Tuesday, December 18, 2012


As I sit down and try to write this, my heart should be full of the joy and optimism of the Advent Season, unfortunately my heart is heavy.  This has been a tough weekend (I write this on Tuesday, Dec 18).  Yesterday we celebrated Mike Lawbaugh’s life and we all know about the events that took place in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

I need to make some confessions.  First, I am tired!  I am tired of all the violence.  I am tired of the silly rhetoric that “guns don’t kill people.”  I am tired of people who refuse to deal with the realities of our world.  Second, I know I am emotionally worn out.  Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the death of Ed Hollowell (Nancy’s Dad) and Christmas Eve is the birthday of her brother Mike, who died in April.  Third, I am struggling in figuring out what I am supposed to do (let alone how I am supposed to lead Ridge Church) in response to yet again another tragedy in our country.

So where to begin?  As you read this, it is the dawn of a new year.  I think there is a basic question that we need to ask ourselves: Will 2013 be different, or just more of the same?  We face some huge issues as the New Year looms.  We are drawing ever closer to the “fiscal cliff”, we have seen a year in which the weather was warmer and more chaotic than ever, and we have seen the continuation of violence.  Violence in the inner city, as well as violence in suburbia continues to grow.  And all of these issues have, in my opinion, a common thread.  That common thread seems to be one of JUSTICE

On my FaceBook page on Saturday I made two comments about the events in Connecticut.  First I wrote: “ENOUGH!  It is time for us to own up to our violent nature and do all we can to curb it, even if it means giving up ‘rights’!”  And then later wrote: “Just because ‘I have the right’, doesn't make it ‘RIGHT’”.  I was shocked by some of the comments that were made in response.  One particularly sticks out from a fellow United Methodist Pastor: “How sad it is that you would use this tragic loss of innocent lives to spew your left-wing agenda. Have you no shame?”  Another pastor suggested that what we need to do right now is pray and mourn and nothing more.  I cannot disagree more!  And if my agenda is “left wing”, then so be it (my suggestion back to him was that he needed to read the Bible . . .)

My prayer is that in 2013 that our indignation will rise to such a level that we will actually DO SOMETHING about it.  Yes, we need to pray.  But what we need to be praying for is direction from God, from the Prince of Peace, as to what God’s agenda is. 

The 64 million dollar question, the elephant in the room is: How do we as Christians respond to the injustices that are all around us?  How would Jesus respond?  How should we at Ridge United Methodist Church respond?

Tough questions, but ones that I hope you are willing to wrestle with. 

A number of years ago, Brian McLaren wrote a book called: Everything Must Change.  I want to invite you to read it with me and engage in a dialog about his wrestling with these very issues.  Maybe as a result we can begin to understand God’s desire for us. 

The format will be an open discussion beginning on Monday, January 14th over the lunch hour.  Bring a lunch with you and we will share our struggles with these difficult issues.  If you wish to participate (even just via email) let me know.

ENOUGH!  It is time for us to do something to respond!  Make it your New Year’s Resolution.

Pastor Steve

Friday, October 19, 2012

Is Heaven for real?

It has taken me months to write this review of HEAVEN IS FOR REAL by Todd Burpo.  As a Pastor, I am supposed to love a book like this, because it seems to affirm everything that the institutional church has taught for centuries.

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is the perceived true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters into what he understands as heaven. He lives and the book is all about his sharing the story of being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room.

Colton said he met his miscarried sister whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before he was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how "reaaally big" God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit "shoots down power" from heaven to help us.

It is a great story --- unfortunately, it is not biblical.  We want to believe that a story like this is biblical because it "proves" the notion that if we are good Christians, then we will be protected from harm by a loving God.  But that is not what God promised.  God promised to be with us in the valley.

Many of my members read this story and loved it because of its immature understanding of God.  I find it sad that we continue to produce literature like this that is self serving and fails to capture the real message of Jesus.  By the way, I have no doubt that many reading this will be greatly offended by my opinion. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Indiana Conference of the UMC

I think I have seen it all now!

I got this in the mail yesterday.  I saw it in my box and to be honest, I looked at it quickly and tossed it aside --- I mean, it is from the Annual Conference so I knew it couldn't be too important.

Then I looked at it again, and this time I broke out into laughter.

Thursday, the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church will meet for our Annual Conference in Indianapolis.  This is our first venture into a big city.  Back in the day when we were just the North Indiana Conference (the north half of the state) we always meet on the campus of Purdue University.  Then a few years ago we united (merged is a forbidden word) with the South Indiana Conference and became The Indiana Conference.  (Did you get all that . . .)  For the past three years we have meet at Ball State University, but Thursday we hit the big time when we meet at the new Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.

There must be some real concern about the mental capacity of the delegates to send out this postcard.  If I am not capable of remembering where I parked, how am I capable of being in leadership in my church?  And how in the world will I remember where I put this stinking card?

Thanks, conference planning committee.  You gave me a good laugh today!

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Presence of God

Saturday, Nancy and I attended a wedding for a friend at a Serbian Orthodox Church.  The Church (St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church) was absolutely stunning.  It was just what you would expect to find, but it was kind of out in the middle of nowhere!  Then this morning, a friend posted a picture of her wedding (in the 90's) in a Greek Orthodox Church.  The two connections made me think.

What struck me about the orthodox service was how beautiful it was.  The Icons were amazing, the chanting,the incense creates such an otherworldly experience.  And that is the point.

Within the Orthodox Church, God is presented as a mystery that one must be drawn into.  Through the liturgy, and the setting, God is separate and distant from us, but can be experienced in the mass.  That is so different from the main-line protestant experience.

While I enjoyed the service (although it was a bit long), I was never able to experience the divine.  God always seemed to be off, behind the iconostasis (the Icon screen).  I know that is not the way it is supposed to be.  Theologically the iconostasis is supposed to bring the divine together with the worshippers, but in practice, I am not sure if that is what people experience.

We need to experience the divine.  And I have come to realize that we all do that in many different ways.  For some it is in the liturgy of the church, for others it is in service, and still others in nature.  Regardless of how we experience the divine, the key component is: WHAT DO WE DO WITH IT?

If it is just for our own benefit, then I would suggest that it is a waste of time.  God is concerned about how we live in community, and that community is not defined by a local church, or a denomination, or (heaven forbid) a religion.  Unfortunately, we have become so uncultured that the only way we tend to experience God is through he matrix of our local church/denomination or religion.