Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Comments about Sunday's Sermon

A comment was made about my sermon on Sunday (,), was that I did address the importance of getting to know Jesus through the Bible. I apologize if I did not make that link clear. I felt that I had addressed that pretty clearly in my first sermon in this series on Christianity 101 — "The Greatest Book Never Read". (Sorry it is not online yet).

In that sermon I stressed the essential need for all Christians to read the Bible. We need to read it critically and carefully. In order to really read the Bible we also need to seek to understand the culture in which it was created, that means that JUST reading the Bible is not enough, we need to do so much more!

As Christians we also must be carefully not to read the New Testament alone. The Hebrew Bible is critical for the Christian because without it we cannot understand God nor can we understand Jesus. Jesus is a product of the Hebrew Bible — it was his sacred scripture!

Without a strong Biblical background we cannot ever really know Jesus. Jesus is revealed in the Biblical story, he lives through you and me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Why I Am A Christian

Have you ever thought about the question — Why you believe? Why being a follower of Jesus Christ important to you? That is a tough question, and one that does not have a simple answer (although many sometimes give a simplistic answer). Are you a Christian so that you can get into heaven?, or is there something more?

My hunch is that there is something more than simply heaven for you. Sure, as followers of Jesus, we are promised that we will spend eternity with God in "paradise", which in the Greek really refers to "Eden." But what is that something more?

I am a follower of God through Jesus whom I know of as the Christ, because it makes my life better, and it gives me a guideline on how I should live in relation to the world and other people. The Christian tradition is built around the notion that we should work together, not for our common greed (sorry Mr. Trump), but rather for the common good. We should seek to eliminate poverty, oppression and abuse in whatever forms they find themselves. In other worlds we should seek JUSTICE (God’s justice).

I am a Christian because it is a pie in the sky understanding of what can be, if only we would set aside out personal agendas and follow the one outlined for us by Jesus.

Do I live it — to be honest, no. Many times I fall far short of what I should be doing. To often I pass up the person who has fallen down, because I am too busy, too busy with my self-indulgent self. But, I remain a Christian because Jesus offers me another chance, another opportunity to make a difference.

I am a Christian because it is something grander than I could ever conceive of! On my own, I would never do the things I do, but God inspires me to reach for the higher places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

(Habakkuk 3:17-19 NRSV) Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, {18} yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. {19} GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights. To the leader: with stringed instruments.

Why are you a Christian? Why do you follow Jesus?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

For A Friend

One of the lessons that I have learned as a pastor is not to ask, nor listen when people tell you about other people at a new church. That lesson was driven home to me at a previous church when I learned the story about Al Bohnstedt. When I came to the church Al was sitting on the sidelines, because the previous pastor did not take advantage of Al’s talents. Why was he not used? To be honest, I have no idea, but I know that he became a major part of the team that I built at that church. But maybe even more importantly, he also became a great friend. If I had listened to why Al was not used, I too might have missed out on a remarkable human being.

When I came to Ridge, nine years ago, I kept hearing rumblings about how if I wanted to do creative things at Ridge, Bob Hayes would drive me crazy. "Be thankful that he is out of town right now," was the phrase that was used repeatedly when I arrived in Munster. But I chose not to listen. And I thank God for that!

When Bob and Fran were back in town I got to meet a couple that was passionate about Ridge Church. And how could they not be? Fifty-one years ago Ridge Church began as a number of Methodists who lived in Munster felt like there was a need to have a church in town. Bob and Fran were the driving force in getting Ridge Church going. I remember sitting at their house on State Line and hearing the stories — hearing the passion — that they had toward Ridge Church.

Ridge Church has taken some bold moves over the past nine years. And every one of those moves, the biggest cheerleader has been Bob Hayes.
  • Adding a full time staff member
  • Adding a staff member to lead our education program
  • Building the fellowship hall
  • Adding an associate pastor

All of those moves were risky — and unprecedented in the life of Ridge Church. But in every one of them — Bob Hayes led the charge!

Back when Fran was ill, I finally got the courage to ask Bob a question that had perplexed me. Prior to my arrival, the most creative pastor that Ridge Church had (at least in its recent history) been John Van Vactor. John tried to implement many creative changes 20 years ago, but at every step of the way he was rebuffed by Bob Hayes. I asked Bob why — since many of the things that John wanted to do, were similar — if not the same as what I tried to implement.

Bob and I talked for close to an hour about, as he insisted that I was nothing like John and I insisted that our dreams were the same. Then finally it hit me — John was never able to build the relationship that Bob and I had.
You see, I may have been Bob’s pastor, but in many ways he was a mentor and a father to me. And best of all — Bob was a friend.

The other day I was driving my daughter home from school and we were talking about friends. And she asked me who my friends were — and every name that I mentioned, she would say they don’t count because . . . (the are a part of the church, they are family, they are . . .)
At my very first church — I was a student intern, I will never forget this, I was sitting talking with the Pastor one afternoon and he said to me. "The people in the church cannot be your friends, don’t allow yourself to become friends with you because someday they will move you and then what do you have."

And I remember thinking — "How sad", but in some ways he was right — if as a pastor you see yourself never staying at a church and truly becoming part of the community, then there is no point in becoming friends.

Methodists have a terrible habit of only staying about 4 years. I am the 11th pastor in the 51 year history of Ridge Church and have been the pastor here for 9 years — you can do the math. Most haven’t stayed very long.

Bob would often say to me — "they aren’t trying to move you are they?" And my answer was always the same — "Bob, This is my last church!" And we would laugh and joke about what that might mean.

What a privilege I have had here, just with the Hayes family.

  • In 1999, I got to celebrate 60 years of marriage between Bob and Fran
  • In 2000 I walked through the valley of the shadow of death as we mourned the loss of Fran.
  • Just a little over a year later in 2001 we again walked through that valley as we were overcome with grief at the untimely death of Evelyn to cancer.

One of my last visits, Bob shared with me the greatest complement anyone ever could. He told me, "Steve, you are a part of this family."

On December 23rd the family was called to come to Hartsfield Village early that Saturday morning. The nursing staff was not expecting Bob to live. The family gathered quickly that morning — and as I ruminate over that day, I have come to realize what a gift it was.

Everybody got a chance to say goodbye to Bob, and even though he was very weak, we each got a chance to talk with him.

And I asked Bob one question — I said, "Bob, when we gather to celebrate your life, is there anything you want me to tell your family."

And he got that twinkle in his eye that Bob could sometimes get and he said — "Remind them never to forget how important the church is." That was the only thing he said!

And I knew exactly what he was talking about.

He wasn’t talking about believing — although Bob was a strong believer.
He wasn’t talking about creeds or doctrines.

For Bob, and for Fran, the church was their community, their family.
It is the place (where in the words of the old TV show Cheers) everybody knows your name.
It was a place where they belonged!
It was home.

Bob loved Ridge Church! Have I said that already?
Bob loved Ridge Church!

Bob understood what the church was all about.
It was — or at least should be — a place where you were loved unconditionally. Where you were a part of a family. That doesn’t mean that we always got along, — but at the end of the day, we could look at each other in the eye and say: "We are brothers and sisters together"

Bob and Fran had a verse that they chose to build their lives around.
It is found in the book of Romans 8:28

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

What a principle to build your life around!
Do you know how Chapter 8 ends, it too speaks of Bob’s life.

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
What the shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:14-16, 28, 31, 35, 31-39

When John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) lay on his death bed, his last words that he spoke were:

"Best of all — God is with us!"

Bob knew that nothing could separate him from God.
Nothing can separate you either!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Who is Jesus?

Tomorrow at Wrestling with God our class will focus on WHO IS JESUS. I asked that question in two very distinct ways. First, Who did Jesus think that he was, and secondly, who do you understand Jesus to be.

The first question may be the more difficult one to answer. If you do a web search on "Jesus self understanding" you will find many who will be happy to say that the Bible tells you exactly who Jesus is — the one and only "son of God," by which they mean — God.

The only problem with that answer is — can one use the Bible to "prove" who Jesus is? That depends on your understanding of scripture. Where does Scripture come from God, or people? If your understanding of scripture is that it is the infallible Word of God, then of course you can use it to prove whatever you want (but you are going to have to do a great deal of explaining why God is so hateful and hurtful). But most people who believe the Bible is the "Absolute Truth" have never read it carefully or critically, especially in the original languages. If you don’t believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God then what is it? (That will be next weeks blog, along with my sermon on Sunday!)

So, who did Jesus believe that he was?
  • Was he the Messiah?
  • Was he the Son of God?
  • Or maybe Son of Man?

Both of those are designations used in the Bible for Jesus. And I would suggest that yes, Jesus is both. But what do those words mean? Again, if you have read your Bible you know that Jesus is not the only Messiah, nor is he the only one referred to as Son of God, or Son of Man. Yikes, that makes it difficult.

But that still don’t really answer if he thought he was Messiah or not.

I think he did, especially with the Jewish understanding of Messiah, as one in a special relationship with God, chosen for a special task. Jesus clearly was that, and I think he understood it. I am not sure that he always understood what the consequences of that were, but he was willing to go along and trust in God.

WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS? That is really the important question, and the one that impacts our daily lives.

  • Is he the lifeguard who saves us from this world?
  • Is he the one who must return (will return) to signify the end of the world?
  • Is he the one chosen by God, to show us how we are to live in relationship to God and with one another, here and now?

I am going to leave that question up to you.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Year

Happy New Year!

Today is the first day of 2007.
I have spent the better part of today cleaning my workroom in my basement. Something that I would rather put off for another year.

It has been months since I last sat down to write on my blog, but it is my intention to get back to updating my website and blog every Thursday. The key is just taking the time to do it.

Jeff and I keep talking about changing how we do the web (the church website) as well as my personal site. We are looking at DREAMWEAVER software. Right now we just use the stuff that Yahoo provides, but it is very limited in what it can do. The problem is having to re-create all the stuff that is there right now. DREAMWEAVER does not seem to accept Sitebuilder files to be imported, if it did, it would be a no brainer.

If anybody has had experience with DREAMWEAVER, let me know.

I had planned to return to Israel at the end of February with the Masonic Order, but that trip has been canceled. Too bad, because Mark and I were going together and we would have had a great trip. Maybe next year. The one thing that it does do, is cause me to plan a trip to Israel this fall. Information about the trip will be on my website shortly ( Hope you can join me for a great adventure.