Thursday, September 30, 2010

Odds & Ends

  • We've had beautiful weather these past few days, with blue skies and temperatures in the 70s. As one of my church members remarked, "Some days, you're almost ready to forgive the Oregon Coast for what it put you through last winter."
  • Preaching this week on James 4:1-12 -- a passage that reminds me most church fights are not about music or evolution or the color of a new carpet; they're about power, i.e. who has it and who wants it.
  • Speaking of which -- I'm told Stalin loved to pick fights over arcane points of Communist philosophy that nobody really understood. If people agreed with him, then he knew they did so out of loyalty (and not personal conviction); if they disagreed, then he knew they were a potential rival (and should be eliminated).
  • Reading John Noble Wilford's The Riddle of the Dinosaur, it strikes me that one of the biggest problems we've had with this subject is just how quickly it developed. Radiometric dating wasn't common until the 1950s. Plate tectonics didn't catch on until the 1960s. Alvarez didn't come up with his theory for the extinction of dinosaurs until 1980. It's hard to know how you should react, in other words, when the environment is changing so fast.
  • Viz. this week's Sabbath School lesson: if I had to do it over again, I'd preach fewer sermons and tell more stories. As Philip Pullman points out, "Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever." So . . . ask the members of your class: "What stories in the Bible have been important to you -- and why?"
  • I'm slowly pulling together a resource-bank on ministry to senior citizens -- reason number one: there's going to be a lot of them. Reason number two: nobody else seems to be doing it. And reason number three: I'm not getting any younger myself. So far, one of my best sources for ideas has been this blog in The New York Times: "The New Old Age." 
  • Teaching high school Bible, I've learned you need to do something new every ten minutes or you've lost them. I wonder if that is true of preaching too?
  • And I'll close with Murphy's Sixth-Law of Combat Operations: "If it is stupid but it works, then it is not stupid."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Odds & Ends

  • It is raining, with the temperature in the mid-50s. Add ten degrees, and it would be summer. Subtract ten degrees, and it would be winter.
  • Preaching this week on Luke 2:41-52, i.e. the time his parents lost Jesus. I used to wonder how they could have done something that stupid . . . but lately, I've been discovering just how easy it is to lose track of God.
  • I love the way Paul ends Romans with a long list of his friends in Rome; it's a reminder that truth isn't truth unless it's connected with people.
  • When did "loyal" become a synonym in our church for "conservative" (as in, "he's a loyal member of the church")?
  • And I'll close with this quote from Thomas Schelling: "There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously." 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Odds & Ends

  • Oddly enough, the weather here on the Oregon Coast has been exactly the same as the weather currently being enjoyed by my youngest daughter in Poland, i.e. it is cool and gray, with lots of rain.
  • It's difficult for me to preach on James 3 without feeling like a total hypocrite -- and maybe that's a good thing?
  • Regarding this week's Sabbath School lesson: the biggest problem with Paul's advice in Romans 14-15 is that it can turn into emotional blackmail, i.e. "I'm easily offended, so you must give in to me." So . . . how do we help the "weak" among us to grow up?
  • Having lugged two big bags of books around Vancouver Island on my last vacation, I finally broke down and bought a Kindle.  My first download: H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. It was free -- and besides, it seemed appropriate.
  • If I'm not chairing a meeting, then I find it helpful to be the one who takes minutes. First reason: nobody else wants to do it. Second reason: it needs to be done. Third reason: it reminds me that I'm not in charge. And last reason: it provides an fairly unobtrusive way to coach a new chair through the process of running a meeting.
  •  And I'll close with this quote from George MacDonald: "God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Odds & Ends

  • Blue skies and warmer weather, just in time for this evening's "Pizza Picnic" at our school. (And yes, it's probably just a coincidence -- but I'm still grateful.)
  • I'm preaching this week on James 2. Reading the text, it struck me how closely "the rich" of his day resembled the organized crime bosses of today. Like them, "the rich" were wealthy, powerful, and violent -- this was a time, remember, when landowners used hit men to keep peasants in line. In short, it's no wonder believers fawned over "the rich" when they visited church; if John Gotti had shown up for a potluck, then we'd probably have done the same.
  • In last week's Sabbath School lesson on Romans 9, Paul stressed God's control -- so much so, that you might think he believed in double-predestination (i.e. God chooses who will be saved and lost). Now in Romans 10, Paul emphasizes our responsibility; far from being puppets, we can choose our destiny. And while it may seem strange that Paul believes in God's sovereignty and our free will, most of us do the same. Looking back, after all, we have a sense of being led; looking around, we realize that we have choices to make. 
  • Pacific Press says my Quickstart Guide to the Bible is now out of print -- but if the past is any guide, about 50-100 copies get bought every year for pastor's classes, college classes, and the like. Question: with this kind of market, is it worth self-publishing my book?
O it is a living, busy, active thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them.
Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

    Thursday, September 02, 2010

    Odds & Ends

    • Blue skies and a warm breeze, but just offshore is a bank of clouds that will surely come this way. And yes, that describes both the weather and my ministry just now.
    • Paul believes in free will -- but in Romans 9, he focuses on God's free will, and not our own. So how will your Sabbath School class find a way to reconcile God's ability to act with our ability to respond? When you pray for somebody to be converted, in other words, just what are you expecting God to do?
    • I was expecting Ruth Downie's Persona Non Grata to be a great detective story; it's the third in her series about Gaius Ruso -- a Roman army doctor c. AD 118. But who knew it would give such an accurate (and moving) picture of early Christianity?
    • My wife has been visiting her parents in Australia; meanwhile, the lunches around here have pretty much consisted of "stuff over rice." My favorite "stuff" so far: Cuban-style black beans with banana chips.
    • And I'll close with this quote from Karl Barth: "Faith is not only God's gift, but God's assignment."