Saturday, January 29, 2011


Lately I have found myself frustrated by the propensity of people who feel the need to speak their mind on everything. I am not trying to sound elitist. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; but some opinions are better kept to themselves. Ill-informed opinions or opinions that spring from deep-seated prejudices or opinions that come from a closed mind sometimes do more damage than good. Misinformation may be a valid tactic in times of war but they create war in a society that is already badly divided. Ignorance may be bliss, but ignorance shared as if it were well-established truth is cancerous to a free society.

I remember an old cliche that actually has some merit. “Be sure your mind is in motion before your mouth is in gear.”  In this day of Twitter and Facebook and talk radio and texting, ignorance when expressed as truth can become viral with damaging effects far beyond anyone’s anticipation.

I am not proposing we create laws against this. Freedom of speech is a fundamental and necessary right in a free society.  But discernment and understanding, self-restraint and constructive critiquing are skills that too people possess.  The Bible says, “Speak the truth in love.” I would add, if love of your neighbor and your nation are not truly your motive for speaking — then please shut up! (I pray my motive for saying what I just said was indeed love instead of the frustration that I described in the opening line of this post.)

Normally as a blogger I have a lot to say.  But since I have nothing else really to reflect on, then in the spirit of my own published counsel, I will now shut up.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


A terrible tragedy occurred in Arizona on January 8th. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down, struck in the head by a single bullet during the shooting rampage, which killed six people and injured 13, including the congresswoman. Her assailant was a 22 year old college dropout named Jared Lee Loughner. It appears the shootings were politically motivated.
Eleven others were wounded in the shooting and six are dead, among them U.S. District Judge John Rolls, a friend of Giffords’ who had stopped by the event to say hello after attending Mass.  A 9-year-old girl also was killed.

This tragedy unleashed a torrent of vitriol from both sides of the political spectrum. Instead of people grieving over another example of the senseless violence that pervades our society and increasingly passes for political expression, pundits and prophets simply launched attacks on who to blame. No mourning for the victims, just another round of the incivilty that now marks much of American life.
A friend of mine, Ken Meyer, wrote in his blog Leader Focus:

“We’ll never escape the outbursts of random rage that leave beautiful, innocent people in pools of blood. When a politician or law enforcement official or community leader takes to the microphone and proclaims, “We must take the necessary actions that will assure our community that this will never happen again,” I wonder out loud if this expert knows any history. Deranged people do deranged things. They’ve been with us since Cain and Abel.

But make no mistake. This weekend in Tucson, the senseless murder and mayhem inflicted on a gathering of people meeting with the energetic, articulate Congresswoman and her guests trigger outrage in even the most calloused among us. Apparently, the crazed perpetrator of the crime was on a premeditated mission.”

Although Ken was writing about “Vitriol and Violence,” he (by his own admission, unleashed a little vitriol himself against the political right.) A few days later, he wrote:

“Righteous indignation can sometimes be confused with empty rant. 

So today, a week later, I would prefer to take that high road. There was something noble, something truly American about the response of the people of Tucson to this tragedy. The innocent smile of the nine-year old Christina Taylor Green, the recitation of the First Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Giffords, an elderly husband shielding his wife, taking the bullets and saving her life at the expense of his own, a surgical team skillfully tending to terrible wounds; all of this and more unleashed a national civility that for the moment, melted partisan barriers, prompted a healthy national pause, toned down the heated rhetoric and reminded us of something that too often gets lost in the never-ending national debate. This young man’s assault on the Congresswoman and her friends was an assault the things we value most as a nation. And as a people, we rose to the occasion.” read more …

I commend Ken and others, who have chosen to take the high road in this tragedy.  My Christian faith teaches me that I should pray for victims and for the deranged.  All are in need of the grace and the help of Almighty God.

My faith also teaches me that violence begets violence.  Our society, in all of its dimensions, is severely damaged by our propensity towards violence – whether it be the violence of a gun or the violence of words. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus speaks very directly to this issue:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Too often were simply unleash our anger, our resentment, our self-righteousness in situations like these.  We are too prone to throw gasoline on a fire.  Is it any wonder that these actions and attitudes flare up to burn us all.

We are too quick to declare someone an enemy. Jesus tells us that we must love our enemies. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they think or approve all of their actions. But it does mean that I cannot permit my disagreement with them become an excuse to simply lash out at them, or worse, to dehumanize them by demonizing them.  President Obama’s appeal for civility in the aftermath of these tragedies is more than reasonable. Civility might even lead to something more powerful — like forgiveness and reconciliation.

Some other words from Jesus are appropriate here:  “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12.25)

Note from Steve: This should have been posted January 24, 2011. Hopefully better late than never.

Friday, January 21, 2011


The last two weeks of my life  have been extremely intense. An already packed schedule became almost gridlock between some pastoral emergencies, a pesky computer virus, and time correcting mistakes you made because you were overly busy. There has been incredible reward, as well–helping an older couple navigate a frightening medical emergency; coaching time with two men – one still in high school, one in his forties, who are responding to God’s call to ministry; listening to a dear friend as he sorted out his future priorities; preaching a sermon that prompted someone to step out in faith; teaching a workshop on traditional churches learning to truly communicate with unchurched neighbors; assisting my neighbors in a budget discussion at a meeting for our school district; sharing lunch with my sister and father on the occasion of his 81st birthday.

I am simply reminded of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11.   “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
And there are the words of what is my life verse in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The over-scheduling and accompanying gridlock that produced weeks far too long are items I, like others, need to correct.  But thankfully, God is more than capable of working through our frailties.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"As followers of Jesus Christ we are invited into a life where our story merges with the story of God, an intersection if you will, where His dreams become our dreams and we begin a journey of faith to increasingly love him and increasingly love people." - Nick Francis Stephens

Lately I have had the privilege to hear a lot of people's stories.  This evening it was that of a waitress named Shamire at Bob Evans.  Her buoyant manner and positive attitude as she first approached Dianne and I at the table intrigued me.  I found as she returned to bring us coffee, serve our food, tempt us with dessert, that I was growing interested in knowing her story.  I am a professional who is benefited by the skill of starting conversations with strangers and asking questions that people seem to want to answer.  Soon I learned that she was a student in the culinary arts, that she loved her family, that being responsible for herself was teaching her to be responsible, and that she genuinely liked most of her customers -- even the nosy ones like me.  "I look forward to serving you two again," she said as we began to wrap up the dinner.  Her story and the comfortable way she told it made we want to hear more about this young woman just staring a career and paying her dues to the basic lessons of life.

In many ways, this is what faith sharing involves.  We have a story. Someone else has a story.  Our stories become points of relational intersection where the stranger becomes an acquaintance and perhaps, finally, a friend.  Our stories create points of identification that remove barriers and build bridges.

For a Christian, our personal story is an extension of God's story. For God is working in and through our lives -- writing a story that has his imprint upon it.  So when we share our stories, stories born out of our faith experience, we create relational intersections for God and our listener.

Hopefully, that blended story will capture their imagination and draw them into it as well.

So what's your story?

Sunday, January 16, 2011


 My schedule lately has slowed down my blogging.  I do some teaching and ministry coaching. Those things plus my congregational responsibilities have produced two 70+ hour weeks.  It also has kept from keeping up with the news or reflecting on life matters.  But about a week ago, my Youth Director Jeremy Moyer proposed to a delightful Christian woman named Arden Bortzfield and she said "yes." The man is crazy in love with her.  Today he posted a YouTube about why he loves her.  In a world of senseless shootings, political feuds, and whole lot that is newsworthy but not praiseworthy, it was a breath of fresh air.  So watch, grab a handkerchief, and thank God.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


 I spent some resting time Sunday night and went through some of the postings that I had bookmarked in the past couple of weeks and some that appeared through my Facebook friends.

Here's one from a blog called a foothold that's familiar written by Rebekah Mae and suggested to me by Keri Wyatt Kent.  These are the first paragraphs. Click the link to read the rest.

Today is Saturday and I am resting.  Easier said than done.  I seem to remember a time when resting, taking an intermission to lean into whatever feels life-giving, was a well developed habit in my life.  Unfortunately, like most good habits, excuses and lousy justifications crept into that sacred space and claimed it for other things.  Today I am reclaiming the habit of Sabbath-ing.  It doesn’t feel quite natural yet, but I can feel the tight and closed parts of me begin to relax and open, even if they can’t quite fully release yet. Life has shifted dramatically in its rhythms lately.  They are melodic rhythms indeed, but are ones somewhat unfamiliar to my steps.  I have often found myself skipping my feet to catch up, trying to sync my step with the newness beside me.  Left, right, left, right….left left…right…left.  I catch up most of the time..but sometimes I trip or fall behind or just collapse entirely.  My feet have become triumphantly tired.  And so today I rest.

I am head over heels for my classes this quarter.  Theologians: The Inklings feels like a class tailor fit for me.  Wonder, imagination, the Shire, awe, childlike humility, play, nature…all these words danced around the room in our last class discussion.  I practically swooned.  At one point, the question was voiced, “What does it look like to live with more wonder?” Questions as lovely as this deserve space and have a right to hang in the air.  “Awake, my soul,” a phrase that has been a steady drum on my heart as of late, is what sprung up in response.  Living with more wonder means being awake to the spirits and spaces around us.  It means we sit still long enough to be good noticers.  Living with more wonder requires rest. In her book Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity, Keri Wyatt Kent writes, “To pause between the notes of our lives turns noise into music.  It’s called resting.  It’s the antidote for our restlessness, but one we don’t think of.  When we feel restless, we often think, “I’ve got to do something!”  We rarely think, “I’ve got to do nothing.”  But therein lies the beautiful paradox of Sabbath rest.  To practice Sabbath is to practice a stillness that brings clarity to our lives.”  It is then that we begin to feel ourselves fill with wonder once again. MORE

Once again from my friend Stef Sellers, who uses her Facebook Page for encouragement of others: A thousand times I've failed, Still Your mercy remains."

From Leonard Lee, OFF WE GO NOW


I am not sure what this New Year will bring to my life and my family.  If last year is any indication I will laugh a lot, cry some, pray less than I feel I should but pray none the less.  I will grow in some areas of my life and in others I will repeat sins.  I will keep promises I have made and break promises I have made.  I will disappoint myself and others and delight myself and others.

If last year is any indication there will be some people mad at me and some people will thank me and others will ignore me.  I will struggle with some real issues and lose and struggle with some real issues and win and in the end… realize that sometimes the victory is that in a year I will have matured even if I did not win every battle.

I will need to apologize to some people and some people will need to apologize to me, this is the cost of choosing to live in close relationships with others.  I will see some dreams come true and other not get off the runway.  I am sure I will assign blame in wrong places and I hope take responsibility when I do and I will get blamed for things that I did not do.

My family will change this year, life and growing kids has a way of making this happen.  I will change this year, I really want to live maturely in 2011.  Change will happen around me in 2011 and some of it will be the doorway to an amazing adventure and some of it will leave a scratch on my heart… sometime it will be the same change doing both.

On January 1, 2011 here is what I know!
  • The God I worship and love will not change!  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
  • His Grace is enough!  Life will not take me where His grace cannot keep me.
  • I will not thrive apart from His Spirit, His word, vibrant prayer and His people.  His plan, not mine!
  • My attitude will determine every part of my journey and God has made me a steward of this attitude!
  • My family will be strong!
  • I am blessed beyond my ability to know, no matter what!  Joy is mine.
Psalm 62 is a great Psalm and I am claiming it for 2011
1 My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. 2He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

In these sentences are some pretty amazing statements.  They are clear declarations from the heart of the writer.  This is what my soul will do – Find rest in God alone.  This is why my soul will do this – He only is my rock, salvation, fortress and this is the only unshakable life.

Interestingly enough this sounds like a January 1 kind of spiritual resolution!  This is what I will do and this is why I will do it… HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Yesterday I read an interesting comment on the ON FAITH blog published by The Washington Post. Elizabteth Tennety reported that a recent poll had revealed that for 66% of Americans, their New Year’s Eve celebration would include prayer. So she asked that people comment with essentially their prayer list for the occasion. (The comments were not memorable and for some the post provided an occasion to launch another diatribe against the foolishness of adding a religious activity to a secular celebration.)
Here’s what I am praying for as 2011 begins:

1. For Christ to be shown through my life – that my words and deeds, attitudes and acceptance, help people fall in love with Jesus.

2. That no negative spirit find any encouragement from my words and that no negative spirit find any receptivity in own inner spirit.

3. That each day God will show me how to be the blessing He has blessed me to be … and that being that blessing will be my daily plan.

4. That the peace the world needs will begin in me.

5.  That maintaining a maturing, fruit-bearing relationship with Jesus Christ will be my highest priority.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


As a teenager and young college student, I enjoyed the music of a duo called Simon and Garfunkle. Paul Simon would later become the more famous of the two, but early on it was the lyrics and music of Art Garfunkle that particularly empowered the group. They wrote the poignant and inspiring "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" that has made it into the repertoire of many a Christian artist.   But they could also be dark in their message.  As a teen, I was drawn to Sounds of Silence and I am a Rock.  Now as an adult and a pastor, I see that the message of particularly the latter, is one that appeals to many; but if practiced can lead to both a joyless and a lonely existence.  Listen to this clip from the YouTube archives.

Contrast this with the words of an English Christian poet, John Donne (1572-1631) whose writings expressed a deep love for poetry and reflection, but who came to a different conclusion.


No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
- John Donne

Relationships have a price, but total independence in the end is far more costly.  Solomon discovered this long ago (even before John Donne) when God inspired him to write these words.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" - Ecclesiastes 4.9-12
Life Matters. And how you live a life that matters depends on your spiritual outlook.  If you are choosing the "I am a Rock" approach to life, I just need to ask. "How's that working out for you?"  

And if you truly expect to meet God some day, how do you think the One who inspired "Love your neighbor as yourself" will evaluate whether your life mattered?

Saturday, January 1, 2011


We begin a new feature on LIFE MATTERS as we begin a new year. It's called And Now You Know. We will feature stories, videos, photos about things that are part of the fabric of our culture that have deep Christian roots. Things that have come to matter to us whether we are Christian or not, but doors and windows into the heart of God for those of us who truly seek to know Him and be known by Him.

Today it's the story of that popular song Amazing Grace. This version includes some additions by Chris Tomlin ("My Chains are Gone.")