Thursday, December 31, 2009

This week's lesson: Fruits of the Spirit

Every church is an experiment.

Most Christians agree that we should love God, after all -- and what's more, we'd agree that we should love His people too.

So far, so good.

But when it comes to the how of this love (not to mention the who, what, when, where, and why) . . . well, there's all kinds of ideas out there.

As a result, even the small town where I live has several dozen churches, fellowships, centers, and communities-of-faith -- all of which believe they've found the best way to produce the kind of love we all want.
  • Some are structured, and some are not.
  • Some are traditional, and some are not. 
  • Some draw their authority from the Bible, while others take their cue from last Sunday's editorial in The New York Times.
No, you name it and there's a church that's done it -- and as a result, it's easy enough to check out the results of just about any idea or practice that might come along.

Want to know what happens, for instance, when you treat the pastor as the Final Authority on Everything? Or when your statement-of-beliefs consists of little more than "Follow your bliss"? Or when you think it would be unkind, unloving, and positively unChristian to do background checks on the people who work with children?

No, you don't need to guess the answer to any of these questions -- not when there's a church nearby that's been there, done that, and has plenty of leftover T-shirts to give away.

In short, churches are like gardens -- and while they may disagree on everything else, they all see the need for a crop.

And if you check out their "fruits" . . .

Then you just might figure out a better way to grow them yourself!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Visit to Portland

I grew up in Portland, Oregon -- but every time I come back for a visit, I feel more and more like a stranger.
  • And when I discovered the Fred Meyer's store at Hawthorne now has a sushi bar, I suddenly felt very, very old.
But then Portland got a half-inch of snow, and the drivers here responded in their time-honored way of going absolutely bananas on the freeway, and I realized that nothing important had changed, after all.

Yes, you can go home again . . .

Just so long as you don't drive faster than five miles-an-hour.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • We had awesome weather for Christmas -- blue skies, no breeze, temperatures in the mid-30s -- but now we're back to the usual murk.
  • Reading Deuteronomy, I'm increasingly puzzled by herem, i.e. the command to utterly and completely destroy Israel's enemies. The standard explanation is that "God had to meet the people where they were" -- yet the herem made no sense to them either! (NB how many times Moses, Joshua, or Samuel had to deal with someone who'd disobeyed by not destroying their enemies.) So what's going on here . . . and more to the point, how do you preach these passages?
  • The Network Advertising Initiative lets you opt-out of the data-mining that's being done on you and your use of the Web -- and even if you like the idea of somebody keeping track so they can figure out how to sell you more stuff, it's still a good idea to check out this site.
  • I know we're supposed to fuss about the commercialization of Christmas -- but if you turn off the TV and stay out of the malls, then it's really not all that bad.
  •  theCheckoutLine offers advice for the terminally ill, as well as those who are living with them. I don't like its non-judgmental stance viz. physician-assisted suicide -- mainly because I think it's wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong -- but most of the other counsel it offers is pretty good.
  • And I'll close with this quote for the New Year: "You can't turn back the clock -- but you can rewind it."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This week's lesson: Numbers 35-36
  • Talk Radio -- 1405 B.C.
  • Okay, I'm taking calls about this new government program called "cities of refuge." Coddling criminals, or unfunded mandate -- you tell me.
    Yeah, I'm wondering what this is going to do to the whole idea of "closure?" I mean, somebody dies, the go'el tracks down the killer, and that's the end of it. But with this new system, the family needs to wait until there's been a trial . . .
    Good point -- what about the rights of the victim's family? Next caller, you're on the air:
    I live in one of those so-called "cities of refuge," and the thought of all this "riff-raff" hanging around for who knows how long does not make me a happy-camper.
    Not going to be good for your property values, I can tell you that. Next caller:
    Yes, you're on the air.
    I think you need to put this in some kind of perspective. Just because somebody's dead doesn't mean that somebody else needs to die. What if it was an accident?
    Oh, yeah -- right . . . like no killer ever says "it was an accident." 
     Yes, but sometimes it is an accident.
    The real question here is who you trust to make these kind of decisions: the people who were there, or a bunch of strangers on some government "death panel" who don't know any of these people. Next caller:
    I think we need to look at the real agenda here. We're talking about a government program that's a direct attack on traditional family values.
    You're talking about an attack on the role of the go'el.
    Exactly -- and once you start putting limits on who he can kill, that's just the beginning.
    We're looking at the government getting involved in something that has always been a private family matter.
    I'm saying we're just opening the door to government control of the family.
    Faceless bureaucrats deciding who lives -- and who dies. Hello, you're on the air:
    You know what really gripes me about these "death panels" is the guy behind it.
    You're talking about Moses.
     Yeah, and you know what he did when he was younger.
    You're talking about the reason he left Egypt in the first place.
     Right -- and didn't he always say that was an accident?
    Good point, good point -- though I don't think we ever saw the death certificate on that one.  Okay, we'll be right back after this break. Coming up next: The Year of Jubilee -- socialist plot, or just another unrealistic government intrusion into the rights of property owners?

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    Buy this book!
  • (Better yet, buy me this book!)

  • This just in: Connie Willis (whose To Say Nothing of the Dog is not only the greatest science-fiction novel ever written, but also a profound meditation on the nature of Providence) has an interview in Publisher's Weekly about her new novel, Blackout.

    Stocking Stuffers

    • Yes, I'm on Facebook. Yes, I'd be happy to be your friend. No, I don't want to help you build a dungeon in Merlin's Castle.
    • The Great Recession is causing some changes here in the Oregon Conference: they're talking about a 5% cut in pay for pastors and teachers, and maybe even no campmeeting . . . but no, I'm not seeing anything that looks like The End of Life as We Know It, or even The Beginning of Something New. Question: what kind of changes are you seeing in your Conference because of the economy -- and what kind of changes would you like to see?. 
    at day light morning we we[re] awoke by the discharge of the fire arm of all our party & a Selute, Shoute and a Song which the whole party joined in under our windows, after which they retired to their rooms were Chearfull all the morning -- after breakfast we divided our Tobacco which amounted to 12 carrots one half of which we gave to the men of the party who used tobacco, and to those who doe not use it we make a present of a handkerchief. The Indians leave us in the evening all the party Snugly fixed in their huts.
    • I received a present of Capt. L. a fleece hosrie Shirt Draws and Socks,
    • a pr. mockersons of Whitehouse,
    • a Small Indian basket of Gutherich,
    • two dozen white weazils tails of the Indian woman [Sacagawea],
    • and some black root of the Indians before their departure . . .
    And that is my Christmas wish for you -- that you may find time that day for "a Selute, [a] Shoute and a Song," and that you might end it "all Snugly fixed in [your] huts."

    Merry Christmas!

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Odds & Ends

    • Looking back through my journal, I'm noticing that a typical day in April was 50-degrees and cloudy . . . a typical day in October was 50-degrees and cloudy . . .  and today it's 50-degrees and cloudy.
    • Just a reminder to everyone out there whose blog is trying to reinvent, re-imagine, or possibly even reincarnate Adventist faith and practice: just because you're trying to be profound doesn't mean you should use the kind of obfuscating bafflegab they encourage in graduate school. I won't believe what you say, after all, if I can't understand what you say. 
    • In the past, I've avoided Facebook, believing it to be one of the tools that will be used to round up humans when the aliens land in their giant turquoise saucers . . . but now the Oregon Conference tells me it will using Facebook to disseminate news of calls and such. So I'm wondering what I should know before I set up my own page. What should I be sure to do -- and what should I be sure I avoid?
    • So you're working on a religious liberty sermon, and you're looking for news updates on all the bad things that are happening to Christians? Try BosNewsLife.
    • Speaking of which . . . I'm beginning to believe that pastors who feel they need to speak out on political issues should be required to take the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Civic Literacy Quiz. (The average American, for what it' worth, answered half the questions wrong.)
    • And I'll close with this quote from Wendell Berry: "To have given up illusory hope is not to be hopeless."

      Thursday, December 17, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 2-27

      In these chapters, Moses is doing what it takes to make his dreams come true. In fact, you can picture him with a clip-board, checking off the last few items that need to be done before his people will be able to enter the Promised Land.
      • Final report from the Census Bureau, complete with a survey of draft-age men? Check.
      • Preliminary report of the ad hoc Commission on the Distribution of Land? Check.
      • Public comments received and incorporated into the revised report of the ad hoc Commission on the Distribution of Land? Check.
      Yes, all the tedious paperwork that makes administration so boring is complete; all the wearisome planning that makes it so necessary has been done.

      Now just one task remains: finding somebody else to make it all happen.

      All the while Moses was doing these things, remember, he did so knowing that somebody else would lead God's people into the Promised Land -- not him. No, he would die before this particular job was done . . .

      Yet Moses kept on working. Kept on planning. Kept on following God -- and all this, even though Moses knew he would never live long enough to see his own, personal dreams come true.

      Yes, even though he knew that he would never taste their fruit, Moses kept on planting trees.

      Does this mean he was a failure?

      No, it just means his dreams were too big for one lifetime.

      How about yours?

      Tuesday, December 15, 2009

      Preaching Christmas

      Okay, so you've already been in your district for more than two years . . . and that means you've already preached Christmas sermons on Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1-20.

      What are you going to do this year?

      Six suggestions:
      • Isaiah 53 -- the humility of Christmas.
      • Daniel 7 -- the power of Christmas.
      • Matthew 1:1-17 -- the women in Christ's life
      • John 1:1-18 -- Christmas makes sense of the other 364 days of the year
      • Philippians 2:5-11 -- Christ's gift to us
      • Revelation 12 -- the danger of the manger

      Sunday, December 13, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Gray skies and damp -- but at least the temperature's moved above freezing. (This past week was cold!)
      • One of my newer church members startled me this Sabbath when he remarked how much he loves the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly. Given the amount of grumbling I do about some of our church's programs (such as the Quarterly), it's worth remembering that some people are still blessed by them.
      • And I'll close with a quote from Samuel Johnson, who died on this date in 1784. Having suffered the stroke that would eventually kill him, he wrote to a friend: "I will be conquered [by death]; I will not capitulate."

      Thursday, December 10, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 25, 31

      Let's set aside the questions raised by holy war, ethnic cleansing, and even the reported presence of 675,000 sheep in a smallish patch of semi-arid land . . .

      Yes, set them aside for now, and ask yourself about the kind of people who thought the story in these chapters really needed to be told -- the kind of people who enjoyed hearing how the Israelites wiped out the people of Moab.

      Were they blood-thirsty primitives?

      Perhaps -- though I'm not sure an era which includes the Holocaust, the GULAG, and the firebombing of Dresden has much right to be throwing stones at others.

      In fact, most of the people who've cherished this story were not victors but victims -- smallholders and shopkeepers who whispered it to their families as they waited for yet another knock on the door at night.

      And there were always knocks on the door . . . from the Egyptians. From the Assyrians. From the Babylonians, and Persians, and Greeks, and Romans -- all of whom continually demanded that God's people hand over their money, their land, and their children.

      Sometimes, the threat was annihilation.

      And sometimes, it was assimilation.

      For every young man killed by the goyim, after all, there were a hundred who took one look at the bright lights of the big city and decided that fitting in was better than fighting back. And if fame and fortune meant leaving God behind . . .

      Well, Zimri ben-Salu wasn't the last man who tried to make good by marrying some shiksa.

      In short, the story of the Moabites in Numbers 25 and 31 is a "bookend" to the story of Pharaoh in Exodus 1; both tell how Israel was put at risk by the loss of its sons to foreigners.
      • In Exodus, the threat is annihilation, while in Numbers it is assimilation.
      • In Exodus, the threat comes from a man, while in Numbers it comes from women.
      • In Exodus, the saviors are women, while in Numbers it is a man.
      And while we'd much rather think of God's people as victims rather than victors, the fact is that both stories are stories of survival.

      To be sure, the story here in Numbers does raise all kinds of questions . . .

      But at least we're here to ask them.

      Tuesday, December 08, 2009

      Dealing with Depression

      It's that time of year when everybody runs an article on depression in the ministry -- so why should I be any different? Here's a quick list of what's helped me:
      • Prescription medicines: The good news is they worked for me. The bad news is that it took about two weeks for them to kick in -- and even at that, I was lucky. About a third of the time, after all, the meds they give you don't work, and you need to try something else. (And by the way -- talk with your doctor before you quit your meds. Coming off Effexor gave me a week's worth of panic attacks.)
      • Exercise: It took three years on Effexor before I felt like trying this -- but it's kept me going ever since. Trust me: regular exercise is the single best way I've found to prevent and treat depression.
      So what's the toughest part about dealing with depression?

      Admitting you need help -- once you've done that, things do get easier . . . in time.

      Sunday, December 06, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • We've had clear but cold weather all week here on the Oregon Coast (and by "cold," I mean "frost in the morning with a daytime high of 40-degrees"). No wonder the dog doesn't want to go outside!
      • Putting books on the Web raises troubling ethical issues . . . but not so many that I don't use the Google Books version of The Jewish Study Bible when I'm preparing sermons and Sabbath School lessons. It gives me a perspective I don't usually get -- one that is scholarly, liberal, and (surprise!) Jewish.
      • I don't get facebook -- and the more I look at it, read about it, and talk with the people who use it, the less I understand its attraction. What am I missing here? (And does this mean I've joined the ranks of the terminally fogey?)
      • Average hours spent watching TV by 14- to 25-year-olds: 10.5 hours per week. By 62- to 75-year-olds: 21.5 hours per week. (Source: YouthWorker Journal).
      • And I'll close with this quote from John Calvin: "The chief part of the service of God consists in this, that the faithful should openly show that they acknowledge God to be the author of all good things."

      Thursday, December 03, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 22-24

      Who knew Moses could do comedy?

      The story of Balaam, after all, is a burlesque -- a slapstick comedy about an utterly humorless "swell" who runs afoul of a fast-talking hustler. (Think of Margaret Dumont and Groucho Marx in Duck Soup, and you have the picture.)

      And yes, the plot is pretty much what you'd expect: king hires prophet to curse God's people; prophet learns you cannot curse what God has blessed. Cue the closing music, and discuss.

      What makes this story a joy and a thing of beauty, however, is its humor.
      • Think of the king's messengers, wearily trudging back and forth while Balaam tries to find some way he can go with them.
      • Then you have the donkey -- and to paraphrase an old saying, "It's bad enough you're talking to animals; it's even worse they're talking to you. But what's utterly unforgivable is that you should lose the argument!"
      • Finally, you have that long, Monty Python-like sketch . . . one in which an increasingly frantic king takes Balaam shopping for just the right place to curse the Israelites.
      And all through this, notice, God stays off-stage -- letting others get the laughs while He feeds them their lines.

      No, the only reason we don't see the humor in this story is that we're not used to the Bible being funny.

      But if someone tries to curse the people whom God has blessed . . .

      Then what else can you do but laugh?

      Tuesday, December 01, 2009

      How to raise perfect children

      Many people have asked how I managed to raise two wonderful, intelligent, kind, and hard-working children . . . and while I've often detected a note of incredulity in their question, I've decided it is time to pass along my tips on how to raise perfect children.

      And did I mention my children are also talented?

      Step One
      Marry the perfect spouse. This will make your task much easier.

      Step Two
      Have children who make good choices. Again, this will make your task much easier.

      Step Three
      I've also found that Starbucks Gift Cards are helpful -- don't know why, but they are.

      And did I mention that my children also have a sense of humor?

      Sunday, November 29, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Blue skies, and temperatures in the mid-40s -- perfect weather for students driving back to college after Thanksgiving break.
      • Anybody know if the church has taken a stand on medical marijuana -- and lacking that, does anybody have any thoughts about the ethics of church members using it? I'm guessing pastors in Canada and California deal with this more than most . . . but it's popping up here in Oregon too.
      • Somewhere along the way, David Hamstra's apocalupto has become the blog-of-record for what's happening at our seminary in Michigan. Now if I could just get him to post more often . . .
      • And I'll close with this quote from Charles de Foucauld: "We absolutely owe it to our Lord never to be afraid of anything."

      Thursday, November 26, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 20-21

      Strange but true: there was a time God saved His people with a metal snake.

      You remember the story -- it's found in Numbers 21.
      • God's people are in the wilderness.
      • When they complain, God punishes them with poisonous snakes.
      • When they confess their sin, God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who is bitten may look at it and live.
      As I said, it's an odd little story -- but it's no odder than some of the other ways that God has saved His people. No, God has used sermons and summer camps, tracts and TV preachers, evangelistic series and academy Bible classes . . . and sometimes, He even finds a way to use on-line commentaries about this week's Sabbath School lesson!

      In short, God can make a blessing out of just about anything.

      Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it will always stay a blessing.

      Take that metal snake, for instance. In II Kings 18:1-4, we read that:
      In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. . . . He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. [Emphasis supplied]
      The very object that had once saved God's people, notice, now had to be destroyed because it had become an idol.

      Likewise, just because something was a blessing in the past doesn't guarantee it is a blessing today. And just because God used something in the past doesn't mean we should be using it today. No, there comes a time when even the most powerful channels of God's grace must be set aside, lest they become a snare and a delusion.

      When it comes to people, after all, we don't believe in "once saved, always saved."

      That's true of everything else as well.

      Tuesday, November 24, 2009

      Give a goat for Christmas!

      This year, I've asked my church members to buy me a goat for Christmas -- and not just any goat.

      No, I want a real, live, go-to-school goat from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

      That's because one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty is to make sure girls go to school. But in the west African country of Niger, only 37-percent of girls are enrolled in primary school; the rest are kept home to work on family farms.

      So ADRA came up with the idea of giving families in Niger a goat if (and only if) they send their girls to school.

      It's a great plan -- but one goat (plus training the family to take care of it) costs $65.

      That's where my church comes in. This December, I've asked members to write a check to our church, drop it in an offering envelope, mark it "Pastor's Goat Fund," and drop it in the offering. At the end of the month, we'll take the money that came in and write a check to ADRA.

      And no, you don't need to write a check to my church to help. You can get in touch with ADRA directly -- or better yet, why not ask your church to do something similar?

      Sunday, November 22, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Last night's windstorm has given way to calm and sunshine. (There's a sermon illustration in there somewhere, but I can't think what it is.)
      • In its lessons on the Book of Numbers, the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly has pointed out that grumbling against Moses and Aaron was A Very Bad Thing -- and with this has come the obvious corollary that we should treat church leaders with respect. But in this week's lesson, Moses and Aaron are both held accountable for their mistakes. What kind of contemporary application does this suggest . . . and what are the chances the Quarterly will make it?
      • If I were the dean of an SDA School of Theology, I'd steal an idea from Gordon-Conwell Seminary and start offering classes, lectures, and chapels through iTunes U; I'd also borrow its idea of continuing eduction classes for people who are already in the ministry, but don't feel like pursuing another degree. I'm just saying.
      "The First Law of Demographics is: You cannot count on people to change. You can, however, count on them to die.

      "That means that members of one generation should not try to predict the future based on their experience. As they die off, they will be replaced by a generation with different life experiences that have produced different attitudes. Not necessarily better, but certainly different. And in this fashion, questions that obsessed one generation sometimes never really get answered; they just end up sounding more and more archaic."

      Thursday, November 19, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 18-19

      What do I want to be when I grow up?

      Strangely enough, that's one question the son of a priest or Levite never needed to ask himself. No, he knew what he was going to be: he was going to be a priest or Levite, just like his father!

      And this seems strange to us -- strange because we're used to the idea that anybody can grow up to be anything they want to be. The idea that genetics determined destiny -- that only people with the proper breeding could could serve in the Lord's temple . . .

      Well, it just seems un-American!

      Yet the fact remains that choice plays a limited role in our choice of jobs. My career as a professional basketball player, for instance, has been cruelly cut short by the fact that I'm only five-foot nine-inches in height. (Then too, the fact that I'm near-sighted and clumsy probably hasn't helped.)

      Likewise, our decisions have all been shaped by chance, genetics, the desires of our parents, and a host of other factors we don't know about -- much less understand. And once we hit your 50s, our ability to re-invent ourselves and our careers can seem just as limited as that of any Levite.

      In short, many of us face the same choice as those would-be priests and Levites: the choice of what to do when a choice has already been made for us.
      • Do we make the best of it?
      • Or do we grumble and complain about what might have been?
      Just like those priests and Levites, you see, most of us already know what we're going to be when we grow up.

      The question is, what are we going to do about it?

      Tuesday, November 17, 2009

      Whither Tuesday?

      Okay, I'm looking for advice: what should I do with Tuesday's column on this blog?

      Sunday is simple -- just slap together a list of the items and observations I've been collecting all week, and I'm done.

      And Thursday is pretty straightforward -- all I need to do is carefully and lovingly handcraft an essay about the Sabbath School lesson for that week, and Bob's your uncle.

      But Tuesday . . . Tuesday was meant to be a surprise. It could be a how-to, a product review, a short essay, or pretty much anything.

      Unfortunately, there are plenty of other blogs out there that are narrowly focused on just one topic . . . and as a result, they're doing a much better job of covering that topic than I could in an an occasional column on Tuesday.

      And that is probably the reason why my Tuesday column gets fewer readers than anything else I do.

      So . . . I'm looking for advice. Should I:

      a) drop Tuesday's column?
      b) keep writing Tuesday's column?
      c) keep writing Tuesday's column, but make it a regular column about _____? (And if you choose this option, I'd appreciate it if you filled in the blank.)
      d) Forget the blog, and start doing something on Facebook.


      Saturday, November 14, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • I'm back in Lincoln City. The thunderstorms have moved on. And I'll be spending most of Sunday at a local swim meet as the announcer. (It's a legacy of my eldest daughter's time on the swim team.)
      • One of the neatest Bible-study sites I've found is Biblos. Not only does it make it easier for me to check out a text in the original language, but I love the maps!
      • Why is it that some of the most innovative pastors I know -- the ones who pride themselves on being at the "cutting-edge of ministry -- are also some of the angriest pastors I know? Is it anger that drives their desire for change . . . does the anger result from the way people react to the changes they've made . . . or am I just imagining the whole thing?
      • And I'll close with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "You can never do a kindness too soon, because you never know when it will be too late."

      Saturday, November 07, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • We've had lots and lots of thunderstorms these past few days, and a tornado touched down last night in the north end of town and damaged 30 homes. (No injuries though.)
      • I've started sending my sermons to myself as a Gmail attachment -- that way, I've a copy out there in "the cloud" in case the hard drive on my computer crashes. (But you're doing this already, right?)
      • I'm making a list of books I should read in 2010 -- any ideas out there?
      • Ever notice how popular military metaphors can be in the ministry? We talk of campaigns, crusades, prayer-warriors, front-lines -- and even "life in the trenches." How would our concept of ministry change if we used metaphors drawn from gardening or cooking?
      • I'll be at Walla Walla University this week for the Andrews University intensive on I & II Peter . . . so if you don't here from me, it's because I wasn't able to find a place with free wi-fi.
      • And I'll close with this quote from Peter Drucker: "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."

      Thursday, November 05, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 15

      How do you turn around a losing team?

      By the time we come to Numbers 15, after all, the Israelites have dropped the ball at least ten different times -- and as a result of their latest debacle, they've been condemned to wander the desert another 40-years before they'll be allowed to enter the Promised Land.

      So if you're record is 0-10, then what do you do? Three things:
      • Make sure everyone is on the same page. If your people don't share the same goals, then they'll spend more time fighting each other than working together.
      • Crack down on offenders. Even misdemeanors are like broken windows -- if you don't deal with them, they send the message that nobody cares.
      • Dress for success. Sharp uniforms are no substitute for good leadership -- but they're one of the quickest, easiest ways to improve morale.
      Granted, none of these things will turn around your group overnight -- no sooner does he implement them, as a matter of fact, then Moses faces the greatest challenge ever to his leadership . . .

      But Moses has 40-years to build a winning team.

      And given the way things have been going, that's just how long it will take for him to get things right.

      Tuesday, November 03, 2009

      Oregon Adventist News: 3 November 2019

      • Just a reminder: associate-churches need to sign contracts for pastoral services with Oregon Adventist Ministries, 3ABN-Partners, or the WWU School of Theology by 1730 Monday, 2 December 2019.
      • Don't forget this weekend's seminar on "Reaching Out to Grandchildren" at the Beaverton SDA Church will also be carried live at its branch campuses: Beaverton-Southwest, Hillsboro, Milwaukie, and Troutdale.
      • Good news! Local planners have signed-off on construction of the new swim center at the Gladstone Adventist Convention Center. Not only will this provide even more recreational opportunities for Portland Adventist Academy at its new location, but it will help us expand the programs offered by Big Lake Day Camp. (And yes, the pool will be closed to the public on Sabbath.)
      • Pastors: please check "job openings" carefully before you bid on any vacancies listed. (We don't want to repeat last month's unfortunate incident in Medford.)
      • The live webinar on "Praise Bands: Time to Move On?" has been rescheduled to 0900 Sunday, 8 December 2019.
      • This quarter's House Church Jamboree will be Sabbath, 4 January 2010 at the Gladstone Adventist Convention Center, the Eugene Civic Center, and the Grants Pass SDA Church. Pastor Tunde Umar's topic: "Romans -- Predestined to Freedom." (Check the Conference wiki to see who's bringing what for the potluck.)
      • Monday is the deadline to sign-up for January's Spanish-language intensive at the Milo Retreat Center. This seminar will fulfill second-language requirements for Senior-pastor and Administrator certification.
      • Found: a black raincoat left behind at last week's "Women in Ministry Retreat" -- call the Conference AI for details.

      Sunday, November 01, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Blue skies on the Oregon Coast -- just in time for pastors' meetings! (But bring a jacket; right now it's 46-degrees out there!)
      • My prediction: ministry to senior citizens will be in the 21st-century what ministry to youth was in the 20th. (But without the lock-ins.) That's why I'm bookmarking articles such as "Helping Grandpa Get His Tech On."
      • I've been having fun preaching through the Book of Exodus -- but now I've come to Exodus 20, and I'm looking for ideas. Do I preach one sermon on the law, two sermons on the two parts of the law, ten sermons on the ten commandments . . . or so I give it a break and preach on something else? Any ideas out there?
      • And I'll close with this quote from Woody Allen: "History repeats itself. It has to. Nobody listens the first time around."

      Thursday, October 29, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 11-14

      And things were going so well.

      The Israelites had spent almost a year near Mt. Sinai -- but now their time there was coming to and end. The tabernacle had been built. A census taken. And now the order had been given to move on.

      But in less than two months, it all fell apart.
      • First, there was grumbling among the riff-raff -- grumbling bad enough that Moses threatened to quit.
      • Then Aaron and Miriam began a whispering campaign against Moses -- a campaign so serious that God had to reprimand the two of them in public.
      • And when the Israelites' chosen leaders came back from scouting out the Promised Land, ten of the twelve said they'd all be better off if they just went back to Egypt!
      So what happened?

      Change happened.

      Leaving Sinai was a welcome move, after all, but it was a move -- a move that required the Israelites to set aside old habits and learn new ones. With their normal routines disrupted, it's no wonder that some of these people became irritable. Fearful. And desperate for something familiar . . .

      Even if it was Egypt.

      In short, change is not always welcome -- even if it's necessary. No, it usually brings with it a host of complaints (not to mention whispering campaigns). And all too often, it ends with a overwhelming majority voting to forget the whole thing and go back to the way it used to be.

      Not that this will ever happen to you.

      But it happened to Moses.

      And eventually, things reached a point where all Moses could do was hunker down and wait 40-years for a new generation to come along.

      No, things had been going well.

      But that didn't mean the people were willing to move on.

      Tuesday, October 27, 2009

      The foolishness of preaching

      You never know just how your ministry will touch somebody's life.

      I was talking with the woman who cuts my hair, for instance, and we were reminiscing about someone we both knew -- a long-time member of my church, now dead.

      "She always loved your sermons," the woman told me.

      "She did?"

      "Yes. She said she always looked forward to the times you preached."

      "And why was that?"

      "She told me that, anytime you preached, she'd be home in time to watch basketball on TV!"

      No, we never know just how our ministry will touch another person's life . . .

      And perhaps it's just as well.

      Sunday, October 25, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • A beautiful Sabbath -- sunny and warm -- but now we're back in the usual murk. (Sigh.)
      • The people who run our local Adventist Community Service Center tell me they're not giving out Thanksgiving food boxes this year -- given the state of our local economy, they'd rather put money into all the other kinds of assistance they offer. Question: how has the recession affected your church's Community Service program?
      • I've been working on the textual notes for a couple of books in the Review & Herald's new study Bible . . . which is not the same as the study Bible they put out featuring comments by Ellen White . . . which should not be confused with the study Bible that's being prepared by the good folk at the Seminary. (Sigh.)
      • And I'll close with this quote from Steve Martin's Born Standing Up: "I learned a lesson: it was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstance."

      Thursday, October 22, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 9-10

      Manuscript Fragment, apparently meant as a footnote to Numbers 9:8

      But even as Moses sought the guidance of the LORD, the elders did assemble and form the Interim Committee on Ritual Observances. And as was always the case, a grievous discussion did arise between those who did call themselves "The Party of Memory," and those who did call themselves "The Party of Hope."

      "For if we should make an exception for those who are unclean to observe the Passover," said those in the Party of Memory, "then respect for the Law would cease, our family values would collapse, and our identity as a people would be in danger."

      "And what would be the harm of that?" said those in the Party of Hope. "For the command that all should observe the Passover is obviously more important than all those other rules you continually cite. Indeed, this command speaks to our need for an inclusive community -- a community which . . ."

      "Yes, yes -- we've heard all that before," interrupted a member of the other party (whose rudeness was only partially excused by the fact that he had, indeed, heard all this before). "But you're forgetting that our community is defined by its relationship to the Law.

      "No, our community is defined by the way we treat each other!"

      "But the Law tells us how to treat each other!"

      "And there we have proof that people are more important than the Law!"

      "No, you're just saying that people are more important than some laws -- and you reserve the right to pick and choose which ones!"

      And so the discussion did continue in it's accustomed manner . . . until one who often came late to these meetings (and usually left early) did rise up and ask, "Isn't there some kind of compromise we could reach -- something that would include these people but still preserve our respect for the Law?"

      And they were all silent as they did all look at each other . . . until finally, with one accord, they did shrug and say, "Nah -- that would take a miracle!"

      Tuesday, October 20, 2009

      The day after we ordain women

      I'm going out on a limb here and assuming the day will come when we ordain women.

      And I'm also going to assume the experience of other denominations will hold true for our own, i.e. this decision will be followed by a surge of women into the ministry.

      That's why I'd suggest we begin thinking now about the following topics, just so we're ready for them:

      How do we decide who pastors where?
      The experience in other denominations has been that women get hired to be associate pastors or to pastor small-church districts . . . but they don't get considered for the "top" jobs in big churches, not least because they're not part of the "old boys network." So how can we be more open and transparent in our hiring and placement?

      How can we protect pastors from abuse?
      Emotional abuse is common enough in the ministry -- but some women pastors in other denominations have suffered far worse from their members and church leaders. And yes, I'm sure this has already happened in our own denomination as well . . . which is all the more reason to come up with some clear policies on how we deal with this.

      How can we promote family-friendly policies for the ministry?
      What of the pastor (male or female) with small children who wants to work part-time -- or even take off a couple of years -- until they're old enough to attend school? What of the pastor (male or female) whose spouse's job makes it difficult to move frequently? Finally, what of the pastor (male or female) who needs time-off to take care of elderly parents?

      Okay, that's my list -- any answers?

      Sunday, October 18, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • We have two seasons on the Oregon Coast: cool and damp, or cooler and damper. This week's storms began the second season with a vengeance.
      • Speaking of education: total enrollment of for Oregon Conference schools (grades 1-12) in the 2005-06 school year: 3,124. In 2008-09: 2,686.
      • Have I mentioned that I will be attending the seminar on I & II Peter at Walla Walla University, November 8-12? Anybody else going to be there?
      • And I'll close with this quote from Patricia Cornwell: "Too many people think they are sensitive to the feels of others, when, in fact, they are merely sensitive to their own feelings about others."

      Thursday, October 15, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 7-8

      Okay, so I'm reading the seventh-chapter of Numbers -- and I'm thinking, "wedding gifts."

      I mean, it's all there: the new home, the presentation of gifts for the new home, the meticulous list of who gave what for that home: thus-and-so many platters, thus-and-so many bowls, thus-and-so many crock-pots, cheese trays, and pickle forks . . .

      And yes, they gave duplicate gifts too!

      Granted, the written record of who gave what is not all that exciting . . . but anyone who thinks it's not important has not been paying attention to the advice columns in their local newspaper -- advice columns that invariably carry a letter from "Angry in Atlanta" who's upset because she gave her niece a case of motor-oil for a wedding present, and even though it's been six months she still hasn't received a thank-you note!

      No, gifts are important. Saying thank-you is important. Keeping track of who gave what is important -- even if it was nothing more than a plastic butter dish from your second-cousin in Oklahoma, or a young goat from one of those obscure tribes whose name you never could remember. (Gad? Naphtali? Something like that.)

      So the next time you're in church . . . and you're wincing through special music from someone whose light really should have been hidden under a bushel-basket . . . then just remember:

      This is a gift.

      It's gift for God -- not you.

      And no gift is so poor that God won't accept it, remember it, and thank the person who gave it . . .

      Just as He did in Numbers 7.

      Tuesday, October 13, 2009

      DIY: Communion Kit

      Shut-ins and hospital patients often request communion -- but the communion kits you can buy are expensive, easily broken, and hard to clean. (This last point is especially important if you're like me, and tend to forget your communion kit and leave it in the car for several weeks at a time.)

      That's why I made my own. It's not elegant, but my church members don't seem to mind -- if anything, it makes them feel as though we're having a picnic. (And in a way, I suppose we are).

      So . . . starting from the upper-left corner, here's what's in it:

      A. Gideon Bible with the passages marked I'll be using. (Generally, this will be Psalm 23 and I Corinthians 11:23-26.)

      B. Yup, it's Tupperware.

      C. Plastic bottles are difficult to clean; that's why I carry the grape juice in a glass bottle. (And yes, you're right -- this one used to hold Listerine.)

      D. Plastic communion cups. (The plastic sleeve in which they're stored is the only thing that remains of the fancy communion kit my church once purchased for me).

      E. Communion bread goes in the Altoids tin. (Okay, so it looks a little tacky -- but if I drop it, it won't pop open and scatter communion bread across the floor.)

      F. A cloth napkin makes a nice tablecloth for a bedside table in a hospital or nursing home; it's also useful for mopping up spills.

      G. Hand-sanitizer -- after all, I am handling food.

      Not shown: olive oil for anointing. I've found it's best to keep this in a small, shampoo bottle (like the ones you get free in motels); anything with a larger mouth will tend to give you more than you wanted at the time.

      Sunday, October 11, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Beautiful weather -- blue skies, cool nights, and the leaves are just beginning to turn color as you drive the Van Duzer corridor.
      • I'll be doing one of the worships for the Oregon Conference Pastors' Retreat -- anybody have any ideas on what I should say?
      • 4% of delegates to the Oregon Conference Constituency Session were under the age of 30; and 18% were over the age of 70. Hmmm . . .
      • Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating: why we eat more than we think is a fun read about a serious subject. Wansink ran a laboratory at Cornell University that did things like feed people chocolate yogurt in the dark -- and tell them it was strawberry! (Many reported it was the best strawberry yogurt they'd ever tasted.) He also gives three good reason why so many men hate tofu . . . and along the way, he explains why it's so easy to gain weight, and what we can do about it. Given today's epidemic of obesity, this is a must-read. (And it's also a great source of anecdotes for sermons.)
      • Traffic was down last week, mainly because this site didn't get it's usual "bump" in readership on Friday. And yes, most of my readers came from the usual places: Oregon, Colorado, New York, and California in the USA, plus Finland and the United Kingdom. (But I did pick up readers this week in Uganda and Kenya!)
      • And I'll close with this quote from Robert Anderson: "In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find (and continue to find) grounds for marriage."

      Thursday, October 08, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 5-6

      Okay, so Numbers 5-6 tells us how to:
      • deal with various and sundry menaces to public health,
      • make peace for wrongs done,
      • judge a case of "he said/she said,"
      • provide a way for somebody to do something something special with their life,
      • and bless God's people in the proper manner.
      And if you just added a School Board meeting and the purchase of a new copier, this would sound pretty much like my "to do" list for today.

      Ministry is not just Thinking Great Thoughts, after all; neither is it just Doing Great Things. And even though Moses got to talk with God on a face-to-face basis, it would seem that they didn't spend all of their time discussing Life, the Universe, and Everything.

      No, sometimes they talked about lepers.

      And messy divorces.

      And what to do if a Nazirite trips over a corpse.

      And I'm sure there were times Moses walked away from these conversations, shaking his head and saying to himself, "God called me to do this?"

      Well, yes.

      Anytime you lead people, after all, you get to deal with a host of subjects -- from the ridiculous to the sublime, and back to the ridiculous again. One minute, you're trying the determine the date of the Exodus; the next, you're sorting out whose child is old enough to move from Kindergarten to Primary. (And if you think that first task is sublime while the other is ridiculous, then I can think of at least two parents who would disagree with you!)

      To be sure, there's are times when we do get to Think Great Thoughts and Do Great Things -- times when our ministry has all the beauty of the blessing in Numbers 6:22-26.

      But there's more to our job than just those verses. No, in order to reach that blessing . . .

      We need to get through the other stuff first.

      Tuesday, October 06, 2009

      Church discipline: the when

      Last week's post on how to handle cases of church discipline got me thinking about when you need to do this. Here's my take on the subject:

      There are really only three reasons to discipline a church member:
      1. You need to keep this person from hurting people. Pedophiles are an obvious example; so too would a church member who uses their contacts with other members to run a Ponzi scheme.
      2. You need to make sure this person knows what they've done is wrong. I once had a convicted rapist say what he'd done "couldn't be that bad," since he was still a member of our church. This gave us a chance to provide him with a "learning experience."
      3. You need to protect the reputation of your church. In 30-years of ministry, I've never needed to do this . . . but if a church member was guilty of something like genocide, then it would be nice to find a way to let the public know that we don't approve of this.
      You have six options for disciplining a church member:
      1. You can ignore it. You're not a private detective, after all -- and in some cases, you have nothing but rumor to go on. So leave it be, and see what develops (if anything).
      2. You can ask them to step down from church office. If you have a cantankerous Pathfinder leader, for instance, this may be your best option.
      3. You can ask them to drop their church membership. They know they've done wrong, and they know they're not about to change . . . and sometimes, they just want to move on.
      4. The church may vote to censure them. This removes them from church office, freezes any membership transfers, and gives them a limited time to make whatever changes are needed. At the end of that time-period, you revisit the case and decide where to go from there. (But no, you can't keep censuring them indefinitely.)
      5. The church may vote to drop their membership. Churches hate, hate, HATE to do this -- and the pain of doing so will linger for years. But sometimes, what can you do?
      6. You can tell them not to attend church. If you have a convicted pedophile who will not agree to whatever conditions you've set for that person to attend church, then you will need to tell that person they're not welcome to worship with you. And no, this isn't fun -- but I've done it, because the alternative was worse.
      One last piece of advice: If you're going to vote on dropping a member, then decide in advance what kind of majority is needed to do so. In our church, for instance, we've decided . . . okay, it was my decision, but nobody has challenged me on this. Anyway, it's been decided that we don't vote to to accept a new member or drop someone's membership unless there's a three-to-one vote in favor.

      Sunday, October 04, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • We had a sudden gust of wind and hail on Sabbath morning . . . but then everything cleared off and we had perfect weather for Saturday night's Barn Party.
      • Maybe it's just me, but the layout of the Oregon Conference's new questionnaire does seem just a mite confusing. When asked my gender, for instance, I was surprised to find my options were apparently "traditional" and "contemporary." Turns out, I was reading the answers to the question about my church's style of worship.
      • Traffic was down 5% this week -- and 44% of the hits I did get were from Portland, Oregon! Outside this state, the three top places-of-origin (POA) for North America visitors were Washington, British Columbia, and Colorado; the three top POAs for the rest of the world were Finland, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

      Thursday, October 01, 2009

      This week's lesson: Numbers 1-4

      The Book of Numbers opens with a God's-eye view of His people -- and as you'd expect, the picture's one of a place for everyone and everyone in their place . . .

      Just like Genesis 1.

      Now on the ground, I suspect things looked a little different. No, anytime you put that many people in one place, you're going to get traffic jams, lost children, and a large delegation from the Tribe of Dan who don't understand why they can't move their tents to the south side of camp (where the dust won't aggravate their allergies) . . .

      Just like Campmeeting.

      Despite our best efforts, in other words, people are messy. Their lives are messy. And our best efforts to organize them on a rational basis will never be 100% successful (no matter how many PowerPoint presentations we give).

      Just ask Moses.

      Yet somehow and despite it all, God sees through the mess and the fuss and the chaos of everyday living . . . and God sees a people "fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners."

      Just as He does in Revelation 7.

      Tuesday, September 29, 2009

      Church discipline: the how

      My experience has been that a major case of church discipline comes up about once every 300 member-years. (You calculate "member-years" by multiplying the number of active members times years.)

      A church with a hundred active members, in other words, generally deals with a major case of church discipline (i.e. adultery, fraud, child abuse) every three years or so, while a church with 30 active members generally deals with something like this about once a decade.

      Okay, maybe my figures are off . . . but here's what I've learned from the situations I've been through:
      • Make sure the church secretary knows what to say over the phone before church members start calling to find out what's happening.
      • Call your elders personally and let them know what's happening before you meet as a group.
      • Decide at the Elders Meeting whether or not to take a "time out" at the Business Meeting so that you can discuss this without the person who's up for discipline being there.
      • Let church members know in advance what will be discussed at the Business Meeting without going into too details, i.e. "We will be discussing what to do about a problem that's come up with one of our members."
      • If the person involved asks to have their membership dropped, you must comply with their request -- and you should vote this without any discussion.
      • As always, keep a log of all phone calls and discussions -- and make sure your Conference officers know what's going on!

      Sunday, September 27, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Blue skies but cool, with daytime temperatures in the mid-50s; it's definitely autumn here on the Oregon Coast.
      • I don't know whether to be charmed or alarmed by this fact -- but here in the contiguous states of the USA, you are never more than 145-miles from a McDonald's. (h/t to Brainiac)
      • Am I being paranoid, or has the New King James Version become the unofficial authorized Bible of conservative Adventism? And if so, then why?
      • BioEd Online reports that conformity kills civilizations -- when conditions change, they have nowhere to go for new ideas. Be nice to the oddballs in your church, in other words; you may need them some day.
      • The New York Times says a lack of sleep may increase your chance of catching a cold -- and Reuters reports it may increase your odds of getting Alzheimer's. So when your church members complain that your sermons are boring, tell them the extra sleep they're getting is good for their health.
      • Traffic was up last week from all over. Most of my foreign visitors were from Finland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Hungary; most of my domestic visitors were from Oregon, Washington, Texas, Michigan, and Colorado.
      • And I'll close with this quote from Poul Anderson: "I have yet to see any problems, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated."

      Thursday, September 24, 2009

      This week's lesson: III John

      Diotrephes, you know.

      Every church has one (not to mention every workplace, every softball team, and almost every third-grade classroom). Bossy and opinionated, he's a back-stabbing control-freak who loves to cause trouble for anyone who gets in his way.

      And no, you don't need to figure out just exactly what it was that angered the Diotrephes mentioned in III John. It could have been the kind of proto-gnostic heresy mentioned in I & II John . . . or it could have been something else entirely.

      When you're dealing with a Diotrephes, after all, there's always something.

      Or as one of my seminary professors put it, "Some of our church members are crazy!"

      And some are.

      But not all of them.

      No, the Diotrepheses of this world we shall always have with us . . . but so too there will always be people like Gaius and Demetrius -- people who walk in God's truth and welcome God's people. To be sure, we don't always notice them the way we do a Diotrephes; they don't demand our attention in the same way as a Diotrephes.

      But their friendship is as constant as their support -- and for that we should be glad.

      So don't spend all your time worrying about the Diotrephes in your life -- and don't let him always be setting the church's agenda, either.

      No, Diotrephes you know.

      But when was the last time you noticed Gaius and Demetrius?

      Tuesday, September 22, 2009

      A simple, four-part exercise for pastors and other people in the helping professions

      Step One: Carefully examine your hands, paying special attention to the palm-area.

      Step Two: See any scars? Any nail-prints? Any signs of crucifixion?

      Step Three: No?

      Step Four: Then guess what? You are not the savior of the world.

      Repeat as needed.

      Monday, September 21, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • This is my favorite time of the year on the Oregon Coast -- blue skies, temperatures in the 70s, and no tourists.
      • Three statistics from the Oregon Conference Constituency Session stick in my mind: 70% of the delegates there were over the age of 50 . . . 50% don't have access to an Adventist TV station (i.e. 3ABN, Hope Channel, or Better Living) . . . but only 10% don't have access to the Internet. Myself, I'm thinking there's room here for some "new media" pioneers. (And yes, I know that 3ABN etc. are all available on the Web -- but it's not the same thing.)
      • Traffic was up a bit last week, mainly due to a lot of visitors from Portland, Oregon. And judging by the number of visitors from Washington, that state must be back on-line again.
      • And I'll close with this Yiddish proverb: "It is good to hope; it's the waiting that spoils it."

      Sunday, September 20, 2009

      Technical difficulties

      Spent the day fruitlessly trying to hack into the WiFi system at Portland Adventist Academy -- I was there for the Oregon Conference Constituency Session (and no, I was not elected to anything). Right now, I'm writing an article about it for the NPUC Gleaner . . . but I hope to resume regular posting on the blog tomorrow.

      Try to be brave.

      Thursday, September 17, 2009

      This week's lesson: II John

      You never know who you're going to find in an Adventist church.

      In my church, for instance, you'll find young and old, Republicans and Democrats, high-school dropouts and one, genuine rocket-scientist . . .

      Not to mention church members who quote Bishop Spong, and others who pass out copies of Jan Marcussen's National Sunday Law.

      In short, Sabbath mornings here in Lincoln City tend to bring together people who don't have much in common -- people who don't share the same politics, income, race, education, taste in music . . . or even the same views on Harry Potter!

      No, just about the only thing we have in common is the fact that we all see ourselves as "Adventists" -- but so far, that's been enough to keep us together.

      Sometimes, to be sure, it's been just barely enough . . .

      But if we're clear on the things that unite us, then we're usually willing to let our differences slide.

      That's why one of the best ways to ensure diversity in a church is to focus on the things we share -- to to focus on those things, in other words, where we don't allow diversity.

      Otherwise, we'll end up with a church where everybody votes for the same candidates, listens to the same music, and earns just about the same amount of money . . .

      And all because we have nothing else in common -- nothing else to draw in people who are different.

      No, you never know who you're going to find in an Adventist church.

      That's because we're all Adventists.

      Tuesday, September 15, 2009

      If I'd known then what I know now . . .

      "We are too soon old and too late smart" -- but if I could go back to the 1980s and begin my ministry all over again, here are seven things I'd do different (and seven I'd do the same):

      Seven things I wish I'd done:
      1. Prayed more.
      2. Worried less.
      3. Kept up on my Greek and Hebrew.
      4. Learned Spanish.
      5. Gotten more exercise.
      6. Started saving $$$ on a regular basis.
      7. Taken all my vacation time (and all my days off).
      Seven things I'm glad I did:
      1. Went camping with my family as often as I did.
      2. Read at least one book per week.
      3. Kept a journal.
      4. Taught high school Bible classes.
      5. Audited the seminary's continuing education classes.
      6. Took three year's leave-of-absence to work on a doctorate in history (even if I didn't finish it.)
      7. Learned how to preach the Bible's stories (and not just its doctrines).

      Sunday, September 13, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • After considerable experimentation, we have finally achieved the perfect weather for a weekend on the Oregon Coast: nice weather on Friday (to bring the tourists here), rain on Sabbath morning (so they skip the beach and come to church), and a sunny Sabbath afternoon (so the kids can go outside).
      • I've always felt slightly guilty about the fact that I'm not one of those people who rise at 4 AM with a song in my heart and the desire to spend the next three hours in Bible study and prayer. But now it turns out those "morning people" generally crash and burn early on . . . while us "night owls" just keep churning out the work. (h/t to Lifehacker)
      • Do you know CPR? No, I didn't think I needed to know it either -- not until a woman collapsed after church. (Fortunately, she was just dehydrated . . . but she was almost trampled to death by the rush of people who came to her assistance!)
      • Interesting statistic from the Oregon Conference's statistical report: last year it spent $9 million on "pastoral resources" -- and over $12 million on "teacher resources." (Now I know why one administrator told me the only thing that kept him awake at night was the cost of Adventist schools!)
      • Traffic would have been down this week, but this site got an incredible number of hits on Friday from Brazil. Aside from that, the top spots for foreign visitors were the United Kingdom, Finland, and Russia (not to mention my first-ever visitor from Serbia). And the top spots for North American visitors were the usual suspects: British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Colorado. (So what's happened to my visitors from Washington -- have you people lost Internet service, or what?)
      • I'll close with this quote from Will Rogers: "If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"

      Thursday, September 10, 2009

      This week's lesson: I John

      Some of John's church members were not very happy with him.

      I can relate.

      In addition to pastoring a two-church district, I also teach two Bible classes at our local SDA high school. This means I get to talk about fun stuff (like love and grace and the seven last plagues); it also means I spend a lot of time hassling my students about not-so-fun stuff (like footnotes, missing class, and why it is not acceptable to write papers in glittery-pink ink).

      And no, I don't fuss about this kind of stuff because I'm an obsessive-compulsive control-freak who loves to make my students miserable . . .

      Though that may be part of it.

      But I want my students to become the adults God wants them to be -- and letting them do whatever seems like a good idea at the time isn't always a good way to do this.

      To paraphrase Monsters, Inc. -- "if I glare, it's because I care."

      Likewise, it's clear from John's epistle that he had a long list of Things He Would Not Tolerate.

      And every time he warned them against the world, the flesh, and the devil, I'm sure his church members would fidget and complain and mutter to each other that John just wasn't being very nice.

      Okay, so maybe he wasn't -- maybe John wasn't always a fun guy to be around.

      But looking back, nobody could doubt that John loved them.

      Can they say the same about us?

      Tuesday, September 08, 2009

      Beating age discrimination

      Interesting article in The Oregonian about age discrimination -- when it comes to getting hired, it turns out that 50-somethings have a real disadvantage, i.e. we're seen as too old, too fat, too set in our ways, and utterly lacking in tech-savvy.


      And no, this shouldn't be a problem in the ministry -- two-thirds of the pastors in my conference are over the age of 50, after all. Then too, the laws banning age discrimination do apply to pastors; this is one of the few areas where we are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

      Still, not everybody knows this. (I can think of two churches, for instance, that openly advertised they were "looking for a pastor in his mid-30s.") And age discrimination is both extremely common and incredibly difficult to prove.

      So here are a few suggestions for "pastors of a certain age":
      • Scrub your resume. The Oregonian recommends you remove both graduation dates and time-in-service at any jobs you've had -- in short, get rid of anything that will let them guess your age.
      • Update your look. If you're like me, you're still have the same haircut you did in 1986. (That's also when I decided Dockers would be the only kind of slacks I ever buy.) Guess what? As The Oregonian points out, your "look" is now older than some of the people who will be hiring you.
      • Lose weight. It's wrong. It's illegal, But as one employer admitted to The Oregonian, nothing says "medical bills" like a few extra pounds.
      • Keep up on technology. Even a few nods in this direction can make a difference -- one of my students, for instance, was absolutely amazed I had an iPod! So learn how to text. Learn how to Twitter. And yes, it may have jumped the shark, but you still need to learn how to do whatever it is they do on Facebook.

      Sunday, September 06, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • Friday, it rained. Sabbath, it cleared off and we had beautiful weather for a baptism down at the lake. Today, it's raining again. I love coincidences like that.
      • Something I learned this week: if somebody rents our church's building for a wedding, I need to jot down their check's number and date on the rental agreement; this makes it easier for the treasurer to go back later and verify the fee was paid.
      • Speaking of vehicle safety: if it's a weekend and you're out on the road between 10 PM and 3 AM, an average of one out of every six cars you pass is driven by someone who's been drinking. And no, they're not all drunk -- but they do account for nearly four out of five fatal accidents. (h/t to Brainac.)
      • Over the last week, this site got about as much traffic as it usually does . . . but the source of that traffic has changed, i.e. Washington has dropped off the map, Colorado is becoming a hot spot, and I'm getting a lot of hits from Portland -- not to mention my first visitor from Montana!
      • And I'll close with this quote from Carlos Fuentes: "Don't let yourself be dazzled by a single idea. It is [your] obligation, in the name of the simple people of the world, to be complicated."

      Thursday, September 03, 2009

      This week's lesson: I John 5:13-21

      Marriage is like glass.

      Nothing endures like glass, after all -- and few things withstand pressure any better than it does. Likewise, anyone who's ever observed a good marriage can only stand in awe at the things it will survive: mental illness, the loss of a job, or even the death of a child.

      Yet strong as it is, even a good marriage can shatter in an instant. One poor choice, one careless word, one act of violence or infidelity . . . yes, any one of these things can suddenly end a relationship -- a relationship that might otherwise have endured for a long, long time.

      In short, a marriage should inspire confidence -- but not carelessness.

      You can trust it -- but you should not take it for granted.

      That's because a marriage is both incredibly strong and incredibly fragile . . .

      Just like glass.

      And just like salvation.

      Tuesday, September 01, 2009

      Binge-drinking: it's not just for frat-boys anymore

      The way things are going, retirement centers will soon resemble Animal House.

      Okay, maybe it won't be that bad -- but there's no question baby-boomers are drinking more than the generation before them. And in an article in The Los Angeles Times, Melissa Healy reports the following statistics on binge-drinking (i.e. consuming five or more servings of alcohol at one sitting.
      • College students who binge-drink: 41.7%
      • Men between the ages of 50 and 64 who binge-drink: 23%
      • Women between the ages of 50 and 64 who binge-drink: 9%
      • Men age 65 and older who binge-drink: 14%
      • Women age 65 and older who binge-drink: 3%
      • Baby-boomers whose drinking "exceeds moderation": 67%
      One last statistic -- this one from today's Oregonian: 10% of all binge-drinkers report driving after their last bout of drinking.

      Sunday, August 30, 2009

      Odds & Ends

      • It's foggy. It's sunny. It's foggy again. Summer on the Oregon Coast.
      • Posting for this site may be a little more erratic than usual for the next two weeks -- my wife's visiting her parents in Australia. (And yes, if you did your ministerial training at Avondale College, you probably bought a used car from her uncle, Bill Toepfer.)
      • If you want to know what the future holds, keep an eye on Nigeria. By the year 2050 (if current trends continue), Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo will have 450 million Christians -- roughly the same as all of Europe. And one-fourth of the world's Muslims will live in just three countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. (Source: Philip Jenkins, "Nations at Risk" in the September 8, 2009 edition of The Christian Century.)
      • I'm working on an post about some of the ways I expect pastoring to change in the next ten years. If you've some ideas along that line, drop me a line.
      • Traffic was down a bit this week, though I did see an uptick in visitors from California -- and a big surge in visitors from Portland. (Is that you, Mom?) Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom were in a three-way tie for foreign visits. And for what it's worth: the most popular day for visits to this site is Friday.
      • I'll close with this paraphrase of something I read in one of Gladwell's articles: "Just because you're good at the things you can control doesn't mean you're any good at the things you don't control."

      Thursday, August 27, 2009

      This week's lesson: I John 5:1-12

      If you're not careful, you'll end up with a Jesus who makes sense.

      In John's day, remember, nothing would have been easier or more natural than turning Jesus into a mythic hero -- somebody like Mithras or Osiris. No, all you had to do was tell the people back then that Christianity was just another mystery cult, and they would have caught on immediately.

      Likewise, there are a number of templates we could use to build a believable Christ for our day and age. Yes, we could turn him into:
      • a cryptic philosopher (like Yoda),
      • a revolutionary friend of the poor (like Che),
      • a super-patriotic Commander-in-Chief (like Patton),
      • or even a Fairy Godmother (who grants unlimited wishes to good boys and girls).
      To be sure, none of these bear much resemblance to the Christ of the gospels -- a Christ who was so puzzling, so disappointing, so different than everyone expected that they had him put to death.

      But even if he was only a Christ we'd made for ourselves, at least we could understand him.

      And isn't that what we really want?

      Tuesday, August 25, 2009

      DIY: dealing with the Press

      Sometimes, things at church get messy -- messy enough to attract the attention of local news media.

      So what do you do when a TV reporter sticks a microphone in your face and says, "What do you know and when did you know it?"

      Some time ago, I attended a workshop on that topic by the Reverend Chilton Knudsen. She's since gone on to be the Episcopal Bishop for Maine -- but at the time she was the Pastoral Care Officer for the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Chicago . . . and that meant she had to deal with the Press when a pastor really fouled-up. Here's her advice:

      1. Never say anything you don't want quoted. There's no such thing as "off the record," ever.

      2. Never say "no comment." If nothing else, you can always say, "We are very concerned -- and obviously, we're taking this very seriously . . . but we can't say more at this time for legal reasons."

      3. Never reveal the names of the people who brought this to your attention. Don't even give a vague description, like "the complaint came from a teen-age girl who attends our school."

      4. Never let just anyone and everyone talk to the media. Pick one spokesperson (or one spokesperson and a back-up) -- and remind everyone else they may be a legal risk if they give interviews (or even just a quote).

      Bonus advice (and this is from me): Keep a written log of what happens and when -- and update the Conference office anytime something new develops.