Tuesday, September 30, 2008

FLAMINGOED!!!!!

Dogs barking...neighborhhod kids on their way to the school bus stoppoing to look...what is going on out there?

I've been flamingoed!

Awesome! There is one flamingo near my driveway wearing a lei and an envelope around its neck. Here's the 411:

WHY: One of your friends decided that you needed some new lawn ornaments for a while. With a donation, you can send this same flock to another friend of your choice.

A DONATION?: Yes, you have been flamingoed as part of a fundraiser sponsored by a small group at Hope Community Church of Cary. All proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the church's Mina Project, which supports local Triangle charities, with particular focus on the Cary-based Hope for Haiti Foundation. Using money from the Mina Project, the group plans to purchase and renovate two buildings in Bainet, Haiti that will be transformed into a much-needed hospital and dormitory. For more information about the Mina Project and the charities it supports, please visit www.gethope.net.

I love this! Our church gave thousands and thousands of dollars back to the people who attend our church with the charge to transform that money into even more for the Kingdom. This group blows me away with their creativity, and I know they are going to receive radical and outrageous donations for the Mina Project. I've enjoyed having the flock in my yard, but I contacted "Animal Control" and the flamingos will be migrating to the house of one of my friends tonight!

Love it! Can't wait to hear the reaction!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crazy and Audacious

I love to be challenged. As uncomfortable as it can be to have my thinking "adjusted", I think in the end it means I am willing to grow...to develop in all areas. I get juiced when I read or hear something that makes me take some time to "digest" it all.

On a plane ride home, I was reading the Sept/Oct issue of Rev! magazine. I really like Rev! as it is a great resource for ministry today. There was an interview titled, "Crazy, Audacious Pastoring" featuring Francis Chan. Chan is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California.

Question posed to Chan: Why did you decide not to build a $20 million building, when that was the logical next step for a church of your size?

Chan's response: "Our attendance is 3,000 to 4,000 people, but our sanctuary can only hold 1,000 people, so we're packed. The opportunity to build arose, so we went into escrow on some land. Then they showed me the plans for the building. Nothing felt right about it. I didn't feel that Jesus would go forward this way. I didn't have peace about it. I thought, "Wouldn't Jesus have people meet him at the park or even make it harder for people to follow him?" When the crowds were there, he didn't give the type of altar call that would get everyone forward. He almost gave an anti-altar call. "Are you sure you're supposed to be here? Maybe you should leave because you don't understand the commitment...

You still want to be here? Pick up your cross and follow me."

Jesus preached sacrifice. It's almost like he hid and the people had to find him. I thought, "Man, would he really create the most comfortable atmosphere to draw people on, or would he make it a little bit more difficult for them?" Isn't the heart of God to sacrifice your own pleasures for the sake of those who are in greater need? Isn't that what 1 John 3:16-18 was about? I thought, "What if we did make it a little bit more difficult?" Every week we're feeding people who live outside. In other parts of the world, this is how they live 24 hours a day. I'm simply sacrificing an hour of my week for their sake."

In the end, Cornerstone scrapped plans for the $20 million auditorium, deciding instead to build an outdoor ampitheater and give half the budgeted money to aid others.

Makes me think. God leads different churches/leaders in different ways. No cookie-cutter mentality allowed. I must expose myself to the multiple and varied ways of our omnipotent God.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Excuses


DATELINE: JULY 26, 2008
CARY, NC - Russ Williams determines to be more consistent in posting to his blog. "Daily posts are my new goal", says Williams. "God is doing so much and showing me so much in my life, I have to get it out there!", Russ exclaims with determination. Russ Williams subsequently posts about "relevance".
DATELINE: AUGUST 13, 2008
CARY, NC - Eighteen days after Russ Williams promises daily blog posts, he finally updates his flippin' blog!
Do you want the excuses or should I just get to it?
That's what I thought.
Thanks.
God has been blowing things up in a big way through a lot of revelation. It seems as if a lot is coming to light (in such a powerful, great way) in a very short period of time. That can be deceiving, though. It's a little like an "overnight success". We see the breakthrough and the "suddenly". What we don't see are the years of faith, dedication, perseverance, sweat, and work leading up to the "suddenly".
Same thing for me now. My time in prayer seeking God desperately...reading His Word and seeking truth...following the promptings of the Holy Spirit (sometimes gentle nudges and sometimes big brutish shoves!)...through all of these and more, God is bringing progressive revelation to me.
I really got juiced when I read Craig Groeschel's latest book, "It". You must read this! The official release date is not for another 2 weeks, I believe. So much of the book hit me hard, and I have highlighted, marked up, and sweated all over this book!
I will tell you the one thing that probably was the most revolutionary for me. I won't expand the thought anymore than what Groeschel wrote, but think about how it could apply to what God may be doing in your very own life. Then get the book, and find out more!
page 95: GOD OFTEN GUIDES BY WHAT HE DOESN'T PROVIDE."
"Maybe God will guide you to see something that you couldn't have seen if he'd just removed the wall."
He then references Acts 3 and Peter, John, and the crippled beggar. Read this!
"The truth: you have what you need. Watch out for the excuses."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Relevance



rel-e-vant adj. related to matters at hand.

The word "relevant" gets tossed around a lot in today's churches, and it often gets assigned to things in a misleading manner. All things "new" are not necessarily relevant; and all "old" things/ways are not necessarily useless.

Bottom Line: The Word of the Living God is relevant.

The Gospel message of Jesus providing true salvation is relevant.

All of the rest is preferences and packaging. I believe very strongly that we have to reach people where they are. God desires (demands) our praise, and He is looking at our hearts. I really do not think for one second that God discounts our praise because there may be drums and guitars, for crying out loud! I love today's music. I love "loud"! Again, God looks at the heart of the worshipper.

While I love rock and metal, I also love old hymns. I bought Selah's "Greatest Hymns" album this week, and wept...wept as I listened to these beautiful songs. By the way, if you have the Family Perks punch card at Family Christian, you can purchase the cd at the Cary location for $5!

I think some churches are afraid of letting go of their pipe organs and hymnals because it's what they have "always done". Do we do what we do in church because it is what we like? Are we doing what we do for the Lord and to reach those who are far from Him? I also think some churches run away from singing hymns because they think that the hymns are no longer "relevant".

That is a mistake.

My favorite all-time hymn is "It Is Well With My Soul", written by Horatio Spafford. This dude experienced some tragedy in his life. Look it up.

Get these words:

"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, tho trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin -oh, the bliss of this glorious thought: My sin not in part, but the whole Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And, Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll, The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul."

Wanna talk about relevant words and relevant worship?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Out Of The Park


I am really not a big baseball fan at all. I enjoy going to a ballpark and experiencing a game live, but I really do not like watching it on tv. However, I did tune it to "The Home Run Derby" tonight to watch Josh Hamilton. What a story. Josh's in-laws attend Hope, and Josh and his wife were part of our services not too long ago.
Josh was the #1 MLB draft pick out of high school, but quickly became heavily involved with drugs. He was away from baseball for three years, but is back stronger than ever now with The Texas Rangers. At the All-Star break, Josh leads MLB in RBI's. He credits everything to God. Everything!
Josh didn't win the derby tonight, but he did break the record for the most HR's hit in one round. Hamilton hit 28 home runs in the first round alone! He hit so many that he automatically advanced to the final round. The announcers were talking about his story...how he "had the cocaine habit, found God, and had a dream. Now he's here in Yankee Stadium living that dream. It's a lousy night to be an atheist!" Wow! You won't here a commentator say that a lot, but it's hard to avoid that with Josh's life story.
When Josh lost in the final round to Justin Morneau, ESPN interviewed him afterwards. Josh said, "I thank my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for this opportunity, and I want to glorify Him everywhere I go."
That's a home run.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oakwood




I went out to Historic Oakwood Cemetery today in Raleigh where Beth is buried. It really is a beautiful place, and I still take flowers out there for Beth's grave. It is some small way that I feel I can honor her and remember her...although I don't need flowers for that. I think of Beth literally EVERY day of my life, and I miss her so much. I do not believe that I could really ever express truly what a void her death has left in my life to this day. I am so thankful that God daily...daily provides His love, grace, patience, and peace for me in my life.




A lot of well-known people are buried at Oakwood: Coach Jim Valvano from NC State's 1983 National Championship basketball team, numerous governors of North Carolina, business leaders, etc. Wade Edwards, the son of Senator John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, is also buried near Beth.




This past Tuesday, Senator Jesse Helms was buried there. I never was a fan of Helms. Surprise! There has been enough said and written about Helms and his legacy that I don't need to add to it. Before all of this "growth and maturity" happened in my life, I would have loved to have had a forum like this to be able to spout off.
The point is that there are a lot of "notables" buried at Oakwood; but none more notable than Elizabeth Knight Williams. She may not have written laws, governed a state, or played basketball, but she lived a full life of love, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, compassion, fairness, and passion. She is one of the many life stories represented there, and oh how I would love to have known them all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

"Special"

There's this routine that Colby, Cosmo, Marley, and I have. They have trained me so well, and I love to spoil them; so really...it works out for everybody. When I go to the grocery store, I always get them a little something for a treat. I call it a "special" and boy, have they learned that word!

They always greet me at the front door when I come home, but they are also looking for the bag from the store to see if they are about to get "specials". That look of expectancy melts my heart every time. They don't get the "specials" every day, but they anticiapte that they may get something at any time. Plus, no matter how many "specials" they get in a week...well, it still is "special".

I am striving for that expectancy in my walk with God. "What do you have for me today, Father?" He so wants to reveal so many SPECIAL things to us. Am I waiting "at the door" or am I "asleep" on the sofa missing the whole shebang?

Colby always finishes his "special" first and then sets his sights on getting Marley's. Colby will finish and go to the door as if he was letting me know he needed to go use the "facilities". When I open the door, Marley runs outside and Colby ducks back in to grab Marley's "special" and take it upstairs. Marley falls for it every time. He will figure it out one day.

Nothing God-related really in that detour! It's just kind of amusing to watch it play out the same way each time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Moore" Conviction

Preferences can sure get in the way of hearing from God sometimes. Because we are all unique, we "prefer" certain things a certain way. We like the music we like for a reason. We like the preachers we like because...you fill in the blank. I'm the same way.

However, when we limit our intake to the point of religious snobbery, we effectively limit God and His revelation in our lives. Now I don't think we need to run off in the other direction and just "consume" every single thing that's out there with a "spiritual" label on it. God wants us to be discerning, but we must be able to strip away our preferences.

I have always considered myself to be exceptionally open-minded, but I have had my eyes opened lately in some areas. I listen to a lot of sermons (podcasts, cds,tv) every week. I have my favorite preachers, and I discovered (God pointed it out) that I flock to my favorites and dismiss anybody else.

Limiting God.

Each Wednesday on "Life Today" with James and Betty Robison, Beth Moore teaches. I know a lot of people LOVE Beth Moore, but I have never been a "fan". (Isn't it a shame that "fan" is the most appropriate word I could think of to describe it? Ouch!)

I watch Joyce Meyer every day, and "Life Today" comes on right before Joyce. So, I have been listening to Beth Moore for the past several Wednesdays, and God has used her to smack me in the face lately. She spoke on forgiveness today:

"We break the heart of Jesus when we do not belive what He did! We are forgiven! We mope around and dwell in the sins for which He has already forgiven us. We call it humility. Jesus does not call it humility. He calls it unbelief!"

Come on somebody! (shout out to Pastor Matt!)

I am venturing down a risky path when I limit God and limit the ones He wants to use to reach me and the people of this hurting world. We like what we like, but I don't want to miss out on anything that God has for me!

Beth Moore rocks!

Monday, June 30, 2008

This Is Only A Test

Do you remember that feeling you would get just before a big test/exam in high school or college? Anxiety...pressure! Forget about the pop quizes! Those would just magnify everything!

We just finished up a series in Huddle on "Integrity", and I talked this past week-end about the "test of integrity".

Pop quizes will freak you out! "Hey! I didn't know I was going to have to know this today." "I thought you would let me know when I would need to be ready!" True? We want to be told when to expect the test. No surprises, thank you.

However...

  • pop quizes don't work like that
  • life rarely works like that
  • God doesn't work like that

God has not come to me and said, "OK, Russ. Wednesday at 7:36AM you are going to be tested. I know you have not done anything up to this point to prepare...but!"

I was a good student in college and I made excellent grades. I didn't have to stay up all night before a big exam and drink pot after pot of coffee and try to cram every bit of information I could into my brain to try to slide through with a passing grade.

I studied each day. Every day. I would re-write my notes. I would re-read the text. I was ready when the test came because I prepared for it all along the way. It was a way of life for me.

That's how we have to handle our walks as followers of Christ. We have to spend time each day in God's Word and in prayer. It has to be a way of life.

Will we be ready for the test? It's coming.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bring It!

Pastor Mike brought it tonight. At Hope, we're in a series called "Get Smart...Christianity For Dummies". This week-end, it's "Sorry About That Chief", and we are dealing with prejudices. Awesome text from the book of James.

Pastor nailed it! He was spot on about illegal immigration as he referenced Leviticus 19. Man! We gotta love! When did we become known for being so flippin' "ANTI"?

Plus, we are finishing up a series in First Impressions huddle on "Integrity". I know God has been all in this thing and has really given Mary Ann and me the freedom to put His truth out there.

Listening to some Metallica now before bed...looking forward to sharing my heart in Huddle tomorrow morning...then heading off to C3 for the 11:15 service...then lunch with my bud, Jackson.

Big heapin' dose of God's truth this week-end, for sure!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Seven Jeans...True Religion

Is this thing on? Wow! It has been a mighty long time since I have last posted. Thank you for all of your prayers for me and my family as we celebrated the life of my grandmother.

Not only have I missed posting here, but I have missed reading my "daily" blogs. Maybe I am back on track, but I was able to briefly talk today with one of the dudes whose blogs I check out every day. I was scoping out the half-yearly Men's sale at Nordstrom today and saw Pastor Matt Fry of C3. What a blessing he was to me today, and it was great connecting with him. God is moving in huge ways at C3. HUGE!

He introduced me to his wife, Martha as well as Pastor Joe Champion of Celebration Church (Austin,TX) and his wife, Lori. Keep these pastors, their families, and their churches in your prayers.

Pastor Matt (Master Patt) ...keep pressing on and thanks for your time today.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Life Well Lived

IRENE "TENNIE" WOOD WILLIAMS
APRIL 5, 1916 - JUNE 2, 2008

Some woman, that grandmother of mine. I have been trying to narrow down what I would share about her at her funeral Thursday. So many stories and so many memories. 92 years! Wow! I believe we were all "prepared" that this day would come, but it is still very difficult.

Grandma loved Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior. My grandfather, Russell Jefferson Williams, loved Jesus Christ. What a reunion took place yesterday!

My prayer for this week is that we honor God and honor my grandmother as we celebrate her life and her love. She was the last one of my living grandparents. I was so blessed to have four wonderful grandparents who loved me (and spoiled me) so much.

She truly fought the good fight.





Saturday, May 31, 2008

Just A Swingin'

One of the best wedding gifts Beth and I received was a Pawley's Island hammock...you know...one of those rope hammocks. We didn't actually receive the hammock from anybody. We "traded" a few gifts in to get the hammock. Nonetheless, I used to love being in that hammock.

So today, I pulled it out of my garage...that warehouse of forgotten things. I hook it up between 2 trees (I guess I could assume you know it takes "2 trees"). I grab the book I'm reading ("Simple Church"), a pillow, a bottled water, and out I go.

Colby and Marley come outside with me...for a while. Colby couldn't decide whether he wanted to be inside or outside. He really wanted us all to be inside, but he wasn't willing to be separated from me. Marley, having never seen the hammock, was extremely curious.

Colby is the cautious, sensitive one. (me) Marley is the bold, adventurous one (Beth). It wasn't three minutes before Marley was climbing up , through the holes in the rope, to get in the hammock with me. He was unsure, but he wasn't scared at all. He was just focused on being where I was.

Everything was fine, until Colby decided he didn't want Marley in the hammock. He barked. He whined. He came over and bit Marley on the butt. Now Marley is losing his confidence and his resolve to be with me, doing what I was doing. Why? Because of Colby and Colby's jealousy and desire that Marley stay on the ground where he was.

I totally got the connection to my spiritual life. Are there times when I follow God boldly even though I am unsure what may happen? I so desperately want to be as close as possible to my Lord. I may step through some holes and my footing may seem unstable, but I'm doing it.

Until...

Until someone says that I can't do that. I shouldn't be doing that. "That's enough. Now come back down here with me. We don't belong there."

Marley crawled down from the hammock, and took a spot on the patio. He kept looking at me as if he wished he had never let Colby "convince" him to get down.

Monday, May 26, 2008

WiBo Part Two

OK. Here is what really stood out to me from the afternoon at The Whiteboard Sessions. Check my previous post to see Part One.


MARK DEVER

"Have we forgotten?...THE CHURCH WILL WIN. The Kingdom of God is victorious!"

"Through the local church, God has put Himself on display for the world to see." (Ephesians 3)

On the importance of church community: "There is something about our congregations that compounds our witness and confuses the world."

"Your church will show the world what you are preaching."

"God is God. Our methods are not god. What do you really think that God is thinking when we think we have found something that works?"

***I just got a hold of Dever's book, "12 Challenges Churches Face"...looking forward to digging in.


JOHN BURKE

"We have made Christianity confusing and complex to people."

"There must be a moment to moment dying to self."

"There must be a moment to moment connection to God."

"If we stay connected, fruit happens." (John 15:5)


PERRY NOBLE


"Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him." (Mark 3:13)

"We need to understand our calling."

"We need to understand our priorities. We are called to be with Jesus. We are called to preach. We are called to have authority."

"There is way too much imitation and not enough revelation in the church. We will get revelation when we spend time with Him."

"I am crazy enough to really think that God has at least one more big move in Him."

To pastors: "You and I will experience temptation and spiritual warfare on a level that others will never really understand."


ED STETZER


"Going through doubt to faith"

"Thomas...Doubting Thomas...went the farthest to proclaim the Gospel. Thomas had great faith."

On comparing yourself/your ministry to others: "Let's quit submitting to ministry pornography ... an unreliable picture of an experience you are never going to have"

"God is not afraid of your questions."

"The world is tired of trite. It wants something more."

"God promises us only His presence...not our happiness."

"Jesus doesn't always speak happiness, but he does speak peace." (John 20:19)

"I've learned that Jesus has not always taken away my pain, but he is enough for me in the midst of it."


There you go. WiBo 2008. It is so important in my life to learn from those who are out there...with all their chips pushed in...100% sold out and committed...day in...day out...focused...passionate...broken-hearted...and lovin' Jesus. Thank you, God, for putting it on my heart to be there and making it possible.

Friday, May 23, 2008

WiBo Part One

The Whiteboard Sessions...1 day...8 speakers...30 minutes each to discuss 1 idea...over 600 miles driven. Whew!

Still downloading the conference, but here are some things that hit me from the speakers:

MARK BATTERSON:

"When we think we have God figured out, we lose our spiritual thirst/quest to seek Him, and we develop a theological pride. Our best theories will soon become obsolete."

"When is the last time that you confessed to God that your dreams are too small?"

"We get to a dangerous point when we do ministry out of memory instead of imagination. At some point, memory will overtake imagination."


VINCE ANTONUCCI

"How is it possible that I lived for 20 years right here in America and NOBODY ever told me about Jesus or invited me to church?"

"The church is reaching people, but not lost people. We are reaching "saved" people. 2.2% of churches are experiencing conversion growth."

"In Matthew 9:36...Jesus looked upon the crowds and saw they were like sheep without a shepeherd. It broke the heart of Jesus. What breaks your heart?"

"If you are not close to people who are far from God, then you are not as close to God as you think you are."


TIM STEVENS

"Most churches are not impacting their communities. They are actually getting in the way of the Gospel."

"Leverage the culture or risk losing your impact."


DARRIN PATRICK

"Sin = exchanging our object of worship. You are ruled by what you worship."

"Worship is the natural response of being captivated."

"An idol is the sin beneath the sin...anything in my life that occupies a place in my life that should be held by God alone."

"Most of the time, we are clueless about our own idols (pretty good at knowing the idols of OTHERS). When our idols are threatened or disturbed, we become aware."

"The more you mature as a Christian, the more you realize that you are a bigger sinner than you thought!"


Wow! Or as Perry Noble would say, "DANG!" Or as Matt Fry would say, (well, he said it once) "Boy Howdy!" Or as Mary Ann would say, "OH! OH! OH!"

Anyway, just some things that I wrote down in my Moleskine journal at Wibo. Those are just the first 4 speakers, so my next post will have some of the "gotchas" from the second half of the day...Mark Dever, John Burke, Perry Noble, and Ed Stetzer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not My Most Uplifting Post, But...What Can Ya Do?

I really miss Beth. Tonight has been rough. It hit me that in just a few months, she will have been dead longer than we were actually married. I do not much care for that perspective.

I get so fed up with cliches. "Oh, time heals everything." That's crap! Time does not heal anything. God heals...through time...but time in and of itself does not heal. In reality, I would not be able to put into words the anguish I often feel. I have wonderful friends who listen and care...but I just could not describe the void.

I keep marching...forward, I hope. It seems that whenever God is doing something cool, new, and exciting in my life; well, that's when I miss Beth the most.

Beth's very best friend, Tara, is getting married this fall. I hate it that Beth cannot be there. I hate it for Tara. She lost her dad and Beth in just a short time.

I hurt for Beth's parents. I hurt for Beth's aunt.

I look at Colby, Marley, and Cosmo...the three "babies" we rescued that became part of our family. I love them, and it makes me miss her all the more.

God offers so many wonderful promises in His Word, and I cling to them, and I believe them.

It just hurts, and I want this blog to be an outlet for my honest thoughts and feelings. I get jealous of a husband who still has his wife. I get ticked off when I hear couples argue or dis-respect each other. I don't like being odd-man out, so to speak. I don't like re-living those awful weeks in February 2005; and I think about it all far more than I would even admit to myself.

God's mercies are new each morning. Thank you, Father! The most comforting thing is the assurance that Beth is in heaven today.

Thanks for listening to my heart...through the good and the through the pain.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The B-I-B-L-E. Yes, that's the Book for Me

"The B-I-B-L-E. Yes, that's the Book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God. The B-I-B-L-E!" Remember that song?

Anyway...you should be here at my computer hearing me SING it! Count your blessings.

This week-end during our First Impressions "huddles" at Hope, I shared with the teams something that God really put on my heart. I was a bit anxious about it, but God assured me that I was to do it. I spoke with Mary Ann beforehand, and she agreed 100%. Well, if you have God AND Mary Ann saying to go forward, well....

I have been burdened as of late because I just never saw many people actually bringing their Bibles with them to church. We see thousands each week-end at Hope, and I rarely see more than maybe 25-30 people with a Bible. Now, let me stop here before you start getting all worked up. I am not trying to enforce some legalistic standard of following empty rules. If you bring your Bible to church and never open it, then yes; it is the same as leaving it at home covered in dust on the shelf.

During services, we do put the Scripture on large screens so everyone can see. We do offer sermon outlines in the worship guides so our attendees can take notes. We want to be an inviting, "non-threatening" place for people who are far from Christ to come and learn and to be loved.

This is not about those folks. Why do the folks who have been at Hope for a while not bring a Bible with them(and a journal...and a pen)?

My main point is that God's church is not just a place for us to go once a week to feel good about ourselves and get fed. Mark something off of our list. We are called to serve. SERVE!

In First Impressions, what we do goes far beyond...FAR BEYOND passing out worship guides, making a great latte, or helping people find a parking space or a seat in the auditorium. This is ministry and it is what God has called us to do. God blessed me with the opportunity this past Sunday to minister to a family I had met while I was serving as an usher. They had a need and asked me to keep them in my prayers. I said, "Let's pray now."

I prayed for healing. I prayed for God's glory to shine through. I prayed the Word of God.

I also used my Bible to offer God's comfort and encouragement.

I am not writing this to say, "Hey! Look at me! I got it figured out." God's Word is mighty. God's Word is vital to our lives as followers of the Living God. God's Word is vital as we minister to others. Why would we not be equipped with the tools God has given to us?

I am reading "Praying Hyde" by Basil Miller. John Hyde was a visionary and dedicated missionary to India in the early 1900's. I read this in the book yesterday at lunch:

"Praying Hyde during those days of retreat loved the Book, and but few times was he far away from it. His Bible was always in his hand, and even over the morning cup of tea, he fed the souls of his friends with the Bread of heaven. When he knelt to pray, the Bible was opened before him, and his hands rested on it, as though he gained strength therefrom to believe that he received the petition desired of the Lord. He lived thus face to face with Christ and daily rested on God's promises. He always had a spiritual morsel to give those who were with him, and by his own closeness to God he was able to lead others into the divine presence."

Enough said.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How's Your Vision?

If you can overdose on sermons and biblical teachings...I may have done it. God has exposed me to some amazing, annointed preachers and teachers as of late; and it has blown me away. Live preaching, cd's, podcasts, printed texts, television...you name it.

The great thing about God-annointed preaching is how if 1000 people listen to the same message, God may very well speak to those 1000 people in 1000 different ways.

I heard a pastor say recently, "If your vision does not scare you and keep you up at night, then your vision AND your God are too small."

Dang! That really spoke to me and continues to speak to me about things God is working in and through my life. God will really show us more and more as we continue to seek after Him more and more. (Matthew 6:33) But I have to do my part...I have to seek Him.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mrs. Little and Mrs. Snipes

So, yes, I did get to see President Carter yesterday in Clayton, NC...at Wal-Mart. The newspaper feature reported that President Carter and Sam Walton were good friends, so President Carter always tries to fit in a Wal-Mart or Sam's Club during a book signing tour. I'd have to say that is one of the few times in my life I have been in a Wal-Mart. More of a Target man myself, but President Carter wasn't at Target. He was at Wal-Mart. So...Russ was at Wal-Mart.

I have to say that the experience was not as great as meeting President Clinton Wednesday. (I still cannot believe I have seen 2 former U.S. presidents in just three days!) There were a lot of people there, and I arrived fairly early to get a good place in line. I didn't mind waiting at all, but when President Carter started signing, we were just kind of moved through really fast. (kind of like "The Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld"...very methodical) You could not try to shake his hand. You could only take one picture off to the side after he had signed your book...and you had 10 seconds to do it. I understood why, but it was a disappointment after meeting President Clinton in Apex.

The greatest part of the experience turned out to be hanging out in line with two awesome ladies from Buies Creek. Mrs. Little(who reminded me a lot of my Grandma McDonald) and Mrs. Snipes. We immediately started talking and sharing and laughing. Time zipped by. Turns out Mrs. Little attended Gardner-Webb when it was a 2-year college. Both ladies were Baptists and grew up loving Jesus. Politics, farming, plastic bottles, organic carrots, church...we talked about it all. Big hugs at the end of our time together.

Big week. It was great meeting President Clinton and catching a glimpse of President Carter, but it was just as awesome for me to meet Mrs. Little and Mrs. Snipes.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Defining Moment

HUGE! Yesterday was a big day in my life. I am a political junkie and I had the privilege of seeing one of my political heroes yesterday. In person. I am a Democrat through and through, and I know a lot of folks don't agree with me on that. OK. As I have mentioned before on this blog, my reasons for being a Democrat are just as biblically based as my Republican friends say theirs are for being a Republican. Enough said. That is not what this is about.

President Bill Clinton spoke at the Apex Community Center early yesterday morning for one of 6 campaign stops of the day for his wife, Hillary. I debated whether or not to go, but I did roll out of bed very early....very early...to get there. I was able to get up close and shake his hand. WOW! That may not be your thing, and I would have to admit that I would probably not have been as thrilled to shake the hand of President George W. Bush.

Nonetheless, I shook the hand of a president. Are you kidding me? (Plus, I have the opportunity to possibly meet President Carter tomorrow! It does not get any better for me!) How could I not go see President Clinton when he was just a few miles from my house?

Here's the point. I almost missed out on the whole thing. Did I really want to have to get out of my comfortable bed that early? Did I want to stand outside in the cold morning air?

I think that is something that can easily happen in our walk(s) with Christ. How many wonderful experiences does He have just around the corner for us, but we talk ourselves out of it? Is Christ saying, "Hey. Just take that step. You'll see." Something to think about for sure.

I'm glad I rolled my lazy butt out of bed yesterday to meet a president. I'll never forget it. Never. Way beyond that...I don't want to miss out on what my Lord has just around the corner for me...if...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Watching The Needle

It is not my thing to drive around in my car with the gas gauge nearing the big "E". I did it today, and for far longer than I was anywhere near comfortable with. It may have had to do with the repugnant thought of shelling out $3.62 for one flippin' gallon of gas! (The economy is just fine, though; don't worry. Yeah, right!)

I usually put gas in the car when the gauge nears 1/4 of a tank left. Grandpa McDonald used to always say that a car just ran better on a full tank.

Same thing with me. Russ runs much better when the tank is closer to full than it is to empty. I can feel an uneasiness when I get closer and closer to "E" in my life...whether it is spiritually, relationally, physically, emotionally, etc. Gotta make sure I know where that needle is, and if necessary; take the steps to push that needle back towards "F".

For me:

Gotta get around high-energy, passionate, positive sold-out people of focus (which often means, as well, getting away from the no-energy, lackluster, lukewarm double-minded people!)

Gotta check and make sure that I am keeping God FIRST - in EVERYTHING.

I said, "EVERYTHING".

Gotta keep communing with my Lord

Gotta get under some great teaching and preaching (lately for me...it's been Matt Fry, Joyce Meyer, Rick Hammond, and Ed Young)

Gotta get an occasional tune-up. That is why I am heading to the DC area in a couple of weeks for The Whiteboard Sessions (http://www.thewhiteboardsessions.com) I am going by myself, and that's a long drive...for me at least. I am so excited, though! I am going with big and bold expectations!

So, I "gotta" stay closer to "full". I have to watch the needle and stay out of that red zone. I don't want to be stalled out and not moving forward.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

C3

I had the awesome opportunity today to worship at and experience C3 church in Clayton, NC. http://c3church.com

I love my church, but I also love seeing how God is working EVERYWHERE! I know I can get so focused on all of the wonderful things happening at Hope, that I sometimes forget about the Kingdom of God...the entire Kingdom! God is using more than just "my circle" to reach a hurting world. I never want to take for granted the true Kingdom building work being done around me. We should all be celebrating together.

Pastor Matt Fry is just crazy for Jesus. The passion and energy was contagious, and I know the Holy Spirit was present there today. I love the focus C3 is placing on Kingdom-building...generation after generation.

There was magnified joy and enthusiasm for what this community is believing for. "Real Hope for Real People in a Real World".

I read a lot of blogs (probably too many), and I am still amazed at the number of pastors, church leaders, and others who choose to be critical of what other churches are doing. It's jealousy. We should be celebrating together and building each other up and praying for each other. We should also be taking opportunities to expand our too limited vision. It's not just seeing what other churches are doing out there. It's about what our magnificent Lord is doing all around us.

So, I pray for Matt and Martha Fry and the C3 community. Thanks for the hospitality and all you do as you go about building God's Kingdom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Give It Up

Isn't it a "kicker" when God is trying to teach you something and He brings real-life circumstances in to play to "show" you the principle or discipline in action? On "Enjoying Everyday Life" this week, Joyce Meyer has been teaching on Spirit -vs- Flesh. She said that "every choice...every decision you make is a seed you sow and will bring a harvest in your life".

"For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap decay and ruin and destruction, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." Galatians 6:8

Well, Amen!

That's an easy one to "amen" until...

God says, "OK. You think you got it?! Let's see that belief in action."

Something happened yesterday that kind of weirded me out a bit. It came from a source I didn't expect, and it confused me and bothered me. Initially, it hurt quite a bit. My previous nature would have been to set up camp on this thing and dwell, dwell, dwell! I would have been building my walls and getting myself all worked up.

I could feel my "flesh" heading down that destructive path yesterday. Praise God that the Holy Spirit alerted me that it was starting. I stopped. I prayed. I recalled Joyce's teaching from that very morning. I said, "OK, God. This is what your Word says (Galatians 6:8). I believe that acting the way my flesh wants me to act is going to lead to destruction in my heart, in my relationships, and in my life. I choose to give this completely to you. Completely. I am leaving it here at your feet, and I pray that the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me to not "pick it up" again. Ever! Thank you, Father, for the lesson. Thank you for growth and deliverance...and for FREEDOM from such things!"

If God needs to "deal with" something or someone about what happened, I have to allow Him...Him to do it...not me and not my flesh. I am responsible for how God is leading me, and that is plenty to keep me focused on. No need here to "set up camp" and allow the enemy to gain a foothold.

Thank you, God, for this lesson. Any chance I can have an easier lesson today?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thanks For Sharing

Do you remember when you were growing up and constantly being reminded (forced) to share? Share your toys...share your snacks...share, share, share! Yuck, right?

For me now...I get the importance of sharing. I better get it, huh? How pathetic would I be...a 39 year-old guy running around hording things for himself?

I love sharing music. Man! If an artist "gets me going", I will try to get that cd to everybody! Tift Merritt, for a great example. When "Another Country" came out, I wanted everyone I knew to hear it. Most liked it, or at least told me they did. (one exception...Jake and Jenny Carpenter...they didn't like her at all. Pray for them.)

I also love sharing good books. If something someone has written impacted me in a huge way, I want all my friends to read it.

I love sharing food...or mostly having someone share it with me. We went to George's Garage in Durham before the Tift concert in March. That place was off the flippin' chain! I told everybody! Mary Ann got me hooked...HOOKED...on the barbeque sandwiches from CookOut. Man! Good BBQ, slaw, and hot sauce! Are you kidding me? I tell everybody about those sandwiches.

But...

Am I using every opportunity to tell people about God and what He is doing in my life? Am I sharing about the impact of God in my life? The peace of God in my life? The power of God in my life?

Share. Share good music. Share good books. Share good food. Share.

I need to be mindful of sharing the GREATEST thing in my life, and that is Jesus Christ.

Off to CookOut for a bbq sandwich.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bloom, Dang It...Bloom!



When Beth and I were looking to buy a home, we bought one of the first we looked at. They had shown us pictures of the two beautiful trees in the front yard...in bloom. I think the trees are Japanese cherry...I think. Anyway, I got excited...and I let it show. Bad thing to do in front of the realtor. Beth reminded me that the trees probably only look that great for 10-14 days each year. Bummer.

We bought the house anyway, but I laugh everytime the trees bloom, which they are doing now. She was right. The trees look that pretty for only a short while, then I'm raking up "pink snow".

Seasons for everything. Right?

It does make me think about my walk with Christ, though. Am I "blooming" for just a short while and then returning to what I was before? Later on, as I seek God more; then I may bloom some more. Then...back to where I was. I am definitely not interested in living in that cycle.

"Most blessed is the man who believes in, trusts in, and relies on the Lord, and whose hope and confidence the Lord is. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters that spreads out its roots by the river; and it shall not see and fear when heat comes; but its leaf shall be green. It shall not be anxious and full of care in the year of drought, nor shall it cease yielding fruit."

Jeremiah 17:7,8

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Birthday


Today is the 92nd birthday of Grandma Williams. 92!!!! Mom and Dad went to visit her today and said she was watching MTV on her tv! I love that! Some may believe that she really had no idea what she was watching, and that the television was just "on". Nah! I know her. She was looking for the latest Fergie video!
Either way, she is still with us. Her physical appearance and abilities have seen changes as she has gotten older. Obviously. She is still here by God's design, and in that, I rejoice. She isn't able to live in her "home" anymore, but God still makes His home in her.
She and Beth were big buddies! They would always be found near each other...usually plotting something. Beth saw things in my grandmother...in most elderly people...that I would always tend to forget or look past. I really loved that Beth loved me so much that she would love Grandma the way she did. Grandma loved me so much that she would love Beth that way. Actually, I didn't have to play that much of a role in their relationship. They were going to be great friends no matter what I did.
Grandma loves the hymn, "What A Friend We Have in Jesus".
"What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!"
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer."
The very last line:
"In His arms he'll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there."
Even though I am not with my Grandma today on her birthday...
Even though Beth is not here to be with her on her birthday...
Grandma is shielded in God's arms.
What a solace!
What a God!
What a woman!
Happy Birthday, Irene "Tennie" Williams

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I'm A Survivor!

"I'm A Survivor"...sung by one of Beth's favorites, Reba McEntire. "Survivor" was also Beth's favorite tv show, and I just got through watching it tonight. I really don't even like it that much myself, but I keep watching it season after season because Beth loved it so much! Awesome!

Ami was voted out tonight, and that wasn't cool. Ami reminds me some of Beth. Ami kind of looks like Beth and their personalities (as much as careful editing would allow) are similar.

Sometimes I weep when I am thinking of Beth or enjoying some of the things that she used to enjoy. Sometimes...like tonight...I get a real kick out of loving her...and missing her.

I looked at the scenery of the beautiful islands where "Survivor" was filmed and remembered our fabulous St. Lucia. Man! We loved that place! It was made for us! One of the top two or three moments of my life...and all because I shared it with my Beth.

Las Vegas...Quebec...sitting at home in front of the fire. I miss those times, but thank you, God, for those times and those memories! Beth and I lived life!

I know God has great things in store for me, and I am so thankful that He gave me some awesome memories of my time with Beth to have forever. FOREVER!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What We Carry

We all have stuff that we carry with us...stuff that makes up a little or a lot of just who we are. I don't think it's fair to call it "baggage".

I always carry with me the agony of losing Beth. I think of her every day and I grieve for her every day. Now, there is a difference between grief and a "spirit" of grief. Contrary to the cliche, time does NOT heal all wounds. Not time in and of itself. God, as time and life continue, will provide healing.

There has always...3 years later...been something about Beth's death that affected me that I could not pinpoint. I think I got it this week.

I record "Guiding Light" (don't judge me) each and every day. 2 characters were dying on the show and a lot of the script focused on the last days spent between the characters and their respective families. One character, Olivia Spencer, was actually dying from what Beth had, severe dilated cardiomyopathy. I was sobbing as I watched everyone get the opportunity to say what was on their hearts...families and patients alike.

Beth and I and her family never got that opportunity. After her heart attack, she was "alive" for 13 days, but was never responsive. There was a brief span of 10-15 minutes initially in the ER when she could respond to questions by nodding her head, but that was it. I sat by her bed every day and told her how much she meant to me and how much I loved her. I really don't know if, being in a coma, she could hear me and understand what I was saying. I have to trust that God made it possible for her to hear my words and my heart.

The other side...maybe a more selfish side...mourns the fact that I never got to hear her say anything to me again. We awoke that morning...all was fine...that was the last time I heard her voice. I know that she loved me. We just never got the opportunity to say good-bye. I look back now and realize just how much I need(ed) that.

I've had people tell me, "Well, Russ; at least she didn't suffer much." That's crap! That is not comforting to me. I hope that she did not suffer. I hope that the doctors were telling me the truth when they said she probably never knew what happened. Selfishly, though...I wanted that chance to have her hear what I needed her to hear. Maybe she did.

I also wanted that chance to hear her...one more time.

Javier, a man who works with Dean, suffered a huge loss today. His daughter was shot and killed while at work in Louisburg. No chance to say what was on his heart. This will obviously be something he will carry for a long time.

We all carry things. Good and bad things. It is not easy always to open up and let people look at it, but it does all play a part in what makes us who we are.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My Head Hurts

Ouch! My head is throbbing. I just spent a few minutes in an activity that reminded me of reading People Magazine. "I know I am going to regret this, but I'm just too darn curious..."

I read certain blogs on a daily basis...most are linked to the right of this page. I love reading about what God is doing in some of these awesome churches like Granger, NewSpring, Elevation, and Fellowship. Just for kicks today, I "googled" the names "Perry Noble", "Steven Furtick", and "Ed Young"...all pastors of some of the churches I previously mentioned.

I clicked on a few blogs and websites that were dedicated...and I mean DEDICATED to trashing these men, the churches they pastor, and even their standing as true followers of Jesus Christ! Mercy! I could feel my blood pressure rise as I clicked to post my comments. After all, someone needed to set these yo-yo's straight!

God had other plans. #1...God doesn't need me to offer my brand of defense to His church...His church...God's church...not Noble's, Furtick's, or Young's. I don't even need to vindicate the men themselves. My righteous venom added to the mix just brings about more misunderstanding.

Now, please understand (and you will if you've known me very long)...this is HUGE for me! HUGE! You have no idea what it is like for me to keep my mouth shut.

That does not mean my heart does not break for these people who seem to think their calling is not to rejoice in what the Lord is doing everywhere, but to criticize the methods. A growing church speaks volumes, as does a dying church. Preach on, Brother. Thank you, I believe I will.

God will sort it all out. I am supposed to get about doing what He told me to get about doing. As Mark Beeson of Granger CC said recently, "Count the yes votes." Nothing is gained and a lot is lost when I waste God' s time by reading such filth. I would be no worse off by looking at pornography.

So I choose to praise God for what He is accomplishing through these churches and through preachers like Noble, Furtick, and Young. My time is best spent praying for them...not blogging against them as these others have chosen to do. My time is best spent praying and supporting my pastor and my church...not wishing everything was more like NewSpring, Elevation, etc. My time is best spent praying for these folks in the blogosphere...not contributing any energy whatsoever to what they CHOOSE to focus their energy upon.

We must be careful about what we speak out against, because if God is in it; well...we know what that is.
HMMMM.
I wonder who said that?
Yep. Perry Noble.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Feed Me, Seymour, Feed Me!"

"Feed Me, Seymour. Feed Me. Feed Me All Night Long.
That's right, boy!
Go to it.
Feed Me Seymour. Feed Me. Feed Me All Night Long.
Cause if you feed me, Seymour,
I can grow up big and strong."

Remember that song from "Little Shop of Horrors"? Audrey II...a giant man-eating plant who DEMANDS to be FED.

I think as Christians, it is pretty easy for us to fall into an Audrey II kind of Christianity. "Lord, Feed Me!"

Now, obviously, it is crucial that we are fed. God feeds us when we are spending time in His Word, in prayer, in worship, in communion with others, coming under some great teaching, etc.

God tells me sometimes that I'm fat enough. It's that consumer mentality. We want God to fill us with more and more, but is it more of Him or more of "stuff"? (knowledge, blessings)

Again, yes; I understand that knowledge is a great and wonderful thing. Yes, God wants to bless us. God also wants us to DO SOMETHING with what He has already poured into us. Are we channels or reservoirs?

Am I showing a real love to those that are far from Jesus Christ or am I more interested in just highlighting verses on love in my Bible?

Am I telling everyone about the amazing work God has done and is doing in my life or am I just enjoying singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain"?

Am I serving God and others with every passion within me or am I talking about what I WILL do one day when the circumstances are right?

I say, "Feed Me." God says, "Love Me."

I say, "Feed Me." God says, "Serve Me."

I say, "Feed Me, God. Feed Me!"

God says, "Be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Let God Arise

This morning, I have read a lot of blogs about people's experiences on Easter Sunday. I'm jumping into the mix.

Big crowds this week-end at Hope. Praise God for that! I showed up Saturday night to meet my friends there so we can head to Durham for the Tift Merritt concert (friggin' awesome by the way!). Full house just about for SATURDAY Easter service. I am so proud that regular Hope folks listened and responded by giving "their" Sunday seats to guests.

I served both Sunday services as an usher in the balcony. I rarely serve up there, but it's closer to God, so...! I didn't really see a lot of people I recognized. Pastor Mike calls it "the poinsettia and lily crowd". Well, God bless them for being there, though. Pastor Mike also says, "If they hang around the pond long enough, they may just fall in."

Great service, though. Two of my good buds, Jake C. and Craig C. were in a drama that was so excellent. Plus, Autumn S. sang a cool Nicole Nordeman song, "What If". Autumn has been gifted with an incredible voice; so sing on!

My reflections this morning, however, really turned not to the church (Hope), but to THE church...God's body...God's church...all of them.

I think I strip words of their impact sometimes by using them too liberally. With that being said, please know that I was OVERWHELMED (to tears) as I read about what was happening across God's Church all across this country yesterday. Lives Impacted By The Love Of Jesus.

I read blogs from pastors and churches that are "putting all their chips in" for Christ and His Kingdom. 12,000 people attended NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC yesterday! 120 gave their lives to Jesus Christ! Record turnout at Elevation in Charlotte...500 people making decisions to follow Jesus Christ! Do you think Heaven was not explosive in celebration of that yesterday?! Mark Beeson at Granger in Indiana continues to innovate for God's Glory. He said, "Instead of everyone telling ONE, how about everyone telling EVERYONE!" YES!

God is doing some amazingly bold things in these churches that are willing to get themselves out of the way...saying "God...you have to do this because we will surely screw it up on our own."

So, my prayer for churches...all of them, not just Hope, NewSpring, Elevation, and Granger:

  • Believe God for BIG things. Perry Noble at NewSpring says he is believing (not "wishing and hoping") BELIEVING for 3,000 baptisms in one day at NewSpring!
  • Never lose sight of the Great Commission
  • Keep focused on God and what He has called your church to be. Pastor Noble says that God doesn't need another NewSpring or Elevation...That's so true. Do what God has called you to do, and celebrate what He is doing everywhere.
  • Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We have to love like Jesus and we must grow up.

Praise God for what He did EVERYWHERE yesterday. People who were far from Him are now closer to Him.

Easter... The Love Which Led To The Sacrifice Which Led To The Victory.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shout Outs

Awesome week last week at UNLEASH and the NC Baptist State Convention Prayer Conference! As Pastor Perry Noble would say..."God really rocked my world!" I'll write more about both events later, but I was just reflecting some, and I want to thank some people who directly or indirectly impacted my week last week. I'm listing names only, but know that each really added value to my life. God is moving BIG and all out in my life, and I thank God that He used some awesome people last week in my journey!

The "Unleash" radicals from HCC: Emily, Steph, Ken, Amy, Vicki, Michele, Mary Ann, and Kim.
Pastor Perry Noble
Lee McDerment
Dr. Henry Blackaby
Sheila Walsh
Joyce Meyer
Jerry Rankin
Dean Sibley
Mary Ann Sibley
Karl Moraski
Chris Schofield
Dr. Logan Carson
Jake Carpenter
That sweet lady at the Subway in "Somewhere, SC"

I know this means nothing really as you read the names without explanations. Each impact in my life was huge, and this was just one week! Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Road Trip!

Nine of us from the First Impressions Ministry at Hope head off tomorrow afernoon for the UNLEASH Conference at New Spring Church in Anderson, SC! WOOHOO! We have rented a van and we are going to have a blast! The conference itself will be fantastic...New Spring and their pastor, Perry Noble, are true innovaters. I am really looking forward to just getting away for a while, having fun for sure, and worshipping our Lord together with some fellow servants.

The cool thing about the group is that it is made up of different areas of service within First Impressions. Emily, Vicki, Kim, and Stephanie represent Common Grounds, our coffee shop. Amy and Michele do that Guides/Guest Services thang. Ken operates the M.A.S.H. unit (medical) at Hope. I roll with that Usher team, and then you got the Asian Sensation, Mary Ann Sibley directing the whole rodeo. I am really excited about getting to know some of these folks that I don't know so well yet.

Pray for our travel and for the greater Anderson area and the state of South Carolina!

We return to HCC late Thursday night and jump right into the Baptist State Convention's Prayer Conference Friday (all day) and Saturday...and then into Palm Sunday (well...all week-end) services. Nothing I'd rather be doing.

I have the honor of being "host" to Dr. Henry Blackaby for the Prayer Conference. Pray for him! "Experiencing God" was one of the first "Christian" books I read, so I am jazzed about having him with me. God has blessed me with the opportunity to do some pretty amazing things while serving at Hope, and this one rates right up there!

Maybe after this week-end, Dr. Blackaby's next book will be "Experiencing Russ"! Yo!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Will I Ever Live Up To What My Coffee Mug Says About Me?

Been feeling a little "dry" as of late. Nothing serious, or at least I hope not! I am just experiencing some slow burn...well it feels like fast burn. I am really frustrated with my job, with my lack of clear direction, with myself in general. I know none of these feelings are from God. Just feeling some kicks from the enemy.

So, as I am working on the computer this morning and drinking my coffee....

My coffee mug joins the "pile on" and nails me.

I have a couple of mugs I use. I just grab the next one in the rotation each morning. Well...this morning's mug is one Mom gave me a while ago.

It has "Russ" in large letters across the top and this is the rest:

"Meaning:STRONG

When faced with a conflict,
You will take the lead.
For you are determined
And sure to succeed.
A true diplomat,
You are able to sway
Others into seeing
Everything your way.
As strong-willed as you are,
You'll command respect,
And always be called on
To plan and direct."

I don't need the pressure, ya know? It does remind me, however, of the character that God has made a part of who Russ is. I desperately want to fulfill God's plans for my life. I yearn to be the Russ He created me to be. No need to try to live up to my coffee mug or anyone's expectations. I've had the last drop of coffee, and my mug is as dry and empty as I'm feeling. Tomorrow, I'll awake and have my mug filled again. The only despair in the emptiness for me is the fear that the emptiness will remain. Thank God for His free re-fills.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Please, Please Me

I love simple. I am simple. Well, I think that's not true at all. I am pretty complicated and am quite skilled at complicating the most simple of things.

I'll start over. I can "appreciate" simple, and I love when God uses something in a very clear, concise way to get through to me and my complications.

I used to have a problem getting frustrated driving. I drive a lot for my job, and you just wonder what the DMV was doing when they issued liscences to some of you. (excuse me...some of "us").
Well, God put it on my heart then to just write the word "grace" on an index card and keep it in sight while I was driving. Whenever I would start getting "needled", the card reminded me of the grace God shows for me daily, and the need I have as a follower of Christ to show grace...daily.

God has been focusing me a lot lately on holiness...being "set apart". Frightening stuff that holds awesome potential. It is obviously a journey, so there is no condemnation...just conviction. I just need to keep pressing toward the mark.

Mary Ann has said something lately in different settings that has given me that "simple Holy Spirit reminder". Here it is: "God, are you pleased?" That gets at it, doesn't it?

God, does this please you?
Does this thought please you?
How about this action?
This decision...is it pleasing to you?
Do my motives please you, Father?

It is a powerful "check" from the Holy Spirit for me. As I walk with God, He reveals more of Himself to me; and I more readily recognize the prompting/nudging/conviction of the H.S. I just stop and ask, "God, are you pleased?" I know my Father always loves me, but is He pleased?

"As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who has called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written" 'Be holy, because I am holy'. [1 Peter 1:14-16]

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21]

Amen.

Hebrews 11:6
Romans 12:1
Proverbs 15
1 Thessaloninas 4
2 Peter 3:11

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Copycat

I am getting on my soapbox again, so watch out! I was at Barnes & Noble today purchasing a few more copies of Tift Merritt's new cd, "Another Country". OK. Let's detour for a moment or two and discuss Tift's latest album. BUY IT! You'll love it.

Tift is my all-time favorite artist, and that is saying a lot since music is one of my passions. This cd, which was released Tuesday, is her best to date.I have listened to it at least 25-30 times since buying it. I have also purchased some for friends whom I know love Tift or the ones I think might like to be exposed to her creative genius!

OK. That's my commercial. Now, back to my soapbox. As I was looking for the cd's, I overheard 2 people discussing how they would "share" their music. One would buy cd "A" and make a copy for the other. Friend #2 would buy cd "B" and make a copy of that for the other. AUGGHHH! I just cannot stand it! That, my friends, is stealing...flat out stealing...unauthorized duplication...stealing.

I am well aware that there are legal ways to download music. Great! Enjoy! However, there is way too much downloading and "burning" being done illegally. This hurts the artist (don't you hurt Tift!), the record label, etc. I have heard the lame argument that "the record labels/artists are making so much money anyway..." or "I am just duplicating a cd SOMEONE ELSE paid for." How about, "Music is so expensive anyway".

Phooey! Hey! Milk is expensive, too. Do you sneak onto a dairy farm and slurp milk directly from a cow's udders? No! I imagine if you want milk, you buy it from a store. Then, everyone who had a hand in getting that milk to you, gets paid for it.

Gas is expensive. You don't wait for a Hess tanker to stop at a rest area, and then siphon gas into your car while the truck driver is in the restroom or buying a Snickers out of the vending machine.

I work for a clothing designer, and our clothes are not what you would call inexpensive. That doesn't mean it's OK to just go take some without paying. It wouldn't be long before I would be out of a job if nobody paid.

I'm just saying...music is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. It is just as wrong to steal music as it is to steal clothes, money...anything! Know the laws and please just be mindful not to take what is rightfully someone else's. Rock on, Tift!

By the by, yesterday was officially "TiftTuesday". Thanks for the card, Mary Ann! I'm still waiting on the Tiftini.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Make Some Trouble Over Me

"Trouble Over Me' is absolutely one of my favorite Tift Merritt songs. Speaking of Tift, her new album, "Another Country" hits stores this Tuesday. WOOHOO! Three awesome friends are giving me the gift of Tift LIVE! next month...they're even coming to the show with me.

We all like to have a little trouble made over us. Right? Yesterday was my 39th birthday, and Beth would have been proud of the trouble that was made over me. Beth was always so creative and amazing to me when it came to celebrating my birthdays. One of her rules of life was that everybody should have a fuss made over them on their birthday. Amen!

The anniversary of Beth's death is the day before my birthday, so my birthday will always be associated with that. Friday was grueling for me, and it is hard to switch emotional gears and try to "celebrate" my birthday. Well...yesterday, I didn't have to "try" to do anything. I had some amazing friends step up and make me feel like a gazillion bucks.

First, I had a great lunch at The Cheesecake Factory with Robert, Lynda, and Anja. We ate a lot (I still have some cheesecake); we laughed a lot; and they blessed me with some awesome gifts. I love them all so much. Beth loved them, too. She knew how genuine Robert and Lynda always were.

I was to meet Mary Ann, Dean, and Michele for dinner after church last night. I get to the church, and Dean and Mary Ann present me with the much coveted Tift Merritt concert ticket. Then, Dean and I head off. We end up at Firebirds at North Hills...walk inside...and there they were! Mary Ann had pulled off yet another surprise for my birthday, and had my buds there for dinner.

Dale and Bruce Gyongyos
Dean and Mary Ann Sibley
Craig Cantey
Michele Woodall
John and Marie Finlay
Jake Carpenter
Rick and Mary Ann Musser
Josh Cantey
Greg Teator
Dan and Erica Courtine
Ray Mills
Pete and Mary Zimmerman
I was blown away. Just blown away. It was so much fun, but there is so much more to it than that. I looked around those tables and saw ...in person...just how richly God has blessed me. Friends that love me so much to not just put up with me, but to make the effort and come be with me. God loves me so much and put someone like Mary Ann in my life who would love me enough to organize all of that for me. For me.
It was just a glorious day, and I so appreciate all of the efforts of my friends. Beth would have been so proud of you, Mary Ann. Beth would have been so proud of all of my friends. Beth's wish for me yesterday would have been for someone to have "made a little trouble over me." You all did. My heart is full.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"What If"

Elizabeth Walker Knight Williams
June 22, 1970 - February 22, 2005
"What If"
by Reverend Jack Moore
What if Heaven is real
And to die is to gain?
What if Heaven is real
With no sorrow or pain?
What if Jesus was right
And His words ever true,
When He said, "I go
To prepare a place for you."
What if Heaven is real
With its streets of gold?
With its light and joy
And blessings untold?
What if the Psalmist was right
When he said God has a plan
Even before we were formed
And our life here began?
What if God placed a baby,
As He has before,
With a Christian couple
To love and adore?
In a home where she'd laugh,
In a home where she'd grow,
In a home where God's love
Bill and Martha Jean would show.
What if Beth
As a little girl one day,
Would draw three crosses
Then bow and pray...
"Jesus,
I open my heart's door;
I receive you as Savior.
I receive you as Lord."
What if God would give Beth
A very best friend?
Her name would be Tara;
And she'd stay close to the end.
What if God would give Beth
A young knight, yes, a prince?
Who would cause her to smile,
To sing and to dance?
Who would love her the way
That Jesus said to.
He would ever be loyal,
And ever be true.
Then what if God looked down
On Beth's young life?
And said, "There's a place even better
In Paradise."
"I know it will be hard
For people to understand.
But My ways are much higher
Than the ways of man."
"Their hearts will be broken,
And filled with such pain.
But one day, my darling,
They will see you again."
"So, take heart, dear husband!
Dear parents and friends.
It's only the beginning
And not the end!"
"So Finish your course
And run your race.
For Beth and I will be waiting
In this wonderful place."


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


God is using some amazing people at Hope Community Church. Here is Debbie Dodson (left) and Mary Ann Sibley. 2 powerful women of God. 2 talented and ultra-creative forces. 2 passionate and compassionate friends. We are so blessed. Debbie is the Creative Arts and Drama Director (I'll call her the Creative Arts and Drama PASTOR), and Mary Ann is the Volunteer Ministries Director (I'll call her the Volunteer Ministries PASTOR). Praise God who annoints women such as these to lead in our churches and communities.
A good sense of humor counts for a lot. Both Debbie and Mary Ann reign in that department, and they are so good-natured about the back and forth ribbing. I just love to harp on Pastor Debbie about her "skits". (She despises that term...she prefers something like "vignettes". Isn't that the dressing you put on salads?) Hey! There is none better when it comes to excellence in drama.
If you know me and/or read this blog, you know how I feel about Pastor Mary Ann. With vision and concern, she blazes trails and leads in such an important role. She presses on and presses through as she walks with Christ and her family and friends. What a leader.
Debbie made my day today. So encouraging.
Mary Ann inspires me. What a blessing.
There are so many talented women at our church and churches across the world. Praise God! I'd follow these two anywhere. Who are the women that inspire you?

Thursday, February 14, 2008


My Forever Valentine:

If I had my life to live over again,
Next time I'd give you more kisses and hold you closer.
I'd notice more often the sunlight on your skin and the way your hair smells on a rainy day.
I'd memorize everything you ever said to me and carry it in my heart like a poem.
If I had my life to live over again,
Next time I'd find you sooner,
So I could love you longer,
And better,
And truer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Billy Spears

Please don't get tired of me writing about Beth, but this month is the anniversary of her heart attack, subsequent hospital(s) stay and death. It consumes most of my thoughts this time of year, so that is what I write about.

That time in the hospitals was so awful. We never received any hopeful news; and I just watched as my lovely wife slipped away more every day. I am so thankful that I could be with her so much...as much as the hospital regulations would allow. God most definitely provided His strength for me to make it through those weeks. God also sent someone to me during that time to help, as well.

Billy Spears is Beth's uncle. The relationship between Beth and Billy was not great for a while, but that is beside the point. When Billy heard about Beth's heart attack, he got on a plane from Mississippi and got here. The way he stepped up to help me, Beth's parents, and his wife Diane was remarkable.

He stayed in the ICU waiting room all night every night with me. He left his business to come sleep in a chair and watch over me. He protected me. He provided for me. He would listen to me. He comforted me. I could not see then, nor can I see now how I could have made it without Billy Spears.

I remember everyone trying to get me to eat, and I appreciate their sincere concern. Eating was just not a priority. I remember Billy pulling me aside and asking me "if I could eat a little something, what would it be?" He had guessed that I wasn't in the mood for hospital food. So, Billy heads out to Lone Star and comes back with this wonderful steak, baked potato, and salad. He sets me up in a private place in the hospital and I was able to eat a little.

God does amazing things for His children, and He uses amazing people to do those amazing things. Billy was sent by God, and I will never forget everything he did for me. I have not done a good job at all of keeping in touch with him, and that needs to change. Bottom line: Billy loved Beth. Beth loved Billy. God loves me so much to have blessed me with an amazing wife. God loves me so much to have blessed me with Billy.

You learn a lot about people during a crisis. Some things I learned about some people were not so great. However, Billy came through for me in a way I will never...never forget. Thank you, Billy Spears.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Beth-isms

"Well, God love ya." During my years of knowing Beth, that had to be her most frequently used expression. It was not a "Smile. God loves you" kind of thing, either. It was more like a "Well, God is going to have to love you, and help you, and do everything for you...because you have just proved that you have absolutley no ability to adequately function in this world." Now it was never mean-spirited; it was just truth. She used it just as often on herself. "Well, God love me!"

Today marks the 3-year anniversary of her heart attack. This time three years ago I was with her at WakeMed Cary trying to wrap my mind around what was happening to our lives.

Well, I don't have to ever try to wrap my mind around how much Beth meant to me. She was THE most incredible woman...THE most incredible person I have ever known. I miss her terribly.

I took some flowers out to the cemetery today and was able to sit for a while, enjoying the beautiful weather. As I was sitting underneath the tree, I started laughing at all of the great Beth-isms I could remember.

For instance:

"I'm gonna rip every hair out of your head!" - frequently said to me or one (or all) of the animals...whomever had just done something really stupid.

"Bless your heart!" - see "Well, God love ya." above

"Doin' so good I can't stand it!" - her answer when I would call her at work and ask her how her day was going. I could tell in her voice if she had someone in her office and was either correcting them or getting ready to fire them.

"God doesn't like ugly" or "That was ugly!" - said to me when I would get a good "dig" in at her or I would get her flustered.

"Why don't you try to act like you love me?" - said to me when I was unsuccessful in reading her mind. :)

Beth could always make me smile and make me laugh.

Ooops! I just spilled some wine on the carpet!

"Well, God love me!"

Friday, February 1, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out

I'm hungry. I know. That's nothing new at all. It is something new for this week, however. I have been awfully sick for the last few days...high fever, congestion, coughing, surly attitude...you name it. I'm still not feeling great, but I am getting better, which means... Yep! Thinking about food. I am thinking about what I want to eat when I finally feel like eating again.

Maybe:

Grandma McDonald's vegetable beef soup and cornbread
Ruby's mashed potatoes
Beth's chicken sald or turkey/veggie/goat cheese wraps
Mom's corn fritters or macaroni salad
My father-in-law, Bill's Memphis-style ribs
Grandma Williams' fried chicken and cornbread
Mary Ann's fried rice
Dad's steaks...oh...and snow cream
My mother-in-law, Martha's tea cakes
Karen and Jeff's spaghetti and meatballs
Marlene's peanut brittle
My Aunt Diane's home cooked country meals
Shelby King's Divinity

While I was thinking about (more like dwelling upon) the anticipated return of my appetite, these are the foods that came to mind. They are all great eats for sure, but the common bond is truly all of the great memories that are attached to the food. A lot of people show their love through cooking, and I have been on the receiving end of some awesome food in my life...and love.

So...for my upcoming birthday, I'd like:

Grandma McDonald's vegetable beef soup and cornbread
Ruby's mashed potatoes
Beth's chicken salad or turkey/veggie/goat cheese wraps
Mom's corn fritters or macaroni salad
My father-in-law, Bill's Memphis-style ribs
Grandma Williams' fried chicken and cornbread
Mary Ann's fried rice
Dad's steaks...oh...and snow cream
My mother-in-law, Martha's tea cakes
Karen and Jeff's spaghetti and meatballs
Marlene's peanut brittle
My Aunt Diane's home cooked country meals
Shelby King's divinity

Well, you get the idea.
Yep.
That's what I want.
All at once.
Yum!
Where's my bib?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Around In Circles

I feel stuck sometimes...emotionally, spiritually, physically...MENTALLY! Marching in place...left, left, left, right, left. I am coming to realize, however, that sometimes God intends for me to be in somewhat of a holding pattern. I tend to take things and run with them on my own, leaving behind the very Holy Spirit who put "those things" on my heart to begin with.

I have felt this strong calling on my life, and I have been nothing but excited about it. (Well, I've also been a little scared, apprehensive...oh and impatient). I don't know what exactly God is calling me to do and it has honestly been a little frustrating for me. I see so many possibilities, but no clarity. Aha! I think that is the lesson God is having me learn now. He wants me to focus on HIM and not the "down the road", so to speak. He is showing me all these possibilities because He IS a God of many endless possibilities!

I was reading this week in Genesis about Abraham and Sarah, a story I thought I knew pretty well. God definitely opened my eyes to some new things. Hey! When He makes a promise...watch out! My faith is a lot like Sarah's was when God promised a child. "Yeah...OK...Right!" Sarah actually laughed. LAUGHED! That's how ridiculous the promise sounded to her.

That's me sometimes. "You are actually choosing to use ME?" "Do You really think that's such a good idea, God?"

My job is to trust what God is doing even when I don't understand it...ESPECIALLY when I don't understand! I just need to keep doing what He told me to do the last time I heard Him. I imagine He'll fill me in as needed.

There's a quote I love: "All who wander are not lost." I don't know who said it, but I remember it from a movie, which is amazing since I don't see a lot of movies. So, it's OK if I sometimes feel as if I'm wandering. I don't want any 40 years in the wilderness kind of wandering, but I'll take it if it helps me to focus on the ONE who called and not just on the calling.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"They Say It's Your Birthday!"

Happy Birthday, Deano! This is a picture from Halloween. Dean and Mary Ann know how much Beth and I loved Halloween, so what did they do this past year? Yep...they came over, helped me decorate the joint (complete w/ fog machines, scary music, spider webs, and "Marcus The Carcass" (sp.?)

Those are tattoo sleeves on Dean's arms! Costumes were secretive up until the bewitching hour. We had so much fun.

That's Dean. Always ready to jump in...always thinking of others. Today is Dean's birthday...I think he's 35. Dean Sibley is one of the greatest friends I have ever had, and I celebrate him today. He has the BEST sense of humor, comedic timing, and a flair for the flamboyant! He also has a wonderful heart for God and he serves, serves, serves!

Thank you, God, for Dean Sibley! Hey, ask Dean to show you his pictures from his senior banquet. Look at the pictures, and then I'll fill you in on the real story! You go, Wanda!

Love ya, Buddy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Coming Through

OK. The pasta from last night is off of the wall. Marley took care of the majority of it, and there should be no lasting mark. I thank God for the friends who reached out to me last night after reading my post and who called to check on me today. Mary Ann and Dean...thank you for your prayers, your phone calls, and your undying, ever-increasing love for me. I cannot imagine my life without the two of you. Mary Ann - thanks for the blog post last night.

I'm listening to Rachel Lampa as I write. Her song, "I Am Blessed" ...Holy Smokes!!! "Lord, for all the worst and all the best, I am blessed." YO!

Raymond...thanks for calling me, praying for me, and being my brother. Rachel(Ritsema - not Lampa!)...thanks for the text message and for being able to find the beauty in nature...God's nature last night. I value your friendship. Jackson...u da man! Thanks for your prayers, and I am so proud of you.

Thanks to all who prayed me through all of that mess. I also heard from a few who thought I needed to "rely" and "trust" on Jesus more. Believe me, I rely and trust on My Father more than you can fathom. Sometimes, you just cannot "pray your way out of" something. God takes you through it for a reason. It's that whole "letting the storm rage and quieting the child" thing all over again. It's in the valley that I grow. I am well aware of this, but we do a huge disservice as followers of Christ when we strive to hide any authenticity whatsoever from this world God has called us to be His light to.

Life, sometimes, just bites. My testimomy is that I am still here. God will waste NONE of the pain. Let's be real.

So...I'm a little better today. I am very blessed, for sure.

My heart has been heavy lately with some other things going on, and I really cannot get into any of it here. I have so far to come myself, but I just feel that God is calling His people to GROW UP! So many people with so little investment with so many opinions. Let's be who God called us to be. Please.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Oh, The Pain Of Losing You

"Oh, the pain of losing you. Never knowing what to do. Oh, the misery I go through. Oh, the pain of losing you."

This is an old song recorded by The Trio - Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt. It's pretty sad. Very sad, actually...and it's where I am this moment. Out of the blue while eating dinner, an overwhelming wave of grief washed over me. I've written here before about these "waves" and their utter unpredictability. This one most definitely threw me off.

February 22 will be the third-year anniversary since Beth's death. Three years. In a way, it seems like 8-10 years, and in most ways...it seems like 2 weeks ago. I've "adjusted" to this different life without her, and I do enjoy my life as best as I can. There is just no accounting for that void sometimes. Yes, I have God. Yes, I can pray through it. Yes, I have so many wonderful friends who surround me with love. I just miss Beth. Not just our life. Not just having "someone" to love. I miss HER. Beth. I miss everything about her, even the stuff that irked me. Our Lord knows that my "stuff" irked her far more often, though!

So...I ask for prayers. Right now, please. If you are reading this, stop right now and please pray for me. I'll be better, I know. I love God and how He has brought me along so far. The pain is still there, and I imagine it will always be. I cannot put into words what Beth meant to me. I sometimes...when I'm honest..have to say that I am NOT so appreciative of the short time we did have together. I wanted more.

I want to see her come down those stairs. I want to feel her in my arms again. I do miss her so much, and the pain of losing her is far worse than I ever could have imagined. I'll go clean the pasta off of the wall now.