Monday, February 26, 2018



Almost eight years ago I published a story on one of my other blogs about a lady who I was privileged to be her pastor for 14 years.  As I have been reflecting on the state of our nation lately and what ordinary people can do to return reason and grace to the discussion, my mind went back to this lady and I am reposting to share her story with you. - Steve

Emma Kreger was a school teacher.  Emma taught school in the days of one-room schoolhouses, a phenomenon in Indiana where we lived that survived well into the 20th century.  Her classroom was young people from first through eighth grade.  Emma was so dedicated to her profession that she did not marry until well into her fifties, inheriting a family of adult children who absolutely adored her.

When I met Emma she was a widow, well into her 90s. She was the oldest member of the church that I was serving.  A gentle, unassuming, sincere and slightly ornery little gal.  Still dressed with the dignity and the audacity of a life-long teacher.

One Christmas I was visiting her in her little two room apartment at St. Anne’s Home.  By that time she had been a resident for several years, not really venturing into the outside world-but riding her little motorized scooter to meals and bingo. As I attempted to make conversation, I commented on her collection of Christmas cards, noting a particularly colorful one.

“Oh, that’s from Lyle.  He’s an inmate at Pendleton,” was her response.

I was completely taken aback. Pendleton was one of the maximum state prisons in Indiana at the time, a lot of hard core criminals residing within its walls. The look of shock on my face must of been obvious.  “Emma, how do you know someone in Pendleton.”

“Oh,” she answered matter-of-factly, “he killed a friend of mine.”

Emma proceeded to tell me about Tammy, a troubled young lady who had rented the upstairs apartment in Emma’s home  many years ago.  “I learned quickly that Tammy had a drug problem.  Instead of throwing her out, I tried to help her.”

As I caught my breath in awe, she continued. “Tammy finally gave her heart to Jesus Christ and gave up her drugs.  The first thing she did was to go and turn in her pusher. His name was Lyle.”
“But you know how it goes.  He got out on bail right away. He was furious. He came right over to the apartment and shot Tammy dead right there. The police arrived quickly and arrested him and soon he was sentenced to life in prison in Pendleton.”

It was an incredible story, but then Emma said something amazingly grace-filled.  “Pastor, that man was crazy ! He had to be crazy to come so boldly and kill her, knowing he would be caught and convicted.”
I nodded my head in agreement and she concluded, “I decided a crazy man needed Jesus.“  Emma proceeded to tell me how she had been writing to Lyle for several years and praying for him. And then one day, through the work of Prison Fellowship, Lyle became a Christian.  Now he was being allowed to go to high schools to tell kids what would happen to them when they got caught in drugs.

What a life change. All because of a grace-filled, insistent little school teacher, who decided that craziness should not separate someone from the love of God.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


This blog's theme is "The "Joys?" of being a pastor. Warning, this can be rightly construed as critical of the church members in some congregations.-STEVE

Friday, February 23, 2018


“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” - Billy Graham

Early last Wednesday we received word that one of the most significant and influential Christians of the last 100 years, Dr. Billy Graham, had gone home to be with the Lord.  He was the face and the voice of evangelical Christianity.  Not the highly politicized, culturally conservative Christian so often misrepresented by the media as evangelical today; but the simple biblical Christian; intelligent and informed, compassionate,respectful, and focused on one main thing--introducing people to the person of Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord.

We miss him already.  We also celebrate that he is now receiving the only accolade to which he ever aspired--the "well done good and faithful servant" from the lips of his Lord.

My first encounter with Dr. Graham was as a young teenager attending a crusade in Columbus OH--listening to his very simple message (his message was always very simple and straightforward) and the invitation "Come now to Jesus and give him your heart,:

Later as a young adult, attending an Urbana Conference on World Missions as a reporter for my denominational magazine, I sat in on a press conference, a room of men and women who met with him for more than an hour asking probing questions and receiving straightforward and respectful answers even to the more impertinent questioners.  The clarity and dignity I saw that day spoke volumes to me about dealing with others as a leader.

As a middle aged pastor, I was blessed to attend one of his Schools of Evangelism in Lake Louise Alberta Canada.  I went on a scholarship from his association, my only real expense was $55 Canadian per night and meals at a five-star hotel.  He was not there personally--but the speakers assembled gave some of the most helpful and culturally relevant teaching I had ever received on the topic of evangelism, locking down my own passion to help make disciples for Jesus Christ.

His simple wisdom can be found in several quotes now circulating social media:

 "I will be a friend to men of both parties, but I would never say that I was, even indicated that I was, for one or the other. I am for God. I don't think there's any hope for the world except in God."

 "We are a society poised on the brink of self-destruction. But what is the real cause? What is the problem? The problem is within ourselves."

 "The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us."

 "We are the Bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding."
  "I have never known anyone to accept Christ's redemption and later regret it."
"When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost."
 "Tears shed for self are tears of weakness, but tears shed for others are a sign of strength."
"Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ."
 "Someone asked me recently if I didn't think God was unfair, allowing me to have Parkinson's and other medical problems when I have tried to serve him faithfully. I replied that I did not see it that way at all. Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to him in trust and confidence."
"Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless."

"The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.’
"The most prominent place in hell is reserved for those who are neutral on the great issues of life."
 "Courage is contagious. When a courageous man takes a stand. the spines of others are stiffened."
"Suppose you gained everything in the whole world, and lost your soul.  Was it worth it?" 
Do you have a favorite Billy Graham quote? 

Monday, February 19, 2018



   Valentine’s Day saw another horrific event in our nation.  Seventeen people were killed in a high school in Florida by a gunman with an alarmingly troubled past.  After that the debate over gun control was once again pushed to the forefront, the cries for better mental health were amped up, and predictably the recriminations and accusations over responsibility began to flow.  All the responses were predictable (including some of mine).  Unfortunately, more and more people are throwing up their hands, saying that there is nothing we can do.

     Dear Church, throwing up our hands is not an option.  If we do so, the spiral of violence will continue and the collateral damage inflicted on innocent human beings will multiply.  Someone posted this week on Facebook that expecting Washington to do something is lunacy. Actually, I pray Washington WILL do something, but I suspect given the division in this nation and its extremes, what Washington will do will not begin to be enough.

    More and more I am convicted that only Jesus is the answer. Not the politicized or trivialized Jesus that too many embrace; but the real Jesus.  The Jesus that transforms peoples’ hearts and minds.  The Jesus that challenges the church to stop its inward focus where it is only concerned with maintenance of its traditions and satisfying its own members consumeristic desires.  The Jesus that bids us to look to our own hearts and see where the culture of violence has infected us, the followers of the Prince of Peace.  To honestly and courageously be willing to change the things in our lives that contribute to this culture.

      The Jesus who commands, “Go!” being salt and light and making disciples.  The Jesus who calls us to welcome the least, the last, and the lost into our midst where they can find the love of Christ that can heal hearts and minds.

     I truly wish we would stop being so automatically demanding of our rights that we are not prepared to do the right thing as God reveals it to us.

     For God calls us to DO SOMETHING.  And it starts with prayer for the wisdom to know what that something is.