It has been almost two months since our son was taken from us in a car accident. To say it has been difficult is an understatement. There are no words to describe what it is like to lose a child. People ask, “How are you doing?” There is no good way to answer that question. But here a few possibilities…
…our lives have been completely turned upside down. (By “our,” I primarily mean me and my wife.)
…everything is different, and nothing is the same.
…even the most menial tasks are hard.
…regardless of how much we do, or don’t do on any given day, we are exhausted by evening.
…I am only good four to five hours a day to do anything productive.
…it does not get a little easier every day; it gets a little harder every day.
…our world has stopped while everyone else’s world has moved on.
…no matter how hard I try to get our world moving again, it doesn’t budge.
…it is difficult to focus.
…nothing makes sense anymore.
Here is what I do know.
…my wife loves me, and I love my wife.
…my daughter and grandkids mean everything to me.
…God is faithful, even though I do not understand.
…there is still joy to be found each and every day.
…grief is now part of our lives for the rest of our lives.
…grief and faith can coexist.
…the greater the grief, the greater the faith.
Here is what keeps me going.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Some of you know I visit Tennessee’s death row regularly. My church ordained one of the men on death row. (Pictured.) He is considered one of the pastors at my church. His name is Kevin Burns, and over the years he has become my pastor. After all, every pastor needs a pastor. I believe KB is innocent of the charges that put him on death row. He and I are writing a book together about our relationship. Recently, KB was denied relief from SCOTUS. He is now out of appeals and could receive an execution date at any time. Below is a press release I wrote on April 24th, the day he was denied relief. Please be in prayer for KB, and watch my blog for ways you can help.
On behalf of the family of Kevin Burns, I would like to say that while we are discouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to not grant Mr. Burns relief, we are not defeated. Even though we “hard pressed on every side,” we are not “not crushed.” While we may be “perplexed”by this decision, we are “not in despair” and we are “not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
We will continue to fight, not just for relief for Mr. Burns, but for his total exoneration. We believe Mr. Burns to be innocent of the charges that placed him on death row. We ask for prayers from God’s people and mercy for Kevin Burns. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:4).
Lastly, we would like to offer thanks to Kevin Burns’ legal team for all their hard work.
Below is a prayer Kevin Burns recently wrote,
O Lord God Almighty, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace, and Wonderful Savior.
Lord You are Holy, and I lift You up and Magnify Your name.
I love You my God because you first loved me.
Yes, You loved me wonderfully.
And reverently created me in Your own image.
Then You gave me power to be called, “A son of God.”
O Lord God I will praise Your name forevermore.
For Your faithfulness is ever lasting,
and to Your mercy there is no end.
And now my Lord, I thank You that Your ears are open to the cries of the prisoners.
For upon You have we laid all our hope.
Neither will we look to any other.
For there is none other that is able to deliver like You can.
Deliver us therefore O Lord our God I pray.
Yea, deliver us swiftly.
Deliver us from bondage and shame.
Deliver us from sickness and disease.
Deliver us from the expectations of those that seek our harm.
And we will praise Your holy name.
Bring us out healthy and strong, and please don’t leave us alone.
Give us those of Your people that will help us and restore us to our place in society.
And Lord we will live out the rest of our days in Your service.
Below is a letter I wrote to the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA). It came after someone contacted me about the controversy surrounding Franklin Pride applying for a permit to use a public park for their celebration. Thankfully, eventually, Franklin’s BOMA voted to approve their permit. However, it was a tie vote and only broken by a vote from the Mayor of Franklin.
I am writing you to let you know of my support for our LGBTQIA+ community and their annual Franklin Pride Event. I am also writing to encourage you to approve their permit. With the reason for my writing out of the way, please allow me time to place my support of Franklin Pride and my concern of those opposing Franklin Pride into context. I apologize upfront for the length of this email. If you choose not to read any further, I understand. That is why I wanted to start with a sentence of my support.
I recently returned from Harris-Manchester College, Oxford University, Oxford, England. I was there by invitation only to participate in a colloquium on the rise and dangers of Christian/Religious Nationalism in our country and around the world. I returned on Sunday, March 26th. The week before my trip to England, I was in Mexico on vacation with my wife. Before I left the country, I heard a little bit about certain people trying to stop Franklin Pride from happening this year. To be honest, I did not pay it much attention because I knew there were no grounds to deny the permit. On Wednesday, March 29th, someone who is friends with PFLAG, Franklin Pride, and Wilco, contacted me to let me know what had happened at the BOMA workshop meeting on Tuesday, March 28th. This person told me how Mom’s for Liberty had many people at the meeting to speak against Franklin Pride and our beautiful LGBTQIA+ community. This person told me how bible verses were used to condemn people to hell and to promote fear in our community because of some hidden agenda the Franklin Pride organizers had. This person even told me how the tragedy at Covenant School, one day earlier, was used as reasons not to support Franklin Pride. It is for these reasons I have decided to speak. From my perspective, what happened Tuesday evening is evidence of the dangers of Christian Nationalism in our wonderful city. Now, in addition to constitutional reasons, you must support Franklin Pride to push back against an extremely dangerous ideology that has taken root in Franklin. (If you are still reading, thank you.)
Christian Nationalism is “A cultural framework—a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems—that idealizes and advocates the fusion of American civil life with a very particular kind of Christianity” (Samuel Perry & Andrew Whitehead. Adapted from Taking America Back for God, p. 10). Christian Nationalism is the belief that the United States is defined by Christianity, and the government should take active steps to keep it that way. In other words, according to Christian Nationalists, America IS and MUST REMAIN a “Christian Nation.” The type of Christianity being pushed is a narrow, conservative, fundamentalist type of Christianity. On the one hand, Christian Nationalists will tell you they accept the First Amendment, but on the other hand they will tell you that their version of Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square, and all laws and permit approvals should reflect their values. It is my belief that Christian Nationalism is really a dog whistle for White Christian Nationalism. In other words, it is associated with white racial identity.
The reason I am sharing this is because, from my perspective, Moms for Liberty is a Christian nationalist group. As such, they and others like them, believe they have a God-given mandate to keep our country Christian, as defined by them. They believe they have the God given mandate to take control of the seven mountains of influence in every culture. Local governments and local school boards is one of those seven mountains. Through their efforts, and the efforts by our State Legislature, they are slowly turning us into a theocratic city/state. History has shown us the only thing worse than a dictatorship is a theocracy, and the only thing worse than an autocratic government is a theocratic government. It is my belief, as a conservative Christian pastor, that the kingdom of God, what Dr. King called “the beloved community,” advances through non-violent resistance, love, peace, forgiveness, humility, sacrifice and service. God’s kingdom does not advance through intimidation, divisiveness, fear, or force. The Apostle Paul wrote, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:9). The gospel of Jesus, the one that has been passed down through the Apostles, is one of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love of enemies. This “other gospel,” the one espoused by Christian Nationalists, is the antithesis to all Jesus taught. It is also anti-democratic.
Everyone, including LGBTQIA+ persons, are created in the image of God. The LGBTQIA+ community is an essential part of the beloved community, the kingdom of God. Their total acceptance by our community, and complete inclusion in our community, is one of the many reasons our city is one of the best cities in the country. Not to grant them a permit for Franklin Pride would be to denigrate the intrinsic worth and dignity they possess as humans made in God’s image. It would also violate their First Amendment rights. Living in a representative democracy where freedom of religion is valued, no form of government can favor one religion over all the others. The First Amendment is for everyone’s benefit and safety. I implore each and everyone of you to approve Franklin Pride’s permit. I promise, you will not go to hell for doing so.
(The below was read by me at a press conference in opposition to the Re-Awaken Tour that stopped in Nashville.)
The Apostle Paul warned the church in Galatia about “another gospel” saying, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:9).
Our purpose today is to give a prophetic witness against “another gospel” that is being preached at the ReAwaken America Tour this weekend in Nashville, TN. This “other gospel” is known as Christian Nationalism. And just to be clear, we strongly oppose Christian Nationalism becauseit harms the witness of Jesus and our democracy. I believe Christian Nationalism is “another gospel” and is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I will let others give the textbook definition of Christian Nationalism.My task is to compare this “other gospel” with the teachings of Jesus as found in Matthew 5:3-11. His words in this section of the New Testament have become known as The Beatitudes.
Christian Nationalismsays, “Blessed are the rich, for they receive power and prestige in the MAGA kingdom of this world.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are those who live the good life, putting themselves and their country first, and rarely suffering oppression because of their privilege and their belief in exceptionalism.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are the arrogant, and those who always fight back, never turning the other cheek, for that is how you advance in a meritocracy.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are those who hunger for political influence and who push others out of the way so they can have a seat at the table.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are those who live by the rule of punitive justice; an ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are those who lie and deceive and use fear and conspiracy theories to advance their political agenda.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Christian Nationalism says, “The way of peace is through strength so we must build an unrivaled military industrial complex, believing God is always on our side because “might makes right.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are those who pass laws keeping people different from themselves oppressed and discouraged, stoking fear of the other; for that is how you hold on to power.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10).
Christian Nationalism says, “Blessed are those who are always on the attack, ridiculing, insulting, and calling other people names.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11).
The gospel of Jesus is one of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love of enemies. This “other gospel” being preached in our city this weekend is the antithesis to all Jesus taught.
As followers of Jesus, we have the responsibility to advance Christ’s kingdom on earth. But Jesus taught us to do so through love, humility, service, and sacrifice. Not fear, intimidation, force, and deception.
Well, I thought I would start blogging again, and even said so on March 24, 2023. My plan was to try and write a couple of blogs a month. But something tragic happened. My beautiful son, Zach, was killed in a car wreck on Saturday, April 15, 2023. His death has devastated Misty and me. This is a parent’s worst nightmare. It is also a nightmare for my daughter-in-law, Margie. She and Zach were only married for seventeen months. There are are no words to explain the pain.
There is, however, hope. In the middle of our grief and pain I am choosing to press into the Jesus. It’s not easy, and sometimes my prayer is “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” But God’s grace is sustaining us.
We had a Memorial Service for Zach on Sunday, May 7th. I believe the service honored Zach and gave glory to God. Below is what I read at the Memorial Service.
GIANT STRIDE ENTRY (For Zachary, May 7, 2023)
Zach started scuba diving when he was thirteen years old. The summer after he graduated from high school, he and I spent a week on a boat sailing through the Bahamas scuba diving. One night we were caught in a severe storm. Early that morning I was thrown out of my bunk by one of the violent waves. Zach wasn’t in his bunk so I went up top and saw him at the back of the boat, hanging on to something, soaking wet, but with a big smile on his face. I joined him and grabbed something to hang on to. With every crashing wave drenching us, Zach said, “Isn’t this great! This is an adventure we will never forget. I’m glad mom doesn’t know what’s going on right now.”
On the Saturday after that trip we flew from Nassau, Bahamas to Charlotte, NC. From Charlotte we were to fly home to Nashville, but because of the weather, our flight was cancelled. I went to the ticket counter to try and get another flight home, but they said we would have to wait until Sunday morning. I said, while trying to remain calm, “You don’t understand. I have to get home tonight. I am a pastor and I have to be at church in the morning.” The lady behind the counter said she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. In a more intense voice, I said, “That’s unacceptable!” Once again, she apologized.
In an even more intense voice, I said, “Well, you need to at least give us a hotel voucher so we don’t have to stay in the airport all night.” She said she couldn’t do that because it wasn’t the airlines fault the plane was delayed. It was weather related.
Zach could sense I was about to say something I would regret. He calmly placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Dad. It will be ok. You can call someone and have them preach for you tomorrow. They can have church without you. We can sleep on the floor in the airport. It will be fun. We survived a terrible storm. We can survive this.” Then he said something I will never forget. He said, looking at the lady behind the counter. “Besides, it’s not her fault.”
She tried not to smile, but she did not succeed. I said to her. “He’s right. I am sorry. I know it’s not your fault.” She said it was ok, handed me our tickets for the next day, and then handed me a hotel voucher, winked at Zach, and said, “Have a good evening.”
I tell you those two stories because they summarize my son. He saw all of life as an adventure, he always remained calm, and he treated everyone with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect. He was a wonderful son, and incredible husband, and a great brother, uncle, and friend to all who knew him. Because of those characteristics, those of us who loved Zach have asked ourselves, “How are we going to live without him?”
In 2 Samuel 12, after the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his sin against Bathsheba and her family, David and Bathsheba have a son. The son becomes ill and David begs God to heal him. The Bible says, “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the night lying in sackcloth on the ground…and he would not eat any food” (2 Samuel 12:16-17). This lasted for seven days, and then the son dies.
Because of the way David had been carrying on, no one wanted to deliver the news to him that his son was dead. They said, “He may do something desperate” (2 Samuel 12:18).
Instead of doing something desperate, the Bible says when David found out his son was dead, he “got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His attendants asked him, ‘Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!’ He answered, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me’” (2 Samuel 12:20-23).
I believe, it is in that story we find the clue to living after our loved one has died.
My faith tells me I will see Zach again someday. But can I be honest, that doesn’t really help me today. In my pain I scream, “I don’t want to see him someday! I want to see him today!” As the days, weeks, months, and years go by, I believe I will find comfort in knowing I will see Zach again. But until that comfort comes, how do I live each day?
The clue, I believe, is from the part of the story that says David “got up…washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes.” The way we continue to live is to get up, take a shower, and get dressed. And then do it again the next day and the next and the next. It’s a choice you have to make every morning. And sometimes just getting up is a victory in and of itself. Sometimes, just getting up is enough for that day.
Here’s another clue. The choice to get up each day leads to other choices. The way to honor my son’s memory is to choose to get up every morning, and then choose hope over despair. Choose love over bitterness. Choose to see life as an adventure. Choose to remain calm in the middle of storms. Choose to treat everyone with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect. In other words, honor Zach’s life by getting up each and every day, determined to make the world a better place.
Zach, in a good-natured way, made fun of my sermon illustrations. I took it as a compliment. So, in his honor, I’m going to leave you with one last sermon illustration.
In scuba diving you enter the water, especially from a boat, by taking a giant stride off the boat into the water. You don’t jump. You pump a little bit of air in your vest, place your right hand over your regulator and mask, place your left hand over your waist, keeping your gauges secure against your body, and take a giant stride into the water. Once in the water, you surface, turn to the divemaster standing on the boat, and give the universal “ok” sign by tapping the top of your head with your right fist. This means everything is good and you are ready to go diving.
Friends, family, and loved ones. On Saturday morning, April 15, 2023, at 6:59 a.m., Zachary Kevin Riggs took a giant stride off the boat of this life into the Jordan River, turned to his DiveMaster, Jesus Christ, gave the ok signal, and swam safely to the other side. We will see him again; of that I am confident. But until then, honor Zach’s memory by getting up each day and treating one another with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect; making this world a better place.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”
Hey Everyone. After a couple of years being absent from writing. I am back! Not sure how regular I will write, but it will be more than once every few years. What are some topics you would like me to cover?
dis-cour-age-ment (dis-kerijment) noun; a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness
I don’t think I have ever been depressed, or at least clinically depressed. But then again, isn’t that something a depressed person would say? Still, I don’t think I have ever suffered from depression. I guess I’m to stubborn…or stupid.
Have I ever suffered from burn out? Yes. More than once.
Have I ever been on the verge of depression? Probably. Ok, yes. (I need to quit living in denial.)
While I have never been depressed, I do have a running battle with discouragement. If I am honest with myself, I think I have PTSD (Pastoral Trauma Stress Disorder). Continue reading →
We are 8-weeks into a new year. Or, if you are cynical, we are in the middle of the 14th month of 2020. In the words of the great philosopher, Thomas Paine (d. 1809), “These are the times that try men’s souls.”Continue reading →
The greatest challenge in the church in the United States today is Christian Nationalism that is steeped in white superiority. We witnessed first hand the results of Christian Nationalism through the attempted insurrection on January 6th. What a tragedy to see people storm the capital with “Jesus Saves” banners and “Jesus 2020” signs mixed with all types of Trump displays. Followers of Jesus are to proclaim the Kingdom of God, not MAGA! Followers of Jesus pledge allegiance to Jesus and Jesus alone. To confess “Jesus is Lord” is to say capitalism is not Lord and the United States is not superior to the rest of the world. Continue reading →
This sermon was prepared this sermon for Christian Community Development’s “Locked in Solidarity Week.” This is a week (usually the first week in February) where churches and organizations focus on the mass incarceration problem in our country. My sermon talks about the importance of walking with formerly incarcerated people after they have been released from prison. If you would rather watch this sermon, here is the link. The link is to our entire worship service on that Sunday. So, feel free to worship, or to fast forward to the sermon. Let me know what you think. Continue reading →