Monday, December 29, 2014

Good Riddance 2014

Ephesians 1:3-14    (NRSV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Christmas in Ferguson

I don't know about you --- but I cannot imagine what Christmas was like in Ferguson --- Or New York for that matter.

But what I do know, is that when I went home following the 11pm service on Christmas Eve --- and as I sat on our couch looking at the Christmas tree I thought of both places.
Trying to find peace in my own heart

My mind kept focusing on those who feel disenfranchised --- often, systemically by our society --- which is what Ferguson has come to mean to me.

But my mind kept battling with the dichotomy of the events that have taken place in New York these last days.
First, the death of Eric Garner

Followed by the murders of two innocent police officers

What has really ripped me apart is way we have responded to these events.

A couple of things have really gotten to me

1)       Our lack of sensitivity for people
We seem to believe that everybody experiences life like we do

That everybody has the same opportunities that we do

And failure to live like us --- means that they are thugs, lazy, you can fill in the word you wish

Part of the reason we believe that is that at some core level we thing the world revolves around us (personally)

2)       The lack of willingness to suggest that anybody but the police officer is correct.

I am not suggesting that police are bad people.

Rather, just the opposite, I believe that police officers have one of the most challenging jobs and that we need to stand beside them.

HOWEVER, they need to not pretend that they don’t make any mistakes.
Just like we have struggled to who clergy responsible for their pedophilia, we need to hold our police officers accountable for their actions.

The police departments response in New York at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos is just plain wrong. 
By turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio, they made a statement that they are above reproach --- above accountability.

They certainly have the right to voice their complaints that people were allowed to peacefully protest and that the Mayor allowed that to happen.
But, so do the people who wished to protest peacefully

That is what makes our system of government great
          That we can disagree with one another --- without threat

If it was the other way around --- how would we respond?

The biggest problem --- sin, if you will, is what we might call White Exceptionalism

The problem is, that for many of us --- for many Anglo's we believe that: If the situation were reversed, we wouldn't act like that.

This is not just about riots or even black anger --- although we can't rule that out.

What I am talking about is a deeply held --- you might even say a sub-conscious belief that we would have never let ourselves be enslaved in the first place, and if we had, we would have outsmarted our black captors and liberated ourselves.

If the rolls had been reversed --- there would have not been Jim Crow laws, or lynching's or even deteriorating ghettos in urban cities.

The truth is --- most white folk just can't imagine themselves in the shoes of black people --- and the reason being that we find it inconceivable that whites would have ever been so oppressed in the first place.

Think about how insidious this is. 

It suggests that human beings do not react to the same situations in the same way no matter what their race;
that black people react in a black way and white people react in a white way. 

I think this is where the disconnect between the races really happens.

Blacks quite naturally think: "You would feel exactly as we do in the same circumstances." 

And it bounces right back off the Teflon wall of white arrogance.
"No, we wouldn't," is the unspoken response.
"We're different than you are. We would never have found ourselves in the same situation."

Eric Garner pleaded 11 times: "I can't breathe."
          Eleven times his pleas were ignored. 
That deafness does not belong to that officer alone.

It is the mass deafness of our white culture to acknowledge black humanity as equal to our own.

There was a powerful article written by two Master of Divinity students at Union Theological Seminary.

It shared their experiences at a protest in New York City

This is what they wrote:
On Friday night, we participated in a peaceful protest march calling for change. Together we lay in Macy's, in Grand Central, and on the wet, cold ground of Bryant Park. Together we marched through the streets of our city, demanding that justice be served against those sworn to protect and serve when they so egregiously violate this promise. The march ended on the FDR when we stood together, arm-in-arm, as riot police charged.

We linked arms to show that neither of us stood alone. We linked our arms to show our solidarity in the fight against injustice, police brutality and the slaying of black bodies. We loudly proclaimed that black lives matter.

But then their story takes an interesting twist.

As a line of riot cops approached, two officers broke off and headed directly toward us. Both of them went after the black one of us, Shawn, forcefully ripping us apart. A few seconds later an officer grabbed Ben, the white one of us, and threw him to the ground.

Then the officer leaned over and whispered in Ben's ear, "Just get out of here."

No such offer was made to Shawn. Ben stood up, suddenly and bewilderingly free, and saw Shawn being dragged off towards the police vans.

The story goes on, but I think you know where I am going with this

They found that while:
Justice may be blind, but the officers who enforce it are most certainly not.

My biggest frustration was when I tried to engage some of the United Methodist Churches in our area, to at least dialog about what was going on --- but at the end of the day --- everyone was too busy with Christmas preparations to deal with the pain and injustice that is going on around us --- but not effecting us personally.
          White churches
          Black churches
                   It didn't matter

I am not even going to talk about the Torture report that was released earlier this month.

OK, I will say this --- I don't think it is possible to be a follower of Jesus and condone torturing anybody.

Jesus would tell us --- the end NEVER justifies the means.

Wrong is wrong!

But not only was 2014 a frustration for me from a social level --- it was also extremely frustrating spiritually.
Because in case you have never noticed --- I can’t separate the two

For the first time in 30 years of ministry ---- I was ready to move on and do something else.

I am sure my physical issues played a huge part in it
·         Vertigo last winter
·         Herniated disk this fall

Dealing with these physical issues made me really question . . . is this what I am supposed to be doing.

While Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and now Milwaukee have all torn at my soul --- I feel like I am standing all alone on an island.

Nobody seems to care

I fell prey to believing that I could not do anything --- that I could not make a difference.

Alice Walker once said:
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

I understand that, because that is exactly what I did.
          That is what I am struggling with

I became convinced that I was unable to effect change in the world --- and when that happens --- one is in deep trouble.

I am doing my best to avoid the regret of the Anglican Bishop that I quoted from on the cover of your bulletin:
When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it, too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.
And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”

I can only change me

And I refuse to go back and ignore the injustices of the world.

Call me na├»ve if you wish --- I don’t mind

One of the challenges for me --- is figuring out how God wants me to spend the rest of my life.

I say good-bye to my complacent self --- the one who believes that I am different from my black brothers and sisters --- the one who thinks they are BETTER than my Palestinian and Afghani neighbors

Good riddance to the past --- and hello to an uncertain future.

Let me close with these words from Mother Teresa --- because this I do believe!

There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bringing Joy

Bringing Joy

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24   (NRSV)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

I have come to the conclusion that I am not a very joyful person.
I struggle with just letting go and being joyful
My inner child is kept pretty closely guarded and hidden away

I don’t know why I am that way ---
          I don’t always like that I am that way
          But it is just the way that I am

Sometimes I am afraid to be too joyful --- wondering if people will like me or respect me if I am?

When I try to force myself to be joyful --- I feel phony and dishonest.

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy.

Remember how the angels sang:
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”

Yet for many people, Christmas is anything but joyful.

All kinds of factors can make this a most difficult and challenging season.

·         Loneliness
Our society makes the holiday season all about families and getting together

That can be very difficult for those who have no family or whose family lives a long way away

·         Illness

Think of Erin's mom Peggy who is having major surgery on December 23rd

Can you image the anxiety at their household

Erin shared this with me:
The best outcome includes loss of hearing in left ear, facial paralysis for up to 18 months and radiation. The worst case scenario is not necessarily life threatening, just effects her quality of life. It would include a feeding tube and some kind of tracheotomy. 

I cannot fathom how difficult this season is for them.

·         Loss of a loved one

On Saturday Dec 17th, 2011 Nancy's Dad, Ed Hollowell died after a long battle following multiple strokes.  We got the word of his passing during rehearsal for the children's pageant that morning.

We left following church on the 18th, swinging by to pick up the girls, to make the long trip to the North Carolina coast

His funeral was three days later, December 20th --- and I had the privilege of presiding over it.

You can imagine how Christmas was at our house that year.  We got home, on Dec 23rd, just in time for me to get the final preparations for Ridge's Christmas Eve service done.  I wasn't in the most joyful spirit that year!  I think I was just going through the motions

Later that year --- somebody told me how terrible my sermon was that Christmas Eve --- I wasn't surprised --- it was a hard time

·         Divorced families

Scott McClellan in an article he wrote for the Storyline blog tells a powerful story. 
He writes:

It’s Christmas 1989, and my dad’s black Chevy Beretta is idling out at the curb. Time is up at my mom’s for my sister and me, and now we have to shuffle off to another destination on the other side of town, on the other side of this fractured family tree.

We’d woken up early that morning and tried to rush through the presents and breakfast. We’d packed the night before and hurried to change out of new pajamas and into new sweaters and jeans.

But we still ran out of time.

I wanted to stay, to soak in the sense of place and the blessed carnage of scattered boxes and shredded wrapping paper, but no one blocked off space for that on the calendar.

We had to leave right then — that was the agreement — so we could get over there for the early thing, then onto the lunch thing, then back for the later thing after that. Dad was waiting. We had to get onto his things so that we could get through those things and back later for Mom’s things. So many things, but none of them felt sacred.

I was only seven.

But even then I knew Christmas wasn’t supposed to be that way. Movies, TV, songs and commercials told me so. They spoke of magic and meaning, togetherness and tenderness.

Instead, we found ourselves working out the tense implications of a newly minted custody arrangement. . . .

And here’s the thing: Scrooges like me aren’t born; they’re made. One year at a time, one conflict at a time, one fa-la-la-la-la-la-la at a time. Eventually, anticipation gives way to dread. Excitement gives way to anxiety. Revelry gives way to humbuggery.

I am willing to bet, that there are quite a few Scrooges here at Ridge church --- made one circumstances at a time ---- that sometimes seem beyond our control.

So what do we do?

How do we find JOY?  Especially during this season . . .

I came across a fascinating article this week about CS Lewis. 

Recently a letter that he wrote to a Mrs Ellis on August 19, 1945 was found inside a secondhand book. 
          What a treasure to find.

This letter was written three years before he wrote his memoir: Surprised by Joy

Lewis tells Ellis in this letter that “everything is going well”, but goes on to explain that he does not mean “joy” by this. “In fact I meant by ‘things going well’ just that security – or illusion of security – which you also regard as unhealthy. Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony,” he writes.

“It jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights. It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”

Lewis goes on to write of how “the physical sensations of joy and misery are in my case identical”, and of how “just the same thing happens inside me on getting the good or the bad news”. He adds a short postscript to the letter: “Don’t you know the disappointment when you expected joy from a piece of music and get only pleasure: Like finding Leah when you thought you’d married Rachel!”

Joy, he would write in his memoir, later, “must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again … I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”

Joy is never in our power --- Lewis wrote.

Joy --- "jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one sleepless (at) night. It shocks one awake . . . One second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure.”

Our text this morning from Paul is a letter that he wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, Greece (Macedonia)

Paul is challenging us in some very specific ways.

He tells us:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances

It is a great idea --- but it isn't always very easy

Eugene Boring in his commentary on Mark notes that:
Christian faith embraces the whole of life and is not a matter of moods or 'giving God his part.'  All of life can be a joyous celebration of the presence of God.  This is not a matter of how one feels but of what God has done for us.

I think most of us make the mistake that Paul, Boring and Lewis are trying to correct.  We connect joy with pleasure.

The quote from the front of your bulletin: (Daniel Clendenin)
Joy is more elusive, more subtle and more nuanced than happiness, a predisposition to cheerfulness, persevering with emotional extra effort, or the luck of good fortune. . . . joy is entirely gratuitous. You cannot earn it, buy it or deserve it. It is a divine gift to receive rather than a selfish goal to pursue.

Joy is entirely gratuitous ---- it is a divine gift!

The problem is we think the opposite of joy is sadness or sorrow --- and that is just not true. 
          The opposite of joy is anxiety.

In other words, the only way we can find joy is to put our trust in God.

Luke 12:22-25   (NRSV)
 “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your . . . life?

John 15:11   (NRSV)
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

The world celebrates the "joy" of Easter and Christmas, but it's not really JOY.

It is more a warm and fuzzy feeling that we connect to the holiday through our memories with family and friends.

Real joy comes only after we allow God to deal with the brokenness in our lives.

We light the candle of JOY today because we want to recognize that Jesus is the climax of all history --- and apart from Jesus we can never find real joy.

Joy isn't something we can make --- joy is something that we are given by God.

We have to quite equating please with joy --- real Joy --- God's joy is a gift for each of us --- if we will slow down long enough --- open our eyes --- open our hearts --- and let God's JOY wash over us.

And when we have that joy --- God wants us to know that we cannot hoard it for ourselves --- it is meant to be shared
And God invites us to be agents in sharing that Joy

We do that by inviting them into that life changing relationship with Jesus

On Thursday this past week I was installed as Chairman of the Board of the Munster Chamber of Commerce. 
Seven years ago I served as President of the Munster Rotary Club
And was a member of the Lake County Library Foundation
As well as the Munster Education Foundation
          And chaplain of the Munster Police Force

All of those happened because somebody shared with me.

Over ten years ago, I walked into People's Bank to move some bank accounts because the bank we started with when we moved here (Pinnacle Bank) had been bought out and we were not happy with the new bank.

While I was in there I met the Bank Manager (Mike McIntyre) and we began to talk.
          He INVITED me to attend a Rotary meeting
                   And when I didn't show up, he called and offered to pick me up

He INVITED me to the Munster Chamber of Commerce, as well as nominated me for the Muster Education Foundation and the Lake Country Library Foundation

All because he invited me

Who is God nudging you to invite the Christmas?

Share the JOY, share the GRACE, share God's UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

CS Lewis article:

Scott McClellan article:

Daniel Clendenin, Journey With Jesus blog for January 15, 2007,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two years later . . .

I don’t know if you have seen the article in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor that reported that for the first time since the Sandy Hook tragedy, more Americans support gun rights than support gun control.  This is a big switch that has taken place less than two years following the shooting that took place at Newtown in which 27 people (and the gunman) were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The figures come from a Pew Research Center report.  Some other interesting findings from the study suggest that 6 in 10 Americans believe that gun ownership does more to protect a person from being a victim of crime and 4 in 10 believe that it does more to endanger personal safety.

This caught my eye today since there was a report in the Chicago Tribune that said that there have been 95 gun related shootings on school properties since Sandy Hook.  Half on K-12 campuses, the other half on college campuses. 

That equals almost one incident per week.  You can, and some will, argue over the statistics and if they are “really school shootings” but I think that is missing the point.  We have become an increasingly violent society and believe that a bullet is the way to protect what “is ours.”  That is clear in the gun buying frenzy that took place in Ferguson following the decision by the grand jury not to seek prosecution against officer

CBS news reported yesterday that 80% of whites believe that their local police force makes them feel mostly safe, but that number drops to 52% in the black population.  It also reported that 43% of the black population report that they local police make them feel mostly anxious.

We are standing at a precipice.  One that we haven’t stood on since the 60’s the only difference is that this time it seems to be more violent and vitriolic.  The CBS poll really shows the disparity on how the white and black population view the role of police, deadly force and even race relations in general.

The good news in all of this is that Eric Garner’s death seems to have struck a chord in many white churches.  While Michael Brown’s death was disconcerting, the circumstances surrounding it are very murky to many people.  However, Mr. Garner’s death and the video of it, leave little to the imagination and have become a rallying cry against excessive force.

Players in the NBA and even the Georgetown University Men’s Basketball have been wearing shirts that proclaim Mr. Garner’s cry: “I Can’t Breath.”  This groundswell has touched the hearts of many Americans (on all sides of the racial divide) and has helped many of us to have the courage to stand up and begin to seek solutions to the insidious side of prejudice in America.

I confess, that I often stereotype, and thus prejudice myself against people I do not know.  I am struggling to become more aware of those (way too often moments) so that I can put them in their place.

And I am committed to crossing the divide that we (I) have made --- psychologically and physically that keeps me from getting to know my brothers and sisters.  And I refuse to believe that peace is found at the end of the barrel of a gun, instead I have chosen to put my trust in the Way of Jesus.  A Way that offers love, and hope to all --- not just some.

I hope you will join me in praying for a more just society, and a less prejudiced world.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

What The World Needs Now!

I had an interesting conversation with one of Munster's police officers this week.  He stopped and asked me a rather interesting question.

He wanted to know if I was planning, or knew of any protests that might be planned in response to the recent grand-jury decisions.

I told him, NO --- and before I could say even another word --- he launched into a diatribe against Father Pfleger and St Sabina's Church in Chicago that has been at the heart of many of the protests in Chicago this week.

He went on to tell me how religion shouldn't be engaged in that kind of activity --- and he hoped that there would not be any protests in Munster.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent.

And our scripture this morning is all about John the Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Jesus

Mark 1:1-8   (NRSV)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John, in our Gospel tradition, has only one purpose and that is to announce the coming of Jesus.

That seemed to be the extent of his ministry --- at least as far as the author of the Gospel of Mark is concerned.

John wants to let us know --- that something was coming
          Something radical
                   something that would change the world
something that would change you and me

The real question that John was asking each of us is --- are you ready?

Are you ready for Jesus to come with this radical message?
          Are you preparing the way?

On this second Sunday of Advent our focus this morning is on love.

Certainly something that the world desperately needs!

Let me ask you:
What is the craziest thing you have ever done for love?

What lengths would you go for the one that you love?

We hear stories all the time of people who go to great lengths for people that they do not even know

·         Someone donates a kidney
·         Bone Marrow Transplant

And think of the stories of what parents will do for their children

·         drive all night to be home for a school play
·         jump out of an airplane

          I want you to think for a minute and try to answer that question . . .

Maybe that isn't the right question ---- maybe the real question should be: WHAT WOULDN'T YOU DO FOR LOVE?

The truth is --- we say we will do lots of things --- but words can become empty phrases if they are not backed up by action.

Love songs are filled with images of the tangible ways people have acted on love --- ways that they want the whole world to see.

·         Love is the yellow ribbons tied on oak trees all over a community
·         Love is Marvin Gaye proclaiming that there "Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough" to keep him from his lover
·         Love is Todd Rundgren going from shore to shore to remind us all that Love is the Answer

Do you remember that beautiful song from A Chorus Line: What I Did For Love?

The actors are reflecting on the often painful sacrifices that they have made in their quest to be successful on Broadway.

They remember all that they have had to endure

Did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love

They were willing to do whatever it took
          endless rehearsals
                   late hours
                             hard work
                                      travel away from home
Whatever it took was an acceptable offering for the love of the stage.

Did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love

Advent is about God's love for us
God is willing to do WHATEVER it takes to show us love

This kind of love that God wants to show us requires courage

I think we all know where God's love is leading us.
This love started in a manger
Angels singing
Animals lowing
Stars shining
But it ends on a cross

God's love for us does not run away from the pain and realities of life.

If anything --- God's love follows us into those painful valleys reminding us over and over:

That there ain't no mountain high enough
No valley low enough
No river wide enough
          To keep God's love from washing over us

And John today is reminding us --- ARE YOU READY --- BECAUSE JESUS IS COMING!

And as I re-read the story of John crying out in the wilderness

'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' . . . “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

or in even more simple language, I love Peterson's translation from THE MESSAGE

'Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!' . . . “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”

I am struck by the assumption that the police officer was making about Christianity in our discussion.

He saw Christians as people who kept the status quo. 
          Who protect what is. 
Who turn their backs on injustices (if those injustices were not affecting the majority group)

But that is not the One whom John was clearing the way for.

Jesus didn't come to protect those who were in authority.

Jesus didn't come to keep the status quo.

Jesus came to turn the world upside down and offer a new way.

A way of love.  PERIOD

Not a way of love for some.
          Nor a way of love that blessed some and damned others.

Jesus came turning the world on its head because he sought to turn over the tables on anything that prevented love.

I don't know how well you follow the news --- but last Monday was World AIDS Day

If you are not familiar with World AIDS day let me quote from their website explaining the purpose of the day.
World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.

Last Sunday, a Baptist Pastor in Tempe Arizona preached a sermon that has gone viral on the internet.

The sermon isn’t going viral because Pastor Steve Anderson preached the good news of Jesus Christ. The sermon is going viral because the pastor called for the murder of every LGBT person as a solution to end HIV and AIDS.

His sermon was titled:" AIDS, The Judgment of God" and he quoted from Leviticus and argued that "gays should be killed."

Pastor Anderson said:
“Turn to Leviticus 20:13 because I actually discovered the cure for AIDS,” he said as his congregation laughed. “This is the cure for AIDS. Everyone is talking about ‘let’s have an AIDS free world by 2020.’ Look, we can have an AIDS free world by Christmas,” which evoked more laughter.

Leviticus says:
Leviticus 20:13   (NRSV)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death

I don't know about you --- but to preach that bothers me greatly.

And we can disagree over the use of Scripture and passages like that --- but I found his sermon reprehensible

To watch on TV --- the police officer put a choke hold on Eric Garner in New York, an unarmed black man who was selling cigarettes illegally.
Watching the video --- and watching Mr. Garner die in front of us all --- to me is appalling.

I don't know what to do . . .

But John says we are supposed to prepare the way for Jesus, and in light of Pastor Anderson's sermon, and Eric Garner's death and Tamir Rice's death --- I wonder what John would want us to do --- to make ready for Jesus.

I wonder what Jesus would want me to do if I really loved unconditionally like he loves me.

How far would I be willing to go?

What would I do if I really believed that:
That there ain't no mountain high enough
No valley low enough
No river wide enough
To stop me from loving ALL of God's children

I have to do something . . .

This sitting around on my hands is driving me crazy --- it is ripping a hole in my soul.
I can no longer just sit around and ignore the injustices that are going on around us.

I am in contact with some of the other United Methodist Pastor's in our area --- and am looking at having a gathering sometime this week --- hopefully in Gary.

What do I hope to accomplish?

I hope to prepare my heart for the advent of Jesus!

Not by getting my shopping done
Not by getting my stockings hung

But by living the LOVE of Jesus

I asked you earlier --- what you would do for love . . . What will you do with the love that Jesus has given you?

Come and receive his love and prepare for his return

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Mary Russell Novel

I am a huge fan of Laurie R. King and her Mary Russell Novels.  If you have never read any of her books, and you love a good mystery you need to.  She picks up the Sherlock Holmes tales and introduces Mary Russell who is Holmes’ young wife.  The stories are engaging and fun, yet like the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels, full of twists and mental challenges.

I have just finished her newest book, having secured an advanced copy of Dreaming Spies.  I don’t believe that I am supposed to review the book before it is published, so let me just say --- it is great!  Even though I have written my comments, I will wait until February 24th to post them.

What I will say is, if you are looking for a great Christmas present for somebody who loves a good story --- pick up some of the Mary Russell novels.  I have now read eight of them and have found that I can’t put them down.  I look forward to reading the others in the series.  I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking for Peace

Psalm 80:1-7   (NRSV)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Thanksgiving at the Conger household was very different this year.

To the best of my recollection, this was the first time that all of the girls have not been home --- and the first time in a long time, that we did not gather together with my parents, brother and his children.

My parents are wintering in Arizona, and Lindsey (our middle daughter) who lives in Los Angeles drove and spent a few days with them for thanksgiving.

Since my parents were gone, we were invited to Jessica's apt in Chicago and had a wonderful dinner put on by her and Sam.

It was a great day!
          Wonderful (but too much) food
          Great hosts
          Little traffic!

I imagine that many of you took the opportunity Friday to get up bright and early and to head out and fight the crowds for all the black Friday sales.

I stayed home so that the dog would not be lonely and read a wonderful novel.

Nancy and Haley seemed to survive the shopping ordeal, and then later that afternoon we went back downtown to the Lyric Opera to see Porgy and Bess.
          I am not sure I am cut out for operas but the singing was fantastic!

One of the things that struck me, as we were waiting in the lobby to get into the opera was how few people were actually talking (with each other)

But virtually everyone was busy communicating with somebody --- but just not in person.

Studies suggest that as a people we are communicating with one another more frequently than any other time in human history.

Just not the ways that we used to before . . .

DO any of you actually remember talking on a telephone?
          I am not talking about a cell phone
          Or even the cordless phones we have today
          How about one of those old rotary phones we rented from Bell Telephone

And when was the last time you actually hand wrote a letter?

One of my favorite memories as a kid was sitting down as a family with a tape recorder and recording a Christmas message to my grandmother and grandfather in Tennessee --- because it was too expensive to call

While we could still do any of those things --- most of us choose not too

Instead we either talk on our cell phone --- or more than likely we text
          Or use whatsapp
          Or snapchat

I didn't even know what those were until fairly recently

If you go to the mall this week you will find that most people (especially those under 30) have a phone in their hands --- texting, sharing photos, reading emails or listening to music

It is amazing to me how adept our young people are at carrying on multiple conversations at once.

When I was growing up, Face Time was talking to somebody in person --- but on Thanksgiving Day --- Lindsey and Alex joined us in Jessica's living room as we Skyped with them.

When I was on my sabbatical --- almost 10 years ago now --- Nancy and I "talked" twice every day via messenger because it was free and easy. 
We hadn't figured out how to Skype yet.

But every week now, Nancy Skype's with her 88 year old mom in North Carolina. 
It is amazing!!

But what has gotten lost is the sit down and actually talk with one another conversations.

When we do actually sit down and talk it usually is about solving a problem or some other logistical issue --- but we rarely sit down and have those "heart-to-heart" conversations anymore.

And think about the new texting lingo that has developed.

One of the things that has always amazed me are people who can understand what certain texts really mean. 
Because our vocal expressions can reflect our emotions in a way that a Smartphone never can.

The inflection that is used in the words can be powerful.

Let me demonstrate
          U R here

What does that mean?

It could be the factual statement: YOU ARE HERE -- such as: in a certain place

But say it out loud
          You're here

Or      You're Here!!! (excitement)

or       You're here? (amazement)

or       you are here (disgust)

Which is it? 
That is the problem and challenge with modern communication.

Knowing what is meant is not always easy.

Advent is all about our relationship with God and each other.

In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the advent season we are overwhelmed with the parties, the meals, the shopping

It isn't Santa who needs a list --- it is us to keep our schedules straight with all that is going on.

I am not trying to suggest that we shouldn't attend the parties or dinners, or events that are meaningful to us.

Nor am I bashing Santa or the whole idea of gift-giving.

What I am trying to remind you is what we tend to leave off our Advent/Christmas list: 
Baby Jesus

Advent is the celebration of the incarnation --- the God in the flesh event of Jesus

Advent is God's announcement that God does not want a distant --- text only --- relationship with us.

Advent is about God's willingness to be vulnerable, reachable and attainable.

Advent is about God's desire to sit down with us and have a face-to-face ---- heart-to-heart conversation.

Psalm 80 is all about God's desire to have that kind of relationship and our need for it!

Over and over again, the writer of the Psalm wrote:
"Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved"

The Psalmist isn't asking God for a text message response.

The community who sang this Psalm was a community without hope.

They feel like there is nothing they can do to prevent or stop the injustices that are going on around them.

They feel alienated and alone

They feel lost and consumed!

They are crying out to God --- seeking a word of hope and assurance.
Seeking that peace that passes all understanding, that only comes from Jesus.

Without hope and peace we are not delivered, but we also are not saved --- we are doomed to utter despair.

This Psalm is a cry for a personal relationship with God

The prayer of the psalmist echoes the hopeful yearning of God's people today.

"Let your face shine that we may be saved," is the call of people who are surrounded by technology but are still lonely for meaningful communication.

It's the cry of people who may receive hundreds of texts every day but who still feel unheard.

It is the yearning of the human heart which does not want simply to be told of love but needs to be transformed by love and hope for nothing less.

"Let your face shine" pleads the psalmist.

Isn't that our prayer today?

On the streets of Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago and Munster --- aren't we seeking to see God's face shine?

Despite the tragedies of our time
          Despite Ferguson
          Despite Cleveland
          Despite the ongoing violence in Chicago and so many other places
          Despite the injustice in our own back yard
God seeks to restore us with God's grace

The darkness cannot overcome the light and love of God

God's face continues to shine and is reflected in God's mercy and forgiveness.

Like the Psalmist, we look at the world around us and wonder ---
Can there ever be justice?
Will the races ever treat each other as brothers and sisters?
Will the violence ever stop?
Will the distrust simply because somebody is different ever end?

The answer is found in Psalm 80 and in Advent and the answer is: YES

God says:
·         Yes, I will give ear to your cry.
·         Yes, I will come and save you.
·         Yes, I will restore our relationship fractured by your faithlessness and sin.
·         Yes, I will save you from neighbors who wish to destroy you.
·         Yes, my hand will be upon you.
·         Yes, you will know the strength of the living God.

The promise of Advent is that God's strength will meet us in the midst of our weakness.

There is no place too dismal,
no sin too egregious,
no transgression too dire
to separate us from the love of God who comes to us in Jesus.

God is begging us not to settle for less than the peace that comes through Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Don't let advent simply be about the shopping and the parties and the gifts.

Advent is really about Ferguson.
          Into that darkness
          Into that deep despair
          Into that sense of hopelessness
          and lack of peace
Our God who comes offers to us a better way.

"Come to save us!" we cry out to God.
          And God does.
Defenseless as a baby, God reflects love and invites compassion.

And that is a message of hope and peace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Thanksgiving Letter to Ridge Church

Last week I spent an hour at Eads Elementary School as a community reader.  Each month, people from the community come into Eads and read a book to a class (or 2) and talk about a topic that the book was related to.  This month, the theme was gratitude, and I read a cute story about a family that everything goes wrong for their Thanksgiving Dinner --- yet in the end, they realize that Thanksgiving isn't about the food.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I want to take a moment and say THANKS.  Thanks to my family, without you my life would not have the meaning it does!  Thanks to the staff of Ridge Church --- Holly, Dave, Kathy, Sheri, Phil, Allan, Peggy, Linda, Diana and Susan --- each of you have an amazing heart and you share that love with the community in wonderful ways.  Thanks to all of you who call Ridge Church home, without you we cannot reach out and share the love and way of Jesus.  That is why we exist!

As you gather around your thanksgiving table, I pray that you will take time and see all the blessings that you have and that you will remember those who are not as fortunate as you.

I hope that you will also say a prayer for our country.  I don’t know what happened that fateful August night in Ferguson MO.  What I do know is that an unarmed black teenage is dead, the officer who fired the weapon that killed him will not be subject to a trial in which the facts of the incident can be publicly known and scrutinized.  In a country that is becoming more and more polarized over income and race, last night’s decision, I am afraid will only increase the distrust that is felt.

I am not black, and have only once been subject to discrimination based on my racial make-up (I was thought to be Palestinian in Jerusalem); I cannot imagine what it is like to grow up black in America today.  There has to be fear, and last night only added to it.  Whether we want to believe it or not, racial discrimination still is alive in the USA.  We don’t like to hear that, but I hear the jokes, the stereotyping all the time.  We as followers of Jesus must take the lead and say NO MORE!  It is time that we pray and seek a better world for all of God’s children.

I, will be praying for forgiveness.  I know I have not done enough in my own life to stem the tide of hatred in this land.


Pastor Steve

Monday, November 24, 2014

I was made for this . . .

John 18:33-37    (NRSV)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

In a USA today article from 2005, a panel of sports experts put together a list of the 10 most difficult things to do in sports.

I don't think it was a very scientific list --- but one that a group of wannabe athletes made based on what they know --- or at least on what they thought they knew.

10.   Downhill skiing
The downhill is an 80-mph exercise in balance and control. With little protection, ski racers hurl themselves down an icy mountain course, alternately digging in their edges to carve the fastest line through turns and putting their skis flat on the snow to gain speed in the straightaways. They fight gravitational and centrifugal forces at every stage in the race.
9.    Saving a penalty kick in soccer
On the soccer field, the goalkeeper's job is to protect a goal that is 24 feet wide and eight feet high — 192 square feet waiting to swallow a ball about 9 inches in diameter. During a penalty kick, the goalie has 0.25 seconds to move and block a ball traveling at more than 60 mph.
8.    Competing in the Tour De France
The Tour de France covers more than 2,500 miles in three weeks and requires a variety of cycling skills that must be performed at levels far beyond those of recreational riders. On flat stretches of the course, tour riders must maintain speeds more than 30 mph for hours on stretch. During mountain climbs, cyclists must be able to ride up mountain roads with grades as steep as 15%.
7.    Running a Marathon
Running a 26.2-mile race is physically demanding and requires a runner to be disciplined, well-trained and able to withstand pain. Runners, including elite marathoners, often suffer from nagging injuries in the lower back, knees, shins, ankles, Achilles' tendons and feet. However, most runners will say the reward of finishing a marathon justifies the pain.
6.    Landing A Quad jump in Ice Skating
Executing a quad toe loop requires a skater to balance height and rotation while skating on a metal blade a quarter of an inch wide. During a successful quad jump, a skater will reach heights of 18 inches above the ice and experience 300 pounds of centrifugal force, all while spinning four times in just over .5 seconds.
5.    Returning A Serve in Tennis
Traveling at over 130 mph, a tennis serve by today's top tennis players is traveling at 185 feet per second. At that speed, a player trying to return the serve has a half second to react and return the serve.
4.    Hitting A Tee Shot Long and Straight
Driving a golf ball far and long seems to be an easy thing, until you try it; even professionals have trouble with it.
3.    Pole Vaulting
Vaulting is a matter of redirecting the kinetic energy of the runner's approach speed upward, aided by a long fiberglass pole. To do it, athletes need speed for the sprint, strength for lift-off and flexibility to bend the body over the bar.
2.    Race Car Driving
Skilled drivers encounter a host of problems, but rounding the corners of the track is equivalent to having three 300-pound linemen pushing you for three of the four hours it takes to drive a race.
1.    Hitting a Baseball
Considering that a major-league pitch can reaches speeds more than 95 mph, hitters have only 0.4 seconds to find the ball, decide where the ball is going and swing the bat.

What do you think?  
What would you change to the list?

I was surprised that golf was considered the 4th most difficult.

While that list is kind of fun --- at the end of the day -- it really isn't all that important.

But what if you were to make a list of the 10 most difficult things to do in life --- what would you put down?

If you were to search on the internet --- you would come up with all kinds of lists that all seemed based on where somebody was in life at that particular moment.

But if we were to try and create just a list, what would you include?

Here is my list --- but i want to admit I used other people's lists for ideas.

10.     Quitting an addiction ---- drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pornography
9.       Being a servant --- truly doing humanitarian deeds for no reward
8.       Be-loving God in the midst of the challenges of life (keeping faith)
7.       Forgiveness (accepting and giving)
6.       Regaining trust that had been lost
5.       Loving those you don't like
4.       Raising children
3.       Removing life support from a loved one
2.       Burying a child

The life list is a tough list, but those last two — having to make decisions about life or death or losing a child or really any love one — are really difficult!

If you have ever been in the position where you had to decide to allow someone to go into hospice care, or to remove life support --- even when your head knows what the right thing to do is--- it is a terrible choice.

Top world athletes, even on their hardest days, never make that kind of choice.

Those kinds of decisions are not what we expect life to be about!

Does anybody remember Tom Laughlin?

He was famous in the 70's as the writer, actor and director of the Billy Jack movies.

Later in life he began working with cancer patients, lecturing and treating the psychology of cancer.

Steven Pressfield, in his classic work: The War of Art quotes Tom Laughlin.

And the point that Laughlin makes is that:
The moment a person learns that they have a terminal cancer a profound shift takes place in their psyche.  At one stroke he becomes aware of what really matters

A simple tragic diagnosis is sometimes what it takes to help us understand what is of ultimate importance.
·         it's usually not another meeting
·         or a bigger car
·         or larger house
·         it's not even a bigger paycheck

Those things that were an irritation only days before the diagnosis are no longer important

What matters most in our lives is . . . RELATIONSHIPS

Go back and look at my suggest list of the 10 hardest things to do
---- everyone of them is about relationships

Laughlin went on and posed an interesting question:
Is it possible that cancer is the result of our failure to live our lives the way that they were intended to be lived?

Could cancer be the result of our un-lived lives extracting their vengeance upon us?

You have to wonder . . .
Laughlin even suggested, that when people with cancer began to live their lives fully --- that sometimes the cancer would go into remission

Laughlin suggests that --- but I can find no scientific evidence for his claims

But there may be some truth to it

What I do know is that for most of us --- the most difficult thing in the world is to live the life that God intended for us.

1.    Live the life God intended for us

It is easier to fill it with other things
          Worldly pursuits
                   Chasing the Almighty dollar

It is easier to fill it with other things --- than to risk it all for what our insides (our spirit) keep telling us to be.

At the end of the day ---- what holds us back more than anything else is FEAR

And as crazy as this sounds; what I think we are most fearful of is becoming what we are truly supposed to be.

This morning, we celebrate the baptism of Caleb Jon Caddick

Today we place a marker on the road of his life

What will become of Caleb's life?
          Do any of us know?

God has blessed Caleb with a calling
Our job, and his --- is to help him figure out what that is --- and then to help him not to be afraid to pursue it.

Our scripture this morning is that key moment, when Jesus claims his calling.
          Jesus says that he is to be king of our lives
                   Lord of our lives

Was Jesus afraid to pursue that calling?
          I don't know
But Jesus announces this calling in the face of the reality that by doing so will cost him his life

What is it that God is wanting you to pursue?

What have you been afraid of becoming?

One of Bob Goff's favorite phrases is one that has become very important to me:

          God sees who we are becoming, not who we were!