Monthly Archives: August 2007

Interfaith Dialogue – WWE@Ridge

We’ve kicked off a new Wednesday night program at Ridge UMC and we’re very excited about it. One of our members who writes a column in the local paper every other week even gave us some love yesterday. Below is the text of Bob Birgel’s column.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if being a Christian, or passionate about any faith in today’s world, falls under an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I recall hearing a statement recently about God and religion, something to the effect that the majority of people love God, but aren’t too keen on people pronouncing themselves as His followers or in organized religion itself. Not too surprising when you think about it. How many wars have been fought in His name? How many people proclaiming to be men of God are found to have done unspeakable acts? And how many people have you encountered who try to force their beliefs on you?

I was reminded of this one a Saturday night a few weeks ago. My wife and I were flipping through the TV channels when the beaming face of Kirk Cameron appeared. I remember him as the wise-cracking yet loveable teenager Mike Seaver on the ’80s sitcom “Growing Pains.” Now in his 30s and a devout Christian, Kirk was walking the streets, asking people questions about themselves then explaining to them why they wouldn’t be allowed into heaven.

Sure it’s admirable that he’s trying to spread his faith the best way he can think of, but to be honest, I was pretty put off by his Christian commando tactics. Yes, I did steal that Silly Putty from the grocery store when I was 4 and I’m not above taking the larger bowl of ice cream when scooping out treats for my wife and myself. Does this make me a bad person? Kirk would call me a gluttonous thief and say I won’t be getting into heaven.

Bearing these things in mind, I’m touting Ridge United Methodist Church in Munster and its upcoming program called “Wonderful Wednesday Evenings” beginning tonight at 8607 Columbia Ave. Associate Pastor Jeff Clinger summed up the ambitious program as “an opportunity for us to come together as a congregation and as a community to enjoy food, fellowship and religious study for all ages.” This program solves many of the hurdles of trying to gather people together in today’s hectic world. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with dinner catered by P.J.’s Catering at a cost of $5 per person or $20 per family. Afterward, programs will be offered for ages 4 and older with childcare available for children 3 and younger. Youth activities will include craft time, music time, stories, games, videos and discussion time. The adult classes offer different study opportunities including a three-part series beginning next week titled “Being a Good Neighbor.” At this unique series, leaders of different faiths including Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, will speak on relationships with people of different faiths. I know next to nothing about these faiths, so I’m looking forward to learning more about them.

Friends easily recommend movies, books and music that have made an impact on them, but rarely speak out on things of a deeper nature like religion. I think this program at Ridge just might be a great opportunity for those looking for more substance in their lives. I even think Kirk Cameron might agree with me.

Bob also forwarded me a response he received to his column yesterday morning. I decided to share it in it’s entirety.

You have misunderstood.
Kirk Cameron and ray comfort do NOT tell people they are not going to heaven.
all they are doing is asking people what they know of the bible, GOD, and JESUS.
no one can tell someone whether or not they are going to heaven, because that is between every person and GOD. alone.
and i will happily and firmly tell you that i follow JESUS CHRIST with all my heart, soul and mind.
and on all those tiny things you said you did, Kirk would not tell you that you were a glutton.
you, like the rest of this lost country are simply that.
you don’t want to hear the truth that JESUS said he is the way, the truth and the life and that no man comes to GOD except through HIM.
why a person would even want to hear anything about Islam or Hinduism is beyond me.
Islam is all about violence and Hinduism is about thousands of made up gods who for the fact of being made up cannot help you.
If you know the truth which is who JESUS is, why would you want to learn about lies?
Christianity is not a religion. Religion is humans trying to work their way to GOD.
Christianity is GOD coming to men and women through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
and one more thing, from 2 timothy 4:3, for the tome will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.
instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths, but don’t feel bad, I haven’t singled you out. Joel osteen, Joyce meyer, any of those supposed ministries that supposedly help you by telling you if you follow GOD you will be prosperous. they’re all liars. and on Joyce? i know there are a lot of followers of her here, i used to listen to her too. know what stopped me? i heard her say one day, GOD wants you to drive a nice car.
the only person who is worth even putting in your brain, on any form of airwaves, be it TV or radio, is dr. erwin lutzer. 90.1, 900 am every day. and he never asks for money either,
so remember … the only way to GOD is through JESUS CHRIST alone.
period. that’s not a force of belief, just a statement of the only truth there is. so by that you either accept or reject eternal life.

The response that Bob received to his column strengthens my conviction that we need to learn about and be in relationship with the religious “other.” So, for the next four Sundays you can come out to Ridge Church for our “Being a Good Neighbor” Series as we talk about Christians in relationship with Jews, Hindus and Muslims. We worship at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00. You are also invited to come out and join us on Wednesday evenings for conversation with leaders from each of these faith traditions. Dinner is at 6:00 – the conversation will begin at 6:30.



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The Barbmom Blogs

From time to time now I’ve shared thoughts on some blogs that I’ve really been enjoying reading. I want to share one with you today that’s been really fun for me to read over the last couple of months. Barb’s God Thing is a blog written by Barb Clinger, Associate Pastor of Lawrence First UMC, barbmom to my sister and I.

Barbmom blogs about a variety of topics dealing with faith and culture. She writes from the perspective of a Boomer who understands that oftentimes “church sucks,” yet she writes with a great deal of hope about what communities of faith have the potential to be.

Check it out when you get a chance.

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Being a Good Neighbor

This week as we Begin the new school year season at Ridge UMC, Steve and I are starting a new sermon series called “Being a Good Neighbor.” I’m very excited about this series!

About a year ago now there was a murder at Aladdin Pita, a restaurant in Northwest Indiana. The owner of the restaurant, a Muslim man and the neighbor of one of the families in our church, was killed early one morning as a part of what seemed to be a botched robbery. This member of our church, the deceased’s neighbor, came to me and said something to the effect of, “I’m not sure what to do. If they were Christians I’d take them a casserole and offer my condolences, but I don’t want to offend them. I’m not sure what Muslims can and can’t eat, and the men are in the front yard in a tent and the women and children are inside and I don’t want to approach someone that I shouldn’t or offend them somehow. I just want to be a good neighbor.”

And so from that conversation Steve and I began to talk about the idea for this sermon series. It will be in five parts:

8/26 – What Does it Mean to be a Neighbor? – Steve
9/2 – Being a Good Neighbor to Jews – Steve
9/9 – Being a Good Neighbor to Hindus – Jeff
9/16 – Being a Good Neighbor to Muslims – Jeff
9/23 – Why I am a Christian – Steve

Over the last month now I have had the privilege of holding and videotaping interviews with Rabbi Mike Stevens from Temple Beth El in Munster, a Swamiji from the Chinmaya Mission in Chicago, and Imam Mongy El-Quesny from the Islamic Center of Northwest Indiana. It was a blessing to sit and dialog with each of these men and I look forward to having guests from each of these three communities join us for our adult study group on Wednesday 9/5, 9/12, and 9/19 to discuss how we can all be good neighbors to and with and for one another.


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Kansas Sunflowers

It must be something about my Kansas blood, but I am convinced that there is no more attractive flower than a big, full-bloom sunflower. Hopping on the Lawrence Journal World’s website tonight it was fun to see this picture of Ted Grinter – a farmer outstanding in his field… (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Ted’s dad Jim hired me for my first ever job, I believe in the summer of 1995. I will forever have fond memories of the graciousness and patience with which Ted and Jim both treated me that summer.

In addition to the photo the Journal World ran a nice article about the Grinter’s Sunflower farm that you can read here. If you click the “Sunflower Panorama” link you can also see a beautiful shot of Ted’s field.

One of our neighbors not far from our little townhouse in Highland, IN has some sunflowers in her garden that I enjoy looking at as I bike and jog by in the mornings. These flowers are for me small simple reminders of roots, of home, of growth, and of the importance of basking in the light God provides.

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As Heather and I have continued to become runners we keep learning/discovering more about the importance of things like pacing. This week we’re running 2.3 miles a day and yesterday when we took off on our run we were going quite a bit faster than usual (about 55 seconds each tenth of a mile). After about 1.2 miles we were both hurting and had to stop running, walk a tenth of a mile, and catch our breath. We finished our 2.3 miles yesterday in 22:53.

This morning we took off on our run knowing that we wanted to be more intentional about our pacing and succeeded. We were pretty much right on our usual pace (about 60 seconds each tenth of a mile) and when I finished the run and looked at my watch it said 22:53.

Yesterday I took off too fast, wore out, and had to take a break to recover. Today I took off with a good pace, felt good through the run, and finished strong.

Being in a hurry yesterday didn’t get me to my goal any quicker, and it made for a less enjoyable journey. Pacing myself today made for a much more enjoyable journey and allowed me to feel better and stronger in the end.

I hope to remember this lesson in life.

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Above and Beyond

Heather and I ran to Costco yesterday afternoon to pick up paper products for an event here at the church in a couple of weeks. When we arrived we were told that their debit card system was down and that until it came back up we could only pay with cash or by check. We decided to go ahead and shop knowing that if their debit system wasn’t back up when it came time to check out we might have to go find an ATM to get cash.

Sure enough, when we approached a register we saw signs that still explained the debit card machines to be down. We approached an employee and asked if there was somewhere that we could stick our cart while we ran down the street to an ATM to get some cash. A supervisor overheard our question and stepped in, offering to see if she could swipe our card to see if it might work – debit cards from some banks were going through while others were not.

Our card did not go through, but she offered that we try an ATM in the store. When I inquired about the fees (I hate paying those!) she said she’d refund us the 75 cent fee that the ATM would charge as well as the $2 that our bank would charge. I walked over to the ATM, got cash, came back and paid, and was handed the $2.75 in cash that I was going to be charged by the ATM. I was blown away!

Michelle S., the Front End Supervisor who helped us yesterday set the standard high for customer service in my book. I am so often underwhelmed by customer service experiences and rarely complain to management or corporate offices. This morning I called Costco Corporate in Seattle to report the great experience that I had and I’m currently trying to track down the store manager to pass along my appreciation for Michelle.

All of this has gotten me thinking this morning – how do we meet or fail to meet the expectations that people have of the church when it comes to greeting/accomadating/serving? Are we more often like the majority of customer service interactions that I’ve had that leave me unimpressed with little desire to return? Or are we more like Michelle who left an impression and has me excited to return?

My fear is that more often than not churches don’t do much to impress. My hope is that at Ridge Church we might continue finding ways to connect, to impress, and to inspire through our interactions.

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Ridge Youth ’07-’08

As the summer quickly comes to an end and the new school year is soon upon us, I am starting to get really excited about all of the great things that are coming up for youth at Ridge Church during this next school year.

Last week I began finalizing some things for our Open Gym ministry and I’m getting really excited about this after school ministry. All 6th – 8th graders are invited over to Ridge UMC from 2:40 – 5:00 each Wednesday for a great time of fun and games. Last year we averaged 70 youth each week and we look forward to this year being another great success!

Saturday I met all day with my new group of Youth Leadership Interns. These interns are youth in the 8th – 12th grade who have made some pretty impressive commitments to be involved with leading youth group this coming year. We did some fun team building activities, talked about lots of great ideas for the coming school year and had a blast. Their energy is awesome and it’s going to be a huge blessing for me to be working with them this year!

Now this morning I’ve been at Panera working on calendaring and planning more things for this coming year. I’ve just worked on some of the preliminary details for Middle School Mission Week 2008 and our Senior High Mission Trip 2008. Both seem a long ways away, but I know they’ll be here before I can believe it!

If you’re a 6th – 12th grader in Northwest Indiana you should definitely plan to come out for Ridge Fest ’07 on Sunday August 26th from 4-7pm. There will be food, games, a moon walk, a dunk tank (with yours truly in it), ice cream, live music, and more! This will serve as our unofficial kick off to youth group. On Sunday, September 9th we will have our official start of fall programming when we gather for our Parents Night Pot-luck at 6:00pm. You’ll want to plan to be there for that as well!

And, as always, we’re looking for adults who are excited about being a part of these great ministries. Drop me an email ( if you’re a youth or an adult who would like to know more about these great opportunities!


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