Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DIY: Surviving April

April is a busy month, and May's about the same. Not only are you preparing budgets, teaching baptismal classes, and guiding Nominating Committees, but this is also the time of year when a lot of married couples come out of their winter hibernation and start fussing at each other again.

Oh yeah -- and don't forget those calls to pastor another church. They should start coming through any time now.

Fortunately, you don't need to do everything all at once. Like eating an elephant, you just need to take it one spoonful at a time.

And if you can make time to exercise and keep up on your devotions, all the better -- they do take time, but they build endurance.

One last thing: try to remember that busyness is not a virtue. It's not a measure of how important you are; neither is it a sign of how much you love Jesus.

Like a bad case of the flu, in other words, an over-loaded schedule is is nothing to boast about.

It's just something we'll need to work through.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gone fishin'

I'll be on vacation for a few days -- see you next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, don't forget nominations will close for The Betamax Awards on Tuesday, March 31. New entries include:
  • Agape Feasts: everyone agrees they are a beautiful, meaningful way to celebrate the Communion service . . . but every time I ask my church members if they want to do another one of these, they say, "It was wonderful -- but no." What gives?
  • Church services broadcast on local-access cable TV: You can produce good radio programs at little cost. But cheap TV programs look . . . cheap.
  • The hymnal on CD: don't have a pianist? Just pop in the CD, and the whole church can pretend they're doing karaoke! (Well, they would if they could hear the CD above the sound of their own singing. And keep up with the tempo. And get the hang of the rhythm. And . . . never mind; we'll just do it a cappella.)

This week's lesson: confidence in prophecy

This clip from Firefly does a nice job summing up the paradox behind this quarter's Sabbath School lessons.

On the one hand, we're being asked to believe something that is clearly nuts. If you told me you were in touch with citizens of the NGC 6438 galaxy after all, I'd make sure you weren't between me and the door. But for the last three months, we've been blithely discussing something far stranger, i.e. the idea that the creator of NGC 6438 (and all the other galaxies besides) was in constant contact with an Iron Age tribe -- and what's more, the record of these contacts is still binding on our beliefs and behavior today.

Crazy, right?

And like River Tam in the video, all this craziness makes us want to "fix" the Bible. Update it. Have it make sense in light of all that we know to be true today.

But to paraphrase Shepherd Book, we don't fix the Bible; it fixes us. And even with all the problems we've discussed this quarter -- problems of context, problems of philosophy, problems of just how you try to make sense of it all -- the fact remains that something happens when I read the Bible that doesn't happen with any other book.

Yes, the Bible challenges me. It troubles me. It points out my weaknesses. And it helps me grow.

Crazy as it seems, in other words, the Bible makes me a saner person.

To be sure, I still have a lot of questions.

But I keep coming back to the fact that, if it's crazy and it works . . .

Then it's not crazy.

Review: Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers

If you're looking for insight into church politics, try Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers. Written in 1857, it rewrites the Trojan War as a comedy, with High Church parsons battling Evangelicals for control of an English diocese.

Trollope captures perfectly the mixture of piety, spite, and ambition that fuels so many church fights -- and he makes it clear that pastors' wives may feel these emotions too!

Unfortunately, Trollope himself doesn't always fight fair. While his High Church Anglicans are flawed but interesting, his Evangelicals are merely flawed. Mr. Slope, for instance, is little more than a caricature of the-Puritan-as-hypocrite. Mrs. Proudie is a shrew. And only the power of the Press can explain why her nebbish of a husband was ever made bishop.

Still, if you're trying to understand why church politics play out the way they do, take a look at this book. It may have been written in 1857 -- but you'll find the pastors it describes are alive and well and working in a Conference near you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Things I've learned: ending a Board Meeting

". . . that's our last item of business. Is there a motion to adjourn?"

"So moved!"


"All those in favor?"

At this point, Brother Z clears his throat. "Pastor, there's just one more thing."

Everybody groans and sits down . . . because everybody knows they're going to spend the next half-hour dealing with Brother Z's "one more thing."

Sound familiar?

Every church I've ever attended had a Brother (or Sister) Z -- someone who is old, respected, and determined to have their way.

And one of the ways they show who's boss is by controlling when the meetings ends; that's why they always bring up "one more thing" just at the time when when everybody else is ready to go home.

To be sure, everybody does this some of the time -- it's just that Brother Z does this all of the time.

Then too, Brother's Z often brings up items that need to be addressed; unfortunately, he does so at a time when people are tired, stressed, and unwilling to give those items the time and attention they deserve.

That's why I've found it best to give Brother Z more control . . . within limits.
  1. When I'm typing the agenda, for instance, I call Brother Z and ask if there's anything that should be on it.
  2. Before the meeting begins (and you can count on Brother Z always being there bright and early), I ask him if there's anything else that should be on the agenda.
  3. And when we've finished the reports and are ready to move into Old Business, I stop and ask everyone, "Just to make sure there aren't any surprises, does anybody have anything else for the agenda?"
Most of the time, that solves the problem -- and if it doesn't, it allows you to smile when Brother Z says "there's just one more thing."

Yes, you smile.

You listen.

And if it's something that can wait until the next meeting (which it usually is), then you wait until Brother Z has stopped talking and say, "That's something we really need to discuss . . . at a time when we can give it all the attention it deserves. That's why I'm going to put it on the top of the agenda for our next meeting. All those in favor of the motion to adjourn say 'aye'?"


And when the motion passes (as it always does), you look Brother Z in the eye and say, "I will be sure to put that on the agenda for our next meeting -- and if there's anything else, give me a call."

He will.

But if he doesn't, you call him.

In short, your goal is to take a relationship based on control, and replace it with respect for each other.

All in favor?

Meeting adjourned.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Issues: Conservative Protestants and Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol, conservative Protestants used to divide along denominational lines.

Now they're dividing by age.

At one time, evangelicals split between "wet" and "dry" denominations
  • Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the Reformed said it was okay to drink in moderation.
  • Methodist, Pentecostal, Holiness and most Baptist churches argued for abstinence.
Now Out of Ur reports a growing number of younger clergy in "dry" denominations see nothing wrong with moderate drinking. The result has been a flame-war between two groups I'll call "Herodians" and "Pharisees."
  • Herodians take a pretty literalist approach to the Bible; they argue it condemns drunkenness, not drinking per se.
  • Pharisees are moralistic; they acknowledge the Herodians' point viz. Scripture, but point out that alcohol kills more Americans than homicide, car accidents, and AIDS combined.
Both sides have a point. Pace Bacchiocchi, but Titus 2:3 does not seem like a plea for abstinence so much as moderation. Then again, Americans have never been known for their moderation -- and this is especially true of our youth.
To say "the Bible condemns drunkenness and not drinking," in other words, is beside the point. Most young Americans who drink are doing so in order to get drunk.

Myself, I suspect one of the factors driving this debate is upward mobility. As Iain Gately points out in Drink: A Social History of Alcohol, 51% of Americans who have nothing more than a high school diploma are "dry" -- but when you survey Americans who've finished college, that's true of only 20%.

If you're fresh out of seminary, in other words, there's a good chance temperance seems "downscale" or even tacky -- the kind of thing you associate with your Uncle Joe (who works in an auto-parts store and listens to Merle Haggard on the radio).

But if your kind of people -- people who look like you, vote like you, and listen to the same kind of music . . . well, if those people love to kick back after work with a cold one, then what does that suggest?

And no, Adventists are not immune to this kind of pressure. My gut-feeling is that we're at roughly the same point today viz. drinking that we were in the 1960s viz. movies, i.e. it's still not something that "good" Adventists do -- but by and large, even "good" Adventists are not passing along this value to their children.

In short, we need to talk about this.


Otherwise, it's going to get personal.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


In the past 24-hours, we've had blue skies, hail, rain, and a windstorm. Must be March.

If you've been wondering what ever happened to VeggieTales, you might try two links I've just added:
  • philvisher.com tells you what's happening with their creator, Phil Visher.
  • Jellytelly is an entertainment website he's put together for children.
And if you're looking for an idea worth stealing, check out Mormon Archipelago. Billed as a "gateway to the Bloggernacle," it offers access and updates to "Mormon-themed blogs." (Spectrum used to do something similar for SDA blogs; anybody know why it stopped?)

Traffic this week followed the usual pattern.
  • The top three states for domestic visitors were Washington, Oregon, and Michigan (though Georgia is moving up fast).
  • And the top three countries for international visitors were Canada, Finland, and Estonia.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday's Odds & Ends

  • Take the map from The New York Times that I mentioned a couple of week's ago -- one that gives county-by-county unemployment stats . . . now compare it with this week's map from USA Today that gives county-by-county population trends . . . and then ask yourself: what's happening on the High Plains, and what does this suggest about ministry there?
  • Coming up with a title for this week's sermon on Matthew 6:19-34 was easy: "The One Thing A.I.G. Forgot." Now if I could just take the message of these verses and to apply it to my own life . . .
  • Kudos to Bill Tymeson -- as designer of The Adventist Review, he's given us a magazine that looks clean and contemporary. (Now could he please do something about the design of Adventist World?)
  • I'll close this week with a quote from Ankhsheshonqy -- an Egyptian sage from the first-century BC: "A wise man seeks friends, while a fool seeks enemies."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This week's lesson: the blessings of prophecy

In six years, we'll mark the centenary of Ellen White's death.

I wonder if anyone will notice.

As noted in this week's lesson, our church would have been far smaller (and much stranger) if it had not been for her ministry. Imagine an Adventist church, for instance, with no mission work. No health reform. No belief in the Trinity or righteousness by faith.

In short, imagine us as Seventh-day Jehovah's Witnesses.

In spite of her impact, our interest in Ellen White's ministry is fading fast. Even the Adventist students in my Bible classes, for instance, don't seem to know much about her. They're not hostile; she's just not on their radar. And as a rule of thumb among pastors, I find that:
  • If you're older than me, you quote her in your sermons.
  • If you're my age, you read her but don't quote her.
  • If you're younger than me, you don't read her. (Not on a regular basis, anyway.)
Myself, I'm not sanguine we can turn this around anytime soon -- but I'd like to see us try. As part of that, I'm hoping the following projects could be developed in time for her centenary:
  1. Publish a new edition of her Conflict of the Ages series -- one that uses a contemporary translation of the Bible. The updated Desire of Ages was a nice start (thought why they used the New King James Version is beyond me); let's do the same with the rest.
  2. Record audio versions of her books. Get the Voice of Prophecy to make them -- and give them away for free.
  3. Write a good, one-volume biography. Okay, let's make that two biographies -- one about a hundred pages long (much like the ones in the Penguin Lives series), the other about 350-pages or so.
  4. Have an annotated version of The Testimonies available on the Web. Brother A and Sister Z and all those other pioneers of the alphabet have been dead long enough; it's time to reveal their true identities. And if we could add a little historical/social/religious context to what she wrote . . . all the better!
  5. Pull together a one-volume compilation of her most important writings. No, you don't need to call it Ellen White's Greatest Hits -- but it should be something I can use to introduce a broad spectrum of her work to a Bible class, study group, or prayer meeting.
That's my list -- I'm sure you have a better one. (And I hope you'll let me know what's on your list in the "Comments" section of this blog.)

But once we've made our lists, let's then go on to make them come true.

Ellen White may be dead, after all.

But we can make sure she's not forgotten.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Kudos to Larry Ververka at Walla Walla University for telling me about this book -- he mentioned it in a sermon at Lincoln City, and I've been using it every since for pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, and personal growth.

And yes, it's pretty much what the title says:
  • the seven principles that all good marriages have in common,
  • derived by University of Washington psychologist John Gottman,
  • based on his years of studying how couples treat each other.
Gottman claims that, 91% of the time, he can predict which couples are headed for divorce; with luck, the odds improve after reading his book.

Like most self-help books, Gottman offers good advice -- but like all self-help books, his advice is not always easy to practice.

Then too, it's not a good idea for just one member of a couple to read this book; doing so can lead to conversations that begin with the words, "Gottman says you're doing this because. . . . " Trust me -- you don't want to go there!

But if you're counseling a couple that's getting married . . . or you're looking for new topic for a Prayer Meeting series . . . or even if you're feeling just a little bit "stuck" in your own marriage, then try Gottman -- he's great!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Things I've learned: real & ideal

I wish I spent more time thinking Deep Thoughts -- and less time thinking about plumbing.

As a pastor, after all, I've been trained to nurture the souls of my parishioners with insights drawn from history, philosophy, Biblical Studies, and Systematic Theology.

Unfortunately, all of those souls are firmly embodied -- and all of those bodies need to be kept warm, dry, and clean. That's why I spend so much of my ministry fiddling with thermostats, raising money for a new roof, and trying to find a good plumber who makes emergency calls.

To be sure, none of this seems very "spiritual."

But pastoral ministry has always been a mixture of the sacred and profane.
  • Augustine of Hippo continually needed to rule on lawsuits between church members about real estate.
  • Anselm of Canterbury spent years fighting with the King of England about lay investiture and church finances.
  • And Martin Luther complained bitterly about the amount of time he needed to spend in counseling marriages.
In short, the best theology has always been done by busy people -- people who had no time to think Deep Thoughts about God, but did so anyway.

So no, there's nothing wrong with seeing to it that my church building's plumbing holds water.

I just need to make sure my theology does the same.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't forget the contest!

Nominations are still open for the Betamax Awards, i.e. ideas that looked a lot better in Leadership magazine than they did in my church. Recent entries include:
  • Promotional sermons from Signs of the Times, Liberty magazine, and the Ellen G. White Estate: I don't mind "borrowing" other people's work -- but could you please give me something worth borrowing?
  • Natural Church Development Evaluations: Why should I pay you to tell me what's wrong with my church when I have church members who will do it for free?
  • Programmable thermostats: We used to turn up the heat when we came to church, and turn down the heat when we left. Then we installed one of these -- and in three weeks, it had been re-set, re-programmed, and over-ridden so many times by well-meaning church members that it had the electronic equivalent of a nervous breakdown. So now we're back to turning up the heat when we come to church, and turning it back down when we leave.
Remember: contest ends on Tuesday, March 31.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Daffodils are in bloom, and this morning I saw a big flock of Canada geese heading south over Neskowin -- so I've declared it is now Spring on the Oregon Coast.

I've switched our church's website to netAdventist v.3; that means it has a new URL -- and that means:
  • I've had to drop Greg's Sermon Stash from the list of resources . . .
  • but you can now find written copies of my sermons by going to our church's website. (And yes, I promise to start adding podcasts this week.) As always, I ask only that you find some way of giving me some kind of credit if you use part or all of a sermon I wrote.
I've also added links to:
Traffic was up about a third this week, thanks to a big surge in hits from the State of Washington. (Are you people on Spring Break, or what?) And this week saw my first visitor from Fiji!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday's Odds & Ends

A tip from somebody who's gone through chemotherapy: if you're visiting someone who's being treated for cancer, don't wear anything scented (i.e. aftershave, perfume, or even some hair-conditioners). Chemo makes some people sensitive to smells. (And by "sensitive," I mean "gut-wrenchingly nauseated.")

Slightly disturbing fact: There are now 150 million people on Facebook. Seven million are between the ages of 35 and 54.

More nominees for the Betamax Awards (i.e. great ideas that don't work out in practice):
  • Spiritual gift inventories: It turns out that everybody has the gift of hospitality -- and nobody's been given the gift of teaching the Earliteen Sabbath School Class. And I'm still puzzled by the fact that, the last time I took one of these things, I was told I have "the gift of martyrdom."
  • Seminars that tell you how to receive the Holy Spirit: Why can't I attend one of these without thinking of Acts 8:9-24?
  • Bruce Wilkinson's The Prayer of Jabez: Great prayer -- but somehow, it always gets shortened down to "gimmee."
Don't forget -- the deadline to nominate something for a Betamax Award is Tuesday, March 31.

Finally, a quote from Eric Hoffer:
In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

This week's lesson: the prophet in context

Context is crucial.

It is also controversial.

As I've already noted, we don't know what a text says until we know why it was written -- and that requires knowing who and when and where and sometimes even how it came to be written.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, hell hath no fury like a church member who's been deprived of their favorite proof-text because they've just been told that "we need to remember the context in which this was written." (See "women's ordination.")

And in all fairness to that church member, there are times when contextualization does seem like an elaborate way to avoid the clear meaning of a text. (See "homosexuality.")

Then too, experts may agree on the context of a statement while still disagreeing on its application for today. (See "divorce." Or "exorcism." Or even "resurrection from the dead.")

In short, context may tell you what a text meant.

But if you want to know what a text means today . . .

Then it's just one of the many, many things you'll need to take in context.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: David Allen's Getting Things Done

David Allen can't tell you the meaning of life.

But he can help you remember to pick up your suit at the dry-cleaners.

That's because David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, offers good advice on how to keep track of all the things you need to do -- advice that boils down to:
  1. Write down everything you need to do -- everything!
  2. Always ask yourself, "What's the next step I need to take?"
  3. And if you can do something in less than two-minutes, then do it now.
There's more, of course -- and Allen has lots of good, nuts-and-bolts ideas about everything from handling email to setting up a filing cabinet.

Unfortunately, some of it gets bogged down in his discussion of Great Truths He Learned From the Martial Arts . . . truths that left me saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah -- 'mind like water' -- now can we get back to the importance of owning a good label-maker?"

In short, you won't find much in this book that you can use in a sermon.

But it can help free up the time you need to write one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This week's sermon: Matthew 6:7-15

My topic for this week's sermon is the Lord's Prayer -- a prayer that emphasizes the fact I've been running with the wrong crowd.

If it wasn't for the Lord's Prayer, after all, I could pretend the only thing that mattered was my personal relationship with Jesus. No, just me and him and nobody else -- that's all I need to get by.

And that would be great, because I wouldn't need to hang out with other believers any more. Wouldn't need to put up with them. Wouldn't be embarrassed by all the weird and creepy things they do.
  • The Crusades? Not my fault.
  • The Moral Majority? Nobody I knew.
  • Those beastly-looking fliers you got in the mail for an evangelistic series at my church? Hey -- don't blame me; I only go for the potlucks!
Yes, it would be so much easier for me to feel smug and superior to all those crazy Christians out there . . .

If only it wasn't for the Lord's Prayer.

Unfortunately, it begins with the phrase, "Our Father." Not my father, notice, but the Father of all His children. And all the way through, I'm forced to admit my solidarity with everyone who calls Him father -- even if they are:
  • poor (and must pray for their daily bread),
  • sinful (and must ask to be forgiven),
  • weak (and so must be guarded from temptation and protected from evil).
In short, the Lord's Prayer puts me right back in the middle of all those people who make it difficult to follow Jesus.

You know -- other believers.

And it's bad enough the Lord's Prayer forces me to pray with them.

But it also means they're praying for me.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Remember the contest!

More nominees for the Betamax Awards, i.e. terrific ideas that never really work out in practice:
  • Dukane Projectors. Easy to break. Difficult to repair. Weighed a ton. Not all that interesting to watch -- and nobody ever seemed to know how to get foreign-language tapes for them.
  • The Adult Sabbath School Quarterly. It doesn't matter who wrote it, who edits it, or what the subject might be -- by the sixth-week, it always sounds the same.
  • Sending leadership teams to Willow Creek. They came. They saw. They disappeared without a trace.
Again, the deadline for entries is Tuesday, March 31.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Contest: the Betamax Awards

This month, I'm opening nominations for the Betamax Awards. These are prizes for terrific ideas that were supposed to revolutionize pastoral ministry . . . but somehow, they never really seem to work out in practice. Examples include:
  • Small groups. For the last 30-years, everyone has agreed they are essential to growth and spiritual nurture. But only a handful of SDA churches have been able to make them work for more than a year or two.
  • Loma Linda University's MPH program for pastors. Training pastors to be health educators was supposed to revolutionize evangelism. So what happened?
  • Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Church. Loved the book -- but every SDA pastor I've known who tried to implement its ideas either gave up in discouragement . . . or found a new job. (And yes, this goes for Willow Creek too.)
Contest rules:
  1. You can nominate ideas via the "Comments" for this post, or email them to me at brothers.greg@gmail.com
  2. Please limit your nominations to ideas that have been tried (and found wanting) in the Adventist church.
  3. The deadline for nominations is Tuesday, March 31.


I finally got around to fixing my link to Greg's Sermon Stash. I've also added some new websites:
  • breakfastfires come from Alex Bryan, an associate pastor at the SDA Church in Collegedale, Tennessee (and just possibly the next pastor at the WWU SDA Church).
  • pastor bernie is the blog of Bernie Anderson, lead pastor at the Wasatch Hills SDA Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • simple church is Milton Adam's site for the Adventist House Church Network.
  • And Stuff Christians Like is . . . okay, you'll need to check it out for yourself, that's all I'm going to say.
Speaking of which, it would appear that writing the name of your blog in lower-case letters should be included in the list of Stuff Adventists Like.

In this week's traffic report, the top three states for visitors to this blog were:
  • Michigan
  • Washington
  • Oregon
And this week, I had my first visitors from Israel!

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Romero Prayer

Despite its title, "The Romero Prayer" was probably written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan. It grows out of his reflection on the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was murdered by right-wing death squads while leading worship.

Regardless of its provenance, I've found it helpful -- especially when I'm writing a sermon. Here it is:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

This week's lesson: the prophet's message

A church is like a expedition -- and its doctrines are like camping equipment.
  • Too much impedimenta, and you get so bogged down that you never get anywhere.
  • Not enough, and you risk getting cold, lost, hungry, or eaten by bears.
What makes life interesting, of course, is that expedition members are always fussing about the amount of equipment they should bring along.
  • Some are "Stuffers," whose greatest fear is that something important will be left behind.
  • Some are "Dumpers," whose mantra is "simplify, simplify, simplify."
And so the Stuffers are continually urging ever-more-elaborate lists of "essentials" that everyone must carry with them at all times -- everything from the Trinity to veganism (with a 10-part codicil recently voted on the importance of flossing after every meal).

Meanwhile, the Dumpers are happily shoveling everything over the side, leaving them with little more than a vague belief in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of humanity, and the neighborhood of Loma Linda.

Somewhere, a balance must be struck -- and for better or worse, the Adventist church has voted a packing list similar to the one Ellen White listed in Counsels to Writers & Editors, pages 31f:
The passing of the time in 1844 was a period of great events, opening to our astonished eyes the cleansing of the sanctuary transpiring in heaven, and having decided relation to God’s people upon the earth, [also] the first and second angels’ messages and the third, unfurling the banner on which was inscribed, ‘The commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.’ One of the landmarks under this message was the temple of God, seen by His truth-loving people in heaven, and the ark containing the law of God. The light of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment flashed its strong rays in the pathway of the transgressors of God’s law. The nonimmortality of the wicked is an old landmark. I can call to mind nothing more that can come under the head of the old landmarks.
Too much?

Not enough?

As with any expedition, it all depends on where you're going.

Charitable deductions

Four times in the past month, I've had to tell church members that "No, you cannot donate money to the church for that particular purpose."

"Why not?"

"Because the IRS doesn't allow it."

"Are you sure?"

I am now -- and you will be too if you read IRS Publication 526 "Charitable Deductions."

(Click here for a copy of your own.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mapping Unemployment

The New York Times has a great, interactive map about unemployment figures on a county-by-county basis.

One big surprise (for me) -- the High Plains are actually looking pretty good just now. Can anyone tell me why?

(Click here for the map.)

Review: David Gallagher's Senior Adult Ministry in the 21st Century

We need a book like this.
  • 12% of all Americans are over the age of 65.
  • By 2030, the percentage will rise to 20%.
  • But there are few resources out there for pastors who minister to this group. In the Oregon Conference, for instance, there's no departmental equivalent to "Youth" or "Children's Ministries" for senior citizens.
So yes, we need a book like David Gallagher's Senior Adult Ministry in the 21st Century: Step-by-Step Strategies for Reaching People Over 50.

Unfortunately, this is not the book we need.

Don't get me wrong -- Gallagher was an effective pastor with a growing church who knew how to reach senior adults. (He's since gone on staff at the Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin.) He has good ideas. He blogs for Christianity Today's Building Adult Ministries: Leadership for Adults Over 50. And he comes across as a really nice guy.

But his book is poorly edited . . . and poorly organized. It reads like somebody rode in the car with him on a long trip -- from Phoenix to Chicago, say -- and taped the conversation, then published the transcript as a book.

In short, it rambles.

So if you're looking for a couple of good ideas -- not to mention the assurance that ministry to seniors can be vital and creative -- then go ahead and read Gallagher's book.

But if you're looking for something that does for senior adults the same kind of thing that Doug Fields already does for Youth . . .

Then that's a book you'll need to write yourself.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hospital visits: a physician's advice

Here are some tips from a local physician about visiting people in the hospital.

1. Be prepared for anything when you walk into that room. The person you thought was having a routine procedure may have just found out they have cancer.

2. Don't sit on the bed!

3. Tell them who you are. (They're sick, tired, drugged, and can't find their glasses -- so even if they've known you for years, they still may not recognize you.)

4. Keep ICU visits short -- three minutes, tops.

5. Knowing which stage of grief the patient is going through may help you -- but telling the patient which stage they're going through will not help them.

6. There's no such thing as minor surgery or a minor illness when it's happening to you.

7. Dysfunctional families do not suddenly become functional just because somebody is sick.

8. If they want to talk, shut up and listen.

9. Older patients often feel it is important to be a gracious host -- so much so they'll try to make you feel welcome, even in a hospital room. But even though they're treating you as an honored guest, they're still sick, tired, and in pain . . . so don't outlast your welcome.

10. A good question to ask (especially if you don't know the patient very well): "To whom do you go for help with things like this?" (This often leads to a discussion of their religious faith.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Things I've learned: DIY business cards

I hate business cards.
  • They're too small for me to write much of a note on the back.
  • They're too small (and drab) to get notice when I do write a note on the back and leave it on a hospital patient's bedside table (which is how most of my business cards get used).
  • And my personal information changes often enough, there's always something on the card that needs correcting -- a cell phone number or email address.
That's why I started making my own.
  • I bought some 3x5 index cards in a nice, bright, florescent green. (I use cards that are lined on one side and blank on the other -- this makes it easier for me to write notes -- but you can use blank cards too.)
  • I laid out what I wanted on my card, using the "index card" setting on Microsoft Publish.
  • Then I ran off a dozen cards (which is enough to last me a month or so).
Elegant? No -- though I'm sure a designer could come up with something nice.

But practical? Yes.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Blogging the process of writing a sermon was fun -- and it certainly kept me from procrastinating (which has been a problem lately). But it took enough time that I don't think I'll be doing it again soon.

Visits to this site continue to double on Fridays . . . and the top three states for visitors continue to be:
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Michigan
Roughly 90% of all visitors are from the United States, with Canada a distant second. But it would seem that I have a loyal following in Estonia -- enough to put that country in third place for visitors!

Step six:
  • deliver the sermon
  • There's not much I can say about preaching a sermon that wasn't said better by James Miller's A Little Book for Preachers: 101 Ideas for Better Sermons. Suffice it to say that I always find it helpful to make sure I:
    • eat a good breakfast.
    • review my sermon before I go to church.
    • have a glass of warm water there on the pulpit.
    • check my notes before I preach to make sure they're all there and all in order.
    That should do it, right?

    Unfortunately, none of this ever seems to be enough -- in fact, nearly every sermon I've ever preached has left me feeling like a failure.

    Simple physiology accounts for some of this. It takes a lot of andrenalin to preach . . . and the emotional "crash" that follows a sermon is familiar to any performer.

    And some of this is psychological, stemming from the same perfectionism that drives much of my preparation.

    But there's also the sense that I could have preached so much better and said so much more . . . a sense that is rooted in the simple truth that my sermons always fall short of what God could have said through the text.

    It's times like this I take comfort in the story of the widow who gave two mites to the Temple's building project. Just like her, I don't have much to offer -- but I still need to give it.

    When I "deliver" a sermon, in other words, I give it to God.

    The rest is up to Him.