Saturday, December 29, 2007


Another great day!

We got up early again and headed north to visit some of the places in the Northern part of Israel. Again, the weather was wonderful, getting close to 70!!

We began by driving an hour or so to Hazor, the ancient Cannanite and Israelite city. A great deal has taken place here in the year since I was last at Hazor. They have continued to work on the Cannanite palace. We ran down the water system, and did not have much more time to explore.

Following Hazor, we traveled to Tel Dan. This was the northern most point of the promised land. Dan is also a nature park, in which springs provide water for the Jordan River. The key attraction to Tel Dan is a mud brick arched entryway that is over 3,000 years old. Unfortunately, it was covered up in scaffolding and very hard to see.

We then drove the short distance to Caeserea Phillipi. We really did not visit Caeserea Phillipi instead we were across the road at Banyas. This was the site of ancient pagen worship centers to the god Pan.

Then it was off to Nimrod's fortress in the Mt Hermon range. Mt Hermon is beautifully snow covered (not the area we were in). Nimrod's Fortress is a Islamic castle strategically located. We crawled around for a while and then continued on up the Mt Hermon range to a little area called ??Har Ram?? (I am not sure) There was a lake and a place where we could eat lunch. It was a neat place.

David then took us on an excursion to the "Valley of Tears", the site of a major battle with Syria during the Yom Kipur War. It was a moving experience as we could look across the fields and into Syria.

We drove back to the Galilee and stopped at Bethsaida on the way home. This was where I was involved in a dig 12 years ago or so. It was disappointing because we really could not get to the important areas due to current excavations going on.

Back to the hotel exhausted!

We went into Tiberias to the Diamond Factory (Ugh!) and then walked around town for a little while before headed back to the hotel and bed.

For some reason my pictures will not upload. I will try again first thing in the morning.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday --- The Galilee

Today we spent the day around the Sea of Galilee. We go to the hotel pretty late last night, and everyone was pretty beat, but we still got going by 7:30 and had a full day. Overall, it was a great day. The weather was and sunny!!! Much better than Munster, that I am sure.

We started off by going to the Valley of the Wind and Doves, this is a valley that Jesus would have walked as he came from Nazareth to the Galilee. I had been up on Arabel before, but never on this path (at least not that I remember). It was pretty awesome. HOWEVER, when we got there I found out that I had taken my SD card out of my camera to upload the couple of pictures last night and forgot to put it back in. Lindsey came to the rescue and let me use her card. I owe her BIG time --- just don't tell her I say so! Not sure why I have the funky blue coloring in the first pictures, something I will need to work on when I get home.

Next we went to Kibbutz Nof Ginnosar --- it is here that the famous "Jesus Boat" is housed. It is pretty amazing, because it is a 1st Century boat.

After Nof Ginnosar we began our visits to the Jesus sites along the northern shore of the Sea. We started at the Mount of Beatitudes. Most everyone got a chance to read a story connected with the area. Following that we headed down the hill to the shore and the two sites known as Tabgha (a corruption of a word meaning seven springs). We visited the church of the Loaves and Fish and also the Church of the Primacy of Peter. They are next door to each other, but you have to drive around to get to them because they are controlled by different branches of Roman Catholicism.

We then drove the short distance to Capernaum --- the Primary outpost of Jesus in the Galilee. It is a great town, although you only see part because it is partially in control of the RC Church and another by the Greek Orthodox Church. We saw only the RC side.

We then we to lunch at Ein Gev. Matthew and I and a few others had St Peter's Fish (check out Matthew's pic in my flikr site.

Following lunch we continued down the Eastern side of the Sea to the Southern end when the Jordan River flows out of the Sea. We stopped at the tourist created Baptismal site --- fortunately it was not very crowded and we all paused to "remember our Baptisms". It was an amazing experience --- I am just glad no one wanted to go into the water because it was COLD!.

We finished up our day by taking a 45 minute drive up a crazy, winding road to the top of the Golan Heights to a little park to watch the sunset. It was a great way to finish our first day in Israel.

The pictures are up, but I had some problem tagging them --- I will try to get to them tomorrow, but I need to get to bed. Nancy is trying to go to sleep. We are up again at 6:00 am and on the road by 7:30. Going all the way North tomorrow to Mt. Hermon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

We Arrived

We arrived this evening after a long an uneventful set of flights. We got to Tel Aviv about an hour late, and by the time we got through security and got our bags it was about 6:30 pm. We then drove the 1 1/2 hours to Tiberias ate dinner and went to bed!!!! It was a long day.

Tommorow we begin our touring, visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee. It should be fun. I will try to post every early afternoon for you (late evening for us!)

I will be putting more photo's on my Flikr site.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Night Fooball

I am so naive! Is nothing sacred anymore. As I turned on my computer, I was checking the sports scores from yesterday, and I received quite a shock. There is Monday Night Football tonight. Yes, tonight. It's Christmas Eve. What is that about?

I guess I thought that the NFL would hold one day as significant. The one good thing is that it is in San Diego so that it is a 5pm local start. But come on!!! I feel sorry for all those player who are gone from home today and will get home very late tonight. And what about the stupid fans, it is the playoff push for San Diego who need to win tonight to avoid playing New England until the championship game --- so you know that they are going to be there.

But what about the families. It is bad enough in our society how we make sports our god (and yes, I am guilty with Duke basketball), but one day, can't we not have sports for one day!!! At least the NCAA has no games until the 26th and almost none until the weekend. Duke is even nice enough not to have any games until the 6th of January (that way I won't miss any while I am out of the country!)

Money is what decides when the games are played. That is why we now have NFL football on Thursday evenings and Sunday night as well as Monday night. It is time to say ENOUGH!

On a final note --- How about those Bears! Where has that team been all season. Maybe we just needed to play more games with Green Bay!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Walking the Bible

As I get ready to head back to the Holy Land next week, I decided to listen to WALKING THE BIBLE by Bruce Feiler. I loved the book when I read it when it first came out in 2001 --- I came as close to reading a book in one sitting as I have ever done --- I could not put it down. The book spoke to my love of Israel and the Holy places.

It follows Bruce Feiler (a secular Jew) as he seeks to find the Holy places that the Bible lifts up, from Mt Ararat in Turkey to Mt Nebo in Jordan and everywhere in between. His 10,000 mile journey is recorded in a wonderful narrative that tells how the stories become real to him. The places make sense and speak to him of God's power and majesty.

In this second go round of his book (I have also watched the PBS special --- we have it at the church), what stuck me, is how dogmatic he becomes. He stops seeing the Bible as a collection of stories, but now sees it as a history book --- and his quest is to find those historical places. I did not notice that before --- maybe it was hearing him read his book and the tone that he used that changed my perception. Maybe it is just that I have changed.

I don't think you can go to the "Holy Places" to prove the Bible or to prove the historical veracity of a place. I believe that you go to be moved by the spirit of the place. The stories are often just that --- stories. They are not meant to be taken historically. Especially the stories that Feiler deals with --- the stories from the Hebrew Bible. We are too far removed, and the Bible writers did not ask the same questions that we do to be able to use them as proof texts.

So why do I keep going back? I have gone on average every two years for the last 16 years. This is my eight trip (I think) to Israel since I first went shortly after I became an ordained minister. I keep going back because every time I am there --- I know it is a place where I belong. NOT because it is where God dwells (like orthodox Judiasm and evangelical Christianity sometimes seems to suggest), but because it is where so much of our religious traditions were formed.

What amazes me is that people are already asking when I am going back. I will plan another trip in late spring or early fall of 2009. If you want to see what I am talking about, let me know and you can help pick the dates.

But in the mean time. Pick up Feiler's book or the DVD's and travel along to the places where Christians and Jews first understood their encounter with God.

Funny Story

A friend gave me for Christmas a leather bound copy of a book that I read a number of years ago. I passed my original copy around which just proved how crazy and what a heritic I am --- it is well read. What struck me was the difference between how we as Christians react and how Muslim's react when we poke fun at our religious traditions.

The book that I am referring to is LAMB: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. A friend shared this book with me years ago, and I don't think I have ever laughed so hard at anything I have read. It is the story of Jesus, told by his friend Bif --- who you might call a smart-ass. This book tells the story of what growing up Jesus was like --- from a hilarious and irreligious point of view. It fills in all those "missing years" that are not found in our Bible. If you are easily offended DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!!!! Some might even call it blasphemous, but if you have a healthy sense of humor, and can laugh at your religious traditions, then by all means --- read away.

What struck me, is how the Muslim community would respond to a book written about Muhammad's childhood from this perspective. Why is it so hard to laugh at our selves? A woman names a teddy bear Muhammad and she is put under a ban. COME ON --- lighten up. Can anybody help me here?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Salty Piece of Land

OK, I have to admit. I am a parrothead. Somewhere along the way, I got introduced to the music of Jimmy Buffett. I remember when I was in college, some of my friends were into his music, but I thought it was too country. Ten or fifteen years ago, I really began to listen to his music. There is such a longing and an angst in the music that it really drew me in. Jimmy is a former Altar Boy who can't stand organized religion (maybe that has something to do with why I like his music). But it is not his music that I want to write about --- it is one of his books.

I have read all of Jimmy's books. Just recently I listened to (I had read it earlier) A Salty Piece of Land. It is the story of a Wyoming cowboy who takes off on a crazy adventure that ends up in the Bahama's with the restoration of a Lighthouse. The story travels throughout the Caribbean Islands and the coast of Central America, visiting some of my favorite places (the Mayan ruins of Tulum being just one place). Like all good fluffy novels, everything turns out good in the end. But before we can get their, we must deal with all kinds of mishaps, broken relationships, and fishing.

If you love the islands, want to learn about lighthouses in a creative way, fascinated by old schooners or always wanted to know something about flats fishing --- Jimmy Buffett will keep you amused.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I woke up this morning to 9 or so inches of snow. YUCK! Today is the cantata at church and will be interesting to see how many show up. The church is warm and plowed so if people can get out of their garages, we will be here.

Yesterday I judged at the Chesterton HS debate Tourney. I judge debate once or twice a year. Boy it is fun to do it, but debate has changed (and not for the better!). In many ways they have tried to make it easier, rather than keeping some of the real challenges.

NO new in 2 is stupid! If you don't know anything about debate, then that means absolutely nothing to you! The greatest speech in debate is 1AR, but this no new in 2 makes it just another speech. By the way, when people asked me if I followed the no new in 2 idea I said NO! Debate is meant to stretch a person and if the 2nd Negative speaker cannot present any new ideas, you might as well just get rid of that speech.

Well I need to go get ready for the huge crowds here at church.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The First Christmas

For Advent Kathy talked me into teaching the Adult class on Wednesday evenings at our WWE event. She had purchased Mickey Efird's bible study called "The Birth Narratives." Mikey was a professor of mine when I was at Duke, he is now retired, and some former students convinced him to video tape him when he is out teaching at various churches and market them to the rest of us. They are very good --- but, they are watching someone lecture on a TV. After watching a couple of his sessions, I decided not to actually use them, but to go a different direction. That of course meant coming up with material for 4 nights of classes.

I read the classic work on the birth stories written by Raymond Brown: The Birth of the Messiah, close to 20 years ago. It is well worth the effort to get through. A couple of months ago, Jeff mentioned to me that Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan had a new book out on the birth stories. I read the "companion" book, The Last Week, last Lent and was intrigued by their take on the stories. This is a long way in saying that the class I have been leading comes a great deal out of The First Christmas by Borg and Crossan.

I have read most everything written by either Borg and Crossan. I tend to find myself aligning pretty closely to what I understand Borg's theology to be. And so I felt very comfortable with their overall premises.

Of all their books, I found the writing to be rather uneven, however. They spend a great deal of time looking at the birth stories of Roman Caesar's --- particularly Augustus, and it got rather tedious. I know that it was important, but it really bogged me down --- and I had to stay really focused or else I would miss the nuances that they were suggesting.

The power of their work was found not in their treatment of the stories as parables (which I think is right on), but on the implications of these stories for us today. The question, is not whether or not the stories really happened the way Matthew and Luke tell us they happened (which is impossible), but the real question is WHAT DO THESE STORIES MEAN?

They do a great job helping us understand what they meant to a person at the end of the first century CE who was trying to understand the Jesus experience. But their greatest service is found at the end of the second section of the book when they ask us in the good old USA what these stories mean today.
The terrible truth is that our world has never established peace through victory. Victory establishes not peace, but lull. Thereafter, violence returns once again, and always worse than before. And is is that escalator violence that then endangers our world.

The four-week period of Advent before Christmas --- and the six-week period of Lent before Easter --- are times of penance and life change for Christians. In our book, The Last Week, we suggested that Lent was a penance time for having been in the wrong procession and a preparation time for moving over to the right one by Palm Sunday. That day's violent procession of the horse-mounted Pilate and his soldiers was contrasted with the nonviolent procession of the donkey-mounted Jesus and his companions. We asked: in which procession would we have walked then and in when do we walk now?

We face a similar choice each Christmas, and so each Advent is a time of repentance for the past and change for the future. Do we think that peace on earth comes from Caesar or Christ? Do we think it comes through violent victory or nonviolent justice? Advent, like Lent, is about a choice of how to live personally and individually, nationally and internationally.

Christmas is not about tinsel and mistletoe or even ornaments and presents, but about what means will we use toward the end of a peace from heaven upon our earth. Or is "peace on earth" but a Christmas ornament taken each year from the attic or basement and returned their as soon as possible?

WOW! The book gets even better in part 3 in which they explore "Light, Fulfillment, and Joy". Again, they challenge our nice homogenized Christmas celebrations and invite us into a real life changing experience of God.

I cannot recommend this book enough! It is a challenge, and it will challenge a great many of your nice and tidy preconceived notions about the birth of Jesus --- but it will also help you understand WHY Matthew and Luke tell us the stories of Jesus birth they way that they do!

If anyone out there has read this book and would like to dialogue about it, give me a holler, I would love to explore it with someone else.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I am so behind in writing on my blog. I have finished three books and some articles that I can think of since I last wrote, so I will take some time to try and get my reviews and comments online. I will try to put them up one day at a time so that I don’t write too many words at once (you know I only have so many words). I also like putting them online, because it helps me keep track of what I am reading.

Last week is kind of a blur with Margaret taking a turn for the worse, making the decision to stop chemo, going home to Mike’s on Friday and dying on Sunday afternoon. It was a whirlwind — but very appropriate for Margaret — she was always on the go!

There is a huge hole here at the church, because Margaret was always here. Driving us crazy at times, but always trying to help. I loved to tease Margaret and call her a saint, but she really was a saint. Someone just stuck their head in my office to talk about her — it is going to be a long time before we heal.

Margaret’s husband, John, was the first funeral I performed at Ridge on October 12, 1998. I never really knew John, but Margaret was a dear, dear friend. The year after John died, Margaret traveled with a group from Ridge to the Holy Land — it was a wonderful experience. When I go home tonight I will try to find a picture from that trip and add it to this blog.

Friday, we will celebrate Margaret’s life. And it will be quite a celebration. Ridge Church was her family, and she never knew a stranger! She no doubt is busy doing what she understood her Christian role to be: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger! Well done, good and faithful servant!

Monday, December 03, 2007

State of the Church

Last night we had our annual Charge Conference which is the annual business meeting of the church as required by the United Methodist Book of Discipline. It is a rather mundane meeting, but it is one of those things that has to be done. One of the things that I am required to do is present a "State of the Church" report. I have included that below.

Just a side note: we had been told by a number of churches that we should expect the meeting to last two or more hours (it shouldn't be more than an hour!). To my friends chagrin, we completed the task in 45 minutes. God is good! (As if God cared!)

It is hard for me to fathom that I am in my tenth year as pastor of Ridge Church. When I first came to the church, everyone wondered how long I would stay; and I would reiterate the promise that Tom Rough and Bishop White made, that I could stay at least thirteen years to see my children through school. Now that I am getting close to that magical number, people now ask, what about when Haley graduates. My answer has never changed, I will stay as long as Ridge Church desires me to serve as pastor.

Ridge Church has been very good to my family and me. Every now and again, I have to wonder if my Renewal Leave wasn’t just a wonderful dream, but all I need do is look around at my life and see how I have grown, and I know that it was a reality.

You have surrounded me with a wonderful and talented staff who are able to facilitate ministry here in the community. You have allowed me to reach out into the community, helping to bring recognition to Ridge and our ministries. Ten years ago, Ridge was an unknown commodity; today, Ridge is known throughout the community. You have allowed me to serve on the Board of Directors of the Munster Chamber of Commerce, and be actively involved in the Munster Rotary Club. Because of those connections, I also serve on the Munster Education Foundation, and was asked to organize the Community Thanksgiving Service during the Munster Centennial celebration. I was shocked when I was honored as "Citizen of the Year" last January by the Munster Chamber of Commerce, but I believe that it is an honor not simply for me but also for Ridge Church.

Challenges abound at Ridge Church. Of our three primary priorities, (Leadership Development, Missions and Education) the area that we have not achieved success is in Leadership Development. This will be my chief priority in the coming year.

With the formation of the four-part mission team (local, national, international and environmental), we are moving toward being in mission as a part of our culture and not something that we need to do. We live missions, because it is who we are!

Our education program for adults is really growing as we provide a variety of opportunities for people to grow in their faith. This will only expand as our WWE Ministry (Wonderful Wednesday Evenings) continues to grow. Currently we are reaching about 40 adults with this ministry, which is amazing!

But leadership development continues to be a difficult situation. One area that we know needs to be addressed is the role and function of the Administrative Council in the life of Ridge Church. For the past couple of years the council has been floundering — trying to understand its purpose. Dick McClaughry is organizing a task group to evaluate and re-invent this important team for Ridge Church. Hopefully, as we come back together after the first of the year, we will begin the re-invention process. The Finance Team is the strongest it has been in years, (despite having a challenging year financially) and are looking toward a successful 2008. And as I shared earlier, Missions is leading the way in creating a structure more conducive to getting the job done. Education is re-organizing itself along this same model and I hope for a similar outcome.

Overall, 2007 has been a fantastic year. We have touched more lives with God’s compassionate love than ever before. I look forward to the opportunities that await us in the coming year as we continue to make disciples by offering Hope, Unconditional Love and Meaning for Life to all that we meet.

Join the revolution

Right before I went on my Renewal Leave last year I began writing a blog. Wikipedia defines blog as:

A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.

I started mine as a tool to keep in contact with the Ridge Church family, and so that I could wrestle with the issues that were bothering me. Since then it has also become an outlet where I can share what I am reading, and other random thoughts of the day. I try to write a couple times a week (I have about five entries I need to write today, but time keeps getting in the way.) The one thing that I haven’t been successful at is getting my readers to comment and make it a dialogue rather than a monologue.

One of the things that I have found is a great resources called "Google Reader", it is a website that allows me to get every blog that I read show up at one place (I currently follow 12 blogs). That way you do not need to go to each individual website to follow their writings. I follow Jeff and Heathers blogs along with blogs written by pastors and others throughout the country.

Take a look some time, maybe you too will want to join the blogging revolution. (