Sunday, July 26, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

About that Sabbath School lesson . . .

You know something?

It's hot. And I'm running late. And having spent the week writing articles for the campmeeting newsletter (which was fun -- but still, writing is writing) . . .

You're on your own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Campmeeting Update

I'm at Oregon Campmeeting -- and this year I have two jobs!
  • I'll be teaching a class on Wisdom Literature, i.e. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. (And no, I have no idea what I'm going to say about Job, aside from the fact that I don't understand it.)
  • And I'm writing articles for the daily newsletter. (Most interesting -- today, I interviewed children about the reasons why they like campmeeting; the two answers that came up most often were "friends" and "the programs." I also interviewed a 100-year-old woman who's been coming to the Oregon campmeeting since 1930. Asked what she enjoyed most, she responded [in so many words] with "friends" and "the programs.")

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Public evangelism "works"

Lately, I've been seeing a number of news articles about evangelistic meetings that start something like this:
They say that public evangelism doesn't work -- but in Bug Flats, Montana, a recent evangelistic series baptized 20 people!
Okay, I'm happy for the church in Bug Flats -- really I am. And I do believe that an evangelistic series can be an effective means of outreach to the community.

But when people say "public evangelism doesn't work," what they usually mean is that:
  • It's expensive.
  • It generally reaches people who already have some kind of connection with the church.
  • All by itself, it does a poor job of integrating new members into the church . . . .
And guess what?

None of these concerns are addressed!

So . . . if we really want to convince skeptics that "public evangelism works," what we need is more information in those articles -- information about cost, and audience, and follow-up. For instance:
They say that public evangelism doesn't work -- but in Bug Flats, Montana, a recent evangelistic series baptized 20 people, half of whom had no previous contact with the church.

Led by the local pastor, the four-week series cost only $25,000 -- roughly half the cost of a typical series. It was followed by a weekly study group, and a new Sabbath School class for new members and their families.
It's worth a try.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

This week's lesson: I John 1:1-5

"We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard," says John, "that you also may have fellowship with us" (I John 1:3, TNIV) . . .

Even if we don't always agree with each other.

In his first epistle, after all, John has a little something for everybody -- whether they like it or not.

Liberals, for instance, always love what John says about love.
  • "We should love each other," says I John 3:11.
  • "Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God," says I John 4:7.
  • "God is love," says I John 4:16 -- and for good measure adds that "perfect love drives out fear" (I John 4:18).
But before we all join hands and start singing Kumbaya, it's worth pointing out that John also loves to draw lines -- the kind of lines that make conservatives stand up and cheer.
  • "We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Those who say, 'I know him,' but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them" (I John 2:3f).
  • "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you" (I John 2:15).
  • "Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a person is the antichrist -- denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also" (I John 2:22f).
So how can John be so inclusive and so narrow at the same time? Why does the same man who said "everyone who loves has been born of God" also say that "if you love the world, [then] love for the father is not in you"?

The answer lies in the last part of I John 1:3. Having said that "we proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us," John goes on to say: "And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ."

In short, John loves anyone who loves God -- black or white, Anglo or Hispanic, liberal or conservative. "If they're a friend of Jesus," he says in effect, "then they're a friend of mine.

But he is realist enough to note that the only thing these believers have in common is their mutual love for God . . . and if that goes, then there's nothing left.

So yes -- John is liberal in his love for God's people.

But he's conservative in his belief that it's not who we are that holds us together.

It's who we know.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • Back in the days before air-conditioning, the Oregon Coast was a popular way to beat the summer heat; people came here precisely because it was cool in July. Like today, for instance -- 60-degrees and cloudy. (Oh well, at least it's stopped raining.)
  • Rosanne Leipzig did a nice Opinion piece in The New York Times on on the fact that most physicians are not trained to deal with the special needs of elderly patients. So . . . how much training did you get as a pastor about the special needs of elderly church members -- and to whom could you go in the Conference office if you had questions? (My answer: "none," and "no idea.")
  • I preached last Sabbath on Jeremiah 29 -- I'd planned on talking about praying for people who don't deserve it (viz. Jeremiah 29:7), but ended up talking about our need to "grow where we're planted." One more example of Scripture's continuing ability to surprise me.
  • It's the end of the fiscal year, and it looks as though there was good news and bad news viz. giving in my local church. Good news: over-all giving was about the same as we'd budgeted. Bad news: members put more money than we'd budgeted into Student Assistance -- and they did so by putting less into Combined Budget. Despite the recession, in other words, my members still have money to give -- but their perception of our church's needs has changed.
  • The Oregonian reports on a Lancet study that shows alcohol consumption doubled in Russia back in 90s -- and as a result, it was responsible for more than half the deaths of Russian adults between the ages of 15 to 54 (roughly 3 million deaths in all). Worldwide, alcohol is responsible for a little less than 4-percent of all deaths.
  • And I'll close with this quote from General Tony Zinni: "You cannot lead those you do not love."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

DIY: incidents file

Every now and then, I'm forced to deal with an alligator, i.e. something that could bite me later on. Examples include:
  • damage to church property,
  • personal injuries on church property,
  • the discipline of a church member,
  • and pretty much anything else in which somebody could ask me later, "What did you know and when did you know it?"
That's why I try to write down the details of each "alligator" just as soon as I can, then put it in my Incidents File. Any subsequent developments (i.e. follow-up visits, phone calls from the insurance company, or letters from the Conference President), are then added to the file.

Yes, this takes time -- though not as much as it would for me to try and remember three months later just exactly what happened. (It's also been interesting to discover how much my memory of an event can change over time.)

But if you're going to start an Incidents File, then you absolutely, positively, need to to make sure that you:
  • Keep it in a safe place -- preferably under lock and key. You don't want the janitor reading the details of your meeting with a church member who is suspected of theft.
  • Avoid indefinite pronouns; spell out the details of who, what, when, where, how, and why. Nothing's worse than trying to remember just exactly who "he" was that you called about "it." And always include the date and time when you wrote this report.
  • Write as though your notes will be evidence in court. They might be -- and for what it's worth, I'm told that juries take a dim view of sloppy handwriting, so write neatly!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

This week's lesson: Overview of the Epistles of John

In the Epistles of John we have something unique.
  • Not letters from Paul to a church he'd left behind (viz. Galatians or Colossians).
  • Not letters from an apostle to a community of churches (viz. James or the letters of Peter).
  • No, John's epistles are letters from a pastor to the church (or churches) in which he is currently serving.
Unfortunately, though the letters are unique, they deal with subjects that would be familiar to any pastor.
  • There is a group whose professed love for God is not matched by their love for other believers.
  • There is a group who is trying to "update" the gospel by ridding it of embarrassing beliefs (such as the incarnation).
  • And there's at least one believer who is trying to grab power for himself by spreading rumors about the pastor!
In short, John may have been an apostle -- but this didn't mean his church members were any better behaved than our own.

And as we study the way John dealt with the problems in his church . . .

Perhaps we can learn how to deal with the people in our own?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I'm back!

  • I'm back from a week of camping down by Eugene, Oregon -- no computer, no phone, beautiful weather, and lots of books. Bliss.
  • And given the fact that summer has finally arrived on the Oregon Coast, I will be spending more time outside -- and less time writing this blog. I plan to post an essay on Sundays, an "odds & ends" column on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays I'll do a brief commentary on the Sabbath School lesson. (And yes, I do take requests . . . so let me know if there's a topic you'd like me to write about.)
  • Not surprisingly, traffic was down this past week . . . except in Oregon, where I got twice the visitors I usually do from this state. What does this suggest?
  • And I'll close with this quote from Linton Brooks, former director of the National Nuclear Security Administration: "When problems occur, the one thing you can almost always be certain of is that your initial understanding is wrong."