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.