Monday, July 25, 2005


Here are some of the questions that have come up about this blog:

Why are you doing this?
This may come as a surprise, but I have a lot of opinions, and I enjoy sharing them.

How long does it take to run your blog?
I spend roughly an hour on my day-off. (More than that, and I figure that it's turning into a substitute for reality.)

How much does it cost you to run a blog?
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. It's free.

Why would someone let you post a blog at no cost?
I don't know. I think it has something to do with Google's plans to take over the world, but I'm not sure.

You said something that was really stupid, and somebody needs to set the record straight before millions of innocent people are hopelessly misled.
Fine. Each "article" has a line at the bottom that tells you how many comments have been posted in response to it. If you'd like to read the posts, just click on that line. If you'd like to respond yourself, just click on the line, and add your comment to the list.

I tried to respond to one of your articles, but nothing happened.
Send me an e-mail. (I'm not going to post it here, but it's in the Conference directory. Go look.)

How can I start my own blog?
Click on the orange-and-white logo for Powered by Blogger, and it will walk you through the directions. All told, it should take you no more than 15-minutes to be up and running.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "The best way to predict the future is to make it happen yourself" -- Allen Kaye.

You CAN handle the truth

If Richard Nixon had told the truth, he’d still be President of the United States.

He’d be dead, but he’d still be President.

And that’s the point of this week’s lesson – that what you say you did can get you in more trouble than what you actually did.

Politicians know this. So do lawyers, used-car salesmen, and the people who used to run Enron. They all know how words can build trust – or break it.

More than that, they all know that our words show two things at one and the same time:

  • how much we trust other people.
  • how much we can be trusted.

Let’s say that I’m trying to sell you a car, for instance. It’s not a bad car – in fact, it belonged to my brother-in-law, who was meticulous in the way he took care of it. Then again, he did use it to tow a trailer . . . and that can be hard on a car.

So what do I do? Do I trust you with the information you need to make a good decision?

Or do I go with Jack Nicholson. Tell myself that “you can’t handle the truth.” And say that it was owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church?

The same is true of gossip, perjury, slander, and all the other ways that we get in trouble with the words that we use. Most of them boil down to the issue of trust – do they build it, or destroy it?

And that was the problem with Richard Nixon. For when all was said and done, Watergate really was nothing more than a third-rate burglary.

But when it came to what he said about Watergate . . . well, that is when people finally decided that Nixon might be smart. He might be hard-working. He might even have good ideas.

But there was just no way you would ever buy a used-car from that man.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but not as popular" -- anonymous.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Be an expert -- or just look like one!

HMS Richards used to say that every pastor should be an expert in something – even if it didn’t always seem very practical. We can all see why a pastor might want to know a lot about the Book of Romans, for instance . . . but Russian literature?!?

Then again, if you are an expert in baseball, then you can probably come up with all kinds of examples of the times this helped you in your ministry – in sermon illustrations, for instance, or the ability to relate to the spouse of a church member.

The same is true of almost any topic: the Book of Romans. Islam. NASCAR. The Trinity. Astronomy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yes, maybe even who’s who in the world of Russian literature. Just pick a subject, and see if it doesn’t turn into a window on the world for your ministry.

And the good news is that it’s not that hard to be a “good enough” expert in almost any field. A good rule-of-thumb is that anyone who reads ten books on a topic probably knew more than 90-percent of the people out there – and if you read for just ten-minutes a day, then you can read ten books in a year’s time.

So pick a topic. Give it ten-minutes a day. And see the difference it makes in just one year’s time!

Pastor Greg

And remember: “A conclusion is the place where you get tired of thinking” – Alexander Matz.


It’s the first wedding this particular pastor has performed, and he’s a little nervous. But so far, everything’s gone well. The vows have been made. The rings exchanged. And with the end in sight, the minister says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

And then he freezes. He knows he’s supposed to say something else, but he can’t think what it is.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife . . .”

Freezes again. The crowd begins to stir.

Finally, he blurts out the first thing that comes to mind: “I now pronounce you husband and wife – go, and sin no more!”

Okay, it’s not a true story – it’s not even a very funny story.

But it illustrates a point you’ll need to make in this week’s lesson, and that is the nature of desire.

People who aren’t married have pretty much the same desires as the people who are – yet the same behavior we discourage in single people is encouraged in those who are married.

So what’s changed? Why is sexual desire so wrong when you’re single, and so right when you’re married?

The answer, of course, is that sexual desire isn’t wrong; it’s just not enough.

It was Augustine who noted that sin is really nothing more than a lack of something good in our life. Just as cold is the absence of heat, for instance, so too cowardice is the absence of courage, greed is the absence of charity, and anger marks the absence of patience and love.

Then too, even our virtues can steer us wrong if we lack other virtues as well. A soldier in battle needs courage, to give one example – but he needs wisdom as well. For courage without wisdom is foolhardy, just as wisdom without courage gives us all the more reason to be cowards!

In short, our problem isn’t the things we want so much as it is the things we lack. For sexual desire is good (just as courage is good). But just like courage, it’s not enough by itself; just like courage, it works best when something more is added. Something like love. And commitment. And integrity.

And yes, sometimes even a sense of humor.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “God, my heart is too small. Make it bigger!” – Augustine of Hippo.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In the beginning was the Word

It was a dark and stormy night.


My family was staying on the first-floor of the girl’s dormitory at Maple View Academy. We were there for Minnesota Campmeeting – and that night, there was a tornado watch.

Now my wife is from New Zealand; she had no idea what to do in case of a tornado.

But both my parents are from Kansas, and I’d grown up hearing stories about tornados – and if you’ve ever heard tornado stories, then you know they come in two, basic forms:

  • the siren went off, and they’d just made it to safety when the tornado hit.
  • the siren went off, and they didn’t make it to safety before the tornado hit.

And the moral of both stories, of course, is that you’d better not waste time when there’s a tornado around!

“Just grab a kid and go,” I told my wife. “The hallway outside our room is the designated shelter for this building; once we’re there, we’ll take stock and decide what to do next.”

With that, we went to sleep.

The next thing I knew, I was standing in the hallway outside our dormitory room, holding our eldest daughter. My wife was coming out of the room behind me, holding our youngest daughter, and closing the door to our room. And as she did so -- even as I was waking up -- I realized:

  • As soon as my wife closed that door, it would lock itself – and neither one of us had a key.
  • The hall was rapidly filling up with people. (This was the shelter for the whole dormitory, remember.)
  • And neither my wife nor myself was wearing anything more than we’d worn to bed that night – and it was a warm night!

In short, I’ve heard about pastors who’ve dreamt they were standing in front of an audience, wearing nothing but their underwear – but so far as I know, I am the only pastor who’s actually done it!

Now why did this happen? What made me to do something that modesty (and common sense) would normally have prevented?

Simple: it was the stories – stories I’d grown up hearing. Stories I’d grown up believing. Stories that shaped my life in ways I never could have imagined.

That’s why this week’s lesson is so important – for this week, we’re going to talk about the thoughts that shape the lives of our students. Not just the occasional daydream or fantasy, but the stories. The plots. The themes that give structure and meaning to their lives.

There are people in your class, for instance, who are trying to be The Little Engine That Could. Others see themselves as Huckleberry Finn. Still others who’ve spent their whole lives trying to find a happy ending for Romeo and Juliet.

So take the time, this week, to listen for the stories. Ask questions:

  • What was your favorite story as a child – and how did it shape your life?
  • If your life was a TV show, which one would it be?
  • How is the story of your life tied in with the story of Jesus?

And no, this is not just some vapid excuse to “get in touch with your own feelings.”

For stories are powerful, remember. Stories make a difference. And the person who believes in the wrong kind of stories is apt to find themselves in all kinds of trouble.

Even at Campmeeting.

Even in Minnesota.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Values are rooted in narrative” – Harvey Cox.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

HIPPA hurray?

There’s a new joke going around the health-care industry. It goes like this:

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“HIPPA who?”

“I can’t tell you.”

That’s because HIPPA – the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 – makes it extremely difficult to share information about hospital patients. As a result, it can be tough for us to find out just what’s happening with a sick church member.

It wasn't always this way. When I began as a pastor:
  • the hospital would call to tell me I had a church member there.
  • church members who worked in the hospital would pass along anything they'd heard.
  • And Mrs. Schadenfreude (who was never sick herself, but loved to gossip) would be sure to call and fill me in on all the gory details!

No more! Thanks to HIPPA:

  • the hospital won’t tell me if a church member is there – not even if I call to ask!*
  • church members who work at the hospital can’t tell me anything.
  • And Mrs. Schadenfreude could be sued . . . even if she tried to disguise her gossip as a “prayer request” in church!

Now myself, I like HIPPA. I think people have a right to privacy – even if they’re sick. And I’ve found that I can still do my job as a pastor if I just:

  • remind church members over and over again to let me know if they (or someone in their family) is in the hospital.
  • ask the patient (or family) if I can share the news that this person is in the hospital – and if so, then who would they like me to tell and what would they like me to say?
  • Even if the patient (or family) gives me permission to spread the news, I should never say more than the simple fact that “such-and-such is in the hospital and is doing well” (or “is in serious condition,” or “is not expected to live.”) And yes, Mrs. Schadenfreude, this applies to “prayer requests” too!

But if people ask me “just exactly what’s wrong,” then I shrug my shoulders. I smile. And say, “Do I look like someone who would know the answer to that question?”

And remember: “When I pray, coincidences happen – but when I don’t, they don’t” – William Temple.

*By the way, you can still find out if a church member is in the hospital by calling and asking to speak with them. If the operator puts through your call, then you know they’re there . . . and there's nothing HIPPA can do about it!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

July 3-9: Who sets your priorities?

Following God is like owning a dog.

Unfortunately, most of us would rather have a hamster.

And that’s what this week’s lesson is all about.

Over the years, you see, my children have cared for just about every kind of pet you can imagine: parakeets, lovebirds, hedgehogs, tropical fish, cats, hamsters, and a beagle who answers to the name of “Rosie” (though I generally call her “Booger”).

Now there’s no question that the easiest pet to own is definitely a hamster. Just add some food. Check the water. Change the bedding. And that’s it; you’re ready to go for another week.

But owning a dog – especially a beagle -- changes everything! As my wife says, “It’s like having a three-year-old who can run faster than you!” And just like a three-year-old, that dog affects everything – everything from the time you get up in the morning to where you go on vacation.

In short, you can buy a hamster, and still live pretty much the same life as you did before. But buy a dog, and you get a whole new life to go with it . . . whether you like it or not!

Likewise, many people in your class have some kind of connection with God. They know He exists. They believe He made us. And they like having Him around – if only for the sake of the children – just so long as He doesn’t start messing around with the rest of their lives!

But the kind of God you’ll be talking about in this week’s lesson . . . the kind of God who is revealed in Exodus 19 . . . the kind of God with whom Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane?

This is not a God who demands more!

No, this is a God who demands everything!

Then again, my dog is exactly the same. And if I’m willing to change my life for the sake of a 25-pound carnivore that snores . . .

Well, I’ll let you finish that sentence in this week’s Sabbath School lesson.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "If you don't know what is absolutely essential , then you'll waste all of your time doing those things that are merely important" -- Henri Nouwen.

Monday, July 04, 2005

So what do we do now?

The bad news is that this quarter's lessons are topical . . . which is another way of saying that you'll have to deal with teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy pieces of Scripture that have been pasted together without any kind of context because they (supposedly) deal with a common topic.

The good news is that this quarter's topic is pretty good: spiritual growth, i.e. how to become the kind of person God wants you to be.

The bad news is that some of your class members have a pretty strange idea of just what kind of person God wants them to be -- and if you don't believe that, then ask them to describe what a "spiritual" person is like! Chances are, they'll tell you that a really spiritual person is:

  • an elderly female introvert
  • with no sense of humor
  • who wears really ugly clothes,
  • brings tofu to church potlucks,
  • and is none-too-bright.

And while I've nothing personally against people like that, I certainly wouldn't want to be someone like that.

The good news, of course, is that we can trust God's plans for us. "For I know the plans I have for you," He says in Jeremiah 29:11. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give [us] a hope and a future."

And learning how to make these plans come true over the course of our life -- that's what this quarter is all about.

Well . . . that's what this quarter can be all about -- but it's going to take some work.

Let's get started!

Pastor Greg

"From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, O Lord deliver us!" -- Teresa of Avila.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Strangers in a very strange land

It's hot. It's dusty. You're not eating right, sleeping right, or getting enough exercise -- and on top of it all, nobody has time to wash their hands.

Welcome to Campmeeting!

But with a little preparation, you can avoid a lot of the aches, pains, and bugs that plague many pastors during this week. All you need to do is pack:

1. Sunscreen (factor 30 or higher).
2. Chapstick (make sure it includes sunblock).
3. saline nasal spray (good for dealing with dust).
4. Visine (ditto).
5. cough drops (mega-ditto!)
6. water bottle (and wouldn't it be nice if the Conference gave away free bottles of cold drinking water to all pastors during the week?)
7. whistle (saves the voice when you're working in a children's division).
8. hand sanitizer (I carry a small bottle of Purell).

And if the pressure gets too much at the Oregon Campmeeting, just remember there's a Burgerville USA just ten minutes north on McLoughlin Boulevard -- and this is the week that they always sell Walla Walla Sweet Onion Rings!

Into the Wild Blue

Okay, so the paperwork is shuffling along nicely . . . but how do you make sure that you've not forgotten something important?

Myself, I've taken a tip from the Air Force, and divided my tasks between mission and base. Simply put, mission is the stuff that needs to happen; base is the stuff that makes it happen.

In the Air Force, the Mission Commander is in charge of everything that happens after a plane leaves the ground; he gets to worry about targets and tactics.

The Base Commander, on the other hand, gets to worry about housing, payroll, spare parts, and deciding whether the vending machines will stock Pepsi or Coke; he gets to worry about everything that happens before the plane leaves the ground.

Now when it comes to a church, the mission is clear:

  • Service -- programs that help the community (such as Community Services).
  • Nurture -- programs (such as Sabbath School) that help members grow spiritually.
  • Outreach -- Bible studies, public meetings, and other forms of evangelism.
  • Worship -- everything that happens in church on Sabbath morning.

Think SNOW, in other words, and you have the mission of your church. (And if your church runs an elementary school, then just think SNOWS.)

And when it comes to base -- the things you need in order to do the mission? That takes the 4Bs:

  • Bodies -- church officers you've recruited and trained.
  • Bucks -- as in money.
  • Buildings -- rented or owned, you need someplace to meet.
  • Bulletins -- and yes, this includes newsletters, webpages, blogs, and anything else you can use to get the word out.

So . . . which of the two is most important: mission or base?

Well, the mission comes first -- but it doesn't happen without a good base. That's why I take time every now and then to ask two questions:

  • how am I doing on mission? (Remember: think SNOWS.)
  • do I have the base I need for my mission? (And for that, of course, I need the 4Bs.)

And if I'm doing well in those two areas -- mission and base -- then I'm probably not forgotting anything too important.

This week's quote: "A good administrator knows how to deal with complexity. A good leader knows how to deal with change" -- William Willimon.