Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cosmo, Hillary, and Some Darn Good Peanut Brittle

Pretty good Sunday afternoon, I'd say. Rain! Thank you, God! I was just curled up in the chair with my cat, Cosmo...what a snuggler (I think that's a word) he is. I was eating some awesome peanut brittle made for me by a friend, Marlene Hagstrom. I ate the entire container of it this afternoon, and if you saw how much there'd be as embarrassed for me as I am! Good stuff.

While I was enjoying the brittle and my cat, I was watching a Hillary Clinton rally from Maquoketa, Iowa. I love politics. I've been a "political junkie" for most of my adult life, and I love all of this! If you know me, you know I'm a Democrat through and through. I am definitely 100% behind Senator Clinton, and am excited about the future with her as President.

I didn't really want to talk about her, but about the attitudes I see about the election season. I am well aware that I am the abnormality and most people do not enjoy any of the political process. I give you that. I just get so frustrated when I hear people say things like, "I don't trust any of them."(candidates) That saddens me. It's cynicism, and cynicism is just an excuse for not helping. When people say things like that, I just think it is so unpatriotic. Patriotism is more than putting a yellow ribbon on your car. I believe patriotism requires me to cast a vote that is educated.

I may disagree with your views, and you may disagree with mine. Cynicism is not a "view" I accept, though. Read up on the candidates. What's important to you? You don't have to watch C-Span 18 hours a day, but pay attention to what is happening. It's pretty important stuff. Way too important for cynicism.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Mom and Dad gave me a great little book for Christmas by Robert T. Ketcham. It's called "I Shall Not Want" and was written in 1953 and is now out of print. It's an amazing book that delves into just what Psalm 23 is all about. I think that one psalm is one a lot of us could quote, but I know I have missed a lot of WHO our shepherd really is.

"I will fear no evil, for You are with me." (v.4)

Below is some of the text taken directly from the chapter on courage. These two paragraphs are sticking with me.

"If there is one thing above another that a sheep needs, it is courage - but not courage to fight. A sheep cannot fight. She has nothing to fight with. In fact, she is about the most helpless animal in the domestic world. Why, then, does the sheep need courage? It could have all the courage of a lion and still be utterly helpless in the face of a little sheep-killing dog. THE SHEEP NEEDS COURAGE, NOT TO FIGHT THE LION, BUT TO TRUST THE SHEPHERD. And I may say to you most emphatically that it takes more courage to trust the Shepherd than it does to fight the lion.

If we only have a sense of "doing something" to defend ourselves; if we can only feel that we, in our own strength, have delivered a knockout blow to Satan at some point in our life, how good we feel! But we have nothing within ourselves with which to deliver knockout blows to Satan. We are not equipped with a single solitary thing with which to fight; we are just helpless sheep. And unless the Shepherd can take care of the enemies, we are sure to be found somewhere on the desert of life torn and bleeding.

Now, into this situation comes the Lord Jesus Christ and offers Himself to every believer as a Shepherd who is sufficient for every emergency and danger of life."


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

How sad. I've been watching CNN and MSNBC's coverage of today's assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. My prayers go out to her husband, her three children, her supporters, and the nation of Pakistan.

I have been reading about Bhutto for a couple of years now, and was fascinated that she chose to return to her country in October after a self-imposed eight year exile. She had such passion for her homeland and believed that it could be reformed by democracy and hope.

I like spunky women. Bhutto was the first female Prime Minister of an Islamic nation. She was educated at both Harvard and Oxford. She took her passion seriously and never wavered from the risks that were always present. She was just one of the greats that proved that nobody tells a woman what she may or may not do.'s to you, Benazir Bhutto.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Cowbell

I really was serious about "embracing" the holidays. Really. I can get selfish and get myself in a true funk over missing Beth and the way things were when she was here. I bought a string of $6.99 multi-colored lights at Target today and I strung them over my bannister and bookcase. Beth would have hated it...very tacky. It kind of puts me in the Christmas mood, though, and it's at least an effort to enjoy this time of year.

Today, I took the time to listen to an awesome middle school band at Crabtree Valley Mall. I was working there, but took a break to hear them. WOW. Martin Magnet Middle School Jazz Band was awesome! I played in the band in high school, and ours never sounded as good as they did today. In fact, our college pep band never sounded so good! These kids blew me away, and I admired the relationship they obviously have with their director.

There was this great enthusiasm permeating the whole concert. Before one song, a young girl stepped forward...cowbell in hand...and a huge smile on her face. She was waiting for her BIG moment. can yearn to have the trumpet solo on "Frosty the Snowman" or the sax solo on "Jingle Bell Rock"...but we need more cowbell! This student smiled waiting for her big moment, almost aware of how silly it all was. When her time came, she came through HUGE and returned to her seat.

It reminded me that "whatever I do...I should be doing it as unto the Lord!" We all like the big feature solos where we get the adoration. However, there is a time when we just hit that cowbell once and sit down. God is preparing us for something else. We wait. I learned to not just look ahead to the big feature solos, but to enjoy where God has me now.

That song just wouldn't have been the same without the cowbell.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"He Will Bring Us Goodness and Light"

Here it comes again. With work, I am in and out of malls and department stores every day...every week. It is hard to avoid the Christmas decorations (put up in October) and the Christmas music. Hickory Farms is set up and selling the "beefstick" and cheese balls. Santa has taken his place in center court. Toy catlogues fill the mailbox.
I have not really been able to stomach holidays since Beth's death. She added so much to any day, but especially Christmas...for me. Beth would have me driving around Wake County on the prowl for cedar and spruce so she could make our wreath and garland for the door and mantle. So talented. So missed.
I have made a decision this year. I am going to embrace Christmas...the whole season. I mean EMBRACE...not just "suffer through" it like the past two years. Beth did bring a lot of joy to the holidays for me. I have to celebrate and remember that. I also have to enjoy the holidays a different way. I have so many great memories of Christmas growing up and after marrying my sweet Beth. Those memories cannot be duplicated, but I can make new ones...with Beth still always in my heart.
Tomorrow, I am going to see David Phelps' Christmas concert in Fayetteville with some friends. I really am excited about it. I love David Phelps and the voice God doubly blessed him with. Mainly, I love being with the wonderful friends God has blessed me with...Mary Ann, Dean, Ruby, Cindy, and Jake. I am going to discover Christmas again. I will embrace a new way.
I still watch all of the shows Beth loved..."Survivor", "Amazing Race", and "The Bold and The Beautiful". It helps me feel connected to her. I imagine that embracing Christmas will do the same.
Joy To The World.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

I'm Challenging You

That's right. I'm calling you out. I'm only doing it because I myself have been "called out" and I want (need) some participants in this dialogue. I love to read, but lately I have been gravitating to the same kind of books I usually read. I had received a 50% coupon from Barnes & Noble (my favorite bookstore) and was itching...itching, I use it. By the way, Barnes & Noble has a very extensive collection of Christian Inspiration/Religion books and Bibles...better in my opinion than Family Christian and especially better than Lifeway.

Back to B & N. I decided to get something different to read, and I found a book titled, "Jim and Casper Go To Church". The sub-heading is "A believer, an atheist, an unlikely friendship...frank conversations about faith, churches, and well-meaning Christians." From the back cover: "In 2006, Jim Henderson, veteran Christian and director of Off The Map, hired Casper to join him in visiting twelve of America's best- and least-known churches. Week after week, this spiritual odd couple attended services at churches all over the country and documented their experiences at and reactions to each one."

I don't want to give you all of my reactions to this book because I would like to have dialogue about your findings. My challenge to you is to go get this book...only $16.99 and only 169 pages. Read what they have to say about their visits to some of the nations largest churches...Saddleback, Willow Creek, Lakewood, The Potter's House, and others. Read with an open mind, and then post your reactions here on the blog. I'll just say that I read this in one day, and it kept my mind awake all night!

I'll leave you with a "teaser" from George Barna's foreward:

"Consider the fact that few religious leaders or churches have any idea what it's like for an outsider to try to break into the holy huddle. Most churched people have been so immersed in the church world that they have completely lost touch with what it is like to come through the church door and try to fit into a place that has very distinct habits, language, goals, events, titles, architecture, traditions, expectations, and measurements."

I want to hear what you think.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are We Reaching?

Been a while, I know. There are just those pesky things in life (like jobs, housecleaning) that get in the way of me being able to do what I really want! OK. I can't really blame it on housecleaning...job...yes, but not housecleaning. If you've been to my house lately, well...

OK, I need to focus.

EXCELLENCE! RELEVANCE! These are two of the banners we have hanging from the ceiling in our atrium at Hope. It's what we stand for, but more importantly, it's what God has called us to stand for. There is sometimes so much criticism about a church like ours. You know the argument...loud music (drums, guitars), casual dress, coffee shops, etc. I just don't get it.

I love the fact that there are so many different types of churches and services out there because there are so many different types of people out there. Makes sense to me. God is a God of Excellence. He does ALL things well, and we represent God here on this Earth. Why is it necessary to check your love of good music and your sense of humor at the door when you go to church? We're teaching the same message; it is not diluted in any way.

The days of cookies and Kool-Aid have passed us by. In fact, I would venture to say that never really did speak to kids. I remember growing up in Southern Baptist churches, and for the most part, they were great. You learned the Bible and you fellowshipped (a great Baptist word!) with other Christians. There just never seemed to be a lot of relevance. Churches today are challenged more than ever on how to reach the hurting world that is right around them.

People want to know God is there and that He truly is about love. I love that Hope is so sensitive to that. The services this past Saturday and Sunday were amazing examples of that. We had our 4th Annual Volunteer Fair and it was intense! (check out Mary Ann's blog to read about it - you can find a link on the right of this page). We started a new series called "Full Service In A Self Service World". The stage set was incredible. Bob made a "Goober'sGas -N-Go" station with an old gas pump and tires. We had a vintage car outside with an attendant wiping down the windows and "checking the oil". Awesome! The drama was funny and the actors were top-notch as always. The band's opener was the "Devil Went Down To Georgia"with "Hope-related" lyrics! Melissa Taylor tore up the place with her violin. I'd put her toe to toe with Charlie Daniels any day!

All stuff that is outside the norm for sure. To be relevant, you do NOT have to do these things as a church. I do think you have to really look and see that you are being relevant and excellent in the way God called YOUR church to be. We are different, but we all should be excellent and relevant. We represent the Almighty God.

Check out as soon as possible. Steven is Pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, the nation's third fastest growing church. Read his "Bless Back Project" entry. It will blow you away and it is absolutely some unconventional stuff for a church to do. They are growing because they are meeting needs and showing the love of God in a way that today's world gets. Same message...different method.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ready To Rumble

Growing all the time...or in all honesty...trying to grow. As God works in each of us, we are transformed from glory to glory. It doesn't come in big leaps, and I know it is a miracle for me that growth even comes in small baby steps in my life.

I have been struggling lately with my love walk. I have no problem loving the people that love me. I have no problem loving the people who, by my standards, act right and play by the rules. I stumble (more like fall flat on my face) when the Holy Spirit gives me that "nudge" and tells me that I also must love the "unlovely".

I have been really tempted lately to let the former Russ emerge and set some things straight. There are a few folks from my parents' former church that I think are much deserving of a good-old "right hand of Christian fellowship"! It pains me to see what has happened there and how the enemy has set up shop. In that church, God has been replaced with a thirst for power, manipulation, and strife. Check out Psalm 140 and you'll get an idea.

I am still on the mailing list to receive their newsletter; and every time I see it in my mailbox, I cringe. My first inclination is to send the newsletter back to them with a fiery diatribe reflecting just what I think of what they have done to my mom. Then that pesky growth thing shows up again.

God reminds me that the battle belongs to Him. He tells me that He can actually handle it on His own. My job is to pray for them; not hate them. Imagine.

He says that He is the Vindicator. He is sovreign. My job is to not only pray for them, not only to not hate them...but to LOVE them! What? I have always been willing to fight, fight, fight for what I believe in. I would always fight against injustice. I would fight to prove a point. God tells me to fight with love.

1 Corinthians 5:1&2 says "Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]. AND WALK IN LOVE as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God."

Conviction with a capital "C".

It's not easy to sit and watch...waiting. I used to think that was being passive. Now, if I am watching and waiting in prayer and in love...well, I think that is the most aggresive warfare available.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Wow! The green velvet "holiday" dress was always one of Beth's favorites, and I always loved seeing her in it. That dress looked good on its own, but my wife gave it LIFE!
I discovered this picture of us at her company's Christmas party in 2004...just two months before her death. The thing is this...I wasn't looking through pictures. I came across a file on the computer that Beth had and I accidentally opened it. It was a picture file of lots of photos from this Christmas party.
That memory jolt sent me spiraling. I discovered it Monday night, and have not really slept since. It's all part of grieving; it's natural, I know. The "unexpected waves" such as this are the toughest for me.
I want part of this blog to be about my journey since Beth's death. It helps me to share my thoughts and memories of her, but I believe it can help us all learn. I do talk a lot about her, and I talk a lot about losing her because it is a huge part of who I am, where I am, and my life experience.
My emotions Monday were really just right there at the surface...ready to rise up and make themselves visible! I had been praying for Lisa Austin (see previous post), and visiting her carepages website. This in turn prompted me to look at the CaringBridge website that my sister had established while Beth was in the hospital. Just reading the updates and prayers made it seem in "real time" all over again. I'm glad that site is still up so I can read was just different this week.
See...reminders are always there.
A house full of memories...but not able to make new ones with Beth.
Lingering medical bills...but not a healthy Beth alive today.
Lots of pictures...but memories only...not Beth.
Those reminders I get "accustomed" to having around as part of my daily life. Through the strength I find in Christ, I can work through those. It's the "new discoveries" that wreck me.
It's the birthday card she gave me...which I saved...which I recently found in a drawer.
It's her eyeglasses I put away after she died...which I came across recently.
It's the memory of her in that beautiful green velvet dress.
I don't mean to be a "downer". It's life. Not every day is so bad. I have wonderful days, too; and I know I will have many ahead of me. Maybe sharing this helps me. Maybe sharing this will help you know me better. Maybe sharing this will help us all understand how to help others in similar circumstances.
Just had to share.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I have never had the privilege of meeting Lisa Austin, and it has been years since I have seen her husband, Bobby; but I wanted to send a request out to you all to be praying for them. Lisa was diagnosed about three weeks ago with breast cancer. Please take the time to visit to read what has been going on in their journey to this point. Her page name is: lisaausinjourney. Bobby inadvertently left out the "t" in their last name. Once on the page, you can read updates, see photos of their family, and leave a message for them.

Bobby and I were born just hours apart in Prebyterian Hospital in Charlotte. Our fathers even worked for the same company! Even though Bobby and I never kept in touch, our families have been connected literally my entire life.

It was Bobby's father, Bob, who was the first one with me at the hospital when Beth suffered her heart attack. My dad had called him to let him know what had happened and that it would take them (Mom and Dad) several hours to make it to Cary. I think Bob got to the hospital before we did in the ambulance!

He sat with me in the emergency room and in the waiting room, and he prayed and prayed and consoled and comforted me, and then he would pray some more. I will NEVER forget that. I have no idea what I would have done without his calming presence there by my side.

So now we surround this family in the midst of this storm. They are no strangers to a battle. Bobby fought leukemia as a young boy. The battle indeed belongs to the Lord.

So, I implore you to pray for this family. I know you will.

Bobby included this in one of his posts on the site:

He referenced Isaiah 43, and wrote "May our gracious Lord be glorified as we walk the steps He has set before us. We know that He walks them as well."


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Wanting Something I Already Have

I love God's patience. Obvioulsy, God has many, many characteristics, but I always lean so heavily on His patience with me! As I grow (from glory to glory) in my life with Christ, the Holy Spirit works to transform me...plucking and pruning and fine-tuning all along the way.

I so enjoy and thrive in my prayer life with God, but He is always there reminding me to "come up higher". The Holy Spirit will "nudge" me...sometimes gently...sometimes not so gently. Patience will reign, and then I need a good "kick".

Now I don't subscribe to any set "rules" or outlines in my prayers. It is just as God leads me. Sometimes, the prayers are lengthy, sometimes they are brief; and sometimes the prayer consists of a few groans, "ugggh's", and "Father...Help Me's"! I just pray until we are done!

Lately, God has really been teaching me to be mindful of the words I use when I speak with Him. Let me explain:

I can get caught up in praying, "God, give me your peace" or "God, be with me". God has very boldly spoken to my heart, and said..."Why don't you pray that you will BE AWARE of my peace and BE AWARE that I am ALWAYS with you!"

1 John 4:15 > "Anyone who confesses (acknowledges, owns) that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides (lives, makes His home) in him and he (abides, lives, makes his home) in God."

God lives in ME. I had been praying for peace that was already mine.

God lives in ME. I had been praying for God to be with me when He is ALWAYS with me.

God lives in ME. I had been praying for things that I already have through the power of Christ who LIVES IN ME!

Holy Spirit Conviction in my life. I am not trying to establish some "word police" on prayers. This was truth for Russ, and I just wanted to share that with you.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Where Is The Love?

I want this forum to represent what I truly feel...about a lot of different subjects. I am passionate about what I believe, and I just wanted to get something off my chest. I am going to let my thoughts flow freely, so I expect some of you may greatly disagree, but that's OK. In fact, I may even "self-edit" some of this after I have "written" it out.

I love Christ. I am passionate about Him and about serving Him. I love being a Christ follower. However, I am getting pretty fed up with some things going on "in the name of Christ". I know we all have opinions, and I celebrate the fact that God gave us brains and made us each different.

I have just experienced a lot lately that makes me sad and a little mad. When did we as Christ followers become so "ANTI"? Christains are so often portrayed as judgmental and spiteful in the news media, because you know what...sometimes we really are just that! We love to go on record about what (and whom) we are against. Yes, we should have a voice and we should stand up for what we believe. I question why any ONE Christian should be speaking for all of us.

President Jimmy Carter was interviewed at this year's Leadership Summit, and you know that raised the ire of a good many people. If you know me, you know where I stand politically, and you know I love and respect President Carter. My reasons for being a Democrat are just as biblically based as many of my friends say their reasons are for being a Republican. (That will have to be a topic for another day)

I just could not believe some of the hurtful things written and said about President Carter's appearance! I don't have to agree with somebody to be able to learn from them. I hear people chide him and other Democrats all the time. Funny...I never hear these same folks observing any room for improvement with the likes of President Bush or Jerry Falwell.

I mention Jerry Falwell becuase he was featured on CNN's "Christiane Amanpour Reports: God's Warriors". This was a three-part series with one night devoted to "Jewish Warriors", another to "Muslim Warriors", and another to "Christian Warriors". She interviewed several people including Falwell, Ron Luce (of Teen Mania/Battlecry), and President Carter. Very interesting.

I really don't know for sure if the portrayal of all of these folks was accurate, but it sure made me a little restless. Falwell's interview was done just a week before he died. I never really understood his appeal and his "rise to power", but I also know he has done a lot for the Kingdom of God. However, in this interview, he was just so passionate about all the things he was AGAINST.

What happened to us being about loving Christ and loving others? What happened to serving God and serving each other? Why are we not finding common ground instead of alienating the very world that we are trying to reach out to?

I don't have the answers, because obviously, I fall short all of the time. I am definitely not trying to be critical of anyone...just critical of this "habit". It is a lesson I constantly am learning myself. If I am called to be the salt and the light, how can I be that if I spew such venom. How can we as Christ followers be known for what we are FOR, instead of always what we are AGAINST?

I don't know. I just keep praying and examining my own heart and motives.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hail! Hail!

Well, it wasn't supposed to turn out like that! I had been looking forward to last night for a long time...the Def Leppard/Styx/Foreigner concert here in Raleigh. We were there at the Walnut Creek Ampitheatre as doors opened and we commissioned Mary Ann (our fastest and most determined walker) to stake out a large piece of parcel on the lawn for our big group.

The forecast, which I checked just before we headed out, called for a chance of "isolated thunderstorms but mostly to the north". As I was returning with my $8 plate of chicken tenders/fries and a Heineken, it started to drizzle a bit. No big deal.

Well, within minutes the mother of all storms unleashed some "Old Testament judgment" on all of us! Wind, torrential rain, hail, lightning, and flying chicken tenders became the new order at Walnut Creek. As I was hanging on to a Moraski child for dear life (really more of hoping he would hold on and save me), I watched as people screamed and ducked under soaked blankets for protection. "Building Memories", as Pastor Mike said.


A friend of ours was in the men's bathroom (a guy named Josh...not one of the gals as you may expect) when the power went out and someone wisely shouted, "All Hands Up". The roof over the stage was partially blown away, and there were actually several minor injuries from the debris. Crazy! The rain finally ceased, but the concert was a wash (pardon the feeble attempt at a pun). POSTPONED! ARGGGH!

It was an experience I will not soon forget, and on this side of's getting increasingly more hilarious. So...with is the top 5 things overheard last night that you would never hear at a NC Symphony concert.

5) "I'm gonna die!!!!!"

4) "Is there grass on my face?"

3) "Hey! Are those my chicken tenders up on stage?"

2) "I wonder who wins the wet t-shirt contest between Mike, Dean, and Karl?"

1) "Do you think they sell Def Leppard underwear at the merchandise tent?"

ROCK ON!!!!!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


These are some awesome guys in this picture above! This picture was taken on my friend, Dwayne Klein's wedding day. Dwayne is standing with his stepsons...strike that...his sons, Austin and Evan. It just so happens that Dwayne's bride is Nina Stone Klein, also my friend, and Mary Ann's sister.

I am sending out today a request for you all to pray for Dwayne, Nina, Austin, Evan, and Samantha. Dwayne has been staging a great fight against bone cancer. He has been so amazing through this and he has taught me a lot. He is currently at Duke Hospital receiveing stem cell transplant. He will remain at Duke for at least 2 weeks, and I am asking that you pray for his treatment, for his rest, for his doctors and nurses, for Nina and the kids, and for his HEALING!

Mary Ann and I had the remarkable opportunity of being with Dwayne and Nina last week at Duke as they were harvesting his stem cells. Dwayne is awesome! Here he is going through such a battle, and his sense of humor is as sharp as ever! He was a gracious host to us, and he was more concerned about us than what was happening to him.

Duke is such a crazy place to navigate, and Mary Ann and I were lost for quite a while trying to find Nina. But God knows just where Dwayne is and I am so thankful that Dwayne is at Duke receiving some excellent care. Our Lord has some amazing things in store for Dwayne, and I encourage you to lift him and his family up to our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Lord, I thank you for Dwayne and Nina!"

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I have not written in almost a week, and I have missed it. I was on vacation this week to volunteer at Hope as we hosted the satellite broadcast of Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. Everything was great...we worked hard and enjoyed every minute of it. We were blessed to be able to serve some amazing churches, leaders, and servants.

The Summit marks my "anniversary" of serving at Hope. My first foray into volunteering was at the first Summit we did at Hope (2005). However, because the Summit is usually held during the second week of August, it also marks my wedding August 11.

I love Summit time, but it is also always a reminder of the fact that Beth and I cannot celebrate the greatest day in our lives. I was fine until about 1PM today. We were so busy, and things slowed a bit, and I decided to slip into the balcony to catch a little of Bill Hybels in the last session. Bill was great in his talk, "Whatever you do, inspire me". When you are exhausted, your emotions can just carry you away, and mine did. I spent about 30 minutes alone in the chapel praying and crying...feeling like I did right after Beth died.

Pastor Joe asked if there was anything he could do, but I told him that it was "just part of it". It truly is just part of it." This anniversary was more difficult than 2005 and 2006. People always think that funerals are tough for me to attend, but weddings are always harder for me. Weddings remind me of my wedding and my beautiful bride, and the life we should have been living today.

I received a couple of cards. I cried a lot. I prayed a lot. I thought about Beth all day. I thought about Beth and Russ all day. I miss her terribly but I know we will be re-united one day. God sustained me today in the midst of my storm.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Matthew 11:28 Afternoon

OK. I just spent a wonderful three hours here at home. I got home from church, plugged my cell phone into the charger to get re-juiced, and then I plugged myself into THE CHARGER to get re-juiced. Matthew 11:28 : Jesus says "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Most of the time for me, that takes the form of a spiritual rest, but today that included a deep need for physical rest.

Finishing a long week at work and a long (but super-fulfilling) week-end at church, and getting ready to head into a week of serving at the Leadership Summit...Russ needed to receive that rest! I played with and loved on Colby, Marley, and Cosmo; and then I climbed into my big over-sized chair. Flipped between the Food Network, the NASCAR race, and one of my favorite episodes of Andy Griffith. Asleep before Barney could get his bullet out of his shirt pocket.

I am up (obviously) and filling renewed. Thank you God for providing the rest! Cosmo and Colby are still asleep, though, and Marley is looking to me to be entertained.

Awesome week-end at church. Pastor Mike was on target as always...even with a raspy voice. Karl still leaves me speechless just about every Sunday. What a gift. We sang one of his songs , "I Am Hungry" today. He also sang "Welcome Home", another of his songs, after Mike's message. If those songs don't move you, you don't have any movement left in you. I heard "Welcome Home" all three services this week-end, and I cried through it each time. I am proud to say that, too.

Other highlights this week-end:

Great "going away" party for Jackson Boone and Jordan Dodson who are heading off to ECU in a couple of weeks. 2 awesome young men. They filled our College Room with so much food you would have thought we were Baptist. Everything I had was incredible. In fact, I am going to pause for a minute and re-live some of those tasty eats.

I'm back. Also, I was blessed by an anonymous gift today. Someone gave me two wonderful books and a sweet card. I have no idea who left this for me, but I am bringing in handwriting experts first thing tomorrow morning! What a blessing today.

Melissa played violin with the band this week-end. She adds so much to my worship experience. I asked her father, Steve, if she got that talent from him. He said, "Yes...I paid for every bit of it!" Awesome! Melissa really tore it up this week-end.

Great group of always. There was an easy flow to it and we had a blast serving together. cell phone says that the "charging is complete". I'd say mine is, as least for now. Pray for Summit this week and all of the wonderful leaders who are committing themselves to "re-charging" their lives and ministries for Christ.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I have been concerned recently that I would somehow "lose" my memories of Beth. I cannot stand the thought of forgetting the features of her beautiful face....or the sound of her voice...or the smell of her hair...or the typical "Beth sayings" that made her unique. I fight to hang on to every little thing about her, and I want it to be burned into my permanent memory.

God showed me in an awesome way today that He cherishes those memories for me, as well.

I worked today in Fayetteville, and I had an opportunity to visit the gravesites of three of my grandparents. My dad's father, Russell Jefferson Williams, died in 1976 when I was only 7 years old. My mom's father, Wade Knox McDonald, died in 1989. Mom's mother, Craty Watson McDonald, died on July 31, 1991...16 years ago yesterday. All three are buried in the same cemetery. My dad's mother, Tennie Wood Williams, is still feisty and living in a care facility near my parents in Southport.

As I stood there at each grave today, I had almost total recall of the wonderful memories I so want to always hold onto about each grandparent. As I wrote, I was only 7 years old when Grandpa Williams died, but I remember a good bit about him. I remember he was always "larger than life" to me. He was a proud farmer, and took my sister and me around on the tractor. He loved his church, Mt. Pisgah. He would sneak us away just before dinner to give us vanilla ice cream and a Coke (in the glass bottle...I still love Coke in a glass bottle today). I remember the day he died, but Praise God, I am so glad that I still (31 years later) remember HIM.

I remember Grandpa McDonald. He was the true "Southern Gentleman". He had this awesome "whistle" as he drove. He would pay us an extravagant amount to go to work with him when we visited. I would just stamp forms like crazy at his insurance office, and he rewarded me handsomely. He loved me so much. I remember the day he died, but Praise God, I still remember HIM.

Grandma McDonald could tear up a piano. She played "by ear", meaning she did not need any musical notes or a score. Just hum a little, and she could play it in any key you needed. I believe she did take lessons, but the actual music could not keep up with her! I have her piano in my home today. She cooked the most amazing vegetable soup/stew. She liked big Buicks! I remember the day she died of a sudden heart attack (a broken heart after losing Grandpa), but Praise God, I still remember HER.

I love Grandma Williams so much. She is the only one of my grandparents that Beth knew, and the two of them were great friends. They were always looking for trouble, and they were always looking out for each other. Grandma Williams is still here, and I am so thankful that I remember HER.

God showed me today at Lafayette Memorial Park in Fayetteville that He is so abundantly capable of keeping my memories of my beautiful wife alive! I remember February 9, 2005...finding Beth unable to breathe. I remember each grueling day in the hospital as the chances for survival grew so dim. I remember February 22, 2005...the morning she drew her last peaceful breath. PRAISE GOD! I remember HER!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Walking It Out

I am witnessing God's Word come to life. It can be exciting, sure; but I'll at least be honest and say that it can be extremely unsettling, too. Let me explain. As I grow "from glory to glory" in my relationship with Christ, as I study God's Word, as I spend time in prayer, as I walk along this path with my companions...God just orchestrates things. You know? I don't believe in "circumstances". My God is so mysterious, and He truly is so divinely invloved in what is happening.

The more of The Word I know, the more responsible I must be to living true to that Word. I believe that. When I say "know the Word"...I do mean "know"...not just memorization or having key verses highlighted in my Bible. A deep knowing. Recently, I have been so tuned into how often our Father will give us the opportunities to walk out our faith.

Now, I want to relate something that is in no means meant to sound like anything prideful at all. In fact, she may even be a little embarrassed that I am sharing this, but I think it is an important lesson. Last night at Hope, we had a training session for our volunteers for the upcoming Leadership Summit. Before everything started, we met a man named Chris who had fallen on some pretty bad times this week.

Chris is from California and had come to the area because some friends had offered him some work. He gets here, lives with them, and finds that they are heavily involved in drugs. Bottom line: Chris had no place to go. God brought him to our church. A homeless man named Tommy, who attends Hope, brought him to the church because he thought we could help.

After our meeting, Chris was still there because he had not been able to make the contacts he needed to get shelter. I stood in Mary Ann's office as she met with him and gave him an action plan. She prayed with him, encouraged him, and then we drove him to a hotel up the street. She paid for a room for the night for him, and then we drove him to get some dinner. Again, I am not in any way trying to glorify Mary Ann. This is about obedience to God and His Word. To God be the Glory!

See, Mary Ann had a choice to make when it came to Chris. Don't we often find it so easy to just tell someone we will pray for them? Don't misunderstand me - prayer is amazing; but is it possible that we sometimes use prayer as an excuse not to do anything? If we have the means to meet a need, why don't we pray AND meet that need?

James 2:14-17 reads: "What is the use, my brethren, for anyone to profess to have faith if he has no good works to show for it? Can such faith save his soul? If a brother or sister is poorly clad and lacks food for each day, and one of you says to him, Good-Bye! Keep yourself warm and well fed, without giving him the necessities for the body, what good does that do? So also faith, if it does not have works, by itself is destitute of power."

God will put people in front of us. The decision of what we will do is entirely ours. Mary Ann loves God too much to be knowingly disobedient to Him. She showed God's love and compassion, and we have no idea the impact her prayers AND her actions may make on this young man's life.

God challenges me daily...daily, to be aware and focused on His people. I want you to see how those verses from James 2 are written in the Message Bible:

"Dear Friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, 'Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!' and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup - where does that get you?

Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?"

Lord, I do not want to live some pious, religious life of outrageous nonsense. Thank you for loving me so much that you won't let me live like that.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blown Away

I love my church! I was blown absolutely away today at Hope. God has so blessed us with some great teaching pastors: Mike, Dave, Joe, Steve, and Donnie. They are all different (which I love) and they teach the Word of God in creative and inspired ways.

Pastor Steve Ellis, our Outreach Pastor, taught today in our continuing series, "Road Trip With Jesus". The title of his message was "E-Roading...When Life Disappoints" and he used Luke 24:13-35...the road to Emmaus. It was one of the most powerful teachings on ANY subject I have ever heard. If you do not attend Hope, check out our website (you can find a direct link on the right side of this page). Check on the site later in the week and you should be able to get a podcast of Steve's message . You can also get CD copies at Hope beginning next Sunday.

If I attempted in any way to summarize it for you, I would diminish this awesome word from God. Trust me...find a way to get a copy of this teaching!

I serve with our First Impressions Ministry, and if you know me; you have heard me talk about it. (probably more than you ever wanted to hear, but I appreciate you humoring me!) We huddle before week-end services as a team to verify positions, share information, and pray. I love the community God has established, and how He just keeps developing and transforming us. A great part of huddle is a devotion....just a time to share in a personal way what God is doing. Now normally, Mary Ann or I do the devotionals, and we do love it. We both LOVE to talk and we joke about "always having something to say!" (It really is not a joke...we DO have a lot to say)

However, one of our Team Leaders led Huddle this week-end and she did a remarkable job. Kudos to Jenny Carpenter! You straight rock, Jenny! God put something amazing on her heart to share, and it was a huge part of my worship experience at Hope today.

See...I love hearing our Senior Pastor, Mike, teach and preach. I love when Mary Ann shares her heart and her life in Huddle. I love sharing in Huddle. It's not about who is preaching or who is leading volunteer huddle. It really is about God. He uses us all. In different ways. In wonderful ways. It is sad when we will only open our hearts to a certain preacher, teacher, or huddle leader. God annointed Steve and Jenny today and used them to speak to His sheep. I, for one, am glad I didn't miss out.

I am in awe.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

We took a trip to Lexington, Kentucky in January, and this is one of the friends I made at Gainesway Farms. Lexington is beautiful country with beautiful people. Gainesway is enormous and it is home to some amazing horses and past Kentucky Derby winners. I could have stayed there all day.

What Tammy Faye Taught Me

It has been just a little over a week since Tammy Faye Messner died of cancer. It was remarkable watching her final appearance on "Larry King Live" just hours before her death. She had some spunk, ya know? Tammy Faye also had a lot of grace...and an amazing faith.

Now let me be honest and say that back in the day, regrettably, I was part of a large group in America that ridiculed her. I even had that tee shirt with all of the splattered colors on the front that read "I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall." I imagine those shirts are fetching quite a price now on ebay. (Did I just use the word "fetching"?)

Mom took us to PTL/Heritage USA several times, and we even got to see a taping of "The Jim and Tammy Show". You know Heritage USA was really a remarkable dream and concept. It was a fun, very clean, Christian place to vacation or just come hang out for a day. It was always so beautiful at Christmas.

Granted, the Bakkers made some really bad mistakes. However, I do believe the vision was inspired. They just really got sidelined by the desires of the flesh. We've all done that on some level. They answer to God, not to me.

Here's the thing about Tammy Faye. I think she remained relevant and a true witness of God's redemptive love and ultimate restoration. (see Romans 3:22-24). Aren't we all thankful that this restoration is available to us? I would hate to live my life having people hold me in bondage for my former mistakes and sins.

Tammy Faye loved people...all people. She didn't take herself too seriously. She just kept loving the Lord and sharing His love.

When people remember her, sure; they will always remember the PTL scandal. I get that. They'll remember the make-up and false eyelashes. I get that. That is not her legacy, though.

There were two things she always said on their tv show:

1) "You Can Make It!" Well...Tammy made it.

2) She would close the show with "Remember...God loves you, and I do, too!" Well...Tammy Faye...God loves you, and I do, too. Thanks for the lesson.

Ephesians 1:7

Friday, July 27, 2007

"The Merritt System"

OK. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the music of Tift Merritt. LOVE it! This locally-grown artist has been a fave of mine for years. I just finished reading an article about her in Fifteen 501 magazine. There was not a lot in the article about Tift's career that I did not already know, but I did gain some new perspective. I hope my feeble writing skills will be able to convey that here.

Merritt's 2004 CD, "Tambourine", was nominated for a Grammy as Best Country album. The author of this article, Kurt Dusterberg, described her nomination as "a square peg in a category that leaned toward traditional offerings from Loretta Lynn and Tim McGraw."

Hmmmm....square peg in something that leans traditional! I get that! I just love watching people who have to put others in a "category" or "box". Their worlds seemingly cannot function if there is something or someone that does not fit neatly into their parameters. I think that is pretty prevalent in a lot of churches today.

You know what? There are some really different folks out there. Hey! I'm different! I am exactly as God created me to be doing what He created me to do. That is the freedom He offers. I do not have to fit into some false standard of what someone else thinks a Christ follower should look and dress like. Christ is THE standard. It's not you, me, anyone else. Christ alone.

Back to Tift. She is definitely hard to pinpoint as an artist. She's a little bit country, a little bit Southern rock, a little bit R & B. (I sound like Donny & Marie) Defintely not mainstream. Definitely not making millions from her music. She is just doing what she is supposed to be doing.

Go buy "Bramble Rose" (her first CD) and "Tambourine". You won't be disappointed. She should have a third CD out later on her new label. I recently loaned my copies of both to someone, and I miss them!

Anyway, here is the final paragraph of Mr. Dusterberg's article. It speaks to me and my life with Christ.

"Once you're going in the right direction, you follow your heart and you have confidence. I've always been an artist and I always will be. I'll be doing it whether everybody is looking or not."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Not Feeling So Good Myself"

Tough times as of late. My wife, Beth, died in 2005 and I miss her every day. It has really been a tough road lately, though. Her race is won, but I struggle with mine. The amazing thing is...God just keeps bringing me through! My testimony is: "I am still here!" My best friends, Mary Ann and Dean..we talk about PRESSING ON. That has been my theme for the past 2 years. Press on and press through.

A loss like this gives so much perspective if you allow it to. I have been recalling the "crossroads" Beth's sudden illness and death put me at in February 2005. I remember thinking to myself: "Russ, you are either going to run away from God as fast as you can, or you are going to run to Him as fast as you can." I remember that decision, and yes... it was a decision. God is a good God, and as Dean always reminds me...He does not change. (Malachi 3 :6)

My life verse(s) has always been 1 Thessaloninas 5:16-18. "Be joyful always; pray continuously; and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
I give thanks IN all circumstances...not "because" of my circumstances.

I thank God for my friends/family who have walked beside me. The pain is still there, but there really is hope. God has really used my experiences to "walk beside" others. Look up 2 Corinthians 1:3-6. I do look at life differently (is that a cliche?). God's comfort and peace are available...nothing compares!