme modesty. In the recent terror attack in San Bernadino, Tashfeen Malik progressed from wearing a head covering to completely covering her face so that only her eyes and nose were exposed. In all religions, “radicals” can be identified by lifestyle choices that set them apart from mainstream society. They consider themselves to be the purest form of that religion. If one is truly “radical” they see themselves as the only true representatives of that religion.
I can guess what many of you may be thinking. “Wait a minute”, This church was established a long time ago.” It is true that Life Church had its beginnings in 1963 when Paul Cowell moved to Knoxville to begin a campus church that reached out to the University of Tennessee. It was a great success. A revival broke out that still reverberates today.
Of Bats, Bees, and Groundhogs “The Battle for Your Family, Your Church, and Your Personal Integrity”
There is a real war being waged on the new property in Knoxville that my wife and I purchased a few short months ago. In the air, a large federally protected colony of fifty bats has taken roost in a hole in my chimney. In addition, a hive of honey bees has infiltrated the wood above my screened in porch. But there is also a ground war being waged. A mother ground hog and her two babies have made a home under my deck, digging holes that threaten to undermine our home.
Life Church Knoxville
We're an inter denominational church in Knoxville, Tennessee that believes that all people matter and should experience the love and power that comes along with a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.